Sunday, November 30, 2008

Listening Skills

Today I had a conversation with someone who has been repeatedly vexing me.  When we speak I feel like I have to fight her every step of the way to reach any kind of connection and understanding. 

We both agreed that our communications aren't working out, and she is receptive to some feedback.  So I'm teaching her some of the "active listening" techniques I learned in psychotherapy school.  I thought I'd pass them along to y'all, because good listening is easy to do and is truly helpful in one's relationships.

When someone is speaking to you about something that stirs their emotions, these techniques are helpful.

1) Resist the urge to give advice, especially if you weren't invited to do so.  Giving advice sends the message 

"I know you, and your life, better than you do".   

It's condescending.   Even good advice is disempowering.

If you are invited to give advice, it's probably because the person you're speaking with is having trouble making a choice.  Whichever side you pick, the other person will most likely begin to argue for the other option, externalizing the arguments they've been having with themselves inside their head.  This will probably just leave you both frustrated.

2) Ask open-ended questions.  Examples:
  • What would be the worst-case scenario?
  • Ideally, how would you like to see this turn out?
  • What do you think she'd say if she knew how you really felt?
Basically, any question that leads other other person to consider an angle that they hadn't considered before is useful.  Usually when someone has a problem that's bugging them, they get caught in a repeating thought-cycle, which is frustrating and non-productive.  

If you try to change their mind directly, they'll resist you, because most people don't want to admit that their viewpoint is incomplete or flawed.  You can't directly break the cycle, but you can introduce a train of thought that leads the other person out of their rut.  See if you can persuade them to look deeper, or think of something they haven't thought of before, just by asking questions.  It's sneaky, and it works.

3)  Paraphrase what the person has just told you, and repeat it back to them, also recognizing whatever emotional content they've expressed.  Then validate the emotion.  
For example:
"So, you've been studying really hard for exams for three weeks, you're burned out, and completely freaking about your test tomorrow.  That's rough.  I remember feeling like that when I was in school."
"I understand that the doctor has kept you waiting for two hours, you're in pain, and you feel that the staff has been ignoring you.  I'm so sorry.  You must be beyond frustrated.   I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes."

It doesn't matter if you think you would be more patient or more calm or whatever.  Identify with the emotion as much as you genuinely can, and let the person know you respect their feelings.

You might think it sounds really fake and scripted, but as you get more practice with it you'll begin to incorporate the techniques naturally.  Generally the person you're speaking with will be receptive to the content of what you're saying, even if it comes off as slightly awkward.

4) Avoid any use of or implication of the word "should".  For example:
  • You should calm down/just relax/chill out!
Nothing annoys people more than being told to calm down.
  • You shouldn't feel like that!
My mother says this to me when she wants to rescue me from some kind of negative emotion that I'm feeling.  I know she means well, but it comes across sounding like "You're feeling the wrong feelings!   I know what you should feel.  You're wrong, and I'm right.  Feel this other way!"
  • You should just [insert advice].
See point 1) above regarding the perils of advice.  Also, using "just" trivializes the problem and the solution.  It implies "I don't see why you're making such a big deal about this."  Which invalidates the other person's emotions, which puts them on the defensive, and then you're back to arguing and frustration.

Bottom line: shoulds, musts, oughts, and have to's are bad.

And that's it.  Four easy tips to smooth, productive communications. Listen, give feedback on the content, validate the emotion, and don't give advice.  You all graduate with gold stars from this short course on active listening.  Now go forth and listen!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fighting it

After two weeks of telling myself "it'll be gone by tomorrow", I give in.  It's official.  My auto-immune thingy is back.  Ugh.  Warning: this post contains medical details that some people may find icky, so if you're not sure just stop here.  

Since the last time I wrote about it, I've learned more that seems to relate to my condition.  Firstly, I found out that taking sulfa antibiotics can trigger lupus.  My doctor found anti-nucleic antibodies in my blood: one of the markers of lupus.  Also, lupus can exist in many forms, from life-threatening to very mild.  I suspect that I have a very mild form of lupus.  

(My doctor did not go so far as to make a diagnosis.  He just told me that I had the antibodies and left it to me to Google the implications.)

I had no such problems until I took a sulfa antibiotic when I was 21.  After a few days of taking the pills, I had a severe reaction in which I broke out in hives from my neck down to my toes, and ran a fever.  I remember my boyfriend at the time telling me I looked like an alien; holding his hand over my arm to feel the heat radiating from my swollen skin.  

My legs swelled up so much that all the capillaries popped and the skin turned blue with bruising.  That was really gross.

