Smiles, Pizza and Brain Damage

SantaGraphicI’ve been putting it off for months. Five and a half actually. Then six days ago I wrote a post about why writing holiday cards seems phony for me. There’s nothing spontaneous about it. It’s boring homework that has nothing to do with real caring – for ME that is. Maybe for you, mailing cheery greetings with family photos comes from the heart.

So I’ve been thinking about real caring lately and I realized I could never publish that article because one – it was too negative, and two – I had yet to demonstrate caring instead of writing about it. A responsible act of kindness is still waiting for me. Last July I wrote the reminder, Go see Rob.

At five pm today I finally saw Rob again.

*****

Rob and I have been friends since the ninth grade. Our paths have merged and parted, merged and parted throughout the years. But each time we reconnected, we picked up where we left off. With old friends that happens. You know what I mean. And you also know that when a long time friend drastically changes, the friendship changes too.

Rob changed drastically in June of 2012 when he died from a heart attack and came back a few minutes later with a brain that barely worked. Consequently, Rob’s body barely worked. Rob was barely connected to any of us, needing help with eating, walking, talking and urinating. He was lost in confusion when we met again in his hospital room. No one knew if my old pal would ever recover, but we all promised to help him try. I wrote about it Sept. 27, 2012 in a post titled, It’s Never Too Late.Hands on WALKER

Since then, slowly…very slowly, Rob learned to slide one foot in front of another while shaking over a walker. Bits of conversation returned, but only with whispered three-word sentences. On a good day, he could laboriously lift a fork to his mouth. This “recovery” was Rob’s big come-back and it was never going to get better. Bathing, dressing, shaving, all the standard stuff needed 24/7 assistance. And yet…every now and then Rob would push his soul out of his busted brain and mumble a funny comment that let us know our friend was still with us and that he wanted our company. Company and friendship…MY friendship. He didn’t want to lose me, but in significant ways he had.

My visits with Rob these past two years ripped me apart. I understood ten percent of what he said and faked responses with nods and agreements, pretending we were conversing as I filled in his side of the conversations. Rob appreciated my few short stays but as I said, I found our face time almost intolerable. I couldn’t bare to watch him struggle. And I couldn’t stop projecting what I would feel like if I were Rob, trapped inside a crippled shell. Even worse, I couldn’t stop getting bored while pretending to enjoy our contact. And heading back to my car, I always felt relieved and then guilty about it. Going to see Rob had turned into a depressing job that was easy to postpone. By last week I had run out of excuses. I had to go see my friend.

At five o’clock this evening I headed towards Rob’s front door carrying two pizza boxes and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. As I passed the kitchen window, I could see Rob slouched over the table as if he were taking an test. I pressed the doorbell, glancing into the living room. Gary, his boarder-turned-caretaker, was watching TV as he waited for me to arrive. Seconds later he opened the door, smiling and happy to see me. I feigned good tidings and cheer, then put the pizzas on the table where Rob was sitting. Under his nose was an open magazine. He wasn’t reading it. He was staring a single picture.

PizzaAll characters were in place now. It was time to begin the play.

*****

“Rob, look who’s here!” Gary exclaims. “It’s Irv! He brought pizzas! Your favorite!”

No reaction.

“Look at Irv, Rob!” I get no look. “ROB…LOOK-AT-IRVING!”

I get the look, with vacant eyes. “That’s right, Rob. Irv came to visit! And he brought some wine. Wanna get drunk?”

Rob pulls the bottle out of its gift bag. Down it goes in front of Rob’s face, never to be opened.

I grab my friend’s sixty-six year-old hand. It feels warm, dry and fragile. Our eyes meet again. There’s more recognition now, with a hint of a grin followed by a slight squeeze on my fingers. “How’ve ya been?” I ask. “Life treating you okay?”

What a dumb question. I’m not surprised I get no answer.

“He’s gotten quieter,” Gary tells me. “But he’s not as paranoid, and he’s off his psychotropic meds.”

“That’s good,” I say, thinking nothing is good when we talk about Rob as if he’s not here. Gary grips his arm.

“Rob, stand up. We’re going to set the table. Get up, Rob.” Rob stays put. Gary lifts him out of his chair. My friend is wobbling again, as he did in rehab two years ago.

Gary throws down three plates, pours three glasses of water, opens the pizza boxes and drops two slices on Rob’s plate. Rob stares at his food, I’m staring at Rob, Gary’s looking at me. It’s a quiet moment.

“Actually he’s pretty healthy,” Gary informs me. “But I still have to make him eat.” Rob’s skinny as a bean. But clean, well shaven and nicely dressed. He doesn’t seem sad, but he doesn’t seem happy either.

“I wonder what’s going on in your head,” I say to Rob.

“It’s hard to tell what he thinks,” Gary adds, “But he knows you’re here and he knows who you are.” Shifting to Rob, “Fold it in half, buddy. It’s easier to pick up that way. Use both hands.”

Rob slowly moves his right hand towards his plate, but he’s having trouble lifting the pizza. Eventually he gets it close to his open lips but the sausage and mushrooms fall off. I grab his fork, stab the meat and bring it to his mouth. He gobbles it and now I know Rob again needs to be fed.

“The neurologist said his brain is shrinking.”

“It’s the drugs in me,” Rob whispers.

“You’re off those meds,” Gary tells him. “You’re not depressed anymore. Eat your pizza.”

My pal picks at his food, I go for seconds and glad there’s water and not just the wine. My food gifts are salt bombs. “Want the water, Rob?” I ask, pushing his glass closer.

“He drank a lot before dinner,” Gary informs me. Then he moves closer to my friend, cuts up his pizza and sticks the pieces one by one into Rob’s open mouth. He’s taking it down fast. “See?” Gary says to me. “He loves pizza.”

I’m glad I brought it. Eating is the only thing Rob looks forward to anymore.

 *****

We move to the couch. “Sit next to Rob,” Gary says. I sit next to Rob. Gary turns on the flat screen to show me a documentary he just finished about brain damage rehabilitation. Gary’s an artist, a songwriter and documentary filmmaker. Gary met Rob years ago while he was making a movie about Graham Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers. gram-parsonsRob once played music with Graham. Rob was once connected to all the rock stars of LA. Rob once had a thriving business licensing vintage film clips of sixties and seventies variety shows. Rob once had a music museum. It burned down in the nineties and his business is out-of-business.

My eyes move from the film to my friend a few inches away. He’s smiling, nodding to my words. And I see now that he’s joyful. Sincerely so. So I rub his back and he looks my way. His grin goes wider. I can almost see him glow.

“He’s really happy you’re here” Gary says.

I know that. And I also know that in ten minutes I will be leaving and relieved. I’m so sad now. Some big change is happening in January, something Gary wouldn’t explain in front of my friend. But I was assured it would be better for Rob. I also know it would be better for Gary. He will be married in three months and leaving this house. Rob doesn’t know that. And I’m wondering if assisted living is in Rob’s future. I’m also wondering if loosing his home will kill what little joy he has left.

Or maybe he’ll face the music and deal with it with dignity and integrity like he always has. Everyone loves Rob. All his caretakers cherish their time with him. He’s a kind, gentle soul, never complaining, always appreciative for any attention or help he’s given.

*****

Paul Surratt

Rob, you’re a better man than me. You’re my mentor and friend. I hope Gary reads you my card. I hope it makes you smile.

 

 

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WHY BAD PEOPLE DO NICE THINGS

richguyWhy do bad people do nice things? I don’t know why. They just do, at least the ones I personally know, the ones I call “friends”. They’re not close friends, thought. When they invite my wife and me to their homes, it’s just us and them. Our bad friends don’t mingle us with their other bad friends, if they ARE bad. Maybe the other friends are just medium bad, or medium good, depending on which side you’re on.

Now you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you my bad friends don’t know they’re bad. And if I told them, they would believe me. They would scan their wide but private universe and point out that most of the population thinks as they do, and that all of their friends (who might be bad too) are successful, influential and contribute to all kinds of charities that support the have-nots.adopt a family

I suspect that’s true. Lots of bad people (not all, but lots) do nice things for those less fortunate, like making Christmas gift baskets for poor kids living with parents in homeless missions or sending fat checks to the Salvation Army and UNICEF. Or they invite my wife and me to their country club for dinner and give us the keys to their Laguna Beach second home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They would lend us their Mercedes if I asked them.

