Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What just happened here?

Yesterday I  had a day of opposites that really made me think. I got to work to find a card on the counter for me from a sweet family that is moving away after 8 years in Raymond. They wanted to thank me for storytime at the library and let me know they would miss it. There was a piece of artwork from their one of their five sons enclosed for me. Kind of hard not to get a little choked up about that kind of thing. Because no matter how much I tell myself it's worth it, there are times I wonder if anyone really cares that much whether the craft is cute and easy or the books fun and educational. I try pretty hard, and keeping all the names straight can be a challenge, but that little boy is the fourth in that family to come through storytime with me. His younger brother now comes too. I will really miss them even though there are 13+ other faces to keep track of at present. It made the day just a little sunnier. I wanted to be a little nicer and more patient with the customers and my co-workers.

At the end of my work day, there was a wrinkle in paradise. A frantic, flustered woman attempted to upload pictures to the website from home only to have her children exit her window when it was nearly done. She didn't know how to compress the files into a zip file to e-mail to me and had to settle for putting them in a flash drive and rushing to the store. She arrived at 5:59 and we close at 6:00. I was already shutting down the equipment and had to exit the process while she sobbed to the other staff that she had to have the pictures tonight. She promised they would be done. There was absolutely no way they could wait. And probably because of my earlier warm fuzzies I took her USB, plugged them in and printed them anyway. But I had to ask myself the unavoidable. Was it really that important? Surely no one would die if the pictures waited till morning. She had yelled at her children, probably cried herself silly, made a handful of people late going home to their own families, and the recipients of her super human effort would never comprehend what she had gone through to keep that promise. It just seemed so pointless. I don't think I would have done it. I would have phoned the people in need of the photos and told them they'd have to be happy with a slight delay. But I remembered being an intense young mom who would stay up until three a.m. painting backdrops for a church program that no one would ever appreciate adequately. Or trying to make costumes for children to wear for an hour at Halloween and then discard the minute they got home to upend their candy stash all over the floor. When did I learn to back off? I used to wish I could do it and suddenly I find that I can sometimes. Is it age? Fatigue? Maturity? I have no idea. I just know that I would never do to someone else what happened to me last night. And I suspect I wouldn't have done it then either. I've never had that kind of confidence that my demands are justified to that extent. Probably not a bad thing. It's why I don't get snarky waiting in line in the grocery store if I can help it, or rip someone's head off for making a mistake. I can't deal with the guilt or the stress it would create.

We manufacture so much of our stress with little justification. And what we forget is that it's rarely just us that suffers for it. We get irritable with total strangers. We snap at our children. We slam things, break things, mess up what we're trying to do, and it doesn't usually change the outcome. If anything it usually cements the catastrophe for us. I suppose it will make me think a little harder for a while about being busy without cause. I will ask myself if it's really necessary and if there's a potential for collateral damage if I give in to urgency. And I will relish my time tomorrow reading to pre-schoolers because I know that it's much more important than whatever else I could dream up for that time slot. And that's a blessing.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I had a really good pottery class this week - overcame a production block and started throwing bigger than I have ever thrown. It felt so good that I almost wanted to cry driving home in the dark afterwards. Instead I sang along in the empty car at the top of my lungs until my throat got scratchy. It felt amazing. 

The day before my class had been just despicable with technical problems at work with equipment and a flurry of demands. I had been so happy to run away to my class that night, and it had been so delicious to have it turn out so much better than expected.The next day seemed to drain all the happiness right out of me. Morning came too soon and too cold. The dog was a twit on his 6:00am walk and wouldn't listen. I barely made it to work on time. The usual slow Friday morning turned into a chaotic mess, I felt like a dishrag, and I was committed to keep doing things all day long until supper. And I asked myself why it is that we have to pay for our little moments of happiness with almost equal adversity. 

What really is the cost of our bliss moments? It's never really free, is it? Is there a ratio of enjoyment to drudgery that we could actually learn to expect so it doesn't seem so unfair or unbearable? I don't know. 

