Thursday, 12 December 2013

P.BLOGEM

Well folks. It's good to be back from my little holiday and breathe some new life into the moon worms.

Lots has happened in this last month or two: Two new jobs. New hair or more like no hair. Actually this picture of Emily Dickinson is not far off my new "do". New attitude (the fact that I have yet again evolved a new attitude in itself is not new - it is a matter of how long it will last). My experiment with lifestyle a la depression era went relatively well.  But...I don't feel like writing about that right now. I am going to ease back into to my diatribes.

As I was cleaning out some junk areas of my house, practicing my feng shui, I found this musty old collection of papers bound by lavender wool string and covered in faded purple construction paper. It was entitled "A Poetry Anthology by 'me'". The title looks like a messy attempt at calligraphy done in Crayola marker. I was obsessed with calligraphy in Grade 8. Who wasn't?  The most interesting part was the prophetic opener:

“Ricky was "L" but he's home with the flu,
Lizzie, our "O," had some homework to do,
Mitchell, "E" prob'ly got lost on the way,
So I'm all of the love that could make it today.”
- Shel Silverstein

Somehow at the tender age of 13 I knew I would embark on a journey that would end in finding love for "V" (that's me). My mother although not prolific in her words of wisdom, has been wise in choosing what to share, and her advice is always both powerful and sticky. Included in her and now my mental library is this: "Remember - you are always your own best friend". I think this poem reflects that sentiment well. This thought has gotten me through a lot in the past. It does of course help that I am an introvert by nature.

The rest of my Grade 8 Anthology included a strange assortment like: The Highwayman, The Eagle, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would not Take the Garbage Out, and one called Our Existence by Laura van Brederode:

I live to exist
In my childhood
I live to love
In my adolescence
I live to enjoy
In my aging life
I live to await death
In my last years
I die to live
I am reborn.

The choice - slightly morbid and maybe some Christian undertones there. I will never get rid of my deep fascination with death and a love for things dark and gothic; however, what would I pick now to put in my anthology close to 30 years later? Actually some of the R Kelly lyrics on the new Bieber track called "Put You Down" (PYD) are fantastic:
...
Cause I’ve been doing forensics on your body in this club
Now I can tell the way you walking bunny ain’t been touched the right way
It seems your man been treating you like a step try-out
Some of ‘em are out , some are in
And I’mma get on the floor and shut the whole game down
Until I hear you cheering babe
Have you spelled out my name babe
See I wanna give you all my love
Be your dope man in the bedroom
You can make me your drug babe
And it don’t make no sense to be there baby, oh no, baby
...

Yep - you read it here and it don't make no sense.

Writing poetry or lyrics, good or bad, is a daunting task for anybody, and I am sure that R Kelly goes through the same as every artist.  I used to love writing poetry in high school, and studying it in University. I still read a lot of it too, but it unfortunately appears to be a pretentious hobby. Can you imagine I am on a blind date:

Date: "And what do you like to do in your spare time"?
Me: "Oh - I read and write poetry".
Date: "A-huh. I see."
Date and Me: ...silence....blink, blink...more silence.

Unless of course I am on a blind date with a poet. Well then I might be embarrassed that I perhaps over-exaggerated the fact that I do actually write poetry. So I am going to prove my fictional blind date poet wrong.

Re-birthing my writing in the form of poetry is going happen. Right here. Right now. And  I am going to cheat. P.blogem will be a little experiment, sort of using a tool from my past work life called the random word technique. For those of you who have led or participated in brainstorming, this is a fantastic way to generate new ideas. Here is a good reference on how to use it: http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2012/12/26/random-word-brainstorming-a-simple-powerful-and-effective-ideation-technique/

I just finished the third book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series called Voyager. I decided to randomly select pages and point my finger at words on each page to come up with an inspiring list of sentence fragments from which I drew the lines for my poem. Here is the result:

When I made up my mind
I closed it silently.
Of course. It's my home.
Messages I give myself not to be sent to others.
Of course not. It's my silence.
With the same instinct
I nod toward the smiling moon.
A shadow squatting on her heels,
Clinging to the shoulders of the earth.
Little more than a whisper,
I'm not going to forget.
Of course. I was vulnerable.
I didn't envision you utterly bewildered.
I know the dark line of the scar that slices
the man beside me.
Of course. I cannot see it.
I have been personally acquainted
With my own slightly slanted demons.
When I made up my mind.
I closed it silently.
Of course. It's my home.

"It's not bad, but it's not good either"
- Mr. Parker, otherwise known as Ralphie's Dad after sipping some wine in A Christmas Story

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Doin' It the Old-Fashioned Way

No - I don't believe there is an "old-fashioned" way to "do it". I think the human race has been pretty creative about "doing it" in various and numerous styles over the years. What would constitute as "old fashioned" in the sense of human twining is not the conversation I am interested in, at the moment.


Picture of a woman and her three children standing in a doorway during the Great Depression.I am however about to launch into what I am calling Project Pare. A month of no TV, no movies (at home), no app or texting or email useage on the iphone; no computer; whole food consumption and homecooking on a budget, mending and repairing rather than replacing, saving dimes and nickles for "treats", paying cash, abstinence from a whole lotta stuff and in general, experimenting with a lifestyle akin to what families endured during the Great Depression.

There are of course limits - I am not planning on starvation, being dirty and homeless and without a job (again), and well I don't have to worry about getting pregnant. Let's just pretend my husband left me to go find work across the otherside of the country, and he decided not to come back. Oh, and I am not planning on brewing my own moonshine. And yes, I am fully aware that Project Pare would have been better suited for when I was actually unemployed; however, I have never been a good one for timing.

I am using this blog as my draft project plan. I will have to print it though, since next week I won't have access to it.

Background

Why am I doing this?
  • I need to start paying off the massive amount of debt acrued during jobless time.
  • I need to figure out what we can really do "without" considering the lesser amount of salary that is coming my way.
  • I wrote a blog called Frickin' Budgets already.
  • I have a fascination with the time period.
  • Lots of people have told me I have that "classic" thirties movie look.
  • I feel like our family has lost the "living" part of our lives. We have become zombified long in advance of Halloween. My eyes hurt from playing so much Candy Crush Saga and I don't even play it well (mushy, mushy brain?). My head hurts from addictively watching whole seasons of HBO and PBS series for hours on end. I gorged on two rows of oreo cookie in 5 minutes flat. I don't know how to have a conversation anymore that does not end in "wtf" or "lol" or ":)".
  • My addictive personality also means I need something to deeply consume me.
  • It will get me and my family focussed on what is important and valuable and will hopefully un-spoil us.
  • And because some guy on CBC was talking about how he tried living like it was the 80s and I am copying him. Just replacing it with another time - one that is a little less extravagant to suit my budget!
Charter is below. For those of you, who like me, have both picked apart and help create these  - no judging. It's not perfect, but good enough. The measurement part is not S.M.A.R.T. but, I can come back to it.

Charter:Project Pare

High Level Goal: Manage our family/home time similar to the approaches used during the great depression for one month.

Start Date: October 7th, 2013
End Date: November 4th, 2013 (subject to extension!!!)

Sponsors: None to date

Scope: All applied at home. Modified at work. Kid when they are with me (does not apply at Daddy's). Me - the whole time.

Measurement (How will I know if I am successful): No headaches. At least one book read. Laundry always put away. Three love letters written. Carpal tunnel recedes. Important conversations with the most important people - in person or on the phone. Listening skills improved. Money saved. Cooking skills better. Penny pinching spirit embraced. More laughing. More story-telling. More painting. Red lipsticks used up. Cupboards and fridge emptied everyweek and not by throwing it in the recycling or garbage (all items used). I will be grateful for what I have.

Record results from PDSA cycles in a hand-written journal.

Changes I will make (things I (we) are going to try):

1. Cook/eat on very meagre budget.
2. Not to eat any "processed food" and try out some recipes from this time. Mmmmm---milk toast and stew here we come.
3. Only buy from what is produced locally.
4. Use all foods and eat all leftovers. I found this list of "meals" on this great site called survivalmon.com: Could you stomach these great depression foods. It's a real hoot, and possible not all the options would be approved by my dietitian sister, but I may try some.
5. Also budget food amount for the week i.e. a batch of cookies has to last the whole week.
6. To walk and not drive as much as possible to where we need to go.
7. To talk, write, read, listen to the radio, play games, charades, cards and instruments for entertainment.
8. To not buy any new clothes, or make-up. Not to go to the salon to dye my hair, or get my nails done. DIY mentality only.
9. To grow some herbs in the kitchen.
10. No TV, computers, phone app useage.
11. To fix stuff that is broken. Mend holes in clothes.
12. Use cash only.
13. Wash dishes by hand.
14. To wash but not shower or have a full bath every day.

