Self-Portrait and Mountains

Many moons ago, I won an award for my artistic talents and was immediately counselled to drop the art program. That same year, I wrote my first novel, and after it was graded, I burnt it. I wasn’t meant to be creative, I decided, and obediently signed up for advanced math and other academic subjects.

For decades following, I admired the creativity of others and bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. Now that I have put that nonsense behind me, and reconnected with that younger self, I am revelling in exploration.

And, still rolling in the mire of self-doubt.

I am very conscientious of the fact that I have not been a student of art – that I wouldn’t recognize a Gaugin from a Renoir without some prodding. I don’t know the technical terms and when I read artists’ blogs, I am often lost. Does this make me an imposter? I wonder.

Still, I plod along – my work station a permanent corner of our abode (we dine on our laps) – each day daring myself to try something new. Thus the self-portrait.

Mostly, I am focusing on sketching, and liking where the extensive pencil work is taking me. This mountain scene is inspired by the large rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park. Less focused on realism, I find I am more liberal with the watercolours.

Each new venture is a learning.

Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. Comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.


Baseline Wrap-Up

Before illness, I loved to play tennis.  Although never the fastest player on the court, I appreciated the fact that tennis is also a game of strategy.  My strategy was often to aim for the baseline, a shot that almost always caught my opponent off guard.  Of course, missed shots were most often out-of-bounds.

This past week has called into question the standards and guidelines by which we govern ourselves.  Even though I don’t live in the U.S., what happens there is a reflection of universal imbalance – corrupt politics, arguments that serve power over the good of the public, and a reliance on an old baseline.

In tennis, the rules are clear.  The baseline doesn’t shift.  It is apparent, in light of the current upheaval, that societies need to review and re-evaluate their accepted practices.  So much of what is happening is definitely out-of-bounds, and partially due to a lack of clear-cut boundaries.

Okay, enough about that.  Thank you again to Proscenium for the prompt suggestion.  Other contributors include:  Olga from Stuff and what if…, The Bee Writes, and Sgeoil.  Thank you all for your thoughts, and here’s hoping a calmer, more sane week lies ahead.

See you tomorrow for a new challenge.

V.J.

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When Turning Off the News Is Not Enough

“I am glad that Bill Cosby got jail time,” I state, seated across from my husband at lunch.  “I hope justice doesn’t stop there.”

My husband shifts uncomfortably in his chair.  He thought that Cosby should have house arrest.  He doesn’t say it now – he’s too sensitive for that – but he has said it before, when I wasn’t feeling so volatile.

I’ve just been to see my psychologist, and the topic of conversation has been the rage that I have been feeling over this recent fiasco in the States.

“Many women are feeling it,” she says.  “It felt like we came so far, and now we’re pulled back under.”

“I don’t know how we change it,” I carry on as Ric focuses on his food.  “As long we live in a patriarchal society, seems women are devalued.”

“Patriarchal?  How is our society patriarchal?  Women hold positions of power too.”

I understand then that he is taking this personally.

“Honey, this is not about women vs men.  This is about a culture that oppresses and has done for centuries.  The ‘old boys club’ mentality that overlooks crimes against humanity in favour of power.  Religious teachings that denigrate and incite hate – not just towards women.  Hell, there are women on the Senate who are turning their backs against the abuse and voting to support the likes of Kavanaugh.”

I am too emotional to make a clear argument right now, and he knows it, so we let it drop.

“Maybe it’s better if we just don’t watch the news for a bit.”

Even that suggestion makes me mad, although I know he’s probably right.  I have no control over what is happening.

“It’s the powerlessness that fans the rage,” my therapist had said.  “There is healthy rage – that which promotes change – and then there is destructive rage.  Protect yourself in these times.”

So much of what is tolerated in society in based on unwritten laws.  On a crowded sidewalk, we move to the right.  In a bottleneck, cars from incoming lanes alternate.
When someone falls, we stop to make sure they are alright.  We are conditioned to be polite, so; when the situation crosses into lines that make us uncomfortable, we walk away.

I think it’s time to raise the bar.   We live in an age of information and the potential for enlightenment is riper than it has ever been.  Let’s set a higher standard for ourselves, people.

I am inspired today by the writings of Scarlet Virago, whose blog post, Lava, addresses the rage I have been feeling.  Please give her a read and a like.

We have a lot to talk about.  Love to hear your thoughts.

(I’ve added my poem:  Meaningful Toil to this post as I think it fits.)

