getting poison oak

We like to think that nature is our friend. It recharges us after toiling in front of a computer all week. We like seeing cute little bunnies or beautiful vistas out there. We breathe the fresh air and begin to innocently believe that things are going to be okay. It is often around that time that we start to notice a slight itch on our forearm. 

First, we pass it off as a mosquito bite or a harmless little rash of some kind. But then it persists. We start noticing other places that itch....BAD. And now there are little bumps. Within a day or two, we start to develop an unsightly and excruciating red, oozy rash that lasts for weeks on end.

Nature has betrayed us. Like a venus flytrap, it has lured us into a trance with its staggering beauty, only to bite us in the ass...or the eyelid....or much, much worse...

An innocent desire to go off-trail to commune more deeply with God's creation has backfired. 

Then, the blame starts. "Fucking dog must have given it to me." Or, "Fucking budget cuts. Now they aren't maintaining those trails very well and they are getting overgrown with poison oak." 

We turn on ourselves. "Don't I wash my hands like twenty times a day? What kind of filthy person am I? I guess I'm one of those overly-sensitive, allergic types that needs to bathe in Tecnu after every brief encounter with the natural world." 

Then we have to deal with the disempowerment of letting people know that we can't be touched for a couple of weeks or they will get a nasty red rash on their bodies too. "I could really use some support right now...just don't express your compassion with touch."

Dealing with the rash is also disempowering. When we're adults, we don't like to walk around with crusty pink splotches of calamine lotion dried to our skin. Scratching ourselves constantly doesn't really project success or confidence either.

Then there's the insecurity of not knowing where the oils originated. Spraying rubbing alcohol on every surface that our person has come into contact with over the past few days becomes an obsession. There is truly no way to confirm that we've found the source and eliminated it. We have to live in fear.

Even our own limbs betray us. What we thought was the most convenient tool for scratching ourselves becomes an insidious implement to spread the oak oil far and wide...."That is just a normal itch on my crotch, right?" We always try to bargain with reality for a few minutes.

No. It's not a normal itch. The worst has happened. That is such a special moment of disempowerment...when you discover that the incessantly itchy and unsightly, oozing red rash has infiltrated your genitalia.

All efforts to feel pleasure for the next few weeks will be thwarted.

Disempowerment is rampant.

Injuring yourself during non-strenuous activity

While running, dancing, playing sports, sure, we are going to injure ourselves. Yes, this is unfortunate, but we expect it. It happens to professional athletes all of the time and it happens to us. 

I'm talking about the back strain while emptying the dishwasher, the shoulder strain when reaching for something high on the shelf or that first step after sitting for a while that feels hellish on the ankle. None of these things have any reason for happening. After all, we do them all of the time. This is classic disempowerment. 

"Really," we say to ourselves. "I can't reach for something on the top shelf without straining a shoulder?"

This sort of experience often puts us at war with our bodies. As though they have let us down in some way. This only leads to further disempowerment. 

"God damn shoulder," we might say to ourselves. 

Or blame another.

"Why does he put the fricking salad bowl on the top shelf? I'm going to go give him a piece of my mind."

We injure ourselves sometimes doing next to nothing. This is inevitable. So tell the story to a friend and have a good laugh. Our bodies serve us so well so much of the time, but sometimes picking up a pot when cooking will cause strange, sharp hand pain, and this pain will shoot up our arm. We may then feel pain when gripping anything for a week. 

So it goes. When we cannot bring levity and acceptance to the inevitable, we instead feel disempowered, which begets greater disempowerment. 

sleeping on a sofa when you're over 35

The other morning my 38 year-old ass woke up on a friend's sofa. 

When you're under 35, crashing on a friend's sofa can feel like a luxury. It's definitely better than the carpet. You don't have to drive home. You're young and you can sleep anywhere. It doesn't matter that the sofa is filthy and you're using one of the small sofa cushions as a head pillow. You're happy to have it, and may even feel empowered by its availability.  

