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Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2 July 31, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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Please read/reread “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 1” before reading Part 2.  You’ll find it in Top Posts in the column at the right.  If you access it through Tags or Categories under Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you have to scroll down past Part 2 to reach Part 1.  Note: In Part 2, I’ll refer to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) simply as a narcissist.

I was mulling over how to begin Part 2 when I happened upon a card in a shop. On the front it said, “Wonder if you looked deep inside yourself and found out no one was home?” The inside of the card was blank. What a perfect analogy for a narcissist!

Remember, that to avoid further hurt and abandonment, the child’s True Self retreated into a virtual human “panic room” to hide. There the immature child remains protected, but mortally wounded. His ability to emotionally bond with another human has been “disabled.”  The carefully crafted social mask, known as the False Self, is now firmly in place.

The False Self embodies everything the child is not, so the narcissist often projects an image of being all knowing and all powerful. I’m in charge here! I’m an authority! The narcissist is able to fly under most people’s radar because he can actually be quite charming when it suits him, or if he needs something from someone. You might even be tempted to think he is “normal.” Think again. Although the narcissist has matured physically and intellectually, emotionally he is a kindergartener who won’t share and doesn’t play well with others.

There’s a reason I chose the title Close Encounter with a Narcissist, and it’s not because I’m a big Stephen Spielberg fan. Only those people who dare to get too “close” to a narcissist see him drop his social mask. Since most of the narcissist’s abuse takes place behind closed doors, there are no witnesses.

For four months, I was Joe’s confidante and “go to” person. After my encounter with Joe, I talked to several people who knew him. These were people whom Joe regarded as part of his “inner circle,” yet when I asked them about Joe, they confessed they actually knew very little about him. Oh, there were those odd and inappropriate comments he’d make from time to time. “But, that’s just the way Joe is,” they shrugged, adding, “Besides, who’d want to get to know him better. He’s so weird!” Sheepishly, I raised my hand.

Humans – What are they good for?

Now I want to share the ugliest secret of the narcissist, the thing I found impossible to imagine, let alone to believe.

If the narcissist doesn’t think of other humans as caring others, then how does he view them? The answer is as things, i.e., mirrors. The mirror has one purpose. It’s to reflect back to the narcissist the image his False Self projects to the world. Period.

When I first read about this, the idea that a human = a thing just didn’t make sense. I’d spent hours listening to Joe recount stories of traumatic events from his childhood. Never mind that if I brought up my family or my life, Joe could barely stifle a yawn. I imagined myself as Joe’s safe haven. And I have to admit, I enjoyed this role. Maybe it’s a maternal thing. I have two sons and also have a younger brother. I imagined Joe thought, “I can be myself with her.” So I wasn’t a THING! Things are to be used. But that’s just what Joe did. He used me.

Let’s face it. One mirror is as good as the next and I was just one of Joe’s many mirrors. Every time I listened attentively and nodded my head or smiled, this was confirmation to Joe that the grandiose image his False Self projected to the world was, in fact, real. He liked the reflection of himself that he saw in my mirror. He found it flattering.

Joe’s co-workers and neighbors were also mirrors. The narcissist thinks of all these lesser people as human “wallpaper” like you’d have on your computer or cell phone. Something pleasant to look at in the background. Period.

My attention – anyone’s attention, whether it be positive or negative, verified to Joe that he existed. This is what’s known as Narcissistic Supply (NS). Drugs are to an addict as NS is to a narcissist.

Narcissists as Emotional Vampires

Narcissists are frequently compared to vampires and it’s not just because of that mirror thing. Narcissists are eternally seeking the life force of another, that perfect someone who will fill their inner void. They’re drawn to people who are vital and possess the very qualities they’re sadly lacking – empathy and a love of life.

I realized there were many things about me and my life that Joe envied. My energy. My social ease. My creativity. It was as though Joe hoped to expropriate these qualities by associating with me.

What the narcissist doesn’t understand is that what’s missing from his life is not someone, but something. It’s that something he never received in childhood, and it’s not something that can be “found.” Although their False Self projects confidence and knowledge, the inner life of the narcissist is emotionally barren. Their True Self is locked away. No one is at home.

D&D or Humans as Disposable Plastic Forks

Since most narcissists are men, that perfect someone is most likely a woman. But when it comes to relationships, narcissists are like robots with one foot nailed to the floor, destined to go round and round in a circle. This cycle has three phases: Idealization, Devalue, and Discard (D&D). This is the script and it never varies. Because of the narcissist’s magical thinking, he actually believes it’s possible do the same thing over and over again and each time the result will be different.

During the initial Idealization phase, the woman is put on a pedestal by the narcissist, who is almost giddy with excitement. He is like a small child anticipating a present. The narcissist is on his best behavior – charming, energetic, and seemingly caring.

Joe was a chronic flirt and always kept his phone on speakerphone. So I got to hear his convoluted conversations with women he was pursuing. It was painful listening to a woman explain to Joe that she wasn’t interested in him romantically as he looked over and gave me a knowing wink. “So what time should I pick you up?” he’d ask. Narcissists don’t like it when people say “No” to them. Joe even admitted he’d been told he had “boundary issues.”

Another woman told Joe he lacked basic conversational skills, so he went out and purchased a package of instructional tapes to boost his vocabulary. I tried to explain to Joe that his vocabulary wasn’t the issue, but he really didn’t get it. “Did you notice how I already inserted the word ‘cache’ into the conversation,” he said proudly. He continued to badger this woman until she finally stood him up.

You see, what a narcissist loves most is the chase. Once a woman actually shows any real interest in him, well, this is the beginning of the end. Huh?

As a Cross is to a Vampire: Emotional Intimacy is to a Narcissist

Whether you’re someone’s friend or their lover, there’s an expectation that as you get to know each other, you’ll grow closer. Ideally, familiarity breeds content. Not so with a narcissist. Remember, the narcissist is not capable of establishing a genuine emotional bond with another human. So for a narcissist, familiarity breeds contempt. A narcissist dreads emotional intimacy because it requires him to actually care and the best he can do is feign caring. When you are someone’s friend or lover, they naturally have expectations. Narcissists hate expectations and feel suffocated by them.

I have a close friend who was involved with a narcissist. A therapist told her that anyone involved with a narcissist should know that person is always looking over their shoulder. No, not backwards, but over YOUR shoulder, because a narcissist is always on the lookout for the next best thing. Like small children, they’re easily bored.

So when the idealized woman begins to exhibit “human” traits, e.g., caring, emotions, or expectations of emotional intimacy, the narcissist is repulsed and prepares to move on.

Remember, the narcissist’s mother emotionally abandoned him, so he is determined to never be abandoned again. This time he’ll abandon HER first. (Again, any woman can play the role of Mom) In fact, he’ll even engage in crazy-making behavior to hasten this cycle. If you apply “human” logic to sort this out, you’re doomed to get one very large headache. It’s just their nature. It’s how they’re hardwired.

When a Mirror Malfunctions

If you’re a narcissist, you want your mirrors to reflect a flattering image of you. Personally, I like mirrors that take 10 pounds off, and avoid one mirror in particular that highlights the scowl line on my forehead. So it is with the narcissist. When the image his mirror reflects back to him is less than flattering, it’s time to trade up. You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” But what if the messenger (that annoying mirror) is delivering a message you don’t want to hear? If you’re a narcissist, this is a no brainer. Reach for the ammo.

