26 January 2011

Things That Are True - Overwhelm

I've been feeling a little like I'm barely holding together the various unraveling threads of my life lately. I've reached a constant state of overwhelm. Nothing particular, just everything all at once. You know how it is. (Please say you know how it is.)

It's been a day.

I forgot my wallet and phone at home this morning. Never a good idea.

The Imp and I walked out of his gymnastics class (or if you ask The Imp, "I do parkour!") just in time to see my car in the process of being towed away. (I am an unrepentant receiver of many parking tickets.)

The bad news: I got another parking ticket.

The good news? The tow truck driver took pity on my walletless state, backed the car back into its expired spot, and left without further incident.

There's a good chance that The Imp standing on the sidewalk crying, "Don't take the car away! It's not broken! Don't take the car away!" over and over may have been a factor in the driver's decision to just get the hell out of there.

You win some, you lose some.


But this? This is made of win.

14 January 2011

Things I'm Learning - Assumptions

When I was eight, my family went on a grand adventure. We sold or packed up everything we owned, said goodbye to friends and family, traveled across most of Canada by train, then flew away. Stops in Frankfurt, a week and a half in Israel, an unexpected three days in Greece, then on to Nairobi where we almost missed our flight to Antananrivo. A few hours there in an airport under construction*, and then a quick Air France flight to our destination, the place that would be our home for the next two and a half years: Reunion.

Map scanged from www.mapsofworld.com

We went there because my parents felt it was their duty to be of service to their religion. I also think it was a balm for a marriage in trouble - they were always at their best when it was the two of them against the world. I suspect also that they just had itchy feet. It was not the first time they'd done that kind of thing - but it was the first time with children. And, I'm sad to say, the last.

Reunion was both literally and figuratively the polar opposite of my hometown: Watson Lake, Yukon. The two are exactly twelve time zones apart. Where Watson Lake was sparsely populated and surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles in every direction, Reunion was a small space, crammed with crowds of people everywhere. Watson Lake was in Canada's cold north, Reunion was tropical. Spindly gray-green pine trees traded for lush vegetation and palm tree lined beaches. Where Watson Lake was culturally homogeneous (if you ignored the First Nations population, which, let's face it, was pretty common nation-wide in the 1970s), Reunion was a mix of African, Indian, Chinese, and French influences. Where English was the only language spoken in Watson Lake, Reunion was politically and linguistically French. In the entire time we were there, outside of my parents' religious community, I recall meeting one other person who spoke English - a tourist who approached us when he overheard us speaking.

Left: downtown (I'm not kidding) Watson Lake, 2004   Right: typical St Pierre street, Reunion, 1979

Being in such a foreign environment challenged everything we thought we knew. I was a kid, I rolled with it. I showed up my first day of school with my Sesame Street French and my trusty Larousse pocket English-French/French-English dictionary, and I figured it out, as kids do.

My sister (left) and I (right), dressed up for our first day of school, knowing nothing, 1979. This was the last time we would wear socks for 2 1/2 years.

 But I was always aware of how different we were, how much we stood out. How different every minute of our day had become. Reunion had no tv to speak of then: a three hour broadcast every evening, which only mattered if you had a tv, which we didn't. No one we knew had one. At a time when peers in Canada were getting telephones in their bedrooms, we knew one person in our whole village who had a phone - and it didn't always work. Coming from a place where we thought nothing of leaving the tap running while we brushed our teeth, in Reunion we had running water only three days a week, and woe to the family that forgot to fill their cistern for the days without. Compared to the neighbours up the hill from us who lived in a corrugated tin shack without electricity or running water of any kind, we were considered wealthy beyond imagining because we had a refrigerator.

Everything was different; everything. Yet old habits die hard. In Canada, official language laws decreed that labels on food packaging be in both English and French. In the store, if the French side was carelessly left facing out by the shopkeeper, all you had to do was flip it over to see the label in English. In Reunionese shops, time after time, upon seeing the French label, we would turn the can around, only to encounter more French on the other side. For months and months (years, maybe) we did this - my mom, my dad, and I. (My sister was four and not yet reading when we arrived there.) Despite knowing intellectually that the labels were only in French, still we did this, and were jolted every time there was no English on the other side.

There is a powerful life lesson there. At the age of eight, my behaviour was already that ingrained, despite overwhelming evidence that it made no sense. Can it be any different at forty?

Maybe that's why I find it so difficult to make changes in my life - even positive ones. Because there are decades of ingrained behaviour - subconscious assumptions that inform every choice I make, every action I take. (Every smile I fake, every cake I bake...) Things I'm not even aware of trip me up.

And I think that's what our inner you-can't-do-that-and-who-do-you-think-you-are-to-even-try voices are. (We all have those, right? I'm not alone there?) Unexamined assumptions that hold us back. We've been listening to those voices droning in our ears for years, and they're a lot louder than the realities we encounter. Like the habit of flipping the package to find the familiar - except without the jolt of finding the unexpected on the opposite side. Since we're rarely jolted that way, brought face-to-face with these assumptions, we don't see them. And how can you change what you don't see?

I learned from comments on my post over at strocel.com yesterday that I'm not the only one who struggles with judging myself too harshly. Why is it so easy to show compassion for friends and strangers, and so hard to be that kind to ourselves?

Because we don't have the same kinds of assumptions about other people, that's why. We take their words and their behaviours for what they are - not what they appear to be through that lens of judgment we turn on ourselves.

