441. Mesmerorials

 

 

[my apologies to blog only connections. I sometimes have great difficulty posting to facebook and have to reconfigure my postings to publish there.]

Image result for rainy spring day photosIt smells like spring again, fertile wet soil and pollen dust colliding into rare swirling perfumes. A rabbit has a nest under my back deck, which is driving my grand-dog Kermit insane as she sniffs through the deck boards and digs around the outer edges. She is  determined to rout and ravage that rascally rabbit. Meanwhile Momma rabbit has a buffet of lettuce and asparagus mere hops away from her babies. She is no fool, but I might have to shoot her later. I am not running a bunny hostel after all. No Hugh Hefner here. I have no interest and no license for raising wildlife in my back yard.  Facts is facts, Ma’am. Life is both sweet and harsh. The check out time is .22 magnum o’clock, Bunny girl.

Image result for two ducks on a pond picturesA pair of ducks also like to drop in on our little fish pond for an evening bath. Kermit the pool guard keeps limited hours, however. The pond is usually closed these days. “I’ll see your pair of ducks and raze you three rabbits”, she would say if she could talk. She is an elegant coon hound/ doberman mix who lopes like a deer across the yard, chasing anything on the ground. The only time I’ve heard her bark was when she was locked in mortal battle with a ground hog under the arbor vitae. I put a bullet through the groundhog and that was that. Sweet and harsh, so it was.

Image result for paintings of foreverSomething gets in me on cloudy spring days, melancholy or some other vague mood with no name. I don’t write on glorious sunny days. No. Instead I’ll plant flowers or cut the grass. Maybe go for a bike ride. But on these pewter gray haze days my mind wanders down emotional bunny trails, across memory lanes, around curious cul de sacs seeking deeper introversion… Meaning or at least equilibrium.

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I’m not good at most things that people pursue– money, organization, athletics, power, status, career advancement, big houses and fancy cars. But God did bless me with proficiency in language. I can speak, joke, teach, write, counsel, sing, or banter fairly well. And I’m glad for that, even though I would have traded anything to have been a great ball player in any sport when I was a sulky kid in uniforms that fit bigger boys. I see old pictures of myself and just wish I could tell that freckled kid to be patient, “Your day will come. It all works out wonderfully.”  But he can’t hear me through the yellow film covering the old Kodak snapshot. I suppose I would not l listen to my 75 year old self today if he suddenly whispered to me across the years between us. ‘Life is lived through the windshield and understood through the rear view mirror’, someone else said. Oddly or not, I am driving into my elder days and seeing my life in the rear view mirror as a dream, still unfolding in themes and mysteries. Thank  God I did not find my meaning and voice in money or sex or athletic prowess since they fail and eventually fade away. They are not the destination but merely glamorous bill boards hogging up the landscape along the lonely highway to meaning.Image result for paintings of remorse by dali

I know I should finish my billing, especially since my future son-in-law Zach dutifully fine tuned my computer yesterday. I’m sleep walking, though, dreamily pondering life, the parts and the whole of it. You know heal means whole, and so to be healthy is to be whole.

Old English hælan “cure; save; make whole, sound and well,” from Proto-Germanic *hailjan (cf. Old Saxon helian, Old Norse heila, Old Frisian hela, Dutch helen, German heilen, Gothic ga-hailjan “to heal, cure”), literally “to make whole”. 

This stuff fascinates me, my friends. Like mythology, language is random, illogical and eccentric. So naturally I am all in. Heck, my mother’s name was Helen, and I never fit all that together until this minute. On some level to be with one’s mother is to be whole and healed. She is literally where you came from, pal.  I see it in my grand daughter when she cuddles into her mom’s lap, as if returning to the womb. The parts cease their separate isolation when they are rejoined in the whole. Ultimately the whole for believers is a place of health and saving and wholeness known as heaven, where we will crawl on God’s lap again. Call it what you will.Image result for child on God's lap paintings

 

Yesterday I sat at a memorial service for a friend. Chris Little. Pastor. Husband. Father, Quite a man in my estimation. I posted about him last year when he died. It remains my all time high post for visits. And that’s as it should be. He deserved so much because he gave so much, dying in his newly tilled garden last April. Chris tilled a much larger garden, however:  his congregation of twenty years.  What did he plant? The Fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience),kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Over and over and over he planted, trusting in God to harvest the outcomes of such rich roots, seeds and bulbs. I knew him for only a few years, but I saw deep into the hull works of his character. How long do you have to sail in a worthy ship to know and trust it in harsh weather? Not so long.Rev. Christopher T. Little

The Harvest… will continue to trickle in to church and in to love and in to family and in to heaven. Wave after wave polishing jagged human stones till they are smooth gems fit for a celestial crown. My wish for you, Chris, is contained in Dylan’s old young song.Image result for polished stones by seashore pictures

“Forever Young”

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young.

