Sunday, May 15, 2016

Random neuron firings

It's cherry time again in the Pacific Northwest. Miss V, having returned to us for the summer, has been craving fruit of various kinds -- especially stone fruit, her particular favorite. We've been going through a lot of cherries around here.

It's also the time of year when the weather is, shall we say, charmingly unpredictable. And as we go from sun to rain to wind to rain again back to sun -- sometimes in the course of an hour -- it seems my thoughts follow the weather patterns in their randomness:
  • Do all animals dream? Roxy certainly does. She seemed to have a series of unpleasant dreams a few weeks after she went missing, and based on the sounds and movements she made in her sleep, we guessed they involved her being chased by predators. Maybe only animals over a certain level of intelligence experience dreams -- or maybe all animals dream, but only the more intelligent ones can tell the difference between dreams and waking life. (If dreams can enthrall human beings -- even temporarily -- into believing them, how much more difficult must it be for a dog, a cat, or a parakeet to be able to shake off the experience without the cognizant thought "it was only a dream, it wasn't real?")
  • Yesterday I read a book snippet that happened to resonate very strongly with me. It was about the human desire for intimacy being coupled with the often paralyzing fear of opening oneself up to ridicule. The author suggested that the best way to achieve intimacy with another person was to make it safe for others to reveal their true selves to you -- offering sincere compliments and expressions of gratitude for who they are, not mocking them or belittling them when they make mistakes, reserving judgment and allowing people to express how they feel without reservation, and taking the risk of being vulnerable with others by revealing something of yourself first. I fear I'm bad at this in two ways -- I'm afraid of opening up to other people and I tend to be too quick to judge -- but hey, you're never too old to learn something new.
  • Miss V and I went thrifting in Seattle, including a visit to the big Goodwill on Dearborn. In addition to being stuffed full of both secondhand goodies and shoppers, there was a glorious melting pot of humanity on display. I was reminded again that I'm fortunate to live in a place with a wide variety of people. Something about it makes me grin like an idiot. (Also, Roxy-cat got a nice sturdy cat carrier out of the experience.)
  • The word of the day: "tartarology," though it sounds like it ought to be the in-depth study of tangy white sauce for fish, means "a collection of beliefs about hell or the underworld." Also, a "prandicle" is a small meal... say, somewhere on the gustatory scale between a nosh and a feast.
  • Remember that "too quick to judge" comment above? Well, danger warning, here comes another judgment: with all the other forms of insanity going on in the world right now, are we really going to make the non-issue of trans people in public restrooms the Big Important Thing of 2016? Personally, I don't know or care whether the person in the stall next to me was born female or male, and I'm pretty sure that person (whoever it is) feels the same way about me. Can't we agree to give people sufficient privacy to let them do their business?
  • Just go check out the Abandoned Theme Parks section of Atlas Obscura. Seriously.
And now, to bed. zzzzz.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Think about it.

Miss V occasionally talks in her sleep. She's said some very amusing things over the years, but just recently she reports that she said in her sleep, "Think about it. Don't vote for Trump."

If Miss V understands this concept even in her sleep, how hard can it be?


Tuesday, May 03, 2016


"Out there" in this case being Utah. OK, you may not think Utah is very adventurous, but when you're about to embark on an approximately 16-hour road trip driving solo on a paucity of sleep, it FEELS pretty darn adventurous, I tell you what.

So I'm off to pick up the V from school! I'll probably see you all on the flip side.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Letter to a 10-year-old girl

Dear You,

Hi, sweetheart. Let's talk about your life for a minute.

You're in fifth grade now, which is a hard time to be alive if you're small and smart and a gentle-hearted dreamer. Everything is changing, both around you and inside you. You're expected to put away your daydreams and start acting more mature, but you're not ready yet. You don't have control over a lot of things going on in your life, and daydreams are still your safe place. You often don't know what's going on, or who to trust. It's a lot for someone your age to bear.

This is also the time where kids start being actively cruel to each other, and they make it a point to pick on people just like you. They don't do this because there is something wrong with you; they just do it because they can. And believe it or not, the people who are most miserable at home are often the ones who pick on others the most at school.

