.Disaster Preparedness: Bring a Book.

“I always read a lot. I read the same amount, no matter what season it is. I read every night. When I’m on book tour, I’m on airplanes all the time, so I’m always reading. People say, ‘How do you have time to read?’ Oh, come on, it’s simple! You’re single and you don’t watch television.”— John Waters

I love to read because it makes me happy. Whenever someone asks me how I can find time to read I most likely always answer, “Because I make time for it.” I wrote about how to read more here already but I have some more stuff to add. For example:

Carry a book with you at all times.

“Because I was carrying the book around all the time, I pulled it out all the time: On the subway, walking down the block to get groceries…” – Clive Thompson https://br5.bookriot.com/quarterly/bkr07/amp/

I carry a book with me wherever I go. Pick up at my son’s school? Book is in my purse. I call it my emergency book. You never know where you end up, what will happen or if you do not want to talk to people. Grocery store lines, waiting in offices, at traffic lights, killing some time, lunch breaks; to carry a book with me is my version of disaster preparedness. Like doomsday preppers. I know someone who watches it with a passion.

Read and date several books at the same time. Then decide which one you want to go with. Have a book next to your bed. Go to bed early and read in bed. Wake up early and read two pages before you get out of bed.

Stop reading books you do not like.

“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag – and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty – and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.” – Doris Lessing

If you don’t “feel” a book and get nothing out of it, just put it down and pick up another one. (For me: Infinite Jest!) There are so many great books out there. Find the ones that make you happy. I give a book usually fifty pages to catch my interest. Stop reading what society decides you should have read by now. Like 100 books you should have read by now. Do not take Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in your beach bag to Cancun. You are not going to read it. Sometimes a book is just not for you. Don’t read a book to just impress others. “Look at me, I am reading Kierkegaard on the bus. I am very smart.” Read what you love. I know you will love this one.

Visit your local independent bookstores and libraries.

“You must go to the library and fall in love.” – Ray Bradbury

My son and I love to go to the local library. Or to Ottawa’s best and most well-curated selection or used books and independent bookstore, The Black Squirrel. It is glorious to spend time browsing and shopping at this place. My son cannot read yet but he loves to explore and discover. These days he is into Star Wars. However, he is afraid of The Hobbit because of Gollum and National Geographic books in French are used to cut out animal pictures for art projects. I know the most amazing librarian who knows exactly what 5-year-old boys love to “read” because she shows interest and asks my son what he is into these days. Browsing through indie bookstores is an adventure because it is the serendipity of the stacks combined with the magical discoveries of book-treasures that often happens when I least expect it.

Talk about books.

“Read the books you love, tell people about authors you like, and don’t worry about it.” – Neil Gaiman

Talking about books will give you more ideas about new books to read and interesting conversations. Just ask what others are reading. Maybe keep track of what you are reading. For example, I signed up at the website Goodreads. When a book really inspired me, I wrote about it on my blog. Share the books you love in whatever way you can.

.A Conversation About Sex.

I got into a heated debate with someone the other day about whether a desire to change your partner makes you a shitty person. My argument is that it does not. My friend however implied, in so many words, that it did. I clarified that I did not want to change A LOT, only some things. Just a few! For some reason, I felt that my admission was uncouth, but I still believed I am speaking the truth many people in a relationship felt. My friend stood her ground. “You are not supposed to want to change the person you love. If you ever feel the desire to change them it means that you don’t love them.” 

Me: “Okay, point taken for now. You do not want to change a person. So, let’s shift the conversation to sex in a relationship!” I started slowly. I asked my friend how she feels about movie sex. She responded, “Usually, it is pretty squishy and unreal. Whenever the sex scenes last more than five minutes it seems weird and I hit forward on the remote. Nobody has sex like this, right?!” 

This time, I agree with her. Nothing gets me yelling at the TV faster than weird sex scenes. Honestly, most movie sex scenes are an insult to real sex everywhere I think. I don’t take personal offense but c’mon. Hollywood sex is mostly unrealistic and just horribly clichéd. Porn usually makes no sense and is good for just one reason but this is clear from the beginning. 

This made me think about the most outrageous movie sex myths that seem to have prevailed. Maybe a screenwriter reads this blog post and realizes that it makes sense to excommunicate dumb movie sex scenes immediately so people stop thinking that good sex is supposed to be anything like this. My words may cut surprisingly deep. Be aware. A chilly air may pass between the reader and me but this is normal because confrontation and talk about sex makes people jittery.

