Monday, April 18, 2005


Is it something about the time of year? Are we all outrageously busy making the mental/physical/psychological shift of season? Where have all the bloggers gone? Maybe it is just the unrepresentative, unscientifically sampled group of blogs that I read, but we all seem to have fallen off the blog-wagon. I include myself.

In my case, it is partly the disruption of changing seasons, but mostly ongoing computer issues. I continue to be optimistic that I am near the end of my techno-trials, but who knows? I am renowned for unrealistic optimism, which I consciously choose in contrast to blind cynicism, hurtful not only to originator but to surrounding, innocent parties.

I wrote several blogs in my head yesterday. One on the joy of (almost) completing the bathroom wallpaper, along with memories of wallpaper projects and holiday projects of the past. When you are a single person who enjoys home improvement, the large blocks of time tend to be holidays, so when asked what you did for Easter, you are likely to respond “Wallpapered the bathroom! It is awesome!” Long Thanksgiving weekends will likely bring an outing to friends for dinner but may also include several hours taping diagonal squares on the kitchen floor for an experiment in special effects with wood stain. It turned out beautifully, thank you, but I failed to cover it with a good finish coat to protect it, enamored with shellac as I was in those days. But we live and learn, and we entertain ourselves making ourselves at home.

Another blog only in my brain was about the hike the boys and I took up Smugglers’ Notch. We drove as far as possible on the Smuggs side to where the road is closed, then hiked up the road to the notch. Not a tough climb by any means, the walk was made easier by being on highway most of the way. We met one woman and her two-year-old Golden Retriever as we were going up and they were coming down; we met a lone photographer as we descended. Otherwise, it was a glorious but solitary outing.

Max and Toby were in heaven with so much room to gallop and romp, and I loved the crisp air, the sunshine, the trickle of melting snow, the views—my heavens! the views!—everything except the slidy parts. The last third of the trip was on snowpack, still over two feet thick in some sections, and while my knees and my untutored Southern lack of balance on snow and ice can tolerate going uphill, the downhill return was something else altogether. I looked for crunchy spots, zigzagged back and forth avoiding melty areas and even water flowing across blacktop where black ice can lie hidden. Tiny, tiny steps. All the while thinking about whether it really was very smart to go hiking only with two elderly dogs. If I took a header off the side of the mountain, Toby would never leave me, but would Max know to go looking for help? Would anyone understand his doggy variant of “Timmy’s in the well?” But the slippy, fearful episode lasted only a few minutes out of what was otherwise a glorious morning, and we made it home safely. We would go again of course, but I might be more careful about climbing ice unaccompanied. It looks so different coming back down!

So it was back to the bathroom wallpaper and the realization that one is almost as much at risk on a ladder at home in the bathroom--particularly slipping around on wallpaper paste--as slipping around on ice. At least outdoors on a sunny Sunday morning, there is the possibility that other people will happen by, a possibility that is considerably smaller in my bathroom.

The world is a scary place if we allow it to be. It is also a glorious place to explore. Again, if we allow it to be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Another horoscope for any day and for anyone:

You cannot be too adventurous today. Do things you would not normally do and be open to people you would not usually think of conversing with. Most of all, keep away from boring people and boring places. You have lived too long in the comfort zone - now it is time to stretch yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. This is also a great time to travel.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Signs of spring

Snow’s almost gone. Daffodils pushing through the soil.

Lots of new rocks in the house—Toby is so glad to see them that he can’t be parted from his favorites. Moles or voles plowing the field, fun for dogs to chase, what would they do if they caught one?

Masters golf tournament in the news, which means down South there’s strong sunshine and flowers, neither for us quite yet. Peepers are heard in southern New Hampshire, surely any day for us.

Parsnips ready for the digging, maybe even a forgotten onion or two. Startling green chives! Catnip and evening primrose already coming in strong. Time to lay out the new herb garden.

Spent the morning taking off nasty old black plastic shutters, all except the upstairs sets, for which I will need help. I was afraid the house would look too bland without them, but I quite like its plain Greek Revival lines.

Spent the afternoon working on wallpapering the bathroom. Another nasty, tiny-flowered, shiny vinyl replaced with a gorgeous leafy lattice pattern, courtesy of e-Bay. Inch by inch, this house will be mine.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Fundamental matters

From yesterday’s New York Times op-ed piece commemorating Albert Einstein’s miraculous 1905: “Quantum mechanics does not merely challenge the previous laws of physics. Quantum mechanics challenges this centuries-old framework of physics itself. According to quantum mechanics, physics cannot make definite predictions. Instead, even if you give me the most precise description possible of how things are now, we learn from quantum mechanics that the most physics can do is predict the probability that things will turn out one way, or another, or another way still.”

I believe there is a physics of human behavior as well. Whenever we think we know what makes someone tick, we are bound to be mistaken.

Think of conflict between people. If you and I disagree on some matter, it would be nice if we could simply agree that we each have our own view of the situation and move on. The more emotionally charged the matter, however, the less likely we will be able to do that, as least not without a lot of practice in analyzing the matter and resolving to separate our purposeful actions from our emotions.

If I cannot make that separation, then I will start to blame you for disagreeing with me. I may get very angry with you that you dare to have a contrary opinion. Soon I will decide that it is all your fault. And you may be doing nothing more than holding steadfast to your right to be yourself and to see the world in your own way. If I listen to your words and your tone and I observe your actions, then I may have a better chance of predicting your reactions, which may be driven by some past interchange.