That is what I can think of for now. I may add some more. You will have to wait til November to find out.

To note: there is an interesting measurement  I found in my research called the lipstick index. You would think that during tough economic times that the purchase of cosmetics would go down. They actually go up - women trying to attract a "rich" husband. Maybe any husband at all. Interesting. Does this still apply today? Read the link above!

So my readers (all 20 of you): It's time to say good-bye for a while. The moonworms will still be active - only on paper instead. Wish me luck.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - FDR in 1933.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Like Fruit Flies to Vinegar

I want to revisit and continue some of my thoughts from an older blog: Finding Edward.

I have reverted to those thoughts because of the recent epidemic of fruit flies (aka drosophila, if I remember correctly from the genetics class I so unceremoniously dropped and now wish I had not). My brother in-law suggested the best way to control them (or drown them) is with apple cider vinegar. So I got one of my less popular teacups out, filled it half way with apple cider vinegar (which I was surprised to find in my cupboard), put saran wrap on top, and poked some holes with a fork in the covering.

As I was watching this work slowly over the days, it was weird to see how the not-yet-dead drosophila were still lining up to get into the teacup, when there were already so many dead bodies in the vinegar - little black dots against a golden background. Why did the living flies decide it was a good idea to adventure inside? Well, not knowing much about fruit flies, I can still think of several explanations: a) they can't really see that well, hence the stagnant, floating bodies would not be a detraction; b) the scent of the vinegar neutralizes/prevents the scent of decay and is an overpowering aroma they cannot resist and c) they are attempting to go in and rescue their friends and family.

OK - C is not likely. I don't think so? A and B - maybe. I am resisting the urge to google.

So, there are lots of books and references out there: "catch your man", or "avoid the wrong one", or "keep your lover begging for more", etc. etc. I don't think those are the titles, but something along those lines. I have read my fair share: The Rules, How to think like a man and act like a woman, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and many, many excerpts from other books found on the internet. There are a lot of good lessons in those books! I am not discounting all of it - like how to recognize when to walk away from someone who is disrespectful.  And no, I am not going to pontificate on how being like vinegar will attract your mate so you can drown out all his or her old, bad habits.

Drosophilia are easily cross-bred/modified in one generation (I think-look at all those eye-colours in the picture). What occurred to me is that I, and potentially others, while trying to follow the advice bestowed upon us, will, no doubt, try to reincarnate ourselves with different characteristics each time, and in doing so, drown ourselves in the process. Are we determined that by constantly changing or adapting to what the latest craze in relationship strategy defines what we should be like, that we are more likely to keep the "we"? Find the "we"? I think the draw to change (aka the vinegar), is killing the "me" in all of this.



Some examples from these books include the recommendation to appear "mysterious", "not needy", even "bitchy" (that is for the female audience in particular, although you could apply to men just the same). I have tried this - and sometimes it works, at least in the short-term. And maybe it could have kept working in the long-term. Most likely with the wrong person. But it is way, way too hard to keep this up when most of it goes against my nature (thinking back to the "it should be easy" or at least easier at the beginning). I have drown myself over and over again with trying to promote the new "me".

So I decided - I need to remove the vinegar. I need to stop overloading myself with thoughts and advice from books on who I should be. I need to do what feels right and say what I am thinking. I have a friend who is doing this now, and I think it is working, so far anyway. There is no magic formula she can sell me, other than being honest and being open to vulnerability (see my blog on The Heart Chain).

I wonder how many more blogs on this topic I will have to write before I convince myself it's true.

I found this quote, which has been attributed to Dr. Suess, but I am not going to validate that. I am going to share though, just because I like it:

We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Elastic Band Sandwich

I spent some time last weekend with some old friends. "Old" as is in I had not connected with them in a while. I am sorry to say that the circumstances in which I saw them involved the passing away of my friend's brother at far too young an age. Not fair to her. Not fair to his wife and their children. Her family seem to have stellar coping skills - strong, thick elastic bands. 

It was wonderful to see them. I wonder why I had not made more of an effort in the last 10 years to do so...single mother or mother in the middle of separation with two young kids, working like a dog? Not really a good excuse. I could blame all sorts of circumstances but it was me - hiding out I think. Trying to separate myself from my past, even though my connection with them was not painful. Why did I think I could only forge ahead if I left everything behind? Why did I try and snap the bands?

I realize now that our strongest connections in life are like elastic bands. They can bend and mold around events in our lives. The ends can stretch far apart and then snap right down close to each other again. There are different lengths and different sizes. I am glad for that. Of course, there are the less strong connections that I stretched so far the elastic did snap - those are hard to recover. Elastic bands don't glue very well, and tape - well that just won't stick.  You could tie a knot, but you will always be reminded of  how it once broke. Maybe that's a good thing. Knots can be strong.

One topic of choice out of our many, many conversations on the trip to Ottawa, in Ottawa, and on the drive back (which included a retelling of the tales of past loves and snaps), seemed to be a recurring discussion of our place in the family sandwich.

My one friend, bravely at the age of 46, and without a partner, adopted a girl from Russia. Who, by the way, is the sweetest, smartest little cookie. My friend's parents are in their 80s. While she is fortunate to only be required at her clinic two days a week, the rest of her time is taken up with either looking after her daughter, or taking her parents to medical appointments and organizing them, or both. And she still has to run her business.

My other friends, although their fathers have sadly passed away, have their mother's to be concerned about. Especially because their mothers no longer have their spouses. Spouses to whom they were married for at least half a century. Spouses who they have previously relied upon to look after them in many ways, as was the older generation's way of doing things. That's some change to manage.

Of those two friends, one of them has a teenager and the other has had both her children graduate from University. You would assume this makes a difference, but one thing I have learned, and my parents continue to remind me on a daily basis, is that you never stop being a parent, no matter how old your children are. You are still in the middle of the sandwich. I remember the summer before my last year of high school - I had a party at my house when my parents went away over the Labour Day weekend. I had been forbidden before they left. Things went awry. There was much evidence. My father was so upset, the first thing he did was call my grandmother!

Although I definitely help out my parents, at the moment it is not much different than how I help out my sister or my friends. I am not currently a care provider, or guardian, or social convener for them. And I'm scared about that day when it comes. How will I balance being a successful giver to those I love the most, including myself, while being sandwiched?

This is how: I will stretch the elastic band to its limit around them and save a twist at the end for me. My malleable love and duty. I will grow my heart, and I will start working on that now. I will forge strong, thick bands. I will constantly remind myself what is my priority and my role here on Earth. Just as an aside - on Earth? As opposed to Mars or Heaven or what? Why do we use that expression? And did I need to use capitals?

Now - because my parents may not be here tomorrow. I might not be here tomorrow for my children.  In hindsight, I should have chosen elasticity as one of Power Cat's super powers (see Superhero 2 blog).

I reconnected with some amazing role models on the weekend. I write this blog for them, for my parents and for my children. My promise:

I know I can be there for you. All of you. I can stretch myself (and yoga will help). An elastic band in the middle of my family sandwich.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Superhero 2: Power Cat. Code Name: Tiger Claw.

Promises, promises. In Adventure Time (my new favourite show), in the first episode the main character, Finn, breaks a royal promise and is almost burned alive by a giant animated gumball machine. I did say I would follow-up on my blog on Superhero I. Did I promise? A "royal" promise to my royal selfish ass? I better go read it now to see what I said. Superheroes are not supposed to break promises. Earnest is as earnest does.

From what I remember, the intention of the second blog, at the time I was writing the first, was to talk about what appeared to be a dearth of female superheroes and perhaps provide a feminist expose on how superheroines are largely a fantasy created by a male population. How high school. I changed my mind. Turns out there are a lot of heroines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_superheroines.

Most, I have never heard of, likely because I only see what Hollywood provides for me. I should start going to the comic book store with my son more often. I am pretty sure Betty and Veronica don't count as superheroines. This is not the first time I have mentioned Archie comics. Geesh.

I watched the Avengers movie last night. I researched Black Widow this morning. Very Cool.

My superhero(ine) name is: Power Cat. Code name: Tiger Claw. My son was very serious, his brow creased in contemplation, about exactly what my superhero name should be. He asked me what animal I liked. Moving along the thought lines of Wolverine, would be my best guess. I said I like the jaguar, and so cat made sense. Since cat-woman is already taken, that ruled that one out. And she is not a superhero. Not many children want their mom to be a villain.

So, abiding by other superhero naming conventions, there were only a few options left. I was therefore crowned Power Cat. Cool and sexy. I just added that last part (see desired characteristic list for Power Cat below). No child wants to see their mum as sexy either.  Little did we know that PowerCat is the world's largest power catamaran builder. Oh well. I like boats too.

