Tag Archives: normalcy

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

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

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

The Structure

Just when I thought I had this internal conflict figured out, or at least a resolution decided on, I realized that something about the circumstance, the item, and the purpose stuck around and I couldn’t sell or throw away the issue. The book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg came into my possession in January and has felt like an emotional albatross ever since. I had read reviews of the material and had seen online interviews and parts of lectures given by the author regarding the book and something about the presentation of the content gave me a sick, sinking feeling.  The whole concept of a woman measuring herself against the ‘white male standard’ and looking in that direction for the definitions of success and leadership just doesn’t fit and I don’t want to waste any of my energy perpetuating such an outdated vision. But, the crazy thing is that I haven’t read the actual words for myself.

I was ready to sell that book, but felt horrible since it was a gift.  Nevertheless, I was going to stick to my guns….then, I saw reports regarding the World Economic Forum.  The media presented highlights of the wealthy and powerful individuals and business/government representatives that met in Switzerland to discuss global economic issues. I read a related CNN article that pitted two journalists against one another. The male journalist said that the people who realistically make the decisions about how the world operates are at this meeting.  The female journalist said that the people who work for the wealthy and powerful matter as well.  The article presented itself as a class, power-struggle argument – should those without abundance be pissed and lash out at those with vast amounts; should those who have be content to believe that they are in a bubble of longevity, detached from those who have not?

My reaction to the initial reading about the forum was curious because, as I wrestled with what I thought was an internal conflict dealing with one item (the book), I realized that the topic of the World Economic Forum gave me the exact same heart burn.  Two seemingly different topics that had flowed into my line of vision since the beginning of the year that caused the same hiccup in my brain.  Could it be that this is the auto-reaction to which I am doomed for 2014, or do these two items share something other than the creepy crawly pit dagger sensation?

So, with my admittedly periphery knowledge of both things, I compared them to see what could be the common denominator.  Structure.  Structure of a system.  They reflected a common structure through which concepts, agendas, discussions and subsequent plans of actions are based and must be measured against to come to fruition.

I understand that modern society survives within a certain structure, but is this structure the one that we should believe in and perpetuate?  I’m kind of blown away and insulted that (a)maintenance of this structure, (b)patching up this structure or (c)trying to make this structure work better are the only options that mainstream outlooks want me to believe are even in existence.  Why is it presented that the only choice is to find solutions that work within this framework? Perhaps with further analysis, I will find the initial question or awareness about the system that is presented, the conversation about recognizing the concepts that are in place, the structure in which we hold ourselves as a society and if we would even want to perpetuate and give our energy to that vision of the world.  Okay…so, further research – I guess that means reading that book…..sigh.

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

Detachment: emotional education and a writer’s vision

I watch a handful of television shows, mostly the addictive ones that suck you in, leaving you to hang from perilous cliffs between episodes.  For example, I have sporadically watched “The Walking Dead” series and finally caught up to the mid-season finale show that aired in early December 2013.  About half-way through this particular episode, perhaps from the shock of storyline events, I abruptly decided to stop watching.  Some boundary had been crossed and the reaction was immediate. “Nope, I don’t buy it,” I said to myself and clicked the screen off, a $1.99 wasted.  An investment had hit rock bottom, depleted, zeroed out. With that last severed head, I had severed my emotional connection to the characters; their past, present and future.

This reaction was extremely interesting to me; especially, the emotional investment aspect.  The script writers had created their vision of the zombie apocalypse world and I could believe it for a couple of seasons. Then, certain elements began to crumble until the whole thing exploded into tiny pieces in that episode.  I could no longer believe that in a system failure, only a few humans maintained their moral integrity, and that those who did were somehow weakened and now victims who would be ultimately murdered.

Even though the writers may have needed to continue the fabrication in that direction to progress the story, why would I invest my time, attention, and emotional energy in perpetuating a point of view when I do not believe in its underlying messages?  If I do not believe in a vision that someone else is providing, why not just stop watching, listening, or investing?

While this perspective can be applied to every energetic decision made, to stay on “television” topic, the questions made me think of emotional education obtained (with one’s knowledge or not) through watching shows and movies.  It’s common place to discuss stereotypes and “normalized” opinions perpetuated through Hollywood-generated plots, but what about learned emotive responses based on the manipulation of viewer’s emotions through the presentation of the writer’s vision of the world, expressed through a character’s actions and reactions, or fate.

Is emotional manipulation an intention so entrenched and normalized in our relationships off-screen that they are inevitable and the norm on-screen?  Does this create an unhealthy relationship between a viewer and the television show?  From experience (ie I have watched “The Walking Dead” for four seasons), compromises and excuses may be made by a viewer internally to maintain those unhealthy relationships with damage or “energy suck” occurring sometimes without realization.  Specifically to “The Walking Dead” series, this type of unhealthy relationship, could lead perhaps to a detachment from emotion or caring altogether, after repeated emotional burns.  (Example:  the graphic murders of well-liked characters who appear to represent wisdom, compassion, innocence and future in a brutal manner and then tugging at the viewer to forget about it, move along, disconnect.  Maybe after a few repetitions of this action, the viewer will remember not to get attached and to expect violence and murder. In that presented environment, why would it be “safe” to connect on any level to any other characters again?).

