On Being an Adult Child

It is a lovely thing to be an adult and have a strong relationship with one’s parents and know them more as friends. Growing to adulthood is a lot about gaining agency and objectivity. One is less the subject of your parents, and more the object of your own life.

Yet in family, there forever exists a dynamic that one can never escape – the reality that you are forever their child, and they are forever your parents.

I recently enjoyed a holiday with my parents. When living far away, any quality time together, forming happy memories is a good investment. However, when returning to extended time together this family dynamic is reinforced in curious ways.

Is it being placed in a single bed again? Is it the conversation about a different generation of friends, their health challenges, their grandchildren which makes you realise you’re not with your peers? And that you are uncomfortably, the object of much of their worry, analysis and discussion.

We recently chose a holiday venue for the over 65+ which only compounded my feeling. I was definitely outnumbered and cultural differences did abound some of which I did not object to, including the early nights and afternoon naps, the schedule of coffee, cakes, scenic locations and group photos.

Around my parents’ friends, I find that in open dialogue they will bemoan unmarried children, talk of their welfare and concerns. I find myself patted and prodded, gently sized up, commented upon.

I realise that here I’m not the object of my life, the agent of decisions. I’m the subject of someone else’s life, their worries, decisions, their social standing with their peers. I am the object of devotion and love, but also of anxiety, surprise, disappointment and stress.

I am reminded that we are always tied into the fabric of a large community quilt. We are our parents’ children. We are the subject of their conversation the way they are the subject of ours with our friends. We will always be subject to care, commentary, criticism, gossip, humour, anxiety and love. As they are subject to ours.

But this makes us part of community, loved and well as loving. We are object and we are subject. We belong.

On Responsibility

In Victor Frankl’s work ‘Man’s Search For Meaning‘, he explores the question of what is the ‘meaning’ of life. Frankl explains, that life, like the game of chess, has no perfect move, only the perfect move for a specific player in a specific situation. Life has no ‘meaning‘ other than meaning derived from responding to one’s life in any given circumstances.

He correlates then, ‘responsibility‘ with the essence of human existence. To live meaningfully, one is to imagine one is living for a second time and that the first time we lived, we made every mistake possible. This imagining, confronts us with all of life’s limitations and the finality of what we make of our life and of ourselves, pushing us to be responsible.

He continues. The question of ‘responsibility‘ calls into question whether we are truly free or not. If we are indeed victims of life, we have no responsibility for the consequences of our existence. However as victims, we are not truly free. If we are however, to claim to be truly free beings and to have agency over our existence, we cannot then fall back upon the comfort of claiming ‘victimhood’. We must face the reality that our life, and the consequences or our existence, and indeed our total responsibility.

Frankl, as a psychiatrist, saw his role in therapy much the way an eye-surgeon would when dealing with a patient. He worked on the faculty of sight to restore a patient’s ability to see the whole spectrum of his or her potential and the meaning of their life. By helping a patient to become ‘responsible’, he would help them become empowered to actualise the potential meaning of their existence.

And in doing so, no matter the circumstance of his or her life, to become truly free.

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To

or Why FEAR is Like Hot Sauce – Part III’

Recently my colleagues bought me cake and a signed card with lovely wishes for my birthday. A [false] social media alert had triggered their interest and they had pooled together to congratulate me.

I stammered something about it not being my birthday but they clarified they had then done research and found my date of birth on our staff database and that it was only a few weeks prior.

I managed to thank them and mutter something about being a birthday ‘grinch‘. However, when left alone, I was overcome with a wave of emotion, humiliation, condemnation, and hot tears.

Why did such a lovely guesture catalyse such a flood of emotion?

As I paused to examine my feelings, I unearthed a deep sense of failure, unloveliness, lack of dignity and embarrassment layered there. These sadnesses about my life are emphasisesd at each anniversary of my birth as though mile markers taunt me to show my lack of progress or as a measuring rod, to highlight my lack of stature.

When my colleagues tried to cheer me for my birthday, I felt like a door to a private room of grief was suddenly thrown open, a door I was hoping to keep closed. Memories of relationship failures, griefs about unmet expectations and unrealised dreams came tumbling out; fears of social indignity and disrespect met the light of what I fear most of all, the knowledge of these failures in the faces of my colleagues. I felt crushed.

I looked down and focused on my work and I cried silently in the office that afternoon.