 

I just want to check every box, my friend.  Till then.

Image result for paintings of glory by dali

383. Counterintuitive

Here’s a disturbing question for you:  When do folks suicide most often– summer, winter, spring or fall? Most folks think winter and the holiday season is ripe for suicides. That may be, but it’s spring that consistently hosts the most suicides in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. (You know they are opposite, right?)According to the CDC April and May show a marked increase in suicides in the U.S. and other northern countries, and that suicides actually decline in the bleak winter months. One study I saw clearly demonstrated Monday as the favored day for suicides to occur. Maybe those folks just didn’t want to go to jobs they really hated. Hmmm, you’d think quitting or calling off might have been more effective.

Not to make light of suicide. I feel deeply for folks who are in such a pain filled state that they can only think of destroying the pain container instead of destroying or managing the pain. It’s the all-or-nothing approach to problem solving, similar to burning down your house to make sure you eliminate the pesky mice that run around your kitchen at night. Undeniably, it works; but this solution obliterates the plaintiff, bailiff, courtroom, reporters, judge and jury. It’s an odd sort of justice that obscures the original injustice.

I recall a local anesthesiologist who offed himself on an examining table at the hospital to protest real or perceived maltreatment. The thing is, we’ll never know what the rest of the truth  was because he executed himself as he executed his strange justice. I do not recall if it was a Monday in spring or not. Doesn’t matter. His job was to anesthetize patients in surgery and to revive them afterwards. It’s supposed to be a round trip ticket not a one way. Which is why single passengers who buy one way airline tickets with cash attract so much attention from the TSA. The guys I know who do this are not terrorists; instead, they are repossessing cars or delivering machinery. In any event, they are coming back… unlike Dr. Doom, who fully anesthetized himself forever.

Sad and disturbing. No one can grasp the unbearable weight that moves a finger to pull a trigger of the cocked pistol at one’s temple. Follow the triggered nerve back to the tortured brain that has been rehearsing this exit strategy. Almost all suicides are completed alone, which reduces the risk of revival or interference. Still, what an airless bedroom closet or bathroom it must be as the suicider sits and builds up the critical and final momentum for the ultimate terminus. Like waiting to vomit and then ride the terminal wave out of consciousness, where the constant is becomes the eternal is not. The pain and hopelessness must feel like giant aliens that must be destroyed.                                                                                 Image result for giant alien pictures

The demoniac self named “Legion” in the Gospel of Mark 5, had so many unclean spirits driving him that he smashed rocks against himself and ran around tombs naked and screaming near the pig herds of the Gerasenes.  His repetitive insanity was ended by Jesus with a command, “Come out of him, you unclean spirit.” The legion of unclean spirits came out and complied. They asked Jesus not to torment them and begged to be cast into the nearby herd of pigs. He complied and they possessed the pigs, leading 2,000 to hurl themselves into the Sea of Galilee and drown. That’s a lot of bacon, folks.

One life was saved, one mind restored. And you’d think that the folks around the Gerasenes would be pleased, but they weren’t. They begged Jesus to get back in his boat and leave. No thank you or praise or worship, nope. Just fear simmered in the melted grease of confusion. It’s been said that miracles don’t produce faith; rather, faith produces miracles. I agree. Despite witnessing the overcoming of supernatural forces, the locals wanted no part of this Savior. Counter intuitive again. If you don’t want the problem nor the solution, then really, what do you want? More confusion, I suppose.