So, does the repetitive intake of a world vision, through one or multiple television shows become a type of emotional education for the viewer?  And does that emotional education influence the viewer’s off-screen interactions and personal visions and perspectives?  Of course, this brings up the discussion whether the art is a reflection of society, or if the society is a reflection of the art.  Why would it need to be one or the other?  Perhaps, they help each other along.

As a seasoned audience member, I realize that in most cases, the world presented on-screen is make-believe, not necessarily a representation of the world we live in; however, since humans are depicted in most storylines, there is an inevitable and undeniable connection and therefore, a likelihood of miniscule to maximum influence experienced with viewer awareness or not.

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

My First Steps

The new calendar year begins.  A prime time to think about life, direction and perspective; to reflect on past thoughts and seek out new lines of reasoning. So, on a rainy fog-filled morning, with coffee cup in hand, I strained my eyes thoroughly, browsing through the multitude of headline stories presented by online media outlets.  At the start, I searched for inspiration among the black and white lines of text.  Then, as my posture slunk further to a form that asks “are humans really supposed to sit for hours this way?,” I realized that inspiration was the distant star of emotions triggered by my perusing.  Frustrated, disconnected, fearful, sympathetic, enraged and ultimately betrayed – those were the emotions and reactions ranking near the top of the list.

From death and destruction caused by suicide bombers, to people complaining about the requirements for the Nobel Peace Prize, to a child plagued by unstoppable weight gain due to a surgery side-effect, to a list regarding the ‘11 Dumbest Things Said By Media About Women In 2013.’ These were just a smattering of story lines; each snagged my attention and triggered a distinct emotional response.

Actually, because of my responses to those stories, I am reminded of my earlier blog post (“Frustration Loop” published October 2, 2013) when I mentioned briefly a method of thinking, described as reaching outside of one’s self as an immediate response to anything encountered.  I then continued by asking if perhaps there is another first step, which would include “reaching in.”

To develop and apply the concepts of thinking methods, I wanted to break down how I normally think, which I will describe as “looking outward” and then try a different perspective or method of thinking, that I will describe as “looking inward.”

So, what is that first step in the method of thinking timeline (either outward or inward), before any emotion, or any action may be triggered?  Is that initial step so natural and engrained that it pushes my train of thought down a well entrenched path without me even thinking about it?  I think so, or else that’s just my excuse for procrastinating with this blog post and staring at a blank screen.

Okay, down to business then.  In order for this to make sense to me, I need these concepts (looking outward/looking inward as methods of thinking) in a useable everyday format.  Let me work with a concrete example.  I’ll take a media story that I just saw online and process the experience in both methods and try to note the timeline and details of both.   Here goes….

I  just saw a story streaming on the Today show about a teen bullied because of her looks and deciding to get plastic surgery.  She got a nose job and a chin implant and feels confident enough now to go back to school and make friends, after not wanting to leave the house for a couple years.

Outward – First Steps:

*I think about the story as it is told, those involved, the circumstances, the choices, the outcome.

*I feel judgments rising, emotions gathering energy.

*I feel frustrated that this kid got plastic surgery in an attempt to affect people’s judgement of her.

*Then, the frustrated spiral continues when I ask myself, are these the values that we want our kids to live by?

*Then, there is the counter-argument in my own brain – she is empowered and can do what she wants as long as there are the resources for it.  If it raises her confidence, then great.

Ah, the loop of no clear answers and frustration, feeling a pressure to form an opinion and a convincing argument, the automatic and expectation that I should have or make a judgement.  I am left feeling slightly manipulated, drained a bit of energy, leaning toward  ‘who cares’ apathy.

Inward – First Steps:

*I listen and watch without judgement – a calm pool.

*I gather the details for the sake of knowing, observation.

*I have no opinion; I feel compassion.

*I understand the story’s perspective, but give no energy to it.

*I maintain my perspective.

*And I let the encounter go.

*I move on.

There is no analysis, comparison or pressure to form an argument. In this example, I do not think as the first step, I listen.  I am not launched onto the mind’s path of judgement, of creating an opinion.  I do not personalize the story, or take it in.  I maintain my own perspective and empathize with the characters involved in the story and observe the various facets of a society intertwined.  I feel full and deep with the warmth of heartfelt interaction.

Interesting.  So, the first few steps lead perhaps to more questions, to more “concrete example” work.  Hmm…another coffee cup in hand, another rainy fog-filled morning and the new calendar year continues….

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