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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Abundance

Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health. (Julia Child)

Abundance. Either you have it, or you don't. But this time of the year, it's hard not to think about it.

Gifts piled up high, lots of glitter and bling bling, spending large amounts of money, it is dazzling and exhilarating. But is it really what we want? The more and the flashier, the better?

I vividly remember some footage of Michael Jackson shopping. You can see him rush through the store, pointing to huge vases and other decorative items to signify he's going to buy them, one after the other, without even taking the time to admire them, desire them, get himself all excited over the fact that he's going to acquire them. Despite all the purchases, he doesn't look happy at all. I'd much rather take my time, hesitate, wonder if I really want something and if it's too expensive, ponder if there's something else I'd rather use my cash for. From that perspective, having less money than a pop music superstar might be a blessing in disguise! Half of the pleasure lies in the wait and anticipation!

I am a strong adept of spoiling myself and others... in moderation.

Did you ever notice how quickly we adapt to things that initially seemed so wonderful and exciting?

When my family and I moved to Nova Scotia, I was amazed at the size of our new house and at the forest in our backyard. Two years later, by some mysterious process, our house had shrinked. It was not longer big! I also realized I hardly noticed the forest anymore. Unless I made the conscious effort.

This happens to people all the time. They buy a pet and spend the first few days (weeks if the pet is lucky) playing with kitty and taking puppy for walks. Then, slowly, gradually, insidiously, the furry friend becomes part of the decor, and has to complain to get fed.

I experienced this "adaptation-to-fun" phenomenon yet again while my mother was visiting from Quebec, in October. Over the course of a few days, we played 4 games of Scrabble. As one could expect, the first and second games were much more enjoyable than the fourth. By then I was getting kind of blasé, and ready to do something else. (It might also have something to do with the fact that she beat me by about a hundred points during that fourth game. Just saying.)

Truth is, we often fail to appreciate what's readily available.

I might have discovered this during my first semester in university. Studying days, evenings and weekends was a completely new reality for me, and not necessarily a pleasant one. But there was a good side to it: it made me appreciate what I had so little of, namely, free time. I had never realized how precious free time is, and that's probably because I had good amounts of it. But not in university! When the last term paper was finally handed, and the last exam finally over, I ran to the video store to rent the movie I had been wanting to watch for weeks. It was so exciting to finally have the time to sit down and relax in front of the TV screen! (Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from a few late nights of last minute studying that I fell asleep on the couch within the first 15 minutes of the movie. Oh well.)

It's a real challenge to appreciate what we have when we have it in abundance. It is such a challenge that we keep trying to gain more - more possessions, more money, more space, more friends, more excitement... instead of appreciating what's already there.

I know for a fact that one of the reasons I love lobster so much is because it's always been scarce. On my plate once or twice a year, and that was it. Now that I live in a region where it's readily available, fresh and affordable... I still eat it only occasionally. Having it often would be sure to kill part of my joy. So I let myself linger a little. I let the craving grow. Then when I finally have it, it's sooooooo good!

When there is less of something, we savour it so much more intensely! There's a scene in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where a square of chocolate is smelled at length before the first (small) bite is taken. This is because for Charlie's family, chocolate is an expensive luxury that does not enter the house often (and when it does, the 7 family members have to share the one chocolate bar). Now if buying a chocolate bar is easy for you, you can recreate the feeling by buying expensive chocolate (or any other delicacy) only once a year or so. You can even ask Santa to bring you some. As opposed to what you would do with something more affordable, available in large quantities, you find yourself eating it very slowly, savouring it, letting all your senses absorb it.

Moderation does not mean frugality and asceticism at all times, hell no! If you're able to indulge, by all means do so! Life is short, you know! But keep in mind that small and occasional (and truly savoured) are important ingredients for happiness. Another trick: if you share what you have (either with friends and family or with people who really need a little help), you'll feel even better!

My friend N, whom I had just asked if she drinks/appreciates wine, answered "No, not really. I do, however, like Champagne." Now that's a wise woman! Know what you truly enjoy, and concentrate on that!