This was followed by a quick conversation as to my designated superhero powers. We threw around some ideas like: super strength, telekinesis, invisibility and invincibility. And don't forget claws. I forget what we decided upon. I am going to do that now. Rather than choose from the drop down list of superhuman traits (see Superhero I),  I will create Power Cat from a hyperbole of myself. A surreal me with a pinch of ridiculousness.

What I choose will be the most interesting part of the exercise. Will I look back to what people have said about me? Will I take inspiration from mythical superheroines? Will I build on what I perceive myself to be or what I aspire to be? I am already apprehensive that Power Cat might end up being a villainous monster. You should try this. It's more fun than doing a "What Superhero are you?"quiz.

This is what I choose:

1. Sexy strong. To note - these are not in any particular order. A boyfriend once said to me that it bothered him when we went out in public because of the way men looked at me, and asked me to turn off my sexiness. How ridiculous I told him. It was probably one of his strange attempts to compliment me. Or give me a line. Anyway, ask your friends to define "sexy" and it will likely be a different answer every-time. Some may not be able to describe it at all. But I have noticed that sometimes I have this "power" to draw men in. My sister too. Maybe it's genetic. Maybe it's learned. Maybe all women have this power, and it's just a matter of tapping into it.

What good is that power? How will that help anybody? Most of the superheroines and villainesses are characteristically sexy. This is why I call it sexy strong. Strong is super fit with a super stamina for fighting. A reason for the "sexiness" could be a distraction tactic. Since superheroine uniforms tend to highlight the feminine body, it may throw a man villain off their game whether its due to attraction or to the fact they assume weakness.

I don't think the latter explanation works so well when you are fighting gender-neutral half alien/half robots. And many/most of the male superheroes also wear tight outfits. Does that distract the villainess? Let's add something to sexy strong: What if I had the power to make any evil being I was fighting have an instant orgasm. That I was skilled in translating orgasm across the universe.  That would be very disarming.

The bottom line is this, in my research on asking friends to define sexy, there was one common element: confidence. Confidence comes from being strong and healthy both mentally and physically. Ya - Power Cat wants that. What's wrong with being sexy? Thinking about Nigel from Spinal Tap now?
  
2. Super healing powers - the ability to physically heal myself and others. Even though painful emotions often transmute into physical anguish, humans rely on mental healing to help them respect and remember, and as a superhero I don't want to take that away. How noble of me, eh? But if I could heal booboos and fight infections really fast I would want that super-power. I could work in a hospital as a super-infection control agent. Watch out C-Diff! Would I want to bring someone back from death? No. To say that gets muddy is an understatement. Do I want to live forever? My son and I often have the argument about the merits of that super power. He is determined to invent a live-forever serum. I told him I wouldn't want that because a) I exhaust myself and b) I don't want to see everyone around me die while I keep on going. The immortal wanderer is lonely. Maybe to stay healthy young for longer than normal. That would be nice. Let's say that my "tiger claw" aka my nails have a permanent super-healing serum that I can pass on to living creatures when I scratch them. I have to rethink that one - it's a bit creepy.

3. Freeze vision? I don't know if that is the technical term. I have been criticized before for giving penetrating, scary stare-downs. I am not usually conscious of that - I am often just thinking intensely, listening intently or observing intentionally. But doing a Medusa thing without actually turning anyone into stone, just freezing them in place for the moment would be super cool! Slowing down time. Nescafe moments. Professor X can do this selectively. Not really a necessary power, but I choose it nonetheless. And imagine freezing a bad guy in mid-orgasm.

4. Super agility. You can dodge bullets, whisk people out of the way, leap over buildings. And I would not bruise myself on the dishwasher door three times a week because I would have a super sense of avoiding sharp corners. Very Power Cat. Currently very un-me.  I am hoping yoga and wearing my glasses on a more regular basis will help fix that in my non superhero life.

So that's it. That's the list. I think I was a bit greedy. My costume is a spandex suit in gold and black. No cat ears. But a gold cat-eye shaped mask. My hair is lush and fabulous. Combat boots or ballet flats? Definitely the latter. Simple and elegant. I am not being serious.

As I was doing this, I ended up typing and erasing quite a bit. Most of my initial thoughts of desired super-heroine qualities were related to how I would want to protect my friends and family. It started there and I forgot that fantasy superheroes traditionally protect the world in general from the forces of evil. But the exercise became more than just a funny dream of Power Cat. I realized that I wouldn't want to protect the people I love from experiencing life - their life as they choose to act and think. For example, I may want to know some of their thoughts, but I certainly don't want to control or invade them. I don't need to be a superhero to communicate well - all I have to do is ask and listen. And that makes me very ordinarily human - but a good human I aspire to be. A super-smart, super-patient super-listener who can super-comfort as a super-mum, a super-friend and a super-daughter. Let's throw in super(b) lover. Go Power Cat!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Jibber Jabber


"OMG - You are going to jibber jabber about jibber jabber" - Penny to Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.

It was not the first time I heard the term used on one of my favourite TV shows. I have also heard it used on other shows I watch. My friend has more than once referred to me as the Cliff Claven of the group. Does my knowledge of trivial facts count as jibber-jabber? Would my blogs and/or most blogs be classified as jibber jabber?

If we go by the definitions posted on Urban Dictionary (the first definition being attributed to Mr. T!) jibber-jabber derives from gibberish and means "talking or speaking non-sense". In this case the use of the term really depends on the user of the term.

When Penny asks Sheldon about what he is currently doing at work, he goes into a long explanation about his latest physics project. Now to Penny, Sheldon's speech would be jibber-jabber. To a real physicist it may also be jibber-jabber. To other characters on the show, namely the other scientists, it probably wouldn't be.

My son has an added layer of interpretation as he has an extra voice that weighs in - that of his OCD. To the rest of us, his illogical, nonsensical links to words and deeds that if not said or done may result in something bad happening is frustrating for everyone, and teaches us a lesson in patience. See: Words Away.

We know words are powerful. We know they can be misinterpreted as jibber-jabber or potentially be seen as something entirely different by both the user and the receiver of the words. This is the essential communication debate.  Jibber jabber can be a mask while we are trying to figure out what we really want to say. It may be a nervous habit due to circumstances where we cannot see any physical reaction to our statements. How many times have you left that seemingly never-ending voice-message? It is the one time I really appreciate the texting option. I can write, erase, write, erase as many times as I want until no jibber-jabber is left. For those who know me well, it doesn't always work.  I am a natural jibber-jabberer.

However, brevity is not always the best option either. Alone the following phrases, despite the use of a strong middle word are very ambiguous:

"I love you"
"I need you"
"I hate you".

There is a quote that my friends and I often laugh about and refer to on many occasions. It originally came from a personal message section in one of the local papers, and it goes something like this "I love you and I hate you, and I only hope you feel the same".  Yes - huh? And funny.

I am positive, that even from the little I have read, psychologists, therapists, behavioural specialists, marketers and expert communicators around the world would agree that identifying the deed or act related to why you love, need, or even hate someone is a more powerful way of communicating:

"I love that you sing while you shower. It makes me happy"
"I need you to hug me because I had a bad day"
"I hate that you refuse to discuss the budget when it's clear we are spending beyond our means, and I'm worried"

Although there are times when saying "I love you" alone can be heartfelt, it is more likely due to the physical expression of the feeling (look in your eyes or strong embrace) while you say it. Weighting the "I love you" with additional specifics is harder to do. Think about all the people you truly love and see if you can tell them at least five reasons why. It's a good exercise and might make a great love letter! See my blog on the Modern Love Letter. Also see the children's book: I Love You Because You're You.

"Need" is often seen as a weakness. Over the week-end we watched 42 - the story about Jackie Robinson and his genius makers. There is a speech he makes to the reporter/driver who has been assigned to escort and protect him from those who oppose the first African American baseball player to play with a "white" team. Jackie generally talks about how he doesn't want to need anybody because he thinks it makes him look weak; that he wants to be strong enough to fight on his own. He learns, as many of us do, that admitting that we have needs, whether we need help, advice, a hug - makes us robust.

I don't like it (better option that hate?) when my children use the word "hate". But I also want to help them express negative feelings. The Merriam-Webster definition of "hate" is: a. "intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury or b. extreme dislike or antipathy. Again, the use of "hate" becomes more meaningful when we can articulate the root cause of it - by identifying the fear, the anger, the injury.

So while jibber-jabber may seem like it's more fun, or perhaps the intention is to purposefully confuse the receiver, the ambiguity of simple statements is also not the answer to bettering our communication skills. I am going to make a concerted effort to supress my jibber-jabber as well as giving those closest to me the reasons behind why I feel the way I do. My friends - let me know how I am doing!

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  - Shaw.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Secret to Looking Younger

The secret to looking younger is...........................acting younger?

The other day as I dropped my 12 year old off at camp, two pushy mum types, already decked out in full make-up, chandelier earrings dangling, and their Gucci wallets and Lexus key chains in hand, butted in front of me to corner the counselor holding the sign-in sheet. Ok - they didn't really push me out of the way, the scene looked more like my introverted self and my introverted daughter hovering uncomfortably by the tree, but that is a topic for another day.

After letting the other mums do their thing, I came up behind one and said "I will take that for you" (the clipboard). She turned around and said "oh- yes, thank you" with a brief look and a pass-back as if I was one of the counselors. Of course I did not say anything. What was the point? I had my hair up in a messy pony-tail bun, was wearing an American Eagle t-shirt and army shorts, and I had no make-up on (maybe some lip balm). I was also sporting my Birkenstocks that clearly displayed my recent splurge on nail art for my big toes - a white wing pattern with sparkles and hints of florescent yellow painted on top of a chocolate brown base. You needed to know that.

My daughter: "Well you do dress young, Mum. And I told you not to steal my clothes".

A while back, a woman in Pottery Barn kids commented positively on a sweatshirt I was wearing that I did steal. A Ramones sweatshirt. I saw the Ramones in the nineties. I still have a bass-pick I swiped off the stage. When I told her with my red-face that I stole it from my 12 year old, she gasped with a - "I thought you were like, 19". She, by the way, also looked very young, and I was shocked to find out she had kids herself. I wondered what her secret was?

Ok - so that is a superficial example - dressing younger. I actually don't do it on purpose. I mostly dress for lack of effort and for comfort. Dressing younger can also backfire - i.e. cougar style leather mini-skirts. The question is, do I also act younger than I should? And is that why people think I am younger and more importantly (being facetious) - is that what keeps my wrinkles away?

I don't really know what that means to act "younger". What is the expectation for someone in their forties? According to "them" - 40 is the new 30. I really hate that expression.

In the western world, the list for some might look like this: I had kids. Check. I currently own a house. Uncheck. I have a satisfying career. Uncheck. I am at the peak of my profession. Uncheck. I have a partner/spouse. Uncheck. I make more than three figures. Uncheck. I own a Gucci wallet. Uncheck. I drive a luxury car. Uncheck. I have travelled extensively. Uncheck. I do yoga 3X a week. Uncheck. I give to charities. Check. I talk about current events and politics with extensive knowledge. Uncheck. I know how to play golf. Uncheck. I get manicures on a regular basis. Check.

If that is the list of expectations I came up with - that's ridiculous, isn't it? I am living in a material world.

So that got me thinking about some of the blogs I have already written, and I think being "young at heart", as the expression goes, no matter what your true age is, might include the following:

1. Being vulnerable (The Heart Chain, Parenting with a Teenage Brain)
2. Saying what you want and what you think (The Contract)
3. Living for the moment (The Old Man in the Road and Rollerskating in the Now)
4. Laughing at yourself (An Addiction to Nutella)
5. Challenging expectations (Words Away, Frickin Budgets)
6. Dancing (Dance, dance, dance, dance)
7. Dressing for you (Yoga Pants and the Quest for Eternal Youth)
8. Embracing creativity (Do you hear the muses?)
9. Self promotion/love (this particular blog or all my blogs? Tee hee.)

What happens to us as we age? Are we so conscious of what is expected of us that we shy away from confrontation at work, teach our children that wealth is everything, and put our parents in nursing homes because it would otherwise rock a comfortable boat full of material goods? We spend a lot on "stuff"  to help keep us looking young, and at the same time on stuff that makes us look like we are "successful" for our age. The stress of buying all that is enough to make any forehead crease.

Whether embracing a youthful approach is the alternative to anti-ageing regimens is obviously not something I can prove. And my mother has fantastic skin. What I do know is that I am the happiest I have been in a long time because I am making an effort to practice #1-9. And maybe that healthy glow is all that happiness leaking into my pores.  A happiness moisturizer. Bottle that Oil of Olay!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Beautugly and Sexunny

Mean Girls is one of my favourite teen films, and for those of you who have seen it, you must admit that "fugly" is a great word.

Me - I am not mean by nature nor did I put that word in my vernacular, however, I do love the idea of word combinations and the evolution of language. A source from Quora suggests that about 4000 new words are added to the dictionary each year.

So based on random thoughts and experiences I have had lately, I decided to combine my love of lists AND words.

First, close to fugly is beautugly.

Not a new one, but I tried to think of some examples that could be used to help describe what is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. I am sure you had the first same thought I did:

1. Penises and Vaginas. Strange lookin' - but what they can accomplish with a little help can be gorgeous (yah, that's right I said gorgeous), and potentially can lead to:
2. Giving Birth. I don't think I need to expand on that one.

Other things that came to mind when thinking of Beautugly:

3. Birkenstocks. And I love mine - OK.
4. The Humpback of Notre Dame.
5. Fish. Gills are ew but they have that swimming elegance.
6. Expensive Weddings. Ugly amounts of money.
7. Crushes. Beautiful and ugly feelings all at once. This ugly includes painful. But see Number 2 also.

The other word is Sexunny. I googled this and nothing came up really. Could also be referred to as funxy - but that did come up related to something database/IT. So what is sexy and funny at the same time? For some of you it might be IT, but, here is my off the cuff list:

a. Archie comics
b. Strip teases by non-professionals.
c. "Hungry bum" - when your pants are so tight, well you can imagine the rest.
d. Orgasm faces. Or are those only funny?
e. Tummy suck-ins. Cause you are trying so hard.
f. Watching a banal sitcom on the couch - naked.
g. Being sexunny.

:)

Monday, 29 July 2013

Finding Edward

I hate cleaning. My mother and sister thrive on it. They somehow don't feel whole if they can't observe extreme clean. And it de-stresses them to do it. I really am trying to be motivated to be like them. It's not working - part of my unchangeable personality which makes me the black sheep. Not that I like mess and dirt, just that a) I'd rather have someone else clean and b) I can ignore it easily.

So, how much of our personality is changeable and unchangeable? During my first months of lay-off, I was obsessed with doing personality tests to try and understand just what career path I really should have, would have, and could have taken if I had really asked myself "Who am I?"

I found that taking the on-line tests over and over again got me a result I didn't want, and wasn't who I perceived myself to be. I took solace in the fact that although I may have this nature, I can also nuture myself through behaviour modification. However, I have possibly over-cooked it on the nurturing end of things, trying to supress my true self through almost my entire academic and professional life because I was afraid to be me. I haven't read James Altucher's recent book yet, but I am imagining that is what it's all about.

As I try to find balance in what I do, and what I will get paid to do, I have also been thinking about nature versus nurture concept in the context of marriage or long-term relationships. And I realize I am bastardizing the notion of nature as a genetic phenomenon, to which I clearly have not inherited the cleaning gene. Nonetheless, my friends and I often have the conversation about whether chemistry (I am beginning to hate that word) is just there (you know when you feel it) or whether that is something that can develop over time. And which one really leads to long-term bliss?

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching the Proposal with my daughter. It struck me that one of the remarkable things that happens seems too good to be true: An editor (driven female) and her assistant (younger male) who have a very close working relationship (albeit an unloving one on the surface) figure out they love each other over the course of a long week-end. Having faked an engagement and being asked to kiss at a party, the male character reveals later that he "knew it" when they kissed. Was it nuture? (3 years of working together) or nature? (it was going to happen regardless).

How many rom-coms have we seen where there seems to be very little relationship development and couples just happen to fall in love? Or started out as friends only to realize later that they have actually been in love this whole time? Is this fantasy or can you actually intuitively know that you were meant to be together? How do you decipher a "sexual piquing of interest" versus "this just feels right"?

I had a brief conversation with a friend recently about "transference". About how we bring all the experiences of our past relationships into our future ones, including the relationship with our parents. I was one of the first in my group of friends to adventure into serious coupledom (age 17!) which led to marriage after nine years of dating and a lot of waves to ride in-between and after. It ended in divorce. Were we too young to know any better? Our brains had reached maturity (just) by the time we married at age 26. What I think about now though, is why didn't I follow the pattern of my parents in their marriage rather than how they raised me?

I was raised to never give up with a strong push on independent performance. So, that transference makes sense - I think I just didn't want to give up and get a poor score on my life's record. Failure was not well embraced by me or my family. And for 18 years I tried not to fail. If I had really paid attention to my parents, and listened to what they were really trying to teach me,  I would have realized that my failure was that I didn't give up sooner. I always give the excuse that I had to wait for my two children to be born. And maybe that's true. I can't of course imagine this world without them. No parent can.

