InkTober 2017: Day 13 – Teeming

I love words. However, the word ‘teeming’, from the InkTober prompt list, did not conjure up a single image I could easily draw nor that I wanted to – yes, I did know its meaning immediately. I had to think long and hard before coming up with something that wouldn’t take me hours of detailed line-drawing to sketch or make my skin crawl. When I finally did think of something – it wasn’t a swarm of maggots 😉 –, it was more about a story than an image. After thinking for a while, my brain began teeming with words and memories. I hope that my sketch for the prompt makes sense to more people than me.

My brain is always teeming with words. Partly because I have a tendency to overthink EVERYTHING, but more likely because I learned to read at an early age: I learned to read sometime before I turned four years old. When I started attending junior/pre-kindergarten classes in elementary school, I was already reading. My mother has told stories about being upset because my teacher(s), and school administrative staff, questioned her about whether she had made a mistake and might I be older than what she listed on my registration form.

My mother was not amused that anyone, let alone a young kindergarten teacher, could think she didn’t know the age of her own child. Her annoyance intensified further because that same teacher and the school administration continued questioning, for some time, the likelihood of a four-year-old child learning to read as well as I could so much earlier than what was considered “normal” by academic standards. My memories of that situation aren’t clear. However, I do remember that my mother was not thrilled that when we went out, I felt the need to put my literacy skills to use. I would read EVERY billboard, poster, and road sign as we drove along in the car or traveled by public transit; and while it made my father proud, it drove her bonkers.

As I grew, so did my love for words. When I was a teenager, I was such a word nerd that I used to sit in my room and read the dictionary for hours at a time. No one who knows me well should be surprised by that admission. Additionally, I always gave myself summer-reading assignments. Not to punish myself, but to help the time pass more quickly and to keep my mind occupied. I was also the type of kid that carried a book wherever I went. In case I was the only child at an event I could prevent myself from dying of boredom, or if we were spending time with a family or friends whose children I didn’t quite like I could pretend I was reading homework.

The gift of learning to read at such an early age might be the reason that words are so important to me. I’m interested in their history, how to spell them, how to use them together, whether we use them correctly or incorrectly (e.g. there’s no such word as ‘irregardless’), when to emphasize them, and how they sound. I love writing and listening to long lines of alliteration. Can you see and hear what I did there?

I also know that words can hold tremendous power. Depending on how well one knows another person, we can choose the right words to express affection towards them and make them feel loved and secure. Alternatively, words can deeply wound at exactly the right moment with lasting traumatic effect. This, to me, means that we should always choose the words we speak to each other with care; and these last points may be the most important thing I know about words.

 

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InkTober 2017: Day 12 – Shattered

I try hard to care for the things I own, especially things gifted to me by someone who cares for me. Unfortunately, sometimes we can’t protect the things we love and in the worst cases they may shatter into too many pieces too small to be repaired. Moreover, things aren’t all that can shatter. People and their lives can be shattered. Whether it’s because of actions they take themselves or circumstances beyond their control such as illnesses and injuries, accidents, or the loss of a job.

I recently broke a small painted terracotta bowl. It was one of a set of five gifted to me by one of my former teachers. Whenever I use these bowls, I do so with great care because of who gave them to me. Mrs. W is a retired teacher from my old high school. She didn’t teach me then but we developed a friendship many years after I graduated. What I learned about her during that time is that she is one of the kindest most generous people alive. She genuinely cares for people, even people she’s never met but support through whatever she can donate to charities.

Some years ago, I was a direct recipient of her care at a time when I was going through an unbearably difficult situation. I didn’t have to ask for her help. When she learned I was in need I didn’t have to ask for anything because her offer was immediate. During that time, and since, she mothered me, she fed me, and she listened to me; because she knew that was what I needed. For that reason, as small as they are, the bowls she gave me connect me to those moments and embody their deep emotions; and breaking one of them felt like creating a crack in our connection.

I probably feel so strongly about breaking that bowl because I don’t see Mrs. W as often as I might like, so keeping them as an intact set has been important to me. Moving forward I must be mindful to take better care of them, and the many other things she gifted me, with much care and love.

 

 

InkTober 2017: Day 11 – Run

Today is a high pain day, so this will be a short post.

I’ve written in past posts that I used to be a runner. Running was a big part of my life at different times in my life. When I was young, it was about fun, school rivalry and competition, and winning. Winning a race was always a good, actually a euphoric feeling. One of the best wins came in junior high school when I won a major City race in a field my coach decided to test me in. I couldn’t believe I won that race because I wasn’t supposed to; I wasn’t even supposed to run it. So winning it gave the skinny little girl that I was a huge boost in self-confidence.

As I got older running became one of my biggest teachers. It taught me about toughness and self-reliance. When you’re out alone, in terrible weather, running a long route you have no one to rely on but yourself and you have to be tough to make it to the finish. Through this, I learned to respect the limits of my body. It’s one thing to tell yourself you can push through a little extra pain, but when that pain is indicative of an injury, you have to listen to your body. You have to stop, allow yourself to heal, and then try again at another time, which isn’t something I’ve always respected and ended up paying a price for it.

