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Black Ice

by on August 17, 2016

                                                                      Black Ice

                                                            by Marco M. Pardi 

“I like long walks, especially when they’re taken by people who annoy me.” Anon

All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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Most of us are familiar with the term black ice as used to describe thin and clear ice on a highway.  It is so called because a casual glance does not detect a difference from an un-iced road surface.  And, we know the drill in case we feel a skid begin: Steer into the skid; ease off the gas; and, do NOT touch the brakes.  Problems arise most commonly when people over-correct.  When that happens, and things go beyond return, we end up in a ditch or worse.

As we mature in our driving we become better at anticipating the possible presence of black ice. But  technology is quickly overtaking what our brains should be doing.  A recent automobile of mine had Torsen all-wheel drive with millisecond computer correction should one wheel begin to slip. And, it flashed a dashboard warning in weather where black ice was possible. Still, curious as I was, I pushed the limits on several occasions to see if my skills and my technology were well matched.

But life isn’t like that.  Whether alone or with others we can slip off course and crash, slip and get stuck in a ditch.  Social interactions, much less moments alone, do not usually come with warning signs.  Staying with cars for a moment, I have a few “coffee table” books on international sports cars, exotics, etc., broken out by decade.  Having owned several, had friends who owned them, and/or raced some for friends who could not do so themselves I enjoy going back through the pages.  In doing so I have noticed that almost every car with which I’m personally familiar has a personal story, usually not entirely pleasant.  While enjoying the photos and the write-ups, remembering the sounds, smell and feel of each car I often also get flashes of those “Oh, yeah. Ugh” moments when I remember people and events from those time periods.  Is closing the book and putting it away over correcting?  Or dodging the issue?  Is pausing to immerse in the negative, too often grim memories a risk of running into a ditch and sitting there in a stew?  Some memories are truly enjoyable, many are not so.  But, for better or worse, I do not forget.  I try to remember the rules: Steer into the skid, and so on.  Then resume normal life.

This reminds me of times I dreaded doing some prolonged, tedious work, especially alone.  Some negative memory would arise and, like the proverbial tune, get stuck in my head.  An alcoholic I knew told me that was a common dread among his fellows.  They called it “stinkin’ thinkin'”.  He offered no solutions beyond just walk away, find something else to do.  Right.  Can’t work now, having memories.  Maybe this is why so many people need to have a radio of television on, ear jacks even while going for a walk.  Fear of thoughts.

Ah, I hear it now. Mindfulness. Let the monkeys flit through the branches, but don’t follow them. Easier said than done, especially when spending a day staining a deck.  Brush to the right, brush to the left, dip more stain, brush to the…  You get it.

Some encounters with black ice occur with other people.  In the mid 60’s I was having dinner with a university professor and his wife when he abruptly asked, “What do you think of the NSA?” Fortunately, somewhere in my deep past I had learned to master flat affect. While my mind was on high alert to a question about a super-secret intelligence agency that almost no one ever heard of, and he was asking me about it, I took the risk so seldom taken of just presenting a blank face to him.  Apparently it worked.  “The National Students Association”, he said.  Speaking over the repeated order to Stand Down, Stand Down echoing through my head I simply said I had no time or interest for these things, devoting myself to my studies.  Professors love that.

Flat affect as a means of negotiating black ice also includes selective deafness.  Entering an office building in the 80’s I came abruptly to a receptionist desk staffed by two Greek National women.  As I approached to ask directions to the Director’s office I feigned glancing about and heard one mutter to the other, “CIA”.  I only asked for directions, which she gave me while scanning my clothing.  Echoes of the admonition, Thou dost protest too much lingered in the air as I walked past the desk feeling eyeballs creeping up and down my back.   

Social events are usually non-threatening.  After all, people who are in the game know who’s in the game or can spot them quickly.  I suppose it’s like what some people call “Gaydar”, the supposed ability to spot an otherwise unobtrusive gay person.  So, it’s attention to circumstances, readiness to ease off the gas, and don’t slam the Denial pedal at the first hint of a skid.  Social events also usually offer a mechanism not commonly found elsewhere: the ability to suddenly walk off from a conversation, an option to drive around the ice.  Rarely does someone pursue you to re-engage.  Of course, this is not so easy in sit-down dinner situations.  For the past several years I’ve been in dinner get-togethers with oil company executives and drilling engineers.  A couple of them know my orientation to the planet and their abuse of it.  Invariably, someone will expound on how climate change is a hoax, they will spread the black ice and see if I slip headlong onto it.  But I learned long ago: Never argue with a fool; they will be unable to understand your point even when you clearly make it.  And this is exponentially multiplied in the presence of several fools. 

But there are people you can’t just walk off from.  People you live with.  There are few things more deadly to a relationship than being compared to someone else in the relationship.  Parents often do this with children.  Teachers also.  I was raised on a litany of “Why can’t you be like your (older) brother?” from family and teachers alike.  Failing all attempts to assert and gain acceptance of my individuality, skidding on the black ice into various reactions many times, I finally realized I was not part of that family in the first place.  Biology does not make family; caring and mutually supportive people make family.

