Tired of the downtime.

This seems to be about the 3rd time in the last 60 days that Bluehost has had downtime.

Granted, the downtime works out to be for less than a few hours at a time, and during the wee hours of the morning for the Americas (when most of my readers would be reading) anyway, but it still bugs me that my site is down so often. I am seriously considering giving up having hosted space because of this.

For a while there, I was “hosting” at WordPress.com and just pointing my domain to them instead. The problem with that is that the Jamaican bloggers aggregator didn’t have access to my feed because it apparently reads only self-hosted WP sites and not the WP.com feeds. I’ll have to research why that is and consider whether I really need that aggregator to pick me up. Maybe the benefit outweighs the need to have my site up. We’ll see. I have to think about this less emotionally.

Honestly, the biggest plus of going to hosted at WP.com is money – of which there is little while I am not working… the biggest downside is the inability to interact with my site from a command line. (I am a techie, after all).

And maybe … there is another solution like Bluehost that will be cost effective but less unstable. If my readers (assuming there are any of you left) have suggestions, please do drop them in the comments below. I promise to stay tuned and keep up with your comments better than I have in the past. 😉

From the overactive mind chronicles

Pine_Needles_(5902273583)This morning as I walked Rusty, I turned my nose up into the air and sniffed in much the same way I’ve seen Rusty do on several occasions. In fact, it is one of his signature looks especially when there is food on the air waves. I like to imagine he’s savouring all the smells and just enjoying life and the ability to experience life. I imagine that’s what is in his head because that is what is in mine when I lift my face up to the sky and take deep breaths too. And this morning was no different.

The air is fresh and clean this morning, like it was washed in fresh pine. The odour of the pine needles is so strong even the least sensitive nose is likely to be able to detect it. The scent overrides just every other smell (except dog poop). I literally walked with a smile on my face for the whole half hour, taking deep breaths, enjoying the scent of pine. (It should probably be noted that pine is one of my favourite scents alongside sage, vanilla, and clove.)

The one jarring note in this idyllic morning walk is that my mind couldn’t help but make connections with the extra strong smell of pine and the storm that just passed through here this weekend. We got 20mph winds on Saturday and the yard is littered with broken branches and the pine needle contingents in the yard, on the driveway, and on the streets have quadrupled.

The bottom line? This lovely walk laced with my favourite scent, heavy on the air, is courtesy of the destruction of nature. Basically, things had to break for me to enjoy my favourite scent “naturally”.

Yeah; my husband is most definitely right – I think way too damned much. /sigh

“Illegal alien?” How dare you!

Want to know what’s wrong with the term “illegal alien”? Actually, it’s a semantics thing; nothing is actually wrong with it per se. However, it does have certain derogative connotations about the person the label is attached to. Let’s dig into that for a minute …

I am also known as an alien. My “alien registration number” is the number attached to my green card. I am a legal alien, but I am still an alien and that feels like someone shit on my grave. It offends me. That feeling, though, is purely emotional. Emotional responses and reactions always make me dig deeper into what happened or what was said because I want to know what the rationale is behind the emotion. It’s how my brain works. I want to figure out the motivation behind reactions and responses that seem so purely driven by emotion. I want to understand what makes people tick. So for me, being offended by the term “alien” means that somewhere deep down, I have some issues with the word. Add to that the often used term “illegal alien” and I am downright angry because “illegal?” fuck off. #emotionaltiradeengaged #watchout (Ugh. Hash tags have made it into my writing now – shameful!)

I looked up the definition for the word “alien”, and to my surprise, the definition of “from another planet/world” was number 3 in the list. Number 1 in the list of definitions was “belonging to a foreign country”. That shattered my whole worldview because in my mind “alien” is the same as “ET” and “ALF” and I will not be categorised in the same space as fictional entities from another world. That feels insulting to me. But as I sat looking at the screen dejected, a caveat at the bottom of the definition page caught my eye: “ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin alienus ‘belonging to another’, from alius ‘other’.” And there it was – the origin of this word that makes me so angry is the very basis for bigotry and discrimination – “other”.

