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?

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?

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?

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.

A Great Gastronomical Mystery

I love cooking not only because I love food and could spend my days cow-like grazing on edibles but also because I love experimenting with flavour and fragrance.   A few years back I discovered there was something called fusion cuisine and I have been inspired by it ever since.  In fact I can’t remember the last time I made something clearly identifiable as ‘Italian’ or ‘Burmese’.  Neither can the Mr.  He says I’m ‘innovative’. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t think I’m a great cook.   I make a mean roast lamb after all, inspired by Greek cuisine but mostly marinaded in Moroccan spices.

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Source:  Wikipedia

So it probably goes without saying that I love the Food Network but sadly don’t get to watch it as much as I would like to, which brings me to this week’s topic:  Great Mysteries.

Now you’re probably wondering what has food got to do with the unravelling of deep existential questions like  ‘What is the meaning of life?’ or ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’

Probably nothing.  Maybe everything.  But because I’m shallow and pretentious I have never spent more than a nanosecond pondering those questions, instead I allow other mysteries like the one I am about to share with you to tumble about in the laundromat of my mind.

There is something called Peranakan cuisine.  Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to sample it on your adventures or in Indonesia.  Peranakan cuisine is the product of an intermarriage between Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines and the basis of it usually contains ingredients like coconut milk and lemon grass.   There is a nut – much prized – in Indonesia called Buah keluak.  Should you stumble upon one on your wanderings through untamed regions of Indonesia you should not under any circumstances eat it.  It will kill you unless you boil it first and then bury it for 40 days under ash and soak it in water for three days to soften the shell before eating it.  Apparently it tastes like chocolate.

My question is this: who were those first men and/or women? 39 brave volunteers (whose names are not recorded on stone tablets; no statues built in their honour) that consumed this nut and died in order for future generations to consume this chocolatey delight?

Why oh why is there no honour roll for these gastronomic heroes?   I want to write songs about them.

Do you find yourself wondering how certain foods got on the menu?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living With Mental Illness

Rant warning.

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One of my favourite sayings is “don’t judge a man before you have walked a mile in his shoes”.

It is one of those idioms that I wish more people would take to heart.

Earlier this week a certain celebrity decided to call suicide ‘stupid’ and described people who choose to end their lives as ‘selfish’. Having lost two friends to suicide and having counselled people weighed down by feelings of hopelessness and despair I can tell you referring to suicide as ‘stupid’ bothers me.

 (It bothered me enough to make me sit down and write this less than fluffy and charming post)

We all know someone with mental illness or addiction issues – diagnosed or otherwise.  Mental illness runs in my family.

My grandfather for example suffered from PTSD and was regarded until the end of his life by extended family and friends as  ‘a weirdo’.

My sister and I thought he was wonderful and eccentric.    We had no idea he was ‘disturbed’ by memories of the war.

Another close relative who lived with manic depression attempted to take her own life three times (that we know of).  Many of my friends had or continue to wrestle with depression and anxiety or live with someone who does.   I have mentioned before that I have learned to control my own anxiety.  At one point in my life it was so debilitating I didn’t leave the house for six months.

If we hope to be better human beings we should open ourselves up to learning more about mental illness.  When you do, you will come face to face in the office, in the community and at various social gatherings with a variety of disorders; anything from mood disorders to eating disorders.

Earlier this month Gillian Bennett took her own life because she had dementia and could not bear the thought of losing herself completely.  You can read her last blog post here.

We are tainted by our own experiences and perspective forgetting perhaps a little too conveniently that we’re not the ones hearing voices or wading through a sticky darkness 24/7.   We are also quick to assume that everyone shares in equal measure: opportunity, good fortune and privilege.  Not so.  Not everyone has access to social and medical infrastructure or the support of a loving parent or friend and many cannot afford the medication.

Treating mental illness is not the same as treating something like the flu.  There are a myriad complex and often intangible factors to consider.  So while some people do go on to live fulfilling lives many people have relapses.

Words and opinions count only if they enlighten, educate and address the issue.  We need action not tweets.  Action is far more powerful.  As is imagination.  Commit to wellness if you live with a mental illness.  Reach out.  Seek help.   Often the most difficult thing is acknowledging we need the help and the second most difficult thing is reaching out to others.   Be brave.  Take those first steps.

Commit to act if you don’t live with mental illness but know someone who does or reach out to help those in your community.

I credit not only therapy but imagination with my healing.  I chose to imagine myself as whole, safe and powerful.  You can too.  It won’t necessarily end the pain but it lets in a shard of light long enough for you to start believing in possibility.

We save lives when we act.  Let’s stop thinking of  depression for example as something ‘he/she should snap out of’  and see it as a real illness like we do cancer and let’s offer to do the things we do for others like picking up groceries or the kids from school.   Let’s practice compassion.

Keep Calm and Carry On – Delaying Gratification

Our fifteen year old son is building a gaming computer.  I am immensely proud of him but not for the reasons you may think.

You see, like other millennials he has a desperate (and often loud) need for instant gratification, so when he told the Mr and I that for his birthday he wanted to build his own gaming computer we realized here (at last) was our opportunity to teach him about the benefits of having a strong work ethic and of delaying gratification.

If you are the parent of a teenager you will understand how difficult it is for them to appreciate delaying gratification for any reason.  Their friends can be reached instantly via text or on Facebook and should they need to know if there are yaks in South America they’re a Google second away from having the answer.    Furthermore if they require feedback on anything like a new haircut or a pair of trainers they ask about it on Snapchat or Instagram.  

So imagine how he reacted when we said ‘Yeah sure bud we’ll get you the parts but a) you’ll have to work for it and b) you only get a maximum of four parts a month until you have all the necessary components”.

Well.  That, went down like this:

“I’m not sure I heard you.  Wanna text me what you just said?”

‘You heard us.”

“Did you say I would have to build my computer over several MONTHS?”

“YES.”

“I could be dead by then.”

Mr and I blinked in unison.

“Technology evolves at such a rapid pace I could be building a dinosaur computer.”

Mr and I blinked again.

“But the game I want to play on my new computer comes out next week!”

I got up to make cups of chamomile tea.

“There’s a law somewhere against doing this to children in Canada!  I know there is! I’ll google it! This is torture.”

When he calmed down to a hissing fit we explained our logic to him.  There are no free handouts in life.  You get what you work for and you have to learn to put things away (like money)and forget about it.  

When the first batch of parts arrived he was happy for 48 hrs and then he reverted to all kinds of shenanigans. He threatened to go on a hunger strike just before I decided to bake blueberry muffins.  He ate six of the twelve muffins.  He refused to clean up his room until I showed him that there was a massive sale on keyboards (50% off!) and that his laziness was costing us money.  He staged a silent protest beside the garbage bin on garbage collection day until I reminded him a black bear was spotted in our street earlier that week and well, if he wanted to deal with that problem while I was at work he was welcome to it.   

Maybe it is a generational thing.  I don’t know.  I have never had trouble delaying gratification.  In fact I get immense pleasure from saving for something I want or buying something small like a chocolate bar and hiding it away for a ‘rainy day’. 

Do you suffer from a need for instant gratification?

Since then our son has come a long way.  How do I know?  Well yesterday at the store he picked out a mousepad that reads: 

Keep Calm And Carry On

Trust me he would have never picked that one three months ago.