Sunday, December 27, 2009

Out With The Old, In With The New

I've eaten too many chocolates this Christmas. And too many chips and cookies and crap. And like many others, on January 1st, 2010, I'm going to resolve to myself to stop consuming so much and lose a few pounds, especially before my annual trip to the spa the first weekend in February. I can't possibly lie on the massage table looking like this.

I always tell myself that I don't believe in making New Year's resolutions. That's because I pretty much never stick to them. Does anyone? I mean, the intentions are earnest, but the flesh is weak. Why do we put ourselves through the torture of yet another disappointment?

People don't only resolve to lose weight, they resolve all kinds of things in the New Year. And I often benefit from it, for instance, because people often decide to learn something new, and some of them end up coming to me to learn guitar. January is always a busy month, almost as busy as September when people go back to school and back to work. Thank goodness, because Christmas often leaves me scraping the bottom of the bank account barrel. The flurry of new students starts to dwindle by the end of January, though, as they start to face the reality of learning an instrument. I can tell pretty quickly if they're going to stick to it; learning anything takes a little practice. It doesn't have to be a lot of practice, but some people start coming in every week to tell me they haven't practiced at all.

I always tell them that practicing guitar is like flossing teeth. It's not easy to get into the habit, but it doesn't take a lot of time and the benefits are great. But even that little bit of time every day or even every two days, becomes overwhelming for some, and they start to feel guilty or embarrassed at their lack of commitment. Many of them, instead of saying that they just don't like it, end up politely coming up with other reasons for quitting. And I just have to say "It's okay, it's not your thing, no hard feelings!"

When we resolve to learn something new, it's always with the right intention, just as with resolving to lose weight or go to the gym regularly. The follow-through is the real challenge. We have lots of enthusiasm in the beginning; it's fresh, new, and we feel good about ourselves for doing it. The good intention waxes, and then it wanes. And sometimes we find out that what we thought might be a good idea is not really our thing.

Which is why I always tell a new student to rent a guitar for a month instead of buying one, and to commit to a month's worth of lessons. Then at the end of that, they can decide if they want to continue. As far as I'm concerned, if they're not getting any pleasure out of playing, it's not worth the money!

Maybe that's the same attitude we should take with our other New Year's resolutions. Try it out for a month and see how we do, and give ourselves permission to let go if it's not our thing. It doesn't mean we have to give up any hope of learning something new or losing weight or getting in shape; it just means that what we have chosen may not be the right fit. So for the month of January, I'm going to commit to eating healthier and getting more exercise.  Are you with me?

We'll see how it goes :-)


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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Real Joy of Christmas

{{en|}}Image via Wikipedia

One of my favourite events of the year is the annual Christmas Drive-Thru that CHEK Television and a number of local sponsors put on every year to raise money and donate clothes and toys and food to the Salvation Army.

The last two years it's been a live broadcast from a local hotel during the news hour. Instead of commercials, the news cuts to the hotel, where CHEK staff and other volunteers happily unload all kinds of donations from people's cars, while the Salvation Army band plays Christmas carols. My job has been the same over the past 16 years or so; I direct traffic.

I love directing traffic. I'm usually not where the real hubbub is, I'm out of the shot of the cameras and the "celebrity" staff and the unloading. But I get to see the look on driver's faces as they are approaching the main event. I direct them with a happy smile and wave them through, and they usually have big grins on their faces, looking forward to giving their donations and maybe catching the eye of one of our better known on-air personalities.

Sometimes they look a little confused because they are not sure which way to drive through, so I make sure they know where they are going. There have been a few incidences over the years when people did some pretty wacky turns or ended up on a curb in their confusion. Sometimes as they are approaching from a block or so away they start to slow down, so I enthusiastically wave them over until I see them speed up, a little more confident that they've come to the right place.

I try to catch them on the way out too, and thank them and wish them Merry Christmas. It's the best job ever, and even when it's cold or wet or miserable out, I wouldn't miss it for the world.

So the other day when I went to my father's care facility to spend the annual Christmas luncheon with him, I understood the grins on the volunteers faces as they worked tirelessly to feed everyone and sing songs and make merry. It was a huge job, even with an army of volunteers. Not only did they serve regular meals to everyone, but they served special meals to those who had special diets. The staff delivered the medications to all of those who needed it, and a lady sat on the piano and played Christmas carols, while a volunteer Santa visited and had his picture taken with every guest. We shared a table with a brother and sister who must have been in their 70's or 80's, whose 103-year-old mother was also there. She was deaf and in a wheelchair, but you could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she was definitely with it!

This is the time of year when the best comes out in a lot of people. I know, I know, the worst comes out in others, but I'm going to do my best to ignore that part of the season. Instead I want to focus all of my attention on the people who do so much for others this time of year, whether it's volunteering at a care facility, or standing in the cold ringing a bell and taking donations. I'm going to contribute by patiently letting the driver in my lane, even if he didn't signal first, or opening the door for someone who's got an armful of packages.

Let's face it, Christmas is a difficult time for a lot of people. Maybe in some way, it is for you. So if you're feeling the need, do something for yourself by doing something, no matter how small, for somebody else.

And have yourself a Merry Little Christmas :-)

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dirty Business of Climate Change

The first Earthrise photographed by humansImage via Wikipedia

I really don't like how politicized climate change has become. Whatever your opinion is, you're automatically labeled a right-wing extremist or a lefty tree hugger. If you believe that climate change is a natural, as opposed to a human-made occurrence, you've got this set of scientists to prove it. Those who believe that we humans are to blame for this have another set of scientists to back them up.

Whenever I read climate-related stories posted on the internet by anyone other than traditional news sources, I try to research who's writing it and, even more importantly, who pays them. It's amazing what you find out when you spend just a few extra moments digging around. Now I'm not saying that all scientists are paid to make their claims, but a lot of them are certainly sought out by particular companies or organizations once they make their opinions public.

The rest of us poor sods are left without really knowing anything for sure, and unable to trust what we do hear. It's not a very good idea to confuse the general public, and it's really stupid to fight in front of us because it makes the whole problem seem BORING. Throw your scientific jargon, your charts and geographical terms at us for too long and we simply nod off. When you start to see our stifled yawns, you can bet you've blown it as far as your cause is concerned.

I don't doubt for a second that we could do a lot more to take better care of his place we call home. We really are pigs, we human beings. In fact, pigs are cleaner. Those of us here in the western hemisphere are the worst slobs. We don't think twice about dumping garbage and sludge just about anywhere, especially all of the stuff that we've grown tired of (we have TOO MUCH stuff in the first place!). We pat ourselves on the back for filling the blue box (recycling, for those of you who don't know the term!), and for putting a compost in the back yard. But we appear to prefer our kids to sit inside and play video games, rather than make them go OUTSIDE and play in the dirt. Kids should play in the dirt. How are we going to raise a generation that cares about the earth when all we've taught them is that the playground is full of bad germs and creepy crawlers? Kids are getting TOO germ free.