The question is, if one doesn’t know the origin of the word, does it have the same psychological impact? Probably not; which would explain why so many people defend the term “illegal alien” so vehemently. Maybe if they knew the origin of the word and the subconscious effect that that origin had on people, they might have a better understanding of why the term is so offensive to some.

Thinking about it some more, I realise that if you have never been a student of literature, languages, or culture you might never understand how “other” is an integral part of our subconscious serving to alienate and dehumanise “other” so that we feel better about denying civility and courtesy to those who inhabit that realm.

This is an intellectual conversation and one that I can’t have with everyone because the majority of people think it’s a waste of time to be this intellectually inclined. And thus the nuances of terms such as “alien” will continue to lose flavour over time.

My conclusion? Basically I need to just inure myself to people who consistently say “illegal alien” and move on. People from other countries who cross borders with other countries without express permission are actually breaking the law and are technically “illegal aliens” indeed. Never mind that their crime is more of the misdemeanour flavour rather than the criminal flavour, it’s still against the law.


On Hellen Keller …

I fell in love (sorta) with Helen Keller early in life. Before I realised just how much of a literary and inspirational icon she is. To be honest, I still don’t know how much of a literary and inspirational icon she is. I’ve a few articles queued up to read on her and I have a plan to get up out of this bed eventually (I’ve recently had major surgery and am still recovering) and do some thorough research on her and her life.

I knew early on that she was both blind and deaf and that she once said:

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence; and I learn whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

If you ask me for my favourite quote, that would be the one I’d give you. It’s the perfect embodiment of how I see life. I’m not blind and I am not deaf.  I have bad eyesight that’s correctable to 20/15, but by itself I am about 20/75 … or something.  (I actually don’t know what my eyesight is uncorrected; I should ask next time I get tested …). I hear really well. Sometimes too well. Part of being HSP is hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling things that normally go unnoticed. But I am not blind or deaf at all and thus I can’t even begin to relate to her on that level. Nevertheless, I feel that I get the idea of being satisfied with whatever lot in life one is given and making the best of whatever it is you have while striving to make life better still for the self and for those around you.

In reading more about her, I’ve learned that she espoused several other ideas that run parallel to my own. One of those in particular is the notion that it is in education – truly open and honest education – that tolerance lies. We cannot know how to accept our fellow man, regardless of his state and stature, until we learn that there are several other people in the world who see the world differently. 

“The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage — the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think. No loss by flood and lightening, no destruction of cities and temples by the hostile forces of nature, has deprived man of so many noble lives and impulses as those which his tolerance has destroyed.”

Hellen Keller was an optimist and this is how she is known and what she is famous for. I am not that much of an optimist. In fact, I tend to be a bit idealistic and somewhat fatalistic. Still, I can appreciate the optimists perspective, because if I spent my time indulging my idealism and fatalism, I would probably go jump off the nearest bridge.

Why am I suddenly waxing poetic on some dead deaf-mute from the late 19th century (and who died in the early 20th century)? It was her birthday yesterday.

Theories about the “problem in America today”

I am trying very hard to blog more often. I am also trying to tell myself that my blog posts don’t always have to be my own thoughts and views. I can also link other people’s thoughts and views as well. And here is one shining example of that realisation.

Browing Google+, as I so very infrequently do, I stumbled onto this post that outlines the main reason that David Niose (a blogger/writer at PsychologyToday.com) thinks “America” is devolving. He says it’s all about anti-intellectualism. Since I know opinion pieces are just that, I tend to check out the comments more on these pieces because sometimes commenters bring up relevant information and opinions that present a foil or a bolster to the piece’s premise. In this case, someone in the comments mentioned “pseudointellectualism” which struck a chord with me. English language form is to use the preface “pseudo” when we mean to introduce the notion of “false” or “pretend” to a topic. A lot of people argue based on emotion rather than rationale. There may be facts embedded in their arguments, but for the most part, it’s all emotion.

