Thursday, January 31, 2013

Six Simple Ways to Make a Good Impression

“When I see the best of myself in others, it makes a good first impression.” 
- Bauvard

Leah's putting on her psychotherapy hat today!  I guess because I've been home alone for much of the seven weeks since my surgery, making contact with people has suddenly become all the more important.

These are pretty simple tips, but some of the most competent and loveliest people I know do not use them.  (Neither do I, all the time.)  The fact is, they can transform the way people see you; and when people see you in a positive light, you're much more likely to get what you need and want out of your life, namely happiness.

1. Keep your head up.  Literally.  Don't walk around with your head down.  You'll look anti-social or like you've got a back problem.

2. Make eye contact.  Not just when you are having a one-on-one conversation with someone, but when you greet people and just say hello.

3. Smile.  Warmly.  Use your eyes when you do it.  You don't need to stop and chat with everyone you greet, but because of that smile, it won't matter. It'll stick with them.

4. Don't underestimate the power of touch.  For men, this is trickier, but even the handshaking in a more formal meeting situation can make or break an impression.  Shaking someone's hand like a limp fish is very off-putting.  A firm, confident handshake speaks volumes.  When I shake hands, I usually use both my hands.  It's just warmer.  It's not formal, certainly, but it shows me for who I am, and that's what I want.  I'm also a hugger (but not at job interviews, of course).  People crave touch.  They don't forget the squeeze of the shoulder or the brush of the arm. (For sure they won't forget the pat on the butt, but I'm not talking about that!)

5.  Do some mirroring.  When you tilt your head the way they tilt theirs, or cross your legs if they cross theirs, you are establishing rapport.  You shouldn't try to be a mime in a circus here, just pick one or two things and mirror them back, showing that person, consciously or not, that you have a connection with them.

Quick and dirty, right?  I have my first appointment with a physiotherapist today so we'll see if I can put these into practice without falling off my balance ball!


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fighting Sleep

It's a battlefield out there, folks, and I'm a warrior-worthy sleep fighter.  Apparently, even as a baby, I spent more time screaming than I did sleeping.  This is no longer true today: I spend a lot more time sleeping than I do screaming, at least twice as much.

That being said, I do not remember ever having had a nap.  I do not plop my head down on a pillow and fall asleep.  I do not think, "Oh, it's a lazy Saturday afternoon; why don't I snuggle up for a nap?"  Instead, I think, "Why not look into PhD programs or launch an Internet business?" because I have so much extra time, given the fact that I choose not to sleep whenever possible.

Here in Hong Kong most people take public transportation.  You're either texting or playing games on your phone or you are sleeping.  Those seem to be the only three choices.  I'm guessing it's the same everywhere else in the world except maybe a nation where there are more chickens than there are phones on the bus.  I regularly watch people sleep through their stops and more than once I've had to wipe the drool off of my clothes from an adjacent sleeper.  Hong Kong is such a crowded place that people even manage to sleep standing up!  I am in awe of these people since I can be drowning in a cloud of eiderdown and silk and still be wide awake.

On an overnight train in Thailand - Em's first bunk bed!

I also have no memory of ever fading off to sleep during a movie or TV show or even while reading a book.  I simply do not, will not, allow myself to do that.  I will read or crossword or watch until the last bitter moment and then, when I can fight no longer, I will finally succumb and turn off the lights, always reluctantly

It's not that I can't sleep.  I can.  It's just that I won't.  You see, my day life is a fair bit more enjoyable than my night life.  My night life is full of petulant dreams that are populated by students I can't control, me in various states of undress (and not in good places or circumstances) and me initiating breakup after breakup with an ex that I should have done, but never had the courage to.  It's quite satisfying, but after you've done it for the 10,000th time, you have to ask yourself, "Have I not learned my life lesson yet?"  Jung and Freud notwithstanding, it's just plain annoying.

In most of my dreams, I am looking down on myself while I dream and thinking, "Oh, no, not this nonsense again."  Yes, I am one of those dreamers who watches myself dream.  If you've not experienced this, you're lucky.  In the majority of my dreams, I watch myself enacting incredulous and stupid scenarios as if I am in a movie theater.  The only problems are: there is no popcorn and I can't get up and leave if I don't like the show.  I just go on dreaming and thinking, "When is this finally going to end?  I want a refund!"

I may be one of the only people on the planet who can't wait to get up in the morning AND who hates going to bed.  When I DO have the opportunity to sleep in, I often don't take it because I assume it will only commence in another round of ridiculous dreams.

The girls find it hard to settle down on our overnight train trips

I've had quite a few recurring dreams over the years, in particular about celebrities.  Tom and Nicole figured prominently in the 90s; we were neighbors in suburbia and did a lot of things to together as a couple: double dating, potlucks, card games, and croquet with their other movie star friends.  When their marriage ended, so did the dreams.  I miss Tom and Nicole, but Tom probably would have tried to lure me into Scientology so it's just as well that we're kaput.

I also have my yearly Sylvester Stallone erotic dream which I cannot explain and will not attempt to.  I do not find him in the least bit alluring in my waking life, so I have no idea why we have a yearly tryst in my dreams.

I come from a long line of dreamers.  Each morning, my mother would regale us with stories of her dreams while we scarfed down our steaming bowls of porridge and brown sugar.  Like her, I can talk about one dream for upwards of half an hour.  I remember every single intricate detail.  And let me tell you, folks, it's a curse.  I've got enough on my plate in my waking life without being able to describe the Frito chicken casserole recipe that I concocted in my dream or the multitude of swatches I investigated before settling on the pink paisley brocade for the new curtains in my drawing room.