As for me, I try to live up to the title of an oenology column I read monthly, that would translate to something like "Drink less, drink better". Once in a while, I'll open a great bottle, and it's well worth the money, if you consider the pleasure - visual, olfactory and social as much as gustatory - it gives my drinking partners and I! The rest of the time, I drink very little. I like to see it this way: all the money I have saved from not buying all those other bottles, I use it for this one very special bottle. Which makes it all the more special!

What are your luxurious pleasures, and how do you keep yourself lingering a little?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Baby blog's first Christmas




Now this is what you do with a couple eggs, old toilet paper rolls and some cotton balls!

And I thought I wasn't crafty. Children definitely bring out the best in us!

Not only did we "craft", we even baked and decorated cupcakes. What's happening to me???

But before this post becomes too Martha-Stewart-ey, what I really want to do is to wish everybody, all around the world, whatever their religion (or absence of religion), political allegiances, language, skin color, sexual orientation, size of shoes, favourite food, sleeping habits...

... HAPPY END OF YEAR CELEBRATIONS AND A WONDERFUL NEW YEAR!

Oh, and my 5 year-old wanted to add her own wishes (her own spelling...):

Ho Ho Ho! Mare Crasmas! A's ban a prete god grl so she shod hav los av toys. Love, A.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blissful moment: Holiday music essentials

Every year, in December, I can finally do what I've been craving all year without becoming a disgrace (or at least an annoyance) to everyone around me: listen to Christmas music!

Is it because I sang the songs in a choir at a very young age (5th grade and on to be accurate)? I have a very special attachment to Christmas carols.

Of course, as I've grown, my repertoire has expanded dramatically. (The one I listen to! Not the one I sing!) Today, I'm going to share some of the essentials. Note that number 1 and 2 are perfectly acceptable any time of the year, but December makes it all more special and appropriate.


Number 1: Handel's Messiah

About 8 years ago (easy to remember since I was pregnant with my oldest, R), I attended "the Messiah" at the basilique Notre-Dame in Montreal's old port. It was beautiful. Magical. I'm sure it contributed to the fact that R has become a music lover, can be heard singing opera in the shower (in tune!) and has already surpassed her mother (that's me) in playing the piano. (To be completely honest, I never got very far in the latter.)

Our daughters have accompanied us to Christmas concerts since they were babies, and have always behaved wonderfully (as opposed to the behavior they keep just for us, at home). That is, if you except the one time R, who was then about 2 or 3 years old, decided to join in and very loudly started singing "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluiaaaaaaaaaaa!" during a very quiet pause in the music...

Number 2: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker

I must have been a young teenager when my parents took us to see Nutcracker (the ballet) by Les grands ballets canadiens. Enchanting! I already loved Tchaikovsky's music in general (this piece is also a favourite of mine), but seing it enacted by talented and graceful dancers was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got.

Number 3: last but not least, your local school's Christmas concert! (or Hanukkah's, or Kwanza's, in all and total respect... whatever concert happening this time of the year!)

(Some schools are considering renaming it a Holidays concert, or a December concert, to make sure nobody's offended... but that's another debate altogether.)

Two years ago, I reluctantly drove to R's school to attend her first Christmas concert. Don't get me wrong, I love children, just as much as I love Christmas concerts (my mom is in a choir and I've happily attended their concerts for years). But the thought of listening to a bunch of 5-6 year olds massacring my favourite tunes was not very enticing. How wrong was I. As soon as they appeared on stage, everyone (including me) was whispering Ohhhs and Ahhhs at the cuteness of their "Sunday best attire". Then, as soon as the sweethearts stroke up the first song, I was conquered. I even caught myself tearing up a little bit (which does NOT happen often! Well, if you exclude music, that is). I had never been so moved by a Christmas concert.

I must not be the only one feeling that way, because that concert is always "sold out". (Either that or the fact that we live in a small community where nothing cultural ever happens; a school concert is all we'll get!)

