Monthly Archives: December 2013

Rehearse the good stories

Turns out memories are not static, they change as we re-tell them and we re-feel them too. So I decided to start choosing which stories I focus on. I decided to tell the ones that show people’s good side because I had started doing this for myself.

I choose to tell funny stories or that story about how nice you were, the time you rose to the occaision, the first time I saw you smile. It helps me cultivate a generosity of spirit, it helps me extend the benefit of the doubt to you and even muster up enthusiasm for the very odd things the wonderfully quirky people in my life do.

I have dropped the deadweight so now I don’t have to tell as many stories about people being awful. I still speak out to end violence against women, name racism and oppression but this is not the realm of our chat today. This is about the family you choose to surround yourself with, the people you love and the lost art of story telling.

’tis the season of coming together, the kids are home from school and you are apt to see a lot of your extended family of choice this season. I want you to try the following. Over the next few days look for the moments that make great stories about the people you love then tell them to other people.

Yes, your drunk uncle passed out on the chesterfield at noon. This is a boring story. He does that every year, no one is surprised, it’s not funny ad you missed the bit where taught your kid to play the spoons last night. That’s why you invited him, right?

Forgive people the stupid little annoyances, don’t tell those stories until they become “A Big Deal” and everyone is mad. Extend them the benefit of the doubt. Yes, Taunty Nat did drink too much wine back in 2002 on New Year’s Eve (and in 2011…) but if you are still telling that story in 2014 you may have missed that she’s a bit nicer than she used to be.

Don’t regale people with the fact that your beloved is a pain in your ass, tell them about the moment at 3am when you had the best chat in years simply because both of you couldn’t sleep. Tell the story about how you and your cousin used to play Frogger until your thumbs cramped and when you played with your son last night those great memories came flooding back.

So, go on, go find the great stories. Rehearse them and tell them until your friends beg you to stop bragging what a great holiday you had. They really don’t mind.

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Drop the deadweight

You’ve extended the tentacle of friendship to new and exciting people, you are trying new things and smiling. You are probably only 70% asshole now and there is something holding you back, your asshole friends. It’s time to do a friend audit and decide who is bringing you down. I’m serious. Are you maintaining the friendship out of obligation? So you truly think this person is a jerk? Drop them like a hot potatoe. Your life is filling up with great people who bring out the best in you so attrition may take care of most of that. It never hurts to be mindful.

There’s another challenge that’s even harder than letting bad friendships fade, admitting some friends you keep around to be your emotional punching bag. Worse yet, they are so poorly behaved they make your antics look better. Yikes.

I had a friend admit recently to keeping a person on their fiends list just to call them on their bullshit because it was entertaining. I love my friend but…danger Will Robinson…Danger! These are the kinds of things that increase your asshole quotient.

So drop the deadweight, I do it with a facebook and phone cull every year. Turns out the worst folks never even notice.

I’m angry and I’m ok

Something I’ve learned on the way to being a nicer person is that feelings are ok. That sounds ridiculous but it was a huge insight for me. Somewhere along the way in my life I told myself feelings were dangerous, that they were a sign I was out of control, so I stuffed them down, way down, where no one would get hurt.

Turns out you really can’t do that for too long or you get angry for seemingly no reason or feel incredibly weighed down which leads you to become a world class asshole. Granted, you can be a charming, witty and funny asshole but all those pushed down feelings can bubble up. For me it was a mean streak  and I’d spew sarcastic half-truths to laugh at others’ expense. I’m embarrassed at how mean I was and it wasn’t until I finally started addressing my ongoing depression that I saw clearly the kind of person I was.

I tried all kinds of therapy and medication but nothing seemed to get at the root issue until I had sessions with a psychiatrist. He did guided visualizations and we realized I could intellectualize everything but I didn’t FEEL anything. I was totally cut off. Any feeling was only a knot in my stomach.

It took a long time to get at my anger, now it’s wonderfully available to me at anytime. My anger lets me know something has to change and while I can’t control my feelings, they really just arrive on their own, I can understand the causes and control my actions because in the end, it’s what we do that hurts people, not what we feel.