I have no idea why they like me. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they like my wife. Everyone loves my wife. She’s the comet, I’m the tail.

scroogeAnyway, those same generous people who stuff holiday stockings and donate to food banks do everything they can to avoid paying taxes where their contributions might be used for supporting things for everyone else. They’re not particularly concerned with our country’s crumbling education system, the contamination of our natural resources, the widening divide between the super rich and the other 99%, climate change, hate crimes, racial profiling, corrupt police departments, underpaid firefighters and teachers, healthcare for low income families, or the ever mounting congestion on our city streets and highways with it’s broken bridges, tunnels and outdated traffic models.

Now to be fair, the bad people don’t deny those problems need attention. It’s just that expanding commerce and profit margins must come first and that everything else that needs fixing, they believe, will come out of that. They also believe technology will rescue the world and global warming will cool down in three years.

(If you’re a member of the Bad-Person Party, keep reading. Part 2 of this post is titled: WHY GOOD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS.)

Now as I said, bad people don’t think they’re bad. In fact, they think they’re the only rational thinkers around and it’s only prudent that the rest of us jump on their train. That’s why they’re working so hard to shape (or force) government policy to work 100% in their favor.

The good people, with all their own save-the-planet priorities, want government support just as much, but they don’t suppress the voting privileges of anyone who isn’t in the commerce club. And they’re not separating the rich immigrants from the poor immigrants and trying to keep the poor ones out. And they’re not crushing unions or branding unemployed people as takers and slackers.

There are exceptions. Not every good person is totally good. There’s no black and white. More on that later.

*****

I don’t know why, but I was born thinking this way and my life experiences definitely deepened my attitudes. I grew up in a middle class Jewish family but when I left college, I was poor for five years. Then I broke into Hollywood and worked freelance all the rest of my life. A third of the time I lived between jobs collecting unemployment insurance. My union, which demanded expensive dues, helped me build a pension and took care of my family’s medical bills. My taxes paid for garbage pick up, fire and police protection, state colleges and a national army that kept the real bad guys away.

I accepted that. Taxes are like paying union dues but into a bigger pool. It’s an Association Fee. And yes, I did get what I paid for. Today I’m retired and living the American Dream. Sad to say, I’m the last generation to have the dwindling social safety nets. It’s so much harder to rise up the ranks today.

But enough ranting! If I don’t stop, I’ll get into how good guys in this administration let off the bad guys who did…

  • Crimes of torture.
  • The near destruction of the entire global economy.
  • The invasion of world-wide personal privacy.

Yes, all of that bad stuff! And all for the right reasons! Right reasons make good people do bad things, and I’m no exception. (Okay, for this post, assume I’m a GOOD person, ‘cause I’m about to give a Catholic-like confession.)

WHY GOOD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS

Salvation Army Homeless GuyI’m not a tree hugger but when nature dies from drought and pollution, I think it’s a smart idea to conserve water and contain waste. Being the responsible, passionate, informed, involved and caring dude that I am, I contribute to let’s-help-save-everything causes.

However, I also hate, and I mean HATE, getting solicitation calls about giving more and more and more. I don’t like being pressured to do anything and I feel uncomfortable pressing someone else to do things as well, even for all the right reasons.

(This is why it took an entire post to talk myself into asking you to read my novels.)

So I’m admitting now, that I have hung up on people who need a job and get one at call centers. Politely asking them to stop the invasion doesn’t end the calls. So I have been rude, I have screamed, I have considered blowing a whistle into the handset just so they’ll stop coming into my home with more and more and more guilt inducing phone rings. I’m telling you this because tonight I pushed Solicitor Rejection way into the stratosphere.Rachel-Maddow

I watch very little TV but I won’t miss Rachel Maddow’s news show. It’s like going to college civics class where the subject is always studied in depth. Tonight she was explaining the CIA torture policy, how it came to be, why it was killed in the 70’s and how it was resuscitated after 911. Every word was compelling, super serious and depressing. Then my doorbell rang.

I called out to my wife, only to discover, with silence, that she had left the house. The doorbell rang again. I knew who it was. It was FedEx or UPS needing a signature for another movie screener DVD I’m supposed to watch for Oscar voting. So I raced towards the front door imaging myself drawing a line for my name as I said a quick “Thank you.” Then back to the TV I would fly. Eighteen, nineteen seconds of lost info. Not much. I would still pick up the story and process the knowledge.

So sliding to a stop, I swung the door open and saw a man, maybe thirty, standing in the dark holding a bunch of papers and wearing an ID badge and a big gold cross suspended from his neck. I knew what was coming.

No! NO! NOOOOO! Not another breach into my privacy! Tick-tick-tick. No time for polite words. Tick-tick-tick. No time for my story about supporting battered women and under priviledged kids needing uniforms for little league teams. Tick-tick-tick. No time for hearing his sympathy pitch.

So just as he was saying, “Hello, sir…” I shut the door on a Black man.

Seven seconds later I was back on my bed watching Rachel but hearing none of her words. All I could do was think about the disgusting impression I just made and how a liberal person like me just reinforced the perception that most, if not all, affluent white people hate Blacks and refuse them even an ounce of respect.

I’m so ashamed about this, I won’t tell my wife. She’ll never know unless she reads this blog. But YOU know. You SHOULD know because my mini drama points out that good people do bad things. We must not forget that.

And I will also admit, that I can’t help liking my Republican friends because they do all sorts of kind and nice things for me. I accept their gifts as I judge their ethics.

So what does that make me? Am I a bad person too?

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How to Brag and Feel Good About It

I don’t remember family warnings about showing off or being told that bragging kids deserve to be ignored. I don’t remember any rabbi advising me to be humble, although I’ve heard from my Christian friends the Scriptures say something about that.

There was that one time though, when I came home from college for a weekend visit.

mom_in_kitchenThe lecture hit me between the eyes while I sat at the table watching my mother stir gravy. In the midst of a smile, Mom announced, “Irv, you’re too self-centered.”

Whoa! That stung! I emphatically denied it, and justifiably so. From the time I was six I knew thinking in terms of ME-first was a no-no. I had learned it at home ‘cause Dad was selfish and that hurt Mom. And I had learned it in school ‘cause kids talked about other kids being “stuck up” or “conceited” all the time.

“Jane thinks she’s better than us,” or, “Dick thinks he can have any girlfriend he wants.”

This was ninth grade gossip but notice I didn’t use the word say? Dick and Jane didn’t verbally broadcast their eminence. They thought it, and probably believed it, because WE believed it. Heck! They were better than us! They acted like it – so self assured. You could tell they trusted themselves just by the way they talked. They never questioned their ideas, took charge and attracted envious fans, of which I was one.Prom-Diva

Now of course there were obnoxious jerks who mouthed off about getting laid with her and her and her but we never believed them. The real achievers didn’t try convincing us they were special. They made and did special things, then became our school quarterbacks, cheerleaders, class presidents, valedictorians and Homecoming Queens.

But that was high school and maybe college. In the real world, it’s an open field where introverts and shy ones come out of the shadows and excel. It’s also the place where untalented hustlers oozing with confidence convince others to follow them. It’s the launching pad where that nerdy gamer in the back of the class ends up inventing EMPIRE or SUPER ROAD TRIP. It’s the land where an “average” magic_johnsonkid becomes an accountant, takes a graduation job as a level four controller at Warner Brothers and twelve years later becomes the studio’s CFO. It’s the space where an inspired Earvin Johnson Jr. becomes Magic Johnson.

And because in America, where so many Nobodies become Super Somebodies, we’re taught we all have a shot at becoming the President of the United States. Now even minority kids believe it and perhaps it’s so more than a few times. I hope greater numbers of minorities and women take leadership roles. I hope it gets easier for people not born into power. I hope this post helps you and me. Let me try by listing six principles of success.

 *****

Okay, assuming you’re not starving, dead broke, unemployable, near death, illiterate, in jail or undocumented, these reminders about “making it” just might boost you into the Big Game. It’s practical stuff that works but often gets sidetracked.

 1. You need a primary vision and you can’t be conflicted about it.

By conflicted, I mean you can’t doubt that you can achieve your goal, nor can you have a contradicting agenda that pulls your attention away from you main purpose. If you want to be a rock star but deep down think that’s too long a shot, you’ll never put in the practice time and make music connections to get you there.

