The movie theatre near my home has, consistent with recent trends, ripped out the old stadium chairs and replaced them with reserved seating in the form of luxury recliners with trays and generous drink holders. The theatre also provides dine-in services; pressing a call button summons a waiter to your seat. In the dark, servers scurry about delivering food and cocktail orders. Despite the significant reduction in seats, the addition of food and alcohol more than make up for any revenue losses while the reserved seating makes selling movie tickets online a more efficient, if not elegant process.

Yesterday, my husband and I went to go see Rocketman at this theatre. I purchased our tickets online earlier in the week to secure good seats. We arrived early and when we walked into our particular auditorium, I noticed there were people sitting in our seats. Their trays were heavy with plates of food and large drinks. I approached them with my cell phone and gently suggested that they were in our seats. As the woman searched her bag for her phone, an usher appeared and tried to assist. When the woman produced her digital ticket on her phone, I quickly realized that she and her companion were in the wrong auditorium. Their movie had already started over a half hour earlier. The usher then stepped in to help resolve their problem and clear them out of our seats. While the aisles are generous to accommodate the new recliners, we moved to the back of the theatre to allow them to collect their things.

The woman walked quickly past us to the exit. She never made eye contact or any kind of apology. The man she was with, got uncomfortably close to my husband and with an eerie grin said, “Alrighty then!” My husband made no reply as we watched him follow the woman and the usher.

Etiquette is a culture’s crib of behaviors, customs, and words used to make it easier and more pleasant for humans to live with or near each other. By definition, it is designed to reduce awkwardness and embarrassment and smooth human relations. In modern practice, however, the topic of etiquette is rarely discussed, except in connection with formal ceremonies when we finally dust off Emily Post’s book and attempt to figure out how to properly use stationery or present our prom date with a corsage.

small town storefronts
Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

Manners feature prominently in my two favorite works of Jane Austen: Emma and Pride & Prejudice. Austen loved to contrast “country manners” with those of “Town” as well as the attitudes characteristic of the inhabitants of both worlds. Country dwellers seem to tolerate the annoying habits and idiosyncrasies of neighbors, maintaining an optimistic attitude – there is little to no variety in their social sphere, so they must make the best of their limited social circle – a potent motivation to maintain good relations with neighbors. Country manners seem to come from a long-term worldview. The city resident however, must stay busy and find diversions in order to ignore others – providing a polite cushion between themselves and all the other people, mostly strangers, who live and work within close proximity. City life is full of fleeting moments and brief, often unique interactions. Short-term and efficient navigation are the techniques of successful city living.

Etiquette, and the lighthearted, cheerful country manners in both of these Austen novels are there with good reason. Human beings behave erratically, even violently when embarrassed. Though they were written little more than 200 years ago, the differences in polite behavior are still present. You notice the cold restaurant hostess has a smile that touches her eyes when speaking with coworkers she spends many hours with, while the small town church members spend forty minutes prior to the service to greet and visit with other parishioners.

City Skyscrapers
Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash

Despite some similarities, our standards of etiquette in 2019 are no longer standard, nor have they kept up with social changes; we are thus ill-prepared for these new interactions. Going to the movies was something I once loved, as was going out for a drink or a meal. How does one minimize embarrassment when someone mistakenly ends up in the wrong theatre? How does one respond to a dining companion whose attention is on their phone? How should someone in the hospitality industry make customers feel welcome when technology is further reducing the need for human interaction?

My country manners seem regrettably mismatched for life in Silicon Valley, where an honest mistake means results in aggressive behavior without a whisper of apology.

Time seems to be speeding up, contracting and expanding. So many changes have happened. It is impossible to keep up and it is easy to lose my balance in the onslaught. It feels like it was just weeks before – not almost three years ago – that I sat in front of election results with an old friend on the phone. We both sat in horror and fear. I was in a panic, but eventually, I learned to lean into it, like standing in the waves at the beach. Remain standing and don’t turn your back to the incoming tide.

Fifteen years ago, I lived in San Francisco. Having a MUNI pass meant that I could use any public transportation within San Francisco’s borders, including the cable car. Taking the cable car regularly, I quickly gained my cable car “legs” – like growing springs in my calves. Every sharp turn or steep hill, I learned to surf the rails with the car by staying light on my feet. You can tell the tourists from the locals by how they are tossed about by ancient suspension – or not. Living through this last 200-ish year cycle of cycle Jupiter-Saturn in Earth signs (Austin Coppock explains in this excellent post here.) is much like this. We must all stay light on our feet and ride with the cable car, or suffer an uncomfortable trip.

You know how you get really busy at work and then one day, you think to restart your computer. There are like 30 updates to your software waiting to be installed. Some download and update really fast. Others seem to take an agonizingly long time. You know what I’m talking about, yeah? It’s been like that.

But if I can continue with my horrible analogy, there’s no time to read about these new updates and add-ons. No time to take a tutorial. There are all these shiny new tools – some may even be more effective – but no time or mental bandwidth to explore and possibly rethink approaches or methods.

Unfortunately, there is no time to sit with anything. I keep thinking that there will be free time to process and put the pieces together to make a pretty puzzle picture, but there is none to be found. I’m on to the next crisis or opportunity. It sounds dire – and there are moments of real joy which I cherish and use to recharge and get ready for the next wave – but it doesn’t matter much, I press on as best as I can, having faith that someday, I can take a breath and actually think about how all my pieces – new and old – fit together.

I’ve been at this a long time. My whole life. By it, I mean alternative spirituality? Magic? The occult? My typical modus operandi is to dive right into something that I find alluring. I once explained to a friend that my way of approaching a spiritual or magical tradition “belief” is like trying on a piece of clothing. I adopt wholesale the new perspective, the new method, the new belief and see how it feels. Does it bind? Does it itch? Is it too big? Too small? It’s so hard to talk about my experiences of the numinous and the occult because I simply lack the language to discuss it, so I opt for full immersion experience to see if it works for me. I’ve had a massive upgrade in the past two years and between the apocalyptic onslaught we’ve all been trying to survive and the utter lack of ease in discussing it, I can feel my inner worlds expanding and drinking champagne because I’m not in coach anymore, darling.

I’m pissed off at the same time. I’ve been “trying on” some subpar spiritual clothing and suddenly there are all these quality books and other resources. I’m approaching my fifties and I still feel like a foolish dilettante. Better late than never? I like to think so.

It’s also fun. I can be a beginner again and start over. I feel like I can both deeply immerse myself in new approaches, but also think about them critically. I’ve been lucky to be blessed with a strong intuition and it has served me to heed its warnings or beckoning. While I may not have the professional grade toolbox of discernment, I feel like I at least have a few quality instruments with which to rule out the utterly stupid or nonsensical.

My practice doesn’t have a name, but it sure gets results. I hope to share some of that here in the future.

woman's reflection in rear view mirror with phone revealing a group picture.
Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

When I first started out on my vegan experiment, I promised myself that if my health should ever start to fail on account of my new plant-based diet, I would stop and find a better way.

Getting going was a little slow at first, especially as I had to master new ingredients, and more importantly, how to cook with them. Eventually, I was confident enough to start making more complicated dishes and pastries – even posting the pictures online. We hosted Mother’s Day one year, and I served vegan food. I happily made copies of recipes, that my in-laws continue to make for themselves today.

I love vegan food. I love how it tastes, and how light it feels after finishing a meal. I love that no animals were harmed, nor did I monetarily support their suffering and dying in the fantastically cruel and brutal machine known as intensive animal farming. (Which, in my opinion, it casts an unfair ugly shadow on farming in general).

As I continued to read and consume vegan-related media, there was, and continues to be, a wealth of inspirational people who also happen to eat just plants. Athletes especially have been a source of motivation and inspiration – they’re so trim, muscular, and tan – the picture of health.

But lately, something feels off. I’ve been getting sick more frequently. While switching to veganism permanently removed about 30 pounds from my waistline, there’s still plenty of padding that just doesn’t want to get lost. And frankly, anytime I start seeing celebrities getting involved in a way that makes them cash – I start to wonder if perhaps I’m not seeing the entire picture.

Quite by accident, I watched a YouTube video of a doctor’s presentation at a conference in Vermont. I was researching red light therapy and remediation tactics for chronic EMF exposure. I’m no physicist, but I am a chemistry nerd – what this doctor had to say shocked me because it made me question some of my assumptions. (It’s Dr. Jack Kruse, by the way, and he’s fascinating).

Here’s the thing – I don’t want to eat animals. I really don’t. The thought makes my stomach turn. I realized that even if a doctor told me today that I had to stop eating a vegan diet or the health consequences would be bad – I’m not sure I would. This in turn made me realize that I was no longer being true to my vow to myself. I became vegan to elevate my health and well-being. While it has certainly done that, I feel like there is more and I’m not sure veganism can offer it.

