Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Out of frustration comes philosphy

I’ve spent the week cleaning up someone else’s mess at work.

All the while awaiting news of an anticipated new job, so it’s not like I was particularly motivated to invest my time and energy in a not-my-problem problem.

I overheard a conversation at the gym a few days ago, where one woman was complaining to another on behalf of an instructor who’d gotten stuck with all the equipment cleanup after everyone (but the complainer, obviously) had left the class a few minutes early.

“Why’d she take it upon herself to do it, though?” said the not-so-sympathetic listener, huffily.

“Oh, she’s just like that.”

I lost the rest of the thread of the conversation, but that one comment stayed with me. It’s still reverberating now.

Why did I take it upon myself?

On the one hand, I certainly understand, and admire, the pluck it takes not to take it all on. To draw the line, take a stand, call it quits. To use impatience and aggression as virtues.

On the other hand, I think decisions are made by those who show up. Who use stubbornness as their crutch.

Both types of people may be equally annoyed. But the outcomes are going to be vastly different.

And that’s why I took it upon myself. Because I fall into the latter camp. But combined with treating the world the way that I want to be treated in return, I’ve had to learn to handle disappointment.

You get out of life what you put into it. Other people’s muck and all.


Breakfast Conversation

“So, Mom. I’ve got one – no, I’ve got two friends.”
“You do? Who?”
“One friend, his name is Minokia. Yah. And he’s a very curious guy.”
“He is?”
“Yah. And you know what he does? He likes to (dramatic pause) — steal (another dramatic pause) — kitchens!”
“How on earth does he do that?”
“He’s got two big, big, giant — claws! And he just scoops kitchens up, chomp – chomp – chomp! Just like that!”
“Mmmhmm. And my other friend’s name is Frokolakalokogoodoofeefafaboodooleekalokoloo.”
“Oh my, that’s a very long name.”
“Well, you can call him Frokolaka for short.”
“OK, thanks.”
“And Frokolaka? You know what he likes to do? He likes to dance! He’s a dancer, and he goes to dance class!”
“Oh yeah? Does he ever teach you any dance moves?”
“Yah, he does! Wanna see?”
“I sure do! Show me!”
Bonhomme clambers down from the table and offers an energetic demonstration of Frokolaka moves – a stunning Ukrainian-Irish-Jig-Country Line Dance-Meets-Stomp combo.
“And that’s the end. Momma, I’m done breakfast. Can I watch a show?”
“Thank you for telling us that lovely story. Let’s get you washed up.”

Luminous Truth

Tonight, I heard Marina Nemat speak at the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

She was glorious.

Now here is a 21st Century hero. Of her experience as a political prisoner in Iran following the Iranian Revolution, and her 30 year journey since, she says:

“Horror unfolds little by little.”

It does. But with her words, she is unraveling it, exposing it, and sowing the seeds of its prevention.

She also says that her life “belongs to those who didn’t make it.”

She started writing for herself, to chronicle her experience, to acknowledge its reality. But she kept writing for everyone else.

How hard it must be.

And how necessary.

I went to her after her talk, and shook her hand. I thanked her, and told her how important her work is, her words, her. She thanked me – thanked me for reminding her. Me! Such small burdens I have in comparison! But I did see her point. We do need to remind each other. We need to speak for each other. My own chronicling, too, unravels. Reveals. Bolsters. It is of me, but it doesn’t belong to me.

“Healing does not mean that the trauma is gone. It means that you’ve learned how to deal with the trauma.”

Marina Nemat is not just a speaker of truth – she is a maker of it. A luminous one.

The Wind Is Turning

Change is coming,
welcome, needed, too long overdue.
I’ve grown stronger, yes, with my burdens.
I see it in myself, in my body, in my stare, in my impatience.
It has not been a pleasant education,
although I certainly acknowledge its worth.
But, enough.
It’s time.
Time and again to step boldly forward, taking no guff,
not from anyone.
It makes me harsh.
So be it.
Sandpaper’s job is to smooth.

Old Woman Rising

I feel her trying to emerge, pawing, prowling –
my Old Woman,
she who awaits me.
She is a caged tiger, pacing.
Her growls rumble within,
righteous roaring writhing wrath.
She is growing stronger.
She will intimidate,
once she roams free –
and not just me.
My Old Woman is gnarly,
with the strength of green wood
and the memories of dried built into her bones.
Old Woman, I salute you,
impatient beneath my skin.
I too am plotting your escape.