Joseph Campbell writes,

It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.

Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.

You find the jewel,
and it draws you off.

I don’t talk about my birthday because it reminds me of the failures of my life. I have not achieved XYZ and am still struggling with questions of identity, purpose and direction. I’m not where I feel like I should be and I am I feel shame.

My response to being warmly congratulated by friends, alerted me that there was a cave I needed to enter, a cave of vulnerability and to sharing my life experiences with my colleagues, my life story, with others that could yield a treasure of friendship and connection that I have not yet experienced with them.

Instead of pretending to be ‘A-Okay’, and a little distant, my story with all its honesty and griefs, could indeed be a treasure to encourage other people who feel they are failures, unlovely, undignified or ashamed.

On Distancing Techniques

Or Why Fear is Like Hot Sauce – Part II’

I have come to be aware of something I do to avoid [what I perceive to be] rejection. I use ‘distancing techniques‘: words or actions to put a wall down or to establish distance between myself and others to make me feel less vulnerable.

These range from socially acceptable to rude and immature and include: talking about independence or career interests or romantic relationships in an academic tone; establishing that one is busy or subtly stating a dislike of a shared activity or a desire to leave; leaving early; pretending to not feel upset about a result or an outcome; retreating to become a silent observer in a group or conversely becoming functional and doing chores or overly polite; pretending to have forgotten key information; avoiding certain people or conversation in company; using one’s phone in company; not saying goodbye properly.

This list continues.

All of these are reflexive and defensive behaviours, to put distance between self and the object of either affection (and therefore vulnerability) or threat.

The Mirror Principle

What has alerted me to these behaviours is what is known as the ‘mirror principle.’ When I encounter ‘distancing techniques‘ in others it can cause me intense pain. However, the minute I begin to resent others for behaving defensively, it dawns on me that this is in fact how I have been behaving.

There is no greater teacher than first hand experience.

The Remedy For Heartache

These behaviours only serve to bury feelings deep within and unfortunately, seal a firm lid on them.

I’m learning that the only true remedy for pain is to stay close to it, to suffer pain and discomfort, to open the heart to sensation, love, loss, sorrow and heartache.

For me, to own my own vulnerability and softness is key. I must do away with any shame or sense of weakness attached to emotions, and allow myself to feel, even if it causes me suffering.

Why Fear is Like Hot Sauce

I have recently sought coaching and counselling for personal challenges and blockages.

In exploring my own issues I have identified far beneath, buried deep down in my sub-conscious, a far more complex and insidious root of life struggles.

FEAR.

Fear of conflict, fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of condemnation, fear of disappointing those I love, fear of not being enough.

Procrastination? FEAR.

Low achievement? FEAR.

Conflict avoidance. FEAR.

Broken relationships? FEAR.

Friends chastise me for seeming calm and peaceful, and yet on occasion raising grievances of issues from years ago. I had been hurt at the time and instead of raising the issue then, sat with the pain for years before finally airing it.

I realise that FEAR is like a hot sauce. It eclipses all flavour and sense, disallowing nuance of other food in the dish. When I am stressed or face conflict, I cannot feel anything except confusion driven by fear.

I cannot tell how I feel, what I think, what I want or process how the other person has hurt me. The hot sauce eclipses all others and I feel paralysed. It is only much later that I am able to process my feeling and raise the concerns with my friends and loved ones. They understandably are confused as this issue has long passed and they had no idea.

Coaching has established the need to rebuild identity that can stand up against fear. This entails responsibility for actions which have caused the issue to perpetuate and grow.

Healing occurs through receiving love and rebuilding trust. Trust of self, trust of others, trust of the divine. A kindness given to myself is like water, which dilutes the hot sauce. As the hot sauce strength subsides, the flavour returns. The ability to feel a range of feelings returns.

I am able to be present with my emotions and know what I want. I am less inclined to flee, shut down, avoid or stonewall situations that require vulnerability and presence.

I’m more inclined to try hard at things that make me afraid or risk my feelings. And slowly, slowly I am able to hope that the future might be different.

Some Changes to Bear Skin

I have been making some changes to Bear Skin over the last few days. You may or may not have noticed if you visit the blog site itself.

I have recently made the web url http://www.bearskindigital.com the primary domain of the page to reflect the blog name, and to distinguish it from other websites of a similar title. The old url http://www.bearskin.org will simply redirect to the new address and no links will be lost.

