Jackalope

I became a rabbit:
soft and limber for the arrows—
a leaping, bending prey. My black pearl
eyes blind to my own blood

My breath matched the rhythm:
Nock. Release. Nock. Release.
pacing my heart
to your needs— it was easy.

But the trail of felled victims
tugged at me before sleep:
Here my buried voice, there my buried will.
I was complicit, complacent, completely
certain I could be palatable

No more. I’ve exhumed
and stitched back those shaken parts—
Antler, claw, tongue, and scale.
My will a jagged tusk, my voice a howl

How to Negotiate Boundaries

Sometimes I would rather bend myself into a different species completely, like a rubbery balloon dog, than have to confront anyone. There’s a belief floating in the ether: the more we put up with, the better, nicer, and stronger we are.

But watching our boundaries crumble around us, while others put out metaphorical cigarette butts on everything we hold dear, is a path that can only lead to illness. In When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté proposes that when we repeatedly suppress our experiences and our emotions to placate or protect others, our bodies find ways to express what we’ve buried. This can manifest as physical illness such as fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and even cancer. It can also present as mental health issues such as anxiety and major depression.

Asserting our needs is an essential and healthy part of self-care, just like brushing our teeth, listening to good music, and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. (Okay, maybe that last one’s not for everyone.) The trouble is, establishing and maintaining boundaries requires a good deal of communication, and much of that can seem overwhelmingly difficult. The following are some strategies I’ve found helpful when I need to make my needs known.

1. Give Yourself the Space to Feel Emotions Prior to Speaking 
It is challenging to feel assertive when we’re smoothing away a snot-bubble with a damp sleeve. It is also difficult to keep a conversation on track when we feel like smashing every hideous decorative plate we might see. Therefore, having a gulf of time to breathe, reflect, and really feel the emotions brought about by our conversational partner’s transgressions is essential. Whether it’s acknowledging the hurt caused by a partner repeatedly talking over us, feeling the flush of anger when a relative passive-aggressively judges our appearance, or experiencing the hot shame in the aftermath of a friend admonishing our parenting style, sitting with the discomfort of our emotions now will prepare us for a more productive conversation later. We should always aim to validate our own experiences. By doing this, we will be calmer and more confident when the  talking time comes, and we will experience less confusion about our feelings.

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The space you choose doesn’t need to be your therapist’s couch, but it can be. 

2. Create a Specific Goal
While we can’t predict the outcome of the conversation (we can’t stop anyone from rage-joining the military to spite us), we can prioritize what we want to say. If there is an issue because our partner isn’t spending enough time with us as we’d like, it would be unproductive to bring up that time they said they’d vacuum and then didn’t. In general, we should aim to keep our conversations related to one issue at a time, and we should avoid speaking just to make a point. The other reason to keep our goals clear and narrow, is that it will give the other person less leeway to bring in their own unrelated grievances (“Yeah, but in high school you—”).

Having a specific goal in mind will also save us if our conversational partner happens to have dramatic tendencies. Sometimes, when people get defensive, they throw any kind of soap operatic plot twist to derail the conversation and manipulate us.

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“You can’t call me out! I’ve got knots in my legs! Also, I’m a literal chew toy! From space!

3. Frame Issues from Your Perspective
We can try to guess what our friend was thinking when they showed up at our house at three in the morning, half-cut and with a fever of one-hundred-and-four, but it is best if we simply presume not to know. Trying to label our conversational partner’s feelings for them is futile. Instead, we should frame things by explaining how their actions affect us. Granted, these kinds of statements are squarely in Dr. Phil’s neighbourhood, but he’s not wrong. We can only know ourselves, (and even then, the waters can get fairly murky). Therefore, it is more useful to say, “I feel hurt and embarrassed when you mock my laughter in front of your friends,” than “look, I know you want to seem funny by putting me down, but fuck you sincerely.” (Although that last one can feel damn good to fantasize about.)

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How I frame everything. 

4. Be Clear
That being said, it is important to avoid sugarcoating the issue. If we’re not used to confronting someone about their behaviour, we might be tempted to use diminutive words  to qualify our experiences and make ourselves seem smaller and unimportant. These include words such as “maybe”, “a little bit”, “kind of”, and “a tad”. For instance, saying, “Hey, uh, it sort of bothers me a little when you wipe some of your boogers on some of my furniture sometimes,” sends an ambiguous message, like maybe it’s okay if this person continues to wipe their smallest boogers under your table, as long as you aren’t looking. It’s normal to want to be seen as a nice person, but there will be people out there who will paint any assertion we have as a villainous and evil affront to their way of life. It is therefore better to take the plunge and say what we mean, even if we have to be Senator Palpatine in their mucus-glazed eyes.

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This plant is the only thing as prickly and villainous as I am.