As we near our 30's and beyond, waking up on a sofa begins to take on a different connotation. What was once a cool novelty that worked in the schema of things begins to take on a different subtext, and with it a sense of disempowerment. One can start feeling like Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused but unable to pull it off nearly as well. 

"Really, this is what it's come to?"
"Yeah, this is exactly where I want my life to be going."
"I'm that old guy on the sofa.......great."

I would venture to say that there is direct correlation between one's age and the degree of feeling disempowered when sleeping on a sofa. Whether we drank a few too many, our marriage is on the rocks, or we're dead ass broke, sleeping on a sofa can only drag down our already fragile self-esteem. 

My back hurts, I didn't sleep well, I wanted to wake up in my own home, the light was blazing in through the living room window, crumbs went down my waistband, I have to put on a pair of dirty socks, cat hair is stuck to my face and my mouth tastes like ass. I'm way too old for this.   

Waiting in a long line for a disgusting bathroom

Let's be honest: we would all prefer to do our serious business in the privacy and sanctuary of our own home. But we're not home. We are some place else and we cannot ignore the colonic pressure any longer.

Excusing ourselves, we go looking for the bathroom. Hoping for a fast turn around, we hasten our steps towards the bathroom only to find......oh no.....a long line......<sigh>. Minutes pass that seem like hours. The body doth protest. Inevitably one imagines how much fun the group is having while we're stuck in this line. Meanwhile, you're just another idiot staring at his smartphone and clenching his buttocks.

Finally we are a few folks deep from our turn, when the door opens and a woft of unpleasantness smacks us in the face. Fuck. Really? It's bad. Really bad. And we have to go in. No toilet seat covers! I'll make one out of toilet paper after wiping the disgusting seat. Or should I hover? Jesus, god, this is humiliating! An impatient knock at the door leads to further helplessness and disempowerment. All we can do is sit and ponder whether breathing through the nose or mouth is less disgusting.  

We don’t want to have to move our bowels in such a situation. We certainly don’t want to do it in a disgusting bathroom, and the indignity of having to wait in line to do so....well, that's disempowering. 

The only thing worse than this is waiting in a long line for a bloated port-a-potty at a sweltering hot and humid beer festival. 

getting no likes on a Facebook post

"I'm gonna post this on Facebook."

(5 minutes later)

"No likes yet, damn."

(10 minutes later)

"Still no likes, sigh." 

"It's a good post though, right?"

(20 minutes later)

"No likes and no comments? Did I just post something stupid or useless?"

(1 hour later)

"These other posts aren't that great and they are getting likes and comments."

(2 hours later)

"Maybe if I write a comment then more people will see it.....but then i'm just commenting on my own post, and what would that say about me?"

(4 hours later)

Shit, maybe I'll just delete it...but, what if people already read it and then its gone?....what will that say about me?"

Getting no likes or comments on your Facebook post is disempowering.

looking for parking


oh, its a driveway.


oh, they just got there.

how long have I been circling?



I THINK I can fit in that space!

guess not.

what does a white curb mean, again?


oh, they're just grabbing their jacket.


yes, have a game of Angry Birds before pulling out.

can't he see me waiting with my blinker on?

have some common courtesy, you bastard!


oh shit, someone is actually IN the car that I've been bumping into.

Stepping in dog shit

If there is one thing we should be able to do in this day and age, it is to avoid getting shit stuck to our person. But it happens. We step in dog shit. 

There are a multitude of disempowering moments when one steps in dog shit. There is the moment of realization, the squish of our shoe and the prayer that it is something other than what it is. "Oh, I just stepped in mud." That is the magical thinking phase. If that moment is missed, the next moment occurs when a waft of putrid rancidity bombards our nostrils. "What is that disgusting smell?" It is usually just a matter of seconds before the appalling truth registers in our minds. "I could be the source of the putrid rancidity." 


The next moment of disempowerment occurs when we confirm that we are indeed the source of the foulness. A leg is lifted. An ankle is turned. Tread is visually inspected and sniffed. There it is. It has happened. The gag reflex kicks in. Disempowerment is rampant.

