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Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Being A Girl

Female symbol. Created by Gustavb.Image via Wikipedia
For the most part, I like being a girl. There are some days when I don't, of course, but since that day in elementary school when I was terrified of having to climb the ropes in P.E. and found out I didn't have to because only the boys had to climb them, I've been relatively relieved to be a girl.

Before I started elementary school, I only played with boys because we didn't have as many girls in the neighbourhood at the time. I was, in fact, afraid of one group of girls who were a little older than me and used to come by my house and call me "cute". I didn't like them. Boys, to me, were easier to get along with. I enjoyed playing with toy cars and building forts and putting on plays in the back yard. I wasn't much for dolls. You might have thought of me as a tomboy, but I wasn't that either. I just liked what I liked. I hated wearing dresses because we had to wear them in school. My favourite day of the year was sports day when we all competed in various competitions. I didn't like sports, particularly, I just liked that I could wear shorts to school on sports day. Ah. Much more comfortable.

The hormone thing changed my relationship with boys considerably. Their hormones, not mine. I wasn't at all comfortable with being attractive to males in the beginning. Eeeww. I distinctly remember standing at the bus stop once when I was about 13 and some guy in a big dump truck whistling at me out of his window. I wasn't sure what to do. What does that MEAN??? It was a very weird experience, but it began happening more and more as I blossomed (I hate that word, is there a better one? I'm not a petunia for pete's sake.) I suppose I should have appreciated being attractive to anyone, but mostly it made me cringe.

I did, however, have that feminine urge to get married and have children. I understand the drive to do so although I know that not every female experiences that feeling. One of the most profound experiences in my life was giving birth to my first daughter. There was this unbelievable sense of accomplishment from that...as if my body had done exactly what it was supposed to. I can't describe it any other way. So it seemed to me that this was my purpose, but once I had actually achieved those goals, I felt at a loss as to what I should do next. Was that it? Get married, have children...ta da?

That was when I began to focus my energies more on my music again. Being a female alone, out late at night and packing up after a gig somewhere made me somewhat vulnerable I suppose. Many times there were guys who would go out of their way to help me load my gear and accompany me to my car, and I always appreciated that very much. On one occasion I was moving my gear to my car in an underground parking lot in downtown Vancouver, after a gig at a Starbucks. A friend had come to see me that night and helped me load up, which was great, but then he had to leave and I was by myself in that underground parking lot. It didn't bother me until the next morning when I heard that a guy with a 12 inch knife had entered the Starbucks probably only minutes after I left, and threatened the employees.

That's when I decided that I needed a cell phone. I often stayed with my in-laws when I performed on the mainland, but I think I worried them more than I worried about myself. My mother-in-law told me once that often she wouldn't sleep until she heard me come in. I can't say that I was particularly afraid at night because I'm not exactly a pushover. I mean, if I was confronted by someone who was trying to do something to me, I'd probably just get really mad. It's likely not the best reaction for a person to have, but that's the way I am. I think there are males out there who can smell vulnerability, but they would never have smelled it from me, and that's that!

Sometimes I wonder if my early interaction with boys gave me a better sense of them. I don't know. My daughters have taught me a lot about being a girl. They always liked the frilly dresses and fancy hair and make-up stuff that I just didn't get, and over time they've given me a better appreciation of my "girlness". It's funny because when I was carrying them, I thought they were both boys. In fact, I think I wanted boys because I understood them and figured I'd be a better Mom to boys. But I can't imagine living life without my girls now, and they were the best gift a reluctant female could ever have had. I appreciate the attention of males now more than ever. Only, now they have gone grayer. How can that be? But I am no longer uncomfortable with their gazes or flirtations, I only wish it would happen more.

So wouldn't you know it, now that my skin is starting to sag and my vision is blurring...now that I'm filling out in bad places and sweltering with hot flashes...I'm finally really enjoying being a girl.

IJ [Note to self: you realize Kim is going to razz you for still calling yourself a girl :-)]
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Boy in the Balloon

Venezia 042 Tez - Brian Eno predicts YouTubeImage by watz via Flickr
Undoubtedly, you have heard all about the "balloon boy" incident by now, where a home-made experimental weather balloon was set adrift supposedly carrying a 6-year-old boy for 80 kilometers as the helicopters and media aircraft followed it, broadcasting live, of course. People began to suspect that it might be a hoax when Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked the boy a question in an interview with the family, and the boy responded that it was all "for the show". And now it has been confirmed that the whole incident was indeed a hoax, and that the family had devised the plan, hoping to get a reality TV series out of it.

Is this what family television has come to? I could sit here, as I suppose many of you could, and sound off about poor parenting and setting a horrible example for the kids. The fact is that this couple could potentially lose their children because of their idiocy. And maybe they deserve that. But what is even more significant, I think, is what it really reflects about the insanity that been created around reality shows. I've mouthed off about reality shows before; who can forget the Jon and Kate Plus 8 mess that ended up with the show being canceled, lawsuits pending, and a nasty divorce in the works? Again, the kids are the ones who are really suffering. And to put your six-year-old boy up to a nation-wide hoax JUST so you can get a reality TV series is almost incomprehensible to me. And desperately stupid.

