Whew, dear readers. After weeks of inactivity (blog-wise, that is) I have recently noticed more and more “can this be true?” events in the world.
You’ve probably seen the news story of actress Anne Heche driving out of control and hitting some unlucky woman’s house, causing it to burst into flames and destroying all of her possessions.
While Ms. Heche’s subsequent intubation and mental health issues may deserve sympathy too, here’s what has me shaking my head: WHY does the woman whose house was crashed into need a GoFundMe page to get her life back together, rather than millionaire Ms. Heche’s family immediately offering to pay what’s necessary??
And on a different note (literally), I was driving the other day and an old Eric Clapton song, “I can’t stand it” came on the radio.
My question: Who on God’s green earth would EVER cheat on Eric Clapton?!?
I hope this is not a new trend. In recent weeks, Dear Husband and I have eaten at two excellent restaurants with truly inferior bread. What gives??
First up, Toulouse — a lovely French/Creole place in Seattle, where one would expect to find good sourdough or certainly an acceptable baguette. Instead, we got flabby structure and squishy crust; mon Dieu!
Then, last week, a local place on the Oregon coast — the Bay House — which has a relaxing ambiance, superb service, and beautiful food (see below) — with this notable exception. Hey, if it’s too humid, pop the loaf in an oven to crisp it up! I’m tempted to bring my own sourdough next time. Think they’d mind?
Bread lovers of the world, unite! And what’s your pet peeve when eating out, dear readers?
All week, I’ve been trying to “find” time to write a post. And remaining unsuccessful, whether due to lack of inspiration or lack of dedication, who can say. All I know is, sometimes the things we want or need to do feel too much like homework. And, boy, do I hate that little voice in my head telling me what I’m “supposed” to be doing.
I’ve decided to consider this more as “postponement”; doesn’t that sound much more positive?! After all, all the ways I’ve been distracted have been productive, just not exactly in the same way as the task I failed to do.
I’ve paid bills. Taken lots of walks. Made blinis, to go with the smoked salmon I’m finally taking out of the fridge. I’m currently making another batch of sourdough — a great all-day postponement activity if ever there was one. I’ve happily done the laundry and other housework. Ordered holiday gifts. Answered e-mails. Called my 99-year-old cousin. Cleaned the car — or will, as soon as I finish typing.
“Writer’s block” sounds so unforgiving. Let’s call it “writer’s break” instead, shall we?
If you didn’t grow up on the US East Coast or belong to one of the ethnic groups mentioned, you may wonder why their conversational style is so different from your own.
In Real Life, Not All Interruptions Are Rude
Deborah Tannen for The New York Times 9.25.21
Ms. Tannen is a university professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of many books on conversation, gender and other topics, including “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.”
Interruption — the offense of stealing the floor when someone else is talking — has become the grand larceny of conversation.
It seems self-evident. Starting to speak before another has finished violates their right to the floor. In formal contexts such as political debates, it breaches the rules. In casual conversation, it is simply rude.
But it’s not so simple. As a linguist who studies the mechanics of conversation, I’ve observed and documented that beginning to talk while another is talking can be a way of showing enthusiastic engagement with what the speaker is saying. Far from silencing them, it can be encouragement to keep going. That’s a practice that I call “cooperative overlapping.”
As offices and schools reopen, and we venture into more in-person social gatherings, we’re having to relearn how to have conversations: how to start them, how to join them, how to get the floor and keep it. On screens, it’s relatively easy: Click on the raised-hand icon or signal with an actual hand, and you’ll be invited to speak when the time is right. But when talking with others in person, how do you show you have something to say without seeming rude? How do you handle it when you feel interrupted?
These challenges are emotionally loaded, because talking isn’t only about communication; it’s also about relationships. You may resent — or dislike — those who speak over you. And being accused of interrupting when you didn’t intend to feels terrible. It could come as a relief to know that what might be going on is cooperative overlapping.
The concept was recently plucked from my academic writing and thrust into public discourse when a journalist, Erin Biba, tweeted a TikTok video in which a user named Sari shared her excitement over discovering the term in my book “Conversational Style.” Many expressed their relief that the “interrupting” they had been criticized for is a recognized supportive conversational move: “Ahhhh omg it feels so validating to hear this has a name!” tweeted the entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash. “I really struggle with talking over people (I understand many experience this very negatively) but it’s an incredibly difficult pattern to change because it’s literally how I grew up communicating enthusiasm & support.”
