Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Not a book, it's a Nook

What do you get if you contract the word “Not” and the word “book?” Nook.

We got a Nook as a gift. It wants us to think of it as a new kind of book, but after my first 24 hours with it, it’s more not a book than bookish.

The first thing I miss is sound. If you had asked me to write 10,000 words about reading books, I don’t think I would have ever mentioned hearing the sound of a page turning as one of the essential qualities of reading a book. But with it missing, it trumpets its loss. Reading is such a quiet endeaver, but like libraries, it is not the silence, but the whisper of sound which brings the sacred feel. If I am lost in some ancient past or imagined future, it is never more than two pages before the whisk of a page turning brings me for just a moment back into the only time there really is: now.

The second thing I miss is touch. We hold so much plastic already. Computer mice, keyboards, phones, even our steering wheels. Plastic has an oily lack of presence, and I think it has been important, at least once a day, to hold a book. To wipe the dinosauric smudges from our fingers like napkins at a KFC. To feel the heft of something that used to be a tree, and still loves us. To feel the heft of the words some poor author sweat and strained at. To thumb through pages to find your place. To have to find some little thing to mark where you left off. To have a book be a thing that takes up space on your shelves, in your life, on your bed table. Something to pile high to show you that you think, that you stop working and relax, that you and the real world interact.

It’s sweet that the Nook allows you (in such a limited way!) to change the font. But it does it so sloppily! Firstly, it doesn’t actually ever even see the book itself! It downloads only text. So it comes makes no effort at all at formatting, and certainly pays no attention to design! Its inventors must have grown up in Levittown where “house” is not a different word from “box” and there must be no difference for them between “weed” and “flower” save function. So when you change the font or size to suit yourself, the “book” reformats by throwing the words at the screen like darts: as long as it lands anywhere on the page it scores. It carries a philosophy that space or shape have nothing to say. Basically, all that is allowed are tabs, line feeds and single spaces between the words. Even page feeds are lost in this tumble of letters.

The Nook has a machine’s sensibilities when it comes to literature. “I got all the words, didn’t I?”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Managing Manager Fatigue

My marriage, like many, has a manager, a social director (and in my case, let’s call a spade a spade) a queen.

I worked with a couple this week who were having some of the same management issues we have from time to time, what I have come to call: Manager Fatigue.

The Manager is generally the person in the marriage who has strong preferences, and who likes to plan. At the end of each week, Elise emails me a list of options, and I get to pick which ones most appeal to me. This arrangement works just fine for me - like many managed spouses, I’m easy. Frankly, just being happily married is enough for me, and then getting to do any kind of fun stuff, is icing on the cake.

But every once in a while, I think it happens about every 3-6 weeks, Elise suddenly comes down with Manager Fatigue. It usually happens when she is scanning the Philly Fun Guide, with its thousands of events. She just gives up, “Why do I always have to do all the planning? How did I get that job?”

These outbursts used to take me by surprise - I thought our system worked pretty well. What happened? And how did I suddenly become the slacker in a system that she set up?

But I’m a pattern finder, and eventually I recognized the pattern here. Managing meets a lot of Elise’s needs, but it is also tiring and requires a lot of mental work. That’s fine when she’s relaxed and able to focus on the fun she’s planning, but when she’s fatigued or stressed; or sometimes if it’s just gone on too long and so doesn’t meet her need for fairness and teamwork, it switches into a problem.

