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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gift of Need

Once I discovered the back and forth of reciprocal giving was a foundation assumption of mine, I had to ask myself how did this play out in my sense of relationship?

First I realized that I had categories of who got which type of giving. These are my categories, and I know that others think of this differently than I do, but it really helped me to watch myself and describe these for myself. So I would encourage self observation and questions about this...

For instance, with aquaintances, I was more likely to give without expectation of getting back anything - only determining for myself what I could give easily and without high cost to me.
With business, fairness and having a standard of how people should treat each other was my rule of thumb.

To friends or people who were about to become friends, I would give to them gifts that matched their level of sacrifice, and then watch carefully the timing and content of how they gave back to me and emulate what they did. I did this because being too generous seemed to drive people away. With family and 'adopted family' members, I gave without keeping track of what I was giving to them, expecting them to be around to give back to me when I needed it and visa versa - in a very long time frame of decades rather than years. I discovered that me having this ability to give without keeping track was essential for bonding, and also being open to being given to was important for me also. But I learned that I had to choose these people carefully and demonstrate my intentions to them, while I showed them what my "doing for" them meant for me. I learned that their history about giving vrs. trading could be in conflict with mine and cause some chaos and hurt. This took some skill.

Maybe you have unique attitudes about giving that could be discussed after some observation that you seem to be able to do. I know that discovering and explaining some of my own ideas here I hold about giving led me to 'assign' me some new and wonderful adopted family members. Gaining new 'family members' completely satisfied my drive to belong that was previously expressed in look for an intimate partner that seemed to dominate my life up until that time.

Then I thought about the different sorts of gift-giving and the different criterias giving seems to answer.

There are gifts that are given while giving to yourself - a sharing sort of giving. On this continuum, some people don't think of sharing because who would value what they have? Some people take care of themselves luxuriously and generously and some in a spartan style. Some people go so far as to give other people the gift they define as valuable and can't understand why the giftee may not value it. I call this the "give what you have" gifting.

Sometimes, it's a gift to need something because there has to be a giver for there to be a givee - so the point of the gift is the sharing of it - such as the timing of the new tires so the two of you can go on a trip together. Sometimes the person who is a generous sort of "share" giver exclusively may hold the opinion that giving a gift with too much additional value is a kind of one-upmanship. In some cultures, the person who can give has a much higher status than the one who receives, so the receiver is one-down.

There are gifts that consider the value that the person who you are giving to has been the one to define. And of course, the more the giver is able to "read the mind of" the person who they are giving the gift to, the more the value is measured that you have given a "successful" gift that means something to the receiver. I call that the "mind-reading" criteria of value. If you believe that the ability to keep track of someone else's preferences shows how they feel about you...well, you may just have to accept that some people do not have the memory or intuitive skill to find out what you prefer without you telling them specifically, so they aren't so good at remembering the hints that you may be dropping. One solution for them is to have them consult with someone who is capable of mind-reading or remembering your preferences - of course, this is best done on the sly if the giftee holds the ideal that a person is supposed to be able to read minds.

Then there is the relative value of the act of giving vrs. the value of the gift. The best of these is where a giver can put a tool into the hands of a person who never considered using it before. That's along the lines of the idea of teaching someone how to fish instead of giving them a fish.

What most people are after is the well-placed gift; a wonderful combination of content, mind-reading, significance and timing. I believe that understanding enough about a person to give this sort of gift takes observation, memory, a knowledge of their values and intimate knowing of their life's challenges - as well as the ability to write screen plays... ah, the ability to pick out significance of special meaning from the flow of day to day moments as a screen writer picks out the scenes for their movie story. Kind of a tricky skill, actually.

Sometimes a gift that is much trouble to the giver is not appreciated adequately, because the giftee has no idea what is involved in the giving of it. When someone offers me a practical gift, this is why I often accompany them so I can see how much trouble the gift is to give to me. Of course, the sort of gift that is only a little trouble to the giver and holds great value to the giftee is the ideal. So the value would be measured by how much sacrifice the giver experienced to be able to offer to gift - because recognition is also nice to get back from the giftee.