I am not suggesting that we enter into psychoanalyzing each other, which I view as just another manipulative technique, but certainly it is more pleasant to deal with people who have better developed social and emotional skills. I’m thinking of a particular group in which I participate that operates for all the world like a dysfunctional family. Sometimes it seems that the mildest question or contrary opinion sets off incoherent, babbling, spitting rage. The effort of dealing with long past, unresolved conflicts—which had nothing to do with me—may soon cause me to opt out of that particular organization.

All the hidden vectors on human behavior make people unpredictable, but what quantum physics tells us is that the idea of predictability is illusion. It’s as if two pool balls collide in the middle of the table and rise straight up into the air. Traditional physics says this cannot happen. Quantum physics says it doesn’t happen often.

It is still worth studying traditional physics, and it is worth working hard to try to understand our friends, our colleagues, our lovers and our families. Every observation is grist to that mill. I spent decades unable to feel or display anger at even the most intrusive behavior, then more years—some would say—being angry at everything. Now I am learning to avert other people’s anger without responding in kind. I am learning to say, “I understand that you are unhappy with me, but your anger will not make me behave in any way I do not choose for myself.” It is behavior worth practicing.

It is also worth remembering that the world and its inhabitants are inherently unpredictable. That observation strips away our false sense of safety, but it gives us the possibility of blinding joy.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I had the same conversation twice today. Speaking with two different friends, I heard the same lament. One planning to become a therapist, one who would rather die than encounter a therapist, they both are warm, wonderful, emotionally alive women, if somewhat conflicted. These women have known sorrow, both of them, in kind and depth that no caring human would wish on another.

One, let’s call her A, or Anne, lost a child in a particularly heartbreaking way—suicide, or was it accidental suffocation? One hardly knows which interpretation would be more difficult for a mother to accept. And brutal, unseeing life lurches on.

The other, let’s call her B, or Bella, grew up with a schizophrenic sibling who took all her parents’ attention, threatened her with repetitive bodily harm, and executed his cruel intent. Is it because she is finally secure in the love of her husband that she is now reliving those bad old days? I think maybe so.

Two amazing women. And each of them said to me today, “You know, I don’t really want to explore it all. The pain was real, but it is in my past. Most of all I want to move on. Aren’t there some techniques in the toolbox I can have? Why must I wallow in past sorrows? Honestly, I have done that to death and beyond. When can I see some relief? Some hope?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the mental health field offered such support?

It does. I know it does, because I have thrice walked through my own private demons in the company of some caring professional. At last I have learned to respect and protect my own history. It is not for public consumption, nor is there any longer any cathartic release to be had. It is private. It is sad. So now, I tell what I want and I withhold what I want, and that is how it is.

The therapeutic process has many benefits, but my friends are right: it is tools we need, not catharsis. I still struggle to identify manipulation before it hurts me, and I know I am making progress because now the manipulators succeed less than half the time. It is still tough, but I am learning. More tools, we want more tools.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Losing my mind

A friend has pointed out that he is…well, difficult…whenever his collection of technological devices fails to operate in perfect synchronicity. Those are the times, he says, when his wife finds him contrary, and his co-workers keep their distance. I wonder.

My entire staff, consisting of two older ladies sharing a half-time job, recently resigned in protest over my failure to appreciate them. My suspicions of their hidden intent must remain unspoken and unblogged. In truth, I did appreciate them, but my approach to professional relationships may be somewhat chillier than many other people choose, and more than many people presume of me, given my warm and enthusiastic social mask. Let’s just say that I have been burned on the office "friendship" front in the past, and I choose to keep my friendships quite separate from my working relationships. I love my friends, and I appreciate my colleagues, and I know the difference, thank you very much.

But maybe my long term distress over Dell’s abysmal customer service, persisting in multiple iterations since late December—are we into our fourth month of repetitive disaster? did I mention that the power supply failed over the weekend?—maybe that distressing sequence of experiences has taken a toll on how I interact with humans. Maybe I have also been…difficult, contrary. Perhaps my casual reference to offline storage of my thoughts, experiences, memories, even my emotions have their being in the bits and bytes of hard drive and web server. Maybe more of me than I suspect exists offline. Outside my pitiful brain. In laptop and desktop, in e-mail attachments and shared files. My self might exist in mechanical objects that have become distressingly vulnerable to the ravages of power spikes, dust, and mechanical failure.

What a hoot! I have often celebrated the miracle of offline storage and the way it demonstrably expands my mind. But my personality? Can I really park bits of my very self offline? And if I am deprived of that opportunity, do I lash out at people who stand between my self (the real and central me) and my ability to access those bits that are stored offline? I would like to think that I retain some distinction between the parts of me that are really me and the parts that are outside, but I just don’t know.

Now if I can just shed the image of being someone who tortures little old ladies for the fun of it, which surely was never my intention. But actions are the mere shadow of our intentions, which pave the road to hell. Actions are what make the difference in our lives, driving regret and renewed resolve to make it all better next time. Actions are the residue of the moment, leaving in their wake all manner of consequence, which shape the moments of tomorrow, the field on which we play out whatever it is that comes to us next.

Business school was most liberating for me, a child of excessive responsibility, and one of the most critical things I learned was to accept the lessons of each day, but then to move on with the rallying cry, “Next!” Time to stop beating my breast. I did in fact appreciate my staff: I honored their efforts even as I pushed them to improved performance that did not excuse them as old ladies. To have done less would have been to diminish them. And yet, I confess my fault that I was unable to lead them to yet another triumph in their lives of many such. And having recognized my failure, I turn my face to the spring sun and cry anew, “Next!”