5. Know When to Listen and When to Walk Away
In a healthy exchange, our conversational partner will likely have some valuable feedback. They might explain their reasoning, ask questions, and becoming active in understanding our boundaries. They might negotiate, and this too can be productive, as long as it is done respectfully and with our mutual wellbeing in mind. Conversations like these are challenging and require us to remain calm and open, but they are ultimately conducive to the goal we’ve established. As long as the person is not derailing our experiences by being deflective or defensive, or downright mean, it can be beneficial to us to listen to their side.

However, if our conversational partner makes excuses for their behaviour, speaks aggressively, tries to intimidate us with threats or by breaking stuff, or calls us names, it is time to pack up our little hopes and dreams and get precisely the hell out of their line of fire. Depending on the severity of their reaction, we may choose not to interact with this person again. Sometimes a boundary might mean not interacting with a toxic person at all. This is often easier said than done. For instance, if this person happens to be the joint parent of our children, or our boss, it may be difficult to ignore them. But wherever possible, we should aim to cut toxic people from our lives, because this will enable us to be better friends, partners, parents, and employees in the long run.

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This is precisely where some relationships belong.

6. Know When to Exchange Apologies
By now, we should have had time to reflect upon and understand the situation leading to our difficult conversation. It is important to be honest with ourselves: did we mess up? If so, giving an apology will show good will and demonstrate our willingness to work things out with our conversational partner. But if not? Unnecessary apologies can be every bit as damaging as withholding a warranted “sorry”. In the same way using words like “maybe”, and “just a bit”, can make our statements fall flat, unnecessary apologies will obscure our message. We shouldn’t apologize for someone else’s behaviour, nor should we apologize about having feelings or healthy boundaries. “I’m sorry you think I’m ugly, Grandma, but I wish you wouldn’t make rude comments about me”, is not helpful because it removes Grandma’s responsibility to cop to her shitty behaviour.

We should also note that some apologies are not worth accepting. If our conversational partner says, “I’m sorry, but here’s a string of excuses and also you’re not perfect either, you know”, then we can politely tell them to swallow that sorry because it has less meaning than a bile-filled bubble of a burp. (More politely than that, probably.)

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This isn’t so constructive.

7. Make a Plan
We’ve made it through our main talking points, listened to our conversational partner’s feedback, and exchanged sincere apologies if they were warranted. Now we can ask questions such as, “can we agree not to talk politics at work?” or, “will you keep comments about my parenting to yourself from now on?” This gets closure on the issue, and ensures we have a mutual understanding of our expectations going forward. These closing statements are the last big cringey thing we need to say before we can stop feeling like hack lawyers and get back to the business of maintaining our refurbished boundaries.

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I’ve got my planner ready, now all I need is your continued respect. 

8. Treat Yourself
That was a difficult experience, and if we’re still shaking from the adrenaline of asking for basic respect, we should definitely do something nice for ourselves. This can take the form of a night out with friends, a trip to the movies, or a solid chunk of brown sugar. The important thing is that we feel relaxed and comforted — we stuck up for ourselves and didn’t take anyone’s crap today.

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I often treat myself by looking deep into this silly creature’s eyes. 

When our guts twist and we feel the hot emotions of hurt, it is important that we become aware of our feelings. By acknowledging this, we can become our own best advocates and share our concerns with others in a clear and personal way. This ultimately ensures that we are building relationships with people who genuinely care about our wellbeing.

 

How to Stick to a Weekly $40 Dinner Budget

I live in Canada, and because our dollar is currently sinking in comparison to the US dollar, many of my fellow Canadians are forced to strike the cauliflowers and cucumbers right off their shopping lists. (To say nothing of my dear compatriots who live far north, where a sack of flour can cost as much as $60.)

I suspect, however, that the struggle between affordable and adequate nutrition is something more global. We might abandon fruits and vegetables altogether in order to make room for the centrepiece of our meals: the meat. After all, we need our protein, right? Well, there might be more to it than that.

I’ve made a list of the ways that help keep my weekly dinners under $40. I’ve also recently had my blood tested, and my vitamin and mineral levels, my cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and even my blood pressure have greatly improved since before I started saving money. These are the simple strategies I keep in mind.

1. Make a List and a Plan

Before I head out to grab my week’s worth of groceries, I sit down and make a plan so I don’t overbuy or end up with eight litres of Dr. Pepper. Usually, the process of making this list takes between twenty minutes to half an hour. I sometimes browse the cookbooks I have on hand, but more often than not, I end up on my favourite websites: websites that offer straightforward, healthful, quick, and inexpensive recipes. Some of my favourites include Oh She GlowsThe Post Punk KitchenThug Kitchen (warning for casual swearing), Vegan Sandra, and Happy Herbivore. Between these websites alone, there are hundreds of uncomplicated, tasty recipes that ask for easy-to-find ingredients.

A typical week of meals for me might include a combination of a stir fry with edamame beans (soy beans), a tomato pasta dish, a hearty soup, roasted vegetables and rice, or chilli. I usually start by cooking the stir fry, pastas, and roast veggies types of dishes first, so I can use all of the leftover vegetables in my soup. And this is simple: I toss the half onion, the almost-limp celery, a carrot, a potato or a yam, and literally whatever other veggie I have on hand into a pot of water with some dried red lentils. I turn the heat to medium-high and forget about it for half an hour.