Second, I have updated the ‘About Me’ section of the blog.

Third, I have rearranged the menu to reflect a new organisation to the blog structure. Basically, I seek to write more frequently. I will continue to post weekly articles about authors, their work, plays, films, and essays and continue to share original poems and writing related quotes. However I’m going to add to Bear Skin more ‘personal’ reflections, learnings and thoughts.

I enjoy engaging with any comments on the blog and seeing where traffic and visitors are coming to the blog from all around the world.

Do drop a line sometime.

Jennifer

What is so great about Snapchat?

The story teller in me finds this review of Snapchat, and its power to threaten ubiquitous social media platforms such as Facebook, very interesting.

As a neophyte Snapchat user what I can ascertain the key appeals to be, are:

  1. It’s ephemeral nature. Disappearing snaps and stories create a compulsion to share and view immediately.
  2. Stories. Adding a series of snaps to a story, shared for 24 hrs, invites followers into a narrative account of an experience.

Tell your friends a mini story about your day?! Awesome.

Rogue Male Attends Christmas Carols

After a brief hiatus it is with pleasure that Damien Shalley blogs again for Bear Skin, this time with something a little more personal. A Christmas reflection.

Rogue Male Attends Christmas Carols

by Damien R. Shalley, Esq.

for N.W.

Last Saturday I awoke at 3:47 pm feeling mighty used, having spent the previous day and night attempting to prove that a person can be sustained exclusively on fermented malt beverages. (Fun fact: You can, until you lose consciousness). I can usually manage to stumble out of bed by the crack of noon after a big session on the stagger juice, so even for me this was a grand anti-achievement. I popped a Berocca and some Nurofen Plus and attempted to reintegrate my synapses. I had a vague feeling that I was supposed to be doing something on this day, but my addled cerebellum wouldn’t reveal this secret knowledge. So I moved to my default position whilst in this condition – oblivious ignorance – whilst wallowing in self-pity and emitting quiet whimpering noises.

I hit the shower for an extended water therapy session. I revived enough to realise that I had forgotten to take off my socks. (Oh well, they needed a wash). The water was soothing but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was required to be doing something else other than rehydrating whilst curled up in the foetal position on tiles of my shower bay. On the plus side, my socks were now very clean. I lay there until the throbbing in my head had reduced to a low-key drumming. The dullness in my corpus abated to the extent that I could reach for and open the shampoo bottle without risking heart failure. Small mercies. I continued to absorb the H2O for an extended period and eventually relieved my H2 woe. I exited the shower on my hands and knees and blow-dried my socks whilst still wearing them. (Incidentally, this resulted in remarkably fluffy and comfortable socks – I would recommend this technique to the hung over). Now I was ready to face the day, despite the fact that the day was pretty much over.

At this point my resolute nausea was weirdly challenged by a desire to eat something. Food, I thought, might provide a nice counterbalance to the strange percolations that were occurring in my stomach – an organ only marginally less abused than my liver. Experts recommend eating a healthy, low-fat meal after a hangover to help one’s body cleanse toxins. Phooey! I hadn’t listened to expert advice about how to avoid a hangover, so I wasn’t going to listen to expert advice about how to treat a hangover. (I know this is circular logic, but hey, I had a hangover!) I proceeded to fix myself two fried eggs on toast. With greasy bacon. And a lot of sauce. Tempting fate much? I am not a chef and there are two things that always ring true about my culinary exploits: 1. Nothing cooked by me tastes any good, and; 2. I’m not kidding. My meal was average at best but at least it quietened my bubbling gastric system. In the back of my mind I still felt that I had forgotten something. I retired to my favourite leather recliner to give serious consideration to this dilemma – and promptly fell asleep. Food always makes me sleepy, and in my weakened state I entered the land of nod without resistance. Blissful slumber ensued – for a while.

Two loud beeps broke though the arc of snoozy zzz’s emanating from my reclining body. That’d be my phone, I thought as I returned from unconscious oblivion. I had previously forgotten to check this device because I was preoccupied with my own misery and because I secretly resented the way it ruined my naps. After fumbling with the insidious creation, a text message from a friend revealed itself. “Don’t forget Carols tonight at church, biggest night of the year! Be there by 6:00!