Shooting the messenger aka Devaluation takes many forms: A snide or dismissive remark here, a sarcastic jab there, an odd, critical comment, or an inappropriate sexual innuendo. Each designed to chip away at the other’s self-esteem and allow the narcissist to gain the upper hand. The victim is left reeling and wondering, “Why would he say something so cruel?”

When Joe would say something mean out of the blue, it totally took me off guard. By the time I recovered from the sheer shock of this hit, he’d already moved on. It left me doubting my own sanity. I thought we were friends. So what was THAT about?

Time and time again, Joe sought me out just to talk or to solicit my advice. I’m a natural nurturer so when someone asks for my help, I spring to action. When Joe had questions about a shaky real estate venture, I hooked him up with a friend who knew that market. When he was considering taking another job, I arranged for Joe to meet with someone who’d actually overseen that job, so he could get the inside track.

What I didn’t realize was that a narcissist is most likely to devalue someone he owes gratitude to because asking for help damages his image. So the narcissist repays help (even though he asked for it) as though it were an insult. He must devalue the giver or it, as if such a contemptible person is incapable of really helping someone as grand as he. And that’s exactly what Joe did.

Let me give you an example from my own D&D experience.  This occurred behind closed doors so there are no witnesses, but I was there and this conversation is seared in my memory.

I’d been working in my garden pruning roses and hadn’t bothered to wear gloves. As a result, my forearms were crisscrossed with scratches.

Joe sauntered in.  “It looks like you tried to slit your wrists!” he said.

“As you can see, I’m directionally challenged!” was my reply. (I’m a hopeless smartass)

“Well, next time you want do it let me know and I’ll help you,”  Joe said, matter-of-factly.

Then smiling, he continued, “Better yet, I’ll do it for you to make sure you get the job done!”

Now, I’d had a very difficult day, so I actually winced when Joe said that. It didn’t strike me as funny. It hurt my feelings. I felt my face turn red and my eyes welled up with tears.

“What’s the matter?  Joe asked. “Are we thin-skinned?” He had a smirk on his face.

I dried my eyes and told Joe he reminded me of a child who professes to love animals then pokes the old bear in the cage at the zoo with a stick. Joe began laughing hysterically. I’d never seen him laugh so loud and so long.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

Joe was so doubled over with laughter he could barely get the words out. “It’s not an old bear,” he said. “It’s an old toothless lion with no fur left on its tail!” This sent him into another hysterical fit of laughter.

Now, I’m older than Joe and have a mane of red hair, so I instinctively knew “who” the lion was. Watching his glee at my expense was a revelation. Joe had dropped his mask and what was behind the mask? A cruel, selfish child, reduced to taunting another human.

Joe was my friend, but friends don’t hurt each other, at least not on purpose. The hardest part was realizing that I never really “knew” Joe at all. “Wonder if you looked deep inside yourself and found out no one was home?” What a sad life, indeed. But don’t feel sorry for the narcissist. Feel sorry for his victims because the narcissist doesn’t give them a second thought. He’s already moved on to the next best thing.

I know I didn’t tell you there was going to be a quiz, but I’m a teacher. It’s MY nature. Besides, I know you got a perfect score on the quiz at the end of Part 1. To pass, all you have to do is complete the following analogy:

As a cross is to a vampire; ________ __________ is to a narcissist.

Sorry, but I don’t have the technical capabilities to put the answer upside down at the bottom. So, if you’re stumped, you can scroll back and reread. Only you know that you’re cheating. To be honest, I don’t care. What’s important to me is that, in the end, you get it.

Part 3 (The final installment): Three BIG Red Flags of NPD; Grandiosity and Lack of Empathy; Cerebral vs. Somatic Narcissists; The Myth of Healing the Narcissist; Life After the Narcissist; and Acknowledgments.

Photo credit:  Unicorn Mask by Matty on flickr.

Click on this link to read Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 3.

Summer – 1/2 Gone July 29, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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It’s official.  Summer Vacation is half over.  My friend Christine told me yesterday and didn’t even bother to try to paint the glass as half-full.  That leaves only five weeks to cram in all the wild activities I’d planned for this summer.  Oh, make that four weeks, as I’m doing a week-long math training in August.  I might as well start ironing the clothes I’m going to wear the first day back.  And where did I put those student name tags?

I can’t really complain as many of my colleagues fought the good fight and taught Summer School, which is now referred to as Intervention, as when they’re done, they WILL require some sort of professional intervention.

It used to be that when teachers were asked what the best part of teaching was, they gave three reasons; June, July, and August.  Seeing as how my school lets out the third week of June, that no longer flies.  Also, In my district, we’re not paid over the summer, so between July 1 and Oct. 1, I’m performing without a net. Time to dip into all those canned goods that were stockpiled in anticipation of Y2K.  

I spent the first half of the summer preparing for and entertaining my friends from England.  But now the lawn is long gone, as are the houseguests, and sadly, the summer is half gone as well.  From this point on, every minute counts.  I remind myself of this when I’m lying in bed at 10 a.m. or contemplating taking a shower and getting dressed before “Oprah” airs.

Last summer I packed up my car the last day of school, then drove around all summer without ever getting around to unpacking it.  In September, I carried all the same stuff back up to my classroom.  At least this summer I’ve unpacked the inside of the car, but the trunk is still fully loaded.  I’ve forgotten, however, what was so valuable that I had to bring it home in the first place.

We were inundated with new curriculum last year, so I did bring home all of the Teacher’s Editions to get a head’s up over the summer.  Now if only I could find them.

So. tomorrow I’m going to get up early as I’ve got a lot to cram into every day from now until Sept. 2nd.  Just don’t call me before 10 a.m., okay?

Back to Reality July 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
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It took two cars to transport my friends from England to LAX with all their plunder. They gave it their all trying to buoy the U.S. economy. Lesley spent valiantly until the very end. Down to her last $20, she fixated on a lawn ornament at Joanne’s, a metal stake that featured a pyramid of farm animals. She carried this Americana saber around for half an hour before finally admitting it wouldn’t fit in her suitcase.

Instead, Lesley bought some new fangled things, evidently unavailable in England, called paper napkins.These matched the stack of plastic picnic plates she’d purchased on sale. Hey, the dollar is worth only 50 percent of the English pound and all items were 60 percent off. If you do the math, the cashier was handing out cash.

Facing the 11-hour flight back to Heathrow, our friends were in no great hurry to leave until I told them the tonic had run out. That sent them packing. Now we’re left with a big bottle of gin, no tonic, and sadly, no houseguests.

Who could ever have imagined that I’d meet someone over the internet, jet off to spend New Year’s Eve with their family in England, and they’d be sitting out on my porch in sunny California sipping G&Ts six months later? When Richard left for the airport with Ian and Lucy, he said they both waved to our house and said, “Goodbye our American home!”

So, after hosting a two-week long party that made the Boston Tea Party look like a rather sedate and proper affair, it’s back to reality. Reality sucks.

