Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Shifting focus (or, What If...)

Will we change our lives? What if we really meant it?

What if, instead of focusing on...

  • It would be very hard to do.
  • There are some things about it we wouldn't like.
  • What would we be giving up?
  • How could we get back this life if things didn't work out?
  • How do we hold onto this life and still get the benefits we want from the alternate life?
  • Would it be a big mistake?
  • We might not have enough money.
  • We might be throwing everything away on a pipe dream life.
  • It would be too hard.

...we decided to spend more time on:

  • It would be really interesting
  • There are many things about it we would cherish.
  • What would we be gaining?
  • I wonder what could happen next that we can't see from here?
  • What would we be removing that sucks our souls?
  • What could we learn and build on, even if it doesn't work out?
  • There are no mistakes, only choices, their outcomes, and what comes next. 
  • Less is in our control than we like to think, anyway.
  • What would it take to make it happen?
  • What concrete things could we do in the next year to get from here to there?
  • It would change everything. 

What if we shifted the focus of the dialogue from why shouldn't we, to questions like, what could it look like, why would we want to, how could we pull it off?

What. If.
(stay tuned...)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blue sky

Pouring through (December, 2010)

The night of the eclipse, the clouds closed ranks against me and blanketed the sky. If I had never seen a blue sky, or the stars at night, I might have thought that our world exists in isolation, nothing above us at all but a ceiling of greyish white. No eclipse for my eyes to witness. To me, it did not exist, except in dreams.

For days, the sky stayed that way. The whole time I was alone in my home, my family miles away. A oppressive, drop-ceiling of clouds. The entire journey to Toronto to catch a bus that was never meant for me - the world dull, the sun diffused. After two hours of standing in the freezing cold, after two hours of not knowing what would happen next, the bus pulled from the station. As I looked at the sky, the clouds began to move.

The world was still blanketed, but a crack appeared, moving fast. It revealed a moment of bright, bright blue. Blue sky.

The world looked grey. The sun, nowhere to be seen. And behind all of that, blue sky. Sunshine. Whether I could see it or not. The blue sky doesn´t disappear when the clouds hide it from my view.

Did I know that already? It seems like I need to learn again, and again, and again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Children, Dear God

Writing Out Loud to Clarify my Position on Religion, Which is Muddy at Best, Because my Kids Keep Asking Questions... (Sidestep from #reverb10. This is on my mind)

My children, I feel the need to speak but what can I tell you of God that makes any sense? For years I have scorned the very notion. And, largely, I still do. Any notion that you’re likely to hear of God, I do not accept.

In fact, I accept nothing. That there is order to the universe seems increasingly undeniable. The implications of this order extending as far as galaxies and as deep as our own living cells only recently began to dawn on us as a species. How arrogant to think we can even begin to comprehend meaning in this order. Religions are designed to control people’s behaviour towards particular ideologies, all of which are part of a universal truth we cannot possibly comprehend. To choose a religion is to deliberately narrow your field of study to achieve depth, not to find a truth that excludes that which contradicts it. To treat any religion as “true” helps no one. All religious and spiritual beliefs are just puzzle pieces, with most of the pieces missing or so tarnished as to be hardly recognizable. Deep understanding is critical, within the larger context.

On the other hand, the anti-religious. How perversely, falsely modest to think that our smallness in the scheme of things means that we don’t matter. How perversely, falsely proud to believe that this plane of reality is exclusive, our understanding of it largely complete. Even if we could accurately measure what we don’t know exists, it seems unlikely that the limited tools we call brains would be capable of comprehending the resulting data in any useful fashion. Instead, people would look for ways to exploit their limited understanding for personal gain at cost to others, as people have done with all understanding since the dawn of time. Given the economic drivers of research and development activities, and the almost total withdrawal of western society from active civic participation (or even paying attention and demanding accountability from their own investments), it seems unlikely that enough human endeavour is being put into finding out what we don’t already know, rather than using what we know to drive the economic engine we’ve created to greater and greater excess.

All this to say, if we don’t know about God, it’s arrogant to think that’s because there is no divinity. I’m not saying I think it’s likely that there is a single being sitting up above us, watching and judging and putting some of us in heaven and others in hell when we die, interfering in our lives at our behest through prayer, punishing us when we aren’t nice. Such a simple model makes no sense in light of the complexity we mistake for chaos. There is clearly order. If that order is driven by intelligence, I cannot possibly hope to understand it, through lack of data, lack of competence, and probably lack of physical capability in the brain.

So I’ve decided to withhold my judgment and hold no belief as wrong, though many beliefs are wrongly applied. Any information or data taken out of context, in too thin a slice, becomes ineffective at communicating its truth and can be easily misunderstood and misapplied. Most religious teachings come from much different times and contexts, and represent only the dominant aspects of thinking that managed to make it through biased translations of translations. So I respect those who choose a religious path for their diligence in pursuing spiritual depth, and I expect that they should respect that their discipline is just one of many, as History, English and Sociology co-exist in an Arts Department within a University within a Community and so on. We are all seeking the whole of knowledge in our ways, from where we are.

Accepting that a belief is part of the truth is not the same as accepting that the intolerant, oppressive or harmful implementations of that belief are acceptable. Every human life matters. I want every human to live secure of person - safe place to sleep, nutritious food to eat, shelter from the elements including adequate clothing, protection from animals and pests, clean water, the ability to be be clean and hygienic, participation in a community of people, protection from violence and coercion , love. Any beliefs that implement in ways that enhance the likelihood that every human can have these things, every day, I will support. Any beliefs that hinder a human's chances of having those things, I must question.

