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?

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?

 

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?

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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?

On My iPod

I’ve been wanting to post a little something on music because the short story I have been working on for several months now is populated by musicians and also because I love music.

The main character is obsessed with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan so I’ve been listening to these wonderful storytellers almost daily but of course I also enjoy contemporary music and try to stay ‘relevant’ by listening to what’s Hip and Trending.

When you have kids you learn quickly the importance of ‘staying relevant’ which in my case involved getting to know Barney, the manga series and card game YU-GI-OH (mind-numbing stuff I tell you) and later Eminem, among others.

I turn to my eldest son for the latest on music because like me, he’s not really into mainstream pop so I have been (mostly) educated on indie and folk / rock music.  It is because of him that I have discovered bands like the following two:

1.  Milky Chance.  I love this video.  It is filled with symbolic items and gestures like the burning of a dreamcatcher but more importantly there is a tribe of wild and fun-loving children in the woods, and that dear readers always gets my attention.

and

2.  These fabulously talented Australians – Angus and Julia Stone

What are you listening to?

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?

Stuck In The Middle

I am one of those crazy people who jots down ideas or images for stories and poems on the back of receipts, paper towels, journals, notebooks and calendars.  I also have Evernote and more than one short story (all works-in-progress) open on my laptop at all times even when I am away at work.   What all this means is that I am a hoarder of words and ideas and paper.

Anyway a strange thing happened earlier this week that made me realize I have a serious problem.  I don’t think it requires surgery but certainly a visit to the head doctor may be overdue.

I discovered I had saved a version of one of the short stories I have been working on for oh, let’s say four months on Dropbox.  I then discovered another version of it – under a different title – in Word Documents.   To give you an indication of just how brilliant I am – one of the versions is titled simply ‘Short Story’.  Another is ‘Girl Walks Into A Bar’.  Yes.  Really.

Genius.

All in all I have discovered three versions of what is essentially the same story with the same characters.   What bothers me is how I didn’t even realize I had been doing this? Seems like I would write a new paragraph and save it without really noticing where I was saving it to.

Has this happened to you?

The good news is I now have two versions that I really like and one that needs to be deleted as soon as I pluck up the courage to do so.   The bad news is that these two (delightfully different) versions have me firmly and very resolutely stuck in the middle.  The end is apparently still nowhere in sight.

THE MIDDLE

Image:  Dallas Clayton

The Visitor – A Poem

It’s her breasts and not so much her eyes that draw him in

though if he were a better man  – he reasons –

he would lose himself in those shimmery amber orbs

and not linger on those pale rising breasts

or the autumnal hair

cascading over her left shoulder like a living thing

a possessive sable coveting one perfect pink nipple.

She looks peaceful almost content in that thick skirted

aubergine dress.

She reminds him of an exotic flower – resplendent –

on a hard chair the colour of walnuts.

A warm light lingers in the background

a little fogged but nevertheless encompassing.

He knows little if anything about her

although it is said, she was the artist’s first wife

taken by a plague before reaching adulthood.

He’ll keep returning until he feels he sees her

but in truth she is hiding in that ambient room

under layers of pigment.