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Hello Universe

Was It Something I Said?

By Aurora Starr

I rarely apologize anymore. Why? Because saying you’re sorry is the new black. “Sorry” means nothing if it is overused, disingenuous or a faux plea of ignorance. Today so many feel compelled to apologize ad nauseum. “I’m sorry for eating the last slice.” No, you’re not. “I’m sorry, BUT…” Wow, that’s heartfelt. “I’m sorry for hitting on your best friend.” No, you’re sorry you got caught.

So, when a person commented in typical social media fashion (one or two brief sentences with no backup or backbone) on one of my recent posts, I was not surprised. I was called: “Petty, immature and unoriginal.

Well, my first reaction was to reply to her comment with an old and timeless classic of my own: “F**k you.” Perhaps my manners won out, or maybe the Vodka hadn’t kicked in yet, but my sober mind prevailed and I refrained from joining her in verbal fisticuffs. Then came the second and final sentence of her insightful manifesto, “I can’t believe this person is a therapist.” First of all, I never claimed I was. Had she bothered to read the entire blog or any number of my other posts, she would have figured that one out all on her own. However, her uninformed remark did force the editors of this blog to post a disclaimer about my non-therapist credentials. I don’t blame them. It seems people are overly sensitive these days. Or are they?

I WILL STATE THE FOLLOWING IN BIG LETTERS SO THE TROLLS WILL UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL POST.  DO NOT WASTE MY TIME OR THE EDITORS’ TIME BY TRYING TO MAKE IT ONE. I’m not treading on your First Amendment Rights, either. You have an opinion? Wonderful and good for you! Now go share it with the people who already think like you. There, I’m done. Happy places, everyone. Happy places, I say!

Maybe it isn’t that people are more sensitive these days. Maybe it’s that people have bigger and multiple platforms with which to tell you the effects of your actions and words or at least their opinions about them. People haven’t suddenly become more sensitive, they have suddenly become able to let you know how they feel or what they think in real time. Opinions are not inherently bad, but they aren’t facts either. This isn’t new and it isn’t groundbreaking. What is interesting is that opinions are like apologies, they mean nothing if they are not thought out, contain less than three actual sentences or consist exclusively of preconceived talking points.

The world hasn’t changed, but the amount of meaningless fodder you have about it has. Regardless of what your opinion is on whether or not people are overly sensitive isn’t much more different now than it was before. It’s just that now Bob in Kansas (#Sorry Bob and Kansas…) can co-opt someone else’s platform to spout off whatever he likes or dislikes, and it may not be something we agree with or, in fact, may be misinformed, racist, sexist or just plain stupid. Thanks, Bob.

If the current trends in our culture have taught me anything it is this, we have ignored each other for far too long. I want a fair exchange of ideas, not talking points. Discourse and civilization thrive when we engage in respectful dialogue, and not through impulsive reactions to a blog post written from personal lived experiences. In short, you don’t get to throw shit on my “wall” and then walk away. Can we instead talk and learn from each other? If your answer is yes, then I am in. And for this I will never say “Sorry.”

Shine brightly,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Hello Universe

Middle of the Road, What Crisis?

By Aurora Starr

Common mythos dictates that when a bell rings an angel gets his wings, and correspondingly when a woman turns 40 a cougar is born. It’s unclear to me how men were given a pass on not having their midlife years branded with some analogous wild-critter reference.

Men get new sport cars or over-sized urban assault vehicles, or new “hair,” and the inevitable young blonde from the marketing department with the lively boobage. Oh, and that office relationship started off as the bullshit of all pop-psychology terms “an emotional affair.” Midlife women often get unfairly tagged as older horn dogs or bitches who pursue younger men in search of wanton sex to fill their empty and sad lives. That’s not to say some of these women don’t exist. Who doesn’t know some surgically altered, Forever 21 shopping, “milf” or milf wannabe? Let’s be real. Yet, isn’t it sad that we need such labels to begin with, especially for females?

