Procrastinate to Think

A check of my Timex sports watch, 13:00. I shrug, no problem.  I hurry out the door for a Monday afternoon jog.  After a productive morning of writing, I deserve a break and some fresh air.  The other work can wait.

I run half way around the lake path, walk the rest, and make it home in under 45 minutes.  Maybe a quick protein shake, then back to the writing?  On a second thought, maybe a shower first.  With damp skin, I could catch a chill.  But before that shower, a speedy check of the email.  A quick pop-in just in case, I don’t know, someone needs me immediately.  Not sure who the hell that would be, but too late.

One check of an email leads to the click of a link, another, and then a Google search about creative entrepreneur teens who are changing the face of feminism. Maybe a YouTube search to find out what the music and TED talks are all about.  A Timex check, 15:00 already. I should eat a substantial lunch if I hope to get through the mental obstacles of revising my manuscript.

Bread warming in the toaster; ham slices, tomato and relish at the ready. The sandwich made, I grab a book and read while I eat.  Only crumbs left, I read some more and enjoy the warmth of our sunny patio. Then, okay, 16:00; is that the time?  Wasn’t I supposed to work on something this afternoon?

I pull up the document.  I sigh.  A disjointed mess of words hang on the screen.  The usual awaits: sorting, revising, massaging, re-typing, finding a rare jewel hidden in the crud.  Eyes drooping; maybe a revitalizing cat nap?  No, too late in the day.  What about that full sink, there in the kitchen, disgusting and screaming out to me? No, it’s hubby’s turn to wash; don’t give in.  But the dog needs to go out a little early this evening.  Don’t even think about it.  I could stare at the screen; think of the thousand things to do other than write this essay; this essay about procrastination.

A friend joked that I would probably put this one off.  My laugh flowed easy when she said it, but inside I knew.  It would be like every other essay, every other project.  That first hurdle; not necessarily of focusing, but convincing myself to start, and start immediately, before anything else popped into my frontal lobe and offered an excuse to delay.

No, sit back down, you don’t need to find some damn gum. Just chew on your tongue.

*********

To procrastinate is not exactly a positive choice in our culture.  Beyond the simple definition, there are the social stigmas: procrastination equals lazy and lack of will power, or leads to the plague of never getting anything done. Self-help guides line bookstore and virtual shelves to assist with this near mental disorder.  Sciences study indicators and motivations, hoping to figure out the almighty weapon to fight off procrastination so it never returns.  Are we in the battle of our lives, to conquer and defeat the fire-breathing monster known as ProKrastin Ate?  I admit, I intentionally delay certain tasks that linger on the top of my priority list.  But sometimes I am only taking a pause to think.

From my experience, the first stage of procrastination involves a fear and apprehension welling up from my belly’s pit.  In response, stress throws up a mental roadblock that always offers a convincing detour sign.  The messy-house-that-must-be-cleaned is my classic form of procrastination.  If my home is unkempt, the universe will of course disintegrate back to a tiny particle of dust.

My inspired muse works overtime to generate more creative procrastination techniques, expertly veiled behind cloaks of both necessity and temptation.  While juggling multiple assignments, the easy one becomes the focused center; the intentional distraction to divert any attention given to the one that’s due.  I also prefer busy work in the name of procrastination.  Although I do not budge an inch on the targeted task, I accomplish lots of other stuff like paying bills, creating a new household budget, organizing notes and files, even completing a few cryptograms from a puzzle book.  And then there are the obvious offenders: eating sandwiches, checking my arms for odd shaped moles, sorting through junk mail coupons, taking pictures of my sleeping puppy dog, biting my nails, daydreaming of the nearby construction site and the creative ways I could dismantle or mangle the excessively loud equipment.

My fail-safe method of procrastination is time travel.  Jumping forward, out of the present moment, and making to-do lists; creating new schedules that I implore myself to follow this time.  Just turn off the brain and follow the damn list.

I think the Puritan work ethic is engrained in our culture’s psyche.  You must be hard at work to be a good person because while the boss is away the mice will screw off and idle hands are the devil’s something or other.  I read an article published recently, “5 Tricks to Teach Kids to Avoid Procrastination.”  The article advised to prioritize work before play, to keep a to-do notebook and to get organized.  The subject in the article was a child who had entered the first grade.  Yowzah.  What is that, 7 years old?  I thought I was stressed out in grade school when I had to use my stuffed animals as dates for my Barbie dolls because I didn’t have Ken.  I never knew this stress was a projection of how I felt about putting off other more important shit.  Seriously, someone should have let me know about the other more important shit.

It’s all about results. I was raised to produce, to accomplish.  When I got into school, homework was on, then band practice and tennis practice, then some more homework, nightly assignments, monthly tests, quarterly projects and exams.  After public school came college.  Time management was the necessity; procrastination meant cramming, all nighters, gut-rot from too much coffee and NoDoz. How did I manage without the current prescription Adderral focus-me drugs?

