June 27, 2006

When Is It Constructive?

We spent much of this week recuperating from the previous week. And even though we were very busy with driving everyone around the entire earth several times (well, okay, maybe it just felt that way) and with taking a 'class' that involved spending hours and hours every day for two weeks playing random verbal versions of what amounts to 'Mad Libs' that the people who paid huge amounts of money for the class don't quite see the point of (it's possible that people who dangle their modifiers simply aren't bright enough to Get It), and even though we spent more money and MUCH more time than we wished on the resulting Performance (most of which did not involve The Kid) - we have to say that the it was the emotional turmoil of Sunday that really took it out of us.

Sunday being the day that the Vampire's loving-but-not-always-tactful grandfather (spurred on by having been one of the people who funded said expensive 'class') chose to give the Young Thespian the gift of a bit of (Constructive?) Criticism.

We won't go into details here, as both interested parties consequently had a very stressful day, and by evening were both calmed and regretful enough of the entire incident that they took great effort and care in making up... not easy when both parties felt entirely innocent in the matter and both felt that they were trying to uphold certain important principles. Whether either's explanations made any sense to the other made little difference; what was important is that both came away understanding that each loved the other, and that they both were Trying (in all senses of the word).

But I wonder: on issues that are truly important to us, is it even possible to honestly ask for the opinion of, or offer truly constructive criticism to, people who really matter? If, for instance, you were to offer up to your best friend your true critical opinion of their child's flaws (or their own parenting mistakes), do you think they would honestly thank you, no matter how objectively accurate your observations might be, however kindly your intentions and wording might be?

What do you think?

June 22, 2006

Is He Sick, or Just a Jerk?

I've seen a few articles lately claiming that 'road rage' is a diagnosable disorder.

Ronald Kessler
, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, is getting quite a bit of press time lately due to his enthusiasm regarding this particular theory. Dr. Kessler - citing a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the findings of which appeared in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry - wants us to know that lots of people have this 'disorder', perhaps more than 7% of the population.

That's a pretty impressive claim, given that less than 1% suffer from schizophrenia, only 2.6% suffer from bipolar disorder,
all the 'personality disorders' put together only account for 7.9%, and the most generous statistic for depression - the most common disorder of all - is 25% over a lifetime (including situational depression, the sort you'd have when your spouse or child or parent dies... personally, I'd think you had a disorder if you didn't get depressed in such a situation).

Of course, Kessler headed up the study... he could be suspected of having a vested interest in the matter.

According to the DSM-IV (the diagnostic handbook of psychiatry), people with "Intermittent Explosive Disorder" overreact to certain situations with uncontrollable rage, experience a sense of relief during the angry outburst, and then feel remorse about their actions.

People who work in the areas of Domestic Violence and law enforcement are pretty familiar with that particular emotional/behavioral process... and so are school teachers, and parents of young children.

Parents and teachers, of course, generally don't see this behavior as pathological. They see it as being a normal stage of emotional maturity (or lack thereof), and deal with it affectively in most cases... by teaching three skills that are *also* taught in Anger Management classes for adults with Domestic Violence issues. Those three skills are:

1. Self Assessment. This involves learning how to figure out what feelings precipitated the action, what triggered those feelings, and what alternatives are available for dealing with those emotions.

2. Empathy. This involves learning how to figure out what the other person experienced, working out how they might have felt about it by imagining oneself in their place. Taking this to the next step often involves figuring out how the other person's feelings and reactions impact one's own life... enlightened self-interest is a more stable motivator than feelings of affection, which can fluctuate pretty radically.

3. Self Control. This third skill basically boils down to recognizing the beginning of a build-up towards rage and applying the first two skills prior to taking action.

In other words, most cases of IED-type behavior are not due to a chemical or neurological disorder... they are due to a lack of emotional skills and maturity that even small children can learn fairly easily if they are willing to do so.

Are there people who truly can't learn those skills, no matter how willing they are and no matter how skillful the teacher? Sure, I imagine there are a rare few. But I suspect that this would be easily found to be due to serious brain injury or a major disorder that has already been on the DSM for a long time, where the ability to empathize or to assess cause and effect are seriously compromised. In which case the resultant behavior is not a disorder so much as it's a symptom.

