I’ve been reading Brene’s Brown’s stunning new book “Rising Strong” over the last few weeks (blog post/audio story/video/interpretative dance/all of the above about my thoughts coming soon) but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of her thoughts about talking through our emotions at home, with those closest to us. Reading this book has been transformative for me because it’s helped me find language and ways to sort through my feelings when I’m upset and about to either shut down or have a fight with my husband, and I’m really looking forward to sharing some of our learnings soon. Before that though, I wanted to share some of her concluding thoughts about rumbling with emotions and stories at home. We’ve been reading this book this book from the library (we’ve already signed the book out twice) but we’ve taken a lot of notes along the way to help keep our learnings alive. Have you read this book? What are your key takeaways? We’d love to hear from you.
I’ve wanted to read Rebecca Solnit’s book “Men Explain Things to Me” ever since it was published and (hurrah public libraries) I finally am reading the book now. It’s such an amazing collection of essays, and I really want to get a copy of the book for everyone I know. Proper thoughts coming soon, but for now, here is a beautiful gem from the book.
“My own task these past twenty years or so of living by words has been to try to find or make a language to describe the subleties, the incalculables, the pleasures and meanings – impossible to categorize – at the heart of things. My friend Chip Ward speaks of “the tyranny of the quantifiable.” of the way what can be measured almost always takes precedence over what cannot: private profit over public good; speed and efficiency over enjoyment and quality; the utilitarian over the mysteries and meanings that are of greater use to our survival and to more than our survival, to lives that have some purpose and value that survive beyond us to make a civilization worth having.The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe the more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described, and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in any revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately the destruction of the Earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters. The revolt against this destruction is a revolt of the imagination, in favour of subtleties, of pleasures money can’t buy and corporations can’t command, of being producers rather than consumers of meaning, of the slow, the meandering, the digressive, the exploratory, the numinous, the uncertain.”
I love discovering cities and places through stories, and I’d like to learn more about places outside North America through my film and reading choices this year. A dear friend gifted me Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck last week, yesterday I watched Riaad Moosa’s film Material (the subject of today’s audio story) set in Joburg, South Africa, and in the months to come, I’m hoping to tackle some of the books on this list by The Guardian of the Ten Best City Books of 2014.
What are your favourite books and films that have helped you discover new (or old) places? I’d love to hear your suggestions.
I recently saw a fantastic interview between Cmdr Chris Hadfield and Jian Ghomeshi that I highly recommend watching in its entirety. In case this advice is helpful to others too, below are a few gems from their conversation.
Q: What is the most important lesson you think you’ve taken away from the space program?
C.H: If you look big picture, I think the important thing is to give yourself something in life that you really want to do. What is exciting? What is the thing in the distance that if things worked out, you just see yourself doing ten years from now. Or 20 years from now… And then figure out how you can just start nudging yourself along one decision at a time. And you can change directions. I’ve just changed direction. I’ve just retired after a long career. I’m picking those things now and trying to decide what skills I will need in order to head that direction with my life.
Important to remember two things:
1) Don’t have to go straight there.
2) Don’t make that thing be the measure of your self worth. Try and celebrate every little victory, every day. Come out of every day saying today was a good day. I got to do this and this and this. I liked all the stages in my career along the way. Don’t want to get my self worth wrapped up in things in the future that may never happen.
- I feel a compulsion to make the most of myself. It’s kind of like a way of dealing with life. I sort of look at these are the various skills I’ve been given, these are the things I can do, and if I am not trying to make the most of all the various talents and capabilities I have and opportunities I have, then I am wasting my own time and wasting other people’s time to some degree. It drives me to try and not let things slip away. I really feel an urge to do something useful, to make the most of what I have. So that drives me, that compels me, it makes me continue to work. It gives me reasons and I like it.
- I think the real key to social media is to be honest. To tell people what it is that you saw, and what it meant to you, and why. It’s social media, it’s not marketing media. It’s not “I’m trying to sell you dishsoap”. It’s I saw this incredible thing, or this incredible thing meant this to me and here is why. And this is what it looked like.
