Fanboys and Fangirls be your own number one fan

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your life mattersThis week if you have young people in your life who spend time on Tumblr or other social media sites, please keep an eye on them. Word is going around that anonymous terrorists on Tumblr and other sites plan to aggressively bully young adults who have shared themselves in a vulnerable way on their social media sites.

A young friend of mine is posting warnings to protect her friends from now until after New Year’s that they not use their tags and turn their ask button off within Tumblr. Other young people have shared posts from individuals hiding under “Anonymous” and who actively suggest suicide and other forms of self-harm.

As my young friend shared with me in an email, “many teenagers have been hospitalized and a few have already committed and died.” In particular, young people who identify with “Fandom” or have self-disclosed on their social media they feel suicidal or are cutters are being targeted.

If you are of my generation, you might be tempted to minimize the effort of my young friend as melodramatic teenage behavior. I want to assure you, though, if it was important enough for her to post to her personal page, then this is a real threat to our young people who are looking for personal connections with social media. Many news stories have been written about cyber-bullying.

As a parent or teacher, be vigilant about checking out the social media of your children and students. You can do it surreptitiously so your child doesn’t put up filters to keep you out. If you check the friends list of young people on Facebook, you will see many of them have between 1,000-5,000 friends. This means our young people are friending others as a way to demonstrate popularity, not because they actually know this many people to consider as friends. Facebook has tried to address people who bully people on line with various policies, but has not yet come up with a fool-proof way.

Also, our teens tend to gravitate away from where their parents are congregated and so now are on other sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Yik Yak, Vine, Instagram and many others.  But many still use Facebook. You are not out of bounds as a parent to know where your kids are hanging out. In a real world way, you set boundaries and don’t knowingly allow your kids to go to biker bars, strip joints, or  other dangerous neighborhoods. So do the same for your young people in the virtual world.

What’s dangerous about bullying activity is it’s difficult to trace anonymous stalkers to stop them. The Supreme Court currently is considering a case which will have far reaching effects on how our freedom of speech intersects with our right to safety in our society. Our teenagers live and survive in a tenuous place right now. They are exposed to many more grown-up things than what people were 30 or even 20 years ago. Yet they lack the autonomy to protect themselves the way an age recognized adult can.

If you know someone who you sense is struggling right now, please reach out to them. If you don’t know what to do, then call someone who does. The Suicide Prevention Hotline is available to contact if you want to ask on someone’s behalf. They can connect you with your local resources.

And for every hater post out there, you have an opportunity to share your own encouragement. As my young friend said: “kids need all the help they can get and sometimes adults have a bigger impact on them than teenagers so yes, please do” help.

My Wabi-Sabi Volvo Life

creative non fiction, meditation, thoughts for living

My heart sank as I sat in the group room with my 10 clients on federal probation. I was working as an intern for a mental health practice leading substance abuse recovery groups for people who were reclaiming their lives after serving drug trafficking sentences. As we discussed the triggers that caused them to use, we heard the pelting of hail. We anxiously shifted in our chairs wanting to bolt out and take our rides to shelter. Instead, we talked about honesty in submitting our insurance claims the next day and my clients shared tales of acquaintances they had that they knew would drive their car across town just to have it hit by hail so they could collect money. We mutually agreed before we left session that our hail-damaged vehicles would not be a trigger to use drugs or drink beer.

The Volvo I aspire to drive.

The Volvo I aspire to drive.

I had just bought my 2006 Volvo a few months previous. I was proud that I spent a conservative amount of money on what others judge as a luxury model of upscale liberals who want to make a visible statement of their political views.   I wanted to drive the European-branded car because of its reputation for safety and durability, perhaps fulfilling another aspect of the Volvo-driving stereotype. I was working part-time as a member representative for a small business lobbying group and I traveled long distances for the position.  My husband and I purchased my Volvo sight unseen from Texas Direct in Houston and had it shipped to the eastern New Mexico town where Republicans are as common as the tumbleweeds that rolled across the region’s desert highways.

As a second-hand car, it required a few minor repairs that we addressed. But the pummeling of ice rocks gave the Volvo a forlorn look all the way around. Within a few days of the storm, I stood in line with my clients at the insurance adjuster site. I knew, though, I wouldn’t be using the funds to replace the trunk lid, the hood, or the roof. Instead, my husband and I decided to use the money to pay off the loan we had on the car.

The Volvo I actually drive.

The Volvo I actually drive.

If circumstances had been different, we probably would have made sure my Volvo was gussied up to its original sheen. But at the same time I was finishing up my graduate school internship, I was also moving to another house so my mother could live with us. A bankruptcy listing, the house needed even more attention than my Volvo to bring it to a tolerable working condition. Paying off the Volvo freed up several hundred dollars each month to pour into the house which we bought on faith that we could afford because we were following the fifth Biblical commandment of “honor your parents.”

The Urban Dictionary satirically characterizes Volvo owners this way:  “Although the cars are pricey to buy and maintain, Volvo drivers see them as works of art–well-made machinery that protects their passengers, other drivers, and even pedestrians from the hazards of the road.”

I do see my Volvo as a work of art and I have had difficulty wrapping my mind around how all the dime- and quarter-sized dents all over the car have added to its beauty. To console myself, I have embraced the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi which declares beauty to be all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

Wabi-Sabi is a frame of mind I continue to develop for the tenuous aspects of my life which refuse to fit in the picture frames I constructed for them. My Volvo is a material manifestation of how my illusions are shattered by the reality of pell-mell running through the world.

Since the initial introduction of Wabi-Sabi through my Volvo, I’ve had other episodes of it. I parked under a tree where birds did their business on it right before I was to meet with a woman I wanted to impress. Recently, I chose a side road and a stranger’s driveway to turn around so I could be headed in the right direction. The driveway’s incline was so steep it tore off the right side of the front bumper. My husband wrangled it back into place. But repairing the bumper came several hours after driving my Volvo around town, me oblivious to the damage, and included an exhibition in the car pool line of my son’s school where many parents drive shiny BMWs, Lexuses, and Mercedes Benzes. None of those cars have hail dents or bird poop that I’ve noticed.

According to an Utne Reader article, “To discover Wabi-Sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly. Wabi-Sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through Wabi-Sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Today, when I drive my Volvo I realize I have put on the full armor of a Wabi-Sabi life. If I encounter people who are only living life on the surface, then they may look at me in one of two ways: either enviously or derisively. They’ll experience envy if all they see in me is the status sign the Volvo represents or view me derisively if they judge me for not repairing the external skin which betrays the fine mechanics of the interior.

Sometimes I react to the judgment and I’m tempted to say “wait, you don’t understand. You don’t know everything I’ve been through.” Then, I realize explanations make no difference to people who live on the superficialities of life. And then I remember that this desire to connect with people who aren’t capable of deep connections is also Wabi-Sabi.

And I let it go.

Lonely as a Cloud

meditation, mindfulness, thoughts for living

We spend our time absorbed in our lives and later discover it won’t endure. The Jeopardy-life trivia that I made my bed 250 days in a row or that I’m abstinent from sugar and alcohol for 1,096 days straight won’t matter to the generation 100 years from now.

The world is divided among people who are struggling or dancing through their day. Some people are walking around with a cloud over their head. You can nearly reach up and touch the cloud, the burdens they bear are so great. Others seem to skip through their life as if under their feet are the white cotton versions of the grey clouds that hang over others. Others don’t have the clouds over their heads or under they feet. They’re dog paddling through the fogginess of their lives. Many days I feel like I’m in the fog category: I’m not sure where I am and I certainly don’t know how I got there.

Any random set of circumstances can occur in any given moment. Our bumper is rear ended at the intersection. Our wallet is stolen from the office. A child is unexpectedly diagnosed with a lifelong disability or life threatening illness. We set out in our lives with good intentions, but so many factors out of our control pave the way to our personal hell.

Is the concept we all have choices in our attitude a luxury of people who have access to resources? Or is developing the right attitude the springboard for the universe to send resources and choices our way? I meet people every day who have enormous obstacles to overcome yet seem to have found the key to developing a positive attitude anyway. The world would understand their negative frame of mind over their circumstances, yet they refuse to accept this point of view. Contrast them with people who fritter their lives away. They hold Sharpie marked cardboard signs asking for handouts and offering God’s blessings. They believe emotional manipulation of others is a better use of time then manipulating their own emotions and thoughts.

In a 100 years, the trivialities of life will be lost to obscurity and of no consequence. I can’t even comprehend the vastness of the world and that across the ocean are other individuals involved in the minutiae of their lives. But if I bring my attention to now, I can comprehend the person sitting across from me at lunch and give my attention to them without thinking about myself. This focus which flashes like lightening in the dark cloud sky matters for this moment and attracts the attention of others. And this momentary attention is all I have to offer up as a gift and the rest of the time is in God’s hands.

lonely as a cloud