Monday, March 30, 2009


In replying to my e-mail about my previous week, my mother observed that my account was peppered with reports of singing and dancing. She noted that this was something that had emerged in the last several months. She didn't remember my being interested in music or dance in the past.

She said this shift reminded her of her own mother, who had almost developed another personality around the age that I am now. In my maternal grandmother's case, the great awakening involved art. She discovered a talent and passion for painting. She became something of a Grandma Moses, which was neat to witness.

My grandmother was a really cool person. To be compared with her -- in any way, shape or form -- feels like a compliment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How could I?

During a meeting that I attended a couple of days ago, I had a temper tantrum. I shouted and swore at the facilitator.

As soon as I'd done it, I felt ashamed of my behaviour and apologized.

Luckily it didn't phase the facilitator. As a matter of fact, she gave me a ride home after the meeting, and was perfectly friendly.

But that isn't the point. What's more relevant is that I am deeply committed to compassionate communication, and I violated my own principles.

Only a week previously, I'd participated in a two-day conflict resolution workshop. I did a consensus decision making workshop in September, and I'm registered for another one in April. One of my favourite books is Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.

Yet, when it felt to me as if one of my core buttons was being pushed, the blood rushed to my head, and I lashed out.

When I later recalled what I'd said, I was grateful for a couple of things. First of all, I had used I statements. Secondly, I had criticized the facilitator's behaviour (or at least my perception of her behaviour). I had not called her names or questioned her integrity as a person.

Of course that doesn't excuse my behaviour. I consider it to have been totally unacceptable.

I have been going over the incident in an effort to recognize the dynamics, learn from it, and be better prepared when a similar situation arises in future.

I have tried to avoid beating up on myself, as that would only compound the problem. I've tried to accept that I'm imperfect and to forgive myself.

In our Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community meetings, which was where this happened, we have a beautiful tool that is designed to address this very scenario. Each meeting participant has three cards.

When a meeting participant holds up a green card, it means, "I agree," or, "I have information to contribute." A yellow card means, "I have a question," or, "I have a concern." A red card means, "I disagree," or, "There is something terribly wrong going on here."

When a participant holds up a red card, the facilitator is obliged to stop the main discussion so that the issue can be addressed. If I had remembered to use it, that one thing -- a little red card -- would have created a very different outcome.

I also forgot to maintain an attitude of curiosity. Instead, I jumped to conclusions about the facilitator's intentions.

In the interim, I have thought of a way of tweaking the meeting process so that it will accomplish what the facilitator wants while at the same time addressing my needs. I will suggest it to her before our next meeting.

Interestingly enough, I once again have found myself playing leap frog with another blogger. Yesterday there was an entry entitled Control on the Sensible Living blog. As soon as I saw it, I thought, "Oh, Annie, you've read my mind."

I never promised you a rose garden

Way to go, Michelle Obama!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.

This weekend I watched a couple of thought-provoking films about rivers and water at the Global Film Festival here in Nanaimo. There was some gut wrenching footage, including some of a hydro electric scheme in my own beloved province of British Columbia. Perhaps the scene that haunts me the most, though, is a field of gorgeous yellow roses being irrigated in Kenya while children drink from a filthy cesspool nearby.

I remembered the times I'd ordered flowers for friends. Why? In some cases it was because they had lost a loved one. I wanted them to know that I was sad for them and that I cared about them. All the same, it often was difficult for me to discuss death.
  • It was awkward if I knew that a friend had mixed feelings towards a parent who had just died, for example. I knew, from my own father's death, that you could feel angry about some of the things that your parent had done, but still feel as if you'd been punched in the solar plexus when they died.

  • Perhaps the bereaved person was someone whom I knew through work or business, someone to whom I felt obliged to be polite, but to whom I did not feel close. (This scenario admittedly is one that I do not expect to encounter now that I have embraced what I would call a more authentic lifestyle.)

  • Perhaps I felt guilty for having emigrated and for living far away from the bereaved person.

