Wednesday, April 11, 2012

To Know Someone

I have been thinking lately about how well we might know others, and also let others know us.  Just as a disclaimer, I want to make clear that I am not a psychologist, I didn’t go to college or grad school, and there are no letters at all behind my name.  But I read a lot about this kind of thing because it interests me deeply, and I believe I have learned a lot about it.

A guy I used to work with once said that everyone has 3 faces – the one they show to acquaintances and the bigger world, the second they show only to their closest loved ones, and the third (real one) known only to themselves.  Al-Anon lore says we should avoid comparing our “insides” to other peoples “outsides”.  And we do that, don’t we…compare our unseen innards to the visible, outer shells of those around us?  Does it make any sense? 

No one can really know another person completely, because all of us live inside our own heads to a large extent.  I’ve thought a lot about this and I believe it may be pretty close to the truth. We can really only guess at what someone else’s motivations might be and many times, I suspect that what we guess at and think we are responding to is not at all accurate.  Part of this is because everyone operates from behind (the shield/mask of) their own ego, which listens to what is said and then (mis)interprets it (I have found the writings of author Eckhart Tolle on the ego to be spot-on and literally life changing).  

Part of it comes down to semantics; certain words have different emotional overtones that define their meaning to an individual.  Part of it, I’m sure at least for me, is sloppy word choice.  My thoughts race (especially at certain times) and I quickly go to my brain when I am speaking to find the right words, sometimes grabbing a word that is not even close to the best one to express what my actual thought is at the moment.  To further complicate things, we take what others give us in the form of words and actions and fill in the abundant blanks with the byproducts of our egos… fear and self doubt, thereby producing a fundamentally flawed perception of our world.

Many times I find that others misunderstand me.  I say something that I intend to communicate a certain idea to someone, and from their response, I can tell that they think I was saying something else entirely.  Yet, it would be exhausting if I tried to correct every such exchange, plus I’d be talking way too much and I guess that others would think I was a huge boor and start avoiding me.

So how then can we ever hope to know each other as we really are, to any degree at all?  I think the only way is to try to listen to others not so much with our brains, but more so with our hearts.  If we can observe how someone lives and attend to the things they do, rather than just to that face they show us and also try to slow down and choose our own words more carefully, we might get closer to real communication.  I’ve been trying to do that.  It helps, but even so, my perception is not always going to be correct.  Still, it may be the best we can do with our human limitations.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Fence

Mac and I just completed a refinance on AT LAST!, our new home as of one year ago.  In less time than we’d ever imagined, by all our hard work we have increased the value of the place by a little more than thirty thousand dollars; less than we'd hoped, sadly…but alas, the real estate market!  And we were able to get an even lower interest rate than what we had originally (which at the time was thought to be rock bottom).  We switched to a standard mortgage, and were thus able lose the FHA monthly mortgage insurance, thereby shrinking our monthly payments; all good stuff.   But it would have been great, if we could also have gotten some cash out so we could start the downstairs renovations, but the “value to loan ratio” as they call it, would not cooperate.  When all was said and done, the check from the mortgage company’s lawyer wasn’t much, relatively speaking, but at least it was enough to pay off our most agonized-over expense during this, our first year as homeowners…THE FENCE.

The expansive feeling of our actually smallish (a third of an acre, roughly) yard seemed wonderful at first.  The closest house was far enough away (it seemed) for some privacy; peace and quiet would surely be the norm here, we thought.  Only two families within eye or earshot have young kids, and while contemplating the purchase, we neither saw nor heard them (of course).  And anyway, we both like kids.  The lilting sounds of children at play would be music, wouldn’t it?  It was not an issue…until the day we came to do work on the house and found four kids building a large snow man a few feet from our front door and our snow-laden yard, a minefield of footprints, snow boulders and toys.  On that day I felt a creeping concern (you might want to check this previous post about our former “Neighbors from Hell” at Catbird Heaven, to fully understand my sense of foreboding).  But still… We didn’t really mind much – just snowmen.  Kids are kids and it was harmless, winter fun.  Good outdoor fun!  We said: oh, whatever!  We asked ourselves: who cares?  It was not a big deal.  We had a lot bigger things on our minds, like how we were going to make this shack livable with practically no money, and by the deadlines we felt were unreasonably being pressed upon us. 
A year later, we have succeeded in getting it halfway there by completing the upstairs bedrooms and attic, and adding a half bath, all on a wing and a prayer.  Back then, however, it was all still in the beginning stages, on a frigid day as I helped Mac maneuver a stack of lumber in through the front door and two little girls ran up to my side yelping, “Hi!  Hi!  What’s your name?  We live next door! Can we come in?” In this modern day of missing kids, abductions and molestations, their fearless moxie and the lack of vigilance on the part of their family seemed completely inappropriate and was alarming to us.  Did no one care about these urchins?
On a sunny Saturday morning a few months later, Mac sat outside to have a smoke and contemplate his next move on the punky, funky house frame.  That’s when a young girl of about nine or ten popped around the corner of the house and plunked herself down on the step next to him and announced herself.  She proceeded to tell him all about her five siblings, their mother and their various fathers as well as a good deal of other personal information best described as “over-sharing”, before again asking if she could come inside.  Mac mumbled something about his lunch being ready and slipped into the kitchen where I was cleaning the ceiling fan to tell me about our pushy little neighbor.  He didn’t want to be unkind, but he needed help getting her to go home…Deedee the wicked witch to the rescue.  I cracked open the back door to the driveway where our little intruder was waiting, along with her four year old sister who’d just shown up.  “Hi girls, we’re staying inside now.  We don’t have any young kids and we have a lot of work to do, so you girls need to go back to your own yard now”,   I stated as kindly as possible.  After a few seconds, the oldest girl scrunched up her face, looked up at me and asked, “What?”, as if no one had ever suggested such a thing to her.  “Go back to your own yard now.”  I said, a little bit louder and more firmly. 

In the following weeks we were to come to realize what a dysfunctional mess existed next door.  There is no such thing as normal speaking for this motley group...the constant mode of voice is screaming.  The adults scream at each other and at the children, the children scream at the adults and at the other kids...they all scream at each other, all the time.  There is no concept of normal speech in these folk.  They scream when they are happy, when they are angry and whenever they happen to open their mouths.  One of the mothers routinely harangues the five kids, liberally sprinkling her rants with the "F" word, as in: “Get the F outside”, "Get the F away from my car!”… “put the F-ing cat down!”,  “ Get the F away from the F-ing windows”.   She uses the entire four letter word, and seems not to mind at all that the entire neighborhood, not to mention her own small children are hearing it.

There were also late night bonfires, set almost on top of our property line last fall which they heaped with trash, sending flames raging into the night sky, scorching the surrounding trees.  And parties, attended by as many screaming kids as loud obnoxious adults.  In good weather these gatherings were held outside, spilling over into our yard.

And so dear friends, THE FENCE.  It was not in the budget, and we really couldn’t afford it, but we found it to be necessary.  In addition to delineating the property line and discouraging small hangers-on, it helps deflect the sound, bouncing some of the noise back at them and away from us. Worth every cent, it is.