Friday, June 8, 2007

Masculinity and/or Femininity

Talk about explosive words. These terms pack a lot of power and conjure many images of heroes and heroines, dominant and submissive behavior, wild and domestic natures, deep thoughts and deep feelings, and, of course, sexuality.

Last night, I had a discussion with two other male friends about faith. During the conversation, one said about men that failure to recognize and develop our masculinity was a prominent problem in today's society. We need to remember that we are men and that means being masculine. In addition, women continually test us and frequently destroy that characteristic in us. It isn't that they want to destroy it. Rather, they want to be sure we're sturdy and dependable in our masculinity. Most men fail the test.

Consider this analogy. Have you heard of the 'terrible twos'? A child will only feel secure when a parent responds firmly, yet calmly, to his or her first attempts at expressing independence using highly emotional and erratic behavior. If the parent maintains gentle control and the child feels loved and that authority has been properly maintained, both of them benefit.

To make matters worse, these characteristics, masculinity and femininity, are represented as outward appearances by mass media. We seem to glorify and hold in high esteem those few individuals who qualify as genuine heroes and heroines. They have matured in their masculinity or femininity. What's more, maturity itself seems to be completely optional for most people and probably more relevant for college professors. In general, it seems too difficult to bother endeavoring to be mature. "I have enough to do."

I looked on my bookshelf and discovered I had accumulated a mass of books that at least touched on the subject of masculinity, especially from a spiritual perspective, if they didn't address it directly. (Part of my motivation to buying and reading such material was to clear the confusion created by my upbringing. I didn't have a very well-developed sense of identity. See Sweeping Dust Bunnies for some insight into my past.) I've gained a lot of insight from these books. But I'd like to hear, and share, the insights of those who read this blog.

What are your thoughts about these terms? Are men not masculine? Which ones are? Do women test men? (Is this a well-kept secret that should remain so?) When are women feminine? Should these characteristics be understood and sought? Or, should we seek a balance with some of both? Deep in your heart, what characteristics do you desire for yourself and your partner (whether or not there is a partner)?

Final Note: I used to think God required clear delineations of masculine and feminine roles between males and females in order to be truly saved Christians. 

But, I discovered that attitude was simply the leftover scraps falling from grand tables of the many religions and denominations traditionally gathered to celebrate in their own self-righteous festivals. 

Instead, I invite you to read about lifestyles in this blog to see what I discovered Scripture (the Holy Bible, or God's word) really had to say about becoming a Christian. Peace be with you!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Sweeping Dust Bunnies

I was going to write a piece on creativity in general this morning. But, I decided to focus on a common theme I encountered while gathering material for this piece: how to set creativity free where it was once stifled. Even this particular angle leaves much to write about. So, I'll go one step further and make it personal to try to narrow it down. What were some of the factors that stifled my creativity? What are/were some of the tools I use/used to free my creativity? What blocks to creativity do I still encounter?

A. What were some of the factors that stifled my creativity?
1. Parents Just Don't Understand (a song title by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Will Smith) - a humorous music video that pokes fun at this parent-child relationship. This factor does not apply to some people, but it probably applies to many people who don't realize it. Your story may be very different from mine, but the factor may be (or was) present nevertheless.

My parents divorced when I was young and I lived with my mother until I was eighteen.

My mother stifled my creativity because she did not encourage activity except what was necessary, such as schoolwork and chores. Oh, I played and pretended. But, I had to escape my mother in order to be creative. Eventually, my 'creativity' took the form of rebellion by the time I was a teenager.

My father stifled my creativity because his creativity took the spotlight. He was fun, interesting, and entertaining to be around - so long as you wanted to do what he wanted to do. (I sometimes see myself in that way towards my own son. Yuck! See the third question below.)

They were both 'functioning alcoholics.' This basically means they drank without falling down. But I didn't learn this truth about them until I was well into my thirties. Boy, was I in the dark!

2. Constant Constriction of Creativity in the Classroom - Talk about an environment for stifling creativity! At least I went to public school. I've heard that some (most?) Catholic schools were worse. It's common to hear someone who went to Catholic school use the word 'survived'. Ouch!

School was all about coloring inside the lines. Getting the right answer. Southwest Airlines, and that creative crew, once advertised for employment with a large drawing that had the outline of a cartoon figure. There were different colored crayon marks scribbled all over the page. The ad said, "We're looking for people who color outside the lines."

To make school matters worse, by the time you hit college you're told, "we're are looking for original thought." Well, I ask, why was it discouraged for 12 years prior to college? School reminds of the saying, "You're unique! Just like everyone else." Why did being unique feel like conformity?

3. Group Think and Peer Pressure and Conformity! Oh my! - This was especially prevalent in the corporate environment in which I worked for way too long. I got into computer programming in the mid-80's I loved the brain-tickling challenge. But then, I slowly realized there were ten unwritten commandments to acceptable corporate behavior.

Some of them were things like: thou shalt have no higher priority in life than work for this company; thou shalt strive always to climb the corporate ladder we have provided at the pace we determine; thou shalt always reflect an attitude of seriousness and contentment with thy job; thou shalt continually strive to learn the jargon we dump on you, and the more you learn, the more we dump; and thou shalt covet, but not threaten, thy boss' position. After a while, 'Yes, Master' seemed like an appropriate response. Too bad this was the real thing and not "Young Frankenstein."

C. What are/were some of the tools I use/used to free my creativity?
5. Therapy - Yeah, I had to do this, even psychotherapy and psychodrama at the Caron Foundation. But, boy oh boy, am I ever glad I did! Yippee!! (I was going to say 'Yahoo!', but that has other connotations.) Through therapy I was able to largely disarm the 'Terrible Triggers' and free a lot of emotion, and become more genuine and whole as a result. Keep in mind this is a journey for me, not a destination.

