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Where Are You Hanging Out These Days?

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Deep Dark Forest 200x133Where are you hanging out these days? Are you holed up in a castle or a fortress, up high on a cliff? Or are you lost in a deep, dark forest? All at sea perhaps? Or maybe it’s a desert where you are?

Chances are that, immediately upon reading those questions, you realized that I was speaking in symbolic language; and you knew exactly what I meant by it. The concepts of a castle or a fortress, a forest, sea or desert may have had strong associations for you, and for many of us, they represent a particular state of mind.  Indeed, as our art and literature demonstrates, human beings have had those same associations throughout history. They are universal, and timeless. That is the power of archetype. Meaning is understood, in a word. And the meaning is clear. You don’t need a lot of adjectives. Over the past month, I have enjoyed two wonderful, but very different performances, both of which demonstrated that power.

The first was a performance by a great Canadian icon, Gordon Lightfoot, who sang one of his classics, an old favourite of mine, If You Could Read My Mind.   Here the songwriter has used very powerful images that suggest, in a word, a particular state of mind:

If you could read my mind, loveCastle 300x200 200x133
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
'Bout a ghost from a wishin' well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see

Also this month, I saw the movie Snow White and The Huntsman, in which the setting and landscape - the castle, the deep dark forest, the beautiful green meadow - are as much a star of the movie as were the actors:. In fairy tales, just as it is in our dreams, aspects of the landscape suggest a great deal about the character’s own emotional state. So much of the story is suggested by the landscape, in fact, that it often makes dialogue unnecessary.  If you see this movie, you will know exactly what I mean.

Chained Hands 200x300

So, do you have a favourite fairy tale, one that has a special resonance for you? If you were to tell your own story, what symbols would you use? In what sort of landscape would the story take place? What is the treasure to be found in the shadows? What is it that casts those shadows? What are the chains that bind you? And what would it take to set you free?  Tell that story. You don’t have to share it with others. Write it for yourself. 

And if you need it, I’m here to help.

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The Wrong Ones Are Writing!

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May is Mental Health Month. Did you know that more than 2.5 million Ontarians live with a mental illness and/or addiction? [1] Millions more – family members, friends and co-workers – are also affected by the devastation, which often results in job loss, financial losses, domestic violence and child abuse, birth defects, brain damage, family breakdown, crime, homelessness, concurrent health problems, road and industrial accidents, and suicide.

Still many sufferers go undiagnosed. Some suffer silently; others self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. They overwhelm family doctors or jam emergency wards which, of course, are ill-suited to their needs. And, even where counselling is available, clients face long waits for it, and it’s too time-limited to be useful. Most psychological care is paid privately, putting it well beyond the financial reach of many.

What can be done about it? Well, the drug companies believe the answer is in the scrawled handwriting of a doctor’s on a prescription pad. And, let’s face it, with the state of health care in Ontario, doctors often have neither the time nor the resources to offer their patients anything else but a prescription! And so they keep writing!

In March 2011, IMS Brogan[2], a company that tracks such things, reported that in 2010 the sales of pharmaceutical drugs in Canada totalled $22.4 billion. The number of retail prescriptions filled by Canadians (including new and refills) totalled 505 million.

And, by the way, the Canadian population in 2010 was 34 million. So that’s about 15 prescriptions per person, including about 8 million who were under the age of 20.

I don’t know about you, but I found those numbers alarmingly high; and I wondered: What were these prescriptions for?

Again, I cite IMS Brogan, who reported that the top three therapeutic classes of drugs being used by Canadians are as follows:

Most Widely Dispensed Retail Prescription Medications in 2010



Therapeutic Class



Dollar value of



Cardiovasculars: (heart)
medications for the treatment and prevention of heart disease and stroke (does not include lipid-lowering agents or diuretics)

77.1 million

$3.1 billion


Psychotherapeutics: (head)

drugs that are prescribed for their effects in relieving symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders

64.9 million

$2.5 billion


Gastrointestinal/Genito-urinary: (stomach)

medications used for problems with stomach, intestines, kidney, bladder etc.

36.3 million

$1.9 billion

Heart. Head. Stomach. Knowing what I know about the body-mind connection, it occurred to me that there is a good way to reduce these numbers significantly. The problem is that it’s not the doctor, but it’s the patient who should be doing the writing - expressive writing!

Expressive writing is personal writing. It expresses and explores the personal feelings of the writer. It may attempt to answer a question, state an opinion or recount the writer's personal experiences. Often, it does all of that. Expressive writing isn't focused on proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s not about the product of the writing. It’s certainly not about producing a best-seller. Rather, it’s about the process of writing, and the impact of that process on the writer. According to the research, it has a very positive impact!

