It’s a new year

Lots of good things happening for me this year. I’ll expound on that as the year moves on; some of it I can’t talk about just yet, but you’ll all know when the time comes. I promise.

It’s already almost the end of January. It is just me, or do the years just seem to go by faster now? I came to the blog to just make sure that things were as I left them and realised that I hadn’t posted in a month. There was a time when I posted multiple times per day. I don’t have much of an explanation other than social media is taking over our lives. ? I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I am trying to do better at that because Facebook is truly a time sink of the worst kind. I want to spend more time on Medium, or in Pocket, or even reading or writing offline. It hasn’t happened yet. But it is a new year – maybe I’ll manage to discipline myself better this year.

So, Happy 2016 to those of you who still read this blog. I’ve had tons of ideas of how to revamp it but none have really taken … yet. We’ll see what 2016 holds.

Of course, that’s going to be harder than ever what with me getting into USC for a Masters in Social Work. It’s the full time, 4 semester program too. I may not have time to scratch my ass much less blog. We’ll see though. One never knows.

That’s my good news of the month, by the way. ? I struggle with the notion that I am too old for a masters degree now and I’ll be paying off student loans when I’m on my death bed. Meh. I’m gonna do it anyway. It’s a calling. One I missed in my youth and one I refuse to give up on again. It might be too late to be a forensic psychologist, but I sure as hell can still be some kind of mental health practitioner. ? More on that as the year unfolds.

In the meantime, I’m heading back to my television where I am currently running Criminal Minds marathons.

It’s that time of year again

 

Bah Humbug!Christmas is an odd time of year for me. Traditions and all the cultural nuances make it all so confusing for me that I end up with a kind of conglomeration of ideas about the season and how it ought to be celebrated. If I had to distill it all down into one simple thought, it’d be that Christmas is first and foremost a time for family.

Growing up, Christmas meant a few different things for me. It meant having to get out of bed at 4:00am to get to church for 5:00am service. This is a tradition that has perpetuated in my immediate family for several years – Christmas morning service when we sing Christmas hymns and talk about the birth of Christ as the sun rises in the east and casts an ever-warming glow behind the artfully crafted cross in the east wall of the church. The church was built several decades earlier with glass blocks in the shape of a cross in the wall. On the inside, a wooden cross was bolted to the wall so that when the light hits those glass blocks, the wooden cross on the inside looks to be glowing. Watching that light up progressively on Christmas morning was quite the spiritual experience for the young me. Even if I was pouting from having been forced out of my warm, cozy bed before daylight.

As soon as we got home, Mom would make hot cocoa and I’d open my presents. There were never too many presents for me to open so that wouldn’t last very long. I’d always wondered why I never got a ton of presents. For a long time, I thought it was because we couldn’t afford it. Then I began to understand that my parents were trying to ensure I never got used to getting a ton of presents. That is the route to the dark side and narcissism and entitlement. Thank god for my parents’ foresight.

The rest of the day typically was spent listening to a variety of musical pieces as my father and mother took turns playing their favourite music. The day typically started out with Handel’s Messiah. At some point, Dad would switch that to The Student Prince. If Mom was in an argumentative mood, we’d get a little Nat King Cole in there too. Sometimes, we’d get some Sparrow (calypso) near to lunch time. If Mom wasn’t particularly argumentative, she’d just turn on the radio as soon as Handel or Mario Lanza’s Student Prince was finished, and we’d get Christmas carols for the rest of day. There was no reggae in our house; no-siree; nuh uh.

All of this set a backdrop to the smells of your typical Jamaican Christmas. In the early years, rice and peas, escoveitch fish, brown-stew chicken, roast beef, and ham would mingle with sorrel and rum cake. Dad would drink a beer or two during the day, switching to Vodka later on if friends stopped by for eats. Mom would sip Sherry, switching to a “brown bow” (coffee liqueur and milk) if guests were over. Bonus: I’d get to sample them all.

Over the years, as Christianity took on a more ominous tone for me, Christmas morning 5am service became more about being with my parents for something they saw as important more than anything else and the reality of that cross on the wall morphed into a symbol of the illusion that Christianity and faith actually is. Slowly, over the years, the day became less and less about celebration and music. Less food was cooked, less people stopped by, less alcohol consumed. One of the last Christmas days I remember involved 5am service, Christmas Carols on the radio, escoveitch fish and bammy. We all mostly slept the day away and no one passed by to visit.

I got married in 2008 and suddenly Christmas was this huge deal again. Christmas Eve at one set of in-laws with one set of gifts. Christmas Day with another set of in-laws and a whole different set of gifts. Just as much food and alcohol and company, less religion. It just so happens that 2008 was my first white Christmas too.

Even after a revival of Christmas Spirit as a new member of the Frantz family, the fervor has dimmed even faster in the ensuing years than it had in the years before the wedding. These days, my husband and I “Bah Humbug” our way through what has become a very materialistic holiday. The most one might get out of me this time of year is a “Happy Yule” on December 21st, maybe a small light-returning ritual on the morning of the Solstice, and a quiet day meditating on the return of the sun. And of all the pagan holidays, Yule is the one I tend to observe most because by the time it rolls around, I am sick of short days and dark cold nights. Mostly, we get our food and we hunker down until after the madness.