If you want a musician’s life but insist you need a backup business degree, you’ll split your time and efforts between the two and achieve one or the other and maybe a little of both. But without 100% commitment to music OR business, you’ll never realize 100% of your dreams.

Still, compromise is okay. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s practical and 99% of us live this way. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not the best. Only a few people in the world gain the gold and they usually sacrifice important things to get it.

open_door_Center3. You have to jump into the opportunities when they open and don’t look back.

Rising to the top of anything takes connections, mentors and a lot of luck. If you’re conflicted about your direction, if your confidence wanes when the door opens and you stay put, that invitation may never come again.

Commit to your dream, make priorities, stick to them and take the leaps when you reach those steps going u

3. It helps a lot to like people and be a joiner.

As I just explained, rising to the top takes connections and mentors. There are professions where personal contact is limited but you’ll never lead others unless you’re willing to convince them to follow you. And to do that, you have to connect with people so they know who you are, even if you’re writing research papers in a university lab.

4. Don’t be afraid to express your enthusiasm. Be proud of your passions.

Keep in mind that what you DO is different than who you ARE. If you conjure a better mouse trap, it’s okay to praise the design. You’re not telling people you’re a genius. You’re telling people about how your smart thing works and why you’re excited about it. Hey! You’d be excited even if it wasn’t yours. So present it that way.

Again, your pitch isn’t about you. It’s about the thing you’re offering. So don’t be embarrassed about praising something you did or made. Because if you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY believe it’s great, people will sense your sincere confidence. They’ll know you’re genuine, which brings us to the next reminder.

5. Don’t bullshit. Eventually it catches up with you.

For every lie you tell, even for all the “right” reasons, you need another one to verify it. And then another and another until eventually the rerouted logic becomes so complex you lose track of what you said to whom and where. Then your story falls apart and you lose the trust of the people you lied to.

So be honest. It’s much more manageable and you won’t have to worry about a false history when potential bosses fact-check your background. More importantly, honesty builds self-confidence and confidence is what people want from you, specifically: Conviction, Commitment and Integrity. If you’ve got that in place, the jobs will come and the work details can be learned along the way.

Finally, the most important note…so simple and obvious, yet the biggest trap of all.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail. Persevere. Steve_Jobs&Failure

If the late, great innovator Steve Jobs can be fired from his own company, Apple, and then release market failures like Lisa, NeXT and The Cube computers, you too have the permission to miss your goals. If Robert Downey Jr. can crash to the bottom with drug addiction and then rise back up to become the highest paid actor in the world, you too can have your ups and downs.

Everybody makes lots of mistakes before finding the best solution or refining the highest skills. We all know that and still, no one is comfortable with failure. We all want to be winners starting out. We don’t want to disappoint ourselves and others. So sometimes we give up rather than flub one more time. But that’s okay. Not everyone is suited for everything they pursue. And it’s also okay to fail and fail and fail again until you finally get it…or don’t. Trying is good. Trying is growing. Trying in honorable.

*****

So now it’s my turn to try something, a first in this blog. I’m going to direct you to what others have said about my novels. You see the book covers to the right while reading this article? Have you ever clicked on them? Clicking brings you to Irving Podolsky on Amazon. Have you read the reviews there, or on Goodreads?

Those four and five star critiques did not come from friends. They were written by book bloggers and readers I don’t know – readers like you who won’t waste their time with stuff that doesn’t connect or isn’t entertaining. And get this, the books are comedies, a style I rarely use in blogs but love to write. Those yarns were fun, fun, fun to shape and they’re fun to read. Promise!

So check’em out. The trilogy will sweep you to realms you’ve never imagined…unless you’re my age, lived in LA and Atlanta, worked in porn, mental hospitals and French restaurants, backpacked in Europe, zipped into out-of-body travel and dated girls from South Africa, Germany and Lobbock, Texas.

The ebook versions? Just 99 cents. Practically free. They’re gifts, really. ‘Cause I want you to have a riveting ride as we share the seventies and a magical journey.

Convinced yet? Give’em a shot. And when reaching the epoch’s end, if it sparked new ideas, if you’re left uplifted and sentimental…that would make me happy. Because you’re happy!

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Open Marriage – Is it Right for You?

bob-carol-ted-alice-1969-2I read the Huffington Post online. I read the Huffington Post because it links to other publications and because I never know what kind of story or blog I’ll find there. So a few days ago I was surfing the site and this headline snatched my attention. A Glimpse Into The Lives Of Couples With Open Marriages. And then I watched Open Relationships Are Good For Married Couples, Sociologist Argues.

“Oh…”, I thought. Is there really anything more to say about casual sex? Back in the day, the seventies to be exact, we called it free love. “Free” had nothing to do with money. Free was about the freedom to enjoy sex without fear and the disapproval of others. Free meant the uninhibited expression of our God given wants and needs. Free meant the ability for a woman to choose her sex partners on her terms. Free love established the first sexual liberation of women, and it had a name. My generation called it, The Sexual Revolution. And it was.

It was different that just hooking up, because it was science and medicine that started it. Our doctors gave us our playground.two hippies

As we know, before the sixties and feminine birth control, having sex was a huge risk for young women but also for young men. And yeah, we guys knew about condoms. You could buy them from vending machines in truck stop men’s rooms. Still, I don’t remember any of us using them. It was irresponsible but in 1967, nobody worried about AIDS, just babies, and we boys left it up to the girls to watch their menstrual clocks. So if a girl got pregnant, it was HER fault, right?

I never bought into that cruel hypocrisy. I think I was born feeling responsible for everything, including a girl’s broken heart. So as a teenager, I didn’t dive deeper than hot make-outs. Then everything changed. While in college, the “pill” and IUD’s hit the scene. They were available in big city free clinics and for the first time, ever, females could be in charge. Just like boys and men, if they wanted to make love, they could do it, safe from pregnancies. Or they jumped for playful sex, fear-free! This was new.

*****

Back to “open marriages.” My wife and I have been living in one of those from the get-go, but it has nothing to do with sex. It’s about having separate creative pursuits, hobbies, friends and time by ourselves. It’s about growing individually so we can come together with new ideas and enthusiasm and share that. Having sexual discovery with others is a dumb idea. Why? Because even now, neither of us want to take on the doubts, suspicion and insecurities that come with that.

couple_sleeping_apart

  • Is she talking about things with him she’s too afraid to share with me?
  • Will he want a younger woman forever, now that he had one last night?
  • Is she getting emotionally attached to that guy even though we agreed it would only be about sex?
  • Will he ever think I’m attractive again?
  • Is she getting jealous, even though I explain it’s just arousal from the waist, down?
  • If it’s just new sex he wants, what does that make me? His maid?
  • Why is he so hot for her? Is she doing something special for him she never did to me?
  • I wonder if he’s dreaming about her…or the other one.
  • Now that we’re sleeping with others, is there anything private and exclusive about our marriage that makes it special and just for us?
  • Does he still love me? Does she still love me?

*****

Now maybe my wife and I are just overly insecure. Maybe we don’t trust each other enough to push the boundaries, ‘cause sure, we’re attracted to other people from time to time. Isn’t everybody? In the past, we talked about the temptations when they came. Now, as oldies, we’re happy when it happens again. It reminds us we were young once.

But as you know, not many couples talk about the temptation of affairs. They just have them, sometimes in secret, sometimes not. When they’re not hidden, we’re back to open marriages. Maybe yours is one of them and nobody’s getting hurt. Maybe you and your spouse are more emotionally evolved than me and my wife and don’t question your love, even with other lovers.

Or maybe you can do something I could never do: compartmentalize. Maybe you can mentally wall-off experiences with multiple partners and never get anything mixed up, like accidently mentioning that great massage when it wasn’t about your own marriage.

Maybe you don’t “process” your escapades by talking about them, so there’s no need to censor your thoughts and words.

Or maybe your spouse is so secure that you can detail some other-partner turn-on and try it at home. Maybe that replayed touchy-feely thing is just as rich in Marriage Land and you two will live happily ever after.

3_pairs_of_feetMaybe that third body in bed between you two really jacks up the endorphins.

But maybe that added outside sex will never re-spark your at-home sex, no matter how many new crotches you both bring into the game.

