What’s Stopping You?

I was the kid whose stories and poems were read aloud by teachers and whose artwork was put on display and slapped with five gold stars.  Back then I’d write novellas for my friends and teachers and family members alike would describe my work in superlatives.   But as I got older that changed, because when the praise stopped so did the writing – and the drawing.  There were a series of comments made by teachers and family members – none of them constructive – about both my writing and my art that led to increasing self-doubt about my abilities as an artist but it was one particular comment delivered in a flippant manner just before I graduated high school, that sealed the deal for me and, here is the striking thing, the person who delivered said nasty comment wasn’t even a teacher or someone I cared for – yet, the criticism stung and the comment stuck like tar.

What followed was a long, dark fallow period.  Over a decade of ‘having nothing to say’, ‘nothing to write about’, ‘nothing to draw’.  Then one day, about eight years ago, on a trip to a bookstore with a casual acquaintance of mine I was telling her how I had always dreamed of being ‘a writer’ when she turned to me and asked ‘So what’s stopping you?’ and that’s when *lightbulb moment* I realized I had to let go of what people think and write for myself.

What’s stopping you from doing what you love?

laptop notebok

I also realized that criticism only hurts when it mirrors what I think of myself.  The kinds of criticism that stayed with me: the time a group of teenage boys called me ‘thunder thighs’ when I played field hockey, the time the art teacher said my drawings were ‘mediocre at best’.

These comments helped me realize I had serious doubts about my physical appeal and artistic abilities.

What criticism are you holding onto because of a negative belief you hold about yourself? 

I’m not going to pretend I don’t care what people think.  I do – but to a degree.  I am someone who has always valued constructive criticism so that is always appreciated, but I have also learned that receiving feedback tells me more about the person giving the praise or criticism than it does about my abilities.   We are quick to forget that we are all different and that we are blessed with a unique set of abilities and taste.  What appeals to you may not appeal to another. Consider for example a work of art.  Do you prefer a Picasso to a Rembrandt?  or Comedy to Horror? Feedback gives us the facts about the preferences of the person giving the feedback.  It can’t speak to your worthiness or talent.

Yet feedback is critical not only to artists and writers but to everyone.  If you’re tinkering with a new invention or drafting a work proposal or preparing to give a TED talk you need feedback.  You need to know if what you are doing is understood, appreciated or if you need to improve in some or most areas.

Are you seeking feedback from the right people? People you hope to influence or engage with?


A Look Ahead

January named after Janus, Roman god of gates, passages and archways; god of beginnings and transitions.  Janus, of the two faces. I think of Janus as I play catch up with friends.  I think of Janus as I rush through a third (or is it fifth?) draft of a short story I started in October of last year.  I think of Janus as I hurry from one appointment to another even though I only return to work next week and this week should be a time of relaxation and reflection.

So I try. To relax. To reflect.   I give it my best shot. I find myself alone, looking at the cold glass eye of Rice Lake, high up on the side of a mountain and with notebook in hand try to shape sentences out of what I am seeing; what I’m feeling. But I am not seeing and just as frustration sets in, he arrives.  A seagull.  Tripping, I think or lost.

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He watches me with curious black eye.

I capture him on my mobile.

The longer we sit there daring each other to move, the more I realize the more I look, the less I see.

Habit is good but it is also really bad.  Here’s the problem with habit:  it stops us from seeing or perceiving things as they really are.  The Horsechestnut tree in the garden has become yet another tree composed of trunk and leaves, the banana in the fruit bowl just another piece of fruit and the seagull – bless him – another bird of feather and bone.

Our family, friends, nature, art – all lose their complexity and gloss.  This year I resolve to see things anew.  This year I commit to WONDER and ATTENTION.   I commit to finding enthusiasm like a child does, devouring whole continents and discovering shells, centipedes, crayons, fossils, piazzas, dunes, comets, thunderclaps, geraniums and craft and words…more words.  I want to be alert.  I want to be astounded by the world.

What are you committed to changing or doing this year?

The True Meaning Of Wealth

I have some of my favourite Christmas ‘collectibles’ on the mantelpiece.  There is a Very Canadian Moose lying on his side admiring the sitting room, a Santa in a wizard’s hat, two glittery angels, a jolly Santa, a clutch of cranberry scented candles and the obligatory tinsel hanging about.  At the base of the hearth the Holy Family nativity scene.   Slowly our house is being transformed into a wonderland as I recover from unplanned and unexpected surgery.

