Thursday, October 18, 2018

How To Overcome Your Own Judgments

Today I want to play a little game. Pretend for a moment that you and I are neighbors. Now pretend that a new family just moved into the neighborhood and I am describing one of our new neighbors. Apparently he speaks fluent Spanish, loves the "Dark Knight" Batman movies, thinks Tom Hardy is the greatest actor ever, loves rice, dislikes classical music and isn't a fan of dogs. 
Poor Harper.

Do you have an image in your head of what he looks like? How he dresses? What he talks about? Do you want to get to know him?

What if I told you he also likes to run and is quite good at tennis. And that he was on the Ultimate Frisbee team at his high school. Does he look the same in your mind? 

Picture him. I promise there is a point to this. 

What if I added that he graduated from the hardest public high school in the country last year and started as a Junior at a really good college due to the amount of AP credits he rocked? We are talking 5's in everything. And then I told you that he's already been accepted to a top tier medical school.

Does that change the way he looks in your mind? Or the way you think about him? 

Picture him again. What does he look like? Is it different than before? How different? Just a little? Completely? Do you want to be his friend more before or after I told you how smart and successful he is? Does med school make him more or less attractive?

And what if I continued by sharing that I have known him for 4 years and each year he has grown kinder and wiser? Especially during a period in life when most people become more selfish and short sighted. Does that change who you expect him to be? How he looks?

Would you like to see a picture of our "new neighbor"?

Does he look like you expected? Is he the age you expected? The ethnicity you thought? Can you see the qualities I described in him? 

All of them are actually true. 

Were you surprised? 
Were you expecting someone Indian? 
Did your mental picture of the person I was talking about shift as I added different details? 

Why do think this happens?

The answer is simple. We all judge people. 

Shocking, I know! I used the "J" word! Gasp! For shame, right? 

Actually, judgement is hardwired into us. You can't help it. When you see something, anything, your brain brings forward previous experiences with that kind of thing. It shows you things you've read and heard and seen. Judging the people and circumstances around us helps us adapt to our world. I am sure there are a bunch of studies out there showing some primal connection between survival and judging the things in our environment. As humans, we can't help it. 

That's why it is ridiculous to expect people to not judge each other. It's inevitable.

What we need to do instead, is to realize that we will judge, and then teach ourselves to pull that judgement back, take in more current information, and then reevaluate our opinion. 

Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, I'll be honest with you. At first it takes some effort. But keep reading if you want to learn how to do it. With a little practice, you can get really fast. And what do you get for your effort? I can't answer exactly for you, because I don't know your life, where you live, who you interact with, etc. But learning how to retract my own judgment has given me a ton of new friendships, and deeper friendships than I could have had before I started doing it. It has brought me more peace, as I learned to read the people around me, rather than relying on the "stock" information my brain provided. This helps me to relax and feel more comfortable with people who aren't "like me." It has made me curious instead of afraid. It has made me less fearful and more open. And that alone, I think, is worth the effort in this age of fear and distrust.

So...after all that talking, we're going to practice. 

I can feel your enthusiasm. 
Come on! It's more like a game, than a tooth extraction,
I promise. Just try it.

So I'm going to show you two more pictures. I want you to look at each picture and pay attention to the thoughts your brain hands you about each person. You can take a second and go get a paper to write down your thoughts, if you want. Or not. We'll wait. 

OK, everybody ready? Here's the first picture.: 

What are your first thoughts as you look at this picture? 
What is his temperament?
Is he like someone you know? 
Would you feel comfortable sitting next to him on an airplane...or would you talk to him, if you are like me and actually enjoy talking to the people who sit next to you? (Yes, I am totally that girl.)
Does his age affect whether or not you would talk to him?
Could you be friends with this person?
Would you want him to be your neighbor? 

OK, what did you think? Were you surprised by any of your thoughts or answers? 