I am still a few miles away from the signpost that is 40, but I am close enough that I still get some peculiar and often rude questions that are the curse of being a single gal in her waning 30s.

Did you know some women are having their first baby in their forties these days?” They are! That’s awesome! They must be so hashtag Blessed! Since I won’t be there for a few years, can I sign-up now for my little bundle of pre-menopausal joy?

Still haven’t found Mr. Right?” Excuse me, but maybe my love meter doesn’t necessarily light up just for men. It does, but let me parry this assumption for a moment. If Mister or Miss Right does exist (and he/she doesn’t), I was clearly having too much fun at Madam Spinster’s School of Old-Maidery to give a shit.

I’ve been thinking about getting my first tattoo…does that count? I traveled to some exotic places a few years ago…does that count? I take care of my cats… I rarely bounce checks… I am very much aware that my 30s are nearing their sad, sad, sad demise. What have I achieved? I’ve been adulting for almost twenty years. Shouldn’t I be more secure in what and who I am? Isn’t that the way it is? For who? For me? Well, I feel just fine.

Is 40 such a big deal? Is it the new 30? How much more time do I have left? If I’ve got 30 or 40 years with luck, will I be healthy for most of them and be able to do the things I want to do? What do I want to accomplish? Well, the short answer is I want to give, learn, explore and be helpful in the second and final chapter of my life. There is no master plan, but I think trying to be a civil, honest and giving person may just have its own rewards. But hey, who knows, maybe I’ll adjust my love meter and hit up that young blonde from marketing.

Shine brightly,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Hello Universe

Bitter Popcorn

By Aurora Starr

The editor of this blog approached me some time ago asking if I would be interested in writing an article about “ten movies that highlight existential motifs.” I know this because the assignment had been scrawled on a coffee stained notepad that often goes missing for weeks at a time. My handbag is a mysterious and often unforgiving portal to the unknown. Things appear, and then disappear. I recovered the pad last week as I desperately searched for my keys and, of course, I had missed the deadline.

To be honest, I had no idea where to begin with this article, which may account for the “lost” notepad. There are no accidents according to Freud, right? However, the editor insisted. So even after missing my first deadline, and in spite of my protests that this subject has been written about by far better connoisseurs of movie magic, I give you Aurora’s take on Five Movies that Highlight Existential Motifs. I know, it was supposed to be ten, but I’m a busy girl.

A bit of explanation is in order before we get started, and as this is not my area of expertise (if there could ever be one), my apologies if I am slightly off the mark. Existentialism is a term coined by 19th and 20th-century philosophers who believed that philosophical thinking begins and ends with the human subject. It is an analysis of human existence and the value and consequence of human choice. “Existence proceeds essence” with a Nietzsche-sized middle finger to any method designed to define humankind in a systematic or empirical way. Yeah, I know it’s complicated. In short, it is a philosophy concerned with finding meaning through free will, choice, and personal responsibility; a confrontation with existence by an exploration of death and meaning.

So, through the beauty of Netflix and Hulu I present you with my 5 flick picks; a sampling, if you will, with no intended spoilers. And in spite of the order they are listed, I wouldn’t consider one better than the other. All of them illustrate existential themes and are entertaining as well.

  1. “The Truman Show” (1998)

Remember that old Twilight Zone episode where reality is not what it seems and everyone but the main character is in on it? Okay, so that is just about every episode of the Twilight Zone, but if you get that then you’ll get the gist of The Truman Show. Starring Jim Carey (minus the usual shenanigans), Truman is a character that is both authentic and conflicted.

This film explores the idea that life has been a lie. Indeed, what happens when people who you thought were your family and friends turn out to be nothing more than actors employed to perform a role in a reality show that stars you? That’s the question posed by The Truman Show. What would you choose? Remain in a pristine world reminiscent of Main Street, USA or walk toward an unknown existence? Cue Rod Serling.