Expressive writing sets off a cascade of positive effects, not the least of which is an improvement in physical health. Perhaps best of all, considering the rise in health care costs, writing reduces the number of visits to the doctor (Pennebaker and Susman 1988)!

Well over 200 studies published in English language journals, over the past twenty years have demonstrated that expressive writing produces a number of very positive outcomes, including:

  • Better sleep, enhanced immune function, reduced alcohol consumption, smoking, etc.
  • General enhancement in immune function, including t-cell growth and antibody response (Lepore and Smyth, 2002; Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001; Sloan & Marx, 2004)
  • Better lung function among asthma patients (Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, et al., 1999)
  • Lower pain and disease severity among arthritis sufferers (Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, et al., 1999),
  • Higher white blood cell counts among AIDS patients (Petrie, Fontanilla, Thomas, et al. In press)
  • Less sleep disruption among patients with metastatic cancers (De Moor, Sterner, Hall, et al., 2002)
  • Reduction in blood pressure levels and heart rate (Crow 2000; mcguire, Greneberg, and Gevirtz, 2005; Pennebaker, Hughes, & O’Heeron, 1987), and
  • Improved liver enzyme levels often associated with excessive drinking (Francis and Pennebaker 1992).

Expressive writing is not only a powerful tool for healing; it changes people’s lives!

Researchers have also found that, after people write about troubling events, they:

  • Spend less time ruminating on them, freeing up working memory (Klein and Boals 2001;
  • Become more socially comfortable, better listeners, better friends(Pennebaker and Graybeal 2001);
  • Feel happier, have fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety (Lepore 1997);
  • Earn higher grades (Cameron and Nicholls 1998 Lumley and Provenzano 2003; Pennebaker, Colder, and Sharp 1990); and
  • Achieve better employment results (Spera, Burhrfeind, and Pennebaker 1994).

Commenting on this research in the April 14, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Psychiatrist David Spiegel, MD, said:

“Were the authors to have provided similar outcome evidence about a new drug, it likely would be in widespread use within a short time…(T)he authors have provided evidence that medical treatment is more effective when standard pharmacological intervention is combined with the management of emotional distress.”

But expressive writing is not a new drug! Rather, it’s a highly effective, inexpensive, drug-free alternative!

Now I’m not saying that you should stop taking the medicine that has been prescribed for you. Certainly not!   Writing is not a panacea; and of course, you should continue to seek the medical care you need.

But I do say that it’s not the doctors who should be doing the writing; it’s all of us. This is about prevention, and about healing the “dis-ease” before it gets to the critical stage.   And with a shortage of doctors, and the high price of therapy, what have you got to lose? Pick up a scribbler at the Dollar Store, and get writing!

And to the doctors I say, “Before you reach for that prescription pad, why not log on to my website, or reach for my card!   Oh, and give it to your patients!

[2]Madeline Gareau IMS Brogan, a Unit of IMS, March 29, 2011 Operating in more than 100 countries, IMS Health is the world’s leading provider of market intelligence to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

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Remember the Magnolias

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Remember the Magnolias 387x600

For once the groundhog was right. Or was he? It wasn’t so much that spring had come early, but more like summer had! How could it possibly be 28C – in March – in Ontario, Canada!? The first day of spring, 2012 felt like the first day of summer. It was so warm, in fact, that in some areas night-time low temperatures exceeded the previous record daytime highs! Is it because of “global warming”?   Some did acknowledge concern. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed it!

Of course everyone was caught unprepared by this unseasonable weather. Summer clothes were still in storage. “Snowbirds” were still in Florida – where it was now cooler than in Ontario! Farmers quickly readied their equipment and began to plant seed. Nurseries had no product available yet for those - like me - who suddenly had the urge to garden. Yes, yes, I know, you should never plant anything here before the 24th of May weekend, or at least not before Mother’s Day. But I couldn’t resist planting at least some patio boxes. In the event of frost, I can always tuck them into the garage for the night. After all, everything else was blooming!

Having lived in Australia for a number of years, I had missed the drama of northern seasonal changes. Here we plant bulbs in autumn. Seeds lie dormant for months, subjected to the harshest winter conditions. Breaking seed dormancy sometimes involves hydration and, of course, the warmth of the sun which, in turn, trigger changes in the protective membrane, and allow the life force to break through the seed coat. And then spring begins. Ah, spring! It’s what we Canadians look forward to so much after a long winter.