It happens with everything really. I have to put in a fair bit of preparation at storytime to make sure there are enough books and the craft is actually possible for everyone to finish. Sometimes I spend hours getting it all ready for a craft that takes at best 5-7 minutes to finish. And often it seems like such a waste. But for those times when it really comes together and works perfectly and the children want to keep doing it and never go home, it seems like the price was small. Or what about those times when you're outside experiencing glorious fall colours in a soft-kiss breeze under a sun-drenched sky and you honestly feel like life could be a musical? Then you wake up the next day to sub-zero temperatures, gray skies and general meteorological misery and ask it if was really enough. My life seems to be full of these stark contrasts, and I feel a little guilty for wishing it was all euphoria without despondency, because I don't know if that's even possible or wise. 

It usually comes down to what we expect. Happiness is a noun. So is fun. But happiness implies a state of being where one is able to feel pleasure and contentment. Fun is more transitory. It is enjoyment, amusement and light-hearted pleasure. It implies something that is expected to be momentary. We expect happiness to be more lasting somehow. So are we mistakenly defining our moments as happy moments when we should call them fun moments? But fun sounds more irresponsible somehow - like it's something good sensible people use with discretion. While happiness seems so much more noble and acceptable as an objective. So am I misdiagnosing my moments? I don't think so. It's definitely contentment. It's not just pleasure. A chocolate is pleasure. A hard-earned victory after adversity is happiness. 

So how do I teach myself not to wish my happiness had a longer duration all the time? I don't know. Maybe I need more practice. Because I don't know if you can really experience happiness with out the balancing unhappiness before or after. We have no frame of reference without it. And I think it's too easy to mix up fun with happiness and think you're seeking happiness when you're actually just becoming addicted to fun. And addictions are never satisfied. Maybe that's the answer. The real difference is the contentment factor. A happy moment is a contented moment. A fun moment is a pleasure moment that's not designed to last. So I'll just have to keep asking myself if I'm feeling satisfied or just enjoying myself. Probably a better test. In the meantime, I'm going to go and throw a big bowl and hope for happiness rather than fun.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Way We Once Were

Sunday passed like almost any other day except for one thing...it was an important anniversary in the lives of most of us. Sure there were special programs on television to commemorate the events of 9/11 and pay homage to those whose lives were altered forever, but as a collective psyche, many of us didn't have time to really stop and think about what changed that day. It's bothered me a lot that such a pivotal moment in our existence didn't get much attention with the bulk of the population. So much so, that I feel like I need to pay my respects personally.

I live in Canada. Terrorists didn't attack us. Some of them found safe harbor here unfortunately which contributed to the events of the past 10 years, but no more than were able to hide in other parts of the world. How has my life changed because of 9/11? I can't just hop on a plane anymore for a spur of the moment trip. I can't visit my husband at work anymore without making arrangements for him to meet me at security (he works for the federal government). I don't walk blithely through life feeling totally safe in a strange place. I worry about family when they travel. I don't question or resent security in public places the way I used to. I started believing in evil and terror again like I used to when I was a child. I worry for the world and the inequality of freedom throughout much of it. I have a very real fear for the safety of my family when I'm not with them, because I know that any day something surreal could destroy them and take them away from me.

That's a little depressing. There have been some hidden positives in this process too. I try to stay in touch with family on a regular basis because of 9/11. I don't assume they'll always be around and look upon every day I have with them as a precious gift. I relish peaceful days and happy moments. I don't assume I will find time for my wish list someday. Instead I occasionally take a leap and just do some of those things so I won't miss my chance. That's not a bad thing.