I find sifting through the sea of existing beliefs more difficult and far less interesting than thinking the problem through for myself, with some hints and help along the way that are largely driven by interest and chance. I try on ways of thinking, distilling that which fits what I know, that which challenges what I know. I feel the truth and I feel when it is distorted. Yet who am I to judge? Even my own judgement is suspect.

I am not seeking a belief system to settle into, I’m just seeking. That is my belief system – remaining in non-belief. I’m willing to hold possibilities open, as many as I can. I don’t accept the explanations that exist as they exist, scientific or religious. I feel I that I am divine in this body, no matter what I think, and no matter how unskilled I am at living my divinity. Seeking in that direction feels like a pull, it interests me, it adds wonder back into my life. Is it right? What is the metric?

Life is impossible. My very existence means that anything is possible. Thus, accepting nothing becomes accepting everything as part of the truth. With love, they are the same acceptance, the paradox that appears again and again. The same one.

(Okay, that's the best I can do at an explanation. Now, I just have to put it in language that preschoolers can understand. No problem.)

Musical accompaniment from Sarah McLachlan: Dear God

Monday, December 20, 2010

Longing for Hope (a ramble that starts with #reverb10 Day 20 prompt)

#Reverb10 December 20 – Beyond Avoidance 
What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Author: Jake Nickell)

Should is a difficult word for me. Now, could - could I can work with. What could I have done...

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. This line of thinking feels like a rat-hole of self-indulgent confession. 

But Avoidance. That's a prompt that's not to be passed by unattended.

What am I avoiding? Here's one: Letting go of longing.

Longing gets in the way of my presence, and, longing feeds my imagination. Like TV feeds the imagination of millions, setting up standards and comparisons they can use to judge life status, my longing gives me a quick fix peek into what could be better than this.

My longing is like an addiction. It seems to be attached to particular wishes, but if they come to fruition, the longing just finds another host. Several things I long for seem just enough out of reach that they are perpetually outside the bounds of what currently seems possible. When something I long for happens, it's no time at all before I treat those miracles as common place, just "what is." And long for something else.

I have avoided letting go of longing, in part because I feel like it keeps me going. Without it, I would need to say, this is what I am, this is where I am, and it's not what I expected or even what I thought I wanted. Yet it is a wonderful life. 

More than that, I think I'm afraid to let it go. Somewhere in me, I believe that longing keeps me from despair when things seem hard (impossible), sad (unbearable), dull (always the same), hard to understand (pointless). Longing says, it doesn't have to always be like this. If this thing or that happened, everything would be different! Better! 

Longing pretends to be Hope, and it does a pretty good impersonation. But if you look closely, the makeup is caked on. 

So here's my fear: what if I let go of longing, and there's nothing left of what I thought was hope? What then? Will I fall? Can I get back up from that, or does the fall alone take my breath from my body?

I'm hoping to wean myself off longing by building my muscles in curiosity, wonder, openness, attention, welcome, benefit-of-the-doubt/slack, compassion and love. To name a few. It takes practice to keep employing these when fear, anxiety, "what will they think" and "how will that impact me" take over. It's also hard to remember to change my thinking patterns before I spend too much time in the old ones. 

All that work will be for naught if I'm too afraid to let the longing go. I guess where I really need to spend my time in on hope.  It might help if I'm sure that I can even tell the difference between longing and hope, untangle that mess in my mind and heart.

2011, I'm ready. Let's make me hopeful. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

A friend indeed (#reverb10 Day 16)

December 16 – Friendship 
How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

Earlier this year, I got dishwasher powder in my eyes. I had just turned the lid on the powder compartment a bit too fast, and it was a bit too full - poof! A puff of powder blew up toward my face and, like they were magnets, coated my eyes. It may not sound like a big deal - I didn't take it seriously at first, either. But when 20 minutes of clearing with water found them still burning, a call to poison control confirmed that I would need to go to emergency. Did you know that dishwasher powder is basically sand and acid? Me either! 

We have two small children, and I clearly couldn't drive myself. We have no family in town. Right away, I knew the only person I was comfortable calling. My 3-doors-down neighbour, a woman I would be lucky to call a friend. 

Many times, she has reached out to me, and shyly, I've fumbled forward to accept her invitations, have meaningful conversations. But I rarely see her, and far less since my daughter was born. With work, kids, household, physical fitness and writing, I don't seem to find the time to invest in friendships. 

But this woman, my neighbour, she gives friendship for free. She doesn't wonder why I don't come more often, or take offense that I say I'd love to get together and then a month goes by. She is always happy to see me, always compassionate about my trials. She shares her own, openly. She takes joy in helping other people. She is someone who comes through, is there for you. For me. She has many reasons to be angry with the world, and she picks love anyway.

Twice now, I've been seriously hurt and needed to go to emergency. Twice it was her that I called. And she didn't blink.

My own family, they blink. It's not that they're not there for me, it's that they feel the imposition and I feel them feel it and that is intolerable to me. Even my very close friend, blinks. I know I often blink too. 

I will always come through for people in my life, but whether I feel it as "I must be there for this person because they need me" or "I am so glad that I can be here for this person" makes a big difference. I can choose. 

