What’s In A Name?

I want to give you a quick warning that this may get weird for those of you who don’t like history or philosophy of faith, but bare with me (pun fully intended).

Those of you who have had in-person conversations with me have probably heard these words come out of my mouth, “People like naming things. It is what we do well, it helps us understand.” I think that you have to be respectful of peoples’ names for themselves. If you have had a private, perhaps late-night or intoxicated, conversation with me you may have heard me say something like: “Naming a thing is not the same as knowing it,” or, “You can’t name a path that you are on.”

Part of this view comes from my understanding of the universe around me. That understanding is very influenced by the Tao Te Ching, particularly the day that I read, “You cannot push a river.” I won’t get into the evolution of what that means inside of my head; instead I will tell you what that means to me in thinking about my own name.

My name is Carlos Durant del Rio. That means (roughly): Man Enduring of the River or Strong Endurance of the River.

Depending on the day, I have distinctly different feelings about the river, but I can’t really escape it. That has been in many ways how I have seen my life–surviving or persevering through life. Both my dad and my granddad had the same name: Guardian (Protector) of the River. It’s kind of like Granddad passed his job on to his son. And, in turn, my dad gave me the job of trying to be part of the river.

Days went by, as they are so wont to do, and I met (and much later) married Rose. When she decided to take my name it had a great deal of symbolism for me, like she was committing to get in the river with me. So, get this, her name now means Little Apple Flower of the River. At this point you may be saying “Shut the fridge-door!” No, really, that is her name–she was sort of pre-made to be the little thing that makes the river less terrible.

But, wait there’s more!

I kinda knew exactly what I wanted to name our baby, like immediately, well before we decided to get married I knew I would name my son Rockford. Somewhere in my heart, I knew what I wanted to pass on, what I wanted the next step to be.

We named our son Rockford Jay del Rio. Jay has a variety of meanings, depending on the line you trace, but if I can pass any of them on I will be happy.

Rockford Jay del Rio == (Victorious/Happy/Swift) Rock Crossing of the River.

Okay, the woo-woo stuff is over now. Here comes the big finish…

There is power in naming. Neighbor, Friend, Lover, Family, ‘Ohana, Child, Mentor, you get it (I hope). One of the key components of communication is clarity, and love needs communication. You should give your love a name to give it power.

Rockford and Carlos

Talking about Talking

You know that old saying about what happens when we assume; we make an ass out of u and me! Except, when it comes to relationships, it’s not so much “make an ass” as “make a mess.” Perhaps the most basic assumption we make is that we know how to talk to people.

The truth, though, can be a little more complicated. Even with the person I talk to most, I still run into places where my skills need sharpening, and where we have to work together to find tools that work to keep both of us on the same page. Over time, Carlos and I have come to a series of agreements about how we handle ourselves in substantive conversations.

  • Assume best intentions. We have a partnership; the end goal is always to make things better, for ourselves, our kid, our marriage, the people around us. We’re human and we make mistakes, but we don’t work to actively hurt one another. Even when what we’re talking about isn’t “an important issue,” we still try to work under the assumption that the goal is better understanding, not just arguing.
  • We are on the same team. When we sit down to work out an issue, we make an effort to remember that we are working together. It’s not about winning, or proving a point. The purpose is to work out an issue together. Yes, we get into knitty-gritty stuff, and it’s hard. It can be especially hard when the issue at hand is something that one of us is doing; it can be easy to feel personally defensive. In this case, it’s good to remember that it’s being discussed because we care about one another; we’d probably let it slide if we weren’t committed to making our partnership work.
  • A person’s feelings are not up for debate. When someone says they have a feeling, that is to be taken as an inarguable fact. What is done with that feeling is a different matter. Actions can be right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. How we feel is not to be argued with, or asked to change. It’s fair to say “I don’t understand that feeling,” or to ask for more explanation. We’re not always going to understand what’s at the root of feelings, but talking about them can give us insight. And then we can talk about actions.
  • Keep it relevant. Talk about the issue at hand. Don’t change the subject or look for a place where you can “gain back ground” by being right. On this note: don’t make personal attacks, or bring up “old shit.” If something comes up that needs another discussion, set aside some time for it.
  • Be aware of yourself. Learn to read your own physical state, and how it can affect your communication. Body language, facial expressions, even breathing can be a signal. Sometimes, they’re saying more to your partner than they are to you. Learn to take a moment to check your own state – maybe you didn’t realize that you were making a face that looks like a scowl, or that your voice was rising in volume. Taking a moment to calm your breathing or slow down can be give the conversation a minute to relax as well.
  • Know when to take a break. Some conversations just aren’t going anywhere. It’s ok to take a short break, or a long one. When discussing an “important issue” with a partner, walking away forever is not a good option, but taking a step back can make a huge difference. Have a specific place, outlet, or time. For example: walk different directions around the block, go to different rooms for 5 minutes, or do some dishes–something that enforces separation and has a clear return point. Come back together and leave the petty stuff behind.
  • Say what you mean. This can take practice. You’re going to say the wrong thing sometimes, and that creates an opportunity to be better the next time. You can practice on your own, or with a third party. Say it outloud, so you can hear it. Write it down before you bring it up. I know I can get caught up in my head, and wrong ideas start making sense. Get some sunshine on them.
  • Examine your own position. If something is a hot button issue for you, try to understand why. It’s better for you and your conversation partners if you know where you’re coming from, and spending time examining your own beliefs will make you better able to articulate them, and to choose which ones are actually of use to you.
  • Be aware of your audience. Think about who you’re talking to, what you know about them, how your interactions with them have gone in the past. If you want to make actual progress, keep your conversational partner in mind when putting your thoughts into words. If you’re just looking for someone to yell at, try not to aim it at your partner.

