Peer Recognition

I was kind of taken aback at first. In the two-months-and-a-bit that I’ve been writing this blog, I still get a little thrill every time someone actually comments on what I’ve written. So imagine my surprise when one of those comments contained an award!

Angela at the awesomely titled Not Appropriate For All Audiences has nominated me for something called the Liebster Award.  As Angela explains:

The Liebster award is given to up and coming bloggers who have less than 200  followers.  What is a Liebster?  The meaning: Liebster is German and means  sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued,  cute, endearing, and welcome. She further describes this award in the following fashion: “one mark up from a participation ribbon, it’s one part chain letter mixed with equal parts fraternity hazing and bragging rights, with a generous heaping of exposure.” Basically, it’s a means of saying “good work and welcome to the blogging community – we like you.”

Aw shucks. 🙂

I was flattered, of course. Then I was a little conflicted. You see I really don’t like chain letters. My kids were never allowed to participate in them, and I don’t go along with the whole “copy and paste this into your status” schtick on Facebook. So I did a tiny bit of research (because that’s how I approach anything new) and found a few references to the origins of the award, although the original post seems to have been lost somewhere in blog antiquity (if there is such a thing).

Interestingly, the original terms were a bit different. When the award started circulating it was aimed at bloggers with less than 3000 followers, and you were supposed to nominate 3-5 other bloggers. The current criteria are a bit more demanding, but I will play along as best I can.

And as for my whole “but it’s a chain letter” angst– I got over that pretty quickly. What I don’t like about chain letters is when they threaten horrible consequences for breaking the chain, or alternatively promise  grand things they can’t possibly deliver. (I never DID get the 20 postcards from all over the world…) But the Liebster award seems to be all about peer recognition and community building, which are two of the things I like best about blogging. So I’m in!

The  current rules are as follows:

1.  Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2.  Answer the 11 questions the awarder has given to you, the awardee.
3.  You, now the awarder, create 11 questions for your nominees, who are now the
awardees.
4.  Choose 11 awardees, link to their website, and notify them.
5.  No award-backs

#4 is a bit daunting, but I note that Angela has been working at doling out her Liebster nominations for a while, so I will adopt the same gradual approach! I am also going to go with 10 facts about me and 10 questions, because that’s what Angela did, so it means I get to be a rebel and a follower all at the same time, and I just love that sort of contradiction.

First then, 10 scintillating facts about me:

  1. I used to be an English teacher, so I’m apt to go around using words like “scintillating” and pointing out when your pronouns don’t have clear antecedents.
  2. loons1I collect artwork with images of loons. Really.
  3. I own five pairs of black pants.
  4. I taught eleventh grade geography for three years. The highest  level at which I studied geography was tenth grade.
  5. I have come close to dying three times. If I was a cat I would still have six lives to go.
  6. I once crossed an international border carrying no identification and wearing nothing but a hospital gown. (see # 5 above)
  7. I have two tattoos. Guess what images they are. (Hint: see #2 above)
  8. I do not currently own a television.
  9. I love the movie Waitress. If you haven’t seen it, do. It will restore your faith in humanity. And pie.
  10. And speaking of pie, it’s a generally accepted fact that I make awesome pastry.

loons2

Secondly, my responses to Angela’s questions:

1.       As I love books, you probably could have predicted this one, what’s your favorite book and why?  Oh goodness you can’t be serious. You might as well ask which of my children I love best! Let’s see, there’s just about anything written by Margaret Atwood and Margaret Lawrence.  And Jeanette Winterson. Virgina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Wuthering Heights. Massive amounts of Young Adult Science Fiction (seriously!– I’m currently reading Ender’s Game) and just about anything futuristic and dystopian.

2.       What other bloggers (if any) do you currently follow? Please leave links. Lots, actually. Here are a few faves:  Bulging ButtonsMust Be This Tall to Ride, Fish of Gold, Lost in Berlin, and that cynking feeling.

3.       What are three reasons that you think my blog is super fucking awesome (because of course you do)? Because how could anyone NOT love a blog with the tag line “Keeping Shit Real and Alienating My Relatives?” Because you’re an awesome writer. And because I have tremendous respect for anyone who is open and candid about living with any sort of mental illness.

