(Deeper) Inside the Pandemic, Part III

blossom by Jo Ann Brown-Scott

Let’s talk about NARCISSISM.

The “I don’t give a sh** about anyone but me” syndrome.

In my previous two blogs during this world pandemic my attempts to describe our current situation were somewhat lighthearted. Today, however I am going to take a look at one particular affliction that might further, and more deeply, explain certain behaviors we are noticing on the daily news and with friends and acquaintances we are in touch with on a more personal level during these difficult times.

I am talking about the personality disorder called Narcissism…….the “it is all about me” disorder, when self-love becomes perverted into an emotional beast. A weapon of destruction.

Self-love is a good thing; we all need it in healthy proportions in order to seek the things in life that we are entitled to have……self-respect, ambition, hope, confidence, love and a shot at having “the good life well-lived”.

Chances are that you all know someone who is so self-involved that you can barely tolerate being around that person for more than just a brief interlude. Their consistent red-flag clue is their never-ending focus on themselves – the focus can be big-as-life-obvious or quite subtle. Their entitlement, their lack of empathy, their inability to offer help or charitable kindness or unconditional love to anyone without expecting something in return is pervasive and impervious to any attempts to change them. Therapists throw up their hands in frustration. The narcissist is highly manipulative; sneaky and subtle, or controlling and bold and every stage in between depending on the situation – always conniving and planning to get their desired results from relationships with people and situations and even countries. Always maneuvering. Everything a narcissist does has an agenda. Remind you of anyone?

You know who they are – these people are often in powerful positions. Think Bobby Axelrod on the tv show Billions. Think about politicians, and presidents and kings. Think about tele-evangelists who live as if they were kings. But then bring it down to a personal level. Think about that person you know who never asks you how you are doing and always steers the conversation back to him or her more-important self. The narcissists are the whiney ones, the “poor me” ones. The ones who always think they are suffering the most egregious of  injustices. They often see themselves as the victims when actually others are suffering far more. They seem blind to the problems of other people. Think about those narcissistic people, during this world pandemic, who congregate in large packed groups and party for hours, think about people who have their grocery cart taken away from them at Costco and are asked to leave the store because they refuse to wear a mask, while yelling about their ego-maniacal rights. Think about the person who walks into a grocery wearing a mask but does not put masks on her three kids.

Narcissists believe the rules do not apply to them. They are usually charismatic people, often good-looking and smart as a whip and always on the lookout for opportunity. They adore being adored. They love parties because they can work the room and grab everyone’s attention. They love compliments – in fact, compliments get their attention fast and if you continue to compliment them over a period of months or years they will probably keep you in their life because they need those compliments like they need air. If you are in the life of a narcissist for very long it is because they need you for something. And possibly you enjoy being there – because on the surface they can be generous and kind and funny and so you enjoy their company. But the selfishness is deeper and more malignant than that. If you wake up one morning and they decide that you can no longer provide a need for them they will find a way to drop you overnight. They will accuse you of being over-sensitive if you speak up. They will look for your weak spots and use them. You are never really their friend because they will eventually turn on you. They do not understand loyalty or unconditional love. They can become controlling and cold and stingy and withholding in a flash because the need is gone. Or perhaps because they suddenly realized that you saw right through them.

Do these few samples of some criteria for being a narcissist remind you of people you know, or people in high governmental positions? Of course they do. But some people are not narcissists to the extreme….they would fall somewhere below the “champion narcissists” on the scale of selfishness and they sort of fly under the radar for a period of time. Maybe they are almost consistently tolerable for most of the time. Maybe you can even live with a narcissist, or marry one or be a best friend with one, for a while, maybe for years. That is only if you are willing to live on the edge of destruction and remain agreeable, because eventually they will tire of you if you begin to even hint about their selfishness and they will begin the process of  tearing you down and kicking you out of their life. Do not kid yourself. You cannot win with a narcissist. In any number of possible attempts you will lose in the long run. If this particular narcissist is someone in the public eye, he will take pleasure in destroying you through blackmail or character assassination. He will put the blame on you.

There are many books about narcissism, some with simple lists of the top ten ways you can spot one in the wild. Sometimes they live and work in clusters. They are nowhere near being an endangered species. You see them everywhere, but especially so now, in a pandemic, as we are all trying to just keep our heads above water, and they do not like what is going on, perhaps because they are not being given the attention they need. There are no rules in their playbook, only agendas. They provide ridiculous distractions and they throw temper tantrums. They hurl insults and threats at innocent bystanders and they actually enjoy leaving a path of destruction wherever they go. They thrive on revenge. Welcome to the age of selfishness and greed where narcissists live in emotional luxury. Watch out for them because they will eat you alive.