The same holds true in marriage and other close relationships.  Anyone who has had previous relationships – and how many haven’t? – can hardly avoid the memories of those other relationships, seeing the contrasts, for better or worse, with their current situation.  But voicing the comparisons is denying that partner their validity as an individual person.  I often say, Making someone else small doesn’t make you tall. Sure, it’s hard sometimes to avoid “going there”.  But once that groove has been cut it will never heal.      

Going down the road of life is a constant process of counter-posing short term actions versus long term results.  So many times it is possible win the battle and lose the war.  Instead of rising to every opportunity to correct someone, or even respond to what seems to be an insulting remark, I like to first ask myself what difference my action would make.

At the same time I do realize some people are not like me.  Some people do not realize the art of letting someone “save face”.  Some people are apparently unable to sense the feelings of others. So, there will be people who take my lack of response as a victory, accumulating one on top of another until they feel they can raise the bar to any level they want and I will be submissive. It then becomes harder to pull one’s punches, to avoid tacking someone up so tight their clothes won’t flap in a hurricane.

Remembering the many times in my youth I reacted to every perceived wrong, I’m learning to re-evaluate what’s right.  And taking every opportunity to venture onto black ice no longer strikes me as right.

 

 

 

 

 

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17 Comments
  1. For your nugget filled synopsis I present:

    I understand understandably that understanding understands to understandable understanding, understandably.

    The problem is probably problematically problematic probably problematically causing problematic problems.

    The late train is on time.

  2. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Love this, Marco! I think this is something I definitely needed to read right now!

  3. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Reblogged this on Ethereal Beings In My Life and commented:
    This is a wonderfully blog post on dealing with problems in life.

  4. Thanks for re-blogging, MJ. I’m glad it was interesting and helpful.

  5. Marco, I now strive for the flat affect thanks to learning about it from you. This works especially when I think someone wants a reaction out of me. I no longer have the energy to argue with fools or react to their stated assumptions about me. I feel a sense of relief that I have freed myself from this task.

    I live mostly in quiet, playing music only when inspired to do so. But I do have to wonder about those who can never seem to have quiet. I see so many people walking their dogs in midtown while wearing large, noise-cancelling headphones. First of all, don’t they realize how dangerous this is? And why go outdoors at all, if only to attempt to block out all sounds of it? Or, are they trying to escape their own thoughts? I don’t think I’m afraid of my own. Perhaps I’m used to them.

    • I’m glad that affect is working for you, though I love to see your smile. Yes, being free is a wonderful feeling – and sometimes quite maddening to others.

      I can’t imagine you drowning your thoughts with meaningless sounds, especially with what some call music. Being attuned, being open, can often mean being aware – of all things – and I know you are at your best when that is so.

  6. Having lived in several northern regions of the world, I have been exposed to driving on ice, both black and regular; not much fun on a motorcycle. There’s the anticipation of making a dangerous mistake, the corrective actions when something “slips”, and the relief when things are once again as they should be.

    Social black ice is much the same. I am not comfortable in social situations, and so I tend to withdraw as much as possible. I figured out long ago that it is the rare person who wants to know what I think, and especially if it does not vibe with their preconceived opinion.

    Because I am generally a socially shy introvert, I find it difficult to develop relationships. My real friends are few in number; others who claim friendship are often a disappointment, although I would never tell them so. I start out seeing the good similarities to past relationships, and end up seeing the bad ones. Some of us are just destined to skid along on life’s black ice, never quite finding the skill to navigate safely the world in which we are forced to live.

    • Thanks, Rose. I’m tempted to say your comments might be the beginning of a skid into depression, but I recognize your unflinching approach to reality. As I’ve said before, I think there is a fine line between depression and realism.

      Dana cited the flat affect approach. I’ve found that an active response to a person is an acceptance that the game is valid and you are willing to play. A flat affect, however, signals the game is utterly irrelevant to you and, like selective deafness, does not merit your attention. .

    • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

      As I was reading your response, I thought maybe I had written it and it slipped my mind!

      • Seems like we’re a community. A friend and I tossed around the idea of starting a community of mystics. We had a good laugh when we realized how absurd that was.

      • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

        I actually think if we did have a community of like-minded people, we would not be so alone because we would be others who can relate to us. I think it is not a bad idea!

      • Yes, but I’m old school. I prefer face to face get togethers.

      • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

        I am sort of like that. I have trouble with technology but then I also have trouble being in large groups. There seems to be something lacking in on-line communities. Emotions (emoticons are not emotions), proper grammar, etc. I always have trouble understanding what people are saying on Facebook. That could be why I prefer blogs. People write so you can understand them on blogs.

  7. Julie permalink

    Hello Marco, thank you for another beautifully thoughtful piece of writing. The feelings that came to me while reading this were – go with the flow, always keep an open mind. Also I really liked your words in the second last paragraph, as at the age of 50 I have learnt the same and completely relate – it reaffirms the need to surround yourself with the right people and when at times you can’t – I these type of people are in a world of their own. Thanks again Marco, you have a great gift in inspirational writing 🎓😊. Julie

    • My very sincere thanks, Julie. I very much appreciate your taking the time to read, and to respond to my writings. I hope I continue to provide you with writings you find worthwhile. Marco

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