Sunday, November 25, 2012

Relationships are like Leggos

My first big class - as a trainer - was in I guess early 1990. I'd taught before, so could handle a large group. Maybe 50 people were in this Excel class. First level spreadsheets, and desktops had only been out for a few years, laptops even less. People needed knowledge, guidance. I had been on spreadsheets for 4 years! An old pro.

Still that was a lot of people for my 27 year old self to handle.

A few days ago I looked at the building where it took place, on Roswell Road in ATL. Next door to one of my favorite stores. I like to pause and just remember where all my training work started, how new and nervous I was, how the world looked to me back then.

The class started well enough, me explaining that a cell is the intersection of a row and a column. Then I talked about cell addresses, A1, A2, B1, B2. Fairly smoothly I chattered along. I wasn't great (that would come later ;) but I had most of the class following along.

But there was one spot of disruption. Someone was getting help from those next to her. When I finally stopped long enough to help, I quickly realized that she didn't get the most fundamental concept. A cell. I asked her to press the spacebar, on the keyboard, and she couldn't find it.

It was a moment of complete melt down.

She was totally overwhelmed, slammed against the wall of her greatest fears, unable to follow the most simple command. She ended up fleeing at the first break. I felt bad for her but we had to muster thru the day.

What's interesting about her and that experience for me was how much I got out of it.

I still identify with that sense of being lost. It gave me a chance to become a great trainer and a much better teacher. I began to make sure everyone in my classes got the fundamental concepts. I refused to teach large classes where I couldn't make eye contact with everyone in those few seconds between sentences, after I'd made an important point.

I learned to start class with some basics: here is what we are going to learn, here is the order of things, here is a question box, where I will put your question if we are not to that topic yet or I need to fit it in somewhere else.

Most important, I learned to describe the learning curve, the way a class (and learning curves) could make you panic, or lost or both. I made it clear that breathing was important. And stopping. Here is the list I refined, in the early 90s. Rules for when you were lost:

1. Don't panic.
2. Stop.
3. Breathe.
4. Ask for help.

Later I added "Listen." before Ask for Help, since I usually repeated myself several times on each step.

Yesterday I realized that in relationships I had missed a fundamental piece many many years ago, much like the woman who didn't understand a cell in spreadsheets. It's very simple, but crucial to the entire fabric, the flow and the understanding of relationships with humans.

I hadn't learned that people connect and disconnect and reconnect.

That's it.

I knew it intellectually, I got it cerebrally. But I hadn't got it at gut level, AND I had suffered a trauma around disconnecting. My biological dad had limited relationship skills, so he and Mom split when I was like 3 or so. Common story. But a child's interpretation of events colored my view. Disconnecting meant Dad went away and didn't come back.

It could happen again. Various deaths reinforced this idea/world view.

Swear, I was in my 40s. Fortys. before someone explained one of the most fundamental concepts of relationships to me, the flow: connect, disconnect, reconnect. Natural, normal.

As I considered this, I slowly realized how BIG this was for me! It was REALLY helpful! I'd been doing it, connecting and disconnecting; after all, you are in relationships all your life. But I had such bad anxiety sometimes I hated myself. I sometimes loved shoving people away, so I didn't have to miss them. But often even that would make me freaky after a while.

So just knowing this ONE thing - simple but so important, helped me relax a little. To find the space bar. (smile). Now it helps me relax a lot.

This last week, 10 days I spent in Georgia and TN. It was good to see everyone, tho I spent most of my time with family, helping out around the house, rescuing cats, normal stuff.  Dad's* cancer is treatable, with better radiation than they had a few years ago. So we are hopeful. Cautiously optimistic. Loving him very much.

We also got to see Mama, my sister, my brother, nieces, friends, etc. All this time was full of connecting moments and disconnecting. And reconnecting.

At the end, as we are parting, sometimes we disconnect gracefully, lovingly. Sometimes with tension and internal growling. But we all kind of trust the process a little more. Yeah, I miss them, miss my college kids - and that longing too comes and goes. (Well, not so much with the college kids, but it mainly just simmers :)

My home is peaceful and beautiful. I know, pretty much, where stuff is. I have work that is worthwhile, that requires my attention. And two cats who are wonderful company, whether I like it or not. There are good friends here too. A daughter who needs me. I love my life.

There are letters to write, to send love, to connect. Gifts to think about and forage for, or make.Small stuff. Good stuff. All of it.

It's good to be home.
*Dear Old Dad/ Daddy (not my biological dad, but the Man who Raised me)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Peaceful and Polarized

Yesterday it was this song on my mind, in my house, taking up my space before I left for work.

Today it is this song, about cold hearts. Actually it's the entire album. Warm, full, soothing and matches my very happy, peaceful self  :-)

I may play the album for a few days, because I love Norah Jones, because I like the songs, and mostly, because I am still staying away from The News.

It occurs to me that elections are tools, just like cell phones. Depends on how you use them. Lots of info is out there. Maybe it's not how we use it but how we approach it.

This morning someone had a sweet crawl-in-bed greeting for me, curling up at my feet, petting the cats. She came back quietly a few minutes later with a folded note card, which she placed on my bedside table. On the outside: "Open if you want to know who won the election   p.s. good morning". It was sealed with tape.

Last night she followed the election online at low volume. I was out most of the evening. Without my asking she gave me space on the issue; I assumed she saw my post ("I want to be the last person on the planet to find out the results of the election").

Later we talked about the idea a bit, when I said goodnight. I described my goal to stay away from the fray, the excitement, the agony and over-dramatization of the entire process. I explained it was an exercise for me to create this separation from the world, for a time. It was a good chance to practice detachment, both from the process and the outcome. I suggested she look up Luddite.

