Saturday, October 3, 2020

Yann Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal

If I've never mentioned it before, I often write these blog posts about books seconds before I fall asleep. That's why the posts are somewhat offbeat and windy. And this one is no different. I wrote this one in my head about two nights ago and I'm certain that I've forgotten the parts that made me laugh.

When I finished the book The High Mountains of Portugal the other night, I went online to see if I had really understood the book that I'd just finished. As it happens, according to some book analysts, I didn't.
Don't get me wrong, I did see some religious undertones and symbology. I didn't think the whole thing was a treatise on religion and grief! Superstition, allegory, and mythology certainly play their parts, though.

Yet, I have the nerve to write my own review, and forgive me, for I've returned the book to the library and don't remember deets:


The book is divided into three sections, each section with the word "home" in the title. The first section, in 1904 or so in rural Portugal, a guy, Tomas, having discovered a hint of a hidden wooden, carved figure hidden away in a church in the high mountains of Portugal, is given a car to drive to discover this wooden item treasure.

Cars were nearly nonexistent in Portugal at the time. This fellow, Tomas, learns to drive the machine as he drives out of the city and into the rural areas of Portugal. This drive of several days, maybe ten days, are among the most entertaining driving pages I've ever read! Not only does the character describe his struggle with this new-fangled machine, the people he meets in the tiny villages are equally amazed with the roaring machine as he drives into their town square and their behavior is adorable. I would I could have been there.
Speaking Portuguese.

If you go, as I did, and Google the high mountains of Portugal and, specifically, some of the villages mentioned in this book, you will not be sorry. It's beautiful.
The entirety of rural Portugal should be a puzzle.
(High praise.)

I'm thinking that the machine that Tomas was driving looked something like this. >>>
Or thereabouts.


This journey to find the treasure takes our hero Tomas on country roads that give him the thrilling experience of going at least twenty miles per hour!
This third of the book was almost entirely delightful. Surely some will find the talk of engines and leather and lights and the idiosyncrasies of early driving a total bore. I did not.

Second section, we're about thirty-five years in the future and, somehow, in the morgue with a Portuguese forensics guy. He's working late when his wife visits with dinner, wine, and some Agatha Christie books. They discuss his wife's theory that Agatha Christie's books somehow reveal religious overtones, truths, and explanations. None of it made a lick of sense to me, but I requested Aggie's titles from my local library nonetheless... and enjoyed the repartee between the couple.

And then the morgue guy is visited by a woman who brings him a dead body in some luggage, yes, to be autopsied. Upon opening up the body of the woman's husband, the pathologists discovers a cache of bizarre items, only a few of which could I connect with any other part of the story. But OK, a bit of magical realism that did bring color and, weirdly, delight, to the entire autopsy experience. Perhaps, especially, the flute.

And, thirdly, the last segment of the book brings up a Canadian politician, after retiring, making several BIZARRE* changes in his life. Some entertaining connections are made. I enjoyed his experiences that I choose to not be specific about because that might give away too much...just in case you decide to read this book.

But allow me the latitude to say that I enjoyed what I THINK was something of a shape of the story. Beginning with a back-to-simplicity and ending with a truly back-to-nature series of events and life choices. To me, that was a beautiful journey.
Like going back home, only more so.

Although I had to go figure out what I'd just read, eventually I just accepted my own read of the book. And I say this, it was oddly tender and funny and introspective and surprising. Yes, and bizarre.
And that's saying something about a book that seems to be about grief...

This seems like a fun book to use with a book club. So many ways to interpret things...but better you than me. I think I'd feel unschooled!

I'm left with some curiosity about the author,
Yann Martel. I think I'll go read more about him.  🙂
This book is a zillion miles from The Life of Pi.
I think.

I give this book seven stars for the gorgeous healing and journeys that one experiences during the reading of this book.

  * I SELDOM read books that require this frequency of use of the word "bizarre". LOL

 Have you read it?

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

Surely you've read The Life of Pi by Yann Martel when it came out in 2001.
Everyone did.

Or maybe you saw the movie, which was pretty good, but still not the book.

From that book, and the HOURS that I spent thinking about it and its meaning, I began to understand a concept that my friend Kendra introduced me to: Magical Realism. A concept that, according to Kendra, appears often in Mexican literature, like hers. In magical realism, smack dab in the middle of a normal piece of literature, the author plops bizarre or symbolic bits of magic. And, interestingly, as Kendra told me, it is all without fanfare or attention of any kind. We are merely to accept its existence in the literature.

