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March Mao February 28, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Monthly Mao.
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Obama Poster – Barack Obama as American Mythology February 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Politics.
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On Election Day 2008, planetjan was featured as one of WordPress’ 100 “Growing Blogs.” This was in large part because of my “Obama Cholo” post featuring the artwork of artist David Cordova. It was the first time I’d dipped my toe in the political waters. Numerous sites linked to my post and my stats went through the roof. So both Obama and I had a good day.

Since then, my friend Nora Dunn (who makes cameos in some of my blog posts, as she’s a frequent visitor to our outpost of insanity) has introduced us to Scott Siedman’s art. Nora owns several of Scott’s paintings and when I first saw them, I was bowled over by Scott’s bold style.

When we finally met Scott, he brought and we bought a copy of “The Man from Illinois” poster, which is a reproduction of his original painting. There’s a strong stylistic nod to quintessential American artists Norman Rockwell and Thomas Hart Benton. When I asked Scott what book Obama is reading, he said he left that open to interpretation. Scott noted though that Abraham Lincoln, also an attorney (and the original Man from Illinois), was often seen reading the English Book of Common Law.

Not to sound like a late-night infommercial, (but wait, there’s more!), but at $32 to $34 a pop, the poster is a bargain (though I’m hoping to soon snatch up Citicorp at the 99 cent store nearest me).  For details and to view a larger image of the print, click on manfromillinois.com.  Thanks Nora and Sheila!

Can a Narcissist be Cured? February 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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This is the poster that hung in Agent Fox Mulder's X-Files office.

When I first started researching Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I goggled “flirtation,” as my narcissistic friend “Joe” was a chronic flirt. It was actually embarrassing to be with him when he was in “turn on the charm” mode. Think: Small boy showing off in front of his mother’s friends. Yeah, it was THAT bad.

I stumbled upon A long post about flirtation, validation, and conversion on Hugo Schwyzer’s blog. Hugo, a professor at Pasadena City College, is a prolific blogger (219 posts on blogging alone!)

Over my Winter Break (the holiday formerly known as Christmas Vacation), I was on Facebook wasting some quality time. I noticed that one of my friends had commented on a photo Hugo Schwyzer had posted. I recognized his name and sure enough, I still had his post bookmarked. I sent him a message via Facebook telling him how I enjoyed his writing along with a link to my Close Encounter with a Narcissist.

No reply from Hugo, but several days later I noticed an incoming link from his blog. Not only had Hugo read Close Encounter with a Narcissist, but he had written an entire post in response to it.

What I didn’t know was that Hugo had been repeatedly diagnosed with a Cluster B Personality Disorder (Borderline was always the default diagnosis) starting in college. He has written numerous posts about his self-destructive behavior, suicide attempts, voluntary hospitalizations, and three marriages (followed by three divorces) – all before he hit the big 3-5. (You’ll find these under “Addictions and Mental Illness” and “Narcissism and Borderline Personality.”) Hugo is a prolific writer. He writes with intelligence and insight and has plumbed every detail of his life ad nauseam.  Whether you agree with Hugo or not, it’s always an interesting read.

In his post “Turning down the volume on KHGO”: Reflections on overcoming a personality disorder, Hugo urged his readers “to read all three of my excellent pieces,” but took issue with this statement I made (a mishmash of many other’s quotes): “So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder, they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change.”

Hugo goes to great lengths to detail how far he’s come since he got clean and sober, and found God. If he were an attorney, I might be tempted to say he presents a strong case for the defense. His own.  He believes it’s possible for someone with a personality disorder to change –  if they really want to, and offers himself as proof. Yet even Hugo acknowledges that it’s an ongoing struggle – making him a work in progress.

Here’s the comment I wrote in response to his post.

I found your post interesting and have taken several days to “sit on it.” Yes, I’ve had numerous visitors to my blog planetjan. (Hugo sent me!) Thank you very much.

It’s ironic that your name and picture popped up on Facebook through a mutual friend. I recognized your name. Sure enough, I still had your post on flirtation bookmarked from two years ago, when I was first researching NPD.

I hadn’t read any of your other posts about your hospitalizations and diagnoses, but now I have. I appreciate your honesty and candor as one of my sons has OCD and also spent a stint as a minor at Las Encinas due to drug-related problems. I had to laugh when you described how cute the nurses thought it was that you wore duck slippers, as that sounds so much like my son.