Yet, The Truman Show remains optimistic as many of its darker philosophical underpinnings are curbed by a love story tangled in the hero’s journey. Truman hints at some key concepts of existentialism such as questioning the meaning and purpose of life, personal responsibility and freedom to act, as well as stressing the significance of being with others.

  1. “Groundhog Day” (1993)

From what I remember from my 8:00 am college philosophy class (Thanks, Dr. Nelson) Friedrich Nietzsche offered some fun thoughts about a term he coined as Eternal Recurrence. In a nutshell it goes like this; each one of us will live this life again, exactly as we are living it now. Sounds great, right? It’s a bit more complex than that, with many moving parts regarding time and a finite universe, but you get the idea. So Bill Murray stars in this witty and entertaining film that entwines Nietzsche’s term along with some basic déjà vu. Murray is a cynical and bored TV news reporter who is sent to cover what he considers to be a non-story. Under any other actor’s tutelage this would be a most pedestrian rom-com affair. Yet, Groundhog Day is far more than just another serving of comedy from an SNL alum.

The premise is Murray is destined to repeat the same benign day again and again. There is no escape from a calendar day that repeats itself ad nasueam. In the beginning he uses this knowledge to his advantage, but the novelty quickly wears off as he is confronted with the reality that he may be doomed to spend eternity doing the same thing(s), while watching the same events unfold in an endless point in time. Did I mention it’s a comedy? It is, and that’s where Murray shines in his typical deadpan way.

Groundhog Day wonderfully illustrates ideas in existentialism about time, choice, responsibility, isolation, death, and how we define meaning in our lives. In the end, it is an open and fun introduction to the philosophy of existentialism and how to grasp many of its loftier ideas.

  1. “Ikiru” (1952)

This Japanese film takes on the sobering and always existential subject of death. Ikiru – which translates as ‘to live’ – tells the tale of an individual faced with his own mortality after hearing that he has cancer. Reflecting back on his life, Kanji Watanabe awakens to the fact that his life has amounted to nothing as he has spent it on the accumulation of things and work. He sees his life up to this point as senseless and void of meaning. Determined not to spend his final days in the same way, Watanabe finds meaning and a purpose before his death. Following his funeral, several of his work colleagues resolve to follow the same principles he ultimately found so fulfilling. Despite its age Ikiru’s message is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s. It’s a great primer for some major existential themes, such as being faced with death before learning to live and the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe.

  1. “The Seventh Seal” (1957)

Our second entry in the death category and the Granddaddy of all things Kierkegaardian is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Its iconic scene of death playing chess with a lone knight has been parodied in everything from The Simpsons to Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Swedish filmmaker Bergman gives us as a dark fantasy wrapped in a metaphorical meeting with death. In a game of chess between a medieval knight and the human manifestation of death during the Black Plague in Europe, Bergman masterfully explores the answers to a lot of existential questions about life, death and the presence or absence of God. It’s not the feel good movie of the year, but it is clearly a benchmark for how film and philosophy can fuse as one.

  1. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

In spite of what you may have heard 2001: A Space Odyssey is at its core a spiritual journey. Yes, it can at times seem exhausting and slow. Yes, it is visually stunning even by today’s bombastic CGI standards. Yet, it does something few films can do. It takes us along for a voyage that transcends theism, philosophy and agnosticism and squares both question and the answer on the shoulders of the audience. There are many Gods on display throughout this film; the ever loving God; the God of Tech; the God of Nihilism. Director and mad film genius Stanley Kubrick establishes how insignificant we are even with our technological advancements and gadgets. In the end, 2001 flashes us forward to face mortality and rebirth in the form of the iconic star child as Wagner’s Thus Spake Zarathustra reaches a fitting crescendo that will have you asking, “What just happened?” Ironically, a question that all of us might be asking the day we draw or final breaths.

So there you have it – Existentialism, indeed.

Shine Brightly,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Hello Universe

All the Pretty Things

By Aurora Starr

Let’s be clear. I am well aware of my name. It’s Aurora Starr and, yes, I live in California. My parents were and still are crystal-loving, chakra-checking, tribal-drumming, planet-charting, sage-burning, New Agers who own just about every Windham Hill collection ever produced. The irony of it all is not lost on me.

