Saturday, February 26, 2011

Of Time And Tide

Every now and then, I find myself thinking back to the days before my life was turned upside down - which was how my nearly nine-year-old mind perceived our move from Winnipeg, Manitoba to the far side of the world…Truro, Nova Scotia. “Truro? What kind of silly name is that?” I wondered. “Not grand and noble like…Winnipeg!” Forget that it is the coldest major city in the world, it was my home.
There were always things to do back then, and lots of kids with whom to do them, as my father was in the military, and we lived on base in a PMQ (Private Married Quarters). Lack of snow was never a concern, and we were kept busy building snow forts for snowball fights, digging tunnels in the snow banks (Parents were not overly concerned about cave-ins back then), and the coasting was great. I know, you’re wondering where you go coasting on the prairies? Although most of the land was flat, there was one place with a slope steep enough to provide enough velocity for even the largest toboggan…the highway overpass. Yes, I said the overpass. Cars would be parked along the side of the on ramp as families engaged in the wintery weekend recreation…even when the temperature was fit for neither man nor beast. As long as your eyes peeked out from beneath your balaclava and scarf, you were good to go. And it was always cold enough for Dad to build a rink in the yard.
Summer was just as enjoyable. My best friend, Cindy and I would catch huge grasshoppers in the field behind her house, and put them into jars before they had the chance to “spit tobacco” on us. Or we would watch as our older brothers and their friends raced the crayfish they caught in the river, earlier in the day. (Although nobody told the tiny crustaceans they were supposed to run in a straight line, they were still fun to watch.) And I remember my brother, sisters and I piling, excitedly, into the family station wagon (lying down in the back, of course, no seat belts for us) for the straight, flat, seemingly endless, drive to the “beach”, keeping an eye out for the white horse statue not far from our destination. Although we could see the statue miles before we actually reached it, it gave us hope that the end was within sight.  “The beach” was a man-made lake with a sandy shore and a cement bottom. No fish, no grass. Then there was Assiniboine Park, with its English gardens, pony rides, duck pond and, my favorite, the zoo…especially the monkey house. (Perhaps I felt a kinship.)
How could I be expected to be happy about leaving all of that?
My mother assured me that I would love Nova Scotia. Both my parents were Bluenosers, and I would have tons of family to meet. Being an extremely shy child, this did not win me over. What did win me over was her ascertain that the sea air would make my hair curl. I had always had hair as straight as a stick, so it made me smile to think of this. In my over-exaggerated, nearly nine-year-old imagination, I pictured myself running down the beach with my long raven locks curling up around my face. (Unfortunately, as it turned out, even with the maritime climate, a slight wave was all that I was ever able to achieve without the assistance of a perm.) She also regaled me with cautionary tales of clam digging in the Bay of Fundy without getting caught as the quickly turning tide filled the Bay to ten times my height.  Again, my imaginative, pre-pubescent brain saw me standing on the mud flats as the tide rolled in, tsunami-style, overtaking me and my curls and washing us out to sea. I was a prairie girl, what did I know of tides?
Regardless of whether I was ready to leave the endless sea of wheat fields in the west for the sea ravaged cliffs of the east, the move was inevitable. So, two weeks before my ninth birthday, my family, including a small, black and white dog, made the four day journey east.
 How was I to know, all those years ago, that the tide, and all that goes with it, would become my idea of heaven on earth. From the taste of dried salt water on my lips, to the snap of seaweed under my feet; the screech of the gulls as they soar overhead, to the mesmerizing pull of the waves rolling onto the shore, I had found my true home. I guess that move did turn my life upside down…thankfully. Although I wouldn’t trade my early beginnings for anything, I’m glad that straight-haired, little prairie girl was able to embrace the seaweed and shoreline of this penninsula to become a proud Bluenoser.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ask Me Tomorrow

I had planned to write about procrastination last week, but I didn’t get around to it. I know, bad joke.
There is an old adage which says, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” And I believe this to be wise council. It would never have been coined had it not been proven to be beneficial. After all, have you ever heard someone curse himself for having finished a project early? Unless they were trying to kill time, it is unlikely. I certainly appreciate the extra time to double-check every detail.
So, why then, do I seem to be procrastinating? Am I lazy? I don’t believe that to be true, but maybe I’m not the best judge. After all, to some, sitting in front of a computer searching for the perfect word or phrase may constitute laziness, so I may tend to give some leeway where this is concerned. Do I crave the thrill of a deadline fast approaching? Although it may get the adrenaline pumping, I’m not sure thrill is the right word. And I’m sure others feel no thrill while waiting for me. Is it lack of time? Doubtful. My life is not that exciting.
So, what does that leave? I believe I have discovered the answer. Clutter. Whether it’s physical clutter or cluttered thought, it can leave you frustrated.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that every square inch of my desk is littered with scraps of paper containing research and random thoughts – which, of course, once developed, could change the way mankind perceives the nature of the universe – and as I begin to sift and file these unpolished intellectual gems, one of those scribbled lines opens up a new figurative vein of ideas, revealing a previously obscured cache of diamonds of the mind. Soon, I am once again up to my eyeballs in sticky notes, and frustrated, wondering which tangent to follow. Okay, so it’s not so hypothetical. I can create both physical and mental clutter at the same time. Wow, I’m a multi-tasker!  Multi-tasking can be an admirable quality, but when it doesn’t accomplish anything, it’s just a whole lot of nothing.
So, if my lack of concentration for the task at hand is being caused by clutter, perhaps my problem is not that I am procrastinating, but that I lack focus.
Perhaps I should stop mining diamonds and, instead, try cultivating one pearl at a time. Find the most irritating grain of sand that won’t let me rest until I address it, and see it through to fruition. In other words, take on a single task mindset. To quote a line by Charles Emerson Winchester III from the T.V. show “M.A.S.H.”, “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.” That is what I need to do. Remove the clutter and gain focus.
Therefore, the days of trying to pat my head while rubbing my tummy are over and I will chew my gum before I go for that walk.
As far as this piece is concerned, it may be silly, and I don’t know how well I’ve done it, but it is finished and now I shall move on. After all, I need to get busy on next week’s piece…or that idea I had for the play…or my short story…or….(sigh)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Real Body Of Work

Ah, the accursed full-length mirror. It’s like a bad relationship; it crushes your self-esteem, but you can’t seem to stay away from it. It’s the time of year when thoughts of vacations to warmer climes or optimism for an early spring lure women of all shapes and ages before this “teller of hard truths” where they  stare, horrified to imagine themselves donning the most revealing of apparel…the bathing suit. Whether you’re trying to fit into that new string bikini, or trying to cover as much of yourself as possible, chances are you are feeling self-conscious.
 In every woman I see one of two scenarios; either she picks out every perceived flaw in that reflection or what she observes in the mirror is of little importance to her. If you are in the latter category, I am sad to say that you are in the minority. Most women have at least one part of their body that, given the chance, they would change. Unfortunately, once the alteration has taken place, often, a new flaw suddenly emerges, and before you know it, you’re looking like one of those aging Hollywood stars who don’t know when to say “Uncle”. So, before you start down that slippery slope, ask yourself, “Do I really want that loathsome butt fat injected into my lips?” It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Kiss my….”well, you know the rest.
 There is no doubt in my mind that poor body image is an epidemic among woman. A boom in the plastic surgery and fitness training fields are evidence. I have nothing against these occupations and realize that there is a need for them. Many burn victims and cancer patients are indebted to the plastic surgeon.  And physical fitness is important and it certainly makes you feel strong and healthy. But being fit and having a supermodel’s body are not interchangeable. I know many fit people who will never strut the runways of Paris and who will cringe at the sight of a bathing suit. How can anyone be expected to feel good about their body, wearing nothing but lycra, when Heidi Klum or Kate Moss - or whomever the “it” girl of the day - is splashed all over the covers of magazines with articles announcing “You, Too Can Have The Perfect Body In Time For Summer.” Excuse me for being presumptuous, but “No, you can’t!” There is no such thing as perfection. Even supermodels have their pictures airbrushed, so the rest of us haven’t got a chance.
You would think that as a forty-something woman, with years of life experience, that I would be immune to the propaganda perpetuated by the media, and be comfortable in my own skin, but even armed with the knowledge that I can only do so much with what nature and time have dropped in my lap, I still can’t help but beat myself up for not looking like one of those twenty-year-old hard-bellies.
The scary side of this quest for imagined perfection is the toll it takes on young girls. Our daughters have become brainwashed. They are continually bombarded with images of exceptionally well proportioned, sculpted bodies in music videos, magazines and on film, that their receptive young minds have concluded – ignoring their own genetics and the variety of female shapes in their own environment – that this look is  the norm. Any psychologist can confirm that if something is pounded into your brain long enough, you will believe it. It’s horrifying to think that the media’s view of perfection is directing our daughters’ perception of normalcy, stunting the growth of a whole generation of young women, wrought with anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder. No one wants this, so it is our job to accept ourselves and teach by example.
Now I could say, “No matter how hard I try, I will never look like Heidi Klum.” And that would be the truth. But what if I flipped that around and said, “No matter how her she tries, Heidi Klum will never look like me.” After all, it’s just as true. If girls - and in some cases boys - realized that we aren’t supposed to be cookies cutter clones, and that individuality is what should be valued, perhaps they wouldn’t feel as pressured to try to live up to something that is impossible to attain.
As I look at my old bathing suit hanging next to the mirror, I wonder. “When I’m a hundred, will I be lamenting my inability to keep off those extra pounds? Will it matter that I wasn’t able to fit back into outdated swimwear?” I doubt that will be my biggest regret. I will be sensible in my quest to become healthy so as to reach that centenarian benchmark, but I will not spend the spring starving myself into a bad mood, I’ll convince myself that “real women” have curves and I’m just a whole lot of woman! So, as scary as it might seem, once again this beach season, my belly will bulge and my thighs will jiggle. More importantly, my daughter will see no shame in my eyes as I walk down the beach. Besides, I’m certain I won’t be the only “real woman” on the beach, and there is strength - or solace - in numbers. And if I start to doubt my resolve, instead of covering my body, I’ll just cover the mirror.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cats Rule!

Cats rule and dogs drool. At least that’s what I’ve heard. Although some dog owners might be quick to point out that not all dogs drool, cat owners – at least those not deluding themselves – will confirm the accuracy of the feline sovereignty. My cat, Cleo, was named to honor Queen Cleopatra and the ancient Egyptians’ fondness for cats. I have since come to realize that, subconsciously, I must have named her Cleo because she was a queen and would soon be ruling my Queendom.
As long as I can remember there have been pets in my life.  As a child our family unit always included a dog. Some of my fondest memories revolve around a black and white, wire-haired, fox terrier named Bingo. She was my friend and confidant. She was someone I could always count on to be there – her leash left her little choice – and I knew my secrets were always safe with her. I swore that when I grew up I would have a house full of dogs. So, why then, as an adult, has my humble abode been lacking in the canine department? Want made me choose cats over dogs?
I got my first cat shortly after I got my first apartment. I was young and liked my freedom and I figured that if I got a cat, for the most part, it could take care of itself. I could be sure that, if I didn’t get home at a decent hour, I wouldn’t have to worry about the poor thing busting to get out to relieve itself, whereas, a dog would have to be walked at regular intervals during the day. Who had time for that? The bottom line is that I thought cats were less of a hassle. Ah, but my logic was flawed. It only appeared that way on the surface.
When you first get a pet, be it puppy or kitten, you fall all over yourself to cater to that cute little ball of fur. Puppies require a lot of attention in the beginning. They have to be housebroken and trained, which takes up much of your time, but after that has been accomplished a routine is easily established. It’s just a matter of being there to keep the schedule.
Kittens on the other hand already know how to use the litter box by the time you get them home. I concluded, therefore, that that meant cats were less of a hassle and, being a workingwoman, I appreciated the simplicity. As far as training is concerned, don’t hold your breath, it will never happen. Okay, there are no absolutes. Some cats can be trained…to a degree. Cleo would stay off the kitchen table and counter, and she would sit on her hind legs and beg for treats. But more often than not you’re the one going the extra mile to please her. Actually, training is possible. The problem is that you are the one being trained. Her Royal Highness soon has her minion right where she wants.
In my opinion, some part of your personality is revealed by your choice of pet. First, let’s take a look at dogs. Dogs are loyal. Dogs are man’s best friend. There are few things more welcoming than a wagging tail. Dogs will sit, heel, fetch, and come when you call.  The dog owner is looking to lead, to teach, to be alpha. As long as the dog does as it’s told the dog owner feels a sense of pride and accomplishment at his skilful instruction. Even if some dogs are not so quick to learn the dog owner can still feel superior for the mere fact that the dog is just an animal and can’t be blamed for not immediately comprehending. And even if you have the most learning challenged dog, it is still dependent on its master and perhaps this fulfills the dog owner’s nurturing side. No matter how much the dog understands, its love is unconditional and that is very appealing.
As for cat owners, I believe they must have low self-esteem. How else would you explain why they put up with the feline attitude? Cat’s demand to be fed and don’t let up until they get what they want. They are affectionate, but on their terms. You are expected to read their minds and know exactly what they want. “Do you want to play with the string? Does your litter box need cleaning?” The later being the least favorite of Her Majesty’s bidding, and the former being the most degrading. Nothing looks sillier than a grown person dragging a string around the house begging the animal to “Get the string!” when the cat has completely lost interest. . And they rarely acknowledge you when you call. If this were a relationship, the advice columnists would tell you to drop this person like a hot potato.
More complicated are the people who own both dogs and cats. Do they have duel personalities, domineering and submissive? Okay, maybe I’m just blowing smoke. But no matter which pet is your preference, there is no denying the hold they have on us. They become a part of our family and we accept and love them, regardless of their temperaments and quirks. Of course it’s a good thing they were designed, by God or nature to be cute, otherwise they might never have been domesticated.
I had better let you go now, as I’m sure Fido needs to go out, and Her Royal Highness is waiting impatiently to be fed. Ah, pets…they all rule.
*In memory of my furry friend. R.I.P. Cleo.