Popular magazines have run stories on survivors. A well-known reporter followed the lives of 9/11 babies that lost a parent in the attacks and aired follow-up stories to show how the past 10 years has affected them. I suppose what I was missing was the moment of silence. That brief time to pause collectively as a people and think about what happened and what it means to us. Why haven't we chosen to commemorate or grieve that way? I'm not sure. Perhaps we don't want to draw attention to the success of terrorists in striking a blow against western infidels. Perhaps we worry that if we face the memory we'll have to acknowledge it more openly. Perhaps it's too painful and heightens our anxieties. Could be all those things. I know it made me a little sad. I wanted to stay home and brood a little with my loved ones, much as we did when it happened 10 years ago. But life intruded and there were things to do and before I knew it the day had fallen through my fingers and I'd never had my moment. So I'm taking one today. Today at 3:00pm I will give myself a moment's silence - no cellphone, no TV, no computer, no music. Just a brief prayer that we will always remember how precious life is and that our families are only on loan for a time. That just as evil and ugliness exist, so do love, commitment, happiness and fragile beauty. We have to have both or we can't really appreciate the things that make life worth living or remembering. And I will remember how lucky I am to have been spared that day the kind of anguish other people endured and survived so courageously. I will remember that someday it might be my turn but until then I should be very grateful for every day that it isn't.

My favorite image to come out of this anniversary has been the Ground Zero Tree - the tree that survived the destruction and has since been replanted at the site. It is a testament to me that life can survive absolute catastrophe against all odds and inspire us to do the same. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Let's Hear It for Cheese!

So, after a summer that defies description - and not in a good way, I find myself feeling somewhat cheesed off at the unfairness of life. But then I started thinking about the nature of a good "miff" and tried to remind myself that it can actually be a blessing in disguise. I mean, think of how much gets accomplished in a fit of angst. I suspect the sheer disgust kept me motivated through almost an entire month of disastrous family hijinks. But eventually the price must be exacted, and now I find myself thoroughly worn out and wishing for that elusive vacation.

I tried to rationalize that I was simply paying for the glorious escape to Australia at the end of March and that it was only fair that I go through a rough patch. Didn't work. I tried to escape into as many books as possible (which was most enjoyable but heartily inefficient for getting anything done or feeling better about my lot in life), only to get tired of reading.

So what's the real issue? I haven't allowed myself just to feel cheated. It was summer time and I never went to the pool, never paddled in a lake, tubed on a river, hiked in the mountains, camped with my husband (there is no way I'm counting the backyard stint at the in-laws'), or just enjoyed doing nothing with no demands looming over me. Instead I ended up with a hideously scrappy garden, a horrid farmer's tan, and a monstrously bad mood. And now that summer's over and school has started along with the myriad responsibilities that take a break for the summer, I'm feeling more cheesed off than ever.  And because I don't like feeling that way, I morph the sensation into generalized guilt for not being able to just suck it up and get on with life. I didn't even mess around with my clay for well over a month because of it all. And that's never good. For anyone.

How do I break the cycle? Not entirely sure. I'm attempting to push myself back into activities that occasionally foster joy, but I've got to convince myself they're not just more items for the dreaded list. Perhaps I just need to figure out how to turn my "cheese" into cheese, which I happen to love passionately. Especially a good old cheddar with a rich bite to it. The kind that says, "robust," with a roll on the 'r.'

And that makes me remember that I encountered such a cheddar this very summer. My husband brought some home from a work trip to the back of beyond where they had to venture into Montana to buy groceries. And that cheese was so good that I had to buy some more when we were in Montana again more than a month later. Perhaps it's as simple as taking a look at my pseudo summer again and looking for the tiny moments of perfection that have got to be there.  Because if I can keep finding good cheese, I must be able to keep finding other recurring instances of delight as well. Like the perfect photo shot after a cluster of bad ones. Or several handfuls of perfectly ripened cherries that made me want to hum while chewing. Or a book so good it made you want to run out and hug the author and beg them to write another - immediately. And I have to admit that I had those. So perhaps I got my cheese after all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Passion for the Undead

So, I don't know if anyone else has been noticing this lately, but there's a fairly consistent trend recently in dwelling upon the undead, whether it's zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, whatever. And it's not like the recurring theme of princesses, unicorns and horses for little girls or even the fascination with soldiers, hunters, cars, trucks, dinosaurs that seems to hit little boys. It's more than that. People just can't seem to get enough of the undead. Everywhere I turn there are books about them, movies about them, video games about them...the only place that it's hard to really incorporate them seems to be music, but I suspect someone will figure out how to do that soon.

