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Monday, August 24, 2015

Why You Can't Always Get What You Want

Growing up, my parents were very immune to the power of “fads” and “trends”.   In the case of my Dad, this was simply a matter of obliviousness; my Mom, on the other hand, was a practical, budget-conscious homemaker who didn’t have the time of day (or the cash) for what was “popular”.  This meant, in part, that YES, I DID wear my older sister’s hand-me-downs…even though she is ten years my senior.  If you think showing up at a new middle school wearing clothes that went out of style a decade ago doesn’t build character, you’ve got another think coming. 

When the three girls who lived across the street all got brand new bikes with stylish banana seats?  I got a garage sale bike with stripped gears.  My prom dress was selected by its deeply discounted price, due to some permanent staining on the full skirt.  Not a problem for Mom!  She just split the skirt at the seam and resewed it to hide the offending mark.  We were always the last house on the block to get any new thing—cable TV, a VCR, a computer—I am one of the only kids who grew up in a middle class household in the 80’s without access to MTV.  “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” would have been my Mom’s theme song if she had been a fan of the Rolling Stones; I am grateful she wasn’t, because YES, she was one of those parents who frequently burst into song if she found the lyrics pertinent to her point.  Or even if she didn’t.  

Naturally my siblings and I all resented what we saw as her “cheapness”…she was subjected to more than her fair share of sighing, eye-rolling and silent treatments.  Although to be fair, I’m pretty sure she enjoyed the silent treatment.  Now that we are all adults, I think we have a new respect and appreciation not only for the lesson Mom was teaching us, but also for all the things she sacrificed so that we could “get what we need”.    

One characteristic I gained that I am eternally grateful for:  I am, for all intents and purposes, peer-pressure-proof!  If there is something surviving a day wearing a farmyard scene sweater with a burnt orange polyester skirt in a classroom full of designer jeans will teach you…no matter what you’ve been told, no one ever died of embarrassment.   So yes, I am the mythological kid you have heard about!  The one who never tried drugs, the one who (begrudgingly) wore the giant Easter corsages my father bought us to church, the one who was never tempted to “jump off a cliff” just because my friends did…the one who had to develop her self-esteem from the inside out, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to get any self-esteem from the stuff my Mom was willing to buy me.   

I’ve said this before, but you can never say it enough times:  THANKS, MOM.  Because you taught me that “you can’t always get what you want”, I understand that who I am is all that I need.
Now I am a parent too, and Mom’s lessons resonate more than ever.  As a child, I took her continuous message of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as an affront:  tough darts, farmer!  Them’s the breaks!  As an adult I realize her wisdom and I am trying to impart the same wisdom to my son.  One of the parenting decisions I have made is that he does not have video games or hand held electronics as part of his life.  He is also only allowed access to the computer for school assignments, and always with my strict supervision. 

This is not because I don’t trust him; this is not because I don’t want him to “fit in”.  This is because I want him to understand the power and beauty of his own mind, his own imagination.  The first (and only) time he ever said “I’m bored”, my answer was:  there is NO SUCH THING as being bored; only being BORING.  I explained to him that as long as his brain is working, there is never an excuse for being bored; not in school, not in the car and certainly not in a house full of toys, books, games and art supplies.  When parents say their child can’t cope, for example, on a car trip without electronics, I have to wonder…who it is that is lacking coping skills, child or adult?  We grew up in a world where staring out the car window was as good as it got, and nobody I know ever died from boredom or was murdered by their parents for being an annoyance while they were driving.  We managed.  Quite well, actually.

Today’s plugged in world is a house of cards;  the more reliant we become on machines to give us directions, correct our spelling and entertain our children, the less capable we become of doing any of these things.  But I also think that the constant experience of immediate gratification is dulling us to our own possibilities.  The access we have to wish fulfillment at our fingertips due to the internet—music, movies, books download in a minute, Amazon Prime delivering the goods in two days, and yes, even interactive porn on command—satisfies our external cravings while our internal light grows dimmer. 