Recently, I tried to look up an antonym for “linear”.

It doesn’t exist.

I found a ton of questions on the web from people looking for the same thing as me – and no answers.

How is this possible?

In this day and age, in this world of holistic health and networked thinking and distributed computing and all-at-once learning, how is this possible?

There were some suggestions along with the innumerable hits on the question of what the opposite of linear is. For example: “hyper”, “evolutionary design”, “lateral”, “circular”, “fragmented”, “workflow”, “parallel thinking”, “illogical”, “brainstorming” and of course, “nonlinear”.

Apparently, there is a great tension I never knew existed between “all-at-once” (simultaneous) and “one-at-a-time” (sequential). And my innocent little search for precise vocabulary exposed it. I didn’t mean to challenge physics and the space-time continuum and the fundamental laws of nature. To upset the human understanding of causation and logic and exactitude.

I was just trying to organize a meeting. But, being both creative as well as crunched for time, I wanted to get everyone needed together in a room at one time to work through a problem as opposed to working through a series of stages separately – and I needed to explain that to them precisely and concisely (so they’d accept my meeting invite).

Turns out that attempting to do so is illogical – literally.

Familiar Ground

Within a large darkness, I stand.
Spirit depleted, wholeness defeated – where is my self?
The best parts of me are nestled, here and there, out of reach.
I’ve forgotten what peaceful feels like.
I know enervated,
oh yes.
I know tense, busy, scattered.
Where is my God-spark, my true self, my soul?
I am not lost,
I know just where I am:
on the wrong side of twilight,
murky and mired.
So very tired.
Waiting to remember how to glow.

Lessons From Fridges and Forgetful Fish

When I open the freezer door while my son plays with the alphabet fridge magnets, Bonhomme now has to duck. My not-yet three-and-a-half-year-old is more than three-and-a-half feet tall – taller than my belly button, taller than a fridge door, taller than any Toy Story 3 clothing on sale.

With this height comes other new and strange things – patience, name-calling, a preference to learn Spanish rather than French.

These unfamiliar things are very welcome though, long awaited. But some familiar, and less welcome things are appearing too. Like despondence. A thin skin. And his extreme highs and lows are becoming better described as emotional volatility rather than tantrums.

There are many amazing qualities that I am delighted and awed to recognize in him – and to recognize that their origin isn’t entirely mysterious. His size definitely comes in large part from his father. But his personality, while certainly uniquely his, does seem to come in large part from me.

And thus, my fear.

I’m watching Finding Nemo with Bonhomme. Crush the way-cool-dude sea turtle is reassuring Marlin, Nemo’s Dad that you never really know when your freshly born baby sea turtle is ready to return to the sea, but “when they know, you’ll know, you know?”.

I don’t know how my son is going to handle the hard knocks life inevitably brings. I’m worried beyond worry that along with creativity and perserverence and humour, he’s also inherited some of my darker qualities.

But I least I know that when the freezer door that he’s just overgrown opens, he ducks. He trusts his peripheral vision, his gut.

“The whale says its time to let go!” cries Dory. “Everything’s going to be all right!”
“How do you know?” worries Marlin, scared, torn.
“I don’t!”

And Marlin realizes that when you’re in a whale about to be blown out a blow hole, it might not matter so much where you’re going to land. And just like that, they let go.

I’ll just have to do the same.

Turning Shoulda Coulda Woulda Into Will

Doc and I were chatting the other day, and the topic of work came up. I told him that I’d come to the realization that I’ve been asked to solve an impossible problem – and that what’s been asked of me is simply too much for any one person to handle. The problem is the problem itself, and not me. I am not fundamentally flawed.

“Well, I could have told you that!” Doc laughed.

Yes. He could have. He should have. But he didn’t.

A dear friend recently told me that she’d confided to her doctor some very dark feelings, some pretty serious warnings signs of ill health that should have been taken pretty seriously. They weren’t. Her Doc just shrugged it off, or perhaps didn’t even clue in.

She should have. But she didn’t.

I understand that my doctor’s role is to monitor my state of health, both mentally and physically, and gently nudge me when he notices me spiralling in a negative direction, hopefully providing options for addressing it when I do. This is where, for instance, my friend’s doctor fell down on the job. Her doctor’s negligence was woeful in many senses of the word. My doctor, in contrast, did not fall down on the job – I know his job is not to shore me up by giving comforting advice. There are certain realizations that it’s really important I come to on my own. I know this. But I think that our collective understanding of what depression is, what it is caused by and what it means is a definitional issue, a seminal one – and that we as a community, as a society, need to talk about whether a mother breaking down when her emotional and physical and mental demands are quite simply too high is a reasonable reaction rather than a flaw. We have marginalized and medicalized depression without ever exploring the reason why it exists. We haven’t challenged the assumption that it is a liability.