This morning she just couldn't stand my not knowing. So we hung out for a few moments in that tension, noticing that she wanted me to get clued in, and that I was happy with my bubble of Not Knowing. I asked how important was it to her that I get clued in? She wasn't sure. In good relationships, you notice that sort of stuff, work with it. How important was our position to each of us?  Why? I heard her internal struggle of wanting to talk about the results with me, and yet honor my request. She heard that this is my way of not just creating space, but concentrating, honoring the other big things in my life, in fact the only things that mean much: my family, my job. Our home.*

I had some idea of what happened with the election. Saw a hint last night that Obama won Ohio. Still, the not knowing was really nice. Strengthened my resolve to just enjoy my day. To notice how cool it is to not be sucked in.

Just like going without a "smart" phone for a few weeks. What was it, .... wait, it was over 3 months. That's cool. After I lost my 'droid, I used no cell phone at all for a couple few weeks, then went to a flip phone. Loved the release of no calls to make when I was without the device. Just driving. "Check it out.", I thought. How cool.

Then I noticed I was ok not being constantly on the internet, or NOT playing with a phone while I took G out for brunch (we goofed off and it was awesome), and soon I didn't care much about texting.

Now with the re-integration of a new Android into my life, I have a nice, easy balance with it. It's not a new toy, it's a tool. It's useful, and yeah I check various things on it. Go online, whatever. Key word being "whatever".

Elections come and go. So do phones, presidents, laws, houses, people. Elections are tools, just like cell phones. They tell you stuff. Maybe too much.  Sometimes you have to turn them off.

It's still a bit weird to live where I am right now. To truly inhabit my home, my body, my life. Even weirder to just enjoy it. To enjoy the spaces I move thru without a lot of worry.

Speaking of being comfortable. There is a dark side (of course!). For instance, what about the big trends? The routing of the middle class? The economy? Balancing the power of government and regulating big businesses? 

I thought Progressives were supposed to be leading the way these last few decades. Somehow we lost our way. We thought we would just enjoy the prosperity of the 90s without consequences.

And we forgot our fellow citizens. We left behind an entire generation of people who could not work their way out of being born to less education, less opportunity, or the color of their skin, or their accents. We thought it was ok to be a little bit superior because, after all, we did care deeply and did go to school, made a success of our lives. Nice cars, nice house. Retirement. Good shoes.

We really did care about the less fortunate. We gave to charity. Dropped dollars in the red kettle at Christmas. Sometimes a $5 or a $10. It redeemed us from those other excesses and inattention that we didn't want to talk about.

So we paid with 8 years of Bush and two unwinnable wars. We watched our neighbors and friends send their children into battle, and bring them home in the devastation of shattered hearts.

We paid for our arrogance. And we still like to pretend we aren't all that bad.

But we are.

We have easily earned the right to watch the American political process go deeper into high drama, negligible results, and ultimate demise.

But we also have the inalienable right to get our shit together.

How easy it was for us to hate the wars, and pretend we just hate all the stupidity, without considering the alternative. Many of us just wanted the wars to end, but tried to be practical and save face by being mad and sad about them. But would we really have been ok with not going after the terrorists?

We wanted to be all indignant about the stupidity of No Child Left Behind, partly because we hated Bush and were sure he couldn't execute his puppet ass out of a wet paper bag. So we railed against the barbarian standardized testing and came up with nada as an alternative.

We love unions, but we don't hold people accountable - you know, the teachers, the post office, the administrations, those elected officials. We defended teachers blindly without stopping to consider how to turn around those schools where children were not getting the skills they needed, and were dropping out by as much as 43% (black kids; hispanic kids are at 42%; Am Indian kids at 46%).

How many of us actually wrote to or called even one elected official in the last 10, 12 years? I think I have once or twice. A few letters to Obama.

How many school board meetings have you attended? How many city council meetings? Watched them on TV? How many movies?

I'm just too busy. We all are.

We think somehow our small, mostly good lives will be ok even if we don't really listen to the Other Side.

Why listen deeply? It's so much work. They might change our minds on something. We might have to rethink our firmly embedded opinions. We might even have to consider voting for someone from - well, no, that's going too far. (Did you think "Dark side"? have you demonized your political opponents and their followers?)

Being polarized comes from not doing the work of respecting, listening with intent to understand (not find weaknesses), struggling thru to our common values, then working together to try various things until a solution is found. It's hard hard work. Like a marriage. Like a strong, healthy family.

I'm curious to see if the Left will begin to notice how our elected representatives do just that: they represent our entirety. They are a reflection of our inability to work together, put aside differences to solve real problems. No wonder Congress is deadlocked, and makes us nuts, the president less than effective. We hate the dysfunction in government and yet it is created out of our big American family - you know, the extended weird family that has infighting, avoids each other until the holidays, talks over each other, gossips, belittles and gloats.

So yeah, I did finally open the card. Why? Because my need to be apart from the world was trumped by my daughter's need to talk with me about something important to her. I didn't have to say "I love you" in words.

But I did anyway.

And she was off happily to school.

Now, going to inhabit my day, listening to a new song. Hoping we can love America the way she really needs to be loved. Within a strong, healthy, basically happy family.

*Madeleine once commented she thought I would eventually become Amish. Too authoritarian but yes, a very attractive lifestyle. As long as I could watch movies, dance, read voraciously, widely, and of course enjoy wine and football (generally not at the same time). Oh yeah, there is that driving thing. I could rock a buggy ;)