Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What I have learned (or already knew) in 2008

We've made it through another year (heaving a big sigh). 2008 had some ups and some downs. So what have I learned?
  1. My family supports me through thick and thin. I knew this before but in the past year it was very clearly illustrated to me. I really, REALLY know this now.
  2. Really good friends are like diamonds. Hard to find but precious to behold.
  3. Democracy is very fragile, even in first world countries. Look at the current Canadian political crisis.
  4. China can paint a cheery face on their massive social problems, but in the end, it's just stage makeup. Wonder what happened to all the Beijing vagrants after the Olympics.
  5. Rampant greed on Wall Street adversely affected the entire world, trashing the world economy.
  6. eHarmony and other online relationship websites seem to be taking off in popularity, now more than ever. Good thing? Maybe. Bad thing? Just be careful. Meeting people online requires that the genuine participants exercise due diligence when meeting their matches or giving out personal information.
  7. Salsa dancing is great exercise, fun and sexy as hell.
  8. Letting go of past hurts is essential in order to move forward.
  9. When threatened with violence, act as insane as humanly possible, if you can't get away. No one wants to mess with insane people.
  10. No one has the right to emotionally, mentally, verbally, sexually or physically abuse you or your family. Protect yourself and your family. 
  11. Live your life with a musical soundtrack - makes commuting, housework, working, writing so much more enjoyable.
  12. Dance at least once a day.
  13. Sing at least once a day.
  14. Laugh every day.
  15. Exercise a little every day.
  16. Feed and nurture your body properly and take care of yourself. You only get one body. Don't pollute it.
  17. Feed and nurture your mind properly. You only get one mind (unless you have multiple personality disorder which is a whole other problem) so be aware of what you're feeling and why you are feeling a particular way. Your core beliefs inform your feelings - explore your core beliefs and if some do not serve you well, change them. Get help if you need it.
  18. Love yourself. No one else knows you better.
  19. Meditate on a daily basis.
  20. Stand up for yourself. You are your best champion. Set your boundaries and stick by them. You  teach others how to treat you, so teach them to respect you.
  21. Achieving your dreams takes patience, persistence and more persistence.
  22. Do something that scares you (but won't hurt you or anyone else) like public speaking. It expands your life.
  23. You are perfectly, fragilely human. 
  24. Don't point fingers. Someone said once something like "let he who is without sin cast the first stone".
  25. Instant messaging/chatting online is great but can land you with some startling results. No, I'm not explaining this one :)
  26. "No" is not the final word, unless something criminal or unethical is happening.
  27. Miracles are scientific or spiritual things we don't understand.
  28. Try to be nicer to people than necessary because you never know what they're going through behind the scenes.
  29. The unexpected happen every day.
  30. You can change your life in a single second.
  31. There are exceptions to everything.
That's probably not all I learned or knew in 2008 and I could keep going but I'm going to stop here.

Have a wonderful, prosperous, Happy New Year and may all your fondest dreams, desires and wishes come true.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't you just hate...

Don't you just hate it when you call an airline for information and they send you through voice menu hell? I swear, sometimes the most unhelpful companies in the world are airlines. And no doubt the staff at the airlines dread having to deal with customers driven irate by the endless menu options that are no real option at all.

Why can't I just press zero and get some assistance, for Heaven's sake? Now voice menus have gotten rid of dialing zero to get an actual real live person on the other end. No doubt too expensive to have to hire someone - they've taken away meals, soft drinks, water, movies and hand you a teeny-tiny bag of cardboard pretzels as compensation. Now you need five dollars to buy a can of soda, after having paid hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get to where you need to go. 

They've gotten sneakier with ways to hide how to talk to a person. Sometimes you have to press "#" or "*" or some combination thereof. Or if you do get a real person on the line, they tell you to call another number where the other number puts you through voice menu hell. Again.

And when you do get someone, they have no idea what they're talking about. Even if I ask about really, really basic things like can I get luggage loss insurance or health insurance for my trip. Even that is asking more than they know, and some of these people are the supervisors. I called one of the Internet airline booking services the other day, by some miracle of Christmas, I got the supervisor on the line and even he couldn't tell me if I could insure my baggage against loss. He didn't have a clue. He would only tell me that I could have health insurance. What kind of travel operation doesn't have luggage loss insurance, I ask you? I can't even ask if I have a connection that I absolutely, positively must make, will the airline ensure I get to where I need to go. Will they hold the airplane if they're late because I need to make it to my destination or I might as well just shoot myself. It's just insanely stupid.

Why won't someone at the airlines or travel agents' booking offices just talk to me and tell me the truth? Why can't I rely on the travel industry to train their people so they know what they're talking about? Why are the travel people on the telephone so unhelpful? Why, why, WHY? Aaaaaaaarrrgggggghhhhhh!

I realize the time of year is not conducive to travel agents being able to help everyone with their plans. Christmas is an insane time in the travel industry.  But they know it comes every year - why can't they plan to have more people on staff through the Christmas season? Why is there no back-up planning in evidence?

They just want to herd us onto planes, trains and automobiles at outrageous prices and not hear a word of complaint. And if you're paying many hundreds of dollars for service, why is all the service at an extra charge? Oh, you want to choose a seat for your flight? That will be $22. Oh, you want to have a guarantee that we may be able to get you to your destination on time as required? That will be another $35. Oh, you want headsets to listen to the movie that cost you $5? That will be another $5. Oh, you want to be fed on a twenty hour flight? That will be another $75 - each way, thank you very much for acting like the mindless automaton we want you to be. Just hand over your moola. 

Oh and really, the flight crew isn't required to be polite to you, even if you are always polite to them. And, by the way, we forgot to tell you that, tee hee, your pilot was trained in the jungles of Papua New Guinea so the pilot doesn't have any verifiable flying credentials. Have a wonderful flight. Buh-bye!

For God's sake. 

I'm going to wait until later to book my travel even though it'll cost me more because I can't deal with these people now. ***rolling my eyes*** 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fear Not, My Love

Fear not, my Love,
The passage of time against which
We sail into the unknown ages

To make love of our words,
To experience our expense,
To laugh at our selves, our lives,
Was worth the price

Subtlety amidst the obvious
Shrouded against the world
We converged souls and grew to be more,
Became one for a single spark of eternity

Though we never met
We are together
Though we never touched
We are lovers
Though our time short
We are forever

Copyright © Brooke London 2008

Live the Music, Write the Music

Music has been a part of my life since I was seven years old and my parents bought a secondhand practice piano from a convent for, I think, $200. I can’t say I appreciated the thought behind it at first. Being forced to sit there every day for fifteen minutes with the timer on the oven set. As soon as the buzzer went off, I took off. And sometimes I got away with not practicing. However, we did have a cat for a short time who seemed to love prancing down the keys at midnight.

I think I was thirteen when I stormed out of my last piano lesson and stated to my mother than I was never going back to lessons ever again and I would never touch the piano again. My two sisters had already given up playing piano before that, so I couldn’t understand why I was being tormented with lessons. I was a crap player, didn’t like the music I was playing and didn’t see the point. What can I say, I was thirteen.

Two years later, at the age of fifteen, I heard the beckoning call of the poor instrument abandoned in the basement. It was a beautiful piano, oak I think, but with one small chip on the edge of the key of middle C. The sounds it produced were rich and vibrant, like a wonderfully aged port. Time had imparted a particular deep resonance to the notes when played. None of this tinny sounding honky-tonk stuff – a comforting, inexplicable, full sound emanated from the strings as the soft hammers struck them.

And I was hooked. With additional maturity, I found I was able to play and enjoy more complex pieces. I loved that piano. It was the place where I found solace from the pains of adolescence and anxiety of life. I would lose myself in the music because playing it pushed everything but the music out of my mind. I played that piano whenever I could throughout the rest of grade school and to the end of university.

After university, I traveled for a year and a half and didn’t have the opportunity to play. When I arrived back home, I couldn’t afford to take the instrument with me when I moved to Toronto so it was sold. I wanted to cry.

For eleven years after that, I didn’t have a piano. And then one day I was ‘given’ a piano as a ‘present’ from my then-significant other. It was also a beautiful instrument with a wonderful sound. And it was like I had never been without a piano. Again, I could play more complex pieces and truly appreciate the art behind the music, appreciate the composer, appreciate the mind-clearing reality of music and just be.

It was with playing piano and listening to other music that I was able to write my first novel. Music inspired me, it led me to different conclusions, different methods, a different…me. If I wanted to write something upbeat I would listen to upbeat music. If I needed to write a sad scene, I’d write to sad music. All the moods in the world captured in time and in writing with music.

When my relationship ended with my ex, he took my piano away, took back his present to me, even though he did not play the piano. And so now, I do not have a piano again. I seem to keep losing them in one way or another. I will buy another one someday.

I like to live my life with background music of my own choosing and playing, sort of like that spoof soap opera back in the 1970s named ‘Soap’ with Katherine Helmond. The matriarch of the wealthy family, played by Katherine Helmond, wanted to live her life to a soundtrack. At the time it was just a joke to describe her wacky, oblivious character.

Geez, maybe I’ve turned into a wacky, oblivious character. Although owning an iPod helps me to have a soundtrack for my life. You can never tell where life will lead you I guess. But I will own a piano again and this time it will be all mine. That is a promise.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So You're Writing Your First Book...

A little while ago, a Facebook aspiring writer asked me for advice on how to keep the motivation going to complete her first book. I don't pretend to be an expert by any means, but this was my answer with some edits for clarity:

Congratulations on writing your first novel! It's an exciting, frustrating time for you.

I think writing your first book is more difficult in some ways than writing your next books. For a lot of authors writing their first book, they're sort of out there in the wilderness without any support and just winging it, hoping it'll turn out. One of the best things you can do is to join a writing group - they help to keep you motivated and moving forward. It's inspiring to hear how others in your writing group succeed and how they did it. Also gives you more ideas on what you can do. Having a critique partner is also motivating and encouraging.

Also, for writing, some days your muse is on vacation. In those cases, don't stop writing - just write about something else other than your book, update your blog if you have one, journal. Just something to keep you writing and your brain functioning. But don't stop writing.

You can try to set aside a period of time each day, a date with your manuscript every day, and just sit in front of your computer for twenty minutes. Often, just forcing yourself to sit there and stare at the thing helps to get everything going.

Be patient with yourself. Some people take years to write a book. Kelley Armstrong took seven years to write her first book and now she's a New York Times Bestselling author.

If you've run into a road block and don't know what to do, I have found that there is normally something wrong with my plot. It may take me a month of whacking my head against the wall before I realize it. So if you find you can't move forward, revisit your plot to see if something is not working there.

My advice, and some may say differently, is not to worry about finding a publisher until you've at least completed your first draft. Do take a look at which publishers you think will be interested in your writing and their guidelines ("The Writer's Market" is a must-have book for all the publishers, editors and agents out there) but don't approach them until you've polished your manuscript. For first time writers, the publishers want to know that you can complete a book you've started.

When it comes to submitting your manuscript, expect rejection. You will be rejected, maybe less than other writers, maybe more than other writers. I'm not trying to discourage you. I have a binder full of rejections from publishers and agents. Most writers have a drawer, file folders or boxes filled with rejection letters. They say (whoever they are) that on average if you're going to be published it takes five years. I don't know where this is from but in my experience it's fairly close to the truth. Most writers I know have 5-6 manuscripts collecting dust under their bed before they sell their first book. Some will sell their first book - I did but that's a little unusual - but it took me one year of writing, one year of editing and two years of schlepping it around before a publisher contracted me.

Editors, publishers and agents are not infallible. If they get your manuscript when they're having a bad day, then your manuscript could be rejected. After all, they are human too.

I hired an editor to do a manuscript evaluation on my book before sending it out to anyone. I wanted to know if what I wrote was total garbage - it's easy to lose perspective on your own writing. I found my hired editor a little pricey but absolutely worth the cost - I learned a lot from her including the fact that in her opinion the book was marketable as long as I made the changes that she suggested. And she was right, I made the changes and a publisher contracted it.

If you feel the editor you hired is totally off-base, then go with your gut feeling. Give your most honest friend your book to read, so that he/she can give you really, really honest feedback. You don't want to be squeamish about this, but at the same time you need to trust the person giving you the feedback and take it with a grain of salt. If you feel strongly that something you've done is right, then go with your feeling.

I hope I have provided you with some ideas.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let My People Vote

I have a few (okay, a lot of) hot button issues that are guaranteed to get a rise out of me. Politics, emotional, mental, physical or sexual abuse of anyone but especially of children, terrorism, genocide. The other topics annoy me mildly: traffic, waiting in long lines, high heels, the outrageous prices of food/gas/electricity, you know, the everyday issues. But politics…politics are driving me nuts in the past week.

In Canada right now, we are having a huge political crisis. The crisis is unprecedented in Canadian history: we're pulling ourselves apart. Neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. Canadians are known for being somewhat apathetic when it comes to politics; after all, Canadians know that politicians are people with massive clay feet who speak out of both sides of their mouths. It comes down to a choice of the lesser of two/three/four evils. Cynical? Maybe. But also realistic and pragmatic. In Canada, unlike the USA, we vote for a party instead of for an individual President. The party elects their party leader and if that party gets more votes than the other parties, then that leader will be Prime Minister.

Until the past week and a bit. Canada had a federal election on October 14 2008 and we elected a minority government. The previous government was a minority government that lasted two years or so. Prior to that, minority governments didn't generally last more than a year, not including during WWII. Anyway, the parties who lost are now banding together to form a Coalition government backed by the Quebec separatist party, making the separatist party the 'king maker' and giving the separatists veto power over all decisions that affect all Canadians.

This is apparently not unconstitutional, but I feel...I know it is unethical. After all, no one in Canada voted for or against a coalition government, especially not one backed by a separatist party whose only interest to undermine Canada in whatever way possible. You have to know that when a proposed government allows a separatist party unprecedented power in something they wish to destroy, there are some serious problems with the people in charge of the situation. The opposition parties are attempting a bloodless coup in parliament, a blatant power grab, for something they could not gain legitimately, hoping that the Canadian people will behave as they normally do: apathetic and fatalistic.

The opinion polls indicate that if Canada went to vote again that the current minority government would turn into a majority government in of unheard of proportions because many people, Conservatives, Liberals and NDPs alike, including myself, think this is a subversion of democracy in the most cynical, selfish, self-aggrandizing way possible. I can accept that the minority government will fall on a non-confidence vote. What I cannot and will not accept is a coalition government, backed by separatists, which no one voted for or against. There was no coalition party option on the ballot I used to vote. This is a bait-and-switch tactic.

During the run-up to the election, the opposition parties flatly denied that a coalition would be a consideration. If the current minority government falls, I call on the Governor General of Canada, Michaƫlle Jean, to immediately dissolve parliament and call a new election. I want my vote. Canadians who believe in fair play want their votes. This attempted theft of the House of Commons is unacceptable on all levels. It is the desperate bid for supremacy by the losers of the last election, who will do anything for power. They do not have the best interests of my country at heart, they think only of themselves and their political scheming, acting like Canada is a Monopoly game.

I can't even get my federal government representative, my Minister of Parliament (MP), to return the telephone call I made to him last week. I will be making daily calls to his office in an attempt to speak to him; he is supposed to represent his constituents and I am one of them. It is my impression that he believes he will be the next Prime Minister, the great pretender to the throne, if the coalition is successful in this heinous plot.

Moses said, "Let my people go."

I say, "Let my people vote."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Inigo Montoya's Lessons in Honor

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

I have watched The Princess Bride so many times that I have lost count. Originally I watched it because my sister had a thing for it, so at Christmas we would watch The Princess Bride and Dr. Zhivago. I categorically refuse to watch Dr. Zhivago anymore - don't get me wrong, it's a great movie but seeing it twenty times wastes too much Kleenex and kills too many trees. I suppose I could just let the tears run down my face but then my clothes get wet. Or watch naked, but we won't go there.

Buttercup and her prince charming, Wesley, the Dread Pirate Roberts, fight against the evil Prince Humperdinck, his dastardly minions, huge rats, the fire swamp, the Pit of Despair and the prince's nefarious plot to kill Buttercup on their wedding night. Buttercup has despaired of ever seeing Wesley again and has agreed to wed the prince, not knowing he plans to kill her in order to accuse a neighboring kingdom of murdering his bride and thus justifying a war. A lust for power. Although, what guy in his right mind would kill the lovely Buttercup? Obviously not in his right mind. Must remember that.

Although Buttercup, Wesley and Humperdinck (sounds kinda crude doesn't it) are vastly entertaining, I find the character of Inigo Montoya the most engaging. Mandy Patinkin was so cute is the eighties. And he makes a lovable hero, avenging his father's death at the hands (or digits) of the too-many-fingered minion of Humperdinck. Stopping at nothing to fulfill his pledge to his dead father. He is driven by passion, by justice and by the child he once was who adored his father. He is driven by his sense of honor, a word that seems to have no or little meaning in society anymore except in the most negative sense (ie. so called honor killings, disgusting). I'm also not suggesting that vengeance is a good idea because that leads to a vicious cycle of reprisals and more destruction.

Honor is a code of ethics one lives by. Honor is having personal integrity about who you are and the actions you take. Honor is about taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. Honor is having a standard and not abandoning it just because it is inconvenient.

There is not enough honor in the world today. It seems to be dog eat dog, with little concern given to what is right or honorable. Todays children need to learn about honor and personal integrity but not many people bother to teach their kids this. Do the parents have no personal integrity themselves? No, I don't necessarily think so. I think parents are so busy trying to make things work financially that they throw money and things at their kids to substitute for time with their children. Understandable, in a way, but not so understandable in another.

The school system does not set a child's moral compass. That is the job of the guardian or parent of the child. I know that in most families, both people have to work. That is a simple reality in our world. Those who can afford and want to have one parent at home are fortunate. But that doesn't mean that one can abandon a child to the school system, X-box, iPod or the Gap for Kids and hope they learn what they need to know. Parents must take an active role in shaping their child. I'm not talking about programming any child down to the last iota of brain cell. I'm not talking about smothering a child with endless rules and regulations. Kids need to be kids. But parents need to be parents.

Parents need to instill in their children a personal code of conduct, a personal code of honor. A realization that everyone is a part of a larger society that must work together to succeed as a whole. That keeping your word means something. Your word is your bond. This all sounds old-fashioned to some, but if you can't rely on people not to lie to you, not to cheat you, not to try to steal from you, then you end up with the society we have today--severely dysfunctional and driven by greed. Just look at the current economic crisis. Caused by the greed of the few to infect the entire world with financial malaise.

We need more Inigo Montoyas in our world and fewer politicians.

I'll get down from my soapbox now.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Labyrinthine Love and Life

The book I'm currently writing has a reference to the Chartres Labyrinth in France. So I went looking for one in the city I live and I found one! The other day, according to tradition, I walked the labyrinth and I started thinking as I paced the path. Uh oh, you're thinking, she's contemplating again!! Horror! Run, run fast, run far far away!

But since you're still reading, I'll assume I'm not scaring you and shall continue. :) The labyrinth is made up of four sections and it loops closer to the centre before moving away from it, out to the far reaches of the structure. And it occurred to me that the labyrinth is a metaphor for life. And for love.

At first, I followed a straight path until I was almost halfway to the inner sanctum, my goal, a six petal rose. The path forced me to detour around the circle, closer and farther away from the centre. Close, so tantalizingly near to my goal, only to be led in another direction. Such is life. Such is love. 

We always seem to be on a path in our lives, one that takes us closer to ours goals and then moves us away from what we want. A pushmi-pullyu sort of animal. Dr. Dolittle has never seemed so profound. 

Life can be a maze with dead-ends and wrong turns leaving you lost and alone. But life for me is a labyrinth, one path, a circuitous, winding road that gives us some of the things we want--love, home, hearth. But it also leads us away from what we what, only to have teasing glimpses of our goals.

I suppose I could have just run to the centre, ignoring the path, but what would be the point?The path teaches one patience. The path teaches one wisdom. The path teaches one discipline. The path teaches one about life. Running to the centre would have cheated me of the journey, the process of reaching my goal.

When I reached the centre goal of the labyrinth, the six petal rose, I walked into each petal and did a little spin, celebrating the fact that patience had won out over impulse by walking the path.  It took me 20 minutes to get to the rose. I then left the rose and followed the path out of  the labyrinth, again winding closer to and further away from the petals.

When I left the labyrinth, the only thing I could think was, "I will be back."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Salsa Confusion

I went to my first Salsa Practice yesterday. It's a group of Salsa enthusiasts who get together once a week to practice their moves. Or their non-moves, as in my case, or maybe confused movements is a better description of what I was doing yesterday.

The practice session doesn't include lessons, it isn't a meet market--people are just there to dance, enjoy themselves without any pressure and learn from the different partners they dance with. Rank beginners, like myself, intermediate level dancers and those who really know what they're doing. At each new song, people switch partners (I let anyone I danced with know that I am a beginner, just so they understand that I don't know what I'm doing).

And despite being spun off balance a few times, stepping on my partners' feet and bumping into them at inopportune moments, I had fun. I went to a Salsa nightclub a few weeks ago and the night-clubbers apparently only want to dance with people who know what they're doing and look really good doing so. I am not one of these people. Too much pressure and snobbery for me. 

I just want to learn to dance Salsa.  I don't have a partner with whom to take to lessons, I can't afford private lessons, so Salsa practice is a wonderful way to accomplish what I want to learn. I'm assuming, of course, that I am not totally uncoordinated and will catch on, like everyone tells me I will, in 5 to 10 sessions. I practice the basic steps at home, but the spinning thing doesn't work well without a partner - I overspin without someone there to stop me. The kitchen counter or a chair don't work well as partners.

So maybe, just maybe, in a couple of months, I won't be spinning off-balance, stepping on feet and bumping into my dance partners. What surprised me the most was that the numbers of female and male dancers were pretty well even. I had originally thought that there would be a bunch of women there, but no. Fairly even numbers and everyone was friendly and understanding and the men knew what they were doing. 

I don't know if anyone else has tried to drag their significant other to dance classes, but I used to do this, only to discover that if the man doesn't know how to lead, then I can't follow and I try to lead. Which only irritates all concerned.

So yes, I am very happy if a man knows how to lead and lead well. I am a feminist, but somethings just work better when you don't try to lead. I don't want to lead--I don't know what I'm doing. And the rules of hand-to-hand (contact??) dancing are that the man leads. Some feminists will argue that the rules of dancing need to be changed, but I am not one of these. I don't want to change the Bible so that God is referred to as a woman. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. What matters to me in terms of feminism is gender equality before the law and in society. Domestic abuse (although either gender can be abused), prostitution (ditto), equal legal rights, equal working rights, freedom from sexual harassment etc are far the more serious issues that feminism should deal with. Not dancing. 

It's dancing for God's sake, not war.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Cobbled-Together Life

Life is like a box of choc-o-lates. (Sorry for the plagiarism from Forrest Gump). You never know what you’re going to get—the yucky ones, the not so yucky ones and the ones you LOVE. My favorite is the cherry centered one with the actual cherry and the gooey syrup in it. And I think, maybe ol’ Forrest had a point.

Life comes at you at the speed of light these days, the good, the bad and the ugly and sometimes I think, “This wasn’t what I had planned”, or “This wasn’t supposed to happen”, or “What am I supposed to do with this situation/person/dilemma/success/failure/illness/health?”
I was on the subway today, staring blankly out the window as the train stopped at each station as I made my way downtown. Staring at all the different tiles lining the subway walls and floors and stairs. All cobbled together into a single, pulsing organism that moves people from one end of the city to the other. The life of a subway system. All walks of life, all types of people, with a common goal—to get through this day and onto the next. Busy, busy, busy. Confused, bewildered, scared, focused, successful, unsuccessful, worried, happy, sad. A kaleidoscope of humanity, like a kaleidoscope of types of chocolates in a box.

The chocolate you take a bite of and spit out because you find it disgusting. The chocolate that tastes like a bite of heaven. The chocolate you eat anyway, even if it isn’t your favorite, but hey, it’s chocolate! Everything cobbled together into a single box for your dining pleasure.

In a cobbled-together life, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. You don’t know if your trip to the store will be a pleasure or a pain. You don’t know if someone is going to walk up to you and change your life. You don’t know if a bus will hit you as you cross the street to get to the other side (no chicken jokes, please—I know, I know, I just handed that one to you, what ARE you going to do?) You don’t know. We only know what we have experienced in the past and the moment that is happening right this second. Now. While you’re reading this.

I think we all like to plan our lives to a certain extent. To have security. To have a home. To have a way to make a living. But life can’t be entirely planned, some of it yes, but not all of it. Your entire life can change in a single second, that’s all it takes. One second to change where you are going, to change your focus or to change yourself. To change the flavor of your life.

Sometimes to truly live, you have to totally let go of everything familiar, throw yourself off the metaphorical cliff and hope for a not-too-bumpy landing. (Please don’t throw yourselves off anything dangerous, I couldn’t take the guilt.) And you discover what you can do, what you can accomplish, what you can dream. A heady, exhilarating feeling.

You, just you, are a box of chocolates all on your own—the good, the bad and the not-so-bad. A group of people is a box of chocolates in and of itself—the good, the bad and the not-so-bad. A world of people is the “cornucopia of awesomeness” box of chocolates—the good, the bad and the not-so-bad.

No one is completely perfect. No one is totally good. No one is wholly bad-to-the-bone. We cobble ourselves and our lives together to fashion it into a lifetime of adventure, a lifetime of sorrow, a lifetime of discovery, a lifetime of happiness, all intertwined together. We, each of us, have many lives to live in a single lifetime. We, each of us, have untapped resources we are as yet unaware of. We, each of us, cobble together a life to live.

Make sure your cobbling creates a box of life that you can love and can be proud of.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


This is normal?? This, this disaster, these consequences, this life is normal?? I don’t know about you but I have asked myself these questions any number of times. I guess what I am really asking is, ”Is this fair?”, “Did I really deserve this?”, or, “Why does everyone else seem to have such a normal life?”

It’s a child’s question, really. “Why is the sky blue, Mummy?”—“I don’t know, dear, it just is.”, or, “Why is grass green, Mummy?”—“It just is, dear.”, or, “Why do I have to go to school, Mummy?”—“Everyone has to go, dear.”

Things just ARE. Yes, there are logical, understandable (by human standards) answers for some questions and some answers you just have to take on faith. No one understands everything. Hell, we understand so very little in the grand scheme of things. We have barely scratched the surface of what it means to be human. We don’t understand ourselves, we don’t understand others, we don’t understand the world and we don’t understand the universe. Why, why, WHY??

I have a hard time with “why” because I want to know why about everything. I have a hard time just accepting an answer – I want to know what went into the answer. This urge to know why is wonderful at times and a hellacious trial at other times. And sometimes, I just want to shout out (maybe on my balcony—I can be a deranged Juliet), “Okay, I’ve had enough. I know that adversity builds character, but I have enough character now to last me a number of lifetimes. Can I please just get on with it?”

But howling won’t help me. Not much, if at all. Actually, when I become angry about something/someone and I vent, I just feel worse afterwards. More angry, more guilty, more out of control than before. It’s a cycle that feeds on itself, spiraling into a fire-breathing dragon. I have tried meditating through it, breathing through it, talking myself down out of my anger. But I’m still mad.

I have to experience things for myself. It’s a part of my “why” problem and not accepting answers without question. I’m just lucky that when someone (probably one of my parents) told me not to play in the street, I stayed off the road. So at least I don’t have to learn “everything” first hand. Although it does come in handy for a writer.

Trying to put things into perspective is probably the most helpful thing I can do and trying to treat myself like my best friend would. I know I can’t control everything—least of all, anyone else. I can control the things I do but I can’t control how my body and mind react, not instantly anyway. My pulse speeds up, I start jiggling my foot up and down jack-rabbit fast if I’m sitting, the flight/fight instinct kicks in and off to the races I go. But I don’t want to go to the races. I hate the races. I want to go back to being calm and philosophical. Relaxed. Breathing slowly. Simple stuff.

Beneath all the fancy clothes, makeup, haircuts we have, beyond the technology we possess and our so-called superior lifestyles, we are still cave people, hunter-gatherers. Driven to huddle beside our primordial fires to keep the wild beasts at bay. Defending our little clans with clubs against marauding invaders who would steal our resources, our peace of mind, our security. I guess some of us (who, me?) are just more primitive than others. Reacting to negative or positive stimulus as though they are imminent dangers. That’s how humanity has survived for, what it is, 100,000 years or so?

I am learning to slow down my reaction times. Instead of a knee-jerk, shoot-from-the-mouth reaction, I'm backing away mentally to think about what is really happening. Is this reaction warranted by the circumstances? Am I blowing things out of proportion? What are the facts versus what am I feeling? Do the facts support/qualify the feeling? Giving myself the space to pick and choose my reactions while still assertively reinforcing my personal boundaries.

“An unexamined life is not worth living.” This is a quote from some ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, I think. He isn’t advocating suicide or killing people who don’t contemplate life. He is saying that the “cost” of living life is too great not to examine it in detail. Sort of like buying a house without having done a house inspection before plunking your hard-earned cash down. Your life shouldn’t be a lemon you bought for a bargain but now want to return. The cost of life, the responsibility of life, is too high if you don’t know who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Making life, through examining it, worth the costs of living it. And that means not driving myself crazy with “why”.

Know thyself, goes the saying by the Oracle of Delphi from two thousand or more years ago - I don't know the actual date. I think it’s an important saying. Knowing yourself will help you live the life you want to have. Shaping and crafting your life into something that is pleasing to you.

It’s the only life you have.

There. Now I feel better. I’m not even going to ask “why”. It’s a gift and I’m accepting it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Silent Words, Silent Worlds

Imagine if you will...GMail and its chat capability. Not what you were expecting, was it? Hee, hee. Gotcha. Anyway, I shall continue.

The person you are emailing suddenly shows up as a glowing green dot saying that you can reply by chat. You are so startled that you end up "chatting" by accident. Yes, Google has taken over your life and is directing it, or so it would seem. They said it would happen eventually. :) The future is now. If Google could come up with a way to wash all your clothes, dry them and put them neatly away, that would be great!

It comforts you, in a way, to know that your “pen pal”, for lack of a better word, is on the e-mail server at the same time as you. A tenuous, but real, connection. Looking at that little green dot doesn’t seem like much in the whole scheme of things. But it means worlds to you. You both know that the other is on GMail at the same time and probably thinking of the other person. An unsaid link, a silent communication, a mute message all in itself, saying, “I’m thinking of you.” Even though neither of you says anything, the nothingness is charged with meaning.

"Nothing" has never meant so much.
"Nothing" has never been so eloquent.
"Nothing" is…something important.

Sighhhhhh. Just a thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Rose

Poem by Galaway, Inner Tennis

When We plant a rose seed in the earth,
we notice that it is small, but we do not
criticize it as “rootless and stemless”. We treat
it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment
required of a seed.

When We notice that it is small, but we do not
criticize it as “rootless and stemless.”
we treat it as a seed, giving it the water and
nourishment required of the seat.

When it first shoots up out of the earth,
we don’t condemn it as immature and
under-developed; nor do we criticize the buds
for not being open when they appear.
We stand in wonder at the process taking place
and give the plant the care it needs at each
stage in its development.

The Rose is a rose from the time it is a seed
to the time it dies. Within it at all times it contains
it’s whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the
process of change; yet at each stage, at each moment,
it is perfectly all right as it is.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Live in Your Fingers and Toes

Like many writers, and other people, I tend to live in my head. That's how I write and so that's where I seem to spend the majority of my time. But I just realized something. I'm realizing a lot of things these days, so please bear with me while I have my epiphanies. However much I live in my head, analyzing problems and situations, my body knows what's wrong in my life before I do. Even my dreams know what's wrong in my life before me.

Sounds crazy, huh? I think I am one of those people who disconnect their head from their body and just drag their body around for the ride. I was in a bad relationship and during that time my health suffered. I got sick all the time, had back problems and many weird nightmares. One of my worst nightmares would be when I thought I was awake but I couldn't move. I would hear someone creeping up the stairs to the bedroom and feel them standing over me - I could even feel their breath on my face. Freaked me out. The grim reaper standing at the foot of the bed with his blade also was one that I feared.

I left the relationship and my health improved. My dreams, however, were still weird. The one that sticks out in my head goes something like this: I am in Venice (I think). There are canals flowing amongst the streets and I am riding in a horse drawn carriage of some kind and I am sitting with the driver. We round a corner and I see puddles all over the ground. Some are big and some are small. One of the puddles has a disconnected head, no body, hovering next to it. The head, a man in a top hat, says to me, "You have to get rid of the poisons" and he spits (gross, I know) into the puddle. As soon as he spits into the puddle, his body reappears and he is a whole person. At that point I wake up.

This dream, in retrospect, makes total sense. I had disconnected my body from my head. The poisons (my relationship issues, my "bad" emotions, etc) were keeping me from making "contact" with my body. I ignored my bodily issues because my head was in the clouds. I was stuffing my emotions down, out of my head, and into my body. Poor body had taken a terrible beating because of this.

Rationally and logically, I know there's a mind-body connection. But I never really felt that connection before the last year or so. What's happening in your head is happening in your body. Your mind controls your body in ways that you can't even imagine. Or at least I couldn't.

So now, I try to be very aware of my emotional state and my physical state. I try to live, at least more of the time, in my body. Feeling how my body moves when I stretch or exercise, noticing small pains and areas of tension. Wriggling my fingers and toes, almost like pushing my mind into the fingers and toes. There you go - live in your fingers and toes - the very furthest appendages from your mind.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Crazy Is Good - How to Travel around the World Alone and Survive

If you've been on my site and looked at my Bio page, you'll know that I am a world traveler. On my trip around the world, the majority of the time I spent in Australia and New Zealand but for five or so months I was in Asia by myself. And I learned a few things that have been useful in everyday life. In a lot of Asian countries, if you're female and you're traveling alone, the locals think you are a prostitute. And they act accordingly. I had packs of men follow me down the streets making rude and lewd noises.

Not an enjoyable experience.

When I was in Asia, I was constantly being asked where my husband was. As if I couldn't possibly be alone because, as a woman, I needed a man to protect me. And, I have to admit, at times I really wished I had a very tall, muscular man with me. It would have prevented a lot of problems. But I didn't have that so I had to resort to different strategies, let's call them, to avoid or divert or scare attention away from me.

The things to do in Asia for women traveling alone:
  1. Buy a cheap gold colored ring and use it as a "wedding" ring. When people asked, I would  flash the ring and tell them all sorts of stories: my husband was sleeping off a hang-over, I'm meeting him down the street, etc. 
  2. Cover as much skin as possible and wear baggy clothing. I didn't cover my head but at times I think it would have prevented some of the negative attention.
  3. If you're blonde, seriously consider changing your hair color to dark brown or black. Blondes have a target painted on their backs.
  4. Realize that people in Asia get North American and European TV shows and somehow think this is how all Westerners behave. I cannot count the number of "Hey baby, you want to come to my place" comments I received. I took to either ignoring the comments, sneering at the guy or looking at the guy like he was crazy. Another four letter word plus the word "off" also did the trick.
  5. Never tell anyone you're lost - they seem to take it as a game to see if they can confuse you more. Know where you are going 100% of the time if you can manage it. Study maps. If I absolutely had to ask for directions, I ended up asking five or so people and taking the most popular answer. And even then, I still got the wrong directions 80% of the time.
  6. If you walk down the street muttering aloud, then people generally leave you alone. 
  7. Walk with purpose, your head up, shoulders back and a determined expression on your face. Don't stare at people you walk by but don't drop your eyes either because that marks you as a target.
  8. Realize that you are in some of the poorest countries in the world and the poverty is devastating to see. The urge to give a thin, frail-looking child a few rupees is overwhelming but be aware that, if you do this, the kid will tell all his hundreds of friends and you will be mobbed. 
  9. Enforce your personal space no matter what. I was in Srinagar, Kashmir, India for long days some months before the all the fighting started. I stayed on a houseboat on Dal Lake which was very nice, looking out towards the Himalaya Mountains. The not so nice part was that I would take a skiff to the quay and there was always a group of men congregated about ten meters away from the dock. They would always verbally harass me but didn't touch me. I took to walking on the opposite side of the street to avoid them. One day, they verbally harassed me as usual but one crossed the street and grabbed my arm. I turned around and slammed my fist into his face. Not very hard but hard enough that he fell, probably out of shock. His friends started to laugh. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this course of action (I have never hit anyone but my younger sister, when I was around eight years old, and this guy) because the situation could have gone either way. Fortunately it went my way. No one EVER came near me again and the verbal harassment stopped. Personal boundaries are important, even life-saving. Enforce them.
  10. Learn to lie. Like a rug. Back in Kashmir, I decided I needed to get out of Asia because I was tired, cranky and I just wanted something familiar, or at least identifiable, to eat. So I went to the airline office in Srinagar to book a ticket back to New Delhi. The man I spoke to was extremely unpleasant, saying that I hated his country and the people of his country, asking why I should want to leave, spoiled Western woman that I was. I knew I wasn't going to get any help at this rate and believed he would delay my departure out of spite so I told him that my younger sister had just died in an automobile accident (a total fabrication - she is very much well and alive). Tears rolled down the most miserable, sad looking face that I could conjure. The man's attitude changed into one of sympathy (because I was acting like a stereotypically emotional woman in need of manly assistance) and, wouldn't you know it, I was on an airplane the next day. A few days later, I landed in London, England.
Despite the above, I don't regret going to Asia. It was an EXPERIENCE. I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, which at that time was very, very white. I didn't even see a non-white person until I was thirteen years old. For the first time in my life, in Asia, I was in the minority and I hadn't realized until that point how much I stuck out, how out of place I felt, as one of a minority. People make assumptions about minorities that have nothing to do with reality. As well, the sheer volume of history is staggering and humbling. You can breathe, feel, eat and touch the history in the air, in the food, in the water (bottled, of course).

Of course, I had some beautiful times in Asia. Some of the most perfect moments of my life were in Asia. I was walking up a winding road in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia with a fellow traveler I'd met, the road surrounded by undulating hills and forest. The Islamic call to prayer started to drift throughout the area, the singing chant filtering magically through the trees to reach my enthralled ears. I had never heard anything so beautiful before, never anything so ... indescribably, exotically foreign. I'll remember that until the day I die.

Thailand and it's people were beautiful. I'm straight but I swear the most stunning women in the world must be Thai with their delicate grace, smooth ivory skin and their almond-shaped tilted eyes. I rented a moped in Krabi, Thailand to take a look at the surrounding country-side. I had never driven a motorcycle before and barely understood the concept of shifting gears, especially without drifting onto the wrong side of the road (most of Asia drives on the left side of the road). At one point, I drove up to a roadside restaurant with outdoor seating. I was covered in dust and thirsty. I sat down and asked for a Coca Cola because the entire world knows what you're asking for. When I looked back from the waitress, there were about twenty villagers all gathered around me in a circle. Not threatening in any way, but curious and friendly. They were fascinated with my white skin (kind of sunburned at that point), green eyes and lighter hair, all of which they touched and looked at with delicate but respectful curiosity. It was actually very sweet - they charmed me and I think I amused them with my butchered Thai and my wordless communication attempts.

These days, traveling in Asia is much more dangerous but I think it can still be done safely. If you can at all manage it, travel with someone you know. A satellite phone would be a God-send. Research, research, research. Use your common sense to stay out of trouble - think ahead. 

And finally, know that these countries are totally foreign and can't be judged by Western standards.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Music is all Around Us--All you have to do is Listen

I just watched the movie "August Rush" for the first (and second) time tonight. The title of this blog is from the last words spoken by a young musical prodigy in search of his parents. The child uses his musical talent to lure his parents to him as he's been in an orphanage his entire life. Aside from Jonathan Rhys Meyers being beautiful, which by the way was quite distracting, I felt very moved by the entire movie. I had never heard of it before (I may have been in a hermit writing phase or something) but I just got The Movie Networks on cable and it happened to be on. I watched the last half of it and then watched the movie again.

At the end, his parents unknowningly come together to watch him conduct a Central Park symphony he composes. His parents had been the victims of fate, untrustworthy jade. His father never knew of his existence and his mother thought her child dead. The mother finds out her child is alive and does everything to find him. The father never stopped thinking about the mother - their one night of passion together ten or eleven years earlier.

I'm not a movie critic by any stretch of the imagination, but this film stopped me in my tracks. A journey of a little boy towards something he yearns for and can feel so strongly that he runs away from the orphanage to The Big Apple. He walks to the beat of a different drummer - the drummers are his parents, unknowingly calling to him through their own musical talents. He knows they are out there. And he calls back - through his own music. He hears music in everything - the trees, traffic, basketball - you name it, it is music to him.

I have to admit it. There are two distinct things I'm a sucker for - inspiring musical composition, classical or modern, which never fails to raise the fine hairs on my neck and arms and a happy ending. So shoot me - I'm a romance novelist. I sat there shivering as I watched the movie.

I just checked and this movie was nominated for several awards, including an Academy Award. Wow - I really must have been hiding in a hole when this was released!  I didn't know it was nominated when I watched it. But the idea that a little boy's perception of reality was so concrete, something he could actually hear, was wonderful. His perception successfully drove this fairy tale/journey/love story. Perception is reality. I wrote about that in another post.  I think therefore I am. I ask and I am given.

While the movie is obviously fictional and highly unlikely to ever happen in reality, it does hold lessons. Unfortunately, most of those lessons are cliches but cliches are cliches because there is a grain of truth in them. Your hopes and dreams are your aspirations. You generally aren't given or conceived of a dream without some way of making it real. You may fail. Many, many times. You may fall. Many more times. But what matters is that you pick yourself up and try again. Within reason. I mean, Stephen Hawking is not likely to physically climb Mount Everest, but what he can do with his mind is more impressive. He has climbed a Mount Everest in his mind. But if he wanted to be at the top of Mount Everest, I would suppose a helicopter could get him there (I'm assuming there isn't a problem with thin air that would prevent an engine from running properly).

The point being that your dreams can be reality. The reality, the path, the experience may be different than imagined, but the dream is still fulfilled. "The music is all around us - all you have to do is listen." The music, in this case, is a dream you choose to listen to and to follow to your reality. Whatever perception of reality that is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to Lose a Man or Woman in 1 minute (or less)

How to get rid of a guy in 1 minute or less? Many a woman has debated this question and many have come up with pretty good answers. As soon as you meet him, or shortly thereafter:
  • Tell him you are in a weight-gain phase of your life.
  • Tell him that you are a shopaholic and deeply in debt.
  • Tell him that you must see your mother on a daily basis or you just can’t think straight.
  • Tell him that your family would love to meet him. Immediately. Your father owns a shotgun and you still don’t know what happened to your last boyfriend.
  • Tell him that it’s you, not him. And then just walk away
  • Tell him you were just paroled from prison on a murder conviction. You were guilty.
  • Don’t tell him you are lesbian - this might just encourage him to try to “convert” you.
  • Don’t tell him that he is a dickless wonder - this might just encourage him to prove you wrong.
  • Tell him that you are going to shave your head today - just to see what it looks like.
  • Howl like a wolf at the moon at inopportune times. Mid-day in a crowded shopping centre or restaurant is always good. Yip a few times at the end of your baying.
  • Tell him that you must have a family immediately. You must have 13 children in the next 13 years to fulfill your destiny to save humankind.

Of course, there are always ways to lose a woman in 1 minute or less. As soon as you meet her, or shortly thereafter:

  • Tell her that you live with you mother because no one can take care of you like mummy.
  • Tell her that you are unemployed and planning to stay that way. Welfare is a wonderful thing you plan on using the rest of your life.
  • Compare her unfavorably to your mother
  • Compare her unfavorably to her mother
  • Tell her that you need a wife/mistress who would ideally be your maid, cook, doormat, sex toy and totally devoted to you while you go out to find someone better.
  • Tell her that you find intelligent women unfeminine.
  • Tell her that you find brainless women the epitome of femininity. Brainy women are too much work and very threatening to your masculinity.
  • Tell her that you want to get married and that you’ll live with your parents for your entire marriage. Why go anywhere else?
  • Tell her that you’re gay - but she might decide you are perfect, safe male friend material, so be careful with this one.

I’m sure I could come up with more. The above was written tongue-in-cheek. If you are truly not interested in a person who tries to pursue you, either romantically or platonically, be nice and kindly say you’re not interested, rather than leading them on.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Publication Date March 19, 2009!

I have a release date for my debut novel, Pitch Dark, a full-length, romantic suspense adventure. Cerridwen Press will release it on March 19, 2009 in e-book format. And you may well ask, what is an e-book?

An e-book is a book that is in electronic format, meaning that a reader can download the book from the Internet, in a variety of formats (pdf, word, rtf etc) and read it on their computer, on their e-book reader (of which there are many, even iPods can store e-books so that users can read from their iPod) or print out the e-book onto paper if they so choose.

What are the advantages of e-books over traditional paper books? Well, for one, trees aren’t cut down in order to produce the paper used. For another, the reader doesn’t need to drive or take the bus to a bookstore to get a book. The book is delivered directly to your computer. No wasted gas or pollution. E-books are also priced less expensively than paper books.

What are the ‘traditional’ views of e-books? Traditionally, the prevailing view was that e-books were of poorer quality than their paper cousins. That may have been true at one time, but it is no longer true. Many very well-written books are turned down by traditional publishers because the publisher wants a sure thing. Traditional publishing costs and risks are so much greater than e-publishing just by the nature of the beast. The risks are so large that publishers lean towards big name authors and to authors who write in the most popular genres. E-publishers don’t have that issue as much. Yes, the still hire editors and cover artists and promote the books, but since they’re not printing actual books, they can afford to take risks on lesser known but equally or superior talented authors who write excellent stories.

E-publishing is the democratization of publishing. Less expensive books. Equal or better quality writing. Deliverable to any computer on the planet in seconds. Fewer costs. Less pollution. Decreased use of natural resources.

Traditional publishers are also realizing the benefits of e-books and many are now offering e-books themselves. Traditional publishers are interested in a less costly production and distribution model and e-publishing is it. No need to worry about book returns of 70%. Book returns are those books originally purchased from the publisher by a bookstore or book chain and did not sell. The publishers then must give back the money the book buyers paid for the books. So authors of books may only be paid once a year, once book returns are known. With e-books, there are no book returns. The reader has bought the book. End of story. The authors are paid regularly based on their actual sales, not on projected sales.

I didn’t mean to go into e-books, but once I started I thought I should explain the significance of e-books versus traditionally published books. Some people say that they don’t want e-books because of eye strain. Right now, there are e-book readers available that don’t have that problem. The screen actually looks like a piece of paper. And you can store many books in one e-book reader: you can carry a library of books with you in a package the size, perhaps a little heavier, of a paperback novel.

The publishing industry is going through a shake-out, one that is being accelerated by the global economic slowdown. Traditional publishers are looking for ways to decrease their costs without decreasing market share or quality. E-publishing seems to be the answer.

So my novel will be an e-book, easily purchased from http://www.cerridwenpress.com. At your convenience starting March 19, 2009. Cover art by Croco.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Perception is Reality

I was speaking to someone who recently read a study regarding the influence of expectation on the performance of students and teachers in grade school. Three teachers were selected for the study and they were told that in the coming year that they would be receiving students who were gifted. These three teachers were also told that they themselves were the top teachers in their district and this was why they were being selected to teach these students.

During the year, the students marks were the best in the district and, in some cases, some students’ IQs increased by a significant amount.

The first catch? The students were selected by ballot with no concern given to previous grades or performance. The second catch? The teachers, unknown to themselves, had also been selected by ballot--they were regular teachers. Not a superstar in the lot.

So, it would seem that intelligence and performance can be linked very strongly to an individual’s perceptions. If a student is treated as if he or she is an gifted student, then they may become a gifted student. If a teacher is told that he or she is one of the best teachers, then the teacher may behave like the best of teachers.

Human beings will live up or down to expectations. We’ve all heard this but it’s never been so clearly illustrated to me as with the above case. Of course, the above will not work with all people but expectations can play a major part in determining the outcome of any endeavor.

If you think you will be successful, then you will be successful. You’ll do things that successful people do. If you think you will be a failure, then you will be a failure. You’ll do things that unsuccessful people do because you don’t expect to be successful. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your reality is shaped directly by your perception of reality. If you expect the worst, you will probably receive the worst. If you expect the best, you will probably receive the best. This isn’t to say that you can dance through life like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and everything will be peachy and the world will be a wonderful place. You must shape your perceptions. If your perceptions are not serving you well, then you need a new set of perceptions, which takes time, patience and effort. And can be incredibly painful.

So your feeling and perceptions are your responsibility. Your responsibility to nurture or change, your responsibility to cling to or abandon those feelings and perceptions that harm you.

We all struggle with feelings and perceptions of inadequacy. We all fear looking silly or unattractive or a host of other undesirable things. We are all special in some way. We need to take a good gentle, objective look at ourselves and see ourselves for what we are.

Fragilely human.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Men and Women and What's in Between

I don’t really understand men. I don’t think I ever have. Maybe I never will. Men claim that women are complex, unfathomable creatures. But for me, that description applies to men.

According to the New York Times, a fascinating article entitled “As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen” appeared on September 9, 2008 which stated:

For evolutionary psychologists, the bad news is that the size of the gender gap in personality varies among cultures. For social-role psychologists, the bad news is that the variation is going in the wrong direction. It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States. A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France. The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge.

The sample size for the study was significant--40,000 men and women from 60 different countries. The article further states:

Dr. Schmitt, a psychologist at Bradley University in Illinois and the director of the International Sexuality Description Project, suggests that as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

“Humanity’s jaunt into monotheism, agriculturally based economies and the monopolization of power and resources by a few men was ‘unnatural’ in many ways,” Dr. Schmitt says, alluding to evidence that hunter-gatherers were relatively egalitarian. “In some ways modern progressive cultures are returning us psychologically to our hunter-gatherer roots,” he argues. “That means high sociopolitical gender equality over all, but with men and women expressing predisposed interests in different domains. Removing the stresses of traditional agricultural societies could allow men’s, and to a lesser extent women’s, more ‘natural’ personality traits to emerge.”

So what does this mean? As we approach gender equality that men and women will not understand each other at all?? If it gets any more confusing, I don’t think I’ll ever understand. The study indicates that women are generally more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive while men are generally more competitive, assertive, reckless and emotionally flat.

Of course, studies are studies and statistics are statistics: they don’t account for individual differences as much as they account for generalities. Each person is different in some way from the ‘norm’ for their gender. Every person is unique. Maybe it’s our differences from the norm that attract people to each other, or at least one of the factors that attract others. Maybe a woman who is more competitive or assertive will attract a man who has a tendency towards these traits himself. Does like attract like? Or do opposites attract. The study seems to suggest that as we achieve gender equality before the law, that men and women may be more free to be and do as they wish.

I used to think for relationships that opposites attract--for example, one person is strong in the area the other person is weak, so that couples fit together sort of like jigsaw puzzle, compensating strengths balancing the relationship. In theory, this sounds good to me, but in practice, lately, I’m thinking this isn’t so. If the differences are too great, then the relationship can turn into a pissing match if one or both of the individuals involved aren’t mature enough to accept the disparity and work with them. And it seems awfully tiring to be continually trying to figure out where the other person is coming from.

I really hate to say this but maybe relationships work best when each partner has clearly defined roles. I’m cringing as I write this because it seems so…old-fashioned, so…un-politically correct. Maybe relationships are meant to be more like a dance, like a waltz or a tango. You have someone who leads and someone who follows the lead. And I’m not saying that it’s the man who has to lead. I’m not even saying the woman has to lead. I’m saying that the one who is more suited to the particular arena of interaction leads.