 I recall a story of a young man’s suicide with a pistol. The parents were devastated, yet they gave the gun to the victim’s younger brother.  I’m not a gun hater, but if your older son overdoses on oxycontins do you give the rest of the prescription to his little brother? Or if the one hangs himself, do you give the remaining noose to his kid brother? Seems counterintuitive again. The math of suicide is not that hard to do, if you simply possess the courage to do it.
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Despite the common terminology, no two suicides are identical. Some are grandiose exits with letters full of anger and bitterness. Some are murder/ suicides involving children or partners, parents or pets. Somewhere in the convoluted thinking the perpetrator believes the survivors can’t make it without him/her, or he/she can’t make it without them… and it’s better to make it a package deal. Some are desperate hangings while the family is away. Even when clear reasons are attached to suicides, survivors ponder the WHY? I suppose this question comes from the valuing of life on the one hand, and the incomprehensibility of destroying oneself on the other hand, which is literally no longer there.
Guilt and shame follow suicides as surely as the million WHYS. Yet, if survivors look hard at the evidence, it is usually not their fault. The fault is most often in the suicider’s brain, where he/she solves a temporary  problem with a permanent solution. Overkill is a fair comment, I believe.  Intuitively healthy minds seek survival and generativity. Counterintuitively, unhealthy minds seek death and the cut off of their loved ones. A life well lived is a beautiful thing. A suicide is, no matter how meaningful or dramatic, is a disaster.

368. Porn Eyes

A provocative title, yes. Sadly it’s a common reality for many men of all races and demographics that they are porn addicts. Can’t live through a day without a mind numbing hit of deadly eye candy. Like any narcotic or other compulsive behavior, the pleasure thrill leaves early on in the unholy hajj toward the heights of heavenly bliss. The addict’s creeping eyesight is corrupted by a toxic mind that constantly hungers for another shot of porn. In psychic sand storms, beautiful naked images are mindlessly devoured like so many potato chips, peanuts, or any other junk food binge vehicle. The thrill is gone, man, so taboo themes creep in to super charge plain old sex, similar to how one spices up plain chips and dip as the taste buds retreat. You know, you can’t taste salt after your taste buds are over salinated. This is not news. It goes back beyond Sodom and Gomorrah, cuz those dudes were already good at perversion by then. That was not their first rodeo.

“You are the salt of the earth”, said Jesus. “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Overconsumption does not lead anyone to appreciation. Rather it creates the gross state of numb boredom and waste.

It’s a shame, a Great Dismal Swamp of Shame, that men who have gorgeous, sexy wives will self gratify and slowly alienate their legitimate, available, and willing love partners. Instead of growing a garden of intimate bliss and planting vines of deep sensuality, these dead-eyed men strip down vibrant sexual subjectivity into its inanimate objective parts. Their fantasized playmates have no names or personality; they only have parts… like car parts– cams, pistons, fenders, carburetors– that do not connect into one, God-made love partner. They become cyborg robots in emotional junkyards, replacing parts. All day long they replace parts. Or act like reductionist chemists who reduce a tomato into 32 lifeless components.

See, it’s easier, so much easier to exchange parts than to engage the breathing, thinking, feeling whole person in an atmosphere of patient love. Such fullness requires more work than any poker game; whereas porn is simply a broken down man hypnotically slamming a broken down slot machine expecting something different, as he pulls the handle and watches the images spin. Uh oh, you lose again… because you cannot win this or any other addiction game. Every time you use, the goal posts move farther away as your spirit deflates further.

I remember a gang of boys in high school who stole cars; parked them in nearby woods; and then stripped the wheels, tires, stereo systems and any easily removed accessory from the raped automotive carcass. Eventually they were caught and prosecuted. Turns out one of the cars they had stolen belonged to a government employee whose national security-linked computer was locked in the trunk. The Big Boys of law enforcement helped local cops bust the gang of thieves. Just like porn addicts, these gangsters did not know how valuable the whole was. They just saw replaceable parts and greedily pulled them off stolen cars like hyenas rip apart a fallen zebra.

Are you sad yet? This plague is tragic because it does not have to be. Are there more porn addicts or alcoholics? Porn by a long shot. Google Porn Addiction Statistics  and then Alcoholics Statistics and prepare to be blown away by hurricanes of disgust. God made human sexuality in all its glorious complexity; simply disgraceful men made pornography, which is the corruption of beauty and love. The root word of pornography is Greek, porne, which meant prostitute. Graphy still means writing, but nowadays it means documenting with video. Likewise, Porn still conjures up the viral spirit of prostitution.

