Enduring Winter’s Blahs

dsc01298Bit by bit we’re emerging. Snow is receding and the grass is becoming visible. At the same time, I’m emerging from my germ-infested fog. I’ve had this winter’s common complaint — a cold/flu/whatever-it-is bug that has kept me inactive since before New Year’s.

I’m tired of it — the bug and the snow — but it’s hanging on, so I apologize in advance if I sound cranky. Our balmy west coast usually has a week of cold weather and perhaps once in a decade or so will get a prolonged spell of it. Back in 2008 and 2009 we didn’t see green grass here for three solid months, but that’s most unusual.

It’s equally unusual for me to get sick — at least nothing beyond the occasional mild cold. I’ve dutifully gone for my flu shots every fall for many years, and I’m sure that helped me avoid the annual misery. However, I had my flu shot this year, too, only to hear recently that it might not be as effective as it was in previous years, depending on the strain(s) of flu virus prevalent in this area. ::sigh:: Apparently I was doomed to get this.

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I know I just have to wait it out. There’s no other way to get past this winter’s “blahs”. An active not passive kind of waiting is probably the most beneficial. I’m trying to engage in activities that don’t require too much energy but that actually accomplish something worthwhile. Writing annual reports, history scrapbooking, reading my way through the TBR pile of books stacked on shelves in my office.

Often as not though, I just end up dozing off to sleep again. I’ve managed to pass at least the cold part of this bug to my hubby, so we’re a less-than-energetic twosome these days. At this rate it’s going to be a while before we’ll be ready to tackle clearing downed trees and tying up damaged shrubs and broken branches (of which there are several). It doesn’t sound like we’ll get to it before next weekend’s predicted snow flurries. Drat!

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Who Am I?

K-Yawn - Version 2

Many years ago there used to be a television game show of that name — “Who Am I?” — where contestants had to guess which guest was telling the truth about their profession. Two guests lied; one was required to be truthful. There is a different series, “Who Do You Think You Are?“, currently airing, where celebrities journey to trace their family roots.

I was reminded of these programs last week when I came across two articles posted on social media that involved personal identity. In order to get to my point I need to share a few excerpts.

In one article, Michelle de Rusha wrote about the hard work of growing authentic relationships online.

“I think one of the hardest parts about being a writer, and specifically a memoirist, is that it’s often challenging to know where to draw the line, how much to tell, how much of myself and my private life to reveal…Sometimes I avoid writing about [certain] topics because they are controversial, and I like controversy about as much as I like flossing my teeth, which is to say, not at all.

“On the other hand, sometimes I don’t write about [other] topics because I’m afraid you won’t like me, or will be disappointed in me, or will see me differently or less-than. I’m a people-pleaser at heart; I don’t like to ruffle feathers or disappoint.

“And sometimes I don’t write about certain topics because I’m afraid they don’t fit who I think you think I am. Does that make sense? Take time to read that sentence again, because it’s a bit convoluted.

“Part of this disconnect is simply a natural by-product of writing publicly. The truth is, you can’t know every facet of who I am just by reading what I write here … this blog and my memoir, even though they are about me, aren’t me entirely. They don’t fully represent me; they don’t reflect every facet of my personality, who I am inside and out. Part of that is because I have presented myself in a certain way, not to be deceptive, but simply because that’s what happens, even in in-person communication. And part of that is because you have interpreted me and defined me in certain ways according to who you are and what you believe.”

In the other article entitled ‘Goodbye, Facebook’, LL Barkat compares her sustained online presence to being at a constant party.

“What would it look like to attend a party for years? The music never off. Always the same snacks. No room of one’s own. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. And always the ready smile, because that’s what we do at parties… The day I lost my will to speak, I realized I was tired. I have been at a party for years. You could say the cause of this fatigue was all of digital life. But you would be wrong. If you said, “Facebook?” I would say I have been doing an experiment.

“Here is the thing. Facebook is “push” technology. Things keep popping up without you asking, and the algorithms pretend to take your wants into account, but you really have virtually no control. What’s more, you are connected (semantically) to “friends,” not interests, and friends put all kinds of things out there at all hours of the day regardless of your mood and intentions at any given moment, and because they are linguistically labeled as “friends” and not “people I follow,” there is a subtle emotional obligation that comes when these posts pop up, saying whatever these posts might say.