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The gang’s all here.

2. Forget Pre-Packaged Foods

Am I the only one who spent my adolescence eating whole boxes of Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese, only to flip the blue box over and discover that I was supposedly eating four portions of the stuff? There was something notoriously un-filling about it. And this seems to be the case with many pre-packaged fares. Those frozen Hungry Man dinners left me feeling paradoxically hungry and sluggish. And this isn’t to shame anyone who consumes these foods. Sometimes it really is the best option available, and that’s okay. But often, we find ourselves getting in a rut, buying the same lacklustre (expensive) products every week  simply out of habit, unaware that making a change could be so easy.

If it’s an issue of convenience, zapping something in the microwave for ten minutes seems like an adequate solution. But those frozen dinners add up in cost. Buying a bag of dried lentils or split peas (which contain a vast amount of protein, by the way), and some vegetables will last a lot longer, and will take about twenty minutes more to prepare. They will also potentially provide you with more energy, instead of delivering that sluggish feeling that makes one want to collide with the nearest armchair.

The environmental aspect is also hard to ignore. All of that pre-packaged food has, well, so much packaging. The apartment I’m living in doesn’t have a compost or a recycling area, so we need either to sneak our recycling to other places, or be very mindful of the trash we produce.

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I like food that comes with its own packaging.

3. Cook in Batches

My partner, Matt, always makes fun of me because I cook as if I’m feeding the whole town. I think it’s hereditary. My dad does the same, even when he only had to feed me and my sister. But his mom had eight kids, so she really did have to cook for a small village. As it turns out, this isn’t a bad reflex to have.

I give myself some much-needed days off kitchen duty by cooking in batches and eating the leftovers the next day. This way, I only cook about four meals all week, but we have healthy food every day. Since each meal takes roughly half an hour to prepare, this means I only spend about 2 hours per week, or 1% of my week, cooking. This leaves me plenty of time to ponder my existential dread.

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I swear these beans are magic.

4. Be Sale Savvy 

I’m not talking about extreme coupon-ing here, because what better way to negate all of the time we’ve just saved in the kitchen? This is just about taking notice of what might be on sale in your particular grocery stores. It also helps if you can extort a relative who works in a grocery store to tell you about upcoming deals. (Just kidding, my sister works in a local chain and she basically boasts about the crazy sales coming up. She once showed up with six cartons of coconut ice cream on sale for $3.99. If you know someone in grocery, you’ll know about the deals.)

Another option is to sign up for community food boxes. These programs run under different names, but for me, both here and in Montreal, it was called The Good Food Box (or Bonne Boîte, Bonne Bouffe, to be bilingual). This is basically a program that requires a payment between $7 to $16, either bi-weekly or monthly, for fresh, usually local produce. I’ve gotten lettuce, onions, potatoes, bananas, grapes, carrots, leeks, squash, beets, and more in my boxes. It’s a good way to overcome food deserts, where the nearest grocery store might be inconveniently far away.

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The downside: food boxes don’t get delivered. 

5. Forget the Meat and Dairy

Oh, yeah. You may have noticed something missing in this list. All of this talk of vegetables, beans, and lentils took the focus away from those extra-lean chicken breasts. Well, to be honest, I find meat and dairy to be the most costly aspects of any meal. I’ve mentioned my partner, Matt, before. (He’s the one who makes fun of me for my massive-scale cooking operations, remember?) Matt loves his chicken wings, his buddy burgers, and his nachos. And he still eats these things sometimes. (Hey, I’m not the boss of anyone.) But even he has been impressed by how much money we save when we drop those chicken breasts, the bricks of cheese, the containers of yogurt, the steaks, and the ground beef from our shopping list. And according to him, the food I make without these things still tastes good. (Go ahead and ask him to be sure, though. There is the off chance he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.)

“But what about the protein?” is the question I most often hear when people discover I don’t eat meat or dairy. Luckily, in reality our foods aren’t divided by macro-nutrients. That is to say, if we eat whole foods, we don’t really have one thing that’s just carbs, one thing that’s just fats, and one thing that’s just protein. Whole foods contain a mix of everything. For instance, brown rice gives a lot of carbs and a lot of protein. Even steak will give us plenty of fat with that helping of protein (not to mention cholesterol). Oh, and speaking of cholesterol, plant-based foods don’t have any. You’ll only ever find cholesterol in foods that contain something from an animal. You can gorge yourself on chilli and rice and never eat a bit of cholesterol. So by eating a varied diet filled with different nuts, grains, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, we can get all of the protein we need. It’s a good way of getting our greens both on our plates and in our wallets.

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I like my animals for cuddling purposes, anyway.

If you have any questions eating plant-based foods, making the switch to plant-based foods, or thoughts about how to save money on groceries, feel free to leave a comment, or contact me by email at dualmindguides@gmail.com. Happy eating.

 

Being Alone

Where is your loneliness?

Not in the the perilous drama of a shipwreck—
drifting beyond deserted shores
Not in the cautious intent of space travel—
forever orbiting towards a sunrise

It’s in the cheap insulation of apartment walls,
the neighbours whose names you don’t know,
the checkmark in ✓Seen 11:45 pm, the sheepish
trips to the liquor store, the diplomatic voice
of a clerk asking for the money you owe

It’s in the stillness of highways before dawn,
the silence at the end of a book, the burst of wind
from slamming doors, and the knowing, that after everything
they’re gone.
It’s in your chest cavity, aching and ashamed

Feel that hot electric pang and build
that pain a cradle—give it a name
nurse it from fledgling flame to full-blown fire
let it radiate
Sooner or later, it will fade

Then the glow of coals will warm you
until you can reach out again: call a friend, get coffee,
paint, tell a joke, smile at strangers

We’re at our happiest when we risk another burn

How to be Alone

For many of us, the difference between isolation and solitude is more than a simple matter of semantics. Solitude is often a choice — the peaceful walk in the woods, or the quiet morning meditation. It’s Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which he builds a cabin near a lake and proceeds to live there for two years and two months. Solitude is that treasured time we take alone to reflect and learn about ourselves.

Isolation, meanwhile, is often thrust upon us, and research shows that it can actually be physically painful to experience. (This explains why “not fitting in” in high school was such a wretched experience.) Human beings are social creatures who depend on connection. We need to understand and to feel understood. Due to different circumstances, however, we may not always have the amount of human interaction we need. While living like this is not ideal (in fact, social isolation can lead to mental illness and premature death), there are ways to minimize the suffering we feel, should we find ourselves in an isolating situation.

1. Reach out However you can
It is somewhat fashionable to bemoan the advent of social media and online video games as the End of Real Human Interaction™. Political cartoons and satirical websites are rife with images depicting couples at dinner glued to their phones, or children swiping away their childhoods on the touch-screen du jour. While the debate on whether and when to unplug certainly has merit, we should be cautious not to glorify too much the “good old days” where we had to show up at a friend’s doorstep in order to share the latest gossip. (Some things never change.)

For those of us in difficult geographical circumstances (all of us astronauts, for instance), and those of us with physical or mental disabilities, being able to plug into online communities brings about some relief. For example, because of my ongoing battle with depression, it’s not always possible for me to get dressed and zip over to my much-beloved friends’ houses. When simply getting out of bed presents a challenge, I’m grateful to be able to chat and even laugh with a friend on social media.

In large, anonymous cities in which we hitch a ride on a subway with strangers, sit at a desk for eight hours, and come home to an empty apartment, we may also find some respite in our Twitter feeds.

Ideally, we would all hang out and hug and talk about Star Wars in person, but sometimes we are presented with less-than-ideal circumstances. My point is, don’t let purists talk you out of opportunities to connect. If it’s all you can do right now, pick up that phone and ‘like’ your friend’s picture. You’ll feel better.

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Like this plastic tree limb, branch out. 

2. Keep Busy
When we think of survival movies, we’re often presented with characters who use their time in isolating situations to make and reach goals. A recent example of this can be seen in the book-turned-movie, The Martian, in which an astronaut left behind on Mars gets really busy doing math and planting potatoes.

In real life, CBC News journalist Melissa Fung was abducted in Afghanistan in 2008. She was kept in a hole underground and watched by her captors, whom, obviously, could not have been the best company. To survive this ordeal, Fung made plans about her future. She planned a dinner party, she planned what she would do when she got back to Canada.

Moments of isolation require us to make plans and keep busy as much as we can. With mental illness, this can be a real challenge: how do you make goals when you have no motivation? It’s hard, but everyones’ goals will be different. If all we can do is shower and make breakfast, then we can start there. Circumstances are always changing; what is challenging today might not be as difficult tomorrow.

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The busiest guy in my house.

3. Watch Movies, Read Books, Listen to Music
Speaking of keeping busy, getting a start on that “books-to-read” list is a great way of going about this. While some might argue that books, movies, and music simply present ways of numbing the pain of isolation by offering distractions, there’s likely more to it than that.

When a movie makes us cheer for the protagonists, a book presents us with characters so real they feel like friends, or a song makes us shaky-shoulder sob (I’m looking at you, Adele), we’re experiencing the emotions we feel when we have a human interaction. The magic of art, is that we get to find those kindred spirits and as a result, we feel less alone. As a teenager, during my most painfully lonely time (and, I suspect, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way), I found solace in songs about misfits and books and movies, like Ghost World, about strange girls who skip town. So find the art that speaks to your soul, and hit repeat.

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What better reason to read comics?

4. Make Non-Human Friends
A few weeks ago, I was waiting for the bus in my hometown (trivia: I don’t drive), and a woman in a hot pink toque with a shopping cart full of Walmart bags sat beside me and started up a conversation, as friendly people waiting for buses in smallish towns sometimes do. The conversation was standard post-holiday small talk, until we somehow veered onto the subject of her guinea pigs. She informed me on the multi-generational commune of guinea pigs she took care of. Their cage, apparently, took over half of her living room. She was able to train them — one of them earned a certificate because he could literally jump through hoops. Lady, if you’re out there, I would love to see a video.

Peoples’ eyes light up when they talk about their pets. This isn’t surprising, when we consider that the chemicals we release when we hug a loved one or, in fact, give birth, the same ones we release when cuddling up to our pets. That dose of fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good cocktail can be therapeutic when we feel alone.

And when buying and caring for a traditional pet isn’t an option, we can always get creative. Plants, apart from decorating a room and purifying the air we breathe, can also give us the feeling we crave in a symbiotic relationship. Caring for a plant and watching it grow just feels good.

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Seen here: my humiliated Spaniel and my smirking sister.

5. Enjoy your own Company
Let’s cut to the core of it: this won’t be easy if we’re constantly berating ourselves about not being _____ enough. Who wants to spend time with an asshole who won’t shut up about our weight, our lack of productivity, our undesirability, and our giggle-snorts?

Self-acceptance takes time and practice. We have to gently retrain our minds, like so many cute puppies peeing on the carpet, to speak to ourselves the way we would speak to a loved one. But it’s a practice that’s well worth the effort. When we’re able to hang out in our own heads without criticism and instead with encouraging thoughts and rational suggestions for improvement, we edge closer from the pain of isolation to the peace of solitude. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can decide to cut ourselves a break and say something nice for a change.

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Fear not the gratuitous selfies. 

If you’re feeling isolated right now, take heed: you’re not alone, and this situation won’t last forever. If you can, reach out to someone— however you can muster it. Make plans for your future. Find friends in books, movies, music, and meet some friendly plants and animals. Above all, treat yourself like the worthy and worthwhile person that you are.

How To Improve Your Vocabulary

Words have the potential to be powerful—they can end relationships, profess love, and even save lives. Finding the right words for the task can be tricky, especially when we want people to respect us. Let me say this: I don’t think we should respect the person who says i luv u instead of I love you any less. There’s a tendency to be elitist when it comes to vocabulary, as if it’s the indication of a person’s intelligence. (It isn’t.) To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with using slang and “simple” words in conversation or in writing. In fact, simpler words often create clearer meaning.

When we deviate and try to pepper our speech with synonyms and euphemisms, we create a vague sort of doublespeak. This, for instance, is the intention in many political and marketing campaigns. Writer, teacher, and editor William Zinsser points out a doozy of an example in his book, On Writing Well. He quotes Caspar Weinberger, a U.S. Defence Secretary in 1984, during a Polish crisis, “There’s continuing ground for serious concern and the situation remains serious. The longer it remains serious, the more ground there is for serious concern.”

What the hell does that mean? One thing’s for sure: it sounds serious. This example illustrates how improving one’s vocabulary isn’t just about embarking on a search for the flashiest words, but rather, it’s about collecting words and knowing when to deploy them. Here’s a few tips on how to do that.

1. Read More
My sister is allergic to books. Not really, but she’s only ever finished one book in her life. (She would hurt me if I divulged which one.) However, she still has a good vocabulary. (As a bodybuilder, she knows a lot of words in the realm of nutrition and “gains” that I haven’t picked up on.) Although her tough image might suffer from me saying so, I believe she does quite a bit of reading. Any one of us with wifi and access to articles online probably reads more than we realize. The trick, however, is to vary our sources of consumption. If we’re exposed to the same clickbait articles using the same buzzwords, chances are we’re not going to learn much about language. And that’s fine, that doesn’t have to be our priority. But if we want to improve our vocabulary, we have to extend beyond what’s trending. Reading a variety of different blogs on a variety of different subjects is a great way to begin. Why not learn about new medical advances or scientific research? However, (and I may be biased), I believe one of the best ways to improve our vocabulary is through reading poetry. Here we can see words working in unpredictable ways. A good poet will steer readers away from clichés and predictable phrases. Go check out some poetry, I promise I won’t judge… even if you are a bodybuilder.

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My diverse sources are these adorable books.

2. Keep a List of Words you Love
Since the best way to learn anything is through practice, seeing new words repeatedly is a good way to assimilate them in that brain matter. We can do this by creating a list of words that we like or that we want to learn. Author David Foster Wallace was known for his eccentric vocabulary and his long, winding sentences, (he wrote Infinite Jest, which holds a massive 1080 pages). Wallace kept a list of words he loved, including nidifugous, ordurous, and apophasis. (My own list of words is a little less ambitious.) By curating these words, the list becomes a sort of museum we can visit and over time we can glean words for use in conversation and in writing. If nothing else, the words we choose may end up telling us something about ourselves.

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David Foster Wallace’s behemoth beside a live Canadian kangaroo for scale.

3. Explore Another Language
This seems counterintuitive. Why should we check out another language when we’re trying to master this one? Well, if the words we’re trying to learn are in English, then there are a lot of languages that can offer us some insight. Any latin-derived language such as Spanish, French, and Italian will provide us with interesting links to those latinate words such as animal, malevolence, and immortal. Looking into greek roots can also provide us with knowledge. The greek suffixes and prefixes will give us clues when we run into unknown words. For instance, the word autograph contains the suffix auto-, meaning self, and the prefix -graph, meaning written. We can ascertain the meaning of the word this way.

We can really geek out with words in this way. (There’s no shame about it). Every word has a story, after all. This is the etymology, and knowing the story of the word can help knowing when to use it. I like the word garbage for instance, which comes from the older word garbagye, referring to organ meats. In Cupboard Love, Mark Morton says, “it was not uncommon for a housewife to serve her family a supper of garbage, a meal they would devour with relish.”

He goes on to say, “one of the officers in the British Royal Kitchen—specifically the one in charge of preparing the chicken carcasses—was honoured with the title of Seargent Garbager.”

What an honour indeed.

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“Sergeant Garbager reporting for duty, Sir.”

4. Use Words Correctly
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who decides to say pontificate or lecherous every five minutes? Sometimes our enthusiasm for picking up new words can push us to use those words far more often than required, and within inappropriate contexts. We see this often in mainstream media. For instance, many news outlets and politicians used the word “de-escalate” when referring to the crisis in Ukraine in 2014. “We must de-escalate the circumstances in Ukraine.” But it has become such a buzzword that it lacks meaning.

We face another issue particularly if we are in a context in which we’re oppressed (by this I mean people of colour, women, people of size, people with disabilities, etc., depending on the circumstances). We might temper our words with “I think” and “it seems”, or “it looks as though” in order to distance ourselves from having an authoritative voice which could offend the person in power. (It’s not exactly easy to roll up to your boss and say “What the hell do you even mean when you say ‘team building’?”)  In fact, journalist Malcolm Gladwell finds evidence of this issue in his book, Outliers, in which he offers an explanation on why a Korean airline had more planes crash than almost any other airline in the 1990s. (They have a good record now, so no worries.)  The reason, he postulated, was because culturally, Korean co-pilots had to show respect to the senior pilot. So instead of saying “hey asshole, we’re gonna crash right into that mountain if you don’t circle back now,” they would temper their statements by saying something like, “wow, the weather isn’t very good…” The airline in question had to train their co-pilots to speak assertively.

We must do the same. Once we find the right words, we have to use them with confidence. Words, after all, only have the potential to be powerful. We have to wield them.

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Be bold and branch out.

Hopefully you feel confident to find new words and chew them up. And to my sister, if you’ve read this far, good job: you’ve made some mad literary gains.

 

 

How to Stop Procrastinating

It’s not even that we don’t want to do it. Sometimes the things we procrastinate are actually kind of enjoyable—once we get going, that is. Regardless, we’re all faced with tasks that feel like a chore, and they’re somehow able to make us incredibly productive in other areas. Isn’t it strange how past-due paperwork can spur a deep clean of the kitchen? And the reverse can also happen, where the stack of dishes becomes the harbinger of brilliant creative projects. The following is a list of tips to try to clear the clutter and get to the task at hand.

1. Make Yourself  a List
To-do lists are a particularly wonderful tool for those of us prone to anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed and overloaded. They provide us with a way to compartmentalize our tasks, so that we can stop swimming in a great soup of stuff, and start seeing a nice, linear outline. They work for pretty much any sort of task.
For instance, household chores are easy to scribble down and stick on the fridge. But even our long-term, more complex goals can be broken down into a series of steps. Those big where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years questions can be tracked in a journal of neat lists. The key is to break them down into palatable portions. (Sort of like tearing up bits of lettuce to prevent a leafy green overdose.) Recently, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the experience was rife with the opportunity to procrastinate. The idea of writing a novel of at least 50 000 words, complete with plot, characters, and of course, legible sentences, was so daunting that I questioned my ability to get it done.However, as soon as I had a list complete with daily quotas and targets, I found it much easier to get to work.

How can you break your tasks up? To which tasks do you give priority? It can also be helpful to include rewards at this point. Likely, crossing items from a to-do list will provide a little dopamine rush from your brain’s pleasure centre, but if you’re really struggling with something, make sure you treat yourself afterwards.

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How will I manage to get through all six tasks?

2. Clear up your Environment
Even the most prolific among us would struggle to get stuff done in a place with too much stimuli, but that doesn’t mean we all have the same ideal work environment. Some of us crave the minimalist room with a simple desk and chair, and some of us need the espresso-and-Michael-Bubblé background sounds of coffee shops to get in our zone. It’s good to be flexible: we can’t always work in our ideal spaces, and we can’t allow that to inhibit our work flow. (But wouldn’t we love to use that as an excuse sometimes?)

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of putting on the right soundtrack. Personally, I’m a fan of ambient music and instrumental tracks when I need to focus. That way, I don’t get sidetracked by provocative lyrics. (And I’m less prone to chair-dancing.)

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Meet me on the dance floor!

3. Do your Creativity Ritual
If it feels wrong to get to work without a hot cup of coffee or a protein shake, then by all means, bottoms up! Being productive is not about deprivation, after all—no need to flagellate oneself when the task at hand already feels like torture.

If anxiety is the issue (and with procrastination, it often is), then get some air. It’s perfectly fine to get a stroll in, as long as the stroll doesn’t become a cross-country attempt to escape the impending deadline. More tips on getting a creativity ritual can be found here.

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My ritual is to play every single game my boyfriend owns before I can work.

4. Try Some Different Methods
I have a friend who uses a wonderful strategy to get her work done. She sets a timer and works hard for 25 minutes, and then takes a 5 minute break to check her emails and give her brain a rest. This technique is one among many others, all of which suggest different ratios of work and rest. (Some call for 90 minutes of work with a 15 minute break, and of course, there is the classic schedule that retail workers are familiar with in which two 15 minute breaks and one half-hour break pepper their 8 hour work day.) The idea is that we may be less prone to burning out, particularly on tasks which we’re not passionate about, if we give our brains and bodies time to rest.

On the other hand, it’s nice to give ourselves the opportunity to get into that strange feeling of “flow” — that feeling where time ceases to exist because we’re so enveloped in the task at hand. There could be a garden-gnome rebellion in full swing, and we wouldn’t even lift our heads.

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Oh, I know you aren’t so innocent.

5. Don’t Make Excuses
I apologize sincerely for making this point, because as a fellow procrastinator, I know it’s not something we like to hear. After all, these are the words that every nagging person has ever uttered in our presence, and they’re almost always the words we tell ourselves deep in the recesses of our critical minds.

But alas, sometimes we just need to get ‘er done. Start small or start big, but start somewhere.

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Take a deep breath and get it done. I believe in you.

How To Survive Depression

(I would like to start with two quick disclaimers. The first: if you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts and you’re reading this, take a moment and reach out for help. Call 1-800-SUICIDE, visit suicide.org for a list of International hotlines, or call 911. You are worth it, they do have time for you, and I will be waiting here when you get back. Second disclaimer: the advice in this guide is based upon my own knowledge and experiences, and I am not a certified health professional. Okay, here we go.)

What is the image that comes to mind when one thinks of the word ‘Depression’? It is often characterized as a void, as darkness, the downward spiral, a veil, and a black cloud. Winston Churchill described his own depression as a black dog. Personally, when my depression is milder, I picture it as shapeless body sitting heavy on my shoulders. When I’m falling into a deeper depression, the image of tumbling down a rabbit hole à la Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, in which I am clawing at clods of dirt to stop the seemingly inevitable plunge towards an unknown bottom. Finally, in the deepest recesses of my experienced depression, I am in another dimension, separate from those I love. Though we may sit together in the same living room, I am trapped neck-down in a swamp of tar, elsewhere.

All this is to say that ‘depression’ is actually quite a broad term that encompasses a variety of different states. One may experience depression as part of the grieving process following the death of a loved one, or in the aftermath of a life-altering event. Just as often, others experience depression for no apparent “reason”, which is why the question “why are you depressed?” so often cannot yield a satisfactory answer. The following tips are applicable to all levels and types of depression, however, the effectiveness may vary by person, state of mind, and circumstance. Also note that surviving depression is an ongoing effort for many people, myself included, but that’s not to say there won’t be those transcendental moments replete with meaning that gives life its lovely sheen. We’re never permanently condemned to a single state of mind, or, phrased in another way: This too shall pass.

1. Get your Basics Covered 
Unless we’re living in circumstances in which we have little or no control over resources, it’s crucial to eat, drink, and sleep. Sounds obvious, right? But with depression, these basic human needs can me sometimes hard to acknowledge, let alone act upon. Eating often requires cooking meals, which sometimes requires more effort than we can muster. When possible, we can call on friends and family to help in this task. If we’re living alone, it’s okay to resort to simple meals. While the adequate intake of food groups and vitamins can go a long ways towards feeling better, sometimes we go through phases in which pasta and tomato sauce is all we can come up with. That’s okay. This state of mind is not a permanent one; they never are. For fluids, water is of course, important. I often forget to consume an adequate amount, so I’ve taken to bringing a cup or bottle with me wherever I go. Finally, sleep can be tricky in that with depression, it’s easy to get too much or too little, and sometimes, paradoxically, both. Personally, I am prone to ruminating throughout the night, and if I’m not careful, I can sleep away the day. To quell the brain-chatter that keeps me awake, I’ve found it useful to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep. You can access free audiobooks of classic literature in the public domain. And if you need that midday nap, go ahead and take it. You aren’t hurting anybody.

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Not my finest culinary moment.

2. Never be Afraid to Get Help
This is such a crucial step, and it is also one of the hardest to take. Why? Perhaps we live in a society that still values certain stoicism, especially in the workplace. We still equate the need for help as a weakness, especially those of us wrestling with concepts of strength and masculinity. Furthermore, depression has a sneaky way of sapping our self esteem. Why should a therapist or doctor care about my problems when someone else may have it far worse? We may ask ourselves these types of questions, convincing ourselves that our problems, and our lives are not worth seeking help for. These are false beliefs. I know this for a few reasons: the first is that if someone came to me and confided their feelings of depression, I would absolutely be inclined to help in whatever way I could, regardless if this person was a stranger or a friend. I believe most people want to help others. The other reason, is that I’ve called suicide hotlines several times, and each time I have been greeted with kindness and support. I’ve talked with doctors and therapists who have also been helpful. And it’s not because my problems are more worthy than anyone else’s, that’s just what the professionals are there for.
If a doctor prescribes a medication to alleviate symptoms of depression, listen to their expertise. Medications can be a valuable asset in getting better. The only thing to watch out for is self-medication, or medications recommended by people who are not professionals, or who have no scientific merit. By this I mean not following the dosages correctly, using street drugs and excess alcohol, and also buying into “snake oils” that haven’t been tested or proven.

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Before you make any calls, it might be necessary to google how these suckers work.

3. Acknowledge What is Co-Occuring
When depression throws itself a party, complete with black balloons and a sludgy cake, it makes sure the guest list is a long one. So it’s actually quite common to have depression and something else. For instance, one could have depression with another mental illness, such as anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder, to name a few. Likewise, depression can manifest itself as a buddy to all sorts of physical disabilities as well. Having awareness about some of these issues will help in the process of healing and of establishing ones’ needs. This will also help family and friends, because when we are able to understand what we need, we are in a better position to ask for it. As an example, my depression is best friends with my anxiety, and this sometimes manifests in a panic attack. Because I know about the underlying anxiety, I can ask my family to tell me exactly what I need to hear. Sometimes it’s just getting a different perspective that can alleviate anxiety, which in turn slightly lessens the burden of depression.

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Pictured: me in full panic mode.

4. Exercise if Possible
I say “if possible”, because sometimes due to physical or emotional conditions, it isn’t. There’s no denying the wealth of information supporting exercise as an effective therapy in dealing with depression, even if it’s light stretching and a walk around the block. Whenever possible, physical activity should be considered, but if it can’t be managed for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up. The last thing a person with depression needs is another reason to feel bad and/or guilty. Again, this state of mind is not forever. If one can’t do yoga today, one can try to do it tomorrow.

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I’m fairly certain that gardening plastic plants isn’t exercise.

5. Be Gentle
While there is usually little harm in pushing oneself to make that soup or take that walk, it’s important to acknowledge that our condition does affect us in certain ways. For instance, we may not be able to complete activities or assignments at the same pace as classmates or coworkers. We may not go to as many social gatherings, or we may not stay out as long. This is okay, there is no rule that says one must function at 110% capacity in spite of depression. Taking longer than others to complete a task does not make us less talented or less capable. (Also, I suspect that everyone kind of goes at their own pace, whether they’re willing to admit it or not.) Use kind words and encourage yourself, rather than resorting to verbal beatings. Your health and wellbeing is what matters most.

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Treat yourself as you would treat this little guy.

6. Find Meaning in Whatever Ways you can
Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl pioneered a movement in psychology which underlines the importance of finding purpose in our lives. This incredible man survived German concentration camps during WWII by plotting and planning his future, and thinking about his love for his wife. We humans can survive the most arduous times, and Frankl suggests that we do this by finding the concrete meaning of our lives.
This is no easy task when one is depressed however. We tend to lose all sense of perspective. We ruminate on the past, we dread the future (what if it’s more of the same?), we ache in the present. And yet, it’s possible, even in our darkest moments of suffering, to cling to our purpose. It doesn’t have to be grandiose; we may not have the energy to imagine a glittering future full of accomplishments and accolades. But maybe there’s the person we love deeply and want to spare of the suffering they would undergo if we left them. Maybe we have an animal friend in our care who relies on us. Maybe there’s that story we need to tell, or a person we need to help. Maybe it’s a pervasive curiosity to find out what happens next. All reasons to survive are good reasons. We can adapt and change them as we go, because our conditions and circumstances will change as well. For more tips and ideas, visit the post on How to Create Meaning. 

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Your purpose could be to solve this damn thing for me. 

These tips are the things that have helped me survive my depression. It’s not been easy, and I have wanted more than once to give everything up, but I’ve also had many spectacular moments in the midst of everything. My hope is that, if you feel depressed and are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you will find that acorn of courage and strength we all possess inside and reach out. You are and always will be worthy of survival.

 

 

 

Dining with Bigotry

Do you dread family dinners?
Does it make your jaw
clench, when someone passes potatoes
mid-bigoted-sentence?

What’s there to do when a relative spews
a gravyboat worth of hate
against certain immigrants?

Is it worth the dry turkey
to sit there ashamed, while your great aunt
blabbers on about homosexual campaigns?

Sure, you can offer your well-researched facts.
You might even do so with saint-like
tact. But if all else fails, feel free to leave:
Critical thought will provide more peace
of mind than would grudgingly passing the peas.