Now, this year, our little A became part of the concert as well. Not only did she sing beautifully, she also delivered her few lines (one or two kids per class had to speak in the microphone) with great confidence. Which might seem like a small accomplishement, but coming from a little girl who, about a year ago, used to scream and hang on to my pants whenever we tried putting her into a class (dance, swimming, soccer, you name it), this was truly amazing. She even told the other kids what to do and where to go! Her father and I looked at each other in awe, and quietly congratulated ourselves for that theatre camp we signed her for, last summer. Watch out, world! A has come out of her shell!

To finish up beautifully, I don't see why I wouldn't share with you the song that's been stuck in my mind for the past few days.

Good luck with this!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday fun: lost in translation

The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


Most of the time, I love my translating job, for all sorts of reasons. The act of translation per se is very pleasant to me, as I genuinely enjoy playing with words. Plus, I get to read about all kinds of fascinating topics. And my conditions as a freelance, home-based translator, are wonderful: the single fact that I can roll my chair back about 6 feet to get to the fridge is just one example. The view from my window onto the Canadian forest is another one, especially on those days the deer family or the pheasant family decide to pay me a little visit (which is often). And I'm not even mentioning the opportunity to wear jeans and a ponytail on a daily basis, listen to all kinds of loud music, do yoga or go for a run anytime I feel like it, and eat freshly popped corn off my desk. Did I say there is no commute, too? Like NONE? (Unless you think walking from the bedroom to the home office qualifies as commuting!)

But once in a while, I get this assignment that really, I am doing for the money, and for the money only.

You know, for example, that it's not gonna be good when you see the words microorganism and gastrointestinal in the same sentence.

I am also very wary when I receive dermatology documents to translate, especially when they involve illustrations. I don't mind translating the words, but do I really need to see those pictures of pus producing infections/parasites? Could we keep the visual to a minimum? Please?

Yes, this is what I've had to translate this week.

And I thought medical translation sounded like an uneventful, "clean and quiet" kind of career. Um.

What do you love about your job? And is there anything you could do without?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's not what I think it is!



My new acquaintance, J, with whom I've been having fascinating conversations (about death denial among other things), has wisely pointed out that attributing death anxiety to fear of the last judgement is yet another form of death denial.

(Think about that for a minute!)

Yes, the superpowers of the human mind, when it comes to denial, are nothing less than amazing.

(If you're still debating whether you should give credit to J's claim or not, denial might be at play in you, this right moment!)

In fact, denial might be one of the most sophisticated processes of the human mind. Oftentimes, when we feel confused... I believe denial is at play. You cannot see things clearly when there are good reasons to keep your eyes closed. Is there any situation in your life right now where you feel very confused? Watch out for denial! It's probably hiding in the wings!

But rather than writing an erudite essay on the topic (which would imply me researching the literature for hours... blah...), I thought I could come up with some examples of the unquestionable power of denial.

(Please note that some of the following examples are mine, whereas some were recounted to me by good friends.)

1) The denial of impossible love

You've known her for years. You've spent so much time together. Alone, in a canoe, in the middle of a quiet lake. Alone, hiking, in the middle of a quiet forest. Alone, in your room, chatting the night away. You've taken her out to dinner. You've danced with her. You've given her massages. You wrote her long flowery letters. You composed poetic love songs and sang them to her. But still, after all that time, no kiss. She calls you her best friend. A few times, when you tried to get physically closer, she nicely (but firmly) asked you to please move out of her personal space. And now, well now, she just got engaged to a man she doesn't stop saying wonderful things about. But you still have that little hope, deep in your heart, that some day she'll see the extent of your love, and will fall in your arms helplessly. You tell her that in yet another lengthy letter. And wonder why she looks discouraged.

