I don’t like buying clothes, I really don’t. I have many reasons for this, some going all the way back to childhood. In 6th grade I started to gain weight and my clothes became tight. I had very few clothes and getting new items was a big deal. I remember my mother taking me to someone’s basement who sold seconds. I remember that person measuring me and using the word “husky.” It was not complementary.
But, dear readers something has happened to me, I lost weight. None of my shirts, pants or belts fit and I have been forced to do the unthinkable, buy clothes.
My early attempts have been at places like Walmart. I liked the anonymity of the big box, but the quality was just not there. I want things that I can wear and wear, and in the long run cheap stuff looks worse and costs more.
I have bought somethings on-line, especially if I can get them on a super sale. Unfortunately, I now know that a large in one brand is not a large in another brand. I have yet to acquire the ability to send things back.
This has left me with shopping at a “men’s store.” In someways there is comfort there. Stylish salesmen with tape measure around their necks, and a look of authority in their eyes. The first time that I went the salesman just looked at me and knew what size I was. Plop went a few shirts with matching ties on a counter… they actually fit!
Recently, I was lured back by a Super Clearance, Black Friday, Pre-Christmas sale. Now, I’m not exactly sure what all of that means in money terms, but it was enough to get me to go to the store. In addition, I had been craftily emailed a coupon worth $50.
Plop went a couple of shirts and ties on the counter. The new salesman commented how versatile the various combos would be. 50% off on the shirts, and also some sort of clearance price. My intellect told me that these shirts were marked up so that they could be marked down. My gut said.. well I bought the shirts.
Since I now go to the gym almost every workday I pack my dress clothes and change into them after I shower. To compound matters, my wife has taken to using the dry cleaner to wash and iron my shirts. They comeback all clean and starched. I only pay attention to them when I’m putting them on.. and so it was today with my new white shirt.
I ran on a treadmill, took a hot shower, brushed my teeth, and shaved. Life was proceeding normally. I took my shirt out of its bag and started to put it on. I was met with French Cuffs. French Cuffs are folded and secured with cufflinks. I don’t have cufflinks, in fact the only time I use them is when I wear a tuxedo. Translation: very rarely, and the tux rental store supplies them.
On my way to work, long French Cuffs, no cufflinks… crap!
I must have been moaning or wailing or something because my friend Tom heard me from another room and came to help. His, “roll your sleeves up and look contemporary and casual” was creative, but perhaps a bit too relaxed for my doctorly role. My continued despair then brought the attention of Hasek (sp).
“Mike, do you need cufflinks?
“I have a spare pair that I can lend you.”
“Can you show me how to put them in?”
As I write this I am well “cufflinked” and doctorly.
The kindness and concern of others always warms me. Tom, with his creative solution. Hasek (sp) with his spare pair of cufflinks (what is the chance of that?) and his willingness to “dress” me.
Today my goal is to celebrate the kind and helpful people in my life. I will also buy a cheap pair of cufflinks on Amazon.
Today, Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US. For me it is a day of reflection and a day of gratitude.
I have so many things to be thankful for. The list is endless. At the moment I am thankful that I was able to jog to my local Starbucks and afford a cup of coffee.
But I am most thankful for the people in my life. I am a shy introvert, but people have found me and loved me. I have many flaws, but they kid me about them instead of ridiculing me because of them. They celebrate my odd quirks, instead of telling me that I’m pathological. They accept my aging looks, rather than finding better looking connections. They value my talents, rather than making me feel like I have to hide them less I make them feel bad. They love me for my intrinsic self, not what they think I should be.
Last night I went to the Fermilab Physics Slam. I had missed a few years, not out of wanting, but because the program was sold out.
You might think it odd that a physics show would be sold out. You might think it odd that kids were present in abundance. This isn’t some physics demonstration pretending to be a magic act, it is real physics science distilled into its essence. Simplified, but not dumbed down. World class physicists, each given 10 minutes to explain incredibly complex topics.
There were retirees in the audience. There were single people and families too. I loved the fact that there were young adults and children there. About a quarter of the audience stood when the MC asked for those 18 and younger. Among them two rows from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, my daughter Kathryn’s former high school.
All of this on a Friday night before the Thanksgiving holiday. There were so many other things that they could have been doing: hanging out with friends, playing video games, snapchatting… but they were at the Physics Slam.
I was there with my wife and my son Will. My daughter Grace had elected to go to a dance instead. A dance sponsored by the Latin (as in ancient language) club that she belongs to. As I write this I realize how bookish my family sounds. If that is the case, so be it. We are who we are, and hopefully there is a place at the table for all of us, no matter how superficially different we appear from each others.
