Saturday, April 28, 2012

A List of Traits That Lead to Success Every Time

Rudyard Kipling

I haven’t written in some time because of getting caught by various due dates that seemed to come one upon the other (I think if for no one but myself, I shall have to write a post on the psychological benefits of time management skills).  

There is much I could write about, however, I know once begun I shall continue long past dusk and with another deadline looming I can’t risk placing my attention elsewhere for too long -  I would most certainly ail Kipling’s last condition: If you can fill the unforgiving minute, With sixty seconds' worth of distance run”.  My distance run can meander with many stops along the way to appreciate what I’ve passed, as I assure myself there’s still plenty of time to complete the task at hand until there no longer is.

For some reason today this poem spoke to me and I hope some part of it will speak to you as well.  The world can be harsh at times and where I speak of coping skills, I think Kipling expects much more of us – he doesn’t seem to be providing techniques but instead absolutes for achieving what he seems to intimate is maturity.  

However,  upon reading each stanza and realizing he’s assuming achievement of each condition, I’m thinking he was more in line with suggesting having reached his own version of the top of Maslow’s pyramid:  Self Actualization (another topic for a later post).  Yet for Kipling, it seems all those character traits he mentions are necessary if one is to reach a state of maturity.  I must admit I find that quite off putting when assessing my own progress based on his list of fundamental characteristics.

If any readers out there have managed to fulfill the specifications of adulthood described by Kipling – or even just one or two please let me know.  I seem to struggle with each, at times feeling I have this one or that one down pat only to find a short while later from my emotional response to something that has occurred that perhaps I erred in that initial belief.

Read through once just for beauty of Kipling’s verse, then go through once more, slowly this time, and think about where you fall in regard to each stanza.  Any psychologist who has discovered how to help others reach the end having been successful at each step should win a Nobel Peace Prize.  But then again, any psychologist who can discover how they themselves can successfully reach the end may finally be worthy of the trust clients place in us when asking for our help.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son! 
─ Rudyard Kipling (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thoughts on Personal Revenge Writing & Catharsis

A few thoughts that came to me when producing my own fiction piece from the previous post written in the pursuit of catharsis. 

Keep in mind that to ensure your writing will result in the desired cathartic experience enabling you to put the experience to rest for good, you need to have put enough space between yourself and the situation.  This will enable you to deal with the situation in a manner that generates the outcome you desire as opposed to experiencing the sense of being overtaken once more by the memories you will be purposely calling up. 

Yes, writing from some degree of emotion is appropriate for this type of expression, but not if it causes you to revert to the same state of mind you were experiencing when the situation was at its worst.  If after some introspection you decide it’s not time yet, put the memories back in a box, wrap it up tightly and put it back on the top shelf at the back of the closet until a later date.  You can always revisit it from time to time, until you are know you are ready to unwrap it and expose the whole ugly affair without it having the power to overwhelm you anymore.

From responses I’ve received when arguing the advantages of such an approach, it appears that using fiction writing to create a revenge sequence may not be universally accepted as an appropriate coping strategy.  However, while many would argue coping strategies must help you adjust in a socially acceptable manner, I would argue they simply have to be adaptive.  (Don’t get me started on the term “socially acceptable” – it will likely appear as a theme in a future post when someone has thrown the phrase in my path like a gauntlet). 

So the ability to use your revenge fantasies to create something that might actually have staying power, in the form of a short story, or perhaps even lead to something bigger such as a novel, I feel is highly adaptive.  You’ll ultimately have turned your feelings of victimization into triumph, and maybe land a book contract in the process. 

Even if it’s only a means to an end, weaving a story that lets you recreate the situation any way you choose, will result not only in catharsis, but it’s completion will lead to a sense of accomplishment.  That, I also find, is adaptive.  And one of the greatest benefits of fiction writing is you can craft as many versions of a story as you want, creating alternate scenarios until you’ve got the eliciting situation fully out of your system.  Do I hear another book contract calling, this time for a collection of similarly themed short stories?

