Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lessons Learned from...The rest of 2010

I might be premature in assuming that I'll learn a lesson from the rest of this year, but I hope not. In case you haven't noticed, as of late I've been slow in my absorption of life's lessons. To combat this developmental sluggishness and provide structure, each remaining month of my life for 2010 will have a distinct and alliterative focus:

  • Abstinence August (I will abstain from all sweets and alcohol)
  • Smarty-pants September (I will immerse myself in a new academic discipline)
  • Others October (I will do something meaningful for someone else each week)
  • Nothing November (I will buy nothing other than necessities for the entire month)
  • Daring December (I will do one thing that scares me each week)

I'll be recording my struggles and accomplishments as they happen.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Moving (Part 1)

Yup, I'm moving!! Anyone whose moved across the country before knows what a long and arduous process it can be, so it's only fair that I devote multiple blog posts to it. The first will focus on PACKING. Grrr...the frustration! Who knew we could accumulate so much crap? This lesson was relatively easy to learn: buy less stuff.

But a lot of the Value Village-destined things I have in my apartment were given as gifts. How do we control the amount of unwanted gifts without seeming rude or ungrateful? That's a lesson I would like to learn. Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Trying (and failing) to attach a bike lock to my bike

In The Boy in the Moon, Ian Brown quotes someone (I forget who) who says this: People used to live their lives by the question "What kind of society do I want to live in?". Now the question most of us live by us "How can I be successful in this society?".

This morning, while I was struggling to accomplish the simple task of affixing the bracket for my bike lock to my bike, I realized something. I had no idea the difference between nut and bolt. I often am frustrated that other people cannot cook, or analyze poetry (I can't do this either, but pretend that I can), or read a novel a week. Surely most people would have been frustrated with my lack of handyman/tactile skills this morning.

Compassion. Probably something I need to learn. After reading Brown's book and seeing the compassion, honesty, insight and humor with which he approaches his disabled son Walker, I am inspired to have a greater compassion for others as well. After all, a compassionate society is the type of society I want to live in, a society where we can all accomplish our own definition of success.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Children

Original thought: Children are a gift from God? Having none of my own and no plans to have any, I may not be the most obvious promoter of kids, yet I felt the time has come to make this post. Between spending lots of time with my 18-month-old niece and just finishing Ian Brown's The Boy in the Moon, I have lots to say on the subject of what children teach us. I know, I know, this subject has been done to death; the poor old horse has been beaten so much he's practically dead. But bear with me and stay tuned, I think I may have something new(ish) to say...

Amended thinking: While of course there are many things that little ones help us learn (as aforementioned, many authors have chronicled them ad naseum), I've discovered after that perhaps I do not have anything new to offer to this narrative. I don't think I'm comfortable essentializing children in this manner. "Children" is my first Lessons Learned post that involves people. While I know we all try to learn from our fellow human beings each day, it's important to learn from particular people. It wouldn't be appropriate, for example, for me to right a post on Lessons Learned from, say, "The Elderly", "The Blind" or "White People" (OK, this one might not be appropriate, but might be hilarious...thanks, Christian Lander). Not to say that we can't learn from individuals in these groups, but I think it's important to learn from the individual, not from our stereotypes about the group.

A common thought is that "children are a mirror" - they show us what we truly are. If this is true (and I'm not necessarily convinced it is), I am a narcissist, trying to turn them into a lesson for me to learn. So I didn't learn a lesson from children themselves, but from trying to learn a lesson about children. How meta is that?

I like learning a lesson from everything in life, but not EVERYTHING is a lesson for me to learn. Some things are just meant to be appreciated for what they are.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Heatwaves

It's another disgusting, hot, humid. smoggy day in Toronto. Between the 'baby blackout' on Monday and the layer of smog that persists in icing the horizon, it hasn't been one of Toronto's most inspiring weeks. Coming from Newfoundland (where you're lucky if Mother Nature simultaneously blesses you with sunshine and a temperature in the low-twenties), I automatically assume that warm weather necessitates outdoor play. It always catches me off guard when the radio people give their admonitions to stay indoors.

So we're stuck inside and graced with the lethargy that this temporary clime so often brings. Coupled with that, I am now "enjoying" (sometimes loving it, but still slightly bored) a leave of absence from work. The low energy and lack of structure is driving me mad. With no air conditioning in my apartment, what is there to do besides go shopping and binge on frozen treats? No wonder the American south is a region of overweight debtors.

I too was destined to that fate until I read the following line in Gourmet Rhapsody (a novel by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson): "A pitiful but conscientious fan gave the room the charm of a breezy space but did little to refresh us". How perfectly does this describe the cooling device found in my living room!

So to combate the tempations of laziness and gastric indulgence, I now have a mission: try observe three things and describe them in the manner of the above. I have often thought that language is a tool with untapped potential; now I'll do by best to tap it. I challenge you to do the same and post your observations/descriptions here. Hopefully this heat will cause us all to learn something and see old things in a new light.

Life may have given Toronto lemons, so in typical Toronto one-upping fashion, let's make not just lemonade, but limoncello.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lessons Learned from...Getting a prescription filled

This week I got a prescription filled and paid $9.77.
Coming home from vacation, I had my tweezers confiscated at airport security.

How are these two events related? I had previously gotten the exact same prescription filled, at the exact same pharmacy, with the exact same insurance coverage, for a total cost of $0. I had previously taken the very same tweezers through various aviation security checkpoints with nary an issue. So why am I now tweezer-less and $9.77 poorer?

I haven’t a clue, which drives me crazy. It’s not that I mind being charged ten bucks or having my tweezers denied airplane access. I mind not understanding why my life seems to be at the mercy of random acts of corporate big-brotherhood. I want to understand what happens to me. I want the world to be rational, consistent, reasonable and fair. I don’t want to feel ripped-off.

Forget physical needs (food, water, shelter), the most universal of human desires might be this: to know that that our sense-making abilities are being put to good use. In the end, I think we can accept the bad things that happen to us if we understand why they happen. We ultimately just want to “get it”.