[Please apply the above logic to the following scenarios]

From Zero to 100 in 2 seconds. Meaning that there is this idea that there are literally no steps between wanting to have sex and being in the middle of it. This should not need any explanation really but no man can unzip his pants out of a sudden and start having sex. Usually, there are steps involved in this f****** process. I mean this literally. 

The woman- asking- to- use- the-toilet-bursting-through-the-door sex. This myth usually requires no foreplay in movies and nothing gets my eyes rolling more than a couple bursting through the entrance of a house, knocking things over while making out and of course furiously taking off the clothes still worn. WHO IS DOING THIS? Or better, who decides that this is sexy? 

The romantic mutual backward bed crash flip. A happy couple, so in love, falls, naked backward onto a bed (of course white sheets) in tandem. Doesn’t this seem so difficult? Second, what if someone left a knife on the bed? But more importantly and third, WHO DOES THIS? 

The extremely romantic removal of clothing. In movies, removing each other’s clothing seems awkward. The pants get tangled around the ankles or they almost suffocate each other removing a shirt or t-shirt. Unless you are Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey). Enough of these unrealistic undressing standards. 

Sex is not just “jamming it in”. This is probably the worst and most egregious faux-pas because whenever I watch a movie and see a man jamming himself into a woman quickly and for the entire length of a sexual encounter is the worst. In my opinion, this just grossly underestimates what sex should entail. I do not know how else to say this more poetically but 1) sex is just not putting a thing into a hole and 2) other things need to be touched for the woman to experience an orgasm, duh! Which brings me to my next point: 

The female orgasm. Here is a question: How come 100% of movies depict women experiencing orgasms from p-in-v sex when only 25 percent of women even can? I am trying to avoid the word penetration here because my parents are reading this, but I must point out that women in movies are coming WAY TO MUCH from p-in-v sex and many times even at the same time as their partners. To be honest, this is not happening that often (or ever) either. Oh, and I hate the word intercourse. 

All or nothing. Communication is an important part of life and especially when having sex. I think a couple should talk to each other and share their desires and wishes. So what do sex movie scenes usually show us?  Awkward soundtracked silence or repetitive grunts and “yes oh’s yeeeeees’s”. There is an in-between, you know?! Let me remind you in case you forgot: it is an exchange of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Wild, huh! 

All night sex and/or let’s do it again sex. The couple in the movie, all sweaty, moments after finishing and between heaving breaths say, “Let’s do it again!” and they roll over and get back at it. NOT HAPPENING. And it sounds very bad and tiring. I am not saying that no one does this but…. actually, I am saying that. No one does this. At least some time to recoup, ideally several hours…. and then, ideally you are cuddled up together and asleep. 

And can or should I change someone? I believe that maybe full, unbridled acceptance (flaws and all) is ideal to a fault. But I also think it is possible to accept someone while at the same time supporting their betterment, and the betterment of the relationship for a period of time. You don’t want these issues to linger on for years. There is a difference between supportive encouragement and critical punishment. 

 

.Pandemonium and Enlightenment.

I care a lot about many things. I worry a lot, too. Especially as a woman, I think I am more prone to care and worry. But to what extent is it healthy? Honestly, I know people who truly don’t care about many, to me, important things at all. Their life must be so much easier. Or isn’t it? Some care about celebrities, what they wear and how they look. Some people at my yoga class care about their expensive outfits, about those extra pounds they want to get rid of by starving themselves or they worry about their unwashed hair. One woman made sure to mention several times that she ran 30k yesterday, that she is so sore and hates running. “Why are you running then,” the Yoga instructor asked. “Because I don’t want to gain weight and I need to prove to my husband that I can do this,” she responded. The Yoga instructor shook her head and said, “Well, then Downward Facing Dog everyone” while the blonde woman in her hot pink spandex tank took sighed.

Others care about their bitchy friends, asshole boyfriends/ husbands or idiot coworkers. We care about being late, being too early, eating that bagel with cream cheese or eating two Cannolis for breakfast. All those things we care and worry about ruin us in the long run. We get miserable and depressed by pushing ourselves to limits we don’t even want to reach.

Taking a closer look at Instagram or Facebook, for example, people strive for validation, views and “likes”. Everybody is supposed to care. When looking at those perfectly staged photoshopped and edited family pictures, yoga poses and some things others do, we start to worry again. Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I run a successful business or move to Bali? Why isn’t my house all white and why do other women seem to have it all? ALL THE DAMN TIME?

