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Wounds and Weaknesses

I’ve been sick for the last week. Not COVID, just a heavy cold, likely acquired from one of my giggling, spluttering, young swim students.

To be sick is to be in an alternate reality. Life goes on outside my windows. The neighbors come and go. The mail comes. They’ve been paving streets in the neighborhood. It’s rained. I’ve watched leaves falling and wished I felt well enough to go out and rake them into my garden beds. I’ve missed being out in the world. I’ve missed work. I’ve missed my friends. I’ve missed swimming and exercising.

Photo by Autumn Mott on Unsplash

I’ve had a lot of time to read, and to think. I follow a writer on Substack, Jessica Dore. She writes about the Tarot, myth, and story, and I rarely read her without new insight and perspective on my own work in these subjects. In one of her recent posts, she explores an old story dealing with wounds, suggesting there may be wisdom in “letting the wound live.” Culturally, we are focused on healing, on fixing, on freeing ourselves and others from pain. Allowing wounds to stay open is a challenging and uncomfortable idea, but some part of me senses wisdom may indeed lie within it.

I’ve been thinking about letting wounds live as I surrender to whatever virus is operating in my system right now. Not thinking logically and linearly, but allowing it float and drift through my mind, making tenuous connections with other things I’m reading, old memories, half-waking dreams as I cat nap on the couch.

Another idea I’ve come across lately is turning weaknesses into strengths. This is my favorite kind of alchemy. I’ve always considered my wounds to be weaknesses. Could they be strengths?

We moved in May, and I’m still figuring out how best to fit my furniture into my space. I bought myself a badly-needed new mattress and a high bedframe to hold it. High because I have no closet in my bedroom and I want to store clothes under my bed. Love the mattress, love the frame, but the bed is now so high (I feel like the princess and the pea on top of twenty mattresses!) my bedside table is ridiculously low and inadequate. I had to lean out of bed to use it.

I have a tall wicker basket with a hinged lid. When I was a child my brother and I used it as a laundry hamper. I’ve taken it with me from place to place all my life. It’s the perfect height for my bedside table, nice and roomy on top, storage inside.

I have an old wound connected with that basket.

When I was about nine years old we lived in a big house in the Colorado Mountains in a very small town. My brother and I had a playroom, a bedroom each, and a bathroom downstairs in the finished basement. The wicker hamper lived in our bathroom next to the tub/shower.

I was a fearful child, terrified of the dark, constantly anxious, with a vivid (fervid?) imagination. One evening I went in the bathroom, shed my dirty clothes and put them in the hamper, and took a bath. All was well (what’s better than a hot bath and a book?) until the tub was filled and I turned the water off.

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

The hamper creaked. Then it cracked. Then it skritched. Long silences in between noises. I had never noticed this before, and I was immediately terrified. All the unnamed, half-understood fears in my young heart coalesced into the utter certainty there was a monster in that hamper, and my life depended on escaping its notice.

I froze, my book clutched in my fingers. I didn’t dare read because I was afraid of the whisper of turning a page. I didn’t dare move. The door was closed. My parents were far, far away upstairs. I got cold, and then colder. Reaching for the hot water tap was out of the question. I’d have died first.

The hamper creaked, and cracked, and skritched.

Eventually, what seemed like hours later but was probably much less than that, although the water was unpleasantly cool by then, my mom came to check on me and found me there, fixed in place with a terror I could not adequately express. That was the problem. If I’d been able to talk about my fears they likely wouldn’t have been so overwhelming.

I’ve never forgotten that evening, and how real and visceral my terror was. I knew, I knew some dark and deadly horror crouched in that hamper, listening, scenting prey, slobbering, waiting to pounce. I knew there was no help for me. No one would hear. No one would protect me.

In spite of that old trauma, I’ve always loved the wicker hamper. It still creaks and cracks with temperature change and use, but it strikes me as friendly now, rather than sinister.

An old traumatic wound. It joined others wounds made by the claws of fear. I’ve written before about my fear of the dark, which haunted me for the first three decades of my life. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of scarcity. Fear of the adult world I could not possibly understand. Fear of abandonment.

Fear is an old and loyal companion.

How could it possibly be a strength? Surely nothing is quite so pathetically weak as constant fear?

As I was pondering this, I came across a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, translated by another of my favorite poets:

You Darkness

You darkness from which I come,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence out the world,
for the fire makes a circle
for everyone
so that no one sees you anymore.