If the thrill is gone, along with the intimacy, what’s left to make your marriage exclusive and special? What promises remain unbroken that undeniably prove you are both the most important person in each other’s lives?

What is your love about?

couple_after_a_fight

Years ago, in the midst of that Sexual Revolution and Free Love I talked about, I had the chance to test most of the questions in this post. Although I wasn’t married, I had multiple partners and with each date, I did my best to compartmentalize and make the individual interludes special and unique.

I remember so clearly the girls insisting they didn’t want commitments. “No strings attached,” they said. No, we weren’t dating. We were hanging out and having fun, getting stoned, listening to music, talking about deep shit, going to movies and fucking our brains out. And being the trusting dude I was at the time, I believed the definition… until that time when two girlfriend “appointments” overlapped.

I had to push back my restaurant promise with Trish an hour and half so that Wendy could leave town. She missed her bus ‘cause we couldn’t get out of my bed in time to catch the 7:30 to Gainesville. And so, having dropped off Wendy at the bus station, I speeded across Atlanta to pick up Trish ninety minutes late. I then sat across from her at the Pleasant Peasant, shelling out mucho bucks for $$$ food I could barely afford AND eat ‘cause I was stuffed from my $$ meal with Wendy an hour before.

You know where this is going. No-Strings-Attached Trish had all kinds of hurt going down. She was pissed and I learned my first truths about the female persuasion.

  1. Women want commitments, no matter what they say.
  2. They want to be the shiniest star their man’s life, no matter what they say.
  3. With the right guy, if they’re not married, they want to at least live like they’re married…no matter what they say.

And I learned something about myself that night too. No matter what I wanted to say, I couldn’t lie about my other partners.girl_in_FG

So yeah, I confessed to Trish and that pretty much ended all the deep talking and sport sex. In a way I was relieved. I didn’t like having to keep track of what I did with Wendy and what I did with Trish and what happened with Carol or Dana. I found that censoring thoughts cut off my spontaneity in each relationship. Holding back information was not exactly lying, but it wasn’t being honest either. And connecting the dots, I realized I couldn’t love and lie at the same time, no matter how much rationalization I threw into the mix.

Finally, and this was the biggest lesson of all – I found that lots and lots of sex with lots of women still left me lonely. The bed romps were fun but my soul wanted more. It wanted to be heard and it wanted to be understood. It wanted a loyal friend it could trust, and it couldn’t have that with No-Strings-Attached.

But ya know, I wouldn’t have known what I really wanted had I not played the field as a single man. Going into that “only you” promise, I had already committed to forever monogamy. And my beloved bride had done the same. We both knew that being open and free was all about protecting the trust and making it special.

Never stop making it special.

 

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Who told you that?

I’m stupid with foreign languages. Flunked French, faked my way through Spanish and really, really tried to learn German. I didn’t. Nothing stuck. Not good. My wife is German…from Germany, along with the rest of her family who visit us all the time, like they are now. My forty-something nephew and his wife are leaving tomorrow and my twenty year-old grand niece arrived two days ago. Consequently, there are five of us sitting around the table and my thoughts drifted away from words I can’t understand.

cat_at_tableListening to German…German, and more German, I now know what our cat hears when people talk. It’s noise with inflections, just basic emotions – happy, sad, angry. And that’s all she needs to know. Everything else is played out with actions – food or no food, petting or no petting, threats or no threats. That’s her world and it works for her.

So I’m wondering, besides school and rules, what words are absolutely necessary for us? Stories can be entertaining but unless they carry warnings about the future, there’s no need to hear them. And even well-meaning lectures may not apply or be true. The only thing that really counts is how reality plays out. Someone telling us about reality is not reality itself. And yet, most of our decisions and attitudes come from information we read or hear. It’s data or opinions coming from someone else.

So as I said, I’m sitting with people making sounds but I’m just feeling their vibes and thinking about how much of my time is sucked up by people telling me stuff I don’t need to hear, and how I give them the impression I’m interested. I’m sure people bluff me too. We all think that what we have to say is so important, people want to hear it.

In some cases, that’s true, which is why we invented accomplished writers and avid readers, storytellers and listeners, movies and theaters, programs and televisions. All that happens because the information is captivating. We become captives because what is watched is interesting. Master storytellers capture our minds which we willingly provide.

This is a good thing. This is a bad thing. This is a bad thing because not all storytellers are good for us.

storyteller_WideB&WWe know people lie, or at least we think we know when they lie. That demands making decisions about what’s true or false, or what we believe is true or false. Some folks we trust, some we don’t. We become quite selective about our information sources and entertainment.

Being selective is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because we’re not always right about what’s good and bad for us. If we’re not open and flexible, we’re susceptible to those who lie and close off to those who tell the truth. Sometimes we just don’t know where those safety zones are. Still, we keep looking.

Smart promoters understand that search. They have tracked our preferences and they speak to those selections. More importantly, they know threats grab our minds more than potential perks. Reward and punishment, carrot and stick, attraction and avoidance, we all live by those push-pull motivations while professional persuaders, appealing to fears and needs, get us to do what they want us to do. All it takes is a concentrated and focused outreach with the repetition of a single, simple message.

What is that message? It’s BEWARE! Or…Be cool, buy Apple.

blue_knightAgain, fearful warnings ring all kinds of alarms. Thoughts about iPads or happier times certainly don’t, nor do promises of hope if we’re not already happy and hopeful. That’s why masters of control make sure we’re not happy and hopeful. They smash our wellbeing and shatter our trust, then ride to our rescue as the Saviors from Doom. And because there is no absolute right or wrong, good or bad, and everything keeps changing, the masses end up scurrying from storyteller to storyteller, from the Blue Knights to the Red Knights, back and forth, back and forth between the Doom and Sanctuaries on the left to the Doom and Sanctuaries on the right. The pattern never changes. Just the details.

 *****red_knight

So what are you doing about exiting the raging rat race? It takes maturity, patience and foresight to wait for delayed payoffs, and still, too many times the wait doesn’t bring improvements. If the system is broken too many times, nothing wide-sweeping can change over night; or over weeks, months or years.

With the long wait, will you lapse into anxiety, frustration and desperation? Do you feel vulnerable and angry? Are you aware you’re being watched by the Control Wizards who want to win your heart and mind as you shiver with worry? Are you stuck in the grip of artificial but effective polarities designed to never meet in the middle? Do you feel lost?

Or do you see the game as it actually is, with its malevolent psychologists making it all play out? Have you found the Safety Zones where truth and honesty kiss and hug? Those sanctuaries do exist. But you’ll never find them if you get angry and give up.

*****

I’m pretty sure those of you who follow my blog don’t give up. You think ahead, look ahead and wait to form conclusions about all the stuff competing for your attention. You spread your attention over the thoughts of others, watching and listening to the clues of deeper motivations, potential threats or gestures of kindness. Like astute attorneys who confidently know the law and use it to reveal the facts and win cases, you too observe the subtleness of life, gather its information, fact-check it, compare and contrast new truths, and then predict real threats while avoiding unsupported fears. In short, you’re happier than most.

That’s nice, because happier people are harder to manipulate.

Notice I didn’t say well informed. People who seek specific validation for what they believe, whether it’s true or not, will always find “proof” to back up their claims. Then they will tell you they’re well informed after a limited search. Like I said, we’re not always right about what’s good and bad for us. Being too selective about where you find your information narrows your window of judgment.

*****

Are happy people more “good” than unhappy people?

Well, I would say that happy people are generally less judgmental. Sure they have opinions, but they are tempered with empathy. Happy souls feel less threatened so they also feel less detached and ARE less detached from other groups and individuals. Consequently, happier people tend to get along with their neighbors, friends and family. They’re less confrontational, and legitimately so. And they trust the future. That’s a big one.

We can’t be happy if we don’t feel secure.

happy_babyAre we all born happy, then get immediately reshaped? I don’t think so. I think we come into this world with our dispositions pre-wired. Some of us are secure and relaxed, some of us aren’t. That’s why we have what’s called “good babies.” Good babies don’t demand our attention with screaming fits of whatever. They calmly lie in their beds quietly contented. They goo-goo and smiling and sleep through the night. Good babies are happy babies. For those of us who weren’t Good Babies, we have to learn to be happy.