 

 

“Before We Were Yours”: A Review

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate introduces the shameful story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an organization run by Georgia Tann, a woman who made money by abducting poor children from their homes and selling them into adoption.

Wingate’s novel imagines what life would be like for siblings taken from their homes and forced into Tann’s human trafficking scheme.  It asks the question: should the past stay in the past, or is there value in revealing truths?

The story unfolds through the perspective of two women:  one an up and coming lawyer and politician, and the other an elderly woman in a nursing home.  The women’s chance meeting, provokes the younger, Avery, to investigate the connection between May and Avery’s grandmother.

Wingate weaves an intriguing tale, and the audio version is equally entertaining.

While the historical context is fascinating, and tragic, I struggled with the characters, who seem too good to be real, however; this is fiction, and when the story unwinds to the benefit of all, I guess this is what readers suspect.

That said, I am glad I listened to this book, as I now have awareness of a topic that I feel deserves further attention.  Disregard for human life continues to be a problem.  Here is literature highlighting the atrocity.

Coincidence?

One of my favourite podcasts is The Moth where people share real life stories based on a theme.  An episode I listened to recently focused on coincidence.

According to Oxford Dictionary (online edition) the definition of coincidence is:  a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.

This particular podcast includes stories replayed from an earlier date, all centered around incidents of eerie similarity.  Several times throughout the podcast, the host opined that coincidence seems to occur mostly during adolescence.  Wait… what?

I am fairly sure that I have experienced a fair number of coincidences, even up to recently, and I am well past teenage years.  Could what she is saying imply that I am emotionally or psychologically immature?

Psychology Today, in the article The Power of Coincidence, writes:  “To the mystically inclined…coincidence is a synchronicity, the purposeful occurrence of two seemingly unrelated events.”

This resonates with me.  As a long time student of Therapeutic Touch, I remember one of the co-founders, Delores Krieger stating that synchronicity is the Universe’s way of letting us know we are on the right track. I admit, I’ve always found that idea comforting.

When we moved up to the RV park we are currently parked in for the summer, we met a recent widow whose husband had died the year prior – at the time my husband was recovering from triple bypass surgery.  In further conversation, we found out that both of our husbands had the same kind of cancer:  Stage III prostrate, the aggressive strain.  They both went through the same treatment, but whereas my husband remains cancer free, her husband was not so fortunate.  Then we compared ages and discovered that not only were we the same age, both husbands were born in January and we wives in July.

th-3The coincidence was enough to jar me into recognizing how lucky we are, Ric and I.  This woman, who hails from a different place, and whom we may have never met under different circumstances, embodies all the fears I have encountered over the years since Ric’s diagnosis.  She is a living reminder that life is resilient, and that even though loss and sorrow are certainties, so are tomorrows.  In this instance, I might argue that synchronicity is at play.

Besides, the similarities in our stories have opened the door to a new friendship, so that in itself is something.

In his article, “Chasing Coincidences”,  statistics guru, Amir D Aczel talks about probabilities and sample spaces, trying to mathematically solve the riddle of coincidence.  In the end he too, realizes that “startling coincidences in everyday life may well remain a mystery.”

I like the concept of “mystery”.  To me it is the acknowledgment that life is not entirely ‘knowable’: that there is more possibility that exists outside the realm of human understanding.  It is reassuring, somehow.

I don’t think that sounds adolescent, do you?

I’d love it if you’d weigh in on your perspective.  Tell me about your coincidences, and let me know what you think.

We Are Called

My husband is googling “The Declaration of Independence”.

I am just trying to breathe: a tempest of emotions, thoughts, and fears attacking rationality.

I try to think back to another time when I felt such terror…to reassure myself that this will all pass…but I think about my son who recently converted to Muslim for the love of a woman, and her family (Canadian citizens) whose origins trace back to Somali…my kin now.  Will the hatred being propagated next door, spill over to them, to my future grandchildren?

Prejudice is ever-present; I get that.  I learned it from my father, who would come home after a long day of selling cars to rail against “those” people:  who I won’t list here, but who also included Rambler drivers.  Rambler drivers were the worst, according to Father. Once he didn’t speak to me for a whole week, just because I dated a man whose mother tongue was not English.

“Prejudice,” I learned in the eleventh grade, “is based in ignorance.  We fear what we don’t understand.”

It was a revolutionary moment for me: the realization that knowledge and investigation could transform hatred.  I felt relieved to know to that I was not called upon to take sides with one people against another, and, in fact, had the opportunity to grow through exploring differences.  My world opened up.