People have become certifiably nuts about media and fame and money, and in the U.S. this insanity seems even more exaggerated. YouTube is also contributing to this hysterical drive for attention. People do absolutely outrageous things in order to create a video that may potentially "go viral". Some of these videos involve hurting people or animals or destroying property; there are beatings, fights, people let their small children drive a vehicle, for pete's sake. And then they are stupid enough to post these videos on YouTube; do they not realize that the authorities can figure out quite easily who they are and arrest them?

The desire for money and attention has truly become a sickness for so many people. And our kids are growing up with this stuff all around them, so they are almost becoming desensitized to it. It has gone far beyond posting a video of your cat chasing the light from a flashlight, or your little girl learning to ride a bike for the first time.

And where will it go from here? I think the people at YouTube are going to have to start taking more responsibility for what they are, in fact, encouraging. But who is going to hold them accountable? My guess is that majority of the staffers at YouTube are in their 20's or 30's. They have not lived long enough to understand long term consequences of anything.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox. I'm not anti-YouTube, I hang out there a lot, but obviously not to watch those kinds of videos. I'm not anti-youth, but I think a lot of them need a kick in the pants. I'm certainly not anti-television, I am in fact a co-owner of a local station. But I'm thinking that the executives at these big media and internet companies are the ones who should be scrutinized. They are only seeing $$, and they should know better. Somebody up there in that fancy office 93 stories above street level should be saying "Hey, wait a minute...".

I ain't holding my breath.

 IJ

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happiness Is Over-rated

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.Image via Wikipedia
A good friend of mine writes a weekly column in our local newspaper and over the last couple of weeks he has been focusing on the topic of happiness. We are, many of us, often consumed with the desire to be happy, and look for it in the wrong places (or in the wrong things, whichever the case may be). He includes a number of lists written by others, including psychologists, of things you can do to improve your happiness quotient.

While I agree with most of the points in those lists, like fostering a positive attitude and stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, I think there's another underlying factor at work. 

Sometimes we try to pop a "happiness pill" when we are clearly not. And when we try to sweep our misery under the carpet instead of addressing it and then letting it go...all of the happy pills we take won't work. In other words, trying to be happy can sometimes be more about going into denial and can only make things worse. I'm not saying that we should wear our misery on our sleeve and making everyone else around us miserable too. But when there are underlying problems, pushing them aside won't help.

I say this because I have dealt with depression myself and have family members who have experienced clinical depression and even worse, bi-polar disorder. In the latter case, it can only be treated with medication, which truly is like popping a "happiness pill". But depression can't be overcome simply by happy thoughts alone. Outside of a serious or clinical case of depression, I think people are often contributing to their own unhappiness because of their expectations and the feelings of entitlement. Happy is what we "should" be and when we aren't, then something is terribly wrong.

The fact is that even in the course of a day, you can easily bound from sadness to happiness and back again...and this is completely natural. If you expect to be deliriously happy all of the time, you are truly kidding yourself, and you will ultimately be disappointed. Buddhists say that the real problem is not the state of happiness or unhappiness, but clinging to one or the other.

Trying to cling to a happy state seems obvious, but why would we want to be miserable?

Actually, we often LOVE being miserable even though that seems an oxymoron. We love going over and over unhappy events in our minds, perhaps mentally punishing someone for some past hurt. Self-pity can itself be rather addictive. I think the word "happiness" itself has probably been used to death and sort of comes with its own baggage now; perhaps "contented" or "at ease" are closer to what we can achieve.

Have you ever felt contentment about something? It is not a "high", but rather a quietening of the mind and completely relaxing. If the whole world could simultaneously experience even five minutes of contentment in the true sense of the word, I'd bet you that after the five minutes was up, much of the hate, anger, violence, desire and greed would be alleviated for the following five hours. Can you imagine? Just five hours of world peace.

So here is my list for ways to achieve contentment:
  1. Feel and experience an emotion completely, then let it go. If you pay attention to the natural process of any type of emotion, it ebbs and flows. So let it.
  2. Just sit and breathe, and think of nothing but breathing
  3. Be in the moment, and if you're having trouble doing that where you are, go for a walk and pay rapt attention to every thing you see, hear and physically feel. Do everything with rapt attention.
  4. Take a nap...naps are very refreshing
  5. Follow the serenity prayer; change the things you can, don't try to change something you cannot, and learn the difference
These are just five points, I'm sure I could think of more over time. Each of them has given me a sense of peace and contentment in past, but it does take effort to remember and apply them. Even if only one of them stands out or works for you, keep using it and I know it'll help you to relieve some of the misery and stress of your daily life. Most of all, stop expecting to be happy, and ironically, you'll probably start to!