As the snow recedes, the crocus is always the first sign of colour. It is soon followed by the forsythia, always dazzling with its yellow boughs. Then, before long, there are brilliant splashes of colour everywhere, as, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths emerge. And from the bare, brown branches of fruit trees, the most delicate petals of white, pink and red spring forth in clouds of colour, blossoms that will one day become fruit. And oh, the magnolias! They were magnificent this year! Here in Ontario, the creamy pink magnolia buds usually begin to open in late April and will last right through May. But this year, they bloomed in March; and they were awesome!

But, of course, it was early, well ahead of schedule; and that was too good to last. After only a few glorious days, temperatures dropped back down to more normal seasonal levels. Unsurprised, I tucked my patio boxes into the garage. Fruit farmers erected huge fans in their orchards, and reportedly lost only about 5% of their potential fruit. But what of the magnolia? Overnight those beautiful creamy pink and white blooms withered and turned an ugly brown, bitten by the sudden, but not unseasonal, frost. The magnolia trees themselves are fine, of course; and they will bloom again. But that won’t happen this season.

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted…

~ Ecclesiastes

As I was thinking of all this, I was reminded: I had recently launched a new project myself; and I did it with great fanfare. But, like the magnolia blossoms, it was just a little bit premature. And so, after a brief blaze of glory, things quickly cooled off, and withered. But it is certainly not dead. The source is still solid, the roots firm, and the soil fertile. So I may just pull it in for a bit, give it more time, allow the seeds to germinate fully, allow the environment to warm a bit more, tend to it a bit more carefully, nurture the growth of tender branches, and ensure that is very well established before we enter the next season. But, of course, the experience prompts some journaling.

Allow me to share those prompts with you:

What season are you in?
What lies dormant in your soul?
What season(s) are your projects in?
What is waiting in the darkness, eager to emerge?
What can you do to create the right conditions, to till the soil, to make it fertile, ready?
Perhaps you have watered it with your tears? Now, how will you nurture its growth?

Happy gardening! But remember the magnolias; and don’t rush it!

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I Chose Winter

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I am a citizen of two countries, on opposite sides of the world, one by birth, and one by choice. One nourishes my heart; and the other my soul. Both are very much beloved. How lucky I am to be able to choose the season in which I will live, to have eternal summer. I am the envy of all!

This blog has been a long time coming! I started to write it months ago, just as summer was coming to an end in Canada. It was to have been about the seasons, cycles, and rhythms of life, of how “unto everything there is a season”. I wanted to encourage readers to welcome the shift from summer, the season of fruitfulness, and surrender to autumn, the season of gratitude, transformation, and letting go. At the same time though, I was preparing to flee the northern winter and return to Australia – my other home – for another summer. I was living a lie! And hence, my writer’s block.

But, despite the obvious attractions of Australia, I was becoming increasingly anxious and uneasy as my departure date approached. For it meant carrying out plans that were not my own, and for which, personally, I had no energy or enthusiasm. I needed to heed those signals, I reasoned. I struggled with that for a bit, and missed my own first deadline. Then I decided to work with the Equinox theme. That’s the date (September 22nd, or 23rd this year, depending on where in the world you live) when the center of the Sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward marking the first day of Autumn in the northern hemisphere, and of spring in the southern. It is also the time when night and day are nearly equal in length. Like the sun, I was going south. The Equinox represents balance, I rationalized. Perhaps I could work on that theme! But while the concept of balance was comforting, my life felt anything but balanced at the time! And so another deadline slipped by. I was well and truly stuck!

And so, at last I retreated, with my books and journals, to a cottage in the northern woods. There, immersed in the sensual experience of autumn, I contemplated the season ahead. And suddenly it was clear what I needed to do. I chose winter. Why? For one thing, I was born in Canada and for me, seasonal changes - including winter - are natural. Energetically, and metaphorically, the seasons give a certain rhythm to our lives which is often instructive. And so, here I remain, still in Canada where, as the winter solstice approaches, the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. It marks the first day of winter, the shortest day, and longest night.

The seasons of our personal lives do not always coincide with the seasons of the earth. In both my personal and professional life, I am currently at a very exciting stage of change, of transformation, of metamorphosis. I’ve been in this “transitional” place for some time now. Like birth, the process is sometimes slow and painful. It is a process that commonly begins in the darkness, in a chrysalis, or beneath the surface, underground. It requires a withdrawal, a going inside, a hibernation. But without winter there can be no spring. I am reminded of the tulip bulbs that we plant in autumn. What did you plant last autumn? If you’re in the northern hemisphere, I wish you a winter that is warm and yeasty! And if you’re in the southern hemisphere, I hope that you anticipate rich growth and abundant blossoming. I hope to join you there soon.

