The psychology of my embarrassment.

So, I’m driving down the road listening to music, with my mind wandering all over the place, and somehow I land on the memory of something from my past that was really, really embarrassing to me. I dwell on the thought, and somehow find myself actually embarrassed again, for something that happened twenty, even thirty years ago. I catch myself speaking out loud to the situation, saying the things that I wish I would have said, or somehow rationalizing or explaining my behavior. I live through shame long past, shame that should have been long buried. I’m not sure why this happens, but it happens often.

My mind seeks moments like this from my past. I’m not talking about any one situation. It’s more like my brain is actually seeking moments from my past that I can somehow rectify. It’s almost like my brain is looking for it, bringing it to my conscious level, and saying, “here – deal with it so we can get past it.” Unfortunately, that part of my past is exactly that – my past. So there is no real way of dealing with it. Sure, I can keep wishing that I could go back and change what I did or said – but it can’t happen. And figuring out what I could have said or done differently is not therapeutic, all it does is cause further shame, for what I “should have” done.

I want to emphasize that there are very few “serious” situations involved in my embarrassing memories. These are tiny little things that happened that are long forgotten by the people who witnessed the events, the people in whose presence I was embarrassed. These things were not in any way life-changing events. Just something stupid I did or said, that I wish I hadn’t done. By my mind gives these amazing weight, and once again I don’t know why.

There are sites on the net advising that you “forgive yourself” and “retrain your brain” but I’ve tried things like this with no amazing results. Probably the biggest reason I have found to feel better about all of this is that after searching for “reliving embarrassing moments” I discovered that this happens to many people, and it happens often enough for me to consider myself “normal” in regards to this issue.

It is also very cathartic for me to blog about these things, so I’m sure that after I hit the WP “Publish” button, I’ll start to feel better about the situation already. I may still experience all of these moments, however now when they come, instead of “forgiving myself” or “retraining my mind”, I’ll be able to say, “Oh yeah! I wrote about that once.”

The Jotting Imperative (or The Zen of Notes)

by Matthew A Bennett

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.

This is not her story.

-The introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams


If you have ever had an amazing thought and said to yourself, “Wow, that should be my next Facebook or Twitter status,” you should have a handy way ready to jot that down. Immediately. I believe that every human walking this earth has insights, probably daily, that are profound and should be somehow shared with the world. I also believe that so many of these thoughts are lost in the shuffle of life. Don’t live under the mistaken impression that because it was profound, or important, or even just really cool or interesting, that you are going to remember.

Insightful Thinking

I have a hypothesis that  just the opposite is true. The thought patterns that it takes to reach a profound insight or conclusion usually come in a string, or a series of thought. There is calculation involved, so recording a theory just as you grasp it is very important. The uncomplicated thoughts like “we are out of milk” can come and go, but if you forget these thoughts there is generally only a small consequence. But complicated theories such as “if I do A, then B happens, which makes me want to C, and then I feel like D. So I have to avoid A at all costs so that I never feel like D” will come and go so quickly that you may not even remember you had an insight into the problem at all. As soon as real life hits you, they are gone.

These are the things that I want to know about you. These are the things that need to be put into the stratosphere of information that others can have access to. And even if you keep these things private, you should keep them for you. But these are also the things that run in door, say hello, grab a beer, and leave forever if you don’t invite them to stay for a while. Inviting them to stay, in this case, means writing them down.

The good news about writing down your thoughts is that you don’t really need too much of a mental boost in order to remember your thought, which means, a tiny little bit of writing will go a long way. For instance, in my A through D example above, you might just write down “A —->B —->C——->D, so don’t A.” This is all it will take for you to remember. If you are a writer, you may want to elaborate more on it later. If you just want to remind yourself not to do A anymore, then you are set, with that one little note.

Some more good news is that all of this works with memories, too.


The practice of writing down your thoughts comes in handy in so many ways. It doesn’t just work for complex thought. It is a great way to record your memories, and all it takes once again is a few words to recall the mental pictures, sounds, smells, emotions, and events surrounding the memory.

I have a note from a couple of years ago, while I was visiting my parents. My father is a mechanic, and he was in the garage fixing a customer’s lawn mower. He came inside the house with his finger cut almost halfway through. He has been a mechanic for nearly fifty years, so cut fingers are nothing new to him. However, when your finger is half off and blood is pouring forth, you would tend to think of yourself as currently “not OK”, and so it was with my father. I was standing at the kitchen table, and my mother was on the phone at the time. She has been a nurse for most of her life, not to mention the wife of a mechanic for most of her life, so this is, to her, just another little incident. She remained on the phone, while my father paced back in forth in a worried way at first, and then a panicked way. They were getting more annoyed with each other every second this went on, my mom because her phone call was being interrupted, and my dad because she was ignoring what was obviously his imminent death.

As I stood there surveying the scene, I thought to myself that this was really funny stuff that I could use in some future blog post, or some future comedy act, or whatever. I felt as if this needed recording. So I pulled out pen and paper, and wrote three words. “My father’s finger.” Those three words are all I need to recall this entire scene. I may lose some of the finer details, but the important stuff is all there in my head when I read this note.

Larger Works

Janelle is working on her doctorate, and as she reads all of her books she has some pretty profound thoughts. I try to encourage her to write about each thought as they come to her. Luckily for her (maybe?) she has me, and I can’t stand to let a thought a good thought get old before it’s written down. SInce you don’t have me, you may have to write this stuff down yourself.

If you are working on a large project, or want to write a book in the future, it is much easier if you start logging your thoughts now. It becomes an arduous task to try to write a book if every bit of your research is taking place during your writing. It is difficult to become inspired, and it is difficult to get things done if you are just plinking along a little bit at time. However, if you have a plan to write a book, or a dissertation, or anything in kind in the future, and you start compiling a database of this information now, you will be able to search through your thoughts. Sure, some won’t work out, but they may fit into a second or third book, so it was worth jotting it down.

If you write down every thought that you have that even remotely relates to a project, you can then store it and forget about it. Remember, your writing at this point doesn’t  have to be wonderful or beautiful, or even good, as long as the thought is projected in a way that you will remember. All of this can be worked out later, compiled in the future where you can take the time to turn it into something beautiful. For now, the important thing is the sloppy, disorganized act of getting the thoughts down. As in all of life, things go from sloppy to refined. I learned this from my piano teacher when I was eighteen years old, and it worked, and it has worked in every non-musical situation that I have applied it to in the past twenty-two years. You start out with a bunch of slop, and you begin to turn it into something exquisite. I’ve never really been a proponent of procrastination, but when it is used like this, I think it is one of the smarter things that you can do.

Your Personal Database

What we are seeking here is a huge personal database of memories and thoughts that you can use for writing ideas. They can relate to one work, or many works, they can relate any way that you want, but what you will have is a wealth of ideas that are mostly your own, and definitely ideas with your own perspective. This database is invaluable when you want to write something but you have nothing to write about, or if you are really stuck somewhere within your own work, or when you are ready to put together that amazing dissertation.

How the Heck Do I Do It?

Your guess is as good as mine. I use the Evernote application that syncs to my phone and my computer, and an online app so I can access it from anyone’s computer. But don’t do that just because I do. Everyone’s needs are different. I also have a little notebook that I carry with me because there are times that it takes longer to type into my phone than it does to just jot it down. There’s also something a little more satisfying about filling up a notebook. I have used notebook, loose leaf paper, business cards, calling my phone and leaving myself messages. It was a process I went through and that I am probably not done going through. Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, suggests index cards. It worked twenty years ago, and it is probably just as efficient today. Following the spirit of sloppiness, as long as you are doing it in some way, then you are doing it right.


All of this is to simply say: don’t let your good ideas get lost forever just because of some terrible, stupid (regular life) catastrophe. Write it down.