Uh-oh, Christmas Carols! That is what I had forgotten to remember! Caroling is not supposed to send chills of fear through one’s body but my friend is pretty demanding and if I was late to these festivities there’d be a passive-aggressive price a pay. Luckily for me it was only around 4:30 pm, right? Wrong! It was 5:25pm, I’d been away with the pixies (or Christmas elves in this case) for an hour! I grabbed some previously worn “going out” clothes from the floor of my bedroom which were crinklier than my Grandma (luckily I didn’t to find socks – serendipity!) and splashed on a lot more cologne than I should have to improve my freshness factor. And so, smelling like an accident in a Lynx factory, I proceeded to my destination. Almost.

My trusty car picked this critical moment not to start. Arrggghhhh! I popped the bonnet and found, well, an engine. I don’t know too much about cars, but my old man always told me to check your points and battery connections first if the vehicle is playing up. I retrieved my trusty red toolbox from the boot and proceed to fumble around. I tightened a loose battery connection and the engine turned over. Dad was right about something for once! A Christmas miracle! I threw my trusty red toolbox onto the front passenger seat and hightailed it to the church.

I usually drive defensively but sometimes the best defence is a good offense, so I ducked and weaved through indecisive motorists noodling through the local streets until I hit the motorway. Unnecessarily singing “Get Your Motor Running” by Steppenwolf, I made great time until, a few minutes into my run, I felt an unmistakeable urge. Maybe it was the previous dodgem’ car antics that had upset my stomach, maybe it was the hangover treatment of eggs and bacon, maybe I was worried about disappointing my friend – but man, did I have to throw up! Oh no! The urge was overwhelming and there was no time to pull over. The only thing my addled brain could think about was not vomiting on my clothes. Nobody wants to attend carols looking and smelling like the local alcoholic hobo. There was only one thing I could do. I grabbed my toolbox, flipped the latch and, well – hurled into it. Recalling Jim Morrison’s warning to “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel”, I managed to time my paroxysms to unpleasant intervals in between rapid-fire scans of the road ahead. The expulsions, amazingly, resulted in no unpleasant residues on my clothes. The same cannot be said for my toolbox. I threw it back on the passenger seat and pressed onward at speed.

I arrived at the church with a few minutes to spare but couldn’t find a park in the car park. Or in a side street. Or on a side road. The entire population of northern Brisbane was apparently attending this event. So I ventured down to a dimly lit local park. This less-than salubrious locale didn’t even have a name like most parks do, just a sign that read “No Dumping”. I pulled onto the grass in what may not have been a breach of 21 local by-laws and jumped out of my seat. Some shifty-looking teenagers were loitering around a bench on the other side of the park. I told myself that all teenagers look shifty, abandoned my car to the will of the universe for the evening and entered into a slow jog (very slow considering my condition) towards the place of worship and tunes. Halfway to the venue, I remembered that I hadn’t locked my car. Too late, too bad, I thought and continued toward salvation.

Whist negotiating a swampy miasma at the edge of the park which appeared to exist in order to prevent the unworthy (i.e. me) from entering the church – and muddying my boots in the process – I received another text message. “You idiot, where are you?” It was 6:02pm. Assuming that the word “idiot” was a term of endearment, I responded. “Nearly there, a minute away”. I was expecting to be congratulated for this achievement. I was disappointed. “You know I’m the sound tech for tonight, right? Busy all night, I won’t see you at all. Should have got here earlier, idiot!” (Idiot again. Must really like me).   In fairness, this probably was not new information. I did have a vague recollection of something like this being mentioned previously, but I had forgotten. What can I say, I drink. I extracted myself from the swamp and continued forward to the sing-along, arriving muddied, befuddled and just in time to be late. The celebration had begun. Music wafted over my sweating brow and passed through the air above the fetid mash I had just escaped.

I grabbed a song book and infiltrated the crowd in a vain attempt to show my friend that I had arrived against great odds. I was immediately struck by the fact that nobody in sight was alone. The place was packed with families, couples young and old, extended collections of relatives, groups of excited children performing boogie-woogie moves. I was truly a rogue male in this milieu.   Rogue males are not welcome in places with multitudes of children, and can often find themselves subject to unwelcome scrutiny from “proper” adults. (We are welcome at dinner parties though, and regularly get set up with somebody’s unmarried female cousin who has worked in the Bureau of Statistics or some such fascinating entity for the last twelve years whist being treated intermittently for spastic colon). My move towards front of stage was thwarted by a large and particularly enthusiastic assemblage of primary school-aged children dressed as elves. (I would later learn that they were to be part of the night’s stage entertainment. For a while there I thought I was experiencing DT’s from all the booze). I took this as a sign and implemented Plan B – strategic retreat.

