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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Taboo crushing

grbenching, Flickr

Don't have time to write a long blog post? (That's unfortunately a common problem for all of us hard workers.)

Too busy translating wonderful terms such as erythema nodosumfebrile neutropeniaand petechiae? (That's probably much less common, but nonetheless my case this precise day.)

Still want to keep your blog alive and thriving?

Despair not, fellow bloggers! There's a way to do this!

How? Simple.

1) Pick a couple of well-chosen links and videos that gravitate around one specific topic;

2) Find a common theme that will become your post's title;

3) Publish it all!

I did that here:


And time constraints are forcing me to do it again today. Here are my two taboo crushing videos of the day (they are short enough for you busy people!)

This one is cute:

That one? I'll let you judge:

And there, an article that seems to be about something very specific, but that nonetheless ends up talking to all of us:


Did you learn something here?

What did those topics evoke for you?

Any other taboo you would like me to crush?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tasty diversity

Bruce Denis, Flickr

Have you ever sat to ponder what your opinion might be on controversial issues? When I was an undergrad, I took a Philosophy course that forced me into that kind of reflection. The title was Contemporary Moral Issues. As the title suggests, this course explored some "hot topics" through philosophical lenses: we studied abortion, euthanasia, death penalty and pornography, among other things. From what I see, over the years the syllabus has also included topics such as censorship, affirmative action, civil disobedience, genetic engineering, embryonic stem cell research, and animal rights.

Do you have a clear and informed opinion on those topics?

At 20 years of age, I didn't. To a young adult, this course was an eye-opener. For example, up to then I thought there was nothing wrong with pornography. This was mostly because 1) I hadn't been exposed to certain kinds of pornography, and could not imagine they even existed; 2) I had not realized the whole implications pornography can have in "real life". In short, I was still pretty innocent on the matters (or maybe I was just not very "deviant").

What that course mostly taught me is that such issues are complex to say the least, and not easily resolved, not even when subjected to a thorough philosophical approach. I had been pretty opinionated up to then, but there I learned critical and nuanced thinking, and to explore all sides of a situation before making up my mind.

There is one thing, however, that I still believe cannot be questioned, and that is the universality of human rights.

By ervega, Flickr

Call me naive, but I truly and profoundly believe all human beings are born equal, and deserve the same treatment. Life is unfair as it is, do we really need to add to it by being disrespectful and downright mean to each other?

For as long as I can remember I've always been a prejudice fighter. In High School, for example, a friend whose family came from Haiti and I created what we called the "anti-racism brigade".

I'm not sure what brought about that open attitude toward difference, probably a mixture of innate dispositions and environmental exposition (i.e. an open-minded family), but I've never, never understood all the hatred that originates from cultural diversity and other societal differences.

With time, and thanks to my philosophy, sociology and psychology classes and readings, I have come to understand what prejudice and hatred originate from. Briefly: difference confronts us to our own ambivalence, uncertainties, and our need for a clear structure composed of mutually exclusive categories; in that sense, difference is hard to tolerate because of our mind's rigidity. At a deeper level, difference confronts us to our own flaws, weaknesses and fears. Finally: difference confronts us to our fear of dying.

For more on that last concept, please see Flight from Death: the Quest for Immortality, an EXCELLENT documentary. I have had the privilege to discuss with one of the researchers interviewed in this documentary, Dr. Jeff Greenberg, from the University of Arizona (the guy with the yellow shirt and MAD hat in the video), and his insight on the topic is quite fascinating (see excerpt below).

What's for sure is that your reaction to difference says everything about YOU.

Despite my understanding of the underlying explanation to intolerance, it still baffles me that otherwise intelligent people would fall prey to such feelings of prejudice and hatred toward other human beings, and let those feelings permeate their words and actions.

My own, personal experience of difference 

As a kid, I lived in Western Africa (Senegal), and I experienced first hand what happens when different ethnicities/cultures cohabit (especially when one of those groups is privileged, the other not so much - if you want to know more about this I invite you to read about colonialism and post-colonialism). Even in the - apparent - absence of a major cultural difference, some situations can be a challenge to navigate smoothly. I remember an awkward moment, when my parents were discussing with a Senegalese friend who had studied in England (nothing less than Oxford) before coming back to his home country; he was also my English tutor. Inquiring about how his wife was doing, my parents got the following answer "Oh, she is not feeling too good these days; I'm about to take a second wife, and she's not happy about that".

How would you have reacted? From what I remember there must have been a brief, uncomfortable silence, then a change of topic.

Would you be able to build a friendship with someone who's way of life is so different from yours? How? (think of dinner invitations) Why?

I have also experienced what it feels like to be a minority. First, in Senegal. I cannot say I was discriminated against, and one might argue that I was on the side that's historically been the instigator of discrimination - not its victim. In any case, whenever we visited remote villages (where my mom volunteered), not only were we the ethnic minority, sometimes we were also among the very few blonde people the village children had ever met. I remember them exclaiming "toubab!" (means white person) and running up to us to touch our head! I wanted to befriend those kids. But they seemed to only notice (and be interested in) the color of my skin and hair. If I felt uneasy, how bad must it feel for those who belong to the group who's actually discriminated against?

Have you ever felt like that? How can you relate to someone who only sees the superficial aspect of who you are?

I might have been a minority here too. Where's Waldo?
Beijing, China, 2010.

