I hope that all my readers got off to a good start on a Thursday filled with wonderful things, and that there will be many more to come!

Word-art that says "May your day be filled with positive energy, positive people, and positive experiences." 

And if you’re around people who talk too much about politics, it helps to keep in mind that because the world has been changing so fast, everyone on both sides has gotten anxious and afraid. What’s needed is more understanding and love. The song “Lotta Love” comes to mind; I have to admit, I’m fond of those ’70s songs with all the horns playing.


Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

May 17, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Often when I wake up, my husband is already awake and getting started on the day. After saying good morning, he’ll usually ask how I am, or something similar. My usual answer is “Doing well,” in a cheerful tone. Sometimes if I am the first to wake, we reverse our lines in the scripted morning exchange.

This is all very common, of course; and certainly it is better than waking up grumpy or looking out the window and complaining about the weather. A little reassurance that everything is okay helps to start the day feeling more confident. Still, I wonder if maybe there’s some interference with awareness of genuine feelings on a deeper subconscious level. What if something isn’t quite right, but we smile and act like it’s a nice walk in a rose garden anyway?

Grass path through rose garden in bloom.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Literally, it is true that I am doing well every morning. Everything in my life seems to be going along pretty smoothly at the moment, without any problems worth mentioning. But taking the time to add just a few more details might, perhaps, make that answer start to feel more real.

“Doing well… it’s a lovely sunny day and I’m looking forward to getting outdoors.”

While that’s not always going to be the case, it is also possible to acknowledge having less pleasant feelings honestly, while still finding positive ways to frame them.

“I’m okay… didn’t sleep well and had bad dreams, but I’m going to take it easy today and expect to feel better after a while.”

That should be enough to satisfy the morning reassurance ritual, while also letting the subconscious mind know that there’s no need to pretend the big hungry dragon in the nightmare wasn’t scary. Feeling obligated to pretend can be draining; and when that happens below the level of conscious awareness, we don’t even know why our energy gets low. Making clear to the subconscious that it is allowed to have real feelings can help to ensure they don’t get suppressed and build up to cause problems.

May 14, 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Last weekend, I mentioned to my husband that I had noticed the water was running slowly in the kitchen sink’s tap from the reverse-osmosis filter. He changed the filters and repressurized the tank. At once, the water flow was much better. As with most time-change items, the improvement was much more noticeable than the slowly degraded performance from one day to the next had been.

Reverse osmosis filter unit under the kitchen sink. 

The water from the tap looked frothy all week. Even now, it still has a few air bubbles, which naturally happens as a result of servicing the system. Not a problem—it just takes a while for the air bubbles to work themselves out.

That’s true with many kinds of maintenance; it takes a little time for things to settle afterward. It’s not all that different from what goes on in our personal lives when we have to deal with changes in society and technology. However much of an improvement something may be, it’s unavoidable that there will be some amount of disruption.

Getting anxious when things look different is a natural reaction. But rather than letting our worries build up, we might do better simply to recognize that small disruptions happen and that, often, they’re no more of a problem than if they had been just a few air bubbles.

I didn’t get my Nurturing Thursday post up earlier because I wasn’t sure what kind of entry would best suit my feelings. I had been in kind of a dithering mood this week generally; and with several different items of positive word-art saved in my WordPress media library, I couldn’t make up my mind which to use, or whether I should try something else instead.

Then I decided that I’d better just go ahead and pick something from my media library and get a post written; so, here’s this one, which actually turned out to fit my mood today with a fair degree of accuracy. Funny how things work out sometimes—but, generally, I would say that when we go ahead and take some constructive action, they do seem to end up working out.

Word-art that says "The most effective way to do it is to do it." -Amelia Earhart 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

May 9, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

This past week has been unseasonably chilly for May, and too much rain made the river unrowable for days, so I’ve mainly been sitting indoors and trying to shake off grumpy feelings. After looking out the window at another dark and cloudy morning, I put a view of a forest trail on my art display today, with sunlight softly filtering through the trees.

Forest trail in springtime, with light filtering through the trees. 

Such a peaceful scene! But however much I tried, I couldn’t quite manage to convince myself that I was really just about to go for a nice long walk in the forest on a warm sunny day. The sky was still just as dark after work, and I finally got off my rear end and ran around the block a few times, just to get some fresh air even if there wasn’t any sun to be found.

Without the chilly wind that we’d had for the past few days, it actually felt pretty comfortable; and then two women driving by in a big SUV stopped to compliment me for being in shape. By the time I got back home, I was more cheerful than I’d felt earlier. I walked past the art display again and—just for a moment—almost caught myself thinking the sunlight was real.

May 4, 2017 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Usually I don’t discuss politics on my blog. The main reason for that is because I prefer to look more broadly at the underlying cultural stories rather than getting into the battle du jour. Framing political issues in terms of battles and other war metaphors is, of course, one of those stories itself. Although there are many other ways to look at the process of governing, in our society just about everything in politics is routinely described as a fight. It’s not easy to step outside that cultural box and find better alternatives.

Still, we shouldn’t give up on changing society for the better, even (or perhaps especially) at times when there is nothing constructive happening in politics. The culture is not under anyone’s control; rather, it develops organically, based in large part on the words and choices that make up our everyday lives. Even the simple decision to talk about working to improve society, instead of using the language of battles and fights, can have far more impact than anyone knows. We don’t have to be wealthy or powerful before we can set those constructive changes in motion.

Word-art that says "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." -Anne Frank 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I put a picture of a manor house surrounded by lovely gardens on my digital art display today, so that when I see it on my dining room wall, it gives the impression that I’m looking out a window at the swanky mansion next door. Of course, in real life my neighbors just have another ordinary suburban house; but I believe such images help to cultivate feelings of abundance because the subconscious mind often doesn’t distinguish between real life and the stories we choose to tell ourselves.

Manor house with garden in foreground. 

Most of the pictures I have displayed so far, though, are of a different kind entirely. They are nature scenes, quiet paths or forests that invite imaginary wanderings. That choice is itself a powerful message, this time from the subconscious—telling me, in no uncertain terms, that what my soul really longs for is simplicity rather than material things.

This is Part 21; click here to read Breaking the Ice from the beginning.

Harsh fluorescent light glinted off the knives in the lunch line of the university cafeteria. Mark turned away, trying only to focus on squeezing the ketchup onto his cheeseburger. Then he wished he hadn’t because it looked almost like blood squirting out. He put the top bun on too quickly and it came out uneven, hanging off one side of the burger and leaving some meat and cheese accusingly visible on the other. Awkward, askew, irregular, messed up, out of balance. Just like his life had been since he started classes last month.

He didn’t understand why. Everything was supposed to be going perfectly now. All through high school, he’d done what he needed to do—earned high marks while also finding time for extracurriculars and turning in a top performance on the standardized tests. When he received a full academic scholarship, his parents couldn’t complain much about his choice to study biology in California instead of staying closer to his Baltimore home. It was all going exactly the way he had planned it. So, obviously, there was no reason whatsoever for him to feel like a tiny string might catch at any moment and his whole life unravel.

Choosing a table at random, he ate the burger without really noticing how it tasted. Get a grip, this is all okay, he told himself for the umpteenth time. That was true, right? The classes were interesting, they weren’t that hard, and nothing had in fact gone wrong. Actually, it ought to be much easier now that he wasn’t playing football anymore and had plenty of time to study.

So why did a knife on the other side of the table make him think again of cutting himself? That was a vivid mental image he hadn’t been able to shake off—a blade slicing into the tight skin over his biceps, letting blood spurt out along with all the unbearable pressure that had built up for years. He hadn’t really done it, of course; and he wasn’t going to, either. Only crazy people cut themselves. Crazy people who didn’t know how to behave and got sent away to an institution.

