Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Greeting Card Abyss

In our mildly dysfunctional family, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day and Father's Day have always posed a problem.  We just aren't the kind of people who show up in a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, or between the covers of their greeting cards.  My dad, the parent who hugged and kissed us and occasionally played with us, loathes mawkish sentiment and is made acutely uncomfortable by any card that doesn't have a funny animal on the front.  My mother, on the other hand, would love to receive a "World's Best Mom" card, but during the time we were growing up she was a demanding perfectionist who hated to be touched, so I have never been able to bring myself to give her one.

Next month my parents will be celebrating their first anniversary since moving into assisted living, and the greeting card crisis has entered a new and uglier phase.  As my mother's dementia has increased, my father's patience and happiness have steadily eroded.  None of the commercial cards I've looked at has seemed even marginally appropriate.  Anniversary cards are few and far between, anyway, far outnumbered by the birthday, "friend," and sympathy cards; I guess we all have birthdays and die, but only a minority marry and stay married.  The anniversary cards I've seen fall into one of the following categories: "You two are perfect for each other;" "Your marriage is an example of God's love come to earth;" or "Wishing you many more happy years together."  Can I buy any of these given my parents' current situation?  I think not.

In short, this may be the year of the homemade card.  I'm thinking of recycling the invitation I made for their last big anniversary party, or at least its cover:

Yes, that's their wedding picture.  Now I just have to think of something (besides "Happy Anniversary") to put inside.  Frankly, the things that spring immediately to mind ("It's not the years, it's the mileage," "Still crazy after all these years") are almost as inappropriate as anything Hallmark ever came up with.

Maybe just "Happy Anniversary" is fine.  With a "Love, Beth" after it.

"Sentimentality is intolerable because it is false feeling." ~Doris Lessing

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Throwing Myself Into The Terror

I remember the first time I saw a video of someone leaping from a stage into a mosh pit. I thought the leaper was out of his mind; who but a crazy person would trust fate and a crowd of total strangers to avert the pain of an extreme face plant on the venue's unforgiving floor?

I just spent four days at an Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator Training session (more about that later). One of the topics we covered that resonated strongly with me was "living on the appreciative edge," specifically this quote from Frank Barrett: "Throw yourself into the terror." The mental image this instantly conjured up was of launching myself into a mosh pit of strangers, and my equally immediate response was, "Yeah, like THAT'S gonna happen."

Then I took a mental step back. I've actually done it before, and it's always (well, almost always) paid off in ways I couldn't have begun to imagine in advance.

Mosh pit: fear of public speaking; launch: joining Toastmasters and 6 months later participating in a regional Insurance Women's speaking contest; payoff: winning the contest and going on to a career that has included training, teaching, public speaking, speechwriting, and (ahem) blogging.

Mosh pit: fear of the unknown; launch: moving to New York when I knew no one there and hadn't seen it outside films and one job interview; payoff: 13 years of wonderful experiences, a loving husband, and a financial safety net for the rest of my life.

Those are some of the biggest launches, but I still "mosh surf" almost every day - quitting full-time-with-benefits work, dating, and networking at Appreciative Inquiry sessions with amazing but (to me) scary extroverts. Of course I don't always land as well as I might wish - I think I may have broken a virtual ankle over my leap into the relationship with Barry - but looking back, I have never done a full-fledged face plant. I'm getting pretty good at throwing myself into the terror; I may have to invest in a red cape.

"Create opportunities to surprise yourself." ~Frank Barrett, Professor of Management and Global Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California

Saturday, July 6, 2013

North to Alaska

This year my sister suggested that we take a cruise to Alaska during the latter part of August.  This instantly appealed to me because 1)Alaska is the only state I've never been to, and 2)who in her right mind wouldn't rather be in Alaska instead of Arizona ("Hell's Annex") during the hottest, most miserable month of our year?  Add to that the abundant photo ops, and the cruise line's summer sale for return customers, and I was immediately on board - mentally, at least.

Of course, actually booking this cruise was easier said than done.  No sooner did we agree to go than our August starting filling up with events we must be here for, ranging from our father's cataract surgery to the publication deadline for our church's newsletter.  And then there's the involved process of choosing which shore excursions we want to take.  I think my sister is on her third spreadsheet and sixth Word document related to this; I expect to see a decision tree any day.  (Just kidding, Sue; I really appreciate your hard work.  Especially since it means I don't have to do it.)

