It’s the little things. Redux

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.”

Stephen Fry

“Depression is being colorblind and constantly told how colorful the world is.”

Atticus

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.”

Epictetus

And there’s always the other side of the proverbial coin. It’s true that if we apply some focus to the little positive things in life we can feel happier, be more productive, etcetera etcetera. But we aren’t always starting in a good or even neutral place. We all have, and maybe are, in a place of hurt. And regardless of all the advice we get when we are there, we can’t just turn it off. “Just smile and you’ll feel better” someone may say. Not possible. And it’s really a very poor thing for folks to say, and be so dismissive of mental health. But that’s not really what this post is for.

I have suffered some defeats in my life, and I am thankful that my brain is wired to quickly (a relative term) get back up and start over. Most of the time at least. Often it’s been like a reset. Stunned, my first reaction is akin to “David goes to the dentist” – Is this real life? And then the acceptance, “well, I guess this is my life now.” Even if that is most of the time, these events do haunt me. And I get depressed. The thing, for me, about depression is that the good little things don’t affect me, but any thing negative, or even neutral, will… and not positively.

I recall two things about Navy boot camp. First, it was a rash decision, driven by emotion, which led me to join the Navy. I will write a blog post about that decision someday. From the day I first saw the recruiter until my arrival in boot camp was about two weeks. Anyone who has been to military boot camp will tell you that it is eye-opening, to put it mildly. To be frank it’s a crash course in WTF. For me, I got to the recruit training center in Orlando near midnight. They did some induction things, like fill out a card to your parents that said “I made it.” And shaving. Whether you needed to or not, you shaved. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the women shave. Then they put is in this huge open room filled with metal bunkbeds and turned off the lights. This was about one in the morning. At four-thirty, they turned on the lights and came in yelling and kicking the big metal garbage cans around. My eyes snapped open, and seeing the bunk above me and bombarded with the orchestrated cacophony my first thought was “what have I done.” But my second emotion was acceptance. Sort of a “I guess this is my life now” acceptance. Boy did it suck. Navy boot camp is nothing like the Marine Corps boot camp, to be sure. But for me, it was awful. I’m the kind of person who feels that the speaker is speaking directly to me, no matter how large the audience. So my company commanders were yelling at me. I thought. I took it all to heart. Therefore my focus was on adaptation. And I did. Adapt that is. But what if I hadn’t?

While in boot camp, I heard of a recruit in another training unit who hanged himself. Devastating news. And then the scuttlebutt (a Navy term for rumor) was that it was because he had bought a camera at the Navy Exchange (a store), and it didn’t work. There’s that little thing. Going to the Exchange was an infrequent privilege in boot camp, and a little thing to boost a recruit’s spirits. Which is really necessary in the life-altering thing that is boot camp. I didn’t know this poor guy, but I had had a crushing blow in life just a few years before, which had made me sensitive to such things. It stuck with me. His camera was broken. No big deal. Just take it back next time and get another. But that’s not the point. While sitting at home in comfort, or in a coffee shop thinking on this, it’s obvious and easy. Yet when one is in the situation it’s not obvious. Difficult situations, or difficult states of mind, tend to make us hyper focus on the now. The thing we are in. I don’t know if neurologically this is true, but it sure seems this way. Hyper-focusing on the here and now can be good when working on a difficult task. But what about hyper focusing on the pain. The loneliness. The separation. When life is huge and looming and there seems to be no way out, those “good” little things are ineffective. But any negative will damage like TNT. And no amount of platitudes, no matter how well intentioned, will help. And a “suck it up” will definitely crush a person in this situation.

What are these little things that cause so much damage. Well, how about a broken camera? I think they typically tend to be truly innocuous. Because, maybe, it’s not the little thing. Maybe it’s like a person clutching at anything to get a sense of purchase… to get a feeling of safety. And that thing they are clutching being snatched away at the brush of a fingertip. Hope lost. I’ve felt that. My words are failing me now. Describing this demoralizing feeling is elusive. I used the word hope, but really in these situations hope is a vacuum. An idea that has no true meaning. So yeah. The little things — the littlest things — can be devastating. Because sometimes our minds, you know the thing that keeps this animated meat puppet moving around, are so bruised and tender any damned little thing will impact like a bullet.

