Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Baltimore and change 

Last night was a quiet evening.  We came across the documentary Baltimore Rising.  The documentary explores the city after the death of Freddie Grey, a 25 year old black man. Allegedly he was carrying a knife and was arrested for carrying an illegal weapon.  Incarcerated and transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and subsequently died of "spinal chord injuries.".  Ten days later, 6 Baltimore police were charged with manslaughter and trials commenced.  The city erupted into massive rioting through out the 10 day period during which the cops were allowed to get their stories straight.

The documentary focused on the aftermath of the verdict. The documentary follows  African American activists, some of whom work with the police to try and stem the violence in the city.  And some of whom work tirelessly to seek justice against the deeply rooted racism in the Baltimore police department.  Kwame Rose, a young activist is prominently featured.  We watch him get arrested twice for minor disobedience.  The documentary portrays the racism endemic to the city and the lack opportunity for African American youth who are systematically targeted because of the color of their skin.  The tragedy of youth being wasted due to poverty compounded by police brutality is hard to fully understand.  I guess the constant question in my mind is why?  Why is there so much anger against people because of the color of their skin. Or is it fear? Those that are supposed to serve and protect are literally the enemy of the people.

I found the documentary powerful and inspiring. A former gang member turned activists is charismatic and fearless in his vulnerability.  Raging against the system that that produced him,  he is trying to find a way to use the anger for good, to help his community.  Tears streaming down his face he tries to convey what it's like to deal with the helplessness of being ignored because he's black yet stigmatized by the police for being black.  It breaks your heart to see the frustration and anger.  Quite frankly it made me want to help.  If anything I felt such anger on behalf of the communities and such respect for the young adults trying to change the system.  If you've got nothing going on I highly suggest you give it a go.  It will provide you with tremendous insight into the passion and pride of a community struggling in an American city.  You will see people being hurt and beaten down.  It's sheer injustice.  It's wrong vs. right. The Department of Justice did come down on the Baltimore Police and conducted a review.  It was scathing. Awareness was raised but change takes time.  It's reassuring to know that the people are being heard.  Check it out if you have a 90 minute window. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

A little adventure 

Last weekend N and I went to Pittsburgh for a little getaway.  We had a fantastic time as we always do when we travel together.  We arrived around dinner time and parked our car at the hotel, the stunning Fairmont in the centre of the city.  We immediately hit the market square for some dinner and people watching.  Then it was back to the hotel bar for a nightcap.  The next day we made our way to the strip district which is essentially a market.  Lots of cool old school stores and restaurants.  We lined up for brunch at the famous diner De Lucas.  It's awesome if you like a big, greasy breakfast with bottomless coffee.

Then it was back to the car because the main purpose of our day was to check out Frank Lloyd Wright's brilliant Fallingwater.  It's well worth the 90 minute drive to tour the stunning home built in 1936 for the Kaufmann family.  Their only son bequeathed the home to the Western Pennsylvania conservancy in 1963.  Since then, 6 million people have visited the home and it's a UNESCO world heritage sight.  I highly recommend a visit if you have any interest in architecture or just an interest in history.  The attention to detail and the ingenuity of the home is unbelievable. We bought a sketch that we will have framed as a reminder of the experience.  The home was built into the falls and Wright's vision was to immerse nature and the home.  Here's a shot of the outside, we weren't aloud to take pictures on the inside.  There are plenty of pictures on line if you are interested.  Each room has been preserved as though the family was still living in the home.

This is the goal, to get to a point where we can do this for weeks at time.  Explore and learn.  Leave the grind behind.  Be gypsies. I can't wait.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Struggle often leads to change

This week I received 7 back issues of the magazine New Escapologist.  As I've mentioned before I am a big fan of the blog new escapologist.  I ordered Robert Wringham's book which N is currently reading.  We think of it as a bit of a manual on how to live our lives.  The magazines are beautifully designed and arrived in a box, each glossy magazine wrapped individually in plastic.  It was such a treat to come home to. As I flipped through the magazines and read articles written by people whose lives are shaped by life choices that allow for so much freedom I am in awe.  They have turned their backs on consumerism, embraced minimalism and are practicing self-examination with the goal to develop and live authentic lives.  Wringham wrote that one should look at work as a "caper".  Work for 3-6 months and  quit,  take a break and work on a personal project.  Then rinse and repeat.

Gradually I am wrapping my head around all these concepts. I have concerns.  One red flag is that I do believe work ultimately provides intrinsic satisfaction and purpose.  Even the kind done in cubicles.  I understand that autonomy does not equate loafing around and playing video games. I understand that escapologists work all the time.  They have passions they pursue.  I, on the other hand, may end up donning sweats, piling up books on my coffee table and lose all sense of time while producing nothing.  I may just lose myself to to a life of hedonism.  I wonder if I have the self discipline to pursue passions?  I think I would be productive.  I think I would work on my own creative endeavors, this blog and perhaps attend university.  I think I would live a fuller life.

My second misgiving is that I am trapped by consumerism.  I am a product of my environment.  I don't love minimalism.  I am surrounded by my large collection of books and carefully selected art. A home that is filled with our life of consumerism.  We've worked hard to create this life and it takes a fair amount of resources to maintain our home and the children who share it with us.  I am less and less interested in what money can buy but I am well aware of how money can provide comfort.  I am not interested in frugality as an "ideal".  However, I don't want my stuff to trap me so it's a bit of a quandary. 

Suffice it to day I am gradually embracing the concept of escapology.  I truly believe that wage slavery is a form on indentured servitude and that corporations are merciless.  Work is not conducive to a life of unconventionality and adventure.  There are two trains of thought as far as I have observed.  Your either accept professional mediocrity and resign yourself to a life dictated by wage slavery.  This would be your pink ghetto employees, your middle management and clerks.  Or you work towards achieving power which often comes with far more flexibility yet demands a lot of sacrifice which few people are willing to make.  As well, those who have achieved a level of corporate mastery thrive on the competition and power games that are the politics of corporate dominance. 

 Idealism, escaping it all is intoxicating if the circumstances are in line with your life.  Ultimately the possibilities for how you want to live your life are endless.  If you have the foresight, the confidence and the freedom from responsibility to make radical choices then you are playing the game of life well.  If you can avoid wage slavery and pursue your passions with complete autonomy I think you are already successful.  I think the one caveat is that happiness is different for everyone.  What appeals to me today may change tomorrow. At this stage in my life escapology's advice to take a break is quite appealing.  I like working but I'd like to have more control over my time and have more flexibility.  I will keep reading, keep thinking and order the entire catalog of magazines.  I love how escapology makes me feel like I have choices.  That I'm not alone in my skepticism of conformity.  My biggest fear is that I am taking the path of least resistance out of fear.  That I am lacking in imagination.  Clearly I am struggling and that is good.  It means I am ready for a change and maybe ready to start taking some risks.  I don't want to miss out on anything while I wilt away under the fluorescent lighting and peek out over my cubicle wall at the slice of blue sky I can see through the window.    

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Vulnerability and strength 

I went out for dinner with a friend last night.  One of those friends who you don't see for a few years and then you reconnect and it's like time never stopped.  We met through our daughters at a mommy and me playgroup when the girls were toddlers and we just clicked.  S stayed home for a bit and  had two babies within 19 months of each other. I instantly admired her ambition and fierce sense of self.  I find we tend to admire characteristics of the people we want to be around. Or maybe they have characteristics we want to sharpen. Nothing fazed her.  She could pop out babies (she has three now), bake cupcakes. manage a renovation, throw a party and go back to work on 5 hours of sleep.  I, on the other hand have a hard time doing two things at once and usually it's because I'm curled up on the couch immersed in a book.  The other reason I admired and respected her so much was because she was an unapologetic feminist.  Not only did she talk the talk but she walked the walk.  She was a full person regardless of being a woman.  S was defined by her own choices and experiences.  Not by her marriage, her children, her friends or her past but by the self she wanted to be.

As time passes, I find myself attracted to fiercely strong, capable and self possessed women.  I detect insecurity and self hate like a bloodhound.  I don't want to be around people who lack substance.  I am attracted to women who juggle full lives and expect the men in their lives to jump in with just as much gusto.  I want nothing to do with women who take a back seat.  I didn't have a lot of support when I was a stay at home mom with two children under the age of two.  I was financially dependent and incredibly lonely.  I always felt like a single parent well before I became one.  I had no family in Toronto and I am an only child.  I did have a fantastic group of loyal and supportive friends.  They rallied around the children and I.  They became my family.  I had to shed the image of the dependent woman quickly and grow up.  There were two kids who needed me to take care of them.

I remember flying to BC with a one year old and a three year on my own.  I was 30 years old and was going to visit my mum.  It was a long flight there and a long flight back,  I promised myself I would never be in that position again, alone and struggling.  I kept thinking about all my friends back home who had husbands that would want to be with them on that plane.  I figured this was temporary and some day I would find that person.  To my credit, I have been vulnerable many times since, but I surrounded myself with people who did not take advantage of my need for support.  Instead, they propped me up and reminded me that I deserved kindness.  I began to understand that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself and my children while giving back to my friends.  That strength comes from trusting others, relying on others and being vulnerable.  It also comes from learning to trust yourself.  It took me a long time to figure that out.  It took me a long time to understand that before I could become independent I had to be comfortable with reliance on other people. Not because I was a woman but because I just needed support.

Last night I didn't just meet my friend.  N and I met my friend and her husband of 17 years, D.  They have always been best friends.  S made sure she found him to help her fly.  As I sat with my old friends over a glass of wine and caught up with them, I felt so grateful.  Grateful to be with people I trust and love.  Grateful to have female friends who demand the best for themselves, their spouse and their children.  They say you attract what you are and character is destiny.  I am going to do everything I can to stay on this path.  I don't ever want my daughter to feel as scared and alone as I did with two little kids.  I don't think she will, she has a mom who is okay with asking for help.  M was brought up in a village.  She will be one those fiercely strong woman who demands that her partner jump in and support her unconditionally.

My friend's company reminded me to how important it is for women to keep plodding along.  Complacency is so easy at a certain point.  Life is overwhelming when you are in the midst of the hurricane.  There are so many obligations and demands on your time.  S reminded me that no matter what, you need to take care of yourself.  There is no recipe or instruction manual.  It's whatever you need to do to keep your head above water.  As we were chatting she reminded me she is a big supporter of girl power.  I smiled in agreement thinking about our girls.  We know what they will have to face.  We know we have to be the example that they can rely on when they question themselves.  It just felt good last night. A moment in time without anything in the middle except friendship.  All I felt was admiration and respect. It was a good night. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

My top five favourite books 

The following five books are five of my all time favourites.  This is not an easy task and quite frankly I could change it over and over again.  Right now I choose these five;

Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

I chose Gone with the Wind because I love Scarlett O'Hara.  In fact I wanted to be Scarlett O'Hara.  She was passionate and strong willed.  She was willing to take risks and she believed in herself.  She was an inspiring role model for a young woman.  Scarlett controlled her own destiny in spite of constant calamity such as the civil war (of which she was on the losing side) and her self awareness developed over time.  Dare I say it, she may have been humbled a few times by the dashing Rhett Butler.  Quite frankly a story for the ages to be read again and again.

The Misleading Mind
Karuna Cayton

When I was on my own as a single mother I used to cycle a lot.  One of my destinations was a Chapters in downtown Toronto just off of Queen Street.  It's no longer there to my dismay.  It had wonderful floor to ceiling windows and you could curl up with a book and watch people go by.  As I was perusing the shelves one Saturday afternoon I came across The Misleading Mind.  I bought it and cycled home.  I read it in one night.  It changed my life.  I learned about how the mind, the ego, shapes our perceptions.  How our thoughts are not real but merely feelings that drift like the clouds.  How we often distort our reality with our minds and fall prey to anxiety and depression or a distorted perspective on what is happening in any given moment.  The book provides me with tremendous comfort to this day and reminds me that this too shall pass.

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens's David Copperfield is a literary classic, some would argue the greatest book ever written in the genre of fiction.  I've read it three times and will go back to it again and again for comfort.  The story of of an orphaned eight year old boy set in Victorian England the reader gets to watch David grow up and become a man.  Dickens was an incredible story teller and his characters were so well depicted you felt like you knew them.  As a teenager I loved the detail and the vivid description that peopled his world.

The Philosopher and the Wolf;  Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness
Mark Rowlands

I came upon the The Philosopher and the Wolf later in life.  I wish I'd found it sooner.  It was roughly three years ago.  Rowland's is a philosopher who also happens to be an avid and devoted long distance runner.  In his twenties he adopted a wolf cub and hand raised him.  Rowland's is an incredibly likable follow and his escapades with Brenin are out of this world.  What I took from the book is how love transforms all of us and how looking for happiness in external gratification is a waste of time.
Rowlands hammered home the importance of intrinsic satisfaction.  Prior to reading this book, I'd never really thought about what happiness meant beyond getting what I wanted.  Essentially, external happiness has been my barometer but what I've realized over time is that it's fleeting.  As I read The Philosopher and the Wolf it dawned on me that happiness or contentment is only possible through intrinsic rewards.  Brenin strengthened that perspective for Rowland.  In order to discipline and manage the wolf he took him running.  The joy they both felt in those hours of silent companionship defined happiness for Rowlands.  That was such a pivotal moment for me when I realized that my circumstances have nothing to do with my ability to find joy.  It's how I choose to fulfill myself that will ultimately lead to contentment.

The Millionaire Next Door
Thomas J. Stanley
William D. Danko

I may have mentioned that I have somewhat of an interest in money.  I read a lot of books on finance.  My all time favourite is The Millionaire Next Door. If you really want to find out how people become millionaires read this book.  It is life changing.  They don't drive the fanciest car and they are very family oriented.  They shop at Costco and they don't live in monster homes.  The key is to live below your means and don't compete with the Jones.  Usually the Jones are broke.  It goes back to the prevalent theme in my blog.  In fact as I write this blog it's becoming clearer to me.  Happiness is not a tangible.  You can't feel it, buy it or own it.  You have to figure out, day by day, what makes you happy.  It means perseverance and strength of character.  It means failing and feeling bad.  Then digging deeply and going back to what you love.  That may be reading, running or collecting stamps.  Whatever it happens to be it has to be a place you can go to, find comfort,  regroup an find the strength to face another day.

Friday, August 9, 2019

What I'm reading this summer 

I have very eclectic reading tastes.  The summer has been very busy but I've managed to finish a few books.  Admittedly I am a bit of an Amazon junkie.  I just ordered and received (thank you Amazon prime) two books on Canadian finance.  Larry Bates Beat the Bank and Wealthing like Rabbits by Robert R. Brown. I like reading about finance because money is of interest me. I equate making and managing money with creating choice. Choices mean work can be an option as opposed to a sentence.  Please don't judge me for my Amazon habit.  I go to bookstores regularly.  Whenever I travel I make sure I stop at the local bookstore ( N helps with this too, the Borders at LSU was awesome) and I always buy a book or two.  Usually I take tons of pictures, approximately ten per store.  Otherwise I will forget titles and this is a good way to keep a list.  There are boxes showing up at our house weekly.  I rationalize my Amazon addiction with the argument that I read so much it would honestly be too expensive.

I finished a light one in Texas.  Liane Moriarty's The Last Anniversary.  I always love her stories.  She wrote Little Big Lies which the hit  HBO series is based on starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.  Then I started John Grisham's The Reckoning but I've since put it down.  I'll get back to it in time but it was a bit heavy.  N and I were at a great bookstore in Houston called Brazos Bookstore.  I came upon Spiritual Rebel: A positively addictive guide to finding deeper perspective & higher purposee by Sarah Bowen.  This book caught my interest because I read a lot on Buddhism.  A fiercely devoted atheist I may be veering towards agnostic.  Bowen's book is a gentle approach to embracing spirituality without being preachy.  It's a quick read.  Essentially a reminder to be more open and kind.  To consider that we are all interconnected.  I was intrigued by the stories about her friends who have established charitable foundations.  The book is a three week workshop encouraging the reader to explore their own sense of spirituality without having to follow one rigid path.  I will refer to this book regularly.  When I am ready to do some volunteer work I will go back and page through the recommendations.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bowen's out of box approach to spirituality.  It's hard to simplify complex theories but I think this book does a good job.

In the meantime I am also listening to the audio version of Robert A. Caro's, The Years of Lyndon Johnson; The path to Power.  This is volume one of four volumes. My commute is roughly 90 minutes a day,  it's a good opportunity to absorb something more challenging.  My life is too hectic to read historical biographies.  Caso's biography is riveting.  The details and analysis on LBJ are insightful and intriguing.  Johnson was a brilliant and complicated man.  His influence on America is arguably one of the most powerful since FDR.  He shaped the country until Reaganomics altered the country's path yet again.

Recently I purchased my tickets for Read for the Cure.  I think this is the fourth year I've attended the event.  There are three books per event that should be read.  They will arrive by mail in early September.  I will make a valiant effort to have them all read.  While I wait for those books to arrive I am almost done Delia Owen's fantastic book Where the Crawdads Sings.  I noticed a young woman reading it around the pool in San Antonio and found the book at a Costco in Houston.  Excellent summer reading. Hope you're enjoying some good summer reads.  Let me know if you have any good recommendations. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Throwing out the to do list

Procrastination is something I struggle with daily.  It causes me anxiety when I mentally tabulate my to do list.  The list is never ending and can seem overwhelming.  I used to think that successful people were not fazed by their to do lists.  In fact, they seem to thrive on doing as opposed to being.  Perhaps, a to do list is a bit more complex, it might be more of a way of life.  I have friends who never stop.  From dawn to dusk they accomplish tasks.  I also have friends who aren't up before dawn are are awake well past dusk.  I would include my son and N in that group.  I think I fit in the second group.  I would be perfectly happy sleeping in and going to bed late.  I would love to reduce my to do list, I don't particularly like running around.  I am pretty happy going at a very slow pace.  Or at least getting my to do list done as quickly as possible. Then I can achieve my ultimate goal, which is to do nothing.  I'd rather have no list at all.

That's not realistic when you choose the path I chose.  And quite frankly I was driven to accomplish as much as possible.  Clearly I wanted to get to the point where I had options.  I knew I would run out of steam, my nature is not bent towards achievement.  I just don't care enough, I'd rather be reading.  Now I have a different perspective.  I suspect every one has a different definition of success.  It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  I think what I am starting to figure out is that I am not driven by external rewards.  Working is a means to an end for me and provides me with no intrinsic satisfaction.  I work to live.  And my to do list feels like a trap so I procrastinate to avoid doing tasks that bore me.

I think half the battle is acknowledging how you feel.  I have a clearer path now, that will allow me to make different decisions.  Everything I've done up to this point has led me here and it's exactly where I want to be.  Then I will change my to do list or throw it out. There are so many books I need to read and so many places I have to visit.  It's all about perspective. You sort of grind along and figure it out.