Those new acquaintances wanted to have their picture taken
with me specifically because I was Caucasian (and blonde).
Great Wall of China, 2010.

My second experience as a minority member was a linguistic one. When we left our French province of Quebec and moved to Nova Scotia, I was pleasantly surprised by the omnipresence of francophiles (French lovers). Used to the linguistic tensions in Quebec, I was happy to see that there didn't seem to be much hostility between Francophones and Anglophones in my new province (I later learned this harmony is rather recent). What's more, most schools here have an extensive French immersion program. A lot of people are convinced of the value of bilingualism.

There is, however, an acquaintance who seems to have a problem with the fact that we're a French family living in an English environment. His comments are not negative, and he's always behaved very nicely to us. He does, however, mention the fact that we are French every single time we talk with him. Every. Single. Time. It's obvious that he views us as French people long before he views us as people, period. I used to minimize this, until I imagined what it would sound like if, instead of being French (a conquered people in a sea of English), we were members of another minority. Here's what his comments would be like: "Haha! That's because you guys are black!" or "Oh, but of course, I should have known, aren't all Jewish people like that?"

Hmmm... doesn't sound too good to me!!! What do you think?

But where does this reaction to difference originate from? Is it innate? To help answer that question, let's watch children's reactions to the interracial Cheerios commercial everyone is talking (or upset) about. Now that's what I call refreshing:

This other reaction is pretty good as well. With some discourse on the nutritional value of breakfast cereal as a bonus:

And now the pride topic you've been awaiting

This week, in Halifax, as in many other cities this summer, a Pride Festival is taking place. There will be activities of all sorts, including (heard on the radio) a "glow in the dark bingo with drag queens and all", and of course a parade. I know this will bother some people, for all kinds of reasons. People who can live with the existence of homosexuality and gender ambiguity as long as they don't see it... which pretty much means they cannot live with it, period.

People who claim they have nothing against gay people... "as long as they don't shove it in my face" (don't heterosexuals display their way of life all the time?!?), adding "but I don't get why they have to be so flamboyant about it". (Personally, I think anybody who's had to hide who s/he really is for years, in fear of discrimination and violence, is entitled to be flamboyant about it once s/he's come out of the closet! And those who don't like it can always look elsewhere!)

Think you're open minded? Take a look at the following video and tell me what you think!

Your little homework of the week

I'm not saying our reactions toward difference are abnormal, and I've certainly had some too, but I am questioning their origins, and the way we verbalize them and act on them. Today I would like to ask you something.

First, could you take a couple minutes and reflect on your gut reactions (whether it's toward other ethnic/cultural/religious groups or toward the LGBT - Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender - community), and think about where those reactions of yours come from? Do you feel perplexed? Uncomfortable? Judgemental? Superior? Threatened? Angry? Scared? Disgusted? Why? Be honest and try to come up with sincere answers for yourself.

Second, could you take a couple minutes to imagine what it would be like if you had been born a different skin color/cultural group/religion... especially one that has been discriminated against? How would you feel about the discrimination discourse and actions - open or insidious - that still abound, if you were the target of it, based on your birth?

Third, could you take a couple minutes to imagine what it would be like to suddenly realize you are not comfortable - not at all - living in the gender identity you are supposed to live in, and/or, to suddenly realize you are really, really attracted (physically and/or romantically) to someone of the same sex? How do you think it would feel if it happened to you? If those feelings were extremely strong and compelling and overwhelming? If it hasn't happened to you, what do you think allows you to judge the people who have to deal with it?

As the saying goes: "Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes". (And if said man is a drag queen in heels, I bet you won't even last a mile!)

I long to overcome ethnocentrism: your ethnic/cultural group is not the only one, and it's not the best one either. While we're at it, let's also tackle "sexocentrism": your sexuality/gender is not the only one, and it's not the best one either.

No one is expecting us to understand what we don't know. But we can at least try and RESPECT.

With a little bit of humility, compassion and love, we will get this done!

So, what is your take on this topic?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Is it ever too early to learn about ethics?

Le Penseur, by Auguste Rodin

To follow up on last week's nerd confession, why don't I go the whole way and say I love philosophy.

As you will see shortly, nerd or not... philosophy has a role to play in our daily life.

But first, a short, nerdy intro:

It was not enough that I read Plato's Symposium (among other philosophical pieces) during my teenage years, I also used it for my Master's thesis, which is based on another text by a very philosophical French writer. As an undergrad, I had taken as many philosophy courses I could (as electives), and if it wasn't for the fact that everyone told me there were no jobs in the field, I might have majored in it altogether.

Philosophy temporarily lost ground to more down to earth considerations when I became a mother and got busy with the diaper and milk overflows I mentioned in a previous post.

One day, however, the kids received, as a present, a subscription to a children's magazine that contained a section entitled "les petits philosophes" (the little philosophers). This philosophically flavored section aims at teaching young children the basics of ethics. E.g. A mouse and an elephant are eating cake together. The elephant serves himself a very big piece, and serves the mouse a very small piece. Is that fair? Why?

My kids are now 7 and 9, and the little philosophers they are have graduated to more complex concepts. Here, a recent conversation I had with R as we walked the dog together:

- Mom, what's my behavior now, from A to Z? (Yes, I use letter grades to give feedback to my kids... the nerd in me again.)