  • Perhaps I'd experienced the bereaved person as competitive, and wanted to prove that I could send them just as big a vase of flowers as the one they'd sent me (or, better still, an even bigger one).

Well, for any number of reasons, it suited me to order a safe vase of flowers, accompanied by a one-size-fits-all note, "Thinking of you at this difficult time." But, in taking that easy way out, I was killing people in a Third World country.

You may think I'm being melodramatic. You may think it's ridiculous to characterize myself as an axe murderer just because I did something as innocent as buying flowers. But stop and think about it for a moment. Those flowers were using up water and soil that local people otherwise could have used to grow food. In order for the flowers to be unblemished, they would have been sprayed with pesticides. If the Third World farm labourers were typical, they worked in poor conditions, for low wages. The transportation of the flowers from a warm country to Canada used non-renewable fossil fuels and pumped greenhouse gases into the air.

The next friend who loses a loved one is not going to get flowers from me. If they live close to me, I'm going to deliver a homemade casserole to them. If they live far away, I'm going to sit down and write a letter, even if it takes me forever to figure out what to say.

Well, at least one good thing came out of this weekend. I had been struggling to shake my caffeine addiction. But I walked out of those films feeling the same way about coffee as I felt about flowers from distant countries. I never want to touch the stuff with a ten foot barge pole.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Duet in A Major

Yesterday I was inspired by Annie's blog post on Patience. I especially loved the John Ciardi quotation, which was new to me, "Patience is the art of caring slowly."

I reflected on a couple of my endeavours about which I currently was feeling impatient. Annie's blog entry reminded me that, like babies, my projects needed time for gestation. When they came to fruition I would be rewarded very amply for any patience I had invested in them.

But, compelling though Annie's message was, it felt slightly out of focus. It seemed almost -- but not quite -- right. I wondered, "What's wrong with this picture?"

What was bothering me was the recollection that, in many instances, I had been patient. Actually, I had been too patient, for too long. I had endured situations that had felt unacceptable to me. I wondered how to reconcile the need for patience and the need for assertiveness.

After reflecting on this for a while, I realized that unrelenting silence and stillness had not always served me well. Yes, there are times when I do need to wait. But it seems to me that quiet is not a manifestation of true patience if I am stewing inside, and passivity is not a substitute for right action.

That raises the question of what constitutes right action. I'm not sure. I think that, at a minimum, it is action that is informed by respect -- respect for myself, respect for the other person, respect for the situation, respect for our planet.

I love to look up words in the dictionary, find out their roots, and unpack their meanings. Patience comes from a Latin word that means, "to suffer." Respect originates from two Latin words that mean, "to look again."

Being respectful -- looking again -- speaks to me of living in the present moment, letting go of past baggage, looking at the person in front of me with fresh eyes even if I have known them for years, asking myself what the situation is calling on me to do at this moment.

When I want to charge full steam ahead, slowing down and looking again does require patience. It feels to me like suffering.

Recently I have been noticing the importance of opposites. The letters of our alphabet can have meaning only because they are a combination of black squiggles and white spaces. If a sheet of paper was left blank, it would convey no meaning. Conversely, if the entire sheet was painted black, it would convey no more meaning. It is the combination of substance and emptiness that gives writing significance.

Bringing this back to Annie's post, I do not in any way want to suggest that it was “wrong.” In fact, I found it deeply moving. Rather it was that I needed to add another piece in order for it to make sense to me.

Using Annie's message and my own thoughts, I needed to compose a dance -- between Yin and Yang, between sound and silence, between what is and what is not, between action and inaction.

Now that I have done that, I feel at peace.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mrs. Nice Guy

"Uh oh. There are a couple of guys walking towards me. If I'm to maintain my image of myself as a nice person, I'll step to one side and make way from them. But my homework assignment is to practise operating in my least favourite mode. So, this time, I'm going to keep walking and force them to make way for me. Oh my God, I'm a total jerk. Oh, but look at that. They made way for me. Nothing terrible happened."

