Practicing Conflict

An essay from my church talks about the writer avoiding conflict, fearing conflict and disliking conflict. This interests me, because I do not avoid conflict, I don’t fear conflict and actually, I like it. Our emeritus minister once did a sermon in which he said that when you are thinking about two conflicting things at once, that is grace. I have thought about his words many times, especially when I am not in agreement about something.

Does this interest in conflict mean I fight all the time? Well, sort of, but not in the way you think. I don’t fight with other people much. I fight myself.

What? No, really. Most topics have multiple sides. Not one, not two, but many. Like a dodecahedron or a cut gem. Hold it up to the light, twelve sides, each different. I argue the different sides with myself.

I learned this from my parents. My parents would disagree about something, they would discuss or argue about it, and then they would bet. Sometimes they bet a penny, sometimes a quarter, sometimes one million dollars. Then one of them would get up and get the Oxford English Dictionary, or the World Atlas, or some other reference and look it up. This was pre-internet, ok? 1970s and 1980s.

Sometimes my parents would even pay each other. The penny or quarter. My father spoke terrible French and my mother had lived in Paris for a year after high school, so he could get her going by insisting that his French was correct. It wasn’t. Ever.

There were other arguments in the middle of the night that were not friendly and involved yelling, but the daytime disagreements were funny and they would both laugh.

Once my sister is visiting after my mother has died. My father is present. My father, sister and I get in a three way disagreement about physics. I’m a physician, my sister was a Landscape Architect and my father was a mathematician/engineer, so we are all three talking through our hats. However, we happily argue our positions. Afterwards, my gentleman friend says, “That was weird.” “What?” I ask. “That was competitive and you were all arguing.” “It was a discussion and we disagreed.” “I won’t compete.” “We let my dad win, because it makes him happy.” “That was weird.” “Ok, whatever.”

My gentleman friend is also shocked when my teen son challenges me at dinner. My son says, “I am researching marijuana and driving for school and there isn’t much evidence that it impairs driving.”  I reply, “Well, there is not as easy a test as an alcohol test and it was illegal, so it has not been studied.” We were off and having a discussion.

Afterwards my gentleman friend says, “I am amazed by your son bringing that up. We weren’t allowed to discuss anything like that at dinner.” I say, “We pretty much discuss anything at dinner and both my kids are allowed to try to change my mind. About going to a party or whatever.” He shakes his head. “That is really different.” “Ok,” I say.

This habit of challenging authority, including adults, did not go over well when my son was an exchange student to Thailand. It did not occur to me to talk to him about it. He figured it out pretty quickly.

Back to my internal arguments. If I take a position, I almost immediately challenge it. I think of it as the old cartoons, with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil will make fun of things and suggest revenges and generally behave really badly. The angel will rouse and say, “Hey, you aren’t being nice.” Then they fight. The internal battle very quickly becomes comic with the two of them trading insults and bringing up past fights and fighting unfairly. When it makes me laugh inside, I can also be over the driver who cut me off, or someone who spoke nastily, or whatever. My devil is very very creative about suggested revenges. When the angel says, “You are meaner than the person who cut you off!” I am over it.

When I was little and disagreeing with my family, my sister could tell. “You have your stone face on!” That meant I was attempting to hide a feeling, especially fear or anger or grief. Siblings and family are the most difficult because they can read us and see through us like glass. My physician training also teaches control of feelings. I have sometimes wanted to grab a patient and scream “Why are you doing this to yourself?” but that really is not part of the doctor persona. I am doing it inside, but I can put it aside until later. Then the devil goes to town! And the angel tries to calm the devil down.

Maybe we all need more of this skill. Pick a mildly controversial topic. Argue one side of it. Then switch positions and argue the other side. Go back and forth until it gets ridiculous. Let each side get unreasonable and inflammatory and annoying. This can play in your head and not on your face. Once you can do a mild topic, move on to something a bit more difficult. If you only know the arguments on your side, read. You can find the other side, the internet is huge. Start gently.

A friend says, “You always argue about things.” I say, “I prefer to think of it as a discussion.” “You always take the other side.” “Well, it interests me. And if there is no one to discuss something with, I discuss it with myself!” “Weirdo,” says the friend. I think he’s jealous, really I do. Don’t you?

Hello universe

You know what?

