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Archive for the ‘lessons’ Category

Bob Ross painting

My Copilot, Bob

I had a terrible road rage problem. I shouted, I gestured, I scowled. I used bad words. I am embarrassed to admit that once in a great while, I flipped someone the bird. And these things sometimes happened while my preteen was riding in the car with me. I feel ashamed to think back on it, but I want to share the truth of it because where this story ended up had a powerful lesson in it.

Much of this rage happened because my Mama Bear instinct got triggered in wanting to keep the kiddo safe – that is, responses to unsafe behaviors of others like tailgating, cutting me off, distracted driving. But, that didn’t account for all of my rage. Some was just plain indignation and refusal to accept things as they are: “How dare they?” or “It’s not your turn!” or “Why do I try so hard to be careful and courteous when it feels like so few other drivers are?!”

There was also some very emotional baggage connected to being in the car. Fear, grief, and anger related to long ago events in cars. Primarily, it was about a car accident before I was born that paralyzed my grandmother and robbed her of walking and most of her communication. Then, the same week that grandmother died, when I was 14 years old, a a good friend my age died in a car accident. Riding or driving on highways has always scared me to some degree. Luckily, the fear is usually more of a low-level buzzing rather than full-on screeching. For some reason, changing lanes is the scariest; when I must do it, I check many, many times and then brace myself.

Point is, although there may be some understandable reasons for over-the-top reactions to to others driving badly, the facts remained that a) overreacting didn’t help these situations (and in fact, the adrenaline rush probably degraded my judgement); and, b) I was ashamed of how I acted in front of the youngster. It wasn’t the way I’d want her to behave as a driver.

The turning point came one day when I swore and threw my hands up in disgust at another driver, and my daughter gave me feedback. I can’t remember exactly how she phrased it, but she made it clear, in a respectful way, that reactions like this made her uncomfortable when she rode with me. She also said that my reaction was beyond what that situation warranted. I was still seething but luckily I could take a step back and not turn the anger on her. I didn’t snipe. I knew she had a right to express her opinion and feel comfortable in the car. I may be driving, but it was her ride, too. I apologized, and let it be for the moment. I remember thinking, this is how I am, how I’ve always been, and it’s won’t change. She may have to get used to it.

A few days later I tearfully explained to my daughter about what had happened to my Nana and my friend Jenn, and how these events still made me feel scared and angry when other drivers drove badly. She told me it was sad to hear these details, but that it helped her to understand where I was coming from and why driving was so fraught for me. She otherwise knew me as a reasonable person without much of a temper, so “Driver Mom” had seemed a whole different person to her.

After that, I thought. A lot. About her feedback; about the person I wanted to be vs. who I was being; about what qualified as in my control; about being a role model. And though my pattern of behavior behind the wheel had been etched for over 25 years, I decided I needed to try my best to change.

I thanked my daughter for the honest opinion she had given me. I acknowledged that it can’t have been easy – she took a risk that I might get mad at her. But it turned out to be critical for me to know how my behavior affected her.

After that, I came up with the following approach – it was highly personal and so I realize it might not work for many folks – but in case any of it may be helpful, here it is:

1) I acknowledged that the root of my reactions was a negative baseline perspective of others driving. I saw them as opponents or potential nemeses, which set me up to expect the worst of them, all the time. Even if it wasn’t going to be true, I needed to find a way to make that baseline perspective of others to be neutral, or maybe even positive. It would also be important for me to separate actions from people – that a deed doesn’t define someone’s whole being. I went with the phrase “friends” to associate with other drivers – sure, kind of touchy-feely, but I need big ammunition to counteract my views. So instead of, for instance, “What an @$$hole!“, I’d say aloud, “Sometimes our friends on the road don’t make good choices.” This acknowledged that something frustrating happened, but didn’t get me keyed up and leave me with such angry, hopeless feelings. It was goofy, but it worked for me.

2) I took it a day at a time only. If I got through a day without a bad outburst, I put a quarter in a jug. It was fun to see the stash grow, although this particular approach only last a month or two because I don’t usually have change and it became a pain to get ahold of change to do this. But in the beginning it was a good tangible way to see my progress!

3) I considered what was calming to me, and realized one clear winner is the painter Bob Ross. His voice has always soothed me, and his gentle way and encouraging messages hearten me. So, I printed a big ol’ picture of him in his Afro glory, smiling and painting a beautiful landscape and taped it to my glovebox. He has become my soothing copilot. Glancing at Bob does help calm me! Sometimes I chat with him a little, too. I’ve gotten all sorts of positive reactions when people see my Bob Ross pic – from friends and strangers. It’s been fun and surprising to see how many of the younger generation know Bob – maybe from You Tube?

My daughter is more comfortable riding with me these days. She told me she is proud that I’ve worked so hard to change how I act behind the wheel. I’m proud of me, too. I have occasional slips but that’s ok – it’s nowhere near the intensity and frequency it once was. But I showed her that her opinion matters even if she’s a kid, and that even older folks can learn to make a big change if they want to badly enough.

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The Grinch.
The Prodigal Son.
Scrooge.

What do these fellows have in common? For one thing, these central characters all behave in a way that goes against what their peers consider socially acceptable.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.” – A Christmas Carol

 

“Santie Claus, why? Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?” – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

They may not be considered out-and-out villains, but they’re seen as misbehavers at the very least. Then, they all have dramatic transformations of their core personalities and perspectives, and afterward are enthusiastically welcomed into the fold.

Those I was always more curious about in these stories are people like the gentler Whos in Whoville around the table at the big feast. They perhaps never experienced an extreme change, but certainly many have tried all their lives to do the right thing. They’ve had quiet struggles – because anyone trying to do the right thing will sometimes struggle with it – and they’ve mostly succeeded. What of their stories? I think most of us are like these folks in the background – no showy celebrations for our small wins. Who’s our character to rally behind?