But patience is not only a virtue, it is a necessity for soul growth and self-reliance.  Spending time alone with ourselves, spending time without whatever it is we THINK we want—it actually builds our confidence and helps us to discern what our true desires are, versus that quick-fix-retail therapy kind of “want”.  We have ALL become a little like Veruca Salt in “Willy Wonka”, singing “I Want It Now” and forgetting how much we already have inside of us.  But when we plug back into ourselves, we are able to realize that while we may be getting much of what we “want”, we have been lacking what we really need:  a relationship to self that makes sense and nurtures us no matter what the external circumstances.   When we learn to want to be with alone with ourselves, we learn that we have all we need.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

WHY I DON'T BELIEVE

If you ever watched The X-Files, you will remember Fox Mulder had a poster in his office with a picture of a UFO and the legend “I want to believe”.  This was sort of his mission statement and made for endless hours of entertaining television.  However, I have to confess that I do Scully one better on her unspoken credo, “I don’t want to believe” (such sexual tension between those two!) with mine:  I DON’T BELIEVE.  Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that not only is it possible but it is actually highly probable that there is life on other planets.  And when I say highly probable, I’m talking a 99.9% chance.  What I DON’T BELIEVE is that there are civilizations so far advanced of ours that they are able to build ships that travel light years to visit our planet…and then CRASH.  I also don’t believe that these advanced, sophisticated beings would waste their time kidnapping and probing farmers in the Midwest.  I also don’t believe that our government is aware of alien activity but is keeping it a secret. Do you really think Joe Biden could keep his mouth shut about that?  Bottom line:  of course there is intelligent life out there, but if they have any interest in us AT ALL (and WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY?) then they have already seamlessly infiltrated our planet and are busily taking notes and not making any obvious plays like crop circles.  So, no…I have no interest in ever discussing UFOS again.

Now that we’ve permanently taken that topic off of the table, I want to speak generally about the idea of “belief” for a moment.  Since the turn of the century we have been enmeshed in a cultural war between “belief” and “the facts”.  Obvious example:  global warming is a fact that polls show a surprising number of people don’t believe.  But as John Oliver brilliantly put it:  "You don't need people’s opinion on a fact; you might as well have a poll asking: ‘Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?’ or ‘Do owls exist?’ or ‘Are there hats?'"  I love this and he is 100% correct.  EXCEPT…belief is such a powerful force, that even when it is dead wrong, we should not take it lightly.  Perhaps most of all then.  My son and I love the short story Obstinate Uncle Otis, about a man so obstinate that he denies the fact of anything that doesn’t please him, even if evidence to the contrary is right in front of his face.  One day Uncle Otis is struck by lightning and gains an amazing power to deny anything he doesn’t care for out of existence.  If he says there is no such thing as a barn that blocks his view…the barn that blocks his view disappears.  His family is forced to avoid topics that might enable him to deny, for example, the current President out of existence until finally lightning induced amnesia causes Otis to deny himself right out of existence.  A cautionary tale about the power of belief.  End of story, right?
WRONG. We are ALL obstinate Uncle Otis to some degree or another, clinging to our negative and self-limiting beliefs because they feel “safe” or “normal”, rather than peeking our heads above ground to check out the facts.  We have all seen the horrifying evidence of large groups of people bonding together in a false negative conviction and acting on it—the Holocaust, the Salem Witch Trials—so just because the facts don’t support a belief doesn’t mean it cannot be powerfully gripping and destructive.  This is the whole construct behind cults and even many religions.  If a lie is told in a convincing enough manner it can create a groundswell of support…one charismatic liar can do more harm than the army of honest men who will eventually rise up against him can ever hope to undo.  So it is important that whenever possible we don’t act on or even form an opinion about a piece of information we don’t know to be true.  The internet is a double edged sword in this regard.  The average citizen now has more access to facts than at any other point in history; but also probably a higher exposure to lies since the dark ages ended.  And there are media outlets dedicated to promoting some very dangerous deceptions by masking them in the false authority of “news”.  I won’t mention any names because FOX Mulder wouldn’t want me to.