4.       Do you believe in love at first sight?  If so, would you also be willing to admit that you are highly delusional? I refuse to answer this on the grounds that my response might offend the unicorns.

5.       If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would spend your money on?  You mean after paying off my never ending mountain of debt? And securing a good education for my kids? And socking away an adequate retirement nest egg? Probably chocolate.

6.       Have you ever had a cool celebrity encounter? Please describe. I once had mail  that belonged to the captain of our local National Hockey League franchise misdirected to my address. So I went to his house to deliver it to him. My hockey-loving nephew has never quite forgiven me for not taking him along.

7.       Okay: What’s your porn star name?  – Name of First Pet + The Road You Grew Up On =  Peter Deer Lodge. Doesn’t really work, does it?

8.       List three to five songs that have been in heavy rotation on your (iPod/CD player/cassette tape) lately. When I think to put on a CD at home, lately my first choice is anything by a local group called The Weakerthans.

9.      Do you believe in miracles? Absolutely! (See #5 in previous list)

10.    If I sent you my address, would you please mail me a pair of underwear to make up for those disappointing chain letters? Honestly, no (see previous comment about chain letters). But neither will I ask you to send me a postcard from some far-off country, so we’ll call it even.

And now, my questions for my nominees to answer…

  1. What inspired you to start blogging?
  2. If you could spend an hour with any person, famous or otherwise, from any point in history, who would you choose and why?
  3. Coffee or tea?
  4. Cats or dogs?
  5. If your life had a sound track, name three songs that would figure prominently.
  6. Choose your superpower.
  7. If you were offered a “do-over” on one day of your life, which day would you pick and why?
  8. Have you ever successfully folded a fitted sheet?
  9. Why do I always get stuck sitting next to the people who talk at the theatre?
  10. Do you believe in miracles?

Finally, here is where I will introduce you to the folks on whom I bestow the Liebster Award…

Blog Action Day: We are all humans here

I’m new here. I can still count in days the length of time that I’ve been blogging. But I’ve made an interesting discovery. There’s a whole community of likeminded—and sometimes not-so-likeminded—people milling about in internet-land. I don’t know what I expected, really. I think I thought it would be nice to have an excuse to write more regularly, and to actually have a way to get my writing in the hands of actual readers. But I wasn’t expecting to meet people and make friends.

I wasn’t expecting to find writing challenges like Yeah Write that would give me an opportunity to test my writing against that of more experienced bloggers, and get wonderful affirming feedback from them.

I wasn’t expecting that responding to a WordPress Daily Prompt would mean my work would be linked to dozens of other blogs.

I wasn’t expecting that within a few short weeks my words would be read in Alaska and Texas and Serbia and Switzerland.

I wasn’t expecting to have this much fun.

And today, courtesy of fellow blogger “that cynking feeling,” I stumbled on another unexpected discovery. Today is Blog Action Day, and roughly 2000 bloggers around the world are each linking their tiny corner of the internet into a vast international discussion about Human Rights.

Whoa. Pretty awesome, right?

And pretty overwhelming. I mean, where does one even begin? There are so many Human Rights issues that need discussing, and so many writers out there who are far more qualified than I am to discuss them. And, I don’t know about you, but I find that when I start to contemplate all the horrible things in the world that need to change, I find a kind of paralysis sets in.  Mary Pipher writes about this in her recent book The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture. While Pipher’s focus is on issues related to global climate change, what she calls “Mid-Traumatic Stress Disorder” equally afflicts us when staring down the myriad of complex Human Rights abuses that are laid out before us. Pipher says,

Sometimes it's just too much
Sometimes it’s just too much

We constantly are told—and we tell ourselves—that whatever topic is being considered is the most important thing. Every day we are admonished that it is essential to____________. We could fill in the blank in a thousand ways: develop our spiritual lives, eat organic fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, stay connected to our extended family, research our options before we make a purchase, and make time for our friends. While all of these things are commendable, the sheer number of absolutely essential things we should do is ridiculous. Everything can’t be the most important thing.[1]

Although we can’t focus on everything, we can at least choose to focus on something. The alternative is turning a blind eye to everything. I have written before about how our actions can affect others in ways we may not even realize. Even if we don’t know a solution, we can at least try not to be part of the problem. Pipher’s prescription for the psychological overload that comes from knowing too much about what needs to be done is to just pick something and do it. And, even more importantly, find other people to do it with.