As you may have guessed, I tend to lean towards humans having some responsibility when it comes to climate change. I come to that conclusion by my own logic and reasoning, however, because for the life of me I could never hope to argue about it scientifically. A very large number of humans on this earth are just like lazy teenagers who won't lift a finger to clean their rooms. That's enough evidence right there, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm not even sure that scientists always know what they are talking about anyway, for one simple reason: they are human beings. It is human nature, when we have a theory, to fight to the finish defending it. We don't like to be proven wrong, even when we are. You don't hear much about scientists jumping from one side to another in this debate either, unless it is in retrospect; "I USED to think this, now I think that...". Yeah, right.

I don't like big, dirty companies who'll do anything to get out of cleaning up after themselves. But neither do I like loud-mouth activists with their holier-than-thou pronunciations, trying to make me feel bad about myself. I already feel bad enough about myself, thank you very much.

Both sides disgust me! And that's the main problem with any discussion about climate change these has become ugly, and neither side is appealing in any way.

Unfortunately, this polarization effect is going to get in the way of anything major being accomplished in Copenhagen. What we really ought to do is put the scientists on both sides in a big hot room to duke it out amongst themselves, and take all the money away from them. We'll see who "wins" that way. And the rest of us should just get back to business in our yards and start cleaning up our own crap.

There. I'm feeling much better.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Is Tolerance, Really?

Protestor Holds Bottle, Oakland RiotsImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Let us not speak of tolerance.
This negative word implies grudging concessions by smug consciences.
Rather, let us speak of mutual understanding and mutual respect.
Father Dominique Pire 

I hear the word "tolerance" bandied about quite often, and the above quote puts my feelings about it in a nutshell.  Tolerance implies that we are simply putting up with something or someone, and what is the good in that, really?  A lot of people use the word in a sort of glorified manner;  "practice tolerance", "encouraging tolerance".  And every time I hear it used that way, it seems somewhat holier-than-thou to me.  What does practicing tolerance mean anyway?  "Here I am, putting up with your stupid behaviour because I'm a tolerant person."  Yeah, so?

When I wrote an earlier blog on compassion I had no trouble sitting down and coming up with thoughts and scenarios about it.  The word tolerance came up a few times in the last couple of weeks, which made me think that I should write about it also.  But when I first sat down to do so, I hit a wall because I don't think it's a very good or descriptive word.  In the above quote, Father Pire attempts to pare it down to "mutual understanding and mutual respect".  Even though I agree with that sentiment, there has to be something better than that to describe what the "t" word falls short of doing.

Occasionally my guitar students describe me as a very patient teacher.  Patience is defined in as: 

1. the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
2. an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner. 

The thing is that I don't FEEL impatient or annoyed with them;  I am not suppressing restlessness in any way.  Which makes me think that these are the things they are actually feeling themselves!  It doesn't bother me at all how long it takes, or how many mistakes are made, but it probably bothers them.  So am I patient, or not?

To have tolerance or patience seems to mean  a feeling of intolerance or impatience initially, and simply not expressing it.  In other words, there are members of my family with whom I am extremely tolerant of and patient :-).

So it appears that the whole purpose is to not come to the point of those negative feelings in the first place...or, if you do, to nip them in the bud right away.  This, to me, is a much more interesting subject, and probably means making a lot more effort!  How do we not feel these things?  And what do we call it when we don't?

If I can venture into Buddhist thought for a moment, Buddhists say that much of what causes our psychological and emotional ailments is our sense of "self".  When we see ourselves as separate from everything and everyone else, not only do we suffer with expectation, disappointment and a sense of entitlement, as discussed in my earlier blog on Compassion, but we often have difficulty understanding and accepting others, simply because they are "different".   We become prejudiced and judgmental, and yes, intolerant and impatient to boot!

It's amazing what self-examination brings to surface.  And often, just standing back and observing your own thoughts, especially in a situation that proves challenging, will actually dissipate the negative stuff to some degree, if not entirely.  However, many people are dealing with something else too...fear.  And fear is a very powerful pill.  When we don't understand something or someone, our fears can rise up and completely overtake us, leading us to all kinds of negative feelings and behaviour.  So we put up our dukes.  Religious and racial intolerance have lead to wars since the beginning of humankind.  And not only don't we understand others, we also want them to be like us.  What an added complication!

I think we started to get it right in the 60's (yeah, I know, you probably think I'm somehow still stuck there :-)), when peace and love were the words of the day and we began to fight against racism and injustice and to protest wars.   I remember watching news footage of all of these events on our little black and white TV, and feeling a tangible sense of good things to come, even though I was just a kid and didn't really know any better.  My parents kind of scoffed at the long hair and wild clothes, showing their own intolerance I suppose, but in their own hearts they were also anti-war and against racism.

There are still individuals and groups out there who are trying to change the world in a good way, but it's not foremost in kids' minds anymore, and we older folks have become rather complacent since we sent our last tie-dyed t-shirt to the Sally Ann.  How much has the world really changed?  These days there seems to be more religious and racial intolerance than ever;  more recently we see factions of both Muslim and Christian groups ready to kill each other at a moment's notice, and even though there is now a black president in the US, you can Google Michelle Obama and find horrible caricatures of her as a half-monkey on the internet.   And we humans always seem to find something (or someone) new to hate.

As much as we'd like to finger point, the truth of it is that we each have some of those tendencies inside.  As an example, I remember walking down a street close to my home a couple of years back and a small group of black males walking towards me.  They wore their pants below their butts and had splashy hoodies on, with the hood on top of their skewed baseball caps, and they pretty much looked like they could easily have just scored some drugs on another street corner somewhere.  I'm ashamed to say that I felt fear.  I was walking with someone else at the time and we talked about it after we had passed them.  I don't think the conclusion I jumped to, that these were people I should fear, even came as complete sentence in my mind.  It was a very automatic, almost instinctual response, which leads me to think that there is something biological or "programmed" going on too.  But that's no excuse.  I have a brain, and not only do I have a brain, I have one that can reason and distinguish and understand all kinds of things if I take the time to do so.

I am a person who examines myself and my thoughts often enough because it is my nature to do so.  I certainly can't expect people who don't know how to look at themselves that way to get past their own intolerance any time soon.