I DON’T BELIEVE that the lies will prevail; they never do.  “Truth will out” is the inevitable conclusion to any story about a destructive belief.   As a species we have a track record of 100% when it comes to pulling ourselves out of the messes we make.  But often our progress feels excruciatingly slow; sometimes we have to take the mythic one step back to take two steps forward.   There are people who want to be in control, and just as with the ancient church, promoting fear-based lies is one of the most effective ways to keep people down.  Frightened people are not free people.   So we must be diligent in our beliefs, and not allow fear to cloud our judgment or take away our power to act.   When we observe people who are laboring under a fear-based delusion, we have to do our best to be compassionate while we continue to free ourselves from our own limiting and excluding views.   I want to believe that we are ALL evolving, every last one of us, and getting closer to the truth every day.  And not unlike Fox Mulder, I want to believe that there is something more out there, something greater than us.  We have seen the power of people working together to promote a lie; imagine how much more powerful we can be if we work together on understanding the truth?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WHY I AM NOT POLITE*

I just had the opportunity to visit with some dear old friends from my years in L.A.  It is amazing how when you are with people from a particular time in your life, not only do the memories of that time become sharper and clearer, but you also feel something in yourself shift—you become your “old self” again.  The weight of the years and the losses and the traumas drops away, even if just for the afternoon, and you feel lighter, younger.  It is such a wonderful way to recharge your batteries, renew your soul.  Of course not all of the memories we recounted were happy ones…take it from a writer, happy stories are not quite as interesting as those that include drama, conflict and risk.  One story I told that I hadn’t thought of in years was of attending a “seminar” which turned out to be a recruiting meeting for a cult.  This is L.A., people!  The realization dawned on me pretty quickly into the “seminar” and from that moment on, every molecule of my being was aching to bolt from the room.  So why didn’t I do it?  Because that would not have been POLITE.

It is INCREDIBLE how often being polite, well-raised citizens trumps our common sense, even our self-preservation!  Because I did not bolt from the room when common sense kicked in, I was subjected to an excruciating one-on-one hard sell; as I’m sure you can imagine, it included a lot of subtle shaming and not-so-subtle undermining designed to convince me that I NEEDED this cult not only to thrive, but frankly to survive.  I must have said “No, thank you” about 400 times during my interview, but they continued to call me for weeks afterwards, trying to persuade me to change my mind.  Of course, what I WANTED to say was “BUGGER OFF!!!” (and possibly hack my way out of the room with a machete, if necessary), but I endured the torture and no thank-you-ed my way to the end.  While in L.A. I even had that classic “casting couch” experience, with a man who fancied himself “powerful” offering to help my career if I essentially lived as his concubine.  I said “No, thank you” to him as well, and will never forget the crudeness and vitriol of his response to my polite refusal.  I probably should have told him to bugger off as well, but truthfully?  I felt sorry for him.
Much has been made of our tendency to “over-apologize” as of late; how often have you found yourself saying “I’m sorry” when someone else bumps into you (how dare you be standing there!) or even runs over your foot with a grocery cart (my feet are just so darn big!).  I think this is just the tip of the ice berg.  Of course we want to choose our battles wisely—being confrontational with someone who has bumped into you is probably not advisable—but saying “I’m sorry” is also entirely unnecessary.  Our politeness often belies the intrinsic fact that we are allowed to exist, even if we are currently standing in someone’s way, and that we deserve to be treated with respect.  I have said for years that bullies target the polite; rude people do as well.  Think of that memorable scene in “Terms of Endearment” when the cashier loudly shames Debra Winger for not having enough money to pay for her groceries.  When John Lithgow comes to her rescue and admonishes the clerk for being rude, she shrugs—“I didn’t think I was being rude” and he retorts, “Well, then you must be from New York.”  HA!  Classic.