I don’t have a gracefully written three-point essay for you here. It’s the one point. With two points. If you ever feel in any way like this. No hope. Please reach out to people. People you trust, or any hotline. And for others, if someone reaches out to you, please don’t be dismissive or minimize their pain. Mental health issues are a real thing, and are as real as a broken knee, or any other physical health issue. Don’t compare scars either. “Oh yeah I know just how you feel”. No you do not. You have no idea how someone else feels. “I’ve been there, you just have to move past it.” No you don’t, and no you can’t. If you care for the person reaching out to you, be supportive. Talk. Encourage the person to seek professional help (and most likely you are not a professional, remember that), and, again, don’t be dismissive. Here’s a fun mnemonic. You know the scene from parks and recreation, “don’t be suspicious”? Well just sing in your head “don’t be dismissive”. And… don’t be dismissive.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 1-800-662-HELP(4357)
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255, or SMS 988

Peace and Love, and hope and support
Marv

It’s the little things

I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things… I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind.

Leo Buscaglia

Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.

Humphry Davy

I have a magpie mind, by which I mean I see and hear little things – photos, fragments of conversation – and store them away for future use.

Laurie Graham

This morning I was overjoyed at a trivial yet wholly satisfying happenstance. while concocting my morning latte (with delicious dark chocolate) As I grabbed the milk to pour into the frothing cup, I felt it was almost empty. I wasn’t concerned, as I had another jug of milk in the fridge. But I do hate pouring those last couple of milliliters into the cup from a full jug of milk. It’s a little thing, but a pain. And yet as I poured the the milk into the cup, I was stunned to see that I had the exact amount needed left in this jug! As the last bead of milk dropped off the mouth of the jug I felt such a sense of… well, almost euphoria. It was going to be a good day.

That paragraph begs the question. Was it a good day. The short answer is yes. But could I ever leave it with the short answer? Those who know me don’t have to check the magic 8 ball, they know. Nope. Big ol’ nope. So, was it really a good day? ​Well, let’s discuss.

Yes, it was a good day. Not as good as some, but better than most. Yet the reason I’m continuing to write is because of the reason. This isn’t an overly complicated blog post, nor is it some new and profound piece of human thought. Most of you already know. It was a good day because of me. An innocuous event happened, but I noticed, and for whatever reason it sparked joy in my life. Thank you Marie Kondo. This got me to thinking. I thought of “stop and smell the roses”, and other little sayings. Take a moment. Breath. Be glad you have breath. Try to focus on what positive things you can. This led me to one of my first connected world memories.

I was visiting family in New York. And I was on the toilet. Doing what one does while in that situation. Tired of reading the shampoo labels I saw a book on Zen. Reading through it I really liked what was striking my eyeballs. I thought, I’d really like to have a copy of this. So I scanned the ISBN with my phone, and ordered a copy. On the toilet. Now this has been easily over a decade ago, so that was a new thing. Why do I mention this? Well, honestly I just like that little anecdote. However Zen does have something to do with it.

Many decades ago while working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, I was at a safety meeting, and the speaker was an enlightened person. During the safety meeting they alluded to being alert and observant of one’s surroundings in the Zen precept of “walk while walking”. Sadly at that time I was not remotely enlightened and thought it was silly. As did most of those around me. We all thought the presenter was one of those kooks. Yet that idea stuck with me. Eventually it sank in. I started realizing what this Zen saying was actually saying. At least to me. Be mindful, and of no mind (oh god, here we go. Kookiness). I take this, for me, to be grounded and in the moment. Which is very hard for me. I’m a dreamer. When I can clear my head of these dreams I do try to be in the moment. Walk while walking. Smell the roses. Notice the phenomenal event of the exact amount of milk being left in the jug. Take it for what it’s worth, a random event. What are the odds? Well, it’s probably calculable, just not by me. Pretty slim I’d guess, but not impossible. Rare enough though to be, potentially, significant to a noticer (made up word alert). I strive to be a noticer. Of the little things at least.