- A. You've had a very good behavior.

- What kind of behavior would Z be?

- That's an interesting question. What's the worst thing someone can do?

- Er... to kill someone else?

- I think you're right. What would stealing a pack of gum in a convenience store be?

- Hmmm... Q.

- How about calling your mom dumb?

- Well it's not a crime, but it's not nice at all, so L.

- How about throwing your trash in the woods?

- That's polluting, and if we do too much of it we could become extinct, so P.

- What about touching someone's private parts when they don't want to?

- V?

- Well, I think it's Y. It's very wrong.

- We could say Y minus.

- I agree.

If we can have such conversations now, I can't wait for what we'll talk about in a couple years!

Now, there are some grown-ups out there who obviously haven't done their philosophy homework, especially the section on ethics! See for yourself with the following anecdote:

I recently happened to look at a bag of Swedish Berries. That raspberry-shaped candy contains (per tiny portion of 11 pieces):

140 calories
20g sodium
35g carbohydrates (or 12% of the recommended daily intake)
28g sugar
NO fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals whatsoever

Apart from the sugar amount and the fact that this provides you with more than a tenth of your carbs without giving you any nutrients (better options include, uh, let me think... fruit and vegetables, maybe?), what bothers me the most about this "food item" is the claims on the packaging, namely:

"Made with real fruit juice"
"A fat free food"
"To be enjoyed as part of a healthy, active lifestyle"

Seriously? Could it possibly be more misleading? Am I the only one who feels like screaming "bullsh**!"

And what about those Nutella commercials who claim their "sh*t" (er, I mean, product) contains milk and hazelnuts? Have you ever calculated how much milk and hazelnut you get in a portion? As for "providing you the energy you need", I would imagine it does with the sugar peak... only to be followed by a sugar low, and we all know what that does: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Speaking of Zs, aren't you tired of being treated like an idiot by unscrupulous companies?

Philosophy, ethics, conversations with children, misleading food packaging... tell me what you think!

For more around the theme of philosophy:



Friday, July 19, 2013

Talk nerdy to me


Note to the reader: no, no, I am not cheating at my new "2 posts per week" rule! This post has been written for a while, and today I am merely publishing it! That's all! Plus, the previous one was written by my kids, so that doesn't count, right?...

Nerd: One whose IQ exceeds his weight. (Urban Dictionary)

Hi, my name is Julie, and I'm a nerd.

I was that kid.

I learned how to read on my own, before I turned 5.

If nobody had forced me to go outdoors I would have stayed in with my books (and later, with my pen and paper) 24/7.

I was inordinately excited when I finally started school. Then in the evenings or on the weekends, I would play school. Sometimes I would play library. When summer vacation came I was always sad. I fell in love with all my teachers, one after the other. Most of the time they also fell for me.

Yes, I was that kid.


The one who raises her hand to point out a spelling mistake on the black board.

The one who storms to the teacher's desk to demand an explanation when she does not get an A, asking "Where did I lose my points?"

The one who complains, before a test, that she's gonna fail... only to end up with the highest grade.

Yes, that was  me... until grade 6.

I knew it had gone a little too far when my classmates nicknamed me "Dictionary", and when a boy from my class wrote, in my elementary school yearbook: "You are very nice despite your superior intelligence". (True story!)

Other classmates were not so kind, and a few "Shut up, Saint-Mleux" were pretty efficient at humbling me.

Since being popular was high up in my priorities (even more than giving the right answer), I decided I would tone it down a little bit. There are limits to being annoying, and I had found my Waterloo.

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass, by Jacques-Louis David

(I did have one setback when my second baby was born, and they announced an Apgar score of 9. Why only 9, I asked. Where did she lose her point? Turns out she had swallowed a full serving of amniotic fluid on the way out; apparently that will make you slightly less responsive. Plus, I later learned - the nerd in me, again! - that the common transient cyanosis makes a score of 10 rather uncommon. But back to our topic.)

I soon realized that doing better in one domain does not mean you're better at everything. I sucked at arts and sports. I was also very shy. Especially when I had a crush on someone. When people started french kissing in the school yard in grade 6, I looked at them from a distance, bewildered, still stuck in my fairy tales where the prince never sticks his tongue into nobody's mouth!

Still, whenever I brought back a report card with anything under 90% (or 95% in my strong subjects - languages and humanities), my parents would sit with me and invariably ask the same 2 questions:

- How do you explain that grade?
- What are you planning to do to bring it back up for next semester?

So getting good grades remained central to my life... but I became silent about it. Magically, I made wonderful friends during my teenage years, and each and every one of them was smarter than me in at least one way. (One common quality they had that I did not have was common sense and personal discipline - compared to most of them, I was a scatterbrain impulsive wreck!)

Eventually I found my second Waterloo: having always done great without putting in any effort, I did not understand why I suddenly had to study and actually read the material in order to pass Advanced Math, Physics and Chemistry. Ouch, that was painful.

I can't say how grateful I am for the friends who taught me how to study, and that yes, you CAN remain seated for more than half an hour working at the same term paper. Thank you, hard-working friends!


That story goes to show that being nerdy is fine, but that finding some balance is better.

