September 4, 2016

Season of Change

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Tags: , , , , , , — Ann @ 4:17 am

It typically happens one day in early August. I step outside and notice that the light has a different quality, a subtle shift in shape and shadow, enough to let me know: Autumn is coming!

I am a Fall-o-phile, as are many of my friends. Every September 1st, my polyglot friends and neighbors Bonita and Silvano would arrange their refrigerator-magnet letters into the phrase, “Autumn in the Bay Area: Ausgezeichnet!” Yes, excellent.

Tuilieries Garden, Paris

Tuilieries Garden, Paris

To me, Autumn is an excellent melange of back-to-school clothes (green-and-black plaids, knee-socks, and Mary Janes), new binders and sharpened pencils, woodsmoke, pumpkin-flavored everything, maple syrup, spices, chilly mornings, crisp apples, and red-and-golden leaves.

Let others celebrate New Year on January 1. To me, Fall’s first fruits have always heralded new beginnings. The Jewish calendar supports my own calendrical rhythms. Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”) is the Jewish New Year that lands in September or October and is celebrated with apples and honey and fresh-start sentiments. It’s the first falling leaf on the autumnal Tree of Life, informing those who celebrate it that change is in the air and, if we’re paying attention and doing our inner work, potentially within us all.

That’s the exquisite nature of Fall. It brings an urgency unlike any other season. It speaks of new beginnings but also of time passing by. All of the joy, preciousness and fragility of life are captured in Autumn’s seemingly contradictory messages – a time of new beginnings even as we’re reminded that the hour is late. Open and unboundaried with a promise of renewal yet with a concurrent under-thrumming of yearning and existential angst. Harvest brings abundance but strips the branches bare.

Autumn says “do it now, before it’s too late.” And though I love all the trappings and symbols of Fall – the cider and the pumpkin patches and the cups of cocoa – what I love best about it is that sense of urgency. Autumn knows that life is precious; Autumn reminds us how swiftly the fresh green leaf yields to the pull of time, turns golden-red, then brown, then spirals down in its final pirouette to earth.

A perfect image, that: let the Autumn winds catch us dancing, to the very end.

August 17, 2015

Diary of a Former Mad-Woman (Or, Livid’s Not My Best Color, Anyway)

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays,Roadpeace USA — Tags: , , , , , — Ann @ 9:59 am

[Editor's Note: I just found this essay -- something I wrote back in the late 1990s. It's not a bad essay on anger so I'm adding it to my blog.]

I’m a recovering anger-embracer.

I first began to be aware of the habit-forming nature of what I call “knee-jerk” anger in early 1996, when I founded RoadPeace USA, my nonprofit movement to promote kindness on the roadways. With awareness and commitment, I mended my ways and have become a gentle motorist, encouraging others to follow suit.
However, recently, and quite suddenly, I realized that although I was being peaceful behind the wheel, offroad I was skidding out of control: anger was becoming my reaction to almost everything unpleasant. If the weather turned uncomfortably hot, if the grocery store was out of the cheap brand and I had to buy the expensive brand, if people stood too close to me at the check-out counter, I’d feel the flare. I realized that anger and its cousins — bitterness, resentment, outrage, and self-righteous indignation — were destroying my personality. And, most importantly, I realized that the anger I was feeling didn’t stem from some huge unresolved inner conflict: it was simply becoming a bad habit. I was becoming one of the Angry People. For there are people I greatly respect and admire, and they are the mellow ones. And there are those I don’t admire so much — the blazing-eyed types who huff impatiently while waiting in line, slam the elevator button five times, and pointedly frown at boisterous children. I, who aspired to mellowness, was developing a permanent glare and jutting chin.

I was even getting angry on behalf of other people. If friends and relatives didn’t feel their own anger, by gosh I’d gladly feel it for them. And, what’s worse, I was getting angry with my husband when he didn’t join me in my wrath-bath. Anger is a lonely emotion. Like heavy drinkers, habitual fumers want company. “What’s wrong…too good to get mad with me?”

In a way, it’s not all that surprising that I was turning into a knee-jerk mad-woman: We have become a nation of angry people. I don’t need to consult experts or do research to confirm this — we see it all around us. We see angry shoppers in malls, angry drivers on roadways. We hear angry callers on radio talk shows. We see it in the heavy sighing, the rolling of the eyes, the profanity, the aggressive driving. We’ve become a people not merely quick to anger, but downright eager to anger. “I dare you to cut in front of me, buddy; just try it.” Too many of us are walking around with huge chips on our shoulders. And we’re not content merely to feel the anger. We nurture it, groom it, invite it home to dinner, add a room onto the house for it. There are alternatives. Have we lost our creativity and imaginations to the point where we can think of no other reaction than anger to the frustrating encounters in our day-to-day lives?

