Saturday, December 24, 2022

Northshore Notes: Common air

    I tend to be linear, to err on the side of structure, clarity. But that is only one way to roll. Today's post by EGD's Northshore bureau chief Caren Jeskey is more freeform, more of a koan, a mystery to unwrap, circling in on itself. I'm not sure I get it, but then, it isn't for me. It's for you. Enjoy.

By Caren Jeskey

”These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.”
              — Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
     We sometimes hurt the ones we love, but we don’t have to. We can use our incredible brains with more finesse.
     Here are seven basic communication tips from retired Gary Noesner, the former chief of the F.B.I. Crisis Negotiation Unit, that might come in handy. You can write them down on a piece of paper and keep it in your pocket to remind you, along with a smooth stone to ground you, or perhaps a doll to poke with needles under the table if you must.
     Nod and say “yep. Yep. Yep.”
     Paraphrase, letting them know what you heard them say to be sure you got it right.
     Use Emotional Labeling, such as “it seems as though…” to learn more.
     Use Mirroring, repeating the last few words of their sentence. This breeds comfort, which leads to bonding.
     Ask open-ended questions to better understand. Stay curious.
     The tried and true favorite, “I” statements. “What I heard is…”.
    Allow for effective pauses. "'Eventually, even the most overwrought people will find it difficult to sustain a one-sided argument and will return to meaningful dialogue.'"
     I’m not saying I don’t need to be talked down sometimes, because I do. Sadly, I had the first brief row in many years with my brother this past week. We will repair, and I'll be sure to pre-game by reviewing active listening skills next time. We snap at others as if we have buttons they can push when our frustration tolerance is low. One way to improve in this area is to cultivate our thoughts and emotions into the direction of harmony rather than discord. There are countless guided meditations on my favorite (free/donation based) app that you can also stream online, Insight Timer.
     What we think of as focused, undivided attention in the west is akin to — but not quite the same as — to what’s considered to be meditation elsewhere. In that vein, I've found that spending focused hours on clients, playing music, reading and writing, and getting out for walks relieves intrusive thoughts, and fears and worries disappear. I don't have time to hold a grudge or worry about the planet if I'm immersed in something captivating.
     The big trick is taking serenity out into the world with other people.
     As some of you know from my recent Saturday posts, I end up at the lake often, and my new hobby of rock gathering ensues.* I was out at a beach in Evanston for three hours this past Wednesday a sunny day with a windchill that was under 20 degrees. It was glorious. I got lost staring at the water, engulfed in the sound of waves, and searching for morsels. I ran around and jumped and stomped my feet here and there. I sang Go Tell It On The Mountain for some reason. (Raised Catholic). I was a kid again. I found about a cup of lake glass that day — some smooth and frosty, some that I call half-baked, and some still with sharper edges.
     Friends who live on islands, whom I consider ecologically-minded beach experts — have told me to throw the last kind back into the water so they can have more time to soften into the glass most people cherish. I stepped into a heap of trouble yesterday, when I posted the images of my finds (and my plan to return some shards to the lake) on a Great Lakes rock fanatic group, online. I was called dumb and ignorant and harassed for being an idiot who would even think of throwing glass into the lake. A litterer. My favorite? “Gee, thanks for the bloodletting garbage.”
     I responded calmly for the most part, clearing up the confusion. I let the name-callers know that I felt hurt and uncomfortable, which the moderators don't allow. One man gave a heartfelt apology. I reported the gif with a bunch of men labeled "The Group" surrounding a person labeled “You” who cowered in the middle of a circle while everyone else flipped them/me the bird. Oy vey. This is how folks spend their vacations. (This is why Neil cautioned me not to read the vitriol I noticed on his Twitter thread once. He doesn't. Wise).
     I turned the volume down on the haters, and focused on those who kindly taught me the right way (in their eyes) to handle the unbaked glass. I will keep it as is, or tumble it. .
     Happy last week of December to you! May you be the calm in the storm if there's a storm. If not, may you have the good fortune of having a hostage negotiator nearby.

* The rocks I put in the tumbler 2 weeks ago will be changed out today, and I'll share the progress another day.


  1. When you think about it, people who throw glass items bottles jars. I don't know whatever into the lake and they break and you can step on them. It's kind of crappy.
    I had wondered how these little shards of glass that you've been collecting lately ended up in the lake and I thought well. It's nice that she's pulling them out so nobody will step on them. though most of them look so smooth that they don't look like they can hurt you.
    I had no idea you were also finding sharp pieces of glass, but thank you for picking those up and making it so my kids or my dog or me don't step on them. I really appreciate it

  2. The communication tips you listed sound familiar to what I learned from studying Carl Rogers in grad school. Lots of "mm-hmm"s but it was amazing to see how effective simply active listening can be.
    In a sense there is some of Rogers' approach (also Sydney M. Jourard) in your writings as it relates to self disclosure.
    It is what makes your work so interesting. It's not about what you saw or did but what you saw, did, and felt.

    1. Hi Les. Yes, if you click on the link to the 7 steps Rogers is cited. Thank you for being open to the combination of what I am sharing. I hope to bring you all into a world that's serene and enjoyable at times, but I'm also being honest and these are tough times.

  3. For some bizarre & unknown reason, there are pieces of broken glass in the 1921 concrete walk in my back yard.

    1. Hi there. I found this:,place%20and%20consolidate%20the%20concrete..

  4. I am in Ft. Myers, Fl for the winter. My place here escaped the worst of Ian but I couldn't resist a survey of this area that I have visited since 1974 when my parents relocated from Chicago. Driving up the beach road from Bonita Springs through Ft Myers Beach ten weeks after the hurricane was shocking. Empty lots that were once homes and businesses, structures waiting for demolition, massive piles of sand and BobCats removing it as it blew back over the road, were in evidence for 15 miles or so. The specialized trucks for debris removal were everywhere and on an open island south of Estero Island they unloaded their cargoes, making three rows of 30-40 feet high piles, each hundreds of feet long. By the time I arrived at the area I knew best it was difficult to know my exact location. Buildings that had served as markers were gone or undistinguishable. The pictures you see do not do justice to the devastation. I stopped at an old family favorite restaurant that was closed but not shuttered. The decks over the bay were gone as were the doors and windows, only a No Trespassing sign stood guard. As I looked out at the shrimp boats piled up across the bay a young women approached me from the adjacent parking lot. She was with the relief effort, counseling victims. Twice her age, at least, I was able to give her some local cover and we discovered that our paths had crossed frequently, if not at the same time. Sometimes in Chicago and also in a couple of places far off any beaten path. we found a lot to talk about. I realized later that I was probably suffering a bit of shock from the scene and perhaps she approached me as another possible victim. I hand stopped my car and left the door open to take in the view, could she have thought I was about to jump in the bay? Whatever, meeting her did help to calm my situation. Feeling sorrow for those that lost everything, some close friends, while I was mostly spared, perhaps a little guilt is present. Knowing that good kind people are out there, and trying to spread the kindness myself makes it a little better. Thank you, Ely.

    1. Your story gave me full body chills. Touching. Thank you— so glad you are safe & I’m so sorry for the loss your neighbors (including a friend who lost her home and a close family member) suffered in Florida.

  5. The communication tips you listed I use in practice as a mental health therapist, so it makes complete sense to practice them to help someone de-escalate. My husband is a former newspaper reporter/editor, and I have to say his communication skills are as good as mine stemming from years of interviewing people for the paper.

    1. I do my best to practice them; with a few close people it's harder but I do my best, day by day...


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