Please let’s all vote, and vote for positive change in November.

 

Artist – http://www.artistjoannbrown-scott.com

Instagram – The Creative Epiphany

FB – Jo Ann (Rossiter) Brown-Scott

Novel – http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

Non-fiction – Your Miraculous, Timeless Creativity

and The Creative epiphany

 

(Further) Inside the Pandemic, Part II

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Take your average family of four during the pandemic, look in their fridge, and you are likely to find pandemonium, even in a household where mom is like a drill sergeant with every meal and snack planned. The challenges are epic. The storage is finite.

Take the flip-side of that. Feeding one person during the pandemic. Look in the fridge, and you are likely to find pandemonium. It is not that much different than feeding a small mob. One person depends upon only one person to feed herself/himself. You can’t send anybody else out the door at 9pm when you must have popcorn for movie night. Then you need fresh produce for Taco Tuesday. Who goes to the grocery again? You must keep the fridge stocked for any eventuality.

We have all, by now, refined and improved upon our original pandemic survival plans. Things keep changing and we must be adaptable. Creativity inside the pandemic is revealed every night on the local news with people who are clever and resourceful while confined at home.

The emotional aspect is a whole different story. Sometimes the friends and family that you thought would weather the storm like champions surprise you with their vulnerability. Turns out that these more practical people fall apart easily when structure is absent. Others, who are ordinarily all  loosey-goosey in their daily lives on any given day are the ones who begin to crave structure and orderliness, cleaning closets and garages, tidying up the yard and the cars. Things are a bit threatening for them when life gets out of control and crazy and organization helps. Chances are that you fall in between those extremes but that keeps you on a roller-coaster ride of hot to cold, black to white, up to down in a 24/7 day that you wish could be more even-keeled.

Humor, when living alone, becomes a stand up comedy routine playing to an audience of no one. Sarcasm falls flat. Dark comedy is no longer funny because people really are dying. Even Ellen DeGeneres is not funny at home. People’s underbellies begin to reveal themselves.

I have no advice. I am not writing this blog because I know any answers. I am all over the emotional charts myself, laughing at something on tv one minute and crying at something on tv the next. I have been, for all practical purposes, uninspired and unable to paint. The art gene has gone pandemic-ly dormant. I moved all of my supplies onto the dining room table, out from their studio space,  thinking that a change of scenery might break loose the blockage. We (me and my art gene) are into the second day in a space with more light, open to the terrace breezes, closer to the fridge, but so far no miracles have happened. You know what they say when this happens – do not wait to be “inspired” by some stroke of artistic lightening. JUST START MAKING MARKS WITH PAINT and things will begin to flow…..

I have accidentally read some books that took me deep into the universe and deeper into my own soul. Deepak Chopra’s book titled METAHUMAN is profoundly stirring and I had to read some passages several times until my own personal light bulb went on, but that’s OK. I have dedicated myself to following the 30-day workbook journal that will unleash my infinite potential and reveal to me my one-ness with the universe.  I figure, if you cannot go wide, then of course go deep. I already knew I am made of star-dust, thanks to the explanations by Carl Sagan and Deepak, but now I know how and why that is absolutely true. Did you know that the universe has conscientiousness?

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http://www.artistjoannbrown-scott.com

FB – Jo Ann (Rossiter) Brown-Scott

Books by Jo Ann Brown-Scott on Amazon.com

Life Inside the Pandemic

IMG_3720  The gorgeous cards in this post are the artwork of my gifted Cuban friend Lazaro Iglesias. You can find more of his artwork on FB under the name of La Vie Boheme. He currently lives in Santa Fe. His art always speaks to me, but especially now.

This pandemic experience feels to me as if we are all trapped in a big crystal globe – really pretty to look at – ethereal – the kind you shake to make snowfall – only it has a more sinister trick up its sleeve. I have never in my life felt more vulnerable and I am sure you feel the same.

Every day something happens that is weirder than the day before. We must remain learners now – not knowers who cannot be enlightened about anything at all. There will be many discoveries ahead and we need to remain open and aware, living in the moment and not losing our places in the plot that continues to unfold by the minute.

Concentration is key, but my mind pings around from one subject to the next like a pinball machine and I cannot come in for a landing on any one thing longer than a mosquito bite at twilight.

I decide I want to use my time to re-read the Constitution. No – maybe the entire Mueller report. Or do I want to search on Pinterest for that recipe for gooey sticky buns. I do manage to read an entire book that I absolutely could not put down titled AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins. I have not read such a gripping book in 30 years, I guess because it is so real and relevant to our current world. It is beautifully written, expertly researched and so very uplifting in the bravery its characters display. Please check it out on Amazon and please read it. It is a true page turner.