Maybe we credit procrastination too often as the culprit, the something to blame. “Oh, I’m just procrastinating,” I tell myself with a dismissive wave.  But what is the delayed activity and why am I dragging my feet?  Do I feel an intuition of bad timing, or do I hear the disgruntled integrity alarm?  Maybe it’s plain ole fear and I need to gulp a breath before leaping into possible failure, or possible pain (I’m thinking of the dentist appointment that I have to make). Procrastination could be the red flag snapping in the storm, a signal to take a moment more of thought and consideration.

Wait, that’s right, no time. Multitasking is the desired momentum in this day and age, with everything geared toward doing more in less time.  Procrastination could be the rebellion, to escape a social conditioning that runs our humanity dead tired into the ground.

To me, procrastination is a symptom of our productivity obsession; a sign that the overstimulated, multitasking wires are fritzing on overload.  If I am not busy and producing, the social control kicks in and I feel horribly guilty.  I must not be managing my time, or, oh-no, procrastinating.

If the social stigma evaporated and we didn’t beat ourselves up for delaying an action on some things, we could be a more relaxed culture. That’s a scary unknown.

Just because I create a to-do list doesn’t mean I actually have to do anything from it.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

I’M BUSY: A Personal Essay on Productivity

(previously published in 2014 edition of ‘Stratus: Journal of Arts & Writing’)

“If you’re bored, I’ll give you something to do.”  My mom used to say this when I was a kid.  Her threat of chores silenced my whines of boredom and I found anything to keep myself busy.

Ah, to have the chance to be bored again; to lie in a hammock and listen to a breeze flutter through tree leaves on a warm afternoon.  Would I only twiddle my thumbs?

Maybe it’s simply normal human behavior to do.  But when did to-do lists, time management and waves of guilt for non-productivity harness so much of my attention and energy?  When I ask my friends, “How’s it going?,” common responses are “Great, I’m really busy, crazy busy; I’m stressed out, saturated; It’s too much.”  I wonder if the meaning of productivity has somehow stumbled onto a fatal racetrack, where it loops around to a dizzy velocity while reaching frantic for giant carrots and teetering toward a crash and burn.

I have an insatiable drive to be productive.  Balancing ‘busy’ with concentration and efficiency is my method and even a minimal level of output is my goal.  At the end of a day, however, if my to-dos have not diminished, I feel stressed/unaccomplished, angry/wasteful, worthless/lazy and definitely don’t want to share any of my ‘not doing’ with my busy and producing friends, peers and family.

But maybe they would understand.  Maybe we are all caught in an unfocused culture struggling toward the salvation of productivity.

Inattention is one of the primary symptoms of a chronic mental health condition that affects millions of children and adults in the United States, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  And those diagnoses have been on the rise.  According to prescription provider, Express Scripts, studies showed a 36 percent increase between 2008 and 2012 in the number of Americans using medication to treat ADHD.  But, beyond legal prescriptions, the ‘medication’ is also widespread on college campuses and in the professional workplace.  The trafficked ADHD drugs are not a treatment for a diagnosed disorder, but a resource for enhanced performance, productivity and focus.

Maybe I just need to focus, too.

A quick search for ‘productivity’ at the digital bookstore, Amazon.com, gave me some non-medicated direction with up to 100 pages of results.  The titles from the first 10 pages were mostly ‘How To’ e-books published in 2014, all under the umbrella of productivity; how to: get more done in less time, achieve success, master time management, take action, end laziness, outperform the norm, supercharge-maximize-boost, overcome burn out and work faster.

Surfacing from the flood of sub-titles, I felt that I had a serious problem.  If I could not overcome procrastination, concentrate harder and become a ‘Productivity Ninja,’ I would never be a successful person and would simply flounder in my own wasted space.

With an e-stack of self-help books to improve productivity, an increase of diagnoses and legal medications for a disorder that includes inattentiveness, and a thriving black market for the ‘focus’ drugs to give people the concentration and performance edge at school and the workplace, I have to wonder what generates this pressure to focus in order to produce at a greater, faster speed.  Achievement, recognition, and wealth are some probable motivators.

I hope that in the U.S., it is still okay just to be human instead of ‘hyper-focused super-juiced’ human.  Is our culture perpetuating the mounting speeds, standards and expectations?

I recently worked and lived in Belgium for a few years.  In downtown Brussels, I would have to walk for 20 minutes from my office to get to a coffee shop that made steamed lattes ‘to-go’ (or ‘take-away’ if you want to be European about it).  Coffee shops were called cafes, where people would sit down and stay awhile to have their espresso or cafe au lait.  Coffee time appeared to be social time, a break from work or the day’s activities.  For me, this was culture shock.

I had arrived in Brussels from Seattle, Washington where I had lived for the morning or afternoon latte that I would order ‘to-go,’ speed walk back to my desk, chug half of the nectar, then type furiously as I rode the caffeine wave determined to finish just one more report.