What was that all about? It was my homework assignment from the second day of my workshop entitled Essential Communication Skills in Conflict at Vancouver Island University. The assignment called on me to practice using my least favourite conflict resolution style, which in my case was competition.

One of the big Ahas I had that day was that there are no good or bad conflict resolution styles. Rather, each one has its uses. Each is helpful in some situations and unhelpful in others.

Each style can be measured by its levels of assertiveness and cooperation. Another big Aha for me was that a conflict resolution style could be highly assertive as well as highly cooperative. My previous thinking had been that assertiveness and cooperation were mutually exclusive.

Here’s a run-down of the styles:

Assertiveness – Low
Cooperation – Low
Behaviour – You do not engage.
Uses – When you are in imminent danger.

Assertiveness – Low
Cooperation – High
Behaviour – You give the other person what they want, and sacrifice what you want.
Uses – When there is little time for discussion, when it’s a one-off situation, and when the outcome is unimportant to you.

Assertiveness - Medium
Cooperation – Medium
Behaviour – Each of you gets some of what you want, and each of you sacrifices some of what you want.
Uses – When attempts at collaboration have failed and there is insufficient time to discuss things further, the best you may be able to achieve is compromise.

Assertiveness – High
Cooperation – Low
Behaviour – You get what you want, and sacrifice nothing.
Uses – In an emergency, when there is little or no time for discussion, someone needs to take charge.

Assertiveness – High
Cooperation – High
Behaviour – Both of you get what you want, and neither of you sacrifices anything.
Uses – If you have the time to pursue it, collaboration produces win-win decisions, to which the stakeholders have a high level of commitment.

Traditionally, my conflict resolution style leant towards avoidance and accommodation. Since I have bought into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community and have been learning about consensus decision making and nonviolent communication, I have grown better at compromise and collaboration. I’m still uncomfortable about being competitive. But watch out –- I’m practising.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice

Today I participated in the first half of a two-day workshop called Essential Communication Skills in Conflict, which was designed by the Justice Institute of British Columbia and delivered at Vancouver Island University here in Nanaimo.

Our instructor encouraged us to choose an anchor word that we would say to ourselves when our emotional buttons were pushed and we felt ourselves getting angry. She said her own anchor was, "Be curious." Although she said we were free to choose different anchors for ourselves, I actually liked hers and decided to stick with it. Approaching a situation with an enquiring mind helps us to avoid being judgemental.

Earlier in the week, I had confronted a friend by saying, "I feel hurt because you did such and such." At the time, I felt proud of myself for raising the topic at all, as it had involved overcoming my reluctance to bring up a difficult subject.

Secondly, I thought I was doing well, because I started out by saying, "I feel ......." But the second part of my sentence -- because you did such and such -- turned it into blame.

Fortunately the conversation went well and the issue was cleared up. I attribute that to my friend's excellent communication skills, which turned the conversation in a positive direction.

I'm still glad I raised the issue. Although my delivery wasn't perfect, at least it was better than allowing my resentment to build. But, with the benefit of some conflict resolution coaching behind me, I now would start out by saying, "I wonder if you could tell me more about such and such, because I didn't know what you meant by doing it, and I'm feeling confused."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Experiment

Yesterday was the day on which I had promised Mog that I would wear earplugs to experience for myself what it was like to be hard of hearing (HOH). The Experiment turned out to be more unpleasant and difficult than I had expected. But, for all that, I’m glad I did it. I discovered things that I believe would have been impossible to learn any other way.

It was disorienting. From The Experiment I discovered that sounds help me to delineate time and space. When I hear the footsteps of the letter carrier on my front path or the children pouring into the schoolyard across the street for recess, it helps me to track the passing of the hours. When I tip my laundry basket out, I expect to hear a “plop” sound when the contents hit the floor. This confirms for me where the room ends. I found it surprisingly disconcerting to be deprived of these clues that I usually take for granted.

It was boring. Sounds provide me with variety, the auditory equivalent of colour, texture and taste. Maybe it’s true that silence is golden. But, for that to be so, there needs to be contrast between silence and not-silence. When there was much more silence than my environment typically provides, and when that silence was sustained for hours, I grew uncomfortable. As the day wore on, my annoyance increased and escalated to downright fury.

As I am typing this post, the day after The Experiment, I have Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik playing in the background. Being able to hear it is beyond delicious. Not being able to listen to music created a far deeper experience of deprivation than I had anticipated.

I was fortunate in that it happened to be a gloriously sunny day with a clear blue sky. From my house, I was able to look out at the greenery, the crocuses and the daffodils in my garden. Had it been a foggy day here at the coast or a brown, late winter day back in Alberta, I would have suffered even more than I did.

It took extra work. Many tasks that I take for granted -- climbing steps, walking through traffic, cooking -- required far more attention than I normally pay them. Multi-tasking was difficult and often impossible. Cooking required total concentration. I didn’t hear the signal that the dryer cycle was finished, so my blouse got creased. To un-crease it, I threw a wet cloth into the dryer, and ran it for a few more minutes. Regularly interrupting what I was doing in order to check on this and that made my day more complicated.

The phone was a pain. I could hear it ringing, albeit more softly than usual. However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear anyone speaking, so I just let the calls roll over to the answering machine. No one left any messages, though. Perhaps all the calls were from telemarketers.

One of the primary reasons for carrying out The Experiment yesterday was that I didn’t have any phone appointments. In selecting a time for The Experiment, I couldn’t find a single day on which it would have been convenient. No matter when I carried out The Experiment, it would have created hassles. But being able to have a phone-free day was a non-negotiable requirement for The Experiment.

It was disappointing. Last night Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of The Upside of Down, was speaking. I had been very excited when I’d heard he was coming to Nanaimo, and had greatly looked forward to attending his talk. I didn’t bother going, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear what he said. Perhaps he would have had a PowerPoint presentation with slides that I could have seen and that would have given me an inkling of the topic. Still, it seemed like a waste of the $10 admission as well as my time, so I gave up on the idea. I was very sorry about that.

It was embarrassing. The biggest challenge I faced was how to handle the weekly meeting of the shareholders of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. We are a development company. We monitor the construction of the apartment complex in which we will live and are working towards the creation of a strata (condominium) corporation. There are many financial, legal and practical issues for us to deal with.

I knew there were a number of important items on the agenda for yesterday afternoon’s meeting. I knew that, to get through that agenda, we would need to be efficient. I knew that, if I participated in my HOH state, it would slow down the meeting and perhaps even grind it to a halt.

It seemed to me that our consensus decision making model also would complicate things. In order for a proposal to be adopted, everyone has to agree with it. But how would I be able to participate in the discussion, to hear other people’s input and provide my own? How would I be able to collect enough information on which to base each vote?

If there had been time to prepare for this, I could have told my fellow cohos about my dilemma, and we could have rigged up something to assist me. But since there was little time to prepare and since it was a one-time occurrence, it seemed too much to ask of my busy fellow cohos.

I was very fortunate in that I knew I was philosophically aligned with my fellow cohos. I knew what was on the agenda. I trusted them to make wise decisions.

I decided that the least harmful course of action would be to stay away from the meeting. In fact the one moment that I cheated during The Experiment was the time that I removed my earplugs and called into the Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community office half an hour ahead of time to say that I wouldn’t attend the meeting.

But it seems to me that this too illustrates something about hearing loss. It must take tremendous guts to belong to organizations and to participate in activities when you know your involvement makes things inconvenient for other people.

Another thing about my fellow cohos was that I trusted them to understand when they found out the unusual reason for my not having been at the meeting. I trusted them to respect my need to march to the beat of my own drummer, even if that involved making a wild and wacky promise to people whom I'd met through the Internet. Since my fellow cohos are committed to inclusiveness, I expect they'll be interested in these findings.

