Monday, June 30, 2008

Love Divine...

"To love another person is to see the face of God."
~~quote from the final scene of the musical Les Miserables

Just when I think my heart can contain no more, love finds me and opens me still further to all that is. I am in awe of the abundance of love I find dwelling in the deepest parts of my soul. When I stand back and look at myself loving another, I can understand why people believe in the idea of a god. Love does somehow seem so much bigger than us. It seems to engulf us and expand us all at once. The consuming fire and the cooling wave. The yin, the yang and all that lies between.

I see in the eyes of the beloved a divinity that cannot be defined, a nameless god, an altar to the sublime. And I will worship there all the days of my life.

tall penguin

Les Miserables

Les Miserables is my favorite musical production. I have had the pleasure of seeing it performed many times (with Colm Wilkinson being my favorite Jean Valjean). Last evening, I was blessed to watch a theatre group consisting of talented young people, 19 and under, perform this musical. And I am in awe of the raw talent I saw unfold before me. It makes my heart leap to see anyone living their passion, exploring their craft. But there was a special joy that welled up in my heart last night as I watched these young people perform a challenging and classic musical.

The fate of our society depends on the creativity of our young. We all know budding talent in our own communities. May each one of us support and nurture these young artists.

tall penguin

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The letters we never send...

As an emotional processing tool, I often will write letters that I never send. And I am always amazed at how the exercise moves me. Sometimes the person the letter is directed to will later come to me and interact with me in a way that seems like they got my unsent letter. It's as if that unspoken conversation took place in the ether and we are now living in its shone light. I cannot explain. I don't try to. I just marvel at it when it happens and smile.

Perhaps that is what prayer is for people. A series of unsent letters from one person's heart into the ether to an unnamed recipient, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will respond. I think we all, at one time or another, send out letters into the universe. Whether we call it prayer, or hope, or dreams, it matters not. I think it allows us to speak from the deepest recesses of our heart and feel like we've been heard.

tall penguin

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Idio-somethin'...

I saw my Neuropsychiatrist/Sleep specialist yesterday for a follow-up. He's been one of my main treating doctors for the past 3 years as I attempt to regulate the sleep/Fibromyalgia/anxiety/depression issues. He's been instrumental in helping me on my road to health. I blogged in 2007 when he decided to put me on light therapy for extreme winter fatigue. What I didn't talk directly about was how after two months of light therapy, I awoke to Spring on the other side of the pendulum. I spent last summer a little on the manic side which I'm sure you can gather from my entries during that time.

We wondered if the light therapy switched something in my pineal gland or whether it was just a combination of emotional factors (the break-up being one) in league with the light increase associated with the Spring/Summer season. We reserved judgment on it and waited to see what would happen this Spring. I didn't do light therapy this past Winter and sure enough, the deep fatigue returned, although not as bad as the previous Winter. Again, no defining diagnosis for the fatigue other than the Fibromyalgia and a possible Seasonal Effective Disorder. In the end, he said I have "idiopathic hypersomnia", which means I like to sleep a lot and they don't quite know why.

As I've entered Spring this year, the energy boost has returned, although I'm much more grounded than this time last year. I am sleeping on average 5-7 hours a night, some nights not at all, and very active. So, now, it's "idiopathic hypomania", meaning I'm really happy and they don't quite know why. Gotta love modern medicine. There's a term for everything; even when they don't know what's happening, there's still a medical term for it. Why can't it just be that I'm high on life right now? Why is it necessary to label it or think of it as abnormal?

After asking all the relevant questions around my behavior and making sure I'm not doing any harm to myself in this elevated state, he smiled and said, "You're doing really well. Enjoy it."

So, that's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna enjoy being a grinning idiot for as long as it will last, for whatever reason it's here. It is what it is.

tall penguin

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Change...

Are humans capable of real and lasting change? Or are our basic personalities indeed set early in life? I understand the concept of neuroplasticity, but I'm really beginning to wonder whether we just learn new compensations for survival, rather than undo old patterns and create new ones.

As I look through the Rubbermaid archives, I see a version of myself asking the same fundamental questions I ask now; dealing with the same fundamental fears; having the same basic struggles; and displaying the same basic goodness. It's encouraging to know that at my core I am the same loving person I've always been. But disheartening to know that at my core, I'm still struggling with the same issues I've always struggled with. And I wonder if this is just the human condition. Maybe there are only a few basic themes common to mankind; a few basic needs, a few basic questions that we all enter this life with and try to sort out while we're here. I don't know. I just feel like I'm swimming upstream all the time. Does everyone feel like this?

tall penguin

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bookstore Peeves...

To go along with my last post, I thought I'd let you in on a few of my bookstore peeves along with actual conversations that have occurred in the course of a working day.

1. Customers who don't clean up after themselves. It's not just books they leave lying around. Honestly, I can handle that and consider it part of my job. No, what bothers me is the used kleenexes, half-drunk cups of latte and soda they litter on the shelves. And don't even get me started on the evilness I've seen inflicted on the store washrooms. I'm sorry ladies, but we're the messier sex in the washroom (at least the public ones). Oh, the things I've seen. Ewwww!!!

And there are those dear parents who bring their kidlets into the Children's Department and think that we're running a nursery. I actually had a lady ask me once if I could watch her child for ten minutes while she took a phone call. Umm...nope. Sorry. Homey don't play dat.

2. Customers who think the store is their personal library. There are some customers who come and spend hours at the bookstore reading, eating, drinking, talking on their cell phone, conducting business and generally mess-making. Now, what really gets me is when at the end of the day, dear customers get indignant about the store closing. "I just have a few more pages left." Ummm...it is available for purchase by the way.

And then, there's this. About once a month, I have a customer come up to me and ask if we have a photocopier. Okay people, it's a bookstore, not a fucking library! Buy the damn thing already.

3. Customers who don't understand stuff. I had a dear customer the other day approach me with: "I see you have a Fiction section. Where is your Non-Fiction section?"

Me: "Well, we have a Fiction section to designate fiction because the rest of the store is non-fiction."

Dear Customer: "No, I want your non-fiction."

Me: "The whole rest of the store is non-fiction. What exactly are you looking for? Science, health, business, biography?"

Dear Customer: "No, I just want the non-fiction section."

At this point, my patience begins to wane and I look around for Ashton to see if I've been punk'd. But no such luck, this is for real.

All in a day's work.

tall penguin

Bookstore Blessings...

As you know, I work in a major bookstore in my city. I have done so for the past almost three years since leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses. And it has been one of the best decisions I've made for my long-term growth as a human being. Having experienced shunning once leaving the jw's, it was up to me to create a new social network. It took some time but I can now say I have a great group of friends, many of which I have gained in working at the bookstore.

Interestingly, some of those friends were not bookstore co-workers but were customers. A number of my closest friends right now started out as customers at the bookstore. What would inevitably happen is we'd get chatting about books and life and philosophy and find that we had a connection. Then we'd go for coffee, then lunch, then long walks and soon enough, we were friends. The bookstore has become my treasure trove of humanity. Every day I meet new and interesting people.

Just last night, a newly-retired Italian lady came into my section and was looking at photo books on Australia. I told her how I was planning to visit Australia soon and she told me that she used to live there. She then went on to tell me about her children who have traveled all over the world and now live in different countries. She expressed how she finally feels like she's living now that she's retired.

She said, "Don't wait to travel. Enjoy life. Explore. You're young, do everything you've ever dreamed of doing. What's that saying you kids have in your commercials: Just do it!"

Every time I go in for a shift I wonder who I will meet next. I am inspired by the cross section of humanity I rub shoulders with each day.

tall penguin

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

That final breath...

"Accepting all I've done and said
I want to stand and stare again
Til there's nothing left out, oh
It remains there in your eyes
Whatever comes and goes
I will hear your silent call
I will touch this tender wall
Til I know I'm home again."
~~Peter Gabriel, In Your Eyes extended version

I often think about the end of my life. I think about who I would want to surround me in those last moments. And I think about whose eyes I would want to stare into as I draw my last breath.