But darkness holds it all:
the shape and the flame,
the animal and myself,
how it holds them,
all powers, all sight –

and it is possible: its great strength
is breaking into my body.

I have faith in the night.

Translated by David Whyte.

Rilke understood darkness. So does Whyte. Poets. Writers.

Writers like me.

Photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash

So much of my writing is about shadows and darkness, the hidden thing, the unspoken secret, the uncertain future, the truths nobody dares tell … until someone does. Someone like Pandora, who opened the box anyway. Someone who blows the whistle, blows the cover. Someone like Baba Yaga, or the child who said aloud, “the emperor had no clothes!”

I am surely not the only child of fear. Perhaps we all hold its hand, or perhaps some of us are more intimate with it than others. I don’t know. What I can sense is its paradoxical nature. Fear defines courage. How often does it define, at least in part, art? Think of Vincent Van Gogh, for example.

Fear defines courage. Yes. I believe that. Courage is strength. I believe that, too.

Then it must follow that fear is not weakness. Fear has wounded me, but it hasn’t made me weak. Rather the reverse.

If things had been different in my life, if I’d never felt the degree of fear I did and do, if somehow I’d found a way to heal myself of fear’s wounds and be free of it, I would not be the writer I am. I might still be a writer, a different kind of writer, but I would not have written The Webbd Wheel series or this blog.

All my work and much of my empathy are rooted in the compost of living, breathing, bleeding fear and the wounds it’s torn in my psyche. Fecund wounds. What a strange idea.

I leave you this week with a final thought from David Whyte:

… the place you would fall becomes
in falling
the place you are held.

From “Millennium”

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here.

 

Benefits

One of my favorite filters through which to make choices is the question: Who benefits if I do this? Who benefits if I don’t do this?

It’s a deceptively simple question on the surface. Most of the choices we make in an hour, a day, are unconscious. We don’t take the time to think about them. We go with our instinct or impulse, we take the path of least resistance, we default to our familiar routine, we choose the most comfortable thing. Pausing to think our choices through slows us down and makes us uncomfortable.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Unconsciousness is so much easier!

Last week I wrote about making choices, paths and no-paths, trying to navigate my life journey according to what works best for me, makes me happiest, and creates a life true to my particular values rather than doing what everyone else seems to be doing and following the most trampled trails. You know a lot of trash gets left beside the most heavily used roads, right?

I make many choices out of fear. I suspect we all do, but I won’t presume to speak for anyone but myself. In fact, I’ve posted about fear-driven choices before on this blog, years ago. Interesting, how we can spiral around and around in life, going a little deeper with each iteration.

Let’s take, for an example of a fearful choice, our own personal economic situation, whatever it is. If we are afraid to keep our accounts balanced, budget, open our bills, call a plumber, or commit to some kind of savings account, who benefits? Seriously. It’s a real question. Who benefits when we avoid dealing with our financial situation?

Any lender or business entity who charges interest or late fees benefits. Our bank benefits in overdraft or returned payment charges. Capitalism benefits if we don’t manage our spending habits and can’t resist advertising. Nameless, faceless institutions and corporations benefit from our fear. It’s in their best interests to complicate, obfuscate, create pitfalls and loopholes, offer “deals” and “sales.”

Who benefits when we put off dealing with a frightening physical sign or symptom, or facing an addiction? Both situations have the potential to get much worse, more frightening, more deadly, more expensive. So who benefits when we choose to deny, avoid, ignore what’s happening?

Who benefits when we sabotage ourselves, when we don’t choose to live according to the highest expression of who we are? Who benefits when we silence ourselves or allow others to silence us? Who benefits when we refuse risk, vulnerability, passionate creativity, joy?

I have never made a fear-based choice that didn’t eventually come back around and bite me in the ass. Most of us know the feeling of “what was I thinking?” Making the easiest or most seductive choice in the moment can mean years of cleaning up consequences and eventually having to revisit the original choice point and try again, hopefully with more wisdom.

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

 

And if we do circle back around, fear is still there. What if I get it wrong again? What if I fail? What if I can’t do this one thing I want to do more than anything else? What if the other kids laugh at me? What if I miss out on what everyone else is doing? What if this is my last chance?

“What if …” is nearly always the voice of fear, and it frequently stops me in my tracks. I can think of ten ways every choice might be the wrong one. All my demons throw a party and I’m stuck, locked in the bathroom without a friend or a way home while listening to them smash up the furniture..