Anyway, the wonderful thing I like about the way PsychologyToday.com does their stuff is that they link “response articles” to pieces like this one. And in this case, we have two responses to this piece that present slightly different perspectives: Ravi Chandra’s assertion that it is more self-centredness than anti-intellectualism that is contributing to the this new “America” and Michael Austin’s agreement from a Christian’s perspective that the problem is anti-intellectualism.

I love this kind of stuff. Thought provoking.

I’d also add that this isn’t a problem limited to the United States. This is a disease that is global. Ignorance and denial does not know borders.

I’d also like to add that even with these articles in mind, none of this is that simple. One cannot distill the world’s or one country’s problems into one word. But this gives us a very real place to start fixing things – education, rationale, critical thinking.

Musing on the concept of “other” today …

We make connections in our minds between the subconscious impressions of the world we live in. Often, we aren’t even aware that we’ve made those connections. From what I have been reading about and learning, it seems to me that this (among other things, of course) contributes to implicit biases. Other things I have been reading and learning about is human impulses; those that are sometimes beyond our control or even our knowledge. Things like “fight or flight” – those concepts and ideas are fascinating to me. How is it that conscious minds with the ability to cogitate about all the things, can be so blind to what’s going on in our very bodies?

Yes; I am weird like this. But most of you already know that.

One of things I try to remember is that in a way, human beings are “higher” animals. We share a lot characteristics with the “lower” animals. Like that “fight or flight” instinct. Whether we want to think about it, whether we like it, whether it even makes sense to us … we do share some very basic instinctual and animalistic traits with the other animals.

Two circumstances lit a bulb in my head recently.

A few years ago, my niece was physically afraid of talking to me, hugging me, even being in the same room with me. I couldn’t make head or tail of it back then. I extrapolated all kinds of notions as to why that was. Even that she could sense how ridiculously incompetent I was with kids. Or maybe that I had some deep-seated evil that only young children could sense. Oh; it got weird. I agonised for months over the fact that a 3-year-old wouldn’t hug me. I questioned everything; my ability to mother for one, my understanding of the world I live in for another, my choices, my reality … everything. I don’t even know if I ever came to a conclusion either. Until now …

The other circumstance was with dogs. If you’re offended by being compared to dogs, you can stop reading now. It gets … worse.

Two dogs on my street would often be left to run around unsupervised and unrestrained. They would run around in everybody’s yard doing whatever they wanted. Poop, play, dig … just another reminder how much I despise dogs. They would back me into my garage and bark and snarl no matter what I did. I absolutely HATED those damn dogs. So much so I filled out a complaint against their owners because I felt threatened and since discharging firearms here is illegal, I figured it was a better option than just plain shooting them. (I am only half kidding about shooting them; I thought about it but only for a second.) Then a neighbour said to me, “I wonder if it’s cos you’re black?” My husband recoiled in horror, but I was stunned. Of COURSE! They have never seen anyone LIKE me before and they have no way of knowing whether I am friend or foe. Add in my hostility and we get aggressive behaviour like cornering me in my garage, barking and snarling.

It’s logical when I think of it now. When we are faced with something new, something “other”, we automatically go into “fight or flight” mode because we have no developed skills to help us figure out who is friend or foe. The enterprising among us develop stories and ideas about the “others” in our midst and spread them subliminally and overtly. Whispering in our ears in several ways that this particular “other” is dangerous, bad, to be reviled. We never refute it, we never question it, we pass it down generation through generation it gets so entrenched that it’s part of our reality. We believe it like we believe our name. And so we strike out against that “other” in whatever way is acceptable and legal because it’s bad, it’s evil, and it will tarnish us.

Bias isn’t to be reviled. It is to be pitied because at its root, it is a kind of ignorance. And because it is such much a part of our foundational beliefs that it will take a whole lot more than yelling or constant and unrelenting dissemination of truths to make a change. Not that we should stop yelling and delivering constant and relentless information. Just that it will take at least as many years to resolve, as it took to entrench it in the first place. I wish that weren’t true, and maybe it isn’t; I hope against hope that is isn’t while I tell myself that it is. Just so I won’t be disappointed. It’s a sad thing to realise. Depressing. Yet hopeful. At some point, humanity might learn that we are all the same; no matter what we look like on the outside.