Now we have to shift our thought patterns and stop filling our days with this fluff. Nothing is perfect, ever. Nobody lives in a spotless, white house with babies or toddlers who make no mess. Take a closer look at those who tell you that their life is perfect and soon you will realize that they try the hardest and it is still all just a big show. Scratch a bit on the surface and capture for yourself what is real and how insecurities reveal themselves. See people without their masks. Look beyond. Shift your focus away from appearances and care about what makes you happy. Is it really that 30k run that you force yourself to run? Take a look inside and see what is going on. Focus on true happiness, and by that, I mean true contentment within yourself. Living in a beautiful big house, driving that Porsche, not having to work or having your kids signed up in private school might not be what you need and what makes you truly happy.

There was a time in my life when I thought everything has to be perfect or at least good enough. Things had to be a certain way. But usually, whenever I thought that this is it or this is perfect, life threw another curveball at me and I had to adjust and move on but sometimes in a completely different direction than I planned. I realized the hard way that worrying and over-analyzing does not help but rather slows me down. Many things are simply out of my control and I have to accept that.

So after an experience that I will not describe here since it is too private, I learned an important lesson: Nothing matters as much as I think it does; not even the most difficult situation, bad events or messages. What matters are people who love and need me, like my son. To me, his happiness matters. My parents matter. My friend and his family matters. But their approval does not. Perfection in a relationship does not since it does not exist. Things we think matter the most, do not matter because, in the end, everything will work out but maybe in the most unexpected way. Whatever makes us truly happy on this journey matters but this means not to lose sight of ourselves by caring and stressing about what we cannot change, is out of our control and what others do/wear/say/have/think or post online.

How about stop caring and worrying so much and start living? Time goes by so fast. I am still here and standing, despite those challenges I face(d). I am not afraid of falling short. No one can tell me what I can and cannot do, what I should and should not expect. And I am most certainly not losing any sleep over the white modern furniture I do not own. I have more important things to do such as feeding my army of squirrels on the balcony with leftover nuts. To soak in this mundane, simple moment is the purest luxury of all.

.Not your typical Mom.

“Look, mommy, I drew a man with very long and skinny legs!”#dirtymindsthinkalike 

The other day, I waited patiently with the other moms to pick up our children after school when my son ran toward me to proudly present his latest painting of a man with very skinny legs. “You just have to laugh about it all and enjoy every minute. Time flies. Soon he will move out”, one mom said. 

Nothing makes me feel quite as overwhelmed as the words “enjoy every minute”. Like what do you mean? Enjoy every minute, while my kid walks through that huge puddle on the playground and cries because he is soaking wet? Right now, when he flushed his underwear down the toilet to see what happens? Right now, when he tells me he played with his poo in the toilet, smelled it and cleaned his hands on his pants?  Do you mean when I made supper and he cried because the food smelled or looked weird? Do you mean when I cleaned the toilet and I wondered (again) how pee can be under the bathtub? I mean, I do it all because I have to, I mostly love it and it is worth it to me. I made that decision to have a child so I take responsibility. But to enjoy every minute is a different type of pressure. To be honest, there are many minutes I feel very annoyed or tired. 

I think all moms can relate: raising a child is hard work but that is okay. It is okay to admit it. It is also okay to cry and vent about it from time to time. That does not make me a bad mom and it also does not mean that I love my child any less. He is everything to me. But I have limits, too which makes me human. I do not try, I DO the best I can with the situation given right now. 

I did not enjoy all the sleepless nights that lasted for about 9 months after my son was born. I could fall asleep sitting or standing up anywhere because I was so exhausted. I gained a bunch of weight, was anxious, a bit depressed, and overwhelmed but sometimes I wish I could turn back time. 

The other day when I went for a run, I saw a friend of mine with her newborn baby in a stroller. I stopped to say hi and asked how she was doing and she started to cry. Completely exhausted. I most certainly did not tell her to enjoy every minute. We did not get to have a real chat because her son started to cry and she needed to go home. But I will tell her and would tell any mom with a newborn child to just breathe and that it is all going to turn out fine. I would tell her that it is okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes because all mothers feel this and that she is a fantastic mom. I would tell her that she does not need to question every single move and that it is okay to cry and scream sometimes. I would tell her that motherhood is insane on so many levels and that we are constantly reminded that we are becoming someone we did not use to be. That transition was very hard for me to fathom. 

I would tell her to never lose herself. To take your child everywhere. Go out. Socialize. Meet friends, especially those without kids. Talk about anything but kids with them. I would tell her that she is enough. That it is okay to microwave your baby’s food. That you do not need to feed your child organic food only and that it is not necessary to sign them up for baby yoga or baby-anything. It is okay for the laundry to pile up for some time and that it is more than okay to not enjoy every minute being a mother. I would tell her to always speak how she really feels about being a mother to other moms. I met some awesome friends that way. 

I consider my son “an easy child”. Usually, I don’t have issues with him. He is a good, smart, polite kid but I still don’t enjoy every minute. Not even close. Sometimes I struggle really hard to be present. There was never a time when I pick him up from school and he is tired and annoyed by everything and I thought “this is so enjoyable”. What I thought was, PLEASE, UNIVERSE, SEND ME MORE ENERGY TO GET ALL THIS DONE SO I WILL NOT LOSE MY MIND. Of course, what all mothers usually remember are the highlights and we conveniently forget all the sweat and tears that come with parenting. The pain of childbirth or C-section recovery? Totally forgotten, right? When I remember how my newborn son snuggled in my arms after I fed him, my heart breaks. It was the best and most wonderful time. 

Hey… don’t get all squishy now. Remember with me just for one second your sore nipples. The sleepless nights and the tears of exhaustion. Remember all the messy parts of raising a child, especially if you are a single parent. Remember the constant-constant of being a mother and that you will be a mother forever. 

Sometimes, and I said this already, I wish I could slow time down a bit. Especially when my son asks me to measure again how much taller he has gotten in the last couple of months. In my opinion, he is worth every tear, every struggle and every glass of wine. He is worth it all. When all these sweet childhood moments are gone, I know I will wish for them all back. But I keep in mind that it is hard, too and that is okay. 

While I put his snowsuit up to dry because it was soaking wet he asked me to kiss him goodnight again. This was the time when I saw his latest Sharpie-drawing on his pillow and bedframe which actually looks pretty epic. 

.Ready…. Set….. Wait.

“Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind” – David G. Allen

I have been forced (again!) to acknowledge that I am struggling with patience. I realize that so much in this process is beyond my control and life can take a different direction in one second. A friend told me that one can really test patience when sitting in a waiting room. “Are you still and peaceful as you wait or are you anxious, impatient and fidgety”, he asked. I learned that I need to take a closer look at all the things that happen to me while I wait. I think we are all waiting for something. For a new job, for your child to get over a nasty cough so he can sleep peacefully again at night, or for a throbbing headache to go away. Or something serious like waiting to get pregnant, for lab results, for a lost love to return or for a diagnosis. Others are waiting for a heavy blanket of sadness, grief or loneliness to be lifted from their hearts.

We spend weeks and months waiting for something to start or to end so something new can start. But in the meantime life does not stop. Things happen and life takes a new twist and maybe we hope and wait for someone else to organize our life for us to get a break but it won’t happen. I guess it all matters what type of waiter we are because, in the long run, the fruit of patiently waiting is inner peace. With this peace, we may realize that this job we have been waiting for might not be ours at all but maybe it is rather the perfect job for someone else. Or the person we would love to share our life with does not respond to our calls and messages because they are meant to be with someone else.

To look at waiting from a different perspective may make us realize that everything happens on purpose and in the end, we receive something so much better than we even hoped for. For me, waiting is closely linked to worrying which is exhausting and can drain. Waiting by letting time pass with contentment and the thought that everything will be fine, that most things do not matter and are under control, life is so much easier. However, this is easier said than done and takes a lot of practice. But the more I do it, the more I feel that life is not about achieving. It is not about getting, keeping or having. It is about letting go of expectations, staying true to myself and to let life surprise me. It is about watching my doubts and insecurities. It is about maintaining a willingness to continue, to accept, to hope, to trust, to bend in different directions and adapt and adjust. It is even more challenging while taking care of someone else. Sometimes this means to get up in the morning and make breakfast for someone even though you are exhausted.

These are the tough times. The times to let it all be okay and keep trusting that everything will work out in the end. To look straight ahead and keep going no matter what. To see the good in the things that are ahead and to let difficulties be turned into valuable life lessons. Sometimes it seems that others have it all, but they do not. They are waiting and struggling, too. Having is amazing, but the value of things is most often felt when we are longing for it. Maybe it is the distance I feel from what I want to achieve that allows me exactly how much I love what I am striving for and want to get.

So I stand up again. I keep reaching but I look at my wants closely enough to see that I am not naming what I lack, but what I love. And I love what I love. I am vigilant in this waiting process for the things that have not shown up yet while I get to know myself and the things I do have a little bit more. Taking a closer look at my life, I am very rich indeed. So, I make peace with it all and let go. I am grateful that I get to want in the first place and that I am learning through longing clarity while clearing away resistance and leap in the unknown.

.The Miracle of the Mundane.

Growing up, I was a drama-free person. Protected, my only concern was to play outside, climb up the highest tree and build the biggest tree house. Life was easy. Later in elementary school whenever someone spread a rumor, I would not entertain it and simply mind my own business. 

Years later, I had this creeping realization that things had changed. Gossip was more noticeable and everywhere along my road to adulthood but I tried hard not to get involved in the minutiae of people’s everyday issues. The more I avoided gossip, the more people bombarded me with their problems, yet (and this was weird) did not really want to listen to suggestions on how to fix things. I recall, there was one particular week when I listened to one of my closest friends over the course of about three days who explain why she was so depressed and stressed about a boyfriend. It took another two days to analyze the nonsensical petty text message fight between my friend and this guy whom she spent a couple of years with but who was married. (Note to self: Do not get involved with married men!) I spent several lunch breaks at work with another friend who told me everything on how she found out that her husband cheated and the issues and rollercoaster trajectory she faced with her new boyfriend because of all this. (Note to self: Do not get married, like ever!) 

People describe me as a fairly rational human being; I am calm if you don’t push me too far, level-headed, collected and driven. But then, I am sometimes drawn to drama because it 1) distracts from my own life issues and stress for a bit; 2) it transfers me into a pseudo-peer counselor to my friends and I like to help and find solutions and 3) personal growth. I also love people- watching and to eavesdrop on first-date conversations at for example a coffee shop where I usually write and read. With personal family issues, I have this desire to get to the bottom of things. But at the same time, I am not into any pop culture news or drama and I would rather poke my eyeballs out than watch The Bachelor or Big Brother.  I guess, this magnetism for problems and issues stems back to my upbringing. Again, everything was drama-free, somewhat discouraged and labeled as “uncool” or “other people’s problems and not your business”. So I stuck to myself, my hobbies, books, and studies which I guess led to this introversion that somewhat stunted me emotionally and socially but this is totally fine. What has changed is that I started to prioritize friendships and listen to my gut and heart more than anything, but I still want to relate to others. I am ready to listen and to connect because I somehow embrace and accept that other’s trust me. But at the core, I simply just don’t let others consume all my energy and time anymore. 

We all have some sort of role within this social system which creates a feeling of belonging. Listening to other people’s stories always allows me to grow, too. With all this being said, it took me a very long time to really understand how some people work. It took me an even longer time to understand that emotions are complicated and that logic and analysis are non-existent when someone is in love. And the funny thing is, while I help others, I am at the same time sorting through my own conflicts, or develop a plan to move forward or in a completely different direction which makes it important interpersonal work. I can learn so much from others which brings me a deep sense of satisfaction. We are all resolving our own issues and move forward in a new or for us “right” direction to connect to an even deeper intimacy with who we are and what we love. 

Food for Thought:

I love to find out more about how humans tick because some stories people share with me are rather shocking. There is always this uncertainty in life; an uncertainty that removes our judgment of others and ourselves. It makes us think if we are lovable or not, or if we are attractive or not. We find out through experience and people who believe they know everything learn nothing. One way to solve problems is to first admit that actions and beliefs up to this point have been wrong and obviously do not work.  I have to keep in mind that my (or other people’s) values are imperfect and incomplete. To assume that they are perfect just throws me in a mindset that breeds entitlement and simply avoids responsibility. Also, an openness to being wrong must exist for any real change to take place. Everybody has their own values and protects them. People try to live up to them and justify them and maintain them. This is who we are. 

I sometimes call it human troubleshooting and I figured it is not so important to find myself or to know who I am 100% because this keeps me striving and discovering. In the end, it forces me to remain humble in my judgment and accepting of the differences in others and myself. 

.Espresso and Cannoli.

Life is not easy. Many times it is quite the opposite. And when I feel most comfortable I usually get an open-handed movie-cliche slap in the face which wakes me back up because another challenge is waiting around the corner. My motivation is to encourage myself that I am willing to consider this game I am immersed in from a different hilltop. I want to hike to the top of joy-mountain that is not obscured by dark clouds of stress, worrying and anxiety. When I have thoughts like this, these days Celia comes to my mind. I met her for the first time at a café in my neighborhood. She looks different and reminds me of Iris Apfel.

Over time, a friendship developed and I found out more about this 75-year-old woman who lives in a residence close to my apartment. Whenever I visit her, she usually serves espresso and fresh authentic Sicilian Cannoli from an Italian Delicatessen Store. She then shows me her artwork and “arrangements” which are crafts she glues together from mostly natural materials such as dried flowers, driftwood, small sparkly rocks and spends usually a sold five minutes describing all her different projects. She explains where she found the “treasures” and finishes the sentence by saying, “Well, honey, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Stop taking life so seriously! Go out and play! Go on a long walk and see what you can find!”

I love spending time with this woman. She is different and interesting. Whenever I am with her, I always bring my journal because 1) I am a writer and love to jot things down and 2) I want to remember things Celia says. I would like to share notes from our conversation from several afternoons and weeks of awesomeness that are quite inspirational:

“Daniela, stop taking life so seriously. You are going to die, you know that, right? Start living in the moment. Stop giving so many useless f**** to whatever drama encompasses your life. This too shall pass. Get over it. Focus and stay clear-headed. Ask yourself, why you live a certain way and if something bothers you figure out how you can change it. Then change it. These days, take some time noticing the cold on your face. Enjoy every tiny bit of sun. Soon, take some time noticing the wind in the leaves, the sound of the water in the rivers. Don’t get distracted by events, sounds, messages that only disturb and have nothing to do with where you are. Enjoy the search for your little treasures. Every day hold’s a new promise, a new opportunity, a new chance”.

“Don’t waste your time or be engaged in something you don’t want to do. If it feels bad, it usually is. Don’t think about your fear(s). Jump into the deep end now! The only time you will ever have is this very moment. You hate your job, quit! You don’t have a job, consider moving somewhere else or trying something else. Be open for change. Stop tapping the snooze alarm 10 times in the morning. If you do, you should probably consider making some fundamental changes to the way you navigate your reality. If you feel uncomfortable, change something. Stop worrying about what other people may think of you. Stop judging other people’s journeys. Do you want to impress someone? Impress yourself. Designer clothes have no bearing on self-worth. Honey, the contributions necessary to healing this sick world will never come with a “Made in China” label. A lot of what you hear in the news is manipulated, twisted, and skewed. Question everything. Do you know that you can shift your views and ideals of the world with a single thought? Some people’s ego is huge but is also just is a fiction they have created to provide a frame of reference to experience the world; they are usually very insecure. And those who present their entire life on Facebook usually have seats in the front row of the freak-show tent. Keep in mind that life is an amusement park that should be enjoyed, not wandered through in fear”.

I have this urge to add a conclusion to all this. Eventually, I will get to where I want to go, but only after throwing away my hiking shoes and accepting the eventuality that my feet will get full of mud. This is exactly why not too many people climb mount happiness because the path is not well equipped with safety lines and already well-worn. There are no neon signs flashing showing the way up. The adventure only awaits my willingness to embrace it with wonder and fascination knowing that there are no limits. With this in mind, I start walking in a different direction.

.Tidying Up This Mess.

It seems that everybody in this world watches the newly aired NetFlix show “Tyding up with Mari Kondo”.

I watched one or two episodes but became quickly annoyed by high-pitched seemingly set-up welcome ceremonies whenever Kondo walked into a house. It all feels too staged to me. I also cannot deal with her somewhat stubborn insistance that things have feelings. My Canada Goose Coat better keeps me warm here in Canada! Thank you, coat! I hope I don’t hurt your feelings when it is minus 25 Celsius. I choose a minimalistic lifestyle because it is a good tool to make life cheaper and easier for my son and I and to show him different values in life. My apartment is usually always pretty organized and clean. Growing up I have been taught that a house should always be in a stage that people can come over anytime and feel comfortable; meaning a visitor does not stick to things, can sit everywhere or can take a shower if necessary. I realize, however, that cleanliness of your house all depends on who you are and what your comfort level is. But I think it is just reasonable to offer a cup of coffee out of a clean cup.

Maybe you need some help cleaning without necessarily using the Mari-Kondo method who recommends “treating your bras like royalty” and refers to tidying up as a “once-in-a-lifetime special event”. I rather use common sense, which may be even crazier. Overall, I don’t want to create a personality disorder in motion.

I have read once that how your home looks directly reflects what is going on in your head. Some have the misconception that being tidy is a somewhat innate skill, however, cleaning does not come naturally to everyone because it is not a skill but rather a mindset. Start by tidying a bit every day. Put the things you used back right away. Throw away the obvious trash. If it smells and looks bad, it obviously does not spark joy but rather disgust. Get rid of your (Canadian) seasonal depression nest and remove empty beer and wine bottles. Maybe it is a good idea for you to start seeking help if wine, beer bottles, and empty food containers are in places where it is not acceptable; like all over the floor in your house for example.

A couple of weeks ago, I overheard a man telling his friend: “But it is just stuff!” I found out that “the friend’s” house burnt down to the ground. It was just a faulty living room fan that sparked a fire during the day while he was at work. My question is, how do you measure what your stuff means to you, especially in a moment like that? We never know when/if we lose everything and have to start from scratch. It may be even a good thing. Don’t burn your house down now! I just want to give some food for thought to get rid of accumulated and unnecessary junk and how I did it without preaching that you can only achieve the best version of you if your house is uncluttered like an art gallery of “white-everything”. It is also not a thing to maintain a sleek, spare home by throwing out everything you own, painting your walls in “White Dove” and sitting on the floor thanking your tiny table that you have left which holds your one plate to eat.

So, what to do with all this? Doesn’t this clutter-free existence exert a constant pressure that is oppressive in its own way? What really happens is that we all swim up a stream of things for our entire life. Our mind is filled with clutter. New things come and go and they rarely bring us long-term satisfaction but are rather exhausting. Why? Because it is not only our stuff that makes us anxious. It is also our phone and the thousand messages we receive every day to like, listen, follow, react, dislike, subscribe, retweet, insta-like, join, forward and consume. We are constantly threatened with interruptions and every moment is easily erased or subsumed by some more important message or video. Sadly to say, we live in a world of past and future clutter. We are so filled up with noise and interruptions, that it is difficult to be here, now. Things don’t just spark joy but also anxiety. My computer reminds me that deadlines are approaching, the news remind me that the world is soon coming to an end, the online school alert reminds me that I have to pay the fee for my son’s field trip and also to return his library books. Can I step away from this digital pandemonium? Nope.

Can I spark joy all by myself? Do I remember how that feels? A friend told me that “All of heaven is within you and nothing lasts. Just when you start to get comfortable, things change or you may even die. And if you do, maybe only one or two things of what you left behind are important to someone else when you are gone.” Now, here you are with all your possesions. Do the things you own define who you are? Do they make you a better person? I don’t think so. Overall, we don’t need more stuff. Before purchasing more, we should rather work with what we have instead. You don’t need more than this. Now go and light your white soy candle or open a window to let in some fresh air.

.Important Questions to Ask Before Getting Married.

Melissa Kaseman

I received a plethora of questions and comments after my blog post Vide Cor Meum. “My marriage is complicated, how can I make it work? I tried all the things you suggested“, one reader asked. Her is a list of things you may want to ask yourself before getting married.

  1. Ask questions about your partner’s family. Meet the family. How do they live? Is it safe to take a shower? Can you make yourself scrambled eggs in a pan that is clean? Are there eggs? Is there any (healthy) food in the house? Is there a clean place to sit? How is the family situation? How do the father and mother treat each other?
  2. Observe weird patterns or things that make no sense to you. My friend asked me the other day: “My boyfriend starts many things at the same time without finishing one first. He spends a lot of money on stuff related to his dream house when there is not even a plan established when we start with the foundation. Is this weird?” Whenever it feels and seems weird to you, it probably is. Listen to your gut!
  3. Do you want to have children (together)? And if we do, will he/she be there to change diapers, help out, and spend quality time with the child(ren)? Only get pregnant if YOU feel it is okay for YOU. Don’t let anybody talk you into it and make you think it is a great idea. Having a child is like getting a tattoo in the face – you kind of want to be committed. Also, when you have a child, get ready to talk to other mothers. Usually, there is no way around. Sometimes mothers with kids talk to other mothers in a language that I do not want to understand because it is too confusing. I do not want to talk about what school lunch is less GMO, peanut/lactose or gluten-free. I also don’t blow my negative energy into a balloon or know the driveway rule. I just don’t. And I don’t care. I also don’t care if my child plays the cello or piano at age five but my son and I listen to a classical concert at the National Arts Center (NAC) occasionally. Ops, I got off on a tangent here but you get the point.

4. Money and debt. Is my debt your debt? Would you be willing to bail me out? Bail you out of what? Jail? Probably not. How much money do you have, how much money does your significant other have? Is it shared? Are there savings? How much? Enough to start projects such as a house, a family, trips, vacations etc.? How much money are you bringing into the relationship/marriage and how much am I contributing? And, you do want to make sure you see and talk about each other’s bank account statement every other month because you LIVE TOGETHER AND SHARE THINGS, right?

5. Can you deal with me doing things without you? Actually, I would prefer it. I love alone time. My sacred time to write, read and be creative. I need to be alone at times. I do not understand couples who do everything together. I prefer to have my own relationship with certain things like doing laundry alone, or cooking, or reading, or cleaning the house. I like doing my own thing and then reunite. And so should you.

6. What do you admire about me and what are your pet peeves? Do you like me if I wear my 80s vintage jeans, tank top and bangs? Do you like my laugh, my style, that I love red wine and cheese, that I want to read all the time and go to bookstores, that I love pho, that I want to travel and see the world; those little things like a cup of coffee and to read a book at a café for hours. Nobody and nothing is perfect. What are your pet peeves and can and do I want to live with them? I am 37 years old. I know what I want and what feels right and is good for me at this point in my life. I have seen and experienced a lot. I don’t dwell in the past or let my past define me though.

7. Where do you see us in five years? Living together is not easy. How much do we talk to each other? Do we resolve problems or just suck things up waiting to explode? What did we accomplish? Which pillars did we take down to build a new entrance even though the old one looked perfectly fine. Did we take the garbage out of the backyard to plant some vegetables and fruit? Do we have some savings to go on vacation? Did we take care of the debt? Do we have our dream house? How did we grow together as a couple? What did we achieve? Do you know me? Do I know you? Does being with each other give us clean energy to move forward without projecting a misguided, rather unrealistic fantasy of the future? Or does this feeling exist that we live in this particular prison anxiety has created with a feeling to be stuck in all this forever without escape because nobody wants to make the other feel uncomfortable? These are all valid questions I now know the answers to. Do you?

.The Book Review: Sarah Pinborough “The Language of Dying”.

“People talk a lot when someone is dying.  They talk as if the person is already dead.  Maybe it’s the first step of the healing process for those inevitably left behind.  And maybe you have already started the process by pulling a few steps away from us.  The frail used-to-be man in the bed upstairs is not our father.  You were so much more than that.” (8)

Sarah Pinborough’s The Language of Dying(Quercus, 2016) is a novella about five adults who gather at their childhood home as their father reaches the final stages of a cancer that will kill him.  Pinborough’s narrator uses plain language, and that language is the highlight of the book. At 130 pages, the book is sparse but packed with meaning and gives a glimpse of characters like an impressionist painting.  It is not a detailed portrayal of the characters but an impression of them as people, filtered through the narrator. 

The story is told from the perspective of the family’s middle child, who has returned home first to recover from an abusive relationship, then to care for her dying father.  Her siblings join her as their father’s life will soon end.  The family now consists of the dying father and his five children: Paul, Penny, the narrator, Davey, and Simon.  It’s a family of damaged people who cope in different ways.  We read the narrator’s thoughts and she speaks in her mind as though she is speaking to her father.  It’s a personal and conversational style that gives us her perspective without contrivances.  Her reliability as the person closest to the situation (apart from the father) also makes her a trustworthy perspective at the beginning of the story: “I take a deep breath of the air that has been just mine and yours for months.  It’s been two days since you last smoked a cigarette, but I imagine the lingering tobacco scent filling me up and it gives me the confidence to face the outside.  How Penny came to be part of the outside, I’m not quite sure” (5-6).  This reliability becomes strained as the story progresses and the stress of caring for her father while dealing with her siblings becomes more difficult for her to handle: “I’m crying as I change the stained sheets and I don’t know who for.  Maybe for all of us.  Maybe just for me.  There is a worm in my head that whispers that it isn’t only Paul who doesn’t think other people feel and think and care.  And maybe the worm is right” (113).  

The narrator is aware that her father’s death will change the family, and one of the key elements of the story is her balance between the intensity of the moments (good and bad) and knowing that the moments will end.  Being so focused on time, death, and change, she also compares how those relationships used to be and how they have changed or will change irrevocably.  

As impressionistic as the book is, we’re constrained by the narrator’s anxieties and memories, her love, envy, sorrow, sadness, and happiness.  There’s enough there to suggest deeper lives than we see.  So much so that the unicorn might be the least interesting part of the story.  

The one part of the book that I found disappointing is the ending.  I won’t say what it is, but after the first 120 pages, I expected a more impactful end.  It’s a bit clichéd and a let down, but I’d say that the 120 pages outweigh the 10 in that proportion.

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This book review was written by Dat Tran (guest blogger). He grew up in Nepean, Ontario. In grade 10, he wrote a book report on the fate of the royal family of Troy, and Greek tragedy and mythology became his gateway into literature, philosophy, and history.  He is not good at math.