Category Archives: Inspiration

Hurry up and wait, at the same time

0870709593The book, Hurry Up and Waitis a collaboration between Maira Kalman, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) and the New York Museum of Modern Art. Described as an “anti-productivity manifesto,” the book combines paintings by Kalman, insightful words by Handler and photographs from the museum.

Handler writes:

“You’re supposed to stop and smell the roses, but truth be told it doesn’t take that long to smell them. You hardly have to stop. You can smell the roses, and still have time to run all those errands before the sun goes down and it’s dinner time.”

I say, stop and read this book. Truth be told, it doesn’t take long. You hardly have to stop. You can read it and still have time to run all your errands before the sun goes down.

My favourite passage is this one:

“I’m just standing still, and then suddenly I think I am waiting for something. Once I’ve decided I’m waiting it’s like I’m not standing still anymore.”

The idea of idling transformed into action by mere choice appeals to me. 

You know those times when you feel stuck? You know when you don’t know what’s coming next or what you’re supposed to do with your life?

No worries. You’re not standing still. You’re actively waiting.

So, what are you waiting for? Hurry up and wait, already.

 

Non or anti? An action question for Black History Month, and other times

“We need to accept that what hurts one of us hurts all of us.”

Have a look at this video from theguardian.com featuring Marlon James. A short video to provoke thoughts.

Are you non-racist or anti-racist? As in, are you opposed to the idea in principle, but co-exist with it without much thought, or do you actually do something about it? 

The question might make us squirm a little. It’s Black History Month, so it’s a timely question for now, but I like that this video steps beyond racism to ask the same question of other marginalized groups.

The ones facing persecution aren’t the ones that need to be brave. 

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/commentisfree/video/2016/jan/13/marlon-james-are-you-racist-video

 

Groundhog Day: Life themes that need repeating

Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies. Clever writing and perfectly timed edits build a humorous, poignant, and challenging story that unrolls three of my favourite themes:

Photo © 2004 by April King

Photo © 2004 by April King

1. Long-lasting happiness doesn’t come through material things or self-indulgence; it comes from making a valuable contribution to society.

2. Life-long learning enriches the self and society.

3. People have to true to themselves, and they can’t control other people’s actions or emotions.

At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-centered, cynical jerk. Through an unexplained circumstance he finds himself reliving February 2—Groundhog Day—over and over and over. Every day after his clock radio clicks over to 6:00 a.m. and he hears the same Sonny and Cher song, he meets the same people and re-lives the same events, trying to figure out what he has to do to escape the repetitive loop. Goofing off on the job doesn’t do it. Eating every creamy dessert in sight doesn’t help. Suicide attempts don’t work. When he falls in love with Rita (Andie MacDowell) he tries to make her fall in love with him. He pretends to be something he isn’t. He plays tricks, and he pushes too fast, too soon.

1. Eventually he begins to notice people he can help: women in a car with a flat tire on Main Street, a choking victim in the restaurant or a homeless man in the alley.

2. Eventually he decides to learn new things: he becomes an excellent piano player, a master ice sculptor and learns to speak French.

3. Eventually, he evolves into a compassionate, interested person who allows others to be who they are.

That is, of course, when the cycle breaks.

If I were to mention the three themes above in casual conversation, most people would nod in agreement. True, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from a store. True, learning new things just makes life so darned interesting. True, we can’t control or other people’s actions or emotions.

But those commonly accepted rules aren’t so easy to live.

1. No matter how much we know that material things or self-indulgence won’t bring us long-term happiness, we still pine for a new car, Häagen-Dazs Dark Chocolate ice cream, a designer bag, a 52-inch flat screen, the latest electronic gadget . . .

2. We come up with excuses to avoid new challenges. We’re too tired, too old, too young, or we have no time, no money, no proper equipment . . .

3. We pretend to be something we’re not just to try to impress others. We try to shape other people according to our expectations. We push them to quit smoking, get fit, wear different clothes, change their hair, get higher grades, quit drinking . . .

If you never watched Groundhog Day, or if you dismissed it as a mindless lark, I invite you to visit it, or revisit it, over and over and over.

It seems the themes need repeating.

 

Elsie MacGill: Flying under the radar

How did I not know about Elsie MacGill? 

There we were on Parliament Hill last September for the commemoration of the Battle of Britain. As if to belie the horrors of war and the sorrow of lives lost, brilliant sun shone down on Ottawa, Canada that day. Gentle breezes rippled the Governor General’s standard flying from the Peace Tower.

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Vintage aircraft, including a Lancaster Bomber,thundered overhead.

lancaster-bomber

The Snowbirds flew in missing man formation. Chills.

missing-man

And then we strolled by the Hawker Hurricane aircraft on display on the vast lawn and read this sign.

elsie-macgill

Elsie MacGill, a Canadian, was the world’s first female aeronautical engineer, and a woman who supervised Hurricane production in the 1940s. How did I not know about her?

I did more research. As a child growing up in Vancouver, Elsie took drawing lessons from Emily Carr. Talk about inspiration. Elsie earned degrees from the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan and MIT. In fact, she was the first woman in North America to earn a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering.

Before her graduation, she contracted polio and was told she would never walk again. She was determined though, and she learned to walk with the help of two metal canes.

While using those canes, she went on to become the world’s first female aircraft designer. She co-authored the report from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. She became a member of the Order of Canada.

How did I not know about Elsie MacGill? Somehow she managed to fly under the radar.

I imagine her in the Canadian Car and Foundry factory in Thunder Bay (then Fort William) surrounded by metallic clanging, blazes of welding and the haze of smoke that hung in offices in her day. I picture her making her way to meetings with the help of two canes, somehow managing to command respect despite her gender and a physical challenge. I cannot help but feel awe and respect for doing what she did at the time she did it.

She wasn’t on the curriculum when I went to school. She needs to be. She’s my new Canadian hero.

Training ourselves to be kind

If you want to spend your day in despair over the state of humanity, the fastest route to that sentiment is through the comments section on YouTube or any other internet site.

Comments sections put the meanness, pettiness, ignorance, judgment and narrow thinking of some members of our society on full display. I simply cannot read them, or I have to spend time after giving myself a chin-up pep talk.

unfoldingSociety needs a kindness injection. And there might be a way.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggest we might be able to enhance our tendency toward kindness. All it takes is some meditation, some training and some practice.

Participants in a study worked at building their compassion “muscle.” Those who did responded to others in need with caring and a desire to help. They became more altruistic.

Goodness knows we need more people like that.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is not the first to propose physical, spiritual, mental and emotional benefits of meditation; it has been shown to lower blood pressure, increase serotonin levels, reduce pain, and increase creativity and mental sharpness. Their study adds another motivational level to begin the practice.

Okay everyone? Let’s change some brains.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2543812/Can-train-KIND-Just-seven-hours-meditation-rewire-brain-claims-study.html#ixzz3xcdrISBE

Steps to nowhere: Climbing aimlessly

steps-to-nowhereI attended a public event not long ago, and while there I noticed these steps . . . to nowhere.

Placed along the edge of a raised shrubbery bed, the steps serve no purpose that we could discern. The shrubbery bed hugs the brick wall of a building, so even if a person were to climb the steps and machete through the greenery, a brick wall would all that would be gained for the trouble. The pathway beside the steps leads the other direction, so these steps don’t follow the natural conclusion of any journey.

What really struck me though, was the effort required to place these cement steps. Those things are heavy. Someone expended tremendous time and energy to hoist them into place.

Whatever for?

The steps did come in handy for me. I climbed to the top of them and enjoyed a better view of the event, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.

Do your steps serve no purpose? Do you climb and climb and machete through, only to encounter brick walls? Are your steps leading you away from the natural conclusion of your journey? Are you expending tremendous time and energy putting things into place for no reason? Are other people the ones who take advantage of your hard work?

Questions prompted by steps to nowhere.

 

 

Lindsay Ashford

Crime and historical novelist

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