Learning to be happy, is learning to live without fear.

And learning to live without fear, is learning what’s really scary out there and what is not. Now we’re back to where we started. If you’re scared, did people tell you to be that way? If you’re scared, are you annoyed about it and tense all the time? Because if you’re feeling unsafe and vulnerable, which expands fear and distrust, which then kills contentment and happiness, you still can get past all that (assuming you don’t live in a war zone, a land of starvation or any place that suppressed human rights).

Okay, you’re basically free. So again, to be happy and secure, you have to know you’re secure. And to know you’re secure, you have to leave the cave and explore as much as you possible can, everywhere. That’s the secret: know where your threats live, what they want and what they do…IF they really do anything. Maybe they don’t. Maybe somebody told you they’re bad-asses and they’re not. Maybe not all TV news is telling the truth. Maybe you should question all information…all of everything…even this blog.

Well…not this blog.

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I don’t want to hear about it.

eye of scientist  and microscopeI have a blessed life. My wife and I don’t need to worry about money or a job or the troubled children we never had or health issues and no one we love is dying this month. Living like this gives me the time to roam deeper into the human cerebral landscape and put it under a mental microscope.

As you know, when we look at very small things through a lens they become very big. And so it happens in this blog. I analyzing the details of human psychology and I use myself as an example, hoping that in some ways I’m not that much different than you and what we examine together can be helpful.

So let’s begin. Let’s peel back a few more layers of Irv Podolsky. Maybe his questions and his search for answers will apply to your own.

*****

“I don’t want to hear about it,” she said.

She’s told me that more than once so I don’t talk about it anymore. I hide it. I never expected this kind of isolation in my marriage, that I’d have to hold back certain thoughts that bother me. But what bothers me bothers my wife even more. It disturbs her and she asked me to deal with my moods solo. So I write about them. Then I feel better.

Maybe you’re like me when it comes to mood swings. Maybe your emotions are not entirely your own. Maybe they decide to feel bad for no apparent reason, or such a little reason that’s it’s totally unjustified.clown

I’ve read about bi-polar disorder. I’m not that nuts but maybe I have a bit of unwanted wiring anyway. All my life I’ve been telling people that generally, I’m not happy, but that I’m not unhappy. It’s just that, when waking up to start each day, I don’t feel rosy and cheery or optimistic. A positive morning for me is feeling neutral. Lots of times though, I feel like I’m am now, at seven-fifteen am. I’m unsettled, anxious and uncomfortable. I’m trying to figure out why.

So I’m thinking while writing. Maybe the anxiousness comes from my new project, the one I blogged about last week. I’m fighting a proposed freeway that’s supposed to tunnel into my city. I report to Sally, an aerospace engineer who has volunteered her time like me to save our community and the value of our homes. Frankly, I’m not passionate about this cause but I think getting involved is the right thing to do. Sally needs tons of help coordinating the resistance and I’m in over my head helping her. No matter what research I do or how many reports I write, Sally tells me they’re not enough and they all need more work.

She’s right. Sally and I are working with six groups building a complex court case and everything has to be annotated and verified with credible sources. Consultants charge a few hundred per hour for this kind of work. I’m doing it for free like Sally and everyone else who’s driven to fight the California Transit Authority.

But as I said, I’m not crazy-impassioned and the work is oh-so tedious. Okay, sometimes it’s sort of interesting, if you’re into giant tunnel boring machines. But it’s still grunge work, like studying for a required college course you hate. And it never ends. No matter what I do, there’s more needed and I’m feeling pressured…by Irv Podolsky.

It’s always Irv Podolsky. He has no patience. That’s why I’m not happy. By my own standards, whatever I do isn’t good enough. Which means, I’m not good enough unless somebody tells me I am. How the hell did I ever get stuck with this attitude? Sure, every parent wants their children to do well and mine encouraged me to excel. But they never demanded it. Why do I demand 110% from myself?

phony smileWhy can’t I feel good about myself if I’m not the best? Why do I need to be told I’m the best? Why am I sad if I don’t hear I’m the best?

Are you this way too? ‘Cause if you are, you know what I’m talking about. There’s rarely a time when you can relax and tell yourself there’s no reason to prove your significance, that you’re fine just the way you are, that you don’t have to EARN your personhood or the right to be happy. You can be happy for no reason. You can be happy when you’re not winning ‘cause you’re not in the race. You can be happy just being alive with food in your tummy and a roof over your head.

My wife is like that and she doesn’t want to be sucked into my Not-Happy World. In my space the Number One Rule says: YOU CAN ALWAYS DO BETTER. And you should!

Nothing’s wrong with that except I’ve taken that notion to it’s extreme with my personal Eye-In-The-Sky scoreboard. Am I BETTER yet? I am? How much BETTER? Is this the best my BETTER can be?

I’m an Over Achiever who never quite over achieves. And that’s why little things bother me. They all turn into big things just beyond my reach. So IF I get them done, there’s always room for improvements. You wouldn’t believe how many times I rewrite and polish these articles.

*****

Acute perfectionism isn’t fun but I know I’m not alone with this. Many people feel they need approval to feel good about themselves. Seeking validation can steal self confidence but there’s an upside to this condition. Really! You see, people who care about other people’s opinions do their best be nice to those people. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’re thinking about how other people will regard your work. You’re judging your creations and behavior from another point-of-view. You don’t want to screw up so you watch the reactions of others for signs that your off course. And by doing that, by being careful not to rub people the wrong way, you become more empathic. And that’s just fine.Good witch

Of course there are wonderful souls like my wife who are naturally nice and kind and generous. No self doubt or personal gain is involved. But folks like me with lingering insecurities feel pushed to be nice, kind and generous, which means sometimes it’s not sincere. This is the trap:

If we’re feeling dependent upon others for self respect, we know we’re vulnerable. Accordingly, our attention shifts to our own needs and defenses with the tendency to view the world as an EXCHANGE of good deeds for wanted approval. Giving doesn’t always come from the heart. It comes from wanting rewards. And at it’s worst, it’s about buying gratitude through manipulation.

My ninety-four year-old mother has a younger woman friend who doesn’t know me but she wants me to know her. Whenever we meet, maybe twice a year, she predictably says, “Irv…I love you…” And then, staring into my eyes, she waits for a reciprocated ego stroke.

I cringe inside and respond with silence. Whereupon I hear her follow up, “I mean I REALLY love you!”

Okay, I’m thinking, You need your fix. Here it is: “I love you too, Janet.” Can we close now?

“You’re so good to your mother…the best son! You make her proud. I wish I had a boy like you.”

“Janet, I’m three years younger than your husband…”

“I love you, Irv.” She waits for my hug.

*****

Oh, the games people play.

But ya know, we don’t have to do it. “Show-me-you-love-me-even-if-you-don’t” never fills the bill. At some point, we all have to learn that forcing approval goes nowhere and only makes things worse. This you know. But motivations and emotions come from deep inside us and we have to find their home. This takes some soul searching but it’s all doable. If we understand why we rely on the opinions of others for self respect and move past that, what remains is just the caring, the empathy, and the sensitively to sincerely help our friends, our family and those neighbors fighting Transit Authorities.

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We Can Do It But We Turn It Off

blue graphic telepathyI don’t think it’s just me. We all do it but we turn it off. There are reasons why people shut it down or ignore it. They don’t trust the power or they hope their feelings aren’t true because there’s much to lose if they are – things like more wealth, prestige or sex. There are times when we want to trust people because they can help us and we hope it will all work out if those subtle signals go away. So we rationalize the contradictions against our instincts.

Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe I’m being too critical. Maybe I’m having a bad day, or they are.

Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Or maybe our thoughts about that new guy are totally true. Maybe we’ve already figured her out and it’s a good idea to add her to our NO-GO list. Maybe we should listen to our Natural Knowing and accept that Feelings Don’t Lie.

Maybe, Maybe, maybe…best doubt

Maybe if we tuned into the “vibes” more often and steered clear of bad people life would be easier. Maybe more betrothals, bands and business contracts wouldn’t break up so often if we listened to our hearts. Maybe we’d trust others more often if we only joined up with nonthreatening people.