Yet, call it what you will, a striving to rebel against my parents or other authority figures, but more accurately perhaps a blatant indifference for those who claim there is more to a sunset than the beauty of a sunset. I believe in good science, philosophy, love, kittens, The Beatles, great sex and experiential learning. It’s complicated (but not really), as it should be. So to say I have a hard time relating with the New Age set is not far off the mark. Not that they are bad people. Quite the opposite, they mean well. They are productive and, for the most part, trustworthy. Just like some of my Christian and Buddhist friends and acquaintances, they want good things to come to those who believe, meditate, pray and do unto others, etc. These are also things that I can adhere to or even incorporate into my daily routine. So what’s the problem?

Sorry, not sorry.

My friend’s New Age Train pulled out of the station a few years ago following her spiritual awakening. Since then, I have been exposed to lots of patchouli oil and other exotic scents from afar… lots. I quickly learned that my enchanted friend and her belongings will now and forever smell like some ancient temple in Upper Mesopotamia. Her very presence would probably remind you of Stevie Nicks’ public persona circa 1979, minus the Wild Turkey and cocaine.

I learned my first lesson in crystal ethics from her. NEVER, EVER, touch someone else’s crystal pendant (pendulum). You will strip the mineral of its magical cleansing powers. My friend recoiled in disbelief as I reached for her pendulum, “Oh, that’s so pretty.” Sounds benign, right?  I thought so, too, until I was quickly schooled in crystal etiquette.

It is imperative for you to believe that crystals are indeed magical and that they hold healing properties. She has crystals all throughout her apartment, so many, many pretty crystals.  Her ever expanding collection has made her life similar to Doris “the cat lady” who used to live above me. Oh Doris, good times. My friend makes me hold selected crystals (NEVER, EVER the pendulum) and asks me if I can feel their “life energy.” She insists that if I would “just relax, I would feel it.” I still don’t feel it, but I smile politely and repeat my original thought that they are certainly “pretty.” They can still be pretty, right?

Then it is time for us to go out for the evening. We had plans, but never mind this; the universe had plans for us, also. Our night out had become contingent on astrological charts. Somehow our friendship hinges on whether the tarot produces a death card or three swords or some other mystical combination. Consulting cards is not a way of planning a night of fun. It sounds like playing it safe and running away from personal responsibility. It is also akin to What Would Jesus Do? “He would have tacos, he would definitely have tacos. Now can we leave, please?

So we finally arrive at a lovely, local eatery. A waifish and shy young girl takes our drink order and probably wishes she had been assigned to another section for that evening. She is immediately questioned by my friend about which menu items are vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free, and caffeine-free. I can’t say I blame my friend. Hey, being spiritually-aware often means you are body-aware. Healthy body, health mind, healthy spirit, I get it. Unfortunately, so does the timid waitress counting the minutes until her shift ends.

And another thing…

So to all my enlightened friends, and I have many of them (Remember the whole I live in California thing?), I wish you lots of peace and love, but you are not Native Americans, Aztecs, Mayans, Druids, or some Eastern Mystics. Different time, different history, different culture and different race. You live in Emory. You are white. Appropriating or picking rituals without having first-hand experience of the culture or the intended meaning behind those symbols is just wrong at best, disrespectful at worst.

You don’t own it. You never could. We can all agree that Eric Clapton is a kick-ass guitar player and a remarkable artist and performer, but is he a Blues Guitar God as many have suggested (including my Dad)? No, because he didn’t live it. He grew up in England for Christ Sake. Mr. Clapton did indeed experience his share of hardships – alcoholism, drug addiction and personal tragedy. However, he was never a Black musician in an oppressive and often brutal society ruled by an equally oppressive set of laws and government. See the difference?

There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. Mr. Clapton likely knows this, but I doubt many of his fans do. Now, this blog isn’t about a Black and White thing. That’s for another day, but do you get the point or is it just me, and how the hell did Eric Clapton get pulled into this?