Now you must be wondering. How do you know you're a nerd? Here are some examples:
  • The only TV shows you really enjoy are documentaries, with the exception of The Big Bang Theory.
  • Your favorite place to go is a museum. You could spend a whole day there and completely forget about the outside world. 
  • Your idea of the best possible intercourse is intellectual intercourse.
  • Your most kinky sexual fantasy consists of a foreplay period of poem reading, followed by some "action" between 2 rows of bookshelves in a deserted library (don't forget to cover your mouth with some duct tape first).


  • So, are you a nerd?
  • If not, do you know any?
  • What do you like about nerdiness, and what gets on your nerves about it?
  • No matter what you are and who you are, be proud of it! 

More on pride to come shortly... and here's a hint on the topic we will touch upon:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer vackashon

by guest writers, A and R

(Note: the posts have been slightly edited to remove parts that might be of lesser interest to the reader. I did not, however, modify the sentences, nor did I correct any spelling mistake. Hope you enjoy the cuteness of it all! Alternative titles in italics are mine.)

My summer vackashon
(or a swimming pool obsession)
by A (7 years old)

A by the river

In the summer we always go to Quebec! Quebec is a nice place. I like going there. I like to go there because my grand-parints live there.

My grama has a pool. I like to go in it with my sister. My other grama dose not have a pool. But she is as grate. I love her. I wish I could stay with her for evere. My grandpa does not have a pool ethar. I still love him.

After a long drive... almost there!

During my vackashon evry won go for long hikes in the wodes.

One of the hikes

The moste fun thing abote going on our summer vackashon is that we always do difrint things!

Zia our dog came with us. After Quebec we went to Cape Breton. We went to a hotel that dogs can go to. There was a pool with a big slide!

After this I am going to a theator camp. I did it when I was 5. We did not do mush, we did a letol, but for me it was a lot because I was small. It was fun. Now that I am older I will do more.

The end.

Summer travels
(or a foretaste of teenager attitude)
by R (9 years old)

In the summer I always travel with my family. The first place we go is Quebec, to meet my grandparents. When we went there we were super happy to see them! We only see them once a year. We also saw our French friends.

Grandma's house is awesome.
It has secret rooms and secret passageways.
It even has a "Harry Potter closet" under the stairs!

One day, we were playing a game of volleyball and I discovered that I am not that good at it. This is why: every time I served the ball, it flew backwards, and almost every time I hit it, I didn't hit it hard enough, and we had to serve again.

We also tried croquet, and I won. It was my first game! I kept on getting my ball through the hole, even if it was about an arm span away!

After croquet we went to a park with my uncle, X. We played shark tag.

When we were at my grandpa's, we once had pizza for supper. My grandpa went to get it and I dragged along. I chose one kind, my grandpa chose the other one. I liked the kind I chose better.

During our vacation, my dad became obsessed with the rivière St-François. He would not stop talking about it and I got SUPER annoyed.

We took an awesome hike in the woods. We found a chipmunk being eaten alive! We all looked. No one touched it, though. It was disgusting. The next day, we went on another hike. This hike was longer and had a little river called la rivière au Saumon. We took of our shoes and socks and went in. We did not swim, but we went knee-deep in the water. Grandma splashed me, so I took my revenge. I made a HUMONGOUS splash and got her soaked!

My dad was still being annoying about the rivière St-François, so I told him to stop it. He FINALLY did, so I said "THANK YOU".

Then my mom started singing opera. It was horrible. (Sorry, mom!)

Don't try to hide, mom. We know it's you!

One day, A knocked down a glass table while we were playing forts. Dad came downstairs and told us to be careful.

After a week, it was time to go home (quite a long ride).

On the road again...

Zia was good as ever (except the one time she bit me).

Zia loved her vacation too.
She even learned to swim!

Back home, my family and I were so tired we just plopped into bed and fell asleep.

The next day, mom said "Get in the car, we're going to Cape Breton!"

To be continued...

What you will see on a Canadian road trip

And what about that!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vacation cogitation, and a pop-psych party!

I don't know for you, but when I'm on vacation, I always end up immersed in metaphysical musings. Is it because I don't get my intellectual stimulation from work? Is it because I am released from my sometimes unavoidably monotonous routine? Is it because of the books I chose to read during said vacation? It seems like I cannot avoid ending up in deep cogitation: whether I question the meaning of life in general, or my life choices and direction in particular, my mind is full of question marks, and the pool of potential answers suddenly seems to widen.

Lobsters might be what I need the most...Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 2013

When I'm on vacation, the sky is the limit!

The last time I was on vacation, I read books on simplicity and frugality; those readings gave me a sense of serenity about the material sphere AND got me started on getting rid of stuff. How liberating!


This time, my readings all seem to converge toward the use of intuition. What in particular drove me to pick books that tout the merits of following your intuition? My intuition, most likely!

My intuition and I have had a complex (if not complicated) relationship for the longest time. I blame my degree in psychology. All the non-scientific, esoteric beliefs I could have been entertaining up to then quickly dissolved as I learned to trust only critical thinking, empirical observations, and the Cartesian system. We were taught to toss away all our intuitive feelings about anything pertaining to human psychology, told they were usually misleading, and invited to rely instead on reliable research results. The interesting thing, a lot of our intuitive feelings about human psychology ARE wrong, and quickly disproved by scientific studies!

For example, between those two popular sayings, can you say which one is true, and why:

  • Birds of a feather flock together
  • Opposites attract

Would you know the answer? And that's just one very simple example. Most of us actually have no idea how distorted our perceptions are! My studies in psychology taught me exactly that: how the numerous, often unconscious, psychological processes that distort reality right in front of our eyes in order to make it easier to swallow (e.g. cognitive dissonance) completely elude us most of the time.

In the end, what I learned is that you cannot trust your intuition! And, proud of my newly acquired scientific approach, I discredited anything that couldn't be demonstrated and replicated.

This has left a trace in my brain for all those years, and as much as I want to learn about how to use and trust my intuition, a big part of me just wants to resist!

Do I follow it or not?

After all, listening to your inner voice sounds like a good idea... but what if it tells me to eat a second serving of ice cream? What if it tells me to play that video game "just a little longer"? What if it tells me to dump my secure, well-paying job, to pursue a very "iffy" venture? What if it tells me to give my phone number to that hot guy who's been pursuing me? (Considering the fact that I'm in a relationship.) What if I end up chasing the wrong thing (or person)?

I believe the distinction lies within the deep motivation that feeds into the specific "inner voice message".

If it all arises from pure intuition, then there's a good chance your inner voice is telling you what would be best for you. Maybe you're not happy in your job, and need to take risks in order to find a more fulfilling occupation. Maybe you're not happy in your relationship, and need to close a door in order for another one to open. As scary as those thoughts can be, and even though none of those decisions should be taken lightly, in cases such as those we ought to at least listen to our inner voice. Just in case it's right about something.

In many situations, however, the inner voice is mistaken. There's no way having more ice cream could do one any good, except for the very immediate, and very ephemeral, pleasure. Since that pleasure can have significant side effects if you indulge too often, there is legitimate reason to be cautious about that kind of message: is my inner voice truly speaking through intuition, and telling me what I need, or is it telling me a lie, avoiding my true need and disguising it into a completely different need? A good example of this is when you think you're hungry when in fact you are tired, thirsty, stressed, sad, or bored.

In those cases, eating has nothing to do with intuition, and everything to do with compensation. You are compensating with an unhealthy behavior because another need hasn't been answered. In compensation, you are not addressing the issue at all, but rather covering it up with an alternative behavior. If that behavior has no adverse effects, then the only drawback is that you are not taking care of the initial problem (which is an important drawback nonetheless). Unfortunately, many compensatory behaviors do have adverse effects.

If you do that kind of thing repeatedly, the compensation behavior can turn into worse: a compulsion, and then an addiction.

This system applies to anything you feel you have lost control over. Alcohol consumption comes to mind, but emotional eating, compulsive shopping, gambling, or overuse of the Internet fit this scheme perfectly as well. Any type of "drug", really.

How do you know you're compensating? The only way to tell is to learn to read between the lines when your inner voice tells you something. To pause and wonder "What am I really feeling right now? What do I really need?" When I'm still on the computer at 10:30 pm, and suddenly feel a craving for sweets, I know it means I'm due to go to bed.

Make sure you understand the language
your inner voice is speaking
Cape Breton, 2013

How do you know a certain behavior has become a compulsion and/or an addiction? Simple: when you can't refrain from doing it. No matter how good your intentions are. You can't help it. Other indications you have a problem:

  • behavior interferes with your daily life (activities, responsibilities)
  • behavior leads to legal, financial or relational problems
  • behavior becomes partly clandestine (you hide how much of it you actually do - e.g. you conceal your booze or candy, and consume it when nobody else can see you; then hide all signs of you having it)

We all know the first step is acknowledgement, but what are the next steps? For that I would like to introduce the Prochaska transtheoretical model. When something needs to change, we usually go through the following stages:

  • Precontemplation (not ready)
  • Contemplation (getting ready)
  • Preparation (ready)
  • Action (acting on it)
  • Maintenance (maintaining the changes)

This model could become the foundation of your long-term plan! For more on it, check the following link:


Personally, over the course of my life, I've gotten rid of the following compulsions/addictions:

Those were not easy feats, and it took me a while before I saw significant improvement, but it did happen and so there is hope!

Now the compulsion/addiction I have to work on these days is my use of the Internet, and my writing. One could argue that writing a lot does not have any other effect than producing a lot of written material, but I disagree. In the past couple months, my writing has been getting in the way of other, important aspects of my life. And so, as of today, I will decrease the frequency of my posts from an average of 15 a month to about 8 a month (an average of 2/week). I am telling you this, readers, because I need the accountability for my actions, and because the number of posts I write is very easy to track. I will also decrease my overall use of the Internet.

And while we're at it, I will channel my energy and my creativity toward something I've been wanting to do for a long time, namely, submitting more articles to magazines, and putting together that friggin' book I want to write! This way there will still be some writing, but it will be more goal oriented. Talk about a useful reframing of behavior.

I also want to find other ways to share what I have to say, other than in the written form. Since I believe in action, and since contemplation cannot go on forever, I have already taken tangible steps toward that goal. As soon as I see results I will let you know.

Please check on me so I don't slack off!

  • Do you listen to your intuition?
  • Where does it take you?
  • Any examples of compensation, compulsion and addiction in your life? (you can post your comment anonymously!)
  • What are you doing about it?
  • If you are in the process of making some changes in your life, what Prochaska stage are you at? 
  • How are you going to move on to the next stage?
  • Any other "vacation cogitations"?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Funny Friday: the 8 steps of motherhood

by William Warby, Flickr

(Warning: first, I would like to make a few things very clear, namely a) I love children, babies, toddlers, teenagers, all youngsters... and it usually seems to be reciprocated; 2) I am profoundly convinced that even if having and raising children is a LOT of work, it's TOTALLY worth it. Now proceed at your own risk!)

The 8 steps of motherhood

1) Figure out if you want children

Don't laugh, it's an important question. Do you want kids? Really? Think about it, 'cause when it's done, it's done! (Wallowing naked in somebody's arms is NOT a good time to make that decision!)

2) Find a mate

Ideally, this mate should be: handsome, kind, smart, polite, well-mannered, funny, hard working, well-read, humble, devoted, strong (mentally as well as physically), fit, athletic, sexy, cute, dynamic, clean, well-dressed, caring, nurturing, a good cook, an enthusiastic traveler, willing to change diapers, and of course, rich. The longer the list, the better!

Bonus points if he a) owns a tropical island; b) flies a private jet; c) grows and makes his own pinot noir; d) is an expert at either or both foot and head massage; e) allows you to have a pool boy.

3) Conceive

That's the fun part. Enjoy it! Keeping in mind that practice makes perfect.

Oh, and the best position to increase the chances of conception isn't always the one that first comes to mind. So, er, as long as the right thingy goes into the right thingy... experiment! 

4) Be pregnant

Ugh. There's this occasional woman who pretends she enjoyed being pregnant (haha), but seriously? You spend the first 3 months either constantly nauseated or constantly falling asleep (or, if you're lucky, both). You spend the next 3 months worrying if that baby will be healthy, if you will be a good mother, if you will lose the pregnancy weight, if labor really hurts as much as they say, and if your IQ is high enough to change a diaper. You don't rest much at night either, hit by cravings in the wee hours (mine were Gatorade and escargots with garlic butter!!!) The last 3 months are spent either a) walking like you've just rode a horse for a full week nonstop; b) using the bathroom every 20 minutes; c) being annoyed by strangers who try to touch your belly; d) trying to have more than half a cup of food at a time without feeling you're about to explode; e) scratching your belly as the tremendous stretch makes it so itchy; f) feeling pain in your joints as they loosen; g) all of the above. And I'm not even mentioning the fact that you've become insomniac and that you can't even have a small glass of wine to help unwind.

5) Give birth

Warning: if you're a young female who hasn't had babies yet, please skip this part. I repeat: SKIP THIS PART!!!

Okay. Everyone seems to have their idea of how to deal with labor « discomforts » (hahaha). Apparently, if you have the right attitude, and breathe properly, everything will be manageable (hahahahahaha). In fact, if you trust that it won't hurt, and if you welcome the sensations with serenity (hahahahahahahahaha), it will be just fine! (hahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahaha - rolling myself on the floor - hahahahahhahahahahahahahhah)

Reality check. Labor hurts like hell. Yes, like hell. I had a leading expert in pain research for a professor at McGill, and he taught us that based on standardized charts and interviews with many, many people, it's been established that in terms of pain, giving birth is equivalent to having your digit cut without anesthesia. So tell me, would you be willing to have your fingers cut without anesthesia, over and over again, for HOURS?

If that's hard for you to imagine, try to remember the time you felt the most pain in your life. Like the worst, worst, ever, feeling of pain. Got it? Great. Now, multiply it by about A MILLION, and make it last for HOURS. You're not even there yet!

Have you ever felt pain so intense that you almost wished you were dead? No? Then you haven't experienced labor.

I was not lucky enough to be awarded any pain relief the 2 times I gave birth, because I do it too fast. Before you start thinking I'm lucky, imagine a cervix that dilates from 3 cm to 10 cm in about 30 minutes, think of the strength of the contractions that make it possible, and have a minute of silence. Thank you.

6) Breastfeeding

You're now holding a wonderful, precious bundle of joy in your arms. Bliss.


So you thought we were done with the painful stuff, hey? Hahaha. Think again. See all those peaceful, beautiful pictures of women nursing their perfect baby? Hahahahahaha. One of my friends, who had her first child before me, told me « I had always thought breastfeeding was natural, until I had to do it. » Based on my quasi-empirical observations, here's what usually happens: 

- Some women will seemingly not have enough milk, or their milk won't seem to be good enough, or any other variation of that « Jeez, is it that bad if I supplement? » situation will occur.

- Some women will have enough milk for triplets, meaning they will constantly leak and overflow in between feedings, and will feel uncomfortably full (it actually becomes very sore, just like if your whole breast was a giant bruise... and that's usually the moment your partner chooses to feel you up - ouch!!!)

- Some women will get cracked, bleeding, possibly infected nipples. Now try to get it to heal when a tiny but nonetheless powerful mouth sucks on it every 2-3 hours! Good luck.

- Some women will have a baby who has trouble latching on properly and/or gets extremely fussy at the breast (unlatching and screaming, which, if you're nursing in a public place, makes it hard to be discrete to say the least!) and/or will fall asleep before s/he gets the needed amount of milk (leaving your breasts even more sore from engorgement).