So what is a word that describes tolerance, but without the intolerance to begin with?  Maybe the reason I can't find one is that it doesn't exist.  Yet.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Good News Is Good News

TOKYO - DECEMBER 06:  Toyota launches 'Violin-...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
I woke up at about 3 am this morning, as is my habit these days, and instantly my mind was filled with worries and concerns, stresses and sorrows. But this time, rather than allowing myself to wallow in that misery, I decided that I wasn't going to let myself go there. For a change, I said to myself, I'm going to stop those thoughts dead in their tracks and focus on some happy thoughts.

Later in the morning as I was perusing the latest news on the web, I came across a link to a Time Magazine list of the best (according to them) inventions of 2008. What a great find! I thought to myself, and began to go through and read about all of the entries on their list. Some of them I can live without; for example, their number one choice, the "Retail DNA Test". You can send a sample of your saliva to various companies and they will tell you all about your genes, including your predisposition to 90 different traits. Well, personally, I don't care to worry about the chances of my getting various diseases. What would be the point in that? It would just give me something crappy to worry about at 3 am which would ruin my happy thoughts plan entirely.

However, there were some other great inventions that I didn't even know about on that list of 50, and it makes me wonder why the heck don't we see these stories in the headlines for a change? I know North and South Korea have a lot of problems with each other but I get tired of hearing it, and frankly it's been 56 years, can't they get over it? I'd rather hear about this new algae biofuel that they've been working on at Arizona State University, which would practically be identical to gasoline, but without the carbon. There's a lot more to why it would be such a great replacement for gasoline, so click on the link to read all about it.

But wouldn't it be nicer to read headlines that talk about new biofuels rather than ALWAYS having to read about our planet being in peril? I mean, I understand that a lot of people don't accept climate change yet, but you've gotta give a person (especially me) hope!

Then there's Eistein's Fridge. You betcha this guy was smart! He invented a refridgerator that uses amonia, butane and water to cool the interior instead of that crappy, atmosphere-destructive freon. It wasn't all that efficient when he was working on it, so scientists at Oxford University have taken the invention and improved upon it enough to bring it into the 21st century. You mean I can have a fridge that works just fine but doesn't poison the atmosphere? Thank you Albert, you are the gift that keeps on giving.

Okay, how about this? Smog-eating cement!! I'm not kidding. They mix an extra chemical into cement, and it reduces the nitrous oxides in the area by as much as 60%. It's being tested in Milan, Italy. I'm all ready to email my city council and ask them if they can start mixing it in our city sidewalks.

There are other inventions on Time's list that I'm not so excited about, like social robots. You know, those robots the Japanese seem to love that have facial expressions and can interact with you. I'm thinking that I'm not that desperate for friends. Yet. Maybe when I'm 90 and nobody wants to deal with me, I'll get myself one of those robots to give me a bath with a smile. He'll be really cute and tell me how gorgeous I am, and he'll feed me grapes and maybe even chew them for me.

And unless Nike's new Zoom Victory track spike running shoe can actually do the running and huffing and puffing for me, I'm not too excited about how light it is. Can it make me light? Lighter? I don't like running anyway. So I was pretty happy to find a list of inventions that included a few things that could end up making our future a little brighter.

You can read the whole list at Time Magazine's website. And I'm vowing to report right here whenever I find more good news out there in the universe. 'Cause I just know it's out there somewhere...

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Sunday, November 8, 2009


YANGON, MYANMAR - APRIL 24:  Pearl Oo, 13 mont...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
It's easy to feel compassion for some beings; for example, a small, helpless animal or a hungry child in some far away, desolate and impoverished country. Our hearts immediately go out to them. Compassion is defined in the dictionary as: - sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy; pity But feeling compassion for some is not so easy. 

When the guy cuts in front of us in traffic, or we experience some self-serving loudmouth on television or hear a story about a thief grabbing an old lady's purse, compassion is the furthest thing from our minds. We'd rather give them what they "deserve", punish them and put them away somewhere. We don't WANT to feel compassion for these people. And yet our spiritual and religious heroes have always preached compassion and caring for all people. So how do we achieve this nearly impossible feat? 

I often like to read and ponder inspirational quotes. Sometimes a certain turn of phrase or thought can change my entire perspective, or give me a fresh and even sometimes mind-altering view of the world and human nature. So I'm going to include a few quotes on compassion here in hopes that maybe they will help you to find some for someone in your life who needs it. 

Albert Einstein said: "A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

Einstein wasn't the first smart guy to express this idea of our feelings of separation. When we feel separate from everyone else in the universe, how can we possibly hope to have empathy for them all? But the fact is, as Carl Sagan used to say, that we are all physically made of the same stuff of the universe, right down to the last cell in our bodies. I would take that one step further to say, at the risk of raising the ire of some religious leaders, that we are also made of the same spiritual "stuff", and what really divides us is our interpretation of the world and human nature. Ultimately what divides us most is our thoughts.

Diane Berke, a Reverend, author and teacher says: "The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind's primary tool of separation." When we are so consumed with judging people and their actions, it only emphasizes our feelings of separation. For instance, when we hear the story about the guy stealing the old lady's person, naturally, our compassion goes to the old lady, and we are quick to judge and condemn the slimy thief. We don't dig any deeper, and why would we?

This is an age of short attention spans quick sound bites and most of the time we don't pay attention to anything more than the glaring headlines. But no person is made up of one simple act, and if we were to take the time to look at the entire lives of these two characters, we would likely find good and bad in each of them. And surprise! We would probably also see ourselves.

Eugene V. Debs who was a union leader and activist in the U.S. in the late 1800's said this: "Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." When you can see yourself in someone else, suddenly you can't judge them in the same way anymore. Granted, it is difficult to see oneself in a criminal for example, but every human being was once a small, innocent child, and has had dreams and fears, hopes and disappointments just as we all have. But even if we do open ourselves up to feeling compassion for all living creatures, there are six billion people in the world, many suffering at the same time through terrible things.

Joanna Macy says: "Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it's uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing -- resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings." We certainly don't want to have to contend with emotional overload. It's like trying to donate money to every single organization or needy human being in the world...there just isn't enough. So we have to start small, within our own little world and with the people in our lives who are not so easy to feel compassion for. It doesn't really take much.

Leo Buscaglia, one of my favourite writers and speakers, said : "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." Compassion is not just a feeling, it is also an act.

A Buddhist saying goes something like this: "If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path." What you do for someone else, you also do for yourself, which ultimately brings you happiness. The practice of compassion is an ongoing one, and it does take "practice". I read somewhere once that you can begin by closing your eyes and imagine the people you love and care about, and then progress by visualizing yourself transferring those feelings over to someone you have trouble with. I've tried it a few times, and if nothing else, it takes away my feelings of anger and hostility, if only for a little while. And that's a start!

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."- H.H. the Dalai Lama

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

We Must First Set Our Hearts Right

Leave It to Beaver (season 2)Image via Wikipedia
My daughter often jokes that my mother, who passed away in 1972, was a real "Leave It To Beaver" mom, and that I'm nothing like that. My mother was the typical housewife of that time; she was a great cook, kept her house spic and span, took care of me and my Dad, and we were her whole life. Of course, there was a lot more to my mother before her life with us, and I found out some things about her long after she died that gave a much more complete and realistic picture of her. But in the years before she became sick, I had a wonderful childhood, and being an only child I was the centre of my parents' universe.

I guess my daughter is right, it felt like a "Leave It To Beaver" life. I was lucky! Realistically, families are nothing like that idealized 50's version from TV. Partners split up, certain members don't get along, and in some cases become permanently estranged. There are family secrets, disagreements, jealousies and it can get worse from there. More often than not, divorce takes its toll, kids get shuttled around and life gets very confusing.

In my case, after my mother died, my father remarried and we became a blended family, which is quite common. I inherited a different culture, different traditions, and a whole bunch of new family, many that I have heard of but to this day have not met. I had two new siblings but they were older than me so we never lived together. However I can imagine that when the kids of two families suddenly have to live in the same house and share everything, that can be challenging.

But even in families that remain relatively intact, there can be many problems. Personalities clash, circumstances change, fortunes come and go. Good relationships can occasionally become stressed by the changes that are inevitable and even the closest of families have their burdens to bear. Not long ago my sister and I were sitting over coffee discussing family matters, and we reached the same conclusion.

Family relationships can be complicated, and this can become much more evident when big changes happen such as older members becoming sick or passing away and decisions having to be made because of it. The cream rises, but so can the crap! True personalities suddenly come to light, loyalties change, and it can be a very trying time for everyone involved.

All of you out there reading this are probably nodding your heads in recognition of the disappointments that happen in families. You likely find yourself closer to some family members than others, maybe you feel you have to put up with someone who you would never have chosen to associate with had they not been in your clan. And for some of you, it has been necessary to estrange yourself from an unhealthy family situation completely. Over time and since the idealistic Leave It To Beaver days of the 50's, we have learned to accept that there is really no such thing as the perfect family. Or have we?

If there is one occasion, one time of year that brings out the familial disconnections and disappointments, it's Christmas. For many, there are people in the family you love to see at Christmas, and those you have to see. There are great expectations and devastating disappointments that occur every Christmas that have nothing to do with getting the gift you really wanted.

And now I'm finally getting to the point of this particular blog...expectations. The psychologically healthiest people in the world are the ones who have let go of expectations and found a way to appreciate the family they actually have. We can't allow ourselves to be sucked into the happily-ever-after Hollywood view of things, it simply doesn't exist. A "picture perfect" family can mean many things now; for example, it can be comprised of people you choose to be with whether you are related or not. There may be only one parent, there may be two of the same gender. Children can be of mixed races, religions and cultures. And sometimes you have to accept that a member of your family, doesn't want to be.

For years I used to refer to my siblings with the word "step" in front. And yet, they had no trouble simply calling me their sister. One day I found myself questioning why I had this difficulty, and realizing it was because I STILL harboured this idealized view of my old family, the one I had until I was 14. Maybe that's a natural wasn't my choice for my mother to die, and it wasn't my choice for my father to re-marry. But that is what happened. And in the last few years as our parents have aged and we have become more involved in their care together, without any demands or expectations, my sister and brother have taught me what family is really about.

"To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right." - Confucious

No, blood isn't always thicker than water. Thank you DL and DC. Love, Sis
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Being A Girl

Female symbol. Created by Gustavb.Image via Wikipedia
For the most part, I like being a girl. There are some days when I don't, of course, but since that day in elementary school when I was terrified of having to climb the ropes in P.E. and found out I didn't have to because only the boys had to climb them, I've been relatively relieved to be a girl.

Before I started elementary school, I only played with boys because we didn't have as many girls in the neighbourhood at the time. I was, in fact, afraid of one group of girls who were a little older than me and used to come by my house and call me "cute". I didn't like them. Boys, to me, were easier to get along with. I enjoyed playing with toy cars and building forts and putting on plays in the back yard. I wasn't much for dolls. You might have thought of me as a tomboy, but I wasn't that either. I just liked what I liked. I hated wearing dresses because we had to wear them in school. My favourite day of the year was sports day when we all competed in various competitions. I didn't like sports, particularly, I just liked that I could wear shorts to school on sports day. Ah. Much more comfortable.

The hormone thing changed my relationship with boys considerably. Their hormones, not mine. I wasn't at all comfortable with being attractive to males in the beginning. Eeeww. I distinctly remember standing at the bus stop once when I was about 13 and some guy in a big dump truck whistling at me out of his window. I wasn't sure what to do. What does that MEAN??? It was a very weird experience, but it began happening more and more as I blossomed (I hate that word, is there a better one? I'm not a petunia for pete's sake.) I suppose I should have appreciated being attractive to anyone, but mostly it made me cringe.

I did, however, have that feminine urge to get married and have children. I understand the drive to do so although I know that not every female experiences that feeling. One of the most profound experiences in my life was giving birth to my first daughter. There was this unbelievable sense of accomplishment from if my body had done exactly what it was supposed to. I can't describe it any other way. So it seemed to me that this was my purpose, but once I had actually achieved those goals, I felt at a loss as to what I should do next. Was that it? Get married, have children...ta da?

That was when I began to focus my energies more on my music again. Being a female alone, out late at night and packing up after a gig somewhere made me somewhat vulnerable I suppose. Many times there were guys who would go out of their way to help me load my gear and accompany me to my car, and I always appreciated that very much. On one occasion I was moving my gear to my car in an underground parking lot in downtown Vancouver, after a gig at a Starbucks. A friend had come to see me that night and helped me load up, which was great, but then he had to leave and I was by myself in that underground parking lot. It didn't bother me until the next morning when I heard that a guy with a 12 inch knife had entered the Starbucks probably only minutes after I left, and threatened the employees.

That's when I decided that I needed a cell phone. I often stayed with my in-laws when I performed on the mainland, but I think I worried them more than I worried about myself. My mother-in-law told me once that often she wouldn't sleep until she heard me come in. I can't say that I was particularly afraid at night because I'm not exactly a pushover. I mean, if I was confronted by someone who was trying to do something to me, I'd probably just get really mad. It's likely not the best reaction for a person to have, but that's the way I am. I think there are males out there who can smell vulnerability, but they would never have smelled it from me, and that's that!

Sometimes I wonder if my early interaction with boys gave me a better sense of them. I don't know. My daughters have taught me a lot about being a girl. They always liked the frilly dresses and fancy hair and make-up stuff that I just didn't get, and over time they've given me a better appreciation of my "girlness". It's funny because when I was carrying them, I thought they were both boys. In fact, I think I wanted boys because I understood them and figured I'd be a better Mom to boys. But I can't imagine living life without my girls now, and they were the best gift a reluctant female could ever have had. I appreciate the attention of males now more than ever. Only, now they have gone grayer. How can that be? But I am no longer uncomfortable with their gazes or flirtations, I only wish it would happen more.

So wouldn't you know it, now that my skin is starting to sag and my vision is that I'm filling out in bad places and sweltering with hot flashes...I'm finally really enjoying being a girl.

IJ [Note to self: you realize Kim is going to razz you for still calling yourself a girl :-)]
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Boy in the Balloon

Venezia 042 Tez - Brian Eno predicts YouTubeImage by watz via Flickr
Undoubtedly, you have heard all about the "balloon boy" incident by now, where a home-made experimental weather balloon was set adrift supposedly carrying a 6-year-old boy for 80 kilometers as the helicopters and media aircraft followed it, broadcasting live, of course. People began to suspect that it might be a hoax when Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked the boy a question in an interview with the family, and the boy responded that it was all "for the show". And now it has been confirmed that the whole incident was indeed a hoax, and that the family had devised the plan, hoping to get a reality TV series out of it.

Is this what family television has come to? I could sit here, as I suppose many of you could, and sound off about poor parenting and setting a horrible example for the kids. The fact is that this couple could potentially lose their children because of their idiocy. And maybe they deserve that. But what is even more significant, I think, is what it really reflects about the insanity that been created around reality shows. I've mouthed off about reality shows before; who can forget the Jon and Kate Plus 8 mess that ended up with the show being canceled, lawsuits pending, and a nasty divorce in the works? Again, the kids are the ones who are really suffering. And to put your six-year-old boy up to a nation-wide hoax JUST so you can get a reality TV series is almost incomprehensible to me. And desperately stupid.

People have become certifiably nuts about media and fame and money, and in the U.S. this insanity seems even more exaggerated. YouTube is also contributing to this hysterical drive for attention. People do absolutely outrageous things in order to create a video that may potentially "go viral". Some of these videos involve hurting people or animals or destroying property; there are beatings, fights, people let their small children drive a vehicle, for pete's sake. And then they are stupid enough to post these videos on YouTube; do they not realize that the authorities can figure out quite easily who they are and arrest them?

The desire for money and attention has truly become a sickness for so many people. And our kids are growing up with this stuff all around them, so they are almost becoming desensitized to it. It has gone far beyond posting a video of your cat chasing the light from a flashlight, or your little girl learning to ride a bike for the first time.

And where will it go from here? I think the people at YouTube are going to have to start taking more responsibility for what they are, in fact, encouraging. But who is going to hold them accountable? My guess is that majority of the staffers at YouTube are in their 20's or 30's. They have not lived long enough to understand long term consequences of anything.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox. I'm not anti-YouTube, I hang out there a lot, but obviously not to watch those kinds of videos. I'm not anti-youth, but I think a lot of them need a kick in the pants. I'm certainly not anti-television, I am in fact a co-owner of a local station. But I'm thinking that the executives at these big media and internet companies are the ones who should be scrutinized. They are only seeing $$, and they should know better. Somebody up there in that fancy office 93 stories above street level should be saying "Hey, wait a minute...".

I ain't holding my breath.


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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happiness Is Over-rated

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.Image via Wikipedia
A good friend of mine writes a weekly column in our local newspaper and over the last couple of weeks he has been focusing on the topic of happiness. We are, many of us, often consumed with the desire to be happy, and look for it in the wrong places (or in the wrong things, whichever the case may be). He includes a number of lists written by others, including psychologists, of things you can do to improve your happiness quotient.

While I agree with most of the points in those lists, like fostering a positive attitude and stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, I think there's another underlying factor at work. 

Sometimes we try to pop a "happiness pill" when we are clearly not. And when we try to sweep our misery under the carpet instead of addressing it and then letting it go...all of the happy pills we take won't work. In other words, trying to be happy can sometimes be more about going into denial and can only make things worse. I'm not saying that we should wear our misery on our sleeve and making everyone else around us miserable too. But when there are underlying problems, pushing them aside won't help.

I say this because I have dealt with depression myself and have family members who have experienced clinical depression and even worse, bi-polar disorder. In the latter case, it can only be treated with medication, which truly is like popping a "happiness pill". But depression can't be overcome simply by happy thoughts alone. Outside of a serious or clinical case of depression, I think people are often contributing to their own unhappiness because of their expectations and the feelings of entitlement. Happy is what we "should" be and when we aren't, then something is terribly wrong.

The fact is that even in the course of a day, you can easily bound from sadness to happiness and back again...and this is completely natural. If you expect to be deliriously happy all of the time, you are truly kidding yourself, and you will ultimately be disappointed. Buddhists say that the real problem is not the state of happiness or unhappiness, but clinging to one or the other.

Trying to cling to a happy state seems obvious, but why would we want to be miserable?

Actually, we often LOVE being miserable even though that seems an oxymoron. We love going over and over unhappy events in our minds, perhaps mentally punishing someone for some past hurt. Self-pity can itself be rather addictive. I think the word "happiness" itself has probably been used to death and sort of comes with its own baggage now; perhaps "contented" or "at ease" are closer to what we can achieve.

Have you ever felt contentment about something? It is not a "high", but rather a quietening of the mind and completely relaxing. If the whole world could simultaneously experience even five minutes of contentment in the true sense of the word, I'd bet you that after the five minutes was up, much of the hate, anger, violence, desire and greed would be alleviated for the following five hours. Can you imagine? Just five hours of world peace.

So here is my list for ways to achieve contentment:
  1. Feel and experience an emotion completely, then let it go. If you pay attention to the natural process of any type of emotion, it ebbs and flows. So let it.
  2. Just sit and breathe, and think of nothing but breathing
  3. Be in the moment, and if you're having trouble doing that where you are, go for a walk and pay rapt attention to every thing you see, hear and physically feel. Do everything with rapt attention.
  4. Take a nap...naps are very refreshing
  5. Follow the serenity prayer; change the things you can, don't try to change something you cannot, and learn the difference
These are just five points, I'm sure I could think of more over time. Each of them has given me a sense of peace and contentment in past, but it does take effort to remember and apply them. Even if only one of them stands out or works for you, keep using it and I know it'll help you to relieve some of the misery and stress of your daily life. Most of all, stop expecting to be happy, and ironically, you'll probably start to!

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Something To Be Thankful For

Sir Martin Frobisher by Cornelis Ketel, c.Image via Wikipedia
I don't remember celebrating Thanksgiving too much when I was a kid. Sometimes I wonder if we really did anything at all...I remember events from school, but not from home. My mother was a Danish immigrant, and I don't think my father paid much attention to the holiday either since he was born to Danish immigrants.

Thanksgiving came more about as I got older when my father remarried after the death of my mother. And slowly over the years, I created my own Thanksgiving with my family, so I sort of grew into it, you might say. 

I'm grateful that Canadian Thanksgiving happens earlier than the American one. Plain and simply, I like the longer break between turkeys :-). Our harvest happens earlier in the year because we are further north, which is part of the reason, but the original Canadian Thanksgiving happened in 1578 when English explorer Martin Frobisher, (portrait to the right) who was trying to find a northern passage to China, ended up in Newfoundland. He wanted to give thanks for surviving the long journey, so he gave a formal ceremony and the tradition grew from there.

When we sit down as a family these days, it's a rare thing! So I enjoy that aspect of it the most. I also enjoy the preparations for the meal. The kitchen smells good all day and getting everything timed just right pleases me to no end when I actually succeed :-). Last Thanksgiving we sat as we usually do and went around the table, also our tradition, so everyone can express their thanks for all that we have. Little did we know that less than a month later, my husband would be laid off and our lives would turn upside down.

This Thanksgiving, we'll be sitting down having survived this last year with my husband back at work now and a whole bunch of lessons learned. That is truly something to be grateful for. I look at my life right at this moment and realize just how much I have. It's important to take a moment to be grateful for that every now and then, but Thanksgiving gives us a chance to really celebrate it too. It was a tough, but ultimately very fruitful year in ways we would never have imagined. So to those of you who are celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, I send my best wishes and hope that you remember everything that you, too, have! And don't eat too much :-)

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Waste of Time

Typical phonograph tonearmImage via Wikipedia
There is a television promo that runs on the Comedy Channel with the tag line "Time Well Wasted". Well, it's the Comedy Channel, so of course they're going to be irreverent. But remember when having fun as a kid was often considered by our parents to be a waste of time? They wanted us to buckle down and do our homework, or finish our chores around the house...instead we ran around with the neighbourhood kids playing cops and robbers or putting on plays in the back yard.

Or we watched TV and listened to the radio or record player. Record player? Now I'm dating myself. We know a little better now that play time is important to kids, that life shouldn't be all about work. But as adults, we've taken on some of our parents' ideas and attitudes, whether we know it or not, and we've become awfully serious.

Where and when did this change happen? I find myself growling at politicians, worrying about the state of mother earth, never leaving valuables in the car, making sure I take my vitamins and get my 7 or 8 hours boring can a person get?? And I don't know about you, but I'm realizing that I do things now that truly ARE a colossal waste of time. The point is that I am so much in the habit of doing these things now, that it's almost impossible for me to stop. So I'm going to list them here in no particular order in hopes of one day freeing myself from their useless grip.
  • Staying angry - anger is a perfectly natural thing to feel and we're all going to feel it from time to time. The real waste of time comes in when we hang on to it or even escalate it, dragging the whole thing out for hours or days, or even months and years. But to what end? Do we really think we're getting even with somebody by staying angry with them? Most of the time they don't even know it and we are the only ones who suffer. Staying angry is stupid. I have wasted so much time in this pathetic state.
  • Judging people - I really don't have any idea what is going on in somebody else's head, no matter how well I think I know them. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes. And I'm particularly bad at knowing anything about somebody I've never personally met. Well, duh. But I will sit there and watch somebody on TV or read about them somewhere, and come to all kinds of conclusions about them anyway. That's why tabloid papers and television do so well--because of people like me who take great pleasure in deciding all kinds of deliciously bad things about somebody I've never even been in the same room with. How utterly ridiculous is that?
  • Suffering a past event or trauma - someone once told me about an experience in one of those anonymous meetings. This person was aghast at how many people my age and older were STILL blaming their parents for everything bad that happened in their lives. I remember thinking at the time "It's over, let it go! Get on with your life." But I know myself that I will still waste time suffering over something that happened a long time ago, dragging myself through the upset time and again. Why on earth do we do this? The thought pops into our head for whatever reason, and we just grab on to it and suffer all over again. Let it go, Irene, let it go.
  • Worrying - I am really good at this one. If I don't have anything to worry about, my over-active mind will actually LOOK for something. Is that stupid, or what? Worry is absolutely the most useless state; it does nothing to fix anything and for the most part all it does is exercise your sweat glands and wreak havoc on your nervous system. I can't think of anything I do that wastes more time. And yet, lying in bed at 3 o'clock in the morning, it can take over my entire being in the darkest way. Worry is about over-thinking and over-thinking is something we all do.
In fact, over-thinking is where most of these malignancies occur. In Buddhism, they call it "monkey mind", where it can't stop jumping around from thought to thought, causing absolute mayhem. Maybe you can add to this list of wastes of time. For your sake, I hope not! So what on earth can I do to stop them? I'm going to have to think on that.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Snake Oil and Sleazeballs

Utrecht: Used Car SalesImage by harry_nl via Flickr
My hackles go up as soon as I see them coming. I do my best to steer clear of the beeline they're making towards me, but I guess they're used to being avoided and most of the time they catch up faster than I am expecting.

I keep my eyes on anything else...look at the lovely couch, oh, I think I need new ear buds, those red ones are pretty. Nice car. But when they're right in front of me, there is no more I can do to avoid them. I must engage.

Over the years I have developed an unhealthy attitude towards sales people, telemarketers, pitchmen and the like. I know that there are nice ones out there, but even they will almost never have a chance with me because I've already made up my mind that they are slimy snake oil salesmen before they have opened their mouths.

Several weeks ago I opened the front door to a young guy who I immediately was suspicious of. "How are you today?" he said. Lousy first line. I don't want to tell an absolute stranger how I am today, why do they always ask that? He was young, inexperienced, and I guess that was the only way he knew how to introduce himself. I gave him a curt "Fine." He knew that he was going to have to work hard to sell me anything after that.

Once more he tried to warm me up with a smile and a "Great weather we're having...". I rolled my eyes and shut the door. I was torn between feeling bad that I had shut the door on him, and relieved that I didn't have to deal with whatever he was trying to sell me. I immediately had a hot flash.

On a visit with my elderly parents once years ago, a young fellow knocked at the door and my father answered. I was within earshot and heard this young guy trying to get my Dad to give him money to help "fund" his "education". Yeah sure. He would not give up. A lot of people are like my Dad, and they're too polite, so these guys keep working them until they finally come up with some cash. But I wasn't having any of it...I dashed to the door, surprising both my Dad and the visitor, and in a very assertive voice I said "He told you no the first time, now off you go!!" and closed the door. I'm sure it didn't phase him, and he was off to harass someone else.

There are some store chains that are particularly notorious for their vulture-like sales people. I won't mention the names here, because I'll bet you thought of one right away as soon as I said that! The instant you walk through the door, they smell you and begin their approach. You are meat to them.

Yesterday I went with my daughter to look at a used car in a car lot not far from where we live. As soon as my foot hit the lot pavement, I swear some silent alarm went off somewhere...he was on me like a guided missile. I was quick enough to dart into the sea of cars and out of his path, but my young and less experienced daughter was not. He tried to put out his hand as he approached me, and it was my daughter who had to shake it. Well, at least I thought she did, but I had my back to them because I had no intention of making eye contact! Why do sales people want to shake my hand? Do they think that we're making a pact, and this will make me beholden to them to buy something? As far as I'm concerned, you shake hands after you've made a deal, not before. And I don't want to shake hands with someone I don't know, unless I am being formally introduced by someone I DO. Besides, I don't know where that hand has been!

I turned around and said "I am just looking, and I don't need any help, thank you." And he took the opportunity to start his ramble "...we have more cars than the ones you see here..." but I was already off somewhere else. I didn't see the car I was looking for, so we headed out. The sales guy was distracted by his next victim, thank goodness.

My daughter was furious. "Why were you so RUDE?" she asked. I tried to explain my despise for sales people, but she didn't see that as an excuse. Later on when I was chatting with some of my friends at dinner, one of them said that the sales guys at that particular dealership were especially slimy...when she had taken a car for a test drive once, the fellow asked for her cellphone number, and then called her over and again for months after.

You see?? My rudeness somehow felt justified.

The worst of the worst are those in-home demonstration sales people. After our first child was born, we got a call from what we thought was a representative from the local fire department offering to demonstrate smoke alarms, so we set up an appointment. It turned out to be a woman who basically held us hostage in our own home for more than two hours, refusing to leave until she got a sale. She used every trick in the book...especially guilt. How can you not have smoke alarms in a house with a young baby? Well, we DID have smoke alarms, just not HERS.

She was so awful that it took us months to get over that experience. The fire department had approved the product, but they had nothing to do with the sale of it. That's how they get in your door, these sleazeballs.

Okay, so now you can see how cynical and bitter I am. Two days after that young man came to my front door, I was watering my front flowerbed and noticed a little business card on the sidewalk. I picked it up and immediately remembered his visit. As it turned out, he was from a non-profit organization trying to draw attention to the cause, I guess.

On the card he had written "Cheer up...everybody has bad days."

That's what stupid feels like.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Band-Aid vs The Axe

Westmead Hospital EmergencyImage via Wikipedia
I was appalled to watch some of the news video of these so-called "town hall meetings" (more like bar room brawls) that took place over the last few weeks regarding health care reform in the US. The misinformation that was being spewed was bad enough, but when I saw a commercial running on US networks featuring a "Canadian" woman suggesting that she would have died had she stayed in Canada and waited for surgery for her condition, that nearly did me in.

Sure, people die. And sometimes people die because they can't get help fast enough. But to characterize Canadian health care as so "care-less" is nothing less than fear mongering, and the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies who were behind the campaigns in the US should be ashamed of themselves. I'm sure they're not because it's all about the bottom line, just as it was for those lovely Wall Street giants who brought the economy to its knees.

I'm not against business, and I'm not against "big", but health should never be about big business. I know that's idealistic, but you don't see Canadians wanting to get rid of our health care system in spite of its flaws, because we know and see what happens to people in countries who don't have it. Imagine having recovered from a life-threatening illness, only to have to face the rest of that life literally paying for it. And then imagine being deathly ill and then turned away from a hospital emergency ward because you don't have insurance.

I was in emergency at our local hospital at about 3am the other morning. I have been there before when it has been horrendously busy and it took hours to get attention. Fortunately, what we were dealing with at the time wasn't life-threatening, just a scare. And the other night was similar, except for the fact that it was not busy at all and we got in to see a doctor almost immediately. The only card we had to show was our health care card number, which is something every Canadian citizen automatically receives. The staff and doctors were caring and helpful, and they were patient with our questions and concerns. And in the end there was a wave goodbye, but there was no bill. 

Personally, I have no vested interest in American health care and whatever the population down there chooses to do is their business. But don't drag our system through the mud simply in order to keep your fat insurance companies booming, and to scare your population out of the idea or ideal of universal health care.

And last, but definitely not least, we each have to take responsibility for our own health. We can't expect to be careless with our bodies and then simply walk into a hospital and say "fix me". We know a lot more these days about the dangers of smoking or overindulgence of any kind, or what a bad diet and a lack of some form of physical activity can do to our bodies.

When we were in the hospital the other morning, a care worker came around to ask us if we would take part in a survey. She explained that the survey was taking place only on Friday and Saturday nights, because that's when the majority of emergency patients are coming in because of the effects of alcohol or drugs. It galls me that people's stupidity and carelessness can lead to a back up of services for those who have legitimate emergencies. And those who are seriously addicted to substances need real, long term help, which is not easy to find.

There are problems with our health care system, no question. But Canadians would rather keep it and try to fix it, than not have it at all. And as seemingly inefficient as it may be, I'll take the band-aid over the axe any day.


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Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Visit With Uncle Ken

REDImage by Roby&C. "Back" via Flickr
My cousin called me up last week with the bad news. "Uncle Ken is dying," she said, and we started to reflect on his life which hadn't always been a happy one.

My 80-year-old uncle never married and suffered all his life from bipolar disorder. Of course, they didn't have a name for it when he was young, but everyone knew that he wasn't "right". And even after he was diagnosed, there were times when he would go off his medication thinking that he was cured, only to have another manic episode, which meant that he would have to go back in the hospital until the medications could even him out again.

When I was a kid, my Uncle Ken was sort of the adventurous relative to my eyes. He had a little sports car, saw the world as part of the Canadian forces, bought himself a sailboat and always brought Dairy Queen soft ice cream and strawberries when he came for Sunday dinner. I saw him mostly at family functions, when he was either very quiet or passionately arguing politics with my Dad and his other siblings. The Jackson's were a political bunch even if only from the sidelines. 

When I had my two girls, Uncle Ken would send them each a beautiful little dress every Christmas. We lived in different cities, so the times I saw him were few and far between. He lived alone in the West End of Vancouver, and over time his bouts with depression, dementia and bad legs eventually lead to his being placed in a care facility. I don't think he was all that happy with it at first, but after a time he began to get used to it.

The call last week was urgent enough that I knew I had to get there soon. He was suffering from pneumonia, choking on food and was hooked up to oxygen. My cousin told me that when she had visited, he hardly said two words the entire visit. I thought about leaving to see him right away, but I had invited a group of friends over for a barbecue as a homecoming for my husband, so I opted to wait a couple of days. Immediately I felt guilty, not knowing how long my uncle might actually have.

But within a couple of days I drove out to the ferries to make the trip to the mainland for what I knew might be a final visit. I hadn't seen my uncle for quite some time, and because of his dementia I wasn't sure if he would even recognize me. They were giving him a sponge bath when I got there, so I couldn't see him through the curtain.

Was he conscious? It seemed so. I heard him mutter something to the nurse, but it was difficult to get a sense of his condition at first. Then the nurse pulled the curtain back. He looked very thin because he had been refusing to eat, he was sitting up, hair combed and clean shaven, and there was no oxygen tube. There was a glass of beer on the bedside table, because it was the only thing he would consume. Well, I don't exactly blame him for that! But he didn't look nearly as bad as I was expecting.

At first he mistook me for my cousin who looks like me, but then he corrected himself and I apprehensively sat down on the end of his bed. The conversation started out a little awkwardly at first. But we ended up having a very nice chat about a myriad of things; his life experiences, current events, the family, and he even told me where he wanted his ashes spread when he dies. We talked about Ted Kennedy's passing, how marijuana can't be all that bad, and he asked me about my cat, and I learned more about my uncle in that one conversation than I had in the last fifty-two years.

In the middle of our chat, a nurse popped in to say that he was being shipped back to his care home later that day. "Thank God!" he said, clearly relieved to get out of hospital and back to his own place. He didn't break a smile once during our conversation, but that was okay because I could sense that this was a "rally" day for him and perhaps the inevitable would be put off for a little while longer.

When I finally got up to leave after an hour-and-a-half, we clasped hands and he said with great sincerity "It was lovely to see you, lovely." As I walked out of the hospital it occurred to me that I could easily have misjudged the timing and missed seeing him altogether. It was only luck or maybe some other force that I don't know about, that brought me there on that particular day. He is back in the care facility now, but we have been warned that things could take a turn again, especially if he still refuses to eat. His depression leaves him with little will to fight and his dementia has affected his swallowing reflex. But for the moment, my old, cranky Uncle Ken is still kicking.

October 11, 2009 - Thanksgiving - My Uncle Ken passed away at 6pm, having refused food and medication completely for the past three days. I feel like he just decided it was his time to go, and I am grateful this Thanksgiving that I had that final conversation with him. Goodbye, dear Unc. Love, Irene
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

End of Summer, End of an Era?

Braun HF 1, Germany, 1959Image via Wikipedia
I am more than half way through my time off and thinking "Holy Cow, I had all this time and how much of my To Do List have I done?" This is exactly what I projected I would do. Maybe the projecting part is what did me in. I am a perpetual victim of my own expectations. Ugh.

Anyway, I am going to forgive myself and let it go. Er, well, I'll try anyway. It is nearing the end of summer and I sure don't like letting summer go. Spring and summer are the months that I feel like I come alive. On the wetcoast (no, that's not a typo), we live through months of grey and rain which to those who are not used to it, can be very depressing. Well, even those who ARE used to it get pretty grumpy after weeks of misery. It is also nearing the end of months of wondering what is going to happen to the Little TV Station That Could. 

Some of you will remember that months ago I talked about my husband being laid off from his television job of 29 years. So far, we have survived it. He has picked up some independent production work, and has spent the last month working at a television station in Vancouver just as a fill in. But the station where he used to work is going to permanently shut its doors on August 31st, which to many of us is unbelievable.

There are a group of people at work trying to save it, consisting of employees, former employees and other investors. And there is great hope that somehow it will survive, but even if it does, it'll be a long, hard road ahead to make it viable. Television is not what it used to be to most of us who grew up with it. Remember when there was only one TV in the house, it might still have been black and white, and when a certain show came on, the whole family would gather to watch? Most families have more than one TV these days, and nobody is watching...and when they are, it is not together as a family. Many kids growing up now were told by their parents NOT to watch TV, that it's bad for them. So what have they migrated to? Computers and hand-held game devices. Yeah, much better!

In some ways, I don't blame people for moving away from television. There is a LOT of crap on TV these days. Much of it is due to some know-it-all TV execs somewhere trying to lure younger people to the set, or to hang on to the "National Enquirer" types. I'm talking about the people who watch reality shows. Cookie cutter television shows abound. Once something succeeds, everybody tries to reinvent it and as a result, you get the same show over and over, but with a different name. You know, reality television has probably driven as many people away from television as it has kept others around. But I've already written a blog railing at reality television, so enough of that. 

The one thing that many television stations have lost is the "local" aspect. Once a station gets swallowed up by a big conglomerate (this is also true for radio), these big companies do their best to get rid of anything local about it. The company that my husband worked for tried to ask the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), to allow for LESS local programming, because they didn't want to pay for it. It's cheaper to run a bunch of crappy, US-bought shows than to pay local people to write, create and produce local television. But what is the point in having a local television station if there is nothing "local" about it? This is what has driven many people away from watching.

I don't think that because a company is BIG that it has to be BAD. Unfortunately, however, it becomes easier for a big company to "streamline" certain aspects of its organization to save money, which in turn means job losses due to centralization. Centralization leads to loss of individuality...and let's face it, people in Winnipeg don't care what's happening to people in Victoria unless it's something REALLY BIG like an earthquake or an invasion of some sort! And vice versa.

Okay, it's not that we don't care, it's that we would rather know more about ourselves than we would about somebody else. And that's where, in many instances, television has lost out in the last few years. Except for local news, many TV stations don't have the budget or the creative minds to develop local programming. And the creative minds who used to have these ideas, have been told to do something else. Although I realize that C.S.I. and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are far beyond what any small local television station can produce, I do believe that there is a desire by television viewers to see and hear more about themselves and their communities, and not just in a news-type show. And as a result of trying to lure younger people to the TV set, television executives have actually driven many away who were actually DEVOUT television viewers...people of my generation and older. Television was, and is, our habit. Why encourage us to turn it off?

Okay, I don't really know anything. These are all simply my opinions and I have never run a television station. But I did work at one for eight years, my husband for 29 years, and we might soon become part owners of it. Some might say that television is dying. But they said that television would kill radio, and it didn't, and I doubt that the internet will kill TV. However, we have to take the best parts of it and create a model that helps it to succeed. And if anyone can do it, we can. 

Winter is coming, and possibly, a LOT of hard work. Wish us luck!


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