Indeed cooperative overlapping, like all conversational habits, has cultural roots. It is learned the way language is learned: by hearing others talk while growing up. I first identified the conversational move — and its misinterpretation — while analyzing a dinner table conversation I had taken part in, along with five friends. Three, including me, were from New York City, two were from California, and one was from London.
By transcribing the two-and-a-half-hour conversation, timing pauses and noting when two voices were going at once, I saw that we New Yorkers often talked over others. When we did this with another New Yorker, the speaker kept going, undeterred or even more animated. But if we did the same thing with a non-New Yorker, the speaker stopped.
Someone overhearing the conversation or reading the transcript might think it obvious that a rude interruption had occurred: Someone began speaking while another was midsentence, and cut them off. But based on close analysis of the entire conversation, I could see that the awkwardness resulted from differing assumptions about overlap.
Cooperative overlapping is a particularly active form of what I call “participatory listenership.” All listeners must do something to show they haven’t mentally checked out of a conversation. If they don’t, the speaker will have trouble continuing — as you know if you’ve ever talked to a screen full of motionless faces, or a roomful of blank stares. Signs of listening can range from nodding or an occasional “mhm” or “uhuh” (or a shower of them); to a murmured “I would’ve done the same thing”; to repeating what the speaker just said; to interjecting briefly with a similar story, then yielding the floor back. Even true interruptions, if they’re mutual, can rev up the conversation, inspiring speakers to greater conversational heights. The adrenaline makes the mind grow sharper and the tongue more eloquent.
Anthropologists and linguists have described overlapping talk as enthusiastic participation in various cultures around the world: Karl Reisman for Antiguans; Alessandro Duranti for Samoans; Reiko Hayashi for Japanese; and Frederick Erickson for Italian Americans, for example. And people from many other backgrounds, including Poles and Russians, Indians and Pakistanis, Armenians and Greeks, tell me they recognize the practice from their own communities.
Of course, not all members of any regional or cultural group have the same style. And those who grow up in one environment then move to another can get rusty. One of the New Yorkers at the dinner I studied told me that he’d lived in California so long, he had to struggle to stay part of the conversation. But he’s still a New Yorker: His California-born-and-bred wife often accuses him of interrupting her.
It’s when conversational styles clash that problems arise. Those who aren’t used to cooperative overlapping can end up feeling interrupted, silenced, maybe even attacked — which clouds their minds and ties their tongues. The Californians and the Londoner in my study felt that the New Yorkers had “dominated” the conversation. In a way, we did, but not because we meant to. From our perspective, the others chose not to join in. Cooperative overlapping is part of a conversational ethic that regards perceptible pauses as awkward silence, to be avoided by keeping pauses short — or nonexistent. Those of us who converse this way often don’t realize that someone who wants to speak might be waiting for a pause to join in.
Once, when I was talking about this study on a radio talk show, a listener called to say she identified: After she and her husband had hosted a great dinner party, he would accuse her of hogging the floor and shutting him out. “He’s a big boy,” she said. “He can speak up just like me or anyone else.” In the background, her husband’s voice explained why he couldn’t: “You need a crowbar to get into those conversations!” His metaphor was perfect: If the pause you expect between speaking turns doesn’t come, you really can’t figure out a way to break in.
Not all overlapping is cooperative. It can really be intended to dominate the conversation, steal the floor or even to undermine the speaker. But understanding that talking along may be cooperative can make our conversations better, as we return to in-person socializing and work. If you notice someone has been silent, you might count to seven before beginning to speak again, or invite them to speak. If you’ve been waiting in vain for a pause, you might push yourself to jump in. And if you feel interrupted, try continuing to talk, instead of stopping.
If “Don’t interrupt me” is sometimes a reasonable request, so is “Don’t just sit there! Please overlap — cooperatively!”
Another adventure in the ongoing saga,Tales of Covid. Despite all the perky reassurances that our initial Pfizer shots were still “highly” effective, whatever that means, Dear Husband and I were eager to get a third shot as soon as possible.
