Who You Should Hang Out With…

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Montana surprised me.  I went there to visit my cousin–who I’ve worshipped since I was a kid–she was the cousin who, when she was a cool teenager, was nice to my innocent elementary Self.  Of course, now that I’m in my 40’s–having crossed the bridge of coolness into the land of too old to know what is cool, my cousin still manages to wow me.  When I asked her if she could find me “Some old rusty stuff” to photograph, she delivers.  And she still gets excited when I come to visit.  I appreciate that.  People should get excited when you spend time with them.  If you hang out with people who don’t get excited when you’re with them, find some new people.  Raise the bar a little.

 

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Why I Press the Shutter…Why Certain Images Grill My Cheese

ImageWhat is it that makes someone me press the shutter?  What is it about that moment that makes a photographer–I sound so swanky when I refer to myself that way–say, “Now”?  As someone who got on WordPress to write, I take photos for the same reason I write.  I want to capture something.  I want to get it exactly like it was…a moment, a look, a conversation, an image.  

Above image-Little Cottonwood Canyon near Alta Ski Resort, Salt Lake City, Utah.  

This photo was my respite from an incredibly stressful funeral for my grandmother.  Even late into the fall, it still held surprises as we drove further up the canyon.  It was an escape. 

 

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Above image-a close-up of one of the oxygen tanks I used.  

Cart around an oxygen tank for 2.5 years and you might find yourself taking its picture too.  The oxygen, my regular companion–loathed and appreciated at the same time–was never something I saw in my future and never something I felt would ever be “normal” for me.  It would always be an awkward appendage.  This picture isn’t about irritation though.  When I took it this was about acceptance. 

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Above image-a dear friend, in a cemetery.

What draws me to this picture is the warmth despite the winter trees, the bare branches and the fact that 20 feet away were acres of headstones.  When photographing people I know, I am drawn to the idea of being able to capture “them.”  Writing is the same way for me. When I write about people I know, I want the reader to see them the way I do.  My friend S says “You always write me better than I am,” but that is how I see her.

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Above image-a ghost town jail in Western Montana.  This is where they would chain the prisoners to the floor.

The macro lens lets me see every grain of dirt in the floor, the scratches in the metal, and the grain in the wood.  In the same cell there was a small window that looked up on the hill where the prisoners’ hanging would take place.  When I look at this photo, I think of all the people that were attached to the metal and all the stories I don’t know.  

 

 

 

Boils, Blood and Baffled…and we’re just getting started.

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“Well let’s see what’s going on” the doctor says.  She is older than I am, likely in her 50’s and warm.  The fluorescent lights brighten the windowless room.

My dad is quiet in the chair to the side while I sit on the exam table, my legs dangling beneath me like a kid on the bars at school.  In a t-shirt and sweats, I look like I’m hanging out.  I look like I’m fine.  I wonder if the doctor thinks, “She’s 36, why is her dad here?”

“Well…” I hesitate.  Then I scoot back so my legs are straight in front of me and I carefully pull both of the pant legs of my thick cotton sweats up to my knees.

“Oh my.”  She says. I’m not sure if this is what doctors are supposed to say, but I appreciate her honesty.  I am glad she doesn’t hide her shock like other doctors might.  Her oh my validates what’s happening.  It gives me a little doctor street cred.

It acknowledges I am not imagining how hideous this is.

From the knees down, my legs have 20 boils all over them.  Each one to two inches in diameter and easily ½ an inch off of the skin.  They are full, deep red and raw from the blood beneath the surface and they hurt like hell.

When I start to cry around her later from the cumulative stress of the past 7 days of this, she comes over to my side and hugs me.

 

Best Communication Tool Ever

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If you want to know one of the gold standard phrases for effective communication with another human being, say this outloud.   NOW.

“Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to comment?”

Did you exhale right then as you heard it in your own mind?  Were you hit with a wave of peace at the thought?  Did you think of a list of people you would like to hear this from in your real world?  Family members?  Friends? Spouses?  Co-workers? Parents?  Keep going, the list is long.  The idea that we could decide how people respond to our sharings is powerful.  The idea that we can request listening only as an option is unheard of.   Too often someone gives their own commentary on our sharings when we aren’t looking for that.

Denny McLoughlin coined the phrase “Do you want me to listen or do you want me to comment?” and I’ve eaten it whole.  It also works great with teenagers if you curious.  Teenagers love it.   The teens I’ve taught this to plead with me, “Will you teach that to my parents?”

There have been a number of times, at the camp I worked at, when a teen shared something personal and heartfelt with me.  I responded with “Do you want me to listen or comment?”

The teen would say, “Listen.”

And I would listen. I would usually have things to say, but I would bite my tongue and try to enjoy the fact that the only thing I had to do right then was Listen.  Not come up with something brilliant, I only had to hear them.

Then, after listening, nodding and soaking up what they said, they almost always said, “Ok, you can comment now.”

It is empowering to control who gets to comment on your life.  And when they do comment, it is because we invited them in, rather than finding out they had broken down the door.

This line tends to go hand in hand with another one of Denny’s teachings.

“Any unasked for advice is criticism.”

Sit with that for a second—Any unasked for advice is criticism—and think of the number of times someone has suggested what you should do, or how you should feel, or how you need to  react to some situation.  Did you want to punch them?  Did you find yourself suddenly annoyed?  Was it maybe because their comments felt like they were saying, “You aren’t doing this right.”?

This happens a lot in the health world.  If you have a disease, people have opinions.

And suggestions.

And comments.

And tips.

Some of my personal favorites are “Have you ever thought of seeing a specialist about this?” 

I also remember repeatedly being told, “Have you talked to a naturopath?”

Other times their opinions came in the form of how to handle what was happening, “You know you just need to stay positive.” 