It helps to have friends. In the evening, my Skype friend, who knew I had committed to The Experiment, e-mailed to ask me how my HOH experience was going. I was sitting at home, feeling crappy about skipping the cohousing meeting, disappointed about missing Thomas Homer-Dixon’s talk, and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t hear music.

I e-mailed him back and asked if he would be willing to contact me through Skype. I said I wasn’t sure how it would work. I thought that, if I turned up the volume at my end and if he talked slowly and enunciated his words carefully at his end, we might be able to communicate.

He did call me through Skype, and it did work, albeit I often had to ask him to repeat himself. When his voice was so faint, seeing his face helped. For one thing, it indicated when he was speaking and not speaking. Even that information was useful.

I told him how grim it was to be HOH. I said it was worse than I had appreciated. He asked in what ways it felt bad. I said the lack of the auditory equivalent of colour, texture and taste impoverished me much more than I had expected. I also told him that I'd sacrificed the meeting and the lecture. He said that was all interesting. It felt comforting to have my reality acknowledged.

This morning I woke up to an e-mail from Susana, bless her heart, that updated me on a couple of key decisions that had been taken at the shareholders’ meeting. She did this without even knowing why I hadn’t been at the meeting. I appreciated it enormously that she had taken the trouble to keep me in the loop.

There were a few benefits.

I’m sure that one day of doing The Experiment was worth a whole semester of theoretical learning about hearing loss. I understand the situation of HOH people in ways that I would not have dreamed of.

When my back was up against the wall, I realized how much I trusted my fellow cohos to make prudent decisions.

As difficulty tends to do, the day of The Experiment helped me to identify a couple of exceptional friends.

Skipping Thomas Homer-Dixon’s presentation saved me $10.

When I went grocery shopping in a supermarket, I was spared from the abomination of Muzak.

In closing.......

I want to acknowledge Mog, Marnie (ms toast burner), Sarah (SpeakUp Librarian) and all others who have been enrolled in The Experiment, not for a day but for the rest of your lives.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Vancouver to plant community garden on City Hall lawn

VANCOUVER – Mayor Gregor Robertson announced today that a portion of the City Hall lawn will be converted into a community garden. The idea to grow local food on the grounds of City Hall is the first ‘Quick Start’ recommendation to come from the Greenest City Action Team.

“If we want Vancouver to be a truly sustainable city, City Hall needs to lead the way,” said Mayor Robertson. “By converting part of the City Hall lawn into a community garden, Vancouver is walking the talk when it comes to producing local food.”

I was interested in seeing the above news release in light of yesterday's blog post about food and Ms Toast Burner's and my exchange of comments.

Kudos to the City of Vancouver.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

10 Things We Didn't Know About Food

How the authors of the new Rough Guide to Food lost their appetites for the food industry.

The full review is at TimesOnline.

Don't take any comfort from your location if you're a North American. The authors may be British, but the situation here is no less abysmal.

One of the issues that George Miller and Katharine Reeve raise is the distance that food travels. I have come nowhere close to achieving a 100 Mile Diet. However, since my move to Nanaimo, I have become a lot more conscious of the geography of food.

I buy most of my fresh produce from the climatic zone in which I live (British Columbia and the nearby state of Washington). A moderate amount of my produce comes from the Mediterranean zone of California.

Since I started paying attention to food miles, I have bought no tropical fruits and vegetables. To my astonishment, this has triggered no withdrawal symptoms. Who knew that a banana-free life could be this blissful?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Who would have thought?

One of the things that gives me joy is learning from people who are younger -- way younger -- than I am.

The person who most recently has popped into my life to teach me is Annie.

Our interests initially intersected in the arena of compassioniate / nonviolent communication. She saw a couple of my blog posts on that topic. Then on March 1st 2009 she introduced herself to me at Nanaimo's Seedy Sunday event. I was one of the people hosting an information table about Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. She said she recognized me from the photo on my blog.

Annie's Sensible Living blog is coming in usefully at a time during which I am learning to eat more naturally, to focus on seasonal fruit and vegetables, and so on.