As did my recognition of the enormity of work that needed to be done to eradicate ignorance – within my family, my community, and beyond.

Discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender, social standing, ability, religion, age, or anything else is not acceptable, and we are all called to be warriors in the fight for rights.

The words are there in The Declaration of Independence, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and so on.

It remains to us to act upon such wisdom.

 

 

Churry

Cognitive functioning is currently down a notch.  (I know I’ve complained of this before, but bear with me – I think it merits understanding.)easy-lentil-curry-3-560x840

I found a recipe for Easy Lentil Curry on the blog:  Simple VeganSince I love curries and lentils, I decided “easy” must mean it is doable even for me.  Part of ME/CFS is a compromised working memory and executive functioning, two terms I had been very familiar with prior to becoming ill, in my role as Special Education teacher.  Knowing what I do about learning disabilities, I applied the same steps I would recommend to students.

  1.  Scan the material.    Before I committed to the recipe, I scanned the document for amount of effort required, such as chopping, since this is physically difficult for me.
    When I determined that it appeared to be within my range of capability, I scanned for ingredients.  One thing stood out:  chili was called for, and I knew I was out.  I sent my husband on a mission.
  2. Ready resources.  I gathered all the required ingredients and set them out on the counter, along with measuring devices and cooking utensils.  By now, I had the requisite chili.
  3. Read the recipe.  Before tackling the cooking, I made sure to read through the recipe start to finish.  Knowing how my mind works (or more appropriately, doesn’t work), I read the recipe over several times for a period of three or four days before actually tackling it.

Go time!  I picked a day when I had no other plans, and felt fairly well rested.  Before started I perused the recipe again and noted that the author suggested soaking the rice and lentils ahead of time.  I couldn’t remember having read this part before, but decided to follow instructions, so; I measured out a cup of each and put them in a colander to soak, while I chopped the onion and garlic.

Working memory is the part of the brain that holds information received and carries it through to application.  This part is always a little tricky for me.  To minimize failure I try to read one step at a time.  The first step read:

Cook the rice and lentils according to package directions.

(Inject stunned silence here.) th-2-1

I had just mixed the rice and lentils to soak.

I checked the packages.  They both needed different cooking times.

Frustrating, yes, but I wasn’t about to give up.  I’d been dreaming about this dish for days.

I tossed the first batch, measured out more, and prepared as per directions, deciding to walk away and have a rest while they cooked.

Determined, I started again, chopping the onion and garlic, and opting to add ground ginger, as two vegetable preps are my limit.

I added one ingredient at a time, referencing back to amounts indicated to ensure I didn’t miss anything.  Each item used I moved to a different part of the counter to indicate my progress.  A teaspoon of this, two teaspoons of that and that and that, and voila, my curry was complete…

Except that the curry spice sat alone on the counter, unused.

What?  How had I missed that?

I read back over the recipe.  It clearly stated two teaspoons of curry powder.  Two teaspoons cumin, two teaspoons turmeric, and two teaspoons curry.  And chili, right?

No chili.

Somehow, every time I read curry, my mind substituted chili.  I’d even sent my husband out to fetch some.  WTF?

I wanted to cry.

Instead, I added the curry and let it simmer.  What else was there to do?

This is how the learning disabled mind operates:  it will lock onto a concept – correct or incorrect – and not let it go.  From the very first time I scanned the recipe and mistook curry for chili, my mind inserted chili into the ingredients list.  If I had not made a visual checklist for myself by lining up the ingredients before hand, I would never have discovered my mistake; I was that certain of myself.

In cooking, such mistakes are maddening, but not devastating.  Instead of lentil curry, I’d made lentil churry; it was still edible.th-1

Imagine though, how debasing it must be for students whose minds, like mine, just don’t process information at the same pace, or in the same way, as the rest of the class.  Ever since I’ve contracted this disease, I think of those students.  I think of how, if I had to pass a test by completing this recipe, I’d be screwed.  I’d done everything right:  scanned the material up front, gathered all the necessary resources, and studied before application time came around.  Still I failed.

Educators put measures in place to help support special needs students, but is it enough?

As I bungle through each day, fighting with my own mental issues, I have to wonder.

How To Sabotage Happiness

“I get hit on everyday at work,” a young mother recently disclosed.  “Anyone of those men would be happy to look after me. My husband just doesn’t appreciate me enough!”

