ritual.

Growing up in a relatively strict, but by no means dogmatic, religious household, I was raised to follow and respect various rituals. We attended church on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, as well as Wednesday night. There were youth groups and youth retreats and summer jobs at youth camps.

In addition, there was the ritual of school – lessons and tests and homework and after-school activities, five or six days a week.

When I joined the Air Force, almost a year out of high school, the rituals shifted but became more prevalent. Inspections and marching and even more classroom time, followed by active duty assignments that required pre- and post-activites, as well as active participation during.

As I entered my 30’s, I begun to shun anything that smacked of ‘ritual.’ I became, almost overnight, a student of the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants school of living life. I was still punctual for appointments, still a dutiful employee that would show up early and leave late, still a doting husband and father (to varying degrees, depending on which ex-wife or child you ask). But making plans was something I had no taste for, no interest in.

I became very much a go-with-the-flow partner and friend, always happy to be along for the ride, but rarely engaged in making plans myself.

Don’t get me wrong; nobody would consider me a “free spirit” or anything like that. I like to have a plan in place, and follow it as closely as possible. I just dreaded the work of having to come up with a plan myself. I much preferred having others do that dirty work for me.

However, now that I am well into my 50’s, I am learning to appreciate, and even love, more structure. Over the last couple of years, the importance of (secular) rituals has begun to resonate with me again.

It’s been said that in order for a ritual to truly take hold, you have to repeat it for anywhere from three weeks to two months, depending on which scientific study you’re reading. The best illustration I’ve seen of this is from the author Sarah Bakewell, who compares the process of learning a new habit to digging ditches in your brain that allows the thoughts and habits to flow freely and without effort, as rain water drains from a field into a river.

Some have been easier than others. At the insistence of both my son and my girlfriend, I have quit drinking coffee and switched to black tea in the mornings. I’ve noticed no ill effects from the switch, and my stomach seems to appreciate the loss of the acidic quality of the dark French roast that I so loved.

More complicated is my relationship with the meditation practice I began nearly a year ago. That continues to grow in fits and spurts; I’ll go a week or two with my daily practice, then slack off for a few days until I realize that I’ve become tense again and need to realign my perspective.

As the weather has begun to warm, my current favorite (begun at the end of last week, and by no means a ritual yet) is to spend an hour on the back porch first thing in the morning, listening to the birds, completing my daily Duolingo lessons, and reading. I find it to be very calming for me personally, and both the language learning and book reading feed my intellectual needs quite nicely.

Rituals, it turns out, are not such a bad thing after all. They are just another tool to help me navigate the daily grind.

Parles-tu quelque chose?

I’ve been thinking a lot about languages lately.

Looking back over the last few years, I can divide my interests and efforts into generalized, annualized categories:

2017 – my Finding My Roots phase
2018 – my Making Music phase
2019 – my Writing A Book phase
2020 – my Writing A Book Of Poetry phase
2021 – my Math And Philosophy phase

This year – actually, it started at the end of 2021 – I began delving into languages. My obsession with French philosophy in the second half of 2021 lead me to want to be able to read certainly philosophy books by Camus and Sartre and de Beauvoir in the original French. I dusted off my Duolingo account from early 2018 (where I’d been learning Spanish as a result of my ancestral search) and started the French language track.

Then, when a close friend of mine told me she might have a chance to visit Italy at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, I convinced her to start learning Italian on Duolingo, and promised I’d support her in her efforts. So, now the two of us are imparando a parlare italiano even as I continue to aprendere à lire le français in my spare time.

As I’ve worked a bit ahead of her in Italian, and this isn’t my first language-learning rodeo, I have been trying to give her tips to help her internalize some of the lessons we’re learning in Duo. And as I’ve been engaged in this process, a thought struck me.

For French, it’s important (to me) to really grasp the written language fully, in order to be able to read the literary works I’ve set my sights on. So while vocabulary is very important, being able to accurately conjugate verbs, use the correct pronouns, and agree the possessive pronouns with the object of the sentence are all necessary in order to fully grasp the language.