Since my time in Belgium, I have made my way back to Seattle and the coffee shops on every corner. This past Friday morning, in fact, I stopped by a local coffee shop.  It buzzed with people taking cups to go and others who stayed and sat, fused to digital devices.  No illegal focus meds for sale over-the-counter here, but the standby triple shots were in high demand. Coffee caffeine, not to just wake up, but to wake up and get to doing, making the most of precious time. After the barrels of espresso and drip I washed through my system daily for too many years, I can’t drink caffeinated coffee anymore. My heart palpitates just thinking about those shots that always helped me beat deadlines and pound out page after page.  So, now I settle for a weak tea, or three.

But maybe productivity is not just about an American’s relationship with coffee and caffeine. Recently, I hopped on the morning commuter bus to downtown Seattle, every seat occupied with Androids ThinkPads tablets iPads iPhones gizmos gadgets, and earbuds; bowed heads, glazed eyes, scrolling reading playing posting, and plugged in.

Apps manage a person’s day; electronic appointment books schedule tasks to the minute; programs organize time and information; electronic cigarettes even improve the bottom line.  The continuing surge of technology cleans up the wastes of time, streamlines effort and smooths any wrinkles of inefficiency. But distraction can remain. When I lose focus of the carrot, the output line graph takes a nose dive.

So I get distracted.  Doesn’t that keep me human?

I attempt to stretch most moments, packing them in with multiple projects, to be productive, to earn money.  But to participate and keep up with the current flow of our culture, is it imperative to enhance myself with meds or extra doses of the latest natural stimulant?  From my office work experience, once elevated productivity levels (for an individual as well as a group) becomes normal, it becomes expected and the new standard.  Then, more has to be done to surpass the now ‘minimum’ standard to achieve recognition and success.

What is the culture cost of this building block approach to productivity measurement? Is it an unavoidable evolution to machine behavior, sacrificing health and human interaction to produce to the capacity of a digital chip?

Maybe we’re running out of time as a species and fear of the wasteland-apocalypse and extinction propels us to move faster and do more.  Maybe productivity is a learned behavior and a fed addiction exploited and manipulated by a profit driven system.  Maybe on some subconscious level we remember that if we are not busy, we might be bored.

On a Tuesday evening, a birthday gift card brings me to a Seattle spa that offers hour sessions in sensory deprivation tanks, otherwise known as isolation or float tanks.  Bright orange earplugs fit snug in my ears.  And I float in 10 inches of skin temperature salt water.  Sight, sound and smell have been turned off as I hover weightless and disconnected from the physical world.  But my mind continues.

One hour to float, to not do.  And I am not bored.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

Noise: Do We ‘Have’ to Make It?

Have you ever heard the charge of cars, double-decker buses or 18-wheelers over a cobblestone paved road?  If not, I wouldn’t advise the experience without some ear and stress protection.  Several months ago, I lived in Brussels and had a fifteen minute walk to the office.  My preferred route was a slower paced stretch of road that outlined the Parc du Bruxelles, a graveled park that depending on the season and dust level, provided some green space comfort in the city.  But to reach that park, first, I had to traverse three blocks of cobblestone.  Motorists entered this thruway at top speed because, I believe, of the road’s design – no lane dividers, no indicators of right-of-way at the south-end ‘Y’ intersection.  Even the ‘take-your-life-in-your-own-hands’ crosswalk had faded to a spattering of gray-white paint.  The stone street was a free-for-all that translated to ‘go fast to get there first.’  And they tried- the buses, trucks, vespas, Audis, Peugeots- all gunning as if the faster speeds would yield a smoother ride.  But in the real world, they only jangled to a roar; a wave of metal and rubber engulfing  pedestrians, like me.

Back home in Seattle, I now notice ‘too loud’ cars and trucks speeding on the streets, but it’s nothing like the cobblestone eruptions.  Recently though, I woke in the night, a bedroom window open only a crack, and I heard it. The neighborhood rested, but it was there, constant; the whoosh and static hum of Interstate-5.  Relentless, it had been there all along.  As the sun rose, so did the more immediate sounds of vehicles, overhead air traffic, barking dogs, crying babies and a delivery truck or two.  The highway noise was buried beneath.  Even now, mid-day, I can no longer pick it out, but I know it’s still there; the noise hasn’t evaporated.

Is this noise my subjective complaint, or is it a pollution?  Sources define noise pollution as an unwanted, even harmful sound from man-made things like airplanes, automobiles and industrial zones. From hearing loss to heart disease, I read that chronic noise exposure can have negative effects on the human body.  Spikes in heart rate, elevated stress levels and blood pressure from noise are not just physical reactions of the hypersensitive. Constant stimulation of a body’s sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) from elevated noise levels, can lead to sleeping disorders, stress and hypertension.  And while we may think we can simply adapt to increased noise through strategies such as selective hearing and deep breathing, our internal systems, including our cardiovascular system, do not acclimate.