Speaking of rude people from New York, I hate to even mention him, but Donald Trump (henceforth to be referred to as He-who-must-not-be-named) is undoubtedly one of the RUDEST men on the planet, and is constantly saying the most appalling things; he’s been praised for his “honesty”, but I think he is a zeitgeist for the extreme right wing of 2015.  My way or the highway, every man for himself, “weakness” (AKA empathy) will not be tolerated; in fact NOTHING will be tolerated if it doesn’t fit into the teeny tiny box I have fashioned out of my teeny tiny belief system.  People view his rudeness as empowering and…well, they’re right.  He has tapped into that collective unconscious desire to speak our minds and take no prisoners, but what is happening is that people who agree with He-who-must-not-be-named are emboldened by his idiocy, while those of us who realize he is a crude, intolerant ass sink deeper into our politeness:  I would never say anything like that!   Of course you wouldn’t, but you probably also wouldn’t say “ouch” too loudly if someone did run over your foot with a grocery cart.  See the dilemma?  Sometimes standing up for yourself and your beliefs is “rude”.  Even if your beliefs are not a noxious sinkhole of lunacy.
This is why I am not polite.  *Saying “that hurts” when someone hurts you is often construed as impolite.  Calling someone out on their bad behavior is almost always considered impolite.  Drawing firm boundaries with friends, neighbors and relatives is pretty much the definition of impolite, at least in my experience; people are so damned uncomfortable about doing it, most times it just doesn’t happen.  But fences make good neighbors, and healthy boundaries make respectful relationships.  What is it you are itching to be “rude” about?  A co-worker who treats you like a personal assistant?  A friend who constantly takes advantage of you?  A family member who thinks they should be supported in behavior that should barely be tolerated?  We are afraid to be “rude”, no matter how much we suffer the consequences of our politeness.  But far from being the girl who said “No, thank you” to the man who mistook me for a hooker looking for a “ride” back in my L.A. days (I was wearing KEDS!  And a FLANNEL SHIRT!  SERIOUSLY!), I am no longer terribly polite.  Being “rude” still scares me, but I will confront bullies, name the behavior and never back down in personal relationships when a difficult discussion becomes necessary to clear the air.  Don’t be so polite that you forget that how you feel matters.  Don’t be so polite that you don’t even realize how you feel sometimes.  You matter.  So rip off the bandaid, and don’t forget to say OUCH.  Change can hurt, but without change we stagnate.  It's not "rude" to grow, even if our growth makes other people uncomfortable.  Don't be so polite that you forget that's why we're here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

WHY IGNORANCE IS BLISS

“Ignorance is bliss” is one of those well-worn expressions that is so multi-faceted, it has almost lost its meaning.  More often than not, it is employed in the pejorative, an insult to someone viewed as so much of a hapless rube that “they know not what they do”.  Sometimes it is applied to a child, who still lives in the magic bubble of innocence; we all assume that bubble will one day be popped without our help, so we don’t feel the need to correct the “misperception”.  Less often it is applied to one of those people who seems to live in world of their own; a self-imposed ivory tower from which they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge “reality”. 

We like to say these people are living in denial, rolling our eyes at how precious they are with their limited beliefs.  But I think it is quite possible they are on to something; as Anais Nin famously pointed out, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.”  And as my Dad much less famously used to say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  We project back out into the world much of what we take in, so it is crucial to our output that our input be healthy.

Because I, like most people, get my news on the internet these days, I am constantly exposed to information I would rather not have.  There are so many things and people (Duggar alert!) I would have remained blissfully unaware of if not for headlines.  They say we should never judge a book by its cover, but the inflammatory nature of many of headlines I see makes it difficult not to make a snap judgment about the information I would like so much to avoid. 