Running also taught me about healthy competition. The biggest message being that I am always my biggest competitor. Personal bests are called personal bests for a reason. That reason being that we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to the accomplishments or the abilities of others: that’s a certain path to unhappiness. Furthermore, when we dig deep, it should be about self-improvement without harsh self-criticism. And the solitude, in which runners often exist – and introverts like me crave – gives one the time and opportunities for self-reflection to work through many internal conflicts and big life issues.

I miss having the ability to run for all these reasons and so many more. If you’re a runner I hope you’re taking advantage of every moment of this freeing activity that you have.

 

InkTober 2017: Day 10 – Gigantic

When I was a kid, a staple – and frequent – summertime activity for my family (immediate, extended, and adopted) was a daytrip to Niagara Falls. The adults would pack the cars with coolers of food and drinks, extra clothes for the kids in case of sudden weather changes or accidents, and eventually the kids – me included. We would drive the distance to the Falls in caravan-like formation after all family members converged on a specified meet up spot in the City. In the days before air-conditioning was a standard feature in most cars, the 60 to 90 minute drive, always felt like a sweltering eternity; even with all windows open and air rushing in as we sped along the highway.

Once we arrived at the Falls, the adults would scout out a grassy spot to lay out food and other supplies; and where all the kids could safely play. Once fed, we would go for a long walk to watch gallons of water rush over the steep cliffs of the Falls. Far below us, boats that looked like toys floating along the Niagara River took tourists as close to the bottom of the Falls as safely as possible; while the kids in our group counted the rainbows we could see in the water’s rising mist. After an hour or two, we would pile back into the cars to head to one of two nearby locations: a huge amusement park with loud colourful rides where the kids could run wild or Marineland to watch choreographed shows with trained marine animals: dolphins, sea lions, and whales.

I loved going to both of those places but my favourite was Marineland. Watching the gigantic whales perform the tricks their trainers taught them never bored. Unfortunately, when I was a kid, it never occurred to me that those beautiful creatures were suffering. They were, after all, there to entertain us during as many of those daytrips we took each summer. My brain wasn’t mature enough to understand that holding them captive in their tanks was abuse because, as small as I was, it looked to me that they had enough room to swim and move about freely. But those animals, mammals just like you and me, weren’t free to move where they wished: They were fished from the oceans, ripped from their families, and forced to work for food for years, even decades.

Wow! Where did those thoughts come from? I’ve never used words like these to describe the plight of animals held in marine enclosures before. I wasn’t even aware I felt this deeply about this issue. Had I felt like this when I was a child, my parents would have had tremendous difficulty getting me in the car those many times all those summers ago for those trips. Instead, I was excited and electrified at the possibility that one of those Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) at Marineland might get close enough to where I sat to splash me with enough water to soak me to the bone.

Looking back, I still treasure those summertime trips. However, as an adult, I’ve never visited Marineland and writing this post might have just shed some light on why. Still, in my own way, I’ve upheld the tradition of taking visitors to see the majesty of Niagara Falls, much like my parents used to. Whenever friends and family from other countries come to visit me, I always include a trip to the Falls and surrounding wineries in our plans because I think it’s a sight that shouldn’t be missed. Now I’m wondering if I should, one day, return to Marineland, not for the entertainment, but to see if the conditions we hold these beautiful animals in have improved or…

To be truthful, I have no desire to visit again. Furthermore, I don’t know what I’d do if it’s all still the same. What would you do?

 

InkTober 2017: Day 9 – Screech

I don’t like horror movies. Even now, as an adult, they still cause me to get jumpy and on occasion have a bad dream; so I tend to avoid that genre. There are some movies, however, that we’re sometimes urged to watch because they are classics with respect to the historic time they were produced and who directed them. One such movie is “The Birds”. Filmmaker and director, Alfred Hitchcock, produced it in the early 1960s. The premise of the movie is a bit farfetched but it’s not something I would want to experience. Birds inexplicably attack the people in a small California seaside town; that’s it.

The lead actor in “The Birds” is Tippi Hedren. During the course of the movie, swarms of screeching birds attack her. At one point during filming “Hedren endured five solid days of prop men, protected by thick leather gloves, flinging dozens of live gulls, ravens and crows at her (their beaks clamped shut with elastic bands).” This was contrary to what she was told would happen during the filming of that scene: the birds were supposed to be mechanical. Alfred Hitchcock saw nothing wrong with this realistic method and this horrifying situation ended only because a bird hurt Tippi Hedren and a doctor ordered the filming to end. I can’t imagine completely disregarding someone’s safety that way or committing myself to such true horror for a movie, or any job. However, Hitchcock claimed he did it for the sake of art and authenticity, while Tippi Hedren earned accolades for her performance.