My parents don't have a perfect relationship and they also haven't given up. My kids once asked me why Omi and Grandpa weren't divorced because they fight so much. But, there are two things that seem different to me when I compare them to my experience. One - they were engaged after a relatively short time. They were 10 years older than me when I first started my relationship at seventeen with my now ex-husband, but I don't think the age factor is as important as I previously thought. My parents knew each other for 9 months before they were engaged. My grandparents for 3 months. My sister and her husband (who I set-up through a friend of mine) dated for less 3 months before they moved in together and were engaged within the year. They all have or had successful relationships. Not without work, or what I am calling "nuture", but somehow they figured out the nature part early on.

The second thing is there seems to be an underlying bond they have that I am not sure I ever had. In my marriage there was always chemistry, but perhaps not the right kind of chemistry, or mixing of natures that could continue to be nourished through the long-term. Is that love? I don't know. But, relationship gurus will tell you what to look for with respect to longevity. How can couples who knew each other for such a short time learn all that "experts" claim will lead to success? 

I do support the concept of "know thyself and know thyself well" as I mentioned above. I have been exploring "me", or the "lost me" for sometime now. Whether this must be in place first, however, is up for debate. Maybe if it is the right person, you can find yourself alongside them. Without being absorbed by them. In essence, their nature support yours.

I think, and I hope, I can do this now - combine the work ethic from my parents that includes not giving up on myself or the relationship, but also ensuring that I pay attention early on. I am going to follow the advice from my sister. She once said to me you "will know" because from the beginning it is just "easy" to be with that person. It feels "natural". You don't really have to think about it and nothing they do really bothers you. I need to transfer that learning, and understand that although the seeking is not easy, once found, it will be. Nature=Easy. Nuture=Work on top of easy.

And now a little bit of funny...

At dinner the other night, my friends and I made our first list (because there are so many more) of statements we have heard on first dates which were good indications of our "not the ones":

- Mensa I: "Let me stop you right there - I don't read"
- The un-funny Seinfeld: "'Johnny' likes his pasta" (referring to himself - and yes, it's true)
- The really, did you say that: "Are your hands dry from washing so many dishes"?
- Mensa II: "Is that fiction or non-fiction? I always get those two mixed up".
- The date interviewer: "So, what drives you?"

You may be thinking "those bitches, the guys were probably just nervous", and that may be true. But, if our natures had allowed it - we wouldn't have noticed, or even remembered.

I dedicate this blog to my sister and my best friends. To my sister, who found Easy. To my friends - I am not giving up on us finding our Easy! Or as I like to call him...my Edward.

Laugh. Out. Loud.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Does it matter if a genius is an asshole?

I sort of knew Ernest Hemingway was a blowhard. I didn't know anything about Frank Lloyd Wright except for his famous works and style. Apparently also an asshole.

I just finished reading The Paris Wife. At the end the author says she tried to keep it as accurate as possible. The book focusses on Papa and his first wife during the 5 years of their marriage when they lived in Paris. Hence the title. Hemingway is one of my favourite writers. Old Man and the Sea is on my top ten book list. Now that I know he was a terrible husband, a violent drunk, and a hurtful friend, does that change anything?

Frank Lloyd Wright was mentioned in another book I am reading called Give and Take. He was a "taker" who did not acknowledge or support his team (when he was working with one), insisted on getting credit for every project to which he contributed (even if it was small) and even his son publically criticized him for his approach to family and work. The FallingWater house was a last minute, off-deadline design that the client never wanted in the first place, and he charged way more than was in the original contract. Nonetheless, the design is more than stunning. I pondered further - do you have to be an asshole to be a genius? Does being an asshole create the conflict and pain that drives creation?

According to the author of Give and Take, Adam Grant, the answer to the second to last question, appears to be "no". In the chapter I just finished reading he gives examples and talks a lot about a man named George Meyer - one of the comedic geniuses behind many of the award winning Simpsons episodes, among other things. According to Grant and his research, Meyer is a genius, a genius maker and a successful "giver". The opposite of Frank Lloyd Wright.

So we can answer the third question also - if George Meyer can be a genius without being an asshole, then creation is possible without having to force pain and conflict (albeit that might be there already). Ernest Hemingway was just as much an observer of the gory details of "real life", but was certainly driven by his own feelings about, participation in and wounding that occurred during World War I. He took from himself and he took from others. Then he gave it back - sometimes in an unflattering way. We have to remember however that no matter what - it's still fiction.

The answer to the first question is harder and I think answerable only on a personal level. Knowing that these men, these artists, did not practice the virtues I cherish, still does not diminish my appreciation of their work. It also doesn't change my approach to life. I think that's because I can separate the work from the person. It becomes it's own thing. The Old Man and the Sea is The Old Man and the Sea, regardless of who wrote it and what drove them to genius. The FallingWater house is what it is.

I also did not know them personally. I am going by what other people say and write. Their lives and therefore "they" are interesting stories alone. Even if I did know them, I still don't think that would have changed my opinion of their art. Would I have been a lover or a wife? If I knew the history and I was smart- probably not. Again - that's hard to say. I am naturally attracted to creative genius.

So, I am obviously not above judging. But with respect to the arts, I prefer to look at the outcome, not the process, and not the person. In fact from what I know I feel sympathy for them both. It is not how I would have wanted to live my life. Ernest Hemingway had four wives, and eventually committed suicide. Frank Lloyd Wright alienated his family and colleagues. Could they have helped themselves not to be that way? I don't know - I am still reading the book. And I don't know how they produced such organic beauty, being ugly in their own way. But, I do know I will look to the George Meyers for inspiration in how to lead my own life, create, and try to be a genius maker of others, without isolating myself in an asshole dome.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Parenting with a Teenage Brain

Maybe it's the crazy weather. Maybe it's the fact that my "vacation" from the kids is coming to an end. And I miss them dearly! Maybe it's that I am tired of having conversations with myself - like I am doing right now in writing this blog. But I am just in this mood where I feel like being reckless - not feckless, but downright irresponsible.

So I started fantasizing about what types of things could I do that would be totally reckless, and would the consequences actually be that bad? I recently saw a movie where one character says to the other: "Are you stupid?" Her response was "yes". And I really took to that. However - easier said than done! I may have the desire, but I no longer have a teenage brain. My friends may beg to differ, but I am pretty sure I am wiser than I appear.

Lately I have seen a lot of attention paid to the topic of "the teenage brain", and whether teens in-fact behave they way they do because they are hard-wired for it. If I could find where I stashed all those National Geographic magazines my "pre-teen but acts like a teen" daughter never reads I might be able to describe the findings more articulately. She probably hid that one from me because she doesn't want to me to know or even try to understand. But, from what I can remember, and a little Google search there are a few elements that help drive classified risky behaviour:

1. The brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 (NIH study), and

2. Teens are more likely to take risks that have unknown consequences because they do not understand the "gist" of it, which may in fact also help them leave home because they are not afraid to venture into the unknown (http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/02/why-the-teen-brain-is-drawn-to-risk/)

So...while I know I must prepare for the onslaught of raging hormones and illogical arguments that will be my destiny for the next 7 years, the thought stream in my subconscious of how I might best prevent the things I don't want to happen to her plus my own current desire for recklessness, made me think: what if some of those things were to happen to me? Like, right now?

For example - what if I got pregnant? It would be risk of a different kind. More risk to the baby than to myself which is the opposite of what would happen if my daughter got pregnant as a teenager. Her risks would be mostly mental. Mine physical. Both of us - unsupported. A poor consequence for her, so full of potential, and not being able to fully explore it. On the other hand, despite the physical risks,  I would see it as a gift of potential - and I would know what to do with it.

It makes one wonder though, if the brain does not mature until the age of 25, then why is it possible for girls to "make babies" as early as the age of 10? Would you not think menstruation would be delayed until the brain could make better, less risky decisions that would help protect offspring? 

And if biology did not make a mistake, and part of the teenage brain is about being comfortable with blind risks, then how can I apply that to better parenting when I no longer possess the teenage brain? Some of the research cited in the link above talks about teaching teenagers how to understand the "gist" of a consequence and how not to over or underestimate actual risk - a little lesson in statistics and outcomes. But if one were to apply the opposite thinking, what is it that I need to do to also show them that the unknown is not something to be afraid of, if that is something I don't practice myself and I am potentially no longer capable of thinking like that?

I think from early on, the monster hiding in the closet or under the bed is really a version of the unknown for our children. We either say "don't be scared - monsters don't exist" or we put a night light on for them. How that even makes sense, escapes me, because all that does is allow you to see the monster! So, do the monsters go away when your teenage brain comes into power? And if so, why do we need to teach them about risk and quantifying the unknown? Not all things can be quantified. You can't see the monster in the dark.