Those thoughts were your brain judging this man. All of your thoughts about him (unless you know him personally) were from your past experience, bias, education, media exposure and assumptions coming forward from the data banks of your brain. You have no way of determining if any of it is fact or fiction. Which is fine, actually. The important thing is to practice recognizing that these kinds of thoughts always show up. They are especially binding and powerful during a first impression.

In truth, he is a stranger. You have never met him. You know nothing about him or what he is like. And what you do think you know, could be completely inaccurate. 

OK, let's try it again. Look at him again. But this time, ignore your judgement opinions and just look at him until all those things are gone, and all you see is a person in front of you.

Look until you don't see a white man, or an old man, or a nice man. Look until you see just a man. This might take a sec. 

Ok, now you are ready to let HIM tell you who he is.

Well you would be if we were on the street somewhere or at school or my house or something. Actually, I am going to tell you who he is, in a sec, because I know him and you don't. But when you meet someone new, or talk to someone you don't know very well, it's important to hold back your thoughts until THEY give you a context to work in. Assume you like them or that you have something in common with them until they prove you wrong. Assume they are interesting and that they are a good person, regardless of what they look like or what they are wearing, until they say or do something that conflicts with that. And you might even consider giving them the benefit of the doubt more than once, because I am a much different person when I get up than I am later in the day. Most people like me much better after 9 am. 

If you always start with the assumption that the person you are interacting with or sharing space with is a good person, you will be right most of the time. 

(There are, sadly, always exceptions to this, so if you are worried that someone may hurt you, then trust that. I am not talking about laughing in the face of danger, here. Rather, I am suggesting you step out of your comfort zone. But if you seriously think that white van may pull over and kidnap you, then run away, please! Quickly!) 

OK, so here's the skinny on the man in the above picture:

  • He's 76 this year. 
  • He had a stroke in January.
  • He is still a practicing doctor with a specialty in Radiation Oncology. 
  • He paid for medical school partly by working summers as a wilderness ranger on horseback in the Grand Tetons and partly by selling Fuller brushes door to door.
  • He pays for the groceries of the person behind him in the check out line. 
  • He "collects" sleeping bags. At one time, he had about 30. Seriously. 
  • He has major issues with authority. 
  • He is the only person in his neighborhood with a golf cart sporting seat belts. (This has to do with the the trait above. It's a great story. Ask me sometime.)
  • He is loud. 
  • He will buy your drink at 7-11 any day and is on a first name basis with most of the cashiers at most of the Circle-K's and 7-11s in the city he lives in because he drinks so much soda. And because he likes people. 
  • He is insanely organized. Insanely. 
  • He is fun.
  • He is impatient.
  • He can fix just about anything.
  • He can be rude and overbearing.
  • He talks as much as I do.
  • He needs a hearing aid, but doesn't like to wear his.
  • He has been everywhere. 
  • He loves the Hallmark Channel. I am not lying about this.
  • He is my dad. 

OK that was fun. Let's try it again. Here's another picture. And yes, this one is a new picture. Now remember, let your ideas about this person come forward. OK, Go!

What is your first impression? And remember to be honest here. It's ok. This is practice.
Who is she? 
What is she like? 
Do you want to sit next to her on a plane? 
Do you want to be her neighbor?
Do you want to be her friend?

Once again, your answers will be massively affected by your previous experience, other people you have known, things you've read and seen on TV and online, for good or ill. Get them all to the front. 

OK, now forget them all and look again, until you see a person, a young woman:

Once again, she is a stranger. You have never met her. You have no idea what she's like. Get yourself to a place where you are curious what she will reveal about herself, if she were to start talking to you. 

Are you there? Shall I tell you about my cute friend? Actually, she and her mother came up with a list of things they wanted you all to know about her.