What is this fixation all about? Why do we need to vicariously flee/fight/love zombies? I'm not sure but I've been working on some theories. One is that in the growing absence of faith and religion, people have a pathological need to believe in something else that doesn't make sense rationally. Because the attraction to the occult seems to be a part of the phenomenon, and if you're going to turn your back on God then it seems like the next step for most people is to start spending your time thinking about demons, UFO's, and other unexplainable things that may or may not exist. Personally, I know what I'd rather believe in, and it makes it much easier for me to sleep at night, but I suppose we all have to believe in something. It's what makes us human.

The second theory is stolen from my husband. He thinks that in this day when so much is unexplainable and unthinkable, we have to create beings and forces that explain why terrible things can happen with no reason. He says that we cannot always comprehend or understand meaningless destruction and terrorism unless we dehumanize it. Rational people would not strap a bomb to their chest and use it to kill babies unless they were somehow inhuman. A father wouldn't murder his family unless he was not really alive anymore. Hence the zombies and vampires and demons. Somehow if we can suspend our disbelief in fantastic things it makes it easier to cope with the pointless evils of our modern world. That one makes a lot of sense.  It embraces our need to escape such a world too.

For someone like myself with an overactive imagination that has to resolve things while I sleep, I have to be careful how much I let the undead into my consciousness. For the same reasons that I cannot allow myself to always watch the news and the repetitive scenes of destruction, I have to limit my contact with zombies, and the like. Because my subconscious brain can countenance their existence and evil all too easily when I sleep. Even though I do not believe they really exist, I believe evil does exist, and my mind will play very nasty tricks on me.

So, because I have always loved fairy tales and tales of magic and mystery I seem to be hardwired to accept and absorb stories of the undead. I know they are just stories. I know that I will probably die of old age before the zombie apocalypse ever materializes. But that doesn't keep me from having the occasional vivid nightmare that wakes me breathless and unable to rationalize what I've just experienced.

That brings me to the third theory. Vicarious terror. We seem to like being scared. We seem to need to occasionally experience mind-numbing fear. I have no idea if that's even healthy, but the adrenalin rush associated with flight - real or imagined - keeps our society paying for slasher films, murder mysteries, video games, and thousands of books all very much fictional. And zombies are so handy since they were once human but have been consumed by their madness. And I think we all feel somewhat consumed by the madness of our society from time to time. Zombies allow us to take that feeling and box it away into a more distant location so we really don't have to deal with it.

Do I like zombies? Not really. I don't particularly like any of the undead. But I love stories and the lure of escaping into another world that doesn't have to make sense. And that keeps me coming back. But there are times I'd really like to take a break from the current dearth of happier escapism. I kind of miss fairy tales these days.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Just before I got in the shower this morning I tried one more time to eradicate the dirt stains under my fingernails caused by the frantic gardening of the past few days. A couple of weeks of rain will do that to gardening plans. So we've been yanking out quack grass, mowing deep swaths and hoping for enough dryness to facilitate putting seed in to the ground. I've never been able to keep gloves on for very long while gardening, so my fingers have taken quite a beating. But they're still stained - at least I can see that they are.

But are the stains such a bad thing? No. At least they're honest. They're proof that I'm not pretending to be someone I'm not - someone with manicured white hands and grace, someone with tasteful gardening gloves that she actually wears. Because if I can't feel what I'm doing with my hands, I can't work properly. The gloves get in the way and prevent me from experiencing what's happening. It's why I don't like putting on cleaning gloves to wash the dishes - how do I know the dishes are actually clean unless I can feel the clean?

And the whole point of the gardening for me is the exercise of hope involved in placing seed/plants into the ground without knowing if they will make it followed by the satisfaction of them surviving to produce food and life. It's one of my favorite magics, like baking and cooking and creating in most forms.

