DIY role model

“Rage..Sing” is how the story of The Iliad begins. It was a story of war and bravery that is still preserved after ten thousand years, written to tell the Greeks who they were supposed to admire and aspire to be.

The heroes were super human and brave.

We don’t know that much about Homer, the author. We are sure that it started as a memorized poem, and then it was written down as soon as writing became a thing.

It’s full of gods, goddesses and impossible heroism. It’s history, but then again…it couldn’t have really happened.

It was 8 thousand years later, with the images and rhythms of Homer’s epic still bright in their memory, the Romans got a version of their own history when Virgil produced The Aeneid. Virgil writes a new epic poem, taking a character Aeneas from the Iliad and inventing a story of how he escaped the fall of Troy, with his son and went on to found Rome. One the way, he stops and conquers all of Rome’s contemporary enemies to prove that from LONG AGO Rome was destined to beat them in battle.

The people who heard the poem had to know it was a new poem. But since the audience had just been given a new story about themselves, a new story about where they came from it was very popular.

It was total fiction. It was transparent propaganda.

But Caesar Augustus and his court really liked it. It made them feel good.

I could see this kind of self-deception as a problem. How foolish and vain are these people, to allow themselves to be flattered by an obvious fabrication!

I used to feel that way.

But I have learned the power of the stories we tell ourselves. Honestly, I would like to compose my own Aenied.

A story I can pull out to tell me how I have a history of being brave and strong, even it is the most flattering interpretation of event, is a really valuable thing.

The stories I tell myself are just about the most powerful motivator I have.

It’s easy and unsurprising to give in to shame and self-doubt.

It is a hero’s work to move towards our best selves. Virgil gave Caesar Augustus a semi-fictional role model. I’m all for fictional role models. Those stories can keep me going.

What are we waiting for?

 

“It will pass the time.”

I got to see a performance of Waiting for Godot last night. The play came out in the middle of the century, and confused everyone so much that they couldn’t stop talking about it.

These two homeless men- Vladimir and Estragon- have decided to wait for the person Mr. Godot. They seem to have nothing better to do, but are tortured and unhappy.

I found myself caring about them, wanting them to be okay.

There is a place in the 2nd act, where a Pozzo, a passerby has fallen and it asking for help. The two men discuss whether they will help him. Pozzo calls out loudly “help!”

Vladimir faces the audience, faces me and says with passion

“Let us do something, while we have a chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well if not better.’

oh yes. My heart swells. I feel that way so often. Why am I the one who has to do that thing, that EVERYTHING? As a mother, at my job–someone else would do just as well. But I am needed because I am the one who can do it at that moment.

“To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But in this place, at this moment in time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not.

“Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say?”

I say yes Vladimir! Yes, let us make the most of it! This whole play I have been waiting for the decisive action to take place, and I agree!!

“It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species…What are we doing here, that is the question.”

I despise folded arms! Seize the moment, Vladimir! Poor Pozzo is on the ground needing help. Grasp your destiny, even if it’s small. What else are we here for? Go Vladimir, go!

“And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing alone is clear. ‘

Yes, it’s clear! A simple good thing that we could do! We are blessed to have these small tasks of help we can give to our fellow humans.

“We are waiting for Godot to come.”

Destiny

Abandoned

All the good that those humans could do

Suspended and waiting

For a strangers hint

Not even a promise

It is very easy to give up our choices and wait on some vague possibility. I catch myself doing that all the time.

That is the tragedy. Not that these men are homeless. They still had a lot that they could do–even living in the garbage heap and sleeping in ditches.

I am so powerful. I can do so much. What am I waiting for?

what to do

it was a busy day for work today

So i looked up a song, and found a live version on Youtube

and I say the band playing in front of a crowd.

 

I wanted to join a band.

“Chris! look at this!”

He looked up from getting his microwave dinner.

“I need to join a band”

“What are you goig to stop doing to start a band?”

It’s fun to think about

too much

“Oh look! Tater tots!”

“Ah no. I had too many tater tots once when I was a kid and I can’t eat them anymore.”

But tater tots are so good!

There is a word for this:
Surfeit

I met someone this weekend, a former professional orchestral musician who can no longer listen to classical music. If she is getting a massage and they have it playing, she makes them change it to some other music.

