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Resistance and the Pull of Collecting

PERN

If you are into sci fi you will probably recognize the author of the book seen above. And if you are into Star Trek you will recognize the phrase “resistance is futile”. How do these two go together you might ask? Like a sci fi fan with books the one often influences others. You like sci fi, you read lots, and thus the lure of a new book, or two is irresistable and soon you have…a dozen or so. You will read them all, eventually, but then you may keep them around – just in case you want to re-read them (you may) or just to show off.

I encountered this attraction a couple days ago while cleaning out my late sister’s place. She had a bookshelf with records, paper files, and of course books. In her books there were about 10-15 books by Anne McCaffery, author of Pern and sequels/related stories. I started to be drawn to them, since it had been awhile since I had read any. Fortunately my niece cautioned me “just take one” and the spell was broken. I chose this one and brought it home since it was one I hadn’t read yet. That will help to limit the clutter in our place – we are trying to downsize.

“I was born in a library” I tell friends. My parents were both avid reader -my mom actually had a graduate degree in library science – and so we had several bookshelves filled with books in the house – a couple of which my dad actually built himself. My sisters and I grew up to be avid readers as well, ,and had collections wherever we lived. During one of the many moves my wife and I did we seriously downsized and most of the books went to charity. I also got converted to using Kindle and thus have my collection-still many books – stored virtually.

There are similar ways to store collections virtually and save space, but we need to also resist the urge to collect. My inbox and I-phone camera are stuffed with items I need to clear out – because ultimately virtual storage runs out and you still have to downsize. Plus constantly scrolling through your collection to find just the right item still wastes time.

Resistance is not futile. It just takes concentrated effort and purposeful key phrases to warn you to let go, or just not pick up in the first place. Massive amounts of “collections” don’t just magically appear. They are built one or two at a time, deceptively. Constant vigilance is important combined with periodic review to keep them at bay. If you think you don’t have this affliction I would urge you to today ponder moving and examine the mass of stuff you would need to pack. You might be surprised – you might be a packrat.

Catharsis

Sylivi’s cleared living room

Catharsis- what is it and have you experienced it? Catharsis is the process of releasing and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions – according to the Oxford Language dictionary. Sometimes we have emotions that we are not aware of until we are able to release them through actions. The above picture is representative of such. My eldest sister Sylvia passed away recently and I have the responsibility of dealing with her affairs – one of which has been learning out her home so it can be sold.

My brother-in-law Don was a packrat and hoarder big time and so there was a lot of stuff occupying most of the space in their double-wide mobile home. When I first got there the living room shown above was covered with stuff – almost every square foot, except for pathways through to the adjoining rooms. It has taken almost a week, split between two visits, to get it to this cleared state. My niece Mundee and her husband Franky came down yesterday and helped me finish it off – for which I am eternally grateful.\

There is much more to do but this was a great relief. When I first visited I was overwhelmed with the task. Seeing this room cleared eases some of that overwhelmedness and gives me hope that the rest will be able to be cleared in time.

Yesterday in my home Toastmasters club we had a storytelling time. One of the members shared a story from her childhood that was pretty traumatic and which she hadn’t felt comfortable telling very many people. She shared it with us and I thanked her for the trust she had in us to share it. I said it took great courage and the telling I hoped would be a cathartic experience for her.

Taking these two experiences into my mind reminded me not only of other experiences that I have had of catharsis, but also brought to mind a few other things that I need to do to in part go through a catharsis. I have had some technical issues that I have been handling with workarounds when I really need to bite the bullet and ask for help in fixing.

Sometimes we put up with stuff and cause ourselves needless angst because we are afraid of change or at least resistant to the efforts we need or think we need to take to fix problems once and for all. I heard someone say “problems don’t age well” and that is so true. I tend to procrastinate and yet whenever I dive into fixing a problem it usually turns out much easier to fix than I thought, and it feels so good to get it done. So if you have something you are resistant to tackle, just dive in and do it. It will be so satisfying.

Take Another Look

sistine chapel panel

Michaelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel is well known and this is one of the most famous parts of it. But it has a surprise element that I don’t think many people have noticed – at least I had not. It is a painting of God reaching out to Adam, touching to spark life into him. But in the midst of the male cherub background there appear a woman underneath his outstretched other arm. There are many theories about what the painter was trying to convey but no one is really sure.

