Archives for June, 2010
So much for kicking back now that it's summer. I'm busier than ever with a million projects and events small and large. In days gone by, the hecticness and the towering mental pile of Things To Do would have made me nuts with stress. But, so far at least, I'm feeling calm. My new secret weapon? SLEEP. I mentioned this recently -- I've been following the rules of good sleep hygiene so far that I, whenever possible, go to bed at the same time (for me, midnight) and wake up at the same time (for me, 8AM). Here are the benefits I'm discovering:
I've been reading American Pastoral, by Philip Roth. In it, I see a lot of commentary on failed empathy, the impossibility of ever truly knowing the depth and complexity of another human being. The subject of American Pastoral is a high school sports hero nicknamed "The Swede." Tall, blonde, blue-eyed, The Swede is a Jewish teenager whose real name is Seymour, and who plays on the football team only out of feelings of duty to his school. The Swede is gifted at every sport and idolized by the entire community. Nathan Zuckerman, the narrator, carries the mystique of The Swede with him through adulthood, and only after The Swede's death does Nathan begin to unravel the true story of the real Seymour Levov and his private, unknown suffering.
I wonder about this a fair bit. It seems to me that, often (perhaps always?), what we believe is empathy (the supposed taking an emotional walk in the other person's shoes and getting so thoroughly inside their head that we feel what they feel) is really projection (assigning our own feelings to them and filtering their experiences through our own psyches, so that we create the illusion of understanding them, whereas what we're really doing is exploring ourselves from a different vantage point). So as I dig into my summer reading, I'm excited to find Philip Roth exploring the same subject and seemingly sharing my doubts about achieving empathy: You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. (American Pastoral, p 35).
On Mondays (Luna's Day) we share thoughts about animals and their value and meaning in our lives. It's been two months now since Luna died, and our whole family still feels her loss keenly. We're not, by any means, finished mourning her. We all still choke up when we talk about her or look at her kitten photos or the little tin box containing her ashes. (Even typing this brings on the tears for me). But Life goes on and has it's ways of nudging us forward right along with It. About two weeks ago, Matt arrived at one of his student's houses for a physics tutoring session. And there, in a cardboard box in the garage, was little Nika, rescued from a storm drain four days earlier.
One of my favorite students (I'll call her Carla) is about to graduate high school next week. She's a wonderful, sensitive, gentle young woman who has struggled with various learning issues her whole life. Carla's own challenges have given her great empathy for the learning processes of all people, and she especially loves working with young children. In the fall she'll be starting college, towards a degree in early childhood education. I'm so excited to see Carla entering into this important field, which is so near and dear to my heart. During our tutoring sessions, she and I talk about teaching and learning. This week, Carla was prepping for her final exams. She was exasperated because her math teacher had provided no review time; on the contrary, the teacher had presented new material right up until the day before the exam, feverishly throwing examples of three new concepts at the class. No time for practice or homework or even answering the students' questions, just, BAM!, know these skills for the final exam.
My hectic schedule is winding down and into a much calmer summer. Except that I've got so much on my list of summer resolutions this year, I don't know where to begin! These past few days I've been remembering the simple, amazing, reassuring words of Forrest Church, pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church here in New York City until his death last September:
[On Mondays (Luna's Day) we share reflections about animals and their meaning in our lives. Thanks to my friend Joan, who here shares some of her experiences from the days she worked in a veterinary office - LPC] The first thing I did on my very first day of work was help put a beagle named Happy to sleep. I learned to hold the leg as the vet injected the euthanasia. I learned to hug the wriggling dog. I learned to cry for a stranger. Happy was happy as he died. He was wagging his tail and he even licked my face as I drew near to him in my task. I held him until he passed. It didn’t take long to kill him. Though I knew we were doing a good thing--Happy was suffering--it was tremendously difficult to take a life.
[Please click here to read Jane's first post.] When my doctor first asked me if I had time loss, my first response was "doesn't everybody?" I didn't know. Typically, a person with DID has time loss, but everyone has some time loss. Day dreaming, getting lost in a book and highway hypnosis (driving somewhere and not remembering how you got there) are examples. With DID it is all on a continuum. The kind of “normal” time loss is at one end; the losing of days at a time (I’ve lost three) is at the other.
I enjoy all the recent findings about the lack of connection between money and happiness, including John Grohol's post from yesterday. John wrote about a study which showed that money distracts people from savoring the simple pleasures of life. I find these results to be very true in my own life. I'm one of those rare people who, though far from wealthy, is actually satisfied with my income and my standard of living. I have enough money! I've experimented over the years to find the right balance for me between what I want to have, what I want to do, how much I want to work, and what kind of work I want to do. When I graduated college in the early 1980's I briefly got swept up into the materialistic verve of that decade. For almost ten years I wore my power suits and button-down shirts (with frilly collars; a nod to femininity), and I went to the office every day. I was superficially proud of my company car and my American Express Gold Card.
As the school year comes to a close, I'm reviewing my notes on several of my students. I wrote about Paul a few months ago. He struggles in math, and I was hired to teach him algebra. But, as is so often the case, Paul's issues aren't just with algebra. Paul is an example of what happens with too many kids for whom education is merely a thing they endure, something imposed upon them. Many students are resistant to schooling. Others, like Paul, are simply passive.