Along for the ride was my friend Tom, his 8 year old son and his son’s friend. I wasn’t so worried about Tom, but I was a bit concerned if talks on particle physics could hold the attention of two young kids. They did fine, they even appeared interested.
For those of you who don’t know it, Fermilab is the largest particle accelerator in the United States. At one time it was the largest particle accelerator in the world. Particle physics explores the tiny particles that make up the most elementary parts of matter. Molecules like water are formed by elements, stuff like hydrogen and oxygen. Elements consist of unique atoms (like an oxygen atom or carbon atom), and atoms are formed by subatomic particles (like electrons, neutrons and protons). You may recall this from school. However, there are other subatomic particles that you may not have heard about, some proven just a few years ago. These tiny units of matter can be formed in an endless series of ways, and create everything physical, including us!
As the brilliant physicists talked it became clear how much they understood, but it was even clearer how much they didn’t know. For example we still don’t understand what gravity is, something that we encounter every second of every day.
The bulk of the universe is not made of the materials that we see around us, it is made up of dark matter and dark energy. We have very little knowledge of these things, but they are slowly taking over our universe.
One scientist talked about a project designed to capture a tiny particle called a neutrino, and to see if that particle would decay into a different type of neutrino. If successful it may show that the model, called the standard model, that we use to understand all of the physical properties of the universe may be incorrect. In other words, if the experiment is successful it will thrown the physics world on its head. We know so much, yet we know so little.
When I was younger I did well with my studies. I scored high on my tests. I thought I knew everything that was important to know. I thought I knew all of the basic information necessary to explain everything. That security didn’t last.
I kept on learning. I kept on thinking. I kept on exploring. The more I did this, the more I realized how little I understood. There were always new ways to think about things. There were always new things to learn. There were always new problems to solve.
What about the complex interplay between physical science and everything else. What is life? Why are somethings living and some not? What is death? Do we have a purpose, a reason for being? Everything that we learn about seems to have an order, a set of rules, a purpose. The universe leaves nothing to chance, why would we be left to chance? Are we part of something greater than ourselves? If so, what is it?
This, of course, brings up the topic of God. A topic that seems safer to discuss on a little read blog like this one.
Our solar system and planet are young in universe time. We have had at least 5 mass extinctions on this planet. The reign of the mammal, and consequently the reign of the human has been incredibly short. Think about the advancement that we have made in the last 200 years. Think about the exponential increase in knowledge that we have had in the last 20 years. Ever escalating, ever moving forward. Things that were unimaginable when I was born are in everyday use today. A young planet, a very young species, and a few accomplishments.
It is popular to be an atheist nowadays. I always ask new patients if they have any religious or spiritual beliefs. As the years go by more say, “No.” I felt similarly when I thought I knew everything, when I thought science was the true god. I think differently now.
In our short time existing in this universe we have made great strides. Think of the vast number of galaxies in our universe, and the even larger number of solar systems, stars and planets. Is it possible that life exists elsewhere? To think otherwise seems ludicrous. Is it possible that that some life could be so much more advanced than ours as to have godlike powers? Although theoretical, I would certainly say yes. Let’s be honest, there is no way that we are top dog in the universe. Could an advanced intelligence exist before our universe? Why not. We know that the universe was born out of a small singularity almost 14 billion years ago. What existed before that?
Does that intelligence(s) have a vested interest in us? Now we are talking about faith. My life’s course has led me to believe that it does. You are left to your own beliefs.
There are many religions on this planet, and in the name of God many terrible crimes have been committed. Humans have the ability to subvert, and that subversion uses whatever is available to achieve an end. The name of God has been used to control behavior, hate others and start wars. Subversion.
Although I feel religion can be helpful to focus on a Spiritual life, it is a tool not an end to itself.
What I am talking about is my acceptance that there are powers much greater than me, and that those powers have an interest in me as an individual. It is a wonderfully comforting thought that holds reality for me. For me, God is not an “opium for the masses,” God is a reality, just like gravity is a reality. Gravity exists despite the fact that the greatest minds on the planet can’t explain it.
The Fermilab Physics Slam impressed me with the genius of humankind. It showed me how much we know, and it also demonstrated how little we know. Our minds are limited but ever expanding. Today I will celebrate this truth. I will also find comfort in the knowledge that I’m not alone. A matter of faith perhaps, but isn’t most of life that?