I want to get remarried. Add that, Beloved, to me wanting someone to love and to love someone.

Commit, damn it.

And that is what I now want. Thank you recent ex for showing me what I want.

I want to be myself from the start.

I want to notice bullshit and walk away before we get involved.

I don’t want to be controlled, I don’t want to control, I want a partner.

I don’t want to be enabled, I don’t want to enable, I want mutual respect and caring.

I am not your shrink, you are not my shrink, and if one of us needs a shrink, we should find one.

I want to notice lies and walk away before we get involved.

I want to speak up if you tell me lies, or I want to back away for good.

I want to be loved and I want to love. By the same person, damn it.

Hear my prayer, Beloved. Hello, universe. Here I am.

bear

I make friends with a bear. Or really, the bear makes friends with me.

It is when I am very sad. I know I will work for another year then close my clinic. Then I will work somewhere else and either make a lot of money or get very sick. Sick being likely. And scary.

The bear lures me out to walk. By offering food.

The bear tells me things, many things. The bear asks me questions. Sometimes I don’t want to answer. I say, “Do I have to answer that?” The bear knows that those are very dark places, when I don’t want to answer.

“What do you want?” asks the bear.

“I just want to be loved.” I say.

“I don’t love you,” says the bear. “I want to be left alone.”

“Then why are you walking with me?” I say.

“People don’t listen.” says the bear.

“I am listening,” I say. The bear shakes his head. We go on walking, often. The bear is both shy and brave, angry and scared, dangerous. “I am very very dangerous.” says the bear.

“Ok.” I say.

Time passes. The bear keeps saying, “People don’t listen.”

“I am listening,” I say.

“People don’t listen,” says the bear. He leaves. Back to the woods, to hide or hibernate or do bear things.

I stand on the beach alone.

“I am listening,” I say.

But the bear wants to be left alone.

So I leave him alone.

Defiance

Ok, this is a beautiful and romantic song, and yeah, George Strait is pretty.

And then there’s the Offspring. Singing Self Esteem. Guess which I like better.

The Offspring: defiance and singing about all sorts of things that we don’t talk about: “The more we suffer the more we really care!” Some of my patients needed to listen to this song. Often the mom, with a spouse and three children, who was taking care of all of them but not herself. “Who takes care of YOU?” I would ask. “No one,” some moms would say. “Look. There are FIVE people in your family. You are one of them. You deserve the same level of care that the rest of them are getting. I want you to include yourself in the people you take care of.” “BUT” “NO BUTS. If you don’t, then you are setting expectations for your children: the boys that a wife will take care of them and the girls to be walked on. Is that what you want?” “NO.” “Change it.” They often would, slowly but surely.

And The Offspring are further my heroes because of this song: Opioid Diaries. Ok, a punk band telling opioid overuse people to get help. MY HEROES! Thank you Offspring!!! It’s not easy to watch but wait until the ending and what if offers. I treated opioid overuse for the last 12 years in my small family practice clinic along with everything else: diabetes, hypertension, whatever. I never felt threatened or frightened, but some of that is because I grew up in an alcohol family. I recognize addiction. Reminding my of my parents is not a good sign. And I had to learn boundaries at home first. This is an uncomfortable video to watch but to me it is beautiful, because it offers hope.

I am the princess

I woke this morning thinking about a poem my sister wrote, titled I am a princess guarded by dragons snorting and grumbling and rumbling in wagons.

I am the princess guarded by dragons snorting and grumbling and rumbling in wagons

I am the princess guarded by dragons
snorting and grumbling and rumbling in wagons
I am the princess surrounded by briars
with wretchedly nasty folk starting briar fires
I am the princess with long, tangled hair
I cut it myself and I climbed down from there.

I am the princess, asleep ’til a kiss
woke me, he shoke me, all after was bliss
I am the princess who sat at her wheel
spinning, my fingers bled, hating the feel
I am the princess for whom you fought wars
Raggedly, jaggedly, murderous spars.

I am the princess, a wildvirginqueen
commanding with glory that none had foreseen
I am the princess who made wild things grow
I fought for my daughter, in winter below

I am the princess, I wore a great gown


Now cowboy pjs, I’d rather dress down.

by Christine Robbins Ottaway

________________________________

I did not want to be a princess when I was a girl. It seemed like a dead end career. The happiest day of a girl’s life was when she got married and what happened after that? Well, in the Disney animated movies, all adult women were either evil witches or evil stepmothers, or dead in childbirth. Until recently there were no live adult women on the throne who were not evil. And certainly the Queen in Frozen II has been attacked mercilessly by the Internet for being a woman without a man. Perhaps it would be okay if she were named Elizabeth.