- I didn’t do this to become a rockstar. I did this because I found it fundamentally interesting and worthwhile and I thought everybody should be interested in it. So I pursued it doggedly for a long time. And most of the the work I’ve done has been completely uncelebrated like anyone’s work…Anyone who shines for a moment, it’s the result of all those unheralded things that it happens. It wasn’t like it was a springboard so that finally I could be famous. That wasn’t the intent. It was more the opposite. I’m not trying to sell people something, I’m trying to share the wonder of the experience with them and I’m delighted so many people share back.
- [story about replacing his cupboards when his house got flooded and really enjoying the experience] I feel exactly the same way about my career. It’s not like I go around now that I don’t live in that house anymore missing that set of cupboards. I did that. And it took a lot of work. And I’m really happy about how it made me feel and with the result that it left, but I don’t spend my life wishing that I was still building those cupboards. That’s not how I view life. There’s a lot more cupboards to build. You can take great delight in learning any new thing. I have 30 or 40 years I hope of cupboards to build,things to think about and new stuff to learn and stuff to try and accomplish.”
I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s book North and South this week, and between the richly detailed, sensitive characters, the dry wit, and the beauty of the novel, it was a read that was well worth the investment in time. But the book is also a testament to the social and economic structure of the world in the 1850s. Above, my audio reflections on the read.
Would love to have a broader conversation about the book, and so for those who have read it, please do share your thoughts!
For two days in 2009, I was transfixed by the amazing speakers who spoke about peace and transformation at the Vancouver Peace Summit. Their message, that we need to think about how we are creating spiritually healthy communities was powerful, and it is inspiring to see examples of communities attempting to bring this idea to life.
Last year for instance, Karen Armstrong, the winner of the 2008 TED prize and author of “Twelve Steps to Live a Compassionate Life” visited Vancouver for twelve days to hold discussions across the city on compassion. The visit also marked “the launch of the Greater Vancouver Compassion Network, part of an international movement to build compassionate communities” (12 Days of Compassion, SFU). Also in BC, the Healing Cities Institute examines the connections between city form and public health/ healing and investigates the “spiritual dimensions of urbanism” and the “concept of the sacred within planning” (Healing Cities Institute, About.) And in 2007 Durham University in the UK held a 24 hour colloqium about the “connections between connections between faith/spirituality and contemporary city-making” titled Faith and Spirituality in the City.
Similar to how we consider how social connection, economic and physical health is nurtured or hindered in our city, these initiatives ask us to consider how our cities nurture or hinder spiritual health. They ask us to think about how different areas of city life are connected, and it is exciting to imagine city planning occurring in such an integrated way. They also ask us to be clear about the values that infuse our planning process. In Vancouver for instance, sustainability is an organising principle in the muncipal planning process, and whether it is in food policy plans, regional strategic plans or in buying decisions, an explanation is needed about how the principle of sustainability is being advanced.
All of this work is still very new and rapidly developing. Here’s to hoping these conversations continue to grow and spread and are able to create change! See below for selections from my Peace Summit notes.
“The vibrancy which may emerge from taking a second look is central to Proust’s therapeutic conception, it reveals that extent to which our dissatisfaction may be the result of failing to look properly at our lives rather than the result of anything inherently deficient about them.” (Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life, p.153).
I’ve read Alain de Botton’s book “How Proust Can Change Your Life” twice recently. The first time I read it quickly on the way to work over a couple of days, but the second time it was a slow read, with a pen and paper handy to take careful notes and underline and paraphrase key points. This approach felt fitting because the entire book is an argument to not be hasty.
It argues that we should take our time in describing something properly instead of resorting to cliches, that we should take our time making a judgement about someone instead of assuming income and formal education translates to virtue and intelligence, and that we should take our time to understand what life is teaching us when we experience difficulties. And in the perhaps most interesting chapter, we are asked to open our eyes and seek the beauty within our daily life.
According to Proust, we may be unhappy with our routine because popular art has told us that what we ought to value looks different. Reading his example of how an imaginary youth might seek out a museum because he cannot see the beauty in the everyday, I wondered if our expectations act as barriers to being fully rooted in where we live. I know for myself, I came to love Toronto deeply once I stopped seeking Vancouver within it, I loved Bandung deeply once I stopped thinking about Canada, and I have become much happier in Vancouver upon moving back once I stopped comparing it to Toronto. Instead of having specific expectations of what life should look like and thinking, “Toronto doesn’t have mountains!”, “Vancouver doesn’t have the same active Islamic learning scene!”, and feeling disappointed, I’ve been slowly learning to quiet down and appreciate each city for what it is.