Breaking news Friday was that the Oregon Health Authority would follow the CDC’s Thursday booster recommendation for us 65+-ers as well as the immunocompromised and workers in potentially perilous industries.
Actually finding somewhere to do it was a bit more challenging. The first stop was a nearby RiteAid drugstore, where the apologetic youngster at the prescription drop-off told us they were waiting for the OR pharmacy board to also get on board so nothing was likely to happen any time soon.
Next stop: the Internet, to check availabilty through our local healthcare system. Although phone calls and attempting an online appointment proved futile, the walk-in urgent care clinic seemed poised to administer boosters, so off I went first thing Saturday morning while DH stayed behind to watch football and await my report. I expected long lines of eager seniors brandishing canes and face masks, but the clinic looked quite deserted.
I wasn’t optimistic, since the receptionist chirpily showed me a now-out-of-date notification that only mentioned the immunocomprised with an eight-month timeline for eligibility. But, to her credit, when I pointed out the smaller line reading “some people who received the Pfizer vaccine may get a booster six months after their second dose”, she allowed me to sign in. One of the few times that vagueness has been a benefit!
While waiting to be called back, I was happy to see two pairs of 20-somethings arriving for their second shots. The message is finally trickling down that the vaccine is a) effective and b) necessary if we’re ever going to beat this thing.
One quick jab, one sore arm, and several headaches later, I feel poised to rejoin the world with a bit less anxiety. DH, who received his booster Saturday afternoon, had more severe side effects — fatigue, soreness, headache, and feeling “flu-ish”– but is on the mend.
With some of my favorite people about to move out of the neighborhood, I’ve been realizing that friendship is largely situational.
In childhood, we make friends through chance commonalities. We may live on the same street. Go to the same school — where we often become friends with the person who sits next to us because their name starts with the same letter — or play the same sport. Or fidget through the same religious services.
As adults, we might meet because our children know each other. Become friends with our co-workers. Live near each other. Volunteer for the same causes; attend the same church, mosque or synagogue; chat on a trip; or detest a common enemy.
Many connections fade without the proximity that is friendship’s oxygen. And that’s ok: they enriched our lives while we shared common experiences.
But if we’re lucky, a special few survive geographical separation because our deeper interests and affection forge a long-term bond.
So, in honor of all our besties, some wise quotes:
“An old friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a dead body.” Jim Hayes
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.” Mark Twain
“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.” Sylvia Plath
“Friends give you a shoulder to cry on. But best friends are ready with a shovel to hurt the person who made you cry.” Unknown
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’” A. A. Milne
For my stepdaughter’s upcoming bachelorette weekend, attendees have been asked to offer a piece of marriage advice. Below are some observations to ponder, serious and otherwise.
“A wedding may require a team of professionals; a marriage only requires two amateurs.”
“It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” ~Rita Rudner
“In olden times, sacrifices were made at the altar. They still are.”
“Marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”
“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.” ~Benjamin Franklin”
“Marriage is the bond between a person who never remembers anniversaries and another who never forgets them.” ~Ogden Nash
“The best way to get most husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they’re too old to do it.” ~Anne Bancroft
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.”
On a less-snarky note, the following is a good checklist for how to get along in any long-term partnership. Condensed here, so click for the full article.
Remember Your Commitment Life is busy and unpredictable. You both signed up to ride together during whatever comes your way. A foundation of love and caring helps you get through the tough times.
Assume the Best of One Another Unless you’re married to a total rotter, your partner probably means the best. Even if they piss you off — and they will — their intentions were likely pure. So, as a general rule, assume you both have each other’s best interests in mind. (Unless proven otherwise.)
Don’t Ever Stop Trying Make the commitment to keep being generous, showing appreciation, and saying thank you more than you probably are. Being taken for granted is never sexy.
Stop Stonewalling This is the act of shutting down during an argument. The person stonewalling stops responding and maintains a calm exterior, which tells their partner that they don’t care at all about what they’re saying. What to do instead? Ask for a break. Then return to the discussion — sooner rather than later — when you’re ready.
Communicate Respectfully Argue and attack the issues at hand without getting defensive, digging up the past and throwing it in the other’s face, dismissing a partner’s experience, or any other caustic habit.
