Monday, 18 April 2016

Holding up Doorways

The happy face on this woman is the face of someone who decided she didn't want or need online dating.

My photography skills being limited, I am still frustrated by inaccuracy but at least the lighting is better at this time of year.  Lightening the photo makes the darker colours even darker, so the sweater, shoes and my hair are not actually this dark.  My skirt is less contrasting in reality, with ivory and grey-denim stripe.  The sweater is more steel-grey-blue than the bright navy it looks in the photo....I know, I know, I get a bit obsessed about colour inaccuracy.

Like this....

 I love this maxi skirt but it nearly killed me.  I should know better as it has happened before with maxi skirts.

I live in a third floor walk-up.  Sometimes I make the mistake of wearing a maxi skirt on grocery shopping day.  Usually I make the mistake of buying my skirts a little too loose in the waist so they slip down and sit on my hips and are thus even longer on me than they might be.  Waling up stairs, carrying six bags of groceries, long skirt getting caught in my feet is dangerous.  I nearly fell today and it would have been an acrobatic, catastrophic head first backwards sort of fall.

So I MUST take the waist in so the skirt doesn't slip down.
And I MUST NOT wear maxi skirts on grocery days. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Hello, and Welcome to my Messy Life

Life is messy, isn't it?  Generally I like my environment tidy and organised, I like a peaceful life, but life is for living, for growing, and nothing that grows avoids mess.  Just think of babies and toddlers-absolutely messy.  I cannot make a beautiful garden without being willing to get messy.  I can't make art without willing to get messy.  I can't write without being willing to get it wrong over and over.  Let's stick with the gardening metaphor for a minute.....

When I had a garden there was much I did that was by choice, and in my control.  I poured over garden books, catalogues and magazines.  My garden was an artistic expression in design and a plant lover's expression of appreciation in that most plants were carefully selected.  I didn't just plant a rose, I chose a certain variety for colour, scent, vigour, and I placed it carefully for optimum conditions and for it's appearance in relation to the plants around it.  I loved the dirt and the spiders and the fresh green leaves of spring, the old seed heads in autumn, the anticipation in winter and the abundance of flowers and bees in summer.  I enjoyed weeding and pruning and general maintenance though the really heavy work of digging deep holes, carting around barrows full of mulch or compost was too much for me.  The joy was in the doing, the being immersed, the progress, the mess. 

I drove my ex-husband crazy because after having gone round and collected the detritus I would miss a pile of debris after a day in the garden, or I would leave a trail of tiny bits clearly showing my travels on his nicely manicured lawn.  I let my plants sprawl over edges.  Gardening was a joyful, messy procedure for me and so is life.  I never left my garden alone and said, 'ah now it's finished.'  I moved plants, divided plants, thought up a new colour scheme for a certain corner.  I had failures and successes.  I was in control of much but definitely not of everything.  There were slugs and deer and rabbits.  There was weather.  There is always weather.  There was my chronic illness which was diagnosed after I had created an enormous garden.  Eventually I realised I had created a beautiful monster.  I wanted to scale it back. reduce to my favourites, make it lower maintenance.  I even considered getting rid of all perennials and just keeping my multitude of beautiful trees and mixed shrubs.  My ex- husband, who had some issues with control, said no.  I couldn't do it without his help and the help was withheld. It was not because he had better things to do or the job was too hard, but because he said he liked the garden.  Then came the time when I left him.  The last thing I had to face letting go of was my increasingly chaotic, untended but beloved garden.

Six years later I have no garden but I have approximately 45 house plants and a good ten more plants on my balcony.  I'm still experimenting with what grows well and what I do and do not have control over.  The greatest challenge with the balcony garden is very wet winters and very dry summers.  My old garden, where my ex husband still lives is a disaster now.  Untended it runs amok, and I face it frequently when visiting my son who lives in a basement suite of his father's house.  I look at what I still think of as 'my trees' and 'my rhododendrons' and sigh a little to myself and then do what I always do.  I put one foot in front of the other and I keep going, sometimes going squelch in the mud. Things are messy. Not everything is in my control, but whether or not I chose to find happiness in my life is very much something I have control over. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Adventures In Online Dating