I have a lot of trouble asking for help, and any whiff of "must" on the part of the other person will cause me to back off the ask so fast that they couldn't help me if they wanted to. I abhor obligation. My neighbour is one of very few people in the world that I believe to be genuine in her happiness to help me when I need it, and her complete lack of associated expectations. She just expects me to graciously accept her help, and it's the least I can do.

She taught me that she exists, which is important for my hope. She taught me to graciously accept help graciously offered. She reminded me that I could try harder to be a friend, to be the kind of person that you don't mind asking for help because you know, just know, that I love to do it for you. That I am grateful for the chance to help.

She probably has no idea of her impact. I could tell her. I hope I do it soon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A year in a day (#reverb10, Day 15)

#Reverb10, Day 15, Prompt: 5 minutes. 
Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you mostwant to remember about 2010.

Tonight, my daughter and I danced together, and I felt lighter on my feet than I have in a long time. At first she watched me, as if afraid to let go and have fun only to have me walk away. My daughter sees me as walking away a lot, though I hope she eventually understands that perspective changes everything. After about twenty seconds, she decided to believe me and her face broke out in joy. We danced and twirled and laughed. Our eyes met and I saw how raw her love for me is. I softened my eyes to let them show her whatever she could see of my love. She started singing, "thank you thank you thank you love love love!" so I sang it with her. We collapsed to the ground and I wrapped her up in my arms on my lap, so small and portable, so warm and sweet. Her hair smelled like purity. Every cell in my being vibrated with love until I couldn't tell where she ended and I began, like the way we started together in one body. We sunk into each other and hugged for a minute; then, she jumped up. "Let's dance again, mommy!"

Tonight, my son and I laughed together. He was resisting tooth brushing by rote rather than actual aversion. I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of this nightly ritual we both dread, and caught his eye. He got the joke and his frown dissolved though he tried to keep a stoney face. I reached over and brushed his cheek with my hand. I lightly tickled his tummy and we giggled together. Our eyes met, and he intoned a few sounds - ah, enh, EEEEE, then stuck out his tongue, BLA! He was delighted when I repeated the tones back, complete with the BLA! His laugh surprised and thrilled him. We repeated back and forth for awhile, laughing between tones, our smiles taking up half our faces. Then, in a moment, my focus shifted. Suddenly and for only a second, I saw him as now, as an older child, as a teen, as a man, as an elder, as a force of energy, all at once! The shock of it pushed me backward. My laugh surprised us both, infecting him, and it felt like our joy in each other filled a void in the universe.

Tonight, my husband and I held each other. I stood my toes on his toes, our thighs and stomachs and chests pressed together, our faces buried in each others' necks, our arms holding tight. The rest of this memory I reserve for us.

Tonight, I moved with myself as one. I closed my eyes and played music arranged for someone I care about, sharing some of my love-space with that person and all those I think of when I'm in a state of love. I stretched and challenged my muscles, eased and massaged tensions, breathed my breath from my belly and felt the power I am building. I was, for several consecutive moments, calm, peaceful and certain. I held myself in a loving hug and relaxed into it, knowing that I am enough.

These memories are all I need to take, the culmination and representation of everything that mattered this year. They are infused into my being.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

11 for 2011 on day 11 (#reverb10)

#Reverb10, Day 11: 11 Things 
What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

Just 11? Here's my first thought stream of consciousness

1. food as comfort
2. procrastination
3. feeling sorry for myself
4. saying yes when I mean no
5. saying no to avoid thinking about it
6. worry
7. fear
8. guilt
9. weed control
10. the need for recognition
11. All the pairs of shoes I'm never going to wear again

As for how...well, that's more than today's post I'm afraid. How is my life work. Except the shoes and weed control. Weed control: cancelled. Shoes: donated. Done.

Hey, only 9 left!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Wise

December 10 – Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

Wisdom is one thing. A wise decision is another.

If this year had a goal, it may have been de-naiivifying myself as quickly as possible without permanently damaging my hold on hope. I made a meta-decision early in this process that has translated into daily micro-decisions to give myself some slack.

Two parts.
1) Some. As in not none, and not too much.
2) Slack, as in letting go of my embarrassment at how many stupid things come out of my mouth every day, my disgust at my slow progress on my goals, my disappointment in my relatively small ability to influence and contribute. Slack, as in saying, well, maybe you'll do better tomorrow knowing what you know from today. Slack, as in saying, you're making great progress, your speed is above average, just flow with it, chill out girlie. Giving myself the same compassion and appreciation I hand freely to others.

Oh, and swallowing it whole. That's the part that's mostly magician-work.

This is hard to do, but what's harder is getting into the habit of doing it. Reprogramming the brain is a very slow process. Lots of missteps.

Most days I'm putting myself out in the world more publicly than I'm comfortable with, and I feel less confident about how I'm received than I'd like. I soothe or battle my anxiety depending on the day, or walk quietly if it seems to be sleeping. I might have had to quit by now if it wasn't for deliberately taking the time to comfort and be kind with myself. I might have lost my grip.

I said to @AmyOscar this morning that most of my wisdom is in retrospect, and it's absolutely true. She said that makes it no less wise, and since she's a wise woman herself, I"ll take it. It points to something important. Whenever I try to be smart or knowledgeable, to take my wisdom and make it do something, it forsakes me. When that happens, what takes over, be it reason or emotion, knocks me just enough off course that recovery feels outside my power.

