Archive for March, 2011

Your Task

“Our task is to be defeated by ever larger things” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a workshop by author and renowned Jungian analyst James Hollis.

I listened to him for a total of 5-6 hours and there wasn’t a single sentence of fluff. His speaking style is elegant, low key, and the content was never boring. It was like a college course condensed into 6 hours. His background as a humanities professor was evident as he rattled off from memory countless quotes from poetry, literature and Jung.

The above quote was one of them. Notice the use of the word “defeat” rather than “overcome.” Being defeated seems discouraging yet, as Hollis said,  if you’re defeated by ever larger things, it means you’re growing, developing and following an agenda that leads you more and more into mystery. Jung said encounters with mystery are defeats for the ego.

Hollis says the task for midlife is the recovery of personal authority. This isn’t self-absorption but is submission of the ego’s desire for comfort, consensual approval and predictability in service to whatever it is that what wants to come into the world through us.


Mr. Monk and the Kettlebell Murder (Mini-Saga #14)

Little did she know pursuing those six pack abs would mean she’d end up six feet under.

Too bad she didn’t question what was inside the kettlebell she swung to strengthen her abs, or why her personal trainer had only one arm. Mr. Monk did, after studying her autopsy results.


Wide Awake in Wisconsin

Image and video hosting by TinyPicThe last few weeks have been quite tumultuous for those of us here in Wisconsin.

I’m heartened, however, because last weekend 180,000 people gathered at the Capitol building even though the Governor had already signed into law a controversial bill. It shows we haven’t given up. The rally began with a tractorama of 50 tractors parading around the Capitol (click here to see a compelling speech by one of the farmers).

I think one would be hard pressed to find such positive energy in the aftermath of defeat at any other time in recent history.

As a result I’ve done more reflecting about my role as a Wisconsin citizen these past few weeks than I ever have before.

I live in Wisconsin because my great grandparents decided to move here from Germany in 1891. They settled in Tigerton, WI and worked a 50 acre farm to provide food for their 12 children. My great grandfather also worked as the church sexton, which required cleaning the church and digging graves. He was also a lumberjack. I suspect he performed other odd jobs too to keep the money coming in.

My grandfather was the youngest of the 12 children and, because they had been unable to go to high school, his older siblings wanted him to be able to go, so they made him enroll and then shielded his whereabouts from his parents during school days. He went on to graduate from college and medical school in Wisconsin and worked as a rural doctor in the years before insurance, so getting paid was often iffy, and when it was a 7 day per week job, requiring house calls at all hours and in all weather conditions.

The word “scrappy” always comes to mind as I ponder my great grandparents and their family and all the other Wisconsin immigrants from that time. A large number of my great grandparents’ descendants still live in WI and the surrounding states of IL, MN, SD and ND and thus I find myself here in WI as well, effectively making me a “placed person,” as they say.

A few days ago I checked out from the library a children’s book by Gretchen Bratvold about Wisconsin for one of my daughters to read and it’s interesting to note what it says about the 1890s in Wisconsin (the decade my great grandparents arrived) and compare it to recent events here:

By the 1890s, some of the state’s political leaders were thinking about how the government could improve the lives of Wisconsinites.

For several decades, the Republican Party had controlled the government. But many important Republicans used their power unfairly, carefully protecting their own interests in the state’s successful lumber and railroad businesses.

Some Wisconsinites were unhappy with the government of Wisconsin. They decided to split away from the Republicans and form their own branch within the Republican Party.

Headed by a man named Robert M. La Follette Sr., the new program was called Progressivism. It followed progressive, or new, ideas. The Progressives wanted to give more power to the people. They thought all Wisconsinites – not just a few – should have a say in how the economy and the government worked.

We’ve come full circle. (Because my great grandparents came from Germany it’s also interesting to note this article titled If This Happened in Germany Cars Would Be Burning.)

Last fall only 26% of registered voters bothered to vote and Gov. Walker was elected. Only 17% of adults over the age of 18 voted for him.

The rally last weekend is an indication that we are now wide awake in Wisconsin and I don’t expect to see that kind of lethargy at the polls next time. I saw a chart that said 85% of both Democrats and Republicans intend to vote next time.

There are elements in the bill that will affect almost all of us in the state in a negative way (from forced retirement of teachers important to our children, to reduced wages, to loss of programs that have made Wisconsin a humane place to live over the years).

I get discouraged as I ponder this yet, if I’ve inherited anything from my great grandparents, it’s their scrappiness, and if the rallies the past few weeks are any indication, many of my fellow Wisconsinites are scrappy too. Rather than mere observers who gripe about the climate and cheer for the Packers, we are now part of the Wisconsin narrative in a deeper way and that can only be a good thing. May it continue.


Don’t have a seat

Most people say “have a seat” when they have bad news to tell you. Today’s post has bad news that’ll make you not want to take a seat.

Although you’d never guess it from the type of stuff I write about here, my favorite thing to write about when I’m getting paid to write by a client is fitness.

So this means I do a lot of reading and writing about fitness. One of my favorite blogs is Obesity Panacea. The posts are written by two researchers who specialize in obesity.

Not long ago I came across a five part series on sedentary physiology on their blog (part 1 is here and the studies I reference in this post can be found in that series).

This series shows how even people who exercise regularly are still just as much at risk of being sedentary as someone who exercises. Of course I read this shortly after joining a gym and said to myself, “Oh great, now I have to worry about being a sedentary exerciser.” Oops.

Here are some of the rather alarming findings:

* A survey of 5700 Americans found that the average sedentary time per day is just over eight hours.