I signed up on two dating websites and have had a few hours worth of chatting time with about twenty men.  Oh my goodness it's quite an experience.  Of course, I am too nice and no matter how nice I am some get all pissy and accuse me of being mean.  One got jealous of my talking to someone else.  They all send a message with a horrible, cringe-worthy greeting like that is some sort of icky compliment to my appearance or else they simply send the word 'hi' or 'hey'.  English does not appear to be their first language even when it is.  Eventually, after some time chatting they want my e-mail address or to be on Facebook with me and are offended, to say the least, if I decline.  I'm just thankful I am not meeting these men in a bar.  Not that I go to bars alone.  Or not alone for that matter.

Note to self: take time to notice when red flags go up and weirdo alarms go off and don't just think you have to be nice to everyone who says hi.

I should probably not be allowed to date unsupervised. 

Note to self: don't get sucked in by broken men who are needy, you cannot heal them.

Local prospects are not good.  I live in a town full of loggers and fishermen with whom I have little in common.  Long distance relationships are hard and I cannot travel nor am I willing to re-locate.  This may all be pointless but it will at least be amusing for awhile. 

Epiphanies and Shit Happen

My brain works in a pattern that goes something like this:

meditate...meditate...meditate.....EPIPHANY!  repeat

It's a bit exhausting to always be having epiphanies but kind of fun too.  Some are deep and personal, some profound and life changing and many are not too significant.  I think there is an epiphany per day essentially and I often think it should come with sound effects-some sort of ping or ding when the dots get connected and I have a realisation that helps me move forward.

There have been some big ones, huge ones, painful ones in my life lately.  I don't share those here other than to mention that explains my change in behaviour lately.

Here is a smaller one.

If we have the means, we should dress for ourselves, to please ourselves, to meet our own needs for comfort, beauty, creativity, or whatever makes us feel good.  That's not the epiphany that's the general assumption I began with.  Many women I know and particularly those I know through style blogging, dress to please themselves with creativity, colour, a sense of being their own unique self.  I admire that greatly.  I tried it on.  It didn't work.  Why?  Dressing to please myself actually means low key, easy, neutral, minimal wardrobe style.  Huh!  How is it that I had no idea of this?

Partly it's because although I may have dressed that way in the past it wasn't fully a choice, it was imposed on me by exterior things just as much or more as it reflected my own taste. 

In the past several years I've struggled with my illness, had financial insecurity, experienced two painful breakups and distracted and amused myself by playing dress up, decorating my home, and generally accumulating stuff, mostly second hand stuff, trying to find myself, or save myself who knows exactly what I was doing.  Building a life raft out of stuff perhaps.  Holding myself up with layers and layers of clothing.

Lately I've been shedding and purging.  It feels good.  It feels amazing.  My goal is to only live with what I love and need.  That includes people and stuff.  What that looks like for me doesn't follow any sort of prescription-no wardrobe of 33 items, only owning a hundred things or fitting all of my possessions in  back pack.  I'm not a recognisable minimalist, though shedding surplus stuff is a bit addicting. 

I don't change my decor for the seasons, for holidays, my taste is very specifically mine and I like staying home.  I like my familiar nest, being surrounded by what feels authentic to me.  Would I travel the world if I could?  Sure.  It's not a laziness or a form of denial it's a combination of illness and introversion.  I want and need comfort, simplicity and my own idea of beauty.  And this translates into what I wear.

I don't care if I wear the same outfit twice in one week or if that outfit is a simple pair of jeans, favourite slouchy sweater and a scarf if I go out.  I love colour in many many ways but wearing it tires me in ways I cannot quite explain or understand but mid-grey and taupe makes my heart beat faster. 

Digression: I fell for an almost perfect fawn coloured cashmere cardigan in a shop recently.  It was four hundred bloody dollars as was the macrame hemp poncho I also fell for.  Gah! That's my town for you-it's four hundred dollar cashmere or $20 polyester at WalMart.