This was going to be the Christmas I was going to make an accordion folded paper wreath and a bowl of sugar fruit (did you know you can use marshmallow powder instead of raw egg to coat the fruit with sugar?). This time last year Christmas cards had been posted, gifts had been bought and wrapped and all I had to worry about was putting up the tree on the 15th and the Christmas Day menu.  This year I find myself woefully behind and perhaps a tad neglectful of others but unashamedly and happily ensconced in my bedroom.  I have a lot to be grateful for:  the surgery was uncomplicated and I should be up and about by mid-week; I am getting through my mountain of must-read books YAY! (doing very nicely – only one hundred and fifty two books left); keeping up with reading my favourite blogs (kind of) and watching Christmas romances and dramas on television (I know I know, but I am sucker for those badly acted but delightfully sweet movies).  My family (bless them) keep me hydrated with cups of tea and smiling with boxes of chocolate (what else really can a woman ask for?) ….um, maybe fresh flowers.  Just saying 😉

The lightning-strike suddenness of my medical emergency reminded me of how easily so many of us get caught up in our day to day strife,  forgetting in the meantime that everything – I mean, Everything – hinges on our health and well-being.   My body had been warning me over the last three or four months that not all was well but I chose to ignore those signals.  Lying in hospital, I thought of an aunt of mine who is very rich and who – without fail – would pop over every Christmas to leave a gift of money for my sister and I.  I remember being small and therefore prone to small-thinking, saying to myself ‘she has it all’; good looks, mansion, fancy cars, Chanel handbag.  Then one day when I was older she and I met up on vacation and hearing that I had a goal list as long as my arm filled with things ‘I would possess by such and such an age’ she told me – her deep brown eyes boring into mine – “Money isn’t everything.  Health is true wealth.”

Did you know that the word “wealth” comes from the Old English words “weal” which means “well- being” and happiness?

This is my wish for you and your loved ones this season and beyond:  wealth, as in an abundance of well-being and happiness.

Random Weekend Happenings and Thoughts On Buying

1) On Friday night the Mr and I watched Interstellar.  Several friends and acquaintances had told me to watch it because they enjoyed it and thought I would too.  While it is a long movie (just under 3 hours long) I loved it and did not want it to end.  Interstellar is one of those rare gems in that a) the ending is unexpectedly positive b) the cast and acting (and excuse the pun) is stellar and c) it explores the issue of climate change and the probable outcome for humanity if we continue along the same path.

Interstellar is not for everyone in fact I am delighted but surprised that it is doing as well as it is.  Four people walked out of the theater midway through the movie – a pity really because the last hour and half is the best.  I suspect those people were struggling with the whole ‘Theory of Relativity’ and ‘space-time continuum’ bit but if you are willing to suspend belief or accept that Physics just isn’t your forte then you will be completely gobsmacked as I was, by the spectacular visual effects.    This movie is a lot more than a story about exploring uncharted territory, it is primarily a story about a man who makes the heartbreaking decision to leave his children behind so he can ultimately save them.  There are scenes played out between Matthew McConaughey’s character and his daughter that are heartbreaking to watch.  If you thought Gravity was good then you will really enjoy this movie because in my opinion it is the better movie.

2) We experienced our first sub-zero temperatures this weekend and our first snowfall.  So Winter is (unofficially but undeniably) upon us.  While all our neighbours have strung up lights, decorated their trees (inside and out) and crowded their front gardens with fake reindeer, giant inflatable snowmen and Santas we have yet to decide on a tree.  In our family it has long been a tradition to put up the tree on the 15th December so I am still ok (although my neighbours are looking at me askew).

3) One of my fondest and earliest memories is of riding a carousel with my grandfather standing by (in case I slipped off). He would take me to the Christmas Fair and I would go on every ride – my favourite for a really long time was The Octopus.  I felt really brave holding onto my swivel chair at the end of that octopus’ long arms.


Carousel Ride


The Mr surprised me this year by taking me to the Christmas Fair early because he will be away for work until just a few days before Christmas.  I hauled myself up and onto the prettiest pony I could find and prayed I could stay on and keep the mulled wine I had imbibed earlier in my stomach.  I succeeded on both counts and was very proud of myself.

Did you have a favourite ride?  

I love markets and fairs especially at this time of the year.  I go to them not so much for the buying experience (although I do support artists and creators) but mostly for ideas and inspiration.  I also know that if I am going to find that ‘special gift’ it will probably be found in a craft market.

At this time of year, most of us tend to overspend (yes, guilty as charged) so in an effort to become more mindful of how and where I spend money I started considering the following before buying gifts:

Will the receiver find my gift useful or will it improve the quality of his/her life in some way?

Would the gift of my time, service or expertise be more helpful to the receiver and therefore a greater reflection of my love and appreciation?

How much of my gift (and wrapping) will end up in the landfill?

Does the company I buy from share my values and ethics?  For example I love supporting The Body Shop because they support Community Fair Trade and their products are ethically produced.

Do you follow any rules or guidelines when buying gifts or do you just run after the sales (I can’t fault you if you do) 😀


Sanctity And Sanctuary Or Lack Thereof

I know violence.  I know menace.  I know hatred. I was attacked once by a mob of AK47-wielding men.  I was twenty-one at the time and on my way back to work from a quick lunch break.  This was back in apartheid-era South Africa.   I won’t get into the details because I hold no grudges against those men who were as much victims as I was of that skewed system based on racial supremacy but what I will say is that I should have died that day.  Three people were killed that day, a few feet away from where I was assaulted.   I escaped.  Call it what you will, I call it a miracle.

A year later I was walking home from a doctor’s appointment when I noticed I was being followed by four men in a white car.   Most of the walk home was along a main road so there was some traffic but not a lot at that particular time of day. Those men in that car did not try to hide the fact they were following me.  I remember fear rising up inside me like a cold wave as they whistled and called me ‘sweetie’ and banged the sides of the car like the hooligans they were.  I knew that once I turned into a quieter street they would get their chance to  – who knows what? So I walked into a cathedral.   It was called The Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour.  I went inside and knelt down.  Except for the tall statues of Mary and St Joseph and the flickering candles I was the only person there, so I prayed.  I let the minutes pass in that marbled sanctuary and then walked outside again to check if they were in the area or parked in the road and to my horror found them in the church parking lot casually waiting for me.

I ran back inside and prayed some more and soon noticed a woman lighting candles near the altar.  I walked up to her and asked if she could give me a lift home (I lived four blocks away).  She was very reluctant at first but on learning why she agreed and I was delivered safely to my house.  (You can imagine how that incident traumatized me – I didn’t walk anywhere after that for many many years).

The reason I am sharing this today is I was deeply saddened to hear of the murder of five people in a Jerusalem synagogue today.  I don’t believe you need to worship in a ‘special’ place, my temple has for some time now been the forest but still, I respect the fact that people of all creeds have built structures in which to serve our Creator and these structures and places of worship should be honored and respected by all.

Is this an antiquated idea?  Have our morals loosened so much since the Middle Ages that sanctity and sanctuary are no more? 

I am not saying here that murdering children or bombing civilians is acceptable or even understandable because they are murdered in the streets; what I am saying is that a word has yet to be invented to describe a person who attacks or murders another bowed in worship in a place of sanctuary.

Counting Stars

I walked home from work last night and because a clear sky at this time of the year is something of a rarity in Vancouver, I dawdled so I could enjoy the incredible view of burning stars and golden moon.  My slow walk brought home the fact that we are surrounded by awe and wonder.

Take for example Rosetta’s (European spacecraft) successful landing on a speeding comet yesterday.  This is an extraordinary achievement and yet another leap for mankind.

Why should this audacious achievement excite me or you?  Well for one that washing machine- sized explorer is about to help us re-write history and what we know of ourselves.

Images of Rosetta landing on 67P (couldn’t they name it after a nice Greek nymph? one of the many ravaged by the insatiable Zeus? I wonder) are a reminder that we are constantly redefining our limits.

The Night Sky also brought back a flood of memories.  On warm and warm(ish) evenings my sister and I would drag one of our mattresses out into the backyard where we would lie, sometimes in our pyjamas, sometimes in our bathing suits, to watch countless worlds spin and sparkle before our eyes.

Night time was particularly exciting because it was quiet – except for the crickets and cicadas (also known as Christmas beetles) – and the adults were in bed because as everyone knows adults are scared of the dark.  One of my most treasured possessions was an encyclopedia with a map of the Southern Skies.  I would pore over those pages with a torch and read out loud the names of constellations – Canis Major, Scorpius, Centaurus – and we would point to – well, anywhere in the sky – and link random stars and proudly tick off a constellation in my encyclopedia.

The encyclopedia told us stars are balls of gas but that didn’t stop us from imagining they were much more. Many we knew even then, were worlds.  Some undoubtedly inhabited by lizard men and robots.   We wondered if from our small backyard, we could spot the remnants of that great planet Krypton after the explosion.   Wouldn’t pieces of that great planet glow green in our night sky?