Here is where I take issue with Dr. Kessler, and with the DSM-IV. The psychiatric profession is adding clinical 'disorders' to the DSM at a rather profligate rate, and it bothers me. Whatever their reasoning may be in terms of treatment, I don't think the practical effects are good for us as a society or as individuals, for two reasons:

~ it tends to relieve us of responsibility for indulging in a particular set of behaviors - and excuses us for not putting forth adequate efforts to change them (or instill them in our children),


~ it tends to unnecessarily encourage the already overly aggressive pharmaceuticalization of America (and as America goes...) In other words, given the excuse that it's an illness rather than a lack of skills or maturity, people will often take the easy out of dosing themselves (or worse, their children) with brain-altering chemicals rather than taking the time and effort to acquire and apply perfectly learnable skills.

Great for the psychiatrists, who get permanent patients, and great for the pharmaceutical industries, who get rich... but what does it do to us?


I just found out that if you Google "minnesota goodbye" (inc. quotation marks), I am the very first link you get! Without quotation marks I rank lower, somewhere between 3rd and 4th... still, not bad. Thanks, Gentle Readers!

June 21, 2006

Escape to Home

I was enjoying this today (hysterical, link and enjoy if you haven't already), and noticed that once again Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill was used to good effect. I first heard this particular song in a movie, and subsequently in more than a dozen more movies, movie trailers, and television shows - not to mention the radio exposure.

You'd think I'd be sick of it, as I've become so many times before when overexposed to pop songs.

But I'm not. I have it in my iTunes. And I stopped this morning to wonder why this is.

The tune is bright and rhythmical and melodic, but I don't think that fully explains the particular charm this song seems to exert over a pretty wide range of demographics. So I thought about what it is that I really love about it, and I think I've reached a reasonable conclusion.

It's the lyrics... specifically, it's one line of lyrics. I think it's brilliant, I think it hits a universal chord that runs through the heart of every person who has ever been homesick, or lonely, or sad, or vulnerable, or scared, or who has ever just plain felt unloved. It's the promise of love, warmth, safety, and escape from our cares. It's the thing that sooner or later we've all wanted to hear more than anything else, the Greatest Promise. It's the thing we want to hear at our last breath, at the very end of life.

Grab your things, I've come to take you Home.

The Sky Is Grey...

... the birds are singing, the temps aren't *too* bad, and there's a breeze. Well, nothing is perfect, but it's close enough for government work, as my mom (who worked for the state revenue department) says. Yesterday's massive sinus headache is down to a dim roar**, and that's good enough for me. I think I'll take a walk, and a nap. Not necessarily in that order.

I've got several posts in one stage of "Draft" or other, and I'll trot them out as I finish them. Why do I have good ideas when my head is exploding? When, in fact, there is little I can do about them?

Anyway, I'm off... but I'll Be Back (with sunglasses, too, but without automatic weapons and impressive pecs).

** I think a sinus headache can legitimately be described as 'massive' when you know that a sinus med is working a bit because it is relieving enough pressure to let you feel your eyes sinking back into your head, don't you?

Escape to Home

I was enjoying this today (hysterical, link and enjoy if you haven't already), and noticed that once again Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill was used to good effect. I first heard this particular song in a movie, and subsequently in more than a dozen more movies, movie trailers, and television shows - not to mention the radio exposure.

You'd think I'd be sick of it, as I've become so many times before when overexposed to pop songs.

But I'm not. I have it in my iTunes. And I stopped this morning to wonder why this is.

The tune is bright and rhythmical and melodic, but I don't think that fully explains the particular charm this song seems to exert over a pretty wide range of demographics. So I thought about what it is that I really love about it, and I think I've reached a reasonable conclusion.

It's the lyrics... specifically, it's one line of lyrics. I think it's brilliant, I think it hits a universal chord that runs through the heart of every person who has ever been homesick, or lonely, or sad, or vulnerable, or scared, or who has ever just plain felt unloved. It's the promise of love, warmth, safety, and escape from our cares. It's the thing that sooner or later we've all wanted to hear more than anything else, the Greatest Promise. It's the thing we want to hear at our last breath, at the very end of life.

Grab your things, I've come to take you Home.

June 18, 2006

Oops... Ack!


This might be understandable, to some degree, given my current state of extreme brainfog, except that I've been thinking about it and planning for it all week. I was going to take the kid out on Saturday, we were going to do some grocery shopping, and then we were going to get a card for his dad, a card for his grandpa (from me), and lil' ol' gifties for both.

But the Pirate did a big grocery haul on Friday night, the sweetie, so I decided to spend the time finishing up on chores around the house and the internet... and since I didn't have the 'trigger' of grocery shopping to remind me, I forgot about Father's Day.


