July 3, 2018

The Social Media Frenzy

I am writing this post from our little mountain home surrounded by trees and near-silence. There is nothing like the peace of this place and the mental clarity after a few good sleeps in a row to provide perspective and encourage me to write something. We do have WiFi and Satellite up here so fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you see it, we are connected to the outside world, although I tend to use this physical distance as a reason to keep my connectivity to a minimum. Cell service is not yet available here, so that is one form of communication banned to me in any case. I find these mini retreats in the mountains to be excellent for my mental health. I tend to become a little bogged down when I spend too much time online getting bombarded by all the headlines, and the wildly varying opinions (withering scorn is definitely in fashion) on those headlines. I tend not to sleep all that well during my work week, which makes me more vulnerable and emotional and ill-equipped to manage the bombardment and put it in its proper place. While I am all for technology and the improvements it has made to my life I am also well aware of the need to take regular breaks from Social Media.

As a person who grew up without Social Media I often think about how it affects my life and the lives of those around me. Like millions of others I participate almost daily in the digital communities of Facebook and Instagram. I enjoy viewing photos and videos from friends and family members and living vicariously through their travel photos and postings. I add occasional quips and comments on various media sites, and generally enjoy the entertainment value my little online world supplies. I opened a Twitter account for a short time but gained very little from time spent there. I found Twitter a somewhat cold and calculated form of interaction. I decided to leave it to the journalists, politicians and film stars. Social Media is how I keep track of the activities of my widespread large extended family, keep abreast of events in my community, and communicate with many loved ones and acquaintances. I post often but try not to engage in anything overly negative or emotionally draining. At one time I did venture down those uncertain paths and nearly always ended up more upset and with nothing to show for my time and effort. I know many people use Social Media to promote causes, and that is wonderful (mostly). I have donated to some worthy campaigns because I read about them on Social Media, but I am rarely politically influenced by what I read online. Before I support or oppose a cause I listen to the radio, read a newspaper or watch the news to see what is really happening out there in the world from a trained journalistic standpoint. Sometimes Social Media only gives us the sound bites, and I need a bit more than click bait to be truly informed about local and global situations. Call me old fashioned.

I remember telling my kids they could only join Facebook if I was included in their Facebook circle. I was unsure of the impact Social Media would have on them and wanted to be part of their online lives. Turns out they were generally smarter than I was at managing online. While I, new to Social Media, put far too much stock into what was promoted there, my children took it all with a grain of salt, unfriending people willy-nilly if they were fed up with their posts. My kids share occasional photos and music but mostly they just tag each other in memes and silly bird videos. The online world was a language they grew up with and they seemed to know how to manage it instinctively. I do not think all kids do, however. I limited screen time for my kids from an early age and they developed plenty of other interests. We also enjoyed a lot of family time. We suffered some bumps along the road - we were all learning how to navigate this strange new world - but overall they learned how to use this new power for good. I think it is the kids who grow up with a screen as babysitter who might have the most difficulty. For various reasons, their parents are not monitoring their activity online and it takes an aware and wise child to, alone and without any guidance, field all the dangers and temptations presented to them.

One thing which also worries me about Social Media is how addicted we are to it as a way to present ourselves and put ourselves out there. While I was at work the other day I had a thought. If actions speak louder than words, how effectively does our presence on Social Media show our true selves? When we communicate with others online we can orchestrate everything. We can choose only the best photographic versions of ourselves to share. We can begin typing something and then erase it before it is sent. We don't have to be vulnerable in front of an actual person and learn from our mistakes. Is this bringing up an entire generation of people afraid to make eye contact and relate human to human? Or more than afraid, unable? I know I am less socially inclined than I used to be, and I wonder how much this has been the result of engaging almost daily on Social Media.

Engaging in Social Media can be isolating, too. I know when a certain feeling comes over me it is time to put the phone down, get up and do something productive. I admit to learning the hard way. I am not very good at multi-tasking. When I am online and my kid asks me something it often takes her yelling Mom! at me to get me to break my focus. I like my own company but I know when I need to be with a real person, to sense the nuances in our conversations, to feel their energy, their warmth and their interest. The digital community can make me think, make me laugh and cry, but it can never supply me with human interaction and love, two things I need. Don't we all? We have to remind each other to limit our digital communication and expand our person-to-person interaction. We have to look into each others eyes when we talk, and nag our kids to do it, too. We are using our phones and computers as guards against vulnerability, and perhaps even accountability. Social Media is a powerful tool, and awareness of its power is the first step toward managing it properly, so it doesn't, in turn, end up managing us.

May 15, 2018

A Question of Marriage

Last week in my Facebook feed there appeared a handful of articles on the subject of Canadians' attitudes toward marriage. The articles stated that fifty-three percent of people surveyed believed marriage to be unnecessary, and one-sixth said they are not interested in the milestone at all. One of the major factors in people's hesitation to tie the knot was the expense and stress of having a wedding. In fact, these factors caused young people to put off marriage until their late twenties, if they planned to get married at all. Many of those surveyed believed marriage was not important even when children were in the picture. The reason for this lackluster feeling towards marriage just might have something to do with changing attitudes in this country. Couples more commonly live together before marriage and fewer people look down upon them for doing so. Shacking up is socially acceptable, which wasn't the case a generation ago. I read these articles with interest, and a bit of sadness because I, myself am married and wouldn't have it any other way. Let me explain:

My husband and I are about to celebrate our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, so I suppose it's safe to say I believe in marriage. I definitely believe in my marriage. We were married when I was twenty- two and my husband was twenty-eight. Even back in 1992 I felt pressure from some friends and acquaintances to put off marriage. Many people looked at me strangely, like I was an idiot for marrying so young. Perhaps I was, but I did it anyway. We got married in my hometown cathedral. The ceremony was ancient, solemn and beautiful. I remember saying my vows clearly and with conviction. I did promise to have and hold from that day forward, in sickness and in health, and I have kept that promise, for the most part. Most of us who have been married for a long time would admit to a few bumps along the road. The thing is, I was young. I really was. I was immature, silly in many ways, but I knew love when it hit me. And when someone comes along who loves you despite all your faults, all your insecurities and your crazy family, and loves you enough to ask you to spend the rest of your life with them, you grab that person and you hold on for dear life. I am not saying people can't do that without getting married officially. I know lots of people do. Perhaps they are stronger than I am, more sure of life, more confident in keeping things informal. But I was not that person. I knew standing up in front of all my family and friends, not to mention a God whom I believed had brought my husband and I together in the first place, and proclaiming my love and devotion and intense friendship with my husband, was integral to my happiness. Our wedding cost us very little money, but then, we had rather curbed expectations of grandeur. As for stress, yes, it was a busy time getting ready for it, but event planning was something I did as a job at that time in my life, so I found planning a wedding came somewhat naturally. My large family and several friends took care of various aspects of the event and made my job easier. My husband was unable to join me until about two weeks before our wedding. When he arrived he filled in the gaps and everything came together. In my experience, most things worth doing involve a bit of stress.

Over our twenty-six years together, my husband and I have been a team. We added four members to that team and formed an unbreakable bond - our family - which I find a great deal of comfort and joy in. Despite a bit of an age gap, which showed in our early years, we have evened out and become great equals. At a few points in those early years I questioned our marriage. I believe every couple goes through times of questioning, or at least the prone-to-navel-gazing partner does. When I felt some discontentment or frustration (I married a bit of an A type personality workaholic) I would haul out our wedding album and remember why we said our vows and made those promises in the first place. I would look at our extremely happy faces and come back to the source of our love. Those vows gave us a benchmark from which to work. Because marriage is work. Anyone who says it should be all deep gazes and roses is a big fat liar. Mind you, those deep gazes and roses do happen from time to time, and when they do, they are like a bit of beautiful embroidery on the fabric of our lives together.

I got lucky. My husband says he's the lucky one. That's what makes us work, and keep on working for and with each other. It's easy now, after twenty-six years, and it's great.



April 16, 2018

A Touch of Spring Fever

Ah, Spring. The time of renewal. The time to realize you've put on a few pounds over the winter thanks to your forgiving clothes and all that comfort food in front of the TV. I saw a couple of pictures of myself recently, ones taken candidly and without me posing/sucking in my gut and standing tall. I thought I was a bit past caring how I look but no. I was up in the middle of that night with those images circulating technicolour-style in my brain. I passed a cringe-full night and woke up the next morning thinking about the best way to lose fifteen pounds. Food is my work these days, food is my hobby, food is almost my first love. As I slide down the hill towards 50 I know that something must be done. Either I break up with food or I fall in love with Cross-fit. Nah, not going to happen. What I probably need is a couple of running partners - for motivation more than anything. I've always wanted to run a half marathon. I could have in my thirties, no problem, but going out for a slogging 5 km jog once a week, which is all I'm managing these days, is not going to do it.

My body is not the only thing morphing into shapelessness. My psyche could also use a tune-up. Like I said. I'm approaching 50 and I think I need to bring my life into focus. My kids are virtually independent, and my last one at home is going to gain it quickly. At the moment I have no idea what I am going to do when she leaves home. At the moment I am savouring all our time together. We are two peas in a pod, and The Three Musketeers when we get to be with her dad. Her presence in our home gives me a title, a focus, a plan. The time will come, all too quickly, when I will need to fill her absence. My husband thinks I need to do more things I enjoy doing. It's all too easy for me to be that mom/servant role and give all my energy to other people. I don't really mind being a supporter, and I'm fairly good at it (my husband got a promotion recently) but there is a growing dissatisfaction in the pit of my stomach. I can't define it exactly, but I believe it has something to do with formlessness, or blurred lines around my sense of self. Am I having a mid-life crisis? Maybe, but crisis implies a great deal of energy directed at finding out the meaning of one's own life. I'm not about to start out on some kind of massive quest or anything. Although a trip to Europe would be nice.

I wish I knew what I was supposed to do. I'm sure it will come to me eventually. In general I'm a cheerful sort, but I can't help thinking I lack the essential quality I value most - discipline. I know darn well I won't get anywhere without discipline. Leo Baubata, the author of the famous blog Zen Habits, says this: Much of the stress that people feel doesn't come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they've started. That's the great thing about cooking. I always finish what I started, with a little help from the oven. As the Little Mermaid sang, however, I want more. Yesterday, while talking with my sister, I heard myself say that I lacked intellectual stimulation - I'm not using my brain much. I'm using my heart and hands an awful lot, and that's fine and good for the most part, but my brain is getting a little mushy. My sister thinks I should go back to school and finish my degree, teach ESL or adult education. Maybe. There's no point thinking about this until my daughter leaves home. In the meantime, what to do? Like I said, it will come to me eventually. Maybe it will come to me while running. Good ideas usually do. Yes, let's start with that.

Happy Spring!

March 4, 2018

Snow White Fear

I was commuting to college with my brother-in-law. He was used to Manitoba snow, not necessarily the messy, wheel-sucking sludge that afflicts British Columbia roads. He steered one way and the car slid another. He attempted to correct the sliding and we got turned around and started going backwards over the edge. I was screaming my head off, convinced we were going to die. The car bumped down the embankment, and stopped. We looked at each other. We decided to risk opening the doors and climbing out. It appeared the car had been hung up an a sharp rock which had punctured the undercarriage, bringing us to a halt.Thank God!We climbed up the embankment and hitchhiked back to Nelson where I lived with my parents and he lived with my pregnant sister and their little girl. It was the first car accident I had ever been involved in. My brother loaned us his car until my brother-in-law's insurance got sorted out and they bought a new one. I did a fair bit of the driving to college for the next while.

A couple of years after the accident with my brother-in-law I was going on a ski trip to Banff with a boyfriend. He had been up for 24 hours for his shift at the hospital and was exhausted. We never should have left that night. I think I pushed him to leave, saying I would help keep him awake. By Kootenay Pass he was too tired to drive, and said I would have to. I didn't have much experience driving a standard, but I was willing to try. I wanted to get to Banff and start our week of skiing. The night was cold and clear and gleaming with stars. We climbed the pass at midnight and began the descent down the other side. We hit black ice. The truck did a 180 and hit the guard rail, which sent it spinning in the other direction. Fortunately, we hit the guard rail again and the bumper hooked onto it, stopping us completely. The bumpers were destroyed. My boyfriend was awake enough to take over the driving from there while I sat quaking and apologizing. I think I remember checking in at the police station where he reported the accident.  Our relationship was never the same after that night. I felt our age difference keenly as he took a tone with me that pointed out my immaturity. I confess to having a bit of a wild streak back then, and somewhat of a fearless mentality when it came to risk. I think the proper term for it is youthful stupidity.

They say as we age that we lose our risk-taking tendency. We know the consequences of injury and loss of wages too well to gamble them for an adrenaline rush. I, for one, have taken this theory a bit further when it comes to winter driving. For years now I have found the combination of being a passenger and an unwilling driver on snowy roads terrifying and anxiety-inducing. Oddly enough, I had no difficulty driving snowy roads when I was in my thirties. We always had four-wheel drive and lived in mountainous areas. If I wasn't comfortable driving my husband would and he is an excellent driver - I was, and continue to be, always in good hands. I know the memory of the winter accidents described above haunts me somewhat, but my irrational fear cannot be completely related to those incidents of long ago. There must be some other explanation.

My intense fear seems to have originated from our move to the Lower Mainland. I think moving here made driving a much more intense experience than when we lived on the Island or in the Kootenays. I have been driving since I was nineteen, but I still consider myself a relative novice when it comes to Freeway and city driving. I wonder if I'll ever be completely comfortable moving along at 110 kilometerss an hour with hundreds of cars, semis, and motorcycles jockeying for position all around me on the Freeway. And the addition of snow merely intensifies this discomfort. If I can go slowly and carefully, I am alright, but it seems no one else has time for that. So, I would rather not drive. One would think I would be content enough with my husband doing the driving, but I am not thrilled with that scenario either because I have no direct control over the vehicle. I have taken to breathing slowly and deliberately like a yogi while we drive to and from the mountain resort where he works (and which is our second home) in order to calm my anxiety. To be honest, I am getting pretty sick and tired of this crazy fear of mine.

Last weekend was a particularly snowy one. My husband was coming down in the 4X4 on Friday night to pick up my daughter and me, my sister and her daughter. My little car is not equipped for the snowy mountain roads and I would never attempt the trip at night in any case. I had expressed my fear the night before in a phone call with my husband and he had calmed me with some well chosen and often heard words. I decided the next morning I would change my approach to the drive. My mantra for the day was going to be, "He is an excellent driver who knows the road. I am in good hands." I know it sounds crazy, but it worked for me. I had decided to stop being so afraid. It snowed all day down here as well, and I drove my twelve minute commute to work, both ways, without incident and without fear. That night, he arrived about 7:30. We packed up the truck and picked up my sister and her daughter from their house. The snow fell heavily until about ten kilometers before the resort, but I remained calm, chatting happily with my sister and our daughters. My husband was an excellent driver who knew the road. I was in good hands. When we arrived at the resort I said to my husband, "I did pretty well, didn't I?" He just grinned.

Will I be fearless on the snowy roads from now on? I highly doubt it. My soul is too well acquainted with fear to merely flip the record over and change its tune. I like to think I am developing some coping mechanisms, however, which will hopefully make me stronger than my fears in the future. My life involves a lot of snow now, so I may as well become friends with it again. Returning to skiing is helping me reacquaint myself with the ways of the white stuff, too, and I am loving it. At the end of a day on the slopes or the tracks, I am too content and tired to worry so much anyway.

January 5, 2018

A Modern Christmas Casualty

I really have no idea for how many years I wrote an annual Christmas letter full of news of the kids, our latest escapades and injuries, career moves and camping holidays. Maybe twenty? Maybe more. After time ran out this year for a Christmas letter I tried to sit down and write a New Years version, and nothing happened. I came out of the study where I keep our laptop on a nice desk with all the things around I need to pull off similar missives, flopped down by my husband on the couch and said, "I'm not feeling it this year."

I wonder if my annual Christmas letter writer's block comes from having a family growing up, moving out and moving on. I wonder if it comes from my active connectivity over social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Nearly everyone out there knows what we've been up to, how our son graduated from university in the spring, how we bought a condo and moved house for the second time in a year, how our youngest will play Lumiere in this year's production of Beauty and the Beast, that I got a new job as a baker for a lovely little artisan bakery. Do they know our older daughter returned to school full time to finish her degree? I don't know, but it feels like that might be the only unknown thing I would write about in a letter. That must be it - everything I would write about would feel like old news, trite, like gilding a lily as they say.  Perhaps, thanks to technology, we may have evolved beyond the Christmas letter. Evolving is fine. Life isn't meant to stay one way forever and I suppose forcing myself to produce the same sort of greetings year after year simply feels pointless now. Now that this year is a washout, I do look forward to sending some sort of personal greetings next year, but in what form?

We had a massive snow storm here after Christmas. One of the mail carriers apparently slipped and fell on the ice, breaking her leg. Perhaps the Post Office cancelled home delivery after that because we saw no mail for days. The weather improved and we received mail yesterday. In our box along with the VISA bill and a notice from our daughter's school was a Christmas card from a friend. She had written a few personal lines and signed off with love and best wishes. Her card joined the few others on the mantle. Gone are the days when a long clothesline-type string was hung with dozens of cards from friends near and far. We haven't lost the friends and family who used to send them - we have stopped sending as many cards as we used to as well. Postage is pricey and emailing and Facebook are 'free'. As Christmas approached I added my greetings, accompanied by a photo of our Christmas tree, to the chorus of similar posts online. While digital Christmas cards are lovely, you can't cut them up into recycled gift tags the next year. Honestly, I treasure the Christmas cards I receive no matter how they are sent, but the paper ones seem extra special nowadays.

I know how busy everyone is. I am busy, too. The rush up to Christmas seems jammed with activity, at work and at home. When I was a stay-at-home mom I found time to do everything I wanted to do for the holiday, and I loved it. Now, I seem to have less energy to spare beyond the required baking and cooking and parcels for our moms. Our younger son and older daughter came home for Christmas. They asked what they could help with and I gave them a few jobs. Daughter make Gingerbread cookie dough. Son wrapped gifts and did dishes. The to-do list which would have taken me all day was conquered by noon. Aha! I thought. I forgot what it was like to have help. With my husband working out of town much of the week and our youngest spending most of December dividing her time between school work and rehearsals, I am on my own with most of the tasks. Something had to give, and this year it was the Christmas letter. Perhaps I will write one next year. Somehow I doubt it. I will, however, try to send paper Christmas cards. We should, after all, give what we like to receive.

Wishing everyone a happy, prosperous, peaceful New Year,