Our Relationship to the Have Nots & the Novel Preparation for the Next Life

Book review, Have Nots, PTSD, Preparation for the next life,great books, Atticus Lish, Book review, a good book

I read this because of the book review in the NYT on 11/13/14. The reviewer’s last sentence: The final chapters of this indelible book pulled my heart up under my ears. caught my attention.

I will never look at a homeless or poor person again without noticing how worn their shoes are because of reading this book. This novel changes your perspective, that rare gift of terrific writing by Atticus Lish. He writes with a real respect for the struggles of a PTSD suffering vet & an undocumented immigrant & their love story.

I read it during the week that Congress was trying to pass a bill that would dump the McCain-Feingold 2002 campaign finance law. Nancy Pelosi said that the measure (supported by Obama) will “drown out the voices of the American people & massively expand the role of big money in our elections.”(USA Today 12/11/14). Ordinary people losing power & respect is becoming an ordinary story not just in Russia, but here in the USA.

I used to live in an insulated “have” neighborhood because of the public school district, where I was the only one I knew to buy a used car. I am relieved to live in diversity, in a working class area where many people drive Chevy cavaliers. Being insulated can be mind-numbing & lacks empathy.

The two lovers in the story push themselves to be physical and the details the author captures make you feel as if you are pounding the pavement right along by their side. Their relationship builds & layers in a very authentic way that combines both dread & happiness for them as they move towards the future.

It’s a book where the characters stay with you after you have finished the last page, which is my favorite kind of art within a novel.

It’s hard to believe this is a first novel for the author, because it is so well crafted. The words soar off the page. The details of owning so little, eating terrible food and barely getting by carry a truthfulness that makes them stick to your heart.

Already, I look forward to the next novel by Atticus Lish.


Integrity is All About Self-Confrontation

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Integrity is the difference between being nice and being good. We live in a world that too easily values nice because nice is easy to do. Good is a whole lot more hard work. The Big Bad Wolf was really nice to Little Red Riding Hood before he ate her grandmother.

Someone facing hard truths about their own dark side is the infrastructure of integrity.

We humans are more like reptiles in our brain functions than mammals. We all have selfish, greedy & entitled feelings. Feelings are completely unreliable. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.

When I have a client who paints a picture of themselves that leaves me confused as to what their dark side might be, I ask them to ask someone they trust to provide more honest feedback. Good therapy will collide with the comforting picture of yourself that you have in your head.

You can’t grow without being uncomfortable.

We so easily imagine ourselves to be better than we are. This is creating a false reality, like Disneyland for the soul. We all create defensive energy so rapidly in order to keep the falseness operating. Most problems in relationships are avoided & deflected by almost everybody because it is easier short-term (like the monkeys pictured above).

Instead we have to be willing to wrestle withe worst parts of ourselves. Only then can the best of who we are truly stand up to build into real character. You have to find the courage to collide with the comfortable way you see yourself.

Think of all the marriages you think you know, including your own. When someone blows up the other person usually gives up. This maintains the status quo & nothing changes or is solved which is so much easier than dealing with the struggle of hard truths. Most people avoid the real issues.

I send spouses home to ask “Why have we stopped being sexual?” “Is it ok if we have a celibate partnership?” These are questions that need to be faced. Low desire partners usually do not perceive themselves as part of a problem because they don’t miss sex.

Years of layered silences or loud yelling & screaming stops communication.

Think of your family of origin, how many times did you witness a problem being dealt with successfully?

Therapy is far more successful when you are willing to do the work on something you don’t want to deal with.

Marriage/Partnership means doing things you don’t want to do.

Improving yourself, your relationships or your job means being honest about the problems. If you, your partner/friends or your supervisor avoid honest feedback then you are setting yourself up for mediocrity. It takes courage & honest disagreement to grow, change & improve character.

Anxiety, Shoulds, Duty & Exaggerated Obligation

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Anxiety is the biggest problem I work with. Anxiety is a huge issue for tons of people. Anxiety means that fear drives your choices. Fear based choices make your world too small & tight which offers a false sense of safety.

Often anxious people solve their fears with planning, controlling behavior, a strong belief in duty, being wrapped up in shoulds or preferring a clear sense of right/wrong which avoids complicatedness. Anxious people love the certainty of shoulds, control, obligation & plans. They abhor uncertainty because fear breeds & grows there.

I’ve written before about anxious people as people pleasers. People pleasers want the certainty of being liked. They want to avoid the messiness of disagreement or rocking the boat. People pleasing is all about making decisions based on what will make others happy. Often this includes an exaggerated sense of obligation.