If you’re in such a relationship, and you’re the managed partner, here are some tips:
  • Ÿ  Every once in a while, plan something, set it all up, and surprise your manager with a fait au complet. You can’t do this too often, because it will seem like you’re horning in on their territory, but you can do this preemptively, best right before Manager Fatigue sets in. I like to get a whole week of credit out of it. On Monday I’ll say, “Don’t make any plans for this weekend. We’re all booked up.” On Tuesday she’ll start trying to get more info (Managers love info) by saying something like, “Well, how am I gonna know what to pack if I don’t know what we’re doing?” I’ll respond with just a tantalizing hint, like: “Just make sure you have a bathing suit.” On Thursday I’ll say something like, “Our plane reservations are all set.” A carefully doled out set of hints like this will not only make for a happy Manager all week long, it can stave off Manager Fatigue for weeks.
  • Ÿ  Doing little things which are usually the Manager’s tasks can keep your Manager happy and unfatigued. Elise takes out the recycling on Friday morning. If she’s had a busy week, and I’ve noticed, especially if there is a lot of recycling, I’ll sometimes take it to the street Thursday night. If she notices and says so, I’ll just say, “I noticed you’ve been busy this week, so I thought I’d do the recycling this time.”
  • Ÿ  You need to understand that asking if there is anything you can do, does not help with Manager Fatigue, because although you’re proving yourself to be a willing serf, you’re still requiring that they Manage you. This is a mistake a lot of managed spouses make.
  • Ÿ  Another frequent mistake is believing your Manager’s resistance to your substitute managing. If you make breakfast for them one morning as a way of helping out, don’t take it personally if they have things to say about how you did it. Of course they’re going to complain that you overcooked the eggs, or forgot the toast. That’s their job - to manage. If you take the bait and argue, you lose all the benefit. Just agree that you didn’t do it the way they would have, but remind them, “But isn’t it nice to be served your breakfast without even having to ask?”
Look, you chose a Manager, so you must like being managed. It’s just that like any expensive sports car, they are a lot higher maintenance than the salesman at the dealership ever let on. Still, with a little routine maintenance, you can manage your Manager and then take them out for a ride.

[This blog entry has the seal of approval of my Manager :-) ]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whose to Blame?

One of my NVC students had the realization which is basic to both NVC (this was only the third class) and to my Teamwork Marriage Mediation method:

"What a magnificent realization that another person isn't ever be the real source of my feelings. The real source of my upset is always my own unmet needs. That realization puts me in a much more resourceful state to solicit the other's help instead of alienating him or her. Who wants to help when they're feeling blamed? Everyone wants to help when they're valued as a resource, rather than vilified as the problem's source."

Who indeed?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Married, and Becoming Friends Again

What I told the couple who realized they were so alienated that they no longer were even friends anymore, was to start appreciating each other.

Appreciations reach across any gap, and let the other person see inside of you (“In to me you see” = intimacy).

NVC appreciations have three parts:
1.  Observation: what action you are appreciating
2.  Feelings: how their doing that felt to you
3.  Needs: what needs of yours got met by that action

So if you like it when the kitchen sink doesn’t have dishes in it, and your partner cleans the dishes, you could say: “When you did the dishes after dinner last night, I felt delighted because it met my need for cooperation and teamwork.”
Or, if you’d rather do it less formally: “Wow! I really liked it when you did the dishes last night and I just wanted to thank you. I love it when we work together.”

Research shows that the single best indicator of whether a marriage will last is how many appreciations they couple gives each other.

And they’re free!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Married But No Longer Friends

The couple I started working with last night asked me this touching question: “How do we become friends again?”

After all the fighting, the busyness of raising kids and work, this couple, like so many others, has become roommates who don’t really even have a friendship anymore. A gap has opened up between them which they don’t know how to bridge.

What would you suggest?

See my next blog entry for my answer.

Monday, September 5, 2011

You Are a Self-Satisfying Needs Machine

When any situation falls short of satisfying you deeply, there is a fork in the road:
- The low road first asks and then demands that the other person change (regardless of how this might affect their satisfaction) so that you can feel okay.
- The high road steps outside the feeling of dissatisfaction and traces it back to its real origins: what this means to you: discovering what the missing satisfaction is about. Somehow, touching into the satisfaction which exists within you, even just momentarily frees you from the victim role - the idea that drives so much of our unhappiness - that other people are boorishly withholding our only chance at happiness.

Thus freed from the blind-puppy-lapping-at-its-bitch's-teat-for-survival view of relationship, two changes miraculously happen:

1.    We become not only relaxed and stress-free, we suddenly become amazingly articulate about what it is we actually want; and…
2.    The other person appears before us, as if by magic, with their own desires and needs, which we now have the resource and curiosity and actual desire to include in the conversation.

That conversation, by the way, is not only fun to have; it creates connection and intimacy, even if none of the issues are resolved!

Because although your mind would refuse to accept this thought anywhere along the low road - the issue (the laundry, the tooth-paste tube, whatever) that you were convinced needed to be resolved and were further convinced that only the resolution of that issue would bring about your happiness - was never what this was about at all.

Satisfaction, serenity, stresslessness - are available without the outside world changing one iota. You are a self-satisfying machine.

And as such, you can be a delight to be around for other self-satisfying machines.