Would I have been a racist in 1955?

Me eating a hot pepper with some trepidation. It’s included here because i can never find just the right post to insert it.

As I wandered around Montgomery, Alabama with my map of the city in hand, I realized that I was very excited to learn more about black history. This was the beginning of a nearly spontaneous vacation that had no particular destination in mind. We were just going to drive until it was warm. We stopped in Montgomery because I wanted to visit Hank Williams Sr.’s grave site. We decided to stay for a couple days, and check out some of the historical sites in the city. This was near the end of February, the end of Black History month. I really did get a quality education in this area during my walking tour. I’ve written about this elsewhere: Here and here.

I was in awe during my tour of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and during my visit to the Rosa Parks Museum I actually experienced chills several times, especially during the multimedia reenactment of the Rosa Parks event. I found myself rooting for Rosa as if I didn’t know how the story played out. I was more excited than I’ve ever been about the civil rights movement. And then, out of the blue, I wondered, “If I had actually been at the event, which side of the civil rights movement would I have aligned myself with? Would I have been a racist in 1955?”

My answer is: I don’t know. But there is always the possibility. This is almost the same question as the age old “nature vs. nurture” argument. On the side of nature, I could easily argue that if I am not now, then I wouldn’t have been then. The flipside is that I was fortunate enough to have gone to public schools (from 1979-1991) that taught me about racism, and preached against it. So maybe I am not racist because of my education, and not necessarily my nature. (I say this with a little reservation, because every single human is somewhat racist.) Perhaps if I had gone to an all-white school that preached segregation to me, I may have been on the wrong side of history. Except that there were plenty of all white segregationist schools, and I’m sure that some of the whites who worked hand in hand with the blacks during this era also went to these schools, and they turned out alright.

The question doesn’t bother me that much, but it does make me think. I’ll never know the answer to a hypothetical situation, but the truth probably lies somewhere in between. I do like who I am, I like my nature. But I am also lucky to have had the upbringing and education to not classify people based on race. There are always too many variables to know the truth in a hypothetical – you can never have the answer, it just causes more questions.

And “more questions” is always a good thing.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.-Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I got this one” -AKA- “Another gold star” -AKA- “Holy batsh**” -AKA- “Not just for Halloween anymore”

126093089848454997zjl0le-hiI am posting this hopefully just a few short minutes before I go to bed – I’ve been awake for about 26 hours, the last 9 of which were spent searching my bedroom for the bat that was flying around my house last night. The bat that I failed to capture until a couple of minutes ago. I tried sleeping a few times, but it just didn’t work. This morning, my wife saw it in a corner of the room.

I sent everyone downstairs with instructions to open the front door in case it flew down. I opened the windows upstairs, took a broom, and tried to, kind of, um… like, sweep it off the wall and out the window. As I swept, it flew to another wall and landed. I took an old coffee container and put it on top of him, called downstairs to get some help finding a manilla folder or something to slide in as a cover. Bat in trap, I walked him into my woods. Far, far into my woods. Knowing that bats have a hard time taking flight from the ground, I put the container in a tree, pulled the folder away, and watched it crawl out onto the tree.

One life saved. You better kill a lot of mosquitos in my yard this summer, my friend.

(Thanks to  and the Library of Congress for the image. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to start shooting pictures.)

40th Birthday Post #2: On My Birthday and Hobbits and Birthday Advice Boxes

I love birthdays, I really do. The idea of celebrating a person once a year is great. It never had to be on a certain day, but celebrating the “change of age” is as good an excuse as any.

I really do the like way that Tolkien decided that the Hobbits would celebrate birthdays though. The way the celebrated buys gifts for the celebrators. The way they had huge parties, and the parties were about everyone. Perhaps I only like this because it would mean that I get to go to more parties, all year long, and I would get more gifts, too. But I don’t think so.