Porn is easy to find but hard to lose. Graphic carnal knowledge and ecstatic imagery is a mouse click away today, my friends. In my youth it was magazines in the woods that had been smuggled out of some kid’s father’s stash. You had to work hard to see the forbidden fruit in those patinated days. Expropriated magazines radiated more than plutonium in trash bags hidden in a hole covered by leaves. If a porno Geiger counter were available, one could find the stash by listening to the beep-beep-beep rising in pitch and frequency. The magnetic display needle would slam against the highest setting as the sex detective scanned the woods where young boys played with plastic guns and sticks and Playboys. Invisible energy leeched out, seeped out, wafted out of the trash bag container poisoning young male minds. Rotting carnality just an arm’s length away, the shiny nude photographs eroded innocence as surely as cancer erodes whatever it touches. Objects outside of any relationship, culture, or code jump out at the viewer– an oyster nailed to a tree; an owl flying through a hospital ward; a baby in prison. Impossible to unlook or forget these images once tattooed on a revolted conscience.

We knew some dads even had 16mm porn movies, but that was way too complicated to attempt rigging up.  We knew about the drive-in on Palmer Highway. Triple X movies were all they showed. I blogged about that adolescent, rooftop experience in an earlier post. The triple X porn movie on the drive-in screen was not memorable, however. The wild police chase and narrow escape with my buddies was etched into my grey memory matter. I smile and savor old memories like that one. On the other hand, the porn addict is haunted by his old violations and perversities, unshared and utterly alone. And that is another aspect of porn use that is not immediately understood– it isolates the addict from real intimacy and isolates him from himself. Instead of connecting to others deeply, the addict uses airbrushed images of perfect others to remain perfectly disconnected. The shame cycle is simply ramped up by repeated failure to escape the addiction. Self disgust mounts and more porn is used to escape the negative emotions caused by the addiction to begin with. Pornography strip mines the soul’s majestic mountains.

And just in case you think that church doors filter out streaming porn from genuflecting male minds, the stats are just as bleak for Christian men. Viruses don’t care if you go to church, and Porn is a billion dollar virus industry.

 

348. Broken Vessel

While sitting with a client a week after her suicide attempt, I was struck by her brokenness.

A week before she had called to say she could not wait for our first session at the agency where I was working in the 90’s.  She was drunk and decided to swallow the fifty or so anti-depressants she had left in her prescription. It was an odd emergency cancellation call.

“I won’t  be able to make our schsleduled appointment cuz I’m gonna kill myschelf.”

“Okay. Could you do me a favor before you kill yourself?”

“Sschure.”

“Would you unlock your front door?”

“Okay. Anything elsssh I can do for you?”

“Nope. Just thanks for calling. That was super nice of you.”

“Oh Ssshertainly. Bye bye.”

I immediately called 911 and canceled the appointment I was in the middle of. Yeah, I had just met a lady with a circus of diagnoses in person and this craziness on the phone had exploded. “I gotta go, ma’am. It’s an emergency. I know we just met, but …”

 I met her as the medics carried her to the ambulance.  “Who the hell are you?” she slurred as we passed. I happened to look down and see her pathetic, impossibly childish, yellow suicide sticky note on the floor of her apartment building’s lobby.  It said, “My parents never loved me.”

Later at the hospital she had her stomach pumped and some crisis counseling. “I’m the guy on the phone. I’d still like to meet with you after your get out of here. Is that okay?”

As I listened during our first scheduled session, I visualized her as a ceramic vessel that had been shattered long ago.  I felt like I was figuratively “picking up the pieces”, as if I were a psychological archeologist.  I recalled the satisfactions I had derived from rebuilding broken furniture, kids’ toys, my old cars, etc.  I also sensed a fertile symbol here and a very powerful emotional image to manipulate.  I floated the broken vessel image with “Sherry”.  She accepted it as accurate.

“Yeah, my life is a shattered mess with lots of missing pieces.”

Before our next session I located a hammer and several old coffee cups, two plastic grocery bags and a tube of Elmer’s glue.  During this session I asked “Sherry” to pick a cup she most identified with.  She selected one with a floral pattern and a few minor chips.  I asked her to explain how she was like this vessel.  She mentioned its usefulness, attractiveness and sturdiness.