So I will live with the stains for a few days and let them remind me that I still believe it can happen again this year, that I'm not so discouraged that I can't bother to try in the face of a cold, wet, late spring.

Of course, the planting part is the easy part. The consistent weeding and feeding that follows can be difficult to maintain. But every year I assure myself that I can do it, hope for a little familial assistance, and start plodding through it. Because I keep hoping it's going to finally all come together someday and I can say I had the perfect summer all because of the garden. So, here's hoping this is the year. Even if it isn't, it's one more year of practice towards that perfect garden year that will happen eventually.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

what am I doing?

Seems like I ask that question periodically in my life because I encounter events, people, things that make me wonder if I'm on the right path after all. It's been a while since I last posted and that's because it's taken me this long to get my head straight - I think.

I should actually be getting in the shower right now to get ready for my next obligation with time to spare but instead find myself rapidly typing out what I've been procrastinating for over a month. The trip to Australia was very educational for me. Not so much informationally educational but more introspectively educational. I had worried so much beforehand that I was building it up in my mind to be more than a place could ever be and that I was setting myself up to be disappointed. Imagine finding out I was actually right - it was more than I imagined. Not that it's a magical place so much as that I felt more myself there. That part was positively intoxicating.

So what does that mean? I'm not entirely sure. But I know I came home determined to be myself and stop allowing myself to be obligated into being someone else a lot of the time. And how am I doing in that endeavour? Not great yet. I've had 40+ years to master my malleability. It's going to take a while to learn to say no and mean it. But I think it's worth trying to.

So now I get to take a closer look at all the things I do in my current life and start making some choices. I'll have to ask some hard questions like "does this make me happy?," and "do I like the person I become when I'm doing this?" and "who am I actually doing this for?" It's easy to see why I would procrastinate doing that. But I think it's important. I get to live with myself for a very long time, so I should probably learn to like myself one of these days, and in order to do that I need to actually be myself. Tall order.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

how to become supercilious (or why I'm still me)

How to become supercilious in 3 easy steps:

-          Become disenchanted with the simple things in the world that inspire faith and wonder.
-          Overeducate yourself so that everything has an explanation.
-          Assume that because you now have been taught more you actually know more than everyone else.

It’s been a while since I’ve made an entry and I’m not sure if that can really be attributed to one main reason. It’s a mixture of things that all seem to happen at once and divert my attention from things that keep me grounded and feeling at peace with my world.

Trevor has been gone to Australia for a week now. I no longer have that adult outlet to share the stewardship of home and family and just simply talk to. Every time he has to go away like this I’m reminded that while I can function efficiently and keep up to the practical things of family life, I don’t so well on the emotional well-being end of the things. I think it’s because one of the defining pillars of my self-identity is absent (the relationship and what it allows me to be), so I’m struggling to hang onto that while waiting for the separation to be over. Two and half more weeks. It’s not so much a dependency as it is the temporary loss of an augmentation. It’s like having your sole means of vehicular transport taken away for two weeks – you can still find ways to accomplish most of what you need to, but it’s taken away the easiness of it so you’re conscious of the injustice of the situation all the time. You know you have to survive it, and you also know you can, but you’d rather not.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aspirations. We all have things we’d like to do someday – things we want to experience to see if they will change us for the better. But we also have things we can’t seem to allow ourselves to do. We find practical reasons for why it’s simply not possible right now, or why it would be foolish to pursue such a course. And then there are those things that we wish for passionately only to have the natural adversity of life deny the opportunities. The human mind is capable of envisioning the most amazing things, but it’s also capable of tearing them apart in the very next thought. And it seems like that second skill becomes heightened as we age. We lose that hopeful imagining of our childhood in the capable comfort of adult rationale. It’s why people who dream of being artists and writers become insurance brokers, nurses, pharmacists, etc. But we know that not everyone does that or the world would have no dreamers. So what exactly does it take to break that cycle without starving to death or punishing those we love? For a lot of us the tipping factor is fear of failure. We can’t accept the possibility that it might not happen if we take the leap.

I spent two days in a library conference watching human behaviour and being amazed at the archetypes I could see. There were a lot of highly educated people there (institutionally educated and self-educated). Most of the time it was easy to see the difference. The self-educated people were largely gregarious, friendly, humble, accepting and willing to share. The others were often somewhat reticent and almost unwilling to share the full measure of their expensively obtained knowledge. Why should that be? There were notable exceptions, naturally, but not enough to convince me that formal education is always a wonderful thing. For years I have wondered if I should go back to school and get a degree in something only to back away from it. Largely it’s because it frightens me that I might lose something of myself that I value too much to sacrifice. And maybe that means I wouldn’t actually lose it because I would be aware of the threat all the time. But I shy away from that patina of self-importance that post-secondary education can impose. I like knowing things, but I also know that I like knowing things that other people don’t. And that is what scares me off. I worry that the allure of all that new information would swallow me whole and leave behind a condescending…professional. Horrors.

So I’m not doing it. Again. I’m going to keep being me and picking and choosing what that actually means. It seems to keep me happy. And I guess that’s really what I’m shooting for anyway.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

a half grin trying to become unbridled joy...

I've been woefully distracted of late with planning and anticipation of the trip to Australia next month. The distance is hard to fathom, and yet I worry that my expectations will be impossible to satisfy and ruin the whole thing. I've wanted to see Australia since I was tiny and I will actually be going. That reality is more thrilling than I had suspected, and yet in a way I'm terrified. Trevor will already be there, so the entire trip to Sydney will be solo for me. It's a really long flight. Part of me knows I'll be just fine, but the other part can envision all kinds of challenging scenarios.

What is it about the human mind that makes it impossible to wallow in joy and happiness without that looming halo of misfortune? Caution with a hugely capital C. Why can't we just be happy and leave it at that? Is it really the "opposition in all things" asserting itself, or the inherent darkness of mortality reminding us of it's presence? I'm not sure. Or perhaps it's a learned behavior acquired through aging and experience. Where does anxiety really come from?

I know a lot of people that feel acknowledging the possibility of disaster is the only practical way to exist. They seem to feel they're being responsible in planning for calamity. And perhaps to some extent they are. But while you're spending all that time preparing for something that may or may not happen, what are you missing? How many stolen moments of joy do we trudge past diligently, refusing to steal even a glance. And how do you learn to balance the two, because we do realize that you can't go through life never planning or preparing. That's a sure recipe for disaster.

I've always had issues with the idea of self-reliance. Particularly when it seems like we're excluding a vital truth - nothing we have is really ours, but only ours to use for the period of our mortality on the Lord's terms. I don't think we should skip through life expecting Him to just take care of us, but neither do I believe that we should expend so much effort in doing it all ourselves that we deny His power and blessings. I believe we have a responsibility to work and learn and improve upon what we have been given, but equal to that is the responsibility to glory in His blessings. Thirty seconds to laugh with a child or play in a mud puddle is not going to destroy our potential. But a life spent acquiring play things and the time to use them isn't a life either.

So what does it all have to do with me going to Australia? I'm feeling a little guilty about taking the opportunity and spending the money when there are always so many other things that could be done like replacing old windows, saving for retirement, etc. But it's a life experience I would feel criminal in denying. And I can't help feeling that it will teach me an awful lot about myself and who I'm supposed to be. And isn't that really what I'm here to do - learn who I really am and what my purpose is. And the fact that I get to do it with my husband without distractions for two weeks is almost more than I can imagine. So I should probably just grab the blessing with both hands and relish it, right? Strangely harder to do than I thought it would be. But the tickets are booked, the hotels reserved and all the arrangements made, so I guess that means I better start letting myself be really happy about it, right?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Betwixt and between...