Oh, but the pull of that new identity is also something to contend with – the fear of being a hypocrite, of being publicly shit on because I forsake something that was no longer working for me. Those are also important markers to me that perhaps there is an agenda there that is not my own. I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’m still reading and researching. It’s just amazing how difficult it can be to stay open to better options and not feel guilty for even entertaining them.

Today is Boxing Day, officially called a “bank holiday” it was the day after Christmas when the servants of the rich were given their bonus and given time off to go visit their families. Though I am neither a servant in the strictest definition of the word, nor am I a tradesman, I am taking the day to relax and reflect on the year and recuperate from a busy two days.

I am not predisposed to like Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Past and I have been wrestling with one another for almost four decades. For a short period of my adult life, I had beautiful ornaments, unique stockings, a working train set that would encircle the tree, and even a lovely creche. I sold it all on eBay years ago and never looked back.

I must have been in sixth or seventh grade when I first read The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. The short story published in 1905 touched me deeply and will probably forever color my attitude toward the Christmas holiday. In summary, the story is about a young married couple who don’t have much money, but want to buy each other a Christmas gift. The wife has her beautiful, long hair cut off and sells it for enough money to buy her husband a chain for his prized pocket watch. When he gets home, it is revealed that he sold the timepiece for enough money to buy her a gift of combs and hair accessories. It ends with them realizing how much they love each other exemplified by their sacrifices to buy each other a gift.

The story is supposed to be heartwarming, I suppose. It has inspired many adaptations, films, and television episodes. But I was horrified by the tyranny of the entire drama. By the time I was a kid, The Gift of the Magi had seemed to twist and warp in the psyches of Americans, spurring on this orgy of consumeristic frenzy in an effort to show our love of our family and friends by showering them in presents, even if we had to go into debt to do so.

My parents divorced when I was seven years old. We moved from our small farm to an urban area and I was forced to change schools in the middle of second grade. My mother had custody of my younger brother and I while my father retained visitation rights. The first couple of years were an awkward transition period, especially around the holidays. While we were never even middle class, and being the late 70s/early 80s, our now smaller family was exposed to increasing financial insecurity. My father seemed unaffected, quickly purchasing another home and moving on with his life.

Things really changed when my father remarried, about two years later. He was quickly and completely absorbed by my stepmother’s family. Apart from the car ride on his weekends or holidays, I would never again have time alone with my dad until my stepmother died over 30 years later.

My stepmother’s family were some of the meanest, stupidest, and most vapid people I’ve ever had the misfortune to know. Other than our grandmother, the holidays were dominated by my stepmother’s relatives. Even summers or the odd weekend was spent in the company of my stepmother’s grandchildren, kids much younger than I whom I resented and disliked. I would learn years later that my stepmother trash talked me to her family, sabotaging any hope for friendships with any of them.

There was never any discussion, at least not with me or my brother where we would like to spend our time. The major holidays (when school was out) were spent with my dad. Even birthdays were spent with my father (we are both summer babies). When asked, my mother would say she had plans before quickly changing the subject and helping us to pack for our dad’s house. I would learn later as an adult, those plans usually involved her longtime boyfriend and a Denny’s.

Once I was old enough to drive, Thanksgiving and Christmas became all-day and almost all-night marathons, driving to four, sometimes up to six different houses and celebrations to make the required appearances. There was little enjoyment – gifts painstakingly selected and purchased with what little money was had were met with awkward acceptance and quickly tossed aside – clearly not what they wanted. Forced smiles, small talk, and the same dry turkey, too-sweet ham, and the rest of the traditional fare shoveled down until we had to gather our things, put on our coat and head out in the cold to the next destination. 

            No one bothered to figure out what I may have liked as a gift – I was usually given a bland card with just a signature and a $100 bill to buy what I wanted. Usually I would try to make the most of it by hitting the after Christmas sales, wondering what I had done to deserve so little consideration.

So, while it wasn’t even in the top ten reasons I moved to San Francisco at the age of 21, I took full advantage of the excuse it provided in avoiding going home for the holidays. The quiet, unhurried solitude was a welcome respite from the years of running the family obstacle course each Christmas.

Once I was a more mature adult, the holidays and I had a fragile truce. Some years, I spent them with my mother. Some years I stayed home. Our detente however, was broken six years ago when I remarried. The love of my life was himself freshly divorced, and despite having 7? 8? siblings, four children of her own, and a couple of grandkids, his ex-wife was still turning up to all the family events. Clearly something is wrong there, but that’s a different topic.