1. Nobody is even going to notice me wearing the same things all the time.
2.  I definitely don't mind wearing the same things all the time-I even like it.
3. I would rather be liked/admired for who I am than my style
4. I will probably get paint on my clothes which is why I really should not buy a $400 cardigan

Epiphanies come to me in a flash, but are not so concisely summed up.  All of this knowledge sits in my brain, floating around, and then suddenly I see it all.  Bam!  I know this.  Deep breath.....let it out slowly....move forward.

I signed up for online dating.  Oh dear, I am not liking it but it's early days yet. 

Complicated, wounded woman looking for sexy nerd with social skills in a town full of loggers and fishermen, Must Read Books.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Thinking Outside the Box

Boxes are a bit of an obsession in my family.  We love a good box and are quite convinced that good boxes are worth saving for that unpredictable moment when a good box will be needed.  Often this is birthdays or Christmas though it is not at all uncommon to unwrap your Christmas gift and find that whatever it is has been contained inside a cereal box or a cracker box.  Mum has confessed to removing the cereal in order to be able to use the box.  This Christmas I dumped all of the cotton swabs into a jar so that I could use their box for the gift I’d bought for my mother.  Dad’s gift went into an empty box of Yorkshire Tea.  And thus my collection of useful boxes remained unused but continued to grow.  Often the collection contains shoe boxes.  Aren’t shoe boxes always in demand?  Any other sturdy relatively plain box smaller than a shoe box also gets saved.  In addition to this, the wisdom handed down in my family is that one should always hold onto the box that any technology or small appliance came in.  The reason is that if one has to return it or send it for repairs there is nothing so practical as packaging it up in its original box and styrofoam.

Recently I decided that I’d bloody well had enough of this practice.  How often do I actually use the boxes that I’ve saved?  When was the last time in thirty years that I’d needed to use the original packaging of a small appliance?  I am not a minimalist by some people’s standards but I don’t like excess, clutter or junk hanging around.  I like my home tidy, although full, and I try to hold onto things that I believe useful or beautiful and nothing more, but it’s the useful concept that trips me up.  Some minimalists get rid of books which to me is unthinkable.  Their reasoning is that they are never going to read them again no matter how much they loved them and I have to grant them that.  I rarely re-read my books either.  But these same book-tossers will have decorative items around their homes which have no use other than decoration, perhaps are sentimental and they have chosen to keep these.  I choose to keep my books for the same reasons.  For me they are decorative and sentimental and to borrow the term used by Marie Kondo, they spark joy.  Real joy, of the kind reserved generally for kittens, loved ones, chocolate and wine.  But boxes do not spark joy, they are certainly not beautiful and I have to admit that although they seem useful they have not proven themselves to be so.  So in a determined storage room clean-out in which I also found many other items I could donate to the charity shop, I hauled out all of the empty boxes and began to flatten them ready for recycling.  At this point I have to make a confession.  I put three back.  I can’t cure myself of the frugal be prepared attitude overnight and perhaps I don’t want to.  But it’s a big improvement and a long stride forward in my march towards what I will call minimalism my way. 

You won’t see a difference when you enter my home.  You would never have seen the boxes anyhow, but I feel the difference.  And when I go into my small storage room (it’s something between a room and a closet) I can find what I am looking for and I am nearly at the point of only having things I regularly use in there.  Some items are seasonal, some are cleaning implements, and there are a few small furniture items I know I will eventually let go of.  I’m not trying to become a minimalist and the minimalist aesthetic is not my style.  I have a strong drive to only be surrounded by what feels necessary and what I love and to shed the excess, the ugly and the not useful.  I’m not at all averse to owning items purely for decorative sake and this  even includes a very attractive and useful box in which I actually put things.  I am happy to be a collector, but do not wish to be a hoarder.  Before Marie Kondo there was William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement.   The words attributed to him are the ones I try to live by:  "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."  This says it best.  Not everything will spark joy.  My frying pan does not, but I do need one.  At the moment I have more than one, as I am trying to find the style and size I like best.  But once I find what I clearly need and use, the surplus can go.  As with boxes, it's easy to accumulate just in case things.  Stocking up at sales, having something on hand for when the old one finally wears out, or being unable to quite decide between two almost good enough things.  These are attitudes I inherited and am trying to moderate. It feels good to live with less, but I don't identify with minimalism as an aesthetic.

Here are some of the very personal thinking processes I try to keep conscious and foremost in my mind:

1.  I don't need to go shopping unless the fridge is nearly empty.

2.  If I have to get rid of something I already have when I bring this item home, do I still want this item?

3.  I already know that essentially stuff does not make me happy.  Keep remembering this.

4.  Flip side:  Some stuff does bring me joy but quite specific things.  Books, art supplies, plants and clothing I feel good in, a cat to cuddle.  Focus on these.

5.  Time for art, time to read, write, spend with my closest and dearest people, a walk in fresh air, good conversation, delicious and simple food-these are the things that bring me joy.

6.  If I cannot find words to describe how much I like something then I should consider buying it.  If I can say, oh that's cute, or that's pretty, I am admiring it but not loving it.  "Oh..."  followed by a trance, generally means I love it. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Finding the Sweet Spot

When I was in elementary school I used to enjoy simplifying fractions.  Not as much as I enjoyed reading and writing, and most of the time maths frustrated me because of the only one right answer issue, but simplifying fractions was sort of satisfying.  Another of my favourite activities was tidying up, rearranging and re-organising my bedroom.  When this mood hit me I rearranged all of the furniture as well.  Thankfully my bed had wheels.  When it was all done, sweaty and satisfied, I would invite my parents upstairs to admire my work.  Years ago, while living in a quite small and poorly designed house, I constantly rearranged the living room furniture much to my then husband's chagrin.  The problem there was that the perfect solution was not possible.  By this time I actually did want just the one right answer, the solution that solved the problem, but I never found it.

Time progresses and simplifying fractions, re-organising my bedroom and irritating my ex-husband are all in my past.  The pleasure of simplifying is still with me, though.  I am a natural seeker, I think, though I would not describe myself as restless nor dissatisfied most of the time.  I'm looking for the sweet spot in all areas of life, and find it more readily for some things than for others.   Every mountaintop has more than one path to it, some steep and direct, others longer and winding.  There is more than one mountaintop and I am the type to enjoy the hike at least as much if not more than the view from the peak.  Sorting through objects stored in closets, or photos filed on the computer as I did recently, is a reminder of which paths I have hiked.  Sometimes I think in amazement, why did I want to go there?  Why did I take that particular path?  It does not bother me that there is no exact answer.

I cleared out tons of photos taken over the past couple of years for this blog.   There were lots of outfit selfies and I remembered how fun it was to play, and how much I just don't want to play that way any more.  I saw clothing pieces I no longer have and combinations I never repeated.  I saw things that were cringe-worthy and others that made me think, oh that's kind of cute.  I look okay.  I saw my hair change, as I can never really settle on a style and usually find fault with even the ones other people like on me.  I looked at that woman in the photos and wondered what she was trying to achieve.  Probably, it was that same old thing, that cliché, looking for myself in middle age.  Gah!  How I loathe being a cliché!

Middle-aged divorced woman with grown child, career change and a new home seeks herself.  

 I have more than one self, which I assure you is not a psychiatric condition.  Or perhaps there is a better way to describe it....I can imagine myself having become slightly different versions of myself, I can imagine different types of lives in which I would feel happy, and a big life change temporarily seemed to make them all seem like options.  Then I remembered something.  I remembered where I am right now, and who I am right now, and that no looking is required at all.  I only just had to be and being me is fairly simple.   I aim to live like a simplified fraction, this kind.

3 = 1         7 = 1        492 = 1
3               7              492

Closet Makeover Update:

It was a mirrored closet in the foyer and I hated it.  So I changed it to a coat nook and no, those are not drips of paint on the right-some strange shadows.  I'm crazy about the greyed blue paint colour I used, which is more matched to the blue in the rug than it seems in this photo.  It's Behr 'Atmospheric', not to be confused with 'Atmosphere' which is white.  There is a missing strip of carpet where the track for the mirrored doors were but my favourite little rug covers that up just fine and dandy.  The navy umbrella in the corner was bought and used by Ally when we all met up in Vancouver last summer. 