Maybe I can make myself paint today, I think. While I decide whether or not I can find that illusive creative spark I will have my second Cadbury egg and keep my eye on the third…while I play some older CD’s I have almost forgotten about. John Mayer – I grab for anything of his and wind up with WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE. Couple minutes later SLOW DANCING IN A BURNING ROOM comes on and he croons “we going down….” I look for something more mindless.

The phone rings a lot. One friend who wants me to read a couple Bible verses that she thinks are pertinent. A second friend who wants to gossip….really? How do you know anything about anyone right now? A third friend, a decade older than I am who wants to talk about the good old days, at this sharp point in time when I am all too aware of how old I am in the time of the world pandemic. Each friend is dear to me and holds a place in my overall scheme of things, but I am not in the mood for the wrong friend at the wrong time.

My brother has a couple drinks every evening and two is enough to jolt out his playful side from the darkness of the day, and he wants me to kid around with him on the phone. I live alone, and I hate to drink alone. It does not take me to a happy place. So I am busy doing other things when he calls and starts his silly routine. Because I appreciate the effort, I endure…..and I do love him. Oh ha ha.

Both my kids now live at altitude, after being raised at altitude in Conifer and Evergreen, CO just up the mountains from Denver. I talk to my son or my daughter, who always make me laugh. Kelly and her husband Jay live at Lake Tahoe – I mean they really live AT IT, on the water. Looking out at the Big Blue all day long in its changing light and seasons will keep anyone stable, I think to myself. That scenery is restorative and cleansing. We have good talks and she does keep me just sane enough, but not toooo sane that I  completely lose my characteristic craziness. It’s a fine balance.

My outdoorsy, “wolf boy,” mountain climbing, 14’er gobbling  son always has a new adventure on the horizon and must have the lungs of a Japanese pearl diver. Every weekend he is Up There climbing something. He must be clean and deep and fine when it comes to lungs. We make a date for him to visit with me next week in the greenbelt space outside my condo. I will order a pizza and have it delivered there, half to him and half to me, 20 feet apart.

The days blend into one long ordeal of time, grinding along and revealing new information every day about what we are up against. I have had some bleak moments, some dismal periods of time that are based in much more than a mere pandemic. There was plenty going on even before the pandemic arrived at my door. But I do see good in each day and spring is coming and the sun continues to rise and set and shine down upon us. Let’s make every effort to keep our chins up, ok?

 

ART   www.artistjoannbrown-scott.com

NOVEL   www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com – Amazon

NON-FICTION   Your Miraculous, Timeless Creativity and The Creative Epiphany – Amazon

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Instagram at The Creative Epiphany

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A Call To the Living – The Garage of Blessings in Oak Harbor, Washington

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recent photo of Mike Rowe and Kristiina

The Garage of Blessings

Quote by Algernon D. Black, former senior leader, New York Society for Ethical Culture:

This is a call to the living,

To those who refuse to make peace with evil,

With the suffering and waste of the world,

This is a call to the human, not the perfect,

To those who know their own prejudices,

Who have no intention of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,

Who know what it means to share food and shelter,

The care of children and those who are troubled,

To reach beyond barriers of the past,

Bringing people to communion.

This is a call to the never ending spirit

Of the common man, his essential decency and integrity,

His unending capacity to suffer and endure,

To face death and destruction and to rise again,

And build from the ruins of life.

This is the greatest call of all,

The call to a faith in people.”

My sister Vicki Hand who lives near Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Washington has been telling me about the Nonprofit Organization THE GARAGE OF BLESSINGS for months and months. She is one of the volunteers at this place of giving and providing, to those who are less fortunate, the very basics of life – not just warm clothing but soap and toothpaste, blankets and food and most of all love and recognition. I was there myself on a recent trip to visit my sis and I was overwhelmed with the organization and the efficient cooperation of its volunteers. But there is an ambiance that surrounds all of the hustle and bustle as people are assisted in finding what they need to survive – and let there be no mistake I do mean survive. The only words that begin to give you a feeling for the rarified air of this place are simply the words Love and Respect, for all those folks who come in the door and are greeted without judgement and an eagerness to be of help.

Founded in her own garage by an extraordinary woman named Kristiina who has a heart as big as the planet and goals to match, the Garage of Blessings had a visitor yesterday, bringing a camera crew and bundles of great joy. Mike Rowe of the TV show “Returning the Favor” paid her a visit, listened to her story, met everyone and managed to enlarge and enhance her warehouse space in ways that she might have needed years to accomplish on her own. Kristiina dreams BIG and so does Mike Rowe so they are a match made in heaven.