A life without tater tots is sad. Still, there plenty of other kinds of food one can have.

This musician had spent her life mastering a particular skill. She’d learned it and then the music she’d labored over turned to sand in her mouth.

LIfe is long, and people can fall out of love. People fall out of love of the ones they are married to, and fall out of love of their life’s work. And there is something within me that needs to be happy.

Thomas Jefferson said the right to pursue happiness is self-evident. I know I have to follow what draws me.

But there is another part. Since this is a right, it is also a responsibility. I have to pay attention to what matters to me. It’s a dishonor to myself to neglect my happiness.

Those tater tots would still be delicious if that little kid hadn’t over-indulged.

What if that musician had paid attention earlier on and stepped back from the music before it became utterly distasteful?

Marriages have to be tended. Many relationships could be saved with the right attention at the right time.

That scares me. I’ve worked too hard to achieve what I thought would bring me happiness to let it all be undone with inattention

It’s very easy to stop paying attention.

In fact, it is so easy it is inevitable. I do it all the time.

Am I doomed? Where can I find a magic amulet to guard against this nightmare?

Ah, now I remember. I know this!

All it takes is motion.

If I’m moving I’m not dead.

I have to take an action in the direction I want to go. I do have to pay attention to what I want. I’ve let it get buried before, I know.

I’ll have to trust myself to remember what I want.
Keep it on the to do list.

There is a lot more than tater tots at stake.

Breathe

“Now release into Savasana…corpse pose.”

 

I was finally taking my first yoga class. For years it seemed like everyone around me was into yoga, and half the people I knew taught it.

 

I didn’t feel the pull. But so many people said it was amazing, I thought I would try it.

 

At the end of the class I asked teacher a few questions.

 

“This is your first yoga class?” she said. Apparently I passed as normal in this class, and hadn’t worn my ignorance too conspicuously.

 

“I have always liked to do more active things. I run.”

 

“How do you breathe when you run?”

 

I stared. “By moving air in and out of my body…What are you talking about?”

 

“Oh you have to learn how to breathe!”

 

I had heard this from some of the more annoying Yoga fans of my acquaintance. I have to learn how to breathe. You can’t drop a bomb like that and just sail away!

 

Another person in the class said ‘Yeah, you know how you are supposed to breathe when you sing? With your belly?”

 

I guess so. Kind of.

 

I wasn’t at all sure about yoga.

 

But that annoying ache in my hips was gone.

 

So maybe.

 

And then I went back to my morning routine of running.

 

Yes. I like to MOVE, not stand still. But maybe yoga had gotten rid of that other annoying ache. I felt around for it and remembered the teacher had said I had to breathe right. From my belly.

 

How do you do that?

 

So I’m thinking of how to run fast and keep my legs moving forward and my arms pumping to make time, and trying to push my belly full of air.

 

Which feels very strange. Like my balance is all off. So where are my arms and legs again? Are they going fast?
But just as I am putting them all back in line I have to keep breathing, and if I’m doing that I have to fill my belly.
This is a lot of rhythms to maintain. And now I have to take a BIG yawn. and that throws off my breathing. Am I still moving forward? I don’t want to slow down.

 

So my stomach and my legs and my arms and my breath and my big pausing yawns are all working together like a bag of cats.

 

That ache seemed to be less, but I was pretty sure that I was going to have a new record of how slow I was running. Yawning my way across the finish line I stopped the clock.

 

My second fastest time ever!

 

Seemed like there might be something to it. I’ll go to the next class.

He Should Know

I couldn’t go to Easter church. My daughter had the vomits night before, so I stayed home that morning to make sure she was okay.

She was a subdued little one, so I went about my business that glorious sunshiny morning listening to my headphones. I’d been listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s recorded sermons.

From decades past, Martin Luther King preached the word.

His audience was mostly African American people, and in one of these sermons he was recounting things that people would say about African Americans. Judgments and slanders.

He recounted things that sounded to me like they might as well be ancient history. My reaction was “Really? People said that?” And not only did they say that, but in the 1960s apparently, people seemed to have believed it about themselves.

And as I listened to what felt like legends from the mists of time, I had a feeling that this was familiar.

