What we talkin about when we talk about

messages lie in words …. But it’s metamessages that have clout, because they stir emotions, and emotions are the currency of relationships.

So said Deborah Tannen on page 10 of I only say this because I love you (2001).

Tannen wrote “those closest to us have front-row seats to view our faults” yet they also have the proximity to our attributes, gifts but we perpetuate a culture that does not appreciate as much as it deprecates.

A decade ago, I remember how bringing an assets based approach was a welcome salve in the nonprofit/civic sector rather than the continued fixation with being motivated by what was missing or lacking in a place and wanting to be the problem solvers by confronting those things that were missing. But a few workshops in a year full of meetings results in a low concentration. And that short lived attempt to embrace what a place had was challenging to sustain when being critical is easy and familiar and a way that we have been told to treat one another in school, at work, in public spaces, and at home.

Now, I have made it a fixture of naming appreciations for the people i am with on a daily basis, at the end of most of the webinars that I design. And still it is difficult for people to begin with what they like.

Tannen elaborated no messages and metamessages by saying:

  • message: the meaning of the words and sentences spoken, what anyone with a dictionary and a grammar book could figure out.
  • metamessage: “the meaning that is not said, what we glean from every aspect of context: the way something is said, who is saying it, or that fact that it is said at all.

Or using another metaphor that “message is the word meaning while metamessage is the heart meaning.” Tanner elaborated by saying how metamessages are implicit and difficult to pinpoint as they are about relationships. Her early suggestion is to distinguish metamessage from message and one way of doing so is metacommunicating or talking about communication, which I suppose is using words to describe the implicit heart emotions.

What is the ocean?

My answer in the form of a question: what is the ocean?

The ocean was the setting for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The ocean was the bridge to colonize the Americas.

The ocean is the medium for global capitalism.

These were the epiphanies in a conversation with a handful of other people of color earlier this week as I had not thought of the ocean’s role and distinction in these forces with global spread.

Today as I drove along the highway, I did see a whale repeatedly breaching and splashing about off of the coastline. Looking out at the blue expanse, I wondered what humans would need to recognize the enormity of the ocean and settle into the dominating presence that the ocean has over the continents. The ocean hegemony is not how it is perceived by humankind as we are self-focused though there are so many facets beyond comprehension, never mind the depths that are beyond cognition.

The ocean hegemony as the water gave life to all life, the lands arose from the ice and water and the life depends on the cycle f precipitation that depends on the evaporation of all that water out there.

The ocean hegemony is so all-powerful that humans do not register the supreme spot that the ocean holds as infinitum. We are partial to life on land as it is what we know, what we know better, and essentially all that we know even with the limited knowing of ocean matters.

The joys of the libraries

Even in COVID times, the act of checking out a library book is delightful. We could not go inside the local branch. Instead I wrote a few authors and titles on the back of scrap paper that I handed to the librarian as one child walked through the grass and another rode a bicycle back and forth. We waited on the personalized attention as the librarian walked through the stacks pulling the books that we listed. And I saw one more sitting on top of the shelves nearest the door and asked if we could have that cat going cross country (skiing?), too.

Library books and lending are endless gifts of infinite curiosity. For a few years, I have searched for “publisher: Enchanted Lion” and a few series like Mercy Watson [“the porcine wonder”] by Kate DiCamillo, Dodswortb and Duck by Tim Egan, King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler and the Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem. I’ve read multiple books (approximately 24 different titles) by these four authors more than 200 in the last three years.

Yesterday’s haul included a few Mercy Watson stories along with books on whales, other marine life and volcanos. It was most special because they were the first library books that we checked out in three months — the longest stretch of not borrowing books in five years.

Now we are back at it in a new library system with no limit on the number of books that we can borrow. But a system that does have late fees, so hopefully I will be more diligent about returning borrowed materials back on time. Better than I was 15 and 20 years ago, when I’d incur late fees but it was paying $.10 a day per book to the libraries and though I never saw the budgets of the library, I never had remorse about paying fees that paid for such a renowned institution.

Wanted: roommate

As I lay down for a second round of snuggles before bedtime, the five year old said:

“Poppa, I have always wanted you to be my roommate.”