I think I would love to give gifts to the people in my life on this day next year. Tell everyone not to get me anything, just come to my party, relax, enjoy the day. We’ll play games outside, or cards inside if it’s too cold. We’ll talk about old times, and talk about recent times. We’ll look for connections between people.

Instead of birthday cards, I want an advice box. I want 200 people at my party, and I want them to take an index card and a pen, and put it in their pocket, and keep it there all day and night, and think about the best advice they could possibly give me – I want to know what they learned from life, and I want them to think about it and then write as much as they can write on an index card (I’ll buy the big ones, you know, the GIANT index cards that look kinda ridiculous after you’re used to the normal ones) – and I want them to put the card in the box before they leave.

I want it not for me, but for them. One of the greatest gifts I can give someone is to know that when they have something important that they want to share, they have an audience. When people have an audience that cares, they usually think harder and write more wisely. I think this would help everyone, at least for a little while, value themselves more.

That’s what I wanna give you for my birthday, next year.

Wanna come to my 41st B-Day Party?

Misconceptions in the Attic


In April, 2012, our plywood subflooring didn’t go all the way to the walls, the attic that was being turned into a new floor of our house yet unfinished, and the insulation where the walls and floor met was showing. I was cleaning up one day, and I found some cat poop.(Since our cats are perfect, I have to assume that they thought the blow-in insulation was a new kind of kitty litter.) Janelle had just gone away to IUP to work on her PhD, so we were texting each other and I said, “One of the cat’s pooped on the floors”

“Which one?”

“How the hell am i supposed to know that?”

“Take a picture and send it to me. I can identify which cat”

This was scary, to say the least. first, that my true love seems to be a gumshoe with the ability to find clues in cat feces. Second, the disturbing fact that at the beginning of our relationship we sent cute pictures of ourselves back and forth, and I eagerly anticipated each one. You know…

But then,eight months into the relationship, I was sending her a picture of insulated cat poop, and I was eagerly anticipating her answer, fully trusting that she would not just guess, but actually be able to tell me which of the two cats was using our bedroom/music-studio-to-be as a luxury toilet.

How things change…

I look good on paper, but…

photoIn the last two days, I have twice heard people comment that they look good on paper, but they feel as if there is a disconnect between that and how they feel in reality. These individuals have amazing credentials, but aren’t experiencing what they would would expect that someone with these credentials would be experiencing.

They are searching for something that doesn’t exist.

We expect to emotionally feel similar to the way that we look on paper, because deep down when we see how others look -on paper- we assume that they feel that way. The disconnect isn’t between how we appear and how we feel, the disconnect takes place due to our particular notions of certain people. If we look at someone we greatly admire, most of the time we expect that that person emotionally experiences what we are experiencing as we admire them. We have to keep in mind that they are not. They are living their own personal feelings completely disconnected from our expectations.

This is because the whole of a person is so much greater than the sum of everything that they can put forth in their image. I said in my “Creating Your Life’s Composition” post that a person’s life can’t really be categorized well, and never completely. In general, people who are successful or admired decide to put only the best stuff “out there for the world to see” (best stuff according to their standards), and hiding everything else, keeping it as private as possible. I want to emphasize that I use “best stuff” very, very loosely. Someone’s best stuff may possibly be publicly working out some of their “worst stuff”, and that can make them successful or admired. I suppose it would be better to use a phrase like “most interesting stuff”.

When we see how good we look on paper, any paper, but we don’t feel like that amazing person that we’re reading about, and there is a good reason – The paper isn’t complete. It isn’t the whole story, and we know the WHOLE story:

On paper, I’m a working musician, magician, and writer with a handful of books, albums, public appearances, lots of big and little kudos to throw out there for the world to see. I have a beautiful wife, a great family, a house, my own woods, ideas for making my homestead sustainable, a new car, a pickup truck, and the list goes on…If that was the whole of my existence, I would either be ignorant and exceptionally happy, or analytical and extremely bored. What is not on paper are all my personal issues, health problems, relationship issues, insecurities, and other baggage that I want to keep private or are simply not fit for public consumption. I want to list some of these things in detail, but I would do so at the risk of dominating this essay and obscuring the meaning. My point is that all that great stuff is not the sum of who I am.