Though you obviously have narcissistic tendencies (but on some days, so do I), ultimately you don’t seem grandiose (in the clinical sense), which is what distinguishes NPD from the other Cluster B disorders. Sam Vaknin, himself a narcissist, said that “self-reflection is the antonym of narcissism.”

Narcissists, as a rule, are not self-destructive, and none I know have ever shown self-destructive tendencies (other than substance abuse). None have sought help from a therapist (unless they were literally dragged there by a significant other) as they were convinced they didn’t have a problem. I tend to agree with Emily’s comment above. My friends in 12-step programs are quick to point out that they are always “recovering,” as opposed to “cured.”

So, from my own (albeit limited) experience, I’d give you a clean bill of health when it comes to NPD. Narcissism, though, is like a ground fog that swirls about ALL of the Cluster B disorders.

Your relentless introspection runs contrary to this diagnosis. BTW, your sponsor sounds like a wise and very patient man. I imagine when you did Step 10 – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it,” you took it to the nth degree! I say this with all due sincerity.  Jan

I want to believe. No, make that I wanted to believe. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to believe it WAS possible for Joe to change, especially once I’d seen beneath the mask. I felt his pain, yet any attempt to go “there” with Joe was an exercise in futility. Despite the countless seminars he attended so he could learn to “relate” to women and deal with his “boundary issues,” it all came down to this – he was going through the motions. Nothing every changed for Joe. Nothing ever will. I take no joy in saying this.

My concern is for the Narcissist’s victims who tell themselves, “If I just try harder to communicate my feelings, or bend over backwards, or walk on water, I know he/she will finally ‘get it.'”  They want to believe. They want to believe they can help the Narcissist actually feel something. Something real.

People have asked Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-Love – Narcissism Revisited, if having insight into his own narcissism has enabled him to change for the better. Sam’s answer is a resounding NO. Sure, he can change on a superficial level if it so suits him, but not at a deeper level. Not in his heart. But doesn’t Sam’s willingness to share his knowledge about Narcissistic Personality Disorder prove that he possesses that ever elusive quality the rest of us call “empathy?”  Sam pulls no punches. Being a poster-boy for NPD is a major source of Narcissistic Supply (NS). Period.  

I don’t believe for a minute that Hugo has NPD (Borderline maybe, but not NPD). Hugo’s relentless self-examination runs contrary to everything I’ve learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  So, ergo Hugo. But I like to keep an open mind. Read Hugo’s posts and see what you think. The Truth is out there.

Valentine’s Day Massacre February 16, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Teaching.
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I often ask my third graders if smart people can do stupid things (and yes, I use the “S” word).  In September, when I first ask my students this question, they answer with a resounding “No!”  Obviously, they have yet to get to know me.  I set them straight.  Smart people do make stupid mistakes because we’re all human.  This is their first inkling that I (their teacher) am actually human.  I then proceed to explain that smart people (like myself) learn from their mistakes so we can get busy making new ones.  

This said, I did something really stupid last Thursday when my class celebrated Valentine’s Day.  No sooner had my students walked in the classroom than I was deluged with chocolates and cards.  One girl handed me a single red rose.  It was wrapped tightly in plastic with lipstick kisses printed on it and secured at the bottom with a tiny gold-colored cone that looked like the tip off of cupid’s arrow.  My first thought was, “I better get this rose in some water.”   Never mind that I don’t have bud vase.  I would commandeer some kid’s water bottle.

I tried to pull the rose out of its golden cone, but it was secured tightly.  So I got my big TEACHER scissors and proceeded to cut this annoying gold thing off so I could remove the plastic.  Once the rose was laid bare on my desk, I couldn’t help but wonder what that shiny silver circle was glued to a leaf. That tore off easily enough, but then there was that glue on the leaves. That’s when I noticed some pesky wires that I’d severed when I cut off the cone.  I took a closer look and realized the rose was fake.

Now, there were two explanations:  1) The rose was actually a high-tech explosive device and I’d successfully disarmed it, and in doing so saved the lives of my entire class (making me the hero), or 2)  The wires that I’d severed had another, less sinister purpose.  I traced the wires and found they led to a small bulb hidden in the center of the rose. Damn!  So the answer was 2 (making me the goat).  We hadn’t been in class ten minutes and I’d already trashed one of my gifts.  I decided to come clean.