I replied by smiling in the dark. I basked in the glow of this sentence as I looked out the window at the silhouette of the trees in the twilight. Then I said:

“I will always have your back. I will always love you even when I’m frustrated, sad, or angry. I will never leave you. You will live with Momma and me until your an adult and you decide where you want to live.”

It was a dignifying for me. I’m moved by the always of five years because these five years have been so enormous and consequential and so quick. And that some facets from a few months ago have been long forgotten. So always is so long.

And, it was a statement of right now. At times, she has the ability to recall some detail or moment or specific from months ago that has not been named and she can bring it up and remember some thing that I forgot. And throughout the day, a five year old can offer immediate feedback about how things are in any exact moment. And that’s what being told that I’m a roommate who has been wanted forever feels like some special love as a father finding my way in these unknowns.

Separating seeing and speaking

Paulo Coelho writes on page 93 of The Spy that:

“For millions of years, [humans] spoke only to what [they] could see. Suddenly, in one decade, ‘seeing’ and ‘speaking’ have been separated. We think we’re used to it, yet we don’t realize the immense impact it’s had on our reflexes. Our bodies are simply not used to it.

“Frankly, the result is that, when we talk on the phone, we enter a state that is similar to certain magical trances; we can discover other things about ourselves.”

This in a story set in Paris in the 1914 — after the Exposition Universelle (nee World’s Fair) of 1889 and before World War One.

A few, notable passages from previous pages include:

“A nice cup of coffee will salvage the rest of your day.”

And

“Maybe you’re looking for things you haven’t yet found…. And suddenly life turns into utter boredom.”

End is not in sight

We are undertaking a vast experiment in the days and years and decades that we are alive.

As creatures of habit, we are forever attempting new ways to structure guarantees into life. This is a tricky choice and an attempt to bring greater assuredness into the daily experiences and relationships that defies the essence of being alive in an unknown and unpredictable world. Despite all the messages and signals that we have been told, we do not know what to do in order to know what lies ahead. This we cannot know. Entire lifestyles have been created to offer predictability and a greater perception of knowing what will happen. But we cannot know what will happen; we may know what can happen but are not the entire determinant of whether something will happen as we imagine it to be.

In the midst of all this not knowing, there is concern, anxiety, confusion, and a strong pull to be in control. Control is a fiction where we believe that only one factor, or a few factors, determine an outcome. Control has a confident, brash ego that tells itself and others that it is all that matters; it is unclear whether Control actually knows otherwise, or genuinely believes in its perceived superiority than any (and all) other factor.

Immersed in the lie of Control, I settle into Faith. Faith that there are many factors and divergent forces swimming amongst one another. Similar to the choppy, erratic movement of Brownian’s Motion that I learned if in Form 4 Physics. Fast moving but not in a single direction, so much force. Much uncontrolled force. Uncontrollable.

Faith that there are much greater forces than humans alone and all of humankind on this Earth. Faith in the dogged resilience that fosters life, spawns evolution, encourages experimenting, and embraces change when it happens. Faith that there is much more happening than I can see with mine eyes, hear with my ears, taste, and sense in all ways. Faith in tiny, miniscule, microorganisms of force and Faith in profound, vast ecosystems that harmonize air, earth, water, and fire.

walking along a revolutionary road

I am watching the epic and tragic and brilliant story of Revolutionary Road again this weekend. I have a great appreciation for the intensity of the movie (as I have been told that I am an intense being) as it touches upon fundamental issues of life, purpose, and meaning. Each of these have profound reverberations on the people around us, too. This is where there is beauty in life when acted upon, or loss and dismay as is the case for Kate Winslet’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters in the movie.

On the surface it is a love tragedy. Yet, wrapped in layers and layers, the movie is an illustration of walking the road less traveled (as M. Scott Peck calls it. A book that I would like to revisit this year, after more than a decade of being untouched). It is when stories of love, family, work, career, art, travel, journeys, passion arise. So many factors that they can cause a lump in a throat because they are too much to comprehend. Yet, it is not about the comprehension but the ability to act or decisively choose (in such a way that choosing sometimes feels like plunging) in spite of all the unknowns. In our hyper-intellectualized time and the delusion of logic, we attempt to know everything before acting. This set up is an impossibility. As we cannot know all that we need to know (nor can we know all that there is to know). To wait until all information is adequately known results in paralysis.