Well, I started my new position as the secretary of the potter's guild last night and realized I really haven't outgrown my aversion to responsibility. Every now and then I commit myself to a project only to experience a sudden sense of panic over the expectation. Last night was a repeat of that feeling. It's kind of weird and has left me reflecting a lot today on why I become so insecure over this type of situation. It's not as though I'm not capable of doing the job. I know I can. It's more than that. It's the wanting to do the job. I say yes, and then find myself wondering if it was a dumb idea. It's almost a fear of failure, and yet not really because I know am perfectly capable of meeting the standard. I think it's more being afraid of what might be expected - that there's some hidden monster responsibility that I'm going to have to meet and that I'll hate every minute of it. That leads to my typical flight desire which I quickly suppress and then wonder why I'm feeling so antsy. So how do I fix that? Not exactly sure.

It happens when I begin new projects quite frequently. I commit myself to the process and then worry I might encounter an insurmountable obstacle at some future point. At least now I recognize when I'm doing it and can try and talk myself out of the anxiety. But it makes me wonder what part of my emotional development got short-changed along the way to create the pattern in the first place.

I remember nervous stomachaches as a child over tests and assignments as well as migraines as a teen. I remember missing school only to have to face my anxieties another day. I've outgrown a lot of it, but I still get the occasional twinge and it makes me wonder why I have this innate insecurity. What am I actually afraid of? If I really think about it, it's the same thing that keeps me from throwing aside my cautions and chasing my deepest dreams. It's why I wrote like a demon for 3 years only to suddenly let go rather than attempt to do something with it. It's why I have bursts of creativity only to walk away from them at some point. I suspect I'm afraid of succeeding and what that might mean. Untapped potential is somehow more attractive to me than actual success. I think it's the comfortable nature of it. It's familiar and doesn't have to turn into anything unless I want it to. And really, it's probably the root of a lot of things I struggle with repeatedly.

So how does one overcome fear of what they could be/do? How do you stop being afraid of yourself? It's a difficult question. And viciously introspective as well. How do I stop going only so far and then backing away? I'll have to figure it out someday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

memories come from the strangest places...

I was putting on a pair of long grey socks this morning and had a sudden blast of recollection. These socks came into my life in a simple enough way, but they drag a multitude of memories with them.

Several years ago, after hearing that a good friend was no longer in remission and beginning another battle with cancer, my sister and I decided we needed to go for a visit. This battle was not going to end in remission, and we were all aware of that. This friend had touched both our lives in a very real way and was definitely worthy of the attention. We both felt that it wouldn't be right to let the opportunity pass without acknowledging her impact personally.

So we made arrangements for a quick road trip to Saskatchewan in the depths of winter. We drove through a bleak winter storm and talked about how much we admired Consorcia and her curious blend of spunk, grace and generosity. We arrived in Saskatoon to howling winds, drifted streets and blistering cold. We made our way to her house and had a wonderful time reminiscing, crying a little and remembering how lucky we were to have our lives intersect. Then we went home.

All too quickly we had to make the trip back, once again in winter and the conditions little better. Neither of us possessed the right equipment for warmth in Saskatchewan weather, so we made a quick trip to Walmart to look for some long socks suitable to wear to the funeral rather than hoping tights or nylons would preserve the illusion of warmth. I bought two pairs of really long socks - grey and brown. The kind that come all the way up to your knee or higher. I wore the brown ones to the funeral and cried while thinking of how much a life well-lived can change us all. I kept the grey ones for inevitable cold days in the future. I wear the brown ones occasionally, the grey ones less often as weather in Alberta isn't quite so punishing somehow. The brown ones don't usually make me melancholy, but the grey ones tug at my heart regularly. Not sure why.