Those situations aren't mutually exclusive, so if you're lucky like me, you will experience a couple of them at the same time. And I'm not even mentioning that my first baby being born premature, I had to pump every 4 hours for 3 weeks and a half (and feed it to her through a tube), until she was finally able to nurse without it causing apnea (baby stops breathing and becomes blue) and bradycardia (dangerously slow heartbeat)!

(That being said, and before you run to the grocery store to buy formula, let me clarify: despite all those obstacles, and because I really believe in breastfeeding, I did it for both my daughters for almost a year. Ya, despite the pumping, the overflows and the pain! There are some sacrifices you are willing to make in life, and that was one of mine.)

Sometimes, you wonder...

7) Survive the first couple years...

... On sleep deprivation. Never ending messes to clean. Spending your time with a self-centered, immature little being with whom you cannot reason, who throws tantrums, and whose main pastimes seem to be a) to do things that will make you angry (eg. destroy your belongings); b) to try and injure themselves in all kinds of creative ways. 

There's a reason Mother Nature made toddlers cute: it's the only way we would keep taking care of them!!!

They look so innocent to the untrained eye

8) After all the hard work... enjoy!!!

My daughters are presently 7 and 9 years old, and in all honesty (and gratitude), it's a CHARM! What a pleasant time. I don't know how long it's gonna last, so you can be sure I savour every moment of it!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Be a knight about it

A knight at the crossroads, by Viktor Vasnetsov

I hadn't happened in a while. I didn't remember how it felt. In fact, it hadn't happened in such a long time, I failed to recognize it at first. When he walked up to me and started to talk, I had no idea of what was awaiting me.

No, I'm not talking about love!

I won't name this guy, not even his initial; I'll simply say he's an acquaintance I see on a very occasional basis, through common friends. We do not have a lot of commonalities, but I've always strived to at least be courteous with him. I have tried and showed interest in what he likes to talk about, even if we are worlds apart - that's the chameleon in me - and because my parents have raised me to be gracious in all situations.

So when he walked up to me and said "So, should we talk about ***?" (a somewhat conflictual topic that had come up earlier), I was not wary. I thought we were going to talk things over, and probably resolve them as I usually do in similar circumstances. I was all for that. I very rarely have conflicts with people, and when I do, I approach them in a pragmatic, constructive, pacifist, non-confrontational way.

What ensued, unfortunately, was a volley of bullets from him to me. He reproached me (and D) pretty much everything we have done in the past couple years. At first, even if slightly taken aback by the aggressive approach, I nonetheless listened, in case there was something there that deserved my attention. I mean, I'm certainly not perfect, and if some people occasionally annoy me, there's a big chance I occasionally annoy some people! Of course, I'm always open to dialogue and compromise if it will help restore harmonious interactions!

But soon enough, the quantity and the tone of his recriminations became the only thing I noticed. Now his hostage (I was watching the kids swim and could not leave), I stayed there, but I renounced to say anything. I knew it would be a waste of time. Each sentence was a bullet that did not call for a response, so I simply put myself in a mental state that would allow me to ward off the blows. There were so many of them it bordered on ridicule. At some point I wondered if he would reproach me to be alive and breathing! In any case, there was no point in reacting. I could only try and insulate myself against his fury, and wait until it was over. 

I'm sure by now you are curious as to what kind of things he was angry about, so here are some examples:

He said that the one time he was at our place, D and I failed abysmally in our host role. The reason? We did not offer him satisfying dessert with each meal (apparently, fruit does not qualify), and we also failed to offer "pop, chips and candy" between the meals (I imagine veggies and dip are out of the equation for him). 

(I really wanted to tell him that since he showed up at the table with no shirt on (a major no-no according to my etiquette education), he was lucky we fed him a meal at all!)

He added "That's not how you treat people!"

(I thought, if treating people well means feeding them junk all day long, then I'm glad I don't. Speaking of how to treat people, I remembered the day he embarrassed us by getting upset about the fact that Nova Scotians aren't all fluent in French: that day, he exclaimed his astonishment in front of a group of our anglophone friends, and insisted on speaking French to them even if they understood nothing of it. For goodness' sake, he himself cannot speak a word of English!)

He also said, in a very demeaning tone "And D, apart from being a doctor (the tone was particularly demeaning on this specific word), does he do anything useful? And you, apart from spending your days on the computer, what do you do?" (I'm a translator) "XYZ (his girlfriend), her, she cleans people's houses, now that's hard work! Do you know what it's like to get on all four and clean other people's stinky toilets?"

(Actually, I do, as part of my student summer job, on top of lifeguarding during the day, was to be a janitor at night.)

Having worked on a farm, he added "Do you know what it's like to shovel manure and drive truckloads of it all day long?" (I felt like saying he was doing exactly that this right moment, but I refrained.)

There was much, much more, but there's not point in me listing it all here. When he was done unloading his cargo of sh*t, he left, proof that he was not looking to have an open, constructive discussion with me, but that he was rather looking to let off steam. 

Even if the "dialogue" had seemed legit at first, by now I knew it had been a wondrous episode of bullying, of the kind I will remember for the rest of my life! Last time someone talked to me like that, I think I was 13, so this is unusual to say the least. What's discouraging is that this time it wasn't done to me by a fellow pubescent kid, but rather by a grown man. As Georges Brassens would sing, time changes nothing to it, when you're an a**hole, you're an a**hole.

How am I so sure what happened was bullying?

First, he ambushed me and made sure I was alone before he launched his "attack", and that, despite the fact that a group discussion would have been much more useful: he had as many reproaches for D as he had for me, and he also "quoted" XYZ, claiming she had the same frustrations as him. But he did not present his point in front of them, and he did not ask XYZ for her input. He clearly wanted to be in a position of power, and to achieve that, he isolated me.

Second, he showed absolutely no signs of wanting to resolve the conflict in a respectful, constructive way. Where was tact and diplomacy? Where was the genuine desire to make things better? It was nowhere to be found, and the reason is simple: that was not his goal at all. What he did try to achieve was to intimidate me and put me in my place. Very different.

Third, I felt diminished after, and it effectively affected both my mood and appetite for a couple hours.

Since I'm a fan of the pragmatic and constructive approach, let's put this upsetness behind us, and instead discuss ways to deal with bullying. 

We will all have to deal with difficult persons one time or another. We cannot shelter ourselves (and our kids) against it, but what can we do to ensure it does not destroy us? To present my point of view, I would like to offer the knight analogy.

Austria, 2009

From Wikipedia:

Knights of the medieval era were asked to protect the weak, defenseless, helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all. These few guidelines were the main duties of a medieval knight, but they were very hard to accomplish fully. Knights trained in hunting, fighting, and riding, amongst other things. They were also trained to practise courteous, honorable behaviour, which was considered extremely important. Chivalry (derived from the French word chevalier, implying "skills to handle a horse") was the main principle guiding a knight's lifestyle.

Not to backbite, but this guy definitely needs some more training in knight matters: it wasn't enough that he does not know how to talk to women... he's let one horse impale himself to death, and he's "poisoned" another one to death by feeding him the wrong stuff!!! If you're a horse and you see that man approach... run for your life!

Those people are good to horses.
Featuring R.
Quebec, 2012

What I like about the chivalry code is that it emphasizes dignity. In the face of bullying, I strongly believe that preserving dignity should be the priority. 

Depending on the aggressor, and on the type of aggression, sometimes it will be appropriate to react immediately, sometimes a delayed reaction will be better; sometimes it will be best to say nothing at all, and sometimes you will have to go get help. When you bite back, for example, in most cases all you do is show how threatened you are (there are exceptions to this of course). You are merely reacting to something that doesn't deserve a reaction. In any case, I've taught my kids to "be a knight about it":

1) Stay calm. The one who's fuming or disrespectful is the one who's vulnerable. As long as you are calm you are dominating the joust.

2) Use your shield and armor. The best way to defuse those attacks is to never let anything even get to you. Those shield and armor are not made of unhealthy, compensatory behaviors. They are made of a composed, confident attitude.

Your knight equipment

3) Your weapons should be sharpened and shined regularly, make a clear cut, and come out clean. Your attacker should not even feel the pain. In brief, if you bite back, nobody should even realize it, so subtly you do it. Basically, you want him to be disarmed, but without intensifying the altercation.

4) Remember this: no matter how intimidating a bully can be, their behavior only reveals something about them. Not about you. A bully's attitude says everything about their issues. No matter the reason of their attitude, in most cases they are not aware of it. There are cases of people who will consciously try and dominate, but for the most part I think they are simply reacting instinctively to something buried deep down inside: a low self-esteem, a fear of losing their status, the perpetual difficult childhood, or even a narcissistic personality. I see bullies as very weak individuals. It does not excuse their actions, but when you see what's underlying the "attack" you feel very differently about it. As soon as someone has that kind of attitude towards me I take a imaginary deep breath and an imaginary step back. I observe them calmly, from a distance, thinking "This person feels vulnerable right now, for some reason, and is attacking me for that". I like that "aha!" moment when I can tell myself "I see through you!" 

Love this video:

5) Modify your role. If you're not playing your part, the play can't go on as it was. All characters have to adapt. There can be no bully if there is no victim. That does NOT mean that you are responsible if someone attacks you, not at all! But refusing the role the bully is trying to put you in sometimes works wonders. You can at least try! My favorite "aha!" moment has to be when the attacker softens, just like an angry dog under my calm, assertive and compassionate hand.

6) Don't hesitate to get help. No one should have to face bullying alone. If you don't talk to someone about it, you run the risk of attributing the responsibility to yourself. Get a second opinion!

7) Sometimes, bullying is subtle and insidious, especially when it originates from a "friend" or a family member. As much as I believe in analyzing a situation in order to understand it better... there comes a point where even analysis is superfluous; if interacting with a certain person most often leaves you with a bitter aftertaste, and even if interactions with this person have been wonderful in the past, take it for what it has become: a toxic relationship. One can only work so much at trying to recover the idyllic beginnings of a relationship that has now turned sour. If you're the only one trying to salvage it, nothing good will come out of it. Save you precious energy. Let it go. This is a hard decision to make, but it doesn't need to be made overnight, and you don't need to "officialize it" to the object of you frustrations. Just slowly back up. It might hurt now, but I promise that within a few weeks you will feel so much lighter!

8) Remember that nothing justifies bullying. EVER. Even if you've made mistakes and have been imperfect. There are appropriate ways to talk to people, and bullying is not one. Be proud of yourself. Remind yourself of your own value. Tell yourself "I kick as*!"

For more on bullying:


Any experiences of bullying, or strategies you'd like to share?