Please see my poem “If Not For Winter” at http://fb.me/Lct7RLEA

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How I Rediscovered Writing

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“Deconstruction” was just a literary or philosophical concept- until it happened to me! Migrating to Australia was to have resulted in a better life. Instead, it took mine away – at least for a time. Between the “removalists” and the “garage sales,” strangers had examined the “artifacts” of my life and seemed to decide what was “disposable”. Next were the seemingly endless ‘goodbyes’ to friends, family, beloved pets. I took my last drive in my little red sports car and, for the last time, I walked out the front door of my home knowing that, in just a couple of hours, it would be occupied by another family. One by one, every aspect of my old self was stripped from me.

At least where material things were concerned, I knew what I was giving up. What was most unexpected, and what hurt most of all, was the loss of identity. Determined not to live my mother’s life, I had made it my mission in life to be more than just somebody’s wife. But my visa said “no entry” unless accompanied by my husband. I had worked damned hard to earn my credentials and to establish a career I was proud of. But, as far as Australia was concerned, if it didn’t happen there, I had no experience. (Canada does this to immigrants too, by the way!)

And so it was that suddenly I found myself in crisis: identity crisis, career crisis, mid-life crisis, cross-cultural crisis, “empty-nest” crisis? Yes, I was still coming to terms with the fact that we would never have children! Suddenly my life seemed to have no meaning at all!  And, in the midst of it all, I was alone – my usual support system on the other side of the world! Well, of course, I did have access to friends and family via the internet. But none seemed able to understand my situation. I was in Australia, for heaven’s sake! How could I not be happy!? I had never felt so alone!

It was a confusing time, when there were many influences pushing and pulling me this way and that. What seemed quite clear and obvious one day was out of the question the next. How could I make sense of any of it? I had to get these circular thoughts out of my head and down on the page. So I took up my pen, and my journal; and I wrote my way through it!

My journal entries record how I made sense of that time. Their sheer volume reflects how overwhelmed I was by my emotions: Excitement! Sadness! Fear! Sorrow! Confusion! Then I remembered William Bridges’ work on “transitions” vs. “change”. I recognized that I had entered “the neutral zone” and that it would be very “messy” for awhile. My journal served as a wonderful receptacle for all of that “messiness”.  And so I learned, through the process, to live the questions, and to write my way through them.

As I wrote through the grief and confusion, I began the process of re-examining each fragment of my old “self”. What must I give up?  Should I fight for it, or let it go?  What shall I keep?  What is it worth?  Now that the lacquer has worn off a little, was it really what I thought it was anyway?  It was a little like putting together a jig-saw puzzle. First you put all the pieces out on the table. Then you look for the colours and patterns to see how they fit together. How do these pieces fit together? What are the spaces that now need filling? And how will the new configuration work? Will it be somehow better than the old? Will reassembly somehow result in finding the contentment that, admittedly, had always seemed just out of reach? Gradually the questions themselves became clearer and more specific. And ultimately, that process led to a new career and to a new and very exciting phase of my life!

Are you feeling overwhelmed by problems? Questions? Concerns?
Get it out of your head, and get it down on paper!





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Be Careful What You Wish For

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We’re so clever when we’re young. We have it all figured out. I did, or so I thought. You see, my Mother was one of eight children; so was my Dad. And together they had eight children, of which I was third. The problem was they had neither the financial, nor the emotional resources to cope with such a brood. In my youthful wisdom, seeing how miserable my Mother was, it seemed a “no-brainer” to me. In order to be happy, I must: (1) avoid relationships; (2) never have children; and (3) get as far away from home as I possibly could. Sadly, I achieved two out of three; and it did not bring happiness.

So career-focused was I that I did not re-examine the logic of those conclusions until my late thirties – when I realized just how lonely and empty my life had become.  Eventually, at age 39, I did marry – a man who had come to my country from the other side of the globe. And suddenly, we wanted children too. But that was not to be. Oh we tried! For two years, I rose in the dark, drove to the fertility clinic, and subjected myself to the poking, the prodding, and the injections. There were a lot of other women there, and you had to be early if you wanted to get it all done and still get to work on time. Finally I did get pregnant. We were over the moon! But at 3 months I miscarried. Of course I’d try again. The doctors were committed to successful outcomes. They wanted their numbers high! But never once did any one of them ask me how I was doing emotionally. And I was not doing well.

Nevertheless, after a couple of years of the agony of failed fertility treatments, I told my husband, and the doctors, that it was time I stopped focusing on something I could not do, and focused on what I could. It was not an easy decision. I worked in an office where there were a lot of young women; and they were all having babies. Of course, all of my siblings had children too. To be a part of such a large family and not to have a child of my own was devastating. But there were two things my husband had absolutely ruled out: donor sperm, and adoption. And so the focus then went back to my career, and then to my husband’s. It was his career that took us to live on the other side of the world (my third wish).