To be certain, I won’t be there by the end of this year, or even the end of next year. This is a language project that will extend well beyond Duolingo and the YouTube videos I watch every day. I can see a point in my near future where I’ll require the assistance of a tutor of some sort in order to reach the level of French fluency I believe I’ll need.

For Italian, though, it seems to me that our goal should be more about being able to communicate – the technicalities of the written language aren’t as important as being able to express thoughts, needs, desires, etc. So, agreement is not so important, especially when native speakers (of both languages) tend to slur words together – and not just due to the French liason!

As long as we know the basics – Voglio… (I want…), vorrei… (I would like…, much more polite and respectful), hai… (do you have…?), dov’è… (where is…?), and a wide assortment of vocabulary words for different foods, beverages, and places, she should be more than prepared to spend a few days in the beautiful north of Italy.

So, I’ve modified my approach for each language. En français, I am primarily focused on getting the grammar down and mastering sentence structure and various literary devices. In italiano, my focus is on vocabulary and being able to form structurally sound sentences that would make some sort of sense when spoken to a native speaker.

So, here’s to 2022 – my Foreign Languages phase.

Another Day by Debbie Vandenberg

A good friend of mine, Debbie Vandenberg, shared with me this beautiful poem she wrote this morning as she was enjoying the sunrise from her porch, and has given me her permission to share it with you...
Another Day

Sunset gently waking me
Kissing away the night before
Wiping sadness out of my eyes
Then teasing me
To play some more

I take a sip
    hot
    strong
    creamy
I can taste the opportunity
In the warmth
Cup to my mouth
Toying with me
As I hold it in my hands
To make the best of this day
That is all it knows
And this, too, I understand
My clothes hit the floor
I need to be ready in an hour
So the shower takes me in
Washed away
Every ounce of sorrow
Then like a mad man
I let the water go cold
As the shower
Boldly reminds me
It is up to me to decide
Hold on, or let go

My chair wants to be one with me
It is the softest
Space I have
So I bring my legs up from the floor
And relax every muscle that I have
My breath I begin to watch
Breathing in, then I release
A sweet sense of joy surrounds me
My chair shows me how to find peace

It is time now for the mirror
Without the above
I could not face
In there I see lines of wisdom
And eyes that have seen
What it is to find grace

Now I am walking out the door
The world is mine to
Explore
I thank the
     sun
     shower
     chair
     mirror
For waking me,
Cleaning me,
Holding me,
And letting me see the truth
Now I have the power
To face another day.

-Debbie Vandenberg, October 2021
©2021 Debbie Vandenberg 

August Update II

It’s been a super busy month so far – between ridding myself of useless material clutter and watching two of my kids go back to college for another year, it’s been non-stop action!

The band has added a number of new songs, so I’ve had my work cut out for me there as well.

I’m preparing to get my COVID vaccine booster in the next week, and very excited about that!

I also passed my PCEP certification, and am now a Certified Entry-level Python Programmer – so, one test down, two to go!

The road trip to Providence the last two days has been especially fun! As we raced down I-44 and the local NPR affiliate, KWGS, faded from range, I told Ian about an idea I had for writing a golf game in Python, and he immediately grabbed his laptop from the back seat of the rental car and began coding it, with occasional input from me.

When the battery on his laptop died just outside of Rolla, MO, he put it away, then downloaded a moblie Python IDE to his phone and continued working!

The next morning, as we were leaving Columbus, OH, he explained to me the differences between Cartesian coordinates and the polar coordinate system, and how to convert from one to the other using “simple” (his word, not mine) trigonometry functions. He then went on to talk about vector addition – it was a very educational and entertaining morning!

Once we were checked into our room in Providence, he combined what was on his phone and what was on his laptop into one .py file and let me take a swing at it…pun intended

I must say, I think Ian’s golf game has much potential!

The Heart of Theseus

Modern literature and pop culture is rife with references to broken hearts. From Whitney Houston to Shinedown, from Nora Ephron to Rupi Kaur, from New Girl to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, you can’t turn around without bumping into someone who has survived a broken heart, is surviving one now, or is about to suffer through the debilitation of having their heart ripped out of their chest and stomped on.