I also learned that once the build up of all those years of anger bled off my anger was less scary. Even better, once that old anger was dealt with other awesome feelings started flooding in, like love and gratitude and joy. Turns out I’m way less likely to be my old asshole self if I hug my kids and feel the love beaming out of me.

Speaking of my kids, they have taught me that I can be angry and ok at the same time. It’s very empowering to speak your true feelings and know that you are ok. It also teaches my kids that it’s not the feelings but what you do about them that matters. Be angry, take a breath, some space, some time and think things through, after all, anger just shows you give a shit about something and that is pretty cool.

Try something weird 3 times

I’m talking about moving outside your comfort zone. My college roommate Renée always said to try things 3 times. She figured the first time trying something new was too intense you couldn’t really make a decision on it so you had to do it a second time. If you got conflicting results a third try would settle the deal, by the third try you could confidently decide whether or not you liked this weird thing.

Sushi was like that for me. The first time I ate sushi the flavours and textures were so new I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. So I went back 2 more times and I can confidently say not only sushi but all kinds of Japanese cuisine is amazing. Tempura? Yes please. Pan fried dumplings? Yum! Udon soup? Sling some slurpy noodle awesomeness my way because it is great.

Sometimes it’s hard to try new or what may be at first, weird, especially as we get older. Little kids are adventurous about some things and sometimes picky about food but a toddler has nothing on a sixty something white guy who is set in his ways.

Don’t be that guy. Set aside your fear, your trepidation and give yourself over to the wonder of trying something new or learning something new.

I still can’t use the kinnect control on my kids xbox 360. There’s just something weird about the interface but I sure do love to shake my groove thing on the dancing game so I fumble through the menu until I get to do the Hustle, it really makes me laugh.

Smile like you mean it

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, the fake smile. It’s the one where your too dry lips stretch across grainy teeth into a weird open parenthesis and dash line  )—(

ya, that’s the one. You’ve got dead eyes and no one is fooled by your fake smile. For me the fake smile got entrench about grade 5. It is a hideous school photo that my mom still has. I felt weird and fat and self concious and when the photographer said “smile” I stretched those lips into a caricature of a smile. My mom calls it “the face”. You always make “the face” when you get your picture done. I hated having my picture taken, I wanted to crawl out of my skin and into a hole forever.

To overcompensate I became the asshole who ruins the nice pictures. Rabbit ears, wedgies and general silliness are captured for almost 30 years after that. No good pictures. None.

I refused to have a photographer at my wedding so now I have a collection of lovingly taken but not so well executed snapshots.
I guest blogged about boudoir photos and plastic guitars last week at fit, feminist and (nearly) fifty about my new commitment to having great photos taken. I think the key to great photos and just having a great day is to smile like you mean it.

IF you haven’t smiled like you mean it in a long time I recommend the following.

Grab a baby (with appropriate permission) and make faces at the baby. When the baby smiles, you’ll smile, that stupid-from-deep-down-in-your-carebear-centre smile. That is the genuine smile that melts hearts and feels awesome.

If no one will let you hold their baby (you are an asshole after all) or your smile is actually so stiff and terrifying it will traumatize them just watch this video. Be by yourself, trust me it works:

http://youtu.be/aaA67Q8qQCk

Now practice your smile like you mean it on your beloved, your kids then stretch to smile at your friends, your co-workers. Next thing you know you will be beaming awesomeness all over the place and people will respond to you much better, they may even learn to smile back. How crazy is that?

Extend the tentacle

We have a saying in our family, I think it came from my beloved, “extend the tentacle of friendship”. I love that it implies a few things, the first being that each of us is a gooey mess, like the creatures in Galaxy Quest. Also that someone seeing the tentacle would actually allow it to touch them, which makes prospective new friends very brave. Lastly, octopus can grow back a tentacle if it’s chopped off making the risk very low if a person responds negatively to my tenuous & awkward attempt at a broken but rewarding friendship.

Assholes are notorious at failing to make friends so the alien/octopus image should allow you to see you aren’t that bad and maybe someone will extend the tentacle of friendship back to you. Try it. You might just like it.