While she was never confrontational, family gatherings were awkward and a little hostile. After suffering the company of my stepfamily for so many years, I found myself asking why I was putting up with this bullshit. My inlaws didn’t have the heart to tell her to fuck off, feeling pity and resignation.

Last year, my beloved attended Christmas Eve celebrations all by himself. I couldn’t bring myself to go through the motions of another artless Christmas with each of us on opposite ends of the house. I wasn’t upset, angry, or sad. I had a nice evening hanging out with my dog in favored pajamas, watching movies. But when my darling came home, dejected and missing me, I decided to change things.

This year, I attended both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the inlaws. For the first time in six years, the ex-wife was not in attendance on either day. It was relaxed and fun with everyone mingling and talking. There was an ease I had never before experienced with them. Christmas Day had us telling jokes, playing games, and I came away with a nice bottle of scotch from the white elephant exchange. I hope we can continue this tradition in the years to come.

During my childhood, I hated being sent to my father’s house for every seasonal celebration. My mother went through the daily grind with us – getting us to school, dinner every night, clothes and dentist appointments and the sniffles. Yet, she somehow thought it was better for us to have a “real” Christmas with people who were not our own. It was her version of The Gift of the Magi. These days, I wasn’t sure what the most helpful sacrifice would be – staying home or going to family holiday celebrations with my inlaws. This time, what I thought might be a sacrifice turned out unexpectedly rewarding. Maybe the Ghost of Christmas Past and I can finally be friends. Maybe.

Can We Talk?

I

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated Inspiring Liberation. I’ve been struggling with a case of creative constipation and an allergy to feeling scrutinized. This was supposed to be fun, a hobby even. These past months it has felt more like a chore. Pretty dumb to have a blog then, huh?

I’m sure you’ve seen how people treat each other. Just go to your favorite store and stand in line. Listen to how impatient and rude customers are to the cashier. Multiply this by 100 for online interactions and you’ll understand why it’s never recommended to read the comments.

Add to this the fact that I’m a woman, writing words on the internet. Multiply the last number by 1,000 and you’ll approach the level of  intense hostility reserved for females. A year ago, I expressed an opinion about a NASCAR driver on Twitter. A man, somewhere in the midwest, tweeted back to me, “Shut the fuck up bitch.” Really? Yes, I’ve been called worse, but was that really necessary? Wait until I say something about anything more important than stock car racing.

But, there is something appealing about putting it all out there, even if I’m just screaming into the void.

II

One of my favorite genres in film and literature is the dystopian future. Brave New World, 1984, Equilibrium, Blade Runner, the Hunger Games trilogy, V for Vendetta, The Handmaid’s Tale, Total Recall. All of these books, movies, and TV shows illuminate a paradox: the characteristics which make us human are also corruptible vulnerabilities: our memories, our emotions, our thoughts, our words. It points to the master’s tools of exploitation.

We live in a time where words are losing meaning, where uncomfortable feelings are medicated, and the wrong thoughts can leave you without a social support system. Creeps and predators are forgiven, but lacking the passing grade in your politics can lead to isolation. Unfriending is the new shunning.

It is possible we are already living in our own version of The Truman Show? That the answer to the question, “How will it end?” is contained within Soylent Green? Advertisers have had decades to polish up their manipulation game and savvy corporations (and their lapdog politicians) use their methods at every turn.

III

I miss having in-depth conversations with people. The kind I used to have in high school and in college. We would dissect movies, books, and my favorite – philosophy. Line by line, we would read Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Kant, Camus, Sartre and then in small groups, tease out every nuanced meaning. I’ve never had the answers, but there was something very satisfying about at least making the attempt.

I used to daydream about hosting a salon. I read about these gatherings of great thinkers during the Belle Epoch in Paris or Berlin or wherever. Musicians, writers, artists would meet regularly and discuss, debate, and share. The idea still appeals to me, but it would require a commitment to reading the same books and watching the same films and most people don’t have that kind of time.

We have lost the institutional knowledge of building community one informed voter at a time. Who has time for grassroots organizing when you must choose between staying late at work (because you’re now doing the work of 2.5 people, for the same pay) and taking care of your family? Community engagement isn’t even a thought. Unfortunately, there are those who benefit and perpetuate your lack of free time.

IV

The season is changing and Halloween weather is here. I’m spending more time in the yard, sweeping up leaves and dead tree blossoms. Preparations for new adventures are underway. If you read this far, thank you. There will be more coming.