I would have not noticed it myself except for being able to see a reproduction of it, as well as many other panels, at an exhibition of the Sistine Chapel paintings held in Bellevue this past week. My wife and I went to see it and listened to the audio clips describing the paintings and giving background notes on each. They were very informative. And there was also a video showing continuously that told the story of what Michaelangelo went through during the 4 year process of completing the work.

Sometimes we become so familiar with things that we fail to appreciate the complexities. Often it takes a novice to enlighten us veterans. If we can take a step back and see the world as a child, with their seemingly never ending “why’s?” maybe we may discover the full meaning of life and appreciate it more.

Listen To Yourself

Have you ever felt your life is on autopilot, void of conscious thought? Little things like what you eat and how you eat become automatic processes – with little choice – you eat it because it is there? I grew up with parents who lived through the Great Depression and had experienced the lack of food or lack of variety at least – having experienced food rationing. We, therefore, had two strict mealtime rules: You had to take at least a little bit of everything on the table and finish everything on your plate before you could have dessert. And I recall many meals where I was at the table long finishing off my plate because I wanted dessert.

Most of the food served up by my mom was good – I loved most every vegetable and I wasn’t a picky eater. But I remember to this day the foods that I loathed – the ones that I took a tiny bite of and suffered through because either mom or dad (or both) liked them and would serve them occasionally. I have tried these later on in life just to see if my grownup tastes had changed—no such luck. And as a kid, I knew on the first bite I knew my taste buds would rebel.

Sometimes it was the way they were presented. I love carrots, sweet and crunchy. But cook them and the appeal goes away. I once told my mom that I liked my veggies fresh. She reminded me that cooked ones were just as fresh and that the correct term for what I liked was raw. Yep, that’s how I liked them. That is why when I nuked the package above I took any carrots out and tossed them. I am no longer a child and I get to pick what I eat.

It took my sisters and me years to overcome the “finish everything on your plate” mantra. My parents meant well, but in practical terms, that mindset can lead to overeating. Better to stop when you feel full, and learn to take less next time, than to push on and overeat. And if you take something and don’t like it, don’t finish it. Your taste buds will keep seeking out something to satisfy and the stuff you ate out of obligation will just be empty calories that you don’t need.

The same is true for other habits of thinking. Like believing something just because some “authority” said it was true. God gave you a mind – use it. Check original sources and examine the rationale of opinions. Research the history of the subject and check for the missing pieces. It is said that history is written by the victors, so take time to examine the history of those who didn’t win, or were left behind or hidden. Are they worthy of mention?

Don’t let your mind and heart go on autopilot. There are plenty of holes in our history. Many marginalized groups have been ignored. Their history is important as well. For those in the US beware of American myths and legends – especially concerning our Founding Fathers and the slogans we repeat – like “Remember the Alamo”, “Remember the Maine”, and “Manifest Destiny”. If those don’t spur counter-narratives in your mind, please consider investigating.

If you don’t like the taste of something throw it out. It doesn’t make a difference if everyone else likes it. Your taste buds are key to what you should be eating. And if you are the only one you know who has a counter-narrative to some part of history, or thinks in a different way,, it doesn’t matter what others may say or think. Stand up for what you believe – just be ready to give a reason why.

The Trouble with To Do Lists

Planning your life and your days takes time and careful thought. One of the very popular ways to do this involves making and completing to do lists. But many people have trouble completing more than just a few items each day and find it frustrating. They ask themselves questions – like “what am I doing wrong?”, “how do I figure out what to do first?”, “who do I need to connect with who can help me?”. They may ask “when is the best time to start on each item?”, and perhaps even “where did I put that darn list?” But they don’t ask the most important question -“why?”

Now it is important to have all the necessary tools and information. It is important to gauge the varying levels of priorities. It is vital to know the prerequisites that provide support for each task and to identify the first steps and timelines for completion. But if you don’t have a firm grip on why you are doing these tasks you will lack motivation to tackle them.

Are they necessary to survival and smooth society functioning – like shopping for groceries, paying bills, or keeping a job? Have they been recommended by others to help you function and succeed? Are they things that you feel obligated to do? Or are they things that you really want to do? And do you have a clear idea of why you want to do them?

Many times we write stuff down with no intention of completion. We feel obligation but not desire. Like going to a gathering when we would rather just sit at home. Many people believe that exercise is needed for good health, but do everything to avoid it. Better nutrition is admirable but junk food is much easier and comfortable. Unless we have a good internal motivation we will falter on guilt trips.

So, along with the timeframe, priority, and first steps we need to identify a “why” for each tasks to add umph to our efforts and propel us to action. The way to do that is to identify your ‘why?” Why do you do the things you do in the way that you do them? The identification of an overall reason for your way of life can set the stage for identifying the why’s of your to do tasks.

For me that was begun way back in my first speech, my icebreaker, in Toastmasters nine years ago. In the icebreaker speech a member introduces themselves to the club and details how they want to be understood and viewed by the other members. “This is me” it says. For my speech I said there were three characteristics ,three words, that define me and describe what I do. Exploring, experimenting, and expressing.

I love to explore. Nature, history, cooking, everything is fair game for me. I take bunny trails, try new foods, read books on all sorts of subjects. It is who I am. I love to experiment. I was a chemistry major and had a little chemistry set as a kid. I would put things together just to see what happened. I started cooking and I did the same thing. Sometimes I would alter recipes, sometimes I would cook without a recipe, using the processes I had learned. And I love to express myself, in speech, in music, and in writing. It is who I am.

And then over the years I have used these realizations to come up with a “why” for what I do. I boiled it down to this: I want to inspire others to explore, experiment, and express their discoveries, their personalities, and their values, so that together we can make this world a better place. I realize that this is my motivation. I am not motivated by money, though it is important for keeping body and soul together. I am not motivated by power, though I enjoy being the freedom to direct and guide the progress of programs.

I am not motivated by what some people might see as success. In the Toastmaster world I have heard successful contest speakers talk about doing speeches over and over again, in front of differing audiences to practice and get feedback in order to advance. I have heard them talk about doing the same speech 50-100 times. And I while I can see that has helped them, it has no appeal for me. I have repeated speeches a few times, and enjoy the varied reactions of different audiences, but even 10-20 times over the same speech would be too much for me. The reward of a prize is not enough for me.

When I speak the reward I seek is the light in the eyes of the listener who gets the message, who says “now I understand’, “I never thought of it that way before”, or “you mean I’m not the only one who feels that way?”. I speak to motivate, to cause a ripple in the pond, to expand my influence, to help make this a better world. That is reward enough for me.

And taking that overall “why” into consideration I can apply that to my to do list and ask myself why each of the tasks are listed. That motivates me to do them because they fit into my why for life. And it can help me to eliminate items that don’t relate.

As Simon Sinek wrote in his book Start With Why people don’t buy things from a company because of what they make, or how they make them, but why they make the products they do. In the same way he says people will listen to us not because of what we say or do, or how we say or do, but of why we say and do the things we do.

Early Bird Sights

sunrise through the leaves at Spencer Island

The early bird gets the worm, so the saying goes. But there are better rewards for early bird humans than worms. Like these sunrise views that I captured on my walk this morning. It was pretty foggy when I went walking the Spencer Island trail north of Everett. It was early enough that sunrise didn’t come until I was halfway through my walk. I was able to spot the rising sun through the trees in the shot above.

A little bit further I came upon a view looking out across the island, with the wildlife viewing platform in the foreground and got the sunrise again, in the photo below.

sunrise and platform

And then as I was making my way through the grass-braketed pathway to the far side of the island I got this shot below. I was trying to emphasize that sometimes you just make it through because you know you have walked this way before even when you can’t see the path. You have to trust that the path is there and focus on the goal ahead – in this case emphasized by that glowing red globe in the sky.

sunrise path

It is important not only to “keep your eye on the prize”, but also to be in the right place for the opportunities to be there to take advantage of – like getting good sunrise shots. I get them because I like to get up early. You might find it worth your while to get up early sometime, even if the rest of the time you enjoy sleeping in.

Your Time to Shine

Is today your time to shine? Is this the day you turn from green to red, from young and uncertain to bold and blazing? From keeping your head down and blending in to taking a stand and making a difference? Everybody has time that they can shine, just like this chili pepper that starts out matching the color of the plant to serving notice by its color that it will have a serious impact on taste buds everywhere.

What will you do today that will induce someone to pick you and see what you’re made of? Where do you want to make an impact and how will you do that? Peppers are not large vegetables but they have a great potential to make a great difference in the taste of plenty of dishes. They are not something you overlook or forget. Do you want to be remembered? Then make sure you let your “redness” infuse you and be “pickable”.

Now not all hot peppers are alike. They come in all sorts of colors and all ranges of heat. They can be used just as is with seeds and ribs intact for hotter flavor or used without for a milder bite. They can be charred for extra smoky flavor or just chopped up raw. I used to chop up a couple of jalapeno peppers when I made spaghetti when I was single for an extra bite.

It takes time for the peppers to grow, ripen, and change color. And they tend to like tough soil to grow in, much like many herbs. It tends to intensify their flavor. So even if you have gone through tough times and it takes longer to grow you will ultimately have a time to shine. And when you do, make the most of it. You are worth it and made for it. Just like this chili pepper.

How Do You Handle Expectations?

How do you handle expectations? And is it different for external and internal expectations – in other words, expectations from others versus expectations of yourself? That is the topic of a book I recently discovered through a speech given in my advanced Toastmasters club. The book is called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. It is the latest example I have found of an attempt to help people identify their personality for both their benefit and for the benefit of those who interact with them.

The theory is that our personalities cause us to react differently to both external and internal expectations and knowing this will help both us and others navigate life’s often bumpy waters better. Some people handle both external and internal expectations equally well. They respond to external expectations positively and are able to meet their own internal expectations as well. Some people will find challenges in meeting either external or internal expectations. And still, some others seem to be resistant to or have trouble meeting both external and internal expectations.

This week I would like to briefly review each of the four types and ask you to decide which type you are and how that may affect your decision-making and how you interact with others. No one is all one type – there are shades of the others in all of us. But there is usually a predominant type for all. The author includes a Venn diagram (remember that from math?) which illustrates the overlaps between types.

The book is written to help people understand themselves and others and reduce the amount of stress and recriminations we often heap upon ourselves. We all expect better of ourselves and are disappointed when we don’t think we measure up. Perhaps it is because we are using the wrong standard. Stay tuned.

Building Better Brains

My dad loved puzzles – jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, scrabble and word games. He used to bring little wooden puzzles for us to work on. I’m not sure where he got them, but we enjoyed taking them apart and figuring how to put them back together again. I later picked up a Rubics cube and had a fine time learning to solve it. In childhood our goal was to try to beat Dad at Scrabble. It took me a long time to do that – he was a master. Even after his strokes he still had a solid mind – it was just trapped by his speech difficulties.

Many people get lazy as they age and then wonder why their brain doesn’t function as it did when they were young. We all have struggles with memory, but we can prevent a large loss of memory by activities that promote synaptogenisis – the creation of more and stronger brain synapses.

Synapsis are the connections between neurons in our brain that facilitate communication and memory. There is a great surge in the development in synapses during childhood as we are learning loads of stuff every day. They say it peaks about age 20, but can continue to grow if we pursue the acquisition of not just knowledge but new experiences that will stimulate our brain. Especially helpful are activities that involve us reaching our of our comfort zone and normal environments. The brain reacts seeking to adapt to new environments and new information.

It goes beyond just learning by reading or seeing new things. If we learn a new skill our minds are involved in building new synapses to help our bodies build muscle memory. It is similar to how we can learn quicker if we both see and hear something or see and perform some physical activity. Do you ever consciously think about tying your shoes, for instance? You had to learn it as a kid, but now you have done it so many times it is automatic.

Synaptogenesis is important for several reasons. It helps us adapt to new situations, which happen all the time, whether we seek them out or not. It helps our memory function – our brain has more capacity to remember when it is constructing new synapses. And as we learn we can train our brain to work more efficietly.

It also can help with moods. We can train our brain to remember and focus on positive memories and new experiences and work to decrease stress. It doesn’t come without effort, but that is part of learning, correct? The creation of new synapses leading to new capacity and efficiency can forestall the onset of neurodegeneration which has plagued many late in life. My dad was fortunate that he did not experience that. It was a tribute to his lifetime commitment to learning.