I wonder what the moment of death feels like. I wonder what it feels like in those few last breaths when you know that there is no more to be considered, no more to be experienced, no more to be won or lost, when you can give that final exhale and say Amen to all that is. When you can let go. Ahh, to let go, once and for all.

I imagine a smile spread across my face, a knowing that all that has come before has been perfect in its own way. That all was for my higher good. That every last tear, every last joy, every last glance, word, was perfect, sublime, divine and sacred. That all these moments, all these terrible, painful, exquisite moments were part of the great fabric of this life, of this universe. And as I let go of that last breath, that smile of knowing will be my last gift to my loved ones. The assurance that all is indeed well.

tall penguin

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mr. Rhino on Vacation

Mr. Rhino decided to go on a little holiday during my birthday festivities. He doesn't like crowds. So he flew down South, like really South, to hang out with some new friends. He just sent me this photo of he and his buddies on an ice floe with the most magnificent Aurora Australis framing the background. I'm happy for him. Looks like he's having a great time.

tall penguin

Exorcising of the will...

I finished my leftover birthday cake for breakfast this morning. I like eating inappropriate food at inappropriate times. It's my way of saying, I'm an adult, this is my life and I can do whatever the hell I want. Yay me!

I seem to have entered the stage in my life where anything that someone says I shouldn't do is exactly what I want to do. I want to burst through every barrier, every ill-conceived notion, every belief system that has ever limited me and my exploration of life. I never went through a rebellious teenager phase. Better late than never.

tall penguin

Weekend Reflections...

I have so much to say right now that I'm not even sure where to begin. So much shifted for me over my birthday weekend. Hmm...so many memories, so many people, so much love...how do you express what it's like to feel like you're making love to the whole world all at once? What words could possibly do justice to the quiet in your soul when you know with every fiber of your being that you're okay, that life is grand and that everything is coming together in a way far better than anything you ever dreamed of? When you sink into that resting place in your soul and you see the unfolding fabric of life with such clarity and wonder that you feel like doing nothing but dancing and dancing and dancing?

So, you know what, I'm not even going to try to give words to it. I am just going to be with all that is. All this glorious, rich, amazing, fucked up, crazy stuff that is life.

tall penguin

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Anya's Day...

I am still recovering from my birthday festivities. Wow. All 550 square feet of my humble abode was filled with love on Friday night as about 25 of us celebrated my life. I have never felt such a complete sense of unconditional love and belonging.

I remember so many times in my life as a Jehovah's Witness where I'd be out for the evening with large groups of people and come home feeling so terribly alone. I had this sinking feeling that these people had no idea who I was; but then, neither did I. Everyone at my birthday knows me and loves me just as I am. They've watched much of the transformation of the tall penguin over the past year and sincerely shared in the celebration of who I have become. I have been basking in that warm glow all weekend.

I have received so many gifts and well wishes. Thank you to all. And you, dear blog reader, are part of my circle of friends who has held my hand during this journey. I am truly grateful for your presence here.

There is one gift that I would like to share with you. My friend Matt, who incidentally came to my blog as a result of Bible Re-shelving Day, composed a song for my birthday. It is called "Anya's Day". And you can listen to it here. I've had it on repeat all weekend. It truly is me, in music form. Cheers.

tall penguin

Friday, June 20, 2008

To Be Reborn...

"Sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say yes to ourselves, that peace enters us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us."
~~Paul Tillich, quoted in The Five Things We Cannot Change by David Richo

I blogged just over a year ago about my given first name and my lack of connection to it. As mentioned, I have a hyphenated first name, the first part of which is the name of my maternal grandmother. It is an old English name. And it feels old. And I've never liked it.

The second half of my first name is "Anne" and it has always felt more like me. It means "grace", which is what I feel I've been blessed with in this life and what I hope is my blessing to the world around me.

Back in 2000, during a training workshop, I had to present a subject to my peers. My evaluating instructor, a Santa-like man in appearance and character, watched from the back of the room as I demonstrated developmental movements for the class.

Later that afternoon during the Graduating ceremony, he handed me my diploma, pulled me into an embrace and whispered into my ear, "You are filled with such grace." And he kissed me on the cheek. He died a few years later of a congenital heart defect. I believe his heart was bigger than his body could hold.

His words have stuck with me. Words often do. And I feel myself moving into this grace. I feel it emanate from my soul as well as surround me. It feels like home.

So, as I celebrate my 34th year on this planet, I am re-birthing myself, creating myself anew, and to that end, giving myself a new name. I have chosen a form of the name Anne that resonates more deeply with me. It retains the original meaning of "grace" and has the added meaning of "inexhaustible" in Sanskrit. A perfect fit if I do say so myself.

Hello. My name is Anya. Pleased to meet you.

tall penguin

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cheers!

Remember that artist that I fell in love with a few weeks ago? I had went to visit some art galleries and came across the work of Carlito Dalceggio. And felt an immediate connection with his work.

Well, the story didn't end there (this seems to be happening a lot lately). Shortly after my blog post, I received an email from Carlito's friend and artistic cohort Thomas Csano. Over the course of the exchange, I said that I would be returning to the gallery to revisit Carlito's work and spend more time soaking it into my soul, which I ended up doing today. To my surprise, there was a little souvenir waiting there for me, a signed copy of the promotional poster from the gallery event. Cheers Thomas and Carlito! Thank you.


Thomas also sent me a link to Carlito's amazing mural that he created during last year's Toronto arts festival Luminato. Check it out:

At Carlito's exhibits he includes his notebooks (which he doesn't sell). They chronicle his creative process and include inspirational words, his poetry, random drawings, color swatches, pressed leaves, anything which he finds along the way. I was moved by this. Flipping through his notebooks was like looking through my Rubbermaid archives. It's a journey through all the places that brought you to where you are today. It's raw, unfinished, in process and completely wonderful. Thank you for letting me into your secret world Carlito.

tall penguin

Being Special...

I was randomly perusing blogs the other day. And I noticed something. There’s a lot of talented people on the planet. Writers, artists, photographers, musicians—creators galore! I used to think that creativity was the possession of a random few, a special elite. Not so. I believe we are all creators. I believe creation is an innate human need like eating or breathing. We need to create. We need to channel the divine into form.

When we abandon this notion of being special, there is a connectedness that happens. No longer needing to carve out a unique niche for our ego, we can honor the divine in each other. Namaste.

tall penguin

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Zoo

June 16, 2003

I awoke early with excitement. I was going to the zoo! No, I’m not 4 years old but I felt like it again. The anticipation of seeing animals in their natural environment was more than I could bear. And to heighten the excitement I would be accompanying a Kindergarten class on the trip, as a volunteer. What would I learn about these creatures? The kids I mean. I looked forward to all that would be.

As we boarded the bus, it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who was excited. The bus rocked with the enthusiasm of thirty children who, although they’d seen the zoo before, were about to see it with the eyes of newborns.

Not having children of my own, I was invited along by Sarah, a little friend who I’d met a few years ago through a family friend. A great girl, although restless at times, Sarah was a truly free spirit, open to all that life had to offer her.

Before we left, Sarah’s teacher asked if I would take along another child, Mary, whose Mom couldn’t make the trip as she had a young baby at home to care for. I agreed and wondered what Mary would be like, having been assured by her teacher that “she won’t be any trouble.”

We boarded the bus and Sarah and I settled in. She took the window seat, which I would’ve protested had I not been with a four year-old. (A trip isn’t the same if you don’t have the window seat. Somehow, you miss out on a lot.)

As we sat there watching the rest of the children settle on the bus, I noticed little Mary saying good-bye to her mother. Her face was long and, if there hadn’t have been thirty kids looking on, I’m sure she would have cried. Under my breath I said a quiet thank you to my own Mom who accompanied me on every school trip. I never realized how blessed I was.

With the bus boarded, the doors closed and we were off. There was a constant hum of excitement as we made our way along the winding roads to the zoo. The most consistent sound though was the teacher at the front of the bus who interjected, “Class, please quiet down” every five minutes. It didn’t do any good and I wished she had just given up and let them chatter on. I was enjoying the chatter. Talk about the latest in toys and gadgets, pop stars and ice cream. Oh to be young again!