It took me years to truly appreciate magical realism and The Life of Pi, though I'm quite sure I misinterpreted THAT ONE for years, helped me to understand magical realism and to savor the flavor and color that it adds to the dish (subtle allusion to Like Water for Chocolate by Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel).  

And so, in my reading of The High Mountains of Portugal, besides the gorgeous language and everyday wonder, I thought I was reading a novel of magical realism. But when I went to the lit analysts of the internet, I discovered that I, again, had missed the whole point of the book. Apparently it's about religion.

Oh well. Stay tuned for my review anyway. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Strange Jobs Sitch-eations

I was on FB with some friends talking about the weirdest or oddest thing that had ever happened to us at work. Here's mine:

I'm a therapist and I used to work in my home town;
I switched from one agency in this small town to another agency in the same small town.

Starting this new job, I took over a caseload of clients that another therapist had been seeing. While I was reviewing and looking at the files of my new clients, I noticed that one my new clients was the best friend of one of my clients from the OTHER agency across town. I'd already met this new client of mine several times because the two girls would often be together when they'd "drop in" to chat with me in the office.

So I started reading my new client's file. It told of how the client and her friend were in love with and stalking the friend's therapist at the other agency.
Yes, ME.
They were stalking me.
 What's YOUR weirdest work story? 
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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

How Can I Convince Them?

I spend YEARS of my life trying to convince someone that they were wrong about me.

It was someone determined to believe what he wanted to believe. Reality, truth, emotion, evidence. NOTHING convinced him otherwise and, worse, he spread stories and his opinion about me far and wide. To this day, I still feel it in some people when I interact with them. There is very little I can to do change it.

Why am I talking about this?
Because I see it on Facebook all of the time.

HOW can I convince my loved one to see that BL really do M?
What can I say to explain to my loved one how horrible the current president and his administration are?

Good people are constantly looking for the perfect words and phrases to convince their loved ones of fundamental humanist beliefs, of the belief in the goodness of all people.

So what are those words?
I'm sorry, but the answer is there are no special words.

There is nothing you can say.
These people aren't lacking in evidence; they are lacking in desire to believe what you believe or know to be true.
That is racism and that is a choice.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you

~L.R. Knost

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Friday, July 24, 2020

What to do When my Girlfriend is PMSing

I'm here to offer you that much-needed advice that you are beginning to be aware that you need. You might not have the words for the question yet, but this is the answer:
She's PMSing.

First, how to identify when or if your girlfriend is PMSing.
  1. She will tell you. Believe her.
  2. She has a few tiiiiny blemishes.
  3. She appears fatigued.
  4. She is having cravings for chocolate or almost any other food.
  5. She is particularly negative or pessimistic or weepy.
  6. She seems a tad bit...moody. 
  7. She feels overwhelmed.
  8. She seems to need extra validation from you.
  9. She's irritable.
  10. She is either staring at you with daggers or she can't make sustained eye contact. 
  11. She is sleeping more or not at all.
  12. She is negative on herself.
    Don't know why, but it's kind of universal.
    In a sucky way.
  13. She uses the word "bloated".
  14. Her emotions seem to run from laughing out loud to crying in a matter of minutes.
  15. You are walking on egg shells and you have no idea why.

OK, so you've identified that, indeed, she is probably PMSing.
Now what?
It's true that it can be a bit of a minefield at first, so it's no wonder you're confused. Each woman feels different and handles her own cycle issues differently. So how can you possibly know what to do, right?

The good news is that it's temporary. A day or two and she'll be back to her normal self. But these two days...Dude.
In the meantime, I do recommend that you arm yourself with knowledge and with a few suggestions.

As always, it's your choice what you choose to do at these times.
Just keep in mind that this will happen every single month. How you choose to handle it will affect your overall relationship over time. Of course, there is time to figure it out.

Here are a few ideas for you:

  1. Ask her what she wants from you. She knows, so believe her.
  2. Listen to her. Your attention shows you care.
  3. She is probably experiencing low-key pain.
    Doesn't mean she doesn't want sex; she probably does.
    It only means that she might be feeling a bit achy-breaky for the day.
    It might be headaches, body aches.
  4. If she prefers to be alone, leave.
    Let her do this thing alone. It's pretty darn unpleasant to be around her and she knows it. She's probably protecting you and she's probably embarrassed.
  5. If she is craving chocolate ice cream, get two.
  6. Check under the sink to see if there are enough pads or tampons. It won't hurt you to pick some up from the drug store.
  7. Make her favorite things magically appear.
    She will cry happy tears and love you even more.
  8. Use your words. She would like it if you would remind her that you love her and why. For some reason, she can't do this for herself at the moment and she wants to hear it.
    She needs to hear it.
  9. She is doing her best. Her emotionality is never an attempt to manipulate you or anything. It's an unpleasant chemical situation, for real.
  10. Be gentle and kind and patient.
    She will notice and thank you for it. Tomorrow.
    At the time she is in emotional turmoil; your quiet kindness will be very appreciated.
  11. Be there. She really wants you to be there.
    If you're off with the guys while she's suffering...let's just say she might not understand that in the moment. Her interpretations miiiight be a bit...skewed.
  12. Do a little research of your own on Pre-Menstrual Syndrome.
    The physical and emotion symptoms are well-documented.