For example, I recently saw a headline about someone finding a frog in their organic spinach mix.  Hey, I don’t need to click on that link; I’ve already got WAY TOO MUCH information.  We all know most vegetables are grown outside, and that frogs, bugs and critters galore have nibbled, peed/defecated on and in general had their way with our produce before it ever reaches our table.  But I don’t want to be reminded of it!  I give my lettuce what is at best a perfunctory wash, so you know I’ve eaten more than my fair share of grossness over the years; the point is, I am here to tell the tale, so frog pee is not lethal after all!  There was a frog in your spinach, big deal!  You wouldn’t tell a kid there is no Easter bunny, so don’t tell me about your amphibian encounter.  I don’t want to know! 
La-la-la-la-I’m-not-listening should be employed by more of us on a regular basis, I think.  We can make ourselves bat-shit-crazy by seeking out upsetting information, or we can try our damndest to maintain the peace.  You are the sheriff of your psyche and while I certainly am not advocating living as a full-blown delusional, I am saying we can do a lot better when it comes to protecting our well-being and emotional health.  Just like a steady diet of junk food is detrimental for your body, a steady diet of junk information is detrimental to your heart and soul. 

There is so much media input that I steadfastly refuse to engage with, because it is an undermining soul-suck and I can instantly feel it.  I am a world class cringer and the minute I feel that reaction happening in my body, I look away.  I think a lot of people have gotten out-of-touch with their cringe reflex; like the guy who ate only McDonald’s for a month, we can get inured to the powerful negative effect of the garbage we take in.  But the more garbage we take in, the more likely we are to put garbage out, and I don’t think that is what anyone aims to do. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:  “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.”  When we indulge in “junk” that makes us feel anxious, we are giving away our power and freedom to be happy, our freedom to bring our best selves to the table.  Yes, OBVIOUSLY a lot about life and our world SUCKS…there will always be another frog to find in your spinach.  But this is not where most of us should be putting our attention, because energy flows where our attention goes.  If you are an activist by nature and get fired up and energized by actively seeking out and fighting injustice, this is your calling and your passion and you are doing the world a great service. 

But nobody should carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, NOBODY.  If we could each commit to taking in a lot less garbage, we would be putting a lot less garbage out into the world; and I maintain a belief that most cruelty and injustice is fueled by fear, sadness and self-loathing.  Freedom from fear is really the only kind of freedom that matters, at the end of the day.  When we claim this gift for ourselves, we are more likely to share this reality with others.  Whenever you can, maintain a conscious naiveté about people and the world.  I guarantee that more often than not, you will be pleasantly surprised if you do.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

WHY IS THIS NECESSARY IN LIFE?

One of my top ten favorite movies of all time is “When Harry Met Sally”.  It is worth noting that I have MAJOR problems with every other Nora Ephron movie ever made, but this one has resonated with me from the first time I saw it.  And I’ve seen it many times since. 

So, do you know the scene where Harry and Sally are shopping for a housewarming gift for Jess and Marie at The Sharper Image and Harry tries on the pith helmet with the fan?  At first he jokes “Call off the search”, but finally concludes “Why is this necessary in life?”  I love this movie like ants love a sugar trail, but THAT is the line and moment that sticks in my head above all others.  Not Sally’s (awesome) fake orgasm, not Harry’s (absurd) theory that men and women can’t be friends, not Sally’s (hilarious) monologue about the days of the week underwear…

“Why is this necessary in life?”  Probably because this is the sentence that is running through my head a full 90% of the time anymore.   “Why is this necessary in life?” applies to the Apple watch but oh, so much more! 

A lot of delightful, intelligent people might want to argue with me about the “usefulness” of our (IMHO) total overkill in the technology department, but I stand firm that if the settlers made their way across this great country of ours without reliable maps, you can make your way to a restaurant without the use of GPS.  This is why we have BRAINS, people!!! 

Truthfully, my stubborn refusal to use GPS to find anything is not coincidentally linked to the higher-than-average percentage of times I find myself getting lost; but as I like to say, I’ve never been so lost that I’m not where I want to be right now.  I have made some great discoveries while lost!  Btw, maps, signs, memory and the position of the sun in the sky can work wonders in figuring out which direction you should head in, and they have all directed me here today. 

Another technological “advance” I don’t understand:  “High Definition” TV.  I think this is an elaborate ruse, ala the Emperor’s new clothes, designed to trick us into buying new televisions when our old ones worked just fine.  I really can’t see any difference; and even if I could, quite frankly I don’t need to feel as if “The Walking Dead” are ACTUALLY in the living room with me.  I like them safely trapped in my TV, where they belong.
Speaking of TV, a friend pointed out the other day that TV signals used to be FREE.  That’s right, programming was paid for by advertisers (or viewers like you, if we were talking PBS) and we got it beamed into our house for the price of mounting an antenna on our roof.  There were so damned many good shows, too!!!   Now I pay over a 100 bucks a month for a bunch of crap I don’t watch. 

For a long time you could pay for cable OR have your free antenna programming, but then someone decided that EVERYBODY should have to pay money to watch TV, so we all do.  And PBS STILL needs viewers like you to send them additional cash???  I look at 98% of what is on the air today and ask “Why is this necessary in life?” 

Seriously, my 10 year old is TOTALLY into “Gilligan’s Island” reruns right now; you might be concerned that he isn't watching something educational, but all I can think is:   SMART KID.  Back when TV was free, they really knew how to entertain us.  I have no interest in watching people compete to make the best pie, sing the best, marry for money, have so many kids that they are a circus side show, swap wives or price other people’s junk. 

LIFE IS SHORT.  Do yourself a favor and stare at a wall.

That scene in Harry and Sally is fun because they are shopping in one of those “for the person who has everything” kind of stores (Case in point:  Jess and Marie have a wagon wheel coffee table!  Briefly.) , so everything in it is kind of useless and whimsical.  I NOW FEEL THAT WAY IN ALMOST EVERY STORE THAT ISN’T FULL OF FOOD.  And I even find a lot of food useless and whimsical. 

Remember when everybody was freaking out because they were going to STOP making TWINKIES???  Newsflash:  TWINKIES SUCK.  The cake part has the taste and consistency of supersaturated play-doh and the stuff inside is like Crisco whipped with sugar.  People were up in arms out of nostalgia, not culinary preference.  But if we don’t feed our kids Twinkies, they will never be nostalgic for them and an unhealthy tide will be turned around.  Twinkies are not necessary in life. 

I have to admit, I like to go into the type of place my son and I call “junk stores”  AKA Big Lots,  Ross, etc…basically anyplace that sells the remainders that could NOT BE SOLD ANYWHERE ELSE.  You could do an anthropological study of those shops.  In a country where we have entire stores dedicated to yummy smelling candles, video games and paper calendars, there is still ACTUALLY stuff that has been deemed useless by the majority.  It totally fascinates me.
You know what else is not necessary in life?  A lot of the head games we play with ourselves.  For example, if your neighbor has so much disposable income that he buys himself a pith helmet with a fan, you might find yourself thinking “I wish I had a pith helmet with a fan” or at least “I wish I had so much money that I could throw it away on useless junk like that”…but the reason so many of us don’t have “enough” money is that we have been convinced to buy a lot of stuff that is not necessary in life. 

People are constantly replacing things (Phones! TV’s!  Computers! Cars!) that still work perfectly well because there is some new gadget or bling out there and that pull of consumerism is just so damned strong.  We have closets full of clothes but keep buying more to keep up with “fashion”; it’s 2015 and people are still spending money on CIGARETTES? 

 How about roombas?  Are we as a nation so over-exercised that we can’t push a vacuum around?  Digital picture frames?  WTF?   FitBits?  WTF???  ANYTHING they sell on HSN?  OMG, SERIOUSLY WTF???  We spend money on things we don’t really need, we spend time with people we don’t really like, we spend hours worrying over things we have NO CONTROL over…WHY IS ANY OF THIS NECESSARY IN LIFE?  I’m just sayin.’