And yet, this imagery has never rung true with me. The most glaringly silly example that I can think of is Padme dying of a “broken heart” at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and I’m not the only one who thought this was silly, albeit for different reasons.

The imagery of a broken heart carries with it the idea that something inside of you is broken and in need of fixing, when the opposite is actually true. When someone betrays you or acts in such a way that is contrary to what you were expecting, it is not an indication of some short-coming within yourself. It is in indicator of something missing within them.

Setting aside the fact that your (emotional) heart is located in your head and not your chest, I prefer to think of the heart – that part of you that feels and cares and loves – as an ever-evolving entity that is constantly changing and growing. It is not stagnant; it learns new things, forgets old pains, overcomes previous prejudices, perseveres onward.

When I was young, my mother and step-father tended to punish my sloppy ways by yelling at me or threatening me with a beating with one of my orange Hot Wheels tracks, but occasionally they’d get fed up with trying to correct my behavior, so they’d gather up all of the comic books I’d left lying around and throw them in the burn barrel. My ten-year-old self was traumatized by this betrayal, but it didn’t break my heart. It was an experience I internalized.

When my first marriage ended, I truly felt broken. Not in the “oh-how-will-I-go-on?” sense, but more in the “what’s-wrong-with-me?” sense. I felt I had failed in one of the most basic tasks in life, making a home with a partner. How could I possibly be successful in any other endeavor if I couldn’t do this one simple thing properly? However, I was still able to fully function on a day-to-day basis, so obviously I wasn’t that broken.

Over time, I have come to realize that the heart doesn’t truly break. It takes on more experience, letting old situations go in favor of new ones. My heart is not the same today as it was when I was ten, or thirty. And yet, it’s the exact same heart I’ve always had. How is that even possible?

When something is broken, it doesn’t work any longer. Well, that’s not entirely true – even a broken clock is correct twice a day. But for all intents and purposes, a broken clock is useless for anything more than decorating the wall in the guest bathroom.

The heart, I’ve found, is more resilient than that. With apologies to both John Mayer and Celine Dion, rather than being broken and in need of repair, the heart goes on, continuing to feel and care and love despite all indications to the opposite. And with each new joyous experience, an older, more painful experience is expunged, until one day you feel whole again, and capable of once again giving your heart to someone. Your same old heart, though experience and attrition, has become something new.

That’s been my experience, anyway.

Word Forward

Man, dating really sucks. At any age, but more so as you get older.

I’m not a really a go-to-a-bar-and-meet-someone kind of guy. I’m not terribly social. So, my only option, particularly in this time of quarantines and pandemics, is online dating. Which is the absolute worst.

Online dating is much like social media for single people. Between inaccurate (or totally fake) profile pictures and messages that never get returned, there is a decided cowardice and lack of respect in lying to and then ghosting someone. And from stories I’ve heard from female friends, it’s endemic to both sides of the aisle, as it were.

And when did “I love tacos!” become a way to demonstrate your date-ability?1 C’mon, now – aim higher. Everyone loves tacos. And hiking. And being on the water. And world peace.

The one thing that dating HAS done for me is to grow more comfortable talking about myself. In fact, dating off-and-on over the past nine months has helped me develop a bit of a spiel that I can jump into, at any point along the continuum, to keep an awkward first (or second) date moving along.

I’ve written about some of this before, in previous blog posts. Here, then, is the more detailed, expanded version – The Origin of 56-year-old Steve: The Special Edition:

I’ve spent the last four or five years jumping from one interest to the other. It started with music, and continued with a renewed interest in math, followed by dabbling in computer programming, and then delving deeper into philosophy…but wait, it goes back farther than that.

I was a decent enough student in high school. I could have been a straight-A student had I applied myself. However, that was not the case. I piddled around the entire four years. My final two years of high school were marked by my step-father dying, leaving my Mom as a single mother having to work to earn money to raise me, my four-year-younger sister, and my twelve-year-younger half-brother. Money as always tight, and she did the best she could.