I don’t know what has motivated this woman to make such a comment, but I fear she is on the brink of destroying many lives.

“There are four dragons to look out for in life,” a wise teacher once told me: ” Wish fulfillment, impulse, fantasy, and exaggeration.”

Unfortunately, the acronym for these self-saboteurs is W.I.F.E – not intentional, I’m sure.th-1

Wish fulfillment is that vague but nagging desire that suggests something is lacking.  In the case of the young mother, the wish that her marriage be something other than it is.  In reality, I know few young couples with children under two who are feeling the romance.  It is decidedly a busy and challenging time, and if she wasn’t so self-focused, she might be thankful that she has a partner willing to share much of the responsiblity (as I happen to know she does).

Personally, I know the W dragon is at work in my life when I dream of unrequited life. “If only…” the poison whispers, “than maybe I’d be…”   Wishful thinking undermines current potential, and tends to put the blame for unhappiness on an outside source.  Happiness ultimately stems from an internal commitment to make life work.th-4

Impulse is discomfort’s best friend and happiness’ arch-enemy.  Jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, I believe the old adage goes.  There are times to be decisive, such as leaving an abusive relationship, and times to proceed with caution.  For the young mother, now might be a good time to seek counselling with her spouse.

Of course, I have been the queen of impulse – living life as if it’s an extreme sport, leaping far too often – so I know all too well how this frenetic activity does not lead to happiness.  It does, however; qualify one for victim of the year award:  “Look at all the awful and unfair things that have happened to me in my life, boo hoo.”

th-5Only fantasy would make her believe that a flirting male would ever want to take her on post-divorce with two wee children.  Office winks seldom translate to lifelong commitment.  I made that mistake once – after months of being sweet talked by the UPS man, I decided to give it a go, and suggested he take me on a date.  The poor man was devastated.

“What makes you think I’m available?” he sputtered.  “I have a live-in girlfriend.”

Ahh, the F dragon.

Exaggeration looks like this:  “My husband doesn’t pay attention to me.”

Apart from the fact that he works full-time in a steady job while she has pursued many careers at much expense, and that he stays home with the kids three nights a week so she can do yoga, or painting with wine, or whatever else it is that takes priority over her family.th-6

I know I sound angry here, but I have been on the other end of the E dragon – my ex wrote a 200 page affidavit stating how inattentive to him I was throughout our 17 years of marriage.  WTF?  I bore him three children, set him up in business, did his books, and made sure he had time to pursue his heart’s passion.  Even the judge in the divorce trial knew it was exaggeration and said so.

Life will present difficulties all along the way – that’s a given.  Happiness – different from instant gratification – comes from the willingness to meet challenges head on, with honesty, compassion and a willingness to be an integral part of the solution.

Wishing away the problems, jumping at passing trains, fantasizing about baseless options, and exaggerating the situation will only ever fuel the flames of regret and bitterness.

th-7

 

Children As Mirrors

I am currently reviewing older posts on my original blog and thought this was worthy of reposting.

One Woman's Quest

When I think of my grandchildren – one now six months, and one on the way – my heart swells and tears fill my eyes; I love them so much.  I hope that I have extolled upon my daughters that children are a blessing to be cherished.

One thing I can tell them is that children will be their greatest teachers.  Honest, straightforward, and ever curious, children will tell it like it is, question inequities, and challenge everything.  Like little parrots, children repeat what they hear, and mimic gestures and behaviours.  They will also reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My moment of revelation about how intrinsically linked mothers and children are came when performing therapeutic touch on the mother of a boy with severe autism.  His constant spinning and screaming was a source of anxiety for the young mother seeking my help.  She had hoped I could…

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I Can Only Hope

I understand the need for political change – here in Canada it represented a landslide win for a young, politically inspired, English teacher with “great hair” as all the election attack ads reminded us in hopes of discrediting him.

I get that Hilary has a less than spectacular track record tainted by rumours of corruption. At least she has political experience and the know-how to work with the democratic system, but that has no relevance now.

What I don’t understand is how a nation can overlook the words and actions of a man who would be king, whose track record has consistently demonstrated self-serving tendencies, who is so far removed from the issues of everyday life, despite his rhetoric (he lives in golden splendour), and who came to power on the wings of hate.

I can only hope that this result, like a pimple that has festered under the surface, will explode, extracting its ugly venom, so that the my neighbouring country will be able to heal the core issues and rid itself of the poison within.