It’s me, not you. No, really, it’s you and that’s okay.

My charmed friend also believes everything is a sign, and she’ll live her life following these psychic inklings, often against better judgment. She is indeed a handful, but I regularly cross the threshold into her world of magic and healing and genuinely enjoy our time together. There’s a place at the table for all, at least there should be. If her beliefs bother me so much, why don’t I just walk away? Well, that’s just rude and maybe, just maybe, the door to my mind needs to have its hinges oiled from time to time.

Shine bright,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Hello Universe

Gaslighting and the Single Girl

by Aurora Starr

I spend way too much time observing others. It’s both a curse and a gift. I’m certain this activity could be pathologized in some way, given the right psychiatrist on the wrong day. “A maladaptive attempt to give her boredom an outlet…Does not play well with others or reality.” Not that I could actually do anything productive with my annotations other than voice them on occasion with the readers of this blog. However, I do think there is value in being able to read others well, even for the sake of feeding my maladaptive daydreaming disorder (I’m not certain that’s even a thing, but I’m sure it will be).

Gaslighting 101

So color me mystified that in spite of my best observations and guardedness a full-time gaslighter recently managed to seep into my personal life. I’m certain you know at least one of these toxic jackasses, who is probably within throwing distance now as you read this (not that I’m advocating violence), but just in case here are a few general things to be aware of when dealing with someone who gaslights for a living:

  • The only time they are not lying is when their mouths are shut or they are not typing a text.
  • They lie to others on your behalf. Then they make you think that the lie originated with you.
  • Their mistakes, poor choices or problems are now yours.
  • They manipulate your feelings and thoughts.
  • They shut you out, cast doubt on you, and minimize your feelings when they are approached.
  • Their recall of events is dramatically different than yours and your recall is then questioned.
  • You grow increasingly anxious and depressed when thinking about this person.
  • They will not own any of these traits, characteristics or behaviors. It’s someone else’s fault.

To anyone who has experienced this type of person or persons, I’m sorry.

You deserve better. If you have someone in your life who gaslights, lose this person as quickly as possible before you lose yourself. Now let’s talk about the term itself. I’m not a mental health professional because, well, I’m not. It’s not my calling. However, when you think about it, someone who “gaslights” would have been called a manipulative, lying asshole some years ago before everything needed a diagnostic code or reframed in a way that was appealing and lucrative to a mass of pharmaceutical companies and researchers. My point is this, gaslighting or any of the so-called Personality Disorders are pure hokum and just shitty science. I’ m not going to substantiate that claim here. I don’t have to. Go research it yourself.

Hold your letters and pitchforks, please.

I’m not suggesting that all mental health issues are hogwash, but I know enough to tell you that the American Psychiatric Association has created a self-perpetuating, self-serving category of “disorders” for personality types. A few of these include Nacassitic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Obsessive Personality Disorder. It would seem that these traits and characteristics are rolled together in a gray area where psychiatry and psychology lose all their credibility. Medications and most behavior modification for a personality disorder are useless and again continue the belief that everything must be explained away by science, even being a manipulative jerk. There are people out there hurting. They have real problems. Focusing on personality disorders or researching “gaslighters” takes time and funding away from the work that needs to be done in the areas of depression, schizophrenia, trauma and anxiety, just to name a few. You know, real stuff? Not a disorder to allow a selfish (insert your own colorful metaphor here) off the hook. Can we please all agree that not every person needs to be defined by some sort of pathology?

Regarding my recent encounter with someone who gaslights? She knows who she is, and I hope that someday she will want to change. I doubt it though. I cut her from my life completely. Insight comes through self-exploration and an ability to take responsibility for my actions. Awareness doesn’t grow on trees or come in pill form, but it does help if my life has meaning beyond hurting others as way to validate my existence. If my being is dependent on how well I spin my narrative then it’s time to rethink who I am.

Shine bright,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you.