Respect, recognition, gratitude & appreciation are tricky, elusive things because timing is important. It's easy for a person to miss what the other is offering. So each person's unique ways of symbolizing these intangibles are important to know about in relationships. Another thing to keep in mind... see how complex this issue can get? Imagine how reciprocal assumption can be so tricky this can be to figure out for those who just don't have some of the necessary skills!?

But sometimes, a giver wants to give what would be of some sort of significant sacrifice, because they believe that the gift would also hold great value that the givee can not know until they have it.

I think that this resolve that you've been practicing to leave out the negativity is one of these gifts. Of course, it's something that you're giving to yourself as well as the person, but, what a wonderful, transformational practice to offer!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Insights About Hierarchy and Intelligence

Was thinking tonight about how most people assume that there is a hierarchy concerning intelligence. It seems this hierarchy idea is also extended to individuation and spiritual development. A common notion is that there exists a "higher self" and that there are steps someone can take to be on a path to individuation by expanding one's consciousness or spiritual capacity or ability to be happy - and this takes a "higher" intelligence. Those who are further along on this path do not want to be around those who are behind them, because they are "dragged down." Those with higher intelligence are generally considered to possess the ability to evolve and learn, while those with lower intelligence must repeat their problems until they practice enough to "get beyond them." Progress requires minimizing one's ego.

I have found many of these assumptions not to be true.

The first assumption I used to hold was that more intelligent people than myself could teach me more and offer me better opportunities to learn than less intelligent people. Through trial and error, it seems that intelligence didn't have much to do with learning; pretty much anyone could teach me something valuable. What I discovered is that we seem to be limited by the ability and the challenge to find what we might have to offer each other in the time we have to share together. Apparently, it's more of a psychic ability, an emotional intuition, the ability to ask questions or the willingness to play around that helps to discern what this possible shared opportunity is - rather than the factor of intelligence.

Intelligent people often practice an arrogance that gets in the way of their ability to question themselves personally. They can act as if they know it all in their speaking style as well as their actions. This favoring arrogance as a strategy or mannerism seems to come from having been challenged or sparred with. Men in general are often the culprits of this pastime of sparring for position or recognition, whereas women tend to covertly spar for the attention of others. Cultivating arrogance is one way to deal with being challenged. Also using classic debate techniques, such as those that discredit the challenger, etc. are often favored. So this is why arrogant people won't question themselves, because doing so is regarded as a weak sign of self-doubt in the context of debate.

Being open to questions is a strength. Vulnerability is an asset.

Although I can debate and defend effectively, I often choose not to do so. However, I will play and compete vigorously in the context of a game if I believe my gaming partner will "fight fair" and not be hurt during the process. I won't fight for the sake of jockeying for status or in order to be respected or believed. Women in my culture seem to use self-effacing tactics to attempt to demonstrate their membership status, which I won't participate in either. If it seems I tend to come across as openly declarative and seem to flaunt a lack of social constraints, I don't mean to freak out others. Sometimes men think I'm trying to tell them what to do, when I'm merely relating what I've done. I do love to problem-solve, trade notes or invent. Women assume I'm bragging, because women in my culture aren't supposed to talk about their successes.

I find that debate, which men tend to do, to be counter-productive. I feel the same for defending or second-guessing what people might want, which women tend to do. Instead, I merely ask questions and offer observations about assumptions that others might not approach. My goal is to become intimate and connected with people, but some people won't allow me to get close because they feel pressured by my unusual questions. I guess I'm not all that elegant in how I might ask these questions. Some people are freaked out about me asking, so they go away - which is usually fine with me. I can't control (nor would I want to control) whether someone will answer me or not or what they will think of me asking these sometimes "forbidden" questions. To me, it seems more constructive, compassionate and loving to find out someone's motives without threatening them with manipulation or attack if they reveal themselves. But some people have a hard time trusting that I'm not going to use information against them - perhaps because these motives seem to be so unbelievable. Of course, my stating what my motives are make them all the more suspect! So people confused by my actions assign other, more negatively small-minded motives to me that seem to make more sense to them.