When I go in with nothing, feeling empty and useless, and let myself be in the problem, often the path clears itself for me. But not always, and the fear of public failure makes me loathe to trust it.

When will I get wise?

(the wise old owl sat in an oak. the more he heard, the less he spoke. the less he spoke, the more he heard. why aren't we all like that wise old bird? - as recited by my 3yo from her Nursery Rhyme book)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Party (vote splitting)

#Reverb10 Day 9: Party

An Open Letter to the Green Party of Canada

Dear Green Party of Canada,

Please stop calling. You're making me feel bad. I can't join your party.

I'd like to, I would. I understand that there are tax deductions involved that magically transform my $200 donation into a $50 cost, or whatever. I do get that you need the cash. And I give you money sometimes, you must admit.

It's not that I don't like you. I've never met a party I liked better. I couldn't agree more that there's no point divvying up the caviar on a sinking ship. And you have a great platform well beyond that fundamental - implemented with excellence across the globe, your policies could transform human civilization, slowing and diversifying the creation and accumulation of wealth to more proportionately reflect the global and human costs and values that rightly should govern our species-wide decision-making. I applaud you for laying them out so clearly, and standing up for them.

But I can't join your party. I think that when someone joins a party, they should vote for them. If your members aren't voting for you, who is, right? And while I may vote for you, and in fact have done so in the past, I am not certain I will always vote for you. I'm quite certain I will never like another party better. But in the last election, the Liberal who had held our riding for many terms of office lost by very few votes to the Conservative, while Green candidates increased their standing.

Sure, he lost our votes and you won them, fair and square, based on the policies. But the outcome was not the one I would have voted for.

Until there is a chance your candidate will win in my riding, I will always have to decide, at the very moment when I place my X, where my principles lie - with sending a message about what I believe in, or with giving my vote to the least bad choice who has a hope of winning.

I suppose I could have picked up the phone, one of the nine times you've called this month, and explained all of that to the poor student volunteer at the other end of the line. But I'm a little shy, so I let it go to voice mail.

Good luck changing the world - I'm on your side, just not in your party.


(Mrs. Which looks around at the bewildered #reverb10 faces around the room.)

What? That's not what she meant by Party?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How am I different? A desk inventory. #reverb10 revisited

What's different about me?

On my desk are:

  • 11 books in four piles (see below for a complete listing)
  • 1 magazine - National Geographic's November issue: the New Universe - Here, Now and Beyond
  • a printout of my current fiction work with different coloured notes and edits waiting to be entered in the digital version
  • at least 60 pieces of paper (various types, colours, shapes) with impossible scribbles for me to decode and try to use somehow - workout inspirations. And while most of it is rubbish, I find enough nuggets that I keep them till I sift through. They are in four messy piles, three of which are under my keyboard
  • 7 notepads full of notes and blank pages
  • A baby-wipes box filled with: 7 pens, 2 hair clips, 1 scissors (scissor?), eye drops, a camera case (no camera) cables (I don't know what for - maybe the camera?), a highlighter, pens (including one that writes in gold), a belt-clip for a security badge, nail polish and a hotwheels car
  • A picture of Woody (Toy Story) on which a child has coloured, taped to the wall
  • Construction paper
  • My water bottle, half full
  • An empty diary
  • My computer monitor displaying this blog
  • A lamp that doesn't work and isn't plugged in
  • A mouse that doesn't work and has no battery
  • An index box holding business cards from people I haven't laid eyes on in years
  • A printer that is always out of ink
  • A pencil holder which currently holds: a chopstick, a flashlight, an empty lipstick, a broken calculator, a highlighter, flower-shaped post-in notes (pink and orange), a business card from someone important who wouldn't recognize me if I bumped into him, hand sanitizer and an unsharpened pencil. It has a sticker on the front with a picture of the cartoon character, The Tick, sitting at a desk at a typewriter screaming "Nooooooooooooo!!!" Behind him on the wall are the following signs: Hang in there! TGIF! Don't ask me, I just work here.

On the upper shelves:

  • An empty glass perfume bottle that has never held perfume. It's purple, curvy, not quite my style, a gift
  • Speakers (surround sound)
  • My degrees, certificates and all other framed accomplishments, stacked or leaning. They could fall but probably won't. I do nothing to shore this up
  • Extra copies of a book that I keep for women who could use it, about how the problem isn't food
  • A cardboard box containing my husband's Christmas gift. He won't peek. He likes surprises

The Books are:

  • Extreme Programming Explained (Embrace Change) by Kent Beck
  • The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block
  • An Illustrated Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright (this is actually a birthday gift for my Dad, whose birthday was in September)
  • A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George
  • The Power of Collective Wisdom by Briskin, Erickson, Ott and Callanan
  • Power and Love by Adam Kahane
  • Falling Awake by Dave Ellis
  • The Evolution of God by Robert Wright
  • The Book of the SubGenius by Bob
  • The Up and Down Book (Starring Ernie and Bert) from Sesame Street (A Golden Tell-A-Tale Book published in 1979, an original, with the painting of Ernie and Bert on Beginning and End Streets on the inside covers. It smells like my Grandma's house. My son chewed the upper right binding)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort by J.K. Rowling and translated by Jean-Francois Menard

I do solemnly swear that I have provided, to the best of my ability, a full and complete account of my desk at this exact moment, 6:34pm on December 8, 2010. You now know, better than anyone, how I am different.