That thing where someone sees something differently …

I had a surreal moment the other night.

I showed my husband an article that purported to be dispelling the age-old debate on whether the toilet paper roll should be over or under. You know the one. That debate is so old, its got a walker. Anyway, the article showed images from this old patent in which the roll is shown to be mounted with the flap over the top. Commentary on social media seemed to side with the idea that the patent proves that the roll should be mounted with the flap over. At least the commentary I saw.

The surreal moment was when, after showing him this article, my husband said to me that all of us who have been hanging our rolls with the flap over have been violating the patent all these years. He thought the patent proved that those in the “under” camp were right all along. And it was surreal because in that moment it was clear to me that my husband and I see things vastly different. The next thought was, “What else have we been disagreeing on all these years based on differences in perspective?”

The thing is, neither of us is “wrong”. Not really. I mean … really. How can either be wrong? It is literally a matter of preference, circumstance, and/or convenience. Sometimes “under” can serve us better than “over” and sometimes it’s the other way around. We really shouldn’t be spending any time arguing over it though. I mean, they are both valid and logical conclusions with a lay-person’s understanding of patents.

This is now a challenge to me. And whenever I can step outside the content of our discussion, I will probe at that concept. That concept that says there may be other issues are we applying our unique logic to and coming up with completely different conclusions. I will ask for clarification on how he sees the subject at hand because I am now fascinated by how easily that could have turned into an argument.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all, as human beings, solve our polarising arguments by simply realising that each of us have very different perspectives that provide us with completely different conclusions. And none of us are entirely wrong in our conclusions; just different.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for arguments that, based in emotion, seek to debunk scientific evidence. No, I am talking about opinions on aesthetics. Whether we should be hanging the toilet paper roll with the flap over or under, not whether to vaccinate your kids. There is a vast difference between arguing over something that doesn’t affect anyone at all versus something that most definitely can and will affect someone else negatively.

Oh and by the way, if you happen to be one of those people who managed to completely miss the uproar over the toilet paper roll patent images, here’s a piece from CNET for your edification.

A glimmer of understanding into that tight grip of fear

One of the things I have always struggled to understand is this grip of fear that paralyses people. Racism is blamed on fear. Religious bigotry is blamed on fear. Police brutality is blamed on fear. The inability to listen to another perspective on life is blamed on fear. It’s all different kinds and degrees of fear, however still equally and potentially dangerous.

Cognitive Dissonance (this is a term I’ve heard several times over the years, not the least of which is during my recent Bachelor’s program) creates a kind of fear. I remember the fear of realising I no longer believed in the God of my parents. I was so scared that I wouldn’t find another god or gods to replace him with. I searched incessantly for a belief system that “fit” because I needed one— we all need a belief system, right? And if we don’t have one, we’re lost — right? Yes, I remember that fear well. At the time, I didn’t identify it as fear; I told people I was “searching”. Every so often I head off on another search for something to believe in and each time I do that, I end up in the same place: realising that the time I took to search I could have been doing something far more sustainable. (Like learning to make candles, for example.) 

Just the other day, I read with interest and growing horror the statements of “that Duck Dynasty dude” (I think my mind is deliberately making me forget their names because … ugh!). My thought was that in all my godlessness, I have never dreamed up that kind of horrific scenario for anyone. And with all the ills I have lived through, I would wish that on no one. Of course, it could be argued that I haven’t lived through any ills. Nothing that would make me really want to hurt anyone. No one has murdered anyone close to me (that’s a lie; I wish him no harm though), no one has deliberately discriminated against me or mine (that I know of — they may have but it wasn’t overt), I’ve never been raped (also a lie), and so on and so forth. 