But college was never really an option as I began my senior year. The focus was solely on me finishing high school so that I could get a job and start supporting myself. So a few weeks after graduation, I found myself delivering pizzas for Straw Hat Pizza for nine months, then it was off to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, for USAF basic training.

Two years into my military service, I was married to a fellow service member. We spent five years overseas together, then four more years in Denver, CO, before calling it quits. We split up shortly after I left the military (she had retired once we returned stateside), and I was on my own for a while.

Another whirlwind romance that ended in disaster brought me to Oklahoma, and this is where I’ve been for the past twenty-six-plus years.

Somewhere along the line, I began to regret not having concentrated more on my studies when I was in school. I went back to school, getting a business admin degree from the local community college. I dipped my foot in the pool of an actual B.A. program at OSU-Tulsa.

My kids are super smart – much smarter than I was at their age, and certainly much smarter than I am now. They began feeding me interesting YouTube videos. At first it was VSauce videos – Michael Stevens’ deadpan delivery of interesting science facts and thought experiments was extremely engaging. Then one of them started sending me Grant Sanderson videos, and we were off to the races.

I can still clearly recall one video where Sanderson was attempting to explain calculus in layman’s terms (relatively speaking), and I had a light bulb moment ten minutes into the video.

In this particular video, which was part one of a ten-part “Essence of Calculus” series2, less than ten minutes into the lesson, Sanderson clearly and concisely explained how, when solving for the area of a circle, you are actually solving for the area of a right triangle, and my mind, to say the least, was blown. I distinctly remember thinking to myself (and repeating to anyone who would listen), “If I’d had someone teach me this in high school, I’d be a rocket scientist by now!”

I immediately hit Kahn Academy and began relearning all of the algebra I’d forgotten over the years.

In the meantime, I’d become enamored with British mathematician Matt Parker and his YouTube channel, Stand Up Maths. He is also a frequent guest on another great channel, Numberphile. One of my favorite parts of Matt’s videos is, on occasion after working something out on butcher paper or a blackboard, will then reveal that he wrote a quick Python program to verify his results. That sealed it – I had to learn computer programming!

And so I did – I now know just enough JavaScript, HTML, CSS and (of course) Python to be extremely dangerous. My crowning achievement (so far) has been to write a Python script that will take a block of text and send it, word by work, to an unsuspecting cell phone user via SMS. Beauty!

. . . . .

My most recent obsession, philosophy, is another thing entirely. And yet, more of the same.

I’ve always been interested in philosophy – my first blog post dealt with stoicism, and that was almost two years ago. This time, I decided to approach it with the same academic rigor that I’ve explored math, science, and computer programming over the last few years. I started at the beginning with the father of pre-Socratic philosophy, Thales, and have been steadily moving forward through the different schools of thought over the last 2,500 years.

One of the things that fascinates me most about the study of philosophy is that the earlier philosophers had nothing else to go on but their five senses and their minds, and yet were able to develop such insightful, and often (overly) complicated explanations for everything.

While there existed schools of thought that invoked the four classical Greek elements (fire, water, earth, air) there was a school called the Atomists that supposed that everything was made up of smaller, unseen particles called atoms that actually made up everything we see – and they came to this conclusion 300 years B.C.E, nearly 2,000 years before the Janssen brothers in 1590 C.E.!

But more to the point, the early philosophers never gave up, and never stopped building upon the thoughts and ideas of their forebears, sometimes eloquently expanding on their ideas, sometimes developing totally new ideas and doctrines.

And that, more than anything, defines how I’ve overcome that lack of desire (and, to be honest, motivation) and am now attempting expand my horizons through the faux-academic study of things that interest me. I keep building upon what I’ve learned previously, always striving to expand my knowledge of the world around me. Or, in the words of philosopher Stephen West, to always “know more today than I did yesterday.”

The key (for me, anyway) is, word for word, to always keep moving forward.

. . . . .