We do a lot in order to avoid smelling bad in our culture. We bathe, brush our teeth, wear deodorant and slather ourselves with oils and perfume. We want to distance ourselves from stench. But body odor is a bouquet of roses compared to the foulness of dog shit. A beautiful day outside is invaded by a most unpleasant odor, a clear shift in the winds of fate. And there isn't anything we can do about it. 

Further disempowerment occurs when dog shit comes into contact with treasured objects, or even worse, loved ones. Part of what makes stepping in dog shit special is its sometimes stealthy nature. Unbeknownst to us, we enter our car and smear said dog shit onto our mats and pedals. An unwanted invader has perpetrated the sanctity of our mobile sanctuary. 

Or we track it into our house...or even worse, a friend's house.

That, my friends, is an awkward moment. It begins when the smell fills the room. Everyone in the space is in the bargaining phase of the loss cycle, hoping the whiff is some ghost remnant from an unpleasant event in the past. When it persists, there is an automatic shift into a self-centered orientation:

"Please, God, please don't let it be on my shoe, please, not my shoe, anyone's shoe but mine, please!" 

Then there is the moment of truth, the hush in the room, the checking of the shoe, and that moment of total disempowerment: "I stepped in shit, and I tracked it into my friend's house, and everyone knows it was me."

Finally, there is no dignified system of removal once this unwelcomed guest has breeched our inner sanctum. You can slide your shoe through the grass, skid it through a puddle or scrape it against a curb (all of which make you look like a doofus), but in the end, you have to sit down and use a stick to dig the crap out of your treads. A water source is necessary to do a thorough job. One must be careful when using a hose, for it is here that a whole new level of disempowerment is possible. The spray of the hose can spatter dog shit on your face.

There is really no way to escape an encounter with dog shit unscathed. Your best bet is to welcome the absurdity of this event. You are part of a long standing tradition that dates back thirty-thousand thousand years when man first domesticated the dog, and shortly thereafter, stepped in its feces. Breathe in the history, my friend.   


getting a stupid haircut

"Please God, if I can't look good, at least let me blend in and not look stupid." 

Let's face it, we all want to look good. We want to feel attractive and we want people to find us attractive. We want people to say, "wow, I REALLY like your new haircut!" We want that temporary boost to our fragile egos that a great haircut can provide. When we get a stupid haircut, not only do we have to deal with the embarrassment of looking like a dork for weeks on end, but we also have to grieve the loss of how good we COULD have looked.


Sometimes you can see the stupidity of your haircut unfolding right before your eyes. "Jesus! Did she really just snip off an inch when I said half an inch? Ah well, maybe it will look better when its dry and styled.... Shit, I guess not." Sigh...slump. Haircuts are risky endeavors because we don't have much control. When you buy a shirt, you can try it on and see how it looks. You don't have that luxury with a haircut. You can describe what you want but then you have to let go and hope that you aren't mangled. 

"Um, can you stop talking to me and pay attention to giving me a haircut?" 

Getting a stupid haircut is disempowering because we feel like we will stand out and be noticed for looking stupid instead of looking good. Drawing attention for looking like a dork is disempowering. It also disempowers people who look at your haircut because they will feel pressure to tell you that it looks good when in fact, it does not look good at all. It looks stupid. 