Stepping out of the cafeteria into the warm autumn sunshine, he blinked to clear his eyes of tears, but his vision only got more blurred. Oh look, a big strong football player crying all over the sidewalk, his internal voice jeered. They’ll lock you up for sure if you keep on acting like this.

“Hey, are you okay?”

The soft voice came from somewhere to his right. Mark turned his head, blinked again, and got her into focus. Long blonde hair, shining brightly like spun gold tresses from a fairy tale. This apparition was entirely modern, though. She wore faded jeans and had strawberry-pink nail polish on the fingers of her right hand. The dark plastic of a prosthetic hand took the place of her left. Her blue eyes seemed kind, but Mark had learned long ago that it wasn’t safe to let anyone know what he was feeling, no matter what their intentions might be.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just have allergies. Hay fever. It’s ragweed season, you know. Ah-CHOO!” He gave an exaggerated sneeze that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of his high school drama performances.

“We don’t have ragweed in this part of the country,” she informed him. Then she tilted her head slightly to one side, like an inquisitive bird, and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Mark Woods,” he answered by rote, before it occurred to him that maybe he shouldn’t have said anything. Now that she knew his identity, what was to stop her from reporting him to campus security as someone who might be dangerously unstable? They could show up at his dorm room later, decide they didn’t like the look of him, and then bundle him off to a psych ward. Maybe the university would kick him out, just on the chance he might be a terrorist. He’d seen stories like that in the news.

“You’re a freshman, right?” she went on cheerfully. “So am I. My name is Joanne Dzeko. That’s D-Z-E-K-O. It’s okay if you forget how to spell it. Seems like everyone does.”

Mark was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the best idea to mention that he never forgot how to spell anything because his brain automatically translated speech first into pictures and then into text-mode images like a scrolling internal background screen, in twelve-point Times New Roman font. But that conclusion didn’t give him any useful insight into how he ought to answer, and so he just stood there fumbling for words. Something about what it was like to be a freshman? So far it hadn’t been much fun, though, and he didn’t want to say that either.

“You know, it’s okay if you feel nervous about going away to school,” Joanne finally said, after the silence had gotten so awkward that Mark felt like anything he could say would be all wrong. “Lots of people do, and the university has counselors who can help with that. I have a cousin who’s autistic; she started here two years ago and the Disability Services Office was a big help…”

She went on talking, but Mark didn’t hear much more of it. His only thought was that he must not have heard her correctly. After all the time and effort that he’d put into learning how to act just like everyone expected, surely a stranger he had just met couldn’t possibly think he was abnormal. Maybe she was just randomly making conversation about her cousin and didn’t mean anything by it. All those years of behavioral treatment at a residential school were supposed to have made his autism disappear—at least, that’s what his parents had been told when he came home.

He’d done all right at the regular high school, so it had to be true, didn’t it? Otherwise he was still damaged goods, a fraud who didn’t belong at the university with the normal people. If so, maybe he ought to slit his wrists and be done with it.

“I haven’t got a disability.” Mark almost didn’t recognize his own voice, which rang angrily in his ears before he had made any intentional decision to speak.

Joanne looked at him calmly for several seconds before holding up her prosthetic hand, which gleamed dully in the sunlight. “I don’t hide this hand, Mark. I don’t wear gloves all the time and go around pretending that my hands are exactly the same as everyone else’s.”

He stared back at her with very little comprehension; but somewhere, deep beneath the level of conscious awareness, he sensed things shifting into a different pattern. Like bubbles rising and bursting, he began to feel a release of the pressure that had been his constant companion for as long as he could remember.

“Gotta run,” Joanne declared, “it’s almost time for my next class! But I’ll see you around. Do you usually eat lunch here at the same time?”

Mark nodded, unsure if he could trust himself to speak.

“See you at noon tomorrow, then.”

When I was a child, I had an umbrella with panels in different colors of tinted plastic. That umbrella made it great fun to go out in the rain, holding a panel of a particular color in front of my face to see everything around me in that color, while pretending I had traveled to the Purple Planet or the Blue Planet for the day.

The world didn’t seem as colorful after I got older and spent most of my time just getting things done, rather than letting my mind wander wherever it liked and having fun playing pretend. It took me a while to realize that they are not in fact mutually exclusive options. There’s no reason why we can’t get things done and have a playful mindset too, whether it is a rainy day or not.

Word-art that says "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Today’s corporate culture places a high value on continuous improvement, which generally means learning how to question existing practices and determine whether something else might be more effective. To gain some experience with it, I am currently doing a beginner-level continuous improvement project that involves gathering and analyzing data on how my coworkers track their time and fill in the weekly timesheet. The objective is to find ways of making the process easier and quicker, which may save the company a little money if there is wasted time that can instead be used to get more work done.

While this is just a small-scale project and won’t bring about any major changes, it’s useful anyway as part of a cultural shift toward questioning why we do things in particular ways. Before I started the project, I never gave any thought to time-tracking and whether the process was as efficient as it could be. I simply jotted down my work hours on a notepad that I keep in my desk drawer, entered those hours on the timesheet at the end of the week, and took for granted that was just the way it was.

Small spiral notepad in desk drawer with pen. 

This cultural shift goes far beyond the workplace. Because today’s world gives us far more access to information than at any time in history, we’re always encountering facts that suggest our old familiar assumptions are likely to be incomplete. Expanding our worldview takes time and a considerable amount of mental effort. After all, our ancestors evolved in a world where things changed very little from one year to another, so they had no need to work continuously on redrawing their mental maps. The human brain’s decision-making process, still rooted in those primitive origins, relies on subconscious assumptions to a much greater extent than we generally realize.

Whether in the workplace or in the broader culture, it all starts with questioning. Diversity programs, for example, give the participants more familiarity with other cultures, which in turn leads to reflecting on the factual basis of assumptions and developing a better-informed perspective. For some groups, such as the LGBTQ community, questioning is expressly seen as an early step in forming one’s identity—although Q can mean queer, it also stands for questioning. The field of Disability Studies has to do with critically examining society’s assumptions about disability in the light of real people’s experiences. In April of every year, the Autistic community celebrates Autism Acceptance Month, which involves questioning cultural myths about autism and seeking to create a more informed and accepting society.

Because the complexity of the modern world requires so much effort to understand and adjust to what’s going on around us, sometimes it gets overwhelming. We need enough simplicity and comfortable routines to keep our stress levels manageable, but that’s not easy when we always have to deal with something new. Questioning our assumptions, whatever they may be, can get uncomfortable because we’re afraid others will judge us harshly if we have been wrong about anything.

Continuous improvement seeks to streamline the process by using familiar and well-defined methods, while looking at the data objectively and avoiding criticism of ideas as bad or existing workplace practices as wrong. We tend not to take it too personally when these projects identify more efficient ways of doing our work based on analyzing the data. In general, we don’t feel emotionally invested in small workplace details such as whether we use a notepad or something else to track our hours.

When our cultural assumptions are challenged, however, we don’t have a clearly defined process for updating them and are far more likely to get anxious and defensive about being judged. No matter what side we may take in today’s political conflicts, we often feel that our culture and worldview are under attack. Global corporate leaders, by contrast, generally look upon information about cultural differences in the neutral light of the continuous-improvement framework. Like other kinds of information, they’re seen as useful data points to inform efficient practices and higher profits.

I don’t mean to suggest that we should cultivate in our personal lives the emotional detachment of the corporate mindset. On the contrary, it is natural and reasonable that in these stressful times, many of us feel strongly motivated to preserve our cultures and traditions. We can, however, benefit from occasionally reflecting on our personal views and how they relate to society, within a calm, non-confrontational setting such as a discussion group. After all, cultural differences do not necessarily have to result in conflict; there are many possible ways of framing and addressing the issues, and in general, questioning is the first step toward discovering what might be possible.