So completely that I didn't remember it this (Sunday) morning, either. Or in the afternoon, on the way to the folks' house. I remembered it after I'd been sitting for an hour on the porch with my mom, sipping lemonade and languidly chatting about this and that.

Long after the Pirate and Dad had disappeared downstairs to play pool... and way too late to do anything about my belated brainstorm.


Not only wasn't it understandable, it wasn't even excusable.

Because last year I totally ripped the kid and spouse to pieces for forgetting my birthday. I laid the guilt on thick, yup. So the Pirate was VERY CAREFUL to have a card and big bunch of roses at the ready on Mother's Day. He made sure I knew he appreciated me, you betcha. And he made sure the kid wrote me a poem.

I am an idiot.

And now I appreciate the Pirate even more, because I spent the rest of the day pushing, pulling, nagging, coaxing, bribing, and threatening the kid into writing a poem for his dad. In the end I pretty much exiled him to the office and told him he couldn't come out until he'd finished it.

If the Pirate did that in order to get that Mother's Day poem written for me, he deserves a real Father's Day even more than I realized.

(Boy, can that kid procrastinate and weasel out of things! Is there a career available that specializes in Avoidance? He'd make a fortune...)

I don't think self-flagellation will be a good option, since the Pirate would be the one who would have to nurse me back to (something resembling) health. So what would be an appropriate way to show my remorse - and my love and appreciation?

(Other than plain old fashioned apologies: Bee, I'm REALLY, REALLY sorry - you deserved a parade, and you barely got a footnote. I'm going to make it up to you. Promise. I'd cross my heart, but you've already got it, and I don't want to ask to have it back... it's obviously in better hands where it is!)

June 16, 2006

Is it Art? Or is it Memorex?

More than a decade ago I attended a very sad funeral for the brother of an old and dear friend. The funeral was not sad for the reasons one associates with funerals, but rather because of its lack of those things. The man in question was young, and there was a deal of doubt as to whether the action that caused his passing was accidental or deliberate on his part. What we did know was that his life had been short, lonely, and quietly desperate - that he had been touched by few other lives, and had touched few lives himself. His father, his stepmother, his brother and I were the only attendees at his funeral. The presiding minister had never met him. The service was short. I was the only one to cry - and I cried not for his loss, but for the loss of what his life could or should have been and wasn't. The tragedy was in the waste, rather than the loss... and that others should feel that way about someone, that seemed a tragedy as well.

We wanted to do something after the service that would have been more meaningful to the man himself, as a sort of celebration of his darkly ironic sense of humor. Luckily the church was right next door to a local modern art museum, where we knew we'd find plenty to mock and deride... and we weren't disappointed. We arrived to find that the museum in question was featuring a special exhibition of a nationally touring collection of award-winning avant-garde works, and it was opening that very weekend. Lots of very serious people were frowning thoughtfully at various objects, such as the extremely expensively displayed weathered board with the rusted nails sticking out of it. That is, when they weren't frowning at *me*.

Really, modern art is valuable if for no other reason than that it provides an egalitarian environment in which *everyone* is offered the opportunity to enjoy a good laugh at the expense of both artists and audience.

Keith would have appreciated it.

Which helped me put to rest a bit of the lingering resentment I held towards the studio art teachers I suffered through in my college days. To be honest, I resented the lazy, self-involved and outrageously puffed-up teachers less than I resented the university itself for taking outrageous amounts of my money - and the taxpayers' money, in many students' cases - in order to line the pockets of talentless charletans who offered their students not one tool, not one skill, not one useful insight, not one moment of even mild inspiration.

But now when I see a modern art installation, or a rusty nail, I think of Keith and of the good healing laughter his brother and I shared that day, and at least for me it all has gained a little more meaning and value thereby.

I offer you this entry with insincere apologies to the Walker Art Center, and true gratitude to Sis for bringing this article to my attention...

June 14, 2006

The Minnesota Goodbye

My dearest friend, Sis - who hails from the southern half of the US - just informed me that she was unaware of the (In)famous Minnesota Goodbye. My family SPECIALIZES in the MG, so I thought I'd share our version of it with you. I imagine that there is something like the MG in some other states/families, but believe me, if you aren't a Minnesota Native you haven't experienced the Real Thing in its full and dysfunctional glory.

The Minnesota Goodbye starts subtly, usually at the point at which you notice that your host's eyes are starting to droop. You say you have to be going - so of course you are offered a bit more desert and coffee. And you have it, because your hostess' face is semaphoring her fear that you might starve to death during the trip home... or worse, that you secretly thought her baking was just a wee bit overdone.

