Archives for posts with tag: fear

A rat’s ass is tiny, miniscule. And yet so many of us are disgusted and alarmed by the presence of one, along with the rest of the rodent body, in our homes. My Great Aunt Blanche, about whom several non-fiction works could be written and read, though regarded as fiction due to the unbelievable content, was a widow for nearly sixty years.

In her nineties, she had a not so secret admirer, an 80-something recent widower, who left flowers on her front porch. Aunt Blanche had been through a great deal in her life, poverty, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, caring for her dear husband who was bedridden for the last eleven years of their marriage, and being a widow by age 48, just a bit younger than I am today.

Aunt Blanche was tough, made excellent baked goods, and carried all of her precious and semi-precious gemstone jewelry in her purse “so they won’t get stolen”.  She was incredibly funny and had a way with words. Sometimes her words meandered to the hateful, unfortunately when she spoke of “The JEWS” and “The BLACKS”. My mother would break the tension of these moments with her seditious humor. “Blanchie, where is Turner from?” (“Turner” was Blanche’s husband’s last name.) “Jiminy! I don’t know”, Auntie would reply. Without missing a beat, Mom replied, out of hearing range of Auntie, “Is it from Ike and Tina?”

Auntie lived to be 105. She lived in her own home until age 103. She looooved gardening and she loved animals, including her little dog, Popcorn. However, one day, she walked into the bathroom of her home and saw not the ass, but the head of a rat peeping out of the toilet bowl! She quickly closed the lid and called the police!

A young police officer knocked on the door. He appeared competent and the kind of manly man an elderly woman who avidly reads bodice-ripping romance novels, expects when she encounters a sewer rat. He worked swiftly and purposely by coaxing the rat into a cage using his most authoritarian baby voice!

If I’d seen that rat’s head coming out of my toilet, I will not lie, I would have given a rat’s head and a rat’s ass about it even though, really, what could one little rat do in all likelihood?

These day I find myself caring less and less about the “rat’s asses” of life, the things that produce real and palpable alarm but are really not that much of a threat. I have marks on my body that show, and I’m not talking about my cancer scars. I have a burst of spider and varicose veins on my right shin. It started out as a result of an injury I had at age 18 and grew over time, especially during pregnancy. Being a woman in a long line of generations of women with extensive, bulgy, and painful varicose veins, I told myself that I would have them “lasered” when I was done having children.

I am 49 years old. I am done bearing children. That network of spider and varicose veins is still abloom on my leg. I stopped caring enough a few years back to wear tights or long pants to cover it. I would be oblivious until some kid would point to it and say, “What is that???” I run warm with all of this middle aged hot flash stuff and I’d rather be vein-y than overheated. I saw a photo of myself with my mom on Mother’s Day. I could see the veins on my leg and I thought, “I don’t give a rat’s ass. Mom and I look happy together.”

I have another non-cancer related scar. Remember when you picked at your pimples when you were a teen and your mom told you that you would cause scars? I thought I had sailed through that time with clear skin, despite the picking. Then at age 37, it happened. I gave myself an acne scar, a small red dot, right above my right eyebrow. I have put concealer on it for years. Remember when I had my make up done professionally for prom? The make up artist put nothing extra over that blemish. She treated it like the rest of my face. As if it belonged there. I no longer cover it up. I no longer give a rat’s ass.

There are so many things that we apologize for. For having a voice that is not the same as everyone else’s, for existing, for “making” people uncomfortable with our cancer, for our perceived lack of perfection.

I am getting more and more comfortable with myself as I get older. I like this very much. Do I berate myself for not giving a rat’s ass sooner? No, because wherever I was in the past is the place I was at the time. And who knows where I will be in the future?


When I practice mindfulness, I encounter a paradox of experiencing a greater connectedness with thoughts, feelings, and sensations but also having some kind of buffer. I don’t really know how to describe it exactly. It’s not exactly a distance but it kind of is. No doubt there are individuals far more practiced in mindfulness who have written about this much more precisely and eloquently. I know that the word, “equanimity” is often used to describe this state, a mental composure that wards against imbalance of the mind.

Yesterday morning I was walking and noticing. I do most of my mindfulness practices while I walk. I also do a great deal of contemplation about my life. I was thinking about how much more fun I am having with my family these days and the level of harmony we’ve been experiencing. The sun was out and I could feel it on my skin. The flowers and trees in the neighborhood were beautiful. I felt a great deal of joy. In these times of mindfulness I find that I encounter unexpected thoughts and feelings. The balance that I feel makes this possible, I think.

Yesterday, I felt hopeful, a feeling that is familiar to me. But yesterday it was followed other thoughts and feelings. Hope involves taking mental chances. Hope leaves the door open for good outcomes after a long time of fearing the worst and experiencing very hard times.

Hope can be frightening.