Be careful! While I highly recommend therapy for just about anyone, not all therapy is truly therapeutic. It's easy to get into a co-dependent relationship with a specific therapist. However, this will be easier to see as therapy progresses. 

In a way, life is therapy. That is, it's a journey to wholeness, not a destination.

 This above all: to thine own self be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.
       - William Shakespeare (more quotes)

4. Books - I put some links below to some of my favorite books on creativity. (Sorry! I had listed these books using the Amazon Affiliate program and the links went obsolete after Amazon made some changes. I never updated the links and simply removed them for now.) But there are many more. To me, books are not an escape, but a way to see more clearly the world around me. I love humor, non-fiction, and self-improvement (self-help, therapy, wisdom, etc) type books. I also noticed that where I read makes a difference, depending on the genre. Which leads me to...

3. Nature - There is something about the raw earth that helps me feel connected to it and to myself. I love reading in the park, body surfing in he ocean, windsurfing on a lake, hiking through the woods, biking on a rough trail, or just jumping in a puddle. I'm made of this stuff and this stuff is good for me - water, earth, air and the fire of passion.

2. Play / Recreation - Need I really explain this? I think creativity and play go together like couch potatoes wearing old, shredded underwear. What's that? Something more positive? Okay. How about this? I think creativity and play go together like rainbows after a sun shower. Better?

1. Humor - Did you ever read the personal ads of single women looking for men? Most have two things in common: they love the beach, and they want someone who can make them laugh. You would think characteristics like 'hard working' and 'gentleman behavior' would top the charts. Nope! Oh well, better for a single guy like me anyway. I can probably qualify. (It does make me wonder, though. Maybe that's why we're still single at midlife!)

0. People - Basically, there are two types of people: those who divide people into two groups, and those who don't. Personally, I don't. I know I just did, but that was an exception, and I'm rather exceptional . The better I get to know myself, the more I love the diversity of people I encounter. Even people who grew up in the same family can have very different ways of looking at things, different passions, widely varying attitudes, and unrelated interests. Of course, I sometimes see familiar patterns of dysfunctional behavior. But, I still see precious individuals underneath. In learning about other people, I can creatively learn more about myself and try things I've never considered before, such as writing like this to an audience that includes you.

B. What blocks to creativity do I still encounter?
29. The Terrible Triggers - All the therapy and religion in the world will not render me perfect and without blemish. Only God can do that! I still have stored emotional memory. I think we all do. Denial is a good example, so don't try it!

Triggers are things that cause an inappropriate, unconscious and undesirable response. My biggest triggers remind me of my parents: harmless, repeated cliche statements, which my mother used 'all the time', get me angry at the person who said them; criticisms, even constructive ones, were used destructively mostly by my father, and are sometimes difficult for me not to take personally in a negative way; and praise, which I often thought was insincere because both of my parents said one thing to praise me and did quite another to correct me. (See my previous blog entry about being called a 'genius and a lovely person'. The phrase was repeated so often and without pleasant emotion that the words themselves, no matter who said them, became meaningless.)

47. slp&ija)osd#ifwCLUTTERzgo%irqe*joci!af - Before I had even heard of Feng Sui, I knew clutter acted as a starching agent for my brain. (Now, I've only merely heard of Feng Shui. Other than having something to do with channeling earthly energy in your environment, that's pretty much all I know.) It's amazing how efficiently clutter works against me. If I accumulate junk, I find myself 'stuck'. Yet, if I clean out the old, in comes the new. Simple, but not always easy, it is getting easier to let go.

I have a bad habit of letting mail, miscellaneous notes, magazines, coupons, pamphlets, and fliers pile up. Then I move the piles to make room for more. Have you heard the de-cluttering rule: handle each piece of paper only once? Well, I learned there's a huge gap between 'hearing' and 'doing'! But now, thanks to computers, I can clutter my hard drive with all kinds of files and choose to see only a few windows at a time. Looks clean to me!

71. Ho Hum Boredom (yawn) - I left a description of this factor until last. I don't even like to talk about it. Boredom is a yucky place to be. Does boredom cause depression, or depression cause boredom? I don't know, but they seem related. Either way, I think creative activity is a necessary intervention. I'd do something creative, anything, especially if it's different and it's what I enjoy.

I once played with my son's Legos for 2 or 3 hours. (He wasn't around to object.) Some people think that the activity must have a purpose and be productive ("constructively occupied"), such as Father Flanagan, founder of Boys Town. His book provides much needed insight and wisdom. But, I think the omission of creativity as a virtue is a fault. Take Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, he was a creative genius. I'd say he was virtuous.

98. Senseless Repetition Senseless Repetition Senseless Repetition - If it seems like I'm doing the same thing over and over, I must get away and do something else. That's one of the reasons I started this blog. It's a creative release for me, especially since work requires things that must get done whether I like them or not. I also ride my mountain bike to the local park. Recreation is essential, at least for me. The word comes from the act of recreating, or simply, recreate. It's like starting over with fresh insight, instead of staying stuck and looking for a way out.

What are your answers to these questions? What new, and hopefully creative, insights have you picked up from this blog entry? How is or was your creativity stifled? How is it set free?

Note: "The Geranium on the Window Sill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On" is a hard to find, out of print book. But, you may be able to find someone selling a used copy. It's a compilation of children's poems regarding their school or classroom experience, especially in regard to being stifled. It's usually both funny and sad at the same time. Sometimes it's just sad. "Finding Happiness..." may also be hard to find, but I think it's still in print.

A Couple Creative Quote Links: