Why You Can’t Always Trust Your Feelings

Few things are as creepy as walking in the forest after dark and if you’ve done so, you will undoubtedly have experienced the prickly feeling of being watched.   All manner of creatures can watch AND stalk you if they so wish, here in the Pacific Northwest.  Creatures like bears, wolves, the mythological Sasquatch and even humans with bad intentions can creep up on you but they yet to stop me from trekking through the forests.  However this week I find myself paralyzed by cougar warnings.  Paralyzed, because after one too many clues that cougars are using ‘my’ forest trails, I have not been walking as much as I want to.  There’s a cougar warning in effect for the entire region which is unusual because normally they prowl around in the higher elevations and not so close to, or in, the suburbs.  Although humans are far from their usual prey, we have been cautioned to stay away from the forest at dusk and if you’re a reader of this blog you will know how that saddens me.  I love my forest walks and am not afraid of bumping into a black bear but a cougar…well, they attack from behind, so that’s a whole other story.  A neighbour lost her cat to a cougar earlier this month, and another neighbour complained on national television that their resident raccoon family is ‘missing’.   Let’s hope they just packed their bags and moved to Toronto.

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The sudden onset of cougars, coupled with my fondness of watching ‘survival’ shows like the new one currently on the History channel called ‘Alone’, in which ten guys decide to survive alone, in a remote part of Vancouver Island with only wolves, bears and cougars as company, has done little to abate my anxiety and has me thinking a lot about feelings and how feelings can get in the way of a good time.  If you’re a wilderness camper you will know exactly what I am talking about. There you are lying on your bed of grass, or if you’re lucky in your sleeping bag, in the still dark night listening, because what you hope to do, what you’re trying to do, is to familiarize yourself with the night sounds; the wind moving through the trees, the small night creatures rustling through the leaves and the grass..when suddenly you hear something you ‘feel’ is off – or dead wrong.   You hear what you think is the snapping off and breaking of tree limbs, the screaming of a child, the hollow moans of forest-dwelling ghosts and you’re up and in a frenzy and you’re recording a last message to your loved ones on your mobile because at any moment, a grizzly is going to tear open your tent and sink his teeth into one of your flailing arms or a cougar is going to crash this party and take you by the neck…

And it all started with a feeling which bubbled into a thought generously drizzled with imagination that turned into a negative belief.

Have you had this happen to you?  Have you fled a campsite, a house or an area because of your ‘feelings’ and in hindsight realized you had behaved irrationally? 

I’m not saying ignore your gut feeling about someone or something (I like to think I’m highly intuitive) but don’t confuse feelings with facts.

If you wrestle with anxiety you will know this better than most because when you’re in the grip of a panic attack it feels like you’re going to die and your mind believes it, but it’s not real.  You’re not going to die. What you’re experiencing is a rush of adrenalin and a spike of oxytocin and cortisol and you need to turn that feeling of impending doom on it’s head.   For the science behind this and some helpful tips watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk here.

A Reality Check For A Busy Body

I wish I could say I’ve been away; somewhere tropical sipping cocktails with tiny umbrellas, taking pictures of my sun-kissed toes which I then posted on Instagram for my 4 followers but the truth, dear readers and friends, is far uglier, even sinister.

I have been busy.

Mad busy.  Mostly busy with work but also busy dealing with Life’s unexpected challenges, like yesterday’s unforeseen trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot because…

of busyness.

There I was in the kitchen, mobile phone cradled between left ear and raised shoulder, talking about a photographic shoot our company had commissioned, while opening a can of tomato paste when the call ended and I  rushed to complete the task at hand because I had a campaign to finalize and a How-To doc to submit and so, lifted the rest of the lid with what I thought was my thumbnail but in fact I used my thumb and there was blood, lots of blood and I had a flashback to a day, not so long ago, when we had to rush my eldest son to the doctor when he was four (maybe five) for a tetanus shot when he stood on a rusty nail..

The doctor was kind but he looked at me disapprovingly when I explained that I wasn’t really thinking.  I just did it like I was Superwoman because some days, most days lately, I feel like Superwoman.   And right then, I knew I was in trouble. I was trying to make dinner in under ten minutes which is unusual for me, because I love cooking. Correction: Used to love cooking.

What happened?

While I write this, I realize that ‘my word for 2015′ – the word I chose for myself this year was ATTENTION. In fact, there were two words: WONDER and ATTENTION and the two are interchangeable now, because if I am not paying attention I am missing out on all the wonder….

Just this past week I had the opportunity to visit one of the world’s most spectacular gardens – The Butchart Gardens, on Vancouver Island.  I went to the island on a business trip and then, since hubby accompanied me, decided to stay on an extra day.

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‘Sunken Garden’ Butchart Gardens – photo: Y McAdam

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Sweet peas! LOVE them! Photo: Y McAdam

One of the first thoughts I had on getting back home was ‘I have to go back’.  I have to go back and drink in all that beauty and sink my toes into the dark earth and watch for the unfurling of petals; the rustling of leaves.

I’m less harried now.  My heart is lighter – happier.  And it’s because I’m sharing this with you and because I am writing again, and the writing is not for work, it’s not going to pay the bills but it fills up my Spiritual tank.

My Starbucks Alter Ego

It’s a well known fact that most people don’t bother giving their real names to Starbucks’ employees.  I am not sure I understand why that is, it’s not like they’re asking us for our contact information but I am one of those people who has a Starbucks alter ego, and not because I am fiercely guarded or private.

Every Starbucks in my city knows me by the name ‘Donna’.

My one and only attempt at giving my real name was an epic fail that went something like this:

‘Your name?’

‘Yolanda”

“Sorry?’

‘Yolanda – you can write that on my grande cup.’

“Molan?’

“No – Yolanda.”

“Roland?”

“No – Yolanda with an ‘a’ at the end.”

By now the line for skimmed lattes, Capuccino and Americanos was snaking out the door and spilling into the road and the young cashier’s smile had been replaced by furrowed brow.

I could feel the tension rise like hot foam in that coffee palace so I said:

‘Just call me Donna.”

Maybe it’s my accent? I like to think I still sound South African but when I last visited ‘the old country’ my husband and I were repeatedly asked ‘where are you from?’ so I am guessing the raw flatness of our accent has been warmed and lifted by Canadian cheeriness.

I don’t believe my name is particularly unusual or difficult, yet my own grandparents couldn’t pronounce my name and my mother remains stubbornly undecided to this day, on whether she meant to name me Ulanda or Yolanda.

So I am Starbucks Donna but I am also not.  She may look like me but she is not me.  She has nary a care in the world and her coffee is always hot.

 

Do you use another name? Why?

 

On How To Survive Conferences And Not Get Tripped Up By A Word

At a conference earlier this week, I had to get up and share my views on our ‘company culture’ which inevitably led to the usage of the word ‘diva’.  Well because we have our fair share of divas… and martyrs in my industry. Who doesn’t?

So this post is really about that word – diva – but it is also a short ‘how to’ post on surviving conferences (we call them camps in our industry) that go on for days.

Tip #1

Play games.  For example:  I play a game where I count how many times Steve gets to use much-used and therefore stale expressions like ‘from the ground up’ or ‘yesterday’s weather’.

OR

How many times Sally decides to abbreviate everything for the sake of clarity confusion like ‘so in XPSPR we noted that PRV didn’t happen in time for XGT to process the order’

I have a small notebook dedicated to abbreviations.  Most of which I am still stumbling through.  Sally you see, is a far superior being in every way and I’m afraid if I don’t get to understand at least 20% of what she is saying, my bosses will soon realize they made a mistake hiring me.

Tip #2

Do drink at the company dinners, if so inclined, but not too much. No one wants to hear how you’re ‘hungover’ during your ‘showcase’ event or presentation.

Tip #3

Don’t use a word during your own presentation or talk that you know always trips you up, leaving you red-faced because everyone knows ‘diva’ rhymes with ‘geezer’ but for some reason you pronounce as ‘diver’ because your neurons don’t fire as they should …and then blame your flawed tongue on the mojitos from the night before.

Do you have a word that continually trips you up, no matter how many times you practice saying it in front of the mirror?

On The Red List

I wrote this post earlier this week because of an image I saw on Facebook.  It was the photo of a sad baby rhino who according to the article was scared to sleep alone.  That story inspired this post but then after reading it, I thought no, I won’t publish it because the world doesn’t need another whiny post from another animal-lover and passionate conservationist.  But then … an egomaniac decided he and his estimated 20 000 guests would feast on elephant and buffalo meat at his 91st birthday celebration and that dear readers and friends is why you get to read my post.

From Grade 1 to 3 our school would take us on ‘field trips’ to the zoo.  Even then, as a curious and fierce animal lover I did not like zoos and dreaded those trips.   Something –  I knew not what – was wrong with the Polar Bear and something was definitely wrong with the Siberian Tiger.  It wasn’t until I went on my first safari that I realized what that ‘something’ was and why their lacklustre coats and sad eyes filled me with horror.  Lost to those animals behind thick iron bars and high walls is the life coded into their DNA.  These animals have been abducted and abused for profit and yet …in some cases – and this is increasingly becoming the case – animals are being saved by zoos.

Do you visit zoos and aquariums?  Do you feel we need them? 

To save animals from human beings you have to capture them and imprison them, because demarcating swathes of land with walls or barbed wire and declaring them ‘wildlife preserves’ do not stop poachers.

Here’s some quick rhino related facts: the Western Black Rhino has been wiped out by poachers; there are only five Northern White Rhinos left in the world, all in captivity and all unable to breed.

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Image from discoverwildlife.com

Beautiful, shaggy orangutans (above) are on the endangered list (Borneo).  These gardeners of the forest are responsible for ‘seed dispersal’ but human encroachment has impacted negatively on their population.  Snow leopards, sea lions, Green Turtles, Fin Whales, African Wild Dogs, Black Footed Ferrets…if you have not yet heard of these wonderful creatures or had the privilege to see them in their natural habitats, familiarize yourself with them today because soon they will join a chorus of Dodos and Passenger Pigeons.

So today I encourage you to visit a wildlife refuge or zoo if it means you get to see and fall in love with ‘exotic’ species or something within you wakes up to the realization that we’re not as ‘superior’ or as special as we like to think we are, because of our Big Brains and Big Plans for more, more and more until nothing is left, just a list of names in the interverse.

Characters That Stay With Us

I have an odd assortment of good friends.  Most of whom are made of flesh and bone but a few are less solid, having been penned to life.  These paper friends visit me in dreams.  Wang Lung, a great-grandfather (at last count he had eighteen grandchildren) still visits tea shops and is able to walk over to his beloved fields. I often find him standing at the top of an emerald hill staring down at the place where he will come to lie below his uncle and his father and not far from his devoted wife, O-lan.  Having worked hard to claim for himself property and success he is still a man humbled by nature. There is so much I want to know, I say, but I dare not ask him. I wonder if he feels bad about the way he treated O-lan? I wonder if he still yearns for Lotus who was far prettier than his wife and slender as bamboo?  Does he, I wonder, still bend down to scoop up earth with his hands.   Does he appreciate each day on the good earth  with his sons and Pear Blossom who remain faithful and attentive?

I know Huck Finn is adventuring in another world but he likes to tell me about his grand adventures in the Wild West after he and Jim parted ways.  He tells me he crossed paths with Pawnee raiders and rescued more than one damsel in distress.  I have Huck to thank for introducing me to the evils of slavery, robbers and conmen and to floating down the Mississippi river on a raft.  Huck Finn is the reason I crave adventure.  He also gave me the courage to plan my own escape when I was seven.   I didn’t follow through with my childish threat to run away but I had a satchel packed and ready just in case my mother threatened to tan my hide again for something my sister did.

I once threatened to ‘tar and feather’ a bully in primary school, thanks to Huck.  She stopped bullying me after that.

Reverend Stephen Kumalo and I still weep for his son Absalom who was found guilty of murder and condemned to die in apartheid-era South Africa.  I wonder if he and James Jarvis have undertaken any new projects? James, who after his own son’s death was forced to face the racial issues that divided his country.  James who tried to make amends. I wonder if the good reverend’s village Ndotsheni has prospered or if the men are still leaving to find work in the big cities?  I think I know the answer to this question but to hear Kumalo speak of these things in person would be a precious gift.

Which book’s character/s continue to live with you? 

There Are No Victims Here

Most of us are familiar with the idiom ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ and most of us will agree it is untrue.  Words hurt. Words can be turned into weapons that pierce hearts, crush dreams and break spirits.  I have always been particularly sensitive to how we use words and what compels us to choose one word over another.

If you watch the news or keep up with events online or in print, you will have read or heard a phrase like this a thousand times over  ‘he/she was victim of a heinous crime’ and description of said crime.  The truth is most of us (if not all of us) have been ‘victims’ of something less-than-desirable through no fault of our own.  We have been victims of neglect, absence, abuse, unfairness, misfortune and crime and not because we ‘deserved’ to be victimized but because things happen all the time to the best (and worst) of us.  That’s life.

I am one of those people who crave the ‘after story’.  I want to know more about said ‘victim’ of wolverine attack, avalanche, burglary, rape, molestation etc.  I want to know if you saw the road ahead fork in two.  I want to know if you believe in second and third chances.  I want to know if you still get up in the morning to shower, brush your teeth and get on with creating your life.  I want to know if you hope again, love again and dream again.  I want to be inspired and am inspired by people who refuse to be labelled or prescribed to.  I am inspired by people who will not be defined by an experience or a poor word but fear for those who continue to play the victim card.

Words can also heal.  They have resurrective properties. Someone who has overcome; someone who has fought back; someone who has clawed their way back out and up and resisted is a survivor.  I wish more journalists would adopt the word ‘survivor’ and drop the word ‘victim’ when reading the news. I wish more of us realized this world is populated by survivors. Victims are dead.

What word do you find pejorative or inadequate and wish would be dropped from the lexicon?