For today, I take away that need to be aware. Aware of the little things. An accountant friend once said, “mind the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.” Perhaps this applicable to the little things of life. If we mind these little things, then perhaps the big things will, by extension, be taken care of. But with this awareness, I think there is a caveat to all this. Which I’ll write about in a followup blog post.

Peace and love
Marv

Joyful Sadness

Joyful Sadness

I am sad. Memories half-remembered have filled my dreams; sometimes coalescing into brilliance. Fleeting though. The aftermath a sadness of recollection lost. Past loved ones slipping into the oblivion of eternal night. Intangible ghosts; tendrils of nothing. Daylight brings hope for remembrance. I shake at the acme of the day; the slope of night pulling me down. Dreaded delight at another journey of lost hope. A cold tear paid for a moment of sight.

And again.

Life is amazing.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

And so it is with mine, Life that is. I have found myself experiencing quite a few “I never would have thought I would be…” moments in the past few years. Most, but not all, have been associated with travel; and what moments of travel I have experienced. During my younger years I had the opportunity to, quite literally, travel around the world. This early travel was all on Uncle Sam’s dime, hell I even got paid. This came with a trade off though: I went where the Navy took me, and sometimes I didn’t get much liberty — time off from work– whilst there. For instance, I was fortunate enough to visit Auckland New Zealand but I only had a day and a half of liberty… and this wasn’t contiguous. Having said all of this, I think the worst part of traveling when I was young, and I’m only speaking for myself here, not all young people, was that I was young and pretty much dumb. Not stupid, I think I’m a reasonably intelligent fellow, but boy was I dumb. With this dumbness was a generally diminished realization of just how awesome it was to be where I was. But I was still there, and I’m happy with that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still kind of dumb. But I think I am much more aware of some of the awesomeness happening to me. Which leads me to this amazing travel I’ve had the pleasure to experience the past few years. In 2011 I visited Europe, France in particular, for the first time, and it was… dare I say it? Amazing. I made some good friends whilst there, and look forward to going back again. Then in 2013 I went back to Europe. This time I experienced Geneva Switzerland and got to visit CERN. Thank you Jim, and Terrah. What a breath taking experience. (Oh look, a different superlative!) Followed up with a visit to my French Friends and a fun-filled trip to their chalet in southeastern France. Thank you Claude, and Martine. And now, on to this year. In May of 2015 I visited my eldest son, Ethan, who is teaching English in Seoul Korea. One of the great things about visiting someone who lives in the location is that you get an even more in depth, and immersed, experience of the locality. This is what happened in Korea. I was able to stay in the “thick” of the action in Bucheon, near Seoul, and experience the local culture with some wonderful guides. Thank you to Ethan, Hana, and Hyesun. As if that were not enough, this trip also included a nice, though short, trip to Kyoto Japan. I honestly cannot think of a superlative that properly conveys the feeling of awe I have when I reminisce about this trip. Amazing just doesn’t even come close.

All of this rambling has led me to this point. In the past few years I have: mumbled, stammered, whispered (in awe), and otherwise exclaimed, “I never, ever, would have thought I would be here.” While staring off into the, relatively short, distance at the North Korean flag; hiking to the top of a hill (thank you Ethan for cajoling me onward and upward) to find a breathtaking vista at a temple overlooking Kyoto; riding the clean and speedy subway to the Seoul’s city center, and experiencing the juxtaposition of old and new Korea, with the looming mountains of Korea as a backdrop to the beautiful Gyeonbokgung palace adjacent to towering glass and steel buildings showcasing South Korea’s prosperity.

I never would have ever thought that I’d be the places I’ve been. And this leads me to wonder, “oh where oh where shall I go next?!” Where indeed.

Peace and Love to all.

Marv

The Rock Quarry

I have climbed Mount Everest. I have also climbed the Matterhorn. I have fought German Panzers advancing on Patton’s position. I have broken trail with Daniel Boone. And I have parlayed with the leaders of the Sioux nation whilst living amongst them as a mountain man. All within earshot of my mother calling me to dinner.