I’m writing this in the middle of the night, because once again, I can’t sleep. My body is aching, my heart is pounding, my mind is racing. This time, I know why – I’m completely stressed out. Work is overwhelming right now – I’m doing a lot of hours, dealing with a poop-load of information in an insanely short amount of time, and being pulled in a thousand directions. And our cave-man bodies aren’t so well equipped to address the modern information age. Fight, flight or freeze don’t really cut it against data. My mind is correlating and classifying and filing and sorting and storing and connecting the dots – when all my body wants to know is where the sabre-toothed tiger is.

So, here I am, wide awake while my brain processes reams of information, because my body is all jacked up on adrenaline bracing itself for a fight. And it’s not listening to me when I try to tell it that it’s not that kind of fight, and can’t I get some damn sleep, because there’s no such thing as turning the alarm off when it comes in the shape, size and noise of a three-year-old?

I recently read a fascinating book, Maddy Dichtwald’s Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better, exploring the implications of the current global gender balance. It looks at stats of women’s participation in the world economy, and makes some pretty darned interesting arguments. We know that the people in positions of power are the ones who set the agenda, who determine what questions get asked and how much money gets devoted to answering them. The book asserts that women ask fundamentally different questions than men do, and that when able to set the agenda, women steer resources – both money and attention – accordingly.

Given my own preoccupation with depression, this has made me think: if there were more female medical researchers, would we know more about depression and other forms of mental illness by now? Depression is traditionally, and societally, seen as being a women’s problem. If there were a better balance of gender in positions of power in the medical research field, perhaps not only would we be devoting research money and attention to different topics, such as depression, but perhaps we would also be thinking differently about those topics, and be asking different questions.

I had a realization a while back when reading up on Myers Briggs personality trait indicators. One of the spectrums that this Jungian-based theory looks at is an individual’s probelm-solving preference to use logic versus emotion. The key here is that both ends of the spectrum, logic being at one end and emotion being at the other, are rational approaches. Get it? Using emotion to address a problem is illogical, not irrational. Emotion is a rational response.

Depression may be the brain’s rational response to high levels of stimulus, shunting resources to deal with the cognitive computing load. It may be a skill. It may be our modern-day sabre-tooth tiger hunting weapon.

We need a longitudinal study of depressives, with the goal to discover the benefits of depression. Not to study depression, but to study us. To look at how we think, how we respond to an overload of demands. This requires, of course, that the assumption that depression is a medical problem to be fixed, preferably with drugs that supress the syptoms of depression – that mute not just its indicators, but its effects – be replaced.

Think about this. Moms suffering depression of any kind, whether pre- or post-natal, or at any age and stage of mothering, may not be fundamentally flawed. We may instead be fundamentally skilled. We know that too much is being asked of us at once, and yet the baby still needs to be fed, diapers still need to be changed. The toddler alarm clock is still going to ring, wriggling into our beds no matter how much we’ve been up all night. Our brains may know it too.

A Historic First

Today, my son and I played a boardgame together for the first time. Really played. With rules. And turns. He didn’t just play – I did too. He won (tied with Daddy, but Bonhomme assured us that it is still winning even when two people win) – but he won honestly.

I’ve waited two lifetimes – his, and mine – for this.

It was heaven.

Bonhomme didn’t quite understand, though, why I was so happy.

“Momma, but, you didn’t win. You are not supposed to be happy when you don’t win.”

“I am so happy because we played a boardgame! And you have no idea how much Momma loves boardgames (but he will, oh, he will). Playing with you tonight made me really, really happy.”

“But when you lose, you don’t get happy! You only get to be happy when you win!”

“Oh Love, Momma doesn’t really care about winning. I just like to play. I like to win too, but I’m happy even when I lose, because I got to play a game.”

“But you have to care about winning! You HAVE to!”

Ah, well, maybe this is just one of those things that will always be different between him and I, my little earnest warrior.

I’ll always care more about what I put into something than what I get out of it. I’m hoping that that might rub off, with time. But if it doesn’t all that much, well, at least I’ve got a lifetime of losing at boardgames ahead of me.