Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Strangling Vine

The strangling vine has trapped me once again. Like one of those mutant plants found in B-rated sci-fi movies or popular comics, thick living tendrils of stress are wrapping themselves around my arms and legs, twisting their way through my innards, and choking my breath. I'm bound and blind and suffocating and I can't see my way clear.

It's happened before, of course. It happens to almost everyone from time to time. Life sometimes conspires to overwhelm us - not with crises (I can deal with crises), but with the unrelenting, pounding demands of everyday life.

It will pass. I know it will pass. It always does. But until then, I need to deal with the world ... I need to get through the day ... and through the next day ... and the next day ... without becoming completely paralysed.

Rest assured I'm still managing. I'm still moving - and I have no intention of stopping - but dragging around the strangling vine is exhausting. Every breath, every decision saps what little energy I have. Each small step is a little victory, until it turns out I was going in the wrong direction. And then it's back to the beginning again.

I know I've created the monster, fed it and nurtured it and made it strong. Intellectually, I know it's a choice I'm making about how to be in the world. But it sure as hell doesn't feel that way.

Sometimes the strangling vine dies on its own. Sometimes I've been able to cut it down piece by piece. All I can say is that the tools I have at my disposal don't seem to be working very well this time.

So I'm asking for your help and advice. What do you do to to kill the strangling vine? What do you do when stress takes over your life? How do you get through the day?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Start celebrating! You don't have much time left ...

Hey there, blog-people. This is I'm ink's long-lost alter-ego. The ink-ster's been kinda busy lately (you might have noticed) so I'm going to fill in for her every now and again. Hope that's ok.

I was just surfing the net this afternoon and found out a few interesting things. For instance, did you know June is:
- Adopt a Shelter Cat Month
- Cancer from the Sun Month
- Celibacy Awareness Month
- Children's Awareness Month
- Dairy Month
- Dairy Alternative Month
- Effective Communications Month
- Entrepeneurs "Do It Yourself" Marketing Month
- Fireworks Safety Month
- National GLBT Month
- International Accordian Awareness Month
- International Men's Month
- Lane Courtesy Month
- Perennial Gardening Month
- Turkey Lovers Month
- National Aphasia Awareness Month
- National Candy Month
- National Ice Tea Month
- National Rivers Month
- National Rose Month
- National Safety Month
- National Soul Food Month
- National Steak House Month
- Pharamists Declare War on Alcoholism Month
- Potty Training Awareness Month
- Professional Wellness Month
- Rebuild Your Life Month
- Sports America Kids Month
- Student Safety Month
- Vision Research Month
- World Infertility Month
(courtesy of

To celebrate, I think I’ll plan a trip to one of North America’s beautiful rivers. After all, it will be a relaxing getaway from my hectic professional life and give me the opportunity to do some serious thinking about my future. It might not be easy to go, of course. The garden always needs tending (the deer have, once again, eaten every one of my roses!) and someone keeps releasing live turkeys in the neighbourhood with little notes around their necks saying “Fly, Be Free!” A bit odd, that.

I could let the cats out to deal with the turkeys, I suppose, but I suspect they’re far too attached to the indoor life to be of much use. Perhaps I should just pick up a big brawny tomcat from the Humane Society instead. On the other hand, it might be just as easy to scare them off with a few well-placed roman candles or bottle rockets. Then again … maybe not.

Now that school’s almost over, it would certainly be nice to get away from the neighbourhood for a little while. Not that I have anything against children, mind, but, well, you know what kids are like. Impossible not to notice they’re around. Actually, it’s not so much the ones who run around all over the place, or even the ones launching rubber balls of various shapes and sizes into my barren rose-bushes (although, if they start breaking windows, I refuse to answer for their safety!). No. It’s the little ones who keep banging on the door and demanding to use the washroom … excuse me, Manja, I meant to say the TOILET … at the top of their lungs. And even they’re preferable to the youthful shysters who keep leaving leaflets stuffed in the mailbox inviting me to visit their “I can’t believe it’s not ice-cream” stand or announcing their upcoming IPO. Honestly, sometimes I think the human race shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce!

Bluntly, it’s all a bit much to take. I’ll be spouting gibberish soon if I’m not careful! I’d take up drinking, but the accordion-playing Slovakian pharmacist next door keeps sneaking around and emptying all the bottles when I’m not looking. Could be worse, I suppose. At least he’s stopped leaving little notes in the bottles remarking on the soothing effects of music on the troubled soul. While I’m philosophically in agreement with his position, I somehow don’t think polkas are exactly what William Congreve (15th century playwright) had in mind!

Now, what I REALLY need is something that lifts the spirits, something that takes me away from it all. Like sitting out on the porch on one of those hot summer evenings with a pitcher of ice tea (home-made of course!) at one elbow, and a dish of jelly beans at the other. Now that’s what I call living! I mean, who needs sex anyway, right? Just give me a few scoops of Ben & Jerry’s and I’m a happy woman. Really!

I mean, it’s not like I was really interested in that biker chick anyway. Or the stockbroker she went home with, for that matter. When I finally got around to cleaning my glasses, I could see that they weren’t that good-looking anyway.

No. Think I’ll pack my bags and rent a bright red convertible something-or-other. You know, head out onto the open road, see where the highway takes me … What? Yes, Mom. I’ll wear sunscreen! *sigh!* … Now, where was I? Oh yeah … New experiences to taste, new tastes to experience. If I get far enough west, maybe I’ll stop off in one of those road houses called “The Big Ox” or “Meat R’ Us.” Or I might do a run down to Chicago and see if I can find that diner that Aretha Franklin owned in “The Blues Brothers.” Anyhow, I just hope I don’t run into any of those idiots who go 100K in the fast lane. In my current state, I might run into them a little more literally than I’d like.