When I left my house for the gym at 4:20 AM, it was crystal clear outside. When I left the gym to have coffee with a friend, it was crystal clear outside. When I left that meeting and drove to my office the world was enveloped in fog.
It was a dense, thick fog. White with a slight bluish tinge. Creamy and homogenous. It was beautiful.
Fog can make things look softer. Fog can make noise sound quieter. Today’s fog did all of that, but was absent of the cold wetness that some fog can bring.
As I write this the fog is starting to leave. The park across the street from my office now looks more misty than foggy. Soon my view will be clear again. Objects in sharp focus, identifiable and measurable. The mystery of the morning gone.
I wonder if we always have to see things in crystal clarity. Sometimes a foggy view can be a pleasant change. A change to a softer, quieter reality.
In a healthy significant relationship I love unconditionally.
Love is a term that everyone thinks they understand, but it can have many different meanings. I may love a great movie, but that is totally different than the love that I can feel towards a significant relationship. Within any relationship there may be different kinds of love.
I know individuals who believe that love will solve all of their relationship problems. This, of course, is not the case. I also am aware that some people feel that love should be effortless and automatic. Like most things of value, love requires work and attention.
I want to love the significant relationships in my life unconditionally, and without restriction. I want the significant relationships in my life to love me unconditionally, and without restriction. With that said, unconditional love is not a get out of jail free card.
By unconditional love I am referring to love that is not given or taken away based on conditions or expectations. Unconditional love means that I love my relationships because they are worthy of my love based on who they are intrinsically. My love for a relationship is not contingent on a what have you done for me lately basis.
I am responsible for my behaviors and actions, and my significant relationships are responsible for theirs. It is possible for me to unconditionally love a relationship and still be upset about an action or behavior that they are displaying. It is healthy to have an open line of communications with my relationships in which I can discuss both positive and negatives aspects of our connections. It is necessary to work with my relationships on rough spots in our connections if I expect those connections to deepen and flourish.
Today my goal to to unconditionally love the significant relationships in my life.
Grace has been after me to make bread, as she likes the 100% whole wheat loaves that I craft. Naturally, I think that all projects are more enjoyable when done with someone, and today Gracie is my co-baker.
There is a certain awe that I have with breadmaking. The ingredients are simple: whole wheat flour, honey, a little salt, yeast and water. However, the results are extraordinary.
This batch will make 5 or 6 loaves. I always think that we will have too much, but the kids love it, and it disappears quickly. Great by itself, or as a part of a sandwich. So much better than the spongy stuff that we purchase in plastic bags at the grocer.
I love the chemistry that bread making teaches us. The microbiology of yeast. The biochemistry of gluten. The chemical changes That happen when soggy dough is tempered by the radiant heat of an oven.
I like the idea of breaking bread for people that I care about. The simple act of sharing food, an act that had real significance in bygone days of famine. An act that has equal significance in current days of plenty.
With the exception of work related eating we tend to eat with people that we care about. This simple tradition becomes even more significant in meals where some of the food is homemade. It takes effort to prepare food, and it takes trust to eat food that is prepared by others. The combination, more significant than a handshake, more significant than complimentary words.
Tonight our dinner will include freshly baked 100% whole wheat bread. That will account for at least 1 loaf. Another loaf will be gifted to a friend, another loaf will be eaten tomorrow. The remaining loves will find their way to the freezer, but they will likely be gone by the end of the week.
Such a simple food is bread. So simple to make and so enjoyable to make it with someone. So easy to eat, and so much fun to share with people that I care about.
Some people make breadmaking complicated, but it really can be simple and fun.
Some people make life complicated, but it really can be simple and fun.
I guess it is our choice.
Today my goal is to celebrate the simplicity of homemade bread, as I concentrate on continuing my life’s path along a simple course.
I have never been much of a spectator sports fan, likely because I’m not very good at sports. I’m blind in one eye, and my coordination is generally sub-par. As a kid I never imagined become a sports superhero, and I never looked at an athlete as a role model.
I accept the fact that many athletes do demonstrate exceptional skill and dedication, but since I couldn’t relate to their efforts, these attributes fell flat on me.
The roar of the crowd tends to grate on me, and I often find my mind wandering when I obligingly watch a game with others.
There is an exception to my laissez faire attitude, that exception being when a local team moves into a championship competition. It is odd to me that I can go from completely uninterested to very interested in short order. And so it is with the Chicago Cubs.
