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Reptiles in Literature: Thomas Wolfe, The Train and the City

Thomas Wolfe, c. commons wikkimedia.org

It was fabulous and incredible, but there it was. I saw again the million faces – the faces dark, dingy, driven, harried and corrupt, the faces stamped with all the familiar markings of suspicion and mistrust, cunning, contriving, and a hard and stupid cynicism. There were the faces, thin and febrile, of the taxi drivers, the faces cunning, sly, and furtive, and the hard twisted mouths and rasping voices, the eyes glittering and toxic with unnatural fires…They were all there as I remembered them – a race mongrel, dark, and feverish, swarming along forever on the pavements, moving in tune to that vast central energy, filled with the city’s life, as with general dynamic fluid.
And yet live, breathe and move they did with savage and indubitable violence, an unfathomed energy. Hard-mouthed, hard-eyed, and strident-tongued, with their million hard gray faces, they streamed past upon the streets forever, like a single animal, with the sinuous and baleful convolutions of an enormous reptile. And the magical and shining air – the strange, subtle and enchanted weather – of April was above them, and the buried men were strewed through the earth on which they trod, and a bracelet of great tides was flashing round them, and the enfabled rock on which they swarmed swung eastward in the marches of the sun into eternity, and was masted like a ship with it’s terrific towers, and was flung with a lion’s port between its tides into the very maw of the infinite, all taking ocean. And exultancy and joy arose with a cry of triumph in my throat, because I found it wonderful.

My research has taken me to many a dry scientific journal to learn about the effects of the fight or flight stress response. However, I run across examples in everyday literature that are usually much more interesting.

Few are as well written as Thomas Wolfe’s short story, The Train and the City.  His writing is a snapshot, which captures a moment or a scene so fantastically that you feel like you are actually there. In this particular story, he is talking about an exciting train ride he was on. I won’t spoil the story for you, but I was especially impressed with this scene from a crowd of passengers. I think he so perfectly captures the dual nature of humanity, creatures thinking with both ends of their brain.

c. 2011

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Reptilian Moment

c. ipernity.com

 It was early in the morning and the masses at the hospital all needed their coffee. All of the healthcare professionals and hospital staff crowded our teeny store, whose size often leaves me on edge.

There are two stations; a place to order and a place to pick up. One lady passed the long line that I was ringing up, going straight to the pick up area, so she could make her order to Heidi, who was on the espresso bar, trying to keep up with all of the drink orders I was handing her.

I could tell through the corner of my eye, she had managed to get her order in, when she was told, “They ring you up over there.” She then tried to step up to the counter to pay, skipping the dozens of people already in line to pay. She was staring at me persistently, trying to get me to wave her in.

I had been trying to decode the order of the customer who hadn’t jumped in line into the computer’s somewhat tedious language, which requires all of the details and add-ons.  To say it was distracting would be an understatement.

With two co-workers on either side of me, handing out food and drip coffee orders, I felt penned in and snapped when Heidi joined the crowd trying to assist the lady, whose eyes I felt were boring into my soul.

This was all just too much. Since not only was I not allowed to snap at the customer, I just didn’t have the time. So I did the obvious thing, I snapped at my co-worker..

“Heidi, I can’t concentrate when you are staring at me like that.”

Well, let me just say that she showed a lot more class than I would have, had the situation been reversed. She quickly stepped in and quickly helped the customer who butt in.

Both the misdirected anger and the snapping are common reptilian experiences. What I should have done is slowed down, taken a deep breath. Then I should have recalculated my Emotional GPS, as SARK describes in her book, Glad No Matter What. Then I could have told the lady she had to wait at the end of the line, and moved on, without alienating my co-workers.

c. 2011

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Eight Immediate Stress-Busters

c. flicker.com

I’m always searching the web for “stress-busters.” I like to share what I find with my readers. Maybe it sounds corny, but I think the more equipped we are to better handle our everyday stressors, the much better place the world will be. I found this on http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=59875 .

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD

Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD

Most of our lives are filled with family, work, and community obligations, and at some point we feel as though we are “running on empty.” Here are eight immediatestress busters to help “fill up the tank!” So take deep relaxing breath and read on.