Another decade passes. We are a childless couple; but we are living our dream life in Australia. Meanwhile, back in Canada, I have 60-some nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews whom I never see. I had thought the pain would stop when family, friends and colleagues stopped having babies. But no, then they have grandkids! And now my husband often wonders aloud, “Is it too late to adopt?” “Yes,” I tell him, “It is.”

What is my point? It is just this: What you think you want when you’re young may not bring you the happiness you’re looking for in the years ahead. Something to think about? 

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P.S. to Blog on "A Whole New Mind"

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Here's more support from one who admits he once scoffed at the "touch-feely":


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Enter August

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Enter August

In the sounds of maturity on the other side of summer solstice,
One hears the turning of the year's cycle.
On the surface, time may seem to pause.
Quietness broods over fields and meadows,
Broken by the thunderstorms when the Gods hurl jagged spears among the clouds.
While clouds of golden pollen drop from the corn tassels to waiting silks,
Tomatoes grow red on the vines,
And apples grow heavy on the branches.
Acorns are swelling in filigreed saucers
And evergreen cones are lengthening.
Golden rods lift golden spikes to the brassy sun,
And sumac's chunky candles are turning wine red.
On the thin soiled uplands purple thistles paint pictures above the amber grasses.
Sun browned children run in the fields or romp at the sea shore.
As vacation time reaches its midpoint
School is a distant memory or a distant anticipation.
At high noon peace blesses the country side.
A song sparrow calls from a fence post,
And golden finches call as they swoop over the fields.
Grasshoppers' staccato whirs break the silence,
While crickets fiddle beneath kitchen window.
This is August; brooding, humid, often hot,
But beneath the quiet, powerful forces go forward on schedule.
To soon summer will slide into autumn
And we will ask where the summer has gone.
Author Unknown
Do YOU know who wrote this poem?

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A Whole New Mind: A Book Review

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I’m a “right-brainer”. In the language of Myers-Brigg’s typology, I am an extreme INFP, an introverted feeling type (heart vs. head), with strong leanings towards intuition (vs. sensing), and perceiving (vs. judgment). As an “intuitive”, I make all sorts of connections, linking ideas, and often jumping from one thought to another. Trying to keep up with me in conversation, people sometimes say that I am “all over the place.”   This typology has not always served me well in my career, particularly since I spent most of it in the midst of “left-brain” engineers who are logical, analytical, and decisive. It sometimes seemed we spoke different languages; and though I could understand theirs, they couldn’t understand mine. Consequently, in that environment, my contributions were often derided and dismissed as “warm and fuzzy” or “airy-fairy.”   Well, finally there is a respectful name for the all-over-the-place way I think.  I am a "Cultural Creative".   And, not only is there a place in today’s advanced world for the way my mind works; according to Pink, there is a need for more of it! Thank you, Daniel H. Pink!

In his book, A Whole New Mind, Pink tells of a shift from the “left-brain” thinking of the “Information Age”, to a future that belongs to those of us with a very different kind of mind: creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers, artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, and big picture thinkers.   Of course that does not mean there is no further use for the skills or capabilities of the “left brain”. Rather, Pink says,
“…the defining skills of the previous era – the “left brain” capabilities that powered the Information age – are necessary but no longer sufficient.  And the capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous – the “right-brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning – increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders.  For individuals, families, and organizations, professional success and personal fulfillment no require a whole new mind.”
The rules have changed, says Pink. A master of fine arts, an MFA, is the new MBA. As evidence, he cites Robert Lutz, the man hired by General Motors to help turn around the ailing automaker. Asked by the New York Times how his approach would differ from what had been done before, Lutz replied, “It’s more right brain…I see us being in the art business. Art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally, also happens to provide transportation.”
Pink outlines what he asserts are the six essential aptitudes – “the six senses” – which will guide our lives, shape our world, and on which professional success and personal satisfaction will increasingly depend:
1. Not just function but also DESIGN. “Today It’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.”
2. Not just argument but also STORY. “The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative.”
3. Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. “What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis – seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.”
4. Not just logic but also EMPATHY. “What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others.”
5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY. “(T)oo much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being. In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play.”
6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING. Living in a world of “breathtaking material plenty…has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.”
Pink provides plenty of evidence of this shift – persuasive even to those who are L-Directed - as it is manifesting throughout our economy and our society. He then spends much of the remainder of the book exploring how to develop these six essential aptitudes, with a Portfolio for each, rich with tools and resources. In fact, this is a book written to appeal to both L-Directed and R-Directed readers. It is well researched, but very readable, incorporating all six of these essential aptitudes. It is chock full of examples, anecdotes, and humour. And it is well edited (designed), and illustrated, with lots of experiential tidbits and options for further action.
Well, I abandoned the world of engineers some years ago and, since then, have been very much following my own natural inclinations, which also happen to be my bliss!   So you can imagine my delight to discover, in reading Pink’s book, that where I am right now is exactly where I should be.  At last, my time has come!  To see what I mean, explore my website at http://www.c-change.info
So, can we help you to develop your six senses?