It was 1787 that America passed the 3/5ths compromise, saying that the slave population-African Americans and some native Americans–would count in the census as 3/5ths of a person for calculating representation in congress.

Not only not a whole person, just a technicality.

This is a degrading and horrible law. It was also forever ago. But it casts a long shadow.

I’m not African American, but as a woman, I have some historical baggage that can weigh me down too.

I remember reading about the chivalric ideal of womanhood. A woman should never quite say what she wants to a man, but to cleverly put him off: always coy, always witty and never a person of action.

That shadows my life to this day. I heard it from people last week, reprimanding me for speaking too plainly in a meeting, recommending a course of action.

King Arthur was a myth from centuries ago, but this pernicious weed is still trying to climb my leg and trip me up.

When Dr. Martin Luther King listed a number of stories and expectations society had for the people in his audience I felt it. Those particular ones weren’t mine, but I’ve got my own.

Fears of how other people see me, and shame for who I think I might be.

Any group has their battles. Every group has their secret shames. It’s those shames that make us turn on others to distract from our own disgrace.

What good does it do to talk about it? It’s not fun to remember. And a solution, if there is one, is not easy.

But Martin Luther King did not leave me there. He knew how to preach. He gave me an answer to this situation.

“Love is the only creative, redemptive, transformative power in the universe.”

That’s the sort of answer a preacher would give. Not very scientific. Love is not so easy to nail down. Maybe that is why it can be so big.

Martin Luther King got it done. His life shows that he is someone I want to listen to. I do not understand all of it, but I believe that he knows more than I do.

So I know what creation, redemption and transformation is. That’s what I would like to do with those weeds of judgment. And if love is the force that activates those three things, I am willing to spend time and effort promoting love within myself.

The Power

It takes a trigger. Or a cue. Something that starts it.

 

And when that triggered action becomes part of our routine, we are two thirds of the way there.

 

If we get a reward for taking that action, a payoff that we look forward to getting

 

…We have all the elements of a habit.

 

 

I’ve been reading The Power of Habit.

 

I’ve often worked to engineer habits. As a child, I sucked my thumb…far longer than I should have.

 

Of course people made fun of me, but my thumb was my own business.

 

Until one day when I was seven I decided I would stop. Me and Mom crafted a plan. We got this bad-tasting concoction meant to help nail biters and decided to put it on my thumb. Then, in case I forgot and accidentally put my thumb in my mouth and had that awful taste, I would carry a water bottle so that I could get rid of the awful taste.

 

So prepared, I went to school with determination. And never sucked my thumb again. I didn’t need that water bottle. I never tasted the nasty tasting liquid.

 

Habit kicked.

 

New habits can be tougher. How do I START doing something I want to do? I’m trying to sustain a habit of tracking everything I eat. I track all the healthy things no problem. But the dips into the chip bag? Just for 3 chips? I don’t track those. I am working on this habit.

 

Habits of stopping, habits of starting, these are all mine.

 

But there are societal habits, too.

 

How can we change what everyone else does? Turns out there are a lot of people who work on that problem.

 

Their efforts hit us every day in the form of advertising.

 

But my favorite story is the one about housewives in world war two.

 

In the 1940s, housewives had a lot more responsibility than they do now. The basics were harder to come by. I could have dinner ready in seconds. But a 1940s grocery store gave foods requiring a lot more preparation. If you wanted hamburger you had to grind it yourself.

 

And that’s before we bring rationing into it.

 

America had to ship food over to feed all the soldiers, and not just the ones from America. We supplied food to our allies.

 

Rationing was part of the solution, but then also they wanted to use all parts of the meat animal. Like all the organ meats.

 

We couldn’t afford to throw it away anymore. So the government had to come up with a way to get people to eat what they never had before.

 

So they put out recipes and suggestions for working these meats into dishes that were already familiar. Like, add some liver to meatloaf. We like meatloaf, right?

 

It turns out there is a principle at. People like what’s familiar, and automatically reject what is different, So this war campaign, suggesting small adjustments, was super successful.

 

30% growth in eating organ meats happened during the war. And since people had gotten used to it, by the 1950s, the number had grown 50%.

 

Wrapping the new habit in our favorite old habits can work.