Developing coping strategies to help us through life’s turmoil makes the difference between the ability to continue to function during tough times and winding up as nothing more than a puddle on the floor. It is vital that we know the specifics of our own personal safety valves.  Just like a water heater, we all need a functioning safety valve that we can open at will when the pressure we have trapped inside us becomes too high.  This can prevent us from exploding like a water heater with a malfunctioning safety mechanism, the consequences of which can be devastating.  Fiction writing can function as just such a safety valve, relieving built up pressure and channeling it in a safe direction preventing an unanticipated blow up and protecting friends and family from flying shrapnel.


“Exploding water heater rocks suburban Seattle shopping center, injuring three

The water heater . . . rocketed through the building's roof, over a Taco Bell restaurant and into a Pizza Hut parking lot 460 feet away.  The whole front of the Mexican restaurant, the video store and the grocery store blew out. . . All the windows are gone.”

─ Mia Penta, Associated Press, 2001,  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Get Revenge . . . On Paper - Catharsis Through Fiction Writing

Asked to contribute a guest post to a blog on writing, I decided to discuss the use of fiction writing to address times when we can think of nothing but revenge and thus achieve Catharsis.   [This post can be found at]. 

As luck would have it, shortly after writing it, WHAMO!  You guessed it.  One of those unpredictable, uncontrollable situations – in essence a repeat performance from a place I thought could no longer hurt me - reared its ugly head.
Let’s just say it involved some place I had worked for some period of time at some point in my life that I was convinced I had moved well past.  But if I was over it why did I keep hearing the theme song from “Deliverance” playing in my head? 

“Not okay,” I determine.  I’d arrived at that place I speak about in the guest blog – the desire for revenge, which as a writer I can best carry out on paper in the hopes of experiencing catharsis, ridding me of my anger.  The resulting passage?  Read for yourself.


The Obituary

Done with the paper, Nicole closed it and placed it on the table in front of her.  Getting up to make herself another cup of coffee, she froze halfway to the kitchen.  She flipped around and half ran - half skidded back to the table, remnants of coffee sloshing everywhere as she all but dropped it missing the coaster entirely.  Grabbing the paper, she quickly turned to the obituary section, certain she couldn’t have seen what she thought she had.  Not even they could stoop that low.

But there it was.  Center page, the large, bold name couldn’t be missed.  Her large, bold name couldn’t be missed.  Collapsing onto the couch, she attempted to brace herself for what she knew was more than merely a coincidence or mistake.
Nicole Anderson Helped From This World
Nicole Anderson died under circumstances of her own choosing on an unreported date, with the help of a member of an unnamed euthanasia society.  Ms. Anderson was praised for finally allowing herself to perceive her many limitations and accept the necessity of asking for help in order to successfully end her life despite being a recognized coward and multi-phobic.  She was known to be irrationally terrified of needles, blood, injuries, inability to breath (once when briefly employed using all her sick time in a single month due to a simple cough leading to the belief she would stop breathing any minute), heights, drowning (even refusing a free cruise paid for by her generous employers to decrease her mental distress, because of her inability to see land at all times making it impossible to  maintain the delusion that she could swim back to shore if necessary), and swallowing pills, becoming hysterical when required to do so. 

Believed to have lost her way very early in life, she none-the-less developed the ability to cope with this sad state of affairs, even managing to maintain a relatively happy existence through reliance on an active fantasy life.  Unfortunately, this protective shield began to deteriorate when confronted with numerous false claims she’d made based on her fantasy world such as having earned a Ph.D., formerly serving as the Director of a Graduate Program, and working as a Senior Clinical Supervisor at an institution said to have never heard of her.   Sadly she suddenly found herself unable to make her way back to the fantasies that had sustained her throughout her life, and was forced to face the facts that truly defined her years.

Coming to realize that she had only managed to work for brief periods in unskilled positions, a homeless shelter her only known place of residence, she sought out assistance to end her misery.  While, at least in her mind, she’d worked tirelessly to help others, it is profoundly sad that she wasn’t able to find a way to help herself, at least  in the real world.  Due to there being no know survivors or friends, no burial information is currently available as it has not yet been determined how the costs will be covered.

