Archive of ‘Personal thoughts’ category
Do you know what word I dislike for no reason whatsoever? “Lens.” Not as in camera, or any other traditional and physical definition. What I hate is how it appears to be the latest insidious buzzword, thrown in to sound intellectual or modern. If it were used in moderation, that would be fine. But the metaphor has become cliché.
“But if we look at this through a different lens…”
“Let us switch our lens to that of…”
“The lens of the African pygmy tribe is a shift from…”
Or other such bile. I think I hate it even more now that I have caught myself using it in conversation. “It is helpful to look at things from a more objective lens.” Puke, vomit, gag. It is repeated so often in my current circles. I can’t stand it.
Whatever happened to the word perspective? Was it too long? Too boring?
It is possible I take it to heart. “Perspective” was the word given during my written diploma exam in twelfth grade. We were instructed to choose a piece of poetry or prose studied during our 12 years of academic history and describe, in long essay form, how this selection fit the chosen word. There was a lot of anxiety leading up to this point. The word was kept secret, for obvious reasons, and the only way to prepare was to read over the notes of every short story, novel, play, and poem I had ever read while in school. English was not my favourite subject but I was still expected to do well. I felt the pressure. I will never forget the way my breath snagged when I turned over the test paper. The year before, 1999, the word had been “resourcefulness.” I wasn’t religious even then but I prayed for anything but that.
We were given “perspective,” at once an open and terrifying word. There was nothing we couldn’t do with it, and yet nothing we could. To my consternation, I chose a short story by Margaret Laurence. I still question the impetus behind the decision. I didn’t even like the story. It was about a girl on the Canadian prairie, hanging out in the wild with her cousin. At least, I think that’s what it was about. I can’t even remember the title. For some reason, on that day, I felt it best exemplified perspective. Perhaps because it was one very different from my urban-dwelling, inhibited own.
But I digress. Perspective is indeed a broad word. It might seem a little intimidating upon closer inspection. It once made me write five or six pages about a short story I despised. I maintain it is still a better one than lens. I will be making a concerted effort to use it as much as possible until it, too, gets tired and inspires a blog post.
Are there any words that bother you? Is it absurd to be so annoyed by trendy dialogue?
Today’s post is inspired by the daily prompt over at The Daily Post.I have a feeling this excellent website is going to be a vital resource for me as I plod through my 100 Days Project.
I am inhibited by fear at every turn. Some fears I am better at ducking through, others prevent me from doing things that many people accomplish without thinking. The most prominent one I have been unable to face millions of people do every day, often multiple times. As a result, there is a great deal of shame that tags along with the paralyzing thoughts. Few understand, including family. I wish I could explain what to me sounds like a rational aversion but to them sounds insane. Or worse, weak.
Fear is a weakness, I suppose, when it stops one from living life. But my fear, this fear of driving a car – I may as well be open – has been easy to manage. Sure, relying on my own power or public transit can be more complicated and time-consuming. When I lived on my own, I became accustomed to carrying leaden bags of groceries for twenty blocks or more. On occasion, I still do. I don’t mind. I’d rather deal with the pain of plastic biting into my hands than the fear of losing control of a motor vehicle.
It wasn’t easy for me, but I steered this motor boat for almost five minutes!
Shiva has less fear than I do. If it comes down to fight or flight, she will often choose the former. She doesn’t worry about things beyond her control. Scary strangers in hats are nothing a little barking won’t cure. Thunder that shakes the house isn’t more important than a good nap. Shiva will scale trees, jump off cliffs, and face the claws of The Cat over and over and over again. Nonetheless, even the fearless wonder is daunted by her own dragon. She will take the teeter on the agility course backwards but put her on a boat in the middle of the lake and she turns into a shaking mess desperate for comfort.
Shiva is not a happy puppy
Though it can be debilitating for her in certain circumstances, in a way, I am glad Shiva has this one unshakeable fear. It shows me that she does care about her safety. So often she rushes ahead without thinking and it has already gotten her in trouble. At least in this one area, she appears to have a bit of sense.
