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Archive for the ‘human behavior’ Category

Decompression

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43 ideas brainstormed in 15 minutes—hot, efficient comets coming at you from the workshop circle. Inspiring quotes and anecdotes. Lists and lists of things to hope for, things to imagine, and things to do. Twenty times twenty times a hundred twenty questions, to unmask the truths we’ve hidden with the utmost care, the strategies we use to smother our dreams in their cradle, the tales we tell ourselves to make it seem alright. More lists:  resources to draw upon, goals that scale from tiny to audacious, ways to know the path you’re on is true.

 
You leave with pages of wild notebook scribbles, some items underlined for emphasis, some adorned with stars or question marks, some with straight or wavy arrows connecting one idea to another to another. On another page, a list of books promised to yield still more enlightenment. Your head is full, and your heart awakened, with hope and joy and quickened energy. Things can be different, changes can be made, and you can make them.

 
Somewhere on your journey home, the rich nitrogen dissolved in your blood during this deep dive begins to bubble, insidious and irrepressible, seeking weak spots in your circulation. There it looks to lodge, cutting off the flow of oxygen and stifling your fresh enthusiasm. Gradual ascent, not bolting to the surface, is the only way to foil it and keep your delicate new fire undampened.

 
The workshop high–like the ascent of a difficult and deadly mountain–can be ecstatic, bracing, and revealing. It’s right to cherish and enjoy it, to celebrate the insight and achievement you’ve extracted from the challenge, but take care not to break an ankle on the way down. Give yourself some space, and a little grace, before you re-emerge into reality. The laundry will still be there, waiting.

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It’s a bustling summer day, folks jostling for the ripest melons or the freshest flowers, stalls bursting with color, smell, and texture as the crowd flows ever on. My list is long, and I’ve got lots to take in, and lots to buy, before the morning’s old.

A mandolin sings suddenly, gentle yet insistent, then a fiddler adds her strain — and all at once my cheeks are wet, some secret sadness welling up, massive and unknowable. Everyone I miss, or have ever missed, pulls at me like a black hole in the center of the farmers market. Their shades call me, and I dance along the unseen edge as the bluegrass wafts between the berries and the lettuces.

Why does bluegrass make me blue? It’s never been a genre I sought out, or one I really knew till a few years ago. Now it’s everywhere, part of the latest urban farming, homesteading, and crafting craze, and I can tell a hammer dulcimer from an autoharp at fifty paces. There’s something in it, like good old style country music, that grabs the heart and opens it, willing or no, and makes you listen. Why, it makes you wonder, is the world the way it is? Why do we create such madness, and inflict such pain? Why is he, or she, not here with me?

A singer joins in, and I notice others in the crowd sniffling, or wiping an eye as we all mourn our childhoods, our loved ones, the pure and pristine land and ways that might live only in our fantasies. It’s a sad and perfect day, sweet and bitter, and the music calls us all to dance along that narrow precipice. The berries and the lettuces will be waiting when the song comes to a close.

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This piece was aired as part of KQED FM’s Perspectives series on July 3, 2014. Listen here.

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They sit on the shelf, soft, fluffy, and reproachful as kittens whose dinner is unaccountably delayed. They are colorful, rich, and neatly folded, just like their cousins in my mother’s linen closet. Like her, I’ve been saving them–for what, exactly, I’ve lately begun to wonder.

The good towels–the ones reserved for guests–are kept out of circulation to stay fresh and new, unsullied and unworn. They’re plusher than the daily ones, more expensive too. The idea, I think, is twofold: to impress visitors with this subtle signal of prosperity, and to treat them better than we treat ourselves. Look, the good towels say, we’ve saved the best for you, our most honored special guest.

It may sound odd, but I’d never before considered this practice, though it’s been decades since I left my parents’ home to make my own. It was just one of those things we take for granted, received wisdom translated into practice without question. I was happy to let sleeping towels lie–that is, till recently.

I’m a radiologist, which means I interpret x-rays, CT scans, and more. Every day I sit before a bank of monitors and study images, puzzling out the meaning in the many shades of grey. Sometimes it’s a broken bone, or pneumonia, or appendicitis. Sometimes it’s a cancer in retreat, white flag waving from the screen. But every day, it seems, there’s at least one patient for whom my report will bring devastation. It’s the most timeworn cliche, but life really is short sometimes–as, too often, is the notice that we get.

I go to the linen closet, and pull out a neatly folded, pristine whisper. I hold it to my face and take a slow, deep breath of summer, happiness, and home. This small luxury I will allow myself–and you should too, every chance you get.

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copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

I suppose it was inevitable. After years of living in the mountains, I’d seen enough to know it was a matter of time, no matter how careful I was. Still, I thought I could escape.

It was dark, and raining, but that’s no excuse. I’ve driven in far worse conditions without an issue, though there have been some close calls. The most serious was due to fog: creeping 5 miles an hour up a narrow, windy road at dusk with zero visibility , I heard–and felt–a soft, fleeting thud against the left front fender. As I realized what had just happened, the deer sprinted off across the road, a brownish ghost emerging briefly from the mist. A second later, unharmed, it was swallowed by the fog again.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

This time, I saw the blur of motion in the corner of one eye–a few erratic stops and starts off on the side of the road–and thought the animal had decided against crossing. I was wrong, and because I was in a hurry I did not slow down. The thump and crunch were sickening, not least because right before I hit it, I saw the little skunk run toward the road again–and knew it was too late. I’m so sorry, baby, I told it, wishing desperately for a different outcome.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

One skunk more or less may seem insignificant, but I’d just contributed to the estimated one million vertebrates killed on US roads each day–one every 11.5 seconds. This includes wildlife from mice to moose, endangered species, and household pets. Human injuries and deaths result too, and pricey damage to vehicles. Fencing, signs, and wildlife crossings can reduce roadkills, and high-tech solutions may help in the future, but awareness and reducing speed are still the best bets for avoiding these tragic incidents. It’s a lesson I know I’ve taken to heart.

This essay was aired as part of the Perspectives series on KQED-FM on April 6, 2011

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

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She grabbed an ear from the stack, pulled away the husk to peek inside, and tossed it back onto the pile in disgust. The next one, deemed equally offensive, met the same harsh fate. As she glared at the kernels of a third ear with hard-edged rejection, she glanced sidelong at me–happily filling my bag with plump, gold-tasseled ears–and asked ‘Is this corn yellow?’ I paused in my own inspection and smiled at her. ‘No,’ I replied; ‘the sign says it’s bicolor.’

She stared again at the glistening kernels she’d unmasked, shook her head almost imperceptibly, and stuffed the ear into her bag. As I turned in search of apples, I noted her earlier discards now nestled snugly in the bag as well, with another soon to join them. I heard a faint, contented hum as she pulled, peeked, and stuffed away.

So…..what had changed here, exactly? Had the corn somehow been magically transformed from unworthy to desirable with the utterance of one simple word? Or had she been changed instead? Perhaps it’s a case of expectations.

Every day, in every encounter, we meet the world with expectations, whether explicit or implicit. They could be things we want someone to say or do, things we demand of ourselves, things we want to happen, or things we expect to find in a given location. If those expectations aren’t met, we are disappointed, frustrated, sad, or angry. When they’re satisfied, then so, for the most part, are we. Evidently my neighbor in the produce aisle expected yellow corn; finding white kernels admixed with the ‘normal’ ones, she considered all the ears deficient. Once the word ‘bicolor’ informed her that the white ones were there by design rather than by defect, her expectations shifted and the corn was suddenly acceptable.

Sometimes, it turns out, just the smallest shift in expectations means the difference between disappointment and delight.

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