Anxious people often are motivated by fears of how other people will see you.

Worrying about everyone else & what they want (which is often disguised as care taking) is about reacting to others. The anchor of your ego is based outside of yourself & on what you do for others. This is often way too lopsided.

While you may never be excellent at trusting your own anchors within yourself, it’s a real good idea to experiment with this in order to be less lopsided. Therapy is about having greater balance & more choices.

So ask yourself what is the opposite of Shoulds, Duty, Plans, Control, Obligation & Certainty?

I would suggest Playful, Imaginative, Openness, Spontaneity & accepting uncertainty as ordinary in life. These all can percolate from within yourself.

Toddlers & infants are a joy to watch because they naturally have all of these qualities. I loved watching my grandson just pushing everything he could find thru the cat door. He adores the power of making the disappearance happen for huge amounts of time. He has discovered this activity & delights in it from within himself. It has nothing to do with anybody else. That’s exactly the kind of energy you must find within & act upon.

The secret to a healthy ego is balancing both a good sense of other’s wants & concerns, along with a clarity of knowing who you are & what you want from within.

The Path to Improve Motivation Requires Being Authentic

Motivation seems illusive for so many people. Motivation isn’t simply being positive. Don’t falsely perky waitresses drive you crazy because it’s really all about being trained to sell an upgrade; there is nothing real about it. I contend that motivation has to be real in some way.

Passion can be difficult for people to locate within themselves. Those who have passion use it to leapfrog over their anxiety & fear. Within passion lurks one key to motivation; something needs to matter.

I think a lot of people cop-out of caring about something because they want to play it safe. So another part of motivation is being able to have enough courage take a risk. It also means accepting failure is a part of growing & learning, instead of trying to avoid it.

I’m using the you-tube jelly bean video above because it’s clear there is less time than you imagine. I think that’s pretty motivating all by itself. You don’t have to wait until you are in your 60’s or a good friend dies of cancer to recognize what you do with your time matters.

How do we motivate ourselves to do things we don’t want to do? You have to decide you want to be independent, responsible & a grown up. Growing up is honestly facing painful situations. One example: it’s important to figure out how to live within our means whether we want to or not.

Emotions can manipulate you into “precious” belief systems that interfere with being a grown up. Feelings are not the true north of an internal compass; it’s what you do with your feelings that matters. Feeling entitled to spend money however you want is not ok.

People-pleasers are not motivated to tell the truth in relationships. Their motivation is to be liked by others & hide anything dark or disagreeable. How to wrestle with this emotional motivation that ultimately destroys intimacy in relationships? You have to decide you can face being a disappointment to someone else because that is a part of all honest relationships.

Let’s take another example of a troublesome emotion that can interfere with motivation: Anger. The motivation of anger in general is self-protection because of hurt. So ask yourself what is the opposite of anger? Acceptance.

Accept that hurt is usually a part of the equation in relationships. Hanging on too long to anger can lead to bitterness, a dangerous path. I would be very motivated not to end up bitter.

It is up to you to decide what is worth it? I would find purpose in wanting to manage my $ better or to give up people-pleasing to be more authentic. I would want to end my days with being able to manage my emotions to be the best person I am capable of being.

I was inspired to write this article by a NY Times article titled “The Problem with Positive Thinking” The author explains how to set a goal & improve motivation by balancing your picture of success with an honest assessment of obstacles.

UKRAINE, Why Should We Care About Russia’s Aggression?

Ukraine News, Russian invasion, News from Ukraine, Invading Ukraine, News Ukraine

This post is written by a guest, Adriana Helbig. A description of her credentials follows the post. She is so passionate about what is happening, that she went on a hunger strike for a week in Pittsburgh.

“If not I, then who?” said Ivan, 27, an engineer in Lviv, western Ukraine, when I asked whether he would respond to the draft letter he had received in the mail earlier that day. “If not I, then who will fight for everything that my great-grandfather died for at the hands of Soviet occupiers during WWII?”

Ivan had thought he would be the first generation in his family not to see war. But he was prepared to leave his wife and two small children to fight in a war that had started as a street protest against then-President Yanukovych, who had backtracked on a promise to sign an agreement with the EU, forging closer ties with Russia instead. Since those cold winter protests known as “EuroMaidan” (“maidan” meaning “square,” referring to Independence Square in Kyiv where the protests took place), there has been much bloodshed in Ukraine.

Before he fled the country, Yanukovych had ordered the army to fire on its own people. In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. In May 2014, secession movements in Eastern Ukrainian regions like Luhansk and Donestk, proclaimed breakaway states with the help of personnel and weapons from Russia. And Ivan, without any formal military training, was being drafted into an evolving war zone in Luhansk and Donetsk as the world continues to question who is fighting whom and to what end.