Mommy would rather stay up and look out the window

The first time I ever took a sleeping tablet it worked incredibly well, but I woke up and found I had become friends with my old piano teacher on facebook, I had ordered a subliminal sleep audio on itunes and the fridge had been raided. Now I rarely succumb to the lure of sleep aids, but if I do, I turn it into a competition.  "I'll be damned, " I tell that jagged little pill, "if I am going to let you put me to sleep.  I will fight you and I will WIN!"  And sometimes I do. It's shocking, really.

I'll pretty much do anything to avoid sleep.  Just this evening, I asked my sweetheart to bring up a Diet Coke with my popcorn at about 10:00 pm.  Foolish?  Of course.  But why sleep when you can stay up and do something infinitely more enjoyable like watch multiple episodes of Downton Abbey or finish the new 1000 piece puzzle whose pieces are all the same color?

I would say I definitely do NOT get enough sleep, and I definitely do NEED to get more, but I think I need counseling to get myself on track with this particular issue.  I've spent a life time of fighting it and I don't want to give it up now at 1:00 in the morning when there is still more to be done.  There are only so many hours in the day, you know...

These gals occasionally fight their sleep as well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Night Time Snacker

I have a hearty appetite all day long, but I try to make sure to save some calories for the evening, and I don't mean supper time.  My favorite time of the day to eat is somewhere between eight and ten pm.  My favorite place to eat?  You guessed it.  The bed.  (Yes, we have stained sheets and it's a shame we don't have pets because there is enough food under and around the bed to feed a small village.)

My brother gets in on the corn action with us
in Thailand

My go-to snack of choice is popcorn.  I have it pretty much every single night.  On those unfortunate occasions that we have run out, there is knashing of teeth in place of the noshing.  You don't want to stop in for a visit on one of these nights.  It's like a crack addict going cold turkey.

I have a special bowl that I microwave my popcorn in.  I bought mine at Target and it is the most valued kitchen implement that we own.  You simply put in one half a cup of popcorn and microwave for three minutes.  That's it.  No fuss.  No muss.

Ice cream sandwiches rank as one of my top
10 snack foods of all time

Most of the time I eat my popcorn plain with a saucer of salt  on the side.  Nutty, I know.  Sometimes I use some "spray butter" but I've been marginalized and judged for this, especially since I'm trying to be a healthy vegan gal these days.  For a special treat, my sweet hub makes his special wok popcorn.  When we were living in Taiwan twenty odd years ago, I was so desperate for popcorn but we couldn't figure out how to cook it without a decent pot or a microwave.  Don discovered that by heating up olive oil on a low fire, he could make the most sumptuous popcorn I have ever tasted.  I try to ration myself on this stuff, though.  Oscars, Golden Globes, birthdays, anniversaries...

Yep, squid works too.  Love those tentacles!

My youngest daughter has recently started following in her mother's footsteps.  She's a corn fan, too, only she  prefers her corn frozen, not popped.  That's right.  Of course, she's also the gal who will get herself a bowlful of ice to suck on.  She's not going to have a weight problem when she grows up!

Pickles and carrots work well in the snack department, also.  Grapes are always a popular choice.  Just now - it's 11:29 pm - I finished off the olive oil popcorn Don popped for me last night (The SAG awards were on!), I had a fake chicken cutlet left over from Friday night's barbeque, and a small bowl of grapes and a soda water. I'm going to have to get up and brush my teeth and go to bed or the Quality Street chocolates Don thinks he is keeping hidden from me could be ravaged by the morning.

My sister and I snack on mangosteen in Thailand

That's the other thing: we are pretty much a whole foods household, at least when I do the shopping.  When there is prepared food, I will eat it.  Sweet, savory: it doesn't matter.  If it is in a bag and it can be ripped open and consumed, I will rise to the challenge.  When you look in our cupboards,  you will see very little that is readily consumable unless you don't mind cracking open a can of garbanzo beans, which I have been known to do; the fridge is brimming over with produce and condiments.

I may have gotten my snacking habit from my daddy.  Every evening he would rouse himself from the TV (still does) and amble over to the kitchen to make himself a bowl of cereal, some rice pudding, some bread and butter, or maybe heat up some leftover soup.  I'm a nosher like him.  He's a portion controller though: in the last few years he's taken to eating all of his food with a teaspoon.  (As I'm writing this I'm thinking I could call this the blog "My Freaky Family" not "Night Time Snacker!"  We are definitely a peculiar bunch of folks.)

Yes, those are my parents enjoying pickles at their 50th
anniversary party!

To avoid snacking, I try to keep my hands busy doing things like writing blogs or knitting, doing jigsaw puzzles or reading in the tub, but I still always manage to free my hands up and take time for a good old snack.  Yes, it does result in some grimy puzzles pieces, some crumby scarves and some waterlogged popcorn, but I'm not bothered.

Some people say that they can't fall asleep on a full tummy, but I can't fall asleep without one!  Some people also say that carbs are from the devil, but I think they're from the other guy.  Especially the carbs that make up popcorn and rye bread and baked potatoes.

Fortunately, I'm not at this place yet.