But like I said, many times, most times in fact, we’re not tuning into all those teeny-tiny little hints we’re picking up because…

  • She’s so hot.
  • He’s really important and such a great catch.
  • I need that job.
  • She’s close to my sister, my brother, my best buddy so it’s ME that’s not getting along…and I want more friends.
  • We’ve already mailed the wedding invitations. It’s too late to stop.

A few reasons why we ignore the red flags. We figure there’s lots to gain if we can just get past the downside. Okay, nobody’s perfect but why do we have to embrace critical downsides of anyone? This idea, that we should deal with things that bother us comes from the belief that there won’t be another opportunity as good as this one, even with its issues. So we accept the start-up problems only to find out later that the DOWNSIDE wiped out most of the potential GOOD SIDE. Now we’re in so deep it’s hard to break away and there’s a lot more to lose.

Sad but true. That’s life. But really, does it have to be this way?

Okay, most jobs are hard to get and they all come with downsides. So yeah, we have to put up with them. But that doesn’t mean we have to buddy-up with everyone in the office. Sometimes we have to be really, really careful and maneuver politically, which means we have to lie. We have to pretend to like and trust people we don’t. We have to tell our bosses what they want to hear, unless of course, that puts someone in jeopardy; or the company we work for is down right wicked and screwing lots of people for higher profits.

Then it time to listen to our Conscience. Actually we should never ignore it.

Some people who follow their conscience and act on it become Whistle Blowers. I thoroughly respect whistle blowers but most of the time those boat-rockers are hated. No one wants to be reminded they’re selling out, especially when there’s so much to gain by lying and cheating. Consequently, people-of-conscience are scorned.

I’ve been a whistle blower. Exposing the bad shit led to losing my job. And worse, nothing changed. Still, I’m glad I honored my principles and that others also fight the good fight. Sometimes GOOD does triumph over EVIL. Sometimes telling the truth makes the world a better place. Sometimes people win the Nobel Peace Prize for following their Inner Voice. Most of the time though, saints are stoned. When you’re surrounded by assassins, sometimes it’s best to just walk away and protect yourself. Sometimes I do that.

*****

David&GoliathOne of the upsides to retirement, at least for me, is that I don’t have to kiss ass to keep working. Two months ago I picked a new vocation – local activism. I’m volunteering to help fight a freeway project California wants to build through the middle of my community. Most everyone who lives near me wants the project to die. Most everyone who has something to gain from more trucks hauling stuff wants the project to live. The lines have been drawn: The People vs. Government and Big Business. It’s David and Goliath again.

I’m bringing this up because not all Davids get along, even when agreeing to agree. I’ve joined a group of irked do-gooders and I’m meeting them in various committees and organizations. Each time I shake hands with a new him or her I’m checking my internal vibe meter and searching for behavior clues. Who can I trust? Who feels safe? Who is overly angry and who is appropriately pragmatic? Who is stubborn and who listens?

I have a personal rating scale where ONE means I’m comfortable and trusting while TEN means I’m wary and defensive. Most people I’ve recently met fall into the SEVEN to THREE range. Yesterday, in a community out-reach meeting, I encountered a TWO.

“Are you okay?” she asked me.

“Of course,” I mumbled with a smile and slight laugh.

I had just lied. The woman to my left knew my resolve although I never said one negative word to her. She probably felt it ten minutes before when I asked her, “Why does it have to be that way?” Why did the unused freeway pit need to be filled in rather than letting it stay as it is? After all, we WERE given a Plan B allowing a no-build option. So, in front of the six others seated around our planning table, I pushed the lady to explain her reasons for an 80 million dollar fill-in.

“I’m sorry,” she answered with an irritated tone, “but city parks have to be at ground level. I know this from what I’ve done. It’s too dangerous to get in and out of the park if it’s below grade.”

She didn’t have to say, “I’m sorry.” We weren’t heated, although I did consider her argument to be flimsy. I live next to a famous community park that’s situated in a canyon with roads leading down into it. No one has ever said it’s too dangerous to get to that open space and its facilities.group@table

But I didn’t challenge the lady again. She was dominating our brain-storming session and we were already behind in our assigned task – determining land use for eighteen city blocks that would have been a freeway…assuming we kill the project.

So yesterday, at this community input meeting, we residents became amateur urban planners. There were eight tables with eight design groups supervised by real engineers and architectural experts. My table didn’t click. No one introduced themselves and no one seemed to have any organized thoughts, including me. The vacuum left room for any pressed idea whether it was practical or not. The lady next to me insisted on a huge park. I listened, knowing that without commercial or residential use of that precious land, without selling it and then taxing it, the 80 million dollar rebuild could not be paid off. When I started to explain the ramifications, I was cut off. I lost interest and pushed a foot away from the table.

A few minutes later, our insistent lady asked, “Are you okay?” which meant, “Are you upset with me?”

I mumbled, “Of course.” Then I left my chair for the rest of the meeting.

*****

couples in loveIt never ceases to amaze me how we read each other’s minds. Everyday, everywhere so much is conveyed that isn’t said with words. Feelings just don’t lie.

Why then, can’t we listen and respond to real thoughts instead of phony rejoinders? Why don’t we trust our first impressions and avoid negative connections from the get-go? Why don’t we use the powers we have to know what we should know? Why don’t we listen to our hearts?

The good news? Many people do!

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How Much of You is Just for You?

Masks on tableBy the time I hit college I had set up Irving Podolsky’s Three Rules of Survival.

  • Rule #1: Always tell the truth.
  • Rule #2: Just be ME. Don’t hide anything.
  • Rule #3: Be nice to my sister.

None of those rules work anymore.

Considering Rule # 1, as I wrote in my post, Is Truth Overrated?, we realize telling the truth doesn’t help much anymore. First, not many people believe the truth and two, lots of people don’t want to know the truth. Third, too many of us lost faith in truth and joined the club where lies equal gain.

Rule #2, Don’t hide anything was all about protecting my high school reputation, which actually didn’t exist. Nobody cared that much about me. But in case someday I did get noticed, I figured if I were hiding some big bad secret about myself and somebody found out about it, I could be blackmailed with a few malicious words like, “If you don’t stop talking to Janet Maloney, I’m gonna tell everybody I saw you beating off in the boy’s room.”

If you just winced a bit, you’re not alone. Pleasuring ourselves is something so private we don’t talk about it, and God forbid, we should never be caught doing it. So yeah, we definitely conceal our many just-us climaxes and toilet business which contradicts my don’t hide anything rule. It doesn’t apply lots of times.

But the truth be told, just being YOU and honest cannot protect your integrity. Reputations are attacked and destroyed with lies all the time. There were so many attack ads flying back and forth before the elections, few people knew what to believe. Everywhere we look, whatever we read, there’s more proof that lots of people are really nasty and we have reasons to be scared. Nobody trusts anything.

So where do we find relief from a depressing world? We watch what we’re hiding – masturbation and sex on porn sites. As Google Analytics clearly points out, over 40% of the internet shows brazen people breaking all the privacy rules. I blogged about this in Sexual Privacy – Is that Hip Anymore?  We all crave feel-good escapes.

Rule #3Be nice to my sister? We don’t talk anymore. Her decision, not mine. Oh well.

*****

Lets go back to Be YOU. Don’t hide anything. high school dance 60'sThis commandment worked well through college because life was simpler back then. Young people were generally honest. Sure, there was party bad-mouthing and gossip, but it didn’t take down lives or cause suicides. There wasn’t an internet. Nothing bad spread too far. Reputations could be reestablished with a move to another city. Now we have revenge porn and hackers looking for cell phone shots. Now things get wildly out-of-control everywhere. Now there’s no place to hide. Now we have to be really, really careful.

Back in the day I just had to be sorta careful. Of course there was lying, stealing and cheating but it felt far away, and it was. Still, watching the wars and political corruption on just three TV channels, I became sadly disillusioned. Who could I totally trust? Just myself in my own private world. I lived there a lot.

Then I met my future wife and Rule #2 euphorically rebooted. That’s because our connection wasn’t only about infatuation and sex. It was about trusting again and a return to comforting honesty. With this new woman, I felt I could be ME. I wasn’t afraid of judgments so I didn’t censor thoughts, fears, cravings and private stuff. With my new found devotion came new found freedom. No more second-guessing about appropriate responses for approval. Simply put, we were in love.