I am suddenly watching games, texting comments during the game to friends, and looking up information on the internet. Normally, my attitude towards a sporting event is lower than neutral. After all, the outcome will have little impact on the real world. With the Cubs in the World Series I feel differently. A 108 year drought, hexes, billy goats and bad karma… and I sit, and watch, and wait.
Last night I was certain that the Cubs would lose and I unconsciously found myself doing other things. That is until I got a text message with the simple statement, “Go Cubs.” I ran upstairs and flipped on the TV and watched slow action and slow motion collide into a magical dance of interest. Eventually, I went to bed waiting to be greeted by bad news in the morning. In contrast I was welcomed by their win. Now, they have to win two more games… just two more. I’m uncertain if I can stand it.
Perhaps the reason that I don’t watch spectator sports isn’t because I can’t identify with the athletes or their teams, perhaps it is because I become over invested. Another demonstration of my compulsivity. To have a life I need to detach and focus on other things. Two more games or will it be one more game… and then the Presidential election comes… ARGH!
In a good relationship I need to be solution focused
I live in a society that loves to play the blame game, and it is easy to fall into that mindset. When problems arise I can blame my relationship as an easy out. How often do I see couples engage in combat rather than working together to solve a problem.
It can feel temporarily good to discharge a frustration by blaming my relationship. There can be an immediate pleasure in such an action, and it often will temporarily delay dealing with the real life issue.
Unfortunately, temporary is just that, and if I pursue a blaming course of action I am certain to to face the same problem again and again. I want the relationships in my life to be productive and strong. I want them to withstand the difficulties that all connections are bound to face.
If I work with my relationship to solve problems, my relationship itself becomes stronger and the connection with my relationship grows deeper. I know that working together with someone opens both of our minds to new solutions and better outcomes. I understand that the act of coming up with a mutually acceptable solution to a problem serves as additional relationship cement. The immediate effort may seem hard, but the long term impact can be great, and can serve as a template for relationship solutions when other problems arise.
Today my goal is to be a solution focused person in my significant relationships.
In a good relationship I don’t expect the other person to make me happy.
I live in a what have you done for me lately world. I can meet any need at any time. Go grocery shopping at midnight? No problem! How about a eating a 4 course dinner at 2 AM? Easy! Can I purchase a hard to find item on Sunday at 9 PM? Absolutely! My life has become a life of instant gratification. I can get what I want, when I want it.
With impersonal texting it is easy for me to become self-serving, instead of serving. I don’t need to ask you how you are or how your day has been, all I need to do is text you with my request. Get together? Text! Do something for me? Text! Cancel an important event? Text!
My instant world has some unfortunate consequences. It can become easy for me to think of the important relationships in my life as objects, whose purpose is to serve me. Once I cross into that territory I can become insensitive to my relationship’s needs, and become only focused on my needs.
It can become easy to expect my relationship to make me feel happy, smart, funny or complete. Sometimes the excitement of a new relationship may make me feel artificially better about myself. However, that false belief quickly evaporates as a relationship grows, matures and becomes real.
It is up to me to develop my own sense of self. In fact, to give this power to another person is a disservice to both parties.
Indeed, a good relationship can make me a better person. However, the work has to be mine. I don’t want to be in a relationship that has a negative impact on me, but it is a mistake to constantly run from one relationship to another seeking an elusive and false sense of happiness. By working to improve myself, and by working to be a good relationship partner I grow, as does the relationship.
Today my goal is to cherish the important relationships in my life. Today my goal is to understand that my happiness and fulfillment need to come from within me.
I have a confession to make to you, I didn’t like my childhood very much. Although I will sometimes talk to my siblings about those years, I more often just pack away the memories and I live in the present. This has worked pretty well for me, but at a cost.
As I continue to grow emotionally it has become evident that my solution is not without flaw. To coin a well worn cliche, You shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
To go further in today’s tale I must broach a topic that some of you may find uncomfortable. That is the topic of a Higher Power, specifically a Higher Power who has a direct interest and concern for us. It isn’t fashionable to talk about such things in the nihilistic world that we live in. However, dear reader, this blog is a writing experiment for me. For this experiment to have any personal value I need it to be real. I’m less concerned about appealing to the masses than I am about my personal growth.
Over the years I have felt the power of something greater than me push me in various directions. Sometimes those directions have seemed nonsensical. Other times I have had outright resistance to them, as they seemed contrary to my personal vision. However, when I give in, the reasons why eventually becomes very evident.
