Jul 012019
 

“Elvis has left the building.”

I was never a screaming fangirl who needed to hear those words over a PA system to know the party was over. The whole Elvis phenomenon was wasted on me for many years after his passing. Only then could I finally hear and appreciate his music without anyone trying to convince me of anything about it. But, despite his monumental talent, I’ll always remember Elvis in quite a different form.

There’s a favorite bit of family lore that focuses on a multi-generational fear of snakes. Back when Elvis was King and I was a small child, my Dad worked as a sales manager for a land company. A big project in North Carolina brought many fellow northerners to the salesforce and Dad spent a great deal of staff training time drilling about precisely what to do if they encountered a snake while showing land to prospective customers. Over and over. “No matter what, stay calm. Turn and walk in the other direction. Don’t even mention it,” he instructed.

What I didn't realize is that his aversion to snakes, if not entirely genetic, it sure does run in the family. Click To Tweet

It seemed to be a sound policy. After all, there was no point in freaking people out unnecessarily, was there? It made loads of common sense until the day Dad was walking the land, heard the grass rustle, looked down, and shrieked, “SNAKE!” at the top of his lungs as his six-foot self hurried to the relative safety of the road.

My Dad tends to be a larger-than-life figure, so I’ve always enjoyed teasing him with this story: it brings him down to earth with the rest of us. What I didn’t realize is that his aversion to snakes, if not entirely genetic, sure does run in the family. Fortunately, my interactions with the creepy crawlies have been limited by Favorite Husband who almost always runs interference for me. Almost always. Almost.

He's a southern gent; there's a lot about him that feels like a drawl. Click To Tweet

“Excitement” is not a word that should come to anyone’s mind about anything in Florida during the month of July. It’s just too damned hot. Everything unwinds slowly, with most voluntary activity taking place either very early in the morning or late at night. Life takes place in the dark and, generally speaking, it’s not a terrible time of year for my husband to travel to his annual retreat. Life gets very lazy here.

It’s odd that our dog, Alex, should work his way into this story — he doesn’t waste a lot of motion even when the weather is cool. A nearly-albino boxer, he’s deaf, an attribute that serves to enhance his extreme aptitude for lengthy naps. He’s a southern gent; there’s a lot about him that feels like a drawl. I love it.

Still, it was July. I didn’t think much of his frequent trips to the laundry room. The floor is usually a little cooler there.

As I walked in to start a load of wash, I heard a loud thump. Turning towards the sound, I was startled by a very odd motion. When I recognized the flipping creature as a snake, the scream I let out rivaled my Dad’s. It didn’t phase Alex a bit.

Alex’s deafness makes him a keen observer of his surroundings, and he is especially fascinated by snakes: this was not our first encounter. My best guess is that he frightened the thing enough that it sought refuge atop of my ironing board. My subsequent shriek scared it to safety behind the dryer. I grabbed the dog, shut the laundry room door, and started to pace. My hands were sweatier than the rest of me. Excitement. July. I was not going to be able to sleep with a snake in the house, but I had no idea how to get rid of it.

I was not going to be able to sleep with a snake in the house, but I had no idea how to get rid of it. Click To Tweet

When I took a break from hyperventilating, I remembered that one of my closest friends — the one who names every animal that has ever hopped, stepped, or slithered through her yard — was married to a former park ranger. I called. They came. I love my friends.

Of course, there was no sign of the snake. The pair went back home, and the full cycle repeated itself. This time, before leaving, my naturalist friend said, “Keep your phone in your hand. The next time you see the snake, keep your eyes on him while you call me.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the snake turned up again. I followed instructions. My stomach churned. Although they live within a couple of miles, I waited forever for rescue to arrive.

Armed with heavy gloves and a large, covered bucket, he cornered the thing. Sure enough, as he moved it into the bucket, the damned snake managed to bite him.

A bite from a black racer snake is far more annoying than dangerous. A little hot soapy water and a plastic bandage did the trick. With my sincere appreciation, the rescuer and his charge headed to another home in another neighborhood where his wife would gift it with a name. And, yes, as you have probably guessed: when my husband called home that evening, I was able to let him know what happened.