It's a simple arrangement quite suited to a home where one person lives.  I've got three other coats for different seasons which are hanging in a spare closet.  I want the hooks to look inviting so that anybody who visits feels free to hang their own coat there.  The striped canvas bag is utterly useless but I like it.  I should say, not that it is inherently useless but that I never use it for anything.  I am considering adding a few more single hooks and a narrow shelf above the hooks but for now it all works just fine. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

What Makes me Buddhist

What makes me a Buddhist?  There are many branches of Buddhism, some more a religion than others.  One of my favourite books is What Makes You Not a Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.  In the beginning of his book he says ....’wisdom is the primary concern of a Buddhist.  Morals and ethics are secondary.’  For me, finding Buddhism was very much like coming home.  Honestly, I am not sure I can believe in past lives and reincarnation, and I am also not sure that I need to, but I can see how this feeling of coming home might seem like an indicator of a past life.   Buddhist thought makes sense to me, although the more it veers towards religion the less it appeals.  I have been a wisdom seeker my whole life, and always believed that morality and ethics are within us, not something imposed from without.  No threat of punishment or promise of reward in an afterlife is needed to develop morality and ethics.   The teachings of the Buddha were a philosophy on how to live the best life and they grew in an environment that was influenced by Hinduism.  What fascinates me is translating it into other cultures and keeping religious dogma out of it.

A Buddhist accepts the following statements as true.  The wording is my own.

Nothing is permanent............... also understood as everything changes
All emotions can lead to pain
Nothing actually exists
Nirvana is beyond concept.........Nirvana is often thought to be heaven but is actually better translated as inner peace and it is not a place nor an after life.

I’m going to examine how I relate to these statements.  Some of them are easier for me to put into words than others.  First I’d like to add a few more aspects of Buddhist teaching, words attributed to the Buddha who taught around 500 BC.  His interest was in alleviating suffering and as he share and taught his wisdom he said that his words must not be taken for granted without analysis, individuals must think for themselves, examine what he says and decide if they think it to be true, meditate and live life, walk your path and seek your own wisdom.  The Buddha* was not a Buddhist, he was a teacher and calling oneself a Buddhist is a simple way to indicate that you agree with his teachings and attempt to live life in accordance with them.  It is not necessary to identify as a Buddhist publicly or privately and some people even find ways to layer Buddhism onto their religious beliefs.   I tend to layer mine with other philosophies that allign with it and calling myself Buddhist sometimes is really just a matter of allowing others to have some idea of how I think and try to live my life. 

The realisation that nothing is permanent is an easy one.  It doesn’t take much living of life to find out that everything dies, changes or can be worn out, worn down, damaged, or destroyed in some manner.  Some things can last a very very long time, but unless what we know as things-whether they are of nature or are man made-do not permanently stay as we know them.  I have never met anyone who would argue this point, though when a person consciously realises it may vary.

The idea that all emotions lead to pain probably troubles some people.  They will argue, but how can joy be pain?  Surely there is pure joy and happiness in the world also.  Yes.  There is.  But we can lose it.  It can be taken from us and the loss of it becomes pain.  My intuitive understanding of this lead me quite early in life to develop a strategy whereby I always mentally prepare myself for the worst, imagine how I will cope with it, then hope for the best.  Typically I am an optimistic and glass half full sort of person but I know how easily that makes one vulnerable to pain.  Knowing that pain can come of anything allows me to be prepared for it and not as bowled over by it if it does come.  It also allows me to really appreciate all of those moments when it does not come. 

Nothing actually exists, or as it is sometimes worded, all is emptiness.  Okay, this one is certainly more difficult to wrap my mind around and it seems so negative so I’m giving it more space.  There are negatives in life, but understanding them and preparing for them helps to face them.   We reach for things, we grasp, we are perhaps disappointed by an illusion or we take hold of something which we then fear losing.  We develop an idea which turns out to be wrong and are devastated.  All things are empty and do not really exist, is a way of saying that we give meaning to things, we put it there and it is not inherent.  Everything can and does change.  Even mountains disappear, albeit over very long periods of time.  If life is truly empty then it is there for me to fill up with meaning, and I can grow, change and adapt, letting that meaning expand or letting go of parts that I find don’t work.  To me this is a wonderful thing although perhaps the hardest one to practice.  If you see criticism as empty you have to also see praise as empty. 