But here’s the thing: I fancy myself a writer and I have some of the most horrific of fictional scenes running through my mind. Somehow it’s ok for those things to happen to my fictional characters, but not something I’d think of doing to anyone. “That Duck Dynasty dude”, if I remember rightly, placed himself as the doer of those evil deeds. If I had been him, I would have at least divorced myself from those actions and said “someone”. The literal takeaway is that it is his God that is preventing him from committing some evil shit against some other human being. How sad is that?

But I am straying from the topic … and what I want to say is that I guess I have always understood on some subliminal level what that fear can do to a person. Cripple, paralyse, cause one to be stuck and not be able to move forward. There is a panic and you think, “Oh no! My whole life is a lie!!!! Where does that leave me?” You think, “But … but … this is what I’ve known to be true forever. Everything I ever knew confirmed this truth. This new upstart of a person/thing/event trying to convince me otherwise is EVIL! Ah! Get away!”

Dramatic? Maybe. But deep down you know that it’s a verbal description of what goes on your head when the very definition of yourself and your life and your beliefs are challenged on fundamental levels.

I have suddenly come to this realisation on a very conscious level myself. While it isn’t your typical fundamentally challenged belief, it is still a fear that I am having difficulty letting go of — that of flying. I’ve never been afraid to fly in airplanes. In fact I have often said how ironic it is that I so love aircraft and flying when I am so cripplingly afraid of heights (and depths). A chance to ride in a plane, even if it is from Montego Bay to Kingston (about 15-20 minutes in flight — 10 minutes on each end for ascent and decent). “Yay! Plane ride!!! Whoohoo!”  Never mind that the reason was because our car was stranded in Montego Bay and that was why we were flying home.

This Germanwings crash, though, is seriously challenging my love of flight. Seriously … I am thinking that knowing my rotten luck (don’t we often tell ourselves that we have rotten luck when we want to avoid doing something?), I would be on one of those flights that crashes and leaves no one alive. I saw an article on Vox this morning that tried to rationalise why that would never happen. Of course it started out with the point that aircraft crashes are still far less frequent than automobile crashes and exposed all the statistics that support that concept (I’ve used that one myself several times). Yet I found myself going “Yeah yeah. I ain’t flying again anytime soon if I can help it”. I slapped myself, of course. “My parents and many of my friends are still in Jamaica. That’s like abandoning them somehow! Stop it! You don’t mean that!”

Yeah. Dramatic.
Long story short, I get the “grip of fear” thing now. On a very visceral level. Sure I know that my sudden and paralysing fear of flying (maybe?) isn’t the same as a fear of the uprising of black people or the fear of godlessness and the void that creates; but it’s still fear that could get out of control easily in my head if I don’t cognitively and very deliberately talk myself out of it … every. single. time.

See what I did there?

I love reading! Why is it so difficult for me to read now?

I like to read. From the age of 6 when my mother, irritated at my constant interruptions, pointed at the bookcase behind her and said, “Look. Go find something there to read and occupy your time and mind, while I finish typing out these minutes.” I found Nancy Drew and The Quest of the Missing Map and I don’t think I’ve lifted my head out of words since. I think my mother secretly regrets introducing me to reading. She would often come to my bedroom door to check on me because, as she now says, she never heard a word out of me after that.

That bookstand had all kinds of books and I remember seeing these books all my life. Even on my last visit home, many of those books still remain. A few them have remained dominant in my mind. One that confused me much growing up was the swastika on the binding of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich  It wasn’t until I was much older that I recognised the intellectual interest my father had in much of these subjects. The Book of Mormon was there too. (Our family’s bibles were kept in our nightstands and bed-heads – not the bookcase. I suppose that was because we referred to them more often.) There was a book on economic systems. That also confused the 6 year old me. Still it became a valuable resource when I hit my first year in sixth form (in the US, that would be like pre-college learning; not quite equivalent to high school because the style of learning and the depth of content is far deeper than high school subject matter) and started studying grown-up things – like economic systems theory. I was 17 and learning the differences between communism, socialism, and capitalism and using that theory to learn that no country in the world has ever practiced any of those systems in the intended way. On my last visit, I discovered an original print in that same bookcase. One that coincidentally is on a subject I am also interested in, Buddhism and Zen. A print from the days when books cost .95c apiece.

