Monday, May 28, 2012

Don't get me wrong: I like shoes.

I got forcibly Timelined on Facebook.  I can't figure out the new format on Blogspot.  Upgrades in general irritate me.

Must everything evolve?  Isn't anything ever good enough?  I suppose this mindset is why I live in a tiny house and drive an 11-year-old station wagon.  But I think it's also why I have a resting heart rate of 50, and admirable cholesterol levels and cardiac function, despite my reliance on butter, and bacon grease as my primary source of dietary fats.

I don't think I need to be constantly reaching for some new Thing.  I'm intentionally making that noun proper, because I mean I won't work for objects.  I want to continually learn new things.  I want to do meaningful things in my work, and teach my daughter things that are important to know.  I want to be a better person, a better mother, a better spouse, a better therapist.  But I'm not going to kill myself so I can have more expensive shoes.

I had a job once where everyone got laid off, because the company was being investigated for Medicaid fraud.  Good times were had by all.  One of my co-workers suggested I go to law school.  I had no children and my husband worked nights, leaving me lots of time on my own. I was still in my 20s, and had not yet incurred any student loan debt. (Thanks, Dad.)  I thought about it briefly, and realized that most attorneys work 60 to 80 hours a week.  Now I had NOTHING else to do, but I knew that I was not interested in working that many hours.  It didn't really matter to me what the salary potential was.  I wasn't willing to trade time for money.

Instead I took up cooking.  Enter the butter and bacon fat.  I spend the money that other people would spend on attending sporting events or taking dance lessons on cooking implements and mail-order specialty ingredients. Most of it is unnecessary; when you think about it, so is football.  What both of these things contribute to life is noticeable only qualitatively.  Hobbies give people a point outside of their Things on which to attach meaning.  They give us occasion to strive for excellence outside of our means of making a living.  So when I have a really bad week, where no one shows up to appointments and people just don't seem to be getting any better, I can still go home and make a mountainous lemon meringue pie that provides some sense of achievement.  No. Not just achievement: Mastery.

Some researchers have identified Mastery as a basic need.  The model I'm referring to has about 11 basic needs, so, obviously, it comes after the real basics, like food, shelter, and an adequate supply of oxygen.  But it is a real and observable drive for most human beings.  When people don't find ways to achieve this through academics, athletics, or aesthetic pursuits, they tend to try to achieve it by controlling other people, or by demeaning others' areas of Mastery.  You know, you may have had a brother or cousin who told you your hobby was stupid and you were a loser because you practiced the viola 2 hours a day at age 13.  For some people these pursuits turned out to be career paths.  For the rest of us, it's just a way to really strive for accomplishment and occasionally triumph. 

This week I'm going to try to recognize others for their mastery of being people.  Not for their car or their shoes or the size of their diamond, but the things that are truly central to their humanity; the concepts that those Things represent.  Dedication. Focus. Perseverance. Strength. Love.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to paint yourself into a corner.

Hannah was an ornery cuss all night, beginning with getting whiney about my insistence that she practice her piano lesson correctly, and ending with holding the bathtub plug out of my reach when I asked for it, under the guise of shaking the excess water off it.  Then she went into her room to get dressed and cry in her mirror.  I took the mirror out, so she had to cry alone.

After she came out, I asked her if she wanted to talk about what had upset her.

Hannah: Well, I just got a little tired.  You know how tired people get cranky?
Me: Oh.  Then I guess you should brush your teeth and get ready for bed now.
Hannah: I was just a little bit tired...
Me: Brush.

As I've mentioned before, this child is inventive, and has no compunction about making stuff up.  Fortunately for me, she has not yet mastered the concept of what comes next after she feeds me a line.  When she figures out how to predict my response and trouble-shoot that, I'm dead in the water.  She's a much better liar than I ever was.