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Friday, January 31, 2014

Love is in the air

jennifer donley, Flickr

I was busy with the very unromantic task of cleaning the basement to make room for our new air hockey table when I stumbled upon the epitome of romanticism.

In a dusty shoe box with a sticker that read "Boyfriends and Wooers" were all the love letters I have received in my life before marriage. I hadn't looked at them since we moved to Nova Scotia, and most of them are pretty old (i.e. teenage/early twenties flings).

As I flipped through those letters and read excerpts of each, I was in awe. I had forgotten the intensity of some of those letters. I could not believe the amount of poetry, the metaphors, the yearning serenades.

Reading them, I thought "Well, this restores my faith in the process of seduction through the written word!"

Each of those letters seemed to suggest that chivalry is not dead and that literature still has an appeal...

... or maybe it's just that men will do anything to get into your pants. Those men (and boys, since it starts in high school years) knew the best way to both impress and reach me was to juggle with words. So they wrote to me. Even the ones who despised writing.

In any case, men who wrote to me always were a step ahead of men who didn't.

beatrice dinh, Flickr

I felt like putting some of those letters in a frame on the wall, so interesting they were (of course I would hide the signature, out of respect for their author - but then there are the anonymous ones!)

Even if they are arranged pell mell in the old shoe box, each of them has a unique flavor.

Some are written in pencil on loose sheets (maybe during class). Some are beautifully handwritten in fountain pen. Some are rolled and tied with a red ribbon.

The contents vary just as much as the presentation.

Some are amusing:

"Did you sleep well? I slept very well. I dreamed I was buying a convertible... of course you were the car dealer."

(I don't think I've ever had that kind of dream while crushing on someone!)

Some are poetic: 

"I am intoxicated with you, intoxicated by your radiant beauty [...]
Those are the remnants of my heart which just exploded under the assaults of love."

(I'll try to remember that tomorrow morning when I catch a first glance of my disheveled self in the unforgiving bathroom mirror!)

Some are reassuring:

"You know, even if you were sick yesterday at the party [I had strep throat with a high fever - NOT sexy], you were the most beautiful and the other girls couldn't even hope to come close."

(That must be a sign of true love! I couldn't possibly look good with strep throat and a fever!)

Some leave me speechless:

"You are the 50 foot tall statue, and I am the slave who prostrates before your feet."

(I kid you not!!!)

alykat, Flickr

The intensity might be a reflection of a teenager's heightened emotions (or of the power of hormones, as my mother would say).

Nevertheless, I like to think that love put into words is one of the most beautiful things in this world.

Valentine's Day is coming. Why don't you write something to the one you love?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ten years

Cappellmeister, Flickr

Ten years ago today, I was both blessed and surprised by the arrival of my first child.

I say surprised because she was only due 2 months later.

Luckily for her, and for us, she recovered from that early birth, and quickly made up for her initial vulnerability.

Today I want to tell her how proud I am of her.

Dear R,

In those 10 years since you were born you have taught me more about life and about myself than I had learned in the previous twenty-something years.

From the beginning I realized one knows nothing about worry (even the worrywarts of this world) until one discovers parental worry. Parental worry fell on my lap quite abruptly right from day one, since you spent your first 5 weeks in the NICU.

But you were a trooper right away; you grew, you became strong, and you managed to not only become a perfectly healthy little girl, but also to reach most developmental milestones in advance, reassuring me that you would be okay. More than okay!

From the beginning I learned about parental exhaustion, in a quite intense way since you were (and this is an euphemism) a "high-needs baby".

But you slowly learned to soothe yourself, and have developed over the years a very healthy sense of keeping your cool. When daddy took you to swimming lessons and forgot to bring the bags that contained towels, goggles, shampoo and comb, you were the one who calmed everyone by saying "It's okay, it's okay. That's how adventures begin... In a few years we will laugh about this". Speaking of laughter, we now laugh together about the baby you were, don't we? And, I will tell you a secret... according to your grandmother, I was pretty fussy myself... maybe it's in the genes.

From the beginning I faced parental guilt, because I could never do enough to keep you happy for more than a couple minutes.

But you showed me that it was okay, and that you loved your mommy no matter what.

I want you to know that you loving me unconditionally despite the fact that I'm an imperfect mom is the best present I've ever received. I also want you to know that I love you unconditionally and more than you will ever know (until you have your own kids). When I think you're old enough (probably soon), I will let you watch the movie that illustrates motherly love so well (and is a nice depiction of where you are from), Nouvelle-France (Battle of the Brave). Interestingly, that movie came out the year you were born! Finally, I want you to know that you will never need to be (or to attempt to be) perfect either.

I will go further and say that from all of your 10 years, you have already made me more proud than I could have hoped for. I admire you.

I admire your courage:

When I was your age I was not only extremely shy, but also a "scaredy squirrel", afraid of her own shadow. Yet here you are, readily going to play auditions and jumping from the highest diving board (or doing flips from the small one).

I admire your intelligence:

Nobody will believe me, but you knew your alphabet at 1, all dinosaur names and their habitat and preferred foods at 2, then you started to read at 4, and last but not least, you beat me at chess at 6. You're a smart cookie, but you never brag about it.

I admire your human qualities:

You seem to instinctively know how to treat people with kindness, and you are never afraid to share or help others. The other day, when we were done eating supper, your daddy and I stayed at the table to chat. Without any prompting, you cleared the whole table. I realize that's becoming a common example. I have to say I was particularly impressed when, for your birthday, you asked your friends to not give you any presents, but instead to make a donation to a charity you had chosen.

I admire your wisdom: 

You left me speechless the other day, when you said:

 "Teenagers are often daredevils. I think those near-death experiences make them feel more alive." 

When I asked where you had heard or read about it, you said "nowhere, I just thought about that".

If you come up with those things at 10, I can only imagine the things you'll have to say when you're my age...

... but please don't feel rushed to get there.

So, with all my love and admiration...

Happy Birthday!!!

Cappellmeister, Flickr

Friday, January 24, 2014

Have you ever lived "abroad"? Or Two sides of Canada

Robynajay, Flickr

Warning: Keep in mind that this comparison is based on my very personal experience and not on statistically reliable data; plus, there are exceptions in everything. If this post sounds like an outrageous overgeneralization... well, it's probably because it is one. :-) Also keep in mind that when I speak of Quebec, I speak of the regions surrounding the main cities. It might be different in remote, northern parts of Quebec.

In any case, I love both places, and more importantly, I love people in both places.

Six and a half years ago, we moved from our natal Quebec to Nova Scotia. More precisely, we moved from 1.6 million populated Montreal to the - wooden - suburbs of Halifax. We had never been there, apart from a job interview and a few days of house hunting. We didn't know what it would be like. Similar? Different? Better? Worse? We had no idea.

Was it a crazy move? Probably. But what move isn't?

Today I'm putting together the "Best Of" each city/province. You can go ahead and share with us what you think of both areas, and/or of other ones you know.

                        At one point I had an apartment with a similar view
Scazon, Flickr

                                               Our - backyard - view now

Best of Nova Scotia

  1. Mild summers; no need for air conditioning, and pleasant sleep even in the middle of July.
  2. Mild winters, with way less extremely cold days; today, for example, the windchill gives -33 Celsius in Quebec but a "comfortable" -20 Celsius here in Halifax! (yuck).
  3. The ocean.
  4. Less ragweed (hay fever anyone?).
  5. Less pretentious individuals. I find that Maritimers are less "intimidating", not constantly trying to spread the extent of their culture, not constantly trying to knock you down with their knowledge or accomplishments.
  6. A (perceived) peaceful cohabitation of French and English; tons of Anglos send their kids to French immersion, and are all excited to practice speaking it. They also think it's a sexy language. Francophones from Quebec usually don't feel that way about English, for understandable historical and oppression-related reasons. (Now the Acadian question would deserve a post to itself, but from what I observe, it gives in to English more, as opposed to the fiery Quebecois attitude toward English... in Quebec, the French population has taken the bull by the horns and truly fights to save its language and culture. It might be easier to function without English in Quebec than it is in Nova Scotia; the official language here is English, and there are way more "interlinguistic" marriages - Please remember this is an overgeneralization though!)
  7. More community support and generosity: everyone knows everyone and is willing to lend a hand at a moment's notice; less individualistic approach to life.
  8. Following from the previous point, handymen, craftywomen and successful hunters on every corner, who are willing to make others benefit from their ability (If you don't like the gender stereotype inherent to this point, keep reading).
  9. Many small home-based businesses supported by the community, and that support each other; nice networking opportunities.
  10. From what I understand, better medical service. It IS possible to see a doctor within reasonable time in Nova Scotia, as opposed to Quebec.
  11. Nice hair (many women here have irreproachable hair; it's only in Nova Scotia that I finally adopted a "real" haircut)
  12. Differential, environmentally-friendly garbage cans in public places (recyclables, organics, trash, etc.)
  13. Lobster (and all other fresh and affordable seafood).
  14. Possibility to use - and improve - our English (2nd language) on a daily basis.
  15. Everyone calling you "sweetheart", "honey" and "malove".
  16. Less pressure to accomplish things, more leisurely lifestyle.
  17. The sound of silence, peace and quiet.

Beautiful voice of Nova Scotia

Best of Québec

  1. Hot summers (with a short and t-shirt season worthy of the name).
  2. Cold winters (without the outdoor rinks constantly melting).
  3. Better ski (a couple great mountains, plus the ones in Vermont).
  4. Lively political, intellectual, cultural, and generally speaking ideological scene, mostly explained by the sheer size of the population, but maybe also by the Latin blood and the mix of ethnic/religious/linguistic origins maybe? Quebec is both more populated and more heterogeneous than the Maritimes.
  5. More options in terms of food and drink, for the same population reasons. I was discussing the variety of cheeses offered in Halifax with someone who insisted there are a lot. Well, yes, if you forget the fact that half of them are different types of Gouda!
  6. Speaking of cheese... cheese curds. The ones that "squeesh" between the teeth. Unbeatable. Unequaled. Yum.
  7. Affordable booze.
  8. Microbreweries.
  9. More people to appreciate and discuss cheese and wine with.
  10. Affordable groceries, with way more variety and choice and "ethnic" products offered.
  11. Less traditional gender roles, less gender segregation (read: men and women share the load more equally, gender identity is more flexible).
  12. More open-minded and progressive mentality (applies to everything).
  13. Subsidized daycare ($7 a day for all, yes, yes, I'm not kidding you!).
  14. More studying opportunities, followed by more career opportunities.
  15. Nicer clothes, great sense of style, more stores, more designers.
  16. Ikea. (What?).
  17. Family is there.

Visit Montreal with a famous Quebecois song

Questions for the road:

  • What are the pros and cons of the place you live in? 
  • How do they compare to the pros and cons of another place you've lived in?
  • Do you think friendship within the same gender is stronger in cultures where there is more gender segregation/where friendship between genders is less common?
  • Do you think the new, less traditional gender roles come at the expense of traditional abilities? (e.g. men who readily change diapers but who cannot change a light bulb, or women who can chop wood but who burn water in the kitchen?) (To take with a grain of salt hey!)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Eighteen weeks to the start line

SeanJC, Flickr

It's that time of the year again!

Training for the Bluenose Marathon has just started. Eighteen weeks of training, runs of increasing difficulty that will take us to the start line on May 18.

I can't say running in winter conditions is always fun. Who in their right mind gets out of bed at 5 am, gets dressed and steps outside in the dark, cold Canadian morning, to run on surfaces that alternate between black ice, fluffy snow and slush, often by minus 10 Celsius degrees or colder?

Well, apparently, my friend K and I are among those crazy runners who do. I know we're not alone. Dedicated "pseudo-athletes" like us everywhere find ways to fit serious training into their otherwise busy schedule. This is necessary if you want to run decently on race day, but it's also, for some of us, the best kind of medication.

Running (and strength and flexibility training) has "cured" most of my "ailments". When physical activity is an integral part of my life, everything else just seems to fall into place. Even if it means cutting back on my sleep and exposing myself to the hostile elements at a time when most people are still catching some Zs.

Pavel P, Flickr

So I don't care if getting ready takes almost as long as the run itself (so many layers to slip into!) I don't care if my eyelashes become crunchy. I don't care if the water in my bottle freezes hard. I'm outside breathing fresh air (fresh being an euphemism in this case), chatting with a beloved friend, and making sure I stay in shape (mental and physical). That's priceless.

Plus, running in this season truly makes winter go by faster. Especially given the fact that running makes any temperature feel about ten degrees warmer!

No matter what your fitness goal and "method" is, one thing is certain: the effort is worth it. Give yourself the gift of fitness now! Eighteen weeks is enough to make a difference.

Good luck in your endeavors!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Making the world a better place part 3 - How to balance it all

chucknado, Flickr

We've heard it time and again: the world is waiting for our input, and this contribution of ours will be optimal if we aim for the stars (plus, it will be good for our own self-worth).

What I have learned in my thirties, however (after being a seemingly incurable perfectionist in my twenties), is that striving for excellence is great, but striving for balance is better.

Once you have a spouse, a car (or two), a house, a few pets, a few kids and a few jobs (including self-started businesses - yes I'm that crazy), it becomes increasingly difficult to be perfect at anything at all. Most days you simply do your best and cross your fingers.

A perfectly legit and somewhat realistic goal to have, in that case, is to maintain some sort of balance in your life. Yes, I will have a stimulating career in which I share my talents and flourish as a person, but not at the cost of relaxing with my spouse or friends. Yes, I will focus on my health, prepare fresh foods and work out regularly, but not at the cost of playing or talking with my kids. Yes, I will be focused and efficient, but not at the cost of being cordial to the people around me. Yes, I will maintain a clean and organized household, but not at the cost of my 7 hours of sleep. Etc.

pgiancristofaro, Flickr

It takes constant reevaluation and adjustment. Lately I have somewhat neglected my training, spending more time tasting wines instead. It has been wonderful, but when I got back to running... ouch. I realized I do not enjoy starting my half-marathon training from scratch (as opposed to starting from a solid base). I will try to remember that from now on.

That being said, despite admiring those who are committed and who perform in their field, I highly value the development of a wide array of abilities. Are those 2 things compatible? I'm not sure. (You tell me.)

Maybe it's my way of dealing with the fact that I have not accomplished anything notorious yet, but I like to focus on the fact that my life is balanced. I'm not a field expert of anything (although I do have a couple areas of knowledge and aptitude), but I can do a lot of different things. I like the feeling of independence and empowerment that comes from it.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Okay, well, there are a few things on that list that I still need to work on.

Most of us are not specialists. And even if we are, most of us are not THE leading expert in our field. Part of it is due to an absence of motivation/drive, and part of it is due to an absence of sufficient talent (I include myself in that example - if talent had nothing to do with it I would be a world-renowned architect right now - I abandoned the idea after suffering in Grade 12 Math, and Art).

While we're at balance, why not evoke the Latin aphorism, Carpe Diem (seize the day). Working hard toward a goal, even if said goal is remote and you do not see the results right away, is highly admirable and generally worth it. But taking the time right here and right now to simply enjoy yourself is just as important.

About to do just that tonight. Can't wait.
baburekk, Flickr

I don't often allow myself to just have fun. It might have something to do with being a first-born, but I'm very duty and result oriented. Yet having fun is fine. It's all about the consequences. Big, bad consequences? Don't do it. Small, minor consequences? Go ahead and indulge. That applies to consuming (be it food, drink or material goods). Example:

Three weeks before his death, my father received an extremely comfortable all leather recliner for his fiftieth birthday. As he was sitting in it for the first time, he said to my mom: "We should never wait that long before indulging in such pleasurable things." (He had been dreaming of such a recliner for a while, but a frugal man when it came to spending money, he felt it was a non-necessary object. He seemed to change his mind as soon as he tried it though.)

My dad got to use the recliner for only 3 weeks before he passed away. To me, that's a lesson that we should...

Yield to temptation... it may not pass your way again!

At the same time I am a strong advocate for simplicity in general, and specifically applied to material stuff. Owning many things is fun but it's a responsibility and a burden (in my nomadic mind anyways). One house and one car is plenty, I could not fathom having a cottage, a boat an what not on top of it! I like to feel light!

Never own more than you can carry in both hands at a dead run.

Once again, I look for healthy balance in my relationship with stuff.

Gotta go, I have to work on my tree pose now.

How do you balance it all?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Making the world a better place - Part 2

Free Grunge Textures, Flickr

Here we are again, for part 2 of "Making the world a better place" with the help of Heinlein's inspiring quotes!

This time we will focus on what the world needs more of (in my humble opinion; please feel free to comment and let us know if you agree or not, and why!)

1) Compassion and insight

Compassion is not the same as pity, and it is more than empathy. When we truly feel compassion, we are at one with others. This is a challenge as we, human beings, have a tendency to create categories in which we mentally confine others who are different from us in an attempt to preserve our own value.

But others, as different as they may seem at first glance, are not so different from us. In fact, they are the reflection of ourselves (sometimes a reflection we do not wish to see, but that's another story). I remember feeling intimidated by communication attempts during a trip to China, until I realized that if we have a different language, different customs (and different food!), we are all made of the same basic elements, and are all subject to the same needs, emotions and aspirations. As soon as I reminded myself that "we are all human, after all", I made two new friends!

Great Wall of China, 2010

In my opinion, any living thing deserves our compassion, partly for Buddhist-like reasons, but that would justify another post altogether.

So here are the quotes by Heinlein that inspired me to write about compassion and insight:

One of the sanest, surest and most generous joys of life comes from being happy 
over the good fortune of others.


Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. 

Let's all pause and wonder who we really love in this world.

Compassion and insight enable us to see things for what they are and not for what we want them to be. Heinlein, a man must I specify, noticed something that I wish more of us were aware of:

Once a month, some women act like men act all the time.

Bantering put aside, I really wish we were able to stop putting people in well-defined and mutually exclusive boxes. It just so gets on my nerves. I'm not the only one, judging by the experience of a certain dad whose blog I stumbled upon recently. For his excellent recounting of what happened (read: race and gender issues) when he posted a photo of himself taking care of his daughters, click here.

I know another devoted dad who got offended by the ad that's making everyone cry these days:

Did you tear up? I know I did. But wet eyes put aside, the question as to why only moms are portrayed in this ad, coming from a very involved dad, is a legit one.

In the same vein, a student from York University recently requested to not have to work with female students, and the university seriously examined options to accommodate his beliefs. I only have one question: what if he had asked to not work with Black, or Jewish people? Would there even be a controversy? Why is this considered a tough dilemma when it involves women? Why is it "kind of okay" to segregate when it comes to gender? For more on this hot topic, click here.

Recently I was at a party where the host explained what foods were available, and invited the moms (and the moms only) to feed their kids (while the dads were also around). I didn't say anything (sometimes my tact button does work), but I was no less perplexed. Maybe it's the same reason that prompted another host (at another party) to ask only the men to help carry some wood in for the fire. My question remains: why?

Maybe what we are missing the most is this:

2) Critical thinking

Maybe we just need to shake our sheep-like tendency to accept anything and everything as the truth and/or the norm. Maybe we need to walk around with a question mark above our head more often, ready to question what's thrown at us.

It's too easy to tweak people's opinions, especially if such people lack education or information. If we could all become a little bit more skeptical, instead of swallowing everything we hear or read, it would do us great!

A few examples of missing critical thinking in Heinlein's quotes:

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

As I have read somewhere (I believe it was about Facebook): If the product or service is free, then you are the product that's being sold. Something will be taken from you in exchange of what you got for free, I promise. Even if it was "just" your personal information. Advertisement is a plague. Don't let it get the best of you. Don't let it convince you that you need this or will be happier with that.

Faith strikes me as intellectual laziness.

I respect everyone's faith (except when it implies hurting others obviously - cultural relativism has its limits) because it's not my place to judge, and because I want to be respected in my beliefs as well, but I sure hope we all examine our beliefs closely before making them part of who we are and trying to share them with others. Are your beliefs yours? Or have they been imposed on you? (Even - and especially - if it happened surreptitiously.) Also: what purpose do they serve? Is it a good one? Or is it an intolerant, hateful one?

A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.

We need perspective to be able to evaluate and understand current events and trends. The only way to gain that perspective is to know what has been going on before... as well as what is going on right now in other parts of the planet. Let's stop thinking "this way is THE way" or "it has never been this bad before", and let's examine how it's been done before and elsewhere. I promise it will be humbling.

At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that "news" is not something that happens to other people. He might learn how his ancestors lived and that he himself is no different - in the crunch his life depends on his agility, alertness, and personal resourcefulness.

To extract ourselves from following the crowds, this might be what we need more of:

3) Freedom and responsibility

Our life is not always the way we want it to be, and part of it is out of our control, but what if we were self-sabotaging? What if we were imposing things on ourselves that we could simply say no to? I like Heinlein's go-getter approach to that:

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. Do not confuse "duty" with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect. But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a foot pad than it is with the leech who wants "just a few minutes of your time, please—this won't take long." Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time—and squawk for more! So learn to say No—and to be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you. (This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don't do it because it is "expected" of you.)

I don't know if I would go as far as "being rude about it", and I'm all for helping each other - a lot of my life is based on that - but self-respect starts with asking yourself if you really have time for what others are asking of you.

And to finish up beautifully, there might be something else that deserves an open-minded approach, as Heinlein succinctly but nicely put it:

4) Sex

I don't see why human people make such a heavy trip out of sex. It isn't anything complex, it is simply the best thing in life, even better than food.

I wish everyone was that candid about it. That's all I have to say.

Please share your thoughts! I cannot wait to read them.

When in doubt, choose the oldest version

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's over, and I'm happy

Robbi, Flickr

It's over, and I'm happy. Don't we all wish we could say that if we learned right now that our life is about to come to an end? Isn't being content with what we are leaving behind the most important thing?

Christmas vacation is over. To be exact, it was already over for me a week ago: I had to work part-time as clients kept knocking on my virtual door. But tomorrow morning, everyone will truly be back to their routine.

Looking back on those 2 weeks of "break", the first thing that comes to my mind is that we didn't do enough.

Then I start thinking about what we actually did. And soon enough, I call myself silly. Here's an overview of some of the things we did during those 2 weeks (I'm sure I'm forgetting some):

  • We went ice skating
  • We went sledding
  • We went mini-golfing (indoors obviously)
  • We went to a professional basketball game
  • We went to the movies
  • We watched movies at home
  • We played board games/card games
  • We spent time on the phone with loved ones who live far away
  • We played/cuddled with the dog and 2 cats
  • We read books
  • We took bubble baths
  • We home cooked
  • We did a huge cleanup of the house
  • We dealt with a basement flood
  • We shoveled tons of snow
  • We repaired a couple of things
  • We made a few bags for the less fortunate
  • We went to at least 4 parties (not counting the ones we had gone to before the holidays)
  • Either one or both kids had 4 play dates and/or sleepovers, plus a birthday party
  • They also played outside in the snow with the neighbors many times; the numerous snowmen that adorn our front yard can testify
  • I read about, wrote about, talked about, and tasted wines
  • I went to the gym or exercised at home every other day
  • Including this post, I wrote 6 blog posts

Winter landscape, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

How can this not be enough, I now wonder.

I realize that as busy as we are, we will never be content until we plant both feet in the "right here, right now", and truly appreciate what is going on.

I want to take this as a life lesson. Too often we find ourselves running in all directions like a headless chicken. Too often we don't even pause to feel gratitude.

Sometimes we need a smack on the head to remind us of our luck. Yesterday, D and I watched the movie Rebelle (click here for a review). Those types of movies are tough, really tough. Not as tough as going through that kind of hell for real, however. And that kind of hell exists as it has ever since humanity came to life. Don't we ever, us the spoiled and privileged, forget that.

I think it is our responsibility to be aware of others' ordeal and try and make the world a better place in our own little ways, not to forget that it is also our responsibility to fully enjoy what we have.

We need to make sure our days are marked by something meaningful. Not everything will be. Many repetitive and alienating chores are unavoidable. Other, more unpleasant things will also happen. But each day should see something meaningful happen. Something in which we bloom. Something that keeps us grounded. Something that makes us feel fully alive as opposed to half dead.

While this is happening, we have to be present enough to savor it. This is often the main challenge.

I know I fully enjoyed sledding with the kids and a few of my own friends today, on the hills of the nearby golf course! The weather was mild (around zero), the snow was immaculate white, deep, and powdery. The views were beautiful. And we were all exercising and taking in some fresh air in good company. It doesn't get much better than that! After, we had a nice, warm and fragrant (D was cooking supper) house to go back to; and the kids sipped their hot chocolate while I had my beloved green tea.

Christmas vacation is over, and I'm going to make sure that I feel happy about what I'm leaving behind! To help me stay on that "track of contentment", I will make sure I remember and apply Heinlein's wise words about purpose:

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.

Most of the things I did during the holidays fit my long-term goals, and that's what counts.

What did you do during the holidays that makes you happy?

What are you gonna do to make sure that you end every day, every year, and everything else feeling content?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Making the world a better place, one quote at a time - Part 1

Snappa2006, Flickr

With the beginning of the new year, most of us are very motivated to make a difference in our lives.

Most likely, again this year, we will also be busy complaining about the state of the world/country/community we live in. (Or the weather forecast. For the next 24 hours here in Halifax, they are calling for about 30 cm of snow, and with the windchill factor it's around MINUS 30 DEGREES!)

I want to propose that we kill two birds with one stone: instead of just focusing on our own life, why don't we try, along the changes we make in our own lives, to make a difference in the world altogether? After all, this is where we live, so if it gets better, chances are our lives will be better as a consequence!

It's not such a huge endeavor if we take it one baby step at a time. What counts is that if each of us does a little bit, in the end it will add up to a lot. As Gandhi would say, "be the change you want to see in the world"!

... or forever remain silent, for I believe none of us is entitled to complain if s/he's not doing anything to improve a given situation. It's too easy to talk. 2014 is the time to ACT!

And while we're at quotes, why don't we use another prolific "quote producer", Robert Heinlein, famous science-fiction writer of the twentieth century. I was reminded of him by fellow blogger Dr.J, and gladly discovered or rediscovered his work. Heinlein can be controversial at times, and certainly did not strive for political correctness at all costs, but a lot of his quotes are right on, and in my next few posts, I will use some of them as the basis of our yearly "Make my life a better life and make the world a better place" plan.

Here we go:


I have talked about attitude a lot on this blog. I think it comes - partly - from my mother. She's said time and again that no one should behave as a victim, that we should take our destiny in our own hands. I know what it feels like to be irritable and cranky. I know what it's like to be a worry wart. I know about the dungeons of depression. I've been there. Those places aren't pretty. I wish nobody had to visit them. Let's instead follow Heinlein's sage advice:

Don't ever become a pessimist... a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.

I feel very tempted to also quote Dr Phil and his "Would you rather be right than happy?" Being right could mean sitting down contemplating the fact that life is absurd and unfair, sometimes painful and scary, and that it invariably ends with death. Well, I don't dwell on such thoughts, because they fail to make me happy.

Of course, there is much more than the knowledge of our own mortality to affect our mood on a daily basis. But whatever comes our way, one thing belongs to us and will never be taken from us: our attitude. We can control, to a certain point at least, our reactions. Our focus, too. It's as if we were all granted a camera: we all get to choose what we will take pictures of. I know I don't want to take pictures of ugly things. I also know that many ordinary things become beautiful when the camera has the right zoom and the right angle.

Sometimes we forget that a bad attitude not only is harmful to ourselves, but also to the people around us. Emotions are contagious, so there's a good chance that a stressed, nervous, negative or angry person will end up giving the unwelcome present of "bad attitude" to family, friends and coworkers. Let's stop it right away! Let's give a smile, a compliment or a pleasant remark instead!

Sunshine Lady, Flickr

Common good

We are so entangled in our day-to-day routine that we forget to strive for common good, don't we? Let's at least admit it!

Most of us are nice and kind and generous to our family members and friends. But do we fight for the rights of others? Even if they are strangers? Do we choose behaviors that will improve everyone else's lives? (Like turning off the friggin' engine! Pet peeve of mine you will have noticed.) 

Do we shop sustainable and fair trade? Do we reduce, reuse and recycle, or do we buy juice boxes? (The word itself makes me cringe.) Do we volunteer some of our time? Are we showing any generosity for people with whom we don't share any DNA, or who won't be able to give anything in return? 

The world won't get better if we all focus on ourselves, and if we let everything pass because we "have other fish to fry". The world is what it is because of the combination of things you and I do and don't do. Let's take part in it. 

What are we doing today to make the world a better place for all to live?

Here are two quotes by Heinlein that got me thinking:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as "bad luck".

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to the public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute not common law. Neither individuals not corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

Creativity and sharing

I am a firm believer that all of us are born with a talent of some sort. By exploiting that talent, not only can we feel better inside, we can also make others benefit from it. What is your talent, and how do you put it to use?

I don't have many talents, but I do love to write, and so it is what I do. Even though Heinlein says:

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands. afterwards.

I still very, very much appreciate the conversations that arise when people read my blog, or when I read other people's blogs. It's a rich, rewarding exchange.

As for visual arts, I'm afraid I'm a lost cause, but that's fine! There's the artists! Here's what artists can do:

Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist - a master - and that is what Auguste Rodin was - can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is... and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be... and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart... no matter what the merciless hours have done to her.

Powerful, hey? (By the way, a writer wrote that description!)

Whether you are aware of it or not, you have a powerful talent too. What are you good at? (If it's not artistic, it could be an organizational or relational quality). Are you putting it to good use?

What role are you playing in the world this year?

Thragor 2, Flickr