I haven't even gotten into the folder holders on the wall:

- folders from my consulting business clients (2 years old)
A book about crafts that I never open
A pocket book of pictures (outdated) of my children that is supposed to be in my purse

Oh, and on the wall, there is also a sticker with the name and phone number of a cleaner who used to work for us but quit in disgust at how messy we were. Why is it still there? I think I'll take it down.

#Reverb10 Day 7: Different

Prompt: Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and
what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you
different - you'll find they're what make you beautiful.

No individual factor makes me different. Most of my individual characteristics exist in almost everyone. It's the mix, the ways that experience and learning have shaped my characteristics, how they play together, the degree to which they are "strong" in my nature, and what I do with them that makes me different in spite of myself.

I am (among other things):
Pragmatically spiritual (or Spiritually pragmatic?)
Open (trying)
Easily embarrassed
Dogged optimist, even when it takes me awhile
Seeking the common
Subtly playful
Deeply caring
Filled with doubt

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#Reverb10 cheater post for Day 6

It's just not in me today. Maybe tomorrow. Tonight...no more.

But I've written about one aspect of this before, so despite the fact that it's clearly cheating, please check out:

Twitter? Changed my life?

But this year, Community was a contender for my word of the year, and I just can't write about it right now. Not well, anyway. Goodnight!

Monday, December 6, 2010

I might make something...

Reverb10, Day 6 Prompt: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?
Make? Like, with my hands? 

For Christmas last year, I got my husband a subscription to "Make" magazine - it's an incredible resource full of technology projects you can make yourself, like (in issue 23) a solar subwoofer, a hula hoop pool warmer, a mosquito blaster, a magic talking mirror, and a tiny auto gyrocar. 

It was kind of a joke, because my husband and I make nothing. We think for a living. And talk with people. And make suggestions on things other people could make, sometimes. But if we need a gyrocar, we'll have to buy it. And if we can't afford it, no gyrocar for us. 

That said, by getting the subscription I gave credence to the idea that he COULD make one of the projects. And he MIGHT, one day.

I bought a sewing machine (on sale! half price!) under the same premise - I MIGHT sew curtains for the front door, after all. Yes, I might! In the meantime, my mother-in-law used it last week to hem my pants.

I make dinner, though most of the parts involve some form of pre-made ingredients - a pasta sauce, a flavour mix, freeze-dried onions, frozen veggies, pre-seasoned cutlets.

I made two people with my body - does that count?

Actually, I'm often ashamed at my complete lack of ability to make things. I feel somehow shallow for letting all the making take place elsewhere in the value chain. It's always been a secret disappointment that my craftwork is mediocre, I don't seem to have any particular vision or talent for drawing or painting, my home projects are barely passable. I keep thinking, someday, I will take a course in woodworking! Metal shop! Automotive mechanics! I will make my own stuff!

But the truth is, if I could write all the time and "make" enough money to buy all the things I need, I'd probably be content with just making up stories. Then again, with time on my hands...I might actually make a mess.

(this isn't up to my usual standards, but sometimes, good enough is good enough my friends!)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Might as well (#reverb10, Day 5)

#Reverb10 Prompt: Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

A thousand times and more 
I let go of my need to be right 
                                           my need to control the outcome 
                                                                            my need for visible success

I let go of my need to know
                                           my need for dichotomy
                                                                           my need to protect the future

I figured I might as well
Since all those needs were merely phantoms of the one fear
Which makes us human, and asks us to live anyway.

(it will get easier with practice, though practice doesn't get any easier.)

(found inside a new crayon box we opened at home)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wonder is also this (#reverb10 Day 4)

#Reverb10 Prompt for December 4: Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

Wonder sounds like a good thing. Wonderful, right? A child's wonder at the world. The idea carries a certain innocence, implies lightness like bubbles of curious colour. Awe, joy, a fundamental opening response.

And certainly, wonder is often like that. 

Wonder is also this: a gnawing, incessant desire to UNDERSTAND, the very act a leap from that desire to...well, nothing that I can see from here. Is this a wonder to cultivate? It unseats my security, turns my world to chaos, demands that I accept the state of wonder as is, no expectations, no attachments, never a resolution. Wonder, my constant companion, allowing me to accept nothing I see, nothing I hear, at the level on which I receive it. Wonder, forcing me to hold multitudes of data points in constant, swirling company, seeking unexpected patterns. 

Wonder is also this: a demanding child, pushing for attention when I'm tired, tired, tired, saying - "look! A balloon! It's red! And I say, "yes, it's red." and she knows I'm not listening so she says it again, "but mommy, it's red!" and I don't even look at the balloon or her as I repeat it, "yes, honey, it's red" and then I happen to look down, and her blue eyes are right on me and beside her, the balloon is red. Bright, beautiful red, like her lips, like her cheeks, and I am in awe that this child is here, with me, and cares to share this experience of red with someone so distracted and jaded.

"It's so beautiful. Thank you for showing me."  

(I've pretty much given up editing if I'm going to actually blog every day. If you followed me before you'll know I usually blog a few times a MONTH. But so far, so good... #reverb10)

Friday, December 3, 2010

What leads up to a moment (or Choice) (#reverb10 Day 3)

Today's #reverb10 prompt: Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors)

Going hard on the eliptical trainer, in synch with the music, eyes closed. Heart racing, breathing heavy, my mind zones into the waves and flow of sound. As I let myself move more into universal space, I notice that my body operates flawlessly without explicit commands. 