  • She directs the music at the beginning and ending of our church women's meeting.
  • She keeps her room tidy, because she prefers it that way.
  • She takes fashion very seriously.
  • She sets her outfit for the next day out every night before she goes to bed.
  • She helps her mother run an in-home daycare.
  • She is almost always happy.
  • She loves to color in adult coloring books.
  • She sees the good in everything.
  • She loves movies and older TV shows like "I Love Lucy", "Facts of Life", "Brady Bunch", and "the Golden Girls".
  • She can be stubborn. Especially regarding her Diet Coke. 
  • She is a very loyal friend.
  • She graduated from one of the larger, more rigorous high schools in the area. 
  • She is 33 yrs old. Apparently she's found the Fountain of Youth.  
  • She has played baseball for 27 yrs and is currently on a young adult team.
  • She is very organized. 
  • She loves to dance to oldies as well as the latest popular music.
  • She is deeply devoted to her faith and loves to see her "Church Family" each Sunday.
So do you guys think you can go and do this on your own? Can you recognize your own judgments, and then tell them to chill out, until the person you are dealing with has given you a little more info? I am totally sure you can do this. You just have to remember to think about it. And who knows? Maybe your new best friend will wind up being someone you didn't even know you could like! That would be the coolest, right? I would love to hear any experiences you have from trying this in real life. So please feel free to share in the comments below. 

Well that's certainly more than enough for now. 
Thanks for wading through all that with me.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Purpose of Organized Religion-at least for me

This last week was very church-y for me. This was for a variety of reasons, involving my recent assignment to be the ward (congregation) choir director, my kids getting old enough to ask me hard questions about our faith, and it being one of the two General Conferences my church holds annually. For those who don't know a lot about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), we get to stay home and watch church on TV twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  I highly recommend watching church in PJ's in your living room, if you can find a way to make it meaningful and keep yourself from getting too comfy and falling asleep. Anyway, there are five 2 hr sessions over the course of one weekend, during which various Church leaders each talk about a Gospel subject of their choice. It is wonderful, but that is one big mental and spiritual download, Whew! 

So with all that going on, I found myself thinking about church a lot this week. Not so much church, as in "the teachings about God through the scriptures", but rather the physical and practical church...Sunday School and Mass and Youth Groups...the human/"going to the chapel" side of Church. 

One of my kids recently asked me, "Mom, if I can connect with God when I pray, and I try to be a good person everyday, why do I have to go to church?" I have been asking myself and thinking about this question for the better part of my life. Over time, I gradually gained a variety of insights and experiences that felt like an answer and have just moved forward and kept attending with those things in mind.  But this week, I got An Answer.

Now, before all of you check out because this is a "church post" (which it is, and please feel free to bail if you are so inclined.), understand that I try to write in a way that appeals, or is at least accessible to anyone who believes in a positive force in the Universe. So while these thoughts are couched in my faith, you might keep reading and see if they can help your own journey to find the Goodness in this life. 

My Answer happened while I was sitting in a chair staring at the wall, petting my dog and not writing in the journal open in my lap. I started thinking, "Why would God council us all to go to church? What could His purpose there be?" And I tried to imagine what Church would be like without all our human stupidity coming into play, imagining what purpose an infinitely wise and kind God would have in giving that instruction to gather and worship.

When I say "my Answer happened" what I mean is one second I was asking the question, without having a clue what the answer was, and the next second I had a full, rich understanding deep in my soul of the answer, like I had known and tested this new information so thoroughly there was no point in thinking anything else. It was just wisdom.

God simply started by reminding me of the conversation between Christ and one of the many learned community leaders, where the man asks Jesus, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law? (referring to the entire Torah)" Christ answers, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like  unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:35-40)

These two ideas are supposed to be the absolute center of a Christian's life, to love God and love our fellow man. "Great!" I thought. "But what does that have to do with church?" 

This question is exactly why we all have the opinion we do about organized religion. 

God patiently continued by showing me that His intention is for a person to gather with other people who believe the same things about God. The point being to share the insights and experiences and enlightenment they have found in an effort to help give each other comfort, hope, and clarity. This group provides the potential to become friends and the opportunity to serve. It builds a community of people who will challenge each other and help each other and guide each other and push each other. Love your God. Love your fellow man. 

