July 26, 2014

The Idiot's Guide to Gratitude

Part 1 of 2:
I usually say a prayer each night. A shout-out to God, giving thanks before I pick up that book on the night stand or fall asleep.

After coming across a blog post about practicing gratitude via a writing exercise, however, I realized that most of my prayerful intentions wind up inside a psychic circular file. Inside a growing mass of space that gains gravitational pull with each passing year. You know, a mental black hole.
I am grateful for pogo sticks, too.

Bradley Foster's, "Change Your Life With This Simple Exercise," notes that "gratitude is a foundational strength. When you feel gratitude, a lot of other strengths can be built on top. For instance, the ability to love and be loved would be difficult, if not impossible, without gratitude." And, speaking to my (lack of) self-awareness and impact, "Perspective is a strength that is reinforced by using gratitude." While I'm not keen about feeling gratitude because perspective shows that there are others worse off, I do want a kick in the pants to show where I sit in the grand scheme of things and embrace what is important in life.

Foster recommends, "At the same time each day, get out your journal and reflect on three things that really stood out for you today."

He makes no bones that this will be easy, that I will be able to readily identify and reflect on things. Stick with it, he says, and I will be amazed how writing down what I'm thankful for changes actual behavior. Sold! I started this exercise in earnest. And, like practicing yoga or swearing off profanity, some days are better than others:

June 19:
1. Family and friends
2. Flowers in the garden
3. Time to run a few miles and clear my head

June 25:
1. Having family close by
2. Beautiful thunder showers
3. Meaningful work

June 29:
1. That my head does not unscrew and fly off under stress
2. That I don't run into the street screaming
3. That I have a house

So, yeah, this is hard and it is not passive, either. I must constantly reflect on what I've written and act on it. A work in progress.

Part 2 of 2:
Some days are so easy, yet many are hard as hell once I lose the basics, get distracted by self-pity or envy. And then I saw something from my office window that I'm still processing. To be continued...

July 19, 2014

Beck kills it at Pitchfork

I intended to post a story about gratitude today. Was going to finish it after reading the paper. As happens with online scanning, I jump around quite a bit and ended up setting aside the gratitude piece.

This morning, The Chicago Tribune reported that 22 people got shot in the city during a 24 hour period. One of those people was an eleven year old girl. Inside her bedroom at 9:35 last night in the 3900 block of West Gladys Avenue, a stray bullet found her. Eleven years old. Shot in the head. Inside a bedroom. At 9:35 p.m. in a residential neighborhood. Hear about it?

Pitchfork Music Festival is also happening in Chicago this weekend. Someone from our house attends just about every year. One of my kids is there now on a 3 day pass. I asked, "Who was on at about 9 last night?" I clicked on Pitchfork's Facebook page and saw this post regarding that time slot:

Here's some perspective on locations - 3900 West Gladys versus Pitchfork (about 3 miles):

I'm sure Beck put on a great show. I'm confident that the thousands of people in the park had fun listening to his music and partying. But, in the time it takes blow dry Beck's hair, you can drive from Pitchfork to that girl's bedroom and see what killing it really looks like.

July 13, 2014

On Walking Cabbage

A switch in my head got flipped while watching a video last month. And that video dovetails with my developing reflections on health care and aging.

First, the video. After viewing the New York Time's, A Man Takes His Cabbage for a Walk, I looked up the video's subject, Han Bing. Born in rural China, now living in China and India, Bing produces art commentary that is at once deceptively simple and complex. I've been mulling how his diary entry, The Walking Cabbage Project, speaks to my own behavior and culture half a world away.

credit: Han Bing Studio
He describes Walking the Cabbage as "a playful twist on a serious subject—the way our everyday practices serve to constitute "normalcy" and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions."

Bing's essay "offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values." While many Chinese still struggle at a subsistence level that includes cabbage, "what's changed is the value structure that dictates what—and who—is valuable or worthless in Chinese society."

This observation lays bare what is well established here in the U.S. And, with concerted encouragement from vested interests, we publicly vilify the use or need for assistance as a moral failing.

When I am financially comfortable, it is natural to conflate this comfort with moral superiority. "I must be a better, moral person because I have things. You must be doing something wrong because you don't." This makes sense, as the alternative means addressing an essential component of capitalism - that I get mine at your expense.

Now the dovetail part. I spend time inside an industry so massive, it is difficult to comprehend unless you witness it first hand.

May 4, 2014

Don't Let Me Go

If you saw Ed walking around town, you saw Buster, too. Inseparable through freezing cold, pouring rain, and steaming heat, they got up and out each morning to collect cans and bottles. Word was Ed had some disability income. But people figured it was modest, seeing how worn his clothes were. Buster was a stray mutt he found years back. Buddies, they lived in a tiny, droopy house next to Harder's Auto Garage.

If you passed them on the sidewalk, Buster'd let you pet him, his tail wagging. Ed would make eye contact just long enough to admit the interaction. He was a loner where people were concerned. When I was a kid, I heard that he'd been abandoned for being "a little slow." Most in town took him as he was, though, and let him be. The diner and quick-mart had water bowls and dog treats ready, local cops kept one eye peeled in case kids tried to prank them.

March 20, 2014

Mint Meltaways, Repurposed

Damn. The throbbing on the left side of my skull was making me sick. Driving into the sun with forty miles before home and pain killers, it was a mystery why I had a headache after visiting my parents.

I'm serious. It was a lovely visit.

After hugs, but before closing the door, my mother asked (told) me to take the box of Fannie May's from their freezer, declaring, "Your kids will eat them." I protested but knew she was right. My kids would eat them. If I didn't first.

Sensing a full-on migraine, I felt around the back seat for the care package. Wouldn't you know it, the still-frozen Meltaways pressed firmly into my scalp worked like an ice pack! With one hand on the wheel and the other flashing chocolates at passing cars and trucks, I finished the drive.

Thanks, Mom.