Anyway, for the last few years the two remaining travel destinations on my "bucket list" had been the Greek islands and Alaska, so between last year's cruise and this year's I will have knocked them both off.  Recently, however, I ran across an article on PBS's NextAvenue blog which suggests that the ideal bucket list involves emotional and spiritual rather than physical adventures.  I'm good with that, since it's the direction I've been heading already - and it means I can smugly ignore the friends who think my life won't really be complete without a little sky-diving and zip-lining in it.

"...I'd suggest a different type of list, one with emotional, spiritual or intellectual goals that can bring depth, breadth and heft to our lives in the time we have left." ~Erica Brown, Ph.D., "What's Wrong With Your Bucket List"

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dating with Myers and Briggs

Twice in my life I have started a new job and been asked to take a Myers-Briggs personality test.  The first time the company used the formal Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument.  Most recently, the minister at our church handed me a sheet of 4 cartoons and asked me to pick which person in each box was most like me.  As Rev. Davis said while handing me the cartoons, "It's important to know who you're working with."

Yes, it is.  It's also not a bad thing to know who your friends are.  One of the reasons Tom and I got along so well together is that our "types" had so much in common - I am an ISTP and he was an ISFP.  The ISP in both types means that we were both introverts, more interested in process and accepting things as they are than in closure and searching for hidden meanings.  I was the thinker, who anticipated and solved problems; Tom was the feeler, who taught me to live in the moment and kept us connected to the other people in our lives.

Now that I'm dipping my toe back in the dating waters, I'm wondering whether I should start carrying that sheet of cartoons in my back pocket, or at least somewhere in the depths of my purse.  Separating the extroverts and the thinkers among us from the introverts and the feelers is usually fairly easy, but what about the sensers vs. the intuitives, or the judgers vs. the perceivers?  I'm not sure I could sustain a relationship for more than half an hour with an ENTJ without feeling steamrollered, and having me around for very long would probably drive an INTJ nuts.

Getting to know anyone is a long-term process, and the danger in dating is becoming hooked on an isolated attractive aspect of the other person before the discovery process reveals basic incompatibilities.  Unfortunately, people answering probing questions about themselves, whether in person or in an online dating service questionnaire, tend to shade their answers to sound as alluring as possible.  I think they'd be less likely (and less able) to do that with the "pick a cartoon" testing method, and it's certainly faster and simpler than weeks of "getting to know you" Q&A.  (If you have read my personality type summary by now, you can see how this preference reflects my thinker bias.  Let's eliminate as much of that time-consuming fuzzy-feelie stuff as possible.)

It all boils down to this: who is that guy I shared dinner and a fireworks display with last night?  Inquiring minds want to know.

"Instead of labeling a person and putting value judgments on his or her behavior, you can learn to see your partner’s behavior as reflecting personality type, not something designed to offend you. Many couples even learn to see the differences in a humorous light." ~The Myers & Briggs Foundation,  Couples and Personality Type

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Losing our Firefighters and our Innocence

Arizona is famously arid; residents almost expect raging wildfires every summer.  Some years half the state seems to be on fire and a pall of smoke keeps the rest of us coughing and anxious.  The firefighters here train year-round to be ready for the summer fire season.  Arizona has some of the most experienced wildfire fighters in the country.

This week, we lost 19 of those firefighters in the fire at Yarnell.  They were members of an elite "Hotshot" crew.  Despite their training and equipment, the fire was just too much for them.

Watching last night as a broadcaster near Yarnell talked about the resulting shock and grief in the community, I was transported back to New York in the days following 9/11.  Back then Tom and I lived in a Brooklyn neighborhood just over the Manhattan Bridge from Manhattan itself.  Our fire station was one of the nearest to the World Trade Center, and because the crisis started at the time of the shift change, both the night and day crews responded.  Virtually all the firefighters assigned to our neighborhood died when the Two Towers went down.  For a time there was talk of shutting our station down completely.

Grief in a situation like this is not the same as the grief that follows the death of a loved one.  On the one hand, we didn't know these people as individuals, so the element of intense personal loss is missing.  On the other hand, these are our official protectors - our designated heroes - the people trained to take care of us when everything is falling apart.  We are almost lulled into believing they are invincible.  When disaster strikes and they are not able to save themselves, where does that leave us?  Our worldview suffers a tectonic shift and nothing is ever quite as safe again.

“After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity. . . But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over. . . ” ~ Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men