Hmmm. On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay home – safe and sound.

Do you hear what I’m saying?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Yesterday, looking up …

Yesterday, looking up, I saw:
- A periwinkle sky rimmed in robin’s egg blue
- A heron flying slowly but certainly northward
- Five airplane contrails: one a sharp white slash across the sky; two elegant arching ribbons; and two soft, thick strands of unspun wool
- A large flock of small birds silhouetted in acrobatic glory against the sun
- Two men on a giant elevated dolly, doing something useful on the fourth story of an unfinished red-brick building
- A thin plume of grey smoke arrowing straight into the sky from an unknown location
- Two hot-air balloons
- An enormous white shark made entirely of clouds
- A crow being chased by two red-winged blackbirds
- A patchwork collection of sunshowers spreading out across the city
- Three bright rainbows
- One glowing sunset (orange and purple variety)

Tomorrow, I think I shall look down.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Vulgar Curiosity

Vulgar (adj.): 1a. coarse; indecent; tasteless. 1b. of or characteristic of the common people. 2. common; prevalent. [from Lat. vulgus = common people] The Oxford Dictionary of Current English

Does vulgarity still exist? Or is it, like whalebone corsets and buggy-whips, a relict of an earlier age? In the modern world, is vulgarity anything more than a museum curiosity, an archaic oddity to be preserved under glass for the amusement of onlookers?

This question occurred to me as I was reading The Friendly Jane Austen by Nathalie Tyler. The book, sent to me by my dear friend D.B. last Christmas, is a very entertaining compilation of short essays, observations, comments, pictures, quotes, quizzes and humour about Jane Austen and her works. [FYI: It would be a welcome bedroom or bathroom book for any “Janeite” (as Ms. Tyler characterises us), since none of the individual pieces are longer than a couple of pages.]

Recently, I ran across a section on the characteristics and implications of vulgarity in Jane Austen’s novels. Since Austen is often credited with being one of the greatest authors of “comedies of manners” who ever lived, vulgarity – the display of coarse and/or tasteless behaviour [for the record, Austen is very rarely, if ever, indecent!] – is a key plot device in all of her novels. Indeed, one could argue that the ability to recognise and avoid vulgarity (of mind as well as of action) is one of the defining characteristics of all Austen heroines.

According to the good Ms. Tyler, “Ten Surefire Ways to be Vulgar” are:
1. If you are a woman, refer to a man by his last name only.
2. Make sure that you gossip plentifully so that people will know how much you know.
3. Be bossy. Very, very bossy.
4. Don’t be coy about the number of beaux you have!
5. A little learning is a dangerous thing and a sure path to vulgarity.
6. Don’t keep your knowledge and opinions to yourself. Make sure you disseminate them widely. You know enough to advise anyone about anything.
7. Have a prominent relative or at the very least a connection with a person of prominence. Make sure the world knows the fortune and influence of your family connections.
8. Have the best coach around equipped with the fastest horses. Make certain that everyone knows about it; do not trust to people’s powers of observation.
9. Be cutting edge avant-garde. Be the first person to adorn your bonnet with apricots or strawberries (in season).
10. Laugh too much, even if you don’t understand why you are laughing.

From this list it seems clear that, for Austen at least, vulgarity is the social manifestation of two things: sloppiness of mind (i.e. wilful ignorance, slavish devotion to fashion and trends, lack of wit, lack of self-discipline); and self-importance (i.e. boasting, over-familiarity, immodesty). Austen never makes these characteristics seem laudable – even when the character has other redeeming qualities (e.g., Both Emma Woodhouse in “Emma” or Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility” are both flawed heroines who do significant damage before they learn to moderate their behaviour). The vulgar cause real harm in each of Austen’s novels – everything from hurt feelings and embarrassing social encounters to the very real risk of financial, social and emotional ruin. Vulgarity, it appears, is intrinsically harmful in Jane Austen’s world.

Is this still the case? Are things like boasting (about fame, fortune, connections, talent, etc.) or ignorance (about the world, about other people) still problematic? Are immodesty and a lack of self-discipline (emotional and/or physical) still things we should avoid – both in ourselves and others? Do we need to worry about being overly-familiar with others, and should we be concerned about the need to have the latest and greatest? Are these behaviours, and the thought patterns that give rise to them, still intrinsically harmful?

I ask because I am frequently a little shocked by how people behave (of course, I have led a rather sheltered life). To me, at least, it seems as though vulgarity – as defined above, at least – is not only permissible but celebrated in our society. Things like trash-talking in sports, the rise of “bling” culture, the worship of figures such as Paris Hilton, junk mail that uses your (or my) first name, the popularity of so-called “shock jocks,” the overall decline of public courtesy, and so on, all suggest that excess and self-involvement – key characteristics of vulgarity – are driving forces in this society.

Of course, these same things could also be viewed as evidence of increased honesty and openness in society. Perhaps modern society is simply more willing to recognise and accept that individuals are unique, and that uniqueness should not only be accepted but celebrated. Perhaps it means that people have more options for how to interact with their world, and that we are less judgemental about others’ choices. Perhaps, in the end, vulgarity is simply “of or characteristic of the common people,” as opposed to the more familiar meaning of “coarse; indecent; tasteless.”

So, I wonder … Is it meaningful to speak of “vulgarity” (in the traditional “negative” sense) in the modern world, or have changing manners and a changing societal context made this term obsolete? And, if so, does it matter?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Just for fun

This made me laugh.

(Note: If he gets stuck, just move him with your cursor.)