Campfire Stories: Childhood Arthritis

 

When I tell people that I was two years old when my arthritis was originally diagnosed, the reaction is usually shock. In this era of everything-we-want-to-know-at-our-fingertips, I am surprised by how many people still don’t realize that arthritis is a disease that can afflict all ages. In fact, according to the Arthritis Society Website  “it is estimated that as many as 24,000 Canadian children aged 18 and under live with a form of arthritis.”

Yesterday I attended a fundraising luncheon hosted by the Manitoba chapter of the Arthritis Society. The goal of the luncheon was to raise funds for Childhood Arthritis Camp—an initiative that has been around in other parts of the country for a while and, thanks to the generosity of many donors, will be happening in this region for the first time this July.

One of the features of the luncheon was the opportunity to meet a group of young ambassadors—kids living with Childhood Arthritis—who openly and articulately share their stories to offer a glimpse into the impact of this disease on their lives. These are kids who are dealing with daily pain, mobility challenges, physiotherapy, fatigue, and some pretty heavy-duty drugs. I know what they are living, because I’ve lived it. But they are also kids who play hockey and basketball, who take dance lessons and gym class, and who are really excited about going to camp with other kids who comprehend the unique challenges they face.

Fifty years ago, I would have given anything to know another child with arthritis. There was no Arthritis Camp in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was navigating school with an invisible disability that no one seemed to understand.

My primary school music teacher clearly did not understand how painful it was for me to sit cross-legged on the cold, tile floor for the duration of music period.

My elementary school teachers clearly did not understand how the practice of inviting students to “pick teams” for a gym activity can quickly become a form of teacher-sanctioned bullying.

My junior high gym teacher clearly did not understand that there were better ways to accommodate my limitations than relegating me to the bench.

To this day, I feel a residual discomfort in school gymnasiums, and I avoid any sort of team-based physical activity because I carry the deeply ingrained assumption that I will be a liability.

IMG-20140822-01026
A different camp, but with the same powerful potential for community. My own kid is in this huddle, not wanting to tear herself away.

I’m fortunate to have had five decades of good medical care, and no shortage of good friends. And I did go to camp. But I have never had a community in which I could look around and see my experience of living with childhood arthritis reflected back in the experiences of my peers. I envy these kids that, even more than I envy them the huge leaps in medical research and awareness that have occurred in the past 50+ years.

My parents didn’t have the benefit of that community either. Which is why I made a point of introducing myself to the mom of one young ambassador. Why I took the time to tell her that, just like her son, I was a toddler when I was diagnosed. And that here I was now— A successful professional. A parent. A happy and healthy adult with my arthritis well-managed and having minimal impact on my day-to-day existence.

One thing I’ve learned from living a story that others didn’t always understand is the importance of telling that story. And telling it again. And again.

Telling it, so the people who have never lived that story can grow to understand. And telling it so the ones who are living it will know that they are not alone.

 

Do you have a story that someone needs to hear?

 

For more information about Childhood Arthritis Camp, or to donate, click here.

 

 

 

Happiness is… not quite what I expected

happinessIf you are old enough you will likely remember this little book by Charles Shultz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip. This simple little book put the phrase “happiness is…” into daily vernacular decades ago.  It was first published in 1962, but since I was an infant at the time, my introduction to the book more likely correlates with its 1970 paperback release. The simple notions of happiness presented in the book by Shultz’s familiar characters would certainly have resonated with a nine-year old.

Or an eight-year old, like the one who threw me for a bit of a loop the other day when she asked me what was the happiest moment of my life.

Normally I would dodge a question like that. I tend to resist the whole notion of choosing a “best” of anything.  I have marvellous friends, but I would not be able to say so-and-so is my best friend. Favourite song? Changes by the minute. Favourite movie? I’ll give you a list. Favourite book? How much time do you have?

But in this instance it suddenly felt very important that I not only come up with an answer, but that it be the right answer. Because I was very conscious that this particular eight-year old was, at that particular moment, experiencing a colossal truck-load of very legitimate unhappiness.

Let me tell you, it’s not easy doing deep personal reflection while your questioner is staring up at you, unblinking, waiting breathlessly for your response.