“Elvis has left the building.”

Jun 242019
 

As we close in on the 4th of July, I’m seeing more and more headlines and blog posts about “freedom.” It makes sense that folks are looking forward to the barbeques, parades, and fireworks that commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And I guess with the history lessons most of us received, that makes good sense. Oddly enough, that has me thinking about the bad rap social media often gets.

dissent leads to greater freedomsI recently had the privilege of facilitating a table discussion at a local “You Talk, I’ll Listen” event. The inaugural effort was deemed a success by roughly forty attendees and the biggest takeaway is that they’d like to expand the group and convene another community conversation. Another? That social media is the source of much of the nasty, narrow-minded communication we’re all faced with on a day-to-day basis. As a facilitator, it was not my job to express an opinion — that’s what a blog is for, right? So, what I want to say most of the time people are trashing social media is this: I suppose that’s true if one only chooses to follow “like-minded” individuals and if a portion of them feel OK about trashing people online.

I’ll admit that, from time to time, I’ve been one of those people — usually in response to a national-level elected official is not choosing to do his (or her) job. For example, I’m one of those people who believes that America is smart enough to do something about gun violence. Something other than the thoughts and prayers.

I'm one of those people who believes that America is smart enough to do something about gun violence. Click To Tweet

So what’s that got to do with freedom? Aside from being free to choose what we see on social media, we’re not only headed toward the 4th — we just passed Juneteenth. If you’re like me and thought that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, you’d probably not know much about the anniversary of the day — two and a half years later — that the Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas with news of the war’s end and emancipation of enslaved African Americans. I learned about Juneteenth from Twitter.

So what's that got to do with freedom? I learned about Juneteenth from Twitter. Click To Tweet

bras on a clothesline -- a freedom women truly understandSo, sitting squarely mid-Pride and between those two other important commemorations, I decided to take a look around the interwebs to see what other significant steps toward freedom took place during June and July. The anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention is coming up, along with anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX, and the Equal book, libraries and freedom of thoughtPay Act.

Freedom is front of mind for many right now. So, reclaiming my facilitator’s “hat,” I offer thoughts on freedom from ten others — all far wiser than I’ll ever be.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ― Thomas Jefferson

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ― Virginia Woolf Click To Tweet

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ― Virginia Woolf

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. ― Sigmund Freud

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. ― Viktor Emil Frankl

My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent. ― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A right delayed is a right denied. ― Martin Luther King Jr.

I loved the feeling of freedom in running, the fresh air, the feeling that the only person I’m competing with is me. ― Wilma Rudolph

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves. ― Abraham Lincoln Click To Tweet

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. ― Audre Lorde

woman dancing with umbrella looks freeThe only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. ―Albert Camus

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.  ― Abraham Lincoln

 

Jun 182019
 

“It’s Pride month and I’m the only kid in America whose parents are disappointed in him for being straight,” one of ours once quipped. He knew we were not disappointed in him for any reason but probably didn’t feel comfortable asking either of his parents why we celebrate Pride. We’re not gay, either.

Just last weekend — at the request of town officials — our little Bible belt community (and new home town) held its first Pride celebration. Organizers were well aware that the purpose of the request was to change the narrative that erupted last June when a Pride flag was raised at City Hall. Despite the challenge raised, I don’t believe the council expected an event would take place; the island’s first annual Pride celebration included a parade followed by a day long, family-friendly festival. And, while there were some who showed up for education, some to sneer, and others to satisfy their curiosity, protests were almost non-existence.

Why do the hetero members of my family celebrate Pride? I have some reasons. Click To Tweet

But why does this matter in my family? There are so many reasons, the first being our basic belief in the Christian directive to “love one another, as I have loved you” along with that part of the Declaration of Independence that speaks to the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For everyone. Injustice tends to piss us off.