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The Time Traveler’s Wife (A Book Review)

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Note:  I haven’t seen the movie yet!  No spoilers please!

Time travel!  As a citizen of two countries, on opposite sides of the world, I have often wished for it.  But it’s not so much fun for Henry De Tamble, the “Time Traveler” in this story.  A Chicago librarian with a science-fiction disease called “Chrono Displacement” disorder, he has no control over it.  Without warning he disappears and finds himself in the past or future, naked and vulnerable to whatever conditions or circumstances he suddenly drops into.  And, of course, he has little hope of satisfying the people around him by his explanation.  This being such a fascinating premise, and Henry’s adventures so engrossing, I wondered initially why this book is entitled “The Time Traveler’s Wife”.

The story is told, alternately, from the perspectives of both Henry and Clare.  And, because of the time travel, backward and forward, it requires that the reader always pay close attention to details of the date and the ages of the protagonists.  And yet, because it follows the chronology of Clare’s life, it is easier to follow than you might imagine.  That explains the title. And it’s a very touching love story.

The story covers Clare’s life from the age of 6 to 82, and explores all the themes of a woman’s life at each and every stage.  (Of course, that’s something that interests me, as you will know if you’ve looked at my “Programs” page.)  We follow Clare from the dreamy child in a hurry to grow up, anxiously anticipating the future, to the young woman longing for love, leaving home and family, waiting impatiently for her partner, finding him, and occasionally losing him.  Along the way it explores the themes of love, friendship, parenting, loss, destiny and, of course time.

Each of us so often lives in the past, or looks to the future.  But “Time is nothing”, says Henry.  We may not be able to choose our destiny.  The past is done, and the future beyond our reach.  The best we can do is make the very most of each and every moment.

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Thoughts on Change

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Spring is here at last!  This is the season that most of us associate with new life, rebirth, and renewal.  And so, for most of us, it’s a time of great joy and optimism.  But as I tune in to those around me, I’m aware that not everyone feels that way.  The reasons are quite varied, of course, but they seem to have one thing in common.  As the seasons change, they seem to remind us, in so many tangible ways that, although we knew it was coming, we are somehow not quite ready.  The world is moving forward, but we are not; and we might even be falling behind!

I know this feeling well!  Yes, during earlier seasons in my life I have experienced it too, in various ways:
Seasons when I had not yet lost the weight I needed to wear the new spring fashions;
Seasons when I had nothing blooming in my garden because I hadn’t planted anything;
Seasons that I wasted hibernating, dreaming about changing my life, but doing nothing about it.

Today though, I am living my dream, or at least well on my way to it.  And so when I hear the grumbling tones around me, of frustration, of regret, and of shame, I’m quite sympathetic.  But I’m also eager to help.  Whatever your dreams, don’t let another season go by without moving in the direction of your goals.  Life is too short!   Allow me to share with you three things I have learned about change.  These three things will make all the difference:

  1. Know what you want! Although this sounds too easy, this is often the most difficult step for people.  Why?  Because they simply have never thought about it!  People really do spend more time planning their vacation than they do planning their lives.   The rest of the time, they run on auto-pilot, either busily plugged in to their electronic devices, or otherwise “zoned out” by their “drug” of choice: drugs, alcohol, television, internet, etc.  They are unconscious, unaware of the passage of time.  So get rid of the distractions, including any distracting voices you might have heard in the past.  According to an American Proverb, “If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’ll be a part of someone else’s.”   Find a quiet place and go inside.  The answers are there!
  2. “The reason most people fail instead of succeed is that they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.” I don’t know who said this originally, but this truth has long been a source of inspiration for me.    When you know what you want, you’ve got to be able to maintain that focus.
    • In the short-term, you would much rather munch on potato chips than a salad; but the salad is the better choice if you want to wear that bikini in the long-term.
    • In the short-term, you would much rather watch TV than take that night course; but it’s that course that will get the job you want in the long-term.
    • In the short-term, you would rather collect unemployment insurance than work at a job that doesn’t thrill you; but it’s the proven skills, experience, and successful job record that are going to convince future employers to take a chance on you in the long term.
  3. Change doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. It was this understanding, based on the work of William Bridges, that saved my sanity during one of the most chaotic changes in my life – migration to Australia.  According to Bridges, “change” is an external event – loss of a job, death of a loved one, retirement, for example.  “Transition,” on the other hand, is the internal process we must undertake, in order to come to terms with that change.  That process has 3 stages:  (1) An Ending; (2) The Neutral Zone; and (3) A New Beginning.   It may sound rather benign but Bridges likens it to the long journey of Moses from “The Exodus”, through thewandering in the desert”, and finally coming to “The Promised Land”.   You don’t get to “The Promised Land” without going through stages one and two, and believe me, it can sometimes be a long journey.   But  it’s worth it!

Well, I’m no longer wandering in the desert.  And now I enjoy helping others find their way.  That’s why C-Change exists!

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Why I Do What I Do

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Time and time again I have learned, and been reminded again, not to judge others.  When you pass them on the street, meet them in the supermarket, or even socially, you can never know just what trials or horrors the people around you may have experienced.   Because I work in expressive writing, I know this: “Research has demonstrated that the inhibition or avoidance of negative emotions (Gross & Levenson, 1997) and the suppression of thoughts (Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000) lead to heightened physiological arousal, negative mood, and impaired cognition.”  In other words, it ain’t healthy!   Expressive writing has been found to provide therapeutic benefits for those in distress.

In “talk therapy” therapists ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening.  But not everyone can access or afford that sort of help.  Besides, it takes years!  But most people can afford a notebook, and a library card.   Through expressive writing, and “bibliotherapy”, we can initiate the conversations that count.  These methods allow my clients to open up what the brilliant poetry therapist, Peggy Osna Heller, lovingly calls their “shpinalzos” (that’s where we store all our “stuff”), and give them an opportunity to express themselves, and to talk about what’s eating them.  We can “make the invisible visible”, she says, by providing “words for what is known only in images and images for what is not known yet”.

I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time now, using movies, music, archetype, heroic myth, fairy tales, poems, short stories, women’s literature (both “classic” and “chick-lit”).  It’s fun for me; it’s fun for my clients; it allows them to express a lot of “angst”; and it’s healing!

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Fairy Tale Heroines

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I didn’t blog last week.  The Olympics were on, and so much of my time was given to watching my favourite Olympic events.  For me, it wasn’t about the colour of the medals won.  I was inspired by the heroics of all the athletes.   It was about being willing to invest themselves so fully in achieving their goals, taking the risks, putting it all on the line, and doing their very best.  What more can you ask of anyone?  For that, I hope they all feel proud!

But today I want to talk about another kind of “heroics”.  Yesterday I saw Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” in 3D.  It is an amazing movie!!!!   And for me, who had not seen a 3D movie since “13 Ghosts”, it was quite a trip!  WOW!!!   I had NO IDEA!!!!   I would probably see anything Johnny Depp appears in, of course, and he gives us a wonderful Mad Hatter.  Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway are fun too, as the Red Queen and White Queen respectively.  And I enjoyed hearing Alan Rickman’s voice with just the perfect tone as the blue caterpillar.  But this is Mia Wasikowska’s movie.  She is outstanding as Alice.  What is best of all about this movie, though, is that Walt Disney has finally given us a worthy heroine!!!  A heroine with “muchness”!!  It was long overdue!  And that’s what I want to talk about.

I don’t recall how old I was when this incident occurred – I was most certainly not more than ten – when I was stopped walking to primary school one spring morning, by a young bully with a frog in his hand.   He refused to let me pass until I kissed this frog!   Now, my older brother, who had to suffer three younger sisters before he was finally given a male sibling, had introduced me to frogs long before this incident; so I was not afraid.  But even at that tender age, I did not like to be bullied; and so, on principle, I refused.   Consequently, he – along with his mates – continued to block my path to school.  And, as it happened, he delayed the progress of many others too, who stopped to watch the unfolding drama!  In the end, I decided that being late for school would be far worse than kissing a frog.  So I did it.  As I recall the incident, it was rather an anti-climax for all concerned.  And off to school we went.

I had never encountered any difficulty with bullies before that day, nor since.  So just what might have sparked this particular incident?  Kiss a frog!?  Well, even as a little girl, well versed in fairy tales, I knew frogs didn’t really turn into princes!  But did this boy?  Was this simply a case of bullying, or was it perhaps an early expression of masculine inquisitiveness and logic?  If I kissed the frog, and it turned into a prince, perhaps there would be hope for him too!?  Isn’t that what bullies do, overcompensate for their own insecurities?  And isn’t that essentially the role into which many men would like to put us women?   Is it a role we choose, or into which we are socialized?  Isn’t it often seen as our job to “refine” them, to smooth their rough edges, and to treat them as royalty.  Isn’t it thus they become the princes they would like to be?