All of these types of comments, these comments that were not requested, are intended to help.  They are intended to show me how much they care and want to be supportive.  But the reality is they often have the opposite effect.

Of course I have thought of seeing a specialist.  I AM seeing a specialist.  I am seeing multiple specialists.  I’ve got a whole team of special people. I’m up to my neck in specialists.  (If you worry a disease will affect your ability to be sarcastic, I am here to reassure you, it will not.)

No, I have not seen a naturopath.  I have nothing against them, but I’m already pretty overwhelmed by all the other stuff this disease entails. 

And lastly,  I’m don’t always feel positive.  Maybe I’m not supposed to always feel positive.  When you suggest that I should be positive, and I don’t feel like it—when I am sick and tired of being sick and tired—you indirectly suggest that I am not handling this the “right” way. 

Unasked for advice is criticism.  Even unintended.  It is why we bristle when we hear it.  It is why our eyebrows knit together, why we take a deep breath, why we bite our tongue.

Instead, here are some comments I find immensely more helpful.  Feel free to steal them.

“Sounds like a lot to manage.  Can I bring you chocolate?”

“Any awesomely weird side-effects from the drugs you want to talk about?” 

“If you ever want to bitch about this, feel free to call.  I’m all ears.” 

 

Now that’s the kind of comment I want to hear.

 

 

 

 

Funeral Survival Guide…let’s just call it what it is.

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Funerals are minefields.  That’s right, I said it.  One wrong step and—wait for it—BOOM, there goes your favorite arm.  They should be.  Everyone is doing the best they can, trying to limp their way through a haze of grief and say goodbye to someone who has only been gone a few days, but it is a minefield.  Pack up your field armor and take a deep breath—minefield.

The number of things that can stress out even the most socially confident person are baffling at a funeral.  Get together a bunch of people—many of who don’t even know each other—and then try to tackle the soul sucking experience of saying goodbye to a loved one.

I’ve collected a few notes that make funerals especially daunting in the midst of your grief.  These are the things that can trigger the explosion, derail the train, snowball out of control (pick whatever metaphor revs your engine.)

*The Ugly Cry.

If you loved the person, chances are you are concerned about the ugly cry.  This is no sniff sniff, dab dab of the Kleenex, this is the Turn the faucet on waterworks.  It is the This snot won’t stop running down my lip onslaught.  Enter bright red cheeks, puffy eyes.   Most significant about the ugly cry is that it came on without your permission and it won’t stop until it is GOSH DARN READY TO STOP.

*The Who Will Be There? Factor. 

Not only are you trying to emotionally wrap your head around the fact that you will not see this person again, no more texts, no more banter, no more visits, you have to think of the Who else is going to show up that I might not be emotionally prepped to see factor.  A funeral I went to yesterday involved this.  I went with a friend of mine—let’s call her Cindy—and told her, “Person X may show up. I’m not sure.  We haven’t talked in ages.  Nothing bad, but if person X shows up and I say to you, “Hey Cindy, this is person X,” know that that is a CODE BLUE.  (or red…whatever code means DO NOT LEAVE while I adjust.)

*The What Do I Say? 

If words could cause paralysis, it would happen at a funeral.  Talk about pressure.   A person has just lost a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend and you have to come up with the words—the right words, nay, the perfect words—that both celebrate the person, offer compassion and support and are neither too depressing or too lighthearted.  At the funeral I was at yesterday (parents who had lost their 23 year old daughter to cancer) I heard them saying over and over again, “Thank you so much for coming.”  I bet they didn’t know what to say either.

*What The Departed Would Have Wanted torment.  This is when you hear the dreaded phrases of

“She wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad.”

“She would want us to remember good things about her and not cry.”

Suddenly I’m annoyed.  Now I have what is known in funeral circles as Guilt Mourning.  I have to mourn the way the departed would have wanted.  To be honest, I’m not even sure that the departed would have felt that way.  But some person—trying to show how well they know her by issuing an edict of What she wanted—is  now telling me that, if I feel like a big o’l hot mess, that I am not mourning correctly.  That I have somehow let them down.

Guess what?  I don’t buy it.

My friend—let’s call her Ruth—said yesterday to me, “When I die.  I HOPE somebody is sad.   I don’t want them to fall into a deep depression over me.  I don’t want them to stop living their life.  But YEAH, I want them to be sad I’m gone.”

Guess what Ruth?  I can do that.  No problem.

Because I honestly think I can celebrate the departed’s life while mourning my loss at the same time.  The other night Cindy and I drank Kool-Aid (the departed’s drink of choice) while toasting her with tears in our eyes at the same time.

So what is a person to do when faced with a funeral?

Have a game plan and remember a couple of things.

1) Be prepared.

Have something you want to say to the loved one’s family before you go up to them.  Pee first before the service—you’re likely to be anxious facing this and it will be hard to focus on your loved one with a full bladder.  Have Kleenex and waterproof mascara.

2) Say goodbye how you need to, not how anyone else needs you to.

If that means going to the beach, going to the service, going shopping and getting some retail therapy or bawling on your couch, do it.  Kool-Aid helps.

3) Running into people you haven’t seen in ages is sometimes a good thing. 

I ran into an old friend yesterday and, even though we had grown apart, when we saw each other at the service, nodded and smiled, both of our eyes filled with tears.  Connection is connection.

4) This will not be the only time you say goodbye to this person.

Goodbyes with the ones that are close to us happen a thousand times and they still hang around.  You didn’t get to know the person in an hour and you aren’t going to let them go in an hour either.

5)  Don’t be afraid of the Ugly Cry.

Think of it as validation that you loved this person, that they impacted you and that you will miss them.  The more snot the better.

That’s the way they would want it.