The first thought that came to mind was the birth of my children. But that didn’t seem quite right because, for one thing, that’s automatically two moments. Furthermore, as soon as I thought about it for a few seconds I began to realize that there were a lot of moments in which  my children have brought me great happiness, and how could I say that the happiness I felt at the moment of their birth was greater than, say, the happiness I feel when they accomplish something wonderful or demonstrate their cleverness or their compassion? I couldn’t think of any source of happiness that I could narrow down to a specific point in time.

The closest I could come was the moment, nearly fifteen years ago, when I knew that I would be leaving the hospital and going home to my family. When I knew that we were finally beating the illness that nearly killed me. When I knew that the next family event would be my daughter’s second birthday and not, as we had all feared, my funeral.

But what surprised me, as I wrapped my mind around this memory and struggled to package it in an answer that would make sense to my young interrogator, was that the root source of that happiness was not about being glad I had survived. It wasn’t about me at all. When I tried to name the moment of my greatest happiness it wasn’t a moment at all, but rather a lifetime of moments, all of which revolved around the particular way my family has of rallying in a crisis.

The thing that makes me happiest, I tried to explain, is knowing that even though bad things will happen, I can always count on my family for support.  That no matter what the bad thing is — how big or how long or how monstrously scary — there are people I know I can always count on to drop everything and organize whatever help needs to be organized.

Happiness is knowing in the midst of the crisis that you are not alone.

Maybe it doesn’t feel like happiness at the time, but in hindsight it is the joy that comes of walking accompanied through the valley that stands out far more than the joy of celebrating on the mountain-top.

I’m not sure that was the answer she was looking for. It felt like the right answer.

 

Envirothon: “It’s a life thing”

I’ve just spent two hours driving down the Trans Canada highway with four 16-year-old girls. We were on our way home from a province-wide competition in which they (together with a fifth team-mate) placed third, and they spent much of the ride doing some intense debriefing. When they weren’t doing that they were, with equal intensity, already planning their strategy for next year’s competition. And then, as we drew closer to the outskirts of the city, this happened:

“Do you remember that really nice shelterbelt we saw on the way out of the city? I really want to see it again.”

“There?”

“Yes that’s it! Look at it! Isn’t it beautiful?”

Whereupon my carload of city-kids proceeded to enthuse over the characteristics of a well- planted, well-tended shelterbelt until we hit city limits. And all I could think was, “This. This is why I think Envirothon is just about the most amazing thing ever to hit high school.”

What is this is phenomenon that had my suburban crew chatting animatedly about the finer points of agricultural land-use practices? The Manitoba Forestry Association website explains:

For 17 years the Manitoba Forestry Association has offered the Manitoba Envirothon which has provided Manitoba’s high school students a unique and fun way to learn about the environment and current issues. Envirothon is a hands-on learning program which helps students develop important skills such as critical thinking, study skills and team work.

There are two components to the Envirothon competition, a field test and an orals competition. The trail test is a hands on activity, students apply their knowledge to answer questions in the field. The oral competition combines public speaking with the students’ learning experiences to develop and present a solution to a current environmental issue.

I  have twice been fortunate to be able to accompany my daughter’s team to the provincial competition and view first hand the tremendous talent that kids from across the province bring to this activity —  as well as the equally tremendous effort and dedication on the part of the team of organizers and volunteers who toil year-round developing curriculum, designing field tests, and planning multiple events in order to maximize the number of kids who are able to benefit from participation.envirothon

When I talk about my daughter’s experience with Envirothon, I get every bit as excited as my young passengers did about that lovely shelterbelt (which, even without their level of technical knowledge, I could appreciate was quite spectacular.) I’ve watched these kids grow, not only in their knowledge of how to responsibly manage the world they live in, but also in how to strive for a goal, care for your team-mates, and think on your feet. I have witnessed these young women learn together to approach their defeats with perspective and resolve, and their victories with humility and grace. It is, as one of the organizers reflects in this video, “a life thing.”

Your personal invitation to my 100th Blog Post Party!