This place of magic and imagination was “the rock quarry”, a unique and wonderful throwback to a time of growth in the area. It was a place nestled in a juxtaposition of time, born in an era when life was much harder, and the fingerprints of pioneer technology were still evident. Yet this place existed in my modern childhood; a time of television, fast cars, and free-love — which I was too young for dammit.

In the early twentieth century the wave of westward expansion had swept over the area long ago. Knoxville’s river-city heyday had come and gone, and out in the country we were left with mostly just filling in the lines. The county I grew up in was ‘modernizing’ its infrastructure; building new roads, and improving some of the existing secondary roadways. A final gasp of its mule-powered muscles; mules and manpower in lieu of dump trucks and mechanical excavators, and without the means to haul the roadbed materials, the county dug quarries along the way. The use of local resources, both terrestrial and human, was necessary, and gave many of the locals a bit of profit. Sweat equity had a different meaning back then. The original purpose of these quarries was utilitarian, but by the time I came along that original purpose was gone, and for me it was a place of inspiration, challenge, and adventure.

Though my childhood was an amazing slice of time compared to the era when the rock quarry was born, it was pretty antiquated compared to life today. We had television, but could receive only two of Knoxville’s three stations. We received the third station, the station that broadcast Batman had just enough to barely make out Adam West as he pondered whatever superheroes ponder; this was a tease that bothered me to no end. I recall once during a futile attempt at adjusting the little flags of aluminum foil wrapped strategically around the rabbit ears I was able to make out “to the bat cave Robin”; which totally made my day. I believe I commanded my family *to the bat cave* for the next two weeks. Even with just two stations, there was still plenty of fodder for my imagination: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; Lost in Space; Davy Crockett; and the updates to the Apollo missions amongst many. I did mention that regardless of my lack of television I did grow up in an amazing time didn’t I? Television and space exploration not withstanding, my solace and recreation was in comic books, and the  forest around my house.

My family lived in the ‘holler’. I have to be honest, it just sounds funny to call it the hollow even though geologically it is a hollow depression in the ridge, probably caused by the collapse of some ancient limestone cavern long ago. Still yet it was the holler to me, and to everyone I knew. At the time, our gravel driveway left the main roadway through a small meadow — beautiful, but prone to flooding — and across a homemade wooden bridge. This was the sort of bridge with broad braces on angled support poles with planks perpendicular to the braces creating runners for your tires. I can’t tell you how many people would take one look at that bridge and give a hearty “hell no.” (Most likely a “heck no”, we were in a good Baptist community after all.) Across the bridge, the driveway followed a brook, the “branch”, whose violent past had likely cut an easy path out of the holler and down into the valley. The driveway curved left and ascended up into the hollow… uh, I mean holler, and a couple dozen yards up, the quarry appeared on the left like a gaping cavity in the hillside. This cavity sloped slightly downward into a crescent-shaped cutout, and the floor of this cutout was carpeted with fine gravel – obviously these were the tailings of the quarrying operation. Though the quarry wasn’t actually very tall, maybe thirty feet at its zenith, still, the deeper you went into the cutout, the more you had to crane your neck to see the top of the quarry. Because of the topography of the hillside, the contours of the quarry’s height followed a sharp parabola. A wizened climber would have chosen one of the side routes to easily scamper up, but not the thrill-seeking adventurer such as I. No, for me it would be straight up the middle, with only the slightest meander around a protruding boulder and then latching onto the cedar tree that grew from a crack in a boulder face and up to the top of this escarpment I would spring. Sir Edmund Hillary himself could not have been more proud than I was on any of my many successful climbs. Standing at the top of the quarry my gaze was unhindered of the main road in the valley below. And it was here that I was indeed ‘King’ of my mountain. And it was here that my imagination would soar.

You may recall that the woods, and the quarry in the woods, were the place I could unleash my imagination, and the television shows I watched gave me inspiration, but so did comic books. I recall reading war comics like Sgt. Fury, and the Howling Commandos, I would devour these stories and then reenact them as soon as daylight came. A tobacco stick, or some other ‘mostly’ straight piece of wood served as my M1 carbine; or perhaps I’d break the stick a bit smaller and it would be my ‘Tommy gun’. For me it didn’t matter what story I was reliving, nor its source: comics, television shows, or even the encyclopedias I read with great enthusiasm, I could always find some place in the quarry to relive it. The large cracks in the rocks were my Crystal Cave, and I would either be the modern Floyd Collins (who met his death while exploring Mammoth Caves), or the fictional Merlin experiencing his historic visions in his Crystal Cave, or Sgt. Fury savoring his victory whilst chomping on a stogie. The rock quarry was everything and anything to my growing imagination.