Why do I make choices that benefit my fear? According to Oxford Online Dictionary, fear is a feeling arising from the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

A feeling arising from a belief. Contrary to the increasing fanaticism and extremism infecting our culture, a belief is not necessarily true. We can and do change our beliefs.

Belief is a choice.

As for the feeling of fear, we are psychobiologically wired to feel it because it’s a survival mechanism. Our ancestors felt it and effectively responded to it; if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here.

Feeling fear is not the tricky part. What we choose to do with the feeling is. Do we use it as the good tool it is, or do we let it stop us, take away our power, keep us imprisoned?

More than that, do we feed it? Do we choose to benefit it?

If we allow our fear to take over our lives, as opposed to harnessing it to keep ourselves whole and healthy, who benefits?

No one and nothing but our fear.

Do we want to benefit a feeling based on a belief?

When I look at the world around me, that seems like a dark, well-trodden path with a lot of trash left beside it. I don’t see that particular path leading to any true connection, opportunity, or healing.

It’s not what I want. It’s not what I choose to do.

There’s enough fear in the world without me adding to it or enabling it, even in my small sphere.

Fear is for taking immediate, life-saving action. Or for weighing the pros and cons of a risky activity or choice. Or for directing our attention to a potential threat, a real threat, like the stranger peering in our window, not a belief.

We can benefit from our appropriate response to fear. Let’s not allow fear, or anyone manufacturing it, to benefit from us.

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here.
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Window of Opportunity

It’s in the moment we take our eyes off the road and the car in front of us to reach for our water bottle that it happens.

It’s in the moment we’re preoccupied with our distress over a fight we had with a loved one before we came to work that we miss something key in the meeting.

It’s the moment of emotional reaction, the moment of distraction, the moment in which we’re trying to manage our feelings that provides an opening for accident, miscommunication, injury, even violence.

Windows are openings in boundaries, in walls and barriers and closed, airless cells. They allow egress and entry, movement. Sometimes air, sunshine, and birdsong come in and our best selves go out. Sometimes monsters and demons crawl in and our worst selves go out.

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

Predators of all kinds look for windows, openings in our defenses, in our boundaries. Windows that can be cracked, wedged, broken, pried. Their tools are ideology, lies, personal attacks, misdirection, denial, silencing, and threats.

If our emotions can be controlled, if distrust and drama can be manufactured, if we can be put on the defensive, our windows become open holes. We are no longer able to open and close them at will, control what comes in and what goes out.

When our ability to think critically and be proactive is overwhelmed by our reactions and defenses, we cannot make thoughtful choices. We no longer have the energy and presence to look, listen, feel, and think about what we’re hearing or seeing. Our emotions hold us captive, and whoever controls our emotions has our power.

Emotional manipulation is seductive. We become attached to exercising our outrage. Our fear is addictive, so addictive we employ denial and cling frantically to what we want to believe, what we want to hear.

Predators need not show their work, cite their sources, or back up their assertions. They need not tell the truth or undergo the tension of collaboration and cooperation. They don’t need to waste their time with civil discourse, learning new information, or considering other points of view.

All they need is a lust for power and an open window. Like the screen you’re reading this on.

Oppositional energy and inflammatory language are short cuts, toxic mimics for true discourse and contribution. They provide a hiding place for those hunting for power and control, those unable to think critically or master information.

If we’re busy arguing, defending, and being distracted by our emotional hijack, we can’t evaluate situations and people clearly. If we can’t get a grip on a situation, perhaps somewhere in the background a predator has jimmied a window or two and successfully invaded our house.

Toss them out.

And then let’s repair our windows.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

Facts, Fear, and Footnotes

This tidbit landed in my Inbox this week. At first read, I simply agreed with it. As I’ve thought about it, though, I keep unpacking layers.

I’m sitting outside in the sun at our new house writing the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper on my knee, which is crusted with dirt. The knee, I mean, not the pen and paper! It’s too bright for my laptop out here. Inside, our plumber and his assistant are deconstructing our upstairs bathroom. Fortunately, we still have a dumpster. We are pleased to have our plumbing issues addressed: slow drains, old water damage, leaking pipes, and an unpleasant whiff of sewer now and then. We will be even more pleased to have a working shower.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

And it all costs money. A lot of money.

With no work as a distraction on this day off, I spent the morning in the garden, where I was thoroughly happy and busy. That took care of the morning. I got dirty (knees) and bug bitten. We have no water at the moment, so I’m going to stay dirty until the plumbers leave for the day, although, come to think of it, I don’t know the water will be turned back on when they leave. Hmm.