“All the while, you are swinging from extreme to extreme. Laugh! Cry! (Someone died. Someone just said the damnedest thing. Oh, that’s cute. OMG, carnage. Or, here comes a carnal clip of something you hadn’t wanted to see) … and it’s confusing, but you keep … on … eating, because these are friends and you are at a party, after all.

Respond. Respond. Respond. And? Express. The party has trained us (or have I trained myself?) to lay out the details of our experiences and our thoughts, in an unnatural constancy, until we have given over much of our inner life to the flat sameness of a digital wall.”

She suddenly stopped talking; her voice became mute. She’s said goodbye to Facebook, perhaps permanently, perhaps not. She may come back once a month “for a day of party-going”, but first she needs to overcome her social media exhaustion. 

Both authors are dabbling in the quagmire of what determines an authentic online identity and I can relate to their struggle. None of us can be positive that what we know of our cyber-acquaintances, or what they know of us, reflects the reality. The dilemma is, does it matter?

I think it does because in our effort to utilize social media to expand and maintain communication, the loss of a unique personal identity is becoming a byproduct. Online, we become who we want people to think we are. Consciously or unconsciously, we display snippets of positive reality for public consumption while we abstain from revealing anything that might adversely reflect on our persona.

Keeping up pretenses is exhausting. Combined with the addictiveness of the Internet, it’s no wonder digital communication is affecting us.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a fabulous tool for communication and professional promotion. But, more and more, I’m coming to believe it’s also leading us into an identity crisis. We can’t seem to function in the everyday — or don’t feel complete — unless we’re logged into our digital world. That can’t be a good thing!

We’re enriched by our cyber relationships, but our continuous connection is depleting the inventory of who we are.

When my late Aunt Norma was establishing her blog, she went through an exercise to provide a blurb for her ‘About Me‘ page, setting out a list of what she felt defined her identity. We might all do well to create such a list, and then keep it handy for reference.

Do you know who you are?

If you’re inclined to take inventory, I’d love it if you’d share your list.

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Archives: There’s No Sin in Being Good to Yourself

When it came time to find words for today’s post, I had none. I wandered through my archives, looking for something to ‘re-run’, and one title appealled, so I’m reposting it. Sometimes being good to oneself is as important as being good to someone else.

I clicked on the link in the first paragraph to ensure it was still active, and I found the blogger, Patri Francis, had managed to continue her disciplines for just two weeks. Her blog posts ended at that point, in 2009. Curious, I checked out her profile and found she had a second blog. A further click took me to a post that uncannily seemed meant for me today, entitled “What We Inherit“. But after reading it I found that blog also ended there, a last post in 2011. Still, my original post and the links seem worth sharing again. I hope you think so, too.

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Sunset Home

A blog called “Toil, Solitude, Prayer: Writing as a Practice” caught my attention recently. It is a secondary blog for author Patry Francis who is returning to her writing after a six month hiatus following surgery for cancer. The blog is recording her attempt to add several daily disciplines to her life that will help her finish her next book. It’s such a commendable goal and I settled in to read all of the posts.

I found myself wondering how, just six months after her surgery, she can have the mental stamina to tackle such a regime. Several years after my surgery I am still not there. Yes, the body is healed. But the mind? Having cancer, regardless of its severity, is a life-changing experience. Hearing that diagnosis does a real number on your mind. For a long time after physical recovery is complete the mind will continue holding you hostage in places you don’t want to be. Overcoming that inertia is a bear!

As I read Patry’s daily account I know what she is attempting would have been too ambitious for me.  Setting achievable goals is important but the operative word for me is ‘achievable’. Compounding a series of goals over a short period of time is putting additional stress on a mind that isn’t ready to handle it. It sets a person up for failure, and failure is devastating to the morale.

My remedy for getting back into my writing was to set one reachable goal — to write something every day – with no pressure to rack up a specific number of words or do it within a set time frame. Maybe it was only a minor challenge but by not being overwhelmed with the immensity of a more impressive one, I succeeded. It was satisfying to look back after each week and see the word count growing. And with each success came increasing optimism and energy. I finished that manuscript and the sense of achievement was wonderful.

But first I had to give myself permission to find the one goal that was realistically within reach. I also had to accept that there are times in life when there’s no sin in backing off a bit and being good to myself.