If you are fortunate to be moving to Oak Harbor, Washington, (lucky you) or you already live in the area and you would like to volunteer your services or donate goods just get yourself over to the  Garage of Blessings – everyone knows where it is.

Go to http://www.garageofblessings.com for more information.

Look for Mike Rowe’s TV Show – “Returning the Favor”

https://www.facebook.com/GarageBlessingsOH/

 

GARAGE OF BLESSINGS VOLUNTEERS

Volunteers ready and eager to be of help and take your donations!

…and then we went to Cuba

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” And you came to Cuba so you could touch it with your eyes,” said our unforgettable friend and guide of two days, Manuel Gonzalez of Trinidad, Cuba.

Never before in my personal writing history, including this blog and the three books I have published, have I felt the burning need to get out of bed in the middle of the night and put down words. Until now. I don’t want to lose the freshness of my impressions about Cuba; its lush verdant scenery, its grand but crumbling Spanish colonial cities reminiscent at times of both New Orleans and Mexico, its mysterious Mafioso ties to America and the hotels where “doze guys” partied on trips down from Miami, its sexy music, its beloved Ernest Hemingway whose books are still studied in Cuban schools, its crazy, off-the-wall humor and its brave, kind and endlessly resourceful people who get up every day and make the most of a difficult situation. Emotional evidence of the Revolution is plentiful; reminders of Cuba’s tumultuous history and its love affair with Che Guevara are alive around every corner of the Havana city streets and in the other cities we visited. The history of Cuba is sad and offers little hope of change under the Castro regime, but its people maintain a joyful Spanish facade. We see the motto Tu Ejemplo vive, Tus Ideas Perduran – your example lives; your ideas last  posted in many places with Che’s picture. Che is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Cuban people.

When they thought Batista’s dictatorship was brutal, they soon learned that Castro certainly did not have the welfare of the people in mind when he grabbed power for himself. Learning in conversations with the people of Cuba about how the current dictatorship and how the embargo (which by the way is still in effect, even though our President announced that it is lifted – it has not yet opened anything up for the Cuban people expect USA tourism)  applies to their everyday lives was enlightening in ways I never expected… sitting with people in their homes and eating delicious, generous portions of hand-prepared food from spotless Cuban kitchens during our Casa Particular ( Air B&B) stays was priceless. Every family is given a monthly ration of food – basics – eggs, 1 chicken per family, flour, sugar, beans, rice, milk. The “frills” such as produce, cookies – whatever else a family might need must be provided with income so pathetically small that we wondered how anyone could ever make ends meet. The bottom line to every detail of Cuban life is genius invention, constant recycling, trading among friends and helping each other. As our guide Manuel said, “If you can ever get the money together to afford a new car in Cuba, you are in big trouble! You will never be able to find parts for it!” Most of the iconic candy-colored older cars for which Cuba is known manage to be kept running with parts from China and Korea.

When people asked us where we were from they were excited and instantly curious about where in America. OH! Wow! Colorado! Mountains? Snow? Of course other countries have been traveling to Cuba for years and so the Cubans see tourists from Europe, China, South America, Sweden, Great Britain, etc but Americans hold a special place in the hearts of Cubans. “Americans are good people – Cubans are good people! What’s the problem? What took you so long? You need to all come and visit us. We love America!”

From Havana we traveled east by bus for about 5 hours through rolling, thickly forested hills set against distant mountains on our way to Trinidad, a charming village on the southern coast of the island where homes are the paint colors of Cuba – lavender, yellow, sunset pink, citrus orange…red, blue…old old homes often as tiny as an American walk-in closet and usually just a story or two, but oozing personality and radiating happiness. Music starts in the morning and continues through the old narrow streets all day long as we walk and roam. Speaking now with an artist’s voice, Trinidad is nirvana for painters. The ancient textures of stone and brick, peeling paint, iron grillwork painted white or left black, potted flowers and greenery – hidden patios and secret nooks where cats sit in the sun – carriages pulled by one horse clop-clopping on cobblestone streets and guys selling bread up and down every skinny street in the early morning. All this and the deep Prussian Blue Caribbean as a bonus. This is the Cuba I loved the most.