The researchers talk about why teenagers take risks like unprotected sex, etc. which they mistake for unknown or incorrect probabilities when those risks are actually quantifiable. But, for me, as a parent, it's the emotional risks that are much more difficult to teach. A condom will protect you from STDs and pregnancy, but it won't protect you from the hurt that may come from being "dumped" after you gave away your virginity to someone you thought "loved you" in that most awesome, dramatic, dreamy teenage version of it.

So what can I do to help them survive the emotional unknown? Well, on small scale I can show them how to try. I have started painting. I have an idea how it might turnout, but for the most part it's an unknown. And it may turn out to be a piece of ugly crap. What I am showing them is that I am not afraid of the good or bad consequences in this case - it's a small risk that really won't hurt anything other than potentially my ego.

It really goes back to my earlier blog: The Heart Chain and the risks and benefits of being vulnerable. I have also shown my children the consequences of vulnerability on a larger scale, and I have been criticized by friends, parents, and therapists for doing so. For example, I let my children see me upset and crying after a relationship ended. I wanted them to see me like that, to show that I took the risk, that recovery was possible, and that emotions are acceptable. And, to let them know that eventually I would try again - adventuring into another unknown, another potential for failure, but also a potential for success. I think and I hope that this will be one of the most important lessons I teach them to keep that part of their teenage brain active throughout their adult lives.

And I will end with quotes from the thoroughly enjoyable teenage read of the Twilight series, which brought me back to the lovely state of teenage everything:

Edward Cullen: I only said it would be better if we weren't friends, not that I didn't want to be.
Isabella Swan: What does that mean?
Edward Cullen: It means if you're smart... you'll stay away from me.
Isabella Swan: Okay, let's say for argument's sake that I'm not smart.

"Edward had drawn many careful lines for our physical relationship, with the intent being to keep me alive. Though I respected the need for maintaining a safe distance between my skin and his razor-sharp, venom-coated teeth, I tended to forget about trivial things like that when he was kissing me".
-Bella Swan, New Moon, Chapter 1, p.16

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

My Own Private Italy

Last Saturday I went to see a movie with my mom and very obviously some other seniors from the hood.  Not that she acknowledges the fact that she is a senior and not that we knew these other seniors per se, but here I was stuck in a tiny, but neat retro theatre where I am sure the majority of the audience had grandchildren in university.

The movie we went to see was Love is All You Need. A "romance" film in both English and Danish about a woman who is recovering from cancer whose husband leaves her for a younger woman. She then meets the curmudgeonly father of her daughter's fiancée on the way their children's wedding by crashing into his car at the airport. But of course - how else would they meet? During the course of their stay, they fall in love, in Italy, where the wedding is to take place.

Now, at first I thought I would go on about the plethora of movies at the moment that involve retirees or empty nesters searching for love and sex (ew). But based on a conversation with my mum after the movie, about how we decided to change the plan from buying a farmhouse outside of Belleville to Italy (no offense to Eastern Ontario), I realized many of the romance movies that I have seen, and liked, brandish the realization of love or self discovery in the settings of Italy or Greece or some other southern European paradise. On the list of the some cheesy, some not, romantic films and/or books that do this, include:

Enchanted April
Under the Tuscan Sun
Part of Love, Actually
Mamma Mia and
Room with A View

I realize this is a short list, but these are the ones I can speak to since I have seen them more than once (how embarrassing). But why is it that Enchanted April is one of my favourite films? If art imitates life, why is it that we need to go away to find love? or ourselves? or find ourselves so that we can love? Why is it that my sister's "happy place" is in Provence where she and her husband went to yes, you guessed it - a wedding. What if I can't get away, can I create my own private Italy?

One of the obvious joys of these films and books is the Wordsworthian contrast of the romantic setting to the stuffy, boxed-in, devoid of nature settings so beautifully displayed both in the visual and literary mediums. Symbolic of the mind and heart, it is only when the characters travel to the sun, the crumbling facades, the ocean-side, the orchards and the vineyards that we see them blossom as they lose themselves in the beauty of their surroundings.

One of my favourite parts in Room with a View is when they stop to picnic in the middle of nowhere Italian countryside, where it is wild and lovely and fresh. Lucy, the main character, a young woman under the care of her fussy cousin finds herself face to face with a young man named George who has been raised to view the world from what would have been at the time the equivalent to a "hippy" perspective: “It is fate that I am here,' George persisted, 'but you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy.”   

It is here that Lucy and George fall in love - but Lucy refuses to accept it at the time, having been courted by the rather stuffy Cecil who is waiting for her back in England. I think I have seen the movie about ten times. And I confess I have been to Italy about five times, albeit I don't remember much from the time I was less than one year old. I do however concur with the following quote:

One doesn't come to Italy for niceness...one comes for life. Buon giorno! Buon giorno!”  

In Enchanted April, four women who previously had no relationship to each other embark on their own to rent an Italian Villa: two unhappily married women, an elderly, old-fashioned woman and a young and beautiful but sad looking Lady (the capital is not a typo). The friendship they develop and the rediscovery of youth, the beauty of nature and love are again very Wordsworthian but also very inspiring:

“...She had heard of dried staffs, pieces of mere dead wood, suddenly putting forth fresh leaves, but only in legend. She was not in legend. She knew perfectly what was due to herself. Dignity demanded that she should have nothing to do with fresh leaves at her age; and yet there it was--the feeling that presently, that at any moment now, she might crop out all green.”  

A short synopsis of Under the Tuscan Sun: a middle-age divorced woman whose ex-husband cheated on her and is now having a baby with his mistress, decides to go on a tour in Italy and ends up buying a house there. Again, the exploration of both her surroundings, her struggle to bring the old house to life and her consequential bringing of herself to life are both genuine and beautiful to watch. There is a great quote from the book:

Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”  

So where does that leave us, reader? And back to my original question - can I create the zest for life, the passion, the abandonment; can I see the beauty in nature, re-sprout youth and satisfy my cravings right here in Toronto?

I think I can if I follow an "if you build it, they will come" mentality. I have wine, olives, sundried tomatoes, a French stick and some Brie (ok that's not Italian, but France counts too). I have fresh flowers in every room.  I've started my sketches of a south of France scene. I've turned the air off and I've brought some of the stuff I was saving for the farmhouse out of the closet. I'm breathing. I'm wandering. I will try a new restaurant. I will picnic in the park. I will cook a simple but fabulous meal for my friends. I will experience passion. I will feel beauty. I will do one thing that is full of youthful abandonment. And I will still find some time to catch some Mediterranean films I haven't seen:

Journey to Italy (1954)
To Catch a Thief (1954)
Sex and Lucía (2001)
Bonjour tristesse (1958)

Ciao Bellos, Bellas! Salute Estate! (Salooteh Ehstateh...I think)

Thursday, 27 June 2013

An Addiction to Nutella

On my way home today I saw not one, but two bra-less wonders strolling happily on seperate sidewalks going in different directions. As were their swinging breasts. I chuckled. What are the chances? And it was funny.

It seems like a bit of a cheat, but today I am borrowing from another blog that I read and accepting his challenge.

In James Altucher's recent post, "Everything is Funny All the Time", he says "being born was the only serious thing I ever did. After that, we’re on our own, trying to survive. Trying to get the joke."  I tend to agree.

"Survival" for us human beings goes beyond food, water, reproduction. We have this mind to deal with too. And it complicates everything - from intuition to expectations. I like to think of myself as analytically challenged or is it gifted? He goes on to say:

"Some people list the things they are grateful for. This is a good list to do. But I try to also list the things around me that are funny. The things that are more than funny. The things that are ludicrous. This is a more fun list. This is the list that lights my brain on fire. It takes practice but it’s worth it. Because if you can’t find the humor in everything around you, then eventually you find out too late that the joke is on you".

Brilliant. In a way, David Letterman, or his writers, did it everyday in the top ten list. Seinfeld created a show "about nothing" and I watch re-runs to this day, because they are still funny. Speaking of Letterman and Seinfeld, my friend, let's call her Emily, sent me this clip the other day from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwBVHZxHXj4 and in the subject line she wrote: "If someone video-taped us talking this is what it would sound like..."

While it's true that David and Jerry are wealthy, successful comedians, and they ought to be laughing all the way to the bank; it is also true that she and I have conversations like this all the time. On a daily basis we somehow manage to find at least one thing that makes us literally laugh out loud and ridicule the things that happen to us and our group of friends at home and at work. My regular response to most of it is - "another one for the book". And I suspect we all have a book we could write if we could find the humour in everything around us.

So here is today's attempt to make a list of 6 things that are funny (mostly about me - hmmmmmm).

1. My addiction to Nutella. On a daily basis I run out of spoons because I don't want to "double dip" (hot on the Seinfeld today). The fact that I don't want to double dip is in itself ludicrous. My friend Emily also has this addiction. When she gets married we are going to tie ribbons around Nutella jars and give them away as wedding favours.