Therapists and others talk of ways of “processing” anger. But I’m beginning to think we already give entirely too much respect and air-time to those ordinary, everyday mad attacks. I’m not talking about deep-seated angers stemming from early life traumas and other such tragedies. That type of emotion is a different matter, and needs to be tended to by professionals. What I’m talking about — garden-variety irritation — is simply a bad habit and we need to remember what our grandparents were taught: count to ten until it goes away. Get over it. A shrug and a wry smile can serve well. We don’t have to “process” every slight, every oversight, every insult, every hurt. Part of my recovery means giving up trying to direct, produce, and choreograph every single person and event in my life. Much of anger stems from control issues. I was often impatient with people when I didn’t understand and/or approve of their behavior. The opposite of anger is acceptance.

Since deciding I don’t want to be an angry person anymore, I’ve been dealing with it the way I quit smoking after 17 years: I’ve recognized that reactionary anger, like smoking cigarettes and other bad habits, is a waste of time, life, and energy, and I’ve declared it no longer an option. Put another way: I’ve symbolically crumpled up and tossed my hard-pack of huffiness, and I’ve ground out my last smoldering butt of self-indulgent fury.

That isn’t to say that my temper won’t flare. I’ll get angry with my husband, my father, my boss, certain politicians. But I’ll be rationing it from now on. For real anger to get my attention, it’s going to have to result from an event worthy of all that roiling passion. Once I’ve decided that anger is indeed the appropriate emotion to be feeling — that is, once I’ve run my feelings through the filter of my creativity and have decided that there is no better way to deal with the situation (such as the liberal application of humor) — then I can get angry. But unless I plan to do something with that anger, like talk it out or take action, I will immediately release it.

For I’ve also realized that, for all its storminess, anger is an impotent emotion unless it inspires constructive action. Even where anger is wholly justified — where people are being denied rights, where grave injustice is being carried out — just getting angry alone is a waste. Anger is only good, I’ve learned, if you use the energy created by it to take action and do something positive.

In the 70s and 80s, many experts told us that anger was good. We were encouraged to acknowledge it, express it, and own it. But habitual, knee-jerk anger hasn’t done anything for me except make me feel miserable, lose sleep, treat others badly, jeopardize relationships, churn my stomach, and make my head ache. One of my new mantras is: “Save it for the important stuff.”

Yesterday, at the grocery store, a boy of about eight or nine was acting out, yelling “No!” when I tried to pass his mom’s cart in the aisle. Up until recently, I would have fumed. But yesterday, I just looked at the boy in amusement. When I didn’t do anything but smile at him, there was a shift. Suddenly, he smiled and said excitedly, “I’m gonna be Batman for Halloween!” And so it goes. I change, and the world changes with me.

So far, my rehabilitation has been as simple as that — awareness, followed by choice. And walking among my planet-mates with a much less narrow view of what constitutes “acceptable” behavior. Because that has been an important step in the recovery process. Part of letting go of useless anger is allowing another more desirable emotion to fill and soothe the ragged soul. And, although he was referring to much larger issues than those I’ve written about here, Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this substitution technique when he said: “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

June 24, 2015

Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.

Oil light

Let me start by saying that the past 4 to 6 weeks have been crazy and my attention has been focused elsewhere. Like, for example, my domesticated-feral tabby Geronimo showed up one morning with an eye injury (to his already injured-healed over eye) so profound that it required an emergency vet trip and two more trips to a kitty eye specialist. Then Neal’s post-surgical wounds, which had been healed, became unhealed and I’ll spare the grisly details but that required several more trips to the Larkspur specialist. In the same period, the bathroom toilet broke at the base, flooding the floor. And then the refrigerator stopped working, resulting in the spoilage of all the dairy products and frozen foods with which I’d recently stocked it. Finally, I was informed not once but twice that I’d lost my health insurance: the first time the notification was in error; the second time, it wasn’t.

Needless to say, all of these little crises came with a price tag and demanded all of my focus. Which is why, this morning at 9 am when I take my aged Saturn to Rigo, my mechanic, to explain to him what I let happen, I hope that he — and the Gods of Transportation — will show me some mercy.

Monday night as I was driving home from work south on Highway 101 in no traffic and zipping along at a brisk 68 mph, my Saturn started making a tapping noise. A scary-ass “uh-oh something’s wrong” tapping. Because the car is very old and I’ve recently had to replace the head gasket ($1,000!), I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I simply shouldn’t be driving it so fast. However, Tuesday morning as I was driving back into Santa Rosa, suddenly an ominous thought formed in my brain and spread like a wine-dark stain on a white shag carpet. I broke into a cold sweat as the realization hit me: I HAVEN’T CHECKED MY OIL. The oil hadn’t been changed or checked since the head gasket was replaced, precisely 3,500 miles ago. Old as she is, my car needs at least one quart of oil added between changings, sometimes two.

Suddenly I knew with dread and certainty why my car was making noise. I decided I didn’t even want to wait until I got to Santa Rosa, but decided instead to pull into a retirement community a few miles up the road. I reasoned that a community of elders would surely have at least one full-service gas station. As my Saturn tap-tapped its way down the highway, my stomach knotted itself so many times I imagined that my intestines had turned into a macrame plant hanger. As soon as I got into Oakmont I saw, on my left, like a shining beacon, a gas-station-turned-auto-repair business. I pulled in, parked, and walked up to where several people were sitting on a bench outside, waiting for their cars. A pleasant-faced man in his 50s saw my approach. “Excuse me,” I said, “is there any way someone can check my oil and add some if it’s low?” My mind would only let me assume “low” as any other possibility (“gone”) would lead to visions of my poor recently-deceased father spinning furiously in his grave. The man said “Sure!” in a way that made me want to hug him.

He disappeared inside his garage, came out with a few bottles of oil and a rag, pulled out the dipstick, put it back in, pulled it out again, and said: “Empty. Bone dry.” He looked at me.

This is the thing that every driver knows MUST. NOT. HAPPEN. I learned it from my father at age 15. “Whatever you do, make sure you check the oil and keep it changed.” I knew this. I KNEW THIS. I swayed a little and grabbed his arm, and said, “Oh my god in holy heaven.” I couldn’t even imagine what he was thinking of me, given what I was thinking about me — and I know and like me.

He added several quarts of oil to my car while I stood by thinking, “I’ve killed my car.” I couldn’t have felt any worse if I’d forgotten to feed my cat and was watching a vet giving him intravenous fluids, trying to undo the damage that my neglect had caused. Well, okay, that would be worse. But self-recrimination coursed through me like a fever.

I thanked him profusely, paid him, and got back on Highway 12. I turned off the radio and the air conditioning and listened to my engine as I drove. I’ve been driving this Saturn since 1997….I know her every purr and ping. The tapping was gone. Everything sounded normal. I prayed all the way to work, “Let it be okay let it be okay let it be okay please please please thank you thank you thank you.” As soon as I got to my office, I Googled, “I let my car run out of oil how screwed am I?” One response said that a mechanic should change your oil and see if there are metal shavings present which, presumably, would mean a death sentence. Almost all responses said the car’s engine was likely ruined. I called Rigo and arranged to take my car in at 9 am this morning.

There’s nothing else I can do. It will either be okay, or it won’t. And I can’t even say that I’ve learned a lesson because it’s a lesson I already knew, one that’s as ingrained in me as “look both ways before crossing the street.” Rigo will tell me whether I got away with it or not.

Meanwhile, a big shout out to Vaughn at “At Your Service” in Oakmont. If you’re ever in the Valley of the Moon and need some vehicular maintenance, throw some business his way. I don’t know what he was doing when I got there, but he dropped everything to help me. He was the best part of yesterday.
6:35 PM – UPDATE: Rigo said he did find metal shavings in the oil filter. He also said that, nevertheless, my car sounds otherwise fine and “should be okay.” A little thing: He always puts one of those “next oil change” stickers up in the corner of my windshield. This time, I noticed, he wrote it in red ink. I don’t mind. My Dad, who died in January, always looked after me, his youngest. Now that he’s gone I’m especially grateful for any extra support, even if it’s something as simple as reminders in big red letters.

June 13, 2015

The Truth About Aging (For Women)

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

Over the past 15 years or so, as I’ve moved from middle age towards what sociologists call the “young old,” I’ve searched in vain for a book, blog post or website that would provide me with a reliable guide towards this process that, in my experience, is as much as a drastic developmental shift as was the experience of puberty. Aging and puberty have much in common: changes in our hormones resulting in changes in our bodies and even our voices. When I realized that the truth about aging isn’t out there, I decided to write the guide myself.

Aging has many facets. There’s the science. What is aging, exactly? There are the sociocultural aspects — what our culture tells us about who we are as older adults. There are changes to our brain (e.g., older adults experience a decline in the urge to novelty-seek). And, of course, there are changes to our faces and bodies — the changes that get most of the attention and have given rise to a multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.

Craig T. Nelson

Craig T. Nelson

Craig T. Nelson

Craig T. Nelson

First a word about the science. What is it that happens to our bodies when we grow older? According to the experts, “We think of aging as the accumulation of random damage to the building blocks of life—especially to DNA, certain proteins, carbohydrates and lipids (fats)—that begins early in life and eventually exceeds the body’s self-repair capabilities. This damage gradually impairs the functioning of cells, tissues, organs and organ systems, thereby increasing vulnerability to disease and giving rise to the characteristic manifestations of aging, such as a loss of muscle and bone mass, a decline in reaction time, compromised hearing and vision, and reduced elasticity of the skin.” This is an important article to read, by the way, because it explains why all of the anti-aging fads (antioxidants, hormone therapies) are doomed to failure. For an even more thorough examination of aging from a scientific point of view, go here.

Whether or not one ages “well” depends on a host of factors — genetics, lifestyle and resources being the most important determinants. It’s commonly known that people whose skins have more melanin tend to wrinkle more slowly than paler humans. Inherited bone structure will also determine how your face ages, as will a host of other genetic factors. As for lifestyle, it’s also no secret that regular exercise, a healthful diet, eschewing tobacco, and making the choice not to abuse substances will help to keep you looking more robust than those who sit and watch TV all day, eating Nachos, and smoking Lucky Strikes and/or meth. However, if you’ve done your homework and read the first science-y article I shared, you’ll know that “…no one has shown that diet or exercise, or both, directly influences aging.”

So maybe at this point we should distinguish between the process of aging and the process of looking/becoming old. Because even those of us who can live, in principle, with the truth that we are all aging, can have some difficulties when it comes to the actual realities of our faces and bodies becoming old. Many experience changes that can be hard to come to terms with: thinning/lost hair; physical aches and pains; changes in our body’s shape despite exercise and diet; problems with teeth and vision even if we’ve never had those problems before. I haven’t even touched upon menopause and the changes endemic to that process. The reason I’m leaving out advice specific to increases in our Follicle Stimulating Hormone levels is that every woman’s menopause experience is so different, depending on heredity, state of mind and body, and more. Some women enter menopause in their late 30s and endure decades of misery; some women seem to glide in and out of it in their late 50s with barely a hot flash — and most women fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Having a good OB-GYN who truly listens to you can maximize your comfort and peace of mind.

Shelley Fabares

Shelley Fabares

Shelley Fabares

Shelley Fabares


As you can imagine (if you’re not yet there, age-wise), there’s a lot of panic around this business of our bodies and faces growing older. If you’re serious about approaching your 50s and 60s well-armed against the effects of looking older, here are my suggestions:

1. Be wealthy. I’m only half kidding. At the very least, have excellent health and dental insurance. But money can buy some amazing resources that will stave off some of the worst effects of aging for quite a long time. What can you buy? Products that reverse hair loss, products that may or may not make your skin look younger, hair implants, dental treatments, cosmetic procedures (more about which later), body reshaping, personal trainer, personal chef, stress-relieving retreats and massages, vaginal tightening — even contact lenses that duplicate the youthening look of limbal rings. If you have vast sums of money, you can look like Jane Fonda did at 70:

Jane Fonda, 70

Jane Fonda, 70

What do I mean when I say “vast sums”? This, for starters. Estimates are that Ms. Fonda spent $60,800 for the initial work and shells out another $4,000 plus in annual maintenance, though that sounds low to me. To her credit, Ms. Fonda has admitted that she didn’t have the “courage” to age without plastic surgery, unlike her friend Vanessa Redgrave who is showing her real, aging face to the world without surgical enhancements.

If you can’t be wealthy, be smart about your mind and body:

2. Starting from a young age, always use sunscreen and wear a hat when you’re outside. Put sunscreen on your hands, too.

3. Starting from a young age, take care of your teeth. Brush, floss, see your dentist regularly.

4. Starting from a young age, take care of your body. Strive to be within your normal weight range. Work out regularly. Keep your muscles strong and stay flexible. Yoga, weights, aerobics, do it all as you are able (and if your doctor says okay). And sit up straight. Stand up straight. You’re no slouch so stop slouching. And don’t sit too much. Your body wants to move, let it move. Work on balance, which becomes impaired as we grow older.

5. Have regular medical checkups and all of the recommended annual tests.

6. Keep hydrated. You don’t have to be ridiculous about it, but do drink water throughout the day.

7. Create and stick to a skin care routine, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. I have pretty good skin (thanks, Mom) and since my 30s I’ve only ever washed my face with plain warm water, followed by an SPF 30 moisturizer (daytime) and Pond’s cream (nighttime). Don’t ever scrub your skin hard. Gentle, gentle.

8. Take good care of your hair (keep it out of the sun as well) and to the extent that you can afford it, splurge on a good cut and good coloring (if you choose coloring). Nothing makes a woman look older than a bad haircut and a bad dye job. Which brings me to another truth:

9. Try to dress well. If you haven’t yet found your style, it’s a good time to do so.

10. Take good care of your brain. Experts say it’s not what you do so much as that you change it up all the time. Sudoku or crosswords puzzles every day aren’t going to challenge you. Some experts even recommend that you take different routes to familiar places. The idea is to keep your brain surprised. Keep doing things you’re not used to doing — don’t let your synapses get flabby.

Even with all that, though, it’s attitude that matters most. It’s well-known that we have to maintain a sense of purpose as we advance in years. This is your path to figure out. Everyone has different religious and spiritual orientations so I can’t give specific advice. I can only promise you that having A spiritual practice, ANY spiritual practice, is going to make a positive difference in your aging. That includes having a supportive circle of like-minded (or at least interestingly different) friends with whom you can socialize and laugh with. Further, ideally the spiritual aspects of your aging journey will include a daily gratitude practice, time spent in mindfulness/meditation, time spent in nature, and time devoted to serving others. Being in gratitude will help you to be aware of the many gifts of aging that we sometimes take for granted. If we’ve been paying attention all along, we will have developed greater wisdom, insight, patience, and even a greater capacity to love and appreciate. Developing our spiritual selves is an important part of being the wise elders that we want to be. I highly recommend Lewis Richmond’s book “Aging as a Spiritual Practice – A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser.” Because, again: if anything is going to get you through the challenges and changes of aging, it’s going to be your awesome attitude and your spiritual practice, whatever that is to you.

Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” I heard this quote decades ago, before it had any meaning for me. Now I know the truth of it. It takes courage to embrace change of any sort, but when that change is happening in regard to our faces, our bodies, our identities, and in our lives as a whole, it takes a monumental strength. I haven’t even delved into some of the other challenges that can accompany growing older: serious illness and/or disability, or the serious illness/disability of friends and loved ones and, of course, loss of our parents, friends, even siblings. Yes, younger people suffer these losses as well, but not to the extent that we do as we grow older. Loss goes with the territory. You can age gracefully, but more than that, you will need to age courageously.

After spending the last 12 years or so developing a deeper understanding about the process of growing older, the most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s unwise to think of older/old age as just a different version of your younger life. I’ve come to understand that this is a time of life unique unto itself, unable to be compared to any earlier stage. When we are younger, we are more certain about where we get our power (for women, historically, largely through our youth, beauty and sexuality) and as we age we have to look within and elsewhere to find new sources of power. It’s at once terrifying and exhilarating. For me it involved going back to school in my 50s to get a BA and then a Master’s Degree in counseling. I’m currently on track to become a Marriage and Family Therapist — a career that will take me through my 60s, 70s, and 80s (if I am very lucky).

Robert Frost wrote, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” I could never have seen the challenges I’d face through the aging process, but I also could never have foreseen that successfully navigating them could result in such joy and enthusiasm. I’m going through a new stage of life. It’s hard, and it’s good.

Ann Clark Now

Ann Clark Now-January 2015

Ann Clark Then

Ann Clark Then

June 6, 2015

Reality TV and the 16 Basic Desires

Are you front-row center? Want to know why?

Are you front-row center? Want to know why?

After a week that had all forms of media referencing the Kardashian and Duggar families with greater urgency than any discussion of ISIS could ever engender, I found myself thinking about reality TV shows and the people who watch them. Though I’ve never seen one single episode of any reality television program (not counting that one shameful weekend years ago where, at a friend’s urging I watched about 12 straight hours of “America’s Next Top Model” — with the lights out and the drapes closed), even I knew that Bruce Jenner is more famous for his role in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” than he was for winning an Olympic medal. And even I knew that the Duggar family is famous for a show called “19 and Counting” which seemed to be about how many children a couple could have and still stay true to their Christian principles by never taking God’s name in vain. And now, of course, both of these families have been cannon-shot out of their reality TV roles onto media headlines everywhere — Bruce for becoming Caitlyn, and the Duggars for becoming reprehensible (at least the excuse-making, blame-laying parents and their perpetrator son — I can’t speak to the rest of the family).

Driving to an appointment yesterday morning I was listening to a local radio talk show, and almost every single person who called to talk about the Duggars prefaced the call with, “I don’t watch reality TV but….” And so I got to wondering, who does watch those shows? And more important, why? I suspected that the reasons were more complicated than the usual “to feel superior.” I did a little Googling and stumbled across a fascinating study and journal article, “Why People Watch Reality TV,” by Steven Reiss and James Wiltz of Ohio State University. As it turns out, feeling superior seems to be part of the answer.

You can read the article yourself but, essentially, the authors used “sensitivity theory” to reveal that humans have 16 basic desires, with associated motives, underlying animal behavior, and a particular resulting joy. The motives, followed in parentheses by the joy that results from achieving each of these desires, are: power (efficacy), curiosity (wonderment), independence (freedom), status (self-importance), social contact (fun), vengeance (vindication), honor (loyalty), idealism (compassion), physical exercise (vitality), romance (lust), family (love), order (stability), eating (satiation), acceptance (self-confidence), tranquility (safety, relaxation) and saving (ownership).

As you can imagine, people differ in how they prioritize these desires. For example, if your roommate has a low need for order he won’t notice a sink full of dirty dishes (leaving you — with your high need for order — mightily miffed). We also have the potential to experience the 16 joys through direct or vicarious experiences. For example, we can watch a romance movie and feel the joy of lust, or we can watch a war film and experience the joy of vindication. However, in stark contrast to the joyful feelings we get from direct experience, the vicariously-achieved joys tend to be shorter-lived, of lower quality and intensity, and overall less pleasing. And one of the reasons, apparently, that Americans are so glued to their sets, is that we experience television viewing as a very easy and convenient way to vicariously experience the 16 joys repeatedly (and some of them simultaneously).

As we humans go through life seeking to experience these 16 basic goals and the joy that accompanies them, we focus on those that are most highly valued to us (depending on upbringing, culture, opportunity, personal skills and history and, I’d imagine, character and personality). But right after a basic desire is achieved, it reasserts itself and has to be satisfied again. The study authors give the example of a vengeful person who has gone through several days of “minimal conflict” and who may therefore feel motivated to pick a fight. Because our basic desires quickly reassert themselves, according to the theory, and therefore can be satisfied only temporarily, we seeks out ways to repeatedly satisfy our most important ones.

So what do you think are the two basic desires that drive watchers of reality TV? The study findings showed overwhelmingly that the more reality TV shows a person liked, the more status-oriented a person was. The motive for status is “the desire for prestige, including the desire for attention.” The animal behavior associated with status is that “attention in the nest leads to better feedings.” And, as previously stated, the particular joy associated with status is “self-importance.” That’s the primary carrot. People motivated by status need, more than others on average, to feel self-important. And reality TV can accomplish this psychological need in two ways. First, viewers feel they’re more important (have higher status) than the regular people they see on reality TV, and, second, the underlying message of reality TV is that millions of people are fascinated by watching the real life experiences of ordinary people, which implies that ordinary people are important.

The second largest significant finding was that people who watch and enjoy reality TV place a higher value on vengeance than did people who don’t watch those shows. The motive for vengeance is “a desire to get even, including the desire to win;” the animal behavior associated with vengeance is that “the animal fights when threatened,” and, of course, the joy resulting from vengeance is “vindication.” In short, the primary feelings (joys) being sought by those who watch reality TV are self-importance and vindication.

If you are a partaker of reality TV shows and that doesn’t sound right to you, well, remember it’s just one study and one theory. If you have other reasons for watching, I’d love to hear them.

April 19, 2015

Lessons in Grace, or: Be Nice, It’s Easy

I post a lot of pictures of my cat. A LOT.

I post a lot of pictures of my cat. A LOT.

My 200+ Friends on Facebook are often subjected to photos of Geronimo Cat, my domesticated feral bulls-eye tabby. There are many reasons I share his picture so often, among them: 1) he’s my first cat and I’m head over heels in love, 2) he’s truly gorgeous, and 3) I’m learning to become a better photographer. Typically, after any given Status Update featuring Geronimo’s pic, I can count on the same four friends responding generously with a “Like” — all Cat People themselves.

One day a few weeks back I took what I thought to be a particularly stunning picture of Geronimo and posted it as my Status Update with the caption of, “It’s been a few days since I’ve shared a cat photo and I know you’re jonesing for one.” Well…..a friend of my niece’s, a man I’ve never met but with whom I’ve formed a fun and easy Facebook acquaintanceship, wrote, “I was going to say something if you hadn’t posted one by tomorrow.”

I’ll never forget the power of his playful comment. All at once I felt: amused, validated, honored, and warmed by his words. In that one response, he pulled off what so many of us pass on the opportunity to do: he made another human feel good with his graciousness of spirit. And what he actually did was give a little of himself. We all know people who are so stingy with their goodwill that they can’t give to another human in even those small and painless doses, yet opportunities for giving of ourselves in this way are abundant (especially on social networking sites), if only we will watch for them and act on them.

Someone once wrote, “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

My Facebook Friend made me feel like he valued what I value. And I will never forget that.

June 1, 2014


Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays,Rants!,The Healing Project — Tags: , , , , — Ann @ 11:44 am

Being Alive
I recently met a young woman who is one of those people born to be in the healing arts. Her very presence is a blessing. As is often the case with bright-light individuals, she is deeply into yoga, spirituality, and living cleanly and lightly on the Earth. We got to chatting during a recent gathering and decided to keep in touch via Facebook. When I logged on yesterday, there was a Friend request from her.

From cryptic comments she’d made, I knew that her long-time partner has cancer. She’d made recent references to treatments that went well, and then not so well. I know that he is a young man, and because my partner was also a young man when he developed testicular cancer a decade or more ago, I assumed that that was the brand of C they were dealing with. And because all turned out well for my partner – and for Lance Armstrong, who famously battled that very same cancer — I assumed all would be well.

After she and I Friended each other I browsed her Wall. I saw her partner for the first time. The two of them together look like a glossy magazine ad for the best kind of life two beautiful people could ever live, probably at a base camp in Nepal. Radiating promise and hope and bliss and love, these two gorgeous souls smiled back at me from Zuckerberg’s social network program, and made me smile right back. Because her photos are interesting I started flipping through them – she and her guy have traveled all over the world, I notice — and then I see that a friend of theirs has posted a photo of her boyfriend with the Comment, “This is [name]. He is battling brain cancer.”

BRAIN CANCER. Stomach-punch heartsick held-breath ohmygod ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME, UNIVERSE?!! Is how my thoughts ran. This beautiful boy, this child of the planet, this lover of life, this shining light, has BRAIN cancer?!!!

All morning long my mind reeled. Here I am, so truly far away from the situation – I barely know her, and have never met him – and yet so gobsmacked by the horror of it. When my partner came home from morning services, I explained to him in choked sobs what I’d found out, then cried for an hour. Later, on my walk, I kept looking up at the sky, “Really, God? Really, Universe?”

I don’t know how common this type of cancer is in 20-somethings. I lost another friend to brain cancer a few years ago; she was in her 60s. I do know that people young and old, rich and poor, etc etc get cancer, fight cancer, live with cancer, die from cancer. I don’t usually go around thinking about it because, well, that way lies madness. But I can’t shake this. All day long, whenever I heard someone say something vaguely whiny, I thought, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer!” Watching a television show in which 40-year-old actresses were complaining about their wrinkles, I thought, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer.”

Can your whole life and perspective be changed by someone else’s battle with cancer? I’m not sure I even feel right about it, as though I’m “getting something” from someone else’s – what? What are they even calling it? His illness? His struggle? His challenge? His journey? I want to take care how I characterize what they are experiencing: this is not mine to name or make assumptions about.

Worse, I suspect that my heightened sense of the preciousness and fragility of all things will fade. I mean, not that I particularly take life for granted on a daily basis – I am filled with gratitude – but right now, I’m way above baseline. I’m up there in self-actualization mode, where brushing my teeth this morning was a blessing and touching the cat’s fur brought tears to my eyes, so awed was I by its softness. And I remember being elevated to this state of heightened appreciation and awareness a few years back when another friend’s wife, in her early 30s, with two small children, was expected to die of Stage IV cervical cancer. As I held his hand through that, all the life-appreciation clichés came to pass: air smelled sharper, colors seemed richer, grass felt velvety. She survived that, they eventually divorced, and I went back to baseline appreciation mode.

Someone I don’t even know has brain cancer, and I’m feeling more connected to life. But every day someone I don’t even know has cancer. Every day I could be outraged to the point of transcendence. As I said, it doesn’t seem right, “using” other people’s struggles in this way. On the other hand, is this not what every person wants, for meaning to be made from their life and existence? Whenever something Bad happens, the survivors say, “I want something Good to come of this.”

And so, a friend’s life companion gets sick, and those ripples come lapping into my awareness and something feels changed. For one thing, I know I don’t want to hear any complaining. From anyone, and least of all from myself. I may even say it out loud if I hear any whines today. I may look at the whiner and say, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer!” Someone does. You don’t? Then shut up and live.

May 5, 2013

The Art and Risk of Silence and Self-Disclosure

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 8:25 am


Listening to Terry Tempest Williams being interviewed last night on NPR’s “To The Best of Our Knowledge,” I was captivated by her discussion of women’s self-silencing. Williams is the author of “When Women Were Birds,” a book built around the fact that when, based on her mother’s death-bed invitation, she went to the family home a month post-funeral to read her mother’s journals (three shelves of cloth-bound books), she discovered that every page was blank.

In Williams’ words:

“You know, when I saw those…journals, I thought, finally I can read what my mother was thinking. And then the first blank, the second blank, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, all of my mother’s journals blank. It was like a second death and I just stuffed that down into the toes of my boots and just didn’t deal with it. And really…it wasn’t until I was 54, the age my mother was when she died that I brought that story back into consciousness, thinking, OK, why. What was my mother really trying to say to me?”

And later in the interview:

“[My mother] spoke to me but I know there’s so much she never said. I saw the price that my mother paid for remaining silent. I saw the price that my mother paid for her grace and I think as her daughter I was very conscious of my anger. Call it sacred rage. You know, I think in some areas I have found my voice through my anger. I also have to say in the beginning I thought I was writing a book about voice but I think in the end I may have written a book about silence. What do we speak of? What do we withhold? And I think that’s a constant assessment for women because the consequences when we speak out.”

These words hit me hard. I’m a writer. I write at every opportunity. I have kept journals since I was a teen, and this blog for several years. I also post regularly on Facebook, write reviews for Yelp and Amazon, and have even been published (in Woman’s Day, Sierra Life, and various local newspapers). I’m such a compulsive writer that I keep a notepad by my bed (for dreams) and yellow Post-It notes on my living room end table, so that I can scrawl down random thoughts at need. If you opened my seldom-used checkbook, you would find its pages ornamented with scribbles written furiously at stoplights — the checkbook being the only available paper when inspiration hits while driving.

And, in every writing, the urge to censor myself has been keenly felt, whether because of the critical audience in my head, fear of offending, or just plain fear of being seen too clearly, too well. Our culture has long heralded the “strong, silent type.” We all know that familiarity breeds contempt. My own beautiful mother keeps so much of herself TO herself that on the rare occasion when she discloses something personal to me it’s as if she has offered me a rare and fragile gift. I’m almost afraid to take it in for fear of breaking it in my clumsy appreciation. And I have always wanted to be like my mother, but this writing compulsion betrayed me from an early age.