Here’s the skinny on the cultural exchange between the Brits and the Americans. Let’s keep score. (If you’re a teacher, you might want to use a Venn diagram.)

The British learned:

People in LA are way nicer than people in snotty San Francisco.

People in the U.S. have pigs living inside and broom closets outside.

If you use the toilet at a restaurant, someone will take away your salad.

The sun may never set on the British Empire, but it’s always sunny in California

If you order a hamburger “without salad,” you have to also specify that you don’t want lettuce, tomato, or anything green.

The Dewey Decimal system is alive and well in America. (Lesley made a surprise spot check)

Americans eat these strange contraptions called artichokes. Then, after performing a bizarre cutting ritual, consume their hearts, which are actually quite tasty.

The Americans learned:

Brits call leftovers “bits and pieces.”

Brits take this shagging thing quite seriously and also engage in something referred to as snogging, which they say the Scots also do with sheep. We talked about joining them in Scotland to check our the veracity of this claim.

Brits refer to the lowly rhinestone as “diamonte” and covet it like raccoons.

People from Manchester, England are referred to as Manculians, which is just downright kinky.

I’d say it was an even exchange with the common currency being laughter. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard and so much in ages. What’s funny is that after all my obsessing about where to take my visitors, they seemed to be happiest when sitting out “in the garden.” That’s Brit-speak for a patio. They wallowed in the sun, as I believe it took them two full weeks just to dry out. After a few days they were casually stepping over the pig and throwing the mousetraps back on the couch, so the dogs wouldn’t sit on them. In short, they made themselves at home.

I can hardly wait to say, “Hello English home” again. Hugs across the pond to all my friends in the UK.

Done with the Sun July 23, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Health.
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It’s no secret.  I’m white, but not white like raw chicken.  I like to point out that although I have red hair, I don’t have freckles. My mother always said I was lucky to get my father’s olive complexion.  As a child, I found this confusing because when I held up a cocktail olive next to my skin, I couldn’t see a match.

Last year I decided that a hat, sunglasses, and sun block were no longer enough.  I bought a lacquer-coated paper parasol like the ones I’ve seen Asian women carrying.  I read that for many Asians, it’s more of a cultural thing.  Historically, having a tan was a dead giveaway that you worked in the fields.  In the store, all folded up, the parasol looked like it had Chinese characters on it.  I imagined they said “Prosperity” or “Abundance.” But when I got the parasol home and opened it, those Chinese characters said “Skull and Crossbones.”  Oops!

I wondered if this image, which I associate with a label that screams POISON, might alarm my students, so I worked on my comeback line.  “The sun is like poison to my skin,” I’d say.  I needn’t have bothered.  The first day I carried my parasol, a crowd of children yelled, Pirates of the Caribbean!  

When students asked where I’d gotten my parasol, I took to telling them I got it from a pirate who was in touch with his feminine side.  They’d walk off looking rather confused, but then I like to give kids something to think about.

What I’m going to say next is a little awkward seeing as I’m always the person reminding everyone to put on that SPF 60 sun block 30 minutes before they even think of going outside.  

Right now the skin on my back is the color of the pimento in that cocktail olive from so long ago.  Yes, I have a sunburn.  How could this have happened?

I went to the beach to meet my friends.  I don’t even like to go to the beach unless it’s at sunset or during the winter, but I do like my friends so I made what’s called a Small Sacrifice.  But then I did a bad, bad thing.  It was a gray cloudy day.  I was wearing a top with spaghetti straps and had my back to where the sun should have been.  By the time it occurred to me that maybe I should put on sun block, my back was toast. 

I’ve never understood those people who could spend an inordinate amount of time just lying in the sun with their eyes shut.  It’s like being a professional napper.  Growing up in Omaha, laying out on a towel in the grass just left you looking like a piece of meat set out on a place mat for the mosquitoes.  

My Aunt Lou from California used to come for a visit.  She was a bonafide sun worshipper and could have played “Leatherface” in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies sans make-up.  She was what you call a walking Cautionary Tale.

I did have a great tan – once.  One Spring Break in college, five of us drove 18 hours from Lawrence, Kansas to Padre Island, Texas, where we proceeded to dedicate ourselves to getting a tan the first day.  We were young and full of attitude, so we failed to factor in the change in latitude.  If so, we might have realized that laying out in the mid-day sun for four hours sauteeing in baby oil wasn’t a good idea.  

Sometime in the middle of that first night, I was awakened by the anguished cries of my friends, who’d cast off their sheets.  They now resembled two-legged lobsters hissing in a pot of boiling water.  By the next morning, I felt like the night watchman at the morgue.  I was flushed, but thanks to my olive complexion, at least I could stand up.  My friends pleaded with me to go find a remedy for this hell that was called Spring Break.

I walked over to the manager’s apartment and explained our dilemma to an elderly couple.  I could tell they’d heard this story before.  They motioned for me to follow them outside where they they hacked off a spike from a gigantic green alien life form.  

Now, you have to understand that we didn’t have succulents in Kansas, except for small potted ones at the dime store, and they could have been made of rubber for all I know.  I learned that this miraculous plant had a name – Aloe Vera.  I was informed that it worked on nuclear burns as well. This was before you could buy aloe vera at every grocery and drugstore, so it all seemed very exotic.  When I’d left my friends they were nearing nuclear meltdown, so I figured it was worth a try.

I returned brandishing the foot-long green pointy thing and announced that THIS was the cure.  I’m not sure what my friends expected, but it wasn’t THAT! I slit open the spike and scraped out the gooey green insides.  My friends lined up and I slathered the sticky paste over their backs, one-by-one, as they yelped in pain. Then, one-by-one, they stopped crying.  I’d found the cure!  

We avoided the beach the rest of our Spring Break.  Later, I heard about two students who had such bad sunburns, they were flown by helicopter to the nearest hospital.  So, in hindsight, my friends got off easy.  It also helped that this was pre Girls Gone Wild

A week after we’d returned to Kansas, I was sporting a bleached muslin Mexican shirt and the ultimate tan.  By the time it began peeling a week later, I didn’t care cause I was back to wearing long sleeves.  For some things, once is enough.  So, I’m done with the sun.  That is, as soon as my back is done peeling.




It Did It on Accident! July 21, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Teaching.
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I’m not a card carrying member of the Grammar Police, but I do keep a badge in my top drawer.  Not that I haven’t made my own share of spelling and grammar gaffes along the way.  I once wrote eight thank you notes to my mother’s friends who’d hosted a wedding shower for me.  I thanked them profusely for the vacume cleaner they’d given me.  My mother was tempted to ask for a refund on my college tuition.  Third graders love to hear THAT story.

There are two things my students say that bug me to no end.  One is, “It’s mines!”  I realize that there is his and hers, but there’s no mines.  At least not in my universe.  Notice I didn’t include its because I know some adults who still mess that one up, at least in writing.  I gently remind my students that there are only two kinds of mines: 1. holes in the ground where people go to work if they don’t have an education, or 2. explosive devices that tend to leave small children, like themselves, limbless.  I figure this will make a lasting impression.

This said, within 20 minutes of the above gentle reminder, someone inevitably blurts out, “It’s mines!”  I must admit that last year I finally nipped that bad habit by taking a marble out of the coveted marble jar every time someone uttered mines.  Problem solved.