The conflict has become complicated by Russia’s denial of involvement and a misunderstanding in world media whether this is a war between two countries or a civil war within Ukraine. Before receiving his draft letter, Ivan had been volunteering in Lviv, building coffins for fallen friends who had been sent to the ATO (anti-terrorist operations) in eastern Ukraine. Many young boys from western cities and villages were being conscripted, unintentionally fueling regional divisions in the country.

“Do not send your boys from western Ukraine to kill us in eastern Ukraine – we are all Ukrainians” I overheard from a woman’s cell phone in Lviv, clearly speaking to relatives in the ATO region. But if not young men like Ivan, then who will fight those who shot down ML-17 in eastern Ukraine, and who will rebuild the buildings and roads that have been destroyed, and who will help the grieving families who have been trapped in a region taken over by Russian-armed militants who wish to break up Ukraine? And why does Putin want to destabilize Ukraine? To continue to exert their power that has extended more than 300 years when the lands were usurped into the Russian Empire and then claimed by Soviet rule?

Ivan’s closest friends pooled their small wages and purchased the equipment he would need to enlist – boots, camoflage clothing, a bullet-proof vest. The Ukrainian army is so underfunded that soldiers are responsible to procure their own gear. Though he is in the reserves, his military training consisted of a few weekend sessions in high school. He had never held a gun, let alone know how to shoot one.

This man, guided by a love for his country, is going up against Putin-supplied weapons in eastern Ukraine. And he is Putin’s worst nightmare. The person who will fight for what he believes in. If not I, then who? That is the question we must ask ourselves: If we do not care what is happening in Ukraine, then who will?

Adriana Helbig is an Associate Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of Hip Hop Ukraine: Music, Race, and African Migration (Indiana University Press, 2014). She has conducted extensive ethnographic research in Ukraine since 2001 and went on a week long hunger strike to protest Putin’s aggression in Ukraine in response to the shooting down of ML-17. She resides in Pittsburgh, PA, with her partner Nancy Murrell.

I was inspired to seek a guest author by the article in the NYTimes “Why #RussiaInvadedUkraine Matters”
by Christia Freeland


October is Breast Cancer Awareness month & I am reblogging most of the post I found fromBreast Cancer,Breast Cancer Month,October Breast Cancer Month,October Breast Cancer Awareness Month,When Breast Cancer Month,Pink Ribbon Lara K. Huffman’s blog Get Up Swinging: The Boobs are Fake, The Snark is Real:

Well, I wanted to ask other folks with cancer, any cancer, the question: “What does Breast Cancer Awareness Month mean to you?” The responses mostly came from other women who have had breast cancer since that’s the disease I have, but there responses from others who have undergone treatment for cancers other than breast.

Here are responses from those who have metastatic breast cancer:

“Even before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I loathed October. No matter where you go there is a sea of pink, ribbons, t-shirts, key chains, etc. What started out as something good had morphed into a retail/marketing machine that line the pockets of those ‘bringing awareness.’ Now after living with Stage 4 breast cancer for the past year, I understand how serious this is.  Every person diagnosed with breast cancer COULD develop metastatic disease. Early detection does not guarantee safety. What will save more of the 40,000 people that will die from breast cancer each year is research. And that means money for research – not awareness. What Komen and the others give to research is sickening.”

“Nothing,” and then: “I have metastatic breast cancer. When I die, I will not have lost at all. Another reason October grosses me out: battle metaphors.”

Here are the responses from those who had breast cancer, aka the people who we’re supposed to celebrate during this month:


“Enough awareness already. Time to focus on research for those with mets. I used to like pink. Sometimes now I struggle with wearing it. Oh, and it makes me want to throat punch people.”

“I cringe every October now. SGK has created an atmosphere wherein people actually resent breast cancer charities – even the good ones. It makes me very sad. I used to like pink, too. Now it just makes my butt pucker.”

“Absolutely nothing. It’s a disgusting marketing ploy.”

“It means companies profit off of a disease (mostly).”

“That I’m going to flip out the next time someone posts something about not wearing underwear or using their boobs to get out of a speeding ticket because they are playing a ‘fun’ breast cancer awareness game. And October, the month that used to be my favorite, is now the month that I won’t be able to, even for a minute, forget I had breast cancer.”

“Well, it means breast cancer awareness for everyone else, but for me, that’s every month every day.”