When I first clicked “Publish” back in September I had no idea where this blog was going. It evolved, along with my newly restored ability to go for long walks, out of my time off work to recover from hip replacement surgery. My initial goals were to give myself an excuse to write more regularly, and to find an audience for my writing. The blog has been a success on both counts. While I haven’t been able to maintain the same pace since going back to work, I have managed to post at least once or twice a week even in my busiest times. I have been “Freshly Pressed” and managed to amass over 1000 followers– some of whom appear to be actual human beings, and a few of whom are actually interested in reading what I’ve written (as opposed to trying to entice me to buy their products or join their pyramid schemes… but hey, nobody said this was a perfect world.)

Yes, my daughter made this. From scratch. Did I mention her cakes were epic? The figures are made out of coloured chocolate. She even made the fondant. When I was 16 I hadn’t even heard of fondant.

Turns out, the best things about blogging are those actual human beings — both the ones who read and comment on my blog, and the ones whose writing engages and inspires me daily. So when I pondered how I could mark the milestone of my 100th blog post, it occurred to me that what I really wanted to do was to celebrate with those people whose blogs have been such an inspiration to me.

There are, however, some obvious logistical barriers. Most of my blogging friends live very far from me and from one another, and many of them blog anonymously. So as much as I would like to have my daughter whip up one of her epic cakes and have my blogging buddies over for a party, it’s not going be feasible.

Unless I make it a virtual party!

So, welcome to my 100th Blog Post Party. Break out the balloons, pour yourself a glass of your beverage of choice, and I’ll take you around the room and introduce you to the other guests.

There’s Matt from Must Be This Tall To Ride. Matt has just come through the toughest year of his life, but he has distilled an incredible amount of wisdom out of the pain of his divorce. I look forward daily to his insightful writing as he navigates his single life and the challenges of part-time parenting. And speaking of distilling tough life experiences into some amazing writing, I’d like you to meet Fish of Gold, Ziya Tamesis at A Day with Depression and Jess at The Fevered Pen.

I have become very fond of little Phillip through the stories and pictures his mom shares on That Cynking Feeling. Elizabeth at Living with Autism also blogs eloquently about her experiences parenting her autistic son, Dylan.

I’m impressed by those bloggers who can manage to produce interesting reading day in and day out, like Alienora Taylor at ALIEN AURA’S BLOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND! , Doobster at Mindful Digressions and Pat at Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss.

As a “woman of a certain age,” it has been a delight to share my midlife journey with the likes of Bulging Buttons, Elyse at FiftyFour and a Half, and Renee at Life in the Boomer Lane.

Some of you, like Tyler Pedersen at The Ancient Eavesdropper, make beautiful pictures.

Some of you make me think, like Ryan at Rumblings.

Some of you make me laugh, like Arden at Writing While Wining (Caturday!)

Lots of you make me laugh while you’re making me think.

I could go on.

Come to think of it, it’s just as well this is a virtual party. I don’t think I have enough dessert plates to invite everyone.

Welcome one and all. I’m glad to have you in my life. Let the partying begin!

party
I promise I won’t make you wear the hats. That’s a Christmas party thing in my world. But if you DO have a tissue paper hat kicking around and you WANT to wear it to my blog party, I won’t judge.

 

Postscript: Since I just posted this a few days ago, I’m going to cheat and link it up to today’s Daily Prompt.  Because it’s my party and I’ll cheat if I want to!

 

 

 

Enter, Chucky

Not all middle school classes are created equal. Teaching grade eight requires nerves of steel. Teaching grade eight Art requires the reflexes of a prima ballerina and the fortitude of a linebacker. And teaching mandatory grade eight Art to the big guys at the back table who are in grade eight for the third time takes a special kind of crazy.

And then throw in a chicken.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It was my first teaching job, and I was far from home— a city kid who found herself in a small town school. In a small town where my colleague, having lived and worked there for thirteen years, was still considered the “new guy.” So it was pretty much a given that I was going to be subjected to some sort of initiation ritual.