Annie, I am glad to have been introduced to your blog and, better still, to have met you face-to-face.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Community is my delight

In Touching the Void, Joe Simpson described how, when he believed he was dying, the prospect that bothered him the most was that of dying alone. By that point he wasn't even trying to stay alive. But he still was trying to reach other people so that, when he died, he would be with someone. I found that very moving.

We humans seem to have a deep need for connection.

Yesterday I felt discouraged. I did not want to discuss my issue with my local friends, because they were facing the same challenge. I thought it might be more constructive to share my dilemma with someone who wasn't caught up in the drama, so I e-mailed a friend in another city. This morning he called me via Skype, and we had a video conference.

My friend refrained from trying to fix things for me. He just listened. I found it very comforting to be heard. I don't mean that my friend registered the sound waves coming from my voice or that he understood the meanings of the English words I was saying. I mean that he conveyed the impression that he recognized the reality I was experiencing.

The encouragement that I feel following that conversation has caused me to reflect on the meanings of words like courage, encourage, and discourage. Courage comes from coeur, the French word for heart. I believe that, when we display courage, we are enlivened by our core (heart) values. When we encourage another person, we help him or her to tap into those deep resources. Conversely, if we discourage someone, we introduce a barrier that makes it more difficult for him or her to access his or her inner strength.

I believe it takes courage to live. If Joe Simpson's experience is anything to go by, apparently it also takes courage to die. It seems that, in either case, an attentive witness facilitates our communion with our true self.

To me, local relationships are vital. The Internet could not have replicated my experience of dancing with my fellow cohos and our guests last Friday night.

But, with that having been said, technology has created avenues of communication that overcome some physical limitations. The alphabet, the telephone, e-mail, video conferencing, Internet forums, instant messaging, blogs, etc., make it possible for us to share and acknowledge each others' lives across time and distance.

I appreciate community, whatever form it takes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I'm way too important

You may have noticed that one of the blogs featured in my Blog List is you hear some funny things when you are deaf.

In yesterday's post entitled hard of hearing for a purple squishy day Mog reports how she persuaded Inukshuk Rob to find out what it felt like to be hard of hearing by wearing earplugs for a day. To his credit, Rob gave it a try, and then reported his findings.

The thing is, Rob jettisoned the experiment after half a day.

For a moment I thought I would be magnanimous and undertake the experiment myself.

But I quickly ran into a question about online banking, and needed to call the Help line.

Then, after getting that sorted out, I headed off to a church discussion group. Well, it wouldn't do to be hard of hearing (HOH) if I was going to be participating in a small group discussion, would it? Neither would it be convenient to be HOH when the group went on to dinner at a restaurant. Needless to say, it also would have been inconvenient to have been HOH when I invited the gang back to my house after dinner. Finally, it would have been much less fun to have been HOH when Louise and I put on some music and gave the others a demo of the West African dance we had learned from Esther.

After my guests left, I went to bed. I suppose it wouldn't have mattered if I'd been HOH while I slept.

But, shortly after I woke up this morning, my mom phoned from East London, South Africa. That conversation would have been impossible if I'd been HOH.

After speaking with my mom, I walked to a garden fair called Seedy Sunday, where Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community was going to have a display table. As I am wont to do, I took the short cut that involved walking along the railway tracks. But, in order to do that, it's crucial for me to hear trains hooting at level crossings. It warns me to get out of the way when a train is approaching. There is no way I can afford to be HOH when I'm walking along the railway tracks.

Of course, in order to answer people's questions while I was hosting the display table, I needed to be able to hear.

After spending four hours at the Seedy Sunday event, I retraced my steps along the railway tracks. I once again needed my hearing for that, don't you know?

Then Mia, one of my fellow cohos, called to ask me a question. Well, how could I have conversed on the phone with Mia if I'd been HOH?

Jeez, I had important things to accomplish. As long as I was awake, I couldn't afford to be hard of hearing -- not even for an hour.

I'll bet you that's what Mog thinks too.