I have long disdained being ruled by fear. Legislation by fear, management by fear, fear-driven decision-making, fear-driven behaviors — nothing good ever comes from letting fear govern our lives. And yet, every time I write something about myself, I feel that twinge of self-doubt: Should I not say that? Will this come back to bite me? Does that seem strange? Is this offensive? Although of course our public voice must be tempered with equal measures of compassion and good judgment, that kind of second-guessing robs writing and life of its rich spontaneity.

Towards the end of her interview, Williams said this:

“I still choose to speak because I think that that which is most personal is most general. And I do have a voice in the world. And if I’m afraid then I know that other people are afraid too.”

Hearing that, I felt something catch in my chest. For a moment I imagined the exhilaration of speaking one’s mind with courage, of writing one’s words without fear followed by deletion. I think, to an extent, we are all afraid to be truly known, to be “found out.” But I also know that — in the words of my dear friend Rachel — when we “unzip and show our souls,” some of the most brilliant and breathtaking connections can be made with others, and I know that true intimacy is born in those moments of knowing one another and being known, fearlessly. It mystifies me that there’s a trade-off. I will never have my mother’s grace and mystery, for my words are everywhere now, my life’s graffiti, sometimes elegant, sometimes not. There exists a written record of this experience I choose to call the quest for self-actualization but in reality is just me, noticing. My mother notices with still and undocumented sureness. I notice in big broad noisy strokes. Like Williams’ mother’s empty journals, these choices are the stories of our lives.

March 8, 2013

On not being taken seriously.

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 5:40 pm

Of course, I'm really talking about respect.

“In terms of sheer psychological damage, I think that one of the worst experiences a human being can suffer is not being taken seriously.” – Me, 3/3/13

I wrote and posted that on Facebook the other day because I see evidence of it far too often. I think of women not being taken seriously in business (and science); I’ve talked to therapists in training who are not taken seriously because of their youth; I just read an article by a woman who is frustrated for not not being taken seriously as a farmer; sometimes youngest children in the family are not taken seriously because they’re “the baby”. Or, in some families, all of the children have a hard time being taken seriously by their parents, or it takes a very long time for that to happen.

Gay and lesbian couples not being able to marry is a perfect example of not being taken seriously — “You don’t need to get married, you can just have a commitment ceremony.” Younger classmates in my MA program have been encouraged by professors to pursue a Ph.D. and because that’s not happened to me (although I’m one of the top achievers, academically speaking) I wonder whether my age is a factor in not being taken seriously as a student. Minorities are often not taken seriously in many arenas (jobs, housing). Overweight people, and especially overweight women, have a very hard time being taken seriously — as women, purchasers of stylish clothing, potential mates and even as employees. We often don’t take elderly couples seriously in their relationships, calling their deep love, devotion and sexual attraction “cute” and “adorable” (or, much more damaging, “disgusting”). And only the typically disempowered are called “feisty” when they assert, or attempt to assert, their power.

Also: I know of people who set out to launch careers in the arts who were told they should only minor in the subjects of their passion because they could never get a job doing something as frivolous as art or writing. (What writer does not want to be taken seriously as a writer?) And I’m guessing that serious tattoo artists struggle to get respect for their talents. Women who choose to stay home with their children are not taken seriously as laborers. In our culture, many times people in chronic pain are not taken seriously and are dismissed as “drug addicts.” Those suffering from depression are often told by well-meaning friends and family to just “get over it.”

Anyone who has ever done anything unusual, against the mainstream, “off-time,” or cutting edge has had to struggle with being taken seriously. And some of those people, when expressing how very much they want and need to be taken seriously, are warned not to take themselves too seriously. What is more serious than your essential self, your you-ness, your experience?

If you’ve ever experienced not being taken seriously — as a student, in your profession, as to your dream, as to your sexual orientation, religion, ambitions, as an employee or as a human being, as a patient, client…then you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself fortunate.

What I’m really talking about here, of course, are respect and empowerment. Being treated as though everything you are and everything you determine to be are vitally important. I take you seriously, I take your relationship seriously, I take your career seriously, I take your dreams seriously – I TAKE YOUR EXPERIENCE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR WORLD SERIOUSLY: all other ways of saying, I respect you.

January 1, 2011

The First 43 Miles are the Hardest

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 9:34 am

What happens when a sheltered, middle-class, mildly neurotic 33-year-old embarks on her first backpacking trip?

When my friend Stuart invited me to go on a seven-day backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada, my first instinct was to politely decline. I am, after all, what could be called a Protestant Princess. I used to require a nap after a trip to the grocery store. I once made my father drive six miles to flush a terminally ill goldfish because I couldn’t bear to touch it…even with a net. “Adventure” to me meant trying to make it to work and back on less than a quarter tank of gas. So, even though I knew better, I agreed to accompany Stuart and his friend Richard, and before I knew it I found myself shopping in stores with tents pitched in the middle of them, patronized by people who could distinguish Gortex from polypro.


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