The rear of the arena was actually not such a bad location to spend an evening. I have a singing voice roughly akin to an angry walrus and the term “tone deaf” was invented specifically for me. So it was quite refreshing to find an area of respite, both for myself and fellow participants who didn’t have to listen to my tonal dissonance. I staked out some territory near a sound mixing desk (no sign of my friend here either) and got my groove on.

The first carol of the evening had been a traditional religious song, nicely performed by the church choir and a live band. The next performance however, was a dance routine by some hip youngsters tightly choreographed to a funky Justin Bieber tune. I was not aware that anything Justin Bieber has ever produced constituted a carol. (I was not aware that anything Justin Bieber has ever produced constituted music). I made a mental note that I secretly hated this song. The kids in the audience were enraptured. What do I know?

“Hear the Angels Voices” arrived next, with lyrics projected via digital teletron. The words “Fall to your knees” precede the chorus lyric of this carol – I was ready to do just that at this stage because my hangover was telling me that I really needed some fluids. At this point I contemplated an excursion to the nearest 7-11 store for a litre of Gatorade, but my exit strategy was thwarted by an assemblage of performers behind me who were preparing to run toward the stage costumed as the “ghosts of Christmas past”. I felt that I was in grave danger of becoming a ghost at this point so poorly did I feel, but I stuck it out and, unbelievably, started to feel really uplifted by the performances. The songs were (mostly) familiar – Bieber be damned – and the tradition of gathering together to celebrate something as joyous as Christmas is beautiful. This is collective memory writ large, and what a beautiful memory to have. The whole occasion had an aspect to it that – dare I say it – was holy.

The night’s official festivities went on for two hours. Carols and songs, both old and new, lifted spirits. The band was tight, the lighting was spectacular, the performers were elegant and the assembled families (plus one rogue male) were entertained. This really is the way to experience Christmas.

After the event I finally caught up with my friend. We laughed together about my dumb exploits prior to arrival and made plans to meet up again soon. Christmas wishes were exchanged, and I then beat a retreat to retrieve my vehicle and get home to bed (and painkillers). As I approached my car, I noticed that something didn’t look quite right. As I got closer, I could see that the mirror on the driver’s side of the vehicle had been torn off. It was lying on the ground beside the car. “Damn kids, I thought. They’ve vandalised my car!” The driver’s side window was missing too. Parts of the shattered remnants, still held together by tinting film, were sitting on the driver’s seat. I opened the UNLOCKED door (guys, you didn’t have to break in) and surveyed the scene. They had stolen, along with some other small items, my trusty red toolbox! I don’t know whether it was the joy of the night’s carols, the Christmas spirit in general, or my hangover forcing me to prioritise my concerns, but I just couldn’t help laughing out loud. “Boy are they going to get a surprise when they open that!”

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If you would like to guest blog for Bear Skin please message me on jennifer@bearskin.org

Animal Farm 

I have never fully understood the allegory of communism that George Orwell wrote in 1954. It seemed both childlike and conversely, overly pessimistic.

In the story, the farm animals led by two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball revolt against their human slave-masters and declare independence. Initial glory, success and freedom soon decays into bitter infighting, reconstructed ideals and a dictatorial leadership by lone pig Napoleon who behaves much like the humans he overthrew.

index

However, visiting a communist nation like Vietnam recently illuminated a few things to me about the contradictions the short novella highlights.

Despite being a socialist state, there is almost nothing in the way of social security in Vietnam  – elementary education incurs a fee, as does basic health care and retirement benefits are rare.

When the average monthly salary is only USD $150 per month the problems these expenses cause families on the lower end of the wage spectrum, are immense. Disability and illness, exacerbated by after effects of the war include, unexploded munitions, chemical poisons and genetic deformities.

images

While the people are industrious, gentle and hospitable and there is little begging or visible unrest, the country rests upon an ideology that is not clearly displayed in its social systems. The divide between the richest and poorest is immense.

It does seem that the unfortunate result of communist ideology is “some animals becoming more equal than others.”