Always Be Flexible Life’s full of surprises, not always pleasant ones. A couple’s ability to ‘go with the flow’ – especially when it’s dramatically different from what they expected – gives them the opportunity to learn new skills and get to know each other in ways they might never have known before.
Curiosity Saves Couples Your partner will likely change over time, so being open to the ways in which he or she changes can allow you to identify the ways you’ve changed as well. Shared curiosity — learning a new skill, hobby, traveling, etc. — creates new opportunities to bond.
Be Willing to Grow and Learn Everyone screws up, says dumb things, gets stuff wrong. It’s all about how people react that defines a relationship. Being willing to admit mistakes, and apologize sincerely, is an important key in creating a deeper bond with your partner.
Stop Invalidating This type of belittling can be incredibly destructive to a relationship, implying that what they’re doing or saying means they must be either crazy, stupid, or some combination of the two. It can happen in a quick, almost casual manner (“That’s ridiculous”), or it can be passive-aggressive, telling a partner how they should react before you even speak (“Don’t freak out, but I have to tell you something…”). Marriages thrive on mutual trust, respect, and security. Without this, the relationship will eventually corrode.
Prioritize Sex and Date Nights When you’re busy, this means putting it on a schedule and sticking to it. Like other self-care activities (e.g., going to the gym) if you don’t block time out in your schedule, it’s not going to happen. Especially if you have young kids.
Get on the Same Page Whether it’s how and what involvement the in-laws will have, how many activities the kids should participate in, or even when/if to have children, having the same priorities builds trust and reduces stress.
Learn How to Move On From Arguments Disagreement is unavoidable in any marriage — as are spats, snipes, and all-out fights. “It’s important to talk about what happened afterward and own your part,” says one marriage and family therapist.
Laugh it Up If you can laugh together, you can survive anything.
Always Be Validating Having your partner listen, appreciate, and understand you speaks to a basic need for connection. It’s okay to disagree, as long as you respect each other.
Stop Obsessing Over Who Wins When couples respect each other, they can accept not being right in favor of maintaining a healthy balance. Successful couples choose their battles, knowing that closeness can sometimes be more satisfying than being right.
Make Time for Self-Care Don’t just take care of your spouse; look after yourself. That means exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, and making regular doctor and dentist appointments. Investing in yourself and your own well-being shows your partner that you want to be at your best for them.
Pay Attention to the Little Things For couples who have mutual respect, small gestures are second-nature. A simple love note, a slightly longer hug or kiss goodbye can make your partner feel validated and appreciated.
Give One Another Space It’s important to be supportive and engaged with your spouse. But you also can’t hover over them and try and solve all their problems for them. Have enough faith in each other to know when to step back and let them handle something on their own.
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and articles about “new season dressing”, summer fashion, etc. But no one seems be addressing the critical need for a leisurewear wardrobe for those of us still in need of shedding the dreaded COVID-19. (That’s lbs not kilos, as COVID-8.618 doesn’t scan as well.)
Clearly, this dearth of fashion advice needs to be addressed forthwith.
CASUAL: This is the category for dashing to the grocery store, UPS drop-off, and other errands. Heathered grey pairs well with most t-shirts and face masks. Most casual are those with ribbed ankles, which work with either sneakers/trainers or flip flops. Highly versatile!
BUSINESS CASUAL: Black, of course, ups the elegance factor of these garments. A bootcut hem balances the body, distracting from the mid-section. (We would not be in sweatpants to begin with if our mid-section was svelte, no?) Pair with a bright top for seasonal glamour.
DRESSY: Black leggings – freshly cleaned and not too formfitting – covered with a very long cardigan or duster, also in black, that floats away from the body. Bright lipstick focuses attention on the lips, not the hips. Pair with heels if you must, though do not imagine you will fool anyone into thinking this outfit is haute couture.
SLOB: When no one will see you — cleaning the house or garage, painting, cooking, etc. The more stains, the merrier. A matching tee or sweatshirt adds to the “Je ne care pas” insouciance. Just do NOT answer the doorbell.
Meanwhile, this writer strives to lose the extra poundage and fit back into real clothes, especially with a family wedding on the fall horizon. However, nothing is quite so boring as someone’s weight loss “journey”, am I right?