As the session progressed, she seemed to hold the cup with unconscious affection.

After a while I asked “Sherry” to recall the major traumas in her life.  She did so, noting that most had been abuse suffered at the hands of men in her life.  I then asked my client to wrap the cup in the plastic bags to guarantee we could retain all the pieces.  Giving her the hammer, I instructed “Sherry” to voice the three biggest hurts she had experienced as she pounded the cup in the bags.  As she did so, the force of her blows increased with each hit.  I believe she would have turned the cup to powder if I had not set limits.

My client noted an immediate emotional release; however, she appeared overwhelmed at the task ahead of her.  I asked her to open the bag and inspect the pieces.  “That looks like I feel”, she observed, “ a broken mess”.  Then I gave her the glue and asked her to rebuild the cup.   “The glue is therapy”, I observed. She quickly gave excuses why she could not comply.  I told her she might not ever want to complete the task, and that she could stop at any point in the process.

At our next session the mug was again in one piece and my client had several remarkable lessons to relate about how she rebuilt the cup.

“I started with the big pieces, then worked from the bottom to the top.  I had to wait between gluings to allow the first pieces to solidify. You can’t rush some of the mends.”

“I had to look for patterns to follow; the flower prints helped. So did the border.”

“I had to give up the notion of a perfect rebuild since some of the cup was powder now. I guess the first blow is likely gonna be a powder blast.”

“I was proud of myself.  I thought ‘if I can rebuild this shattered cup, I can do this therapy thing too.’”

“I want to keep this as a reminder of where I started. I mean, I won’t be drinking coffee out of it, but I can put flowers in it on my mantel.”

“Sherry” went on to question some old assumptions and behaviors, and worked on changing her view of herself.  Oddly enough, her suicide attempt was triggered by a promotion at work. She assumed that she would make a mess of the increased responsibilities and found out as a fraud. She had been alcoholic and self-destructive, beating life to the punch.  Ironically, or so it seems to me, the hammer of destruction had truly been in her hand over the past few years.  Visualizing this truth seemed to be the beginning of the healing process.

On other occasions I have used this technique with traumatized clients.  As far as I can tell, each application has been very satisfying and growth-enhancing for the client.  On one occasion the client chose not to hammer her marriage cup symbol.  In another case a child of abuse chose not to fully rebuild the cup she symbolized as her abuser, leaving several pieces unglued that could have easily been reintegrated. There is a certain beauty in repaired brokenness, don’t you think?

Jeremiah 30:17 says, “I will give you back your health and heal your wounds”, says the Lord. “For you are called an outcast, ‘Jerusalem for whom no one cares'”. And so it goes, back to unity and wholeness and harmony.

 

 

322. The Battleship and the Daisy

[Once, a half dialogue dribbled down like this, like a watercolor monologue or a torpedo’s jet stream.]

“It’s like this”, she said. “You are a battle ship, armored and loaded for warfare. No soft spot on your hull. A floating uncrackable Brazil nut. You can muster your energies for sure destruction, mutually assured destruction, to be sure. Your relational invincibility makes you vulnerable, though. Because I can’t get to your steel-plated heart to change your course. 007 couldn’t complete this mission. So, ‘Boom’, our world ends. Dr. No wins.”

“On the other hand, I am a daisy whose soft petals sometimes fall. I am fragile sometimes and need to be held gently. You know, as a girl I counted ‘he loves me; he loves me not’, always frightened of ending on ‘not’. I can’t end on ‘not’. I refuse to grant you ‘not’ status. We are rooted in each other.”

“Still, you just go ‘Boom’ when things don’t go your way. You attack before you are attacked. No warning, maybe one demand for ransomed love, usually not. Only shattered windows and smoke follow your shoreline shellings. I know every hero needs a good villain, but that’s the movies, Mr. Bond. Listen to me:  this is real life!”

“I, huh, I need your protection and comfort, not your aggression, criticism, and condemnation. Circle that battleship around and protect me, please. Open a door, a port hole to your soft soul. I am not your Savior but I know Him. He loves you too, not your armor. Don’t you know that by now? Doesn’t that lonely ache scream out, ‘Abba’?”