I wanted to be a superheroine, not a princess. A secret identity was great and Spiderman had just as much angst as I had. I could be myself AND a superheroine. Princess seemed impossible and you had to be nice all the time and you had to talk to mice or spin straw into gold or be the daughter of a king. I did not want it.

Once I went to the Unitarian Church and my minister gave a sermon on each of the four types of Unitarians. That day was about mystics. I thought “Mystics, what hooey!” but by the end of the sermon I thought, oh, I’m a mystic. And a secret romantic. How exactly do I square that with my refusal to have anything to do with Princesses.

My sister was much more comfortable with the Princess Archetype than I was. I wanted a career that would support me and children, because even if my wedding was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, I still noted that half of marriages ended in divorce. And what about men? Almost no one celebrates the virgin male and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything about marriage being the happiest day of a man’s life. What is the story there?

My version is titled: I am the princess

I am the princess guarded by logic
By science, degrees and words pedagogic
I am the princess staying in school
seeming obedient to misogynist rule
I rack up a degree, residency next
study the landscape, study the texts

I am the princess who longs for a kiss
various frogs taste worse than horse piss
I am the princess flaying a man
who was already dead, to learn what I can
I am the princess, no wars fought for me
I fly under the radar, no one can see

I am the princess, perhaps I’m a queen
hide in a small town, nearly unseen
Treating my people while staying awake
Try to avoid being burned at the stake

I was a princess hiding from most
raising my offspring, I’d rather not roast

__________________________________________

The photograph is from the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race and is not me or my sister.

My sister’s blog: https://e2grundoon.blogspot.com/2009/01/chemo-not-in-vain.html

Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.

Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.

This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.

What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.

His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.

My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.

I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.

There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.

I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.

One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.

We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.

Blessings.

trap (version II)

why are you so afraid of being trapped?

and it’s attached to women
not to men

that is weird

but we are all weird

I have an explanation
That I won’t share here
Doesn’t matter
doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong

what matters is the pattern
and whether you can break it
and whether you can heal it
and whether you want to heal it
or just repeat it

over and over again

I do not know what you will do
whether you will see the pattern
whether you want to break it
whether you want to heal it

but the pattern is why you chose me
that is clear as glass, as ice, as air
on a very clear cold day

my pattern is that I don’t give up
as you said, I look at things from all sides
I am tolerant to a fault, you say

what matters is my pattern
whether I see the pattern
whether I can break the pattern
whether I want to heal the pattern

and yes I do

I see the pattern thanks to you
what matters is the pattern
I will break the pattern
I will heal the pattern

thank you, love

sometimes we must cut the abscess open
and drain the pus
or rebreak the bone that has healed wrong
or amputate the gangrenous fingers
to save the rest

I see the pattern
I change it
I heal

_______________

May 27, 2022

wrong word

you are angry you say
I don’t think those are the right words, I say
not angry? you say
bored, I say

BORED you say

Yeah, I say
Well, you say you don’t love me
You say you won’t change
You say you changed once, in the past
You say you won’t go in a church
You say you did that
You say you won’t go in a casino
You did that

I’m BORED

My first thought about the church
My first thought about the casino
Is that is clearly where I can go
If I want to avoid you

My second thought about the church
My second thought about the casino
is ICK. Why am I hanging around
someone who doesn’t love me
someone who doesn’t plan to change?

My sister and I talk
about the people who don’t change
about the people who remain the same
about the stubborn who bury their heads

We notice them shrinking
as the world changes around them
the things they are willing to do
the people they are willing to talk to
the places they are willing to go
get smaller and smaller and smaller

You dream of a small cabin in the wilderness
your brother shows up and an attacking bear
in another dream I am well and busy and happy

May all your dreams come true
my love
if you really want them to

I am well and busy and happy

are you?

__________

April 18, 2022

playing telephone

If they whisper from one end to the other, does it get garbled before it reaches the other end?

Isn’t gossip a sin?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: chaos.