I know that living in cities like Brussels or Seattle has some noisy consequences.  The affected communities and people tend to adapt.  When noise isn’t unusual, certain amounts are accepted as part of the everyday.  High and low frequency and decibel levels for hearing health have even been standardized.  Within a world where noise is normal, most solutions for reducing the pollution react to the problem that exists – the noise that already fills our ears.  From industry to consumer, could more proactive steps increase awareness, peel back the layers of noise, and scale down the amounts created in the first place?  In this age of space tourism, Google Glass, and the ‘Whisper Quiet’ pet clipper, where is the soundless lawnmower, blow dryer and garbage truck?

Besides hearing damage from excessively loud music, I never knew about other health hazards of chronic noise exposure.  My body and mood felt vexed, irritated, even enraged from elevated noise, but I thought it was my individual problem; I just needed to calm myself down, think positive thoughts, find a way to adapt, and get used to it.  Maybe I could run, use another route, or wear earplugs while relying on my non-traumatized senses for urban navigation.  Imagine my surprise when I read that the health hazards of noise have been known since before I was born.  In fact, in the 1960‘s, the surgeon general who first put the health warnings on cigarette packs, Dr. William H. Stewart, also warned that noise was a hazard, not just a nuisance.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Office of Noise Abatement and Control to regulate noise issues at a federal level and enforced the Noise Control Act of 1972.  But, ultimately, officials decided that noise issues were best handled at a state and local level; regulation responsibilities were transferred to cities and states in the early 1980’s.

Before closing their noise reduction offices, the EPA released the 1978 document, Protective Noise Levels: A Condensed Version of  EPA Levels Document; an educational piece listing the maximum A-weighted sound levels in decibels for a variety of consumer products.  After my initial confusion I learned that ‘A-weighting’ is the measurement of sound pressure levels commonly used to assess environmental and industrial noise.  Further, because I did not have a reference for decibel levels as compared to actual sound, I picked one of the most common items listed – the vacuum.  The 1978 document listed the maximum A-weighted sound level for a vacuum from 60 to approximately 85 decibels.

What did that mean?  When checking out the market for vacuum cleaners on Amazon.com, decibel ranges were not common product specifications.  As a consumer, I never considered the noise level when purchasing a vacuum.  Vacuums are just noisy, right?   Or, maybe, that had been the only option available, but not the only one possible.

I looked up ‘quiet vacuums,’ and Amazon.com advertised a few.  The decibels listed from 60 to 67; the cheapest sold for around $200, canister style, not upright.  In 1978, 60 decibels for a vacuum cleaner fell in the maximum sound level range.  The other ‘non-quiet’ vacuums on Amazon.com, both canister and upright, did not advertise the decibel output, and the least expensive model sold below one hundred bucks.

Beyond the vacuum, volts, watts, horsepower, and weight are readily seen in most household appliance or device specifications.  Decibels and sound emissions are not.  I came across a website which reviewed the top 10 electric lawn mowers for 2014; decibel levels were not mentioned in any of the mowers’ details.

Without labeled sound emissions, consumers, like myself, cannot consider or compare the sound effects of products – unless stores offer test drives for vacuums, mowers and blowers.  Maybe the ‘quiet’ options are too few to compare.

My internet searches highlighted the technologies used specifically for noise reduction.  One company urged the use of certain engineering principles during the initial design of products to curtail sound emissions.  Another company promoted noise suppression materials and techniques, such as sound barriers, compressors and the installation of sound-absorbing-stuff.  Active Noise Control was listed as a technology which displaces sound waves, muffling the various sounds of appliances and motors.  Quieter pavements and lubricated rail and train tracks were mentioned in articles as effective for less noise.

In the Seattle area, the Sound Transit’s light-rail has had lubricating devices installed on its trackway to reduce the trains’ screeches.  I reached out to city offices to ask what other noise responses are active in Seattle.  While the city lacks a comprehensive strategy monitoring and addressing noise as a pollution and health hazard, noise is addressed in some capacity on a project by project or department basis. For example, permits granted for construction projects in the city do require an inspection for noise. Carpooling, public transportation and bicycle commuting are encouraged.  The State Environmental Protection Act also has noise restrictions to limit the impact of noise at certain times of day.

Several years ago, the Washington Department of Transportation (WDOT) won a prestigious award for innovative efforts to handle noisy roads.  The WDOT used asphalt-rubber and polymer pavements on sections of major roadways in the Seattle area.  Unfortunately, the results of the WDOT study revealed that these ‘quieter’ pavements were not audibly quieter after 6 months of wear.

I keep thinking of the interstate roar that is out there, but masked at this mid-day moment.  My mind may not fully register all sounds and effects, but my internal systems activate as the duo leaf blower team revs engines to remove a few rogue leaves from bushes outside an apartment building and the cranked car stereo plows down the street rattling windows and my rib cage.

And what is that in the distance, approaching like a black cloud…a buzzing swarm of drones?

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

Noise: Adapting to a Pollution

A jumbo jet rumbles across the Seattle sky.  A garbage truck screeches to a halt outside.  And a neighbor slips on ear muffs, ignites a gassed up leaf blower and sends any unprotected eardrums into a fleeing panic.

In some instances, noise vibrations can cause the ear to bleed.  Exposure to loud rock music through blasting earbuds or concert hall speakers can lead to permanent hearing loss. Unmuffled motorcycles revving down residential streets can spike tempers and heart rates. Consistent screeches, pops and clack-clack-clacks from nearby construction projects can pump a person tight with stress.

Noise pollution is an unwanted or harmful sound from man-made things like automobiles, airplanes and industrial workplaces, expanding to sirens and horns, boats, trains, and lawn care machines.  Finding acoustic reprieve can be difficult.

Annoyance from noise is not just the reaction of an overly-sensitive person, but a symptom of an unhealthy environment.  In urban areas, daily immersion in waves of unwanted sound diminishes health, sleep and lifestyle quality.  The effects of noise on the human body range from hearing loss to heart disease and spikes in heart rate and blood pressure, to instigating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) which can lead to sleeping disorders, stress and hypertension.

“People in noisy environments experience a subjective habituation to noise, but their cardiovascular system does not habituate…”, claims a February 2014 article published in Environmental Health Perspectives.  So, while we think we are getting used to the ever present urban sounds, the rationalization may just be in our minds and not translated to our organs and health needs.

When the blood begins to bubble, can we turn off the noise, control it in some way or leave the polluted space?  And if escape is not an option?  Maybe we’ll just adapt.

In urban habitats, animals have developed strategies to adapt to increasing noise pollution.  Research studies released in the past few years indicate that birds, for example, sing louder and at a higher pitch to separate their song from the low frequency traffic hum.  Besides loud-talkers yelling at cell phones and pedestrian voices raised to clear the thick haze of downtown traffic, human city dwellers have adapted in additional ways to compete with escalated sound levels.

Noise canceling headphones have become a popular fashion.  White noise generators mask the cacophony outside and provide a constant sound of wind, rain, or ocean waves for focusing, relaxing or sleeping.  Apps assist urbanites in the search for quiet spaces in cities.  Installing sound-dampening fiberglass insulation, double or triple pane windows and thick carpeting throughout a house increases acoustic comfort.  Even biologically, the human brain filters unwanted noise to focus on a desired sound.  In this process of auditory cognition, more immediate sounds take priority and others fade unnoticed, or are masked until consciously heard.

Over 40 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the impact of noise levels and in response, established a national policy under the Noise Control Act of 1972 to “…promote an environment for all Americans free from noise that jeopardizes their health and welfare.”  The EPA no longer directly monitors and manages noise pollution.  Since the early 1980‘s, individual states and cities have shouldered the responsibility.

State and local laws have adapted to address the swell of excessive noise.  In Washington State, the Department of Ecology asserts that “Any loud noise that occurs between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. could be considered noise pollution…The zoning of your location also determines if a noise is considered “pollution”.”   Noise Abatement Coordinators in the city of Seattle hear questions regarding the Noise Code that addresses sound levels for commercial and construction projects, while Police Officers enforce the Municipal Code sections that cover noise disturbances ranging from barking dogs and human voices to motors and music.

The state has attempted to control the effects of a chronic noise sprawl, but in at least one instance, the sound waves would not be stopped.  In 2010, contractor crews for the Washington State Department of Transportation finished installing 700 noise-absorbing ceiling panels above the express lanes on Interstate 5’s Ship Canal Bridge.  The project started in reaction to the escalated traffic noise vibrating from the interstate throughout the Seattle neighborhoods below.  After monitoring the project results for a couple of years, officials determined that the finished construction did not significantly impact the noise levels from the stretch of road.  In part, the adaptations could not control all of the noise diffractions and reflections.

Daily exposure to the chronic jumble of noise is part of the Seattle city scene.  Bus routes have been cut due to budget issues potentially creating more traffic on the roads, and drones (unmanned aircraft) are said to be loud and on the horizon for package deliveries and potentially for law enforcement use.  While quieter hybrid and electric cars are commonly seen on the roads, legislation in the United States requires them to emit warning sounds for the safety of pedestrians.  Maybe urban noise pollution has reached a threshold where less noisy things are too ‘quiet’ and have become a potential threat.

An article in the August 2013 issue of Men’s Health Magazine stated that out of 100 U.S. cities, with number 1 (Durham, North Carolina), as the quietest and 100 (Houston, Texas) as the loudest, Seattle ranked number 26.  But since Seattle’s population grew by 2.8 percent (almost 18,000 residents) in 2013, becoming the nation’s 21st biggest city, should a noise swell be expected?  And what adaptations will be made?

There are always earplugs.  Until they aren’t enough.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015

Social Patterns: Getting Used To It

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

I like to eat sushi once every couple of weeks.  Honestly, I can only eat the salmon.  My tastebuds just don’t understand any of the other fish flavors and will immediately cringe and discard them.

Since I only eat fish on occasion, I hadn’t really thought about intake recommendations.  And then I read the recent Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly articles about fish consumption and water pollutant standards in the state of Washington and how the two are linked.  If the official recommended amount of fish consumption goes up, then the water quality needs to go up, unless (as I learned) the official standards also increase the allowed or acceptable risks of cancer.

After reading the articles, my initial response was “Wow, that’s an amazing playing with numbers, laws, and public health.”   And then I thought about the root of it.  We are adapting to the situation. Human living has created toxins and those toxins have spread into the environment. To preserve the balance between business profit and human health, some sacrifices will be made for adaptation – payment for new technology to remove at least some toxins from industrial waste, and either expose yourself to additional health risk if you want to eat fish or eliminate that food source from your diet.

Adaptation as a reactive thought seems to be a preferred solution to many social issues or events (noise, violence, consumerism, dominion); making adjustments to live within certain circumstances, until those circumstances become more normal, and maybe even expected.  Adapting comes to mind as a taught means of survival or ‘human nature’ truth.  Is it really a truth or has it become a learned social pattern for reaction or response?

Perhaps it’s about the intention of why we adapt.  Do we naturally lean toward adaptation as a species to survive a specific moment, or have we learned that we should adapt as a social control, to keep things flowing smooth, avoid conflict, don’t rock the boat, and enjoy what you have.

And is adaptation the expected course?  After reading that a state has the authority to determine water toxicity levels, food consumption rates and allowable amounts of cancer risk, would the expected thought be “This is the world I live in and I must find a way to rationalize and get used to it.”

Having It All

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

When I hear about a person “having it all,” I think of someone who is accomplishing everything and has all the fields of life tended to and bountiful.  Powerful, leader-qualified, successful in career and family; no role ever compromised; no project ever neglected.

In my experiences, this “having it all” term has most frequently been applied when comparing the standards of men and women; when the status of women and their accomplishments are analyzed and more times than not, compared to those of men.

So, I wasn’t necessarily surprised to be reading an article in The Atlantic about the PepsiCo CEO, who is a woman, discussing this saying.  In fact, she responded directly to the article question: “What’s your opinion about whether women can have it all?”  But I was surprised that the article centered on the phrase and how the PepsiCo CEO had experienced or not experienced its truth, rather than concentrating on the CEO’s experiences themselves without measuring them against the standards of “having it all.”

I find it interesting how certain phrases or sayings are used, perpetuated and potentially normalized in our culture without first taking more care to acknowledge what they actually mean.  Not that I identify and am aware of using certain phrases all the time in my own everyday life.  I think our language and culture is full of them…..but it’s still interesting.  Interesting to the point that an interview is based on a saying and in effect, further empowers that saying with validity, merit and truth.

For me, the real story is about how a phrase that perpetuates only a method of thinking, culturally imposed standards and judgements, becomes the wide base of a socially charged discussion.  Why is “having it all” used so casually in the first place to direct our perception?  Is it habit?  Can a repeated, normalized phrase evolve to a perception that influences or constructs the boundaries of how we think about our selves and what our options are in life?

“Having it all” – this seems to me a circular, subjective argument.  The “it” is undefined in the phrase, or maybe the “it” has been defined by someone elses standards rather than mine.  Is it a cultural necessity to define standards of accomplishment and success for everyone else?  Maybe this is what we have become comfortable with.  Maybe it is easier to live up to given, set standards, rather than figuring out our own standards for what we want in life.  Or maybe without the set, goal driven structure of “having it all” we would be left to spin out of control as greedy insatiable creatures who could never have enough.

It Could Be Better – methods of thinking

© Roz Foster 2014

© Roz Foster 2014

I’ve been reading up on noise pollution in the United States (U.S.) and the adaptations that human city dwellers have made to adjust to the layers of man-made noise in urban soundscapes.  Adaptations not necessarily to eliminate, but to lessen the impact of the unhealthy noise discomfort.

Adapting seems to be a normal, maybe even expected survival skill.  But I wonder if the ‘normalcy’ of adapting, habituating or getting used to something implies that it is an automatic response. Automatic to the point of reactive.(Reactive in the sense that action is made as a response to the situation as it is, without intention of prevention or changing the circumstances.)

Are reactive responses “normal” and proven to be easy paths with the least resistance?  On the other hand, could a proactive train of thought be an equally automatic response, or is there an assumed or projected difficulty level that makes this method of thinking less appealing?

In U.S. culture, have reactive responses been taught as the “go-to” method of thinking over proactive responses?   I think both reactivity and proactivity are used for problem solving. But is proactive thinking not the norm?

The phrase, “It could be worse” comes to mind as an example.  I’ve used this phrase countless times to describe my day, or an event, or a circumstance.  “It could be worse,” delivered with a shrug, at first appears to be optimistic, looking on the bright side of things.  But on a second look, the response appears reactive, a response of resignation and mud-stuck acceptance of a not-so-great state of being.  “It could be worse” tips the domino thinking toward all those horrible situations where, in fact, it could most definitely be worse.