The same could be said for life stages. Though I enjoyed graduate school, there was a danger to count down the days and wish the intensity to be over and working life to begin. Now that I’ve graduated and started working, it is easy to grumble through the commute, long for the weekend and exclaim with delight once Friday arrives. Fulfillment and happiness becomes something in the distant future, requiring external conditions – being in the perfect job, in the perfect city, with the right company – to exist.
Aside from the impossibility of perfection, such an attitude ignores the fact that all the moments of your day, week, month, and year make up your life. Which is not to say one pretends to have a chipper attitude – delusion is not the aim – but simply that it is too easy to grumble and sleepwalk through existence. The harder (and according to Proust) necessary work is to find ways to be as peaceful and appreciative as you can wherever you are. To stubbornly insist in seeing and spreading beauty. To have trust that what is challenging now will hopefully become easier and better later, but that requires succeeding in finding the good and lessons in where you find yourself today.
Go slowly Proust tells us, and look carefully, because life is too valuable and short for us to relegate living to a later time.
I went to the ballet today. At the time it felt crazy to go in the middle of papers, assignments and presentations, but I turned the computer off anyway and headed to the Betty Oliphant Theatre to watch Ballet Jorgen Canada’s beautiful adaptation of Cinderella. And despite a few hiccups getting there, once I arrived I was delighted to discover I had the perfect seat: right in the middle of the front row. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to soak up each expression, the details of the costumes and the perfection of each movement.
And as I watched the acts unfold, I couldn’t help thinking that the production was an incredible example of dedication made visible. It was a reminder that excellence cannot be created instantly; it is not a product of procrastination and shortcuts. It’s only through hours and hours of daily practice and emotional, physical and mental commitment to a craft that such performances, such beauty is possible.
Aside from the beauty of the performance though, it was a special afternoon because it was a celebration of Clea Iveson, who after 19 years and 2,000 performance is retiring from active dancing with Ballet Jorgen Canada. (Which is a shame. Even for a infrequent ballet attendee like myself, her performance was powerful and hilarious and hard to ignore.) And when the dancers came out on stage after the show, bouquets of flowers appeared from the audience, little girls slipped handwritten cards on stage, everyone was on their feet and you could feel the emotion of everyone in the room: from audience members, to the dancers, to the Artistic Director to Clea (first names sound so very informal!) herself. Even the people beside me were crying. What I found most moving though, was that when the audience finally quietened, the Artistic Director shared some beautiful words about her strength, her intelligence, her commitment and dedication and her contributions that have made the company what it is today.
And hearing those words and witnessing the emotion of everyone in the room made me think about work and what it means to have a calling. Deep contributions are possible not by flitting from one activity to another, or giving up quickly, but only when you pour all of yourself in a particular sphere of activity and continually strive to refine your abilities and expertise.
The same lesson came to mind when I was returning to Vancouver from London a few months ago and the pilot announced about half an hour before landing that after forty years of service that flight was his last journey in the cockpit. He thanked his wife who was onboard for her constant support, told us that flying was a challenging life path, and shared moments with us that he’ll always cherish: from seeing the sunrise in the cockpit when many of the passengers were asleep, to hearing the quietness of the world, to seeing how different people live across the world. There were many moments, and he was glad for the journey he had taken through life.
By the end of it, I had a lump in my throat from the gifts of his reflections, and the whole plane applauded when he landed the plane smoothly in the Vancouver International Airport.
And so whether I think of the ballet today, or that pilot earlier this summer, or any other remarkable example, the reflection is the same: it is extraordinary and beautiful to see your work as a calling and as a source of wonder and passion. And yet how challenging a thing to keep yourself steadfast to your chosen path as you develop! (But necessary, if deep meaningful contribution to the world is the aim.) All things to tuck away as I return back to paper writing, and try to put into perspective some of the more stress inducing parts of studying and doing the masters. It’s just meant to be one step of a much larger journey.