I understand the need for a big redemption in order to add interest and drama to a plot. The endings of these three fellows’ stories are quite satisfying, if you don’t overthink like I do. Maybe the main takeaway is that us quieter, small-win folks can see that, if seemingly wretched folks like those dudes can soften their hearts and choose a better path, well, so can we.

We may all have latent heroes quiet or otherwise inside of us; but a villain waits there too.

What is a hero, really, but a villain that struggled and succeeded?

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I went to 3 different grad schools (two for Comm. Sciences & Disorders programs, and one for Secondary Ed).  Only finished the 3rd one.  I’d explain, but it’s a long story plus I have sold the rights to the Lifetime channel, who will be making a t.v. movie of it starring Meredith Baxter-Birney, costarring Danielle Brisbois as the sassy neighbor.

But I digress.

One summer evening in 1997, I was glaring at application forms.  I was in the middle of round 2 of applying for grad school.  I’d done everything but the essays.  Oh lordy, the essays.  You’d think since I like to write I wouldn’t mind doing essays, but for academic purposes I very much do.  Mind it.  With multiple choice tests, you circle answers and, right or wrong, you’re done.  With an essay, when are you done?  Some might say you are never truly done with a piece of writing.  Yes, well, for something that will be assessed, I find that fact unsettling and unsatisfying.

So, glaring at the applications.  Deeply wishing that some deus ex machina would sweep in and write them, or at least provide a legitimate reason to procrastinate, when the phone rang.  Normally one to ignore a phone, I leapt for it.

The young man on the line said that he was with a marketing research firm conducting a survey about the upcoming feature film “Beautician and the Beast”, starring “The Nanny’s” Fran Drescher.  He said it would take about 20 minutes of my time.  I was needed, people.

I practically shouted, “I’d love to take your survey!”.  He’d obviously had no takers that day because he was very surprised, kept thanking me, and had to rummage around to locate the survey questions.

The takeaway here?  I think your average person is not motivated to take surveys by the chance to win a prize or help a cause.  The big motivator is an opportunity to avoid something worse than your survey.  These are the people to locate, Mr. and Ms. Survey Launcher.  The downside is, your population will be 100% procrastinators.  This would typically not be an issue, however, unless you are looking to gauge interest in, say, a book called, “Get Off Yer Duff and Take Care of That Thing Already.”

Oh, and – you may have trouble getting these folks off the line.  Me, after being barraged by questions about Fran Drescher, beauticians, movie ads, beasts, and who knows what else, had feelings of genuine disappointment when the surveyor was wrapping up.

“So . . . that’s all the questions, huh?” I asked, trying to sound casual.  “You folks researching any other films?”  I could practically hear his finger hovering above the disconnect button.

Fine, I thought.  Just you wait until you decide to apply for school, mister.

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Some

Dear unsated self,

I’d like to introduce you to Some. Some is better than None. Some is even sometimes better than All, because it may mean moderation. It may mean not exhausted, not tapped out, not 0 to 60, not over-caffeinated, not unrealistic, frustrated & whining.

Some is your friend. Some is the real world. Some can be cause for celebration in some contexts. Some is the down-to-earth, working class, worn but comfy couch of the sanctuaried mind. Some laughs with you.

Embrace the Some. Invite Some in, try it on like a new-to-you fleece vest. Close your eyes. There. Some wants you to remember the journey. Memento vivere. Some is the truest legacy.

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Lost Souls

I remember a phrase often used in my family when I was growing up: Lost Soul.   There were times I might ask why so-and-so acts like that, and would be told, usually with a shaking of the head, that they’re just a Lost Soul.  Softly.  Wistfully.

It sounded so . . . final.  And overly tidy – lumping together the various folks who have fallen off the map of sensibility.  This notion seemed to remove responsibility from the Lost Soul and the speaker.  No responsibility usually means no control over the situation – and no hope for things to improve.  I remember thinking – if they’ve lost their way, why doesn’t somebody rescue them?  And, further, why aren’t you trying to rescue them?  I, however, did not say so to the bigpeople.

I still feel this way sometimes.  When I see folks who may be in what would have been considered the Lost soul category, I wonder, how can this be.  In a country developed and filled with people, why should anyone be lost?

As a grown up I do realize you cannot save other people.  I learned this a hard way, caring about people who made unwise choices, surrounded themselves with horrible people, and came to harm, sometimes death.  I could not have saved them, these people who didn’t want saving; at least not on my own.  I only can try my hardest to help them try to find a better path.

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The story

I’ve decided it’s time to dump all of my self-help and life advice-type books.  I realized this morning that trying to apply principles to yourself about living that another person came up with is like expecting Cliff Notes about  “Great Expectations” to apply to “Bleak House” – every(one’s) story is different.

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“Done Did”

Like most folks, I have a crapload of stuff to get done each week.  My todo list resides in Excel, is coded by priority and date due, and is freaking ridiculous.  Unless they announce an extra 2 days are added to the week, likely my todo list will be handed over to my heirs upon my demise.

It can get to be a downer – looking at that long list, hearing the voice in my head who so often sounds like a cranky basic training sargeant.   So, to quell Sarge, last week I created a new tab: a “Done Did” tab.  When I do stuff, instead of deleting the line off my todo tab, I move it to the Done Did tab.  To try to prove to Sarge that I’m doing what I can, for crying out loud.

Hopefully it won’t have the opposite effect, a la –
“You call that a week’s worth of TASKS?  You make me sick!  Drop and give me 20 . . . um . . . errands . . .” or some such.

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