We arrived at the zoo and de-boarded the bus. I rounded up Mary to join our twosome. Although I saw her laughing on the bus with her friends, her earlier frown had now returned. No sooner did we get into the zoo and it began.

“My tummy hurts,” Mary said.

Uh oh. I’m out on my own with this child I’ve just met and already there’s a medical emergency. “Maybe you need some water,” I offered.

She frowned smugly but got out her water bottle anyways and had a sip. “It still hurts,” she said.

“Hmmm…well let’s walk around a bit and see if you feel better.”

Mary, Sarah and I tripped off and looked at the rhinos. We then went off to the South America Pavilion and checked out the snakes, reptiles and other creepy things from that part of the world.

Sarah and Mary seemed to be getting along well, yet Mary was still mopey. “My tummy still hurts.”

It was now almost lunchtime so I figured that food might be the next logical suggestion to ease the tummy troubles. “Let’s have some lunch and see if that helps.”

We sat down outside on a rock and snacked on sandwiches, carrots and crackers with cheese, as the elephants nearby munched on straw. At that moment, I wasn’t sure who was having more fun, the elephants or us. But I was certain that the elephant in front of me probably knew more about caring for a young one with tummy troubles than I did.

After lunch, Mary was still sullen and her tummy was still sore. What’s a fill-in-Mom to do? We explored more of the zoo—chimps, gorillas, fish, zebras, polar bears and penguins. I hoped that somewhere along the way something miraculous would happen. Perhaps a baboon would pop out of the trees with some concoction of plants and bark to soothe Mary’s malady. No such luck.

By mid-afternoon the sun was blazing and we found ourselves looking way high up at the giraffes. I felt a tug at my sweater. “I need a hmph.” It was Mary and I couldn’t make out what she was saying. Her mood had reached a new low.

“You need a hat?” I asked, hoping I had finally stumbled on the answer to the tummy trouble. Sunstroke. Oh, that made sense.

“No, I need a hmph,” she mumbled again.

“I’m sorry Mary. I don’t understand what you’re saying. Would you say it again please?”

“I need a hug!” She exclaimed. And there it was. The solution to the tummy troubles. The solution to many troubles I do believe. How many of the world’s problems could be solved if we all just stopped and hugged each other once in a while?

I scooped Mary up into my arms and hugged her tightly, swinging her around while the giraffes looked on in envy. (I don’t imagine giraffes get hugs very often.) As I put her down, a smile spread across her face that I hadn’t yet seen.

“If you need any more hugs, just let me know,” I offered.

“Okay,” Mary said as she went off to join Sarah watching the giraffes.

tall penguin

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Always This...

If I cannot be a dancer, I will dance. If I cannot be a writer, I will write. If I cannot be a mother, I will mother. If I cannot be your lover, I will love.

There is always this.

tall penguin

What Dreams May Come...

I just realized that I have been systematically revisiting all of my childhood dreams. One by one I am revisiting the career paths, relationship options, ideas, that I once believed I could build a life around. And I have found very little left that is salvageable. Very little that I can pursue now. The dreams of the childhood version of me were based upon constructs and a body that doesn’t exist now. I am different. Life has changed me.

My dreams of becoming a dancer, a mother, a Jehovah’s Witness minister, the life partner of someone specific from my past; these are all dreams that I have had to let go of. And there is a deep grief in my heart. The Winter before the ex and I parted ways, he tortured me with one question “What do you want to do with your life?” Time and again, he would ask me about my dreams. I told him I didn’t have any. It was a lie. I had dreams. I was just afraid to find out what I’m finding out now: that dreams unfulfilled can be the most difficult deaths in life.

But face those deaths I do. And I cry. And I wonder what dreams may come to take their place. But it’s never quite the same is it? It’s like having a child after you’ve lost one; each one is irreplaceable. Each one is a unique dream unto itself.

While I grieve, I open my heart to the possibilities that lie before me. I do not pretend to know what dreams will fill my heart in the days ahead. I only hope that I will be able to meet them with the eyes of the child I once was, who felt that anything was possible.

tall penguin

Music Box Dancer

"It could have turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn't."
~~Fanny Price in Mansfield Park

When I was a girl, I had a music box. And when you lifted the lid, a ballerina in a pink tutu greeted you with a pirouette. I would watch her spin, entranced by the simplicity of her movement. In those early years, Frank Mills released his beautiful piano piece “Music Box Dancer”. My parents bought me the 45 and I would dance to it for hours. I even choreographed a routine to the piece, which I performed for my family. I loved to dance. Still do.

I've started taking a Bollywood Dance Class. I really suck at it. Somewhere along the way in life, my body has forgotten how to coordinate movement. But I love the music and I love laughing at the girl in the mirror as she stumbles around trying to figure out what to do with herself.

And I wonder how many of our childhood dreams get lost in the shuffle of life, how things could have unfolded "if only". It doesn't depress me near as much as it used to; there are always infinite possibilities and one cannot live them all. But I do wonder about that ballerina in the music box and think that maybe there's still some of her in me.

tall penguin

The Next Life...

She laid back in his arms and said, “In the next life, let’s start this a little earlier.”

He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll come find you.”

She smiled.

tall penguin

Monday, June 16, 2008

Light Bulb Moment...

The other day I was leafing through the book What Happy People Know by psychologist Dan Baker. He speaks about his work with women with eating disorders and how he learned that focusing on their eating habits didn't work in helping them change their behavior. He found that the greatest thing he could do was to support these women in realizing and playing to their strengths and inevitably the other stuff took care of itself over time. This concept of not focusing on your weaknesses but playing to your strengths struck me with its simplicity. And I almost kicked myself there in the bookstore aisle. How could I not have learned something so simple?

For many reasons, growing up in a "sin"-focused environment being one of them, I learned that weaknesses were to remain the focus until they're overcome. If there's some deficiency, it's my job to make it right. But apparently, the brain doesn't respond so well to this. It puts more stress on an already stressed system and you end up spinning your wheels. Instead, it is better to shift the energy into what you already do well, and nurture that. This improves self-image and a sense of competency which then allows the other "weaknesses" to either disappear or be worked with from a more positive foundation.

To put this in context, I just went to have my first day with the munchkin I've been hired to work with for the Summer. As mentioned, he's 3 and he's "mildly" Autistic. Now, I have worked with Autistic children in the past. And I really wasn't very good at it. But somehow, I thought this was a "weakness" on my part. I thought that I should be able to do this. Just like the other day when I thought that I should be able to do Quadratic Equations. We know how that all turned out. But I digress.

After four hours with this child this morning, corralling him, keeping his attention diverted from getting into mischief, engaging him in constant interaction, attending to shrieking, punching and kicking meltdowns, the mother tells me that this was a "good day". She says, "At least he didn't bolt." Bolt?! Apparently he runs into traffic. You can't take your eyes off him for five seconds.

She must have read the overwhelm on my face. "So, what do you think?" she asked.

"Well, I don't think I'm going to be able to meet your needs here." And that was it. That's all it comes down to. He has needs I'm not going to be able to meet. I have many strengths for working with children, but they aren't going to fit this particular situation. And that's okay.

So, I hugged her, wished her well, told her she's an amazing mother (parents of Autistic children everywhere have my deepest admiration) and said it was okay, she didn't need to pay me. I felt privileged just to have had the learning I had and to meet them. And I was on my way, smiling that life cares enough to give me opportunities to learn about my own ignorance.

I now know it's okay for me to play to my strengths, to focus on the things I do well and to let go of the rest. What a relief!

tall penguin

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Three Questions...

When I was a girl, perhaps 6 or 7, I recall watching the suffering of others. I had a friend with Cystic Fibrosis. I watched her battle her illness. I watched people cry after losing a spouse or a child in death. I watched relationships end and the subsequent hurt that unfolded. My life was very sheltered from all of this. My mother made sure of that. But my heart longed to understand this suffering. I wanted to know what all these experiences felt like. I wanted to know grief. I wanted to know illness. I wanted to know suffering.

Perhaps in my childish mind I thought that suffering garnered one a level of sympathy or attention. But even deeper than that, I just wanted so much to feel the aliveness that these people exuded. Even at a young age, I felt so disconnected from life, from what seemed to be the reality of other people's existence. Between my mother and the religion, a bubble was created for me to live in. But that bubble also kept me from fully experiencing myself, the breadth and depth of what it meant to be human. And so, I feel as though I made an unconscious pact with the universe, a silent prayer, if you will, to understand suffering, to become real.

Looking back through the Rubbermaid archives, I am struck by the next question that appeared in my young mind. "What is love?" I would continually ask in my teen journals. How do I find it? How do I hold onto it? What does it look like? Feel like? How will I know it? Does it last forever? And it seems that once again, I created a universe within which I could explore these wonderings.

Now, I have this blog as a testimony to my ongoing journey into the question, "Who am I really?" And life, once more, presents a vista of experiences against which I test the mettle of who I am. Each day I look in the mirror and wonder about that person staring back at me. Who is she really?

As I approach my 34th birthday, I cannot say I have definitive answers to any of these three wonderings, but I can say that I have lived these questions fully. Perhaps that is enough.

tall penguin

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mr. Rhino's Day Out...

So, Mr. Rhino has been complaining all week that since I adopted him I haven't taken him out of the house. And sadly, he is correct. To remedy that, I packed him up in my purse and away we went down into the great big city.

Mr. Rhino was craving a tiptoe through the tulips but we couldn't find any. Instead we found these beauts, which pleased him greatly.


After all that frolicking, Mr. Rhino worked up quite a thirst. I told him not to do this. "Public water fountains are not the most sanitary water sources, " I said.

"You do realize where I grew up, right?" he countered.

"Good point. Drink up."


And then, Mr. Rhino needed some quiet, park-bench time to contemplate his existence.


We then went on to a bustling festival in the downtown square. One of the booths was promoting the DVD release of the film 10,000 B.C. Something about this guy twinged Mr. Rhino's ancestral roots and he insisted on having his photo taken with him. (Excuse me, would you mind holding my rhino? Bet he's never heard that line before.)

When we arrived home, we were both pretty exhausted but there was one more surprise waiting for Mr. Rhino. I got him a car. An ultra cool purple Cadillac of his very own. This way, he doesn't have to wait for me to take him out. He's got full autonomy to explore the world on his own. And pick up chicks.


tall penguin

Impossible Mission...

Friday, June 13, 2008

One Week and Counting...

It's 7 days! until my 3rd birthday. WAHOO!

My first birthday I didn't really know what to do with myself. I had a great party but I was a little out of my body really. I was only officially out of the Jehovah's Witnesses for 9 months at that point and didn't really know what I was celebrating. Honestly, I think I was still in shock. Here's me at my 1st birthday.


My 2nd birthday, well, you may recall was shortly after the break-up. I was mindfucked and heartbroken. Frankly, I was struggling just to stay alive at that point. The best and worst summer of my life. No photos from the actual day of my birthday. But this was taken sometime around then.
Funny thing is, with each birthday I feel as if I'm getting younger, not older. I'll post pics of my birthday next week. But this was taken a few weeks ago at a club with my friend G.


I think joy looks good on me.

tall penguin

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Open Marriage...

A new book was just released entitled Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage by Jenny Block. Block, a suburban wife and mother, talks about her own life in an open marriage, addresses the stigmas attached to the concept and challenges long-held beliefs around the virtues of monogamy.

I've not yet publicly discussed my views on the subject, but have written and thought much about this. I'm not sold on the whole monogamy thing. It doesn't sit right with me. While it may work for others, I don't see it as fulfilling my great capacity for love and relationship. I've been perusing Block's book and find my soul nodding along with many of her thoughts. Regardless of your views on the subject, it's a fascinating and challenging look at what relationship means.

tall penguin

Serenity Prayer...with a twist

I came across a notebloc in the Rubbermaid archives. It's printed with the following "prayer":

God grant me the courage to change the things I cannot accept; the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the strength to bury the bodies of those I was forced to kill; and the wisdom to avoid stepping on toes which may be connected to asses I may have to kiss tomorrow.

tall penguin

A Girl Like Me...

August 8, 2001

In the beginning
You said,
"I've never met a girl like you before."
And I asked,
"Is that good?"
And you said,
"Yes, it's good."

And yes,
In the beginning
It was good,
It was very good.
In the beginning
It was very, very good.

We talked
And shared
Our anarchistic tirades
Our motionless charades.
The fears
The dreams
And everything in between.

There was touching
And feeling
And I laid bare my soul
Hoping you'd swallow me whole
But instead
You pulled away.

"I've never met a girl like you before."

And it was bad.
It was very bad.
It was very, very bad.

My heart gaped open
Old wounds resurfacing
How could I believe this thing?
Your wide open space
Became a desert where I
Could no longer bloom.
Petals dropping to the sand
And I demand
An explanation.

Why?

"You got too close," he said.

Too close to what,
I wonder.
Too close to what?

No answers
Just silence.
The silence you feel in your heart
Just before it explodes.

Was it all for show
Your anti-establishment dance
Your Luddite stance.
Perhaps you're more status quo
Than you thought you were.
Or maybe you don't really know
What you want
After all.

And it was sad.
It was very sad.
It was very, very sad.

But I refuse to change
I refuse to believe
That I should alter
My heart, soul and mind
To entertain men of your kind.

I will not falter
But remain strong
The road's too long
To be thrown off course
By a coward.

I said, "I love you."
But I feel no shame.
There's no one to blame
For my heartfelt truth.

I will not shrivel up
Like some buttercup
In want of rain.
I don't need to explain
Nor refrain
From sharing my thoughts
Or fears
Or dreams.
Because that's what makes me
The girl unlike any other you've met before.

You are just a flutter on the page
To incite my rage
And then disappear
Into your cave of fear
Where you will never see
That being loved by the girl who's different
Is the best love there can be.

And in the end,
As in the beginning,
It was good.
And I am good.
Yes, I am very, very good.

tall penguin

Foreshadowing?

September 12, 2004

"I don't know how to make this work. It was nice to see you. Goodbye," you said.

Seemed like a comment on the situation at the moment. Yet wasn't really. I understand. I too don't know how to make this work.

tall penguin

The Tipping Point...

Yesterday, I told you a bit of the back-story and spoke of the month of events that seemed to be the tipping point in my life, the proverbial straw; after which, 7 months later I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. I just found my journal entry about that month:

December 29, 1991 (age 17)

My bunny rabbit died on the 26th. I know you're probably saying, "Oh big deal. It's just an animal." Right? Wrong! When you become attached to anything, whether it be an animal, a person or a doll, you love it when it dies or is lost, and you feel pain. It's natural. I loved my bunny and in her own way I think she loved me too.

To have something you love die is one thing but watching it die is another. For five years I took care of her. I fed her. I cleaned her cage. I trained her. I talked to her. I confided in her and I loved her. I did everything I could to make her life enjoyable. Yet when she collapsed on the floor of her cage and shrieked in pain, I could do nothing. When she needed my help the most, was when I was most helpless. Why is it that when loved ones need us most, we never know quite what to do?

Even if I had known what to do, it wouldn't have mattered because within minutes my one and only pet was gone forever.

This last month has been the most trying month of my life. Everything that could've happened did. It started with a phone call from my brother who was away at University. He called to tell us that he was on his way into the operating room for emergency surgery on his hand. "I slashed some tendons" was all he told us. And so we waited by the phone for hours to hear of the surgery and the events leading up to it. Late that night, he told us the whole story and we cried. We went to bed that night and didn't really sleep. We wanted to be there with him when he needed us most but couldn't.

Early the next morning, the phone rang again. We all expected it to be my brother, but it wasn't. It was my grandmother. In her broken English and amid sobs and tears she explained that my Grandfather was "no parla, no parla"---not talking. He had had a stroke during the night. My parents rushed out of the house, leaving me alone. They arrived, the ambulance arrived, but it was too late. He had also had a massive heart attack and they couldn't revive him. He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.

Then the family was notified. My mother called me. I was all alone. No one to hold me and comfort me and tell me it was all right. My parents didn't come home until late that evening, so I spent the day at a friend's place. I had no family around--no one who knew my Papanonna and knew exactly how I felt. That week lasted forever, with daily funeral showings and finally the actual funeral, four days after his death.

I felt bad for me and bad for my father but I especially felt bad for my grandmother. She sat by my grandfather's bedside until the ambulance arrived, and watched him die. She was unable to do anything for this man when he needed her the most.

About a week and a half later, my mother's gerbil died. He was a friendly little rodent who brought out the soft, sensitive side in my mother. One we may not see again.

Shortly thereafter, my father had to have surgery done on his eye. He had a cataract. Since then, I've had to run all the errands and do all the driving, since my mother doesn't drive. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to my Winter Holidays. "Nothing more can happen," I reassured myself. Then, four days ago, my bunny died, which is where this all began.

tall penguin (who cried a lot typing this)

Ricardo Semler

Have you heard of Ricardo Semler? He's the CEO of Semco, a Brazilian company that has revolutionized the idea of what business is about. Semler's philosophy is that allowing people at work to be autonomous, setting their own schedule, choosing their own wages, diversifying their work roles, supports a life/work balance that increases productivity and decreases turnover rate. And it's working. According to this 2004 article: "Here at Semco we are doing something else --- we are saying everyone is a responsible adult. Currently, staff already make decisions about their kids. They elect governors and mayors. They know what they want to buy and what they do not. It is absolutely crazy, the idea that people are still concerned about how things are done. The bosses here do not say -- you are five minutes late or how come this worker in the plant is going to the bathroom?

In life we do not give employees enough leeway. If you look around Semco's office there are plenty of empty desks. The question is -- where are these people? I do not have the slightest idea, but I am not interested...

The point is that if we do not let people do things they way they want to do them, we will never know what they are really capable of and they will just follow our boarding school rules."


Inspiring Websites...

Thanks John for pointing me to this wonderful, interactive site called We Feel Fine.

It contains an app that taps into blogs around the world which include statements containing the words "I feel" or "I am feeling". You can peruse randomly by interacting with a playful interface, or you can modify your search by specific demographic parameters. So, you can find out what teenage girls in Tehran are feeling today or whether men feel more sexy than women. An interesting humanistic experiment.

And thanks to a customer I met yesterday for pointing me to Smile Cards. These cards allow you to "tag" a person with a smile and pass it on. A random act of kindness thing. You can download your own to print off your computer. Or you can order 10 free cards. I've just ordered mine. Likely, to slip into the vest pockets of my co-workers to lighten our bookslave load.

I am inspired by sites like these. It gives me hope that humans are moving in a more human-focused direction. I like humans.

tall penguin

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Enneagram...

Anyone out there done the Enneagram Personality test? I find personality tests interesting from the standpoint of giving language to some of our experiences. They may not be scientifically valid, but they're an interesting glimpse into the metaphor of our existence. Here's a really simplified version of the test. I'm a Type 5, The Investigator. More accurate than I care to admit.

tall penguin

The Now Watch

I just received an email from the creator of this product, the now watch, in response to my post Holding On & Letting Go. I stopped wearing a watch about a decade ago because I realized how often I was checking it and not being in the present moment. And yet, the reality of life is sometimes we need to know what time it is. This would be a good compromise.

Officially added to my birthday wish list by the way. ;)

tall penguin

A Bit of the Back-Story...

I'm sure this will unfold as I move through the Rubbermaid archives but I figure I should give you a brief synopsis of the events that shaped my teens. I will do my best to stick to the facts without all the emotional overlay. You'll see that soon enough in my poetry and journals. Interestingly, my journals rarely talk specifically of events or people. I didn't even trust my journal to keep those things secret. I was always afraid of being judged.

Age 14: met JR who would become my boyfriend for the next four years. From a Jehovah's Witness home. His father, an elder in the group, beat him regularly. JR had issues with alcohol and anger. He would emotionally and verbally abuse me regularly. On two occasions, it became physical: shoving and grabbing. JR was suicidal most of the time. And was constantly threatening to leave the jw's.

My mother, at first unsupportive of the relationship, quickly fell in love with JR and encouraged me to support him in any way I could, telling me it was my Christian responsibility to be his friend.

Age 16: My brother, whom I was close to, went off to University 15 hours out of town.

Tipping Point: November, 1991 (age 17; 7 months before diagnosis)
Exam time at school. Was engaged in the full-time preaching work of the Jehovah's Witnesses, spending 60 hours that month proselytizing. Was battling some kind of virus. Both family pets died. My brother had an accident and emergency surgery away at Univeristy. My paternal Grandfather died.

June 1992 (just before my 18th birthday): diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

If I've left stuff out, it'll show up later. It usually does.

tall penguin

The Prison...

I have often blogged about my feeling trapped (here and here are a few). I think it may be a sensation I struggle with for the rest of my life, one I am learning to embrace and move within.

As I peruse some of my poetry over the years, I see this theme developing quite early in my teens. It seems my teens were the proverbial tipping point for me. I'll probably have to address that in a post at some point. A lot of stuff happened during that time of my life, culminating in the brain blip I've been speaking of lately.

A select bit of poetry from the Rubbermaid archives:

April 30, 1991 (age 16; 14 months before diagnosis)

Locked in a prison
Peering out through my clouded eyes
To see that I am on the wrong side of the bars
Not in a prison without
But in a prison within.

September 20, 1991

Peering out the window
From an upstairs classroom
I see children and clouds
And trees and cars,
I see life---waiting to be discovered
Yet it will have to wait
For I cannot break through
The bars that hold me back.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And then, there is my growing contempt for the confines of the school system:

June 4, 1992 (age 17; 2 weeks before diagnosis)

Sitting in the classroom
Full of corpses,
Slumped over boxes of wood.
Wondering why I'm here
And why I am still alive
When everyone around me
Is dead.
Why must I suffer alone?

The teacher,
The only body full of life,
Would be better off
Joining his students
For he's boring us all
To death.

The institute of learning
Has become
The city morgue.
And as I reach down
To scratch my foot
I see a small tag
On my toe.

tall penguin (although she wasn't tall penguin at this point in her life...or was she?)

Rubbermaid Box...

I asked my brother to dig out the Rubbermaid container that holds a large amount of my previous writing, most of which has never been seen by eyes other than mine. It arrived last night. Letters, journals, poetry--a written tapestry of my former life. There is one box conspicuously missing, the box with my journals written during my teens. Probably just as well right now. There's enough here to sort through as it is.

As with almost everything that enters my life, I do this dance around it, a love/hate dance wondering what files in my mind to put it into. Part of me just wants to take the contents out of its blue, plastic belly and have a bonfire. Then there is the voice that says some of it is worth exploring and sharing here. Perhaps it will add another dimension to the book. Either way, I will be venturing in, sorting, filing and discarding. And probably smiling, laughing and crying a whole lot along the way.

And you're probably wondering, why even bother? And I don't have a logical explanation for my need to revisit this stuff. It's my ongoing desire to make sense of things, to find somewhere to put things and to learn from my experience. I had very little opportunity to embody and process most of my life as it happened. I think repression is the term. So, now I feel compelled to return to all the places that scare me. Perhaps it's the same drive that made me a scab picker, that desire to see if I'm healed yet. Whatever that healing even looks like, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's my obsessive mind needing to grind its teeth against the challenging bits of my journey. I'm sure it's not rational. I know it's not rational. And yet, here I am sitting in my kitchen with bits of paper strewn around me like picked-over carcasses waiting for disposal.

This is what the tall penguin does, until she doesn't. It is what it is. So, please fasten your seatbelts. Keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. And remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop.

tall penguin

Think of the Kittens...

I need a good laugh tonight. Brain overload. Stupid Quadratic Equations.

tall penguin

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fridge Artist...

In this interview with Robert Fulghum (skip to 26:49 and thanks ExJw for the link), he says:

"I often say that I will never win the Pulitzer Prize or the Nobel Prize but I won the Refrigerator Door Prize. And I'll take that. No one ever puts Faulkner on the Fridge door."

Years ago, I was at a flea market and there at one of the booths was a young girl, maybe 8 or 9, sitting behind a table with a sign that said, "Fridge Art". Displayed were about twenty drawings she'd made herself, for the bargain price of 25 cents each. I picked up a couple. Still have them.

As I weave my way through the Rubbermaid archives I am finding a large collection of fridge art from various children I've known over the years. And I am reminded that there's a fridge artist in all of us just waiting to set up shop.

tall penguin

Equation Quandary...

It is said that Mathematics is the only absolute truth. I liked Math in High School. I liked that I could come up with a solution and then test that solution to see if it was correct. For kicks, I've been doing some Quadratic Equations today. Partially to see if I can still do them (I can...quite well actually), and also to connect to that part of the universe that is calculable.

There's very few other areas in life that are so clearly defined. I cannot cross check my ideas about life to see if they're correct. There is no universal answer key to indicate whether my line of thinking or being is going to bring me the desired response.

Math for me was a very stimulus-response activity. Once you know the formulas involved, you can respond to the question in a systematic way. You don't have to re-invent the wheel each time out. Back in Grade 12, when the brain blip was well under way, I dropped out of Math class around the time we started learning to solve complex triangles and prove the relationships between various triangles. Somehow, my brain could not process beyond solving the basic triangles. I could not abstract the concrete angle values to see the relationships between objects. And I wonder what that says about my brain/life at the time. Any guesses? I need some help on this one.

tall penguin

Edited to add: Okay, I lied. As the Quadratic Equations are getting more difficult, my brain is doing a WTF?! Wow, I really want to learn how to do this stuff again.

Yet Another Serendipitous Occurence...

I've just been hired by a family to help out with their slightly Autistic son. When I went for the interview, I found out that this little boy turns 3 two days before I do! And he's speech-delayed. So, it seems us 3 year-olds will be learning language together. Interesting.

tall penguin

Holding On & Letting Go...

"Don't tell me you will love me forever.
Tell me that you will love me Thursday afternoon at four o'clock."
~~W. H. Auden quoted in The Five Things We Cannot Change by David Richo

Love happens in the present moment. And when we inhabit the present moment fully, we can love fully, with everything we are and everything we have.

As I look back on past relationships, the ones I remember the most fondly are the ones where I was the most present. I am surprised by how seldom that actually happened. You think you are with a person, but it is not enough to say you're in relationship. What does that even mean? How often are you with your partner physically, but mentally off inhabiting some other time or place? Is this being in relationship? What exactly are you relating to--the person in front of you or the thoughts in your head? I've lost so much time, so many opportunities for love, by not being present to what is, to who is, to all that is.

I am learning now to live life as a series of moments, those Thursday-afternoons-at-four-o'clock moments. I do my best to be present with people, enjoying time and space with them, holding on to the precious moment with them, and then letting go. Letting go with an awareness of the very real possibility that our paths may never cross again. This is life. There is no forever. There is only the eternal moment of now.

Learning to let go has been one of the most difficult life lessons. Perhaps what underlies it is our fear of the final letting go, death. But now, even that doesn't seem so scary. Once you learn to live and die to each breath, each moment, not much is so scary anymore. In fact, it becomes a beautiful dance with the unfolding of life.

I like dancing.

tall penguin

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Think I'm In Love...

"I wish I were a brush, to travel on your skin."
~~Carlito Dalceggio

This is a quote from an artist I discovered this weekend. His exhibit is at the Thompson Landry Gallery here in Toronto (thanks be to Mark for introducing me to the Distillery District). His work spoke to me immediately. The piece above, entitled Perfect Harmony and the Sacred Flight of the Pelicans, drew me in as soon as I entered the room. It felt like sinking into home in a very visceral, almost sensual, way. I love how this piece radiates from a central point, similar to mandalas, fractals, etc. These types of images reflect my life philosophy: find your core and everything will expand out from there in an infinite, exquisite pattern.

I heart you Carlito. Swoon.

tall penguin

p.s. This is now on my official wish list. At a cool $12,000 it will take more than the law of attraction to manifest this one onto my wall. But hey, if I'm gonna dream, may as well dream big.

Is This What Books Are For?

I've commented that exploring the stroke account by Jill Bolte Taylor is giving me language for experiences in my life I could not previously explain. Is this the gift of writing? Is this what books provide us with? I wonder if storytelling is a way of giving people language to express an experience they didn't even know they were having, to provide a framework by which they can see themselves and make sense of their own story. Perhaps language isn't the big bad demon I've been seeing it as. Maybe I just didn't know what to say.

tall penguin

Recovery Support...

Jill Bolte Taylor speaks fondly of her mother's support after her stroke. They took time each day to celebrate the little strides that Jill was able to make, from learning a new word, to putting together a puzzle, to being able to get to the bathroom and back. Her mother provided a day by day tally of what she could now do compared to what was just out of reach yesterday.

Jill comments:

"A lot of stroke survivors complain that they are no longer recovering. I often wonder if the real problem is that no one is paying attention to the little accomplishments that are being made. If the boundary between what you can do and what you cannot do is not clearly defined, then you don't know what to try next. Recovery can be derailed by hopelessness."

This comment had me in tears. For many reasons. I was treated as a pariah when I became ill as a teen. My peers, for the most part, didn't want to be around a sick, tired person. My parents did their best to accommodate me in whatever I needed at this time, but really didn't know what to do with their much-changed daughter. I remember overhearing my mother say to a friend that she didn't know who I was, that I wasn't the same person anymore.

And then, there were the Jehovah's Witness elders. Prior to the brain blip, I'd been a fully-functioning jw, a regular prosyletizer and a support to the older and younger ones in the congregation. I used my energy to help out anywhere I could. Now, exhausted and disabled, the elders said I was "just burnt-out". As jw's, records are kept of how many hours you spend each month in the preaching work. I remember one night when two elders came over, for what was supposed to be an encouragement call, and proceeded to pull out my preaching records and throw them across the table at me, telling me how much I was needed by the congregation and that it was a real shame I couldn't be of use to them anymore. When they left, my mother and I were in tears. My father was livid and wanted to say something to them. We talked him out of it; afraid of the repercussions of speaking against "God's chosen men".

And I had little idea how to support myself. I was 17. There was no file in my brain for self-nurturing. I hated my body for letting me down. And I hated my mind even more. It had become my enemy. Without the needed support, as Taylor notes, my recovery was 'derailed by hopelessness'.

For the first time in my life, I am now able to grieve for the lack of support I received at that time. I am able to grieve for how completely alone I felt and how my craving for death was really a need to be shown how to live in this new altered state. I can cradle that suffering teen in my arms and let her know that she's pretty cool.

I now have a support system surrounding me that I never imagined having in this life. I have friends that help me celebrate every little accomplishment I make. My friends Ganga and Deena do regular little dances of joy with me for all my baby steps. We celebrate our lives with every breath.

And you, dear reader, even if I don't know you by name, are part of my support network. Part of the global village that is helping raise me. My heart is filled with gratitude for your presence here.

tall penguin

Filing Time...

I am continuing my journey through Jill Bolte Taylor's book My Stroke of Insight. Over the past year, my soul has craved an understanding of what happened during the Brain Blip I experienced in my late teens. Funny that during all the years I spent in therapy it was a part of my life I discussed very little. Perhaps because I didn't even have the language to explain what had happened to me. Taylor's book is giving me that language. I didn't realize how important that was until now. How do you properly convey an experience when you don't even know the words to use?

As I read Taylor's experience, I wrote quite a bit about my own brain and the changes it went through so many years ago. I'm also going to dig up my journals from that period of my life. I think they will shed an interesting light and provide me with some much-needed answers. When I go seeking understanding, my ultimate goal is to derive empathy, for myself first, and then for others. Self-acceptance has been long in coming for me. Anything that can assist that allows me to make leaps forward in my life and in my evolution as a human being.

By the time I turned 17 and was fully in the middle of the brain blip, a diagnosis of exclusion was made, meaning that I went through rigorous testing (17 viles of blood taken) and when nothing else was determined to be the cause of my symptoms (which I could mostly only describe as physical--sore throat, fatigue, swollen glands, muscle aches and pains, etc), the only thing left was the label Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Now, I've come to hate labels in every form, but there's no other label I've worn that is more meaningless and empty than the CFS label. Saying I was chronically tired is like saying a diabetic really likes sugar. It says nothing of severity, impact, or etiology.

Even with all the research that has been done since I was diagnosed in 1992 (which isn't much compared to other illnesses), there has yet to be anything conclusive determined about this syndrome. Which makes it easy for people and doctors to dismiss as "psychosomatic". Another word I hate. Just the thought that we need a separate word to label physical symptoms that have an underlying emotional component smacks of ignorance to me. Of course emotions underlie physical symptoms. Isn't that what all the mind/body research is showing us? Don't make it out like it's some anomaly in the population that makes a person's suffering less or somehow more controllable. You find me an illness that doesn't have an emotional component, where stress isn't a factor in either its acquisition or recovery. Okay, I digress. This topic gets me pretty heated up.

The label doesn't say much about the cognitive dysfunction. And even the fatigue has never been well-understood, although recent research suggests a mitochondrial alteration. I think the best explanation I've seen yet is in Taylor's explanation of what happened to her post-stroke (My Stroke of Insight, page 90):

"By day four, I was still spending most of my time sleeping as my brain craved minimal stimulation. It was not that I was depressed, but my brain was on sensory overload and could not process the barrage of incoming information. G.G. [her mother] and I agreed that my brain knew best what it needed to do in order to recover. Unfortunately, it is not common for stroke survivors to be permitted to sleep as much as they would like. But for me, we felt that sleep was my brain's way of taking a "time-out" from new stimulation. We acknowledged that my brain was still physically traumatized and it was obviously totally confused concerning the information coming in through my sensory systems. We agreed that my brain needed quiet time to make sense out of what it had just experienced. For me, sleep was filing time. You know how chaotic an office can become if you don't take time to file? It was the same for my brain - it needed time to organize, process and file its hourly load."

When I was knee-deep in the brain blip I was sleeping 12-17 hours a day. It wasn't a choice. There were definitely other things I wanted to be doing, like socializing, going to parties, movies, dinners and dating. But I couldn't. Even lifting the covers off my sore, exhausted body was a chore. Each energy expenditure had a cost.

But Taylor's explanation of the need for sleep as the brain's filing time brought out a YES! from the deepest parts of my soul. To this day, when I'm in the midst of change or trying to make sense of something, the running question in my mind (and the one my friends hear the most) is: Where do I put this? This means, where do I put this new information, this new experience, this new learning. During these periods, I tend to sleep more. And when I awake I am amazed to find the information settled into a file. For me, the most unsettling bits of my life (and the times when I sleep the most) are when there is a lot of profound change happening. After leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses, I slept a lot. When I'm going through therapy I tend to sleep a lot as well. Making sense of my environment, both internal and external, is hard work.

Reading this makes me think less in terms of dysfunction and more in terms of evolutionary settings that protect the brain from further trauma. Is this gravitation towards sleep during times of upheaval a survival mechanism? Why do we need to label it as an abnormal condition? Perhaps it's just the brain doing what it needs to do.

The interesting thing is that, in my own life, as the cognitive dissonance heals and there are more files for me to put the new, I find I have more energy. I can run most days on 6-8 hours sleep, which is a state of health I never thought I'd see.

The brain is such a vast place. There are no labels that can possibly contain it.

tall penguin

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Me Is So Smart...

My 34th birthday is coming up in less than two weeks. For ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, birthdays are often counted from the official time they left the cult. So, this year, I'm turning 3.

I figure I should see if I'm meeting the developmental milestones for my age. (My comments are in red.)

Physical Development:

Run well. Does speed-walking count?

March. To the beat of my heart.

Stand on one foot briefly. Key word being "briefly".

Feed himself well. I can feed myself. "Well" is pretty subjective. I'm thinking potato chips at midnight isn't "well".

Put on shoes and stockings. Yup, I've mastered tying my shoelaces. As for stockings, do fishnets count?

Unbutton and button his clothes. Mastered this one, although sometimes I still require a little assistance. ;)

Be able to build a tower of 10 cubes. Hmm...now where did I put that box of Lego?

Be able to pour from a pitcher. And I can do it without too much head on the top!

Use crayons. Crayola Day anyone?

Jump up and down. I like jumping.

Begin pedaling a riding toy (tricycle.) I'm on a two-wheeler already. I'm the smartest three-year old I know!

Throw a big ball and catch it. I'm good with...never mind.

Sort two objects that match. Hey, if I can find two socks that match it's a good day.

Developmental milestones associated with feeding:

Spills small amount from spoon. Check

Begins to use fork; holds it in fist. I've moved on to proper fork-holding technique. Now, if I could figure out how to refrain from randomly stabbing people with said fork, that would be progress. Maybe I am three after all.

Uses adult pattern of chewing, which involves rotary action of jaw. Never stopped to notice this one, but I imagine my jaw is capable of rotary action. I've stopped chewing up and down. It gets some funny faces at the local Noshery.

Social & Emotional Development:

Like animals and stories. Do stories about squirrels count? What about trunk sharks?

Be curious. Curiosity in spades, sir.

Use fantasy to make sense out of what he/she doesn’t understand (magical thinking is common.) Alright, I'll concede to having a little magical thinking going on. Can't love, nor live, rightly without it.

Speak in longer sentences. Yes, I do believe I can speak in longer sentences, although one would surmise that the best things are said in as few words as possible; as my dear Grampy used to say, "Shit, or get off the pot!"

Tell simple stories. Do stories about squirrels count? What about trunk sharks?

Use words as tools of thought. Hmm...words...tools of thought? Who would've guessed. I'll have to try that out someday.

Want to understand his environment. I'll be three forever.

Answer questions. "Yes, officer, I was going 150 in a 40 zone."

Be able to reason out questions like “what must you do when you are sleepy, hungry, cool, or thirsty?” I notice "what must you do when you're horny" isn't on the list.

Be imaginative. Mr. Rhino's adventures didn't pop out of thin air ya know.

Stutter for a brief period (maybe.) Some days worse than others.

Have a vocabulary of an average of 896 words. I'm approaching the 800 mark. 896 might be a little ambitious at this point.

Use the pronouns I, you, and me correctly. Who am I exactly? I fail this one.

Use some plurals and past tenses. I can even use them in the same sentence!

Know at least three prepositions (usually in, on, and under.) Oh, so many things I could say. I'm a very naughty 3 year-old.

Know chief parts of body and be able to indicate them (if not name them.) Ditto.

Handle three word sentences easily. Dick likes Jane. Dick likes Suzie. Dick likes Bob. Dick is polyamorous.

Begin to use verbs with great frequency. I like to jump, march, chew food in an adult pattern, button my own clothes, stand on one foot and use prepositions. I cool.

Understand simple questions dealing with his environment and activities. I still can't answer what happened to THE environment. So maybe I fail this one.

Relate his experiences so that they can be followed (with reason.) Ha, ha, ha. Only you guys can answer that one. You followin' me?

Be able to give his name, age and sex. Two out of three ain't bad.

Talk in short sentences to express feelings. I like sushi. Sushi makes me happy. Let's go for sushi.

Ask “What?” and “Why?” questions. Umm...you've read my blog right?

Intellectual Development:

Want to please others and want to adapt. Please, yes. Adapt, not so good.

Be increasingly interested in social play, but prefer to play by himself or with one other person. When did this become about my sexual preferences?

Want to imitate others in play (especially parents.) Why every relationship I've ever had has crashed and burned. Do we ever really outgrow this one?

Enjoy being with other children. Kids are cool.

Begin to show cooperation with adults. Yes, beginning to.

Begin to distinguish other’s intentional acts from unintentional acts. Hmm...wow...what a profound statement. Yes and yes.

Try to please adults with his answers. Trying to please myself with answers. The adults can go to hell. :)

Take turns. Your turn is up. Now give me the dice.

Enjoy brief group activities requiring no skill. I LOVE group activities requiring no skill. Wish there were more of them in life.

Enjoy “helping” in small ways, responding to verbal guidance. Unless it's from my boss. I don't accept his verbal guidance so well.

Enjoy conforming. Not so much.

Have an easy going attitude. Easy-breezy.

Be less resistant to change Ha, ha, ha. Didn't I just blog about my resistance to change? Okay, there's gotta be some room for improvement.

Be more secure. In process.

Have a greater sense of personal identity. Also in process.

Begin to be adventuresome. Does dancing around in my living room naked count?

Enjoy music. I've moved beyond Sharon, Lois and Bram though. Skimmery, rinky, rinky doo.

Play with others and share toys sometimes. tall penguin is learning to play nice with others. And "sometimes" is the operative word here.

Have a fear of separation. Sigh. Yes.

Have violent emotions and anger (throws tantrums.) Ha. They are written tantrums though. Doesn't count.

Differentiate facial expressions of anger, sorrow, and joy. I differentiate all right. I know what you're feeling before you do.

Show a sense of humor, play tricks. So, replacing my roomie's hair gel with toothpaste is age-appropriate behavior? Sweet!

So, there you have it folks. By all accounts, I'm on track. And the coolest part? I'll be the only 3 year-old getting totally blotzed at her birthday party. YAY ME!!!

tall penguin

Friday, June 6, 2008

In Our Own Image...

You know you've created God in your own image when he hates the same people you do. ~~Anne Lamott

Sports Fans? Not sure what that's about. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to Hell.

tall penguin

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll not come up with anything original."

Seems well-timed since my last post.

This is a quote from Sir Ken Robinson from this video. He speaks on the subject of creativity in education and how children have boundless curiosity that the standard education system is systematically destroying.

He addresses a bunch of stuff I've been discussing recently is this blog:

--the lean of academia (and educational models in general) to the brain at the expense of the body, and in particular the lean to the left brain, to the exclusion of the right
--the differences in men and women, particularly that women have thicker corpus callosums, which bridge the two cerebral hemispheres and allow women to be better at multi-tasking
--the importance of children and the nurturing of their individual learning styles as well as the support of their natural ability to create
--our need to redefine for ourselves what intelligence means

All this in less than 20 minutes (thanks Sim for the link). Well worth watching and discussing. At the risk of sounding like Whitney Houston, the children are our future. Let's consider now what that future is going to look like.

tall penguin

Being Challenged...

Do you know that every single time I write a post on this blog I get a squidgy knot in my stomach? And every time I check my email for comments to these posts there's part of me that wants to throw up? Fear of judgment is what it is. Fear that someone will disagree with what I've written. But mostly, the fear that I'm wrong. And that if I'm wrong, I will cease to know who I am.

I feel anxiety around new information. I find things hard to assimilate sometimes. The new often feels like a mortal threat to my psyche. Perhaps this is a common symptom/foundation of fundamentalist thinking. Is this ego? Is this our desire to define ourselves by what we think? When I wax philosophical asking the question "Who am I really?" this is the kind of stuff I'm thinking about. If you strip away the attachment to beliefs and release the need to be right, the need to be certain, do you cease to be? Are you what you think? Are you the arguments you defend, the job you hold, the label you wear?

Funny thing though, in spite of these fears of judgment and the need for ego-protection I keep writing. Logically, I know I'm bound to be wrong more than I'm right. That there will always be someone who disagrees with me. And that judgment isn't necessarily a bad thing. Your comments here push me to new heights. And really, I'm so much more than these words.

So, please continue to challenge me here. I do very much appreciate your gentleness and respect though. I still experience a fragility that I'm working on turning to deep strength. A journey it is.

tall penguin

Crayola Bombs...

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."
~~Plato

I was first introduced to the writing of Robert Fulghum back in High School. I read All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten after hearing it quoted at a school assembly. It was the first time I read an author who wrote like I did. Short, quippy essays on life.

One came back to mind today. I was journaling about the need for simple creativity in our daily lives. And I thought about how great it would be if we had an international Crayola day. A day where we all got together in our respective communities and sat down with a box of crayons and just played.

I regularly get together with a girlfriend of mine and we spend the afternoon sitting at my kitchen table drawing, coloring, creating. And talking. Those conversations are some of the most memorable for me. They flow spontaneously from the presence of exploration.

Fulghum takes the Crayola idea one step further:

"Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A Beauty Bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air -- explode softly -- and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth -- boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn't go cheap, either -- not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination."

This makes me smile. I like smiling.

tall penguin

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Brain Blip...

Growing up, I got good grades in every subject. I enjoyed English, Math, Science, languages; all of it. I was consistently streamed into Enriched classes to keep from getting bored. Through my teens though, my brain blipped. I have talked about the emotional difficulties this caused; the panic attacks, the suicidal depressions, but I haven't talked much about what happened to me cognitively. Reading Jill Bolte Taylor's journey through stroke has reminded me what that time of my life was like. And to some degree, still is.

I imagine it happened gradually, but from Grade 10 to the end of High School, my cognitive function declined. Previously I had been able to write long essays defending a point of view. I had been able to design and carry out science experiments. I had been able to carry out complex mathematical operations with ease. I was on the debate team, the Math team, the Geopardy team (a geography club); I was the editor of the school newspaper and the chair of the Writer's Club. And slowly, I watched it all change.

I struggled with the ability to articulate my thoughts. I had difficulty integrating new Math concepts, so much so that I dropped out of Grade 12 Math class. I tried it again the next semester and once again, my brain could not process the concepts. They may as well have been written in a foreign language. I gravitated towards Humanities classes where the focus was on discussion of ideas rather than on concrete concepts. I'm not sure I could have graduated otherwise.

In addition, my sensory system went haywire. Everything got turned up really loud, but at the same time, seemed to all blend together. I remember retreating for days into silence, often into sleep, to shut out the sensory world. Light, temperature, smells, sound, touch; it was all too much. I recall getting very agitated by the smells of dinner cooking in the kitchen. It assaulted my senses so severely that I felt threatened by it, like it would consume me. Imagine being trapped in your senses with no where to go.

In the course of those teen years I felt like I'd gone from A+ dynamo to learning-disabled putz. Some days, I could barely carry on a coherent conversation with people. I peered out from a body/brain that no longer seemed to represent who I was. Perhaps that was my first conscious realization that I didn't know who I was. Without my brain power to define me, what was left?

There's this point in Jill's description of her stroke that had me in tears. It reminded me of those teen years and gives me some language to describe what that experience was like for me.

From My Stroke of Insight, page 78-79:

"Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to have each of your natural faculties systematically peeled away from your consciousness. First, imagine you lose your ability to make sense of sound coming in through your ears. You are not deaf, you simply hear all sounds as chaos and noise. Second, remove your ability to see the defined forms of any objects in your space. You are not blind, you simply cannot see three-dimensionally, or identify color. You have no ability to track an object in motion or distinguish clear boundaries between objects. In addition, common smells become so amplified that they overwhelm you, making it difficult for you to catch your breath."

The brain is a vast place. I wish sometimes I'd had an MRI or a SPECT scan done at that time of my life. I always wonder what it would have shown. And I wonder now how I can best rehabilitate my brain, as it still has profound challenges 17 years later, which have become even more apparent to me on leaving the jw's, perhaps because I have no illusions to distract me from the reality of my functioning or lack thereof. I spent so much energy just holding on for the next life, hoping that God would correct whatever it was that had gone awry in my brain/body. Now, it's up to me. And it's scary as hell.

tall penguin