I have witnessed this very phenomenon in my brief encounter with the blogosphere. Here are all these people, all over the place, sharing their thoughts and passions and fears and victories, and linking up with others who, even if we don’t agree, can always appreciate. Pipher says,

We can deal with our cultural and environmental crises only after we deal with our human crises of trauma, denial, and emotional paralysis. This will require that most difficult of all human endeavors, facing our own despair. This involves waking from our trance of denial facing our own pain and sorrow, accepting the world as it is, adapting and living more intentionally.[2]

Forward movement is always possible

There are a lot of sad stories. I’ve only dipped a toe into the ocean of great blogs that are out there, but I’ve read a lot of personal trauma that has been born of the abuse of Human Rights. It’s important to tell those stories. In writing and reading those stories we face our despair together, and together we are better equipped to accept the world as it is and take a collective, intentional, step in the right direction.


[1] Pipher, Mary. 2013. The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture. New York: Riverhead Books. P. 17.

[2] Pipher. P. 74.

Other People’s Junk: part 2

Yes I said lizard. As houseguests go he's pretty easy. He brings his own house with him, and he's not much of a partier.
Yes I said lizard. As houseguests go he’s pretty chill. He brings his own house with him, and he’s not much of a partier.

I have houseguests. My eldest daughter, her cat, and her lizard (and the enormous, awkward-to-transport tank he lives in) have taken up residence in my living room for a few days while her building is treated for bedbugs. Thankfully we have found no evidence of the wee beasties in her apartment. But they have been spotted somewhere on the premises, and so all the apartments have to be treated.

Which meant a full page of instructions on how to prepare for the big event (moving furniture out from the walls, laundering and bagging all bedding, lifting things off the floor, etc.) It was a lot of work. By Sunday evening the three washing machines shared by 40 apartment units had been in overdrive all weekend, and the dumpster in the lane was overflowing from a whole building full of tenants using the enforced cleanup as an excuse to purge.

My daughter tossed out a stack of foam floor mats that she no longer used, and within minutes I watched in amazement as a man lifted them triumphantly from the dumpster and made off with them. All I could think was, “How does he know they aren’t carrying bugs?” Or perhaps he doesn’t care.

eeeuw
eeeuw

The information sheet from the rental agency explained oh so tactfully that tenants may have unwittingly brought the bugs in on items from garage sales—or dumpster picking. It’s acknowledged as a fact of life. We have regulars at my condo. One fellow cycles along the river trails that snake behind a series of apartment and condominium complexes, armed with a long pole that he uses to poke through the contents of the bins in our parking lot. Clearly he’s a pro.

My city has even come up with a genteel form of dumpster diving known as “Giveaway Weekend” when the city encourages us to leave unwanted but re-usable items on the curb with a sign labelling them as “free” for anyone to pick up. Savvy Giveaway Weekend “shoppers” know to be out early Saturday morning with trucks and vans to score the really good stuff. My sister managed to unload a refrigerator this way. I have a fantastic big umbrella plant that I picked up curbside a few years ago. But my best “Giveaway” score was the little wooden desk that I picked up from a neighbour, polished up and used for three years, and then sold for $25 (how’s that for return on investment?!)

Unfortunately, as much of a bargain hound as I am, the spectre of bedbugs means that there are lots of items I would never dare pick up or even buy secondhand unless I knew everything there was to know about its history.

But clearly not everyone is quite so discriminating.

It’s complicated, though. I am fully aware that if I absolutely needed to replace my bed or sofa tomorrow I would have the resources to do so without scrounging one of questionable provenance. I am equally aware that for the fellow who looked so delighted to claim my daughter’s castoffs, those scruffy cat-scratched floor mats may well be his bed now. I feel uncomfortable criticizing anyone who needs to depend on other people’s garbage for their essentials.

On the other hand, my daughter has been displaced from her home because someone in her building failed to pay attention to our fair city’s well-publicized bedbug precautions. It’s true that she and her pets have a safe and welcoming place to crash for a few days, but— as she asked me mid-cleanup yesterday—what happens to the tenants who don’t have anywhere else to go?

And this is why I find the whole thing so complex. A whole building full of tenants has had their lives disrupted because someone didn’t know better. Or didn’t care. Or didn’t have a choice?

Whatever the story is, and we will never know, the fact is that none of us exists without affecting other people, whether we know we are doing it or not. And it’s sometimes difficult to know when the thing you are doing because you feel the need to do it is negatively impacting your neighbour.

garden signAt least whoever brought in the bedbugs in the first place is being equally inconvenienced. It’s another story over in the community garden near my home, where signs have been posted that clearly instruct the gardeners to have their plots cleared by October 4th for tilling. Today, three days after the deadline, there are several sections that have not been cleared. Corn stalks stand defiantly behind the signposts bearing the clean-up instructions, and in some sections there are mountainous tangles of cucumber and squash vines.

Someone is going to be inconvenienced by this failure to follow the rules, but in this case it is likely not going to be the ones who wouldn’t clean up their plot on time. (Or couldn’t—because part of me always wants to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe something terrible and unforeseen prevented them from getting to the garden last week…)

But now I’m just making excuses for them. The truth is that if you are the one stuck cleaning up someone else’s mess it’s just as much work whether they wouldn’t or couldn’t—whether they didn’t know or didn’t care.

It’s a good reminder that as long as I am blessed to have choices, I hope I make the choices that touch my neighbours’ lives as positively as possible —my global neighbours as well as my nearby ones. While I’m cleaning up other people’s junk, I need to reflect on where I’m depositing my own junk. And who is getting stuck with cleaning it up.

It’s complicated.

Invasion

We are under siege.

I should have been more vigilant when I glimpsed the first of the reconnaissance scouts, but they seemed so harmless—just innocent visitors passing through. Or so I let myself believe. But before I knew it there was another, and then another, until finally there was no more denying it. This is war.

I have tried to fight. I clearly have the size advantage, but they are cagy. When I grab for them they slip through my fingers. I try to hit them, but they dodge my swing at the last minute and leave me bruising my fingers on the wall. I cannot find a weapon that is consistently effective.

There is no getting away from them. They perch atop the cupboards and mock me. They lurk in corners, behind the pot rack, beside the toaster. They creep inside the cupboards and jump out at me when I reach for a coffee cup or cereal bowl. I have actually caught the hardier ones lurking in the fridge. And they are growing bolder. They even dance around me when I sit to eat.

My daughter searches the internet for advice and comes across a host of suggestions for humanely removing the invaders. But I am in no mood for catch-and-release. I am out for blood, or whatever passes for blood in their alien bodies.

We try building a trap—our research having revealed the secret substance with claims of luring my attackers to their demise.

But they are smarter than they look. They communicate at a pitch I cannot hear, in a language I cannot understand; but they are clearly communicating. Their behaviour suggests their conversation is along these lines:

“Mmm. Something smells good over there.”

“Hold off—Ed went to check it out a while ago and he hasn’t returned yet.”

“I’m going in.”

“Fine, but exercise extreme caution.”

“There he is. Ed. Ed? ED, are you OK? Oh man it looks like he’s down. Sound an alert! Make sure everyone steers clear of that thing!”

And so they tease me by skirting the edges of the trap—by hovering just close enough that I can stare them down, but careful not to get too close to the real danger.

I am at my wits end. I am outnumbered, I don’t even know by how many, because they maintain a uniform appearance that makes them difficult to distinguish from one another. I can’t even tell which is their leader, so how can I know to whom I might surrender?

 

How do you get rid of fruit flies?

The killing fields. Note the fly perched on the edge of the saucer at the 11 o'clock position. If you listen closely you can hear it saying "nyah nyah!"
The killing fields. Note the fly perched on the edge of the saucer at the 11 o’clock position. If you listen closely you can hear it saying “nyah nyah!”

Crashing

Midmorning on my youngest daughter’s first day of Kindergarten, my office phone rang.

“Mrs. B? This is the Busing Supervisor from the school division transportation office. I’m just phoning to advise you that there was an accident involving your daughter’s bus this morning.”

Long pause. Way too long, although it was probably only a millisecond.

“No one was hurt.”

OK where did this dude learn his phone etiquette? Didn’t he understand that this call should have STARTED with the words “Everyone is fine…?”

Once I managed to dislodge my heart from the back of my throat, I was able to ascertain that the accident had been minor. A compact car had grazed the side of the bus and damaged the safety arm that swings out when the bus is loading. The tiny bus passengers were barely jiggled, but they had a front row seat for the entertainment when the police car arrived. When I picked my daughter up from daycare later that afternoon I asked her how her first day of school had gone. She reported gleefully that the highlight of the day had been when the bus “crashed!”

I’m not a huge worrier. My teenagers have been known to describe me as a “pretty chill mom.” I believe in teaching my children to be independent. To take calculated risks. To live in the world without my constant protection. But there are times when I can’t help playing out in my head how I would react if I got the call.

That call.  The call that every parent dreads, but no parent can truly imagine. The call that shatters the universe.

The call that surpasses in one crashing moment all the awfulness of being a parent. Worse than standing over the crib worrying that she will stop breathing in the night. Worse than waiting for the fever to break or the bone to set. Worse than letting her cross the street on her own the first time. Worse than handing her the car keys for the first time. Worse than waiting up to the wee hours of the night in case you have to be an impromptu designated driver.

My sister’s dear friend got that call today, in a bedroom community just outside of Edmonton. She was not told that everyone is fine. Things will not be fine for her family for a long, long time.

Hug your kids tonight.

Keeping track

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my relationship to tracking, in the sense of “keeping track” of details of my daily activities. This reflection is due in large part to the inspiration of an eloquently written and thought-provoking blog called The Unquantified Self. You should read it.

I’m not a big numbers person myself, which helps explain why the unexpected opportunity to swap long division for a drawing lesson stuck in my memory for more than 4 decades. Consequently, I’m not very motivated to keep track of anything that requires a lot of counting.

As a manager, I drive my financial officers crazy. One made it his practice to stop by my office regularly, sit down across from me with a notepad, and smile sweetly as he asked, “What have we spent this week that you haven’t told me about?”

I had a pedometer but I gave it away. Last week I was inspired by Automattic’s Worldwide WP 5k 2013  to venture onto one of those sites that enables you to record your walking route. I wanted to figure out how far I was actually walking a bit more precisely than “I think I was gone for about forty minutes.” It was an interesting exercise, albeit a frustrating one–at least until I figured out that it would indeed allow me to record that I cut through the parking lot and across the field. But it was just an exercise. I can’t imagine actually sitting down and recording the statistical details of my walks on a regular basis.

I can’t remember the last time I owned a bathroom scale. I had to fill out a form earlier today that asked for my current weight. I guessed. I haven’t a clue, really, but I know my jeans fit looser since I started walking every day.

My favourite recipes are the ones that are so simple I don’t even need to refer to the recipe any more— and I can eyeball most of the quantities.

I’m supposed to do 30 reps of each of my hip therapy exercises. It’s apt to turn into 30ish, because my mind so easily gets distracted by other thoughts and then I suddenly realize I’ve lost count.

All my favourite numbers end with “ish.”

My aversion to tracking isn’t just about numbers, because I’m equally undisciplined when it comes to tracking things in words. I have kept a journal at various points in my life, but it’s not something I can sustain on a daily basis for any great length of time. When I embarked on this blog, I promised myself that I would not attempt the folly of committing to posting according to any sort of schedule. You might hear from me daily for a while. And you might hear from me 2 or 3 times in a month when life is particularly crazy. And that’s just how it is.

trackI am more interested in experiencing life than I am compelled to record every passing detail. I’d rather make tracks than keep track. I sometimes wish I was better at keeping track of details. I do have a great deal of respect for people who have the self-discipline to track their activities consistently, but that will never be me.  I also know that for some there is a dark side to tracking, where the tracking takes over and becomes the activity.

But as I thought through what I wanted to say about tracking, it came to me that there are a couple of things I do track pretty meticulously. I am fanatical about writing things on calendars. (This comes, I suppose, from having double booked myself on more than one occasion. The worst example was the time that I made arrangements to personally host both a work-related event and a bridal shower on the same night.) I am also pretty obsessive about tracking my personal finances (although much of the time it feels like I am just doing this in order to wave goodbye to the dollars as they fly out of my account!) I have one of those accounting programs where you enter all your income and expenditures. And I do enter them. And categorize them. But my favourite part is that I can actually enter the regular items in advance, so I use it not just to determine how much I have, but to project what, in theory,  I ought to have after, say, the next three paydays.

It strikes me that, in both cases, I am recording not the past but the future. I don’t know if it’s correct to even call it “tracking” when it hasn’t happened yet, but I see it as keeping track of my resources of time and money. Because those resources make it possible to do the things I want to do.

And I have no trouble keeping track of what I want to do.

Time clutter

The epiphany happened a couple of years ago in the express checkout line. I stood there with my basket of bananas or toothpaste or whatever other emergency item had prompted that particular grocery dash, and I stared long and hard at the magazine in my hand. It came to me that, if I wanted to reduce the clutter in my life, perhaps a good starting place was to quit buying magazines that promised me “10 easy tips for reducing clutter.” And while I was at it, a corollary might be to start managing my money better by refusing to buy magazines that promised me “10 easy tips for managing my money.” I put the magazine back.

That wasn’t the first epiphany, nor will it be the last. My path to living a simpler life has been slow and winding, full of backtracks and unnecessary diversions. But the one thing that has been consistent is that the more I simplify my existence, the more I want of less. I also discovered along the way that the process of reducing the clutter in my life and the process of managing my money better were in fact one and the same.

Stuff takes up space. Space costs money. It’s a fairly simple equation. By the time I sold my townhouse and moved into a smaller space, I was paying for the privilege of owning an entire basement room that was serving only one purpose: to contain stuff. It was surprisingly easy to part with a great deal of that stuff. The hard part was wading through it all to pick out the handful of items that I really needed to keep. Or thought I needed, because an interesting thing happened when I started unpacking it all in my new space. I discovered that even some of those things I thought I needed no longer had the same hold on me.

The funny thing about having less stuff is that I enjoy the stuff I have more than I did when it was hidden by a mountain of less important stuff. Now that I have less space to keep stuff, I think harder before I acquire new stuff. Part of the decision process is always “where will I keep it?” Sometimes that means “what can I get rid of to make room for it?”

Which brings me to the next big frontier in simplifying my life: de-cluttering my time. Certainly getting the physical clutter under control helps. If you only have what you need and everything has a space, you don’t waste nearly so much time hunting for things. But time clutter is a challenge for me because I am distracted by ideas. I have a tendency to go after what a friend calls “the shiny thing in the corner” when I am supposed to be concentrating on some other task. I check my Facebook page and before I know it I have spent an hour chasing links, some of which are gold mines, but many of which are of dubious value. What I really want to fill my time with is more writing—more personal creativity. So the same way that, if I want to squeeze a new jacket into my closet, that tatty sweater I haven’t worn in a year has got to go, I need to give up something to make room for something else. This blog is “something else.” At the moment the thing I have “given up” to make room for it is my day job—I’m on a temporary leave of absence. It is going to take some well thought out time de-cluttering to sustain it once my leave ends. Creating the blog is challenge to myself—a commitment to de-cluttering my time as ruthlessly as I have de-cluttered my closet and my bookshelves.

And if my blog lacks the polish and pizazz of other blogs you’ve read, chalk it up to my resistance to spending too much time and money on “10 easy tips to creating the perfect blog.”