2) The denial of health problems

You go into labor 31 weeks into your pregnancy. The birth is inevitable, declares the ob-gyn in a concerned voice. All kinds of staff assemble in the room : pediatricians, extra nurses, etc. They bring along tons of equipment for eventual resuscitation purposes. Everybody is calm but vigilant and very serious. No smiles. No excitement. When the baby's out and crying lightly (it sounds like a whisper), the doc looks slightly relieved, but still tells you he's gonna have to take her to the NICU right away. You complain. This is supposed to be bonding time! Skin to skin first contact! Don't ruin our first moments, you protest! Then as the baby's taken away from you before you even had time to take a good look at her (daddy's going with her, at least), you enthusiastically start calling people to announce the birth... and become very annoyed when they fail to share the excitement. Oh, it's so early, they say. Is she gonna be OK? Of course she will! What's the big fuss? Can't you just be happy for us?

It's only a good 24 hours later, after seeing your tiny baby in her incubator, connected to a bunch of beeping machines, and learning that she'll be staying in the hospital for at least a month, that it hits you: no, she's not OK.

(I feel compelled to add, at this point, that some 8 years later, my little precious has proven that she is absolutely OK, and so much more than OK! R is a perfectly healthy and super smart kid, and we're so grateful!)


3) The denial of a crush

You've met someone and quickly developed a fascination for her. Everything she says is the most intelligent thing you've ever heard. Everything she does is awesome. You find yourself admiring her least movement, the way she moves her hair out of her face, the way she wrinkles her nose when she laughs. You notice her lovely scent. Her voice is a song to your ears, especially when she says your name. You enjoy her company so much you'd like to be with her 24/7. When you're talking with her, you feel compelled to touch her. When you're not with her and the phone rings, you jump out of your seat, with the hope that it's a call from her. You check your email every 10 minutes, and feel deep disappointment when there's no message from her. You pay particular attention to your looks when you know you're gonna see her. You find yourself daydreaming about her. Then she's in your dreams at night. You get butterflies in the stomach thinking about her, and even more when she's around. But since she's a woman, and you're also a woman (a straight one!), this can only be intense friendship, right? RIGHT?!?

4) The denial of death

Your dad just passed away a few weeks ago, and when you go to your parents' place, even though nobody's using his office anymore, you could swear you can hear, when the house is otherwise silent, the sound of his chair rolling, of his file cabinet opening and closing, of his steps on the floor. You don't believe in ghosts, yet the sounds are very convincing. Could your brain be playing such a trick on you?


Friday, December 9, 2011

Laughing matters: fossil fun OR Why it's important to listen in class

http://lutetienlibere.free/
Ideal landscape of the eocene period


I'm not sure if today's post belongs to the Laughing Matters category, or if Crying Matters would be better suited. I'll let you judge by yourself.

The blog has now reached more than 2000 page views (thank you readers!), and that brought back to my memory an anecdote that I thought I could share.

I have, at home, a plaque with a fish fossil that my mom gave us a few years ago. The name of the fish is Diplomystus Dentatus. It looks like this:




Once while I was chatting with a guy (who does not read English, so don't you be worried), the conversation branched off to fossils. I can't remember why and how. Perhaps we had mentioned, in the list of Nova Scotia's touristic must-sees, the fossil site of Parrsboro. Anyways. I thought it would be cool to show him our fish fossil.

He admired it for a while, then turned it to read what was written in the back. Apart from its name, the little sticker said "Green River Formation, Wyoming" and "Eocene (36 to 58 million years ago)".

I personally think it's pretty awesome to hold a fish fossil dating from millions of years.

But apparently, my interlocutor thought differently. With a skeptical look on his face, he turned to me and said "But how could it be 36 to 58 million years old? This is only year 2011!"

I was so NOT expecting to hear those words, I almost fell from my chair. But I quickly reminded myself of the Number One rule of interpersonal relationships: never let anyone lose face. I wiped my startled look as fast as I could, and I rapidly changed the subject.

Some conversational pieces hold dangerous powers!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A useful reminder as Christmas approaches

My ever-increasing workload prevents me from writing a lengthy post today, but I could not resist indulging a little bit, and showing you an informative diagram my colleague M just shared with me (and incidentally with all her other Facebook friends).

Thanks to this picture, never again will you feel confused about who you should look up to as the ultimate power holder:




Ha! I knew he was the awesomest.

If you need any additional proof of that, note that HE, and only HE, is followed by the NORAD (in his annual circumnavigation):

http://www.noradsanta.org/en/

My kids love to watch where HE's at on the 24th of December, and it's a breeze to send them to bed by actually showing them he's about to arrive (since, as we all know, he will not leave presents to any kid who's not asleep!) As soon as Santa hits the Azores, you can hear 4 little feet rush upstairs. "Santa's on his way to cross the Atlantic! Quick! To bed!"

(Plus, what a better way to introduce geography notions?)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Children on happiness

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Children and happiness.

This time it will be Children ON happiness.

Which means I am giving a voice to children, for them to tell us about happiness.

More specifically, I asked my neighbour L, who is already a very interesting interlocutor at 11 years of age, to make a list of things that make her happy (and to say why they make her happy).

After all, L seems to have a talent for happiness. She's always smiling, laughing, talking enthusiastically about the people and the things that she likes. We have loads of fun together. One of our latest crazy moments happened when we decided to give a name to my Halloween decorations. For the bat, she came up with Strawberry, to be pronounced with a "transylvanian" accent: "Shtrrrowberrrrrrrrrry" (bats belong with vampires, after all). For the skull, we decided to play on contradictions and give that symbol of death a name that screams life. So the skull was baptised Fleurette, which in French means "little flower". We then went on to lengthily describe Strawberry's and Fleurette's personalities. Fleurette, in particular, has some interesting traits. According to L, she is a very vain little skull, who's always admiring herself in the mirror, and very concerned about looking feminine enough. One time, as she was leaving my house, L looked at Fleurette in the eye (or, should I say, in the eye-socket) and said "OK Fleurette, I have to go now. Take care! And remember: easy on the makeup!"

This kid will never cease to make me laugh.

Now here's L's list of things that make her happy:

- being the oldest of the kids: I get special rights
- friends: they always like my ideas
- pets: they don't argue with me, and they like to cuddle
- someone smiling: it makes me wanna smile too
- basketball and tae kwon do: it helps me get the anger out, and when I do good, my team mates cheer and give me high fives
- marshmallows: they're soft and sweet
- art class: I get to create and do beautiful things
- designing the house of my dreams: I like to imagine what my future will be like
- jumping in a pile of leaves: the colours, the smell, the fresh air
- riding a bike: I enjoy feeling the wind through my hair; it makes me feel clean
- parties, bonfires: I like staying up late; I feel like I'm a grown up
- sunglasses: they make me look "professional"

Such a simple list, and yet so full of wisdom. (Notice she didn't mention much material stuff!)
Everything L said can fit into one or more of the following categories: 

- feeling important
- a sense of belonging and connection
- projecting yourself in the future
- creativity
- contact with nature
- catharsis (through exercise, for example)
- love and affection
- immediate pleasure of the senses

Then that sweetheart added - and insisted that I write down - "I love being with J (that's me) because:

- she's funny and a little bit crazy like me; we make each other laugh
- we have picnics in the middle of nowhere: "Let's just put the blanket right here guys!... Ooops! An ants nest!"
- she shows me silly dance moves
- she gives us the best snacks, for eg: the "marshmallow test" (take a look at that video... too cute... and apparently a very accurate predictor of future success in life!)
- we watch hilarious clips on YouTube
- she explains to me the secret language of cats (watch the whole video for the translation!)
- she's the protector of all wild life, even slugs!
- she's the only grown up I know who's willing to hang upside down on the monkey bars."

Well, L, I love being with you too! You're smart, kind, funny, creative, and you certainly know how to pay compliments! ;-)


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Simon Cowell is a bully

Bullying is making the headlines again, and not for a good reason. A 15-year old girl from Québec recently committed suicide after years of being bullied.

At the school my daughters attend, there is an active anti-bullying program, and the B word resonates in the classrooms and the hallways on a regular basis. Bullying is certainly not a taboo there. Kids get to verbalize about it. They draw pictures of it. They are encouraged to come up with ideas of how to fight it. At some point I even thought it was excessive. As soon as a friend disagreed with my kids or did something annoying, they would call him/her a bully. I had to sit them down and explain the subtle nuances.

Problem is, bullying itself is often subtle. As a part of some Girl Guide leader training, I once watched a documentary on bullying, and it made all of us grown-ups realize how discreet it can be to the adult eye. We had to pay very close attention to the video footage of the school playground to notice what was going on. In girls especially, bullying can happen in the way someone looks (or does not look) at you. It is very insidious. Then, watching the interviews with the bullies and their parents, we couldn't believe the denial that was going on. Plus, the bullies themselves presented a misleading image: they were lovely, balanced little girls. Not cruel monsters. That is, until you listened to how their victims felt about the whole thing.

Another reason why bullying is hard to identify and to react to is that it's often committed by people who, a day ago, were your best friends. Not only is it painful, it's very confusing. A form of psychological torture, really.

For having very unfortunately played both roles (the victim and the bully) when I was in middle school, I am too aware of its complexities. I know from a fact that being bullied hurts. Big time. I also know from a fact that being a bully, most of the time, feels like a joke; you're not really aware of the wrong you're causing. It's just funny. (Not!)

Everybody has theories on why bullying exists, and on why it is so prevalent. Please keep in mind that I am not a specialist of the topic, nor have I extensively read the research. I am nonetheless going to share my views, most of them stemming from my own personal experience.

To begin with, I do not think bullying is a recent phenomenon (my own experience goes back to 25 years ago, and I'm pretty sure my parents' generation had to deal with it too). Aggressing your peers to feel better about yourself is just one of those ugly human tendencies (oh! maybe I do see ugliness sometimes!)

Granted, today's context may have an impact on bullying. Contributing factors could include the media: there is a lot of bullying going on in reality TV, and some pretty popular adults resort to it (Simon Cowell is one example). The social media is in cause too. It is pretty damn easy to bit** people anonymously through Facebook and other web platforms. Even university professors are a target, as made obvious by some of the comments left by students on the Rate my Professors website; one of D's colleagues painfully discovered it, and he was deeply affected by it. (D does not have any ratings yet; is that good or bad?)

But the contemporary context does not explain it all.

Why do people adopt a seemingly unexplainable behavior? Because they gain something from it. Bullying makes you feel powerful, in control, important. In my case, as a 12-ish year old, bullying was the way to ensure I was still accepted in the "cool gang"; that I could hang out with the most popular kids. If you didn't bully, you were out. You had to hang out with the "not so cool" kids. Worse: you could end up being bullied yourself. Which is exactly what happened. When I realized how insane bullying actually was, I said "goodbye, gang", and made new, "uncool" friends (who proved to be pretty cool after all). I completely stopped bullying. I started behaving nicely with the scapegoats. It felt great. I made even more friends! BUT: the popular kids, my "ex-friends", they did not appreciate. And so I became another one of the victims. Which was tough in more than one way. Really tough.

(I am NOT proud of having played the bully part, but I AM proud of having - relatively quickly - come to my senses and found the courage to say "No, I'm not gonna be a bully, I'm not gonna hang out with bullies, and I'm gonna stand for the bullied". Kids, if you're a bully, or even if you're a silent witness, it is not too late to put your foot down and change your attitude!)

Now for the tangible actions. I believe bullying has to be attacked from two fronts: the bully, and the bullied.

The bullies need to be showed what bullying actually does. I believe that in many cases they just have no idea (which does not excuse their behavior, obviously). I certainly did not know how hard it was on the victims.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that a certain proportion of the bullies are probably bullied at home, by their parents or older siblings. In which cases the challenge is multiplied by 10: how do you monitor what a kid is exposed to at home, and how do you erase one of the most influential things of all: modelling after your parents!