So these assumptions about intelligence and the ability to evolve tend to build on each other. It goes on from there. The commonly held assumptions are that those who possess higher intelligence and can learn faster are attracted to others who are more or equal intelligence and speedy at learning as they are. Someone who can learn faster would not want to put up with someone else who is slower. Someone who is going through what the intelligent person feels they have already worked out or "gone beyond" is generally regarded as "behind" and the person who has already experienced this issue is "ahead."

I have discovered that I cannot blame someone for being where they are at. We all started from somewhere, and we were all given a better or worse start in life by how we were treated as children and what happened to us since - as well as the meaning we made of our experiences. I have learned that it is much more common for people not have had the lucky breaks of having had wise parents that I experienced. In fact, if they had bad parents and turned out to be nice people by and large, it gives me more compassion and patience with them.

Instead, it's the willingness to progress that I measure. The ability to face one's demons and challenge oneself to grow is my criteria of who I want to associate with, rather than intelligence. I realize this is a demanding criteria. So I also trust that people will know for themselves when they need to lay back and take a break from pushing ahead as well as know when they may be over-extending themselves too far. This is something I also must trust in myself, though I often deplore my own "laziness."

The longer I live, the more I realize there isn't much of a hierarchy of needs when applied to the ability to individuate, as Maslow and other psychologists have offered as a hypothesis. People seem to learn in fits and starts. Their ability to sustain new behaviors is erratic at first, no matter where they are starting from. A person who is learning may grasp the whole picture all of a sudden, as in an epiphany, or make erratic leaps. They can go gradually step by step as many people seem to do. Their pathway may not be the same as someone else's, but at the same time, people do have principles of progess in common. A person who has experienced what another person hasn't can offer some questions or examples, but not much else unless they can actually directly give or create the experience first-hand as good teachers can. This is what a writer, artist or the skilled & educated are sometimes capable of doing. That's why it's tricky to"help" someone else until you help yourself first, because in a sense as you communicate, you are modeling the behavior you have in mind.

Someone who seems to be "high" or "holy" is often the worst and most self-indulgent at another particular character defect. Ironically, they often tout what they most need to learn. Associating personally with someone who advertises themselves as "evolved" is no guarentee of enlightened and compassionate treatment in the future, so I tend to hang out with people who obviously do need help.

I was thinking about all this because I was remembering a study on how appearance will bias how people are treated socially. Those people as myself, who have high foreheads and small jaws appear to others as if they are still children. As such, these sorts of people are socially considered to both have the capacity to learn and the tendency to stay in a childhood state throughout their adult life. The drawback is people such as myself are considered to be without authority.

This is sort of funny, well, because I am an author. Maybe being just a blogger doesn't really count as authorship?

It's my suspicion that there are many, many people out there who are "saints" and are merely minding their own business, enjoying life. I run into some of them from time to time...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Catharsis

My partner been on the receiving end of a great deal of my consideration, forethought, money and support for some time, with good reasons. Lately, a catharsis is happening for him and between us that I believe presages his ability to give back. I believe his situation, both financially and emotionally is just about to radically improve circumstancially. Of course, this is when the shit always hits the fan because something in him can tell that the status quo is about to change that will require a significant adjustment on both our parts. The nuts and bolts of these tacit renegotiations usually involve some degree of chaos. In this case, the chaos has taken the form of breaking his right hand, just about the time he's become impatient with having me "mother" him too often.

Curiously, all these people around him are advising him to cut and run from me. He and I are amazed how so many people would be advising such a thing. Strangely enough, it is his boss, even counselors who are advising to "get rid of" me "just in case" I might become a problem or become the focus of his anger. He has no history of spousal abuse under much more aggressive stimulus. I can see why a boss would recommend this, but why would a counselor recommend pulling away from family support?

He said in our last conversation that I am the one in his life right now who has "been there" for him without judgment when he went through previous changes that were significant leaps for him in the past three years. Nobody else has been willing or able to do that for him, either now or in the future. Now that change involves the giving/receiving part of our relationship and not just a significant change for him personally, he seems to be confident that I'm capable of making a change with him, (as am I.) He'll need to think ahead about how he might give back to me - which is a little weird for him because he's sort of an Emergency Responder who assumes if the wheel doesn't squeek, it doesn't need attention. It will be nice, but unfamiliar for him to receive more autonomy and respect, or so he has said to me.

One of the marks of having been abused is a continuing fear that asking for needs will result in complete abandonment, even if these needs are reasonable and fair. A tactic of manipulators is to isolate, to pull the rug out from under someone else's additional means of emotional support so there is no where else to turn, except to face the issues alone. It also serves the authority of an abuser to be the sole means of fulfilling or witholding needs.

So, let's explore what those people would have to gain if I wasn't present to offer my support. Without me to encourage my partner to negotiate for a fair payment for his work, his bosses could take advantage and milk him dry until he collapses - or use it as a reason to blame him for the collapse as a personal defect without ever examining how they participated in his demise by not providing a fair living wage.

As far as why his band members would want him to break up with me, I guess that without me living with him, his band members, who live in their van, would be staying in his house on the weekends as they have done while I have been gone to the mainland. (Except that this doesn't match. I do enjoy them hanging out. But with the threat of possible conflict, the band members have been staying away, even though there hasn't been any conflict from either of us around them yet. Perhaps they have been on the listening end of conflicted issues from him?)

So my partner has been patiently waiting for this raise to address his needs, while he has been paying out a third of his paycheck in gas, resulting in having to live on less than $7.50 an hr. while enduring a great deal of stress on the job. I've been taking up the slack for him by loaning him money for gas at the end of every pay period, and helping save him time at work by doing work errands for him. I did make his bosses horrified when I joked that I should be on the payroll for doing these things. Where is my $1200 in company stock options that I've contributed in gas since June that I've not been paid back?

On this particular day that he broke his hand, he was very upset at being stood up by his boss who were too busy to do their part to allow the work to be completed on time in spite of an imperative deadline - par for the course. Later, he found out this had been the same problem for others who had done his job in the past and the reason they had quit his job.

Certainly a serious part of this quotient for me is alcohol use. I have seen that a person can turn to drinking when they cannot think of anything else to do. If I do not pass a judgment on whether the drinking has the desired effect and instead look at the effect it does have, I see that there is an intentional motive to release frustration and blot out pain...along with an unwanted effect of determined self-destructiveness. It's intentful self-destructiveness that makes me want to withdraw, because this twists my naturally helpful interdependent urge to give and receive freely into suddenly becoming codependence.

If people had other choices that worked, most would use them. If a person was alcoholic that would not be true - everything that happened would be a thin excuse to drink more alcohol. Most commonly, they would not be capable of keeping their alcohol consumption under control; for alcoholics, a little alcohol encourages drunken binges. What I have observed in this situation makes me wonder if possibly the beginning stages of diabetes is more of an operative factor rather than alcoholism.

Of course there are other choices available to deal with frustrations, such as talking about it to friends or professional counselors, using music to change emotions or making music, even writing songs, exercise, meditation, taking a break or trip, or my unique favorite, making really big abstract art. I might be tempted to turn to alcohol as a band-aid if that option of making art to resolve emotional pain were closed to me. I see that running has been eliminated as a possible coping mechanism for him. It is common to forget under duress that we may have additional ways to work out and express highly emotional issues; these solutions are uniquely tailored for us and usually, we know they have worked in the past for us personally. So it pays to remember these expressions of catharsis so we can use them in important times of need.

I have to admit, having helped him financially and emotionally for the last three years, I would really like to stick around because I do have faith that he is very close to coming completely out of the "chocolate mess" he has been. Having made a significant investment in him personally and in our dream of moving to Hawaii, I do not believe it's practical to withdraw my support now without sending him back to being homeless without a vehicle and perhaps causing him to lose his job because he doesn't have a vehicle. Perhaps that is what his bosses had in mind - they need an excuse to fire him? From knowing his current financial situation, I know he's not capable of paying me back in payments because there is no "extra" money no matter how well he budgets the money he's getting paid now. I can't afford to give him my half of everything we own together or to forget about the money he owes me.

My partner has always had trouble thinking of what the rewards of continuing our relationship have been for me because he has gotten so much value from being close with me. So I'd like to spell those out for him. I could have never moved to Hawaii and situated myself without his help and efforts, so indirectly, he has provided me with health care. Besides the fact that I enjoy his company, he feeds and cooks for me, even under pressure, he has always been easy at communication for me and with me. Partly, my being around the band and the social music scene that I have encouraged him to invest in has been a vicarious outlet for my musical interests and also a social pleasure. I am inspired as I see him opening up to his emotions and having more love in his life as he expresses the creative musician he is. He has mostly lived up to his promises, and if he slipped, he's not afraid to apologize and reaffirm them. He has been faithful, accommodating and considerate. Most important to me, he embraces facing challenge, change and growth and inspires it in me. He doesn't arrogantly belittle my differing interests. He supports my own creative expression in practical and encouraging ways. He has always been a pleasure for me to work with. He usually goes to the trouble to ask about my motives before he jumps to conclusions about what I mean by my actions or by what I say. He trusts and understands me, even though he knows I can threaten others by daring to disregard social norms, because I will directly ask rather than guess about meaning, assumptions or implied motives. Thankfully, it's a mystery to him how I am misunderstood by others who do not take me at face value.

I see this whole event as a catharsis containing constructive growing pains; I could foresee that this issue and stage of relationship would eventually happen so I'm not blind-sided. I see this time as a positive step in a constructive direction that must occur for any relationship to evolve to a more equal exchange of energy going both ways. There is usually a time when the status quo of any relationship must evolve, and it usually involves a character change on the part of both people.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Have the Divorce Before The Kids

The Problem:
Many people have forgone the pleasure of raising children because they did not want to risk the pain of divorce and the poverty of being an abandoned single parent. Even knowing that their track record of possibly successful primary relationships is deplorably short, some people feel their only choice is to merely hope this time it will "work out" long enough to raise a child. Divorce comes as a rude awakening.

The Social Invention:
My idea is, rather than waiting until they have found the "perfect soulmate," those who want to have children can skip the marriage and instead have a child with a long-time friend of the opposite sex and pretend they have already been "amicably divorced."

Instead of agreeing "to death do us part," a more practical agreement, (one no less easy to keep over the twenty years) would be to live as near to each other as possible and to agree on such issues as schooling, college funds, etc. By living near each other, logistics of passing the child back and forth would be convenient and eventually the older child could choose their own schedule of parental supervision.

The parents of a child agreed to be conceived in this situation would eventually intend to couple up with another partner or already be in another relationship. Obviously, this might be quite a challenging idea to "sell" your current partner on.

The divorce arrangement, which for most couples with children involves legally determining at who's home the kids will live, and who's home they will be "visiting," could be determined by the parents-to-be by written agreement.

Many people believe this practical arrangement deflates the hope and commitment that a marriage will work out; but in my opinion, it's a more practical answer than "hoping."

If the divorce "template" is what happens when people do not "get along," why not start with amicable separate households to begin with?

It has many advantages as a practical way to raise children. When a small child is away at the other parent's home is a good time to get uninterrupted work done and privacy. Having built-in step parents means the child has more role models and practical help. Being in the arrangement by choice that most couples are forced to assume after divorce takes a great deal of pressure off to be a parent 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The parents wouldn't have to agree about parenting styles and differing "house rules" and many other benefits of living separately. More importantly, the pressure would be off your relationships to work out forever for the "sake of the children." Of course there will be losses when any primary relationships splits up; but your child losing a step-parent when the relationship splits up may not be as traumatic as losing a father.

Of course, it's possible for this sort of arrangement to not work out also and for one of the participants to sue for single custody if the arrangement began with shared custody, etc. But I believe, with some careful thought, such an arrangement for child rearing is more likely to result in an amicable experience for all concerned than traditional marriage and divorce.