* It’s almost as bad for kids, with 6 hours of sedentary time per day, and 70% of their class time (including PE) spent in a sedentary state.

* A study in Canada revealed that individuals who sat the most were roughly 50% more likely to die during the follow up period than individuals who sat the least, even after controlling for age, smoking and physical activity levels.

* A study in Australia says each hour of daily television viewing is associated with an 11% increase in the risk of all-cause mortality, regardless of age, sex, waist circumference, and physical activity level. Yikes! So even if you’re thin and exercise, you’re toast if you watch TV.

Fortunately there’s hope. Another study in Australia shows that those that took frequent breaks from sitting were less obese and had better metabolic health. In other words, sitting at a desk for four hours but getting up every hour for a break is better than four continuous hours or sitting.

The take away from this is that we shouldn’t view exercise as that segment of time at the gym or the daily constitutional. It can be too easy to view exercise as something to check off the To Do list rather than merely a starting point.

Getting out of the chair regularly, using the stairs instead of elevators, walking if your destination is less than a mile, getting up frequently when watching a TV show, etc. should become normal.

If only I could do this while writing on the laptop:

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Move over bullfinches and mockingbirds

I had never heard of the lyre bird before, but apparently it rivals the mockingbird in its ability to mimic sounds and songs. Below is a brief video. It gets real interesting at the 2 minute mark when it starts making camera, car alarm and chainsaw noises:

I had also never heard of David Attenborough before but found out he has a series of 10 DVDs called Life of Birds and I’m delighted to see it’s available on Netflix instant viewing. Watching a man tread carefully in a forest as he speaks in a hushed British accent to describe the birds he sees sounds like just the thing to do this upcoming rainy weekend.


What you can learn from The Cat in the Hat

Image and video hosting by TinyPicYesterday was Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Happy birthday Dr. Seuss! My 7-year-old daughter and her classmates made Dr. Seuss hats yesterday and have been wearing mismatched socks and clothing all work in celebration.

Here’s a good article about what writers can learn from Dr. Seuss. In reading the five points I noticed they could apply to just about anything else, too:

1. See the fun in what you do and share it with others.

2. It’s OK to be different.

3. Exaggerate if you have to.

I tend to basically exaggerate in life, and in writing, it’s fine to exaggerate. I really enjoy overstating for the purpose of getting a laugh. It’s very flattering, that laugh, and at the same time it gives pleasure to the audience and accomplishes more than writing very serious things. For another thing, writing is easier than digging ditches. Well, actually that’s an exaggeration. It isn’t. – Dr. Seuss

That reminds me of advice I got from Erma Bombeck in a letter many years ago. I wrote to ask her if it’s OK to exaggerate the truth as a writer and she said the truth is like bubble gum, you can stretch it, play with it, even swallow it.

4. Keep it short. This might be my favorite. As a writer I make my living as a short copy specialist and write best in 500 word chunks or less (one reason I like blogging). The “keep it short” maxim applies well to conversation and other forms of communication too.

It has often been said
there’s so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.

That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.

-Dr. Seuss


Erma Bombeck: Treat Friends, Kids the Same

I was looking at my blog stats and noticed someone found my blog by searching for this particular column of Erma’s.

Unfortunately that person had to go away empty-handed as I didn’t have that column posted here, so I thought I should correct that.

This column literally made me LOL, which felt good, as there have been plenty of reasons as of late to not LOL (the AZ shooting in January, blizzards, the political kerfuffle here in WI, etc.). Plus with all the client writing I have on my plate right now, it’s nice to let Erma do some of the heavy lifting.

Here’s Erma:

On TV the other day, a leading child psychologist said parents should treat their children as they would treat their best friend…with courtesy, dignity and diplomacy.

“I have never treated my children any other way,” I told myself. But later that night, I thought about it. Did I really talk to my best friends like I talked to my children? Just suppose…..our good friends, Fred and Eleanor, came to dinner one night and……

“Well, it’s about time you two got here! What have you been doing? Dawdling? Leave those shoes outside, Fred. They’ve got mud on them. And shut the door. Were you born in a barn?

“So Eleanor, how have you been? I’ve been meaning to have you over for such a long time. Fred! Take it easy on the chip dip or you’ll ruin your dinner. I didn’t work over a hot stove all day long to have you nibble like some bird.”

“Heard from any of the gang lately? Got a card from the Martins. Yes, they’re in Lauderdale again. They go every year to the same spot. What’s the matter with you, Fred? You’re fidgeting. Of course you have to go. It’s down the hall, first door on the left. And I don’t want to see a towel in the middle of the floor when you’re finished.

“Did you wash your face before you came, Eleanor? I see a dark spot around your mouth. I guess it’s a shadow. How are your children? If you ask me I think summer school is great for them. Is everybody hungry? Then, why don’t we go into dinner? You all wash up and I’ll take up the food. Don’t tell me your hands are clean, Eleanor. I saw you playing with the dog.

“Fred, you sit over there and Eleanor you can sit with the half glass of milk. You know you’re all elbows with it comes to milk. There now, your host will say grace.

“Fred, I don’t see any cauliflower on your plate. Have you ever tried it? Well, try a spoonful. If you don’t like it I won’t make you finish it, but if you don’t try it, you can just forget dessert. And sit up straight or your spine will grow that way. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the Gerbers. They sold their house. I mean they took a beating but….Eleanor, don’t talk with food in your mouth. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. And use your napkin.”

At that moment in my fantasy, my son walked into the room. “How nice of you to come,” I said pleasantly.

“Now what did I do?” he sighed.