Today (Dec 23rd) is the last day we will venture out of the house. We’ve got wood, hot cocoa, food, and drink to last us 3 to 4 days and we aren’t moving, unless we absolutely have to, until Saturday. So, Happy Holidays, everyone. Be safe out there. And see you on the other side.

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.

/sigh

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.

How much does groupthink contribute to implicit bias?

This sounds like the title for an academic paper, doesn’t it? Heh. Maybe I should work my way into academia and write thoughtful, philosophical papers on the human condition. Yeah … no. That’s not me. Not in the least.

I may not be model material for academia, but I do think a great deal about the human condition. Maybe too much. In fact, my husband would agree that I think too much. He’s told me that on several occasions. My reaction is that I’ve got a brain and brains do best when used and I use mine to think. Thus, I am using my brain – exercising it, if you’d like, in much the same way people go to step class. /nod When they cut me open, they’ll find my brain limber and beautifully muscle-toned. I am rambling …

While putting sheets and towels in the washing machine, loading the dishwasher, and making breakfast (including gloriously stand-the-spoon-up-in-it coffee) this morning, it occurred to me that maybe part of what we’re seeing with this categorical denial of racial bias and the perpetuation of systems that exhibit racial bias is less about systems theory (although I am sure there is plenty of that), and plenty to do with groupthink. How else can you justify an entire police department participating in behaviour that is as reprehensible as confiscating a “bike of a 54-year-old black man because he didn’t have a receipt proving that it belonged to him”?

Yes. I am aware that my linked article is from a well-known progressive site. Based on how Vox.com articles are written, it’s pretty obvious that if they were going to be classified on one or another side of the political spectrum, they would necessarily fall centre of left. I don’t care. This isn’t about politics. I’m apolitical, remember?

It doesn’t matter who you are, when you look at the big picture, one cannot deny that there does seem to be an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports a pattern of racial bias. And I am not calling anyone a racist. I can’t do that. I don’t have enough info about anyone. Besides, I don’t want to. Being called a racist is horrible. Ugh. I can’t even begin to imagine …

I am a big picture person. I tend to see the overall view rather than the detailed individualised view. I don’t know where that came from. I can’t trace back to any particular event or lesson in my life. I just tend to look at things from a broader perspective than most people I’ve met. It’s a curse sometimes because it makes me deny myself things I want “for the greater good”. Bah. Hate that shit. Sometimes I wish I could be selfish. I don’t think I know how. But I digress …

The big picture shows that there is something going on. There has to be. And here’s what I think it is: groupthink. Know what that is? It’s that shit that happens when you’re with a group of people and you’re all having a grand old time and one person says “we should go get a few brews” and someone else goes “yeah! great idea. let’s do that” and a few more people nod and smile and agree (you never notice that some of this agreement is kind of lacklustre, like they’d rather not) and before you know it, you’re thinking “I may as well go too cos if I don’t they’ll think I’m a snob or something”. That’s groupthink … a rather simplified version, but still exemplary.

I am perfectly able to envision a situation where a seasoned policeman says he thinks that dude stole the bicycle he’s on, and his rookie partner accepts that because experience is valued highly in law enforcement. And before you know it, an entire police department is going along with it because “cop instincts”.

I am not ridiculing cop instincts. Far from it. It’s kept my own husband alive more than once. Cop instincts tend to be good ones. They deal with all kinds of people all day long, every day, for years; decades. You kinda get a feel for how people think after a while. “Cop instincts” saves lives.

I wonder if you can spot the point of failure in my scenario, though. Can you? I’ll wait.



It’s the seasoned policeman. He’s got this little bias thing going on in his head. He probably doesn’t even realise it. It’s been there for all his life, ever since that old granduncle of his told him that there was something inherently bad about black people. He doesn’t consciously think there is something bad about black people and he certainly would not be one to say it out loud, even if he had doubts about it. Hell, maybe he even had a run in or two with a black guy once who stole bikes constantly and who stood out in his memory for some reason. Nothing wrong with that at all. Perfectly understandable. “Cop instincts” – right? They might have kept him safe from that good-for-nothing-bike-thief way back before now. Except, that memory, that instinct made him target someone entirely different without any obvious reason and his experience and respected “cop instincts” made everyone else support him.

It’s important to remember that I’m not blaming our seasoned policeman for anything. I’m not saying he’s a bad person or a bad policeman. I’m not even saying that anything should be done to him as a result. Hell, I’d probably have sided with him too were I his partner.

No; the effects of psychological phenomena such as groupthink isn’t something we can always see or even prevent. It happens even when we don’t even realise it – like that bloody night out with the boys drinking when you really would have preferred to just go home and binge-watch Dexter on Netflix.

What’s the solution? I dunno. Do you have any ideas? Cos all I do is think of causes and effects, dude. I haven’t quite gotten to solutions yet. I may need help there. I think my strengths are more seeing “what is and why”, rather than the creation of the “how it should be”. Hell, how can we build a “what should be” when human nature consistently and relentlessly sabotages every attempt, anyway?

Seriously. All I am asking is that we can at least admit that something is wrong and that maybe we need to take a closer look at the shit we do, say, and think before we go off half-cocked. Yeah? How’s that sound?