For that reason, I wasn’t really surprised when I came back from lunch one day to find a small “house,” cleverly constructed out of a cardboard box, sitting on the floor next to the table at the front of my art room. The little house had a cut-out “doorway” over which was mounted a construction paper sign sporting the word “Chucky.”  Sitting on the table was a construction paper booklet with pages cut out in the shape of a chicken–its craftsmanship clear evidence that the kindergarten teacher was in on the prank. The booklet was an instruction manual, with information about how to care for “Chucky.” On the chalk board at the front of the room, an anonymous hand had printed “Hi! I’m Chuck! I want to stay please.”

My initial response was: “Oh isn’t this cute. They’ve even gone to the length of tying one end of a piece of string to the table leg and sticking the other end through the doorway into the box so that I will think there’s actually a chicken in there. How amusing.”

Did I mention I was a city kid?

I don’t know what finally prompted me to crouch down and look, but when I did peer into the darkness, I discovered to my amazement that Chucky was real.

I may be a city kid, but I know a chicken when I see one.
I may be a city kid, but I know a chicken when I see one.

Now, mandatory grade eight Art is a classroom management challenge at the best of times. But mandatory grade eight Art right after lunch and with a live chicken strutting its stuff around the front of the room is… well…interesting!

It was a long and somewhat surreal afternoon. Fortunately the Art room came with an ample supply of old newspapers, because Chucky was most definitely not house-trained. As the afternoon wore on, I began to feel a little anxious about what I was supposed to do with Chucky when the school day ended. I mean he was cute and all, but was I supposed to take him home?

My fears were allayed shortly after the final bell as, one by one, the perpetrators appeared in my doorway to ask how my afternoon had gone. Chucky went home with his rightful owner–a high school science teacher with a hobby farm just outside of town. I got to keep the house, the instruction manual, and a handful of feathers that I still have, pressed into the pages of a photo album.

And the warm feeling that comes of being well and truly welcomed by one’s peers.

chucky (2)chucky

Who are you?

Well I’ll be. At some point last night whilst I lay sleeping, one of you clicked “Follow” and became number 500. When I started blogging a little over four months ago, my expectations lay somewhere on the continuum between “international fame” and “hopefully one or two people other than my mother will want to read this stuff.” OK perhaps a little closer to the latter. But seriously, if you had really pressed me for a prediction back in September, I don’t think I would have anticipated over 500 followers in just a few months.

I know I didn’t anticipate the flurry of attention that my blog garnered from being Fresh Pressed. I know I didn’t anticipate all the countries that would be represented by my readers. (Not quite “international fame,” but international nonetheless!) And I really didn’t anticipate that I would actually make a few friends out here on the interweb.

I’m kind of curious about the rest of you. I get that many of you only clicked “follow” because you have something to sell. If that’s you, then you should know that I’m going to be a disappointment; that’s not why I’m here. On the other hand, some of you are obviously here for the same reasons I’m here– to hone your writing, and to share that writing with an audience. In between there’s a whole gamut of blogs of all shapes and sizes. I’m especially curious about the number of bloggers who are writing in languages other than English but who have opted to follow my English-language blog.

Mostly I’m curious about what brought you here. What did you see in my writing that made you think it might be worth sticking around? What motivates you to follow a blog? Do you have a favourite post on my blog?

I really appreciate those of you who have taken the time to comment on what you have read here. Now I’d like to invite the rest of you to speak up (well, at least those of you who aren’t spam-bots!) and tell me something about who you are and why you’re here. Please say hi, either by leaving a comment here, or if you’d like, by going back to another post you liked and commenting there.

Who are you?

Ready or not

With this kind of help it's a wonder anything is ever ready.
With this kind of help it’s a wonder anything is ever ready.

Somewhere around the middle of December those awkward conversations that happen when one meets a casual acquaintance on the elevator start to stress me. I’m sure you know the conversations I’m taking about– the ones that normally revolve around the weather, and start with nice safe statements like “that was some wind yesterday” and “sure hope it warms up for the weekend.” I can manage a benign dialogue on these meteorological subjects for several floors without breaking a sweat. But I have come to realize that there is one elevator conversation-starter that I truly dread.

“Are you ready for Christmas?”