I called the girl over to my desk and explained how when I saw how beautiful the rose was, I was compelled to cut off the plastic so I could put it in water, and it was only then I realized it was a “special” rose.  My face was a red as the rose, but here’s how I saved my very red face.  I told my student that now I could slip the rose through the button hole in my jacket and wear it as a corsage.  I demonstrated and she seemed pleased.  I bundled up all the wires inside my jacket so I didn’t look like a suicide bomber, but throughout the day I looked down to see them dangling.  Oops.   

I asked my student if she knew that the rose was “special” when she gave it to me.  She nodded.  Yeah, that figures.  It was unusually hot last Thursday, but I never took off my jacket.   I wanted my student to remember how much I loved my “special” rose corsage.

Did You Know? February 13, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Food for Thought.
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I’ve created a new “Food for Thought” category just for this video.  Way cool! This video has not only added a new term, “B.G.” to my vocabulary, but it explains why I’ve been inundated with “friend” requests from Facebook. Enjoy.  

Messy Desks = Messy Minds February 9, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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A messy student desk is a manifestation of a messy mind. If that sounds a little Mao-esque, I wasn’t always such a hard liner. At one point I thought of a student’s desk as a manifestation of their individuality – even if that individuality screamed “hoarder.”

Everything changed six years ago. I took over a third grade classroom mid-year when the teacher left to fill an administrative job. It quickly became apparent that 30 minutes of each day was wasted waiting for students to find their book/paper/lunch ticket – in their own bloody desk! “It’s here somewhere,” they’d mumble while rooting through enough papers to encircle the planet.

One day, at wit’s end, I announced it was time to get organized. I had everyone clean everything out of their desks. OMG. Yes, the sweet little girl in the photo above, who was an exceptional student, was one premier pack rat. Her desk was a virtual garbage stuck sans flies. But she had lots of competition. It was then and there that I decided to teach my students how to get organized. While some people are naturally organized (moi), the majority of us aren’t. The good news is that it’s a valuable life skill you can teach your students that will serve them later in life way more than cursed cursive ever will.

It’s taken five years to perfect this system (The Five Year Plan), but my students have embraced it and most importantly, it works. Here’s how I do it. When my third graders receive their books, they put them in their desk one-at-a-time according to a diagram that I post up on the board. It has a line down the middle and the sides are labeled LEFT and RIGHT, as some third graders are still directionally challenged.

Language Arts goes on the left, everything else on the right, but not so fast, sassafras – One at a time. I hold up the anthology. “Anthology!”  I call out and they hold up theirs. When all copies are held aloft, I say, “Put it on the bottom left.” When they’ve done so, my students say, “Check!” We do the left side first and then the right. The chart even shows where things are to be put on the top of their desk, e.g., “Black Unfinished Work Folder on the left.  (Often a black hole of disorganization itself). On top of that is the book they are reading. Then their journal, and finally their bin of school supplies. There’s a drawing for “visual” learners and my ELLS (English Language Learners).

I know some teachers who have their students organize their Homework Folders. Papers on the Left are to be “Left at home” and papers on the Right are “bring right back.” I haven’t had to go that far, but I do print out my the weekly reading log, which includes a letter home to parents, on puke-lime-green paper so students are less likely to lose it. My students will tell you that’s why I chose that color too.

After the first month of school, I can just put up the diagram on Friday when we clean up before Friday Club (that’s another post). I let my students take a 5-minute  bathroom break at 2 p.m. and they return with wet paper towels to scrub down their desk. (It’s all about procedure – I had to even teach them just how wet the towel should be.) All of my students now know what “elbow grease” is, as in “you’ve got to use some elbow grease.”

One more cool thing. My students have three workbooks that are identical, so at the beginning of the year I use a paper punch to punch two holes on the lower right hand corner of one, and punch the shape of a star on another. The third book is plain. My students find this is all rather odd. Then I show them why I’m do this. I ask them to take out their “star” book without looking inside their desk.  There they sit, eyes fixated on me, feeling the corners of their workbooks. When they all miraculously take out the right book, the look on their faces is priceless. You’d have thought I’d just made an elephant disappear. This is a great trick to have your students show a substitute.

I was heartened recently when I read an article in The New York Times called “Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success.” Many teenagers, particularly boys, struggle with school due to a lack of organizational skills. My students are only 8 and 9, but I love to tell them that good habits are as hard to break as bad ones. Yes, someone else said that, but it bears repeating again, and again, and again. And I’ve personally found that girls can be just as disorganized as boys. So there!