Many years ago, when I worked in an inpatient addiction treatment center, one of my lesbian clients was going on and on about how she’d have to spend time in bars because that’s where her culture was based. I told her I didn’t buy it and that she’d need to connect with sober lesbians to find out where they socialized without getting around alcohol. The next week the facility director announced I’d be running an ongoing group for our LGBTQ+ patients. Apparently, I was one of the few clinicians who did not think being gay caused addiction. A few years later, a company owned by the man known around the internet as Favorite Husband founded the Pride Institute — the country’s first addiction treatment center for the LGBTQ+ community.

And while those things are important, they’re not “it” for me. I went to college in a time and at a place that “gay is OK” and came of age during “the gay plague.” At one of the biggest crisis points in my life, the only person who stood by me was someone whose family member had been in my “gay group” and stayed sober. And one of my closest high school friends: a gay man I’ll not name here. I’ll not out him, even posthumously, because that’s not my part of the story. It’s his.

I'll not out him, even posthumously, because that's not my part of the story. It's his. Click To Tweet

My part of the story includes finding one another at a hormone-rife time of life, thereby removing Sister Roma judges a Hunky Jesus contestant during The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence 35th Anniversarysexuality from our friendship equation, and always having fun. Always. He taught me to dance, to drive
a stick shift, to laugh off serious wardrobe malfunctions, and how to weaken the knees of almost anyone with a thousand-watt smile. I don’t remember teaching him anything but, if he were here, he’d say there was something — even if he had to exaggerate. Because he was incredibly kind and went out of his way to lift others. Always.

And then he died.

It was a violent, bloody suicide. I don’t know “the” reason but there were factors: first-generation American, lots of pressure to succeed, former altar boy, and possible abuse of power by one of our teachers. Maybe he had GRID. I don’t know. Nobody should die because of who they are or who they love. It broke me.

So I celebrate Pride. And the right to be. And to love and be loved. Always.

May 152019
 

Most people I know — especially other writers — subscribe to the “this may be good but I can do better” school of work. As a result, given the right combination of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) our minds can quickly flip over to “this will never be good enough.” That inner critic can grab hold and shake our confidence like a dog with a new toy. This is part of the reason that the online #WritersCommunity flourishes: there’s always someone there to be goofy or to share compliments with a floundering counterpart.

We thrive when others point out our good qualities and the things we are doing well. Compliments are some of the best gifts we can receive — especially until we learn how to provide this wonderful experience for ourselves.

That #InnerCritic can grab hold and shake our confidence like a dog with a new toy. Click To Tweet

I spent many years teaching women how to appreciate their own talents and strengths. While there are many ways to do this, one of the exercises I routinely used was called Building Emotional Muscle. Here’s an abbreviated version.

Below are 45 words for positive traits:

  • active, determined, kind, adventurous, energetic
  • lively, artistic, enthusiastic, loving, aware
  • expressive, observant, beautiful, forgiving, open
  • bold, friendly, patient, brave, generous
  • powerful, bright, gentle, ready-to-learn, capable
  • handsome, respectful, caring, happy, responsible
  • changing, hard-working, sensitive, confident, honest
  • strong, cooperative, imaginative, thoughtful, creative
  • inventive, unique, dependable, joyful, wise

Choose your favorite 5 and list an example of how it manifests in your life.

You can also use this list with some of your online (or in-person) “crew.” Tweet, text, or email an example of how each of them exemplifies one of these traits. Choose a day during the week or month to share this sort of support within that group. Eventually, each of you will have a great collection. In fact, while you’re at it, why not have each group member add 10 or 15 words to the list?

One of the problems with using this sort of technique to counteract your inner critic is that many of us have a hard time accepting compliments.

Sometimes this works best if you don't compliment the person directly -- let her overhear you. Click To Tweet

In that case, here are two more recommendations. First, don’t compliment the person directly — let her “overhear” you. Address your compliment for Ann to Barbara, like this: “Have you noticed the way Barbara’s writing has improved? Her creativity is really shining through!” Depending on the relationships between people involved, Barbara should either not respond or can say/post a simple “thank you.”

Finally, writing can be a lonely business. Comments on blog posts let writers know that someone is reading – and that alone is a great form of feedback. If you’re not sure what to say, refer back to this list. It makes a wonderful starting point for sharing compliments — online or in real life!

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Andrea Patten is the author of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head.

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