  1. Watch for the next instance in which you find yourself becoming annoyed or angry at something trivial or unimportant. Then practice letting go,making a conscious choice not to become angry or upset. Do not allow yourself to waste thought and energy where it isn’t deserved. Effective anger management is a tried-and-true stress reducer.
  1. Breathe slowly and deeply.Before reacting to the next stressful occurrence, take three deep breaths and release them slowly. If you have a few minutes, try out a relaxation technique such as meditation or guided imagery.
  1. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by stress, practice speaking more slowly than usual.You’ll find that you think more clearly and react more reasonably to stressful situations. Stressed people tend to speak fast and breathlessly; by slowing down your speech you’ll also appear less anxious and more in control of any situation.
  1. Jump-start an effective time management strategy.Choose one simple thing you have been putting off (e.g., returning a phone call, making a doctor’s appointment), and do it immediately. Just taking care of one nagging responsibility can be energizing and can improve your attitude.
  1. Get outdoors for a brief break. Our grandparents were right about the healing power of fresh air. Don’t be deterred by foul weather or a full schedule. Even five minutes on a balcony or terrace can be rejuvenating.
  1. Drink plenty of water and eat small, nutritious snacks.Hunger and dehydration, even before you’re aware of them, can provoke aggressiveness and exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress.
  1. Do a quick posture check.Hold your head and shoulders upright and avoid stooping or slumping. Bad posture can lead to muscle tension, pain, and increased stress. If you’re stuck at a desk most of the day, avoid repetitive strain injuries and sore muscles by making sure your workstation reflects good ergonomic design principles. There is information about ergonomics and healthy workstations to assure your station ismore ergonomically safe.
  1. Plan something rewarding for the end of your stressful day,even if only a relaxing bath or half an hour with a good book. Put aside work, housekeeping or family concerns for a brief period before bedtime and allow yourself to fully relax. Don’t spend this time planning tomorrow’s schedule or doing chores you didn’t get around to during the day. Remember that you need time to recharge and energize yourself. You’ll be much better prepared to face another stressful day.
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Enjoy the Ride…

c. flickr.com 


One marketing tactic for my book, Reptiles on Caffeine, is making speeches. I haven’t done too many. I don’t like setting them up.

I have been on the books to speak at my mother’s Toastmaster group for a while now, but I keep putting it off. I actually do enjoy the speeches, it is just the preparation, as well as the resulting anxiety that I hate. I am always afraid I’m going to choke under pressure.

I just know I’m going to forget the main focus or the supporting details. Am I going to mispronounce a word? What if I forget the Toastmaster’s name? What if I completely lose my place like I did when I was invited to speak at my friend, Lauri’s senior English class?
When you are performing a challenging task; a speech, an interview, a date; if you are anything like me, you are thinking about how horrible it will turn out. If only not to get your hopes up too high, so that you are pleasantly surprised no matter the result.
I was reading Sian Beilock’s book Choke today, where she suggests that anticipating a horrible outcome may, actually be stressing me out. 
It seems so simple. How could I possibly have missed it? Because I was allowing myself to think with my fatalistic reptilian brain, which when unrestrained, doesn’t allow any kind of affirmative talk. That, and I don’t want to get too comfortable, that I get passive about my performance. I feel if I’m not dreading it, that I am taking it too lightly.
But when we waste all of our energy dreading a bad outcome, often we’re too exhausted or numb, to actually be able to revel in the outcome.
Beilock says that we shouldn’t be focusing on the outcome at all. Instead, we should be focusing on the journey. She says, “Being focused on failing or the monumental goals you are trying to achieve may prevent you from making the small steps forward needed to succeed.”
As I look back on situations that I’ve obsessed about, I see that nothing can turn out exactly as I’ve planned. I learn to work with it, though. Stressing out can blind you to the scenery, the great people, the little serendipities that are sprinkled along the way.
c. 2011
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Waiting for the other shoe to drop

c. ptoday.blogspot.com

As humans, we tend to like security. We like to have our bases covered. We like to know that we can have a paycheck to depend on. So we arm ourselves with education, 401ks, and stock plans. Imagine our terror when any or all of these become dubious; which they can at any moment.

Raoul is soft-spoken, extremely intelligent and accomplished computer programmer. He’s no Dilbert, but he definitely wears the “IT” badge with his khakis, sweaters and loafers. He has worked for 10 years at the same computer company in a small town in Texas. He has been hearing rumors for the past few months that the company was laying off people.

He is in an all too common situation with his career these days, in that he has no job security. His company has decided to shut down his state’s particular branch of the operation, and do everything from their home operation in Missouri. Since Raoul is in Texas, that would be quite a commute or move, as it were. They have told current employees that there is a chance some of them might be able to keep their jobs and work remotely. But nothing is guaranteed.

He is handling this way better than I would. He doesn’t seem at all phased by it .

I asked him how he makes it through the day. He said, we go to work and make sure their resumes are in order for other prospective jobs. You just live minute by minute, which is the only thing you can do.

In a situation where you are “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” so to speak; a relationship gone bad, pending layoff from a job; it can be tough to function in  uncertainty. But we have to do it anyway. We live in uncertain times.

It’s important to make a habit of living in this moment in order to keep one’s sanity in just such uncertain situations. Don’t be distracted by what-ifs. It is easier to get through a moment, than to take on the potential worries of an entire lifetime. Focus on what is going on now. That is all we are guaranteed, anyway.

c. 2011

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