His name was Kurt. We went to high school together. He was a year ahead of me. I think it was my junior year. We took creative writing together one semester. I remember his appearance. He had very fair skin and very light blonde curly hair. I am pretty sure that he wore glasses. I also think he sat kitty corner across the classroom from me (we sat at tables in a “U” formation instead of in rows of desks). I remember his being nice but not really knowing or noticing much about his personality. As I recall, he was fairly quiet. He was one of the boys at school who was into muscle cars and he had some kind of old but “cool” car like a Ford Mustang, or something.

One day, as I was walking in the hallway from one class to another, he stopped me. I don’t recall ever having had a one to one conversation with him previously, but then again, I could have forgotten many. I am and was pretty friendly and talked to many people. Kurt looked assumed a very relaxed stance and with apparent nonchalance, asked me to his senior prom.

You may already know that I never attended a formal dance at school: No prom, no homecoming, and no winter ball. I did not attend any university formal dances; those were mostly for sorority girls. I was not in a sorority and honestly, at that time, would have avoided attending any event like that.

So, if I was asked to prom and didn’t go, I must have told Kurt, “no”, right?

Strictly speaking, that’s the truth. But the part that still embarrasses me and makes me feel guilty is that I told him, “yes” when he asked me and then changed my mind and cancelled on him the next day. I was afraid. I didn’t really know him. He wasn’t one of the boys who I was wanting to ask me out, either. And he drove a hot rod! I was afraid that he would be one of those boys who would pressure me for sex on prom night or try to get me drunk!   I backed out in as nice of a way as possible. I later got to know him a little better and he probably would have been a good date. I could have been able to attend a major high school “coming of age” social event and NOT hurt a boy’s feelings. Oh yeah, I may have even had a good time.

About four weeks ago I was reading my neighborhood’s community blog. I saw that a “Second Chance Prom” was to be held as a charity benefit, at the golf course down the street from me. The tickets were very reasonably priced and it looked like a small, low key affair. So I bought two tickets and made an additional donation to the charity. Then I told John that he was taking me and as I had hoped, he readily and enthusiastically accepted.

I spent more time choosing clothing and accessories for my Second Chance Prom than I did for my wedding. I got my hair and make up done professionally. For my own wedding, I cut my own hair, styled it, and did my own make up using drug store cosmetics. But this is grown up prom! I wanted to get the best out of it and enjoy the process leading up to the event as much as I could. I trusted that I would not go crazy. After all, I will always be a discount shopper.

I tried on a lot of dresses. The one I ultimately chose was not my favorite based on photos. But it fit almost perfectly, required no uncomfortable foundation garments, was comfortable, and fit the James Bond theme of the prom. Also, it had an open back, which I knew John would like, and I looked about as good as I could.

Yesterday started as “glam day”. After my walk, I spent about 45 minutes online looking at photos to inspire hair and make-up ideas. If I were going to look like a Bond Girl, I wanted to go retro. I started getting a few ideas from photos of actresses from James Bond films from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Then I just started thinking about actresses from that time period and I thought, “What about Ann-Margaret?” Ding, ding, ding! I found an old photo of her with glam hair and make-up well suited to the time period as well as my hair.

My husband did not want to see my dress so I wore a coat over it, though he could see the bottom of it since it was a full length gown. He had still not picked out his outfit. Most of his button-down shirts are Hawaiian shirts. Knowing how overheated he gets, I even told him that I didn’t mind if he wanted to wear one. My only request was, “Please, no sneakers.”

He drove me to the salon with the plan that he would pick me up later and take me to dinner. This would be his way of picking me up for prom. I thought that was really sweet. I have gone to this salon for many years, so people know me there. They loved the idea of my going to prom and were excited to see John pick me up. I was seeing a different stylist for my make up and hair, Candace, who was recommended by my regular hair stylist, Megan.

I showed Candace the photo. She immediately understood what I wanted. Megan also came over during one of her breaks and said, “Good choice!” Candace was funny and sweet. I had arrived with a clean face and clean, frizzy hair. She styled my hair first and then did my make up. At one point, she said, “You are looking really glamorous, Dude. You clean up well.” When she was finished, I could tell that she was proud of her work. She said, “Let me parade you around the salon.” I followed her to the other side of the salon, where Megan was working. She also approved.

I was very pleased. Candace took a couple of photos of me for her portfolio and sweetly gave me a hug before she left to work with her next client. My husband arrived and responded in a positive but slightly stunned way. Then we got our photo taken together. John then kept asking me to pose for photos. And by “pose” I mean he instructed me on how to pose, a good thing because I have one pose and that is it. I think he said, “Wow” about five times. We had a great dinner.

We knew no one at the dance. But we were both ready to have a good prom. We danced when we wanted to even if we were the only couple on the dance floor. John sat down when he needed to. (It was hot and his back is still bothering him.) I danced even if he wasn’t dancing.