I feel, in this moment, that I could leave my body behind, move more deeply into the flow, just abandon this ship and get lost in the universal and it would be joy, joy, joy. I sense an offering of choice and know that in this moment, my heart could stop beating and I would be free...but my mind grasps for something. 
Something missing. 

(still my legs pump beneath me, still my body moves and breathes. still the music drives me onward)

Ah, let go the game, my dear. 

But there is something...my being here matters. My Me-ness needs matter to matter. This impossible unknown that I am experiencing every moment matters. I am somehow sworn on my righteous, if undefined, path. 

And I want to see how things turn out, for as long as I can. I want to affect how things turn out.

So again, today, I choose to exist here, now. 

I slowly disengage from the universal and re-take control of my body. My pace perfection falters a little but I compensate, and engage my muscles for a different stance. It feels good to stretch and challenge myself. I open my eyes and look around at the warm, safe room full of evidence that happy children play here. I reach for my water bottle, and as that cool lifeforce enters my mouth I almost gasp for joy. 

I feel alive. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What doesn't contribute? (Day 2 #reverb10)

Prompt: What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

What doesn't contribute?

Well, I wasn't very inspired (no offense to the prompter). But really, my writing comes from who I am and who I am comes from how I experience life, so really, my experience of everything I do must contribute to my writing, even if it's difficult to draw the direct cause-and-effect. I could say, not being independently wealthy, that all the things I do to earn money and basic maintenance for my lifestyle don't contribute to my writing, since they take up my time, but the possibility for elimination seems highly limited. Okay, I'm done thinking about it.

But it bugged me. There must be a way for me to get somewhere out of this line of thought, since I'm here. My dead-ends could be some kind of defense against something deeper.

I suppose maybe one thing I do is wish things were different. Like, I wish I had more time, especially consecutive time, so I put off writing hard scenes and big research bits.

I wish I had more money, less stress, an easier time with the kids, a fitter body, etc. and that wishing, while it may contribute to my writing (and, in fact, does) doesn't contribute much to my state-of-mind. Wish can be motivating, and wish can rob me of presence when it becomes disappointment that what is real, now, is not what I wish for "when my life is better."

Because I know, more and more and more, just how incredible my life is, even in this moment when my adrenaline is high and my patience is incredibly thin at the end of a long day where not enough got done and my kids are pushing it. Who am I to feel anything but lucky, no matter what the travails of my day? Only a fool.

Alright, that's about the best I'm going to do with this prompt. Now, to tend to the grouchy children who should be sleeping.

(ps. I borrowed the image above - it's not me, nor my photo. if you own it and would like credit, please say so!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

post-script to Day 1 of #reverb10

Earlier I answered the first part of the prompt, which was hard enough (here is the post) but this prompt, day 1, had two hard questions. One word for 2010, okay. But one word for 2011...I've thought all day.

I'd like to say, success! or hope, or happiness. But I think, in the end, it's TOGETHER.

In 2011, I hope to...
make significant strides towards attacking poverty at its root causes, together with people in my community
grow and seek out new experiences together with my husband
become more and more ourselves, together with my children
explore what it means to be human, together with my twitter and other online neighbours
feel more practiced, competent and...well...TOGETHER, overall and just generally.

Ah, friends, I'm tired. And there's more to come tomorrow...

Refactoring - a #Reverb10 reflection

#reverb10 December 1 One Word.

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)


Years ago, interested in my then-boyfriend's work, I read a book from his shelf called "Extreme Programming." This is a book about software development for software developers, but it is more than that - it is a philosophical treatise. I was struck, at the time, that despite technical language and limited scope, the approaches described held significant application to human systems, change management, and personal development. One key concept is "refactoring."

Here's the Wikipedia definition:
Code refactoring is the process of changing a computer program's source code without modifying its external functional behavior, in order to improve some of the nonfunctional attributes of the software.
In general, functional attributes define what a system is supposed to do, whereas non-functional attributes define how a system is supposed to be. Behaviours and Values. 

Software is very human in some respects. There is no bug-free software. Period. It's full of old processes and dead ends that used to try to do something, errors in logic, outdated functions, cobbled together ideas from many people of varying competence and vision, and other weirdnesses. The result is instances of spinning wheels, confusion, and sometimes, total and complete shutdown - but only under certain circumstances and demands.  Software isn't complicated - it's complex. Like life. Like us.

And, software is in use - it's not optimal to take it off line (any more than I can go hide out in a monastery for a year). It's not practical to start over. Instead, Extreme suggests refactoring the system - an ongoing, disciplined approach that identifies particular areas of concern, and allocates time to systematically analyze and understand just what the implications might be for changing or removing something that seems problematic (as well as how to do it). There are always side effects. 

Essentially, refactoring involves reflection, understanding, and trial-and-error tinkering with a system within safe spaces and times, in ways that are invisible to the external world. When it's important to take specific areas temporarily off-line, it's done in a planned way that provides detours (preferably invisible) for external needs. The rest of the system continues to function.

Complex systems will always be flawed, just like grass will always grow back when you mow it. I will always be flawed, and I am always growing. I am as complex a system as they come. When I look back over 2010, I realize that I am becoming more skilled at refactoring myself. I create spaces when I need to go offline. I don't try to tackle the whole system at once - I prioritize, and take the time to really understand. All my processes are inextricably linked and hopelessly tangled, and I am untangling the worst ones, often freeing whole sections by undoing a single knot. I am tinkering daily.