Everything that we believe exists depends on something else to explain that existence,  seeming to be the sum of it’s parts and yet it is not any of its parts alone and those individual parts can change so then what is it?  By the time we get to atoms we have not got the things we think are there.  This is not to say that the illusion of things being things is not useful for every day living, but to understand their true nature-nothingness or emptiness- is perhaps even more useful.  It allows us to stop grasping and to let go but it does not require that we adopt an ascetic life.  There is always a chance of becoming attached to that too.

I have noticed that there is something about the current trend towards and all women are beautiful campaign that irritates me.  Beauty and non-beuaty are subjective, in the eye of the beholder as common wisdom tells us.  This should actually make it at least somewhat irrelevant.  Aside from my objections to assigning women value based on physical beauty, I do not object to the desire to be beautiful by one’s own standards or to enjoy the fact of someone close to us perceiving us to be so.  Those generare positive feelings which are certainly nice to have but remember, they can so easily be lost and thus result in pain.  It is better to understand that beauty is an empty concept that humans like to fill up with their own beliefs.  I imagine a large bucket into which people are constantly pushing, pulling, dragging heavy concepts and dropping them with a clang.  When I look inside that bucket I know it is actually empty.

There is a saying I hear used by followers of Abrahamic religions.  I do not know it’s origin but I like the concept although I do not believe in a God.  The saying is:
Let go and let God.  This easily translates in my mind to a different concept of God-God as the universe, not a divine being, dictator, creator parent figure or tyrant, simply the forces that are the universe.  If I have any concept of a God at all it would be a pantheistic one which seems to fit well enough with  Buddhism.

*I am not concerned with whether or not the story of the Prince, Siddharta Guatama who became Buddha and taught his wisdom is a myth or based on a true and historical person.  It does not matter as we are not intended to worship him as a man or a god.  The wisdom is the same, regardless of its origins and a good story is an effective way to teach it.

So is our entire world a collective delusion?  Perhaps somewhat, but also somewhat not.  It is a relative truth.  We are here to perceive it, to attribute meaning to it, attempting to understand it and label it.  That is the human condition.  If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is everything else.  Often, many people agree on what they are seeing and this allows us to share ideas, to use language, to live in harmony.  It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not a permanent and entirely real thing.
How do we know which is the dream and which is reality? Often we need to wake up from our own dream. Are we just all part of the Matrix?   We entertain ideas like this sometimes because subconsciously we are aware that what we see might not be the way things really are.  Or they might be.  But we don’t really know.  Neither can we know exactly if what you see and what I see are the same because we only have our own eyes.

A rose, is a rose, is a rose....and by any other name it would smell as sweet.

Nirvana, is often understood to be the Buddhist heaven, a final afterlife.  This is not the case, though the teaching approach most Buddhists take is a meet you where you are approach so if heaven and hell are your reference points, they will teach Buddhist concepts in that language and with those metaphors.  I’ve notice that they will not always tell you that they are metaphors.  This is let for the individual to discover, as part of her own path, because Buddhism is not intended to be prescriptive.  So Nirvana, is essentially reaching a point of inner peace that sticks and the individual at last has Buddha nature or is a Buddha.  Essentially it is that simple, although reaching this point is not simple.  I suspect that for some, it is better to believe in reincarnation in order to believe that one has many chances to try for this Buddhahood and eventually get there.  For people like me, it’s okay.  I am not grasping at Buddhahood, only intending to live the best life I can while on that path.  I make mistakes, I slip backwards into attachments but my practice helps me to pick myself up and go on again, and to forgive myself for making mistakes.  They are merely moments of learning and I live for learning.  With that in mind, I might really want to consider taking joy in all of my mistakes and ignoring those moments when I get it right the first time.  Oh happy thought!

May all beings find peace.