We tried counting stars.  But neither one of us could figure out how many zeros fit into a million back then.  Now that I’m older and a little more learned I happen to know words like quadrillion actually exist but I can’t bear to think of all those zeros!

It’s impossible to manipulate stars. You can’t make them explode by willing them to, like you can clouds.  A cloud is a temporary and fluffy thing with no fixed course or firm hold.  We used to lie there, rubbing the sides of our temples and will those stars to go ‘POOF!’ because we imagined we had that power.  The first time we saw a shooting star we ran into the house and hid for cover under the kitchen table.  It was our first experience with God.

And the first time we spotted a satellite tracing it’s slow arc across the sky we shook our mother awake and announced the imminent arrival of Martians.  My mother told us it was way past our bedtime and we had to drag the mattress back inside.

No one had told us we could wish upon a falling star in those early years.  We only found that out later.  Certainly wishing on stars was not a tradition in our family.

How many wishes were lost? Countless.

Interacting Galaxies

Nasa Image of Interacting Galaxies

 I try to make up for it now by watching the Perseids and Leonids (coming soon to a Night Theatre near you Nov 16) meteor showers


Do you enjoy the night sky?  

What is your favourite night time memory?

My Sister The Carjacker

My (maternal) grandparents were especially fond of the Great Outdoors and every Sunday my sister and I bustled into their car where we would play a game or two before being lulled to sleep by the car’s engine.  One of our favourite pastimes was waving at other drivers on the highway.  Most people waved back.  Others would smile shyly or nod in acknowledgement.

road and lake

Another favourite was counting cars (how many red ones? how many blue?).  On the longer trips we took to counting windmills and when we ran out of those we counted goats.  (This was in Africa.  There are goats. And sheep but mostly goats)

Eventually – after what felt like hoooours – we would arrive at a park or farm where my gran would take it upon herself to choose the ‘perfect’ picnic spot and we would, after unpacking a small-sized kitchen’s worth of tableware and food, settle down for the first of several meals.  If it was Summer my sister and I wasted no time in changing into our bathing suits and diving into the river/lake/farm dam.  If it was Autumn, we did the same.  It didn’t matter that more than one lake or dam had warnings posted all over the place warning would-be swimmers of bilharzia and other parasites.  My grandparents didn’t read a word of English so if it didn’t bother them it certainly didn’t bother us.

My grandparents had a knack for choosing picturesque places.   Even if we weren’t exactly welcome in some of those places. Once, we settled down to a meal of fried chicken beside a slow moving brown river only to be interrupted by the furious farmer on whose property we found ourselves. I have no idea how my grandfather convinced that farmer to let us spend the rest of our day there under the shadow of a willow tree but we got to stay.  I remember that was the first ever willow tree I climbed.  I tested her fine leafy hair for strength and durability when I swung out and into that lazy brown river.

One day stands out above all the rest.  After our third or fourth meal under a tall and fragrant Eucalyptus my grandparents and parents fell into a deep and sonorous sleep.   My parents were with us that particular day which makes this day not only memorable but also remarkable because they were separated for as long as I remember and rarely took us anywhere.  I believe they had agreed to this outing to try and reconcile but it was like forcing a lion to live with a buffalo.

A cloud burst above the lake forcing my sister to think up of some new activity that did not require wind or water.  I of course, knew exactly what to do.  A new book waited for me in the back seat of my father’s car.  I seem to think it was Wind In The Willows because I can still remember those beautiful illustrations of Rat and Mole and Toad and elusive Badger.  Ignoring my sister’s baying for attention I got into the car, closed the door behind me and in no time was lost in the pages of a book.

My sister is younger than me but as you will come to see she is the more dangerous assertive one.  She got into the driver’s seat and started ‘vooming’ and ‘vrooshing’ behind the steering wheel.  At some point I became aware of motion – the slow, forward rolling of wheels. The car was moving.

This was not my sister’s first attempt at carjacking.  In fact – and yes, I know you are going to find this hard to believe- my sister and I were rescued by a neighbour after my sister released the handbrake on my mother’s car and we went rolling down our street.  I think I was seven years old at the time which means my sister was five. Said kindly neighbour managed to throw himself through the passenger side window (my side) and pull up the brake before we rolled through the Stop sign and into traffic.

I think it was an Act of Grace that woke my father from his afternoon nap that day.  While my sister screeched with delight at the prospect of drowning, my father forced the driver’s door open and saved our lives.