(Originally posted May 5, 2009)

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Sometimes it’s hard

Earlier this week, on Thanksgiving Monday, under the title “In all things give thanks“, I posted a photo I’d taken during a drive in the Fraser Valley,  and I included a quote from Psalm 95:2.  We have so much in our lives for which to be thankful and I was feeling full of praise.

Give Thanks

Tuesday morning we were once again driving in the Fraser Valley and I took this photo as we crossed the Golden Ears Bridge. We were on our way to an appointment with our veterinarian. Our eight-year-old Labrador Retriever, Tynan, hadn’t been well over the holiday weekend and we were looking forward to finding a solution for whatever was ailing him.

The solution wasn’t at all what we expected.

After x-rays, ultrasound and various tests we were confronted with the devastating news that what was ailing him couldn’t be fixed. Even with immediate surgery, the prognosis was poor. Less than three hours later we were retracing our route, returning home without him, in shock from the unexpected loss.

To add to the ache, for the first time in over fifty years there were no canine greetings to distract us when we arrived home. We’ve had many dogs during our lifetime. Our first were Labrador/Shepherd crossbreds. Later I bred, trained and exhibited purebred Shetland Sheepdogs for thirty-five years. We’ve always shared our home with anywhere from two to five dogs at a time, but somehow, after the passing of our last Sheltie, Tynan ended up as our lone canine companion. Now the house is painfully empty.

With this heaviness permeating our hearts and home, how can we obey the admonition to give thanks? It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s very hard today. And yet, while my mind wants to complain bitterly at the sudden loss of our dearly loved companion, at the same time bittersweet memories are bubbling up and bursting out — memories that bring with them joy and thanksgiving, not for what is, but for what has been.

Best Buds

Best Buds

Through my tears I give thanks for:

  • the experience of smelling his baby puppy breath the day I carried him home on my lap those too-short eight years ago;
  • remembering how he  would clamber onto the shelf under our coffee table and fall asleep there, until he was eventually too large to fit the space;
  • how he and our younger daughter’s Lab and Aussie were always so excited to see each other, no matter how long it had been between visits;
  • the day our other daughter’s Brittany Spaniel taught him that there was joy in swimming, not just walking in the ocean waves, and how, at our Cariboo lake, he would happily do the work of swimming out to retrieve sticks, only to willingly give them up to our son’s chocolate Lab who was waiting at the shore to snatch and claim them as her own;
  • watching him shadow my hubby everywhere he went, even to waiting outside the bathroom door for him;
  • giggling at how he leapt into the air like a gazelle and gambolled about when asked if he thought it was his dinnertime, or if he was ready for his daily 3 km walk with my hubby;
  • loving how he would slowly elbow the front half of his 90 lb. body up on the couch beside me until he could nuzzle my ear and leave a tiny kiss on my nose before being chased off;
  • knowing how much he loved to go for a ride with us, and always knew which vehicle to approach when we mentioned we were taking the truck or the van;
  • marvelling at how he could instantly turn from a couch potato into a showdog when it was time to go to a dog show with his special friend and handler, Jayne Luke, and how he adored the specialty cookies that always arrived with her and the toys she bought for him after each of his wins;
  • laughing at his love of a plastic garden pot and how, whenever I was planting bedding plants, he delighted in stealing just one empty pot and racing ’round and ’round the back yard with it;
  • smiling at how his head tipped, his ears lifted and his expression brightened whenever we told him one of our family members was coming to visit — he knew everyone by name, including their dogs;
  • remembering how he watched inconspicuously for the last corner of a sandwich, bit of toast or pizza crust, because he always got it if he wasn’t blatantly begging.
  • how he would roll over on his back and freeze there, all four legs in the air, hoping for ‘a tummy rub’ whenever we walked past;
  • and perhaps most poignantly, how happy he was at the end, tail wagging, munching a generous supply of biscuits provided by our caring and compassionate vet, content and unafraid because we were there.
Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

He had his own toy box, and today the dozens of plush stuffies that he adored and played with but never destroyed, have been washed and put into storage — even the very first fabric squeaky toy made for him by his breeder. There might not be another Labrador in our family, but you never know, perhaps one day some new puppy will come along to adopt them.

You’ve been a long-suffering reader if you’ve persevered this far! 

My point, of course, is that no matter what disappointments or catastrophes life dumps on us, we won’t likely be thankful for them, but hopefully in retrospect we’ll look for snippets of joy in the experiences we’ve had despite them.

~

R.I.P. sweet friend

CAN. CH. RIVERSEDGE TYNAN AT CAREANN
January 22, 2006 – October 14, 2014

Tynan 2012

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Facing Fears: Admissions of a Writing Introvert

Today I’m admitting to something I rarely talk about beyond the circle of family and close friends. And I’m stepping way out of my comfort zone by discussing it in a guest post on Jenn Hubbard’s blogs.

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As gatherings go, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a big one for me. It’s my favourite weekend of the year but it’s also my biggest challenge.

DSC06310Approximately 600 people fill the ballroom for keynote addresses and calorie-laden meals, crowd into conference rooms for their choice of seventy-two workshops given by fifty-eight writing professions, and cram into elevators to get between the two.

It’s exhilarating, rejuvenating, motivating… and terrifying! Why? Because I’m claustrophobic. Oh, not wildly so, but moderately, and the challenge is to keep myself under control so I can absorb all the benefits of the annual October weekend.

Many writers claim to be introverts, so I’m not alone in my reluctance to mix, mingle and schmooze with strangers. A lot of us would prefer to hunker down and write in solitude….

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If you’re a fellow introvert, or deal with any degree of claustrophobia, anxiety or panic attacks, click on over to one of Jenn’s two blogs to read the rest of my story and some of the tactics I employ to cope:

Writer Jenn at Live Journal, or

Jennifer R. Hubbard at Blogspot

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Yuck: aka the not-so-common cold

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When tissues, cough syrup, and curling up under a warm afghan are all I can think of, planning a blog post easily gets dumped to the bottom of the priority list. My week has been one of hacking and hugging my ribs — just an ordinary cold, I keep saying, but a nasty bronchial one.

No profound thoughts are setting off lightbulbs in my addled brain. My list of potential blog posts is blank and I refuse to sit here any longer hoping Ms. Muse will magically turn up with an idea in hand. Instead, my plan is to head for bed and hope to sleep. That’s not an easy accomplishment most nights, perched high upon a stack of pillows as I’ve been.

I leave you with my apology and a couple more fall vistas to enjoy in lieu of words.

Have seasonal colds or flu found their way into your household recently? If so, you have my sincere condolences!

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Autumn Lake

Now Autumn’s fire burns slowly
along the woods and day by day
the dead leaves fall and melt.

William Allingham

Autumn Road

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Keeping the writer’s head above water

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At almost 1400 km. long, the Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia. It’s often called “The Muddy Fraser”, a reference to the water’s silty colour. The Fraser’s largest tributary is the Thompson River whose north arm originates at the foot of the Thompson Glacier in the Cariboo Mountains. When it joins the Fraser River in Lytton, BC it retains its distinctly different colour for a short distance, but eventually dissipates and disappears into the murky waters of the Fraser.

Fraser & Thompson join

The confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers at Lytton, BC

Last week I read a post on the Magical Words blog that reminded me of how our writing lives resemble these two rivers. Melding our writing with everything else that goes on in our lives rarely results in a satisfying balance. Something always seems to take precedent.

The danger for writers is that it can become a do or don’t do pursuit. An obsession with writing can end up excluding other equally important things in our lives, OR guilt can push writing into the background, and leave us hoping for an illusive ‘someday’ when there will be more opportunity. Writing full time – having no other claims on our time so we can write when and for however long we wish – is a dream that isn’t as ideal as it might seem. It has its share of pitfalls.

The Magical Words blog post asks how we stay sane while writing in the face of everything else that threatens to swallow our time. How do we find a way to make progress with so many distractions? And if we’re writing full time, how do we partition our time when there is no office clock to punch at the start and end of a work day?

I like the suggestion given – setting goals. Not big ones – those can be self-defeating — but minimum ones, and in combination with an achievable destination. Determining the minimum number of words or pages per week required to finish a project by a specific date means we can portion out a daily workload and step away from the desk when we reach that point. We may choose to do more, but if there are other commitments awaiting our attention we’re not faced with guilt if we decide to close the laptop for the day.

Writing can take over our lives and make us a little crazy. Or we can become resentful of everything else that absorbs our time and keeps us from the writing we’d rather be doing.  Which is it for you? Or have you found the balance that allows both streams to coexist in your daily journey?

The Fraser River near Hope, BC

The Fraser River near Hope, BC

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