So my question is, how can we jolt ourselves out of our everyday way of thinking, to see the reality of who we are, and how we appear to others? How can we change the assumptions we have about ourselves - hell, even figure out what those assumptions are, so we can work at changing them? So we move forward? So that we can, as Thoreau said, go confidently in the direction of our dreams?

*Aren't all airports, everywhere, at all times, under construction, or only when I'm traveling through them?

13 January 2011

Things I'm Learning - Crafting My Life

Even if I haven't been posting much here, I've been busy. I've managed to keep the resolution of posting daily at Vancouver Daily Photo. Yay for resolutions! (In fact, I've managed to keep all three of my resolutions so far - a first for me.)

And, drum roll please, today Amber Strocel (who I've mentioned before here) has been kind enough to let me guest-post for her fabulous "Crafting My Life" series on her blog at Strocel.com. If you like what you see there, she's also launching a Crafting My Life e-course about living with intention, which promises to be seventeen kinds of awesome.

Now, I'm off to find something to get rid of today. 

04 January 2011

Things That Are True - Overthinking

Since one of our dearest friends had a baby six weeks ago, The Imp has been playing, and talking, a lot about babies in tummies, babies being born, and about being a mommy. He's insisted at different times that he's a baby, that he's a big boy, that he wants to be in my tummy, that he's not a baby because babies can't walk, or talk, or do much of anything. He also tells me daily that he's a mommy*. Specifically, George's mommy.

Should I tell him putting George in the fridge isn't going to win him any parenting awards?
He arranges all his stuffies in a row, and tells me he's their mommy and that he's reading them stories and putting them to bed. I hear him, playing in his room, threatening various toys with the dreaded Naughty Corner. (Oh dear.)

This past weekend, visiting with friends, The Imp was playing with a big kangaroo stuffie they had. I explained pouches and joeys and hopping and Australia, and didn't give it another thought. This morning before daycare, The Imp was quite adamant that he was a kangaroo mommy, and that George was a joey. Sure, why not?

But then he was using his kangaroo-mommyhood as an excuse to not get dressed and go to daycare. Time for a little chat, clearly.

Me: You're a kangaroo mommy?
The Imp: Yeah. George is a joey and I'm his mommy.
Me: Well, it's time to put on some pants, kangaroo mommy.
The Imp: (looking at me like I was an idiot) Kangaroo don't wear pants, Mommy.

Damn. He kind of had me there.

Me: (Trying a new tack) Are you a kangaroo at school?
The Imp: No. I'm a kangaroo mommy at home.
Me: You're just a mommy at home? Not at school?
The Imp: Just at home. Not at school.

In a split second, my mind was racing with fears that I'd somehow managed to give The Imp a skewed view of motherhood. "Oh no!" I thought. "I've somehow imparted to him that motherhood belongs at home. I've inadvertently taught him that femininity and masculinity belong in entirely separate spheres. I've indicated through my words and actions that women do not belong at school or work. Oh jebus,  have I messed up the gender roles already? Or is there pressure from the other kids at daycare to be more masculine there? I'm a horrible mother for putting him in daycare when I work from home. Oh fuck. What have I done?!?" As showers of mama-guilt rained down upon my head, I managed to keep my game face on and ask:

Me: If you're a mommy at home, what are you at school?
The Imp: (without missing a beat) A light bulb.

Yeah. Maybe I was overthinking the whole gender-roles thing a little, there.

*I'm not worried about the gender discussion around who's a mommy and who's a daddy at this point. If The Imp says he's a mommy, he's a mommy. He'll sort out the gender stuff in the fullness of time, and be whoever he is.

01 January 2011

Things That I Want - Resolutions

Happy New Year!

Without preamble, here are things I want to do more, or less, of in 2011.

Item the first:

I've fought The Battle of Stuff my whole life. I've had a tendency to keep almost everything: old movie ticket stubs, receipts for everthing, boxes for appliances... The parts of our apartment that are on public view are uncluttered and tidy - but I have a guilty secret of boxes and bags of random items crammed into closets. Every year I've resolved to get organized, to find storage solutions; to get a handle on all my stuff.

This year, I have a different priority. It's been creeping up on me over the last couple of years, but the last couple of months, especially, have made one thing clear to me: I don't need more storage. I need less stuff.

Resolved: In 2011, at least one item a day will be removed from my home, never to return. I look forward to really evaluating the worth of these things I'm holding on to, to freeing up room in my physical world, and to similarly removing clutter from my mental and emotional space. I find just looking at extraneous stuff tiring - it's the visual equivalent of being at a party where the music is just a little bit too loud. Except I can't leave. So I'm moving the noise out instead.

Item the second:

I haven't posted anything to my photography blog in months. It just became yet one more thing I was struggling to keep up with, and I let it go. Except now I'm realizing how much it fed my soul, and I miss it. I miss the photo walks and bike rides, I miss looking at my surroundings with an eye for the interesting within the mundane, and I miss seeking and finding the factoids that gave the photos meaning when I posted them on my blog.

Resolved: In 2011, I will start posting again regularly to Vancouver Daily Photo.

Item the third:

A purely practical matter.

Resolved: I will hang my towel on the hook on the back of the bathroom door when I'm done with it after my shower so I don't have to run dripping through the apartment looking for it every. goddamn. morning.

And you, what are your resolutions?