Anyway.

Near noon I went inside for shade and a cold drink, but the sounds of banging, sawing, and the shop vac, along with a steady stream of construction debris and old bathroom fittings being carried down the stairs and out the door on the way to the dumpster fueled my anxiety, so I turned to the comfort of writing, as I so often do. I started by catching up on my email, where inspiration frequently lurks.

It was then I read Godin’s brief thoughts about fear and footnotes. He suggests when we feel nervous and afraid about the “information” we’re writing or speaking about, we don’t show our sources, references, and work.

It made me think about my own fear about scarcity today. If I showed my work about that, about the fear I’ll run out of money and have to spend the rest of my life under a bridge, what would it look like?

Has that ever happened?

No.

Have I ever been in serious want?

No.

Have I ever been homeless or truly hungry?

No.

Do I have a job I love and for which I’m paid?

Yes.

In essence, I have no work to show because my fear of scarcity is nothing but an old ghost, an ancient traumatic wound, irrational and mostly in my head.

Photo by Mar Newhall on Unsplash

Interesting. Does lack of research and background information indicate a measure of fear in our discourse, a measure of uncertainty, a degree of irrationality, even?

Perhaps.

It’s a fact that I like my information (facts) served up with links, references, and footnotes. Content presented as information (facts) without such foundations is suspect in my eyes, and I do further research. Far too many people in cyberspace call their opinions, pathologies, disorders, fetishes, and lies facts.

On the other hand, some information (facts) is so widely accepted, taught, and promulgated footnotes are hardly necessary. An example of this is diet. Much of our (broken) healthcare system is built on the foundation of “facts” about what constitutes a healthy and appropriate diet.

But what if these “facts” arise from corrupted data? What if the real truth is less profitable for those in power and thus has been buried? For decades?

Collecting data and testing hypotheses requires funding. Doing it well requires a lot of funding. Corporations and other entities with deep pockets may have a vested interest in the outcome of studies. It’s not impossible to imagine unpalatable findings (by which I mean findings which threaten profit) are buried or deleted. It’s also not hard to imagine studies designed to explore data contradicting the (profitable) status quo can find neither funding nor support in the most powerful scientific schools and journals.

An unhealthy population is enormously profitable for some people, and those people have a lot of power.

This sort of thing has, after all, been going on since the time of Galileo, the sixteenth century astronomer who was interviewed by the Inquisition, forced to recant his scientific findings, and spent the end of his life under house arrest.

The thing is, he was a scientific genius, and he was right.

But the Catholic Church, very powerful during that period of history, felt threatened by his conclusions.

In other words, they were afraid. So they shut him up. Fear = silencing.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he was right.

Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

Tens of thousands of articles are available online about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. The better written, more thorough ones contain resources and links to various studies and data. However, one can also find studies and data by well-qualified scientists and doctors (mostly in other countries) indicating the reverse: a plant-based diet may cause a myriad of health problems.

Critical thinking, the ability to assess a problem or question, research, look at data, ask questions, and analyze findings, is an equal opportunity playing field unless we have no access to information (like the Internet) or are unable to read and write. What this means to me is we all have a right to question information, research for ourselves, and look for a variety of sources and references. Critical thinking in the modern age means we must be able to separate a fact from an opinion, information (facts) from lies.

That’s a big problem. I’m quite confident a plant-based diet caused me years of health problems and pain and the biochemical results (demonstrable data) my current carnivore diet provides to my doctor are not dangerous or problematic. My healthcare provider disagrees. Vehemently. I want to talk about my research, resources, and links. I want to ask questions. I want resources my provider might have access to which I haven’t found or don’t know about. I believe I have some solid data to back up my questions and concerns. I also know I am frequently wrong, and I’m as susceptible as anyone else to the glamour of bullshit wrapped up in science.

My healthcare provider refuses to discuss it.

So there we are. I’m not afraid to be wrong, but I am afraid to be in pain. My healthcare provider is part of a broken system. How much power does she have, really, to deal with someone like me? How much time does she have? How much energy or even interest? It’s much easier to fill out a one-size-fits-all prescription for a plant-based diet or pharmaceuticals. Her job may be in jeopardy if she doesn’t feed me with the medical establishment’s current party line.