This could be my inner coward talking. I like that we seem to almost have something in common. Shiva hates going to the lake, despite the fact that countless dogs adore swimming and will do anything to get back in. I am terrified of sitting behind the wheel of a car, despite the fact that most human adults spend a lot of money to do it every day. It is far easier for me to contemplate skydiving or bungee-jumping than driving to the corner store. It is far easier for Shiva to tear across a wooden log or jump from a second story window than put her face underwater.
Would life be easier for us if we could conquer these fears? LIkely and maybe we both will in time. If only for how good it will feel to achieve something I haven’t thought possible for a long time. We aren’t going to let them stop us from living joyful lives, however, even if Shiva never leaps off a dock and I never drive again. Fear is only bad if it prevents you from living your life. In that regard, I think we are going to be just fine.
Shiva and I met a coyote last week. We weren’t hiking in the mountains or bushwhacking in the woods. It was 6:30 on a Monday morning and we had just begun our ritual walk in the ravine. I saw movement ahead and my first assumption was an off-leash dog. Before I could even roll my eyes, the animal turned to trot in our direction and I knew my initial inclinations were wrong. There was no mistaking the confidence of a wild predator. This was no muttski.
He looked like this, actually, only not as healthy.
He, or she, was thinner than other coyotes I’ve seen. Rangier, even, than the photo I nicked from Wikipedia to the left. The animal, whatever his or her sex, was built almost like Shiva. He was the same height and shape, only with less muscle and lacking her adorable puppiness. I haven’t spotted one in Alberta for a long time, not since I lived in the South and I would see them wandering down the side of a prairie road. Shiva and I hear them often but seeing them is rare. In a way, we were lucky.
Shiva doesn’t have a lot of experience with predator-type animals. Or any. Her response to most of the wild creatures we have encountered is much the same. Raccoon… Friend! Duck… Friend! Deer… Friend! Porcupine… Best! Friend! Ever! For the most part, she sees the world as full of animals dying to be sniffed. Her sole objective is to get her nose up the other animal’s bottom as soon as she possibly can. I had hope that she would be smart enough to tell the difference between a rabbit and a species who could cause he harm.
I was wrong.
Shiva responded to the sight of the coyote with the same alert anticipation she responds to off-leash dogs. Cautious, to be sure, but not afraid. Ears erect, tail high on her back, she wanted to investigate. If she hadn’t been connected to me via a thick nylon cord, she probably would have. Would this have been a problem? It’s hard to say. It was just one coyote. In all likelihood, he or she would have taken off and all would have been as normal. Then again, I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk.
I am still unsure as the best thing to do in this scenario. While I have read all the books and heard all of the well-meaning advice, I don’t know if there is any one right way to respond. Sometimes the right thing turns out to be wrong and sometimes the dumb thing turns out to be smart. Show no fear, they say. Don’t look weak. Stand your ground. In an actual dangerous situation, I think all one can do is trust her instincts. More often than not, my instincts tell me to get the heck out of there.
Not that I think Shiva and I were in any danger. The coyote was far enough away and outnumbered. There was no need to do anything. Still, I chose to leave the park and take a different route. It seemed more reasonable at the time. Who needs that kind of stress on a Monday?
It makes me wonder, however, if I need to prepare myself better for future encounters. We live in bear country now and if I am going to follow through with my goals to hit up the back country this year, it is very possible a coyote will be the least of our problems. It’s not just my safety I have to worry about. The quickest way to ruin a good backpacking trip is to watch Shiva run up to a Grizzly and shove her nose up his butt.
Do you have any dog-wild predator encounter stories? How did you handle it? What do you do when you see a coyote?
As I mentioned, I’ve been feeling out of touch, low, and pessimistic. Things got better with a holiday to plan but, once over, the bland feelings returned. I hesitate to call them by another name as they seem to be related more to boredom than to anything insidious. It is an overall flatness, a disinterest in all activity. Perhaps I am regressing to teenagehood as it doesn’t feel dissimilar. Perish the thought.