 Extra hints for your peace of mind:
  1. If she is angry or weepy, it's not really about you.
    Or about anything else. Or about nothing.
    It's weird.
    I promise you, she is trying to control it. But chemistry is super strong on these days. 
  2. She's probably been in fear or in shame of showing you herself on these days.
  3. These emotional waves are overwhelming and powerful.
    The emotions might swing rather dramatically rather quickly.
    You simply being there quietly supportive can be very grounding.
    Enjoy the moments she's able to laugh about it.
  4. Listen, console her, hold her of she wants you to.
    And, hear this, she cannot help it.
    Tomorrow will be a better day.
  5. Don't offer advice.
    She totally knows what to do.
  6. Have a conversation with her on non-PMS days about what you can expect, what she needs, what to plan for.
  7. She might cancel plans on you; staying home is comforting.
    Don't take this personally.
    Maybe even keep it in mind when you're planning upcoming events that you want to share with her.
  8. And never EVER accuse her of PMSing.
    In the moment, or EVER.
    It's a real sore spot in the moment. And it's a rude, aggressive act at other times.
    Tomorrow she might even laugh about it, but not today.
  9. It might be better for your peace of mind to, occasionally, take a break for your own self care. This stuff is not for the faint of heart. If she's got a sharp tongue, you are well within your rights to go into the next room. No reason why you should be a punching bag.
  10. Remember, she literally can't help it.

Things she might like:
  1. Low lights.
  2. Motrin or Tylenol.
  3. Some nice, hot soup.
  4. A hot bath.
  5. A glass of wine.
  6. A reminder to rest.
  7. Sex.
  8. No sex.
  9. A blanket and a puppy.
  10. Rest.
  11. A hot water bottle or heating pad.
  12. Gentle stretches.
  13. A book. 
  14. Crying.
  15. To be left alone.
  16. To cuddle.
  17.  A nice warm cloth over her eyes.
  18. Romance.
  19. Kind and loving words.
  20. Going out on a low-key, romantic date.

Many couples can take months or years to figure out the best way to weather this monthly storm. If you figure out the chemicals and the calendar of the whole thing, you can plan for it so you're not surprised every time. Keep your calendar empty for those few days and plan for low key activities and homebody time. 

Communication is key. 

   What do YOU think?   

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Neutral Affirmations

So many of us work hard to improve our self-esteem and self-confidence and one of the common strategies for making improvements is to use affirmations. Affirmations are statements that we can use as a form of positive self-talk in order to get into the habit of substituting negative thoughts about ourselves to positive thoughts. You might be considering using affirmations for yourself or even for your child.

If you were to pay attention to all of your thoughts in a given day and to count all of the negative things you say to yourself in a single twenty-four hour period, how many negative thoughts about yourself would you guess you say to yourself? Five? Fifty? Five hundred? Some studies estimate that we have over fifteen thousand thoughts in a given day and that, conservatively, over 75% of those thoughts are self-judging thoughts. That can be over eleven thousand negative thoughts in a single day!

Think of that! Thousands of negative thoughts in a single day!

We know that it is our thoughts, conscious and unconscious, that strongly impact our mood for the day, that can limit our sense of personal power, that can impact how we feel about ourselves, including how hopeful we are in life, and can even affect our physical health. As a part of good self care, affirmations are often recommended or used to lift our moods, to improve our thoughts of ourselves, and to remind us to speak kindly to ourselves. You can see how you might use affirmations to help your child with their own thinking patterns.

But there might be a huge problem for some of us when using affirmations. They can feel incredibly unrealistic, absurd, and unbelievable.
I attract positivity to myself!
I am successful in whatever I do!
I feel an abundance of joy!
Today will be amazing!
Money comes to me easily and effortlessly.
I get love in abundance.
I'm always on my own side!
I can perform perfectly at school!
I am blessed with an incredible friend group!

If these affirmations are untrue I might become very resentful of someone encouraging them. I might even feel shame that such statements have no positive impact on me.

If you are one of those people who feel annoyed by, bewildered by, shamed, or just turned off by affirmations, here’s an idea. Consider an entirely different type of affirmation, something I call the Neutral Affirmation. These statements are neutral but true. They are the kind of thoughts you might have that would remind you to lay off of the self-criticism or judging of self and to, instead, use rational and true statements to challenge the negativity.

Here are a few examples of Neutral Affirmations:

  • Some days are harder than others; I’m doing my best today.
    Today I’m OK.
  • I’m working on accepting me just as I am
  •  Feelings are not facts.
  •  I can ride this wave and get back to work.
  •  Professionals ask for support every day.
  • With time and effort, I’m getting better.
  •  I’m smart and capable.
  • I can handle this.
  • I’m not going to give up.
  • I know who is on my side. First, I am.
  • Just for today I will...
  • I’m going to say something positive to myself instead.
  • I’ll give it another try.
  • Tomorrow is another day.
  • I will not judge myself on cultural stereotypes.
  • I can feel the fear and do it anyway.
  • I am doing active work to improve my life.
  • I notice I handle things better when I correct my limiting thought
  • I’m not feeling confident, but I’ll still do my best work today.

Using Neutral Affirmations do not offer pie-in-the sky sentiment or artificial optimism to correct negative self-talk, but, rather, realistic, believable, logical, true statements to remind us to nip the black and white thinking in the bud. Neutral Affirmations can prompt our thoughts to challenge the many habits of distorted thoughts that we use regularly without even being aware of it. We are already thinking thousands of thoughts each day, why not work to deliberately improve what we feed our minds!

Work with yourself or with your child (or with your therapist) to create a list of neutral affirmations that can address your specific thought distortions.

What do YOU think?

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020


The other day my client lamented, “I need validation. I shouldn’t.”

I asked him to sit back a moment and listen.

The baddest people on the planet need validation, I told him. Military people need validation. They get amazing arrays of pins across their chests, medals, awards, bars, patches, salutes, statues, commemorations, and accolades of all kinds. Performers need validation. There are dozens of award shows where performers and all of those people who work in those fields get nominations and awards every single year. Those shows get millions of viewers. Athletes need validation. They get rings and cups and awards and cash bonuses and signs and fanfare and parades and fans and social status. Wrestlers get a gold belt the size of a dinner plate, for goodness sake. People in business need validation. They get bonuses, fancy titles, extra time off, mention in the newsletter, certificates, staff/manager meetings, and all forms of recognition.

From hearts and flowers to cards and gifts, from toasts to roasts. We need our birthdays, cards, LIKE on Facebook, exploding fireworks on gifs, gaming coins for decent game playing, tips for workers, holidays, remembering, hugs, dates, play dates, public call outs on social media, private validations between people. Most online purchasing is rewarded by the sellers, much as we reward the sellers with validation. Who hasn’t asked you for a review of their product, service, or brand?

Humans are a validation-seeking species. Validation lets us know that we are accepted and approved of by our tribe; it lets us know that we are connected in to the life-giving groups that we populate. The genuine offering of kindness, love and approval makes our brains release the happy chemicals that light up our lives.

As we move through the complexities of our lives, expressing ourselves with our very lives, others noticing our actions is the glue that keeps us together as individuals, as dyads, as groups members. Acknowledging our loved ones efforts is considered the highest form of loving them. In fact, the human need for validation is so great that Abraham Maslow accounts for it on the essential hierarchy of needs for human beings for good mental and emotional health.

Interestingly, offering validation is a relationship skill that we seldom hear about, seldom practice, seldom value. But the absence of validation is the main reason many couples enter into therapy. Couples, families, humans seeking intimacy with others often have not learned the basics of validation in relationships and are frozen in their confusion and need. 

So how do I offer validation to others?

Answer: Honestly and often.
Take time regularly to see your partner, spouse, child, friend, coworker. Notice their efforts. Express sincere interest in their activities, emotions, efforts. Let them know that “I see you there.” Let them know that, just as they are in that moment, in all of their glorious vulnerability and imperfections, you love them and find value in them.

Great, now how do I elicit validation from others?
Ah, there is the rub. You cannot do this. Coerced or manipulated validation from others feels...invalidating. Instead, model validating behavior and, then learn to validate yourself.

  • Become the very thing that you need.
  • Begin to notice others around you.
  • Recognize effort.
  • Put everything down and listen.
  • Give generously of your time.
  • Respond to their energy, enthusiasm, passion.
  • Ask questions to learn more.
  • And do it again tomorrow.