Links

  1. Self-proclaimed “snarky dating poster” Sarah Kehoe tweeted something to this effect – @sarahkehoe. If you have a Twitter, follow her!
  2. “Essence of Calculus – Chapter 1” by Grant Sanderson (3blue1brown) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUvTyaaNkzM

. . . . .

If you haven’t had a chance to check out my first book, “What I’ve Learned: Random Thoughts on Various Subjects,” now it the perfect time! Bounce over to http://bit.ly/what_ive_learned and pick up a paperback copy, or download it to your Kindle!

Acta non Verba

One of the coolest things about immersing myself in some subject with which I already have some passing familiarity is being able to see how my views have shifted over the years. Streaming all four seasons of The Good Place recently has led to a reignited interest in philosophy in general. Since it’s been a hot minute since I’ve given philosophy any real thought or consideration, I decided to start from the beginning. And by that, I mean literally the beginning of philosophical thought, with Thales and the other pre-Socratic philosophers, of which I knew very little.

Another cool feature of this is that, as each new idea is presented and explained and demonstrated as a step forward in the evolution of philosophical thinking, I find myself going through the usual three stages of learning something new:

  1. Oh, that’s cool! I never thought of that!
  2. Oh, this is actually bullshit. Why did I think that made sense?
  3. Oh, this new bit of information is cool! I never thought of that! (see step #1)

With the study of philosophy, this constant cycle is significantly heightened. What makes sense one minute is revealed to be limited and not very insightful in light of subsequent thoughts, findings, and techniques. I’ve spent the last week reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos that (more or less) follow the development of philosophical thoughts and ideas from roughly 650 BCE up through today.

I’m quickly finding that the philosophers I relate to most closely are the ones who took action. Whether it is Thales laying the groundwork for future philosophical thought, or Pythagoras starting a new cult to prove that math is the language of the kosmos, or Plato utilizing the Socratic method of constant, insightful questioning to arrive at a conclusion, or Karl Popper questioning the scientific methods of Freud (pseudo-science) in comparison to Einstein (actual science), the philosophers that resonate with me are the ones who not only thought of something, but also did something about it.

Acta non verba – action, not words.

I mentioned in my previous post all of the changes I’ve attempted to make in 2020. While nullius in verba has become the defining principle of my life now, coming in close second is acta non verba. I have wasted so much time waiting for something to drop into my lap – financial success, new jobs with better pay, new passions – and I have largely been lucky in the sense that I’ve lived a bit of a charmed life compared to most.

How much more happier would I be, then, if I’d actually expended more than just the minimal effort required to reach my goals – if the fruits of my labor were a direct result of the effort I’d put into a task or activity? This is the true nature of the experiment I’m engaged in now. I seek to answer the question: what if I actually took control of my life and went after the things I desire, rather than just sit back and hope they will drop into my lap somehow?

It may very well be that I’m setting myself up for misery, or disappointment, or a fate worse than death – third marriage, anyone? But I don’t believe that to be the case. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that in the long run, I’ll meet with more success than failure. And isn’t that really what we all desire? To be successful more often than we fail?

If the ultimate goal of life is to be happy while minimizing (or eliminating) the sadness and dissatisfaction of others, then how much sweeter would that taste if it was by my own design rather than the luck of the draw, or fate? That may come across as a bit selfish, but that certainly is not my intent. I say it in this sense: How much more satisfying is it to be the master of one’s own fate, rather than leaving it to chance or the gods or God (or whatever your particular belief system happens to be)?

So, these are the questions I seek to answer, and I will be doing it via concrete action instead of mere rhetoric – acta non verba.

Nullius in Verba

I got my fourth tattoo today from Niah and the fine folks at Black Gold Tattoo here in Tulsa, OK. It had been a number of years since I have gotten any new ink, and today seemed like just as good a day as any. It is my brother’s birthday as well, and he is a tattoo nut, so this is in part for him as well.

The reactions have run the gamut from “Wow, cool!” to “But why?”. To those on the lower, disapproving end of the spectrum, I played it off as just something I wanted to do, or simply replied, “Why not?”