I’ve taken ballroom dancing classes in the past. And being the woman, I’m supposed to let the man lead. But most of the time, I actually try to lead. Why? Because the guy I’m dancing with isn’t assertive enough to take the lead. The best male ballroom dancers take control and propel the woman around the floor and, I can tell you, it’s a glorious experience. My feet don’t end up on my partner’s feet and I can relax and enjoy myself. But if you’re always fighting for control because you don’t think the other person is doing it right, then you’re going to be stomping all over each other and your feet will be bruised and sore by the end of the dance.

So I guess my attitude is if you’re going to lead, then lead or get out of my way because if I don’t feel you can do the job then I’m going to take over. That’s who I am. If I am with someone who can lead in a certain area, and lead well, then I can very easily follow because I respect and can feel the other person’s ability to get us where we need to go. If I don’t trust the other person to lead well, then I will take over. I can’t seem to help myself. Mostly because I hate, really, really hate, doing idiotic things because the ‘lead’ person is confused. I may not always know 100% what I’m doing, but since I can size up most situations quickly, efficiently and accurately, then 99% of the time I do a damn good job, if I do say so myself.

I realize I’ve just contradicted myself here, on one hand saying opposites don’t make the best relationships and on the other hand, saying that the most capable person in an area leads, which sounds a lot like opposites attracting. So I think I need a hybrid theory. And given the study’s findings that gender differences will become more pronounced as gender equality progresses, my hybrid theory is this:

  1. The most capable person in a particular area leads and the other person follows as long as both parties have input into the decision or activity. No dictatorships allowed. No Stepford women or men.
  2. Relationships are fluid. They ebb and flow just like a person doesn’t have the exact same feelings everyday for the rest of their lives. One partner should be able to balance the other partner to some extent.
  3. Respect for and acceptance of the differences between you and your partner is crucial.
  4. No trying to change the other person to ‘fix’ them. No ‘diamond in the rough’ garbage. Accept the person as they are or walk away.
  5. The fundamental values of the two people must match. If they don’t, the relationship probably won’t work.
  6. I realize this is a saying by someone, but here goes: Don’t find someone you can live with, find someone you can’t live without. At the same time, you don’t want to be joined at the hip or helpless without the other person. Just don’t settle for finding someone you can live with.
  7. Have separate interests and hobbies.
  8. Have some interests and hobbies in common.
  9. Be mature. If you can’t be mature, then you’re not ready for a relationship.

So, while my issue of not understanding men still exists, I think my hybrid theory does not require a complete understanding of the other person. It requires attention, respect, acceptance, basic compatibility and love.

I think I’ve just had my epiphany.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Construction of Hope

To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

May the love hidden deep inside your heart find the love waiting in your dreams. May the laughter that you find in your tomorrow wipe away the pain you find in your yesterdays.

These are two sayings (authors unknown) about hope that I find very appealing and, I hope (no pun intended), true. Thefreedictionary.com defines hope as “a feeling of desire for something, usually with confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment.”

The wording “confidence in the possibility of its fulfillment” is what I find interesting. So, okay. What if you’re on a sinking cruise ship in the middle of the ocean? Some people would no doubt pray for salvation, meaning that they have hope of rescue from some quarter. Some people would find life jackets and life rafts and hope that their actions will save their lives. Some people will help others into the jackets and rafts, thereby saving more lives. But why would some people simply pray and hope for salvation and others actually perform the saving?

It seems to me that if you just wish for salvation without doing anything to help yourself, then it is a very self-centered and useless thing. If you were praying and finding life jackets, life rafts and helping others into the rafts, then I would say that your hope is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You help yourself. You help others. Your hope of being saved is fulfilled.

There’s a little story told that goes something like this: a man is stranded on the roof of his house, trapped by rising flood waters. He is praying, hoping, that God will save him. A few people in boats come by and they all offer to save him but he turns them down, saying that God will save him. The flood waters eventually overcome the house and he starts to drown. With his last breath he cries out to God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God answers, “Well, I sent all those boats and you didn’t get in.”

The point is that you can have hope for the future, but that comes with the responsibility to actually take part in making your hopes come true. If you’re a writer but can’t finish a book, you can’t simply sit there and hope you’ll finish it, or you’re screwed. You actually have to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or SOMETHING, to make your hope come true.

Nothing is free. Not love, not hope, not success. They all exact a price of some kind. And that cost can be a steep cost, requiring you to do things that you may not want to do. Things that scare you. But if you really want your hopes to come true, then you must pay the price of admission, cowboy up and go for what you want.

Now, we all struggle with motivation at some point in our lives. Some people struggle everyday, other people just seem to be self-motivated and then there’s everyone in between. Some people just sit back and say to themselves, “I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll feel like doing it some other time.” And for these people, who refuse to take responsibility for their hopes, tomorrow never comes. They sit and wait for motivation to magically appear and solve all their problems.

That’s not how hope works. Hope works when you do everything in your power to make your dreams and wishes materialize. Hope works when you take responsibility for yourself. Motivation comes with the doing of things, not with the wishing/hoping for things.

As a writer, I have my share of days when I don’t feel like writing. But I still hope for success. If I don’t put in the time to make myself a success, then my hopes are empty hopes. I mean, no one is going to knock on my door and offer to write my books for me, not for free anyway. If I don’t work on writing, don’t work on promoting my books, then no one will know my work exists. I have to have a marketing plan. I have to schedule book readings, book signings and interviews. I have to push myself to approach media to make myself known to them and consequently the world.

Hope is a good thing (sorry about the Martha Stewart-ism). But hope must be coupled with action. Your mind can be a powerful ally or it can be a devastating adversary. If your mind isn’t working in your favor, then you need to seek help of some sort so that your mind is a tool for your hopes, instead of an encumbrance.

I strongly believe in personal responsibility, which you know if you’ve been reading my blogs. Personal responsibility is my mantra. I have to make my hopes actually happen. Some people will disagree with me, especially about the praying for God’s help without investing something of yourself in your desired outcome. But if you’re hoping/praying for an outcome, perhaps you can take it a bit further and visualize your hopes coming true. Visualize what it would take for your hopes to happen.

Visualization is a powerful tool that can set you on the path to success. So if praying helps you do take action, then all the better. It is one of your tools. Learn to use it to accomplish your dreams and hopes. Sit down, close your eyes and imagine the things you would do if you were successful. You drive up to your ideal place of work, wearing your successful clothes, go up to your ideal office and do the things that make you an original success. Keep that image in your mind. Do the things that will make it come true.

So, I believe in hope. It’s one of the things that makes me get out of bed in the morning. But hope requires work and attention. Don’t sell yourself short because you fear failing. Or succeeding. No one tells you how to deal with success. They tell you what to do if you fail: get up, dust yourself off and try again.

I guess I’ll never be the damsel in distress because I’ll do whatever I need to be successful and happy in my life.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I had lunch with a writer friend, Carrie Lowen, yesterday. She writes a wonderful blog at http://apps.carrielowen.com/blog/. And we were talking in part about Courage to change yourself and your world.

I find it amazing that so many people are afraid of so many things, so afraid in fact, that they will stay in a bad situation because the “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”. But if you don’t push yourself out of your fear, you will have a miserable life. Not in all cases, but in some cases.

Like Carrie, I have a habit of fearing something which will lead me to go out of my way to do exactly that thing that brings me face to face with my fears. Crazy, huh? Not really. There is only so much procrastination I can stand before the urge to just jump off the metaphorical cliff becomes too much to ignore and I really can’t stand all the messing around a minute longer.

Facing your fears makes you less afraid and more confident in yourself. I have two examples.

Like a lot of people, I had a fear of public speaking. My throat would dry out, I’d be shaking and be a total basket case just thinking about it. A few years ago, I had the job of training people on software and as luck would have it, I somehow got nominated to do this because nobody else would do it. The other people literally got notes from their doctors’ so they wouldn’t have to do it. The first time I tried to conduct one of these training sessions, I started coughing because my throat was so dry and tears ran down my face from the incessant coughing. Someone had to take over for me. Instead of thinking “Oh my God, that was the worst, most embarrassing thing ever and I am never going to do that again”, my thought was, “Okay, so that was the worst thing that could have happened, so it’s got to get better from here.” And you know what? It did get better, the more often I did it. I got to a point, in fact, that I would be excited about performing the training sessions. After all, I was getting a bunch of people to do as I instructed and being a writer, I do like my control!

The other scary thing I did was travel by myself around the world. At first I was in New Zealand and Australia (where I spent over a year - it was great!), then while hitch-hiking with a British woman who had just gone through Asia, she encouraged me to go. I thought, well, I’ve come this far, why not? So I got all my finances in order (I worked in Australia) and began my travels in Asia with Singapore. The situation didn’t become real until the plane was landing in Singapore at 8pm. It was dark. I didn’t know anyone. The instructions I had were “take a bus to this street (I think the street name was Bencoolen Street) and someone will find you and give you a place to stay”. I was freaking out. Was I insane? Had I gone totally off my rocker?? But the flight was landing and I couldn’t go back to Australia because my visa was already four days overdue. So, I followed the instructions, took the bus and, once there standing on the street, someone found me and gave me a place to stay for one American dollar a night. Afterwards, I figured that if I could do that, then I could do anything.

Sometimes courage is just a leap of faith that somehow, someway, everything will turn out. I don’t take outrageously foolish risks, but I do take calculated risks in both my professional and personal life.

Being a writer is a calculated risk. My first book should be published soon and I am doing my best to make sure it’s a success. My only job right now is writing. Is that foolish? To some people, maybe. If you have children and financial obligations that don’t allow you to initially do what you want to do for a living, then you have to start smaller. My first book was written in the evenings when I had finished my money-making day job. The second book is a full-time job. I get to set my hours, I get to study my craft on my own time, I get to do what I want when I want to do it.

Freedom is good but it comes at a price. Just like courage is good but it, too, exacts a price while also extending a branch of hope, of optimism for the future.

Courage takes you on a whirlwind tour and, if you can find it in yourself to hang on, it’s a great ride. You discover more about yourself and your capabilities than you dreamed possible. Most people try to ignore the fact that you can change the entire course of your life in one second. One second is all it takes to make a decision. It takes many more seconds to actually see fruition, if you see it at all. Even if you fail, you still have expanded the boundaries of your life and psyche. So it’s not really a failure at all, but a journey of self-discovery.

I have a saying, “If you don’t make at least five mistakes a day, you’re not trying hard enough.” Success doesn’t teach you fortitude. Failure teaches you in unimaginable ways. The saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again,” is so simple but so profound. A failure is not a bad thing unless you learn nothing from it and it scares you away from what you want.

So please, try, try again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Meaning of Life

I never seem to think of ‘The Meaning of Life’ unless I watch Monty Python.
No, I don’t think the meaning of life is to give birth to fifty children and then have to give most them up to medical experiments.

This seems to be the ‘general’ course of a life in the very loosest interpretation I can think of: you’re born, you go to school, get married, have kids, grow old and die. Pretty damn boring. And depressing. I mean, who wants to basically live life like a paint-by-numbers template where one already knows one is doomed to tedium, boredom, pain and death from the moment of birth?

But is that the meaning of life? That no matter what you do, you will eventually die? I don’t mean to be morbid but when you’ve never fit into the paint-by-number mould (and who does?), what is the purpose of life? Everyone dies. That is an incontrovertible fact. Maybe, even though there’s a basic template (i.e. you’re born and sometime later you die), maybe we’re not supposed to color inside the lines. Maybe we’re supposed to mix up our own colors and use these individualized colors to create our lives. Maybe we throw away the pre-made template and create our own pictures of our lives.

I don’t have children. So I don’t have that immortality of the line thing happening. And when you don’t have children (or at least for me), you begin to wonder “Is this it? Is this all there is?” When you don’t see a thread of your DNA going into the future, your progeny taking up the journey of life where you will eventually stop, what is the point?

Most people’s lives center around their children, grandchildren. They see off into the distant future knowing that most likely, a part of them will be there to see what will happen. So they live their lives on a day to day basis--waking up, showering, getting the kids ready for school, going to work, chauffeuring the kids to soccer, ballet, music lessons, eating, sleeping, making love and then repeating some or all of it the next day. Your days are full and the future is some dark, distant island to where you’ll eventually arrive intact.

Then the kids go away to college or to live on their own, leaving you and your significant other staring at each other wondering, “How the hell did this happen and what do we do now??”

And like those people who didn’t have children, they, too, start wondering about the meaning of life. We’ve all heard the sayings, “your life is what you make of it”, “the one with the most toys upon dying wins” and the ubiquitous saying, “money makes the world go ‘round”.

One of my favorite quotations comes from Don Snyder--"Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story". And I think that’s the meaning of life--giving your love to your parents, siblings, spouses, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, your best friends, boyfriends, girlfriends et al. Pouring your love into your work and personal life, discovering what you love to do and why. That which makes you happy. A deep and abiding awe for life, in all its glory, in all its messy misery. Drinking deeply of whatever life has to offer you and doing something positive with it.

With one life to live, there isn’t a lot of time. Do something positive with it and maybe life will do something good for you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and China

I just spent the last few hours watching the opening
ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing. To say that the ceremonies were impressive is a massive understatement. I am awed-I don’t think I’ve ever watched anything on TV or anywhere else and just repeatedly said, “Oh cool,” or “No way,” or “Holy Cow”. Plus a few other unprintable, but complimentary, things. Of course, no city or country has ever spent as many resources, both cash and otherwise, on the ceremonies as the Chinese did. I read that the figure was something like USD$100 million. With that kind of cash, it’s no wonder that the ceremonies were spectacular.

But the fact that Beijing and China got the Olympics leaves me somewhat uneasy. I mean, something like 500,000 Chinese people are in prison for political crimes or dissension. A round-up of ‘undesirables’ happened in the last few weeks to get rid of some of the unattractive aspects of China’s society in Beijing. Pollution is a major problem because they seemingly have no emissions laws. And I have to wonder, how much of the ceremonies’ accoutrements were paid for through the use of slave, prison and child labor? Add generalized human rights abuses, plus the issue of Tibetan independence from China, and suddenly the lavish displays of the ceremonies seem to be a case of smoke and mirrors-sort of like hiding the dirty socks under the bed during an open house.

The Chinese nation comprises one quarter of humanity and their economic might can no longer be ignored--they’re a major player on the world stage. The fact that their influence worldwide will only grow makes it vital that the west and the east find some way to get along.

I wonder how long it will take the people of China to demand that their government act in a socially responsible manner. I’m not sure if it will ever happen. At least not in my lifetime.

But other things have happened during my lifetime, like the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union, that I hadn’t expected either. The former Soviet Union and all of its former countries are still struggling to create identities and places for themselves in the world. From what I hear and read (and you can’t believe everything you hear and read), the former USSR is like the Wild West, a pretty well lawless land with sporadic attempts at lawfulness. I doubt if the former USSR will sort itself out for at least another hundred years.

But there’s a difference between the Americas (the US and Canada in particular) and the basically new independent states of the former USSR. Americans and Canadians (not including the aboriginal peoples) came here to start new lives and initiate new ways of thinking: being independent of thought and movement. People who came here wanted more than they could ever dream of in Europe in the 1600s--after all, if you weren’t in the upper classes, you were out of luck. So the people who originally came to America and Canada were more…motivated to succeed in a hostile environment than their brethren in Europe who stayed where they were. The immigrants who came here worked hard and the smart ones were financially successful, without having to have a title.

The peoples of the former USSR were basically peasants in a feudal system before communism came along. Do what you’re told and don’t argue. Keep your head down. And with communism it was just more of the same. Do as you’re told, don’t argue, don’t draw any attention to yourself. So, unlike Canada and the US, they have little experience in governing themselves and little experience in having to work hard to get ahead--because with feudalism and communism, there was no way to get ahead.

Europeans learned from their American and Canadian cousins and were able to gradually change their institutions to reflect and meet the needs of the general populace. Even exceeding the social policies in America and Canada. Once the French Revolution turned bloody and horrific, the royalty of other European countries realized that they would have to change or the same thing would happen to them.

So America, Canada and Western Europe were able to slowly morph into societies where individuality was not suppressed and where people were not forced into servitude to people who had more power and money.

The former USSR has not had the benefit of this slow morphing--they were dumped into a system of government they didn’t understand and they are still fighting their way through the morass.

Back to China. China loosened the strings on its economy, what, 10-15 years ago? They had the Iron Rice Bowl before that which they discontinued. I think the Chinese government knows that they can’t just dump their country into democracy without a long adjustment period. I hope.

I hope that as they become more familiar and more comfortable with the workings of a market-based economy, they will realize that trying to hold onto power, which is an astronomically expensive proposition, is not good economics. Imprisoning people is expensive. Keeping Tibet under their thumb is expensive. These things are not benefiting them. These things are like albatrosses around the economic and social neck of China.

I think and hope the Chinese government is performing a massive social engineering experiment to turn feudalistic peasants into independent, thinking, dynamic people. People who don’t rely on their overlord, emperor or government to tell them what to do, how to do it and why to do it. How to think.

And after watching those thousands of drummers beating their drums and performing their movements in synchronicity, I know that the Chinese are a freakishly (and I mean this in the most flattering way) organized people. They’re like the Germans of a new ancient world.

I want communism and human rights abuses to stop in China. I want Tibet to have freedom from oppression. And maybe, just maybe, they’re moving in that direction. Just really, reaaally slowly.

Confucius said, “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

I hope the progress doesn’t stop.