To get back to that bookcase, though… There was the irony of the title Pocket Oxford Dictionary on the binding of a book so big I was afraid to pull it out on my own. And then there was the even bigger Webster’s dictionary (it’s no longer in print; I think Merriam Webster is what that dictionary became) that I used to love to pull out and thumb through on the floor right there beside the shelf. The copy of Webster’s my Dad has is littered with illustrations and in a lot of cases those illustrations provided context, if not pronunciation. For example, I learned to pronounce the word “cretin” with a short “e”; a friend of mine recently corrected me (not the first time I’ve been corrected) that it is in fact pronounced with a long “e”. Later on, I remember noting that Roget’s Thesaurus was always nestled comfortably nearby those two dictionaries.

Reading is so much a part of me that I think I would be crushed if I was no longer able to do so. Thus, the fact that I am finding myself less inclined to read on my Kindle Paperwhite is extremely anxiety producing. I have a jolly good reason, though –  I have notes to make in Evernote (my chosen note-taking and writing app) that I can’t do from my Paperwhite. I suppose this is an indication that I am reading less fiction these days. Still, the reason it is a problem is I like to read at night in bed before sleep and reading on the phone is bad for sleep, worse than the Paperwhite. So, instead of reading on my phone, I’ve stopped reading as much. Which is just as bad, I think. Maybe worse.

All this hit me last night as I was getting ready to sleep. I am not reading as often because I have notes to make and I can’t do that on the Paperwhite unless I highlight it and go back to it during the following day and type or write it out elsewhere. And I find it so much easier to highlight in the iOS Kindle app, copy, switch to Evernote, create a new note, and paste. 

I guess what I may need to do is split my reading. Read my non-fiction on the computer or phone during the day making my notes as needed. But pick some fiction to read at night before sleep. That sounds like a plan, right?

Those pesky unconscious biases

I went to meet a friend for coffee and catching up a while back. It was great because this is someone I love and admire very much. Without going into too much detail, and like so many of my other friendships, I met this particular person online. So, it’s a wholly “accidental” friendship – had the stars not aligned perfectly at a particular point in time, we may never have “met” at all. I find these chance meetings intriguing and oftentimes extremely rewarding.

That said, this particular friend is overweight. In my head, she’s not fat. And I’ve said so on more than one occasion: “You’re not fat”. And I think this friend corrects me because she wants me to be ok with the term. But I am not ok with it, and after thinking about for weeks … I now know why. The reason is entirely my baggage and nothing to do with popular culture, society, or prejudice. It’s a construct in my mind that I can’t get away from and it’s almost as bad as prejudice. 

You see, in my head the word “fat” is associated with people who deliberately indulge their own sloth and gluttony. People who know their habits make them overweight but continue to perpetuate those habits especially because it makes them overweight. The class of people I call “wilfully ignorant”. People who know better but don’t do better. And in my mind, my friend does not belong in that class of people in any way shape or form. It is most decidedly a bias and one that … I am still processing. I don’t like the connotations that the word “fat” creates for me because they are vile and disgusting. Thus, I avoid using it at whatever costs, especially as it relates to people who I respect and admire. To do so would mean I am inadvertently associated those connotations with them. And that is uncomfortable for me.

When I look up the word “fat”, I find that the word itself seems to have been coopted to mean overweight. Somewhere along the way, the “natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies” became the state of someone who weighs in at a weight over and above what modern medicine considers normal. My bias isn’t so much wrong as it is outdated. I am finding that out about much of my biases these days. Good to know.

Still – if that friend is reading, I want to say that my reluctance to admit what you see as fact isn’t about offering up platitudes but about avoiding a particular bias and stereotype in my head. Gosh darn those introverts anyway who take forEVER to think things through – right? 😉