If you would like to read more about this subject check out this helpful article in Mental Health Daily – Synaptogenesis: 9 Ways to Form New Synapsis in the Brain

Forever Young

Have you ever heard someone say, “I feel old”? Was it someone who was younger than you, perhaps a good bit younger? I had that happen recently. And I reflected again that while I am not as young as I once was, I still remain young at heart and in mind. Part of it is because I have recalled over the past 10 years how my parents were at my age, and I feel like I am in such a better place than they were in many ways.

My dad suffered his first stroke at age 48 when I was just 10 years old. He made a great recovery, but the affects lingered and hampered him the rest of his life. My mom suffered from respiratory illness and an irregular heartbeat and passed away way too early – at age 62. I endeavored to maintain my health and avoid the struggles they had – especially watching my blood pressure which my dad never did.

Eat the apple and see the doctor

I believe there are several keys to staying young as we grow older, and they reinforce each other. The first is one that my dad did not pay attention to: regular doctor visits. He felt if he wasn’t sick, he didn’t need a doctor. He was pretty healthy, but things crept up. Being part of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the 1930’s kept him pretty active. Plus, he hiked a lot and his parents moved around a bunch, so he kept busy. He continued to hike and camp – we did a couple weeks of camp during each summer growing up.

But he also worked in an office, so he started to be more sedentary. Weight gain and high blood pressure contributed to unseen dangers that led to that first stroke. If he had seen a doctor regularly and kept watch on the cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, he might have avoided that early stroke.

Learning from his experience I have kept active with daily walks and regular doctor visits. When my blood pressure showed too high to donate blood, shortly after 9-11 I made a doctor appointment and began regular blood pressure medication, which has enabled me to curtail its rise. I also began regular diabetes medication when my glucose numbers got too high. Since I know my family medical history, I know the value of regular checkups.

Go For a Walk

The second thing is regular exercise. In earlier years I did quite a bit of hiking – including a Grand Canyon hike that was quite exhausting but exhilarating. I also did few 5Ks and briefly dreamed about doing a half marathon – not quite enough endurance for that. Since I work from home I am able to walk every day before work and also on the weekends. My daily walks are about 2 miles around the neighborhood. My weekends are a time for exploring local trails and extend to a few more miles.

Walking not only provide me with daily exercise. I also get to experience nature and that is important for the mind and soul as well. The smell of green growth in grass and trees, the sight of wildlife and wildflowers, and just feeling the breeze is a stimulant to thought and a lightening of the heart. It allows me to unwind from the stress of work and life and recharge for the start of another workday.

You Are What You Eat

The third thing is watching what you eat. Not only avoiding the bad stuff – sweets, overly salty, not to mention alcohol and smoking – which thankfully I never was exposed to or tempted with growing up. But also trying to load up on the good things. It is said you are what you eat and I believe that. One of my challenges is portion size and lazy eating. Many times we eat not because we are really hungry but because of we think we should eat -daily habits and social pressures (who goes to a party and doesn’t eat?). It takes effort to not eat – or clean off your plate – when raised to take a bite of everything and finish everything on your plate before desert (my parents lived through the Great Depressions so that was their mantra).

Another unaddressed need is to savor your life – not just food but also your daily experiences. We tend to rush through life, gobbling our way. Try to slow down and enjoy life and pay attention to your taste buds – they will be triggered by the best foods. Don’t settle for second best.

Never Stop Learning – Education is Forever

We also need to keep learning, keep reading, keep expanding our minds. We may have left school far behind but that doesn’t mean we are done with education. My family was and is reading intensive. I like to joke that I was born in a library because our house was full of books of all kinds. My sisters and I are avid readers because of it. I have met people who say “I’m not really a reader, not into books” and I am just astonished -“why not?” I am also incredibly and incurably curious and that keeps me reading.

It is also important to surround yourself with like-minded people. People who are curious, informed, eager to learn. They will enrich your life and stimulate you to keep learning. It is good to surround yourself with reasonable people of diverse backgrounds and interests. Part of this for me is my participation in Toastmasters. I get to present thought provoking speeches to an audience, they give me feedback, and I also get to listen to their speeches and learn. We share our lives and stories and keep ourselves young.

Another reason for spending time learning and exposing ourselves to new experiences and sources of information is that the brain gets stronger by being exposed to new information. The formation of new synapses – new pathways in the brain-is caused by this – as we will explore in tomorrow’s post.

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