Outside Trinidad we were fortunate to visit the ruins of an old sugar plantation, including slave quarters and the current restoration of the big mansion itself to its former glory with its Italian Cararra marble floors and painted frescoes. We saw where and how the sugar cane was refined, the enormous copper pots where they boiled it down and the ways they used the leftover pulp. We learned about the daily lives of the slaves, who were shipped in from all over the world to begin working at age 4-5, and the tall white stucco tower built for the only purpose of keeping watch over the slaves in a landscape of tall sugar cane. When a slave was observed running away, the tower bell was rung and slave owners for miles around took that as a warning and a signal to drop everything and search for the escapee.

Cien Fuego (100 fires) was our next destination, a morning’s drive west of Trinidad – Cuba is a big island so we saved far eastern Cuba for another time… Cien Fuego is quite different than Trinidad, with an outdoor mall of nice shops and some great restaurants on roof tops and terraces. Mojitos flow, and if you know even some of the words you might be asked to sing with band…oh my god!  I had a lot of authentic Cuban food while on the island, but the best spaghetti I ever ate in my life was in Cien Fuego. But – the outskirts are very poor, the hovels are dirt-floored and similar to those we saw in rural Cambodia. Horses, cows, cats and dogs are brittle and emaciated, skin over bone; the people are painfully dulled of any signs of a happy life. I was terribly upset by what I saw there, just a few blocks away from the city. I actually had to fight my impulse to get out of the car and start handing out money, as small a difference as that would have made for just a day or so.

In Cien Fuego on the main plaza is a lovely old mansion that has been made an art gallery – the inside of the building itself was as interesting as the art. Contemporary Pop Art set against centuries’ old frescoes and floors was a fascinating contrast. The art scene in Cuba is quite active – the dictatorship subsidizes artists to some extent. But we talked to many artists and a tiny tube of paint the size of a child’s little finger is the equivalent of 15 dollars. We do believe that studio space might be cheap, however, because there were some wonderful old buildings with spacious art studios in them. The art ranges from realism to abstract, as one would expect, and I am happy to say that mixed media has made a bit splash in Cuba! Very nice examples were to be found in every genre and I bought a few small pieces. Many Cuban artists have been educated formally in fine art and art history, some outside of Cuba. Art is respected and artists are prolific, turning out a lot of work – we have no idea if any of them are making a living at it however. One artist we met was  lawyer. Doctors, lawyers and other professional people are paid by the state, and many of them have free time to do other things, we learned.

This is only my first installment about our trip to Cuba. The subject of Cuba is vast enough for 10 blogs and I will be writing other posts about it in the days to come. I took over 1000 pictures and am attempting to categorize them for easy access while writing. The people of Cuba are very pleased to know that so many of us here in the USA are interested in their lives. We noticed a lot of people on cell phones in Cuba but only in WIFI hotspots – just a few wealthy families actually have internet access. Public internet is still a few years away but things are changing very rapidly there now. They are quite aware that the next Revolucion with be in communication and they are also aware that it could be both the good news and the bad news, because they want Cuba to remain unspoiled.

The country of Cuba is in dire need of money to save its infrastructure, because it is centuries’ old and falling down around them. The tax money the Cubans pay goes…..where? Nothing gets done. I could go on and on…but for now I will leave you with my humble thoughts and my cherished photos of a place I now love.

to be continued…

 

 

 

Within Eleven Days

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18 x 24 Mixed Media acrylic painting by Jo Ann Brown-Scott

The week started out rotten as a two week old peach left out in the rain – things looked bleak on all fronts with no solutions in sight to a number of problems. Usually I might comfort myself in the knowledge that none of my pathetic little issues are life or death situations but in this case there were several major situations and one of them was indeed a life or death struggle for a person I love…..and as I hung on, white knuckled and melting down with every passing silent hour while the phone did not ring and the texts were all too infrequent…..I tried to deal with the other situations that also required my (diluted) attention.

It seems ridiculous under those kinds of circumstances, but life does go on. The world does not stand frozen as you wait and wonder and agonize for news. Every tiny mundane task you must perform, every thought in your head, every meal you do not eat, every waking hour and every sleepless night spent twisting and turning in the belly of the darkness you continue to wait for the slightest news that things are improving. For days on end nothing much changes.

I would imagine most of you have been to that hollow terrifying place. If you have not, you are extremely fortunate, but know that some day it will visit you. No one escapes.

But then, after seven moons plus four, there is a turn for the better and I wake up to sun. The slightest baby steps have been taken and taken and taken, the news is more hopeful, the big picture seems to be improving and the world outside your mind gains color and noise and aromas once again. There has been a sea change of the utmost proportions.

Was it your prayers? Was it your faith? Was it sheer determination and a personal will to live? Did the universe intervene at your request? Does group prayer make a difference? Have you witnessed a miracle?

All of the above.