This delay of choosing, or inaction, at pivotal moments in life is what resonates for me in Revolutionary Road. Contrary to the revulsion or sadness that many others felt about the movie, I was drawn to it. I appreciated the darkness. It is a stark telling of what is far more common than I believe is acknowledged. Furthermore, it is an indictment of what happens when the pursuit of professional success trumps personal relationship.

***

The road less traveled requires walking through a doorway of choices, of choosing the less common, less appreciated and less understood choice(s) especially when these lesser knowns are frowned up or objected to by society, writ large or one’s inner circle. Every day there are moments when we have to choose (what are called choice points). Even when we decide to not act, we still make a choice. Life is chock full of possible choices and our choices impact not only other people and circumstances around us, but impact the remainder of our life.

Too often, we cower to the pressures of what is normal, what is acceptable or tolerable to family, friends, coworkers or to other people we perceive as being in our same social order. Perception is a dicey thing because it is our individual ideas of who we consider as being like us and being with us. Yet these we can trap ourselves and deny life-giving choices because of what the very same people want. Sometimes it is that we accurately see others as they are, and correctly understand what choice they want us to make; there are other times where our perception is mistaken and the very people we care about and care about us wish for us to make decisions that are more freeing. However, we may not because we cannot see (or hear or understand)) that that is what they, too, want for us. These are some of the ways of how we can trip ourselves up and become trapped. A paradox about being social beings is that we defer to others even when that is not in alignment with our inner self. When we repeatedly do so, we establish a pattern that can make it harder and harder to listen to the inner wisdom of intuition because we seek the counsel of others’ voices, even when it drowns our own voice.

For six years of the last decade, I waited for others’ permission to make choices that were mine alone to make. I come from two strands of families, where masculinity was defined as fitting within certain social structures and social orders. The lives of both of my grandfathers looked very different, yet each created families and built professions that placed them in contexts where their choices affected others — at work, in their home, in their extended families. While I cannot know what it was like to be fathers in their time, I reflect upon what their lives were and how they have profound reverberations two generations later.

***

Part of my attraction to this movie is that I was on a path that mimicked the path/s of the primary protagonists. For five years, I had limped along my path, stumbling. My feelings of being unseen and unheard were reaching a peak when I watched this movie. I could see a version of the movie’s storyline playing out in facets of friends’ lives and relationships more easily than in my own life. Yet, it was a story that resonated with me because it was foreboding — even when placed in an entirely different time and place than my own life.

I remember not being able to situate the movie setting the first time I watched the movie. The clothes and cars offered some glimpses, but it was not until I was far into the movie that I understood that this resonated deeply with me even though it was placed some 50 years earlier.

By placing Revolutionary Road in (what I believe is) the 1950s, I am reminded that the midcentury American Dream was not working for plenty of people at that time. Even for the people purportedly benefitting from that Dream, according to the dominant social narratives, which in this story is a white, middle-class, suburban family. The challenges shown in the movie — of responsibility, success, love — are timeless. The pressures to conform span generations; some conditions change with time yet the existential nature of life transcends decades.

At the time, I could not see the parallels to my life (circa 2008 or 2009) when I first saw it. In hindsight, i believe that I could feel a resonance, though. Years later, I now suppose that there will repeatedly be phases in life that can mimic this storyline. We may forever be on a path where forks in the path require that I choose one or the other. There are innumerable instances where I could choose something contrary to my inner self because of collapsing to social (or familial, professional, cultural) pressures. Grappling with the path that I am on and the choices to make may cease only when becoming free.

***

Despite the patterns and shaping that comes with repeating the same action over and over again, I have a delight that a different choice can be made.

One definition of what it means to be human: to suddenly choose something contrary to all the things that one has been prior to now.