2.  That at the age of 41 I am still trying to please my parents. I wanted to paint an accent wall in my bedroom red, because as the children's book says "Red is Best". They said bedrooms are supposed to be restful - you can't do that. So I picked a navy blue. They helped me paint. I was grateful. I hated it. I painted over it yesterday. For those of you with little children, get this book. It's wonderful. I need to read it often to help me with my parent issues.

3. That since being unemployed I have gotten more manis and pedis than in the entire time I was employed full-time. That is ratio of 5 months to 15 years.

4. That my sister and I can say one thing that no-one else will think is funny and we will laugh until tears are streaming down our faces and we can't even form a sentence that makes sense because we are laughing so hard. And that even after we leave each other's company, we will still be laughing and crying about the same silly thing for the whole week to come and at inopportune moments. People on the bus look at me and think - is she crazy? And they move seats. People are scared of happy moments in public, I guess.

5. One time I was so hungover, that when I went to the grocery store with my friend she had to push me around in the cart because I couldn't walk. I looked like death warmed over and I was 36 years old. She told people I was not feeling well, but not to worry. She had to say something - they were staring at me. At us.

6. That even during my wallowing, leave me alone, "I am being dramatic on purpose" times, I can still laugh silently while pondering my miserable self, because I have the power to re-live moments 1 to 5.

I could keep going but I do have to save some for the book :)

Try your own list!

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Heart Chain

"Don't worry if you wake up in the middle of the night and find that I am gone from my bed, Mummy. I might be out rampaging. You know, cause it's a full moon and that means werewolving"
-My son, this past Friday night.

After you stop laughing, or wondering what the? You may also be thinking - what could that possibly have to do with the title of today's blog? It is coming, just wait for it.

The myths and legends around the full moon and moon culture in general are interesting. Does it really only seem like more "crazies" come out during a full moon, and are there are small epidemics of strange things that happen during those times? Is the planet more vulnerable during full moons? This past weekend we even had a supermoon.  I did not ask my son how that effects the werewolves. Just in case you are wondering what a supermoon is:

"A supermoon is the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth. The technical name is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system...The association of the Moon with both oceanic and crustal tides has led to claims that the supermoon phenomenon may be associated with increased risk of events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the evidence of such a link is widely held to be unconvincing" - Wikepedia.

Now that you know what a supermoon is, what I really wanted to talk about today is how my son's bedtime fantasy story prompted me to think about vulnerability. Werewolves are vulnerable, in most versions of the story, to the moon. Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite.  I mention that because we just watched Superman Returns.

In the movie, Superman returns after a 5 year absence. During this time Lois Lane writes a Pulitzer Prize article called "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" - easily translated to why she doesn't need Superman. Without a goodbye from him, or any explanation, her way of blocking the pain was to put a box around her heart, chain it and lock it up. It was the only way she thought she could survive the pain. She locked out (or in?) her vulnerability.

Superman is vulnerable too - not only to Kryptonite, but by his need to "save the world" and balance his love for Lois at the same time. Feeling alone as the only one of his kind (another vulnerability - loneliness), he flew away in search of his destroyed planet to try and find a connection. Connection is one of the first topics that Brene Brown talks about in her Ted Talks on vulnerability (see link below).

The problem is, the fight with vulnerability is a fight we can never win, and I am now returning to the belief we shouldn't want to win. I have recently experimented with trying to put my heart in box, chain it and throw away the key, while letting the lid to the other box swing wide open. I was thinking it could work if I could stick to some rules and allow myself to become dominated by logic and control. But my need for vulnerability is in fact very strong and its waging a tough war.

A friend of mine recently reminded me of this very insightful Ted Talks with Brene Brown on vulnerability:  http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html. It has had almost 10 million views and so there is a good chance that you have watched it. If you have not, I highly recommend it.

She talks about a group of stories from individuals who she termed "whole-hearted" - these were people who were successful and emotionally strong, who did not "numb their emotions", but understood that “staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection [and joy].”

A few blogs ago I wrote about "The Contract". I still support clear, open and transparent communication in my tongue and cheek way of suggesting we preplan and contract all of our relationships. I think that in this case, the vulnerability comes from what is proposed in "the contract" - the expression of our wants and needs and likes and dislikes and it outlines what we understand to be the risks. Assuming the risk is, of course, the hardest part, and requires the most courage.

Our vulnerability ebbs and flows every day, every week, every year. Right now I am at a high point. Every time I apply for a job or go for an interview, I have to embrace vulnerability. But I am not going to get a job if I don't.  Every time I write a blog (serious or funny, it doesn't matter) and post it, I am baring myself. Every time I make a mistake in front of my children, in something I have said to them and I have to apologise - I open myself up to shame. But only if I look at it that way. I am also teaching my children that one makes mistakes and one must apologise. An example of how to be a noble human "being".

And, even if I tried to throw away the key that will unlock the chains around my heart in a box, I don't need it and I don't need to give it to somebody either. My heart will break the chains and the box on its own. There are two scenes I have watched many times in my life that make me think of hearts and vulnerability. One is the powerful image of the Grinch's expanding heart which gives him super Grinch strength (10 Grinches plus 2!) after he discovers the Whos are singing, holding hands in a circle, even though he stole all their presents. He realizes of course that their connection, even though they were vulnerable to theft, is what gives them joy.



The second is the speech that Gigi gives Alex in the movie, He's Just Not that Into You, after she potentially misreads his signals and is rebuffed after trying to express her interest in him (very awkward and funny make-out seen for those of you who have not seen the movie). She says to him:

"I may dissect each little thing and put myself out there so much but at least that means that I still care. Oh! You've think you won because women are expendable to you. You may not get hurt or make an ass of yourself that way but you don't fall in love that way either. You have not won. You're alone. I may do a lot of stupid shit but I'm still a lot closer to love than you are".

Most of the songs I researched on chained hearts - including an awesomely cheesy song by Toto, referred mostly to others having chained their hearts. As I have said before, and it seems to be a common preach throughout my blogs, is that I am accountable for and to myself. In this case I tried to put the chains on - but I know they won't stay. Because my heart, which is me, chooses emotion and I know my destiny (or density as George McFly says) is to be a wholehearted person.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Do you hear the Muses?

I have to laugh. Either readers loved the last blog or they hated it, or they were worried about me. Getting some reaction is better than none at all, so I thank you for your comments!

Lately, I have been pondering the creative process and creativity. It is one of the characteristics listed on my "An Ideal Husband?" Pinterest board under Don Draper's picture. To note, many (all?) of his other characteristics do not make my list.  I myself have been labled creative or "artsy" which I always find ironic since I have a Masters in Science. Then I thought science is absolutely creative - think Einstein or Nina Tandon, a research scientist at Columbia University who "creates" cardiac tissue for potential use in human transplants. But, are the terms "creative" and "artistic" synonomous? I don't think it really makes a difference for the purpose of this blog, but I looked up it up on ask.com (very reputable, I know):

CREATIVE
Definition :
artistic, imaginative
Synonyms:clever,cool,demiurgic,deviceful,fertile,formative,gifted,hip,ingenious,innovational, innovative, innovatory,inspired, inventive,leading edge, original, originative, productive, prolific, stimulating, visionary, way out
 
My favourite: way out.
 
Not all of us are, or can be, or want to be "way out" - I will give you that. But I do believe that all of us have an everyday artist inside that does or can "come out". All it takes is a little tweak in your daily routine and a small hug for Chaos for those of you whose comfort level does not allow for much abandoning of routine. The following are some examples of where and how you can be creative or artistic (and I thought of them all by my little creative self).  These kind of exercises are also known to be "good for your brain" (see work done by Dr Simone Ritter):

- For women who put make-up on everyday - choose something different - green eyeliner and bright pink lipstick? How cool is it that we as female humans have a "face canvas" that is not covered in hair.

- For men who wear suits to work: Choose a shirt and tie combo on purpose that you think everyone will say "that so doesn't go together".

- When you make your smoothie in the morning - don't measure anything.

- Go to that Halloween party wearing a costume that took you weeks to either think about or make. And make sure you have a story that goes with it.

- During a boring meeting opt to doodle really big, rather than pretend you are typing an important message on your phone which is in fact only a text to your colleague that says "yawn". If you are brave and/or proud enough, pin your doodle on your cubicle cork board or equivalent.

- Change the route you take home from work and listen to a radio station that broadcasts in a language you don't know. Imagine you understand what they are saying or singing and react to it.

- Sing a song to your children at bedtime that has a familar tune - but completely make up the lyrics.

- Paint your own birthday cards and write a poem on the inside, or nothing at all. Just sign your name.

- Make a "weird" sandwich. I tried peanut butter, avocado, banana and red pepper jelly the other day.

- Write a real love letter and mail it (see my blog on The Modern Love Letter). It doesn't have to be to a romantic partner - could be your parents, a friend, a pet? If it is a pet, know that when it arrives back in your mailbox, be prepared that you will have to open it and read it out loud to said pet.

- Plan a potluck dinner party with an outrageous or challenging theme. A acquantaince of mine plans these on a regular basis with a set group of friends. The host picks the theme and each person who attends is assigned a course to prepare. Think: Foods that a vampire would eat, if in fact, vampires ate.  I don't believe they have used this theme - I just made that up.

Its no coincidence that a lot of the above have to do with eating, dressing, gifting, commuting. Aspects of our daily lives, and therefore easy tasks to challenge. Speaking of food, one of my favourite shows is Chopped. Not only is it exciting from a competitive "limited time" and "money if you win" standpoint, but also because they have to combine crazy ingredients of which you would never think to join together. It's amazing to watch what they do with them.

But, as enjoyable as the watching is, have we become complacent creative zombies? The list I suggested above is not genius, and I am sure there are others who have suggested the same things. The problem is I don't think we are actually trying. We have the tools to do more and watch less. You don't have to be a chef or a professional "artsy" to live as an artist. Wake up - the Muses are calling you.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Eat Me, Dust

Being unemployed is not good for your mental health. It's obvious, but I typed it anyway. I've been writing these blogs to help me through this tough time, and I am really trying to stay positive. At the same time I want the blogs to remain general enough so that my readers can apply the joy, the pain, and the quandaries to their own circumstances.

So, compared to those people in situations less fortunate than mine, where I am right now may not seem that bad. It's the same application as when I try and guilt my children into finishing their dinner because there are starving children in India who eat rice once a day and drink dirty water. But it's all relative isn't it?

I have been thinking about the expression: "Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, and Start All Over Again". I think it might have been put through the broken telephone line a few times, but it originally comes from a song released in 1936. Click the link for the Nat King Cole version. Very apt for the great depression.  But, in my opinion, a mediocre inspirational line that really requires much more thought.

First of all - it depends on how you fell in the first place. Did you trip? Did someone push you? Did you throw yourself on the ground in a hissy fit? Secondly - where did you fall? The hardwood floors in my apartment are quite dust free. If you fall on a gravel road, well there would be dust, but there would also be hard stones and the likli-hood that you would have to apply an ice-pack to your swollen knee and antibiotic cream and a band-aid to the cuts on your elbows is pretty high. And start all over again - what if you fell when you were lost? You can't start all over again if you didn't know where you were going in the first place. What if you got knocked down and lost your memory? Got a concussion? What if you were beat so bloody your eyes swelled up and you couldn't see where to go?

As dramatic as those images are, my point right now is that every once in a while, it would behoove us to examine the status of our beating, and that continuing on in blind optimism may not always be the best approach. I have been through 5 job interviews with no success; the government keeps messing up my EI payments and I continue to eat into my Dad's credit line; the cat I took on after her owner, the children's paternal great grandfather passed away, all of a sudden starting losing weight, is ill, and now I have vet bills up the yin yang. My son's OCD is in over-drive for whatever reason, my mum's recent heart treatment did not work, and I have had to lower my expectations in the love department. My list. not your list, but a list none-the-less.

I will say "my network" which I still refer to as family and friends, has been very helpful so far. Thank you. An acquaintance of mine recently blogged on how your network is the most valuable asset in your life. However, they can only do so much. They can't get in my head, can they? I have to do this myself. My list may not seem that bad, but this week I just want to walk slower, not wash my hair, stare at the wall, drink lots of wine, eat Nutella out of the jar, wear sweats, and take myself inside. I want my mental bruises to heal before I climb the next stairwell. I might need to leave myself on the ground to do this. The thing is you can pick yourself up, but you have got to be prepared to walk, then run and then jump the hurdles.

My friends and I often refer to these states of mind as "Mexicoma" as per the first Sex and the City Movie. After her fiancee neglects to show up for the wedding, Carrie and her friends decide to go on the honeymoon anyway. For the first part, Carrie holes herself up in the bedroom, in darkness, not eating anything but her thoughts. And nothing her friends could do would take her away from this period of silent anti-everything. The best part was when she did decide to come out of the "mexicoma", her friends were right there to help her.

So - I will get through this but know that I will wallow in my ashes - and not just once. And it will help me more than a fake smile and any "chin-up" punch I or anyone else gives me.

“Which came first, the phoenix or the flame?”
“Hmm . . . What do you think, Harry?” said Luna, looking thoughtful.
“What? Isn’t there just a password?”
“Oh no, you’ve got to answer a question,” said Luna.
“What if you get it wrong?”
“Well, you have to wait for somebody who gets it right,” said Luna. “That way you learn, you see?”
“Yeah . . . Trouble is, we can’t really afford to wait for anyone else, Luna.”
“No, I see what you mean,” said Luna seriously. “Well then, I think the answer is that a circle has no beginning.”
“Well reasoned,” said the voice, and the door swung open.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The contract

Superhero II has been put on hold. Have a little bit of research to do. Today's blog is on contracts - that is the fantasy of pre-planning and outlining our relationship parameters and how that might be possible, ideal, logical and seemingly very unromantic, but I wouldn't say non-creative.

I think Sheldon has the right of it. Sheldon Cooper, one of the star nerdlinger characters of the Big Bang Theory, tries to contract as much as he can. It is likely more of a control aspect for him than any desire for clear communication between parties involved in his life's relationships, but nonetheless, I admire the process.

In TV land's Big Bang Theory, the two more frequently mentioned contracts are the "roommate agreement" and the 31 page "relationship agreement" in which the terms, limitations, accountabilities and emergency preparedness clauses are meticulously outlined for Leonard and Amy respectively. For example, in the roommate agreement there is a Skynet clause (0206) which specifies what happens if: one friend needs help to destroy an artificial intelligence he's created and that's taking over Earth. I know - awesome.

Now as ridiculous and funny as that is for the purpose of the show, I think that many of our life's liaisons could benefit from the development of a contract, agreement, covenant, treaty or pact prior to the beginning of, or changes to a relationship. There are already marriage contracts and pre-nups, albeit those seem mostly to have to do with the material rather than the behavioural/emotional aspects of the binding. Many of my parenting books strongly suggest a clear outline of a chores/good behaviour for rewards contract for older children.

I think the key to success here is in the planning phase - with as much detail as you could think of, so nothing gets missed. Any accountant will tell you the more detailed, line by line item budget you can do is better - you can always "roll it up" later. Or pursuing your relationships using project management 101 - a signed-off charter that includes addendums of timelines, budgets and stakeholder matrices. Imagine if you could design a relationship budget consisting of emotional banks and time well spent - balancing the efforts of both parties so there is neither surplus or deficit on either side.

Imagine if we had standard templates, or niche law firms specializing in short-term "day to day life contracts" outlining the expectations, agendas, timelines, out-clauses, violation consequences, processes, etc. for the following
  • The "Friends with Benefits" Contract
    • i.e. including  "What to do when I have found someone to date for real" section
  • The "Just Benefits" Agreement
    • i.e. including  the "mutually exclusive physical relationship safety" clause
  • The "Long distance friendship" Pact
    • i.e. including "minimum email and telephone conversations per month" quotas
  • The "I work for my friend or my family member" Treaty
    •  i.e. including the "don't treat me as special in front co-workers or behind close doors" clause - with an addendum on the definition of "special" to be clearly defined and agreed upon by both parties
  • The "Parent-grandparent parenting together in the same place" Convenant
    • i.e. including the "thou shalt not interfere during the dinner hour with trying to spoon feed my eight year old because you didn't think she ate enough"
  • The "adult child-parent" non-disclosure agreement
    • i.e. the "what constitutes too much information on respective parties' sex lives" section. Yes, that is probably easily answered - everything.
  • The "Recently Divorced but Dating" Pact
    • i.e. the "I promise not to talk about my ex in a negative way or any way during any outings unless asked to do so and in that case, all questions and answers must be given in an objective and neutral fashion".
Now, many of you might complain that any type of such discussion could remove all the mystery or it might be more harmful than not or there are some things that just cannot be expressed in words. But I don't think any of "that" goes away just because you state your intentions - it will either strengthen the bond or it will avoid a lot of hurt, wondering, and biting of nails or later emotional lashings. The concept of the contract in many of our life's relationships may be surreal but an open, honest, transparent conversation about what you expect and what that other person expects from you during short or longer interludes could be the key to your peace.

As we continue to transform ourselves as a species, I think the next big step just might be the evolution of emotional intelligence. Will those who are more emotionally intelligent be naturally selected for the future success of the human race? I will leave you with that thought :) and/or suggest that you follow Daniel Goldman!


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