Speaking of what happens at home, the way some kids talk to their parents borders on bullying, too. If kids do not learn to respect others within the family nucleus, how can we ensure they do outside of it?

The bullied, on the other hand, need to be given tools. They need to be reminded that when you're bullied, the causes are external to you. Kids have that tendency (probably because of their natural egocentrism) to look within themselves when the cause of something is not obvious. (Eg: kids of divorced parents often blame themselves for the divorce.) We have to make sure that every kid knows and understands that being bullied is NOT your fault; there's nothing wrong with you, even if the bullies are usually pretty good at making you think otherwise.

Every kid has to know their own value and feel confident about himself/herself, so that even the worst bullying on earth, as unpleasant as it is, is not gonna impact on his/her self-esteem. I am convinced that one of the main reasons I survived being bullied relatively intact (despite a lot of tears) was that at home, I was accepted, respected, loved and valued. I had a safe haven to go back to every afternoon. I knew my own worth, thanks to my devoted parents. The bullies had some grip on me, but I was still able to slip out of their hands.

I did have to work, though, on my shyness (which I call "the silent handicap"). There might be absolutely nothing wrong with you, shyness is not gonna help. Bullies have a gift for identifying targets who will not retaliate (usually the soft-spoken kids). In my opinion, being assertive is one of the tools that helps keeping the bullies at bay. Assertive in a respectful way: respecting of others, and self-respecting as well. As a swimming instructor trainer (student job I held for many years), part of my responsibility was to teach the kids leadership skills. There's nothing more beautiful than seeing a shy, unsure teenager blossom into a self-confident, respectful, influential, positive role model. We need to do more of that.

What are YOUR strategies?


Friday, December 2, 2011

Experiments in relativity

Christ Carrying the Cross, by Hieronymus Bosch


No, this post is not about physics!

Well, maybe about optics.

You see, I have vision problems.

Some people don't see well from afar. Some people don't see well when it's close.

What I don't see is ugliness.

Which has led me to coin the phrase "Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder".

I don't clearly recall when was the first time I realized I was ugliness-blind.

Maybe it was when I read an interview with the French novelist Amélie Nothomb, who insisted she was ugly.

I looked at pictures of her. At videos of her. I looked and I looked. From all angles. I could not see ugliness.

Yes, I noticed her features were not the most delicate. Yes, I noticed her face did not have the sought-after symmetry.

No, she probably would not succeed as a fashion model.

But ugly? I did not see that.

When I look at people, it's as if my eyes ignore the imperfections and focus on the beauty. In some people it's their hair. In some it's their eyes. Some people have a flawless skin. Well-aligned teeth. A wonderful, luminous smile. Some people's beauty resides in their voice. In their laughter. In their quiet confidence. Their humour. Their energy. In the way they look at you. In the things they say.

Everyone is beautiful in their own way. And I think we're happier when we focus on that.

I am actually not the only one to see things that way. Serge Gainsbourg, the French singer famous for claiming that "ugliness is superior to beauty in that it never fades", was certainly not a Chippendale, and yet he was constantly surrounded by pretty women.

He had them sing salacious songs with him:

Les sucettes (The lollipops)

Je t'aime moi non plus (I love you, me neither)

He had them merrily climb into his bed.

They even made babies with him.

I am guessing those women all had the same vision problems as me.

Another example of relativity in physical appearance matters is the way I recently reacted to a bunch of 18 year old men whistling me as I was running in the neighborhood. Other than being tempted to laugh and tell them to "cool it off, guys, I'm probably twice your age", what I felt was pride. Back when I was 18, I would have felt disrespected, maybe even threatened. Not anymore. This time, I liked it. When I shared this anecdote with my friends, they all had an extremely positive reaction. "Way to go, girl!" kind of  thing. They all thought it was great!

So the rules of thumb, guys, is to 1) never consider a woman too pretty for you (well, unless she shows signs of NOT being interested, of course! Respect is a capital R word!), and 2) only whistle women who are at least 15-20 years older than you!!!