I'm not a skinny girl, that's for sure.  I'm also not a plus-sized gal, in spite of my constant snacking.  I owe it partly to a good metabolism, but I think I make healthy choices, too, even in my snacking frenzy.

You can take away my alcohol, take away my TV, take away my morphine (Okay, I kid.), but don't take away my snacks.The 80% good rule?  That about fits for me.

My only newstart is just a bit of a reminder to save a few more of the calories from the day for the night.  I'm not getting any younger and the metabolism isn't doing much revving these days.  I think I need to rein in the day time indulgences just a wee bit so I can feed the night time food vampire in me.

Marshmallows are another banned substance in our house.
Notice Emily's marshmallow vampire teeth!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Secret to Making Friends

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

- Zig Ziglar

I learned this lesson in 3rd grade in the basement of Greendale Mennonite Church at a Pioneer Girls meeting.  Every Wednesday we would gather for the Christian equivalent to Girl Guides, earning badges, playing games and learning about Jesus.  We wore light blue jumpers with white blouses underneath, a beanie on our head, and a sash displaying the badges we earned for things like candlemaking (my favorite), playing music, memorizing Bible verses and even learning how to be a hostess.  The most popular girls were usually the ones who had the most crests sewn onto their sashes.  (I learned all the books of the Old Testament and New Testament to festoon myself with that enviable badge.)

I wasn't a fan of going to Pioneer Girls.  I hate the uniform: my pudgy knees were on display for all to see, I could have been at home reading, and most of the girls knew each other from school or church.  I went to a different school and a different church from most of them so I was the outsider.  Even so, my mom thought it important that I attend so after dinner each Wednesday, I would be dropped off in front of the steps of the church and walk myself around the side of the building to the basement where the lights were blazing and everyone seemed to be having fun.

Everyone but me.  I'd stand in the corner watching all the pretty petite little girls giggle and twirl and call our leaders names like Buttercup and Daffodil, palling around with these cheerful ladies as though they were their friends.  

There would be songs and Bible stories and rousing games that had us running around in circles and slamming our knees onto the hard concrete ground, in an effort not to be eliminated.  It was always the most athletic, spritely girls who ended up winning.  Never me.   And then there would be the chants where we would take turns muttering "Indian" incantations, one syllable at a time: "Oh-wa-ta-gu-si-am" faster and faster until we all collapsed laughing, realizing what we had just said.

In spite of the good clean fun, I felt ugly, unfriended and the odd-one-out.

Then when I arrived one evening, I noticed another girl in the opposite corner of the dank, cold basement.  She had owl shaped glasses and bangs that looked like her mother had put a bowl on her head and used a blunt pair of safety scissors.  Her knees were knobby and her shoes scuffed. She had on a tattered red sweater and her uniform looked like a definite hand-me-down. When I saw her, I saw myself.  

What was the point, I thought, of her standing alone in her corner while I stood alone in mine?  Granted, she wasn't cool and I wasn't sure I wanted to be associated with her, but I wasn't very cool either.  At least we could be uncool together.  More importantly, at least I would no longer be alone.

I walked across the room and gave her a crooked, shy smile. "I'm Leah," I said.

"I know," she replied.  "I'm Ingrid."

And a friendship was born.  Sort of.  I don't know that we stayed friends.  I think she moved not long after.

But I learned an important lesson that day: if you wait for people to approach you, they might not.  But if you approach the  people who are looking out of place, just like you, you'll no longer be alone and you might just make a friend.

I still do it.  When I walk into a room of people, I always beeline for the person who is standing on their own, looking unsure.  I hold out my hand, smile, and say, "Hi, I'm Leah."

It's made me a lot of friends over the years and it's kept me from being a wallflower.  People think I'm an extrovert, but I'm really quite shy.  Selfishly, I'm willing to be a friend so I don't have to risk not having one.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

13 Time Saving Tips for Lazy Divas

“It's not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.” 

1. Erase your emails before you read them (unless they are from someone you like).  If someone calls you on it, you can just say, "Oh, I never got it."

2. Use the "circular file" as often as possible.  I promise, you'll never miss whatever it is you're throwing out.

3. While you're at it, throw out your filing cabinets and everything in them.  When is the last time you looked at ANYTHING in there?

4. If you're in a hurry, wear sunglasses,  preferably designer ones.  You won't have to wear eye make up AND you'll look glamorous.

5. Compost your fruit and vegetable matter by throwing it out your car window while driving to work.  (This works better if you don't live in a suburb.)

6. Offer to let your significant-other take the car on the day you know it needs to be gassed up.

7. Buy multiple crates of beans, Kraft Dinner, tomato sauce, Campbell's Mushroom Soup and pasta so you will be set for dinner for a year or the next pandemic.  If you're Canadian, you'll also need a crate or three of Cheez Whiz.

8. Use baby powder instead of shampoo to save shower time, hot water and shampoo.  It's the best grease-cutter out there!

9. Exercise in your pajamas.  (You can take that any way you choose to.)

10. Roll around on a tennis ball as a cheap masseuse.  (This tip really is amazingly effective, especially if you like your massages hard.)

11. Lipstick doubles as blush.

12. If your mobile phone is uncharged in the bottom of your purse, you won't have to answer it.

13. If you disconnect from the Internet, you'll probably never have to do anything again because you'll have no idea what you're supposed to be doing.

TV News Boycott

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

I'm a sensitive kind of gal: I have sensitive skin that is prone to eczema and freckles; I have thin skin which makes me into a people-pleaser (which isn't all bad); I am also acutely sensitive to the images that I see in today's multimedia.  When my husband and I sat down to watch the pilot for Lost a few years ago, I ran out of the house in an absolute panic during the plane crash scene.  The remote control was hidden under the covers on our bed so we couldn't pause the show or even mute it.  The screaming of the agonized people followed me out of the house.  Needless to say, we didn't watch another episode.

I'm the kind of gal who watches 22 minute sitcoms where the greatest stress is Monica's super-expensive boots being super-uncomfortable and Chandler being super-upset with her or a drugged-up Liz Lemon meeting Oprah on the plane and calling her Borpa.  Modern Family works well for me and old episodes of Seinfeld and Mary Tyler Moore could keep me in bed forever.  As for movies, I'll go for the Merchant Ivories, the Marigold Hotels, the Love Actualies.  Archetypal or not, even StarWars and other such well-produced, powerful movies are nightmare fodder and end up not giving me hope in humanity, but fear under my covers.

So where does that put me in terms of the news?  Up until fairly recently I've been a bit of a newshound: I grew up reading my father's Time and McLeans magazines (along with my mother's Chatelaine and purloined copies of 17).  Journalism was my first career choice that got sidelined for a boyfriend who was at a university that didn't offer it as a course of study.  It wasn't until I was already a teacher that CNN came along; I remember first watching it during the Tianammen Square tragedy and being amazed that I could turn on the TV and watch news 24 hours a day rather than just at 6:00 over dinner.  For a time there, that is exactly what I did.  I was incredibly compelled by all news all the time.

We were living in Minneapolis/St Paul during the 9-11 attacks, and then too, I found myself, like millions of others, horrifyingly compelled by the news coverage that never ended and the incidents that kept occurring.  I feel like news, at that time, started to move beyond the actual events and into the commentators' interpretations of those events as well as predictions about what events might come next.  So rather than just getting the facts (as one-sided as those usually are to begin with) we started getting talking heads who probably didn't know much more than we did, acting as soothsayers as well as controlling our emotions through their own reactions, rhetoric and those hastily produced "real life stories" that were filling up all the spaces between the historic events.

I really believe people's stories should be told and heard; I believe in getting the big picture out through the many stories that populate the background; I also believe these stories help us to look inside ourselves, honor our own humanity and ask important questions about what we can do to prevent tragedies from happening again and in what ways we might be responsible or able to help.

Here's what I don't like: when media outlets spoon feed us emotional drama in a way that predictably triggers us to react in a certain way.  If I want my heartstrings to be tugged, I'll watch Sophie's Choice or read Anna Karenina; I don't, however, want a premeditated, over-cogitated piece that is designed to make me hate a targeted group of people and love another.  Somehow, somewhere the media crossed the line and we allowed it to happen.  I want to be given the facts (from both sides) and to make my own choices about how to feel and what to believe.  I don't believe media outlets have the right to give us their interpretation, instruct us on how to feel, or decide what news we do get and what news we don't. Let us make our own decisions, thank you very much.  I don't know if there is a Hippocratic Oath for news outlets, but there should be.

In my opinion, television news has sold out to the highest bidder and the highest ratings and nobody even seems to notice or care anymore.  It's not 24 hours worth of new anymore; it's 24 hours worth of soundbites designed to get the most reaction from its viewers, and it's 24 hours worth of news that the outlets want us to know about.  Are important stories not being told?  You bet!  There is so much emphasis on non-news such as whether Obama can produce his birth certificate or not that there isn't enough time to talk about the starvation, genocide, and human trafficking that is happening worldwide.  These items aren't titillating enough and probably too guilt-inducing to be covered in-depth.  Plus, the budgets for foreign correspondents have been cut so dramatically that it's easier to stay close to home.  

So, while, I don't want to be overwhelmed over the travesties happening around the world, I also don't want to be buried under a mountain of minutaie.  When I choose to partake in the news, I don't need to hear about the ratings of reality shows or about Michelle's new bangs.  I already subscribe to celebrity magazines for that.

I still keep up with the news, but only through NPR (National Public Radio), the news sources that employ journalists, not hacks, and on Comedy Central with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.  (I will agree that their versions of the news aren't exactly measured either, but they help me to disseminate the ridiculous from the important and, since I live overseas, give me the pulse of what is going on in America.)  Most TV news, though, makes me question humanity in a way I do not want to.  I want to believe that people are essentially good and I want to focus on the goodness of people. If I can't do that, I fall into a pessimism that is so deep it feels impossible to claw my way out of.  I overeat, I cry, I wonder what the use is of getting up in the morning.

And I need to get up in the morning.  I need to be there for the people I love and the people I don't.  I need to be an incarnation of goodness in the world.  For me, I can't do that when I am filling my head with images of violence and depravity and terror.  It's not that I don't want to help or that I won't; it's not that I don't want to be informed or that I'm not; it's just that I need to protect myself in a cloak of peace and kindness if I am to make a difference in the world.  I can't be that person when I've got the TV on and I'm subjected to not just these very visceral images, but also the hateful, incendiary comments that people choose to make about one another.

Sound bites and non-sequitors and people who are paid to state their opinions regardless of whether they are reasoned, compassionate or balanced, seem to have replaced intellect.  This fills me a deep wondering about where our world is going.  I, however, can make an individual choice about where I want to be going and that is best made in the absence of television news.

Finally, I realize this commentary of my own is deeply flawed.  I write about how I am sensitive to violence yet I decry the media for not sharing certain very violent, uninvestigated issues with us; I speak about unreasonable people spewing their opinions on TV, yet I blurt out my own rhetoric here that is not entirely logical.  I have only ever said, however, that I would work through my issues through writing and just maybe they might help you work through yours.  Fortunately, I'm not holding myself up to the same scrutiny as I do the media.

Intense blog, I know.  I'll go lighter tomorrow, I promise.  It's a newstart, you know.  Every day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Embracing my Guilt

Isn't it ridiculous that I spend, let's see, 24 hours of my day feeling guilty about pretty much everything that I do or don't do, think or don't think or feel or don't feel?  It's pretty much a full-time profession for this ambitious gal.

Last night I dreamt that I had set up a small bedroom in a busy mall next to a dimsum restaurant, and I got caught with a futon, a closet-worth of clothes, enough crackers and cheese to feed a dinner party and a bucketful of pee.  The mall manager, all business in her red power dress and pumps, was incensed and threatening to call the police over me in my plaid pajamas and matching bandana (really!), so I told her I was dying of cancer and I needed this "hangout" at the mall so the rest of my family could shop in peace without worrying about me.  Upon waking, I was bathed in a guilt perspiration bath and my heart was palpitating like the marathon runner I have never aspired to be.

It took me a good half hour to "come down" from my dream so I could go back to sleep and dream about how I was renting a mini mansion next to a potato field and how I told the thousands of migrant workers that, no, they couldn't use my bathroom with the SOLID gold shower stall and the heated Japanese toilet, but they would need to use the outhouse instead that was still under construction so really they would just have to squat next to the potato plants and do their business.  But first I was sure to give them a tour and show them the toilet's built-in iPad and the extraordinary water pressure the rainforest shower head exerted.

I believe I was hiring armed guards to protect me from their wrath when I shook myself out of sleep, realizing that sleeping-in was in no way relaxing or rejuvenating.  I knew it was time to get up and get on with the "real" guilt of living rather than just the dream guilt.

(One must wonder, based on these dreams, whether I should have just gotten up and gone to the bathroom and my dreams would have changed their focus.)

Unlike me, these gals sleep like babies!

Since I am taking time off work for a back surgery, I crutched my way downstairs and worked on a very challenging jigsaw puzzle for the better part of an hour whilst sipping my coffee.  This had the effect of calling forth a great deal more guilt because: a) I had woken up at 8:40 instead of my usual 6:11 (?); b) I should have been doing something more productive like actually going to work even though I'd need to install a bed in front of the classroom to make it possible; and c) shouldn't I at least be able to shove in 10 pieces of this damn puzzle?  Aren't three year olds able to do puzzles of this caliber?

Alright, there's a d), too: What right did I have to be doing a jigsaw puzzle midmorning when every self-respecting person and their dog was out bringing home the bacon or at least on a treadmill somewhere running as if their lives depended on it?

Most of my day-to-day visceral reactions revolve around guilt about what COULD happen if I don't get my ass into gear, guilt about what has ALREADY happened due to my sloth, and guilt about what IS happening or not happening at this very moment due to my torpor.

Right now I am sitting with the sun shining through the French doors, tapping away on the keyboard, thinking that I will probably never publish this because a) it isn't even funny and b) I shouldn't talk about urination in blogs, even if it's in my dreams.  I am (out of guilt) trying to be mindful and notice what is happening in my space right now:  I am smelling the fruity volumizer in my hair (because guilt overcame me and I actually took a shower this morning AND washed my hair); I am feeling shame because I am sipping vegetable broth instead of green tea fortified with anti-oxidants that I should be using as a chaser for the niacin, glucosamine, vitamin C and whole laundry list of vitamins and minerals that I should be taking, but am not.  (Let's face it, if I can't just lick a salt block, I'll happily consume it in a hot beverage.  More guilt, of course, about my over-consumption of salt.)

Add to the guilt?  I'm not above taking a chewable Fruity Pebbles to meet my nutritional requirements or a prescription strength pain killer to alleviate pain.  (How dare I?) Seriously folks, I should be grateful I'm not hammering down the codeine tablets with a red wine chaser at 10 in the morning.  I am really FAR TOO down on myself.  At this point, I'm actually feeling embarrassed to be writing this.  But let's carry on, shall we?

What else do I have to feel guilty about?  My public pledge to be vegan has fallen on my own deaf ears: I am a vegan until Petra brings me her homemade cinnamon buns (It would be rude to say no!), until I have a craving for chocolate or McDonalds cones (Is there really ANY dairy in those cones anyway?), or I order the egg noodles at the hole-in-the-wall Chinese joint because they're probably not really egg noodles, just dyed yellow.  Nothing wrong with a little toxic dye, after all.

Oh, and then there's the weight gain.  After a spinal and pelvic fusion and two months of virtual immobility is it any wonder my pants don't fit and I've relegated myself to my uniform of black yoga pants and black long sleeved tee shirts? How dare I gain any weight after taking all this time off work?  I should be coming back with six-pack abs and a new lycra wardrobe.  To feel guilty about this is seriously not okay.  Perhaps I don't feel guilty: just ugly.

Believe me, the corset is SLIMMING!
(And this was at the beginning of my recovery.)

But that's another matter: this age thing.  It doesn't tend to make one more attractive, does it?  (Unless you're a man.)  I feel guilty for not taking better care of my skin, for my wrinkles and sagging skin and for the ways my eyes kind of triangulate toward their corners and my eye folds are all crepey.  And I won't even bring up my neck because Nora Ephron has already done that to death.  Aging is a bear at the best of times, but feeling guilty about aging on top of it?  That must add another 10 years!
 I probably look like a retiree at 47!

Wrinkles AND crutches: not a youthful recipe.

This is just the beginning of my guilt laundry list, folks: the tip of the iceberg that is in no way affected by global warming.  I haven't even mentioned my nagging parenting style, the way I criticize my husband's hair almost every morning, the fact that I don't religiously put on sunscreen EVERY SINGLE day or how I ignore emails for weeks on end because I'd rather watch The Kardashians or spy on my "friends" on facebook.  So what to do?

AND I let my kids drink pop once a month!
Bad, bad mama!

At the moment I'm thinking: embrace it, blog about it, make funny with it.  Stand up comedy is my on-the-horizon goal and I think there is a whole lot of material there.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Public Speaking Humiliation

In case I have to ever defend myself in a court of law (or on Oprah), I will say that this is mostly-true-to-memory, but is most certainly not 100% true-to-life.  For example, I do not do ventriloquism.    Some names (but not my own) have been changed to protect the innocent.  It is an excerpt from a "puberty memoir" that I am writing.

Now you know why I wasn't popular.

Talking in Tongues

I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a public speaker.   From early on, as a result of my prolific reading I had a pretty good vocabulary that could impress the adults in the crowd; I could spin a story about myself, pulling graphic, tantalizing details out of thin air (read: I could lie); I could tell a mean joke thanks to the “Pretty Good Joke” books that my parents kept for bathroom reading; and I was good at making fart sounds and burping noises.  All in all, I felt I was equipped for a job in front of the pulpit, inspiring millions with my message of salvation.

It was indeed my aim to be an evangelist, Billy Graham style with a feminine touch, but I knew I needed to start with slightly humbler beginnings.  When my private Mennonite high school announced that 10th graders would be participating in a public speaking contest, I knew I was up to the job.  After several days of mulling over what would prove most compelling for a speech in front of a panel of traditional, conservative Mennonite teachers and parents, I decided to write one on the importance of having good manners: it would include my talent for mimicking body functions using my armpit and substituting obnoxious sounds for obscenities that seemed to come from other parts of the room.  (I had been honing my ventriloquism act while most kids were trying out for sports teams and practicing piano.)

I set to work about two days before the due date and about a month and a half after the announcement had been made. Within about half an hour, I had what I considered a masterpiece.  I was all atwitter just reading it.  Students would be sure to fall off their desk chairs at the hilarity of it all.  And the judges?  Well, their tightly-wound buns would be unspinning and those too-tight polyester dress pants would be splitting their seams.  I couldn’t wait!

Rather than work on perfecting my speech for the tenth grade student body, I used the crumpled first draft, practiced four or fewer times in front of the bathroom mirror while trying to pop some pesky pimples at the same time, and pronounced myself ready.  After all, if I was going to be an evangelist, I’d have to be pretty good at charming the crowd without too much practice.  I mean, with all that work of saving souls, I imagined there wouldn’t be much time left for speech writing.  And besides, charisma was part of the job description.  I believed I had it.

And have it I did!  I went from strength to strength.  I first presented to my homeroom class along with my peers.  It was quickly evident that I was the only one cut out for the role of evangelist in that classroom.  Oh sure, students had index cards and facts and transitional words like “therefore’ and “in conclusion,” but there was no fire behind the words.  No charisma.  No chutzpah.  I had ventriloquism, farts, burps and illusions of bathroom doings.  I had cheap thrills to give away and they were funny.

Granted, some of the students, particularly the boys, in my 10th grade homeroom were immature, bordering on blowing-your-nose-in-your-hand-and-using-it-as-hair-gel immature, but we were a match made in heaven.  The boys hooted and hollered, and when it was announced by anonymous vote (the only way a geeky girl like me would ever be able to win anything), that I was clearly the winner, I was not in the least bit surprised.  The most academic, the most ravishing, the most popular girls in 10th grade had nothing on my speechifying gifts.

The story doesn’t end here.  Oh, no.  I went on to handily win the competition between the other three homerooms in 10th grade – their winners being the “brainiacs” who had memorized and polished and practiced their speeches until they were nothing but regurgitated facts, figures and transitional verbs.  Even the adult judges had to agree that at least I had got the audience fired up after the snooze sessions on “Why We Have Recently Learned That Smoking Endangers Health,”  Christ’s Seven Step Plan For Teenagers,” and “The Mennonite Diaspora.”

This meant that I was bound for the district championships.  Obviously by this time I was cockier than a rooster who had had copulated with all the hens in his coop MULTIPLE TIMES.  I went from being one of the nerds to being the cool kid with voice throwing gifts who could make it sound like little Miss Popular and Pretty over in the corner had a nasty case of gas.  It was a week or three of pure heaven.

I was so enjoying my recently-found celebrity status that somehow I completely forgot that I was meant to be stepping-up my speech; practicing, refining it.  I was going to be running with the big dogs: the best 10th grade orators in all of Abbotsford school district.

The day before the big district competition I got a vague discomfort in my stomach and a niggling in the back of my brain that I should be doing something.  What’s that?  Practicing?  Well, maybe.  Just a bit.  I conceded that another run-through or two might not be such a bad idea.  I even went so far as to practice in the full-length mirror in the hallway.  First, I needed to gauge my entrance, and to be sure I stood at such an angle that was most flattering for my stocky frame.  That brought on a whole new set of worries.  What was I going to wear?

I abandoned the practice session for an impromptu rummage through the closet and came out victorious with my new, shiny-buttoned overalls, a rocking plaid shirt and my mother’s high heeled clogs that were a bit too big, but who was going to notice?  I looked bitchin’!

I went to bed smug and self-satisfied, assured of wrapping the competition up with a bow and taking home the prize.  What’s more, my notes fit perfectly in the pocket of my bib overalls.  Not that I needed them.  I’d just have them handy in case.  I knew my clever little speech backwards and forwards.

The next morning I woke up and decided to make my outfit a bit jauntier yet by creating a ponytail on the side of my head.  Mix it up a bit.  Square Peg.  Round Hole.  Rebel.  I loved it.  I click-clacked to school in the clogs, only stumbling once on the way to carpool.

My English teacher drove Clive Driedger (the runner up) and me to Abby Senior after morning homeroom.  The class wished me luck with a hoot and a holler and as those sounds tinkled away into the distance, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be hearing them again.

I sat in the back seat and ran through my notes while Clive engaged Ms. (She was a liberated Mennonite feminist!) Klassen in a philosophical discussion about the rapture and did she think that it was okay for Christians to get cremated.  The car smelled of scented tissues and wet dog.  It made me sleepy.  I had a bit of a snooze and dreamt of bringing home the coveted cup.  I wondered if I could make my way all the way to the 10th grade WORLD championships and if there was such a thing.  Surely, I’d have a shot at the big times.

My dreamy state dissipated immediately upon stepping into the auditorium of the high school.  There must have been 300 or more people present, most of them adults.  Would they be capable of appreciating the finer nuances of my speech, I wondered.   Where were all the 10th grade gum-chewing, fart-faking boys who would have been cheering me along to victory? 

Way, way down the centre aisle, at the very front of the daunting auditorium, were two tables, with five chairs each.  As I clopped down the aisle toward the stage, I felt deeply ashamed.  It wasn’t a wedding, of course, but suddenly, walking down the aisle in my farm girl overalls and clunky mother’s clogs, I knew that something was amiss.  I had made a fatal error in judgment.  Cockiness had superseded sense.  I was the wrong person in the wrong place in the wrong clothes making the wrong speech.  I wanted to turn and run, but my pride and the ridiculously large clogs prevented me from making an escape.  They clopped loudly down the wooden aisle, echoing into the cavernous space.

The other tenth graders that greeted me with eyes either askance and averted, might just as well have been stock traders on Wall Street.  Suits. Ties.  Blazers.  Pumps.  Shiny. Polished. Combed.  Automotans.

And then there was me: my limp pony tail dangling from the left side of my head was an apt metaphor for my feelings in that moment.  It wasn’t pretty. I was looking down the pike of a disaster and there was no averting it.  For all my lack of insight, I knew, even then, that the only way out of a situation is to go through it.  And so I did.

I listened to one speech after the other, each more polished and professional than the last.  Students paused at the right moments, ahemed and aha-ed in just the right places, and with effortless flicks of the wrist, moved from one fresh cue card to the next.  Each of them was tight and practiced, like a first class circus act, only minus the entertainment.

Even in the depths of my humiliation, I couldn’t help noticing that not one of the students possessed the charisma that I had and there wasn’t an iota of spontaneity.  I have no doubt that every last one of those candidates is now the CEO of a major company or is managing hedge funds or entrepreuring their way out of paper sacks.  I will also wager a million dollars that not one of them is an evangelist or even a traveling salesperson.  They were all yawn-worthy.  You could call my speech a whole lot of things, but you could not call it that.

And so, when my name was called, I summoned my courage and charisma, and took to the podium, pulling my sodden A-4 crumpled paper out of the bib of my overalls in case I should need it.

I took a deep breath, looked out at the crowd of conservative, judgmental folks eying me with trepidation and put the notes down.  I wouldn’t need these.  These people were in dire need of entertainment, and I was about to give them a run for their money.

I burped.  I farted.  I simulated orgasms.  (Okay, that was When Harry Met Sally, but I do recall doing something that merged on being nearly as inappropriate.)  I told my lewd jokes and made sure people knew how NOT to behave at the dinner table or in front of distinguished company. 

I felt my face burning red throughout my impassioned speech, but I forged on, ad-libbing and making full use of the stage.  Why use a podium when there was an entire stage to be exploited?  The clogs echoed as I stomped around, vividly waving my arms.  In my avid gesticulating, one of the buttons on my overalls came undone causing the strap to slip down over my shoulder.

Ladies and gentlemen, the speech was well and truly a disaster in most every sense of the word.  I have no recollection of how it ended or if I even did end it, but I found myself back in my seat after eight minutes, approximately three minutes over the five minute deadline.  The applause was muted to say the least.  After the exhilaration of my one-woman show, I was now a limp, shuddering mess whose one clog had someone been lost in the exodus from the stage to my seat.

There was a ten minute recess while the judges conferred and people made a beeline for the bathrooms.  I skulked to the stage steps to retrieve my clog, clipped my overall strap into place and sat with my head down, hands folded in my lap.  The animated clown had metamorphed into a lifeless ventriloquist’s doll.  That’s what I felt and looked like.  My eyes stayed down, even while the judges came to the stage to make their pronouncements.

Readers. I have no surprises for you at this point in the story.  I think you can guess the ending.  Well, almost.  I didn’t come last.  Well, not exactly.  I placed ninth out of tenth.  Because two people tied for seventh.

I think this is the outfit I wore, only WITH clogs!

As an addendum: in 2008 I won the Toastmasters championship for public speaking in China - yes, I speak better English than a billion Mandarin speaking folks.  Now that's saying something!  

I did learn some lessons on that fateful day.  My biggest lesson, surprisingly, was not that I need to change so very much but that I need to stay true to myself.  I am who I am and people seem to like it okay.  (I do, however, wear properly fitted shoes when on stage, I never wear my hair in a ponytail on the side of my head, and I have given up the overalls.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fascination of Old Friends on Facebook

Social media can be (and often is for me) a massive productivity loss, but it satisfies a yearning in me to connect with my past, feel good about my present, and to realize that a lot of those people I have lost touch with have helped me form opinions and in many thousands of little ways made me who I am today.

I was indulging my voyeuristic tendencies on facebook this evening (even better than celebrity gossip magazines because I get let in on the minutiae of people I actually know), and I finally figured out that if I clicked on the two heads in the lefthand corner it would take me to the “people you may know” category.  There are, apparently, millions of people I may know, but do not know because after an hour of scrolling, there were yet still more friend suggestions.  It feels planetary in its scale.

While ambling through and clicking on some familiar names and faces (many, being in the forty something bracket of people, whose faces don’t even remotely resemble their names), more than once I came across a name, thinking, “Oh, I knew that person from high school” and when I clicked on their name, it was, “Oops, I taught that person.”

Yes, age sneaks up on you and not just on your fat cells, either, as evidenced by many-a-picture.  I still remember the day I walked into Mrs. Olsen's 1st grade classroom thinking I had hit the big leagues.  Many are the days I step into my own classroom thinking to myself in amazement, "I'm the teacher?"

It's fun to be "friends" with your present-day friends on facebook, but I must say, I am much more fascinated by my friends from the past.  I am nearly 30 years away from high school graduation and my Greendale, conservative Mennonite upbringing.  To "spy" on the lives of the kids I once shared a three room country school house with and see how their lives have changed (and not), is endlessly fascinating.

Is Dale still eating lemon cheese sandwiches?  (What is lemon cheese anyway?)  Does Sharon still snub her nose at authority?  (Yup!  You go, girl!)  What about one the closest buddies of my youth: Karen?  Has she done all she aspired to as a young dreamer?  (You bet she has and then some!)  Does Reggie still not know the difference between there, their and they're?  (I wouldn't know because he's one of the few who has kept himself free from the facebook addiction.  Maybe he's embarrassed because he can't spell.)   Is Mrs. Johnston still wearing pastel short-sleeved pantsuits with long sleeves underneath?  (Let's hope that fashion trend doesn't come back!)  I could spend hours surfing through the pages of people I have long-ago lost contact with and feel a nostalgia and curiosity that I don't feel about many other things in life.

I've always been drawn to realistic fiction that delves into character studies to the deepest degree. I don't need action or mystery or suspense, just ordinary people figuring out their every day realities.  Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, and Jonathan Franzen are all masters of the art.

People are stories unto themselves. Their plots are what comes out of the living of their lives.  When I look through people's facebook pages (especially the vociferous ones), I find myself unraveling the mysteries and equations of their lives through their posts, their pictures and the comments other people make.

Recently, a "friend" of mine has been coming unwound on facebook from what I can only diagnose from afar as schizophrenia.  I am tempted to "unfriend" her because it seems like I am watching a car crash in slow motion as her posts become more and more delusional, yet I find myself watching for her posts, wondering what is true-to-life and what is true-to-mind, and hoping she is getting help.  One could publish her comments along with the comments of her friends and actually frame together a plot for a book that would be tragically compelling.

It's so easy to get political on facebook, my biggest temptation, and it's also easy to dwell on how it's not Friday yet and how all the people in your life are losers except for you.  For myself, I try to keep my comments positive and upbeat.  Part of it, I suppose, is that I want people to think I am prospering and happy and successful, that the freckled, big-boned "church girl" from Greendale has become a world traveler and "made good."  Part of it is that I am proud of where I am and what I've done, and an even bigger part of it is that I feel called to inspire and uplift.

Of course, it would be wonderful to have a big ole facebook party and invite all the people from my past and see how things are beyond the virtual reality that we communicate in and often just peer in on without communicating at all.  Given that I live thousands of miles away and don't have a piece of property large enough to hold a bring-your-own-beer massive potluck, I don't see this happening, but I like the idea that we're kind of doing it virtually.  What are you bringing to the party?  No alcohol from this old fuddy-duddy: more like watermelon and rollkuchen, because I'm still a church girl at heart.

Which reminds me of my favourite old campfire song from Camp Squeah:

Make new friends
But keep the old:
One is silver
And the other gold.

A relatively new "silver" friend: just as valuable as the gold!

The best thing of all about facebook?  I can reacquaint myself with some of the golden friends of my past!  I've lost touch with too many dear people over the years due to high school craziness, anti-social tendencies and my life in Asia.  My new start every day is to become a better friend to some of those golden friends, even if it's through the virtual world.  Who said all friendships need to be face-to-face?