I danced even when I was the only one on the dance floor. I just enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the experience of dancing, which is something I love to do. I’m sure that I raised a few eyebrows. When I “get into the zone” with dancing, there is a certain level of abandon that people typically associate with um, intoxication. If this had been high school, there would have been mean gossip. As I keep saying, age has its benefits. After about 1 1/2 hours of dancing, I took off my shoes and went barefoot because I could tell that my feet were going to hurt, if I didn’t. After another 1 1/2 hours, we called it quits. My hip was hurting and John was drenched with sweat.

I missed my first chance at prom because I was afraid. I could have missed my second chance by being self-conscious about my body, my age, or being the only person on the dance floor. But I didn’t miss it and I had the time of my life with the man I love.


Hubby opted not to wear a Hawaiian shirt and his one blue dress shirt perfectly coordinated with my dress. And for those of you who have had breast construction, the little dent under my right underarm would probably be described as a “deficit” from a reconstructive surgery standpoint. Does it bother you? It didn’t bother me, either! And if the appearance of symmetry is important to you, the neckline of this dress is helpful in that regard.


The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband's insistence on taking a million photos of you.

The best kind of smile comes from laughing in delight at your husband’s insistence on taking a million photos of you.


Dinner at "the most romantic table" at Salty's, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.

Dinner at “the most romantic table” at Salty’s, which has a splendid view of Elliot Bay and the downtown skyline.


Corsage and prom bling on display.

Corsage and prom bling on display.



In my job as a psychologist and a diagnostic specialist, I am asked to answer questions and make recommendations. Answering diagnostic questions can be really hard, especially in my areas of specialty. I sift through multiple data sources, try to find patterns of behavior, and predict how behaviors change across settings and over time. Meanwhile, I have to remember that diagnoses do not define children and that their functioning at school, home, and in the community vary as a function of many many other individuals and environmental factors.

Often however just asking the question is harder than answering it. Yesterday, I received the following email:

We have a 13 year old son who is struggling in school. His main challenge is executive functioning and spacing out in class. We are not interested in assessments or medications but do want to understand how to get at the root cause of the lack of motivation. Do you think this is something you can help us with?

This email was obviously written by a very loving parent. The parent has also done some reading, I suspect given the terminology used in this letter and the reference to medication. But it is hard for me to help when I am asked to help solve a problem without finding out what it is. Asking the question, “Is there something wrong with my child?” is sometimes even more frightening than asking, “Is there something wrong with me?” Parenting hits us in the tender places in our heart. For many of us the two questions are really the same question, “Am I a bad person who is passing off my inherent badness to my child?” Some of the variations of this question are less severe but it boils down to fear of coming up short in some very critical way.

Fear of asking the question, “What is wrong” can lead to all kinds of odd little dances. So often, people try to solve problems without knowing what they are. Some people even try to solve problems without admitting that there are even problems. This sounds silly but problems have real consequences with which we are left to cope. You can’t make a problem go away by not believing in it.

Parents often feel responsible for their children’s issues. And honestly, as parents we are responsible for a lot. But we aren’t responsible for every part of our child’s reality. It is particularly hard for people who appear to be successful and high functioning on the outside but fear being exposed for the horrible people they fear themselves to be. I have met many parents who think, deep down, that they are awful people. And you know what? They are never horrible people. And some of them are quite wonderful people who nonetheless feel fundamentally flawed.

The saddest part is that when people refuse the help I can give them because they fear themselves, it perpetuates bad decision-making and bad problem solving. Then they just feel like really bad people and are even less likely to seek help for themselves and their children.

I believe that I am a worthwhile person, a good wife, and a good mother. I believe I am good at my job. But like everyone else, I am deeply flawed. I am a kind person but I hurt people and sometimes I do it on purpose. I am a loving person but sometimes feel contempt for others. I am a generous person but at times act with keen selfishness. It has never been easy in my life to engage in constructive self-reflection. At times, I have sought professional help but with great difficulty. At other times, it was not so hard. It was pretty easy to be open to seeing a psychologist after my cancer diagnosis. After all, who am I to begrudge myself support for CANCER? But I have seen psychologists multiple times in my life for individual, parenting, and marital purposes. I am happy for all of the experiences. They were extremely valuable. I did it because I felt like I owed it to myself and my family to be a well-adjusted person. Because truthfully, unhappy people are hard to live with, especially when a very unhappy person resides in your own heart.

I will keep working on myself and I wish all of you the happiness that comes from seeing yourself, the good and the bad, working on things knowing that things can get better but not perfect, and being okay with that. Self-acceptance is an amazing power and I have been happy to have gotten more and more glimpses of it as I continue through life as a beautiful and flawed human being.

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George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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