What about the phrase “It could be better”?  I haven’t said that one much, and I’m not sure how much it is used in general society, but this phrase could potentially encourage the dominoes to fall another direction.  Uttering “It could be better” to acknowledge the not-so-great situation implies the next thought will emphasize how it could actually be better and what needs to happen to make the change.  A proactive approach.

Maybe there is a difference when talking about personal versus business issues.  For example, could a business prosper if someone asked “How’s profit?” and the response was “Eh, it could be worse.”   A business perspective may encourage a more proactive response like “It could be better…. and here’s how”.

For personal situations though, would a proactive method of thinking take priority?  “How are you feeling?”  What if the consistent reply was proactive – “It could be better….and here’s how.”

Could a proactive method of thinking work in today’s culture?  Or, is a shrug more likely as a response, resigned and accepting of circumstance, settling for what you have, where you are or who you are because you might lose it all and actually live the fear of “It could be worse.”

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

Rippled Resonance

© Lori Fisher 2014

© Lori Fisher 2014

I read a recent article on the United Press International website regarding a Princeton/Northwestern study that concluded that the US structure is that of an oligarchy rather than a democracy, with the US government representing not the interests of the majority of citizens, but those of the rich and powerful.  The comments regarding the article were interesting – from the most academic (defining oligarchy/plutocracy and highlighting the symptoms that have been present from America’s birth and documented in this analytical study), to the more casual opinion, of “duh.”

A blog response from The New Yorker questioned the validity and methods of the study.  Among the 75 comments for that post, there were still some hang-ups on definitions, regarding a republic versus a democracy.

A BBC news article suggested potential responses to this study, which primarily included resignation to the fate of not living in an equal world.  Sounds about right for a media outlet that depends on structure to survive – maintain readers who somewhat believe the content of what is displayed and supply the preferred controlled solution of ‘no action, just kick back and maybe discuss, but ultimately just accept.’

MSNBC.com released an article as well. Just in case the reader did not have a direction for processing the information in the article, the media outlet provided a means of directing any blank thought or irrational emotion by providing a poll with just one question (which, I guess is supposed to be the most important), “Do you think the wealthy have too much political power?”  The pollster had three options when responding. There was a “Yes…” a “No….” and a “It isn’t perfect but the system is still sound.”   Really?  That’s it?  Where’s the choice for “I am not privy to enough unbiased information to answer”, or “I have no idea how things really work in  government, except for what I have seen on TV or ‘made for TV’ news” or “I don’t care, where’s my iPhone” or even the answering-a-question-with-a-question choice of “Do ‘the wealthy’ actually have the power, or are they simply responding to their role in a controlled structure, handing their ‘power’ off to engrained fears about security, money and social judgement?”

Are the conclusions on how the US government makes decisions now valid since academic institutions have deemed them to be true?  Should society or an individual have to wait for recognized studies conducted by intellectuals or academic institutions to verify what may have been already thought or felt?

And how does a ‘validated’ label change alter our attitudes about living within this system? Do we care much?  Is there even an action to take? Do we drop out of school, quit our jobs, stop going to the grocery store, pay attention to the companies we support with our consumer purchases, ride bikes, pay attention to what’s in our food?  I suppose no matter what the label, if someone is comfortable, there would be little motivation to change the day to day routine.  Unless, maybe there was a movement that gathered steam, delivered ideas as guidance and solutions, and provided a leader who could communicate all of it effectively – oh, like an election campaign, I suppose.  But, even then, is that still waiting for an “authority” to validate ideas, thoughts, feelings that were already known?

Is it a method of thinking for people to look for a leader (or ‘authority’) who believes (or says they believe) the same, then give energy, time and power over to them, as an investment perhaps?  On a personal level, do we think we need a leader or group to validate our opinions or beliefs and to give us the security to make a choice or decision? Maybe we do as a society; maybe the process is too much responsibility otherwise; maybe this has been learned.

From another perspective, what if people simply did their own thing? Without violence, without gathering, without groups, without anything except personal choice and power.

Perhaps there is no actual vision for the “right” path or way to go, but maybe there is the feeling that the current path is not quite right. What if no other authority was needed to verify or validate and an individual simply ‘left’ the current path and strictness of the structure? Not for a spotlight, not for recognition, not for vengeance, not for saving fellow humans.  What if the leader for you was you?  So the challenge for finding a leader would ultimately be finding yourself.

Would this create change?  Would it even matter?  A friend reminded me of the ripple effect concept.  The power of role model and example. What if someone simply stopped participating in the expected flow of life – stopped buying groceries and planted a garden – stopped eating at fast food restaurants and ate only locally sourced – stopped identifying themselves as a consumer, or even for that matter stopped identifying the system as a democracy.  What happened to the practical?  Identifying something for what it really is, based on how it functions and impacts…. then going from there. Can you live physically in a system that you have detached from ideologically, or have detached from the symbolic meanings?  Is it even possible?  Is there space outside the structure?  Without a overarching authority, how far would the ripples go?

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

 

the pattern of more

What if I allow myself a moment…..is this a luxury in U.S. culture?   Would it be a luxury to truly believe that I have the deciding vote on the management of my time and would it be a luxury to actually be in a situation/condition where there is a moment to spare?  These questions came up recently related to my schedule and the inner and outer pressures felt to either stretch each passing moment to the extreme, or if this is not achieved, then to feel guilt and shame from inert, wasteful, lazy non-productivity.

My flare-up reaction was to blame something; curse and blame learned norms, expectations and socialized behaviors (in regards to perceptions of time, security, money).  And while the cursing was necessary to fully describe my discontent, the blame concept equated to a glowing ‘dead-end’ sign in my mind (blame – just another distracting method of thinking that is securely implanted as the preferred reaction to frustration).

Then, I remembered reading the following article “In Search Of Perfection, Young Adults Turn To Adderall At Work.”  Adderall is one of the prescription medications used in the treatment of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  I always thought that ADHD was diagnosed in children, but I suppose those kids do grow up.  After checking several articles online, it appears that ADHD prescriptions are on the rise for adults (obtained through legal and illegal prescriptions).  According to medical journals, someone with ADHD has a problem focusing, or they may become overactive, or not be able to control behavior (or a combo of these things).  In the article I mention above, several young adults (who were not diagnosed with ADHD) said that Adderall helped them through college and had become an effective resource for enhancing performance in their career fields by allowing them to focus, hyper-focus, on their given tasks at hand. The article went on to say that other young adults may feel pressure to take prescription enhancements in order to stay competitive in the work world.  Just when you thought you’d have to go for that 10th daily-espresso shot to stay ahead.  Now, you can take those coffee funds and pass them to your pharmacist.

Wow, am I on the wrong track completely?  I had started this entry hoping to generate another perspective on this multi-tasking, multi-apping world and release the self/career/family/society imposed pressure of packing in each moment with overflowing projects.  And then I read about a rise in adults seeking out medications to do the opposite?  What generates this pressure of production and performance to the extent of taking medication (which implies ultimately that without the medication, you are not good enough, need to be better….based on determinations and decisions made by someone else)?  Maybe it is anything from competitiveness, to recognition, to status, to internal judgements….the list goes on, I’m sure, because it seems like it would be a personal revelation.

I guess, the article I mentioned exemplifies the culture movement that I see everywhere (and feel its pressure)- a culture of dissatisfaction and thirsty/hungry for something, a gulping of anything and demanding more of it, but nothing seems to be quenching.  And the gulping intake becomes a frantic, hysteric for more – more time, more money, more success, more status –  a culture where these expectations of ‘more’ are perpetuated through pop culture, daily habits, media and social streams until the ‘more’ becomes the ‘normal’ standard for tomorrow.

I guess that is the frustration, that I do not want to move along to the next level and expectation of ‘more’ – I just want to allow myself a moment….without every-thing…without any-thing.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014

#gendercard

According to a March 6th article/blog stream, during a recent interview, the Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief asked Wendy Davis, a candidate running for Governor of Texas, if she would be playing the “gender card” in the race. This sparked a Twitter conversation among men and women about playing their “gender cards” (from double standards and the pressure of gender roles to sexual violence and maintenance of the ‘white male’ status quo; I would add to those – the validity of knowledge base dependent on gender, affecting the receptivity of a woman’s perspective).

During the streaming interview, Davis took questions from the audience and spoke  about a myriad of items including finance, education and women’s reproductive rights.  At one point in the interview, Davis emphasized the importance of education in Texas and the responsibility she has as a public servant to assure the availability of the best education options.  That was the moment the Editor-in-Chief decided to ask if Davis would be playing the “gender card” broadly over her campaign, because of her portfolio.  I’m assuming by “portfolio” the Editor-in-Chief was not just referring to the issue of women’s reproductive rights, but also to finance issues, the responsibility of elected officials and education (which Davis was speaking about only moments before) .  Or has education become a gender-biased issue with the social stigma that only women can be advocates and champions for the cause?

The format of this journalist’s question is a reflection of media’s manipulation of viewers or readers.  Why even use the phrase “gender card?”  The exact meaning of this term is not clear, leaving it up to the interviewee and viewer to figure out what should be inferred – what specifically is being asked.  This is a passive aggressive interviewing technique, that bloats of bravado and tries to convince itself that it’s asking the tough questions.  Unless of course, this question is asked not for the actual answer (because the question is vague and airy), but instead to evoke some controversy, maybe some turmoil to see if the answering person can be ruffled.  The question about playing the “gender card” is asking something without really asking anything to create drama, skirt the important/clarifying questions, and to minimize the validity or significance of the issues discussed.  I wonder if this was a conscious choice by the Editor-in-Chief or if this is the standard methodology, so rampant in media today that no one is actually aware of its abnormality.

© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2014