For some reason I feel like I am supposed to provide an actual answer to this question, rather than the usual meaningless elevator small talk. I think way too hard about my response, mentally kicking into overdrive as I silently review the status of my gift-shopping list and my pre-Christmas errand list and the to-do list on my desk of all the things I should really try to get done before I go on vacation. I generally blurt out a lame response like, “Almost.”

I wish I knew why I feel so pressured by this question. I know that the people asking it are just doing it to fill air space– that they don’t really care whether my gifts are all wrapped and my cookies all baked– that they aren’t really judging me on the basis of whether or not the tree is up and the lights hung.

Why then do I catch myself judging myself?

What does it really mean to be “ready” for Christmas? In the Anglican tradition in which I grew up, we spend four whole weeks of Advent getting ready for Christmas. Four weeks in which we light candles and reflect on the significance of the child whose birth we are celebrating. That is, if that is still what we are celebrating.

I admit to being one of those annoying people who starts Christmas shopping in August. I’m not a big fan of shopping in general, so If I can spread it out over a longer period it is less of a burden. Even so, I am almost always dashing out to pick up something at the last minute. This year in spite of carefully buying the various components of Christmas dinner for which I am responsible well ahead, I have still thought of one more thing I will have to go out and buy amidst the throngs of last-minute shoppers.

Even when I’m ready, I don’t feel ready.

I think it has something to do with the fact that the older I get, the more complicated Christmas gets for me– the more I understand that Christmas happens in spite of us. If you are sick or hurting, Christmas doesn’t wait until you feel better. If you are lonely or sad, Christmas doesn’t wait until you feel more like celebrating. Christmas doesn’t care if you are ready. It comes regardless. And, because we have imbued its coming with such significance, with such–dare I say it– baggage, its relentless determination to arrive on schedule despite our degree of readiness can make the things that weigh us down seem all the more weighty.

If you are grieving, the fact of Christmas  can make the grief harder to bear. If you are alone, Christmas can be even lonelier. When you are low, there is nothing like the expectation that we will all be “merry” to make you feel even lower.

You know the song “We need a little Christmas?” It’s a mall and radio station favourite, because it screams Christmas without anything suspiciously religious like shepherds and stars. But do you know where the song originates? It’s actually from the Broadway musical Mame. The song comes at the point in the plot where everything has gone about as wrong at it can go. Auntie Mame has lost her job, and lost her fortune in the stock market crash. If you listen carefully to the lyrics, they aren’t exactly merry:

I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older

 

Essentially the song is saying that we need a little Christmas to distract us from the fact that, at this precise moment in time, life sucks.

Since I started writing this post I have put the finishing touches on my 5-year old nephew’s made-to-order Darth Vader cape and reversible Indiana Jones vest. (Yes, I’m THAT aunt. Jealous?) I have wrapped my last gift. Aside from that one last grocery run, I am ready for Christmas.

And for me, at this point in time, life doesn’t entirely suck. But I know people– people I care about– for whom it does. And Christmas is coming whether they are ready for it or not.

That’s why I was delighted to come across a blogging  initiative called C4C– which stands for Company for Christmas. You can read all about it here. It’s being managed this year by a terrific blogger who goes by the handle Rarasaur, and the premise is that bloggers volunteer to spend some time online on Christmas day so that other bloggers who are alone on Christmas have a community to interact with. I continue be amazed at the kinds of connections that happen in the blogsphere. Just when I start to get the cynical feeling that 99% of the blogs following mine are either spammers or out to enlist me in some pyramid scheme, something like C4C comes along and restores my faith in humanity.

Because when it comes right down to it, being ready for Christmas doesn’t really have anything to do with how many tins of cookies are stacked on the kitchen counter, or how overdrawn your bank account is. Remember the Whos down in Whoville? Even after the Grinch stripped their homes of all the gifts and treats and trappings of Christmas, they were still ready. Ready to hold hands and be a community that celebrates together even when times are tough. Now I’m ready.

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…

The company you keep

teapotI found a new friend today. Or to be more accurate, I was given him as a gift, of sorts, from a mutual friend.

We were set up. Engineered, as it were, into meeting by our mutual friend. We both admitted to having been somewhat puzzled by our friend’s insistence that we should meet. And it was a puzzle– at first– until the pieces fell into place and we shared that “aha” moment when we each realized why our friend had set us up in the first place.

Lest you get the wrong idea, this was not another blind date situation like the one I wrote about in my previous post. Not a “date” of any kind. Just two people discovering over a pot of tea that their friend was right– they did indeed have a lot in common– and a lot to talk about.

A couple of days ago I went for lunch with a work colleague who I have known for a few years strictly in a “work” context. We had a wonderful conversation — not just about work, but about our lives, our kids, our health issues. We discovered that we have great deal more in common than our professional connection.

These two encounters have left me reflecting on how seldom I put myself into situations where I can make new friends.

I have good friends. Wonderful people, many of whom have been part of my life for three decades or more. Friends with whom I can laugh and cry and argue and play and have an honest heart-to-heart about the utter nonsense that is so much of my life. There’s nothing quite like an old friend for being able to hear today’s tale of woe in the context of your whole life story.

But the flip side is this: there’s nothing like a new friend for making you hear your own story in a new way.

It’s a bit like writing, for me. When I talk with someone who doesn’t know the “backstory” to my life, I shape the story differently than I would with someone who knows me well. I have to put the things I am saying more into context– to explain more. In the process, I invariably end up explaining some things to myself. I catch myself saying thoughts out loud that I wasn’t even fully aware that I was thinking.

The experience of figuring out my own mind by sharing it with others is one of the reasons I enjoy blogging. But now I think that perhaps I have let myself become too isolated in other ways. Perhaps I have been too comfortable with my beloved “old” friends to venture out and add some new ones. Perhaps I have lulled myself into thinking that at my age I don’t really need any new friends. Perhaps I have just allowed my innate introversion to be an excuse for sticking to safe spaces and old patterns.

That fear of falling I talked about in an earlier post is perhaps just one manifestation of a bigger fear of losing control. You can’t make a new friend unless you are willing to relinquish some degree of control. You need to be willing to ride the conversation and see where it takes you.

In the past few days I have been blessed with two very enriching conversational “rides.” I find myself looking forward to the next opportunity to have a conversation with both of these individuals. And I find myself wondering: who else is out there whose conversation I am missing?

And where should I go to find them?

Conflicted

Darn you Daily Prompt. Quit peering into the dark places of my psyche!  Today’s Prompt is, “You’re in the middle of a terrible argument, and everyone turns to you to help resolve it. How do you respond? How do you react to conflict?”

Badly. I react badly.

My first instinct is to want to run and hide. To escape the conflict entirely. To close my eyes and pretend it isn’t there. But eventually I can’t help peeking, and then it’s too late. I’m drawn in.

Or should I say the conflict is drawn into me.

Because my problem is that I’m apt to internalize whatever conflict is going on around me. You see, I’m really good at seeing both sides of an argument. According to every psychometric evaluation I have ever taken, this is a great trait to have– until you have to actually make a decision.

I find that long after the conflict has passed in the “outside world” I am still playing reruns in my head. Still trying to sort out where I stand on the matter. Still trying to determine if someone was actually right and someone wrong, or if it was one of those conflicts where everyone was a little bit of both.

Come to think of it, most of our day-to-day conflicts are like that, aren’t they? More fuzzy and grey than black and white. More a matter of differing perspectives than opposing absolutes. That’s not to say there aren’t situations where there is a clear right and wrong. But I would venture to suggest that those situations do not reflect the majority of conflicts.

We are all, most of the time, a bit right and a bit wrong. And it’s a whole lot harder to own up to the wrong than it is to trumpet the right.

But when I think of all the conflicts I have played and replayed in my head over the years, I can scarcely think of one that would have remained a conflict for long if both parties had stopped to consider that they themselves might be contributing to the wrong, and that their opponent might– just might be in possession of a tiny morsel of right.

Warriors. Courtesy of my 5-year old nephew and master Lego architect.
Warriors. Courtesy of my 5-year old nephew and master Lego architect.