Not All About You, Dear

The rules of kvetchingA few years ago someone very close and dear to me lost a parent. The loss, as any loss is, was not only hard for that someone, but for those close to the family. The deceased was not only well-loved but well-respected. A true role model and mentor. They were very passionate about their craft and I felt very blessed to have been able to receive much advice. That spirit of love and caring is carried on by my dear friend. However, here’s what was interesting. I was able to simultaneously be supportive yet step back and observe during the funeral and after. The reactions and sentiments were a bit harsh and self-centered. I remember being appalled at how some weren’t supportive of those who had to live with this loss. There was a strange outpouring of me-me-me to the living. Never once consoling. There was also the craziest things being said that was so inappropriate. Though, it is not up to me to tell anyone how to grieve, my friend sent me this article that would have been beneficial YEARS ago.
This past week the LA Times published an excellent article on how and to whom one should express their true feelings of sorrow and disappointment. It’s an article everyone should read and it’s the perfect diagram to have in the back of one’s mind.

It works in all kinds of crises – medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory‘ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out.

Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

April 7, 2013

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

“It’s not?” Susan wondered. “My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?”

The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” she told him. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan’s colleague’s remark was wrong.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

There was nothing wrong with Katie’s friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn’t think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.

Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.

Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.

Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you’re talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.

And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of “The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators.”

Stop! Go! Wait!

Picture courtesy of Rob Zukowski
Picture courtesy of Rob Zukowski

Mixed signals are very difficult to process  if you are the one receiving them. It paralyzes because you don’t know how to react, respond. The synapses stop firing and you’re a deer in headlights. You get frustrated and freak out or you completely shut down (please replace you with I).

I don’t have the exact answer for dealing with a difficult situation.  However, I have found some techniques which have helped me. Hopefully, they will help you too. After all, why keep all of life’s secrets.
I find that one of the ways that has helped me in this area is by taking care of myself for a few hours. That means shutting the world out. I usually have one day that’s dedicated to my spiritual practice. That sets the tone for the week.  I write, watch Super Soul Sunday, nap, hang with my cat.
I also have a health regimen which includes visits to the chiropractor, physical therapist and most recently,  an acupuncturist. Those visits help my MS and back pain. It also forces me to be still for a period of time. Time to reflect and sometimes even nap.
I also have a hobby that, believe it or not,  is not theater. Besides writing this blog, I also write poetry. That has been a really amazing outlet. These days my poems have been New York City inspired.  I walk through the city with a different pair of glasses.
The Artists’ Way is a great book to read if you are experiencing a block.  I started to doing the work in it which includes stream of consciousness writing every morning and going on an artist date (see above). I also read one inspirational passage from a book or site.
I try a few times a day to meditate. It’s not sitting cross-legged- fingers- touching- chanting- ohm mediation. Though I have done that. It’s usually just taking a pause and be aware of the present moment.
These practices help me not go off the deep end or into Crazy Town. They help me to listen and to respond in a normal manner. And when none of those work, I just rant for x minutes and try my best to move forward.

Thank You, Boston

I really wanted to blog yesterday. I really wanted to say something poignant. Then I remembered the night I met my idol Patti Smith. I told her that I wanted to say something poignant to her.  She said, “Please don’t.” I smiled and said thank you. Everything I felt about her and her art was summed up in that thank you.

Thank you, Boston. If I didn’t live in my hometown, The Big Apple, I would live in Beantown in a second. Thank you for your chowder in a bread bowl. I don’t eat clams but I’ll eat them at Faneuil Hall. Thank you for having pretty cool ghost tours. Ian and I have been awesomely spooked on your creepy night tours. Thank you for being 5 hours away. I couldn’t go on a full blown honeymoon during my last year of grad school. Yet you were a stone’s throw away and welcoming.  Thank you for being our rival city in baseball. It’s not about baseball now. Thank you for giving me great memories of past travels and for creating new ones.

Thank you. We’ll see you in the summer.

Here are pics from our last jaunt to our city of love.

Imaginary Friends for Life?

Imaginary-FB-Profile_PhotoFor the life of me, I cannot remember my imaginary friend’s name. I do remember us speaking fluent Eurogibberish. I thought that if I just said gibberish with some foreign words thrown in there, it would sound European. This was the thought in a 5 year old’s mind.  “Leghakhgeria” must not have been a good imaginary friend or else I would know her name. She probably let me down. Even at a young age, I was let down by others…who don’t exist. Well, now I am just rambling about vague memories. However, there is a point.

My next and very exciting project is called Imaginary written by my friend, Nick Radu. The story is that Jack Cartwright has passed on after being involved in a tragic car accident. Before passing on to “the other side,” Jack must take on the job as Imaginary Friend to 8-year-old Molly Hamilton. Jack is just another notch in Molly’s candy lipstick case as she has been through six Imaginary Friends already in her short life. Sampson, the angelic spirit in charge of the Imaginary Friend Network, explains the rules of imaginary friending to a reluctant Jack, who finds the task slightly more daunting than he expected.

Now there’s a possibility, I was like Molly to “Leghakhgeria”. I was never a rude child but I was mouthy. I digress. Maybe we didn’t do much together. I was a bookworm as a child who devoured Nancy Drew and Ramona Quimby. Maybe the titian-haired sleuth was my friend. It’s so sad. Oh well.  These days I actually know who my imaginary friends are or as I like to call them, my guardian angels. Whenever I start to get bratty, they make me pause and settle down.  “Leghakhgeria” would never have done that.

I would love to know the name of your imaginary friend and what the two of you loved to talk about in your imaginary fort.

Please share!


This Girl is On Fire (in a good way)

734567_10151366043499422_994910249_nMy synapses have been on fire this week. A burst of energy and inspiration has raced through me over the last few days. When those moments happen, I experience it and allow it to guide me. Spring is here and winter is on it’s way out. Thank goodness because it seems as if the city has awaken from it’s depressed slumber in hopes to get life a-rolling again.

I read every day even if it’s a sentence, a passage, a page or a chapter. This week I came across these:

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, your aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher

“You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go.” – Jeanette Rankin

“No one can make you feel inferior with your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I see not only the potential in myself, but the potential in so many others. I have seen the spark flicker and die. I have also seen the spark flicker and grow into a beautiful flame. Yesterday I actually witnessed a dream come true for one of my loved ones. She knew what she wanted and she worked towards it. Then it came to fruition.

Dreams come true.  Live the best you.  Spring is here. Plan a picnic.