Last week one of the boys was busy swabbing his desk when I heard him tell another boy, “I’m using lots of elbow grease.”   He then sighed, “It feels good to get organized.” The other boy nodded. Can you say Nirvana?

I Smell a Rat February 5, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front, Urban Wildlife.
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A terrorist has set up a base of operations in my kitchen.  The current threat level, according to the handy dandy color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, is red, or “High,” as in “High Risk of Terrorist Attacks.”

The website advises all Americans “to continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings, and report suspicious items or activities to local authorities immediately.”  The following is a report of suspicious activities I’ve observed.

In the last week, a small rodent with a prehensile tail has been spotted scurrying through my house in the wee hours.  Said rodent has been described by my husband as “cute” and by my son as “small and cute.”   I first became suspicious when I found teeny tiny bite marks on pears left in a bowl on the kitchen table.  What this rat doesn’t know is that I’ve watched enough episodes of  CSI  to know I can make a positive ID of this “small and cute rat” using state-of-the-art bite mark technology (aka plaster).

Least I sound overzealous, you need to know I actually rather like rats. (I’m giving them a “pass” on Bubonic Plague – It’s a Statute of Limitations thing.) My sons both had rats as pets, and they’re very sociable creatures (the rats that is).  I spent one Halloween greeting trick-or-treaters with “Chocolate” and “Vanilla” perched atop my shoulders and wept when they died.

Having lived in Southern California, a premier destination for rats, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing rats scurrying through patches of ivy.  At sunset, we like to watch as an entire family (gang?) of rats tightrope walks across the telephone lines as they head out for a night on the town.

So here’s the bottom line.  Pet rats with names = good.  Unnamed rats cruising the kitchen counters after hours = yuck!  A few years ago another rat staged nightly terrorist attacks in our kitchen.  We thought it was coming in through the dog door, but eventually located its illegal port of entry behind the refrigerator. When we redid the kitchen three years ago, we solved THAT problem.

Rats love to live in the palm trees in Los Angeles.  When several still-green fronds “mysteriously” broke off one of our Queen palms recently, we spotted the tell-tale nibble marks. My husband got a long pole and dislodged a real honest to goodness “rat’s nest.”  And it did bear a striking resemblance to my hair after a serious night of tossing and turning.

The most troubling thing is I learned this tiny terrorist had recruited an entire cell of sympathizers who pass themselves off as my family.  My husband was literally “ratted out” when I found a bowl of Cheerios he’d set behind the couch.  Then my son copped a plea for leaving out a ripe banana “for the little guy.”  I reminded them that I didn’t know too many rats who were only children.  I envisioned members of the rat’s large extended family just waiting for an invitation.  This image made both rat sympathizers wince. They mumbled something about buying a “humane” trap.  But after a week, this trap had not materialized.  In the meantime, every night we moved all fresh fruit and food to higher ground.  There’s nothing like camping in one’s own home.

The terrorist threat level hit Red this morning when my husband came out and saw that Mr. Cute and Little had left a pile of wood shavings on the floor after he’d gnawed a corner of one of the kitchen cabinets.  The cabinets that are only three years old.  The cabinets that we’re still paying off.

My husband couldn’t get to the hardware store fast enough.  The only “humane” traps in stock came in two sizes: “Skunk” and “Racoon.”  My husband is of the opinion that anyone foolish enough to try and capture a skunk should be put in a cage themselves.  He noted that the Raccoon trap seemed rather small since all the raccoons he’s seen while walking the dogs are the size of four-year-olds. He said a raccoon would just pick up the trap and make off with it.

We have house guests arriving tomorrow and it’s always nice to have a large steel trap positioned next to where you’re eating.  So my husband went high tech and sprung for a “sonic PestChaser” that plugs into an electrical outlet. According to the package, which features two rats running for their lives, its high-frequency sound repels rodents.

Following Homeland Security advice, we’ve now implemented the “protective measures to reduce the likelihood or impact of an attack.”  And so we wait. There’s a nice juicy pear sitting out on the table.

CODE RED  Update

No sooner had I published this post than my husband went out to the kitchen and observed the tiny terrorist enjoying the pear not four feet from the sonic “PestChaser.  A large humane trap shall become part of our kitchen decor tomorrow.  Nothing says “Welcome” to guests like a large steel rat trap in the kitchen.

To be continued…

February Mao February 1, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Monthly Mao.
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