I was completely stupefied by the beauty and simplicity of this power of this idea By the accessibility of it. By the wisdom of it. By the hope and compassion and humanity it opened my mind to. I just sat and felt the elegance and truth of it coursing through me for several minutes. And I'll be honest, I was a lot humbled by it. I have gone to Church almost every week of my entire life, and this had never even occurred to me. 

If I look, I can see these two ideas, "Love god, Love your fellow man", woven into the seams and bricks of all the major religions I am familiar with. But I think it gets obscured by the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" that are so much easier to measure. It gets lost in our self doubt and our fears and our bad experiences. It is forgotten in our boredom, and our selfishness, and our haste to get on with things. It gets lost in shocking news stories of egregious behavior of religious leaders in this time and ages past. It gets lost in the cries of anger and pain as we forget that we are human, in our animal moments. But it is there, just the same. Waiting in the sun to be seen. 

I think there are many who do understand this connection between church worship and the Two Great Commandments. And I rejoice that I am finally among their ranks. I have always tried to look for the person sitting alone in a pew, because when I was younger, it was often me alone. I often share my spiritual ideas and experiences, because I enjoy sharing with others and because I have a hard time keeping my ideas to myself. But somehow, the fact that doing these things is the point makes it all so much more meaningful. Church becomes the place where it is easy to like our Savior. 

It is so lovely to think of a community of people acting and speaking with an eye toward the well being of each other. Oh wait. Isn't that how heaven is described? I bet, with a ton of mindfulness, we could do it here. 

Love your God, Love you neighbor. 

Maybe that's what I will start praying for next. 

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Friday, October 5, 2018

Digging Out the Studio Week 11ish: Last Week With the Sisters

If I remember correctly, this week started with a panic attack. Most of which had nothing to do with the basement and everything to do with me leaving town for 3 weeks on 3 different trips, all of which had to be planned and finalized by me. I am sure that several of you are aces when it comes to travel logistics when you are going to Hawaii for a week with just your husband, then coming home for 3 days, then driving your college student across the country, and then driving back across the country a different way with your girlfriend, ultimately arriving home the day before school starts. But I am not great at that kind of things. 

In fact, it made me cry. So much so, that I called one of my best friends for back up. 

She is married to a former army colonel, and moved about a billion times in her younger life. She is a pro at dealing with "stuff" when you are up against a deadline. She gave me some of the most practical advice I have ever gotten in my life. "Accept that you are leaving and this project is over for now. Put post-it notes on everything so you remember what you were doing with it and put it away. And for heaven's sake! Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You are running away to Hawaii for a week!"

So I dried my tears, got out my Post-its, and started making decisions. I "post-it'd" every single pile or item sitting on my tables. It took an entire afternoon, and I was wiped out when I was done, but I did feel better. 

You can see a few of my post its here and there. By the time I was done, there were little yellow papers everywhere.

Funny thing. By the time the sisters got there that Wednesday, These tables were almost empty. Once the post-it notes were there, I could go downstairs and just start doing whatever the post-it said, without really having to think about it. I could talk on the phone and deal with things. I could watch a movie (sort of) and deal with things. I could come downstairs for 5 minutes and just follow the directions on the post its. It was magic. 

One of the things remaining on the table was a can of Venetian Plaster that I had used to cover the paneling next to my fireplace. It was partly dried out, but still flexible. Sister Anderson had given it up for dead, but I knew better. Partly dried out is kind of like being "mostly dead." You are still partly alive. Thank you Miracle Max. So I added some water and put it back on the table. 

Sister Anderson was fascinated by and completely dubious about this. 

After it set for a while, she decided to try stirring it. I let her move the chunks around for a while and then shewed her away. About once an hour she went and checked that plaster, to see if it was stir-able yet.

She stirred. And waited.

 And she stirred. And waited.

And eventually, it actually became liquid again. 
So at least there is one happy ending to this story.