For years, I have been astounded by attempts to simplify and therefore deaden what it means to be human. There have been formidable professional and economic pressures that choose systematization over spontaneity. It is core to the economic tenet of specialization, that long term partner of the endless growth demanded by capitalism. This growth is also a reckless growth as it prizes growth over wellbeing. In other terms, it chooses quantity over quality. Such brutal force is not nurturing to countries (pushed to focus on a few cash crops or a few products for export) nor individuals (pushed to repeat the same motion in manufacturing, or to do a segmented piece of work in services of white collar industries). The end result of a forced, narrow focus is the opposite of fulfillment and meaning.

Such brutal force, when seen through an economic lens, would be better described as abuse than specialization. It depletes life, denies flavor, substance and diversity. It trumpets homogeneity in a world that depends on heterogeneity. It squashes life when confining humans to repeated action even though evolving relationships and learning are fundamental to who we are.

Similar pressures and delusions have consumed educational institutions by placing greater value on testing than on learning. This, too, chokes the life out of students, out of learning, and pedagogy. Rather than investing in what gives life and causes us to flourish as humans, policy and budgets are correlated to metrics even though we are not machines. In our attempts to understand and to prove progress, certain elements have chosen false proxies as a way to define who we are and our experience.

Choices are the doorway to liberty.

Tending to unfinished business rather than bucket lists

I’ve had death and how our collective culture revolves around, relates to and treats death for the last month since my cousin died. I heard of his death in a car accident at midday on a Thursday.

Within a few days, I heard mention of Bucket Lists at least three times. And multiple other times in recent weeks. My emotions over the last month swam far, deep and wide. I have been quite irritated when I hear about “bucket lists” because a tone of jovial, fun-filled, and this-is-cool accompanies it. Much of my irritation is due to the material or experiential aspect of most things that populate these lists — hot air balloons, travel, bungee cord jumping. It feels like yet another instance where we are supposed to wear happy faces and feel great, even though most of our feelings about death and transition are not happiness nor greatness.

On the other hand, I first learned about Unfinished Business two years ago when I opened a first book by Elisabeth KublerRoss, which was either The Tunnel and the Light or On Death and Dying. Ahh, the joys of reading and the power that new ideas, when remembered, can have on altering my own life. Since first reading Kubler-Ross, Unfinished Business has become a counterpoint, or an antidote, to the Bucket List.

Unfinished business, according to a summary of how Kubler Ross described it to a six year old with a dying sister, is:

anything that you haven’t done, because this is your last chance to say or do anything you want to do, so that you don’t have to worry about it afterwards when it is too late.

Forgiveness. Love. Freedom. Permission. These are the simple and fundamental things in life. For some odd reasons (including attempts to control and manipulate others) we have a tendency to make life much more complex and messy than these staples.

_______

Unfinished business is affirmed by reading this list of the five biggest regrets (biggest wishes, in other words) of people approaching death, which was compiled by a palliative care nurse. The five biggest regrets/wishes are:

  1. wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected.
  2. wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. wish I’d let myself be happier.

Courage. Live truly. Play. Express feelings. Touch. Happiness.

C.L.T.P.E.F.T.H. is a word game worthy of befriending the 5 As of David Richo: acceptance, affection, allowance, appreciation, attention.

_____

At this moment in my life, I am attending to finishing my business in this life by:

  • appreciating and celebrating people sooner, on the same day or as soon as possible
  • not holding onto grudges with family, friends, coworkers or strangers
  • eating well, sleeping when and as much as I can,
  • writing more and more by honoring the urge when it arises
  • telling my parents, siblings, more females and males that I love them
  • sharing the ways that love looks
  • letting go of the need to have someone say “I love you, too” after I tell them of my love.
  • responding “thank you” (rather than “I love you, too”) when someone tells me that they love me
  • eating chocolate and baking cookies or bread more often
  • accessing compassion (for others and myself) quickly
  • slowing down
  • recognizing that the only person’s who’s accolades and approval to concern myself with is me

having a taste for raw onions / onions as life

Ah yes. From the book that i finished earlier this week:

Remember what the old man said? His faec brimmed with laughtere as he turned to you and answered in a serious manner. ‘The secret is raw onions. I eat raw onions and I survive.’

And then, over your head, his eyes met mine and we understood each other. What he told you that day is the secret of life itself. One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things. We, you and I, and our people shall live because there are only a few among us who do not love raw onions.”

– The General. in The Wandering Falcon, by Jamil Ahmad (2011).