IJ
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Something To Be Thankful For

Sir Martin Frobisher by Cornelis Ketel, c.Image via Wikipedia
I don't remember celebrating Thanksgiving too much when I was a kid. Sometimes I wonder if we really did anything at all...I remember events from school, but not from home. My mother was a Danish immigrant, and I don't think my father paid much attention to the holiday either since he was born to Danish immigrants.

Thanksgiving came more about as I got older when my father remarried after the death of my mother. And slowly over the years, I created my own Thanksgiving with my family, so I sort of grew into it, you might say. 

I'm grateful that Canadian Thanksgiving happens earlier than the American one. Plain and simply, I like the longer break between turkeys :-). Our harvest happens earlier in the year because we are further north, which is part of the reason, but the original Canadian Thanksgiving happened in 1578 when English explorer Martin Frobisher, (portrait to the right) who was trying to find a northern passage to China, ended up in Newfoundland. He wanted to give thanks for surviving the long journey, so he gave a formal ceremony and the tradition grew from there.

When we sit down as a family these days, it's a rare thing! So I enjoy that aspect of it the most. I also enjoy the preparations for the meal. The kitchen smells good all day and getting everything timed just right pleases me to no end when I actually succeed :-). Last Thanksgiving we sat as we usually do and went around the table, also our tradition, so everyone can express their thanks for all that we have. Little did we know that less than a month later, my husband would be laid off and our lives would turn upside down.

This Thanksgiving, we'll be sitting down having survived this last year with my husband back at work now and a whole bunch of lessons learned. That is truly something to be grateful for. I look at my life right at this moment and realize just how much I have. It's important to take a moment to be grateful for that every now and then, but Thanksgiving gives us a chance to really celebrate it too. It was a tough, but ultimately very fruitful year in ways we would never have imagined. So to those of you who are celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, I send my best wishes and hope that you remember everything that you, too, have! And don't eat too much :-)

IJ
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Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Waste of Time

Typical phonograph tonearmImage via Wikipedia
There is a television promo that runs on the Comedy Channel with the tag line "Time Well Wasted". Well, it's the Comedy Channel, so of course they're going to be irreverent. But remember when having fun as a kid was often considered by our parents to be a waste of time? They wanted us to buckle down and do our homework, or finish our chores around the house...instead we ran around with the neighbourhood kids playing cops and robbers or putting on plays in the back yard.

Or we watched TV and listened to the radio or record player. Record player? Now I'm dating myself. We know a little better now that play time is important to kids, that life shouldn't be all about work. But as adults, we've taken on some of our parents' ideas and attitudes, whether we know it or not, and we've become awfully serious.

Where and when did this change happen? I find myself growling at politicians, worrying about the state of mother earth, never leaving valuables in the car, making sure I take my vitamins and get my 7 or 8 hours sleep...how boring can a person get?? And I don't know about you, but I'm realizing that I do things now that truly ARE a colossal waste of time. The point is that I am so much in the habit of doing these things now, that it's almost impossible for me to stop. So I'm going to list them here in no particular order in hopes of one day freeing myself from their useless grip.
  • Staying angry - anger is a perfectly natural thing to feel and we're all going to feel it from time to time. The real waste of time comes in when we hang on to it or even escalate it, dragging the whole thing out for hours or days, or even months and years. But to what end? Do we really think we're getting even with somebody by staying angry with them? Most of the time they don't even know it and we are the only ones who suffer. Staying angry is stupid. I have wasted so much time in this pathetic state.
  • Judging people - I really don't have any idea what is going on in somebody else's head, no matter how well I think I know them. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes. And I'm particularly bad at knowing anything about somebody I've never personally met. Well, duh. But I will sit there and watch somebody on TV or read about them somewhere, and come to all kinds of conclusions about them anyway. That's why tabloid papers and television do so well--because of people like me who take great pleasure in deciding all kinds of deliciously bad things about somebody I've never even been in the same room with. How utterly ridiculous is that?
  • Suffering a past event or trauma - someone once told me about an experience in one of those anonymous meetings. This person was aghast at how many people my age and older were STILL blaming their parents for everything bad that happened in their lives. I remember thinking at the time "It's over, let it go! Get on with your life." But I know myself that I will still waste time suffering over something that happened a long time ago, dragging myself through the upset time and again. Why on earth do we do this? The thought pops into our head for whatever reason, and we just grab on to it and suffer all over again. Let it go, Irene, let it go.
  • Worrying - I am really good at this one. If I don't have anything to worry about, my over-active mind will actually LOOK for something. Is that stupid, or what? Worry is absolutely the most useless state; it does nothing to fix anything and for the most part all it does is exercise your sweat glands and wreak havoc on your nervous system. I can't think of anything I do that wastes more time. And yet, lying in bed at 3 o'clock in the morning, it can take over my entire being in the darkest way. Worry is about over-thinking and over-thinking is something we all do.
In fact, over-thinking is where most of these malignancies occur. In Buddhism, they call it "monkey mind", where it can't stop jumping around from thought to thought, causing absolute mayhem. Maybe you can add to this list of wastes of time. For your sake, I hope not! So what on earth can I do to stop them? I'm going to have to think on that.

IJ
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