If you're a person who wants to have children and knows that you're more likely to be divorced than happily married for twenty years, you might consider this idea.

Teaching for Free

Nearly every year I try to teach someone else how to paint windows up for the holidays. I realize that there will come a time when I will not be able to do this sort of work myself, but I also teach because I love to pass on what I know how to do well. Not only do I teach ways to make someone's own art look better, but I also give advice about how to sell their art in this specific situation. With practice and if an artist is willing to learn to work toward getting faster rather than keeping attachments to slower means of getting results, an artist can make more than a hundred dollars an hour actual painting time, not counting the time invested setting up the business. (Too bad this sort of business only works this way three weeks a year.)

It confounds me when people refuse to take advantage of what they are given for free. Take for instance a friend of mine who said they wanted to make enough money to buy a car. I knew this was entirely possible for them to make over a thousand dollars, by starting out at the beginning of the window painting season - which would be Nov 15th. So I set up this friend of mine to paint windows by providing a set of markers for him and showing everything I thought he needed to know in time to make it happen. Yet he did nothing other than make a few windows without asking for money for his efforts. I knew he had the skills to sell his art, (and the skill, because this window represented his first attempt without any help on my part. I was especially impressed with his first attempt at lettering.) Yet he only made one try to sell at perhaps only five or six businesses. Obviously, he was not persistent enough.

Why is it that people seem to define the value of something in direct proportion to the monetary sacrifice they must make to acquire the information? People commonly actively devalue what you hand them for free. I really don't understand why this seems to be so.

Maybe it means I should quit teaching for free. But, aha! I think I've found a suggestion about how to mend my ways and not be so annoying in general. Although this article is directed at suggestions about improving parenting skills, it seems to relate to passing on what you know in general. So, I resemble this remark.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Entering Reindeerland

This was a tricky picture to draw because someone had put a kind of stuff on the window that was designed to repel dust and dirt - it also prevented my paint from sticking to the window! So I had to forgo some of the usual ways that I use a black line to illustrate the car and just leave the hopefully dark of space on the window to fill in this function. The spaces left this way appeared light rather than dark in the photo, but the strategy worked pretty well from the point of view of actually looking at the real thing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Fervor

Now we're in the last week before Christmas when lots of people are getting ready for their vacation time. Of course what I've been doing with my art here for the Holidays is tailored to appeal to those who are buying gifts for others so the shopkeepers can make a chunk of change to last through the often lean winter months ahead.

Ironically, the appeal for happiness brings home for many how unhappy they really feel. So strangely enough, the actual effect of the winter holidays is to make single people feel bad. It also seems to make people who have family feel pressured to fulfill obligations that put them into a pressure cooker of emotion.

So, take it easy. Make a holiday that is meaningful and sentimental for you personally, and think carefully about giving a gift that will have significance and a positive, long term change for the better rather than a short term effect.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Drawing Cartoons

I painted this on two doors for a service station and convenience store called Tower Car Wash in San Francisco. Looks sort of like a Chevron commercial, doesn't it?

It's very time-consuming to draw, especially while standing on a ladder, but I'm pretty fast at it, especially when motivated by weather. Most of the time when I have to provide cartoons for Holiday Art, I will use patterns; but sometimes, as in this case, the shopkeeper wants me to draw a rendition of one of the toys or other things that are for sale in the shop. So I must grab one of these things, hold it up to look at while I'm standing on a ladder and draw it on the window in place. Look ma, here's proof art school really taught me something!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hope You're Going to Have a...

Wondering about this poor snowman, who has just made one of those fatal losses of judgment some time back previous and and is now on the brink of suffering the consequences...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Accidents Sometimes Turn Out To Be Happy Ones

Here's a little dream image I made at a person's home office window on the inside, since it was too high up to do on the outside of the building. When I took a pic of it, the flash created a beautiful moon effect that turned out to be quite realistic. Charming how accidents can be so appropriate, isn't it?