I know how often you want to hide -- from bullies at school, from the mean things kids say about your writing and drawings, from the family member who should be protecting you and is hurting you instead. I know how often you've wished you could run away and live in the wild, or shrink to the size of a mouse and hide under the floorboards so that no one could hurt you any more. But those kinds of dreams, while they help in the short run, are not going to make things better at home or at school. Instead, I'd like to offer you some practical advice.

Your parents may have told you to ignore the bullies. I'm sorry to have to speak against your parents, but this doesn't work. Bullies notice it when you ignore them, and they just get even meaner. The best way to handle bullies is to beat them. Yes, I mean literally beat them up. Bullies are usually cowards at heart, and they'll be afraid to pick on you once they know you can and will fight back. Don't just try to fight them unprepared, though. You'll need someone who can teach you how to fight properly. Ask your parents if you can take a class after school (tell them it will be good exercise), and take the time to learn what to do. Fighting a bully may get you sent to the principal's office, but it will be worth it if it means you don't have to get picked on ever again.

Every time they have those assemblies in school where they talk about what to do if you're suffering from abuse -- and there are many kinds of abuse, including the kind where the person who's hurting you makes you believe that what's happening to you is your fault -- you think they're talking to other kids, not to you. You think your circumstances are different. You think that if you ever told someone what was happening to you, they wouldn't believe you -- or worse, they would and you'd get in terrible trouble. Look: you are not to blame for what is happening to you. You are not a bad kid, and you are not "asking for it," and you can't fix this all by yourself. Don't tell a friend your own age; he or she can't help you. Don't tell a family member; since the person who's hurting you is a member of your extended family, this won't help. Tell a teacher, or a counselor, or a religious leader, or a police officer. And if the first person you tell won't do anything about it, keep on telling until someone helps you.

The person who's hurting you probably says things like: "If anyone finds out it will be in all the newspapers, and then everyone will know what you've done." He is lying. He tells you that to keep you quiet, because he's scared of getting caught. He knows that he, not you, will be in trouble if you ever tell anyone what he's done. So don't believe that lie. Don't keep secrets for him. And if you don't have the strength to speak up for yourself, do it for someone else -- because if you don't do something to stop him, he will probably go on to hurt more people.

Life is hard now, and it will be hard in the next 10 years, but I promise you that things will get better. As you grow, you'll get greater control over your life. Your intelligence and personality will fit much more comfortably into your adult self. You'll learn as much as you can from every source you can find. You'll find friends who are similarly curious about the world, who love to share ideas, who are drawn to a creative life. You'll get to visit marvelous places and see things you've only dreamed about. You'll feel safe and protected. You'll have love. And though life will never be completely perfect, the nightmares you live with now will go away.

Whenever you're afraid, when you feel alone, I want you to imagine me standing and walking beside you with a hand on your shoulder, keeping an eye on you, sheltering you, giving you courage. I can't actually be there now -- we're separated by more than physical distance -- but I'm closer than you think, just a little bit further ahead, waiting for you to get here.

You can make it.