Though my Everest was not so tall, and the Panzers and Germans were only in my mind, my imagination paved the way for many facets of my life; most of my successes, when thoughtfully analyzed, clearly show among their sources the spark of creativity that the rock quarry gave me. Erosion, encroaching development, and kudzu will slowly render my rock quarry into little more than a steeply sloped gravel pile, but it will remain a bastion of adventure for me. And for this I am eternally grateful.

Peace and Love.

Marv

Fire meet Iron, Iron I’d like to introduce you to Fire, you can join your friends there.

“When you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’ t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.” – Lucille Ball

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

“He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.” – Victor Hugo

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

In regards to my most recent post about getting organized, I’ve been thinking recently of one of my traits. I loathe sloth. Not sloths, they are odd looking but definitely ecologically necessary creatures; no, rather the act of doing nothing, wandering about, even whilst stationary, aimlessly and with little or no purpose. And just to let you know, if you ever see me sitting around doing nothing, you couldn’t be further from the truth; I am in deep, very deep, concentration, and most likely concentrating about something vitally important. No really, I am. Anyway, this trait that I am alluding to is that I tend to get many things going at one time. And typically these things are from a myriad of topics. I love this, and I love having so many different things going, but the problem is that I tend to fill myself up. And not just mostly full, but I tend to fill myself to the brim. You know how when you go to a coffee shop and get a delicious cuppa, and the server, oh excuse me, Barista, asks you: “room for cream?” Well, I tend to, more often than not, neglect to consider the need for room for cream in tasks and activities. So although I will consider just what I can pack into my schedule, I may not consider about the fact that I will need some downtime as well, but also I neglect to consider what about all the little surprises that the chaotic universe throws in our path. And this is what happens: my life machine is humming along at a nice pace, but something unplanned, but not necessarily unbelievable, happens and the whole thing comes crashing down. Imagine the breaking sound of all those formerly spinning plates crashing all about hapless little ol’ me. Don’t worry I’m not throwing a pity party, but believe me, you’ll all be invited.

Rather, and the point of this blog, is that I am trying to identify, and hopefully correct, just this one of my traits that are in dire need of the 120,000 mile maintenance. Though you wouldn’t know by looking at my desk, and my house, and my laundry room, and my car, I do enjoy organization and having things in a place. It’s just that my mind doesn’t instantly go to that organizational place. For years, I’ve developed a mindset that allows me to live in a “by the seat of my pants” sort of living. Such that I would tend to eschew putting things in order to experience the excitement of letting things happen. Because without keeping things straight, almost everything is a surprise. I’ve thought so many times that routine is deafeningly boring, and I would not want to have a “suburban” routine in my life for love nor money. But seriously, my lack of routine is really a routine if you think about. I tend to do the same things over and over, what I do when I get up, and what I do when I arrive at work are all consistent. And that my friends is a routine. And this is nothing to be ashamed of, we humans are creatures of habit, it’s all in our brain’s wiring. But I inherited the genetic “rebellious” trait from somebody. And in a way I’m glad I have it. It’ll tend to lead me to an exciting life.

Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to solving the problem. And the reason I have this problem, this “too many irons in the fire” problem is that I like having these diverse activities available to me. Reading Victor Hugo’s quote, and then John Lennon’s quote is a great dichotomy (or so it seems) of thoughts, but I don’t think so. I can plan and still allow life to happen. Sometimes I do like surprises. What do I do? I’ll tell you what I intend to do, I intend to continue enjoying my diverse interests, but I will strive to manage them, not allow them to manage me. So yeah, I’m going to organize that French Scrabble game on meetup.com, and am going to move forward with the writer’s group. I’m going to continue with my fitness goals, and my plans to move to a better place to live. But all with room for cream thank you very much.

Peace and love

Marv