January 20, 2010

Prickly, Prickly Times

I read a post today by EarnestGirl at the Yummy Mummy Club. She spoke of her reaction to tragic events since being pregnant and over the past decade (which, as she correctly notes, has been rife with tragedy and trauma on the global scene). She described her reaction to the horror and the despair as “falling in a well”. I thought, how apt.

I’ve always been a relatively aware individual and try hard to be sensitive to the world around me, to others’ needs (whether overtly described or needing careful discovery) and to the emotional climate surrounding me at any given time. I feel deeply for people who experience pain, which I believe is relative to experience and situation and just as real for each individual, and have always wanted to help in any way I can. I’m no Mother Teresa, just average compassionate, but there are things you just can’t ignore.

Since I have had my child, however, the awareness of tragedy seems to strike a deeper chord, and I feel hurt for mothers, families who have lost their own, lovers who lose their only reason to live. Whereas before, I related to their hurt and accepted the severity, but I didn’t *feel* it, like I do now. Please understand I don’t pretend to ever know what it’s like to endure that magnitude of pain, but what I mean to say is that it’s almost unbearable to just hear about it now. It makes me realize just how otherworldly painful it might be to experience horrific destruction, loss of life, loss of home, all of it. We’re so…. protected. For the most part.

But what made this empathy become so much more amplified since I gave birth? Am I actually able to relate on some other level, knowing now what I stand to lose, or is it hormones, fatigue, or all the other things that come along with life after birth? Now that I am pregnant again, it seems to be so much stronger, yet again. I’m contemplating reading a book right now that I know will be fantastically written, and that I will be pleased to have experienced, but will break my heart with such a tragic story. I almost can’t bear the thought of that kind of sadness now. I hate this because I feel I can no longer be compassionate, that I avoid the sad parts of life, and don’t read the horrific stories, am overwhelmed by the news of catastrophes and generally avoid anything that is not uplifting. But that is not life. That is not real. Does it get easier to rejoin the real world at some point? Or am I destined to close myself into a happy bubble and lose the ability to build my perspective and respect for those who have endured and prevailed through horrific times?

What funny beings we really are. Always morphing and changing… I’d like to stop and rest for awhile.

January 17, 2010

The Great Interview Experiment

A month or two ago, I came across a posting by one of my favourite mommy bloggers, who had participated in Neil Kramer’s Great Interview Experiment. The gist of it is, a random population of bloggers who elect to participate get paired up in random order and interview each other, posting the results of their interviews on their own blogs, and Neil curates a master list on his.

I had the privilege of interviewing Julie from He Who Laughs Last Didn’t Get It. Below is the script from our interview together. Enjoy! It’s a great concept and hopefully introduces you to some new talent. Participate yourself if you have a blog.

Interview with Julie

S: You started writing early last year. Has your focus evolved since then or did you start with a pretty clear idea of what you wanted to share or achieve?

J: I don’t really think my focus has changed since I started blogging. Because my friends were always telling me that I had some good funny stories to tell about being suddenly shoved into the world of dating at the ripe old age of 33…I felt like blogging was my first step. I do have lots of “bad date” stories to share, but what I often find is that the lessons I learn from these horrible experiences are what is actually worth sharing. And it is through these experiences that I learned so much about myself.

The toughest lesson I learned last year as a newby to the blogging community is that the people I surrounded myself with weren’t always the people I should have surrounded myself with. I realized that I didn’t like who I was becoming while I was hanging around some particular friends…and I learned it through my blogging. It wasn’t until after I went back and read a lot of my older posts that I put two and two together that maybe some of my bad experiences were bad experiences because of the company I was keeping…

It was this “realization” that made me clean my “friendship house” at the end of last year and start fresh. This may make my life boring and not blogable anymore, but I sure do feel better internally since I have cleaned house.

You mention in your profile a number of internal conflicts that challenge you regularly. Has writing helped you work through some of those?

I absolutely use my blog as a form of therapy! I used to write things in my journal, but I am so anal in the way things look that I would be on day seven or eight of my new journal and have to bag it and start a new one. Why you might ask? For stupid reasons usually. Usually it’s things like, I didn’t like my handwriting that day or I got off on a tangent and the paragraph I was writing ended up being too long. And because I like the way things “look” I couldn’t cross it out and start over…so hand written journaling was making me more crazy than nothing at all. Hence one of the reasons why I started the blog…editing was much easier.

Now as I look back, I have a good feel for where I was, where I am and where I am going and it all looks pretty and neat.

But what I am really finding out is that just because I come to certain conclusions about my behavior or things I am doing doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to change my ways. I usually find that when I write, it’s the “good, logical person” in me putting my thoughts down on the paper. But it’s the “fun, go getter that doesn’t really care what the consequences are person” that lives in my brain day to day, and sometimes those two don’t get along and usually the fun (aka…bad stuff) is a lot easier to do than the good/right things.

You provide some pretty detailed recaps of current programming. My question is... Reality shows: entertaining train wrecks or pretty accurate commentary on current societal values?

The sad part is, I think they are both…pretty accurate commentary on our current societal values and entertaining train wrecks. I have said many times that we, as a society have no moral compass by which to live life and honestly this freaks me out. I have two little boys that are growing up in this world where it is currently ok to date 25 women at the same time, or propose to one woman only to break her heart, dump her and ask another woman out all in the same evening…all because it is “good” tv. And we as a(society) are ok with that because we just want the opportunity to bitch and moan and complain when these “reality stars” mess up in real life. We want the opportunity to say “I told you so” under our breaths…

As a single woman, the “reality” of reality television also frustrates me, why you may ask? Because shows like the Bachelor dupe us into thinking that all romances should be fairy tale helicopter rides, dinners under the stars, magazine shoots, and private concerts. It’s not real, but in the real world “reality” is boring and who would watch boring. The problem is… a lot of people can’t differentiate between the two. So in order to make up for the “boringness” of reality we settle for going to a fun club on dates and hanging with a group of people, never really getting the opportunity to know our dates and whether or not we want to get to know them more. So in a sense we “settle” early on… There is no courtship or romance anymore!

A topic that has been discussed at length recently revolves around the support that women, in particular, find in their online communities. Is this real? Does it rival real world friendship? Have you had occasion to test the strength of these online community relationships?

I have only been blogging since June of last year and seriously blogging since about November so I am in no way an expert in the “support” that women get in the blogging community. But I will say that slowly but surely I have been making some friends that I never thought I would. It has been fun to connect with women that don’t even know me who support me through the day to day.

But most important it’s just good to realize, and I mean really realize that I am not crazy! The things I am feeling and talking about in my blogs are real things that other women feel and work through every day too.

I personally have not yet had the opportunity to “test” the strength of these communities. But there is one blogger whom I follow that is going through something in her personal life and she relies heavily on her blogging community for support. Every day I can see that the support she is getting is really helping her cope with her situation. It makes me smile!

Part b) to that previous question. Does blogging help you develop credibility in that community or are bloggers a dime a dozen?

I do think that bloggers are a dime a dozen and it is tough to gain credibility. But what I have also found is that if you are just honest with who you are and what you write about people will like you and follow you and value your opinions. I have read a million (ok, maybe not a million, but definitely hundreds) of blogs. And what I have found is that if your blog becomes sort of a narrative of your day to day life it can become boring and mundane and that is where you lose your credibility. But if you write in a “general” way and add your own personal stories and events, it gives you the credibility you need to be a blogger that everyone wants to read.

I try to think of things that happen to me in my world of dating as a single mom in my thirties and think about how it might affect everyone and then write about it. If I went on and on and on about the guy that insisted on giving me foot massages even though I told him over and over again that I didn’t like them you might get bored because perhaps that scenario hasn’t happened to you (count your lucky stars) but the fact that I actually learned a lesson from it and shared that lesson with everyone who probably knows someone that has gone through something like I did…that is where you gain and create your credibility from.

You're a single mom. I can only imagine this means you are forced to prioritize heavily. Where does your writing fall on that priority list and how do you motivate yourself to post regularly?

Writing falls towards the top of my priority list…God, family, friends, writing…everything else gets done when I get a chance. Writing has become a form of therapy for me that I NEED in my everyday life. For some it’s exercise or meditation, for me it’s writing. I don’t feel complete unless I write something every day.

Sure there are days when I get bogged down or can’t think of things to write about, but those are the days when I focus on things like organizing my thoughts for my book or researching things for my book…oh…by the way…did I tell you I am in the process of writing a book? I am devoting 2010 to really delving into it. I took 2009 to focus on my personal life (aka…partied way too much). That wasn’t working for me so I have adopted the motto: 2010 where the new going out is staying in. This way I can focus more on my writing and really get serious about it. I find when I focus more on my writing it puts more focus on me as a person and this is where my real growth comes. Sorry…I’m WAAAAAAYYYY off topic now. What was the question again?

Bonus question: If you were a judge on The Bachelor, how would you determine who is successful? Should America vote? :)

I absolutely DO NOT think America should have a say whatsoever in who the Bachelor/Bachelorette chooses. It’s bad enough that the production staff has a say…am I right people? Why else would Michelle have made it to at least the third week? I predicted she gets booted the third or fourth week. They always keep the psycho on long enough to boost ratings! But I digress yet again…

Back on topic. The way I look at it…my friends can’t seem to pick good men for me. As I think this story is a great example of why I think that. Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends and they love me, but sometimes I just have to wonder. I guess I shouldn’t complain about this either. Since adopting my new motto of staying in in 2010, two of my friends have already called me about setting me up on blind dates. And because I am a cool girl I said yes…I will keep you posted on how they turn out. Last tangent…I promise, back on track.

I think determining success when it comes to the Bachelor/Bachelorette is a battle that will never be won. What is success when it comes to Hollywood and dating anyway? I mean if Susan Sarandon and Tim Robins can’t make it then who can. It doesn’t matter what people think success is in a relationship, there will always be people out there that say, “I told you it wouldn’t work out”….even if they make it over the twenty year mark. I don’t know…there are just so many cynics out there. I think anyone that can manage to stay out of the gossip columns has a pretty good chance…Hugh Jackson and his wife, and Dr. McDreamy and his wife are couples that I think are in it for the long haul and not for the attention.

January 13, 2010

The Key to the City (or Community)

I’ve been reading a lot of mommy bloggers lately (for a wonderful roundup of great Canadian material, check out the comments in the latest post on the Bad Moms Club). I participated in The Great Interview Experiment this year, initiated by Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month. The basis is, you comment on his posting, he hooks you up with the previous commenter and you interview them, post the responses on your blog, and he does on his, and everyone gets to learn about someone new. I interviewed a lovely woman who writes He Who Laughs Last Didn’t Get It and am anxiously awaiting the interviewer who will contact me.

Mr.Lady posted today about taking a new approach to her social (online) community and encouraging her world to delurk, and engage in a more meaningful way with the folks they follow, and redirect attention to the less complacent. I also read a more marketing-focused approach to personal brand development, aimed at bloggers and social media enthusiasts, with the sole intent of promoting one’s brand. Which… I get, sure. But why do you care? Do you care because you want the recognition, or because you feel you’ve got something valuable to add, to help others with, or to put some framework around a new way of thinking?

I believe very strongly that one’s personal brand can *only* be developed when one adds value to discourse. I started becoming involved in the mommy blogging community because I related to many of the writers I read, and it’s a big part of my life, yo. What I discovered is that this community is rife with amazing, amazing writers. Not just writing on strategies for how to deal with temper tantrums or sleeping issues (which, btw, are golden), but writing on politics, current trends, micro issues and emotions. The best part is that it’s random. Every day is random. Some days I get insight through these beautiful stories, other days I am laughing my ass off at the sarcastic wit. And every day, little by little, I become more engaged and seek out new writers, who educate me in any number of topics. So, did any one single writer deliver all my value at once? No, not really, but they pieced together a community that I *so* benefit from.

What can I add back? Well, that is the humbling question, is it not? I had a little dialogue with Mr. Lady on this very subject just a few minutes ago, and she made some fine points about how we engage, how we emerge as members. I didn’t come out guns ablazing, and probably will never do that. Although I’m an outgoing and considerably direct individual, I very much believe we need to earn our place. Not through statistics and bulk following, but through the delivery of poignant, relevant and entertaining content, suited to the audience.

I don’t know who the heck reads this blog (other than those brave commenters), and I hope those who do get something out of it, whether it’s reassurance, alignment, or just a good chuckle. I’d love to one day be in the ranks of those who are awarded the votes of the masses, but only because I will know that means the general population is getting something from my work. In the meantime, this blog is as much for me as it is for the reader. It’s giving me practice flexing my writing muscle, synthesizing some thoughts and working through issues that might be plaguing me. I revel in the dialogue of many when I am trying to solve a problem, and encourage dialogue among others to do the same (see a future post on my upcoming venture with a lovely and inspirational woman to do just that for women in my physical community).

So how do I get the key to the community, so to speak? How do I become recognised as a contributing member? By giving others something they need or want, or can relate to. I welcome your suggestions on topics of interest that you would like to see dialogue around. I encourage your feedback on what you like or don’t like in any social media environment.

Is the concept of a personal brand only relevant when there is a business transaction to be had? Methinks no. We encourage it in our company, but it stretches beyond what you do to bring home the bacon. I’m realizing more and more that I can’t (or shouldn’t) separate the two. I will choose my forums, but I am a public entity. I am mom, writer, professional, friend, and tired.

Hit me with your thoughts on what value you get out of your online community. Is it purely social for you? Do you strive for it to be more? Why? Why not?

January 11, 2010

Potty (Mouth) Training

I’ll be the first to admit that neither my husband nor I has ever been accused of ladylike behaviour. In fact, between the two of us I suspect he is the more ladylike (which is saying something… he racked up the most penalty minutes on his hockey team and spends most of his time watching football and hockey… well, and Ghost Whisperer, but that’s just connecting with his sensitive, 90’s kind-of-guy side). I can remember showing up to my first day on the job as a new co-op student and laying out an f-bomb to my new boss within a few hours. I generally control myself in front of clients to give the impression of being professional, but most people know my truth… I curse like a trucker.

This may be the single most difficult habit we’ve had to try and lose since we had a kid. We’ve been fortunate that she hasn’t seemed to pay much attention until recently. However, she laid out an f-bomb the other day, just to see what it did. We looked at each other in shock and tried not to react. Last night, Hubby slipped with an s-bomb which she reacted to with a “shhh…” and Hubby followed with a “-ooooot”. But she’s no fool. She looked slyly at Hubby and grinned her little “I’m older and wiser in my head than you will ever know” look and I am sure has stored that one in the memory banks for the next time we’re out with my parents (who are routinely horrified by my liberal use of suggestive and uncouth language and are probably quite shocked that Version 1.0 hasn’t become fluent in Trucker yet).

Our friends implemented a Swear Jar a couple of years ago when their little guy was starting to talk. I used to put regular deposits in there, proactively, likely funding their house renovations or something. Sadly I don’t think this tactic will work at our house, since we’re essentially, well, paying ourselves for swearing. My kid is way too quick to let anything past her and the minute she realizes she will get a reaction, you can guarantee that she’ll want to watch “f***ing Max and Ruby” every morning, or that she will refuse to clean up her “sh*t” at bedtime.

Gah! How am I supposed to give up my favourite expression of frustration, surprise or reaction to a stubbed toe? It just won’t feel the same to say “Oh BOTHER!”. I need the exclamatory equivalent of a charlie horse to balance out the offending occurrence.

Help. I’m not bound to be any Sister Mary Margaret anytime soon, but I definitely want to delay my child’s use of “trash” talking until she’s at least 6 (is that the generally accepted age for swearing these days?). I need reform.

January 7, 2010

In the Name of the Kids

Moms - did you ever change your name to that of your spouse , or vice versa (assuming some matrimonial activity took place), to make it easier for the kids? Was it hard? Was it no biggie?

I didn’t. I couldn’t do it. It was too much of a departure of myself, and my identity. Not that I am self-congratulating or think I’m *all that* but it’s just me. I am her, she is me, that’s the way it is. It felt like taking on a whole new name was just a weird, logistical nightmare, and that it would make me totally feel like a stranger in another body.

Maybe too dramatic, I know, but it really screwed with my head, this idea of being called something other than what I had for the whole first 32 years of my life. Not to mention that I was starting to develop a personal and professional brand – or trying to – and all the logistical crap that would need to be undertaken for this exercise.

But most importantly, I just couldn’t work out in my head why in the heck I would even bother. It certainly didn’t make me feel any closer to my husband. In fact, it made me feel like I would almost resent him a bit for taking away my identity and forcing me to adjust to a whole new one. Not that he was asking, he let me sort through that one myself, and wasn’t fussed about what I became (or remained as). A very small part of me railed against the tradition from a woman’s perspective and stubbornly asked “Why me? Why not him?”. We became known as a humorous combination of our two names by our friends, and to this day that is how we are known. It works fine. Hasn’t bothered anyone, really. I don’t judge anyone who has done it as I don’t have an opinion on the matter other than what it meant for me, personally.

All that aside, my latest conundrum.

Kids. Of course, the kids. Many folks have stated they did it for the kids. So the kids would feel part of a whole family, so they wouldn’t always wonder why Mommy was someone else than the rest of them. Some women I know live in this half-world where they go by one thing for the sake of the kids (schools, daycare, border crossings, healthcare), but remain their other selves for the rest of the world. That gives me heart palpitations at the thought of how messy record-keeping would be. Maybe it’s fine? I don’t know.

Personally, I don’t see it happening for me. I feel too strongly against it and not strongly enough that it will be a problem for the kids. I think it’s much more widely accepted now by the world at large and we just need to be careful about all the paperwork that proves guardianship in the small percentage of the time we may need it.

But, I don’t know. Do you struggle with the same situation? Have you given it thought? Will you change for the kids? Are the kids really the issue?

Perhaps we can all just become something new and crazy… the Von WinkelStinkers or something.

January 4, 2010

Then Again, Maybe I Will…

Tonight’s sobering thoughts brought to you by….

  • DIY Estate Planning and Will Package,
  • recognition of my certain demise (someday),
  • laws created for the lowest common denominator,
  • my guilt at not doing this sooner, and
  • the fact that I can’t drink anything to help the process along.

We spent New Year’s Eve in the company of two other CWK’s (Couples with Kids). Around the dinner table, after munching on leftover Christmas treats, the subject of untimely demise arose and one couple stared at the other two, aghast that they had not yet create a last will and testament. Rightly so, though, don’t get me wrong. I wish I could say that because I quickly tallied up the worth of my hoards of assets and realised it was far too valuable to *not* ensure proper disposition.

No, the part that struck a chord was this couple’s assertion that without a named guardian in the tragic event that both parents are lost together (which I sometimes consider us to be already, but that’s another post), the children will automatically become wards of the court, and the court will appoint a guardian as it sees fit. While I am not sure if this is accurate, and I don’t believe there would be any conflict within our extended families around this, and things would end as they should given the circumstance, I am not interested in leaving that to chance, having seen some of the results of government-appointed custody in my previous career.

So, let the unwashed masses ripple through my leftover goods (or, in legal terms, the ‘residue’ of my estate) and take the hunks of worthless metal that I call my computer, or pilfer my collection of measuring cups (acquired through the careful timing of grocery purchases as each week the store offered a new cup for the set… I think I’m still missing the 1/4 cup measure)… but no one shall determine the safekeeping of my child(ren) except Hubby and I.

Just like the time I was halfway home on my hour-long commute and realised my insurance had expired two weeks before, now that I know my “insurance” is not in place for my end of life plans, I feel a sense of urgency and foreboding every minute that we don’t have a signed, official document in place stating our wishes. This is not a quick process, either. I like my life convenient and with results. I don’t like to have to wait when I need to get that gnawing pit out of my stomach. But, I have to create an estate plan first. Then I have to create the correct documents, in proper form. Then I have to have witnesses review and sign in order to make it official. I also have to somehow prove they are real and not just the cat’s well-inked paw.

I just want it to be done and over with, so I can rest assured Version 1.0 will be well taken care of when Hubby and I mysteriously disappear in our sleep.

In all seriousness, I can barely handle the thought of leaving her alone. OK, I can’t handle it at all. Dear reader, I legally and bindingly declare here and now that if we expire tonight on our way to bed, we would like our child to be taken care of by our nearby family, and not Max and Ruby, as my child would prefer (they live in mayhem without direction or guidance… definitely not an environment we support).

Now, please sign here and make this thing official.

I feel so much better.

I still need a drink.

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