Of course, neither of us always lives up to the standards that we shoot for, but that doesn’t mean that the goal is any less worthy. When we talk to people outside our relationship, these same guidelines apply. Conversation and learning are good, arguing for no reason is not. Unless given reason to do otherwise, we assume that people are coming to a conversation with good intentions, and we treat them with respect. My goal is still to work toward making things better, to find common ground and create more space for love.

photo credit: sachmanns.dk

Swimming Up River – A Chinook

I bought a van last week–a 1986 Ford Chinook!

We don’t have a name for it yet. But, this is why I have been less active on the blog, and on Twitter, lately. I have been tearing the van down to its bones.

Interior Cab

I’ve already taken out the bench-seat/bed and freshwater tank to clean and renovate them. I am also tearing up carpet, lots of carpet. I’m fairly certain the previous owner derived sexual pleasure from carpeting, because there are places where there are two layers of different carpet.

Interior shot - Chinook

Over the next few weeks I am checking all of my lines (water, propane, electric), reinstalling insulation, and re-upholstering to make this into a more perfect dominion–and to make as energy efficient as possible. Once I have the interior torn out I will update more frequently with what it looks like to bring a 1986 Chinook into the 21st century.

If you have any suggestions for what we should name it please put those in the comments!

Pulling together

A recent conversation between my mom and me:

“ALL THE SWEAR WORDS!” I yelped, from the pile of scrap wood and last year’s fallen leaves under the back deck. “I’m going to need medical assistance.”

“What happened? Are you OK?” She came around the corner just in time to see me pull my shoe off my foot, along with the two inch galvanized nail I had stepped on. Without missing a beat (and without passing even the tiniest bit of stress to the grandbaby she was still carrying), “oh, yeah, that’s a good wound. Don’t look at it! Sit down! Some people get freaked out by seeing their own blood.”

“No, I’m fine,” looking at a growing puddle of red under my toes, “I don’t mind seeing my own blood nearly as much as I mind seeing Rock’s.”

The irony of the situation was not lost on me.

Thankfully, as far as nail-in-the-foot stories go, this one is as good as can be hoped for. I was wearing almost-brand-new shoes (so, little risk of the most common type of bacterial infection from this injury), the nail was galvanized (no rust!), and my tetanus shot is current. All of that being said, man, foot injuries are the worst! This one happened to coincide with a recurrence of pain from that time I crashed the Vespa a little bit on my other foot (made yet worse by treating a plantar wart IN THE SAME SPOT). So, basically, at this point I’m like an invalid Victorian lady. I can do anything! As long as it doesn’t involve walking or standing. Thank goodness I’ve gotten over my pathological hatred of swimming, so I can get some exercise.

This is yet another situation in which I am incredibly grateful to be living among a big team all pulling together. It takes a village, because we all need some taking care of now and then. I certainly need my share, but it’s reassuring to know that I am in a place where I can give it as much as I get it (I was doing yard work, after all).

Image credit: inky

Being A Lover

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover..
A short sampling of ways to leave your be a lover:

You just slip out the back, Jack
(No need to make a scene – being a lover is not always about you.)

Make a new plan, Stan
(Be flexible! Change is constant, be ready for it.)

You don’t need to be coy, Roy
(Say what you mean. It’s easier on everyone.)

Just listen to me
(Be a learner! Take instruction.)

Hop on the bus, Gus
(Say yes to things! Also, go places!)

You don’t need to discuss much
(This may or may not be true, actually. Communication is important.)

Just drop off the key, Lee
(Know when to let go. Let someone else drive.)

And get yourself free
(Love shouldn’t be a cage. Practice nonattachment!)

You’ll notice, none of these ways have anything to do with makin’ love, as people’s parents say (do they even still say that?). For us here at Grumpy Pie (that is, Carlos and Rose), being a lover is not (only) about sex or romance. It’s about investing time and energy into the things that matter to us. Being a (classical) lover is about investing that time & energy into a romantic and/or sexual partner. Being a parent is also a way to be a lover: you give your kid time and energy and attention and thought. We give ours kitchen tools to play with and raspberries on his fat belly; maybe you give yours music lessons or tickle attacks. We think being a friend should get the same kind of attention. We chose our friends for many of the same reasons that we chose our paramours, although not by exactly the same criteria.

We believe there are as many ways to be a lover as there are relationships in which to do it. Thank you for supporting our plan to share them with you!

Sharing Your Joy

Back in the Pleistocene, circa 2001, I was dating this one.

Her name is Laura Jean; if you read Blue Like Jazz, she is Chapter 5. One day, in between clumsy courtship, whimsical adventures, and discussions of the genius of Kurt Vonnegut she said  (I shit you not), ” No one co-joys.  I mean, everyone is willing to share in your misery, but hardly anyone wants to share your joy.  More people should co-joy!”

This is the first time that I had someone put this into words. These days it is a concept that I spend a lot of time talking about. It is often referred to as compersion, or frubble. It has many names, but my favorite is still co-joy.

One of the very important things to remember is that it’s not just about sharing the joy of other people, but also, sharing the things that bring you joy. One of the traps that many of us fall into is only ever talking about the things that we disagree with, or that we find unpleasant. Only ever talking about the things that make you unhappy makes you a real buzzkill be around. It also leaves the people that you like unaware of your positive feelings.

This week one of my goals is to share my joy. To show my love by telling people the things I like about them, and sharing with people the things I know that might please them too. #50love

Clear floor, clear mind

I think that if you told me 15 years ago that I would be finding comfort and calm in cleaning up other people’s mess, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here I am, covered in dust and happy as a clam.

I’m writing this from a break in my bi-annual (no, tri-annual?) expedition into cleaning my parents’ garage. Last year I spent some (but not really enough) time fighting through a friend’s basement, and the year before that I put a beat-down on my sister’s patio/miscellany-pile. While it wasn’t the highlight of that vacation, it was still a satisfying morning.

The garage is easy for me because none of what I’m cleaning is mine, and there’s a big pay-off. Cobwebs, sawdust, plaster dust, cat hair, everything goes into the shop-vac.

One of my elementary school teachers had a sign that said something like, “If a messy desk means a messy mind, what does an empty desk mean?” The implication here is that an empty mind is a bad thing, of course, but there’s another side to it. An clear desk isn’t really empty, and neither is an clear mind.

For me, remembering to meditate helps keep my mind cleared out of cobwebs and dust. I can’t meditate for anyone else, but I can help make a little space in the world feel clearer. Part of this is purely selfish – I’m storing a bunch of stuff in that garage, and our life literally always benefits from less cat hair in the environment. Beyond that, the nature of cleaning (engaging the body in action while making few demands on the mind) is an easy meditative space for me to enter. But it’s not only selfish – I have the resources (time, strength, non-attachment) to take on the challenge of a dusty garage or overflowing patio, and applying them makes one corner of the world clearer and more functional. “Clear floor, clear mind” is a goal that we often use, especially when things are feeling chaotic. It’s easy to get started, and highly impactful, and transferable. Of course, I can’t clear your mind, but I can clear the way to your toolbench so you can do your own mind-clearing meditative thing.

Is it possible that we can apply “many hands makes light work” to the intensely-personal work of meditation? I do really love to sit in a group setting, much more than sitting on my own. More research is definitely called for!

An upside to Jealousy

Jealousy is a funny thing. It can creep up on a person in sneaky and unexpected ways, but it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing when it shows up.

Carlos and I have been apart for a month. For a month, he’s been sleeping alone, while I’ve had the company of our wiggly, gassy baby and our wiggly, gassy dog.

He spent a month jealous of the time that I was getting to spend with our littles, of the warm embrace of family bed, and hands-on parenting. He wasn’t seething with jealousy, but he felt pain at missing out on the things that he loves, which is entirely reasonable.

While he was enduring that hardship, I was dealing with the flip side: during one lovely afternoon, my folks watched Rockford while I took a three hour nap. That nap was the longest I’ve slept alone in a bed since immediately post-partum. And let me tell you, that was some sweet, glorious sleep. I think the dog might have been in bed with me, but no human hands touched me while I was sleeping. I didn’t have a lingering eye on whether Rock was going to take a dive off the edge of the bed. It was, without question, some of the most restful sleep that I can remember having.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love co-sleeping, I love our baby, I love family bed. I am not unsupported. But while Carlos was jealous of my time with our family, I was jealous of the unencumbered, quiet sleep he was getting away from us.

I guess this is another of those “the grass is always greener” situations that come up all the time in relationships. I might be totally jealous of the things that I imagine when I look into your world, but I have no idea what it’s actually like to be in there, or what you see when you look out. Of course, that’s not always true – we can talk about things and gain some understanding and perspective. As we grow in relationships with people, we gain insight into their drives and needs and desires. Carlos didn’t have to tell me that he missed sleeping with us, and I wasn’t surprised when he did. He doesn’t get ‘touched out,’ but he knows what I mean when I talk to him about it.

Often when we talk about jealousy, especially in romantic-partner relationships, there’s a feeling in the room that no good can ever come of it. Certainly no good comes from internalizing it and stewing, but we think there’s a strong case to be made for recognizing and talking about the feelings that come up in life. This is a small-stakes example – we were in this set of circumstances for a limited amount of time, and for specific reasons. Nonetheless, it presented Carlos and me with the opportunity to practice and refine one of the basic skills that keeps our relationship working – active, thoughtful communication. It’s not rocket science, but it is a tool, and like any tool you want to use, it needs to be kept sharp.

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Friday I’m In Love

Friday is my favorite day.

Today, it was sunny, although not warm. I swam ten (10!) laps.* Rockford put himself down for a nap!

I get to see my husband so soon! We ate lazy dinner and took Rock on a grand adventure to the grocery store, and washed umpteen loads of laundry.

Friday is taking-care-of-business day, make-hay-while-the-sun-shines day. It’s clean all the floors, get out of doors, baby dinosaur, four on the floor.

It is not, however, the easiest day to get my brain and body to settle into writing. At least, not in a way that fits well into the flow of the day. I get caught up in doing, and thinking-meditating-breathing while doing, and can’t quite get a hold of writing.

Just now, I’m writing while Rock is roaring around the living room, and Joe’s keeping an eye on my cookies. It’s not late, but I’m tired. Happy, productive tired, but still, tired. So I have a bit of a conundrum on my hands; how do I come to writing so that I can give it the love it needs?

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*only 10, not 10!, math sticklers.

You never can tell

Every single one of us carries some kind of front out into the world. It’s necessary; to go out with no barrier between your tender insides and the vicissitudes of the everyday world is no way to live. There is too much out there, both good and bad, and carrying at least a small piece of protection against the tides is a basic act of self-preservation.

Some of our shields are obvious, or near enough. With just enough knowledge about the bigger picture, it’s easy to see how an inscrutable expression and a biting tongue provide shelter for an ego that can’t weather any more wounds. The more you know about a person’s sore spots, the easier it is to see how they build their defenses.

For some of us, though, the fronts we build and carry with us are not obvious. To the outside observer, they often don’t look like defenses at all. It becomes easy to forget that the engaged and argumentative extrovert arguing art with a stranger at the bar is still a fragile soul out in the world.

I guess maybe there are people out there for whom this actually isn’t true. Maybe some of us really do walk the world with no fear, no uncertainty, no unresolved ache that can’t or won’t be soothed. I wish I could say I don’t envy them, but the truth is that I do, and it doesn’t matter. Every one of us has our own row to hoe, and while the grass may look greener from over here, there’s just no way for us to ever truly know what someone else’s experience is.

As I have made my way through this scary and liberating process of opening up my windows and airing out my (metaphorical) house, I have been incredibly touched by the number of people who have reached out to me. While I know, objectively, in my brain, that other people have been in the places I am, it can be easy to forget that. While showing you my pain doesn’t always feel to me like an act of love, the inverse is not true. When you let me see your struggle, when you say “me too,” I feel the love.

The thing that I keep learning and remembering every day through is process is this: everyone has troubles, and everyone deserves compassion. It is easy (for me, at least) to feel compassion for someone whose façade I recognize as a reflection of my own, but the other, tougher people in the world need that loving-kindness just as dearly, and often more so.

After the publication of some of our recent posts about depression, I (Rose) have gotten many kind words, and I thank you for them. Today, please look around you, and reach out to someone who seems invincible (hint: the other del Rio). I promise you, they need it.