Then the glow dimmed, and although it took some time, after a while we both decided each of us could use some improvement. You all know what I’m talking about. Our Total Acceptance halos warped with the insistence that each other change. Since I wasn’t ready to accept all items on my wife’s to-do list, nor did she want to conform to mine, we retreated six steps back into our private worlds where we could do our thing without the lectures. Sound familiar? Here’s more.

In some cases, doing our own thing relied on little lies. Not big game-changing lies, more like holding back information about those life-habits we didn’t want to give up. And when those conflicting habits turned into periodic fights, we’d call a truce and retreat to our personal sanctuaries for re-thinking. Once cooled off with emotions back under control, we’d bring up the conflicts again and work out the compromises.

We’ve kept this system going for thirty-nine years. It works because lying is kept to a minimum and honesty is a priority. There are certain promises you just can’t break to keep a relationship together.

*****

Cut to: The Present. My wife is not my fan. She doesn’t peruse my blog and I had to push her to read my books. Well yeah, she watches me perform in my band but my current personal domain she rarely sees or feels she needs to. That goes both ways. My wife does things that don’t include me. There’s a good reason. I’d be bored. We meet in the place where there’s mutual interest. It’s a big space and it keeps changing. It keeps changing because we have our lives together and we have our lives apart, so there’s always new stuff to learn from each other.

goldensunrise2Do you have a secret life all your own? Do you have a place of retreat where no one tells you what to do or what to believe? Is there a hidden part of you that’s 100% pure and honest, with all your warts, defects, fuck-ups and naughty shit reflected back to you in your personal mirror?

Do you like and respect that exclusive YOU?

I hope so. I hope you’ve made your Secret YOU special and precious because it is. Your invisible YOU hasn’t conformed to expectations. Your disguised YOU is entirely unique – not made to fit in or blend. Your hidden YOU is an entire universe unto itself and you’re IT! You make the rules. You decide who you are without judgments, influences or validations. And if you’ve purged self denial and lying to yourself, it’s the only place you can totally trust.

WAIT! There’s more!

Your secret YOU is the only space where you can make mistakes and no one cares because no one knows about them. You’ve got unlimited time and space to experiment with new thoughts and abilities. Everyone needs a safe Secret Space to grow. Have you built one for yourself?

*****

Now lately I’ve been a list-maker and this post has more of them. I can’t leave this page without mentioning the secret bad stuff, ‘cause obviously there’s plenty of private thoughts and actions that are totally screwed up and end up as shocking headlines in the news.

We all know that secret thoughts about stalking, suicide, gun fights with police, sex with minors, beheading non-believers, raping strangers and shooting into crowds is destructive to say the least. Insane private worlds of tortured souls are dangerous and we try to avoid them. Thankfully there aren’t that many super crazies out there. Thankfully you’re not one of them. So I’m not writing about that.

I’m writing about the negative thoughts I’ve discussed before, like paranoia, suspicion and distrust; fears about authority, matrimony, sexuality, religion, politics, gender differences and that never ending anger about loss of control.

  • This is the stuff that makes us unhappy.
  • This is the stuff that leads us into warring groups of US and THEM.
  • This is the stuff that eats us alive until we throw it out and see it for what it is.
  • This is the stuff that kills love, trust and security.
  • This is the stuff that’s reinforced by people who want to control us, by those who deceive us as they promise to be our friends and protectors.
  • This is the stuff we can no longer have simmering in our private worlds.

 Contradictions don’t help!

  • We can’t hate on the inside and pretend to love on the outside.woman behind mask
  • We can’t pray for safety while denying safety to others.
  • We can’t strive for abundance as we protest those less fortunate.
  • We can’t demand loyalty when we cheat on our own commitments.
  • We can’t expect freedom when we deny others the right to be who they are.
  • We can’t insist on the truth when we lie to ourselves.

Double standards break everything apart, inside and out. We all need our private worlds but if they don’t match the rest of us, we’re cleaved in half, scared, depressed and angry about it.

I don’t want to be angry. You don’t either.

 

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How to Rate Your Value When You Have None

box of stuffYesterday and today I took final inventory of my father’s life’s possessions, and for that matter, his entire life. As I explained in my last post, he never threw anything away, apparently because those things were valuable to him. Perhaps his “toy” collection boosted his self esteem, like a growing bank account makes us feel more successful. Dad couldn’t stop buying himself things; more and more things, repeats of things, things he never opened or needed. I think his constant consuming was really about self-reward. His own father never praised Dad for anything. Dad’s dad was mean and uncaring, a destroyer of faith.

Anyway, feeling forlorn, a few hours ago I dropped off eight more daddy boxes at Goodwill. As I carried the cartons from the back of Mom’s car to the store’s big rolling bin, I wondered how much value all those things would have for someone else. Would anyone buy an eighty’s Panasonic portable radio, or a plug-in ¼” recording tape de-magnetizer/eraser, or twenty-three AC converters that once powered twenty-three other things in seven other boxes? My guess is, most of everything I just gave away will end up in a landfill.remotes

Ultimately, Dad’s prize possessions had no value. How he would feel about that if he were still alive?

I know how I would feel, because today I also discovered my own past from college days. They were my drawings of fantasy machines. I remember I got an “A” on that art class assignment. One design I even gave to my professor because he wanted it as a model for a sculpture he had in mind. I kept the other drawings because back then they were important to me and I assumed they always would be. They’re not anymore. Still, I didn’t trash them. I left them where I found them – in the back of the garage between the pages of my old sketchbook.

drawingsI didn’t want them but I didn’t want to chuck them either. Those drawings were an imprint of young optimist’s hopes and wishes and I felt a wash of sentimentality as I stared at them. The art student of 1967 is not the older more cynical soul I am today. He feels like a separate spirit and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by devaluing his creations with a casual toss into the recycle can.

What about Dad’s spirit? Was I devaluing my father by abandoning his possessions at a thrift store? He would have been crushed, accusing me of betrayal, scolding me for breaking an unspoken promise. I had failed to respect him forever. And as I write these words, I’m thinking I’m fussing way too much over this, but I’m gloomy just the same.

Mom is too. She admitted she couldn’t finish the job. She moved his stuff from upstairs to downstairs but she stopped short of taking it out of the house. So I had to do it, and will continue to deconstruct Dad’s past a little more and a little more with each future visit. There’s still Dad’s workshop to breakdown, the first thing he put together when he and Mom moved into this house fifty-two years ago. A lot of the stuff in there he inherited from his father and I’ll end up giving that away too. I have no place to keep antique tools I’ll never use.peg board tools

It’s sad. Seventy years ago those hand-crafted, made-in-America, wood and metal implements had great value. Now they’re just remembrances and curiosity pieces. I’m hoping they’ll go to where they’re appreciated again and into the hands of someone who honors the pride that went into making those things. I hope a younger man rekindles their importance, because in Dad’s case, the gadgets he gave himself did not serve their purpose. They didn’t make him happy and in his last years, weeks and days, they didn’t give him a sense value. In his words, “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

*****

So what is VALUE, really? What stays valuable?

I think value is virtual. It doesn’t exist outside the human mind. When you think about it, something is valuable only when someone believes it is, and only if that someone wants it enough to trade services, goods or money to get it. We also know that value changes through time and from culture to culture. What has value to me may not have value to you. Value never stays the same. If it did, we would not be able to build wealth, a tangible way to create value. In some circles, it’s the only way to create value, or at least the only respected way.

But of course ownership is not the only way we build our value. You may be guessing where I’m going with this post. It’s an answer to a question.

How do we determine the intrinsic value of a human life?

This is heavy exploration so let’s lighten it up. To determine your own value on the Podolsky Scale of Good-Better-Best, start by asking yourself these few simple questions.

