Month: April 2014

Emotional Intelligence

The last couple of days have been a very interesting opportunity for some serious reflection on how I deal internally with stress and criticism. I won’t go into huge detail as to why – suffice to say that my cage has been rattled quite unexpectedly and violently so, and I’m still trying to steady myself.

But at this point, after hearing a lot of things I never imagined were true and dealing with some folks who really, REALLY got under my skin – unintentionally, but nevertheless they did – and just dealing with a whole lot of generalized crap, I’ve been able to pause and suck in a few huge breaths, and think more clearly.

Dictionary.com describes emotional intelligence as “skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings.” I don’t like the word “intelligence” in this context, because at first blush, the very phrase itself suggests that a low emotional intelligence level is something akin to being stupid, and I’m pretty sure that’s not true in most cases. And in my case, I see myself as someone who can perceive and understand the emotions of others very well, but oftentimes I don’t do so well in managing my own, and I definitely don’t think that makes me stupid. Not sure what it does make me, but unintelligent isn’t it!

Out of curiosity, I took one of those “About.com” quizzes I found in the Googledom to test my own “EI” score. Here are my results:

“Your results indicate an above average score on emotional intelligence.

People with a better than average score on emotional intelligence tend to be good at interpreting, understanding, and acting upon emotions. They are usually quite good at dealing with social or emotional conflicts, expressing their feelings, and dealing with emotional situations.

It’s important to remember that no matter how good your score is, there is always room to improve your emotional intelligence. Consider areas where you are not as strong and think of ways that you can learn and grow. Take stock of your strong points and find ways to continue to develop and apply these skills.”

Hmmm. Interesting, because given my somewhat visceral reaction to comments made about me and other people’s behavior, I would score myself somewhere in the vicinity of the toilet bowl.

Obviously, these sorts of Internet exercises must be taken with a grain of salt (or two). Filling out a 3-minute pop quiz on the web and interpreting the results as anything other than superficial is kind of like giving your very last dime to buy sand in the Sahara Desert. And unfortunately, that doesn’t bode too well for the reality of my score. But at least in this case, the quiz master’s follow-up advice seems pretty sound:

Consider areas where you are not as strong and think of ways that you can learn and grow.

This is where the pausing and the breathing comes in real handy. And the reflection.

So, ok – a few people said some things that really surprised and angered you, but didn’t necessarily attack you personally, so there’s really no reason to get on that boat. And then, someone irritated the crap out of  you and displayed rude behavior, but that’s not really your problem and it’s way over and done with now, so why are you insisting on replaying that tape over and over in your head? And oh – just because you made a mistake here doesn’t mean you will never get there.

And so on.

One of the benefits of getting older is that it becomes easier to see the value in stopping (or at least slowing) the out-of-control freight train that emotions can often emulate by forcing one’s thinking into an objective, outside-of-oneself framework. It’s sure as hell not easy, and I don’t have as good a grasp of that skill as I’d like, but I’ve had lots of scenarios lately just begging to use the practice. All the more emotional intelligence for me, right?

I’m thinking that, barring a tragic natural disaster or some other nuclear meltdown in my personal life, tomorrow will be a better day.

 

(And just in case you’re interested, you can take that quiz here.)

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Boys in the House

Today was a day off for me, and I intended to write all day, but instead ended up spending a lot of time sorting my massive digital photo collection and reading blog posts, and then almost two solid hours trying to update my cellphone – crashing it hard and then having to Google my way through a factory default restore to get it running again.

So, definitely not quite how I planned the day out, but somewhere in the midst of sifting through photos, it occurred to me that I’ve never done an entire post on my kids – at least, not all three of them at once. I also didn’t have a blogging topic for today, and I really wanted to post something, so I decided to put the two together, and voila – ! here I am at 10:35 at night, which of course is the perfect time to bang out a blog post.

If I were to write in-depth here about them, I would be writing all night, and quite possibly all through tomorrow and the next day. I’ve been with them for the last 25 years or so, in varying timeframes of course…having triplets probably would have secured me a permanent post in the local nut factory! 25 years is a long time, almost half of my life, and it’s fair to say that at times, it’s felt like 10 lifetimes. But I’ve figured out the positives outweigh the negatives, though – by a long shot. So I am grateful for every single day I’ve had with them.

My three sons….a brief snapshot

Christian is the oldest, the first-born, the guinea-pig of sorts. He was always smiling and shy when he was young, a head full of blonde curls and a sunny disposition.  Once he learned to read he was a voracious consumer of books, he grew to love music and hate tomatoes and cheese (except pizza cheese.) Now he lives about 25 minutes south of us and works hard in the gaming world. As you might be able to discern:

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I’ll bet you couldn’t tell he’s into XBox. At all. But technically, it’s part of his job.

Justin is next down the line, unflappable and endlessly inquisitive. Terribly clumsy as a child and has multiple scars to prove it; we made more trips to emergency room with this kid than for the other two put together. Sharp as a tack with a wicked sense of humor. Another big reader and music lover like his older brother, and very active in Scouting when he was in school. He’s a bit unreadable at times but has a tender, empathic nature that shows when one least expects it.

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You hardly ever know what this one is thinking. And when you *do* figure it out…

And last but never, ever least, there’s Nicholas. Full of headstrong energy and a precise knowledge of exactly which buttons to push with his brothers to get what he wants. When he’s in the mood, he’s a great conversationalist. Asks lots of tough questions and makes poignant observations. Bright affections, sunny smile, and the most brilliant blue eyes ever. Totally unapologetic Minecraft nut.

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I have a lot of favorite pictures of Nicholas, but this one not only takes the cake, it pours the batter and bakes it too.

And this is one of the most amazing pictures ever of the three of them together:

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Christmas, 2012. Happy shiny boys.  ❤

All I can say to sum up here is that there isn’t enough a room big enough anywhere in this universe to contain the love I have for them, for the richness they add to my life, for the ways in which they have made me a better person.

Three Good Things Thursday

I’ve not done one of these posts in a while, so it’s time.

ONE
Today is my Friday, since we here at George Fox get Good Friday off as a paid holiday, and three-day-weekends are always a good thing. Not sure what I’m going to do with the extra time, other than take Nicholas to his second post-surgery follow-up, but I’m pretty confident I can figure it out.

TWO
This lovely thing is right outside my window at work:

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Red Rhodies…  ❤

Can’t wait to see the full bush in bloom – it’s not particularly large, as rhodie bushes go, but it’s got a whole bunch of buds and it will soon be a veritable explosion of red. Flowers are a particularly wonderful and brilliant creation, in my opinion, truly a gift.

THREE
I’ve got strong writing mojo these past several days, maybe even the past couple of weeks. All I want to do is write, and I wish this desire would camp out with me permanently. Maybe someday- but for now, I’m enjoying the ride. I’m even participating in a “Blogger 201” class being hosted by some WordPress folks, and it’s helping keep me motivated.

Here’s a parting thought as we (or at least I) head into the weekend:

“…I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”
~Elizabeth Edwards

Indeed. 😉

A hard afternoon

My youngest son’s guinea pig Eeyore died yesterday.

He’d not been ill, as his cagemate Piglet had been for several weeks before he went to the Great Beyond a couple years ago, so his passing was a shock. He had been fine the night before, Nicholas said, and before he left for school in the morning he still seemed fine with no indication of what was to come. But Eeyore was also technically a “senior citizen” as guinea pigs go, who typically live to be only between 5 and 7 years old or so.

It’s really tough watching your kids deal with grief. Tears of mourning are so much different from those of resentment or anger, fueled by tantrums or the result of rebellious defiance. As a parent, you deal with your own sort of grief in observing what your kids experience when these difficult situations fall on us. While I felt sad that Eeyore was gone, my deeper sadness came from the clear fact that my son was feeling it much harder than I.

We (my husband, me and middle son Justin) all immediately rallied around Nicholas with hugs and love, and helped give Eeyore a dignified burial out in the back yard next to Piglet, under the huge Japanese maple tree now freshly endowed with green spring finery. A few good words were said, and we took turns reassuring him that it was old age, and not a lack of care, that had brought on Eeyore’s demise.

Normally, Nicholas’s demeanor doesn’t reveal much of his emotional side – he’s rarely willing to talk about how he’s feeling. But pets are clearly a soft spot with him, as is probably the case with most kids. Something about the responsibility of caring for another living thing, something about the inherent sadness with death, it’s hard to say what it is, or what it was, but yesterday Nicholas displayed a very tender side I’ve not seen very often. While his reaction was hard to see, it also made me proud that he seems to possess a deep sense of empathy for life.

It’s terribly easy to second-guess your parenting skills, and even easier to invite judgement from others, but I guess we’re definitely doing something right.

A Bit of Sage Advice

Always check your paint cans.

To wit:

Our kitchen has been in dire need of painting for a very long time, so I decided it was time to do so over the weekend. After some prep work on Saturday, we decided Sunday was The Big Day. We already had two gallon-sized cans of paint – I believe the color was “Honeysuckle Lilac Beige Dream” or something equally ridiculous and trendy. We’d had this paint for some time, since we’d actually intended to do this painting a few years ago.

Well, ok – seven years ago. Some decisions just shouldn’t be rushed, you know.

Anyway, Sunday came, and after taking the cans back to the big-box hardware store to have them re-shaken, ensuring they were still good (does house paint ever really go bad?) – we cracked open one of the cans and spent nearly four hours with brushes and rollers – a few walls and lots of ledges and crevices and tiny little strips next to door frames – some areas were a serious pain in the ass. Some areas we had to go over twice, which was an even bigger pain in the ass. But good tunes were on the radio, the weather outside was brilliant so the windows were open to beckon the fresh air, and it was getting done.

All the while, I was thinking to myself: Wow, this is really white.

And I kept thinking, as I painted and painted and wiped up dribbles and climbed up and down the step stool, about a million times it seemed. I didn’t think it was going to look quite this…white.

But I reasoned. Maybe it will be better when it dries.

You might already see where this is going.

We finished up, all sore and hungry and paint-splattered, totally ready to call it a day, and although everything was pretty darned white it looked nice. No problem – anything was better than the way it was, in any case. We could deal with it.

Now, we’d gone through one entire can of the paint. But there were still a few spots needing touching up. So pop went the other can, a bit more paint was poured, and back to work I went to cover those few renegade places, while the other half went out to the living room to watch a bit of the news.

After a few moments, it finally, slowly dawned on me that what I was now slathering on the walls was darker, definitely more beige – Honeysuckle Lilac Beige Dream, to be exact – than the paint we’d already spent the entire afternoon using – which was likely just good ol’ Base White. It wasn’t blaringly obvious, as if we’d just accidentally lost our minds with a can of Glossy Red Lipstick Flame Orchid, but it was noticeable. So, after a few choice strings of words left my mouth but still amazingly enough under my breath, the following exchange ensued between me (in the kitchen) and the husband (in the living room):

“Charles, I don’t think the paint in this can is the same color.”

There was barely a brief second of silence, and then –

“Oh yes it is!”

“Um, really – I don’t think so.”

“Yes, it is! The labels both have the same numbers and the same name on them.”

“I know, but seriously – come look at this!”

“Just let it dry for a while, ok? It’s fine.”

Ok, fine.

So I went downstairs to my office and futzed round on Facebook for a little while. When I went back to the kitchen, my heart sank straight to the bottom of my stomach faster than a brakeless bullet train down the side of Mt. Everest. But all I could do was laugh, except that I didn’t sound amused so much as a bit deranged.

“This isn’t good news, is it?” piped up the husband from the living room.

“Nope.” I said.

He finally came into the kitchen, looked at the spot I was pointing to, and uttered a single word beginning with “F” and ending with “K” at a relatively high pitch and volume.

Oh, yeah, baby…freakin’ Honeysuckle Lilac Beige Dream!!

Fortunately for us, it only took about an hour and a half to re-do everything, since we had a really nice base coat to work with.

So, now you know.

You can’t go back, but you can pretend

Today I’ve been listening to an album I heard many, many times in my youth – on repeat, because it’s really that good. It’s Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, and while most would likely recognize at least two of the contained tracks – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” – the rest of it is pretty low-key stuff I don’t think ever cracked the charts (at least as singles, anyway.)

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Grace Slick and Company. Great cover, great album.

I’ve probably heard both of those songs hundreds of times throughout my life; in fact, the other day I heard “White Rabbit” on the radio. But it’s been a really long time since I’ve listened to the whole album, and I was amazed at how even the less familiar tracks returned me to the childhood time in which I remember hearing it the most. To be honest, I had probably been listening to this record since I was an infant, because it was released before I was born, but my conscious recollection of it doesn’t come into the picture until I was about five years old.

At that time, my family and I lived in an old farm house on about 900 acres of scrub brush, gentle grassy hills and trees in Southern Oregon. The rent was 50 bucks a month and we were surrounded on all sides by vast patches of country earth.  This place was tucked out in the proverbial boon-docks, in the middle-of-freaking-nowhere, in “God’s Country” – so to speak. In other words, just going grocery shopping was easily a half-day affair. Most of our neighbors were ranchers. My morning walk to the bus stop and then again in the afternoon was nearly a mile of dusty, rutted driveway cutting through a giant swath of cattle-grazing territory. I got stung by a yellowjacket for the first time on that driveway (and the second time, as well), and experienced my first crash-and-burn on my first real bike, banana seat and all, handlebars wobbling crazily as I went screaming down a hill one afternoon, just to see how fast I could go. That was an experiment I learned quickly to never repeat.

But I loved that place. The house was a decent size, with a huge, open kitchen and very high ceilings. I had my own cozy bedroom with a loft bed built from scratch by my dad, and there was a diamond-shaped window in the living room, which I thought was very cool and was always told was a rare addition in houses. (It’s interesting to note that my parents’ personal “coolness” factor concerning this house is a tad different from mine. My dad swears it was insulated with material roughly the consistency of tissue paper, and the pipes would constantly freeze in the winter. No matter. I thought the place was a palace.)

There was a tire swing hanging off a beautiful giant oak tree in the front yard, and a fort nestled snugly amongst the strong arms of another giant oak just a few hundred feet from the west side of the house. We grew corn in a garden in the front, and had chickens, geese and a curious little nanny-goat named Lady in the back. Our beloved black Lab had the vast expanse of serene, grassy land at his disposal to explore, although it also got him into trouble on occasion as he routinely tangled with raccoons and porcupines, and thistle bushes that left wads of tough, prickly burrs on his legs and tail. And when he lost one of those legs courtesy of  an animal trap terribly and vindictively laid somewhere out in that expanse, he learned to run faster and swim stronger than any puny human could ever match.

So, yeah. My memories of that place are strong – probably the strongest of my early childhood. And the music played in our house – an essential, integral part of the daily routine – something akin to eating and sleeping. Back then, it was a turntable, receiver and two speakers strategically placed and connected to the receiver by long, thin umbilicals of speaker wire. My mom had an enormous collection of vinyl records – probably numbering well into the mid hundreds at that point (which swelled comfortably into four-digit territory as the years went by.) And so it went – the Beatles, Elton John, Pink Floyd, the Stones, the Moody Blues, Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and of course, Jefferson Airplane – to name just a miniscule number of artists residing in her collection.

I’m not entirely sure I would actually like a lot of this music if I were to hear it for the first time now, and unfortunately, my kids aren’t much inclined to listen. But like genetic material, it’s a part of me – a love I literally could not separate from myself even if I wanted to. I’m not sure what the strongest draw is, either – whether it’s the fact that much of it is just plain good and well-crafted music, or that hearing it triggers the warmest memories of my childhood. It’s probably a well-blended combination of both. Indeed, I cannot imagine my life – past or present – without it.

Oh, that I could play on that tire swing again on a calm, cricket-song summer evening as the sun set, all dusty bare feet and wild hair, waiting for dinner after a long day romping the fields with the dog, riding my bike at ridiculous light-speeds, guarding my tree fort…but at least I can listen to the music and be there in my head, if nothing else.

The Problem of Pain

This morning as I was driving to work I got to thinking about difficult things. I do this sometimes.

I was thinking about spiritual things. That are difficult.

But then I started to get a little pissed. At God. I get this way sometimes.

I mean, seriously:

If God doesn’t make mistakes, then why are babies sometimes born with only half a skull and even less brain matter? Why are some babies born dead, or why do they die in-utero?

If God supposedly has a “Master Plan” – in which he also allegedly does not make mistakes, and is supposed to ultimately work for good  – then why is there war? Why do people starve to death? Why are people raped and tortured and murdered by other people? Because things definitely did not work out for their good.

Why Oso? Why Fort Hood? Why Syria and Egypt and the Ukraine? Why the holocaust? Why Rwanda and the Congo and Bangladesh and Cambodia? Why Katrina and the big-ass twisters that leveled the elementary school in Oklahoma? Why Newtown and Columbine? And any other of the thousands of horrible things, historically speaking and presently, that I don’t have room to list?

I just don’t understand. I just don’t. And my drive to work was really depressing and angering and even a little bit scary, because of course, there were no answers to be had.

So I got to work, and here was my Word for the Day in my inbox:

“Catastrophe is the essence of the spiritual path, a series of breakdowns allowing us to discover the threads that weave all of life into a whole cloth.”  –Roshi Joan Halifax

**Whooof. **

Timing is everything, they say.

I know the answers my atheist friends would have ready for me, but I am not interested in those answers, because I have already heard them and although I will always respect both my friends and their views, I cannot – either intellectually or emotionally – subscribe to the idea of creation without a creator. Even though God really pisses me off with his infuriating silence, I still believe he exists, and I still believe – no matter how hard it gets – that somehow, some way, and some day – maybe a million years from now, it will all make sense and it will all be good.

 

Waking Up (in a nutshell)

I am firmly settled into middle age. 46 years and 3 months as of this day, to be exact.

Actually, I hope I am just now approaching middle age, since the thought of being on the downhill slope of my life doesn’t make me feel very warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing until one is on the deathbed, or enmeshed in whatever precipitous event results in death  – and to be honest, I’m not all fired up excited about that either.

In any case, I concede the fact that I am more or less experiencing the summer of my life. And lately, I’ve been chewing on the concept of the mid-life crisis – whether or not it’s real and if it is, am I having one myself? While I don’t necessarily have the urge to run out and buy a sports car or have a torrid affair with the pool boy (even if I *did* have a pool, mind you) – I am restless and ready to start tilling some different patches of earth. Mostly, this means figuring out once and for all what I really want and what I really think and believe. And then following up on what I find out.

But – do we ever really find what we want? Do we ever really know exactly what we believe?

This planet is vast and diverse and ever-changing, and there is a seemingly infinite number of simultaneous world-wide human experiences – the mundane, everyday happenings and the mind-blowing, life-altering events of every living person on Earth – in any and every given second of the day. These experiences all lead to certain ways of thinking and acting, whether in huge, varying degrees or in tiny, barely noticeable blips. And all those degrees and blips ripple out from everyone and collide with the ripples from others, and from those collisions come the diversity and the constant challenges of living.

Forgive me for waxing all heavy and philosophical, but all of that means something to me. This idea of the ripple effect and how we are all connected through our inter (and counter) actions – it means that even though I think I’ve arrived at a place where I absolutely know who I am, the truth is I don’t. Because the ripples are always out there. While sometimes they only cause one to dig in deeper with one’s own ideals, which in and of itself, is still movement in a particular direction, other times they cause one to re-think and re-calculate and adjust accordingly. I am much more inclined to the latter rather than the former. Having and keeping an open mind is of supreme importance to me.

The connection of self-awareness and middle age is validated by this: there are very few 20-year-olds who have enough experience to actually know they are sorely inexperienced. They send out ripples at light speed and by the mile, but they are so busy doing so that they leave little opportunity for the incoming ripples to interact. At least, that’s the way I see things. I’m certainly not trying to paint all younger people with the same broad brush, because I know there are always exceptions to the rule – but I do think this is true to a very strong degree.

This is simply how it works, and that’s ok because it works very well. Understanding that one is always and forever “never quite there” is a pinnacle concept to take into one’s bones and it is amazingly liberating, because that means learning never stops. What you are at any given point in time is never all you will be.  One is rarely, if ever, ready for that concept until a certain point in life – and middle-age is it, even if it’s nothing else. All of life is a process.

So even though I don’t relish the idea of possibly having fewer years left in me than I’ve already had, bring on the wrinkles and the grey hair. Bring on the penguin-toddle that I do for the first few moments of every morning when I get out of bed because my muscles and joints are stiff, and bring on “the squint” (likely aggravating the wrinkles as a bonus!) as my eyesight slows down. Because along with all of the physical baggage of older age that starts getting tossed on the train comes the blissful understanding that one is finally in a place to start living with renewed awareness and oftentimes as a result, renewed purpose.

That is what waking up is all about.