Sunday, 23 November 2008


Excellent use of the materials at hand.

That's what I think of when I hear 'resourceful.' Then there is the opposite of resourceful. I can't decide if it's impatience, selfishness, expediency or some kind of sense of being indestructible, or even that it just doesn't matter, really-- I mean that the consequences, whatever they may be, are deemed not important enough (or is it likely enough) to sway the decision.

Unbelievable decisions has become something of a theme around here these days. The recent tragedy that started me thinking about this was a 32-year-old who fell off the 15th floor of my daughter's building and died from the impact with a balcony rail and a concrete planter and the ground. Her distraught co-workers and friends insist that it wasn't 'stupid' it was just 'poor judgement' -- which is a synonym, I thought, but whatever...

Now I think: if there is anything I want my kids to take with them into adulthood, it is a sense that there is more than one way to accomplish anything, and it's usually a good idea to think of more than one before acting on a plan. The aforementioned woman had locked her keys in her apartment and instead of any of these choices:

  • get the other set from her new husband, at work
  • call a locksmith and pay $50 to be let into her home
  • call the manager and have him use the passkey (no cost)
  • wait until her husband arrives home from work
  • try breaking in herself
  • find some strong guy to break the door down
  • get the keys from her husband, get another set cut and return his keys to him, with plans to give the new keys to someone nearby in case it happens again

she decided to climb down to her 14th floor apartment from the apartment directly above, without a safety line. I've done a small, informal survey -- no one I've talked to about this feels it was a smart idea.

My daughter lives on the 17th floor, and I wouldn't lean over that railing to catch any falling object (I'd make a stab for one of my kids, but not even a cat otherwise). I'm not wigged out by the height, I think it's fun to look over the edge and see all the little stuff below, but I wouldn't throw my weight against the railing for anything.

The apartments in question have 10' ceilings, and there is no 13th floor (or, rather, the 14th is the 13th floor) so when she landed on the ground level with the 2nd floor, she fell more than 120 feet. A very brief review of the plan: instead of hesitating or being talked out of this idiotic plan by the wise, elderly woman who tried, this not-young woman decided that it was so important that she make her apartment perfect for her new husband, she would not be swayed from what appears to be the first solution that occurred to her, full of confidence that she would absolutely succeed because, as she told the woman, 'I climb mountains.'

One of the unfortunate realities of life is that sometimes the single dumbest thing we ever decide to do was also the single last thing we ever did. If you can't be a good example, at least you can be a horrible warning... This story, the tragedy of the girl who killed herself after being bullied on MySpace, the many children who commit suicide from live and cyber bullying, the folks who one way or another make it into the Darwin Award nomination list, all point to a sense of 'I had no choice' or even just 'I couldn't (or didn't) think of anything else to do in the situation.' This lack of creativity just astounds me.

So, kids, resourcefulness may some day save your life, even without you ever really noticing.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Overwhelmed Already? Tis the Season (in a few weeks)

Oh, man... I feel it. The neighbours across the street had their Christmas lights up (and lit) before Halloween. The stuff in the stores started appearing in August. The ads started in the papers, on bus stops, in stores and on tv by Canadian Thanksgiving (October 13th this year).

While I appreciate that stores are hoping to make 50% of their annual earnings between October 15 and December 31, and that everyone seems to be on the bandwagon earlier and earlier... People, could we have some restraint. Have you lived with a 4 year old through 10 weeks of immersion in Christmas? By the 13th of December, they're overwhelmed and the excitement of Christmas Eve often makes them barf. There is simply no way that kind of hype can lead to anything but disappointment. Yippee, Merry Christmas :(

What is a sensitive, thoughtful parent to do? How can we protect children from the onslaught of all-things-Merry-and-Bright while sustaining the magic of the season, and not go broke or crazy ourselves in the process?
  • make two budgets -- one for time/activities and one for money
  • slow down in general -- if it's a special season, all the regular stuff need not be done in addition to all the seasonal stuff
  • find out what you do love about the holiday season and do that
  • find out what you find a burden about the holidays and do not do that

There are many books and websites about bringing the meaning back to the season, filled with great tips for making the holidays personal again, and taking out the obligatory unpleasantness (including helping relatives near and far understand why you're opting out and what you're doing instead.) The key is to stay focussed on the things you love and elude the pressures to do everything.

Here are two suggestions for avoiding the wall-to-wall advertising aimed at your kids so you don't have to deal with the non-stop 'want', with the added benefit that both are free (or close to it):

  1. instead of going to the mall, go to a park and feed the ducks or examine the seasonal changes in favourite places, or visit friends or relatives or local nursing homes
  2. instead of watching tv and listening to radio (advertisements), watch videos or DVDs and listen to tapes or CDs -- check your friends and the library for free supplies of selections you don't own

In all your delightful free time, you'll find it an attractive idea to engage in a seasonal craft or baking project, and you'll probably save money because in the absence of all the 'great ideas' suggested by advertisers, kids will probably come up with shorter, simpler lists for Santa.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Hate Phone Calls, Too

Now, I seriously wish I hadn't answered my business line last Sunday afternoon... Srsly. No, honestly. As much as I love getting hate mail and, wow, hate phone calls, I'd have paid big money to have that woman ranting on my answering machine. I'd have saved it, and cherished it and shared it with all my friends. I wish I'd had some way of recording the call. Man... what a riot.

I mean, seriously! Who says 'shame, shame, shame, shame, shame'? Who says that?!? Out loud! Where someone else can hear them... I would have written it off as hopeless dialogue if I'd seen it in a movie that was set in the Victorian era. Live, in 2008?!? Wow. Yeah, just 'wow.'

Why do I think hate mail, etc., is hilarious? Well... there's a couple of reasons. The first is that it is the real, unvarnished version of what someone else is thinking. I have found little more fascinating in the world than insight into what other people think. And what better way to display biases, judgment, self-loathing, internal critical voices and a strong belief in the ability to change someone else's mind through verbal attack than by calling up a total stranger and lambasting her?

I am fascinated by the prospects of what she hoped to achieve. Initially, I was convinced she called for an argument (which I failed to supply, sadly -- really, when you hope to push someone's buttons, it at least helps to have enough intuition to figure out what one of them might be!)

If it wasn't for an argument, did she seriously think that phoning me would be satisfying? That she'd receive a response like 'oh, deary me, you're right, please let me print a retraction'?

Then, I realized it was Sunday -- and she was calling my business line. Which is when I thought 'I bet she called to leave a scathing message on my voicemail.' As I said: gee, I wish that had happened. Who is going to believe me when I quote her from memory?

The real fun was when she called back immediately afterwards, which I answered, brightly 'Hi, again!' Did she need to know whether or not I have call display? Now that I have her phone number, I wonder how happy she is about her decision to call in the first place? Can you actually hear me grinning my head off?

Another reason I like hate mail/calls is their spontaneity. Suddenly, in the midst of a quiet life, someone bursts forth with the overwhelming need to vomit a rant all over someone else. It's like being overcome by nausea, really: uncontrollable, creating quite a smelly mess that (generally) everyone involved wishes had not occurred and no one wants to clean up. I'm all for leaving the cleanup to others, but I quite like showing off the pictures 'round, usually with a title 'Can You Believe Someone Actually Said This?'

Because it's almost impossible to get me to take anything personally, even with a hammer, my automatic response to anyone ranting is 'wow, what's up with them?' I always assume that their internal turmoil is creating their behaviour, not me, which I know makes me uber-weird. I am, not surprisingly, okay with that.

Beyond all that, though, what I really like about hate mail is the unvarnished part. Getting people to openly disagree even when they really disagree is, as John Cleese laments, quite difficult. Hate mail, et al, is a wonderful opportunity to meet the opposition to all my pet theories and strange ideas, to see if they can withstand the heat of real scrutiny. It is for this same reason that I like debate -- real debate, not the ranting hopping up and down and interrupting that is so common in government -- the need to hone a point, to really defend it, creates a variety of thinking that I find delightful to experience.

Even when I turn out to be wrong.