Life would be much simpler if we decided to not expect to feel a certain way. Just live whatever you feel without setting yourself up for disappointment by unrealistic emotional expectations. Be proud of yourself on paper and everywhere else. And when you consider any other person, know that they don’t feel like they look on paper either. Because life is huge.

(not quite) Midnight in Montgomery

By Matthew Bennett IMG_6711

Growing up, I heard more Johnny Cash and Gaither Trio songs than Hank Williams songs, but Hank was a part of my music listening experience from an early age, and I often consider Hank’s life, amazing story, and tragic ending. Perhaps this is why I ended up a country musician even though I it is not my favorite type of music. I will say that it is definitely my favorite type of music to play live.

Neither Hank WIlliams nor The Oakwood Annex Cemetery were running through my mind at all as we drove Interstate 85 into Montgomery, Alabama on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Also absent were any thoughts of Civil Rights, the Civil War, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., segregation, the Confederacy, or any other aspects and events that are part of the eye-opening history of Montgomery. I knew about these events, and even where they took place, but there was a disconnect in my mind between the history and the actual place.

Fortunately, what was running through my mind was Alan Jackson’s song “Midnight in Montgomery”. I was singing the song, and I remembered what it was about. Alan Jackson, in his bus, the Silver Eagle, visiting Hank’s gravesite in Montgomery. I’m not commonly prone to the middle school reaction of OMG!, but that is the moment, on I85, that my mind made the connect. OMG – Hank Williams is buried here! We decided to go visit the site the next day, hopefully get some good pictures, and then figure out what else we could learn about Montgomery as a whole.

I learned how little I knew about what happened with Rosa Parks, and even watched a re-enactment in the Rosa Parks Museum. Now when I hear about the incident, I feel like I was there – understanding the event itself much better, as well as the events leading up to, and where history turned immediately after the incident. All of this was only a tiny portion of the things we did and saw walking the streets of this historic city.

I learned so much, all because of one little spark of history that came to me as a song running through my head. So for these random thoughts that come to me that change my life forever in surprising ways, I have to thank my parents for playing the music, Alan Jackson for writing about the MAN, and last but never least, Hank Williams, for writing the songs that made me want to visit you when I was close.

Gifts from butterflies…

Butterflies. Yes, butterflies.

Once again, there are certain memories that I just don’t want to forget. I don’t want to let them slip away as so many of these things do.

In April 2005, I was visiting Erie, PA because of the deaths of my aunt and uncle. I was pondering life, as I often do during such times. Sitting outside my parent’s house smoking a cigarette, I watched a Monarch butterfly flying around, about twenty feet away from me. This brought back the memory of a movie I once saw, where someone else was dealing with death and at the end of the movie, a butterfly either landed on someone’s nose, or just flew around in front of them, I don’t remember the movie too well.

So I’m watching this butterfly, and I think to myself, “what if it landed on my nose. How weird would that be?” and the butterfly, almost immediately, flew over to me and landed, not on my nose, but on my eyebrow. I was stunned. I don’t really like “bugs” crawling on me, but I didn’t wave this one off. In fact, I wanted a picture. I walked into my parent’s house and looked for my camera. I couldn’t find it, and my mind was preoccupied. This was CRAZY. No camera, nobody’s going to believe me.

In my frantic search for some way to capture this moment, he (she? it?) apparently didn’t like all the commotion, and went on his merry way, leaving me this strange gift (the memory) that I’m really not sure what to do with. So, I’ve only told a couple of people about this, and they seemed to believe me, but you can never tell the thoughts going around in someone’s head.

“I, like God, do not play with dice, and I don’t believe in coincidences.”
-V for Vendetta

I really don’t know what it was that happened, but I thought about the thing landing on me, and it did. That is too hard for me to chalk up to coincidence. I tried.