Anyway, I recuperated from the reaction, but after that I became prone to outbreaks of hives.  When I was under stress, or ate something too spicy, I'd have an attack.

It would start in my abdomen, a knot of heat and pain.  Then the knot would untie itself, releasing rays of heat.  I could feel the badness exploding out from that middle point to my joints and skin.  My knees, knuckles, and elbows turned bright red and swelled up.  The palms of my hands and the soles of my feet, also scarlet and swollen, burned and itched horribly.  After around ten minutes of this reaction, it would subside, leaving me weak, slightly feverish, and exhausted.  It happened at least once a month.

After I left my ex-husband, I stopped getting these reactions.  I joked that I had been allergic to him.  Truly, I had been harbouring a lot of anger and frustration in that relationship, and it came out in my body.  I take psycho-somatic illness to professional levels.

Anyway, I thought I was finally done with all that.  But then I was struck down with a nasty attack around four years ago.  Since then, I get a different set of symptoms, related to the ones I had in my 20's but not quite the same.  Instead of getting severe flare-ups that pass within hours, I go through phases that can last for days or weeks.

The past couple of years have been easy on me.  Sometimes I'll have a day or two where I can feel the symptoms creeping up on me, but if I ignore them and get enough sleep, they'll go away again. 

During the past two weeks I've been getting enough sleep, but I'm not getting off so easy.  The intensity has varied from "I can ignore this if I'm distracted" to "I really just want to crawl under a blanket and whimper".  Today isn't too bad, or I wouldn't have the focus and energy to write.  

When it's bad, my muscles and joints ache.  My knees, hands, and feet stiffen up.  I can tell how bad the day will be as soon as I put my weight on my feet in the morning.  If it feels like my foot bones are grinding against each other, it's not going to be fun.  I also get that grinding feeling in my head, like the bony plates of my skull are tectonic plates, shifting.

I get a heavy feeling in my chest, as though I have congestion, but there is none.  I'm guessing it's inflammation.  And all my soft insides get tender and achey.  It's kind of like the feeling of having the flu.  And I get tired.  Not too tired to stand up, but tired enough that I can't cope well with any extra stress.  Even if I've had 8 hours sleep the night before, by 8:30 pm I'm already feeling desperately exhausted.  

This thing generously grants me just enough energy to work all day and eat dinner, and then I'm down for the count.  I'll dither around until 9:30, because I can't stand the thought of going to bed so early, but I'm too grouchy to talk on the phone, too tired to read, and generally useless.  It really does nothing for my social life.

After two weeks of living like this, I'm running out of tolerance.  It's starting to seriously tick me off.  I'd better get better real soon-like, or else!  Or else...  I don't know.

Anyway, speaking of looking like an alien, these guys cheer me up. :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Seminar

It's amazing how tiring it is to sit still all day.  

Today was Day One of a seminar on Health and Safety in the Workplace, which I have to attend as part of my job.  I'm learning about important regulations, such as...  let's see...

*consults handbook*

Oil and Gas Offshore Rigs, Regulation 855, Section 81, Clause a),

"A cathead shall be operated by a competent person."

Ah.  Yes.  If only I'd known that last week, when our offshore oil rig's cathead was being operated by an incompetent nincompoop!  So much trouble could have been averted.

*flips to the section on logging*

Reg. 851 - Industrial Estab., Section 109, Clause c)

"A tree shall be limbed, bucked, or topped only when the logger is in a position so that the limb, log, or top, when severed, cannot roll or drop on the logger."

Next week, when that big logging project starts, I will be SO READY.  It's great that this material is relevant to my workplace.  It really makes getting up at 5:30 am to get there on time and wading through all the legalese totally worth it!

Anyway, when I wasn't overcome by the struggle to keep my eyelids elevated, I did learn a thing or two that might be useful.  I also enjoyed a spectacular view from the seminar room windows. It was the prettiest view I've ever seen from a classroom, let alone that most conference rooms don't even have windows.

Ironically, this room with a view was located within the building which is entirely devoted to serving Toronto's blind and visually impaired community.  In fact, the whole building was gorgeous.  If I ever lose the rest of my vision (I'm close to being legally blind without my prescription lenses), I'm not sure if it would make me feel better or worse to know that the organization providing helpful services to me was so visually pleasing.  It could be construed as adding insult to injury.  Maybe I'd rather have an ugly facility, so I could comfort myself with the thought that I wasn't missing anything.

Actually, I hope if it happens that I don't end up that bitter.  It's just one of those things I can't help thinking about.

*All regulations quoted above are from the Ontario Safety Association for Community and Healthcare's 2008 pocket guide to the Ontario Health and Safety Act and Regulations.  I didn't make them up. You can see them for yourself if you like.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I never thought I'd attend a church service even once in my life, let alone show up regularly.  I have always been a critical thinker, more prone to disagree than agree with much of what I hear or read.  And I have never in my history been a team player or a "joiner" of any description.

I figured that any religion required handing over one's brain on a silver platter to the clergy in charge.  I've never, in my adult life, been able to believe something just because someone told me to.  There was no way I'd be able to suspend my critical thinking and substitute the dogma supplied by a religious authority.  I couldn't even participate in any secular clubs when I was in university, because their rules seemed stupid to me, and their sense of superiority pissed me off.  I always ended up lonely.  I figured that was the price I had to pay for my integrity.

When a series of personal experiences convinced me that Jesus is real, here, now, and present in my life, I kept it a virtual secret for six months.  I prayed alone in my bedroom.  I downloaded episodes of 100 Huntley St. and watched them, alone.  I had other reasons to feel uncomfortable with organized Christianity besides my anti-joinerism, and it all added up to keep me isolated.  

However, eventually I had to give in to the message I kept hearing: following the example of Jesus means loving others and being in community.  Eventually I had to push myself through my fears and out into a church.  

In preparation, I had help from a dear friend, the only practicing Christian I knew at the time (many thanks, Logan!).  I also called one of those toll-free prayer lines, the one offered by 100 Huntley St., to see what kind of reception I would get.  It was scary.  I felt extremely vulnerable.  But I was encouraged by these interactions, and so I was able to find the courage to go to church.

I am comfortable at my church, because no one has asked me to hand over my brain on a platter.  It's OK for me to have questions.  It's OK that we don't all agree on every point of scriptural interpretation.  Nobody has interrogated me in depth regarding my theology.  And when I offered a critical opinion in a Bible study group, I was actually encouraged.  The pastor leading the group thanked me for my contribution.  Then he told the other pastor, who made a point of telling Ken and I that it was a good thing to bring lively discussion to the meetings.

Of the congregants, some of them got very quiet when I offered my critical opinion.  But others engaged with me and offered some very interesting points of view.  We definitely understood each other better by the end of the discussion.  

So, all in all, I think my church is pretty cool.  And I have learned something from this experience.  I've learned that being part of a community doesn't mean agreeing 100% with everyone else.  In fact, there are probably no two people in any church who agree 100% with each other, not even the pastors.  We start with "good enough agreement" and good intentions, and then we grow from there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Ken's Grandpa passed away this afternoon.  He was 93 years old.

Before the second World War, Tak (short for Takashi - this side of Ken's family is Japanese), was married and living on the West coast of Canada.  The family had money, land, and cars during the Depression, when most people were just scraping by.  Their wealth came from farming.

Then, in 1942, the Canadian government forcibly relocated all citizens of Japanese background from British Columbia to internment camps in the prairie provinces.  You can read here about the horrible conditions they endured.   All of the family's wealth and property were stolen by the government.

Tak and his wife spent years in the camp.  Ken's mother was born there, and grew up in those conditions until she was five years old.

Finally, the government released the Japanese-Canadians.   As he left, Tak was given $ 5.00 by government officials.  This was the only material wealth he had left in the world.

Tak moved his family to Montreal, where he apprenticed at an autobody shop.  Once he learned how to fix cars, he moved to Toronto, where he set up his own garage in Chinatown.  He built up his business by fixing the taxi cabs of Jewish drivers.  At that time, due to intolerance, the Jewish cab drivers had a lot of trouble finding anyone to fix their cabs.  It was a good partnership, and Tak developed a special affection for the Jewish community.

Tak did well, and was able to buy a large home for himself and his family in Willowdale, a well-to-do area north of Chinatown.  He was still living in this home when I first met him, seven years ago.

At 86, Tak was still himself, if a little deaf.  He always wore a button-down shirt with his signature bolo tie.  He was gruff, tough, and serious.   He kept a vegetable garden on his Willowdale property, and, true to his farming roots, he had no mercy for theiving pests.  He used to trap squirrels in a wire box, and then put the box into a big tub of water, as Ken tells it, "until the bubbles stopped".  Sentimental, he was not.

In his prime, Tak was a force to be reckonned with.  However, he started his downward trajectory not long after I met him.  His wife passed away.  His mind started to go.  He got his a.m.'s and his p.m.'s mixed up, and would show up at Ken's mother's house at six o'clock in the morning, expecting to join the family for dinner.   The decision was made to put him into a nursing home.