Meanwhile, in the eyes of some others, I’m murdering the planet, taking poor care of my health, and clearly believe in hate and violence toward animals. Any self-respecting member of PETA would set my house on fire.

Photo by Lukas Budimaier on Unsplash

None of that is true, from my perspective. None of it is even fact. I could provide several links and resources challenging those statements, many of them by scientists and including studies and data. But many, many, people would believe all those things and more about me based on my dietary choices, and they too could provide links, resources, and numerous studies and scientific conclusions supporting their point of view.

I agree with Godin. We should show our work. It won’t make everything magically clear because information from different sources frequently conflicts, and not all information sources are trustworthy, but showing our work helps us remember science is built on the shoulders of those who came before us (like Galileo), and honors the scientific process. Heck, it honors creative process. Godin’s original post is three lines. I just wrote more than 1,000 words because he poked at me and made me think, explore, question, wonder.

We are all connected, whether we like it or not. Showing our work makes us a little more human, a little more humane, a little more thoughtful, a little more careful. People who won’t show their work set off my radar. What are they hiding? Why don’t they have the courage of their convictions? Why are questions and investigations so threatening they must be silenced or stopped?

As for the inside of my own head, I need to show my work to myself, too. Anxiety thrives on the stories we tell ourselves without regard to whether the stories are true or have ever been true. We all need to be clear about the difference between our stories and opinions and information (facts). Stories and opinions have their place, but they’re not facts we can research, footnote, and independently verify. If we can’t show our work, perhaps we’re no longer in the realm of facts. If we won’t show our work, we lose credibility with people who think critically.

Updating a bathroom costs some money. We have some money. Those are the facts.

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Measuring Productivity (Or Not)

Food for thought from Seth Godin: Productivity is not measured in drama.

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Sometimes life seems to me like a giant factory. The owners are busy manufacturing fear and drama day and night, making money hand over fist. We the people sit in little cubicles, brainwashed and manipulated by the factory owners, responding to fear and drama stimuli for all we’re worth (and much more than we’re worth, monetarily speaking) and providing a gigantic, endless river of profit to the few at the top. After a few months in the factory, we’re promoted; we’ve learned to create fear and drama all by ourselves! Now we can model good business practice for the newbies.

Success!

For someone.

Fear and drama. Two top money-makers. Naturally, a capitalist culture would be constructed to relentlessly promote them, and any vehicle for increasing fear and drama would have enormous lucrative potential. Hence, staggering financial power and influence in the form of social media, conspiracy theory centers and advertising.

Information (facts) and critical thinking mitigate fear, so let’s demonize them and weaken public education so such heretical things are not taught.

Breaking our addiction to stuff and stimulation, instant gratification and validation, might allow us to realize how hollow and expensive those addictions are, so let’s not give people a single second in which to be tranquil and quiet.

Changing our belief that having and doing are more important than being, that doing more faster will lead to greater productivity and thus more money (with which we can buy more) will hurt the economy. Let’s make that unpatriotic, unpopular, and offensive.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

Let’s emphasize and support division, outrage, hatred, bigotry, procrastination, ignorance, catastrophizing, gaslighting, urgency, “alternative facts”, and disempowerment. Let’s prioritize making a profit.

Let’s train the culture to demand drama, and richly reward those who disseminate the most drama to the public. Let’s give those people power, authority, awards, and our money. Let’s give them our time and attention, our applause, loyalty, and praise. They entertain us. They tell us what we want to hear. They will be our saviors in a terrifying world. Without them, we’ll lose everything. (Starting with our guns.)

Manufactured drama. Manufactured fear. As though life doesn’t have enough organically grown drama and fear.

But one can never have enough money, right? And fear and drama are sound investments. Better than blue chip stocks, because they perform best in the worst of times.

At some point, we hitched drama onto productivity and conflated them. Godin reminds us productivity and drama are not the same or even related, unless it’s an inverse relationship.

We don’t have to choose crisis. We can build slack into our lives, quiet, unplugged time, time away from a screen. We don’t have to feed drama or get involved with it. We certainly don’t have to pass it on. We don’t have to attach to fear. We can unhook from fearful media, take our time and attention away from it.

Fear and drama don’t help us effectively manage our lives or make positive contributions. They don’t make us more humane or better problem solvers. They don’t help us find true love or good health. They’re neither creative nor connecting. Urgency is not high-quality fuel for life, and it doesn’t help us make empowered choices.

If we want to be productive, we need to disengage from fear and drama.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash