We Don’t Care in Real Life

We ask “how are you?” but we hold our breaths after, for fear someone will say something that would require us to give them attention. We don’t have any, it’s all used up for our needs. God forbid someone follows up with “I’m worried about my son”, “I just came back from the doctor and it’s not good news”. There are exceptions, of course, supportive spouses, some mothers/fathers with their children, some very good and, oh so rare, dear friends.

But try to tell a story about something dear to your heart and 8 times out of 10, the person in front of you will, within 15 seconds, change the subject or jump in with a story about themselves. “You might feel good about giving a speech at a wedding, but I sang a song at a wedding, it was a great song and the bride was overwhelmed with great emotion.” They don’t really come out and say it, or mean to belittle what you think is a nice achievement. You look into their eyes and they’re just desperate to share a story about a time when they did good. Probably because they haven’t been listened to either. “You sang a song at a wedding? Well I organized and paid for my son’s wedding, and he loved it, there were flamingos, and an open bar and…” That’s OK, no one cares about hearing their story either.

But Facebook does, and probably Instagram and Pinterest (not sure because I don’t use them but I assume). And there, acquaintances and friends of friends with 15 seconds to spare will “like” what you do or even, if they don’t mind the litany of following notifications, spend 5 seconds writing an encouraging post. Your birthday date is on Facebook? Tons of wishes guaranteed; way more than you would get in real life without it.

I am part of an online community. (It sounds much warmer than the actual fact of having registered to a message board years ago, don’t you think?) Every day I see people asking for help there, or taking the time to write a post about a troubling experience they’ve had. More often than not, depending on the popularity of a poster, dozens of people reply with suggestions, recommendations, advice, and/or actual physical help if they live nearby. People bravely discuss their mental health difficulties, deaths in their family, social etiquette, etc. And people “listen”. They take 20, 30 minutes, sometimes hours to get back with a proper response, sometimes snarky (if the poster warrants it) but more often than not, filled with empathy. I’ve done it myself. Why? Anonymity of course makes it easier to share sensitive information than to discuss it with work colleagues or a mommy and me peer. Because you have a greater sample of individuals for sure, but also because the community “listens” way more than most people you come across in real life. These are not mean people, just people preoccupied with their own pain and challenges from the relentless pace of life.

So does social media pull us away from real life or does real life push us towards social media? I bet the latter.

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Readalism II – Bryant and May Mysteries

Continuing with my love of reading in 2015, especially UK-based mysteries, I came across the works of Christopher Fowler, in particular the Bryant and May mysteries. I’ve recently finished the fourth book in the series: Ten Second Staircase.

No sex a minute here – the two lead detectives are in their late seventies and live as much in their souvenirs (many from World War II) as in the present. Supernatural touches abound.

Great escapism.

Rating: 8/10

What I learned about learning to swim… badly and a little late

Due to a chlorine allergy, my parents being deadly afraid of water, and one embarrassing and traumatising group class experience, I didn’t learn to swim as a kid. Deep down, I knew it was a great skill to have, offered  wonderful health benefits and could be fun, but I was scared and as we all know, it’s human nature to avoid scary things.

A number of years ago, I visited my beloved Vancouver. Sitting on English Bay Beach watching the sunset, I looked back on my travelling experience in a city filled with sporty and healthy people and vowed to make my mental and physical health a priority. First item on my list: learn to swim.

Three years later (it’s human nature to avoid scary things), I finally booked a private lesson at one of the city pools and ultimately, at the ripe old age of 43, floated, on my own for the first time in my life. For people who learned to swim very young, it can be hard to comprehend why that was akin to climbing a mountain for me, but it was.  My progress was stalled however, because after taking three lessons from three different young instructors with different teaching techniques, I lost trust.

Thankfully, along with being a scary things avoider, I can be very single minded and goal-oriented. It took me another year to get my courage up again, but coming across YWCA services information, I registered for private classes. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to float on my back this time. Yeah me!

As my journey continued, I started talking about my experience. I had spent my life under the impression that everyone in the world but me knew how to swim perfectly. The more I talked to people though, the more it became clear that this wasn’t the case at all. Except for a few stars who went all the way to complete lifeguard training, the people I talked to all felt their swimming skills were lacking: one person didn’t feel comfortable swimming on her back, another couldn’t tread water, another couldn’t bring herself to swim in lakes… What a discovery! I wasn’t alone in not having mastered the water arts! Everyone I spoke to encouraged me and some even called me an “inspiration” – imagine that!

This sounds all fine and good, but I was so ready to become someone who officially “can swim”, so determined to put an end to my inadequacy that I ramped up my quest and devised a plan to learn by a set target date. I made it. Sort of.  Four days ahead of my deadline, I swam for about 10 metres.

That was the good part. The bad part was that, except two exceptional times, I’ve never been able to do anything more over the past years. No progress whatsoever, no matter how much I tried. Even worse, I developed a strain injury because of bad technique, which was nicely pointed out to me by a kind stranger.

What was I do to with that? Take more classes? My learning had involved six different instructors, the last two being completely unable to improve my technique and one traumatising me in deep water. (It wasn’t her fault, she was nice and really hoping to help me out.) So I did what any sane person can do in these types of circumstances and… started Googling.

I found some basic exercises to help my water posture and gave it a shot.  I realized very soon that, in spite of all my goodwill, bravado and will to perform, I was still very scared of the water’s buoyancy as it makes me feel like I have no control over what’s happening to me in the water.  I needed to go back to step one, and just float until I was totally into it, which I’ve started doing again.

So what did I learn over this multi-year humbling learning experience? I learned that a lot of clichés are true.

  1. You can’t force things. Society makes go-getters, goal-oriented individuals an example to emulate but this attitude can hurt you more than it can help you in many different spheres.
  1. Some things take time – concentrate on enjoying learning things one step at a time while silencing your “why am I not an expert in this yet” voice. No one is judging you and those that do have way more problems than you. 
  1. You can’t make up for lost time. Ever. Time to accept whatever it is that you feel you haven’t done soon enough as being a part of you. So you took 44 years to swim while someone else achieved this milestone on their third birthday.  OK, but then maybe they spent the rest of their lives drinking beer on the sofa. Someone gets a bachelor degree in their twenties, others will complete it in their fifties. Someone is always ahead of you, someone is always behind you, just like a line at the supermarket. Nothing more, nothing less.
  1. You’re never as alone as you think. Really, truly – feeling like you’re alone in feeling or doing something is often just a distorted perception. Reach out, it just may be the key to make you feel better.

End of this story.

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English Bay – Vancouver – 2008

Readalism – Phryne Fisher Historical Mysteries

I recently saw an article from a guy proudly claiming he had read more than 70 books in a year and sharing tips on how to do the same: http://austinkleon.com/2014/12/29/how-to-read-more/. I hadn’t realized at the time that it was an article close to a year old, but bear with me.  I found the article again through a Google search which brought up A LOT of people proud of reading 70 book per year. This is really great, except for the fact that it made me realize I had a HUGE problem.

I read 123 books in 2015.

No, it’s not a random number I picked because it’s started with 1-2-3; it’s an actual number. I know this because the librarian in me catalogues her books in LibraryThing. [To the lovely souls on my Facebook feed who know what cataloguing a book really means, I just need to add: “It was only COPY cataloguing; it’s really not THAT bad!].

Coming to the conclusion that I am a compulsive reader or “readerolic”, I promise to do better (i.e., read fewer books) next year. I vow to get out more, exercise more often, etc. and  bring down my reading volume to a more palatable – 70 books per year. 😉 [Shamelessly asking for invites here.]

In the meantime, I thought I would talk about the cream of the crop with you, in case you might share some of my interests. First up – Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher historical mysteries.

I’ve been a devoted fan of mystery novels since I first read the Agatha Christie’s series as a child, so I fell in love with Phryne (pronounced “Franny”), rich lady detective in Melbourne, Australia in the 1930s, watching the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series on Netflix. As it may take a huge while before Season 4 is filmed (the producers have a crazy idea about making a movie set in London, UK), I decided to start reading the books instead. They are super easy to read, being between 150-200 pages. So far, I’ve gone through:

  1. Cocaine Blues (1989)
  2. Flying Too High (1990)
  3. Murder on the Ballarat Train (1991)
  4. Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
  5. The Green Mill Murder (1993)

They fall more on the fantasy side than reality (ex. in spite of the time period everyone readily accepts a woman detective and allows her to do as she wishes all the time), so they are a great source of escapism even if they deal with difficult subjects (ex. abortion,  rape, the Magdalene Laundries, etc.) In the end, the bad guys always get beaten and Phryne comes through as a hero but I need this bit of positive energy every now and then (read “every day”). The amazing clothes she wears (shown superbly well in the Netlflix series) and the many men she chooses to bed don’t hurt my enjoyment one bit either. 😉

Rating: 8/10