But the truth is that this phrase is the most important thing I have learned thus far in 2020, which is saying a lot. So far this year, I have had to learn to live on my own again, I have taught myself ukulele, I have tried to learn Python, I have begun studying philosophy again. Yet all of these things pale in comparison to the effect these three simple Latin words have had on my life in 2020.

Nullius in verba is Latin for “on the word of no-one.” More loosely translated, it is taken to mean “think (or do) for yourself.”

I have spent much of my life doing was I was told to do, believing what I was told to believe. From my religious upbringing, through my military service, through my varied jobs in the private sector, and through two failed marriages, I have always tried to do what I thought the other party felt was right.

Perhaps I paint with too-broad strokes here – it is not like I was a robot following orders. I have had my fun, and made my share of stupid mistakes that were 100% my idea alone. However, there were definitely times where I felt like an automaton, and this characterization is probably pretty accurate more, often than not.

This year, one of my (many) foci has been to attempt to figure out where I belong, where I fit in to the grand scheme of things. Everything else – ukulele, coding, philosophy, etc. – has been window dressing for the real search, the search for personal meaning and validation.

What these three simple words remind me of is this: there is no better judge of things than myself.

Does this mean I completely dismiss the words of subject matter experts and authority figures? Absolutely not.

What it DOES mean is that everything that is meaningful is also independently verifiable. Am I going to run my own lab tests to ensure the eventual COVID-19 vaccination works? Of course not. But will I pay more attention to who it is that is telling me that it works? Absolutely.

Am I going to vote for someone simply because they are a registered Democrat, or against someone because they are a registered Republican? Nope, not anymore. I have taken the time to actually delve into what each individual candidate stands for, what each individual ballot measure means and what the pass/fail ramifications are.

Closer to home: am I going to stop forcing my will on others because it is what I think is best for them? Can I accept that others know what is in their best interest, just like I have some idea of what is in my best interest? Hopefully.

And these are just a few of a million little things that bears closer scrutiny, starting with myself. It will be the ultimate introspective exercise. Socrates (via Plato) once indicated that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and this is precisely what he meant. I’ve wasted so much of my life believing one thing and disbelieving another, simply because it was easier to follow the crowd instead of expending a little extra time and effort to do the research myself.

On the word of no-one; think for yourself.

Working Mothers

I have many fond memories of my mother, both with my Dad and after they divorced when I was eight. This, however, isn’t one of them.

I was cleaning out a cabinet today and ran across a manila envelope. Within, I found two typewritten sheets of paper – it was undated, but it refers to an incident that occurred while driving with my younger brother Eric, and it (apparently) occurred before he was driving, so that places it somewhere between 1982 and 1991 or so. It has all the earmarks of being a letter to the editor, most likely to The Bakersfield Californian.

Here it is in its entirety – typos, bad grammar, and all:

OPINION

“Get A Real Job – Be A Housewife”

Today my son and I was this really great license plate frame, it said, “Get A Real Job – Be A Housewife!”. I told my son, I would really like to have one. I made that choice back in 1963, rather than going to work in an office. I wanted to raise my own Children. I was a single parent for a while and it was not easy, but we survived.

Back at that time, late 60’s & 70’s, it was an acceptable choice, today it seems it is not. Today it is felt that if you stay at home you do nothing, but in fact it is a 24Hr. a day job, no salary, you work harder then most people in the working world, outside the home.

I really believe there would be less problems with our kids today if they had a stay at home Parent at least through their formative years. We need more stay at home parents to take care of their children. No guarantee. “But what do parents expect, when they are not at home, remember these kids need guidance and love from you, your values, not a stranger, they are your Responsibility! There is also nothing wrong with a stay at home Dad either in fact in some cases the Dad is the better choice.

If you were to ask inmates especially the younger ones why you are here, the majority said when I was growing up no-body was at home to care, so why should I. No Excuse!

The only draw back I have found is if you look for a job after “Just” being a housewife, they tell you that you are not qualified no work experience, no real skills. I have felt like taking my kids as refrences. We really have a wide range of skills, more then just your adverage worker.