The other thing that bugs me is when kids say on accident instead of by accident.  I teach a cluster of English Language Learners (ELLs to you civilians) and originally thought this explained the mix-up.  After all, you do something on purpose, so it figures that children would think that the flip-side is on accident.  “I knocked out his front teeth on accident!”  “I peed my pants on accident!”  Again, I gently remind them that they peed themselves by accident, which probably explains how many were also conceived.

Imagine my horror then when I read that this line of logic is so old school, or should I say old skool?  I recently purchased Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty, which is a rolicking fun read.  She found an entire research paper on the by/on accident conundrum, published by Leslie Barratt, a linguistics professor at Indiana State University.  Barratt found that most people 40 and over use by accident.  For people between 10 and 35, it was a toss-up. and for those under 10, on accident is most prevalent.  The horror!  

Barrett goes on to say that most children don’t even realize that by accident is an option unless a caring teacher, like myself, points this out.  She takes it a step further and says eventually there won’t be enough of us around to set the under-10 demographic straight.  Now, I just need to tell my mother I misspelled vacuum on accident.  

Lawn Long Gone July 17, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening.
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36 Hours Before Houseguests Arrive

36 Hours Before Houseguests Arrive

It was already 9 a.m. and Steve aka The Yard Guy still hadn’t arrived with his crew.  I was always under the impression that on a hot day, it’s best to get an early start in the yard.  Before the sun’s rays turn to UV 10 Death Rays. Evidently, Steve hadn’t heard of this, so I thought it best to call and give him a head’s up. 

“Hey, what’s happening?” Steve said, sounding way too casual. 

“What’s happening is nothing is happening because you’re not here,” I replied, trying to sound casual though my teeth grinding was now audible.

“I’ll stop by in 10 minutes so we can talk about what you want to do,” he said.  Click.  Wait a minute.  He’d said, “I” and not “we.”  What was there to talk about?  It was Monday morning and my friends from England were arriving in 36 hours.  I called him right back.  

“You’re not just coming by yourself,” I said.  The desperation in my voice was now palatable.

“I’m bringing the guys,” Steve reassured me.

Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy nuts, but this is my theory.  I believe when I called Steve, he and “the guys” were probably parked around the corner.  I imagine they were just finishing their breakfast burritos while waiting for my panicked call.  This way, at the last possible minute, Steve and his crew arrive like the cavalry come to save the day.  That is if the cavalry travelled in a big white dump truck.  

Just hearing the sound of Steve’s truck rumbling out in the alley set me to salivating like Pavlov’s dog.  I’m convinced this is all part of Steve’s Master Plan.  Can you see how brilliant it is?

“So what were you thinking you’d like to do?” Steve asked as though this was the first time we’d ever talked about the job.  

“We’d talked about DG,” I reminded him.  DG being decomposed granite, but if you want to sound yard savvy, you have to speak in acronyms.  Steve walked over to the cab of the truck, reached inside and threw a switch.  A mountain of DG poured out in the alley.  Talk about dramatic effect.  Voila!  I say that only because it sounds more dramatic than, “Aqui!”

Meanwhile, Steve’s crew had swarmed over the backyard, devouring all traces of rocks, roots, and the dreaded grass.  They moved so quickly, if I blinked, it was like watching time-lapse photography.  I retreated inside to sit in front of the fan.  “I think Steve is going to pull this off,” I said to my husband, Richard.  

I spoke too soon.  Here’s what Richard swears he observed.  Only two hours later, one of Steve’s guys gave a signal.  Richard even demonstrated by cupping his hands over his mouth.  It sounds sort of like an owl hoot, “Who, Who!  Who, Who!”  Indians always use this signal in the movies, even in the later films where they’re Native Americans.  According to Richard’s account, all of the workers immediately grabbed their tools and ran out the back gate. We’re talking minutes here.  Que pasa?

I tried to be optimistic. It was lunchtime and Steve’s truck was still parked in the alley.  But where were my worker bees?  “Maybe they got called away on a lawn emergency,” Richard offered.  But the only lawn emergency I know of goes by the acronym INS.   

Three hours later, Richard spotted one of Steve’s workers in the alley and shadowed him.  The man entered the back gate of the house two doors down.  Richard came home and announced,  “We have competition!”  In movies, when you want to find out who’s behind something, they always say, “Follow the money.”  

Well, the money led to Chris and Chuck, my two gay (as in two disposable incomes) neighbors.  They were hosting a sit-down party for 100 the night after our stand-up party for 35.  Their guests would be served $10 wine.  My guests would be shown where the beer can opener and corkscrew were.  At the last minute, they’d decided to tear out their front lawn and put in a new one.  There was also the small detail of having someone scale a 100-foot palm tree so it could be lit so as to be visible from outer space.  Ka-ching! This constituted a lawn emergency, so my backyard had been triaged.  

Unfortunately, Steve had dramatically dumped the load of DG out in the alley in front of our garage door, so we were trapped.  Late Monday afternoon he sent some guys down to shovel the DG to the side.  The cavalry then retreated in their white truck.  “Manana!” Steve shouted as he disappeared in a cloud of dust.

I woke up Tuesday and felt as though I’d received a shot of adrenalin directly into my heart (a la Pulp Fiction).   We had 12 hours. To ratchet the stress level up a notch, Richard was trying to finish the guest bathroom next to the garage.  It was tiled with slate and featured two holes.  We’d called Luis from El Salvador to help paint and grout.

My friend Christine called and made the mistake of asking how I was doing. I said, “It’s December 24th at the North Pole and all of the elves are on crack.” Alarmed, she drove over to see for herself.  There hadn’t been so Latinos from different countries assembled in one place since the School of the Americas disbanded.

One hour before we had to leave for the airport, Steve’s guys finally rolled the pieces of the fountain into position.  This was akin to throwing Stonehenge together in a day.  Richard flipped the switch, and water began to trickle.  We had lift off!

Welcome to Sunny California!

Quotation Rotation #5 July 15, 2008

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“googleganger”Catherine in Kansas

You can find your “googleganger” by googling your own name to see what all of the other “yous” are up to.  If your name is common, you can find a virtual army of “yous,” many whom are infinitely more accomplished than you could ever hope to be!  The term comes from combining “Google” with the German expression, “Doppelganger.”

My son Ian took my husband aside one day and confided, “I’m worried about Mom spending so much time on the computer.  I just noticed she was googling herself!”  I assured him it was for research purposes only, and I think he believed me!  

When I googled myself, I was shocked to see another serious writer shared my name.  She’d already marked her territory in Blogdom with MY name.  In her bio, it says Jan is a “motivational speaker and a clinical hypnotherapist.” Hello?  That’s the job description for a teacher!  It went on to say she lives by her credo, “We all live with grief, dissapointments, and some really bad fish, yet not a shread of evidence exists that life is serious.”  And she lives in California.  Cue “Twilight Zone” music. 

One of my other googlegangers works at Southwest Airlines in Public Relations and has something called an “Executive Profile,” whereas I have a paycheck stub.  Another “me” is an attorney in Utah. Who would have known I’d be so successful?  Do you know who your “googlegangers” are?  Or could you be SO unique, you really are the one and only?