For a time after watching the movie, when I heard the screech of seagulls it made me uncomfortable. I know how silly that sounds. However, if you haven’t seen the movie you should then let me know how safe you feel the next time you’re at the beach and seagulls try to get close enough to steal your French fries…

 

InkTober 2017: Day 8 – Crooked

My life has not moved along a straight linear path in recent years – it probably never did. Because of my health, it has swung from one extreme to the next – from quiet calm to frenzied panic – without much warning. If I had to draw a graph to represent that activity, the line would have few crooked curves; it would be a line with jagged high peaks and deep valleys illustrating the sharp turns I’ve experienced while living with this yet to be fully diagnosed illness. However, as sharp as the turns have been, they haven’t all been bad. At the top of some of the high peaks, I’ve had some unexpectedly joyous moments and it’s been those moments that have kept me grounded and moving forward with some hope of a full recovery.

Interestingly, the difficulties of my health were not the first things I thought of when I read the word ‘crooked’ from the list of InkTober prompts. Although I’ve traveled to California before, I’ve never been to San Francisco. So why Lombard Street in San Francisco was my first thought I don’t know.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I must have locked away the piece of trivia about Lombard Street being named “the crookedest street in the world” because of the eight hairpin turns in its design resembling zigzags that carry it down what was once a steep slope (27% grade). All the photos of Lombard Street I’ve ever seen, show a beautiful hillside lined with planted bushes of bright flowers and homes built on either side of a winding street paved with red bricks; and because of these features this street is a huge tourist attraction in San Francisco. Maybe one day in the not-to-distant future, when I get back to traveling on a regular basis, I’ll take a trip to see it.

 

InkTober 2017: Day 7 – Shy

I learned a lot while using InkTober as a mindful writing exercise last year. The most important thing is that even though it is a challenge that asks participants to draw something each day, one might not always be able to adhere to that schedule. Especially, if you’re someone who has health challenges as I do. I didn’t post yesterday for two reasons. The first is that I woke up in the early twilight hours of the morning because of a high level of leg pain, which was a sign that I wouldn’t be able to push myself. I’m sure someone reading this will wonder how drawing something and writing a few paragraphs is pushing one’s self, but doing those things while feeling a high level of pain requires exerting a lot of energy that’s better spent focussed on self-care.

The other reason I didn’t complete the entry and post it is that it’s a holiday weekend here: Thanksgiving. That means I get to spend time with people who might usually have hectic schedules. Yesterday, I spent some great quality time with my brother. He came to my home early in the afternoon and we spent hours talking and laughing, we barbequed burgers for dinner, and I beat him in two consecutive games of Scrabble. We were enjoying ourselves so much we didn’t realize how late it was until our second game finished just after midnight. Those are the kinds of days we’ve always enjoyed spending together so doing it yesterday even though I wasn’t at my best was great.

However, even with all that going on yesterday I had completed the mindful writing part of my daily challenge, which I edited today to explain not posting it. I was just short on time, and unwilling to rush, to complete the sketch. Therefore, today I’m posting my pieces for the InkTober Day 7 prompt which was the word ‘shy’. I’m still not great at drawing faces, but I think this is a significant improvement.

Here goes:

I was an extremely shy kid. It was hard for me to interact with anyone I didn’t know well. I would look at the ground instead of making eye contact when someone spoke to me. When answering a question, my voice would come out in a soft almost inaudible whisper. I would fidget. My leg(s) especially, would start to involuntarily bounce-shake (I know there’s a technical name for this action but I prefer using this term) at a rapid rate; and my bottom lip would almost get chewed through when I felt uncomfortable in a social situation, which usually meant wearing lipstick was pointless. I still have some of these tells today, but I’ve overcome a lot of my shyness.

Many people I know don’t believe I am or ever was shy. I understand why they might think that and I also now know that some of the things I felt frustrated about and used to believe were insurmountable aspects of my shyness, are not. It’s easier for me to do things I couldn’t when I was growing up after years of practice and, I have to admit, career training and experience. Even though I despise small talk, I can start conversations with strangers if the situation calls for it. I can also deliver a presentation/speech in front of large groups because I learned to put a lot of time into preparation, which may be the best way to ensure you won’t be overcome by nervousness.

Moreover, I’ve learned that I’m not just shy. I’m an introvert. So at times when I don’t feel like being part of a large social group – or any group – it’s not because of my shyness or me being antisocial; it’s because I need the alone time to recharge or think without noise. I also understand that my ability to be the life of the party – when I’m with close friends and family – is not contrary to the definition of introversion; it just means that I feel comfortable and secure with who I’m with and in my surroundings.

Most importantly, I know that there’s nothing wrong with being shy. It’s not a disorder that needs curing. It’s a single aspect of who I am. Besides, not always being in the mix of things gives me the chance to take a step back to assess people and situations – and my needs – to discern what is best for me.