Yes, needing to be validated by others is hard-wired into our brains. At the same time, it’s worthwhile to learn to validate ourselves too. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s get working on self-validating. Then we’ll always have enough.

My client was moved. He sat back and replied, “I’m ready.”

Monday, June 15, 2020

TEN Random Things About Me

TEN Random Things About Me Tonight
  1. Tonight I'm playing this song over and over and over again because I'm really REALLY in love with my husband.
  2. I went to make dinner tonight and there was NOTHING. So we had Chinese delivery and it was delicious!
    I had Chicken Egg Foo Young.
  3. I've been taking vitamins for hair and nails and I think I'm finally beginning to see some progress. My nails have been suffering since my new meds and treatments this year for cancer. I've been missing the easiness I've always had in growing long and strong nails.
    The things we worry about. LOL  😄
  4. This afternoon my son and I went out to the park for a couple of hours. There is no better company. 💙💚💜
  5. I'm trying a new style of underwear.
    Yes I am.
    I'm trying the boyfriend style.
    I just wanted more comfort.
    LOL  😁
  6. I'm currently reading a book called The Last Cabin in the World by Paul Tremblay. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it and I'm still thinking WTF is this book about.
    I was looking for something apocalyptic to read and this one came up on my library search.
  7. Screen shot
    from a video chat.

    With this quarantine, the WORST part for me: I miss my grandbabies so much.
    We keep in contact every way we can!
  8. I just sent my grandbabies some surprise toys from Amazon.
  9. I'm doing all of my work on video chat with clients right now. I thought it would be very weird and awkward, but it turns out that it's pretty nice.
    It's very flexible and we can chat quite comfortably.
    On the other hand, I feel waaaay more tired after a night of teletherapy than I every did from a night in the office with clients face-to-face.
  10. It's 3am and I'm going to bed.

    Take care, ya' all. 💛

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How to Teach Ethics to Our Children

My last post, all about ethics and relativism, was all about leading up to this post about how to teach our children to be ethical human beings. Interestingly, it's a pretty easy process. Which is great because the statistics are climbing, the number of atheists in this country has hit somewhere in the twenty percent range. That's ALOT of kids not getting their ethics from a religion...yay!

How do we do it?
By living it.

Our children watch us. They learn from making mistakes (and from not making mistakes). They learn when we make mistakes. They learn from the world around them. They learn from exploring issues. They learn from interacting with the people around them. They learn by how people treat them. They learn.

It's not done in weekly lessons; it's done living day by day by day. In the moment and over time. Trust me, they learn.

In fact, and I'm being completely honest here, I'm not at all sure that raising a child in the church is the most ethical things to do...
Do your research; you'll see what I mean.

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Atheist Morality

Without a doubt, one of the most common questions I've heard from people when they find that I'm an atheist, it is How can you have morality or morals without the Lord or religion.
Good grief. I've heard it thousands of times and, would you believe, I heard it this week...from a bunch of therapists. 😠

What prevents me from doing mean things?
What keeps me from hurting people?

Or killing  people?
What keeps me from breaking the law?

Good grief, and these people are absolutely serious when they ask these I'll proceed honestly.

Besides, the answers are easy ones.

First of all, a small matter of semantics. I prefer the term ethics over morality. I have, several times, talked about how I do not accept that religions own words. I do not reject the word morality because it is generally claimed by religions, but, rather, I claim the word ethics because it allows for a study of the world and for personal choices. It allows for the complexity of a range of choices, for explorations, and for corrections. It allows for personal choice.
So, yeah, ethics.

So what prevents me from killing people?
I do the right thing because it feels good. I do the right thing because my brain and my thoughts continually consider events from multiple perspectives. And I do the right thing because it is the right thing. I have, literally, raped and killed exactly as many times as I've wanted to.
Zero, of course.

God morality is black and white. Ethics recognize and appreciate the greys of life. A full respect for cultures and families and situations requires that we explore human behavior carefully. As a psychotherapist, I believe strongly that the need to do right (or ethics) requires us to explore, accept, even love a wide range of human behavior.

Secondly, ever heard of relativism?
Relativism tells us that what is wise, true, and good exist in relation to cultural and historical context and are, therefore, not absolute. Some may think that relativism leads to slippery slopes, but I think it leads to human wisdom, to individual wisdom. 

So, YES, it is not just possible to have morality without a deity, it's more likely.

This subject is very, very, very complex and some people study morality vs. ethics for years. 
This post is just my distilled thoughts on a complex matter. 
Take it for what it's worth.

Your thoughts?

I just stumbled upon this on FB about five minutes ago!

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