The Zen of Recycling July 15, 2008

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“I’m recycling the dog food cans now,” my husband cheerily informed me this morning.  That’s just the sort of thing I want to hear before my morning coffee has kicked in.  Richard was enthusiastically rinsing out a can, using enough water to take the level of the California Aqueduct down a notch or two.  

My British houseguests have left for a scenic drive up the coast and I’ve been left with the evidence of our wild week of entertaining.  Mainly the green glass kind of evidence.  I went out to survey the damage this morning. There’s a mountain of plastic bags.  Unless I haul it off, it shall be featured on future physical maps of California and known as K3.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for recycling.  It’s just that we’re wallowing in it. We used to just make a semi-annual caravan to the recycling center at the neighborhood supermarket.  They took aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic.  Period.  And the plastic could be iffy because, depending on the day of the week, it had to have either an even number, an odd number, or a prime number.  I always returned home with sticky hands and a bag of “rejects.”

I’m proud to say I’ve been cutting up plastic six-pack rings for years so those playful dolphins and other less playful and not so photogenic sea creatures wouldn’t become entangled in them.  I did hear a comedian say he liked to cut only five out of the six rings in keeping with Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  Evidently there are fish swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool as well.

But then we were introduced to the Recycling Center at Caltech where you can recycle everything.  EVERYTHING!  Life hasn’t been the same since.  You can either toss all of your recycling in the trunk of your car and sort it out when you get there or act like a professional and pre-sort.  Note: If you’re of the former school, make sure the entire trunk is encased in heavy plastic or in summer months you’ll smell like a wino on wheels.

We haven’t quite figured out a sorting system yet.  I’ve pulled out an old term paper from college and think that we need to go with Roman numerals like V for plastic and then we can group the various sub-species of plastic in bins with lower-case alphabet letters.  I’d like to see you come up with a better idea.

My friend Rebecca, who teaches the class next to mine, enthusiastically launched a recycling program at our school last year.  Classes were to take turns walking the recycling over to Caltech. That way students could participate and develop the recycling habit. Teachers and students enthusiastically carted piles/wads/rolls/spit wads of paper to a designated spot, conveniently located just outside my classroom door.  

But it soon became apparent that the weekly trips to Caltech couldn’t keep pace with the sheer volume of paper generated.  It made me realize not only how much paper we go through, but how much is wasted.  Don’t even get me started on the styrofoam lunch trays that pile up in the cafeteria every day along with enough sporks to…well, you get the picture.  And it’s not a pretty one.    

The week before Open House, when a school is supposed to ooze, “I’m ready for my close-up,” it looked like a New York City garbage scow outside my class.  All that was missing were the seagulls and their arrival was imminent. The pile of papers miraculously disappeared before Open House in a frantic last-minute recycling mission.  At least I’m hoping that’s where they ended up. There’s some things you’re better off not knowing.

So, K3 awaits.  I think I’ll snap on some of those latex gloves so I feel like a forensic crime scene investigator and not a lowly person with only a B.S. degree (as in Bottle Sorter).  But then I’ll have to recycle the latex gloves.

America – Daze 2/3/4 July 13, 2008

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All museums have been put on the back burner because I’m too busy showing my guests American culture. British tourists don’t need to come all the way to LA to see yet another painting entitled “Madonna and Child” by an artist whose name is heavy on vowels. Our first stop on our gallery walk was Target.

My husband likes to say that I belong to the church of Target. Well, I took Lesley and her daughter, Lucy, for a look-see and Lesley emerged shouting,”I’m a believer!” She had all her loot stashed in a red reusable Target bag that folds up so you can carry it as an evening clutch. It can also be opened like a large book and Lesley spent the rest of the day wandering about the house holding it like a hymnal and singing, “Amen!”

Our next stop was Venice Beach. We wandered into a lovely shop. The inventory consisted of hookahs, Made in China dream catchers, belly dancing coin belts, crotchless panties, and jewelry. Lesley saw a bracelet in the glass case and shreiked, “Look, that’s so me!”  I just remember it was very pink. Barbie bling. I think it was kept under glass so raccoons couldn’t make off with it.

One look at the man behind the counter and I doublechecked to make sure I still had my wallet. I’ve seen classier barkers at the carny. He took the bracelet out so Lesley could try it on and even attached the “safety clasp.”

But when Lesley asked if he could take it off, he said smiling, “No, I want you to keep it on and give me money for it.” Lesley cooed, “But you need to take it off so I can have a better look at it.”  Now, if this were a folktale, it would have been a toss-up as to who was the trickster, though I was rooting for Lesley.

The bracelet was pricey so the bargaining began. When Lesley asked what sort of metal it was made of, the man assured her it wasn’t metal, it was “silver.” She considered giving him a quick lesson in metallurgy, but decided not to hobble him with knowledge. The price of the bracelet had now fallen from $175 to $100. It was at this point, the salesman told Lesley he was “easy.”  She recoiled in horror. “You don’t go around telling someone you’re easy,” she said. “That’s like saying you’re slutty!”  Taken aback, the man said he hadn’t mean it THAT way, but the damage was done. We kept moving as the Venice boardwalk is heavy on galleries.

Lesley took one more swing by the place on our way back to the car. This time her daughter Lucy went into the shop to check out the bracelet. Lucy had her mum by the shoulders and escorted her out of the shop, saying, “Mummy, that’s the most horrid bracelet I’ve ever seen,” adding, “If you buy that, I’ll never speak to you again!”  Sulking, Lesley was escorted back to the car, blingless.

Thursday we took Lesley and Ian out for breakfast. When the waiter asked Lesley if she’d like toast or a tortilla, she asked, “What’s a tortilla?”  The restaurant was suddenly still. Convinced it was something “like that Indian bread,” she decided to go for it. We explained that the sour cream and salsa, which came in little containers, is put on the eggs and beans. I then introduced them to the friendly Tapatio man’s face. They declared it a fabulous breakfast. We sent them off on the Gold Line to Union Station and Olvera Street, so they could meet more Tapatio men.

They had such a wonderful time downtown, we were able to send them off there again the next day so we could recover from this non-stop cultural marathon. We had to rest up to see Chris Isaak at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night. Our seats were in the nosebleed section, but it was a lovely night to sit out and watch the concert on the big screen TVs, since from where we were sitting, the performers were the size of ants. Lucy dozed off, but awoke for the fireworks finale. Then we shuffled down the mountain with all of the other art lovers, eager to secure a seat on the bus for the trip back to Pasadena.

So today we soldier on.  I’m not sure about the itinerary, but it doesn’t have the word “museum” in it. Eat your heart out J. Paul Getty.

America – Day One July 10, 2008

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I slept in so as not to wake the Brits.  I needn’t have bothered. By the time I wandered out into the kitchen at 8 a.m., Richard and Lesley were already returning from Home Depot with paint for the fence and pastries from the Union Bakery. Lesley was ecstatic. “I just saw my first two fatties!” she exclaimed. She and Richard debated how much the two people they saw weighed altogether, but when translating pounds to stones, they reached an impasse. As a compromise, it was agreed both people were about as big as a boulder.

