Laughter & the Original Virgin

I try to find a reason to laugh each day. Faith Hill

You grow up the day you have your first real laugh at yourself. Ethel Barrymore

I laugh a lot at myself these days. I laugh a lot in general: I don’t have to find a reason. It just comes.

That wasn’t always the case.

When I was younger and in the grip of depression and social anxiety, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I do now, and I almost never laughed at myself.

It was too threatening to acknowledge that I’d done or said something wrong or stupid or embarrassing. This was especially true when I was in high school and college.

One day in my college freshman English class we got on the subject of folk songs and on how to determine a particular folk song’s “original version.” Having discovered folk music in high school, I considered myself an expert in this area. I raised my hand to make the point that, by the very nature of folk music constantly morphing and evolving, it was virtually impossible to determine a folk song’s “original” version.

Only my tongue slipped, and it came out “original virgin.”

Now, this was 1963, and we were a little more prudish and private then about language. At the word “virgin,” my fellow students erupted in peals of laughter. My professor was laughing so hard his face turned deep red, and he had to lower his head to his desk until his laughter subsided.

Meanwhile, I sat through all this mortified. Not only had my very important point about the nature of folk music been lost through my slip of the tongue, but also I had said the word “virgin” in public in front of other people who were essentially strangers.

I sat staring straight ahead, stony-faced, dying of shame, pretending I was not hearing all the laughter around me.

That was the way I dealt with making embarrassing mistakes in public back then. Don’t acknowledge it in any way. Hope nobody notices. If somebody does notice, still don’t acknowledge it.

Twenty-two years ago I began taking antidepressants, and my world changed. I found my social confidence. I found my laughter. I especially found how delightful it is to laugh at myself.

If that “original virgin” slip happened today, I probably would be the first one to start laughing. Like my professor then, I might laugh and laugh until my face turned deep red and I had to lower my head to my desk until my laughter subsided.

Joy and Peace, and Always Keep Laughing,

As Erma Bombeck says: If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it. 

Marjorie Beck

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Speaking of Insensitive Things to Say. . . .

It seems when people we know suffer a loss or a tragedy, a lot of us have absolutely no idea what to say to bring comfort.

For example, when your beloved companion animal dies, friends with no companion animals in their lives may say, “You can get another one.”

Or my personal favorite,

“It was only a cat (dog, rabbit, ferret, parakeet, snake, whatever).”

When I hear that, I want to smash the speaker in the mouth. My companion animals are my family. How dare you diminish their importance.

When I was younger and struggling with my own undiagnosed depression, I was one of those people who did not know what to say to others suffering a loss. I was so focused on my own misery it was difficult for me to feel true empathy for the sorrows of others. I said a lot of stupid things.

Here’s another of my favorite insensitive things to say:

God will never give you anything more than you can handle.

To me, this is total bullpucky.

First, I’m an atheist; I don’t believe in a god.

Second, if I did believe in a god, I wouldn’t believe in some divine puppet master who capriciously flings down suffering on some and good fortune on others just to see how they’ll handle it.

Third, whether or not there is a god, this is a condescending and patronizing thing to say to someone in pain. It doesn’t help at all. Don’t say it.

Through the years I have learned a lot about things to say and not to say to people in times of trouble. Sometimes I still don’t know what to say. In those cases, I’ve learned the best thing to say to suffering people is nothing at all, but just to be with them.

Sit with them. Give hugs. Hold hands. Take walks together. Let your presence show you care and you’re there for them. And if they want to talk, listen. Just listen, and don’t try to talk them out of their grief with platitudes. Just be, and let your presence and time work its healing.

Thank you for reading this post, and if you like it follow my blog and you’ll get notices of new posts.

Peace and Joy,

Marjorie BeckMarjorie Beck

When You Know You’re Old

I am 74 years old, and I have always looked younger than my age. I inherited my mother’s good genes for youthful appearance.

I was carded in a bar on my 30th birthday.

When I turned 40 one of my colleagues at work said, “You can’t be 40! You don’t even have any wrinkles.”