Nicole knew exactly where it had come from and also knew she’d never prove it.  Though she probably should have been furious, she found laughter bubbling out of her in response to such an over the top attempt to get to her.  She’d be sure to tack it on the bulletin board at work in the break room with a handwritten note stating, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  Of course, her failure to respond with increased despondency over what her employers undoubtedly believed to be a brilliant ploy to further twist the knife, would only cause them to yet again turn up the heat. 

“Well, let them,” she thought throwing the offending item across the room to land in a heap.
Their pitiful attempts to hurt her would never gain hold.  She had inner resources they hadn’t even begun to suspect existed yet.  But they’d learn.  Oh, how they’d learn.  As ideas began to form and swirl in her head she seriously considered taking up the banjo. 


"So did it work?” I hear you asking.  “Is the anger truly gone?”

I’ll be honest – not entirely.

But there is good news.   Writing this passage has given me a great idea for a complete novel.   And one thing you can be certain of  – figured prominently will be a banjoist on the roof.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Death Penalty Cruel and Ineffective: Well Is It or Isn’t it?

I’ve been watching the debates over whether Connecticut should abolish the death penalty.  The arguments are nothing new, despite the unprecedented public emotion displayed by several senators who related personal struggles based on their moral views, ultimately reversing their previous positions and voting to repeal the law.

The arguments against the death penalty are what you’d expect:

  • The possibility that innocent people who were wrongly convicted will be executed, especially after the multiple cases where this has been proven to have occurred through DNA testing 
  • Concerns that as more advanced genetic techniques are developed, we’ll discover numerous others who were mistakenly executed
  • The fact that research has failed to support the argument the death penalty serves as a deterrent
  • That cruel and unusual punishment is not allowed in this country yet we fail to consider forcing someone to sit on death row while ruminating on their own execution for years and sometimes even decades, as cruel
  • Concerns that by executing people we have become the embodiment of the same evil we’re trying to eliminate
  • The position that you can’t punish murder with murder and expect this to result in a better society
  • That the death penalty is randomly applied and discriminatory in terms of who receives the sentence

The proposed repeal was passed by the Senate with a vote of 20-16 and is expected to sail through the House of Representatives with a promise from the Governor that he will sign it.

Up to here, I’m fine, never being in favor of the death penalty based on many of the same arguments already listed.  My problem comes when, after passing a bill getting rid of a punishment because it is considered inhumane, immoral with the possibility that innocent people may mistakenly be executed, the same Bill adds the defining qualifier “prospective” to its application.  In other words, it will only apply to those convicted after the Bill is passed.

Admittedly not great in logic, I still think something is amiss here.  I can’t seem to figure out how something is considered wrong but at the same time, in regards to a few people is also considered right.  I always believed right and wrong were mutually exclusive.  Yet here we have two different realities existing simultaneously.  It’s like our perception of starlight – We stargaze and from our point of view perceive stars which we feel exist despite being told that the light we see has traveled so far before reaching us that the star that was its source died long ago.  Alive and Dead.  Exists and Doesn’t Exist.

According to all appearance, we are on the brink of passing a Bill stating that due to a number of unacceptable moral and ethical reasons, the death penalty is no longer a legal punishment in Connecticut.  Yet at the same time apparently it either isn’t believed to be inhumane or immoral when applied to the 11 men currently on death row or the basis of the repeal is still accepted as the absolute law of the land prohibiting the use of the punishment, except in regards to these men.

Many prosecutors strongly oppose the bill, arguing that abolishing the death penalty will prevent the 11 men currently on death row from being executed.   Despite the assurance of the Governor that the abolished law would only apply to future cases not those already sentenced, prosecutors have said that the only way to make sure that these sentences aren’t eventually commuted is to retain the death penalty until after all have been executed.   At that point, these prosecutors have stated they would fully support repealing the punishment.