After eating your second helping of rhubarb buckle you say you REALLY have to be going. And then the host asks you a question or two that starts up a new thread of conversation, so you stay for a little more coffee. And maybe a bathroom break.

Then your spouse starts looking at his watch, and you say you truly do have to go, you have to go to work in the morning. But your hostess remembers that she had some photos that she meant to give you, so you wait for her to dig them up and then you have to go through them and appreciate them, and then she wants to pack up some extra desert and dinner leftovers for you to take home. You say (several times, in gradually weakening tones... resistance is futile, you *will* be assimilated) that you really can't, but she insists. You say you don't want to be a bother, but she insists - and besides, she's already dishing things into the container(s) and covering it/them with tin foil. You say how wonderful the hotdish was, and she writes out the recipe on a card for you. And then she has to rummage around in the utility drawer/closet for the right-sized bag for the leftover container(s). By then she is telling you about her sister's knee surgery, and the trouble she's had with her own knees.

The next thing you know you are having more coffee.

Eventually you tear yourself out of her gracious clutches, and you head staunchly for the door. But you have to stop at the exit for everyone to hug and say how nice it's been, and then have a discussion about when you are all going to get together again, and where, and what you will do, and who else should be invited. Your hostess tells a couple stories about the doings of mutual friends/family who won't be able to make it to the next gathering. Then you all hug again and say goodbye, and head out the door. The host and hostess stand inside of the screen door for a bit, waving goodbye and calling out last minute warnings about the weather and the road conditions.

Once you get either into the car (if it is parked less than 100 inches from the door) or to the end of the driveway (if you are parked along the curb or at the bottom of the driveway) it gets too difficult and tacky to yell like that, so your hostess and host scurry down to join you. You all tell each other again what a nice time you had, and how good it would be to do it all again. More warnings about getting home safely. Your host notices something about your car, and the men have a discussion about how/where to fix it and other cars that they have had that didn't seem to get damaged as easily as this one. The women again discuss the food at dinner, how wonderful it was, and you insist that you could *never* have pulled off a dinner like that yourself. Your hostess recalls all the wonderful dishes you've served up in the past, and reminds you to send her the recipe for that pasta salad you brought to the last family/company/bridge club picnic.

Eventually you close the car doors and back down the driveway or start down the street, but you do it slowly and with your windows down, because your host and hostess are still scurrying after you with extra safety concerns and thanks for your company and questions about whether you've heard from Mary Ann lately, and does she have a new phone number, and if so please call and let them know what it is. You agree, and there's more goodbyes, and occasionally an attempt at a last hug through the windows. You both continue to wave and call out goodbyes and safety tips as you disappear from view.

The Minnesota Goodbye. It's a thing of awe and wonder.

And, given all that coffee, insomnia.

A Long Gap

Sorry about the gap in communications. My very dear friend The Fabulous Susan had a sudden death in her family, and came across for a week's visit. I've been more or less rushed off my feet, between TFS' visit and the Vampire's class at the wonderful Brave New Workshop and my own change of email address with it's attendant panicked reorganizing and resending of nearly a thousand emails (I'm as much of a packrat of emails as I am a packrat of... well, yarn, for one obvious example) and alerting of friends of said change (if I forgot to alert you or you were one of the several posts that got bounced back to me, email me at the old address any time in the next week or so, I'll send you the new one).

Hopefully the worst of the frenzied activity is over (I still have some address changes to work through, mostly business-related). I think I'll go put my feet up for a few moments...

June 05, 2006

Seasons of Stress... err, Love

I have to admit that although I was extremely grateful for the sympathetic nature of my Blogging friends, and appreciated the kindness shown in their reaction to my last post, it surprised me considerably that they saw my description of that day's as being particularly noteworthy in the Stress category. I found the argument with the kid to be stressful, because we are normally a pretty low-key family as far as communications go. And financial issues certainly put extra pressure on us at the moment. But the day's schedule was not particularly unusual.

Then I realized that none of my readers are owners of Teenagers.

It is the nature of Parenting Teenagers - at least in our day and age - that you spend your days in a constant round of:

rushing around from place to place in order to get them to the next class/performance/game/social event

and then

waiting and/or volunteer-laboring while they participate in their class/performance/game/social event.

Your reward is that on the (in the case of male teens: rare) occasion you are stunned by the realization that your kid is Practically Grown up, that s/he scrubs up rather nicely, and that s/he is turning into a human being that you wouldn't mind voluntarily inviting to a social gathering... of people you actually like.

The downsides are the many, many occasions on which you realize that your child is actually an Alien Being, that you don't have time to run your own life, and that you have been officially downgraded to Near Imbecile status for the foreseeable future and therefor are doomed to be an object of alternating Condescending Pity and Exasperated Scorn for at least a decade.

Send not to know for whom the eye rolls, it rolls for thee.

The point being that although it can be stressful and exhausting to be the parent of a teenager, it helps to know that there is an end to it at some point, and that it's all just a natural part of the process. It's All Normal.

No promises about your teenager...

June 04, 2006

A Joyful Noise

It's been a hard week.

Our finances are in dire straits; our home, schedule, and health haven't entirely recovered from the strains that the Vampire's last production put on them; the heat of last week sapped away what little energy we had left, and I haven't been able to find the source of the steady stream of about 5 flies per day that we've been warring with for the past week.

So I wasn't in a terribly good mood yesterday as I fried up the tortilla on which I was piling scrambled eggs, sausage, veg, cheese, and herbs. I wasn't particularly aware of this until I was in the process of plating up the food and cleaning off the table, simultaneously informing the Vampire that he had to use the ketchup or salsa, because we only had enough barbecue sauce (his condiment of choice) to use on the chicken earmarked for dinner. The Vampire, in his accustomed lawyerly manner, tried to argue the matter out to his short-term advantage.

I've found that I've recently lost the ability to multi-task, and that attempts on the part of others to force me to do so tend to make me irritable. My response in this case was less than friendly. The ensuing discussion was more heated than normal, and left both of us headachy and exhausted.

Not a good start to what we knew would be a relatively stressful day, one which involved: getting the Vampire to a rehearsal, then to a store to pick out the outfit required for the concert (remember the dire finances? stressful...), then back home for washing up and ironing and dressing up, then to the folks' house to pick up their video camera, then discovering that the (required) tie was stained and so back home for another one, then an attempt to pick up the Pirate from work (he wasn't available yet), then drop off the Vampire at the concert site, then back to pick up the Pirate, back again to the concert site... then I couldn't remember if I had locked the folks' deadbolt, so the Pirate had to run back to the folks' house (I *had* locked it, but was in enough of a hurry that I did it on AutoPilot and couldn't bring it to specific memory) and then back to the concert site (must fill gas tank again, stressful...), then make small talk with surrounding concert-goers, listen to concert, head towards home but stop for grocery shopping (stressful...), home after 10:30 pm, eat sandwiches as a late dinner, watch a video to unwind, read a bit to unwind more, fall into bed exhausted at around 1 am.

But... but... the concert. The concert which the Vampire had reluctantly agreed to do for his own good, because he connected his stint in the Boychoir to his years in School - to which he'd attached a good deal of phobia-enhanced dread and anger - and which he was attending purely as an exercise in facing his own fears. The concert which he had been dreading and yet stolidly preparing for musically over the past couple weeks. The concert which he'd made one last attempt to avoid on theoretically financially-concerned basis that very morning...

It was wonderful, it was beautiful, it was uplifting, it was everything a concert should be. And the Vampire faced it with grace and dignity. He triumphed. And he enjoyed himself.

We were incredibly proud of him.

Yeah, it was all worth it.

And tonight we'll have barbecued chicken.


For those interested, the concert was performed by the Minnesota Boychoir, and the Vampire was invited to sing as a guest Alumni performer. Go hear them sometime, if they are touring in your neighborhood (they'll be in New York shortly)... they kick choral heinie.

June 02, 2006

Whole Lot of Warming Going On...

The Vampire saw several more of those spiders hanging out on the sidewalk during his several-mile bike ride yesterday, which means that ours was not an isolated stowaway inherited from a neighbor.

Which means that either they are stowing away with visitors from New Orleans or some such in record numbers, or they are migrating north with the effects of Global Warming.

What's your guess?

In the meantime:

Is there a physics theorem that explains how teenaged boys can sit all day in front of a video game machine and still manage to get holes in their socks and pants legs?


I suspect that the Pirate's progress will slow down with the heating up of the weather, but look upon this, ye knitfans, and stand amazed (the seeming narrowing from top to bottom is due to camera angle, not the knitting, which is amazingly even... I tell you, I'm puffed up with pride. I taught him!!):

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