So today as I took out the grey socks and then tugged them on, I suddenly remembered those trips, and Consorcia's way of looking on the bright side no matter what life was dishing out; how she would forgo sleep after working all night just to spend time with her little girls and her husband, saying things like, "If I can get an hour or two, I'm usually okay;" how she worked like crazy to send money home to the Phillipines for family; how she would invite dozens of people over to their tiny apartment for one of the girls' birthdays and somehow feed all of us happily. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't perfect and never pretended to be. She could have a temper when crossed or when a loved one was slighted, but she was unfailingly kind, generous, gracious and hopeful. While in palliative care she never forgot to thank the nurses and caregivers for everything they did to make her comfortable. Complaining just wasn't who she was. And she was my friend.

The grey socks brought it all back this morning. They reminded me that I need to be a little kinder, a little more gracious and thoughtful of others. They brought back Consorcia's wicked grin as we shared a laugh about life. They reminded me that inconsequential details can be poignantly beautiful in their own way even if only a pair of warm socks.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Nothing Great is Easy...or Convenient

So, it's been a while since I made an entry, and that's largely due to the fact that I've been short on deep thinking time of late. Being back at work and having everyone back to their normal schedules has left me short of time to ponder and meditate on anything other than what comes next. But sometimes you just have to make time.

It's been very enjoyable watching Trevor fall under the spell of pottery. There is something terribly rejuvenating about the process of making clay into a vessel simply by controlling where and how it touches your hands. I really had no idea it would be quite so captivating for him, but it is. And in having to teach him how to start and continue in the endeavour, I've had to really think about my own techniques and the reasons for them. It has given us something new to do together.

I have made a commitment to myself this year to be more positive and supportive of others (and myself). It's a hard habit to create after decades of criticizing and finding fault. When being judgemental has become part of a family socialization pattern, it's hard to replace it. I keep reminding myself of the condescending wiseman. That seems to help.

I'm also trying not to take responsibility for the choices and actions of those I love. Very hard, believe me. But I keep reminding myself that every individual has the power to choose, and I cannot control that. But it is hard to watch them set outrageous standards of perfection and then themselves for not achieving them. And I can't help but ask myself if this is what our Father in Heaven has to put himself through all the time watching us stagger through life.

I'm teaching marriage and family relations class again at church and it leads my mind in interesting directions sometimes. I've been reading a book about conflict and how unresolved internal conflict in our formative years can impact our adult relationships permanently. It's interesting to see how the world likes to attribute blame for destructive behaviour to past injustice. So far every scenario in the book has been credited to something someone else did or didn't do to a person in their childhood or youth. One woman becomes a nagging critical spouse because she was verbally criticized by a parent repeatedly. A man becomes an underachiever because his parents failed to acknowledge him when he did achieve something important. And I can't help but think that there's an important element missing in all this psychology. As individuals we are all given the power to choose for ourselves. We choose whether or not to become reflections of our past. We choose to fight with our loved ones. Yes, our environment has an impact on our learned patterns of coping, but we're the ones ultimately who decide whether or not we will persist in that pattern. Our agency means that we don't have to be someone who's self-destructive, self-serving, selfish, or even self-loathing. And with the added blessing of the Gospel, we know we can draw up on the strength of the Lord to heal our imperfections as many times as necessary. Repentance is supposed to be repetitive. It was never intended to be a one time fix.

The title for the blog comes from the memorial of Matthew Webb, the first man to successfully swim the English Channel in 1875. It was his second attempt and reportedly took an extra 5 hours because of jelly fish stings and strong currents. He inspired thousands of marathon swimmers who continue to attempt the crossing both successfully and unsuccessfully. And interestingly enough, Matthew Webb (who became a professional swimmer) died in an attempted swim through the Whirlpool Rapids of Niagara Falls just under 8 years later. He was still fighting self-imposed battles.

How many of us will spend our entire lives fighting the same issues to the very end? Probably a lot of us. I can easily imagine myself battling social insecurity when I'm 80 - feeling a little out of place or out of step. And instead of finding that discouraging, I find it a little hopeful. It means I am who I am, and I get as many chances as it takes. And if I'm still fighting on the day I leave mortality, I'm still on the right path. If I'm still trying to work towards perfection until the very end, I am enduring. And that will make all the difference when my accomplishments are weighed on the balance.