Stay at home parents have to stand together with heads held high. We are doing an honest days work for no pay, no 1hr. lunch break, no dinner break, 7 days a week 24hrs. a day.

There are rewards too, like when for years you tell your kids something and you wonder if they hear you, but then the day comes you hear the same thing coming out of them and you realize, hey they really heard what I said, it’s a great feeling. There are a thousand rewards, each milestone, special achievements, graduations, weddings, just to mention a few. The kids are so proud to have you there, just the look on their faces when they see you. I wouldn’t change a thing I did.

These rewards are wonderful and worth more then mear money could buy! Your building Memories.

Please remember these children are our future, you need to Invest Now!

Marilyn Neufled

Bakersfield, CA

She makes some really good points (and thankfully, she called out stay-at-home dad’s, as well – something I did for a number of years with our twin boys). More than that, though, it was a surreal thrill, reading words I didn’t know existed from a mother that has been gone for nearly fourteen years.

The most fascinating thing to me, though, is that she perfectly captures exactly how I remember her – always there, always taking care of us, always caring about us.

She was a true working mother, in that she gave everything she could to my sister, my brother and I, working day and night to make sure we wanted for nothing. Not all of her decisions were the right ones, but she did the best she could with what she had, and no one can fault her for that.

Perfect Endings

There are no perfect endings.

It’s surprising to me, actually, how many of the songs that are in my current playlist have to do with endings.

I ordinarily have just one working playlist. When I grow tired or bored of it, rather than just create a new one, I’ll delete it and start over fresh. It can be anything from a mood change to hearing an old song that I forgot about to just being discontented with my current soundtrack, but it doesn’t take much for me to blow everything up and start fresh.

I don’t ordinarily have themed playlists, at least not beyond “current faves” or something equally trivial. So it came as a bit of a shock when I played a number of songs in a row that dealt with endings…

and if it’s over, just remember what I told you

it was bound to happen so just keep, movin’ on

there’s no perfect endings…

I enjoy a little Straylight Run now and then, and The Perfect Ending is one of my favorites. Formed as a side project by two members of the alt band Talking Back Sunday, they tend towards more moody, contemplative pop. Great for early morning drives to work in the early morning light.

…for once I’m at peace with myself

I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long

I’m movin’ on

I go through my country phases now and again, but Rascal Flatts is about as country as I get these days (see what I did there?). I enjoy the country-pop sound of Rascal Flatts – having grown up on ELO, Chicago, and the like, there’s a certain appeal for me in the straightforward love ballad. I’m Movin’ On fits the bill nicely.

…I’ll be the one if you want me to

anywhere I would have followed you

say something, I’m giving up on you…ˆ

A know very little about A Great Big World beyond the fact that they never should have let Christina Aguilera within fifty miles of this song. Their “solo” version of Say Something is stunning in it’s simplicity, and is a mainstay of my “mellow” playlists. Plus, it’s super easy to play on the piano, making it a mainstay of my piano setlist on the rare occasions I abandon my guitar for my keyboard on a gig.

…and if you were to ask me, after all we’ve been through

do you still believe in magic? yes, I do

yes I do, of course I do…

It wouldn’t be a mellow playlist without at least a couple of Coldplay songs, and this tune, written in the midst of a divorce, always surprises and impresses me with it’s hopeful ending. After the crushing lonliness and defeat, Chris Martin reveals in Magic that he is still able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, still able to believe in the magic of love even as it dies in his own life.

I am ready to be new again

I’m ready to hear you say

who I am is quite enough

Not an “endings” song per se, but still an upbeat alt-rocker in the same vein as the other songs in this list. New Again by Taking Back Sunday puts a nice endcap on things – after all the teeth-gnashing and navel-gazing of the previous songs, New Again strikes a hopeful chord, reveling in the fact that I know I’m good enough, I’m just waiting for you to admit it, too. It’s a nice counterpoint to Say Something, in which the singer admits defeat; here, the singer isn’t giving up, and is determined to see things through to the bitter end.

Truth

There is nothing more jarring than waking up to the truth.

Granted, truth can be an extremely subjective thing in this context. Can’t that be said about all truths, though? We take it for granted that the sun will rise in the morning, but we can’t know it for certain. We can make the assumption, based upon past experience, that the sun will rise, but we don’t – we can’t – know it until it actually happens.

But what if we lived in denial of this fact? What if we’d spent the last ten years telling ourselves that it wasn’t the sun that was rising, but it was actually something else? An enormous flaming chariot, for instance, ridden across the sky every day by Helios, as the Greeks believed?

And then came the morning that you arose from bed, looked out across the plains at the horizon, and suddenly you saw the sun for what it was – middle-sized star? And you also realized that the rotation of the planet every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds was what caused the sun to rise, and not some mythical, fiery figure riding his flaming chariot across the sky?

To wake up to a truth of this magnitude can really mess with your day, let alone your week, month, or life. Maybe you’ve always suspected it. Maybe it never made sense. But it was always so much easier to believe the lie you told yourself, because the alternative was/is unpleasant.

Still, denial is a powerful ally. It is so much easier to maintain the status quo, to tell yourself that you’re better off not knowing the truth, than to accept yourself, and your situation, for what it is, good or bad. Knowing the truth, and not accepting it, is cowardice, pure and simple. It is living a lie, and that is worse than the alternative.

Self-esteem – value and self-worth – can only be fully, truthfully realized when the truth is accepted and dealt with.

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem can be a tricky thing.

We’re all born with self-esteem, but somewhere along the way, it gets systematically beaten out of us – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, sometimes both. Some people learn to deal with this at an early age, and adopt a façade of being well-adjusted, a fake air of confidence. Most of us, though, learn to deal with it in other ways – acting out, or adopting a self-deprecating sense of humor, or any of a dozen other ways of masking the pain.

Life can seem so difficult sometimes. Pride (or a lack thereof) convinces us that either we deserve more, or that we’re getting precisely what we deserve. It’s easy to look at the suffering of others and think to oneself, “Well, at least I don’t have it THAT badly!” But this is a false dichotomy – we all suffer individually, in our own little island of existence, and to varying degrees. Starving children in Africa, tortured citizens of Hong Kong or the Middle East, or victims of unspeakable crimes right here in the United States have no real bearing on the individual suffering we each experience.

Psychologists use the term “self-esteem” to describe an individual’s sense of value or self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, makes the case the we all need both esteem (or respect) from others as well as inner (self-) esteem. People who suffer from low self-esteem often find themselves in self-destructive situations or relationships. These situations become a self-fulfilling prophecy, validating one’s own low sense of self.

Although genetics play a role in it, most psychologists believe that self-esteem is shaped by one’s own environment. Allowing oneself to continue to exist in an abusive relationship – in fact, seeking out these relationships in the first place, whether consciously or unconsciously – is one of the hallmarks of low self-esteem. It is a hard habit to break, this vicious cycle of believing you get what you deserve, then being abused (either physically or emotionally) and believing you deserve to be treated in the manner.

How best to break this cycle, this merry-go-round of pain and suffering. There are many different strategies proposed by many different psychologists and therapists, but most all of them have one thing in common – it is best to rip the band-aid off rather than to continue to exist in the situation, hoping it will get better.

Sometimes, sadly, this is not always possible – at least not immediately. Certainly, if an individual is in imminent physical danger, getting out of the situation is (and should be) the main priority. But in cases of emotional abuse, the situation is not always cut-and-dried, not always so black-and-white. It may even be the case that no abuse is intended; it may be a matter of simple miscommunication. So many people are afraid of the unknown that they would rather live with the devil they know than take a chance with the devil they don’t know.

In the absence of the ability or opportunity to leave, the first step is to try to set definitive boundaries with the other party. Try to have an adult conversation with them concerning your wants and needs. Often, it is merely a matter of miscommunication between the two parties. However, if and when it becomes evident that there is (and can be) no common ground, it is time to start to think about moving on, to start preparing for the end of the relationship.

I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. Or maybe I do, and I am just too afraid of the devil I don’t know.