Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fear and Courage

Fear restricts, constrains. The fearful brain can't imagine opportunities, only threats. And the options, when faced with fear, are limited - hide in the hopes that it will disappear, or fight against its source - real or imagined. The third, more challenging option, is to summon the courage to look our fear from all sides, poke at it a little, ask it a few curious questions and see if it remains solid, or turns to dust.

Little by little, courageous act by courageous act (big or small), we begin to see fear for what it is - a shadow on the edge of our imagination, one that could overtake us, but doesn't need to.

Fear keeps us from reaching out to our neighbour, while courage takes us through the uncomfortable place of not knowing another to the well worn seat of friendship.

Fear makes us wonder what great tragedy might befall us, while courage opens our eyes to what's possible if we stretch, through hurt and uncertainty, to the other side of struggle.

Fear divides us, depleting our confidence in our own goodness and in that of others. Courage allows us to see who we are without turning away, accepting ourselves and extending that acceptance out into the world.

Fear is a natural human response, an instinct with a purpose. Left alone, experienced purely, it will dissipate as real threats subside. Fueled by imagined enemies, however, fear will overtake us, shut us down, block the light.

But even in that darkness, there is a way out, a path to hope and possibility. That path is courage.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to assemble a BBQ: A beginner’s guide

  1. Begin with a level of confidence that is entirely unwarranted.
  2. Open box, unpack pieces and ensure they are strewn about in no particular order. Place parts a sufficient distance away so that when you are delicately holding parts together and need the next piece, you have to contort yourself uncomfortably to get it.
  3. Place hardware, in its flimsy plastic case, on an uneven surface. This guarantees the contents will spill and you will be left scouring the floor for its tiny contents.
  4. Read the first step of instructions several times, trying to match the pieces in the diagram with those in front of you. Turn pieces around in your hands, looking at them from all angles. Repeat for every subsequent step.
  5. Express relief aloud that the bolts, washers and nuts for this BBQ only come in one size.
  6. After affixing the first few bolts, washers and nuts, realize you were mistaken about #5, and you simply didn’t read the diagram carefully enough to see that bolts, washers and nuts come in two sizes. Carry on.
  7. Try to use the “wrench” that came with the BBQ to tighten the nuts as instructed. Throw said “wrench” aside in disgust. If you feel so inclined, go and get a real wrench. If not, assure yourself it’s not that important.
  8. Struggle through assembly, doing with two hands what clearly requires four.
  9. Curse and sigh at regular intervals.
  10. Persevere until assembly is complete. Tell yourself your confidence in your BBQ assembly abilities was entirely well placed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February: A letter written with icy fingers

I detest you, February. You've always been among my least favourite months, but I've deepened my disdain for you his year.

You may be the shortest month in days but you are the looooooongest, most offensive and meanest in spirit. I consider myself pretty laid back and easy going (at least I did until you came around this year) but you have tapped into something primal within me, something that makes me want to scream from the very core of my soul in the hopes that it will scare you into hiding. But I know you. I know that would only cause you to spit more venomous ice and snow, mixed with freezing rain for good measure. Worse yet, you would delight in it (as you have no doubt been doing).

I get that my resistance to you only makes you more powerful. I've tried to like you - or at least accept you, but I find your redeeming features so difficult to see, let alone name, that I am left feeling close to defeat. And yet, February, I'm not willing to give you that satisfaction. So here's what I've learned from you during this Godforsaken, never-ending, not-quite-over month:

- In spite of you, I can stand upright and balanced most of the time. You've tried to knock me down and sometimes you've come close, but mostly, I've held my footing.

- If I take a deep breath and resist the temptation to spin my wheels (literally) to no effect, I can sometimes free myself and my accompanying car by turning the wheel to get myself out of the rut. And the feeling that I've taken a different action and gotten a different result is pretty darn satisfying.

- You bring people together. No matter where you go in Atlantic Canada these days, people are gathering in solidarity against you. They too feel blue, fed up, beaten down - and they're speaking up. They're bonding over driveways caked in inches of ice. They're commiserating over the lack of road salt and sand, over cancelled plans and snow turned the grey-brown colour of despair. They're wishing, individually and collectively - to escape you for someplace warmer, kinder. And whether they make their escape or not, they know - we know - that we are better and stronger than you. We will survive.

- There is always July. When you seem interminable with your petulant wind and snow and icy rain tantrums, I know you will not last forever. You will soon run out of bluster and make way for the slightly more malleable March and the more optimistic April, and so on. Before we know it, you will be a distant memory we discuss (or not) over drinks on a sunny patio. And I, for one, will revel in it.

So farewell, "dear" February. Your time is drawing to a close. Do what you will in your final days. We can take it. And whatever you do, don't let the icy door hit you on the way out.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reframing the New Year

I’ve never really gotten the big fuss over the New Year. I’ve always found it a bit overrated, thinking it amounted to little more than an excuse for a party and a few awkward weeks of writing the wrong date. I think part of me has resisted the fanfare of the New Year (even the fact that it is worthy of capitalization is notably arrogant) because I equated it with, “How have you measured up and what do you need to change about yourself for next year?” My own thought patterns certainly took me to this place, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Let me just change the calendar quietly and move on.

So it is interesting that this year I find myself moved by the change to a new year. I’m not sure why, exactly, but it feels significant (not good or bad, just significant). I just came from the beach, where someone before me had spelled out “2014” in rocks. Someone else had written “Happy New Year” into the sand. It struck me that as humans, we all have a need to say, “I am here.” And the change to a new year – and whatever rituals we associate with it – are a chance to say, “I made it. And now I get a fresh start.”

So rather than seeing the new year as an arbitrary self-improvement project, I’m reframing it. May I celebrate 2013 for the moments of joy, laughter, friendship, love and adventure it offered. May I also celebrate it for the moments of sadness and fear that pushed me to learn more about myself and others. And as we enter into 2014, my wish for me and for you is the same – may we experience and celebrate our place in the world, may we learn more about ourselves, may we let go of one thing that is holding us back and take a leap or a jump or a baby step forward, and may we connect with others who remind us that we matter. Because we do. Here’s to exploring 2014 together.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Your Christmas Card

Dear friends,

Your Christmas card didn’t make it into the mail. Truthfully, it never made it out of the store. Not because I don’t love you or value your place in my life, but because I got caught up in the December “to do” list and this item kind of slipped off (not for the first time). So while this note isn’t the same as a card showing up in your mailbox (perhaps by Canada post home delivery, soon to be obsolete), it nonetheless comes from the heart.

My wishes for you this season include:
  • Time with those you love, whomever that includes – friends, family, cats, dogs – the people and beings who make you feel loved and appreciated no matter the season.
  • Time for yourself – A chance to take a breath, sleep in, read a book or watch a movie – whatever gives you a chance to relax and rejuvenate.
  • Good food and the time to enjoy it – And maybe a good pair of “buffet pants” and a comfortable sofa for post-gluttony napping.
  • Good health – May you feel strong in mind and body and able to enjoy all of the above.
And as we enter into 2014, may you dream big and plan big enough to bring your dreams to fruition. I look forward to continuing to share the journey.

With gratitude for your place in my life,


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Here comes the bride...

I don't remember ever not knowing Catherine. By the time we started school, we'd already known each other for what felt like years (and probably was two or three). On our first day of school, we posed with Marilou (a friend who was a year ahead of us in school), proudly wearing the smocked dresses Catherine's mother had made and holding our dishpans full of school supplies. It was the first of many milestones we'd celebrate together.

There weren't many days of my childhood that I didn't see Catherine. On summer days I'd get up bright and early, eager to call her to play. My mother insisted I wait until the respectable time of 10 a.m. The hours seemed interminable - after all, summer was wasting away. With our other friends, we would often spend much of the day in Catherine's pool (where I learned to swim) and then set our towels up on the asphalt driveway while we dried off (sun safety was not on our list of priorities back then). When we weren't swimming, we were playing hide-and-seek, cockyolly (a variation of hide-and-seek) or soccer baseball.

During the winter, we'd spend hours outside until our woolen mittens were full of miniature snowballs and our feet were numb with cold. No matter the season, our parents' standard instructions were, "Go play outside." One Christmas, when both Catherine and I were young (probably pre-school), my parents bought a small Christmas tree for the basement and let Catherine and I decorate it. We covered it with construction paper chains and tinsel. Lots of tinsel. More tinsel than should ever grace the branches of a tree. It was almost completely silver when we were finished. And we thought it was beautiful.

We spent our share of time inside too - watching "the soaps" (much to my parents' chagrin) or game shows, or playing board games. And I'd occasionally go to Catherine's for sleepovers (where I would inevitably call my parents to pick me up before midnight, thus the "occasional" nature of the sleepovers).

But Catherine was more than a conveniently located playmate. She was a true friend. When I was in grade three, my first pet, a guinea pig named Goldie, died. My mom was looking after Catherine that day, so she was with us when it happened. I remember a tear running down my cheek and Catherine, without a word, pulled out her sticker book and gave me her orange-smelly Smurfette sticker (barely scratched and sniffed). I don't think Catherine even remembers that, but I always will.

When Catherine's family took off on a year-long European adventure the year I was 12, I wondered what I would do without her for a whole year. Much to my delight, the family came home after six months. Best. Gift. Ever.

While I fell out of touch with other friends, Catherine remained in my life. We went to movies together (where I  and other friends would beg her not to talk or ruin the ending), we talked endlessly about our favourite TV shows, we hung out, we told stories (Catherine's always been good at that) and we laughed - a lot.

High school came and went, university came and went and whether we went days or weeks without talking, we'd always pick up just where we left off.

Catherine has always been independent, has always lived life on her terms. She'd have been the first to tell you she'd never get married - she could never stand living with someone else for that long, wouldn't put up with anyone's crap. Then came Craig. When Catherine introduced him to us, we figured he must be somebody special. When he moved in, we wondered if he might even be the exception to her no-marriage-for-me rule. He "got" her. And she got him. And they loved each other for it. Catherine and Craig have many things in common - a love of food that could challenge the most devout foodie, a love of dogs (particularly their hounds Wallace and Harriet, who live a life that is the envy of many dogs), a love of camping (although this was an acquired taste for Catherine as far as we can tell) and a profound appreciation of naps (usually cuddled with a canine).

Today, Catherine and Craig exchange vows. Their wedding in Niagara Falls will be simple - just family and close friends (while I am not there in person I am absolutely there in heart). Catherine will proudly tell you she bought her wedding dress and shoes for less than $60 (together). I don't think she has spent a moment's stress on wedding planning, which is as it should be. Rather, she's focused on what matters - the fact that she and Craig "get" one another and love one another, today and for the rest of their lives. I couldn't wish for anything more for my lifelong friend. Catherine and Craig - I look forward to watching as you grow old together (not too quickly, you understand, as I'll be aging along with you).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Copy that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

9:30 a.m. – Begin making photocopies.

9:33 a.m. – Jam photocopier.

9:33 to 9:40 a.m. – Open and close random doors and drawers of photocopier, trying to make sense of useless diagram telling me where it’s jammed, while muttering angrily under my breath.

9:45 a.m. – Call photocopier company and request a service call (the sign on the copier specifically says don’t try to fix it yourself).

9:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Do other work, eat lunch, etc.

1 p.m. – Pass by photocopier. It’s fixed! Try again to make copies.

1:01 p.m.– Jam photocopier.

1:01 to 1:02 p.m. – Half-heartedly open and close photocopier doors and drawers quickly, vow never to use photocopier again, then go back to my office. I’m not calling the service guy again. Too embarrassing. I’ll just leave it alone (apologies to the next user).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

11:30 a.m. (after returning from morning meeting): On my chair are several mangled papers. Someone has found me out. They have removed my offending papers (which had my name on them) from the copier and left them for me.

11:35 a.m. Check voicemails. “This is Rob from Ricoh Photocopier Service calling. I can’t come by today to fix your photocopier today, but will come tomorrow. If you need to reach me, call me at (mumble, mumble) 460-36099 (eight digits?).” I listen to the message three times, and still can’t decipher the number.

11:38 a.m. Try calling 460-3609 (it’s as good a guess as any). Voicemail answers: “Hi. This is Drew.” Ooops. Wrong number. Hang up.

11:40 a.m. Cory, my co-worker, says, “Oh by the way, the photocopier guy was looking for you this morning.”

Me: He was? This morning?
Cory: Yes.
Me: Ohhhh…he must have left that message yesterday, not today.
Cory: Maybe. By the way, I fixed the photocopier.
Me: YOU fixed the photocopier?
Cory: Yeah. I went to use it and it was jammed so I looked in all the doors and pulled out the jammed paper. I saw your name on it and figured you might want it, so put it on your chair.
Me: Oops. I guess the photocopier guy came for nothing. (PS How did Cory find the papers when I couldn't?)

11:45 a.m. Phone rings. It’s 460-3609. “Ah, photocopier guy!” I think, recognizing the number. I pick up the receiver and don’t even bother with the usual formalities:

Me: “Hi. I’m really sorry. I requested a service call yesterday because the photocopier was broken but now it’s fixed so you don’t need to come anymore. I’m sorry for the confusion.”

Voice on other end of phone: “Who is this?”

Me: “It’s Margaret Angus. You’re the Ricoh photocopier service guy, right?”

Voice: “No. You called my number.”

Me: “Oh right! Sorry! I was trying to reach the photocopier guy and he left me a voicemail but he mumbled the number and I couldn’t make it out but it sounded kind of like this number. But obviously it wasn’t, and you’re not the photocopier guy and I’m really sorry. I’m going to let you get on with your day now.”

Voice, laughing: “OK.”

11:55 a.m. (notice red light flashing on phone, indicating another voicemail. Was it there this whole time?) “Hi. This is Rob from Ricoh Photocopier Service. I came and fixed your photocopier. The stapling feature wasn’t working so I cleaned that out and now it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

11:56 a.m. I knew that photocopier was broken.