Much love,

-- Sooz

Monday, April 18, 2016

Every day is Judgment Day

Well it's all right, even if they say you're wrong
Well it's all right, sometimes you've gotta be strong
Well it's all right, as long as you've got somewhere to lay
Well it's all right, every day is Judgment Day
--The Traveling Wilburys, "End of the Line"
Last week there were various oddments of thought floating around my head, including the following:
  • As you can probably tell, a lyrical snippet from the above-referenced song kept popping up.
  • Over the weekend, The Guardian published an extraordinarily perceptive interview of a person whose name you'll probably recognize, who has matured into an intelligent and thoughtful woman with a strong sense of purpose, but who has not been allowed to put her notorious past behind her. Even now, people hear her name and immediately, almost instinctively, judge her based on events that occurred two decades ago.
  • Some celebrities work to develop reputations for being friendly and approachable or, conversely, for being icy and aloof. Sometimes, however, their reputations are based on a fan's single encounter with his or her hero; if a fan happens to meet up with a celebrity on a really bad day, he's going to tell all his friends that Famous So-and-so is an abrasive jerk -- even if it isn't true 98% of the time -- and that snap judgment will do tremendous damage.
Eventually these bits and pieces coalesced into a single intriguing question:
If you had reason to believe you would be eternally judged based on your words, thoughts and actions today, would it change your behavior -- and if so, how?
Although I do couch this question in religious terms, "eternally judged" doesn't have to be parsed solely in a religious context. Let's say, for instance, that Earth is becoming uninhabitable, you're being considered for a coveted spot on an FTL ship prepping for a one-way journey to colonize a beautiful new world, you desperately want to go, and someone's slipped you a note saying you will be secretly monitored for your social fitness one day this week. How do you suppose that's going to change your behavior?

You'd think the sure knowledge that we were being invisibly judged as fit for a big opportunity would encourage us to keep our noses clean. And yet, every day, we are silently judged in small ways by others with whom we come in contact. A healthy mind doesn't give this overmuch thought (that way lies extreme anxiety), but maybe it's also healthy to ask ourselves frankly: "How would I behave toward others today if I knew all my actions were being observed and judged?"

Even in the social media age where, theoretically, any one of our rants and raves could go viral, most of us (myself included) behave as though nobody were paying any attention. This goes a way toward explaining the actions of people who have been publicly shamed for their misbehavior -- most of them probably assumed that no one but their circle of friends would notice or care what they were doing. But we no longer live in a world where that is a safe assumption to make, if indeed we ever did.

Contrary to the stock blatherings of politicians, most people don't do things for evil reasons. Sometimes, as above, they act thoughtlessly and assume no one is paying attention. Sometimes they really believe their actions will change the world for good. Sometimes they just have problems with impulse control, or they want something so badly that it affects their common sense. You don't need to attribute to evil what can successfully be chalked up to garden-variety DUH.

Is it unfair to be eternally judged based on your worst actions? YES. Absolutely. You wouldn't want to go through that yourself, nor would you want those you love to have to endure such shame. So, to extend the original question, what about the people who are being publicly shamed because they acted on their worst impulses, and those actions were subsequently brought to light? Do you really want to judge them once for all as the worst versions of themselves? Or are you willing to make every day Judgment Day, to revise your earlier snap judgment of a person when new evidence comes in? Better yet, are you willing to withhold full judgment of a person's character for a while?

Admittedly, I'm not good at this. I have a bad habit of taking umbrage and then not giving it back. But there are so many ways I've screwed up or failed or just been embarrassingly awkward with other people, and so many times I've wished I could erase the Slate of Past Stupidities and start again, that it would be unthinkable for me not to extend that courtesy to others. I think this was what Jesus was getting at when he said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." This concept is the preface to the Golden Rule: to treat others the way you would want to be treated. As with so many of Jesus' teachings, it is simple, but not easy.

Still working on it, so please be patient. I expect to be working on it for the next 30 years or so, actually, so you might want to withhold judgment until then.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Home is where the art is

You may ask:

"So, Sooz, I understand you recently went to see a collage in a juried art show...

...and now that same collage is hanging on your dining room wall. How does that make you feel?"

I'll tell you. LIKE A SUAVE INTERNATIONAL ART THIEF, that's how.

Monday, April 04, 2016

In which Soozcat visits Chihuly Garden & Glass

For reasons we needn't get into here, I became excessively discouraged over the weekend. I felt utterly convinced that I was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, that I had a job to do but no authority to get it done, that no one was paying attention or gave a flying crap, etc., etc. Further, there wasn't much I could do about any of it.

I have learned, however, that one of the best ways to get out of a blue funk is to shake up your routine a bit. What I needed was to get out of the house and do something I'd never done before.

That something turned out to be Chihuly Garden & Glass at Seattle Center. I know, it's been open for a while now, but I'd never gotten around to visiting. So I got into the Little Silver Hyundai and boogied on over there.

Here's what I found.