Lesley dieted before for her trip here, all because she wanted to be able to say, “I want that supersized!” I had to break it to her gently that everything in America IS supersized.

On the way home from the airport the night before, I’d driven Lesley through my town’s historic district. “It looks like Australia,” she proclaimed. I didn’t take this as a compliment and went to great pains to point out the historical significance of the buildings we whizzed by. “Brisbane, Australia,” Lesley reiterated.

Today, Lucy’s all consuming goal was to go to Abercrombie & Fitch and once inside the inner sanctum, she began hyperventilating. She emerged an hour later with one, count it, one shirt. We then took a romp through H&M, The Gap, and another 135 stores. It’s so hard when you’re 15 and you look gorgeous in everything. At each store I got to hear, “I can’t believe how cheap this is!” Since my dollars convert to lowly dollars, I couldn’t make it a shopping menage a trois.

We took a break from all the frenzied spending to have lunch at Twin Palms where Lucy pulled out her new shirt from the Abercrombie & Fitch bag (and no, they’re not paying me for product placement) and buried her face in it. “It even smells like Abercrombie & Fitch,” she squealed. I was looking at the black and white photo of the very manly model on the bag, who evidently embodies the essence of A&F, armpit hair and all. Lucy’s mum, Lesley, suggested that the model had personally licked the new shirt to give it that unique smell. I think Lucy rather liked that idea.

We staggered back to the parking garage, came home and took a nap, which sounds a lot more exotic, if you call it a siesta.

This is what Lesley learned on Day 1:

Most of the streets in LA are quite straight and wide (supersized!)

Everyone in LA seems to drive a silver or black car (I’d noticed that myself recently)

Waiters don’t wait for everyone at the table to finish eating before removing your plate.

Here’s what I learned on Day 1:

A popsicle is actually an “ice lolly”

The school crossing guards who sit in lawn chairs and hold up the STOP sign so children can cross, are referred to in England as “lollipop ladies.”

The reason it’s incredibly rude for a waiter to take away your plate before everyone’s finished eating is because then everyone just stares at the person who’s still eating.

We then went out to Gus’s and ate hamburgers the size of the Isle of Wight and Lesley never even had to utter the “s” word. And the waiter took away my plate as soon as I’d finished, so I could then watch Lesley start packing on American-style pounds.

Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet July 8, 2008

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According to my calculations, and I can figure out elapsed time since that’s a third grade standard, my friends are airborne as I write this. Ah yes, 12 hours strapped into an upholstered womb with a snack tray. Being exceptionally open minded, my English friends are flying Air France, so that snack table is actually a table de plateau. The English hate the French just out of habit, but when a French friend can you get you an upgrade on an airline, vive la difference!

It was just last December that my husband, Richard, and I did the 10-hour flight to Heathrow. I watched Love Actually five times so I’d know what to expect. To be honest, I was rather disappointed when Hugh Grant didn’t sprint through the airport to meet me. But I got over it. The last time I’d been to Europe the dollar was worth something, so that will give you an idea of how long it’d been. We flew Air New Zealand, and no, we weren’t served lamb.

Thank god, I don’t remember all the gory details or I’d never travel again. My dear friend Martha bought me a leopard print neck pillow and eye shade so I could travel in style. Or maybe it was tiger. Something jungle themed.

I sat between Richard and a young man from Arcadia, who was the new manager of Abercrombie & Fitch’s first store in London on Savoy Row. We had a lovely conversation and then I dozed off.  When I woke up,  I needed to use the bathroom, but Mr. A&F was sleeping soundly. Rather than wake him, I slid over him with my knees on the armrests, providing him with a virtual lap dance, while praying he wouldn’t open his eyes and scare the bejesus out of me or vice versa. I made it across and back. Whew!

When Richard had to use the restroom, he refused to take the lap dance route, and  nudged Mr. A&F awake. No problem.  Mr A&F stood up then promptly fell backwards in the aisle.  He laid there like a bug on its back. He finally got back up on his feet. “A friend gave me some Xanax,” he said. “Wow, that sh$t really works!”  The second he sat back down, he was out for the count.

Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic and middle of the night, I looked up to see a group of passengers and flight attendants assembled outside the restroom doing what looked like a routine from River Dance. Had I missed the aerobics sign-up sheet? I realized they were indulging in this bizarre ritual so as to prevent blood clots. I half expected one of them to do hand springs down the aisle. I pulled my leopard, or maybe it was tiger, eyeshade back down and tried to forget what I’d seen. Just as a precaution, I propped my legs up and assumed a pose only seen before in my OB/GYN’s office.

When we arrived at Heathrow, Lesley and Ian were there to meet us, jumping up and down like we were celebrities walking down the red carpet. It was December, so Lesley got us outside and walking about in the brisk air to keep us awake so we could acclimate to the local time zone. We were out cold by 9 p.m.

But on our trip back to Los Angeles, time stood still. This time our seat mate was a young girl from Liverpool who was making the trip to LA and then flying on to New Zealand. Ah, youth!  I watched two movies and the entire first season of Flight of the Concords, which I’d already seen. It’s so hilarious that I laughed myself silly yet again. I finished reading Madam Bovary for my book club and vowed never to kill myself by ingesting arsenic as it takes way too much time and there’s a lot of retching involved.

Finally, I was so bored that I took to trimming my cuticles by sawing them with the plastic butter knife left over from my two-star meal. Blood loss was minimal and at least it kept me from slitting my own throat. I kept all my fingers bandaged the first week I was back, least someone start rumors that I was a cutter.

But now it’s their turn. I’ve already put chairs out back so my guests can bask in the sun to reset their circadian rhythms. And I’ve hidden all the butter knives – just in case.

Welcome to Armageddon July 7, 2008

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If I were working for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, I’d have a hard time putting a positive spin on what’s happening in California. It would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

This is supposed to be “sunny” California, not “it feels like I’m living on the sun” California. But that’s what it feels like in my house where we’re boycotting the AC to save mucho dinero. My friends from England arrive Tuesday night, and I reluctantly took a peek at the Los Angeles Times today to check out the weather forecast for the upcoming week. Now, I know that predicting the weather is somewhere between watching the clouds float by and consulting a Magic 8-Ball, but it doesn’t look good. Temperatures are to hover near 100 degrees all week. Farenheit. I make this distinction because my friends from the UK are used to temperatures Celcius style, so they have to do a little math.

My friend Lesley called me today via SKYPE and said they planned to make the scenic drive up the coast to Big Sur and stay in San Francisco their second week here. I conveniently failed to mention that there’s currently a wildfire raging in Big Sur. I wanted to put Arnold on notice, so he can put a lid on it. As far as I’m concerned, he can take money directly from the schools and dump it on the fire. At least then, I’d know where the school funds are going.

Lesley also mentioned the one place her daughter, Lucy, wants to visit is Universal Studios. I’m allergic to all things theme park, but because I’m such a gracious host, I am available to drop them off and pick them up. Now my son, Ian, has informed me that three major attractions burned at Universal Studios last month. The fire evidently started on the “Backdraft” attraction and spread. Who would have thunk it?

What’s next – locusts? I’m not laughing.

Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 1 July 5, 2008

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When you’re used to writing with a humorous edge, there’s always the danger that when you have something important, albeit serious, to say, no one will take you seriously. I’m willing to take that chance.

I’m writing this because, first, I want to expunge any lingering demons from my own close encounter with a narcissist. Even more important, as an educator, I’d like to see information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) become common knowledge. Can you remember back to when you first heard about ADHD or OCD? Even now, you might not know all there is to know (that’s what Wikipedia is for!), but at least you know these disorders are for real. So is NPD. There will be a quiz at the end. Hey, I’m a teacher, and I need to check for understanding.

When most people think of a narcissist, they picture someone obsessed with their physical appearance. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” I’d certainly never heard of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a real-deal condition laid out in the DSM-IV. But being an experiential learner, I had to learn the hard way. Now I’m an armchair detective in the study of this condition, and I’m finally ready to talk.

I make no excuses for lacking medical or psychological credentials. Narcissists are an elusive breed, so you won’t find them in a therapist’s office embarking on a journey of introspection. When my husband was on jury duty, another potential juror was a therapist. When asked about NPD, the therapist sadly shook his head. “I’ve actually never seen a client with NPD because they’re convinced they don’t have a problem,”  he said. “But they leave a high body count,” he added. “Their victims are the people who come to see me.”

No wonder. A close encounter with a narcissist can leave you doubting your own sanity. The victim, and there is a victim, is left shaking her head wondering, “What just happened?”  (I’ll use the female pronoun since it’s believed that the 50-75 percent of those with NPD are men).  Want to get those party guests who’ve overstayed their welcome to leave?  Just start talking about NPD. If you try to explain the disorder to friends or family, they’ll look at you like you’re discussing alien abduction or as if you’ve grown another head.

I haven’t sprouted another head yet have I? Good. Because it’s highly likely you know someone who has NPD. Most likely, they’re flying under your radar. Narcissists make nice to people who are in the position to do something for them, or to people who just don’t have a speaking role in the grand production that is their life. Only those who dare to get emotionally close to a narcissist get to see them drop their carefully crafted social mask.

The DSM  – Not A Summer Read

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) is a hefty tome and the handbook for mental health professionals. I once trekked to the public library to consult it, after I was told by a therapist that a mutual friend suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. What on earth? I imagined someone teetering on the edge of sanity, in danger of falling overboard. When I finally read the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, all of the pieces fell into place. There was my friend. I had to sit down to catch my breath. If only I’d kept reading, I would have learned about NPD as well.

My friend with NPD, I’ll call him Joe, entered my orbit through a shared common interest. He seemed intrigued by my enthusiasm and talent. In retrospect, I think he was most drawn to me because although I’m a natural talker, I can also be a good listener. He struck me as someone who needed to talk, but was socially awkward. Initially, I found this endearing. If there was a lull in the conversation, he’d blurt out the strangest comment that had nothing whatsoever to do with what we’d been talking about. I overlooked these gaffes or mentally made excuses for them. He’s obviously uncomfortable talking to women. He’s from a different culture. English is his second language. He had a difficult childhood. He’s just outspoken.

Then one day Joe said something so cruel to me, I can still feel its sting. My eyes welled up with tears. “What’s the matter?” he asked, still smiling. “Are we thin-skinned?” I realized he was relishing my discomfort. It was creepy. After he left, I replayed the encounter in my head. Then replayed it again. Maybe I’d read too much into it. Later, I would be angry that I didn’t listen to my gut instinct.

Two days later, Joe stopped by to talk. It was as though nothing had ever happened. When I tried to bring the subject up, he dismissed my concern with a wave of the hand, “Nobody got hurt,” he proclaimed. What an odd comment to make, I thought. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Then, based on a hunch, I googled “narcissism.” I discovered there was so much I didn’t know.

DSM–IV Criteria for Diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

To make a diagnosis of NPD, at least five of the following nine behaviors must be evident.Remember that most narcissists are diagnosed in absentia since they’re loath to seek professional help. The comments in bold italics are mine.

1.  An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) Think- Grandiosity accompanied by its sidekick Magical Thinking.  He’s so full of himself, he’s convinced he can do anything.

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. Think “The Secret.” My talents know no bounds!

3. Believes he is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) Think – I’m unique, therefore I’m misunderstood.

4. Requires excessive admiration  Think – Look at me Mom! (Any woman can play the role of Mom.)

5. Has a sense of entitlement Think – That doesn’t apply to me!

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends Think – You’re just lucky I chose you to be of service to me, as spending time in my presence is reward enough.

7. Lacks empathy Think – It’s killing me to even pretend that I’m interested in your life or concerns. Your feelings make me feel uncomfortable so get over it!

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him. Think-You have something I want. Can I borrow it so it can become mine?

9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes. Think – All this time I just thought he was an @sshole!

Developmental Narcissism

Narcissism, itself, is not inherently bad and is even developmentally appropriate. Children until the age of six are naturally narcissistic. They’re inherently egocentric and “Mine!” is their mantra. This is normal. As children grow older, they become more aware of the needs of others. Prodded by their parents, they learn to share. They learn to take turns. Reluctantly, they relinquish the spotlight.

Adolescents are also prone to narcissistic behavior. “You can’t tell me anything I don’t already know!” punctuated with a slamming door. This kind of narcissism is remedied when real life smacks them with a dose of reality. Mom and dad sever the financial pipeline, or their boss doesn’t find it cute that they were late to work again. Adolescents don’t grow out of it. They grow up.

Many adults show narcissistic traits, which can render them fairly obnoxious at times. But that doesn’t mean they have NPD. If you’re wondering about some of your own less-than-admirable traits, that’s proof positive that you’re NOT a narcissist. Narcissists are convinced that they’re perfect just the way they are. It’s other people who have the problem. Other people, as in the rest of the world. You just need to accept them the way they are. But that’s your problem.

Personality Disorder vs. Mental Illness

How is a personality disorder different from mental illness? I had a hard time initially wrapping my head around this one. A mental illness (schizophrenia being the most widely known) can be treated, with varying degrees of success with medications or cognitive therapy. Most mental illnesses are caused by brain cell synaptic disruptions, most of which are believed to be genetic in origin. I have friends who are bipolar and as long as they take their meds, any symptoms subside and they feel and act relatively “normal.” Mental illnesses typically present themselves in late adolescence or early adulthood. The onset of the mental illness is often sudden and profound. A mental illness descends over a person’s personality like a heavy wool blanket feels on an already warm summer night.

A personality disorder, on the other hand, is all pervasive. The DSM-IV describes a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”

With mental illness, a person’s personality is blanketed, or suffocated, by the onset of the mental illness. But the personality of someone with a personality disorder is virtually interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.

So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder; they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change. That brings me to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

An Analogy

Calcutta, India has the highest population density of any city on Earth, most of whom live in wretched poverty. Because only central Calcutta is serviced by sewers, during the monsoon season, raw sewage floods the streets. Helping the poor of Calcutta was Mother Teresa’s life’s work.

I had a friend who spent most of his childhood in Calcutta. One day we were shopping and he asked me to tell him which cologne smelled the best. He claimed to have no sense of smell. I was incredulous. My friend said rather matter-of-factly that he’d lost his sense of smell when he lived in India. He didn’t seem to view this as any sort of disability, for this “loss” he said had spared him from smelling the stench of humanity in Calcutta.

Now, I lived in New York City for 11 years, so I know first hand that there are smells worse than death. I saw how one homeless man, passed out and simmering in his own juices, could empty an entire subway car during the peak of rush hour. Just a whiff of a decomposing rat could make me retch.

But though this “loss” protected my friend against the putrid odors of Calcutta, it also robbed him of the ability to enjoy the sweet fragrance of night-blooming jasmine, the crisp smell of fresh basil, or the garlicky preview of a dinner to come. It was all or nothing. A package deal.

Are you still with me?  Because I’m going to ask you to take a big step now.

Picture a small child, totally dependent on his mother to meet his emotional needs. Now what if it’s not putrid odors that assault the child’s senses, but human interactions themselves?  A neglectful, abusive, or even an indifferent mother who leaves the child constantly feeling emotionally adrift.  Or a dominating mother who won’t allow the child to be himself.

Just like my friend, who “lost” his sense of smell, some children, as a coping mechanism to survive the pain of emotional abandonment, tune out the very people who are inflicting the injury. But again, it’s a package deal, because the child tunes out all other humans as well. It’s as though the child “loses” his sense of people. People in the sense that they are caring others. It’s a high price to pay, but it protects the child from future emotional hurt. The child’s immature True Self is “safe” behind a psychological mask. This mask is what’s referred to in psychiatry as the False Self. Unable to trust those who should be nearest and dearest, the child turns his attention to someone who will never abandon him  – himself.

The False Self not only protects the child from further injury. It embodies everything the child is not. While the child is powerless and vulnerable, the False Self of the narcissist presents itself as all knowing and all powerful. But behind the mask of the False Self lies an injured child – an emotional embryo.

Now if you’re a caring person, at this point you probably feel sorry for this child. Don’t bother – it’s too late. The child doesn’t feel sorry for you. This poor little child is now an adult. And it’s time for the victim to become the victimizer.

After I learned about NPD, I continued to be Joe’s “go to” person for several months. I so wanted to be wrong. It was only with my newly gained knowledge that I was able to fully see him for what he was, or more importantly, for what he wasn’t.

But what about the quiz, you ask?   Just answer one simple question.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a  _ _ _ _. Congratulations! You passed!

PART 2 The End Game of Devalue and Discard; Meet the Adult Narcissist; Humans = Things, Emotional Vampirism, and the answer to this analogy:  As a CROSS is to a VAMPIRE;  ____________ _____________ is to a NARCISSIST.

Click on the this link to read “Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 2″

Photo credit:  Unicorn Mask by Matty on flickr.

Going Green July 5, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Going Green.
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Our artist friend Bobby, who lives in Las Vegas, has upped the ante in the “Lawn Be Gone” challenge.  Tired of shelling out $225 to water his lawn, Bobby pulled the plug in March.  His water bill for June was a whopping $9. Since spray painting his lawn, a growing number of people are pulling over to snap photos. And no, he doesn’t just stand out front waiting for these photo ops.  Bobby’s story was featured this week in the Las Vegas Sun.

Bobby has spent the last decade in Vegas painting custom interiors and murals at the major casinos.  Years back, Bobby lured Richard up to Vegas to help design the interior of the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio and Richard still has the T-shirt to prove it.  Nothing like starting to paint at 10 p.m. and knocking off for breakfast. Construction was 24/7 so the artists were relegated to the night shift.  Richard remembers that the only place he could go in Las Vegas to escape the sound of the slots beside Trader Joes, was the Las Vegas Public Library.  

To see more of Bobby’s work (on canvas):


Lawn Be Gone! – Part 2 July 3, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening.
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Half the male population of Michoacan is currently in my backyard brandishing chainsaws and harpoons.  Oh wait, those are tree pruners.  Que paso?  I broke down and called Steve aka The Yard Guy.  I left a voicemail. Something about the lawn.  

This morning I was awakened by a distant rumble.  It grew closer.  I imagine this is how the French felt during WWII when they first heard the drone of approaching Allied tanks.  Liberation is at hand!  I listened as the troops, I mean trucks, grew closer.  Then there was a long silence.  Maybe I was mistaken.  

I looked out my bedroom window just in time to see half a dozen men jump the back fence and drop into my yard, like an elite SWAT team in full assault mode.  The dogs were going crazy.  Within minutes, working like locusts, they swarmed over all things green in my backyard, cutting and pruning.  I looked up to see a limb from the ash tree ricochet off the roof of the shed. Steve’s crew had arrived.  But donde esta Steve?  

One of the workers walked into the kitchen.  Since our back door is usually open, I don’t particularly find it odd that a stranger is wandering through my house, usually looking for the bathroom.  He motioned that he needed me so, still in my pajamas, I followed him out to the alley.

Workers were loading a truck for a run to the dump and wanted to make sure all the stuff out back was indeed trash.  I proclaimed everything basura except for two neatly bundled piles of dried palm fronds.  These I’d collected and was saving so my students could make masks.  The man seemed confused that I wanted to keep these.  I pointed to myself.  “Artista!”  I said. Judging from his expression, I might as well have said, ‘Loco!”

I was still awaiting the arrival of Steve.  After all, we hadn’t even discussed what we wanted him to do or most importantly – a price!  Since I’m a teacher, I won’t see another paycheck until Oct. 1st.  Although I’m not counting pennies yet, that day will come.

Finally, Steve made a brief appearance.  He’s a big blond surfer-looking dude who grew up across the street. He put in our sprinkler system 12 years ago and we call him from time to time to trim the trees.  We and Steve have a history.  

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Steve when he wasn’t wearing his signature wraparound shades. He directs his crew in rapid fire Spanish.  “Steve, we need to talk about price,” I remind him.  “I’ll be ’round later to talk about it, ” he promises and I know he won’t and he knows it too.   It’s just a dance we do.  It was Steve, himself, who told me “Broken Promises” is his middle name.  But Steve has one saving grace.  He’s really good at what he does. Make that two.  He’s fair.  And he has a great smile to boot. 

Today Steve’s crew pruned and cut everything from the ground up.  Never mind that I never mentioned pruning trees or the roses for that matter.  Now all the greenery is perfectly coiffed – maybe a little too perfectly.   And there’s still that pesky green lawn that needs to go bye-bye.  That’s why we called Steve in the first place.

There’s just one small glitch.  Steve informed us today he can’t come round to dig up the lawn until next Monday.  Our houseguests arrive Tuesday, thankfully after dark.  Now there IS a chance Steve can pull off this extreme backyard makeover in two days.  Get those cameras rolling cause this I want to see.  I’d pitch in and help, but somebody’s got to keep their fingers crossed.       To be continued…

Quotation Rotation #4 July 2, 2008

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“prestalk” –  ABC (Anonymous by choice)

Accused of being a stalker?  Put that alias to rest by showing the common courtesy of calling, or prestalking, the “stalkee” ahead of time to let them know you’ll be in their area.  That way if they dread bumping into you, they’ve been forwarned and can get out of Dodge.  But if they choose to stay, well, they must really WANT to see you.

July Mao July 1, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Monthly Mao.
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