When we get a stupid haircut, we can:

  1. wait a few weeks until it grows out and endure looking like a jackass
  2. try to cut it shorter and risk looking even stupider
  3. use gobs of product to create the illusion that it isn't a stupid haircut
  4. wear a hat everyday for weeks

All of these options are disempowering. Sometimes we pay good money to look stupid. This is the epitome of feeling disempowered. We didn't want it to happen, but it happened anyway. We could blame the stylist and we could blame ourselves, but neither of these will help. Now, with the advent of, we can log on, share our stories and learn to take ourselves less seriously. bringing levity and acceptance to the inevitable.

thanksgiving is a minefield of disempowerment

who needs to eat this much?

am i related to these people?

are those cornflakes on top of this casserole?

isn't it time for her nap yet?

no, i can't tell that you've gained twenty pounds.

yes, uncle stan, another cocktail is EXACTLY what you need.

what in the hell are we watching?

yes, please tell me more about all the new stuff you've purchased.

yes, do remind me of the people that you've run into lately that i don't care about.

will she ever stop talking?

so the only way to loosen my pants further would be to unzip my zipper?

have i paid my dues in the conversation long enough to excuse myself without making a spectacle?

no, i don't want to get up at six and go shopping.

yes, i'd love to hear your opinions about how everything is going to hell in a hand basket.

yes, the way she smears food all over herself is super cute.

does sugar, cream and butter have to be added to EVERY side dish?

no, i didn't hear that they had another baby. wow.

can we have some greens on our plate?

yeah, work is fine.

i do have vague recollection of the person that you are talking about and i'm sorry that their son is not doing well in school.

yes, i do want to hear the embarrassing story that you tell about me again.

why am i putting food in my face when i'm so fucking full?

yeah, lets talk Obamacare now that everyone has had a lot to drink.

no, i'm not in a relationship yet, but i do want one.

why is my family still stuck in the same dynamic?

sure, i'll have a third piece of pie.

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Biting the inside of my cheek while chewing

I am doing something I have literally done millions of times: I am chewing.

You would think I'd have mastered this by now. 

Yet for reasons I cannot comprehend, while eating a meal not unlike any other meal on any other day, I bite down on the side of my cheek, hard. The pain is instantaneous, my face cringes, and I taste blood. 

I have bitten the inside of my own face.


I am in pain. I did it to myself. There is nothing I can do about it. Classic disempowerment.    

How this happens is a complete mystery. If I leave my windows down during a rainstorm and soak the interior of my car, I will make damn sure the windows are up next time. If I burn my mouth on a hot beverage, I will be sure to blow on it first in the future. I will adapt based on incoming information. Having to deal with a soaked car interior or burned mouth will teach me something. Biting the side of my cheek, however, is one of these experiences that cannot be adjusted for, and not being able to adjust things that hurt so they will be less likely to happen again in the future is disempowering.  

This sets the stage for further disempowerment: I know that a jagged sore will jut forth from my cheek towards the vacuum where my teeth will come together during future chewing. Not only have I disempowered myself by mutilating the inside of my cheek, but I have also set myself up to repeat the experience. Now I have to be careful when chewing, something that in my bovine-like way, I am not used to paying attention to at all, making it all the more likely that I will forget after the second or third bite. 

And, it is very, very likely that I will come down again on an already sore and swollen lump of my own meaty flesh, causing even more pain than the initial disempowering experience, and setting it up to happen again. I have created a disempowerment cycle. 

Thanks, I'll just have a smoothie.

Yes, another one.

Yes well, I bite the shit out of the inside of my cheek and I can't be trusted not to do it again.

No, I don't know how it happened. I just know that it did, and it keeps happening. 

Yes. It is too bad.  





choking on liquid

There is nothing quite like taking a sip of wine at a dinner party and choking on it. The body responds immediately and completely to the presence of liquid having gone down the wrong pipe. The exploding, desperate sounding coughs draw attention to you no matter what, and leave others wondering, "is this person choking on something?" Or, "shit, do I even remember the Heimlich maneuver?" All conversations stop and the spotlight of unwanted attention shines brightly upon you. Of course there is nothing to do but move away from people as quickly as possible, hopefully while covering your mouth with a cloth napkin. It is impossible not to feel disempowered in such a situation. 

For starters, all you did was have a sip of liquid, something you have done on a regular basis forever. In fact, it is one of the first things you did when you were born. You were gently taken to the breast of your mother and the sucking instinct kicked in. Arising in tandem with this was the less glorified swallowing instinct. It is such a fundamental and basic impulse and something we know how to do immediately. When you choke on liquid, you are demonstrating that you cannot be depended on for basic functionality.  