As I stew, burrowing further into mindless routine, complaining yet doing nothing to pull myself out, I refuse to acknowledge the obvious. Nothing changes if nothing changes, as the motivating author of a Life Less Bullshit is always pointing out. It is easy to push this away, in favour of wallowing. My friends, do I like a wallow. I am just so good at it too. It isn’t as if I have such a plethora of skills to engage. It seems a shame to toss this one after honing it for three decades. What will I have left but brownie eating and being bad at bowling? These abilities are not in as high demand as you’d think. It seems there aren’t as many prizes these days for the worst bowling score one can achieve while actually trying. What is the world coming to?
This was my prevailing opinion on the matter until this morning. Strange that my mental ass-kicking should come on a Monday. The bus was late, my feet were still sticky with mud from my morning hike, and I scrolled through the emails on my phone with impatience. I could previse the way the rest of my day was going to go and it wasn’t optimistic. Ever anxious about exceeding allowable data, I almost never click on links without access to wifi. The messages I can’t read via my inbox either get deleted or saved for later. Sometimes later comes, most times it doesn’t. I realize now I am the one who loses out the most with this disorganized and hasty practice. Lucky for me, Amber Adrian is a blogging endangered species who still sends the full text of her posts to email subscribers. If not, I would have missed out on this bit of brilliance:
But you know what doesn’t help the drama? Excusing yourself. Because that makes you less you. Because doing the things you love keeps your engagement with life at a steady burn and being engaged with life makes everything better…
And this too:
For now, it seems to boil down to “do your shit and let yourself feel as good as you can as much of the time as possible.”
Oh, and this:
I am not nearly the special feelings snowflake I thought I was. If I feel scared and lonely and joyful and overwhelmed and stuffed with love for things, you probably do as well.
I will stop before I just copy and paste the whole dang thing. It isn’t a long piece but it packed all the protein I’ve been needing into easy to swallow bites. In that way it proves everything I’ve been telling myself isn’t true, which is kind of annoying. No one likes to be as wrong as I have been. I am forced to deal with the idea that if a woman, whom I have never met, living in a place I have never been, can write something simple yet has a profound impact on me, it might be possible for me to do the same for somebody else. The more I write, the more I will want to write. The more motivated I feel to do something I enjoy, the more pumped I will be for other things and the more interesting my life will become.
In essence, I need to stop wallowing and get out of my way. Darn it all anyway.
It isn’t going to be easy to keep me accountable. The lure toward mindlessness is powerful after months of indolence. As if it was Kismet, not a week ago I learned about the 100 Days Project from my friend at NEPA Pets. Several wicked minds in New Zealand know what it is to want to do a thing and be unable to show up get it done. The concept is as uncomplicated as it gets. It is so hard to do on one’s own. This is where the internet comes in. Starting July 11, every day for 100 days, people around the world will do the thing they haven’t been able to do. The range of projects is as diverse as the people starting them. There are photography schemes, physical activity goals, plans for interior decoration, phone calls, and love letters. It is a glorious pile of desires to create and be and do.
It felt like hubris to join in, but I signed up anyway. From now until mid-October I am going to write at least 100 words every day. They may not be good words. They may not make sense. They may be stream of consciousness or they may be gag-inducing poetry that would make even my eleventh grade English teacher wail. They are going to be mine. Even though it isn’t July 11, it would be too easy to wait and forget and excuse myself, so I am starting four days early. With no expectations, no rules, no strings beyond 100 words, I am going to get this done.
Even if I have to run over myself several times in the process.
To be honest, one of the reasons I have resisted poetry so long was because my early introduction to the form was crammed full of the morbid and, in my opinion, broken thoughts of Emily Dickinson. It isn’t that I didn’t think she was brilliant, I just never liked what she had to say. My first real literature instructor adored her, however, and I remember being forced to analyze for weeks on end the cheery “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” and the optimistic “Hope is the Thing with Feathers.” It made me miserable. I didn’t understand why it was necessary for me to take on the agony of a 19th century woman. I was a teenager and had enough of my own angst through which I needed to work.
However, now that I am older and less impatient, I see the value in wading through Ms. Dickinson’s swamps. The practice is still frustrating but if I pace myself I don’t get dragged under.
The below poem isn’t exactly a dog poem. The dog disappears after the first line, which, I admit, bothers me. From what I can discern with my limited knowledge, the poem has much more to do with the overwhelming power of nature and perhaps the writer’s renouncement of life. It certainly reads more like a suicide, akin to that of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening. The reason I sought it out has everything to do with the title and nothing else. I have always loved the short six-word phrase and thought it would be perfect for the title of a novel or memoir.
No doubt it has already been taken.
Regardless, when I looked at some of the literary reviews for today’s selection, I learned the dog might be more important that I had first imagined. One particular analysis by Djehuty struck me most. Instead of a woman walking her dog along the beach, he saw the speaker as Orion, strolling with his dog, Sirius, across the celestial plain. Rather than it being about a woman’s wish to surrender herself to the sea, it is possible it described the power of the Roman god and the water’s inability to conquer the sky.
Who knows? According to my high school teacher, there is no such thing as a false interpretation when it comes to poetry. It certainly makes for happier reading. Besides, the constellations of Orion and Sirius have always been my favourites.
“I Started Early – Took My Dog -”, by Emily Dickinson
I started Early—Took my Dog—
And visited the Sea—
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me—
And Frigates—in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands—
Presuming Me to be a Mouse—
Aground—upon the Sands—
But no Man moved Me—till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe—
And past my Apron—and my Belt
And past my Bodice—too—
And made as He would eat me up—
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve—
And then—I started—too—
And He—He followed—close behind—
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle—Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl—
Until We met the Solid Town—
No One He seemed to know—
And bowing—with a Mighty look—
At me—The Sea withdrew—
I don’t have that many friends. No, it’s true. I don’t. But I am okay with this. I am not the kind of person who likes to be surrounded by circles of people. I would rather have one solid friend I can speak to every day, than one hundred people I hear from only once in a while.
As a private person, it isn’t an easy thing for me to relax around others. It takes a great deal of time before I am at ease enough with someone to call him or her a friend. It is a big investment. I don’t have casual relationships. There is quite a gap between friendship and acquaintanceship. Work associates, classmates, neighbours, people I talk to at the bus stop, these all fall into the latter category. They come and go out of my life and don’t leave any scars. Friendship, for me, is much deeper. It involves loyalty and shared confidences, emotional connection and mutual concern. Whether with a winky face or an outright jibe, You know I consider you a friend when I am comfortable enough to make fun of you.
I tease because I love.
Which is why, the few friends I am so lucky to have, are people I have known for a long time. For example, I am still friends with the very first person whom I ever gave this title, at age three. Almost thirty years later, we don’t speak often, but the friendship remains intact. With or without social media, I do believe we would have kept in touch.
My friendship with Kelly is young in comparison. I met her in 2011 when we shared an office. It is rare for me to befriend someone at work. I like to keep separate worlds. It is easier to organize and prevents me from having to reveal too much about myself out of my usual sphere. At work, I like people to think I have my shit together. The less they know, the better. I had just left an awkward job elsewhere and was still trying to figure out if there was a polite way of unfriending former co-workers on Facebook. I told myself I would never add colleagues to my personal accounts ever again.
This vow didn’t last long. Kind of hard to ignore a Facebook friend request from a boss.
Kelly and I weren’t immediate co-conspirators or kindred spirits. We both have our issues, after all. I can’t say when we shifted from officemates to partners in crime. It was a seamless, gradual change. Maybe it was after her cat drew my blood after the Sandwich War of 2011. Or perhaps it was more subtle than that. I don’t know if it is because we have so much in common, or if I just like people who test my patience, but in retrospect, it seems to me she was bossing me around quite regularly within six months. It stopped annoying me after twelve.
Remember, verbal abuse equals affection, just ask my sister.
We’ve been through some stressful times together. At first they were all work-related. I can recall so many episodes of Adventures in Late Night Photocopying and Let’s Get This Conference Over With. Of course, we can’t forget the classic, Year of Shittery. Always a pleaser. But as horrible as things seemed and as overwhelming as it all was, we could always laugh about it. We experienced so many breaking points together, moments of meltdown over inoperable hand carts and frustrating emails. But the solution was often just a Starbucks trip away.
And if it wasn’t, we were there to support. We couldn’t solve each other’s problems, but we could understand.
I don’t keep in touch with many former work pals. As I’ve mentioned, previous acquaintanceships have died the instant I left the building. When we made the decision to leave Halifax, one of my biggest regrets was moving away from friends. I worried I would lose what I had gained.
Kelly was, and is, different. At that point she knew who I was, dorky dog blog and all, and didn’t judge. She put up with my heckling and my insecurities and I put up with her commandeering and lack of filter, knowing she had the tougher end of the deal. My hermit ways are not easy to withstand. I should have known if she’d already ignored my previous attempts to evade, she wasn’t going to drop me the instant I was out of sight.
We still talk almost every day. She has been an incredible source of calm, even from a distance. When Shiva was injured last fall, Kelly didn’t think I was crazy or overreacting when I called her in tears. She understood my fears, stayed up long past midnight to listen to me yammer, and offered her resources to help us out. There was no hesitation. When I think back on that night, I realize just how lucky I am to have such a warm and giving person on my team.
It’s a small team, but it’s a devoted one. I don’t know if I will ever deserve it. Kelly would be the first to chime in that I don’t.
I am not as skilled as Kelly, unfortunately. I can’t craft beautiful images or dedicate hours to sewing thoughtful gifts. The birthday presents I have planned out for her, have not been good enough to match what she has given me. It is a failure of mine, that I can never seem to synchronize the image in my head with the outcome. I fear this makes me a terrible friend. One little blog post is hardly an appropriate gift. It is just all I have to offer today, alongside my constant support and solidarity.
I often reflect on how much of life depends on the small decisions we make. The deadline had passed when I applied for the job where I met Kelly. I recall wavering before emailing my resume anyway. What would have happened if I hadn’t pushed the send button? Where would I have worked? Whom would I have met? I am certain I made the best choice. I know if I hadn’t met Kelly, if she hadn’t been kind enough to ignore all of my flaws, I wouldn’t be the quasi-well adjusted person I am right now.
Of course, it’s also possible I would have met a friend with a yacht and a house on the island of Sardinia, but I’ll give Kelly the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Happy Birthday, Kelly. Even if you like the Backstreet Boys, I am so grateful I can call you a friend.
What the heck is love, anyway? Sure, we all think we know. We like to spout things about self-sacrifice, everlasting affection, and deep romantic attachment. Everyone has his or her own concept of what it feels like to love someone and of what this love should consist. We are eager to sneer at celebrities who marry one day and divorce the next, superior in our knowledge that it could not have been “real” love. Even I talk about it like it’s some defined thing, a concrete noun with assigned meaning.
Naturally, my opinion on this meaning is the only correct one.
Wanna hear it? Probably not. But I am going to tell you anyway.
The One True Definition of Love, as told by Kristine, shaming all other definitions of love because this is the one true definition and everyone else is wrong:
- There is no such thing as love at first sight, love must grow over time to be real, otherwise it is just silly infatuation
- Love means wanting to say you are sorry, over and over and over again
- Love means putting those you love first. In fact, it means being grateful you can put them first, without a smidge of resentment.
- That being said, love is not unconditional. I don’t care what crap your mom told you. Love can end.
- There are no varying degrees of love. You either love someone or you don’t. You can’t “kind of” love somebody or only love them when they behave a certain way.
- Love and need are two very different things.
I am going to stop now because I think I have made my point. I have no doubt ticked some of you off. If not, I have ticked myself off so I guess that’s good enough.
The thing is, I don’t believe anyone gets to tell us what love is. It’s too personal. It is such a profound word for some of us and an inscrutable one for others. Half the time, I don’t think I understand it at all. All I can tell you is how it feels for me based on my own experiences. Given that your experiences are – we hope – very different from mine I don’t get to tell you how you feel. As someone who was told throughout her childhood that her emotions were wrong, I believe in a person’s right to choose how she labels her feelings.
Or even whether she names them at all.
The author of Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote an insightful and wise blog post today about a – in my perspective – less than insightful study. Ever since I read the science article this morning I have been ruminating over the concept of defining how dogs feel love. Pamela has already done an excellent job of breaking down the methodology and pointing out the scientific flaws. I feel the need to push it further.
In my opinion it is an act of hubris to assume we can ever understand the way a dog feels about his human or anything else in his life. Science can help us predict his behaviour and even – maybe – help us understand the way a dog might view the world. But I do not believe it is possible to know if my dog loves anything, be it me, the Am Staff at the dog park, or a stuffed Kong. I just don’t feel comfortable labelling any of her emotions with certainty. I believe she feels them, I just don’t know if it is my place to determine what they are.
Love is too complex of an emotion, too intense. That doesn’t mean dogs don’t feel it – I believe they are capable of so much more than we will ever be able to prove in a lab. However, I don’t know if it is possible to interpret their actions as something so complicated without hearing from them first. It seems to be doing them a disservice.
No doubt you are narked again. If you are the kind of person who reads late night blog posts written by people who spend too much time pondering canine philosophy, you are the kind of person who puts her dog first. I know your dog appreciates it. I know your dog is happy when you are around. It is possible your dog loves you. It is just not my decision to make.
Nor is it a decision for scientists in a lab to make.
Do I think Shiva loves me? No idea. As I said in my comment this morning, it doesn’t matter to me if she does. In fact, based on my own definition above, I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want her to put my health and happiness before her own. If there is a threat, I want her to run away as fast as she can so I can handle it. It isn’t her job to protect me. What is more important to me, and what is easier to gauge by her behaviour, is that I do think she trusts me.
Trust is much less complicated than love, and – in many ways – is much easier to define. Shiva shows me she trusts me by letting me handle her, even when she is in pain. She never flinches from my touch, even when she doesn’t want to be pet. When she used to be terrified of water bottles, she now will drink from one as I pour it into her bowl. She lets me reach into her mouth, even when she scooped up something super yummy from the ground. Shiva looks to me when uncertain and dives forward when I say something is okay.
For Shiva, I am a means to getting what she wants. But I am also someone safe, someone she relies on to care for her when she is feeling unwell I don’t need to call it love in order to feel proud that I can provide her with what she needs. My love for her is more than enough for the two of us.
Being a woman, it follows that I hate almost everything about my physical appearance.
Maybe that isn’t true. Hopefully it isn’t true for any of the women who might read this. But, we are told by every commercial, every magazine, and every soup label that who we are and how we look is wrong.* Societal disdain is a hard enemy to combat and most days, I don’t even try. I accept the fact that I don’t look like a Hollywood celebrity – noting that most Hollywood celebrities don’t even look like Hollywood celebrities – and try not to think about how others would rate my attractiveness.
Cat ears notwithstanding, I recall being happy with my hairstyle that day
Age has taught me that none of it counts. Manicures are for twenty-somethings in the midst of quarter-life crises. Me? I have a dog to wrangle.
Except in one area, that is. I may have given up on having clear skin, may not have weighed myself in at least five years, and may have embraced the classic t-shirt as my personal statement, but I spend a superfluous amount of time thinking about my hair. It is a vanity I cannot dethrone.
This is not to say that I think it always looks photo-worthy. Please. I am not the kind of woman who gets up at three in the morning to spend four hours making sure her tresses gleam. At least, I am not any more. (See aforementioned dog.) If it doesn’t look remotely decent, however, I have difficulty holding my head high when going to the grocery store. I don’t care about my tattered jeans or my dirty shoes when running out for cat food. I have to make sure my hair is clean and in place. In an ideal world, it would also be trimmed every six weeks.
Clearly, things often amble far from the ideal. Six or seven years ago I may have subsisted on ramen in order to pay for regular salon visits, which may be a part of the reason I am in a bit of a fiscal downturn, but this wasn’t sustainable. The biggest problem with this: when I let my hair situation slide too far, my confidence slithers right along with it. Basically, if my hair looks like crap, I feel like crap.
It is a bit ridiculous, I realize. No one else cares or even notices. I never judge anyone else for something as petty as the shape, length, or style of their locks, It is foolish to hinge so much of my personal pride on a pretty mane.
Logic has no place here. When my hair has split ends up to my eyebrows, I can’t help but reflect on past splendor. It seems like just yesterday I was walking around with this super-cute style:
If I remember correctly, the colour lasted about a week before it turned poop-red. It was lovely for the seven days it hung around, wasn’t it?
Spending money on something that does not benefit anyone else makes me feel guilty. The simple desire to spend this money makes me feel guilty. Thus, even though getting a hair cut is a positive experience that improves my self-esteem, it makes me feel bad about myself at the same time. Which is why before yesterday, I hadn’t had a trim since April of last year.
There was a whole lot of not cute going on.
The above picture is from September and the split ends are mortifying. The mind boggles at how long my hair had grown in the five months since this was taken. I will spare you the horror.
Self-care involves taking the time for actions that have that have positive impacts on our minds and bodies. Self-care makes me feel guilty. Well, nuts to that. It is a little thing, perhaps a selfish thing, but it makes me feel so much more like myself. It should not be a source of judgement and shame. If self-care is a feminist act then maybe getting a hair cut can be too.
Taken yesterday afternoon. So. Much. Better.
Or maybe I am just enabling an obsession I need to conquer. It is just head-covering, right? It might be time for an intervention.
Do you have any vanities you can’t abolish?
*Seriously, Progresso. I expect this kind of crap from yogurt, but soup? You have ruined what used to be a faultless comfort food.
There is something about an owl’s call that makes one stop and take stock. I am walking along, debating over how to tackle a problem at the office or ruminating on the blister forming at my heel, and the soft stuttering vocals - hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo - make me forget everything. My breath catches and I stand still, hoping to hear the sound again.
I am disappointed.
Shiva tugs at my side, shakes off the snow, and whines to keep moving. With much better ears than mine, I know she heard the owl, but it is a sound she deems unimportant. White noise. It signals neither food nor threat and she is anxious to reach the curved stick metres away on the path ahead. I am reluctant to move forward, scared my boots in the snow and Shiva’s jingling tags will startle the bird. But at last I give in and Shiva leaps forward in relief. As she pounces on the broken branch I hear the call again.
I stop again. My eyes search the trees to my left. I know the chances of me catching sight of the owl are limited. I have to try. Shiva chomps on her stick and tosses her head, the terrier-shake that always makes me grin. Giving up, I move forward once more.
The last time I heard a hoot like this was in Nova Scotia, fairly close to one year ago. Last winter, Shiva and I spent many early mornings walking on the off-leash trail near our home. Being February, we were almost always alone. Except for the wildlife.
Being susceptible to dense imaginings, I often frightened myself by wondering what creatures may have been watching us from behind the trees. The only light in the park was the moon bouncing off the snow. Though a major road lay only a kilometre away, in the forest the soundtrack of our strolls consisted of Shiva’s short pants and my crunching shoes. And, on special occasions, the call of an owl.
It made for a spooky experience, I can’t deny. The cry of an owl is not a comfort. At least, not back then. It served as a caution. When I heard the owl, the hair on the back of my neck did more than stand up, it danced, bounding on my nerves until I decided to recall Shiva and make my way home to safety.
Tonight, as I stand in the northern Alberta cold, cheeks burning from the acid wind, the experience is much different. As I gaze into the dark branches, straining to catch a flicker of a feather, I am reassured.
I may be far from that other place I used to call home. We may be walking at night on a busy trail with less quiet and sharper chill, but the owls are still around.
As our walk is close to an end – I can see the too-bright lights of houses up the hill – I give in to Shiva’s nagging and carry on. My feet leave the crunchy white path and slide on to pavement. The owl calls again. I keep walking but I have to look back. Maybe this time I will see.
Only darkness meets my scrutiny. I smile. Perhaps it is better not to see. We trudge up the icy road and my movements are careful so as not to slip. If the owl speaks again I am now too far to hear. But I decide to picture him leaving as we did, going on to harmonize someone else’s winter trek.
My mother is not a feminine woman. She doesn’t worry about clothes, keeps her hair cut short, and the only make-up I’ve ever seen her wear is lipstick. When I was a child, I knew it was a special night when she added a touch of pink to her lips.
As a narcissistic teenager (a redundant phrase if there ever was one) I resented this. All I wanted to do was blend in with everyone else. I craved a mother who would teach me how to wax my legs and pluck my eyebrows and apply eyeliner.* My mother doesn’t even use conditioner herself, there was no way she was going to help me add highlights to my hair. We never went bra shopping. It was my father who went with me to find my high school graduation gown. I wanted a mother who would do all the things my friends’ mothers did. Motherly things. Girly things.
Things I had to teach myself.
Now that I am older than my mother was when she gave birth to me, I have a bit more wisdom to my credit. She may never admit it, but in many ways my mother is a feminist. Growing up, I received only a handful of compliments on how I looked. The focus was always on my brain or my performance. I was enrolled in sports, not dance, and all of my hand-me-downs were from my male cousins. I played with cars as much as I played with dolls. I was given a large amount of physical and emotional freedom and was encouraged to pursue science. My parents were always equals in everything. My father still does the majority of cooking and cleaning. Friendship has been a key component of their marriage’s success and I am so lucky to have such excellent role models in that regard.
My mother’s lack of concern for appearance and apparent disregard for gender roles should have been a revelation. Instead I was angered by her unwillingness to follow the patriarchal path. I wanted my mother to want to be like everyone else. But she refused. I wish I had let this self-possession guide me as I made my own decisions and battled my own dragons.
My mother’s adolescence was much more difficult than mine, not that one would ever guess at the trauma she endured by speaking with her. It makes me proud. I hope that kind of resilience lies within me. Most women my age live in fear of turning into their mothers and, if I am being honest, I have worried about this as well. Every time I catch myself doing things the way my mother does them – a certain phrase or smile or gesture – I wince. I don’t want to be like her and yet, when I think about it, most of my best qualities are those I inherited from her.
I’ve always felt my personality more closely resembles that of my father. My constant worrying, my extreme dedication to my work, my shyness, and my private nature all come from him. As does my love of history and my enjoyment of classic Hollywood. I never felt like I had anything in common with my mother. She is too outgoing. She likes to craft and watch Ladyhawke over and over again. Regardless of her odd taste in entertainment, my mother has made me more easygoing. I rarely take offence and I like to think I am at least as approachable. Her ability to brush things off and move on, I hope, lives in me too. As does her loyalty and her kindness.
This isn’t to say my mother is perfect or my father is a wreck. I am pleased to have acquired his sarcasm and his ability to make fun of himself. But I am finally gaining appreciation for a woman I used to begrudge. We had our battles, however, I now acknowledge my role in them and appreciate all she tried to impart.
My mother is a stronger woman than I used to believe. She is smart and warm and capable of standing up for herself. She was a feminist role model for a girl who’d desperately needed it. I wish I’d crawled out of my critical hole long enough to notice that before now. If I sometimes sound like her, I guess I could do a lot worse.
*Yes, I am still harping on this eyeliner thing. It is this gap in my knowledge I can’t ignore! Why can’t I do it without stabbing myself in the eye?