Have we entered the Twilight Zone?  Or simply lost the conviction of our beliefs to the point of compromising what we have so strongly asserted only moments before?  We can’t decide that a practice is wrong but then act in a way that indicates we find the practice only sometimes wrong, at least for now, but that it will become entirely wrong at some point in the future.  Even Dr. Seuss’s rhymes make more sense than this.

Senator Len Suzio said it best.  “The bill is predicated on the idea that the death penalty is always wrong under any and all circumstances.  If you're going to say that taking human life in the form of a legal execution is wrong going forward, then its wrong going backward."   

Thank goodness there’s at least one individual who represents the voice of reason in the midst of irrationality.  I only hope it’s airborne. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Follow Your Bliss

I noticed as the months passed while I looked for work, trying to make ends meet in the meantime with whatever I could find, I was increasingly distracting myself from the frustration with hobbies.  But I always felt guilty that I was enjoying myself while doing something like knitting, when it wasn't getting me any closer to a job.
I had figured knitting was worthless since I wasn’t making money from it, it wouldn't lead to income, and the time could be better spent completing an online assignment.  Even if the pay was minimal at least it was something.
But I also found my hobbies made me feel calmer, happier, and that there was even a degree of joy that resulted from seeing something I’d finished that had turned out well.  “Isn’t that the whole point of having a hobby?” I thought.  “Taking a break from life’s stress and doing something we love?” 

So I knitted when I felt overwhelmed or needed a breather and let myself enjoy that time.  I noticed when I went back to doing something “productive”, my mind was clearer, the doubts that had been building had disappeared and I worked at a faster pace and the outcome was better quality than my previous unfinished attempt. 

Then, unexpectedly, my hobby turned into something more.  There was this local gallery I’d fallen in love with, always awed by the vast collection of incredible art on display, especially the stained glass.  One day I had stopped by and before leaving, asked the owner out of the blue, “Do you represent any fiber artists?”
 “No,” he replied.  “But we’re looking for one.  You wouldn’t happen to be a fiber artist would you?”

Unprepared for the question, and only recently trying out some new felting techniques just for fun, my instinct was to dismiss it, replying I was only an amateur, knitting a bit of this or that.

Yet when I opened my mouth, I was shocked to hear what came out.  “Yes, actually I am.  What are you looking for?”

Turning it back on me, he asked, “Well, what types of fiber art do you create?”

Art?  Create?  Think, think, think.  What would be unusual enough for a gallery, might sell and be something I could actually make?

“I am focusing primarily on felting at the moment,” I began, stalling for time.

“Great,” he replied.  “What kinds of things do you felt?”

Thinking of items I’d finished, now piled on the guest bed, and trying to figure out what they could possibly be used for, I heard myself say, “Uniquely shaped gift containers of different sizes,” specifics -- what could I make quickly and easily, “and I’ve had a degree of success with my felted wine bags which are embellished with special ornamental decorations.”  

What possessed me to say that?  My felted wine bags?  Degree of success?  Special ornamental decorations? Oh God, I’m channeling Martha Stewart!

“Okay, keep calm,” the devil on my left shoulder said.  “It’s called selling yourself.  Everyone who’s a success does it and if he likes them and actually sells some, then what’s the harm?”

“Well, other than the fact it implies something entirely untrue . . . ,” the angle perched on my right shoulder said. 

“Also felted purses,” I added.  I had a couple of those on the bed, didn't I? 

Before I knew it the owner had asked me to bring by some samples and I was suddenly a fiber artist represented by a high end gallery.  And what do you know?  To date, almost every piece has sold, the owner has become a valued friend and I’ve been asked to start bringing in pieces from my summer line.

“You don’t have a summer line,” the angel said.  “In fact, you don’t have a line at all.”

Mentally flicking her off my shoulder, I said I’d be sure to do that.

The lesson I'd learned?  Always follow your bliss.  It’s bound to improve your state of mind, distract you from a tough spot you may be in and replenish your energy to do whatever needs doing better and faster.  

And you never know – someone you meet just may need someone to fill a niche, and with a bit of twisting and redefining, your hobby turned niche filler, could become an income generator while that “someone” just might become a new friend.