Into my 50s and 60s I was constantly told I didn’t look my age.

I hit 70 and everything changed.

I woke up one morning and found I had crepe paper skin and a turkey neck.

I hardly have any eyebrows anymore. I have bags under my eyes. Granny hairs regularly sprout on my chin.

I listen to classic country music and classic rock and say of current music, “I don’t know how those kids can listen to that shit.”

It’s been ages since anyone asked me if I qualified for the senior discount.

I can’t fake it anymore. I’m old. And the world is recognizing it.

I live in Eugene, Oregon, and Eugene lives for protest rallies. I attended one recently and as I left I was accosted by two men who saw by an item I was wearing that my political views differed radically from theirs. Two young native American women who were passing stopped and told the men firmly to “stop harassing that elderly woman.”

Wow. An elderly woman. It’s finally arrived.

Now I just have to learn to live with it and “age gracefully.” YUCK. I’ll do it, but I won’t like it.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you like this post, follow me and you’ll get notices when I post new ones.

Peace and Joy,

Marjorie Beck

 

 

 

Language Quiz

1. If you were on trial for murder, would you rather the judge were:

A. Uninterested

B. Disinterested

2. If you were giving a speech and you saw most of your audience yawning or nodding off or staring at their smart phones, would you conclude your audience was:

A. Uninterested

B. Disinterested

The answer to Question 1 is B, Disinterested. The answer to Question 2 is A, Uninterested.

Here’s why:

Disinterested means  unbiased, unprejudiced, impartial, neutralnonpartisan. All qualities you would want in a judge trying your case. 

Uninterested means unconcerned, bored, distant, uninvolved, aloof. Exactly what you would not want in the audience to your speech.

Here’s the problem:

Increasingly, Disinterested has overtaken Uninterested as the universal word for unconcerned, bored, aloof, and for unbiased, unprejudiced, impartial, as in “He was disinterested in the magazine article.” In this example, it’s possible the person was taking a neutral, impartial stance on the magazine article, but it’s much more probable he was just bored by it.

Some dictionaries have given up and are now accepting disinterest and uninterest as meaning the same. Do not follow their lead! Stand up for precision in using these two words. Use Disinterested when you’re standing before a judge. Use Uninterested when you’re standing in front of a bored audience.

You’ll be a language pro.

Introversion: The Third Leg of My Three-Legged Stool

It is high time I finished the third leg of my three-legged stool. I wrote about the first leg, Depression (“What’s With That Blog Title?”) on May 9; I wrote about the second leg, Shyness and Anxiety (“My Three Legged Stool”) on June 1. I intended to finish the job long before now. Life intervened.

With apologies to my many followers waiting with bated breath for the third leg of my stool:

The third leg of my stool is Introversion. Here’s what I wrote May 9:

“Depression, shyness, and anxiety are disabilities to be managed. Introversion is not a disability; it is an innate part of  who I am and is to be understood and embraced.” 

I use the term Introversion as the psychiatrist Karl Jung (1875-1961) defined it in his seminal work Psychological Types (1921).  He identified three innate aspects of everyone’s personality:

  • How you get your energy for living (Introversion, Extraversion)
  • How you take in information (Sensing, Intuition)
  • How you make decisions (Thinking, Feeling)

In the 1940s, two followers of Jung, Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers, identified a fourth aspect of personality:

  • How you relate to the world (Judging, Perceiving)

They developed an instrument called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help people identify their innate psychological types. Today the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most commonly used and best regarded psychological instruments in the world.

I am going to cover here only the first aspect Jung identified, Introversion and Extraversion, because that is the third leg of my stool.

Introversion does not mean you are shy; Extraversion does not mean you are outgoing. There are shy Extroverts and outgoing Introverts.

As Jung, Briggs, and Myers identified Introversion and Extraversion, they are two different ways (or preferences) of getting your life’s energy. You are born with these preferences. They are both good ways of being. You do not change your basic preferences, but you can, at least to some extent, change behaviors associated with them.