There is one thing even more disempowering than choking on liquid: choking on your own spit. At least if someone saw you take a sip of something before you began to choke, they may be able to draw a reasonable correlation. However, choking on spit displays no causality and leaves bystanders baffled. Those around you are left to their own imaginations to come up with an explanation as to why this person, just seconds before seemed absolutely without issue. "Did he swallow a bug?" "Is he having a seizure?" They don't know. And they couldn't know. This, my friends, is disempowering. Once the coughing subsides (again, caused by your own spit) and others are awaiting an explanation, the only one to give is inherently disempowering, not to mention embarrassing. "I choked on my own spit."      

Further disempowerment can occur later that night when one reflects upon the disempowering event. "It just went down the wrong pipe, how does such a thing happen, what the hell is going on.....what can I count on if I can't even feel confident that I can properly swallow my own spit.....what am I even doing with my life......what kind of a person am I?" 

erroneously thinking a fart is silent or non-offensive

The average human being farts about fourteen times per day. There is an unwritten rule that we should try to let our raunchiest farts loose when we are not in the presence of other people. This unwritten rule exists so we don't embarrass ourselves and feel disempowered.  But sometimes we just can't hold it very long and so we are faced with the challenge of trying to discern whether our fart will be noticed, either by its sound or smell.

One option is to think about the foods that we've eaten in the past few hours to anticipate the potential rancidity of our bowels in a given span of time. Eggs? Broccoli? Garlic? Another option is to release the fart when one is outside on a walk, for example. The problem is that sometimes farts seem to linger instead of trailing away in the breeze. If our friend or beautiful lover catches a whiff of our stinky butt, we will feel disempowered. It is disempowering to be associated with a raunchy smell. No one wants to be the source of making people wrinkle their noses and say, "dear god!"

Sometimes we think we can anticipate that a fart will be silent and we let it slip out, thinking that no one will notice. Then, if does actually make a sound, we can try to squeak our foot on the floor or rub our iPhone on the table to mimic the fart in order to create the illusion that it wasn't ACTUALLY a fart, but some kind of OTHER sound that just SOUNDED like a fart sound. How naive do we really think people are? People know what farts sound like because they do it all day long too. But we are so afraid of feeling judged and disempowered, that instead of saying, "ooh, I just tooted," we try our hand at acting.

Farts create awkwardness all around. Even the person who smelled the fart feels disempowered because they don't want to let on that they've smelled it. But it's hard to hide the wince or grimace when smelling another person's fart. Smelling your own fart is fine, but smelling another person's fart is disempowering.


being ignored at a traffic light

There is nothing quite like sitting at a traffic intersection and watching the lights cycle through a second time without getting your turn. 

Our traffic light system has taught us that it can be counted on. We may not like to wait while others get to go, but we at least have the certainty that soon it will be our turn. Order does indeed exist.   

Yet when we get passed over, there is a breakdown in the order of things. If we can't count on getting our turn in a traffic intersection, an admittedly impersonal but egalitarian system, what can we count on? Feeling disempowered is the experience of a disturbance, a breech in the continuity of events. Such an experience occurs when sitting at an intersection and watching another light turn from green to red, and back to green before getting your turn.  

Usually this indignity occurs late at night when the lights are on timers, meaning there are few cars on the road. This adds to the feeling of disempowerment. The light is green for quiet, dark empty streets, for no one. There is no one being served, accounted for, and there you are, sitting, waiting, wanting, staring, a real flesh and blood human being trying to get someplace, can easily begin to feel existential dread, and wonder, 'will I ever get to go?' Disempowering.  

It is like you don't even exist. Talk about not feeling seen. Then another cycle happens, and again your turn is missed. You flash your brights, you pull backwards and forwards, hoping to make your presence, no, your existence known. "I'm here, please see me. I want a turn. Please....please.....please."