In recent years, our little community has sadly become increasingly polarized, what with strongly-held opinions on such crises as “LollipopGate” (did the former head of the vegetation committee instruct landscapers to trim certain trees in unnatural shapes?),”GateGate” (did the front gate close on a neighbor’s car through malfunction, or was this an error on the part of the driver?),”PoopGate” (did a neighbor deliberately not pick up after their pet, or did the outraged complainant mistake a clump of mud for dog poop?), and “SnoopGate” (did a neighbor repairing storm-related damage to his home knowingly violate The Rules? And could the “concerned party” have asked the owner directly about his repairs? Or — gasp — maybe offered to help rather than contacting the Powers-That-Be as a first resort?) Deep breath.
There seems to be no shortage of time for people to complain, yet little interest in listening to the other side. And it’s all gotten notably worse since the last US election, with the endless repetition of bs about “stolen” votes. I swear we have grooves in our roads from everyone digging in their heels!
So it was with great interest that I read the following piece on studyfinds.org. Perhaps there’s reason to be hopeful after all.
Political polarization study finds liberal and conservative brains have one thing in common
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There seems to be no end in sight to the political divide splitting America in two right now. While political polarization is not a new phenomenon, researchers say they still know very little about what causes people to see the world through an ideological bias. Now, a team from Brown University reveals liberals and conservatives actually do share some common ground — they all hate uncertainty.
Their study finds the brains of “political partisans” on both sides of the spectrum show an inability to tolerate uncertainty. These individuals also have a need to hold onto predictable beliefs about the world they live in.
Examining a group of liberals and conservatives, researchers discovered watching politically inflammatory debates or news coverage exacerbates each person’s intolerance of the unknown. Liberals began to display more liberal thinking and conservatives moved further to the conservative side. Despite their ideological differences, the team finds the same brain mechanics are driving this behavior.
“This is the first research we know of that has linked intolerance to uncertainty to political polarization on both sides of the aisle,” says study co-author Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, in a university release. “So whether a person in 2016 was a strongly committed Trump supporter or a strongly committed Clinton supporter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that an aversion to uncertainty only exacerbates how similarly two conservative brains or two liberal brains respond when consuming political content.”
Political views not to blame for polarized society?
Study authors used fMRI scans to measure brain activity while participants watched three different programs. The 22 conservatives and 22 liberals viewed a neutrally-worded news report on the very polarizing topic of abortion, a fiery political debate segment, and a completely non-political nature show.
After seeing the videos, participants answered questions gauging their understanding and opinions of the different segments. They also completed political and cognitive surveys measuring their intolerance of uncertainty. According to study co-author Jeroen van Baar, the results show political polarization is less about what people think and more about how their brains cope with the world around them.
“We found that polarized perception — ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality — was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general,” says van Baar, a former Brown researcher now at Trimbos, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “This shows that some of the animosity and misunderstanding we see in society is not due to irreconcilable differences in political beliefs, but instead depends on surprising — and potentially solvable — factors such as the uncertainty people experience in daily life.”
“We used relatively new methods to look at whether a trait like intolerance of uncertainty exacerbates polarization, and to examine if individual differences in patterns of brain activity synchronize to other individuals that hold like-minded beliefs,” FeldmanHall adds.
Birds of a (political) feather flock together
The study also reveals brain activity and neural responses in partisans diverge between liberals and conservatives. Researchers say these differences reflect each side’s subjective interpretation of the content they’re viewing. People who strongly identify as liberals processed political videos in a very similar way to other liberals in the study; a trait called neural synchrony. Study authors discovered the same thing when examining the brains of conservatives.
“If you are a politically polarized person, your brain syncs up with like-minded individuals in your party to perceive political information in the same way,” FeldmanHall explains.
The results also show people displaying a higher level of intolerance for uncertainty are more sensitive to politically polarizing content. Surprisingly, the news report on abortion with a completely neutral tone did not exacerbate the group’s polarized perceptions.
“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” the researchers explain.
“This is key because it implies that ‘liberal and conservative brains’ are not just different in some stable way, like brain structure or basic functioning, as other researchers have claimed, but instead that ideological differences in brain processes arise from exposure to very particular polarizing material,” van Baar concludes. “This suggests that political partisans may be able to see eye to eye — provided we find the right way to communicate.”