  1. If you’re not rich or famous, if you’re not a Job Creator, if you haven’t invented a cure for cancer or a time machine, if you’re just a regular YOU, what’s your Value Rating in the minds of others?
  2. Did you have pre-packaged VALUE out-of-the-box or was assembly required?
  3. Do you have value if no one says you do?
  4. If you’re gay, an albino, undocumented, homely, pudgy, anorexic, over seven feet tall or under five feet tall, do you deserve to have value?
  5. How much value do you need to feel good about yourself, if any?
  6. Is it okay to consider yourself valuable if no one else does?
  7. Is it okay to go through life without value? Or do you deserve to die?
  8. Is it okay to buy value, as in, supporting people so they need you?
  9. Is Bought Value just as good as value earned with good deeds?
  10. Is Mother Theresa Service Value as good as Donald Trump Moneyed Value? Which is better?
  11. Is Negative Value okay, like a serial killer with a heart of gold?
  12. If you believe in God, do you believe He/She/It values some people more than others? If so, who are they? Is it you?
  13. Do atheists have value? How about the-jury’s-still-out agnostics?
  14. Does one religion have more value that another, and who decides which one is best?
  15. Will you still have value if no one remembers you after you die?
  16. Is After-Death Value better than Only-While-Alive Value?
  17. If you’ve never asked these questions before, are you less valuable than someone who has?
  18. Will you have more value to others if you can answer 12 out of 17? How about 3 out of 17?

*****

Seriously folks, in many ways we think about these questions all the time. They motivate us to do what we do and our life’s purpose is wrapped around their answers. And since it’s human nature to seek value and significance, we’re all vulnerable to sneaky manipulation that feeds our ego. Behavior and self-esteem is shaped by praise and rebuke from parents, teachers, bosses, clergy, your best friend, unknown fans, anyone who’s opinion of us we value. We all want our value validated. We have to be careful about that and make sure the flattery and criticism is true.

2 work benchesMy father’s sense of value was totally dependent on the endorsements of others so he never stopped needing more proof of respect, admiration and love. I’m more self-assured but sure, I want to matter to others as well. But I also want people to value me for what I can give them and how I can help them. More importantly, I want other people to matter to me. I want to be more tolerant and patient and forgiving and accepting. I think people who do that have the greatest value of all. I’d like to be able to achieve that maturity sooner than later. Finally, I’d like to accept my father for who was, AS he was, before I take down his workshop hide-away.

Dad, I hope you’re still building things you love. I hope you’re not scared anymore of being disliked. I hope you’re thriving and peaceful and finally happy. And I hope you can let me know if you are.

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How to Want Gifts You Don’t Want

Dad left us last June. I stayed by his side for his last seven days and held his hand as he started to cool. Mom was in the family room trying to keep it together with the help of a close friend. She couldn’t handle Dad’s plunge and final burn-out. I couldn’t either but I had no choice. It was time to grow up in a way I had avoided my entire life.

Man_on_cliffAfter the funeral I spent another week with my mother and then flew home to Southern California and into my wife’s arms. I had changed and she immediately felt it. Walking Dad to his personal cliff and then to his final leap was intensely surreal, as I explained in this blog when I restarted it after his death. So in a round-about way, Dad encouraged me in ways he never had before about something he knew nothing about. He had no idea I’m a writer, nor does Mom or any other family member.

“Why?” you ask. One reason. My parents and sister were characters in my novels and I’m not sure they’d be pleased about that. I didn’t write them as horrible villains. I wrote them as who they are and if they weren’t that way they wouldn’t be as interesting, and in fact, inspiring.

So now that I’m again visiting Mom, I’m writing about her once more. I bet she’s a lot like yours. She wants me to be happy and she wants to be happy herself. I’m supposed to make that happen by helping her dispose of Dad’s stuff – all those things he never threw away or gave away.

Dad was an “Early Adopter” way before anyone invented that term. Back then, we just called him a MinoxShopper who acquired the latest new everything; the coolest watch or tiny Minox spy camera, or the first home computer with mechanical switches, or transistor radios, miniature TV’s, reel-to-reel tape recorders or that fully loaded Swiss Army knife with the pliers and magnifier.

There was a downside to all of this. His acquisitions did not apply to me, my sister or Mom. Dad didn’t feel compelled to buy us any cool shit unless he had to. And when he did, it was usually the bottom of the middle-of-the-line, or even the top of the bottom-of-the-line. When it came to himself, Dad sprung for the middle of the top-of-the-line. Nothing in our house was ever the top of the top-of-the-line…except for one thing. And after Dad retired it for its newer replacement, I wanted that very special ornament.

LeCoultreOnce a year, I’d repeat my request. “Dad…”

“Yeah, Irv.”

“Do you ever wear it anymore?”

“You’re not getting it. Not until I’m dead.” And so I waited…and waited…and waited.

Now Dad is ashes in a box. Now I have his Jaeger-LeCoultre watch. And now that I’m visiting Mom again, she wants me to look through all of his stash and take everything else I’ve ever wanted.

I do not want anything else. I just wanted that watch back in June. Not because I really had to have it, but because twenty, thirty years ago I really did want it. Back then I would have felt so proud to wear my father’s status timepiece. I would have shown it to all my friends, impressing everyone with my 1958 Swiss alarm watch, shinny gold with two wind spindles and a brown crocodile strap.

As a thirty or forty year-old, that’s what I would have done. As a sixty-six year-old, nothing happens like that. I have worn Dad’s LeCoultre occasionally since last June. I’ve shown it to few men who understand its $2500 collector’s value. No one is that impressed. They all have their special watches.

Sadly, my watch is not that special to me. It was never a gift. It was apathetically taken.

*****

This morning Mom asked me again to pick stuff from Dad’s clothes. Wanting his things out fast and final tells you something about my parents’ relationship. Mom has finally claimed their bedroom closet, territory Dad staked out the moment he walked into the new house fifty-two years ago. It was a small space so Dad took it all, sending Mom to the closets downstairs. None of this info made it into my eulogy or anyone else’s. This was my real dad, a guy I didn’t respect. Still, Mom wants me to have nice thoughts about my father and she hopes wearing his coats, shirts, sweaters, socks and ties will make that happen. It won’t.

The only Dad I want to remember is the one I got to know in the last week of his life – the man who finally humbled himself enough to gratefully thank me for my help instead of demanding parental respect.

I don’t blame him anymore for the distant father he was. But I can’t conjure warm and fuzzy feelings about him either. I can’t get sentimental about a father who didn’t want to spend time with his young son. What Mom doesn’t understand, is that all the things she wants me to take are the same things Dad refused to share with me when he was alive. And when I see those things, I remember that.

My wife is with me on this Mom Visit and she told me what to do – accept Dad’s things. Make Mom happy. My wife leaves today. I stay on to clean house and then fly back Wednesday. Complying to the prescribed agenda means buying a second suitcase packed with stuff I don’t want so I can check it on the plane for an additional $25 and then wait an extra fifteen minutes in LAX airport Baggage Claim. I’m doing all of this to validate a lie. Last week I wrote about telling the truth and how I could argue that there are times when the truth isn’t appropriate. This is one of those times.

*****

Here’s something even more paradoxical. As you now know, Dad never threw anything out. Whatever it was, to my father it had great value and no matter what, he needed to keep it. Consequently over the past few years, as Dad sunk deeper and deeper into senility, I collected all his radios, cameras, stereo gear, headphones, speakers, all of that; and I boxed it up in categories and stacked it neatly into the garage. Even though Dad didn’t care about it anymore, he once did and I felt I should honor that directive.

Carrying out my father’s wishes was my way of holding his control in place even though he had none. It’s something I want for myself so I did it for him. I made sure he kept all his gear from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. It was pretty neat, actually – a time capsule. Someone might want it someday, maybe my sister or her kids.

Two months ago Mom had a seriously bad flood in the garage. All that museum stuff I had meticulously boxed up was water ruined forever. In two days I have to throw it all out. I don’t even want to look at it.

*****

One of the last things Dad said to me when I asked him if I could comb his hair, he said, “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

None of his boxed stuff that I tried to make matter, matters anymore. None of the stuff in his drawers and closets that once mattered to me, matters anymore. What does matter to everyone who knew him, was the dignity and courage he brought to his own death. Still, in a few years when we too die, even Dad’s last days of courage won’t matter.

So what does matter? You know what matters. It’s everything we do this moment, this day, this week.Seiko

And that’s why I will lie to my mother and tell her I want Dad’s stuff to make her happy. That’s why I gave my nephew my own favorite watch, a 1970 black-face self-winding chronograph Seiko Dad gave me for my college graduation on his return from Japan.

So in reflection, I did get the big Daddy Prize I wanted, when I wanted it. And now I’ve passed it on at the right time in the right place. Now my nephew in Germany is proudly showing all his friends a rare watch my father gave me when I was twenty-two. I really feel good about that and so does my Berlin family.

Thanks Dad. You helped me to do the right thing.

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