“Breast cancer is sadly something we’ve all heard of. We’re all aware of it each October because it’s shoved down our throats. I’m all for education of things like triple negative or IBC or mets, etc., but buying a pink frying pan isn’t going to do that either. By the way, I don’t think that pink is a vile color; I do love it, but I hate all the negative bullshit that it stands for now. Hopping off my soapbox now….”

“I guess the month is more personal to me. I got THAT phone call from the breast surgeon on October 1, 2012 telling me my biopsy was malignant. ‘Sorry for the phone call, but we need to act on this PDQ.’ So, two weeks later, I’m in surgery for seven hours, having a double mastectomy and tram flap. I’m sick of pink. I’m sick of Tamoxifen. I hate cancer.”

“Most people are unaware or ignorant to anything until it happens to them or someone they love. I feel like I’ve been under the breast cancer cloud since I was about 13 and my aunt, who was like my second mother, was diagnosed and had her mastectomy. I don’t know if her struggle was a warning to me, so I’d catch mine earlier because she ignored hers for a while before she got checked. . . . If the month gets more women to do self-exams, check up on something suspicious, get a physical, or donate time or money who would’ve never thought to do before, I pray that is the good that comes out of it. It’s kind of a hard month, but so is every day once your life changes that little bomb of a seed has been planted in your mind and body.”

“I definitely feel the attention has to shift from awareness to cure.”

“I don’t have a lot of attachment to it. I went to a nice breast cancer fundraiser last night with all the pink bells and whistles for the cancer center that saved my life and had a good time and made some donations. But, there was a lot of ‘stuff’ there, that had I been in the throes of treatment or diagnosis, would have absolutely pushed me over the edge.”

If those with breast cancer are expressing disgust and resentment at the very month that is supposed to celebrate them, then changes need to be made. We need to stop trivializing a deadly disease by wrapping it up in a pretty pink bow. Men also get breast cancer, and I couldn’t even fathom how horrifying Pinktober would be to a man with breast cancer.

I asked Lori Marx-Rubiner, the president of Metavivor, how can anyone help a loved one going through breast cancer treatment, and here is her response to What can people do?:

Give of themselves – run errands: dry cleaner, market, carpool

Make a meal – check first abt dietary restrictions

Keep patient company during treatment

Come by with a good movie

Check in 6-7 days after treatment, when the attention has died down

If you don’t have a specific person in mind-

Volunteer at a treatment or support center

Organize a local fundraiser & Donate to Research

Sign up for Army of Women

No time?

Send a gift card – Jamba Juice, bookstore, Netflix subscription, local restaurant that delivers

OCD & learning more about it leads to Control

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OCD isn’t just about washing your hands like Lady Macbeth. OCD is the disease of anxiety on steroids. Fear is in charge & by thinking obsessively or following compulsive rituals you create a sense of “safety” which is stolen from fear. The French once called OCD ‘la folie de doute’ which translates to ‘the doubting disease’.

When getting ready for a party or packing for a trip we may describe ourselves as “a little OCD”. Having the disease means your OCD interferes with functioning in your life.

We all want an OCD surgeon or an OCD wallpaper hanger because they will be hyper-careful & most likely be excellent. We want all doubt extinguished in these activities. An OCD employee will most likely be organized & very on top of things.

OCD often means missing out on fun & pleasure just like the perfectionist. Enjoying themselves is not easily done. Correcting, fixing & constantly being productive are often hallmarks of OCD. Accepting things as they are, not their strong suit.

OCD people are addicted to shoulds. Things should be a certain way. I called him & I wouldn’t wait two days to call back so how can he?!?! Rolling with things as they happen, not really on their radar. Flexible is not their best thing, so they can be hard to work for.

There is an abundance of help. Consider exploring this first book, even if you are massively obsessive without the compulsive component. Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz, includes diagrams of the brain to help you understand what is happening. He also has a 32 minute video of four steps that can help you be in control: www.ocduk.org/four-steps-video

Another book is Freedom From OCD by John Grayson. There is an online OCD support group in the yahoo self-help groups.

Dr. Phillipson has written an excellent online article saying that two places OCD people can get stuck are 1. sexual orientation & 2. whether or not a relationship is the “right” one. He offers a lot of insight on his website: ocdonline

In conclusion, it is crucial to learn to accept that ambiguity, being uncomfortable emotionally & embracing uncertainty is a normal part of living life well. Soothing your brain to cope with confusion instead of trying to falsely shove yourself into delicious black & white certainty.

Everything has tradeoffs. It’s the goods & bads intermingled that make us all human. Every city, person, relationship, career, decision is a mixture of strengths & weaknesses. There are only answers that you have to decide are right for you, accept that all answers are not perfect. We must learn to live with the pain of not knowing we are absolutely right.