How?  Exercise. Music. Yoga. WRITING. Present play with my kids. Intimacy with my husband (this doesn't just mean sex). Connecting on Twitter. Reading outside my zone. Conversing with my universal, sometimes out loud. Laughing. Appreciating. Contemplating the abundance I have in my life, and my outrageous good luck before I go to sleep. 

How? Crying. Freaking out. Facing my own dark pockets where hatred might find a cool place to grow. Feeling despair. Feeling afraid. Feeling futility. Letting my universal be sad with me and comfort me. 

How?  Making a little time and space every day, sometimes throughout the day, to feel deeply and think about what I'm feeling. Checking in with myself regularly. Creating reminders that help me to stop and remember who I am. Checking in with my touchstone people when I start to crumble. 

How? Giving myself permission to be just as I am, and encouraging myself to specific, achievable improvements. Failing, and trying anyway.

How? Practicing presence. Practice.

I'm reprogramming myself, slowly, often painfully, to keep my mind more open, my heart more open, my skin thicker and my core clear and centred enough to withstand the assaults of unskilled "users." These are just a few of the "non-functional attributes" that I want to embody in my system architecture. I'm finding my dead-end paths and disruptive processes, and slowly picking away at removing them safely.

Refactoring tries to make the system more resilient and extensible, easier to read, and more clear about its individual decision points and functions, without impacting functionality. It's a bonus if refactoring improves functionality. 

I always did want to go for the bonus marks.

(the word for 2011? Still thinking...)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Getting back on the horse (pre-#reverb10)

I haven't blogged in weeks. I think I'm developing a bit of a block.

I'm tired. All this translating into words, it can make my brain hurt. I think I need a break from thinking.

But I don't give myself a break. I don't really know how. Lately, the acts of writing fiction and thinking about systemic community issues have crowded out any self-reflective time I might have previously indulged.

I find myself thinking, what do I think I have to offer these people who are kind enough to visit my thoughts with me? Is what I'm thinking, ultimately, too rudimentary to be bothered capturing it at all? In any case, can I spare the time?

I'm going to publish this meander just to get back on the horse. Maybe soon the act of writing myself will engage me again. I've followed some friends into #reverb10  which I can let discipline me into at least a few lines of reflection each day. I look forward to sharing them.

This person is under construction. Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not a weight loss plan

Slowly, over the past year, I have undergone a fundamental shift in how I see my body.

More and more often, I find myself thinking of my body as bio machinery, with its own consciousness, similar to that of plants. My emotions are part of that consciousness, my mind part of that machinery, and my spirit is a kind of blind mind-pilot, trying to communicate with the innate consciousness of my body to make it do something besides seek out its own survival and pleasure.

I really could be in any body, and here I am in this one. When I evaluate her for the job I need to do (which is perpetually undefined), she's not a bad one. Well proportioned, strong, not unattractive relatively speaking, capable of doing most of what's required of her without breaking down.

From this perspective I list the things that are important to improve if I want this body to achieve longevity, consistent health, and maximum utility. Clearly, she needs to be stronger and more nimble, with better cardio-vascular health. There's no point blaming her for that, or feeling ashamed of it - that's just the starting point this body is at today. She is in about the condition one would expect for a person who's been trying her best in these particular sets of circumstances. I give her a pass. In fact, I say, "Good Job."

Bodies have a high need for love, seeking approval as an outward sign. That's the part we miss. My body needs me to love her and grant her compassion, so that when I tell her that we're going to work hard to be stronger and more nimble, she will trust me and not release panic chemicals that I'm judging her as inadequate.

Objectively speaking (if such a thing is possible), her appearance is not a top priority. It's fine. It's not impeding progress. In fact, an improvement in appearance has, in the past, sometimes proved detrimental to gaining the respect required to do my kind of work. So appearance can just get crossed off the list for now. When her emotions rise and she resists this, I remind her that anything we do to increase longevity, consistent health and maximum utility will inevitably improve her appearance.

With that core realization accepted, not just in my mind but in my cells, my body and mind agree more often to make a good choice. When I feel my muscles twinge from yesterday's workout addition, or a good stretch loosens my neck and relieves the pressure on my skull, my body starts to crave movement and exercise. It doesn't resist so much when other distractions could derail. My body starts to ask for more water, fresh food. It starts noticing the empty extremity of sugar and simple carbs, and decides against them, sometimes even resisting against my tired mind as it reaches for habit.

It's not all the time, mind you. Habits are ingrained, and food still satisfies. There are lots of times when my mind and body decide to give in to temporary comfort, take a break. But then, it's a decision, and I don't worry about it. If I give up too often in a short space of time, that's a moment I notice now, and I start to ask myself why. I generally don't need to dig too far to find a stress, something not quite right in the works of my mind, something jamming me with a lesson waiting. My mind is good at spotting them, but not very good at explaining them, so it's quite a process to go through. I find, now, I get to it sooner, and deal with it faster, purely through practice.

It's actually not that different from how I deal with my kids, come to think of it.

Ultimately, the separation of mind and body is so simple as to render itself ridiculous. It's like the line between the water and the sand. Yet, it's been an effective lens for me. This is not a weight loss plan. though I have lost weight. It's really about finding a way to look at myself that lets me treat myself with compassion. This is one that works for me, and I wanted to share it.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wasting time on Twitter

Do you waste your time on Twitter? I ask myself this all the time. I've been here, in this neighbourhood with you, for 18 months. When I'm here, I'm not there. There being with the kids, thinking about my job, cleaning up, planning meals, doing laundry or getting ready for bed. Time on Twitter or blogging is time my "real" life is donating. Is it a good investment?

Let's review some data. Since joining Twitter as Mrs. Which:

Mutual Followers: 878 
Listed: 151 
Regular Interaction with: 117 people (give or take)
Blog Followers: 60 (although many comments come from non-followers)
Blog Views (data available only for the last 6 months only): 3715

What does this little block of data tell me? To me it says that, regularly, I dip into the immediate thinking of a statistically relevant sample of 878 people and take whatever is there to think about. I also spend more time getting to know about 117 individuals that I could never otherwise encounter. The data also tells me that, if I take the time to make words of my thinking and tweet that, a statistically relevant sample from 878 people is likely to read it in passing and possibly benefit, or add new thinking. 

Blog Posts: 114 (but 33 are still in draft, so really, 81)
Story Starters: 12
# Early Readers: 13
Short Stories: 1 Completed, 1 in progress (1/3)
Children's Book: 1 Completed, 3 in progress
Novels: 1 in progress (1/3)

This block of data represents my creative output - the tangible outcomes of my time on "social media." What it tells me is that I've done more creative writing since joining Twitter than I had done in the entire decade prior. I'd always written, but I'd never permitted myself fiction. The blog is of particular interest to me, because I play with magnifying and fictionalizing my own experience, which has let me move beyond an invisible barrier I was keeping between reality and fiction. 

But now, the water gets murky. Because I'm out of data, but I have little information. Isn't that always the way? The things that really matter, they don't show up in the numbers. Numbers and words need each other. 

But if I could take the time, and go back through all my 11,595 tweets (!), here is a partial list of the categories I might use, and the metrics associated with them:

  • Asked for help: #times
  • Asked for love: # times
  • Created boundaries as a field, not a wall : # relationships maintained
  • Spent time delving into and crafting my thinking into language before moving on: # thoughtful tweets
  • Took in feedback and perspectives from places I never could have accessed: # times scanned stream
  • Felt inspired by other people's writing: # blog posts read, #novels read after twitter recommendations
  • Felt proud of my own writing: # people for whom it resonated
  • Supported other people through pain: # times someone felt better after an interaction
  • Encouraged other people to stay with it: # times someone moved past a barrier after an interaction
  • Gave other people something to think about: # times someone asked themself a question after reading
  • Cried: # times my heart opened
  • Laughed: #times I felt understood
  • Imagined: # times ideas leaped to life
  • Wondered: # times I thought about a Twitter friend
  • Wished: # times I shared a wish with another human being
  • Hoped: # times twitter helped me keep my grip on hope

There are two other tangible things I want to mention. The first is that, over the last 18 months, I've lost 20 lbs. I haven't dieted. I've just...felt more compelled, more often, to make better choices. Eating, exercise - I'm still pretty slack sometimes, but more and more I find myself not needing food to cope, seeing time taking care of my body as a luxury and a joy - a chance to play. Can I attribute this to Twitter? This supportive outlet I've developed, my little blanket fort, has definitely helped me ground.

The second tangible thing is that I found the illustrator for my children's book through Twitter. She encouraged me to submit it to her publisher, and it was accepted. So I can directly attribute the publication of my book in April, 2012 to my time on Twitter.

I'm well aware that this is a sorry excuse for a cost-benefit analysis. I haven't even provided any data about HOW MUCH time I spend. The truth is, I don't know. I fit it into the cracks and crevices. That's the beauty. A great deal of the time I spend on Twitter is my time-between. Between the kids' tooth brushing and bed, when I'm ordered from the room while they dress. Between turning on the burner and the water boiling. Between putting the kids to bed and doing the chores, when my body and mind just need a break. For the most part I tweet and run, maybe do a quick scan on the fly. When I do sit down for 20 minutes, it's usually time I couldn't bear to spend productively because I just need a rest from the production. 

It's both restorative and generative time that, largely, would otherwise be wasted. I achieve a depth of connection in some ways, and a shallowness in others, that fits perfectly with the time, energy and attention I have to give. It's like an accelerator, sliding learning into the grooves.

For time spent blogging and writing, I can do a bit better. Based on my writing patterns and regular times I make available, I'm guessing I spent between 100 and 120 hours of the last year on creative writing. It averages to 10 hours a month, 2.3 hours a week, but it doesn't play out like that. It's more feast and famine. This metric does not mean that, given 3 weeks of full time work, I could produce a children's book, 1/3 of a novel, 81 published blog posts and a short story. What it means, to me, is that I've carved out times for writing, and made good use of the time that shows up in between.

In essence, what I'm saying is this: not only does Twitter not waste my time, it actually gave me time back that was otherwise wasted. It filled my cracks and crevices with creative interactions, new thoughts, connection that I otherwise would not have experienced, and allowed me to do things I've never managed to do before.

Will it always do this for me? Who knows? I'm thankful to have had this tool for the past year, this way to connect with so many people, and to become a person who values connection and seeks it in my daily life without subterfuge. 

Before the next time someone asks you why you waste your time on Twitter, I hope you'll do your own mini-Cost/Benefit analysis. And please, share!