 

This is a principle I call sneaking up on myself. I will wrap up something I’m REALLY dreading into something ordinary. I know I get so much work done when I ride public transportation to work. It takes all the pressure off.

 

Picking the right habits sets me up. This book is making me want to take a habit inventory and upgrade a few.

The Plot

As I have been working on becoming a better writer, I’ve been looking at the basics of plots.

A good story has to have a good plot, so what is a good plot?

A few minutes on the Internet gave me the basics

It starts with leaving. You have to leave the normal world and go on a journey.

A Quest.

Or a flight. If we are fleeing, we are not really questing.

But a journey.

And, at the most basic level in the plot, that journey will lead the hero to a place of transformation.

Which means there is a new normal world.

As you see, I find it very easy to imagine reasons and details about leaving the normal and going on a journey.

But the transformation is hard.

And really, that sounds like a personal problem.

But it’s not just me! Transformation is hard, or it wouldn’t be the big payoff in the plot.

I suppose I’m not the only one trying to find an upgrade on normal.

In these stories, normal has to kick you out to get the upgrade. Maybe that’s the way transformation happens.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the transformation happened as easily as changing your bath towel? It would be nice if life’s upgrades happened that way.

But it wouldn’t make a very good story.

Here, Cinderella. You’ve always had a closet full of shoes. Pick any of them to go to the ball and don’t worry about staying up late.

No story here.

It’s human nature to want the transformation. Pretty much all the stories have it.

And it’s human nature to curse the stone–the boulder in our path and the pebble in our shoe.

But that’s the trade-off. No trouble, no transformation. We’re not meant to sit around being normal. Normal is always changing.

That’s what our stories warn us about.

Not the last time

we went to Santa Monica last weekend. Veronica has a gold colored velour dress

 

we we’re walking back to the hotel, and a young man yelled out to her” I like your gold dress”

 

she said “ thank you”

 

i said to chris, that’s the first time a man has yelled to her that she looks nice from a car. It won’t be the last.”

she said,” he was just saying I look nice.”

 

yes. But it won’t be the last

The end of effort

Monday Wednesday Friday

That’s when I go to the gym. But sometimes i don’t. I miss a day. But that’s the plan.

And when I go, I start with running. Running is important to me.

I was reading about how I might run better and faster, and learning about the maximum heart rate.

there is a formula: 220 minus your age and then you are supposed to keep your heart rate lower than 85% of the maximum

That formula says that my maximum heart rate is 175

But when I run, sometimes I have run so that my heart rate goes above 170.

Looking over these numbers, I am wondering what this all means.

What happens if I hit my maximum heart rate? That sounds like some kind of scary zone.

My watch monitors my heart rate while I’m running or I wouldn’t even know about this. I keep looking at it to see where I am in my exertion level.

In my mind, I imagine that I can run like the god Mercury, I can stride across the ground, with 7 league strides. Each step pushes my body off the ground and I bound forward weightlessly.

In my mind.

When I actually run, reality is involved. I think about my strides, wondering if they should be longer or quicker or both. I know that I am not weightless. I tilt my watch face up to catch how fast my heart is going. Slow down.

Stay moderate. Stay moving. Let the distance fall behind.

Once, on my run, I was caught behind a fast walker on the left and a slow runner on the right. I was not that much faster than the fast walkers, but I had to duck around and inbetween then and the slow running to travel and my pace.

I saw it coming. Remember? I’m not that fast. I had several paces to decide what to do.

I knew I’d been wanted to keep a moderately fast pace, but I had to get through this bottleneck.

I push down the balls of my feet and sped through. Doubling my pace and swooped around the walkers and past the runner and back into my usual groove.

That right there? that was a push. That was a reach deep for a bit more.

In that instant, I had the more.

I think the maximum heart rate is to tell me that there is a limit to the more. I cannot always burn the candle on both ends. There are times when there is not more to give.

And if I want to have that push in reserve, I better not run at 100%. Both running and other parts of my life.

There will always be that circumstance that take an extra something. I want to keep the extra in reserve, and know when to let it go when I don’t have it. There is a limit and it’s good to know what it is.

Not all of life has the metronome like my heart. But my wisdom and intuition can give that information, if I stay aware that it’s there.