While Sister Anderson was stirring, Sister Kleven was getting down with my bag of cassette tapes. Her job was to match cassettes to cases and put them all in the nylon carrying case we still have from Al's high school years. See it over there to the right? And yes, just for the record, I was a teenager in the 80's. Cassette tapes, big hair and all. I still miss the big hair and spiral perms, with their accompanying clouds of AquaNet. Good times. Good times.

For some reason, this job made Sister Kleven super happy. Apparently she has a nostalgic spot in her heart for cassettes. I suppose this makes sense as I am plenty old enough to be her mother. Sigh. 

When Sister Anderson wasn't stirring, I put her to work dealing with the leftover bags of screws. I think we figured out what to do with them, and then I think I changed my mind. She was very patient, but secretly annoyed at me I think. 

Here's the original plan, notice the smile:

Here's the new plan, notice the lack of looking at me (and the photo bomber in both pics):

Next, we tackled the pile of broken down boxes in the playroom. This pile had gotten quite large during the cleaning up process. 

I love giving 20 somethings sharp tools, don't you? This girl got crazy with the box cutter. 

And this girl looks cute even when she has to clean up after her companion. 

Once I pinned her down and wrestled got the box cutter out of Sister Anderson's hand, we had the space and focus to tackle straightening the misplaced star on the wall. You can read about how the stars got on the wall here and here

After much consulting, we all agreed when the "right" location for the star was. 

The Sisters moved the Command hook. And put the star back up.

And there was much rejoicing. To be honest, I think the Sisters would have snuck over here in the night and fixed it in the dark, if I hadn't let them do it this time. It was bugging both of them to know it was in the wrong place. #designOCD

In honor of all of their efforts, my youngest painted Sister Anderson and Sister Kleven each a mini canvas with the first initial of their last name. It was so cute.  They were delighted, as she had asked them each what their favorite color was and had used those colors in the composition. Along with the canvases were homemade Warm Fuzzies in coordinating colors. If you haven't even made pom poms at home. You should. It's super fun, if kind of messy. 

Anyway, once we got the stars up, it was time to put the basement away until I got home from my many adventures and had time to get back to it. I've been home for over a month now, and it still waits for me, patiently, Post-it directions sitting quietly on their piles. In the mean time, the studio is totally useful. I cut a board for a project on my saw the other day. DK was totally impressed by just how accessible it was. And that man is hard to impress. 

See? Even Sister Kleven is giving this job the "finished, at least for now" Thumbs Up. I have no idea what Sister Anderson is thinking. But she looks hungry.

So we all headed upstairs for ice cream.

And the requisite selfie of a job well done. 

Epilogue: Since these photos were taken, Sister Anderson had been transferred twice. The first time, she was going to train and brand new companion's VISA for the country she was called to came through, so she went there, instead of coming here. (Sometimes missionaries, like Sister Anderson, get called to countries where they have extended VISA waits. Sister Anderson was called to serve in Turkey. But came here to the Washington DC South Mission to wait out her VISA and still be actively working.) So Sister Anderson became part of another trio with Sister Kleven and a brand new missionary, Sister Young. Sister Anderson was here for one more transfer and then found out her mission has been changed to Bulgaria, once she gets a VISA, due to political unrest in Turkey. She is currently serving in another area of this mission, ironically in the same ward as my cousin. 

Sister Kleven is still in Burke. She has been here for 10 months now, and she and Sister Young came over for dinner on Monday. Both are doing well. 

That's all I've got for you today. 

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Digging the Studio Out Week 9: Moving Furniture and Building the Saw

I have decided that I am not a reliable source when it comes to numbering my posts from a long series. The photo trail tells me it's week 9, but I already wrote a post about Week 10 and these pics are from the same week. In any case, it was a busy week and I got a ton done. So for the sake of me not having to renumber everything, this will be Week 9. And next week we will skip to Week 11. You guys all totally know what I am talking about, right? Me neither.

So this was the week I really decided to tackle the deeper mess. My kids were all at camp all day everyday, so I put up my big folding tables and put everything out on them. It was so cathartic to see it all NOT in my studio. There is something about seeing something in a different location. It changes from "that blob over there" into something you actually see. 