Simply put:

Extraverts draw their energy from engaging with other people and their environment.

Introverts draw their energy from within themselves.

To identify which preference you have, you could ask yourself:

At the end of a hard, stressful day, would you rather:

  1. Go out and unwind with friends at a bar,                         OR
  2. Go home, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy a quiet evening with a good book.

Here’s another situation:

You are at a large party, and you know only a few of the people there. Would you probably:

  1. Circulate around the room to meet and talk with new people,      OR
  2. Stay close to the people you know and talk with them.

If you are an Extravert, you probably would pick the first answer to both questions. If you are an Introvert, you probably would choose the second answer.

I say “probably” because for some people those choices might be reversed. Remember, there are shy Extraverts and outgoing Introverts.

I am a shy Introvert. I get my energy from within myself, and in social situations I’m  more comfortable with people I know than with strangers.

Introversion and Extraversion even can be detected in how we move our bodies.

Extraverts, drawing their energy from the people and environment around them, tend to move more than Introverts, Extroverts may tap a foot or drum fingers while sitting, or shift position frequently, or get up and stretch or move around the room. as if they are extending feelers out to their surroundings.

Introverts, who draw their energy from within, usually sit more quietly and for longer periods without much body movement. Introverts also may smile less than Extroverts.

In the same vein, Extraverts tend to listen more expressively than Introverts. An Extravert listening to someone might lean forward, smile, give head nods, say “I see,” or give other facial or body signals that he or she is hearing and reacting to the speaker.

An Introvert may do little or none of that, leaving the speaker wondering what the hell the listener is thinking about what the speaker is saying.

Being introverted, I tend to be a stone-faced listener. That can be a problem with people who don’t know me, and was, early in my city government career.

My boss was the city manager, and I had a lot of contact with the seven city councilors. I had cordial relationships with most of the councilors, but there was one, a very extroverted person, who did not like me at all. The city manager, who understood me very well, took me aside one day and did me the favor of explaining the reason for this councilor’s dislike.

It was my stone-faced listening. The councilor would talk to me and I would give no visible reaction, which the councilor interpreted as indifference or hostility.  (Truth was, such an extroverted, dominant personality intimidated me. And when I’m intimidated, I do shut down.)

 From then on, when I talked with that councilor, I gave lots of listening cues. I leaned forward, I nodded, I said “uh-huh,” and “oh, I see.” Things gradually improved between us. Later, when I ended up working on a project for the councilor that especially called on my skill set, we became friends.

I will always be grateful for my boss’s intervention early in my career on an aspect of  introverted behavior I needed to change. It was some of the best coaching I ever got. I continued working on my listening skills, and in time active, extroverted listening became second nature to me.

This is an illustration that your preference doesn’t change, but your behavior can. I was and always will  be an Introvert, getting my energy from within. But I can change introverted behavior when it’s not working for me.

Growing up, I knew nothing about Introversion or Extraversion. I knew nothing about depression. I did know I was shy and anxious, and that wasn’t a good thing. I knew I liked to be alone a lot, and I thought that  was a good thing. I still do. But now I understand that I do better if I’m not alone too much, as I was too often in the past. Some of my worst bouts of depression came when I lived alone. I’m living with a partner now, and I need that.

Learning about my Introversion also helped me understand why I had difficult relationships wi th my parents when I was growing up. My mother and father were Extraverts; my older sister and I were Introverts. My mother and I clashed a lot over privacy: As an Introvert I wanted lots of it. As an Extravert and a mother she felt I should have little of it. There was a lot of drawer snooping and pocket searching and diary reading that led to anger and raised voices.

This Introversion-Extraversion example of privacy attitudes is extreme, because there were a lot of other reasons my mother and I clashed on a lot of things.  It is true, though, that Introverts and Extraverts may have different ideas about privacy.

Introverts tend to be bad at spreading gossip. That is because If you tell something to an Introvert, he or she  may consider the message intended for him or her alone, not necessarily for anyone else.  Extraverts hearing the same message may consider it interesting information to be shared with others.

I have been burned by this difference several times, talking to a friend about something I considered personal and confidential, only to discover later that the friend told other people. I considered this a breach of confidence. The friend, for whatever reason, did not. I learned from those experiences that if I talk to someone about something I consider private and confidential, I need to say that.

I was not able to embrace the strengths of my Introversion when I was younger because it was so pathologically entangled with my depression and shyness. Now that I understand my depression and shyness, I love being an Introvert. For me, it’s the only way to be.

 

Thank you for reading this post. If you like what you read, you can follow my blog and get notification when I do a new post.

Marjorie Beck

 

 

Why I Hate China

I’ve lived in Lane County, Oregon for 44 years, far longer than I lived anywhere else, and I’ve lived in its county seat Eugene for 26 years. Since the 1970s, Oregon has been known as a “progressive” state, and Eugene has been known as an even more “progressive” city. The last Hippie Refuge, some call it. If it’s good for the environment, we Eugeneans latch on to it.

Thus you probably would not be surprised to learn that Eugeneans have been recyclers since forever, and that Lane County has been promoting recycling since almost forever. In Eugene, we had curbside comingled recycling for just about everything–paper, glass, metal, plastic. The only restriction was it had to be clean when it went in the bin. It was recycle heaven.

I say “we had” and “It was” because there is now a big exception to our recycling options: Plastic. 

It seems China has been our market for plastic recycling, and China has gotten sick and tired of all the dirty, food-contaminated plastic we’ve been sending them. So they’ve stopped accepting most of it.

This applies not just to Eugene and Lane County, but nationwide. Now we in Eugene and Lane County have to throw almost all our plastic bottles and tubs and whatnot in the garbage, which goes to the landfill, which takes up more room on this poor old tired planet and leaches all kinds of nastiness into our groundwater. Every time I throw a plastic yogurt tub in the trash I feel like an earth murderer.

Actually, I’m not mad at China for this. (Although, given our quasi-adversarial history with China, could it be a kind of environmental warfare, the newest development after cyber hacking?) But giving China the benefit of the doubt, I don’t blame them for not accepting our dirty smelly plastics; I blame the lazy slobs in the U.S. who can’t be bothered to follow directions and clean out their ketchup and mustard jars.

Apologies, China. I don’t really hate you. But I sure wish you’d start accepting our plastics again.

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you like my posts, follow me and you’ll get notices of new ones.

Marjorie Beck

 

Some Post-Father’s Day Thoughts About My Father

Before June ends, I’d like to write about my father. This will be a long post.

I didn’t think much of my father when I was growing up. I wanted a strong father, and he was a weak one. I considered him weak because my mother was always the dominant parent. I considered him uncultured because, even though he was a college graduate, he sounded like an uneducated hick to me with his “them old boys” and other such countryisms.

I didn’t find him particularly handsome;  I thought he looked like Dagwood, minus the hair shocks. Also like Dagwood, he fell asleep easily and a lot. I was mostly ashamed of him.

Here’s some truth I’ve since learned about my father.

He was an alcoholic, although he was not drinking by the time I came along. He did not drink while he courted my mother, so she did not know she was marrying an alcoholic. She found out quickly after they were married when my father would go on week-end benders with friends from work. Since I never saw my father drinking, I did not know about his alcoholism until my mother explained, long after he died, what their marriage was like while he was drinking. That made me understood a little better why she was the strong one in the family.,

My father was born in Oklahoma, but his father’s people came from Tennessee. His grandfather had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. His mother was virulently racist. So my father inherited the usual southern baggage of racism and white privilege. He used the N-word. I wasn’t bothered much by that then because there was a lot of racism in Oklahoma, and I heard the N-word a lot. But I never heard him say it with malice, and I never heard him speak unkindly to black people, or for that matter, to anyone.

He was, in fact, a gentle, caring man. He loved my mother and my sister and me dearly, but I did not see or appreciate that at the time. He spanked me a few times for transgressions, but only because my mother made him do it, and I could tell his heart was not in it.

As a child, I saw how he cried when our cocker spaniel Lucky died. Much later, in 1968,  my ex-husband and I eloped to get married after completing our masters degrees in English at the University of Oklahoma. I was 24; he was 25. My mother was with my older sister at that time, helping after the birth of my sister’s second daughter. My father was at home. I called my mother first to tell her I was married, and you would have thought I had said I just robbed a bank and killed the tellers. She chewed me out royally.

I then called my father at home, half-expecting more of the same. His first words were “Well, bless your heart.” I almost cried. I wanted to kiss him for that kindness. My mother’s love was conditional; my father’s was unlimited.

He had a fine mind. He was an avid reader. As a geologist, he knew and taught us about  rocks.  Hearing his down-home speech as a child, I dismissed him as a rube. Later, once at a summer music camp, once in college, I received two letters from him, admonishments for things I had failed to do or had done and shouldn’t have. I knew my mother made him write,  but those letters were an awakening.

He had beautiful, strong handwriting. His grammar, spelling, and punctuation were impeccable. And he knew how to deliver a scolding that was firm, yet did not make me feel attacked as a person or unloved.  My mother could have learned a lot from him.

Those letters were the beginning of my reassessment of him.

Like me, my father had depression. His depression did not manifest in sadness or a need for social isolation. On the contrary, he was usually a sunny, gregarious person. He enjoyed people. He laughed easily. He liked a story or a joke.

His depression was about a lifelong low energy that manifested in difficulty staying with projects to completion and a lack of ambition that led him away from activity and toward the couch or chair for a nap. I can’t count the number of hobbies he took up and then dropped. I can’t count the number of times I saw him nodding off in a chair.

Nodding off on the job was what got him fired. He was a petroleum geologist, starting at Sinclair Oil Company as an oil scout just out of college, and ending as a desk geologist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sinclair was the only company he had ever worked for, and he was laid off, actually, rather than fired. The oil business in Oklahoma was in an economic downturn. Sinclair had to let people go. My father had been sleeping at his desk for years, and they had tolerated it in the good times, but they couldn’t afford to be so tolerant in a business downturn.  Sinclair laid him off just before he would have qualified for a pension.

This happened while I was in high school. We were living in the university town of Norman, just south of Oklahoma City where my father commuted daily to work. After he was laid off he kept going to Oklahoma City every day for several months before he admitted to my mother he’d been laid off. A combination of wounded pride and cowardice, I suppose.

After that my father managed to scrape together a few temporary jobs, but he never worked full-time again. Our mother’s teaching job at University School  was our only reliable income.  Money was tight for us from then on. A big strain on an already strained family.

I’m happy to say there is a happy ending to the story. My mother was asked to join the faculty at a small college in Chickasha, not far from Norman. She got better pay, and a title. My father discovered, and stuck to, the joys of vegetable gardening. In time he qualified for social security.  Then my mother retired with a nice pension and her social security, and they became more comfortable financially. They bought a small RV, started exploring the country, and gradually fell in love again.

In 1981, at age 75, my father died suddenly in an RV campground in Jackson Hole, Wyoming  He and my mother had just visited me and my then-husband in Oregon before they left for Jackson Hole. It was a good visit. They were obviously happy. When I got the phone call from my mother she was crying, and I cried, too.

He had been a good man, and now I knew it.

Growing up I thought my father and I had nothing in common. Now I realize how I am like him:

  • I got his big, blue eyes.
  • I got his love of rocks and geology.
  • I got his love of reading.
  • I got his intellect and curiosity.

These are all good things.

I also got:

  • his depression gene, and specifically, his low energy
  • his difficulty sustaining interest in projects once started
  • his genes for alcohol and other addictions. He smoked cigarettes most of his life until he finally had to quit because of pneumonia and emphysema. I started sneaking his cigarettes when I was thirteen. I smoked on and off for the next 50 years, and I lost track of the times I tried to quit before I finally did it.

These are not-so-good things.

But all in all: Thank you, Daddy. You were a sweet and gentle soul, and I’m proud to be your daughter.

 

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck