Real, Imagined and Otherwise

For me there is very little as exhilirating as turning a wooded corner to find a body of water; a perfect eye reflecting the blue sky after a long walk.  There is just something about lakes.  They are to me not only the epitome of beauty and tranquility but also keepers of secrets and deep mysteries.  Gaze into their clear depths on a hot Summer day and you will see layers of story and history.

When we were children, my sister and I used to spend every Summer weekend at a lake.  It was a large body of gray green water just outside the city, skirted by bulrushes and weeping willows.  It was no where near as pristine or as picture perfect as the Canadian lakes I now fall into nor as remote or hard to get to.  Yet it was our lake.  Our idyllic getaway in what my sister and I liked to think of as ‘the country’.

We grew up swimming and windsurfing and one of our favourite activities was diving for treasure.   The bottom of that lake was strewn with rocks and submersed weeds so we had to ‘hide’ the treasure we hoped to find.  We used to throw marbles in and pretend they were nuggets of gold! As the years went by and my taste in reading material changed from fairy tales to real life mysteries, our expeditions became forensic dives; a fruitless quest for underwater clues.

This is probably why I find it impossible to sit by a lake without wondering if there is a car at the bottom of it or the skeletal remains of fur trapper or a woman spurned by her lover…macabre, I know.

What truly surprises me is how, despite having grown up in a haunted house, we did not believe in lake monsters.  We never hesitated, like our youngest son does, on the water’s edge.  (He is convinced he had an encounter with a snake-like monster in a lake not far from Radium Hot Springs).  Some people look at bodies of water and see danger.  Real, imagined and otherwise.

Photo:  Y McAdam

Photo: Y McAdam

I watched a program recently on Bigfoot ‘hunters’ and what stayed with me was not their unwavering belief in an elusive, ape-like creature but how in this day and age of spy satellites and infrared cameras there are still pockets of unexplored wilderness.

I like living with a few mysteries, don’t you?

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Overcoming Frustration

The word ‘frustration’ came up in every work meeting this week and in a few conversations with family and friends.  So it would be easy then for me to sum up the last 5 days as ‘a frustrating week filled with petty grievances and mad-making annoyances and other green and nasty gremlins’.  But all is not lost.  No.  Indeed in the middle of yesterday’s overlong work meeting I had one of those ‘aha!’ moments Oprah always talks about, and it felt like my brain grew a whole new branch of neurons and they were actually firing!

frustration:  the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.”

The IChing will tell you that frustration comes from not accepting things as they are. We are advised not to force a change because if we do we will only make things worse and impede our own progress.  That is all well and good and very Zen.  But what I realized yesterday as someone rambled on about how she couldn’t compile a report a certain way  – at least not in the way that she thought would please the boss – I realized that absolutely nothing was stopping her from doing that task differently.  

She was unconsciously blocking her own progress because she could not imagine a different way.  When I asked her what was stopping her from presenting the data in another format she looked at me as if I had just grown a pair of horns.  Thankfully a few hours later she came round to the idea.  The boss I told her, would probably be impressed with her initiative and creativity.  She seemed genuinely surprised by that comment.

Sometimes we choose not to see another way.  More often than not we do this unconsciously.  It’s just easier. It’s easier to stay stuck and frustrated because it’s a feeling we’re familiar with and besides, if we have an excuse for not doing something we think it’s ok. That task wasn’t done because hey, we have an excuse!  It’s like finding a tree lying across a forest path or blocking a road. Oh look an obstacle!  how convenient! see we can’t continue on this path any longer! let’s just turn back and tell our people, sorry such and such obstacle stopped us from getting to point X.

What frustration could be lifted today if you chose to tackle it differently?  

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There is this idea (more prevalent among the younger generations) that life is supposed to be easy.  It’s not.  Learning happens when we’re being challenged, not when we’re sipping margaritas.   But it’s also not supposed to be an uphill battle.  A lot of what makes our lives ‘hard’ is a lack of vision:  our unwillingness to consider alternatives and our inability to imagine something ‘other’.  Let’s all choose to DO something instead of just accepting our frustrations.

How was your week?

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.

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?

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?

Trampling Grapes – A Childhood Memory

The subject of my alcohol-fuelled childhood recently came up and not in therapy as one would imagine.

Both my grandfathers were Portuguese and both were winemakers like their fathers before them.  Growing grapes and making wine was never an option for either one of them. It was just something they did.  I don’t recall ever seeing my grandparents buy a bottle of wine just like I can’t recall a time when there wasn’t an open bottle of wine at the dinner table.  Each year at harvest time, my sister and I were brought in to help with the picking and making of wine and since our grandparents lived on separate properties we were really busy.

I guess this was our first experience with work although we loved it so much we didn’t think of it as work.

My sister and I were the only ones allowed to trample the grapes in the winepress.

We had the sense from the way our grandfathers sought us out – and only us – that we added ‘magic’ to the process as we sang our childish songs and trampled those grapes with an enthusiasm I sometimes wish I could recapture.  I seem to recall we would wear the absolute minimum for the job – bathing suits and very short shorts and raggedy t-shirts.  We were sticky and sweet for days 🙂

By now you must be thinking my grandparents lived on farms but no, they nurtured their vines in their suburban gardens; those vines offered shelter from the harsh African sun under which we enjoyed extended barbecues and spilled gloriously green and abundant over their respective garages and boundary walls.

There was of course a reason for our enthusiasm.  My sister and I knew what would happen as the grapes were left to ferment in large vats.  Samples had to be taken during the process of fermentation and someone had to be on hand to turn the tap and pour those first drops of sweet nectar.  My sister and I were available.  It’s not like we had anything else to do but attend school.

You may think we were drunk a lot.  I don’t believe we ever were.  We were allowed to drink wine (one small glass each) from an early age and I credit that experience to the fact that I know when to stop.  I have been ‘wasted’ a record one time. And it wasn’t on wine and I was well into my twenties (boring I know).

My question is not whether you started drinking as a toddler but what activity did you participate in as a child that is now frowned upon or considered risque?