A lot of this week was spent organizing this stuff into coherent groupings, 
so I could see what I had and figure out where and how to store it.  

By the end of the week, I had things in decently organized piles. It was so random, you guys. I really do have a little bit of everything. And a whole bunch of stuff that I needed to get rid of. 

One of the most surprising things was that I had rarely used anything that anyone who was moving had given me. And with all the military families in the area, there are always people moving. And I always think I can make use of stuff. So I take it. I had extra tiles, craft kits, various types of paint, lumber, you name it. Most of it was at least 5 years old, a lot of it closer to 8 or 10 yrs, and I had never even touched it. So much for "perfectly good," right? 

Out it all went. Along with a ton of projects that I don't really want enough to finish. They just aren't "me" or I have changed focus or I never really liked them that much to begin with. I just gave myself permission to keep anything I really wanted to work on and made myself get rid of anything that I didn't want to finish enough to put it on the calendar. And I felt so free after it was gone!

It was about this point that the Sisters showed up for the week. 

In case you guys are wondering, 

yes, Blackberry Ginger Ale is the bomb, and 

yes, Sister missionaries do make everything more fun. 

I was tired of sorting by they time they got there, so I decided it was time to use 
their muscles and move furniture around in the studio. This is how things started: 

After a lot of trial and error, we decided to move the plastic shelving across from the saw, to slide the large wooden workbench down as far as possible towards my drawing table, and to move the fluorescent light fixture on a completely different diagonal over the table.

We kept a gap between the table and the wall so I can 
hang stuff to dry on the boards and clips. 

But the biggest change we made, and the project that kept the Sisters busy for the brunt of their time there, came from my garage. My wonderful dad had bought me a stand for my miter saw last Christmas. It was still in its box, taking up valuable parking space. We decided It Was Time. (7 months in the garage is actually pretty fast for me. Sigh)

The first thing we had to do was get it into the house and down the steps: 

I think we only slipped once. And Sister Kleven was being supportive and filmed the whole thing, being careful to laugh into her elbow so we couldn't hear her. That stand was so much heavier than I thought it would be! Sheesh! But Sister Anderson was a champ, carrying the load from the bottom. 

We got it in the studio and they started unpacking. 

They found the directions at the very end, because, of course
 I opened the box upside down.

I made them check to be sure we had all the pieces before they started. It took a while, but I have gotten in the middle of a building project too many times, and not had all the piece I need to finish. So maddening!

It was trickier than we thought, but little by little, the stand came together. 

And here is the finished product:

My precious! I love this so much. 

My saw is so much easier to use in the middle of the room on the stand. Before, the poor thing was useless, squashed into the corner. Can you even find it here? Tell me how I was going to cut anything like that.

The Sisters had to go at this point. But I still had two kid free days. So I kept working.

At some point, I realized that this blank wall was a peg board. Duh.

So I went to WalMart and with the addition of  a few hooks and dowels,

I turned it into the perfect home for my pretty papers that have been all bagged up for years. I went back for more hooks and added all my maps to the pile. It is one of my favorite parts of this renovation. 

The peg board hooks solved another problem for me. I have had these pieces of fence and banister for years. With my new hooks, they became usable! I started out with them under the shelves, but I decided that I wanted something else there.

So I just moved them above the shelves. And I LOVE the way they look!

I fussed and moved things around for the rest of the week. I tried so many variations.  I even found a home for my unsold book lamp. This was exciting, because it meant I could keep it. I really needed some light right in the middle of the space after I moved my ceiling light. And  it was so much easier to work on with the debris out on the tables, instead of cluttering up the space I was trying to work on. By the end of that week, it had turned into a space that I loved.

 I haven't felt like that in years. 

I'm not done yet, and there were still two tables full of debris in the other room, 
but I really felt like I turned a corner towards "success" during Week 9. 

Have you guys ever just pulled ALL THE THINGS out and refused to put them back until you had made sense of them? I'd love to hear about it.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw