Rebel with a cause, part 2 of 2

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It was a dark and stormy night…

Ok, I won’t make you wait any longer.  Just make sure you’ve read part 1 before you go any further.

Grade eleven Social Studies:  We were given the assignment to write an opinion essay, remember?

I chose the school system as my topic.


I’m pausing here so you have time to laugh or gasp or choke or whatever you want to do.


Better now? OK.

I don’t remember all the details, but I touched on some very current and pertinent points for the time period, respectfully but honestly, including something about independent thinking being encouraged unless it led to questioning or criticizing “the system”.  It was a great paper, no bragging intended (I can’t necessarily take credit for the things that came easily to me).  I did hand it in with some concern about how the subject would be received, but I was damn proud of it.  I got an A.

Fast forward to grade twelve English, same teacher, Mr. Cramp. (Let me pause here to give him credit for being a far better English teacher than my previous one had been!  I liked him during Social Studies and I liked him for English, until …)

It was time for our big novel study to be done as a class and Mr. Cramp chose George Orwell’s 1984.  The first day we were to start reading, we had a substitute teacher and a double block class – usually silent reading for one block and then a regular class for the second.  I opened the book, read up to page 16, was disgusted by the scene described there, closed the book, and put it on my desk.  I took out some other work and quietly passed my time.  Not long after, the sub noticed and then started walking up and down the rows of desks until she got to me.  She asked quietly why I wasn’t reading the book.  I answered quietly that it offended me and I didn’t want to read it, but that I would continue working  and talk to my teacher when he got back.  There was no fanfare; everyone else continued reading.

My dad called that evening from Vancouver where he was for a meeting, I explained the situation to him, and he assured me that I did not have to read the book if I didn’t want to read it.

The next day, Mr. Cramp returned, and I was asked to stay after class.  He told me that the sub had left a note saying I refused to read the novel and that I had caused disruption in the class.  I assured him I hadn’t caused anything of the sort, that I’d answered her question respectfully, and that I’d worked quietly so as not to disturb anyone.  He then wanted to know why I refused to read the book.

I told him it offended me, that there were immoral sections in it and it was not the kind of material I wanted to read.  At one point in our debate, I even reminded him that I knew he was a church going Christian and that he should understand why I wouldn’t want to read something like that.  He chose it because it was considered a “classic.”  I questioned what constitutes a “classic” and who gets to decide.  He wasn’t pleased and things got more heated.  I asked to be allowed to read any one of the many other books on the suggested reading list for our grade and was denied.  We debated for a while longer and we both left unsatisfied.  Again, to his credit, he wasn’t harsh or rude with me, but he was very upset and understandably frustrated.

So began the power struggle between us: the classroom discussions – unrelated to the book – that I remained quiet for even though I knew the answers to questions he posed and he knew I knew them (sometimes I was the only one who knew them) but wasn’t putting up my hand, and the various quizzes I was doomed to fail after assigned chapter readings (even though a few of my other classmates tried to give me daily summaries in Biology whenever it fell before English on our schedule!).  I was disappointed in him and while I wasn’t willing to be rude to him, I had lost my interest in participating energetically. He couldn’t break me.  I think he probably always knew he wouldn’t win but, as the teacher, he also couldn’t bring himself to bend.  Perhaps he even wanted to but wasn’t allowed to, who knows?  Regardless, though we had once shared a good rapport we were now just mutually respectful adversaries.

My biology teacher – an eccentric but fun little guy – casually teased me one day that he heard I was refusing to read a novel in English class.  I responded that I didn’t think it appropriate for teachers to sit in the staff room and discuss something like that when it had nothing to do with anyone else.  He just laughed.  I knew then that probably all the teachers were aware of my stand, but I was long past caring.  I was, after all, nearly old enough to vote, so I certainly had the right to stand up for myself and my values.

During parent teacher interviews it was common for students to walk their parents around to find their classrooms (huge school!) and I sat outside while mine went in to meet with Mr. Cramp.  The typical time slot was about ten minutes, so after half an hour, a couple of the other parents waiting in line were joking with me, asking just what kind of mark I was getting in the class (one of the other parents was, ironically, the principal from the junior high school science teacher incident described in my previous post!).  I told them I actually had an A.  That gave them all a good laugh.

When it was over, my parents said that he had expressed his concern over my refusal to read the book and the fact that he knew I was avoiding class participation since the issue began.  They expressed their support of my right to not read the book.  He made sure they knew that it would affect my mark because I wasn’t able to participate in the assignments or the quizzes.  We were aware of this and I did drop from a high B to a low B average for that section.  And, as part of his perspective, he then brought in the matter of the paper I had written in grade eleven about the school system, using that to further his point about my non-compliance.  Dad reminded him that he had given me an A for a well-written paper.  He admitted it was well written despite its indication of my tendency to rebel on certain matters.  I can imagine from what I know of my parents and what I knew of Mr. Cramp, that the whole meeting went off without raised voices or rude comments.  But it remained a standstill nonetheless.

At the end of all that came the book report I wrote in its entirety while working coat check at a New Year’s Eve parish dance.  I used class notes and came up with a paper that earned my teacher’s 87% grade – not up to my usual level (in my day, 87 was an A minus) but a very reasonable result for not having read the book.  And he knew I hadn’t read it, but he was reasonable enough to mark my writing on its own merit.

If you’re still here, good job paying attention!  I didn’t realize that I remembered so many things so clearly until I started writing them down.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m strong willed.  It’s also obvious that my parents stood with me when I stood up for something important to me.  None of these situations show that I “won” anything.  But I also didn’t lose.  I stayed true to myself, I was respectfully assertive, and I learned that even if you can’t actually beat the system, you don’t have to let it beat you.

I came away from my many years of school with two favourite teachers I remember fondly to this day.  Neither stifled my spirit; both showed me that being an effective teacher was about far more than the subject matter, and that respect is earned. It doesn’t just come with age or degree.