For one and a half years, while Tak was still able-bodied enough to walk on his own, and get in and out of a car, Ken and I took him out for lunch every Sunday.  Usually we went to Chinatown.  Sometimes, for fun, we'd go somewhere different.  Like the time we took him for Indian food.  There was rice on his plate like usual; he didn't understand why he couldn't have chopsticks.  I think the curries were a little too spicy for him.  At one point he reached for his water glass, then hesitated and asked me quietly:

"Is the water hot?"

Poor guy.  If a place was weird enough to serve rice without chopsticks, then maybe they had spicy water too!  I suppose it did make sense.

As Tak got more frail he required more and more babying.  I wiped his nose, which seemed to run perpetually.  One time, when the home forgot to put a belt on him, I walked next to him with my hands through his belt loops, holding up his pants.  That was after they'd fallen all the way down to his knees.  Let me tell you, the man had a very smooth behind!  Not a trace of cellulite.  I was impressed.

Tak had a fight with pneumonia, from which he never fully recovered.  After that he was wheelchair-bound.  We still went to visit him frequently, in the nursing home.  We took turns feeding him his lunch.  I liked feeding Tak.  He had a good appetite.

When Tak spoke coherently, it was always about his plans to escape from the nursing home.   He had cooked up a grand scheme for getting out and travelling to California.  If I wheeled his chair to face a window, he'd always ask if he could get out that way.  He confided in Ken the most important element of his plan:

"You gotta have a man on the outside!"

Well, this afternoon Tak finally escaped from the nursing home, the only way he could.  It was his time to go.  Ken will miss him very much, but is also happy for his grandpa, now gone to a better place.

We'll miss you, Tak.  Enjoy your freedom!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in Babyland

I met Tomi on the first day that I volunteered for the church nursery (ages 0-4).   His older brother (age 4) couldn't tell me exactly how old Tomi was, but I determined that he hadn't yet had a birthday party.  From my limited knowledge of babies, I guess that he was around 8-9 months.

One of the first things I learned about Tomi is that he's one of those babies who fights sleep.  And we all know that a tired baby is a cranky baby.  On that first day, he was fighting to keep his eyes open.  He was lounging comfortably in a bouncy chair, but for some reason another volunteer lifted him out and handed him to me.  He didn't like that very much.

"Waaaaaaaaaaaah!"  Tomi screamed in my ear.  Of course, now that he was out of his comfy chair, he didn't want to go back to it.  He didn't want to be up, or down.  He didn't want to be walked or rocked.  I offered his bottle, which he sucked at noisily for all of five seconds and then rejected it.  He cried until his nose ran and smeared on my sweater.  An experienced mom took him from me but her luck was no better.  Then a dad took him, and suddenly he was appeased.  

"Some of the babies," I was told, "have gender preferences."

I remembered this and determined to let the men handle Tomi from then on.

The next time I was on Babyland duty, I was the closest volunteer to the entrance when Tomi's mom dropped him off.  She thanked me for my help as she placed him in my arms.

"Errrrrr...  No problem." I said, and smiled anxiously.  Once again his little baby eyelids were drooping, but he was determined to stay awake. 

The first half hour wasn't too bad.  The nursery wasn't full yet, and Tomi was happy to crawl around on the floor and play with toys.  Although, his definition of "playing" with a toy was "throwing it with all his might at another baby".

There was some kind of big, plastic structure on the floor that accepted coloured balls through various openings.  The balls would roll through hidden passages inside the structure and appear at other openings lower down.  Hours of fascinating fun for baby, yes?  No.  Tomi just wanted to whip those balls at the other kids' faces.  I played catcher, intercepting each missile on its way to the potential victim's head.

When Tomi tired of that, he decided to make friends with the other kids.  Although, his definition of "make friends" was "crawl right up into the other child's personal space and then claw at that child's face".  Again, I was the interceptor, grabbing his tiny wrists and moving his fingernails away from the other babies' eyes.  

"No, no, sweetie," I cooed, as Tomi fought against my interventions.  The other babies blinked and looked worried.

Eventually, I got distracted by a three-year-old who had climbed up onto the Play-Doh table.  In the 30 seconds it took me to get her down to floor level again, Tomi crawled up into the lap of a toddler who was sitting on the floor and grabbed at the older child's face.  Micah, the hapless victim, began to wail.

I scooped Micah up and shookled him on my hip; rubbed his back;  murmured soothingly that he was OK now, everything was OK.  Eventually he quieted down.  I put him back down.   However, I noticed that from that point on, Micah kept one eye on Tomi at all times.

Keep in mind that Micah was approximately twice the age and twice the size of Tomi.  Tomi can't walk yet.  Micah can run.  Micah could easily have defended himself from little Tomi, theoretically.  But clearly Micah is a gentle soul, not at all used to abuse and completely clueless in the arena of self-defence strategies.

Micah managed to keep a safe distance between himself and Tomi for the remaining time, except at one point when he got cornered.  His brown, Bambi-eyes grew wide and he backed up as much as he could to squeeze himself against the wall.  As Tomi crawled closer, Micah began to shake his head slowly back and forth, murmuring in a horrified voice: "No. No!"  I believe his brief life flashed before his eyes.  

Ever alert, I grabbed Tomi, and the day was saved.

The last half-hour minding Tomi was a marathon.  He got more and more tired, hence more and more grouchy.  Feeding him from his bottle helped briefly.  I noticed that he was sweaty (for some reason Babyland is always broiling hot) so I took off his tiny hoodie.  But as time wore on, the distractions I offered became less and less effective, and his wails more frequent.

We had a quarter of an hour to go when I started watching the clock minute-by-minute.  I could have paged his mother (Babyland has a high-tech paging system to summon parents) but it became a challenge I couldn't resist to last out the final 15 minutes.  I paced the room in complicated patterns, jiggling him.  He twisted in my arms until he was facing down, so I flew him around like an airplane.  When he continued to sweat, I remembered hearing that the fastest way to cool down a cup of hot coffee is to blow on it.  So for the last ten minutes I blew on Tomi's bald head.  If I stopped, he would cry, but as long as I blew on his head with every exhalation, he could tolerate existing.

Finally the clock ticked over to 12:00:00, and I waited for the rush of parents at the door.  No such luck.  The service ran overtime.  I was like, are you kidding me?  My whole body is aching from carrying this heavy child around for over an hour.  And I can't stave off a meltdown much longer.  

I was about to page Tomi's mother, when another volunteer offered to take him.  

"Maybe he just wants a nap," she said.  "I'll see if I can get him to nap." 

"OK," I said, knowing that there was no way on God's green earth that Tomi would settle down.  She disappeared into "the quiet room".  Moments later, I heard loud wailing coming from behind the closed door.  Shortly thereafter the volunteer re-appeared and paged Tomi's mom.  The hand-off was accomplished.  The wailing retreated down the corridor, turned a corner, and then there was quiet.

OK, so there were still a dozen hyper toddlers zinging around the room like a giant, multiball pinball game.  But in my heart, I knew peace.

I was sore for three days after minding Tomi.  Lifting and carrying him was way outside my usual workout parameters.  My shoulders, arms, back, butt, and thighs hurt so much I had to take a Tylenol to fall asleep.  But I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.  And when that crazy-making little guy comes back to the nursery next time, I'll be the first to volunteer myself to look after him.   I guess I have some maternal instincts in me after all.

P.S.  Not that this makes me want to become a parent.  I'm happy to constrain this type of experience to 1.5 hours once every four weeks.  I still say that, for me, borrowed babies are the best babies.

P.P.S.  Despite that I can't resist the urge to brag a little.  All the parents who saw me with Tomi assumed that he was my son.  When I told them otherwise, they were surprised.  "He seems so attached to you!" they'd say.  Chyldkere: I'm doin' it kwite well, aktualy!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Devotion

On November 1st I attended a Christian worship/song-and-dance performance with around 14,000 other people at Toronto's large domed stadium.

A non-church-going but somewhat-Christian (and also somewhat New-Age) friend accompanied me. Thank goodness for her. I found the experience overwhelming on several levels, but my friend was there at my side like a life preserver. She's a teddy bear. When I felt like it was all getting too much I'd lean up against her comforting arm which was wrapped inside a comforting fuzzy sweater, and she'd look over at me and giggle in her lovely way.

To start with, I am not a lover of crowds. There are many events which I outright avoid simply because of the crowds.

I assure you, this place was CROWDED.

Our seats were on the field, right in the middle. The tickets had mostly been sold in blocks, one block to each church, so people were sitting with members of their congregations. The whole point of the concert was to bring together Christians from all over Toronto and the surrounding area, so there were people from all denominations and all backgrounds. The show of solidarity was good to see.

One consequence of the seating arrangement was that differences in church cultures and congregations were easy to spot. My friend and I were seated in row 16, with four more rows dedicated to my church behind us. Starting from row 15 was another church, with a completely different character. The average age of my church is, I'm guessing, at least 50. The average age of the church in front of us was less than 30.

My friend and I were seated directly behind a posse of energetic teenagers. As soon as the music started, those kids were up out of their seats, grooving with the rhythm and raising their hands to the heavens. Meanwhile, my church, for the most part, sat quietly with their hands folded in their laps. I looked over at my friend. Neither of us could see anything from a seated position behind the dance squad, so we stood up too. And, since we were up, we danced. I wouldn't have felt comfortable being the first one to stand up, but the teenagers went first and thereby "gave us permission".

Much as I do feel a strong desire to show devotion to the loving God who is with me when I pray, it's not easy to make that connection in an unfamiliar, loud, public place. I sang along with the worship songs and copied the movements of the teenagers, but for the most part I felt that I was going through the motions. There were points at which I felt my heart was touched, and I looked over several times to find my friend weeping with her head bowed in devotion, but it was just too alien an environment for me to fully "go there".

The concert had officially started at 6:30 pm.  Around 8:30 pm, I started getting really hungry. I had eaten dinner at 4:30 pm because we arrived early to find our seats. I waited for an intermission, but despite the fact that the programme was divided into "Act 1" and "Act 2", there was no break. I got hungrier and hungrier. I wondered if I should leave my seat and go all the way back up through the stands to find a hot dog or something. But I've heard a lot lately regarding the benefits of fasting with prayer, so I decided I'd just stay put.

Of course, since my blood sugar was low, I felt my passion for dancing along with the teenagers ebbing away. The heat wasn't on in the stadium, and I become more and more conscious of the cold. I thought: this is good. I never stop to think about how hard it is to be cold and hungry. Experiencing this will make me more sympathetic to the suffering of less fortunate people.

Actually, it mostly just made me cranky.

By the time the grand finale was done at 10:00 pm, I was ready to eat my chair.  But it wasn't as simple as rushing out the door and finding the closest food vendor.  There were over 14,000 people in that stadium, and remember, I was in the middle of the field, up near the front.  People funneled up the stairs and out the exits at a snail's pace.  It was 10:45 pm before we finally made it outside.

My friend headed off to the train station.  I went straight to the nearest Harvey's (a Canadian burger franchise).  Of course there was already a giant line-up.  I got into the line directly behind a couple in their early 20's who had obviously just come from the same concert.  Up past my bedtime, cold, and hypoglycemic, I was feeling less than patient.  You can imagine how tolerant I felt when three friends of the young couple casually slipped into the line ahead of me without the slightest acknowledgement that they were butting in.

At that moment, my thoughts were decidedly un-Christian.

I debated voicing my outrage, but by then I was so low on energy that I couldn't summon the oomph to tell all five of them off.  I waited another 20 minutes as the line inched forward.  

By the time I got home around midnight, I was completely wiped out.  The next day, my first thought was that attending the concert hadn't been worth the trouble.  However, I did gain something from it.  My curiosity was satisfied.  And there were a few choice moments when I felt in touch with the awe of worship.

I will always remember one woman, standing a few rows ahead of me, in the darkened stadium, in a lull between musical numbers.  She stretched her arms out, waaay out, tilted her head back, and shouted from her guts:  "Yes, Lord!  Thank you!  Thank you, Jesus!"  

Her voice echoed across the enormous space, spontaneous, raw, and beautiful.  I broke out in gooseflesh from head to toe.  In that moment, I witnessed something unrehearsed and real.  That's what I went for.  

Maybe it was worth it after all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Aw Shucks 'n' Stuff

How awesome is this?  Ron gave me an award!  Woohoo!!

This one is really cute.  I totally want a stripey shirt like this guy.

As all awards tend to, it comes with rules.  Rules, rules, rules...  Can't get away from 'em.  But sometimes, they're well worth it.  So here goes:

Every superior scribbler must name 5 other super scribblers. If you are named you must link to the author and the name of the blog that gave you the award.  (That would be Ron at Warped Mind of Ron.) Then you must display the award and link to this post, which explains the award. Finally you must visit that same post and add your name via Mr. Linky List, so that the award creators can keep track of who the superest (or should that be superiorest?) scribblers are.

Firstly, because I am teaching myself the lesson that good blogging isn't always planned and copy-edited, I am passing along the award to all the bloggers who commented on my last post, stating that they don't self-criticize as they write.  They just let their truth flow out.  Here's to the brave truth-tellers!

Karen at Smiling Through It All.  Karen recently affirmed her intention to write honestly, and openly on her blog, without fearing the consequences.  That is awesome.

Desi at Desi's Sense of Self.  I just started reading Desi's blog a little while ago, but it's been clear from the start that she's a confident woman who doesn't shy away from speaking her mind.  Plus, she's got this really cool gadget in her sidebar inviting you to Feed the Fishies.  Check it out!

Sabrae at It's just the everyday humdrum that people make it out to be!  Sabrae is also a new acquaintance, but I liked her instantly because her profile photo shows fabulous attitude.  She is indeed a friendly girl, so you would be well advised to go say Hello to her.

And then there are some Simply Superior Scribblers:

Nilsa at Somi Learning::Exposing::Sharing.  Nilsa just got married, like, two seconds ago, and amazingly managed to blog daily through all the craziness of her wedding preparations.  Heck, I'm not blogging daily and all I have to do is work and get groceries.  So, shout out to Nilsa!  Also, she is setting up an anonymous blog post swap, so go check it out and sign yourselves up!

Claire at Country Mouse Tales because she is just so wonderfully sweet.  If the world is getting you down and seems like a mean and nasty place, go visit Claire.  She will be a living reminder to you that there are still lovely folks making the earth a better place, just by being herself.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Permission to Ramble

Usually, I hold myself to a high standard of blog-writing. I like to plan my piece ahead of time, maybe spend a few days mulling it over. When the idea has ripened inside my head I type it out, and then I subject it to a review process. If I'm not 100% happy with what I've written, I let it sit as a draft for a while until I can figure out what I need to change.

This week, I don't have it in me to be that mentally organized. I'm maxed out. There's been so much going on in my life that my brain has reached its processing limit. My immediate consciousness is floating on a sea of STUFF.

Some of the stuff is good. Some of it is not so good. It's all interesting. My life has certainly been rich with experiences lately. There are numerous things I'd like to write about, but I'm so fried that I don't think I could do any of them justice. I could easily write a full post or more about any of the following, if my brain was working better:

I've done a couple of shifts in Babyland, my church's nursery for the 0-3 years age group. The experiences I'm having there would come as no surprise to parents, but for me it's like taking a trip to an alien planet. I haven't babysat in around 20 years, therefore it's been approximately that long since I've had any meaningful contact with babies. Let me tell you, the babies are blowing my mind.

Last weekend, on the same day that I shot a gun for the first time in my life, I went to a giant Christian song-and-dance extravaganza in Toronto's domed stadium. People were jumping up and praising the Lord! The teenagers in front of me were dancing and clapping. The man two seats down from me wept. The woman on my other side sat primly with her hands folded in her lap the whole time. It was a huge, bizarre, unprecendented... I don't know how to quantify it. I can't explain how I felt. Glad that I went, and other than that, many mixed feelings. It was a trip down the rabbit hole, that's for sure.

(I have yet to experience people speaking in tongues or rolling on the floor. That is something I really want to see for myself someday. I am very curious.)

I'm still helping my parents, mostly my mom, with their divorce. I had to write a letter to my mom's lawyer outlining my step-dad's business interests. I don't know how to feel about that either. Stuck in the middle, I guess.

Ken and I are more than halfway through packing up my step-dad's stuff. That's good news: progress. But I'm getting burned out on the process, so we're going to take a break from it for a few weeks. I haven't even told my mom yet. It' s just too hard, all the emotions that come up while we're going through his things, and how upset my mom gets, even though she tries not to show it. We only pack for around 2 hours each weekend (time limit imposed due to Ken's allergies combined with my mom's cats), but even that has become too much. I just can't face it right now.

Work has been insanely busy. On top of that, there are multiple emotionally intense situations going on at work that I'm involved in. Staff quarrelling and I need to facilitate a solution. Pressure from the doctors. Major protocol changes. Significant physical reorganization of the workspace.

On top of that, someone, with the best of intentions, outted me to my colleagues. By this I mean: I had only spoken to one person in my workplace regarding my new faith in God, and church attendance. Something happened that is a very long story, and it was the right thing at the time, but events transpired that revealed my new faith to the people I work closest with, all on the same day. I felt like I was walking around work naked, it was that exposing.

Is there more? Probably. There's always something. But I'm writing this on a lunch break and my time is now up. You get the picture.

Please pray or cross your fingers for me to get my marbles back into my head as soon as possible. Thank you!

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I did it.  I shot a real gun.  Twenty times.  I even hit the target most of those times.

How did I come to shoot a gun, you may ask?  This peace-loving woman who captures bugs between a cup and a piece of cardboard so she can release them outside instead of squishing them?  

It was for a good cause.  The shooting range was hosting a benefit for Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or some such malady.  $20 at the door bought two rounds of ammo and a promotional sticker.

But seriously, how did I come to this converted warehouse, in the town of Gormley, population 30, 000, to shoot a gun?  Ken brought me there.

Ken is good at target sports.  He was into archery for a while, and next on his list of interests was firearms.   A couple of weeks ago he finally followed up on his curiousity and visited the shooting range in Gormley.  His instructors were amazed at his steadiness and accuracy.  He came home with a poster-sized paper, riddled through the middle circle with bullet-holes, and a burning desire to share the experience with me.

I didn't start to feel nervous until we had parked the car by the side of the building.  I could hear sound of shots echoing through the walls and the metal fire doors.  There was a notice posted by the entrance, stating that if you entered the premises the owners were absolved of all responsibility for your safety.  That gave me a moment's pause for thought.

A lot of people were there, waiting for a turn on the range.  As the line inched forward, I grew paradoxically more at ease and more nervous at the same time; the sound of gunfire became less alarming as I grew accustomed to it, but of course ever step closer to holding a gun in my own hands was a scary one.

We signed elaborate waivers, stating in lengthy legalese that if we got shot it was just tough beans for us.  I stuffed foam earplugs in my ears, then donned safety glasses and earmuff-style ear protection on top of that.  It was cold enough that I kept my coat on.  Finally, the door to the range opened, and an employee beckoned us in.

Ken shouted that I would go first and that I wanted to shoot the Glock 9mm handgun (the smallest gun available).  Each round for that gun consists of 10 bullets.  Each station had a range employee carefully overseeing a shooter.  There were a lot of us first-timers there.

My minder didn't seem perturbed that I had never handled a gun before.  He gave me some brief instructions, most of which were swallowed up by bursts of explosions.  I read his lips and figured out enough that I felt moderately confident when he gave me the gun.

I had a loaded gun in my hands.  It didn't seem real.

I lined up the sights, pointed at the target, and squeezed the trigger.  Bang!  The gun jumped and a small hole appeared in my paper target, very far away from the spot I'd aimed for.  But I'd done it!  I shot the gun; no one was bleeding; and I even hit the paper!  

It was after that first shot, when I felt the powerful kick-back and heard the noise ricochet around the range, that my adrenaline really started pumping.  Now it was real.  I fired again. 

It was a good thing I'd been forewarned that the shell casings would fly back and might hit me in the face.  The instructor had shouted through my two layers of earplugs, "Just don't freak out!"  The first one hit me in the forehead, the second bounced off the tip of my nose.  I didn't freak out.  A third plonked down on the crown of my head.  I was cool.

By the time I was mostly through my second round of ammo, I was getting pretty shaky from adrenaline overload.  That was when a burning-hot shell casing flew back and lodged itself between the arm of my safety glasses and my left temple.  At that point, I did kind of freak out.  Still gingerly holding the loaded gun in my right hand, I frantically clawed at my face with my left hand, trying to dislodge the burning metal from contact with my skin.  My minder swiftly plucked the gun away from me and laid it down on the barrier.   

After yanking off my safety glasses and releasing the casing, I was truly rattled.  I made my last two shots with shaking hands, and was relieved to put the gun down and back away quietly.

Then it was Ken's turn.  He shot one round with the 9mm, and got all his shots right through the middle of the target.  Then he decided to move on to something bigger: a Glock .357.  

The range was set up with the smallest guns at the right end and the largest at the left.  This station was second from the left.  

I didn't like that end of the range.  The gunfire was much louder, and I couldn't help but jump at every explosion.  Someone was shooting the biggest gun, a 10mm.  I found myself holding my breath every time I saw him take aim, bracing for the impact of the sound.  I could not quell my startle reflex.  I thought about how scary it must be on a battlefield, with sonic shocks booming all around, the violence, and the fear of being hit.

Ken finally used up all his ammunition, and I was more than happy to follow him off the range.  

In the ladies' room, I hung my coat up on a hook.  Something went "Ting ting ting!" on the floor.  A shell casing had fallen out of my hood.  Now, that is unusual, I thought to myself.

I checked in the mirror.  I had three black dots of gunpowder on my chin, and an oblong pink burn on my left temple.  I washed off the powder with special heavy-metal-removing soap.  The burn remains.  I had been ritually scarred as part of my rite of passage.

I wouldn't say that I enjoyed the experience especially.  I was asked by a friend if I found it empowering, and I'd have to say "no".  Mostly it was nerve-racking.  But I am proud of myself for going through with it.  I might even go back.  We'll see.