One push has been to rediscover who I am ethnically, which means that I also need to rediscover and revisit my childhood. I am mostly Eastern European, with my grandparents on both side immigrating to the US in the early 1900’s. My parents could speak their native tongue (especially if they didn’t want us to understand what they were saying), and my mother cooked ethnic food. When I made a commitment to extricate myself from the discomfort that I called childhood I bundled together anything that reminded me of those times. Along the way I packed away who I was ethnically. I felt embarrassed that I had different customs and ate different foods than what I saw on the TV shows like Ozzie and Harriet.
Slowly, I have been given lessons in the importance of accepting my total self. That total self includes who I am ethnically. That total self includes my childhood.
One lesson started many years ago when I reconnected with my extended family. Another lesson has been more recent, the teachers being my children. Their friends come from many ethnic and racial backgrounds. Although all American, each group continues to celebrate their heritage with dedication and pride. When I see the value that they place in their heritage, it makes me want to value mine.
Recently I had another lesson, in the form of my friend Tom. Although Tom has lived in the US for many years he was born and raised in Poland, because of this he has a vast knowledge of Eastern European life .
Last Sunday I was visiting with Tom. Our schedule, the usual. Coffee, talk of food, brainstorming big ideas, and an errand or two. We finished a project and Tom looked at me with great seriousness and told me that he had a surprise for me. Surprises always peak my interest, and I was finally clued in that he was going to (paraphrase) re-introduce me to my culture. I’m not Polish, but pretty close.
After a very long car ride we arrived at Celina’s grocery in Lemont. A storefront establishment in a strip mall. After securing a grocery cart we proceeded. The immediate feeling that I had was an old one that was both familiar and comforting. Celina’s was full of products that would be alien to most, but felt instantly familiar to me. Canned products, sausages, bakery, bottles of items. Foods that I had forgotten for decades became immediately present in my head. Kiolbassa , kolach, jelly filled donuts, kapusta, brown mustard… on and on.
Tom moved up and down the aisles with the confidence that experienced shoppers have, as he tossed items into the cart. Some items for him, others for me. I returned home with two sacks of food.
That evening I prepared my re-found delicacies for dinner. Two kinds of sausage, brown mustard, dense sunflower bread, a smoked fish and a can of potted meat. Sliced and placed on serving platters, the taste test was a Kuna family affair.
I pulled off some of the smoked fish and placed in on my plate along with a thick piece of bread. I first took a bite of the fish, and without swallowing it, I took a bite of the bread. The process was automatic, as it was based on memories from childhood. The smoky, oily flavor of the fish perfectly balanced by the flat denseness of the bread. Instantly I was transported back to my past.
It is Saturday morning, I am sitting at our old chrome and Formica kitchen table with a melamine plate before me. The plate contains a smoked chub and a piece of solid rye bread with caraway seeds. My memory takes a bite of fish, and without swallowing it, takes a bite of bread. The memory feels good and there is a yearning for more memories.
I have tapped into a happy time when my parents would come home from the grocery store with bags of goodies. Smoked fish needs to be eaten quickly, as it quickly spoils. I can smell and hear the popping sound of coffee being brewed on the stove in a beat up percolator. At my side is my dog Bowser, begging for a treat. Our cheap Aiwa table radio sits on the old Kenmore refrigerator and it is playing music. The old 1920s style sink is filled with dishes, and conversation is bustling. Lively conversations, similar to those that I have with my own children.
The feeling is the feeling of belonging, not a feeling of being apart. The feeling shocks me. The feeling reminds me. It reminds me that my childhood did have some balance. It reminds me that it did have moments of happiness and contentment.
Suddenly I am longing for my aunt’s poppyseed cake, my mother’s famous goulash, and to hear the old phonograph playing the Kingston Trio and Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes. I want to experience the pleasure of Saturday morning cartoons and the Sunday funny papers.
I want the excitement that comes with the thought of the endless possibilities of what I could become. I want to phone my friend John on the old black rotary phone in the dining room, and have one of our many conversations whose only purpose was to let the other person know that we wanted to connect with them. I want to ride my Huffy bike to the park, sit on cement blocks, and smell freshly cut grass.
This flood of feelings travels over me like a wave of warm water. A wave that carries me off and away, if only for a moment.
The wave does not have the malice of the memories that I had buried. Instead, it feels innocent and hopeful. It reminds me of a time when I could take junk from the basement and create something useful and unique. A time when I could learn something for the very first time and be in awe of the information. The wave brings me closer to who I truly am, and further away from what people want me to be or expect me to be.
I find it amazing how God brings people into our lives, and how those people can take us in a direction where we didn’t even know we wanted to go to. The psychotherapy of smoked fish and dense bread.