“How? I just don’t know how we are going to make it work. All these years we have adjusted course and reformed a bit, amended, edited, throttled back. But we have not transformed to where we have any chance to succeed.”

“And survival is all we have to show for the years together, like some teetering rock in Utah that has survived centuries of erosion. Desperate Desert Dalis, we balance so precariously on toothpicks. A word, a look, a small failure and the whole thing collapses. Erosion will win if we don’t. Ours is a surreal relationship that won’t pass scrupulous scrutiny. Just look. Things are not what they appear to be.”

“If we don’t die first or find a way that is bigger than both of us–The Way of mutual surrender– then we’re just dead dust. I don’t trust you or myself to find that way through without surrendering to God. We suck by our odd, selfish, impatient, shellfish, greedy, lazy, miserable selves. Dessicated crustaceans in an Asian food market.”

“And that’s just what we are– not special or noble or exceptional. That’s all so much false advertising on t.v. Left to our own vices and devices we deserve nothing but trouble on our own. We are bloated ticks on an old sick hound dog. We need God, who is good and seeks us. Who knows why? The answer is not on our side of the equation, where we stack all our good works and all our failures on one side of a scale and God’s grace on the other. His grace will always weigh more, way way more. Our deeds are hollow as pigeon bones.”

“I can’t explain it. I take it on faith. That’s all. We are always a toothpick away from destruction.”

“Which is why we need to stay on our knees, face to the ground. We cannot fall from this humble mound. It’s when we are tall and haughty that we trip over pebbly sin.”

“Are you listening? How can a daisy pry open a battle ship?  Dear God! There must be a vent, some opening you breathe through. And I will pour my petals into that vent until your pistons pause, your gears gum up, and your engines stutter. I will smear my pollen all over your radar screen and uncorrupt your warped messages with powdery triple negatives. I’ll wrap my supple green leaves around your evil sensing antenna. Send an army of devoted honey bees into your cruel captain’s cabin. I’ll float my fragrant allergens into your nostrils, causing fits of blind sneezes. In any way I can, I will disarm you, my pirate love. We are not at war.”

So Isaiah wrote, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

This cold war operation has run out of time and fuel.”

“Can we live in peace and gently garden? ”

“We will plant hectare upon hectare of pure daisies, my love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

295. Reality Testing

The doctor asked the 80 year old man with a split skull what day it was, what his name was, where he was. The patient managed a few words but fumbled the date and who was president on a follow up question. In the medical and behavioral health business this is called reality  testing. It seems pretty clear in a medical sense when a neurosurgeon is probing an old man with a head cracked open like a  pistachio. But there are many other types of reality testing.

At the coffee shop recently, okay, TODAY, I was enlisted for my off the wall opinion on the current status of the Awkward Aardvark Café  where I javanate daily.

“Burrito, what do you think of the homeless shelter atmosphere that has developed here over the past few years?”

“You mean the living DSM V museum of mental disorders and coffee? Nice hat and shades, by the way. Is that a fake beard?”

“Yeah, that. Focus!!”

“Well, if you added some washers and dryers in the back room, that would complete the design of a small town, dirty sock hors d’oeuvres ministry on a cracker budget. Then, if we installed pull down Murphy beds along the north wall, we could squeeze in about 20 folks per night.”

“But we are still a business not a charity.”

“What would Jesus do?”

“He didn’t run a coffee shop!”

“C’mon Andrea! I’m sure at the carpenter shop there were loungers on his chairs and benches. He probably had stragglers and loiterers, even litterbugs doing jitterbugs. 21st century America did not invent the slacker. I’m sure he had to whack someone or just give them a hard Galilean stare every now and then. I’ll bet he had a no smoking sign posted above his sawdust piles.”

“Tobacco hadn’t been discovered back then, Mr. Anachronism. And the jitterbug comes from the Roaring 20’s. But customers are complaining now, the paying customers who fund this shop’s business. And some other business owners are complaining that our slackers are creating an unsavory environment outside on the square. They want to speak to the manager, which is why I am wearing this disguise.”

“Yes, but why go all Nazi on these folks? They are still human beings, right? They are our slackers. I mean there is Brenda the bread lady, and Lola the sticker picker, and Shelly the director of the United Nation of human ruminations.”

“It’s not them. We all like them. They are sweet in their own odiferous ways.”

“So, it’s Dudley?”

“No. Everyone likes him. He’s harmless and follows all the rules. He smokes across the street not at the outdoor tables.  And then he sweeps up others’ debris.”

“So it’s me, isn’t it?  This whole  ‘let’s talk’ thing was just a ploy to get me to confess, wasn’t it? Then I’m supposed to have a glimmer of insight and change for the better on my own, but I’m…”

“Stop! No, it’s not you. I’m seeking ideas from you. I’m desperate.”

“Wow, you must be floundering like a… flounder on the desert floor, floundering in a red hot iron skillet, popping with olive oil and pumpkin seeds to consult me. Let’s see, I can propose a committee to study this and then issue a report for a subcommittee to study and then make a proposal at a later time to the full house. Then, there’s the funding question. How’s that?”

“Not helping.”

“Okay, if the actual measurable offenses come from only two slightly creepy old guys, why not tell them as soon as they say or do something inappropriate? Then you don’t have to ride herd over the whole of humanity, picking winners and losers, the haves and the have nots. This is starting to sound like Marxism.”

“Like how?”

“Well, when X says something… say, Mr. X! That is inappropriate. If it continues, you’ll have to leave.”

“That’s harsh. Could you say it for us?”

“Let me see if I’m hearing you right– you want me to come up with the solution and the enforcement of said solution?”

“Yep. We’re scared to push, you know, be too bold. We’re young girls. Defenseless. Weak. You are old and don’t have long anyway. Most days you fail your daily reality test. Can’t you be the coffee shop cop?”

“No, you just don’t know what you don’t know. Let me share a bit of self defense wisdom that I learned while getting my hair cut an hour ago. The best in-house defense you can use against an intruder is Bee and Wasp spray. If you keep  a couple of cans open and at the ready, you can hit a man in the eye at twenty nine feet, essentially covering the entire coffee shop. Brilliant, eh?”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? Wasp Away. Hornet Hit Man. Bumblebee Tumble.”

“Sober as a gun slinging hairdresser, Sweety. And I don’t mean a blow dryer.”

“What if we miss and hit the wrong person or poison a muffin? Hit a baby in a stroller?”

“Collateral damage, Ma’am. The cost of urban warfare.”

“You are no help, really. We’re trying to find a way off this spider web and you are smearing honey on it.”

“Andrea, your metaphor is a bit obtuse, but I think you have hit the bull’s eye.”

“What?  I don’t follow.”

“The coffee shop is the web. Some critters come for the honey, i.e., the coffee, which is good, right? Some come for inappropriate reasons, to meet deep psychopathic emotional needs. Those are the guys you spray. It’s aversion therapy for free. You’ll see. Folks will applaud after you have cleaned up the town. You’ll be the new marshal in town. Just trust me on this one.”

“Well, will you spray the first offender? I mean, there’s the liability, the police, the drama.”

“Andrea, that’s why we have Joel on retainer. He knows how to handle the legally insane. He is a member of the Coffee Summit, for goodness sakes.”

“Thanks, Burrito. When I doubt myself, I think of you and feel so much saner.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

264. Fractions are not my friends

A math teacher colleague used to say to his eighth grade students, “Fractions are your friends”. His science buddy retorted “Decimals won’t deceive you”.  And the kids didn’t know what either one meant. The science guy had no use for fractions; they were a thing of the past, annoying anachronisms. “Real scientists only use decimals and the metric system. Fractions are like Roman numerals and Greek myths, for God’s sake!” he was heard to pontificate. Meanwhile, the crafty math teacher gave practical examples of fractions, noting that you can always convert a friendly fraction into a decimal, but you can’t always convert a dicey decimal into a handy fraction. And little kids can cut a paper pie into quarters with a crayon much easier than they can find twenty five hundredths of a pie.  See, fractions start with one; decimals are based on ten. Tomato, tomahto, tomato hawk… if you ask me. Fractions fracture; decimals decimate.

In my current business (the practice of functional mental health) fractions mean something very different. I believe everyone has issues–situations and episodes in their lives that present obstacles to overcome.  Death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, parenting problems, a head injury, having a child, moving, retirement, chronic illness, etc. These issues can suck the energy out of a healthy person and create a time of dysfunction. Some folks, however, seem to attract issues like a bug light attracts mosquitoes on a humid summer night. They are fractured by the onslaught of meteor shower insect issues. Other folks are remarkably resilient and hardly wobble when hit with just as many unexpected problems. Nurture and accidental combinations seem to account for a lot of the different reactions folks display in regard to the hurts and challenges in their lives. Some suffer well; most don’t.

Pathologies are another thing. They are categorized and measured by the DSM5, the  Adjustable Bible of Behavioral Health. ADHD, BIPOLAR DISORDER, OCD, BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER, PTSD, and hundreds of other disorders are described in the pages of this manual. These disorders are not merely situational, although some are driven by situations. Nature has a lot to do with many of these babies. But strangely enough, many DSM5 pathologies have no definitive cause, no source. As much as the mental health community would like uniformity and precision, and after millions of studies, it’s not there yet. Just look at the history of homosexuality, once considered a disorder, now considered a viable and legal lifestyle. Whoops.

The final category that I consider is character. It’s not listed in the DSM5 because it requires a moral position from the diagnostician, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a slippery slope to step upon. But let’s face it:  some folks are just bad, selfish, lazy, etc. because they choose to be. They don’t have any more issues than the average person and they don’t meet the criteria for any pathologies. They come from all sorts of family backgrounds and cultures and settings. And they choose to be dysfunctional. It’s easy in the moment or the short run. It’s easy if you have no purpose or meaning in your life or a moral compass or loved ones or a reputation or an education. However, in the long run a bad character’s life cannot end well without transformation.

Anyway, the point of this post is fractional people, broken folks… no matter how they got broken. I see them often individually. When someone knows he/she is a fraction of a whole, that’s okay. The client can work toward increased consciousness and wholeness. We call it integration, which comes from the same root word as integer, i.e., a whole number. Wholeness and health have the same base meaning as well. Oddly all of these terms point to “ONENESS”.

So a half of a man walks into a bar and starts chatting up a 2/3’s chica. It’s very exciting for both of them because their parents were also fractions, and in this bar there are mostly integers hanging around and a few square roots. Half man says, “I love the way the light glimmers off your long eyelashes. I’d love to buy you a drink and pursue a common denominator.”

Two thirds replies, “I’m an uneven fraction, Halfsie. I go on and on and on irrationally. Even men don’t get me. Odd men bore me.”

Half man, “That’s a real turn on for me, Baby. But if we get together, you’ll have to even out. Square up. Ya know?”

Two thirds, “You complete me, is that what you’re implying?”

Half man, “Something like that. Plus, we’d have a little extra.”

Two thirds, “Let’s hurry up and get married and have six kids. Three for you, three for me and one left over that we can adopt out.”

Half man, “Not in my world, you repeating digit head!”

Two thirds, “Oh, we need counseling to reconcile our love. Say you will, Half man.”

Half man, “Whatever it takes to solve this equation, Baby”.

Later in my office the fraction couple come in and explain their histories.

Half man, “Yeah, my first wife cheated on me with a mixed fraction. Told me I was nothing more than an inflated decimal. Point Five O. I gotta tellya, that hurt.”

Two thirds, “I don’t want to sound like a Disney princess here, but I think we have more than enough to make a whole number, Doc. Just do the math.”

Doc, “Well,  guys, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but when fractions hook up they don’t add up. They multiply.”

Half man, “What are you trying to say?”

Doc, “It’s like this:  1/2  x  2/3  =  1/3.  You don’t add fractions in marriage, you multiply them.”

Two thirds, “Don’t be silly. Why, that means we’ll make each other smaller than when we were alone.”

Doc, “That’s right.”

Half man, “But love is like glue, aint it? I mean, it can hold us together?”

Doc, “In a sappy pop song, love will keep you  together. But in reality you will have to face the law of diminishing returns.”

Two thirds, “Diminishing what? ”

Doc, “Economic theory, dear. It proposes a maximum efficiency is reached at some point, and anything added after that point actually results in less output.”

Half man, “That’s ridiculous. How could my fourth kiss diminish my third kiss?”

Two thirds, “If you didn’t shave or brush your teeth it could. I mean, theoretically.”

Half man, “So you’re taking his side now, huh?”

Two  thirds, “I was just saying…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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