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you about kindergarten, when I was so bored and angry about having to use those big fat red pencils to print when I could already write my name in cursive script, that I deliberately scribbled outside the lines on all the pictures on a counting sheet, just to make a point.  THAT was talked about in a parent-teacher conference too …

Rebel with a cause, part 1 of 2

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I referenced a couple of school related incidents in my previous post about writing,  so if you remained at all curious, it starts here, with a few years of leading up to my final stand 🙂

When most people talk about rebellious teenagers, they’re referring to rebellion against parents, rules, societal norms, and authority in general.  Much to the relief of my parents and the disappointment of my children (no juicy stories to share!) I didn’t go through a rebellious stage at home.  I had moments of rebellion, but mine weren’t typical, and I always had my parents’ support in them.

I rebelled at school.  I didn’t rebel against rules or hard work.  I didn’t disrespect teachers, I got very good grades, I didn’t skip class, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t party.  I didn’t even stay out late at night. But I did rebel.  (Can you even believe it, looking at that face?)

I rebelled against injustice and ridiculousness.  I rebelled against having immoral ideas and material forced upon me.  I rebelled against anything sending the message that I had to conform to what teachers said, even if it was against my personal beliefs, just because I was a kid.  I wasn’t rebelling against authority;  I was standing up for a cause.

Just the beginning

I didn’t like my grade eight (or nine?) science teacher because he was a forty-something playboy type who thought he was “all that”; I thought he was a creep.  Along with his generally annoying ways, he made a blatantly inappropriate sexual reference one particular day while speaking to the class about something in the area of biology, and I reacted to it in a way that got me kept after the bell.  I don’t honestly remember what I did, but I do remember that once everyone had left except me – and a friend who stayed to support me – I was sure I was in trouble and I smirked.  This was my unfortunate reaction when I was nervous or in trouble for something, and it landed me in the principal’s office that day.

I was very disappointed because the vice principal (principal was busy) seemed much more concerned about my smirking at the teacher than he was about the teacher’s behaviour.  This was my first indication that as a student my guilt was assumed first and foremost, regardless of any truth I might be sharing.  Apparently, my previous record of good grades and respectful behaviour were either unknown or irrelevant to him.

I stood my ground that the teacher was wrong, and was then told that “they” would be checking in with all my other subject teachers to see how I was behaving in class.  I told him that was fine with me and that I had no concerns.  Just to be sure, I personally approached each of my other teachers after school that day to let them know they might be asked about my behaviour as a student in class (kept the details vague) and that if there was anything at all they weren’t happy about I wanted to know directly.  None of them had a problem with me and assured me that I was a good and respectful student.

I remember my dad coming to the school either the next day or not long after and going to the office with me to meet with the principal himself.  I wouldn’t give up my own position, my dad supported that, and when I asked the principal about the results of talking to my other teachers, he had nothing to say.  He decided to have my science teacher join us; the guy sat down and was acting all nice and trying to be casual about things, but I didn’t even want to look at him. When the principal asked me why, I told him I wasn’t comfortable with him and that what he did was wrong.  I don’t remember exactly what happened after that meeting, but it was near the end of the school year, and we heard over the summer that the teacher wouldn’t be returning to a school in our district.  There had been other complaints along the same line after the end of the school year, from people who probably weren’t wanting to rock the boat with him during school time.  Take that, administration.  I was not wrong.  I got used to standing alone amongst conformers.

Then came the videos

In grade nine we were all supposed to watch a video about venereal disease and how to prevent it.  The announcement of the start of the video came over the speaker when I was in English class and while the rest of the students were leaving their desks, I stayed in my seat.  My teacher came over and asked me why I wasn’t leaving, and reminded me that we were all supposed to go because it was an important educational video.  I told him that the only way to get VD was by doing something I had no intention of doing for a long time so I didn’t need to watch it.  I was “preventing it” just fine on my own.  He was a very nice and reasonable man, and he thought I had a point, so he let me stay and get back to my work.

When I got to grade eleven – a different school with a whole new set of teachers to surprise! – I found out one day during lunch hour that there would be a video shown during a class of mine later that day of an actual vasectomy surgery.  No, thank you.  I went straight to the pay phone and called my mom.  She agreed that there was no way I had to watch such a video; she called the school directly, backed me up and that was that.

Senior High, Holding my own

My grade eleven English teacher was a real winner.  She majored in English but couldn’t explain to us the proper use of who and whom (“I just do whatever sounds best”)  or the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, among many other points of study.  She had a sign-up sheet for students who wanted to help her with her regular marking and “earn” themselves a higher letter grade in the class. She spent a lot of time at the back where the guys were sitting and it wasn’t uncommon to see her sitting on the edge of their desks chatting it up, even though she was middle-aged herself.  I’m not implying that she had inappropriate intentions; she just wasn’t the most professional teacher I’ve ever had.

One day she had us move our desks into groups of four to do a project involving scissors, glue and cut outs from magazines to make collages for some stupid reason; she had previously sent a couple of people out to buy the magazines, telling us that there was still too much money left in the budget for her department so it had to be spent or they wouldn’t get it next year.  Thank you, taxpayers, for those magazines. (Meanwhile, the biology department was struggling to find enough money for the grade twelve fetal pig projects.)

Several ridiculous classroom events led me and five other students to get up and walk out of class one day because we were so frustrated.  We walked straight across the hall to the principal’s office and told him that we were learning nothing, that she was doing ridiculous things, and that we couldn’t take it anymore.  We wanted a proper teacher.  We were all A students.  He told us all about her qualifications and suggested we return to class of our own free will.  We must have eventually gone back but our uprising hadn’t been completely in vain because we had taken a stand for our own education and that was something.  It led to further discussions.

One evening not long after that, my dad took me to the school where we sat with my teacher and the principal around a large table covered with a blown up copy of the curriculum, and they tried using it to prove she was teaching us as she should be.  Interestingly enough, the way those things were worded (vaguely described and without proper explanation) we couldn’t prove her wrong by that piece of paper, but after a civil interaction, they both knew we weren’t being fooled.

I rode it out to the end of the year when, with three weeks left, she gave us our last in-class test, because she wanted to have everything all marked before the actual end of the year to save her time.  Yes, she voiced these things. The next time she asked us to do an assignment after watching a video, I asked her nicely why we had to do it.  Was it going to count for something?  She answered “no”, because the marks were done.  I suggested there was no point in wasting my time doing it then, she suggested that wasn’t a good attitude, and I sat quietly pondering her lack of logic while waiting for the bell to ring.

On final exam day, a few of us heard students of other English teachers talking about the poetry section on the final exam.  Poetry?  We had done nothing at all with poetry! Perhaps that was supposed to be happening during cut & paste time?  We ran to one of the other English teachers and asked for help so we could at least cram something into our heads before the test started.  Thankfully the other teacher was able to quickly go over the main ideas and assured us that there were only a few poetry questions.

I think she must have tried mending fences because I remember going with another friend to her house for tea one day over summer holidays.  She was probably a lot of fun socially, but students need teachers to teach.  That fall she was given a principal position at another school.  And we shook our heads …

Then there was the time in grade twelve that I skipped a pep rally on principle.  Hard to believe, I know, but the story went something like this:

Some of the teachers had actually been complaining to us in class about government budget cuts and how they were expected to cram so much more material into less class time, suggesting that they didn’t know how we were going to cover everything in the shorter time frames.  And then one afternoon there was a pep rally in the gym for one of our teams and all students were required to attend.  It was to be a two-hour event.  WE WERE EXPECTED TO SKIP AN ENTIRE AFTERNOON OF SUPPOSEDLY NOT ENOUGH CLASS TIME TO GO TO A SPORTS RALLY.  Just wanted to make sure you got that clearly.  They even locked the school doors so we couldn’t just leave school altogether and an announcement was made to that effect.  Un-freaking-believable.

So I went straight to one of my favourite teachers who wasn’t attending the rally herself and asked if I could please sit in her class and work on some of my assignments instead of wasting two hours at a pep rally.  She, being one of the sweetest and most dedicated teachers I had, completely understood my rationale, agreed with my sensible alternative choice, and at her own risk allowed me to sit in her classroom until it was over and the doors were unlocked for us to go home.  She was a tiny, sweet, humble, and unassuming English lady, but she was also a stand-up-alone-when-you-have-to kind of person, and we remained friends long after graduation.

And now, the story you’ve been waiting for …

Ok, you’ve only been waiting for it if you read my last post which hinted at my high school years.  This part – the best part – could be a whole post on its own now that I think about it.  I mean, this teacher deserves a whole post…

And really, you’ve already been reading for a long time here.  So yes, I’ve just decided to make it another post all on its own, Rebel with a cause part 2.  Stay tuned for tomorrow …

 

Success

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I saw something yesterday about managing a successful blog.  I wasn’t looking for that topic; it came up in a post on another blog I follow and it got me thinking.  I’ve not really considered whether or not I’m “succeeding” at blogging.  What is success anyway?  Isn’t it a term relative to whatever your intentions were when you set out to do something?  Since we all have different intentions and reasons for doing things, our success or lack thereof is personal and subjective.

So after I stumbled onto this subject, I did some thinking myself and I realized that perhaps the seed of blogging was planted in me many years ago before computers lived in every home and the internet was available to open our innermost thoughts up to the scrutiny of a whole world.

Writing for fun

There’s always been a bit of a writer in me.  In elementary school, I enjoyed creative writing assignments, and in high school, I often wrote stories on my own time just for fun.  Sometimes I wrote stories about the TV characters I liked as if I were writing an episode here and there.

I thrived when it came to essay questions on exams while others cringed and bit their lips, because I was great at memorizing material, and having the opportunity to express my own interpretations of everything in my head was much better for me than tricky multiple choice or direct question and definite answer tests where you were either right or wrong.  One of my clearest memories of this is a year-end high school final exam that was just four essay questions and nothing else.  I can still see myself sitting there in a gym filled with students, looking at it with joyful anticipation.  I think I heard several gasps around me once the start timer went off, but I was in my glory.

I had no issues with book reports; in grade twelve I wrote one up in its entirety while working coat check at a New Year’s Eve parish dance, and it earned me an 87% grade (not bad for a book I didn’t actually read … well, OK, refused to read, but that’s another story…)  and I loved writing essays.  I especially enjoyed having the chance, in a grade eleven Social Studies class, to write an opinion piece.  I believe this particular paper was one of my first open expressions of an opinion I knew wasn’t necessarily shared by my intended reader.

My teacher gave me an “A” for my writing, even though he would have a few comments to make about the subject and my position on it the following year during a parent-teacher conference, although I had him for a different subject at that time.  Actually, it was grade twelve English and he was the teacher responsible for the above-mentioned book I refused to read!  But that entire humorous event (well, humorous to my parents and I, not so much to the teacher…) would take too long to describe here and might make a good start to another post.

If there had been a blogging world at that time, I would very likely have been part of it.

Bloggers aren’t hiding

I never was, nor do I ever desire to be, a public speaker.  You won’t see any TED talks with me addressing topics or teaching anything.  The people who do it are great at it, but that’s just not my style and it doesn’t fit well with my personality.  I’ve taught things in small groups where I’m confident in the subject matter, but it’s a nerve-wracking experience overall and I no longer feel the need to force myself into those situations.

Some people might believe that people like me throw out our ideas and perspectives in writing rather than in person because we’re hiding behind our computers, not wanting to face the reactions our opinions produce.  Maybe some cowardly people do this in hopes of avoiding repercussions, but the rest of us – most of us – aren’t hiding from anything.  We’re just much better able to convey ideas in writing than out loud or on the spur of the moment when the subject matter comes up.

I’m quite fine with facing any responses to what I write, and if I end up in a conversation  in person about anything controversial, I’m fine with respectfully expressing my opinion and taking whatever comes back at me.  In high school I was quite often a single voice standing up for what I believed in regardless of what was being taught to me, even at the risk of drawing undesired attention or losing marks, because even though I’m generally not good at speaking publicly, I won’t sit quietly when something important to me is squashed or mocked, or if I’m feeling forced to do or accept something that goes against my personal beliefs.  I stood up to the group of boys verbally bullying a disabled girl in school.  I am definitely not hiding.

Some people like to talk about all their ideas, some like to write about them.  My son – a champion talker who is making very good use of his gift in building his business – asked me as a kid why he had to sit down and write a book report when he could give me in a short half hour a very accurate oral presentation about everything he was supposed to know about the plot, characters, and other book report-ish stuff (we homeschooled and yes, his speech would have rivalled any written report and probably included a lot more dynamic expression too, a skill of which I was often envious).  I told him – as any teacher would – that the purpose was to learn to write properly and to express things in writing.  He scoffed at the idea and grew up to become a national award-winning salesman.  I think he “writes” cheques.

Starting my blog

I first started blogging with some craft projects I was doing a few years ago because it seemed like a fun idea and I saw that others were using blogs to share their crafts.  I posted pictures of cards I was making and included information about the supplies and techniques used so others could find ideas as we all do when we come across someone else’s projects.  But it wasn’t really a writing blog and I eventually lost interest.

This blog you’re now reading came about when I decided I would eventually share the story  of our journey through the tragedy of my husband’s traumatic brain injury.  I started by writing a few posts on unrelated topics and when the time felt right, my regular posts shifted into the originally planned subject and became a journal of sorts.  I was told a couple of times that I should write a book about it, but that didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.  I didn’t want to write about it because I had to (with deadlines and scrutiny and publishing etc.) but because it was therapeutic for me and I hoped it would maybe help someone else in my position.  Blogging was more relaxed and flexible.  It became a way for me to express myself, my pain, my sorrow, my perspective on life, faith, tragedy, loss.

And then after we lost my husband last year, it became a place for me to share what that meant, how I was finding my way, along with some humour, ideas, opinions, struggles and all kinds of real life stuff that is sometimes hard to just openly talk about (no, I’m still not hiding!) because organizing thoughts into written paragraphs doesn’t happen for me on the spot in a conversation.  It happens while I’m out for a walk, or while I’m sewing a quilt top together, or when I’m reading the news.  I process.  And then I write.  And somehow it does me good to do this.  If any other person finds anything comforting, funny, or helpful here, that’s great!  Writing is good for my brain; it keeps me thinking, learning, reflecting and processing.

A Successful Blog

So do I consider my blog successful?  Is it what I wanted it to be?  I think so, yes.

According to what I read yesterday, in order to have a successful blog you need to post almost daily and write about a variety of topics in order to gain followers and drive traffic to your blog.  Well, I don’t post daily.  I do have regular followers, but I’m not driving a lot of traffic here.  Do I need to?  I’m not selling anything here and I’m not expecting this blog to go viral and make me rich.  I’m not interested in writing things that will make money or bring me fame, haha.  If by some freak event this were to happen, then I would HAVE to write.  I don’t want to HAVE to do the things that I currently enjoy doing because they will become work rather than simple pleasures.  Would I like to be paid to write?  Sure, that could be fun, but only as long as it didn’t require me to give up the rest of the things I like to do.

I think the hints I read about are great for people who want to make blogging part of their paying job, a supplement, or who need to drive traffic to a blog in order to advertise or promote products, books, etc.

If people read my blog, like/share a post, or leave a comment, then of course as a human being I appreciate that and it reminds me that I’m not just writing in a void.  If a publisher is somehow led to my original journal about Pat and thinks it would make a good book, I wouldn’t scoff at the idea.  But I’m happy just being here, writing when I feel inspired, and sharing – not hiding – my unique perspectives and day to day thoughts.  If nothing else, one day my kids will have a lot to look back on that will remind them I was always thinking, that I wasn’t afraid to stand up for what I believed in, and that I spent time doing something I enjoyed.

(By the way, the teacher mentioned above was a good guy.  In his defence, I don’t think he’d ever encountered a student like myself who refused to conform on principle and didn’t care about the consequence.  He couldn’t break my spirit and I think it baffled him a bit.  I bet by now you really want to hear the whole story, don’t you? Watch for the two-parter next week, “Rebel with a cause“…haha)

 

Strong is over-rated

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I want to talk about strength in adversity.

Some believe staying strong is a “choice”, that people can decide what to do with their difficult circumstances, and that one’s ability to face them comes from strength, while another’s inability – and possibly their choice to back away altogether – is a weakness.  I disagree.

I’d like to start out by taking this immediately to the extreme in suggesting that the choice is not about whether to endure a suffering with strength or to bemoan it and walk away in weakness.  The choice is made on a level much more basic, yet rarely discussed openly: do I want to live or do I want to die?

I’ve encountered various perspectives in my own journey, here a just a few:

“faith keeps you strong”

“all things are possible with God”

“good things come to those who wait”

“all things work together for good for those who love God”

Yet, I’ve seen people of faith crater in desperate ways, myself included; I’ve watched – and endured – situations that God could have fixed end badly; I’ve watched people wait and wait and wait – and I know what it’s like to wait – to end up with a result that is not “good” by any human perception;  I’ve watched – and endured – situations where God loving people have lost everything.  Did I – or we- do something wrong to affect whether or not the blessings came?  I doubt it.  But for a while, it certainly did cross my mind, and that in itself was damaging.

Does this mean I don’t believe the above statements? No. I just don’t believe they always apply to life on earth.  Like many religious verses and cliches, I take them with a grain of salt (partly because salt often gets rubbed into wounds while waiting on God) because while most of these things are conceivably true in the realm of heavenly life, they often don’t show themselves to be true in earthly difficulties.

One person of faith appears to be strong, another – sometimes stronger – person appears to have no faith.  The same is true of apparent weakness, regardless of faith.  I also believe that people of no faith sometimes turn to God in adversity because they are desperate and hoping that developing faith will fix their situation and again, sometimes it appears to do just that, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I don’t think God gives some people more strength than he gives to others, depending on how good they are, how much they pray, how much faith they have, or any other gauge of entitlement.  I don’t know how or why it comes or doesn’t come, but I don’t think we are necessarily in control of it.

I believe that people who appear to be strong in the face of great tragedy have chosen to live.  But they aren’t necessarily thinking of that as they go along.  They just know that there really isn’t any choice but to step up and face whatever comes along – sometimes with a good attitude, sometimes not – because they are still alive and there is no choice for them but to keep going.  Morning will come and night will come and they will still be here, so they keep going.  And whether or not they do it with optimism or negativity, as long as they keep going they have chosen to live.  They haven’t necessarily chosen to be strong, to endure their difficulties with hope and faith – some might, but not all – they might smile one day and scream the next, but they are alive.

This brings me to the other choice, which is to die.

While I’m not of that mindset, in keeping with the topic of this post I would say that I can humanly understand how some people could come to a point in their lives and their suffering when this choice is something they consider.  So it’s possible to be open to and even sympathize with the perspectives of someone with a differing view, without actually agreeing.  I don’t consider these people weak.  I just see that they are making a choice based on experiences and issues that are their own.

I don’t like the assumption that the way people handle certain things determines for others whether or not they are “strong”.  I don’t think pictures and comments reminding people that the best way to deal with life is to stay strong, think positively, stay hopeful, and keep the faith are helpful to everyone.  Inspiration can come in various ways depending on what a person needs at the time, but I often notice that quotes with less-than-optimistic themes – however real they might be – are frowned upon.  I think all this sets us up for comparisons, either those that others might make or those that we make ourselves when we feel that perhaps we aren’t as strong as we should be in similar situations, because we see others coping in ways that we don’t. What helps one person get through a hard time might for another person be a catalyst for further grief and pain.

I don’t want to see myself as strong or weak based on how I handle or react to things I face, or on how others might perceive me.  Am I “strong” when I’m having a good day and then not “strong” when I’m having trouble coping?  If my day doesn’t measure up to the words on the picture someone posted about never giving up, does that mean I’m not trying hard enough?

I’ve realized that many times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, beaten down by one thing after another and left feeling as though there is little to nothing to be hopeful about, I’ve chosen to keep going because I’m alive and as long as that is the case, I need to go on because the days will pass regardless of my ability to cope and I will wake up in the morning to do it all over again. Some days will be good and others awful.  I won’t always be able to smile and pretend, sometimes I will scream and cry and wish to throw back whatever has been dealt to me.  Some days I will feel hopeful and believe that God is helping me and other days I will see things as gloomy and sad and I will feel the loneliness that chokes me.  But that’s the way it has to be because I want to live. I’m a human being, complete with strengths and weaknesses, who has chosen to live. And in choosing to live, I have no other choice but to endure what comes my way, because it will most definitely come as long as I’m moving forward.  Sometimes being alive hurts.  So why aren’t pictures with quotes reflecting that truth welcomed and as widely spread as those that, in efforts to uplift, can become constant discouragements?

I think it’s more accurate and more real to see that this isn’t about being strong or not strong.  It’s about a choice between living or dying.  It’s better to focus on what the choice to live looks like – with both the good and the not good times – than to try to come up with some picture of what “strong” looks like.  Strong is a good adjective for cheese, for a body builder in a competition, or for a quilting thread!  But it’s not so great at describing the emotional depths of a human person.  Being strong isn’t my goal.  Living is.

So some days I leave the house smiling, energetic and ready to greet the world, and other days I have to splash cold water on my face, put on some lipstick and leave the house only because I really just want my mail, hoping no one will be able to tell I’ve been crying (I’d pour a drink too, but I have a policy never to drink alcohol when I’m mad or sad…), but either way, I’m alive 🙂

Cool ramblings (or “Fall is my favourite season”)

If you’re a person who loves everything about summer, this post isn’t for you. You might want to go back outside to your garden or your lawn chair and just sit this one out! What are you doing on your computer anyway, when the weather outside is great for you? Ha ha, Go get a tan, bask in the sun, sip your cocktails, and enjoy it.

While my preferences aren’t necessarily common, I know I’m not alone in them. This post is for people like me who could live very happily without ever having summer.

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I’m sitting on my porch with the windows open, listening to the birds. I’ve just hung up a little sign I was given for Christmas that has a picture of Snoopy stretched out on his red dog house and the words “happiness is a little peace and quiet”.  I need another one that says “happiness is a nice cool breeze”.

Today is a lovely day – for me.  It rained overnight and there’s a beautiful cool breeze blowing through my house, a breeze which would undoubtedly be sweater worthy for many others, but I’m relishing the chill. I can breathe better; I can think better. I can function and I’m in a much better mood. (FYI:  Summer depression is a real thing. Not saying I have it, but it exists. I think I’m still just on the edge where it can be managed by hiding indoors with lots of water and Tylenol, and thinking about fall… )

It occurred to me the other day in conversation that there is absolutely nothing I like about summer.  For the sake of further discussion – and before anyone jumps on that one statement with questions like “what about flowers?” Or “what about the sunshine?” Or “what about…?” – let me clarify: there isn’t a single thing about summer that I like and cannot enjoy during another season, without enduring all the things I hate about summer.  For the record, I do like flowers and mine are fake so I can enjoy them anytime, their beauty doesn’t depend on rain or shine, and I can change them whenever I wish, with little or no work at all! Don’t be mistaken; I’ve received many compliments on my lovely artificial blooms.

I don’t like bees, bugs, mosquitoes, camping, gardening, eating outside, extreme heat that makes me physically sick, massive storms that knock the power out or do other damage, and any number of other inconveniences summer brings, including a noticeable lack of good television programming for people like me who only manage to keep their sanity by tuning out summer and focussing on other stories in other places, while sitting in front of a fan or air conditioner. The good shows are over until fall and the interim programs are usually lame because the networks know most people are outside! (obviously I know that many things I find inconvenient will be the very things summer lovers enjoy, so there’s no need to tell me that. And again, why aren’t you outside instead of reading stuff on the Internet? You must have some summer thing to do…)

I LOVE FALL!

Now think about this for just a minute: if it weren’t for the impending winter bringing its own set of frustrations for many people, myself included, who can really not like fall?

Fall has beautiful colours and days still warm enough for outdoor people with no extremes to cause problems for summer heat haters.  Everywhere you go you can wear the awesome sweaters that are too warm for indoors in winter but not warm enough for outdoors, and far too warm for anywhere in the summer. You can still wear sandals and capris, go for long walks and hear the birds. The sun still shines for people who want to be out in the middle of it, but not intensely enough to annoy people who spend their summers in the shade trying to avoid it.  There is no snow to shovel, but there is already an anticipation of holiday seasons that puts people in a good mood.

I vote for fall. I’ve never heard anyone complain about fall other than the fact that it’s followed by winter. I would actually like to have fall all the time. Is there a place I can live where I could get that? I could also tolerate spring in a pretty place with no mud. Is that possible? Spring – fall – spring – fall.  If there is such a utopia, please let me know.

Right now I need to go and close all the windows of my house so I can trap the  wonderful cool fresh air inside before the sun starts beating down again…

 

 

My Cottage on the Prairie

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I don’t live in a house on the beach.  I don’t even live near water of any kind.  Even the numerous puddles from recent downpours have dried up.  My view is made up of trees, grass and dirt (there are other houses, but my trees do a good job of blocking them) so I don’t spend a lot of time gazing out the window.

But part of me wants to live in a cottage on the beach, and that part of me decided a while ago that even though I’m living in northern Alberta, I can decorate my home as if it were a cute little waterfront cottage.  It already has old style wooden siding, A few blocked in windows have decorated wood panels, and I’m attracted to antiques and soft beachy colors, so I’m trying to develop that inside my house.  When I closed in my back porch last year (pictured at the very top of this page) I tried to make it look cottage-y (my computer doesn’t believe that’s a word, but I use it a lot!) so I would have a place to sit in a rocking chair and enjoy a cup of tea without getting too hot or rained on, and when I walk into it from my living room I do have a feeling of being in a cottage.

This week I got my roof re-shingled and a few things touched up, and now I am in limbo regarding what should be next.  As soon as you update one thing, it makes others – while still without damage – look worse and in need of a redo as well.  I wasn’t contemplating new siding at all until I saw the new roof, and now I’m noticing things that didn’t bother me before, and having visions of what could be.

However, I’m also trying to balance needs with wants and be practical about changes, taking care of maintaining important parts without going too crazy on what is merely aesthetically pleasing.  The reality is that I don’t know how long I will be in this house.  I guess we all face that to a certain extent because we can’t predict the future, but it is especially uncertain when I’m still working through re-shaping my life without my husband in it.

In this house there are so many memories in every room, from every day encounters to big projects like replacing the steps at our entry, tearing down an old deck, or putting down our own laminate flooring (it was a huge undertaking for two inexperienced people that ended up being a lot of fun and very satisfying and probably the biggest home improvement project Pat and I ever did together).  For so long afterward, we admired it and were proud we had done it ourselves.  It needs a few touch ups now and the style and color are outdated – which tempts me to look into changing it – but we did it together and if I were to lift it all and replace it, I would lose more than the old floor.

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We painted the outside a few years back – another huge undertaking – as a compromise (well, to be fair, Pat compromised because he really wanted new siding and I convinced him that painting it would be an economical uplift and a good family project) and when I look at it I can remember those days we spent in the heat working hard together.  If I cover it up with sharp looking vinyl now, I will lose more than the old painted wood siding.

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This is not to say that I won’t make the changes as I go along.  Few things can last forever if they are part of a structure that gradually deteriorates or wears out over time.  But as things are changed one by one I notice mixed emotions.  I know I won’t be in this house forever because even if I don’t move in the near future, the time will come when my aging legs and knees will no longer be able to go up and down the stairs throughout the day.  But still, the thought of leaving it and going to live in a house where Pat was never with me is a cold one.  I can’t imagine how it would feel like “home”.

I have learned, though, that while time doesn’t heal as the cliche promises, it does give us room to grow and get used to coping with a forever wound, and that what might seem very difficult right now could become bearable in a few months, next year, or whenever the best opportunity presents itself.

For now, the reasons to stay in my “cottage” outweigh the reasons to leave it, and I just have to decide how much I want to do to keep it looking like a place that someone else might also want to live one day, in the event that life takes me down the road to another cottage.  I’m sure at that point, I will have learned that there are many things I can take with me that could indeed last forever, or at least as long as I’m alive, things that are smaller and don’t require the upkeep that siding and flooring do 🙂

Maybe the next cottage will actually be on the beach…

 

Don’t forget the soup (and other reasons mine is not a cooking blog …)

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It’s not chicken soup for the soul – it’s chicken soup for the garbage.  And that picture is what it was supposed to look like … Let me explain.

My mom often made homemade soup.  She could have started her own movement “No Carcass Left Behind” because, in our house, those bones were boiled before dinner was digested (I daresay she even begged for bones from others who weren’t going to use theirs).  Sometimes the pot of what would be soup was started while the bird of the moment was being carved for serving.

She wasn’t allowed to add a bunch of stuff to the broth, only noodles, salt, pepper, and some extra flavour if the bird hadn’t provided enough of its own, and we gorged ourselves on that simple goodness.

I liked the chicken and turkey soups, but when it came to other varieties I preferred soup from a can.  I wasn’t much different than many kids of my day who preferred store-bought options to their homemade equivalents, with the exception of bread; I loved homemade bread which we hardly ever got and I remember country kids envying my store-bought sandwich bread at school because all they ever got was homemade bread!  I couldn’t stand the smell of beef bones boiling on the stove so soups made from those didn’t appeal to me at all.

I paid little attention to the making of soup until I grew up and decided that I wanted to be all domestic and make homemade soup for my own family.  Then I did what we all probably do when we have grown up enough to recognize that our mothers know stuff: I started asking for recipes.  In my defense, though, in my later teens, mom branched out and started making some cool varieties of soup that I was already enjoying before leaving home.  These were the recipes I wanted (and they didn’t involve beef bones).

My kids grew up with homemade soup and I became the carcass lady.  I started with recipes, but after a few repeats of the same thing I quickly began to just put my own stuff together and we’d have soup for lunch or supper of whenever we wanted because I always used my biggest pot so there would be leftovers.

I’m not a gourmet cook; I don’t desire to be a gourmet cook.  I cook when I need to eat.  Somehow my daughter developed a real enjoyment of cooking and baking and I experienced a moment of pride the other day when I picked her up for a spontaneous outing and she was telling me that she had to quickly cool off her soup before she left home.  In the conversation, I realized she was talking about having made a pot of homemade soup, no recipe, and had put it into little containers for future meals.  Yes!  My single adult baby girl living on her own in the 21st century of prepackaged microwaveable processed instant everything is making homemade soup.  Hurray for me her!

Which brings me to my garbage soup.  After a discussion with her regarding the safest ways of cooling soup quickly, based on my mother’s practice of filling a sink with cold water and letting the pot sit in it to cool but having to make sure you don’t forget about it when you go to bed, I boiled up my rotisserie chicken bones yesterday and put them in the sink after supper.  Yes, the chicken was store-bought from the deli, but those BBQ chickens make fantastic soup!

When I got up this morning, there it was, all nice and golden and looking delicious, full of bacteria I cannot even name, cooled to room temperature  – sink had drained – and left overnight because I forgot.  So I flushed it down the toilet.  And this is why mine is not a cooking blog.

To be clear, I have many more times remembered and successfully stored my soup.  But when I saw the pot sitting there this morning, I had to smile to myself as several soup memories came to mind and the idea of writing about it began to churn.  I’m sure even the best soup ladies have lost a pot here and there.

I continue to make a variety of homemade soups myself but still, when it comes to chicken or turkey, it’s noodles only, please.  There’s plenty of room in those other pots for all the extra stuff.  The one soup I miss having from a can – which I don’t eat now because of the wheat in it – is Campbell’s tomato.  But I’m gradually getting my own closer and closer and in the meantime the way it tastes is just fine with me.

To this day, if mom knows one of us is sick, she’ll boil up a chicken.  Old habits die hard.  Thank goodness!

 

 

 

 

It’s not you, it’s me

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Not everyone who knows you really KNOWS you, even if they’ve been in your life for many years, even if they’re related, even if they watched you grow up or grew up with you because, depending on your personality, certain things just aren’t discussed unless someone actually asks.

Surprise! I’m an introvert.  That term is often wrongly translated as shy, disliking other people, socially awkward, afraid of our own shadows… you get the picture.

So I want to talk a little about being an introvert as it relates to social situations, what it means and what it doesn’t mean.  I sometimes find that people who don’t understand us – through no fault of their own –  tend to make assumptions based on what they see and what they expect, without ever knowing or thinking of asking before drawing conclusions.

Introverts are generally not energized by social situations, crowds, group activities, teamwork, or noise.  We work best on our own because more often than not it’s in our solitude that we’re most creative, deep thinking, problem-solving, and productive. We like one-on-one conversations, we can sometimes enjoy small group visits and definitely prefer small to large, but we have limits and we’re only energized and able to regroup when we’re alone in our own quiet space, or at least in a quiet space with someone who is also being quiet.  That’s where we thrive and regain the strength to go back out into the noisy crowded world again.  The world that often overstimulates our brains.  That is the most distinct difference between us and the extroverts.

We do love to see our friends and family and to do fun things with them; we also tend to assess the group dynamics ahead of time and prepare ourselves mentally.  In groups where we feel comfortable we can be outgoing, loud and funny (often others are surprised to learn that we are actually introverts)  but the energy drains from us like water through a sieve.  Ok, maybe not as quickly as water, maybe more like gravy?  It’s just – to put it simply – exhausting.

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I’m learning that people who do like the noise and the busyness don’t consider that maybe the reason people like me leave those situations much earlier than others isn’t a personal insult, it’s actually better for all of us.  Without getting into all the behind-the-scenes-details, here’s a summary of what happens to me in a group situation that’s crowded and noisy – no matter where it is, who the people are, or how much I like them:

Stage 1 – It’s going to be nice to see everyone, even though walking into this already assembled group feels uncomfortable because everyone else ahead of me has found their chair, they’re probably already in a conversation, and I’ll be walking into the middle of it all.  I don’t know how I’m going to actually be able to visit with everyone because in a big group you can’t have a deep conversation (introverts prefer dialogue about important things rather than small talk) so I have to put on my mask/public self for a while.

Stage 2 – This is fun, getting a chance to catch up with friends/family, I found a seat along an edge or in a corner and a few people to talk to. Glad I came.

Stage 3 –  Getting tired, but it’s too early to leave because I don’t want to appear rude, so I can hang on for a bit longer and see how it goes.

Stage 4 – OK, I can feel myself becoming agitated and my head will explode if I don’t say goodbye now and get into my own space for a while.  Smile politely, say goodbye/thank you, make sure you appear happy so you don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself, and get out the door.

Now depending on the day or the situation, I can go from stage 1 to stage 4 in about an hour, or I can stretch it out to three or four hours, but either way, when I get to the last stage, I need to remove myself, while I’m still able to be polite and friendly.  It’s nothing personal, nothing or no one has necessarily upset me, I’m just “peopled out”.  And this is where some would assume that I don’t care to spend time with them anymore, that I’m unsociable, that I think I have better things to do.

What they don’t know is that if I don’t pay attention to my need for quiet solitude, I will gradually become short-tempered and grouchy and it won’t be pretty because I might just blow up and say something we’ll all regret!  I know myself well enough to know when enough is enough.

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME.

Now add constant background noise like music or television to the above described social  situation where people are trying to visit with each other and I can hit stage 4 immediately after stage 1, as soon as I’m inside.

I understand that some people love/need to have background noise all the time, which is totally their prerogative in their own homes, and that when people get used to it they often no longer notice that it’s even a distraction from social interaction as people like myself prefer not to compete with the noise.  When I arrive somewhere, coming from my generally quiet space, and there is music or television while I’m expected to visit, I’m tired as soon as I get there because I know what the atmosphere will be for this social outing I’ve accepted and I begin to calculate when I can respectably leave.  Sometimes my ears actually ache from all the noise.  People who don’t experience this will never understand it, and that’s OK.  It’s OK that we’re different.  Just understand that whatever atmosphere you choose to create for yourself might not be one I or anyone else like me can endure for very long.

Do I ever have noise in my home?  Of course, I do!  But I don’t require it.  I put on happy music if I’m painting or quilting or doing some other task where it is welcome.  My TV goes on in the evening when I have specific things I want to watch.  And sometimes there are actually other people in my home too!  But then there is no music or TV because I want to be able to pay attention to whoever is there with me, and I would never want them to feel like watching the TV show is more important to me than their presence.

I have one child who is like me in this; we each know when the other needs quiet and we both love it.  And I have one who is an extrovert, loves to be on the go, having various social opportunities to choose from, and loves to talk.  About everything.  All the time.  Poor guy – he even whispers when he knows I’m fried because he still wants to chat but tries to respect my quiet zone, even though he just can’t stop!  He can only stand my quiet house for so long, but while he’s here he does his best to respect my needs and I appreciate that.

Recently he experienced what happens when I’m really done, trying to be nice about asking for a few minutes of no talking (because we had just left a social group situation with background noise) and running out of ways to express that I REALLY needed to not talk anymore.  I escalated from several polite and carefully chosen ways of asking for quiet to getting emotional and begging for silence to blasting out a scream I could no longer hold in.  He almost spit out his drink from laughing and said: “that was a bit excessive”. I replied that I actually felt better!

I’m telling you, it builds up and it’s going to come out, so don’t push me to the brink if you don’t want to see the explosion.  This explosion can, of course, be avoided altogether if I’m able to remove myself and regroup in solitude.  Which is why I leave when I do.  And it might be sooner than you want me to leave.  But unless you want me to stand up and shout for you to turn off all the damn music and shut off the TV if you want me to stay and visit with you, believe me, you are better off saying goodbye and closing the door behind me.

If you’re offended or hurt because you don’t know why I left, or you’ve seen me do this many times and you think it’s somehow connected to you, please don’t assume.  Just ask me.  Directly.  I’d be happy to explain, again, that it’s not you.  It’s me.

 

In My Presence

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In My Presence:

Please don’t complain about having to cook certain foods or make meals at a certain time for your husband.

I cook whatever I want for myself at any time I choose, and I eat alone.

Please don’t complain that laundry, dishes, and housework are not done properly by your husband.

I do everything around the house myself just the way I like it done, and I am alone.

Please don’t complain that your TV programming is taken over by your husband.

I watch whatever I want to on TV, whenever I want to watch it, and I watch alone.

Please don’t complain that even your day off is scheduled around your husband, or about not having enough time and freedom to do things for yourself because you are busy doing things for your husband.

My days are my own and I have the freedom to come and go as I choose, and I am alone.

Please don’t complain that big decisions have to include the input of, and sometimes disagreement of, your husband.

I make all my own decisions, often in uncertainty and without the guidance I depended on because I make them alone.

Please don’t complain about having to do things a certain way to please your husband.

I do things whenever and however I choose, and I am alone.

Please don’t complain about how you are tired – often too tired for intimacy – and your need for rest isn’t understood by your husband.

I can sleep whenever I choose, I have the whole bed to myself, and I am alone.

I would give anything for more time with my husband, to hear him request my apple pie, to see one more misfolded towel on the shelf, to sit beside him watching the news on TV, for one more day spent together doing anything at all, for his advice, for his affection, for his smile.

So in my presence, please be thankful that you have yours, because when I hear you complain I want to scream.  I know it’s not your fault.  You just don’t know how much harder it is to have nothing to complain about, to have everything your own way, every single day, and to know it is only because you have lost someone irreplaceable.  And you are alone.

Always in My Heart

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Some days there are just too many things on my heart to put into words that haven’t already been said.  Today I managed to sort this out enough to write it down, and of course, since these thoughts are always backed up by some lovely serene landscape, I decided to find one.  I love daisies.

It’s significant because as I go about my work to prepare for a holiday I should be excited about, there are mixed feelings because it’s a trip Pat & I were actually talking about making together.  We never cared to travel to far away places, but we had begun talking about this one and thinking it would be fun to go as a family.  And now I’m packing my own bag and trying to be happy about the opportunity.  I know I will have a good time and enjoy the adventure with our daughter (she is the experienced traveller so she makes sure that I go places and that I have everything I need when I get there).

But once again it strikes me that no matter what I do or how much fun I have, he isn’t going to be there.  He isn’t going to be anywhere with me ever again.  I will experience good times and bad times, I will laugh and cry, I will watch our family change and grow and move forward and I will do it alone.  Of course, I’m not technically “alone” but I am without him, and in that sense, the sense of having my life partner, my other half, I’m on my own now.

I know he’s with me, but he’s in my heart where I can’t hold him or touch him or feel his arms around me when I’m scared or sad or needing to be loved as only he could love me.

I’m starting to smile more, to laugh more, to recall happy memories of him without being reduced to tears, and to find myself having fun in various situations. But there is a heaviness always, even on the best of days when everything actually seems to go well, a heaviness that limits my experience of joy.  It isn’t because I feel guilty being happy, it’s because I will miss him until I am with him and there’s no way around it.