I have never been satisfied with the Walt Disney versions of fairy tales: damsels in distress, housekeeping for dwarves, waiting to be rescued by their prince, marriage equated with “living happily ever after”.  Not that there is anything wrong with marriage!  It’s just that I had graduated early from reading “The Hardy Boys” to “Nancy Drew”.  I knew that women were capable of so much more!

So Hurrah for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”, and for Walt Disney for finally producing a movie with such a worthy heroine!   Do go and see it!

And by the way, watch for my upcoming workshop, “Grimms for Grown-Up Girls”©!  In it, we will learn the history of fairy tales and what was really intended in their earlier oral and written forms before Disney.   We will explore what these tales can teach us about the ages and stages of women.  And finally, we will explore their significance for our own lives, as we write our own life stories as new versions of a fairy tale.

See the “Programs” page, and follow us on Twitter at CChangeWrites!

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We Are More

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Did you see the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Games?  What did you like best?  There was so much to like!  I loved that it began with a welcome from the aboriginal peoples – as I thought it should!  Weren’t the whales awesome!?  And the fiddlers!?  The tap dancers!?  I loved that it reflected our various regions, from sea to sea.  I loved the showcase of Canadian talent:  Donald Sutherland, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLaughlan, k.d. lang, Nelly Furtado.  And let’s not forget the words of Chief Dan George, the words and music of Leonard Cohen!  Alleluia!   OK, I could have done without Ben Mulroney, but, oh well…   And I am among those who enjoyed Nikki Yanofsky’s “jazzy” version of our National Anthem.  Who says it has to be solemn!?  Is solemn how we define ourselves?  I don’t think so!

But a highlight for me?  It has to be the poem by Shane Koyczan!  Didn’t that make you burst with pride?  Define Canada?  “We are more” he said.  And indeed we are!  Let’s be more, Canada!  Let’s be more!  Let’s be more than “owning the podium”, more than winning gold.  Let’s recognize the awesome field of competitors who have come to Canada, and no matter where they finish, let’s recognize all the effort that our athletes have invested to be among them.  Let’s recognize what an honour it is to host these games, and to showcase our beautiful country.  And let’s show us as a people to be all that Shane Koyczan described us to be in his wonderful poem.  Let’s be more!

We Are More
By Shane Koyczan

Define Canada.
You might say the home of ‘The Rocket’ or ‘The Great One’
Who inspired little number 9’s into little number 99’s
But we are more than just hockey and fishing lines off the rocky coast of the Maritimes
And some say that what defines us is something as simple as please and thank you
And as for you’re welcome, well we say that too.
But we are more than just genteel or civilized
We are an idea in the process of being realized
We are young
We are a culture strung together and then woven into a tapestry
And the design is what makes us more than just the sum totals of our history
We are an experiment going right for a change
With influences that range from A to Z(ed)
And yes we say ‘zed’ instead of ‘zee’
We are the colours of Chinatown, the coffee of Little Italy
We dream so big that there are those that would call our ambition an industry
Because we are vineyards of good year after good year
We reforest what we clear because we believe in generations beyond our own
Knowing now that so many of us have grown past what we used to be
We can stand here today filled with all the hope people have
When they say things like “someday”
Because we are more than a laundry list that of things to do and places to see
More than hills to ski and countryside ponds to skate
We are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can’t wait
We are first-rate greasy spoon diners and healthy living cafes
A country that is all the ways you choose to live
A nation that can give you variety because we are choices
We are millions upon millions of voices shouting
Keep exploring
We are more
We are the surprise the world has in store for you
It’s true
Canada is the “what” in what’s new?
So don’t let your luggage define your travels
Each life unravels differently
And experiences are what makes the colours of our tapestry
We are the true north strong and free.
And what’s more is that we didn’t just say it
We made it be.

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Up In the Air

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This movie could not have been better timed, released as it was while we are still deeply mired in recession.  George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, the suave “career transition counsellor”.  He flies in to do the dirty work for corporate executives all over the U.S. who can’t stomach it – breaking the news to employees that they are being terminated.  We watch as, one by one, they receive the bad news.  And, one by one, as they react, it’s not the job loss that seems to be the problem.  It’s the loss of their family’s security, the unreturned loyalty, or the loss of health benefits that hurts most.  Using the same line each time, Bingham encourages his clients to see this as an opportunity:

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now.
And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.”

For Bingham himself, business is good.  He spends 322 days of the year travelling; and he’s got it down to a science.  He always knows which line-up will move fastest.  He never checks luggage.  And he never spends money unless he gets reward points.  In fact, the only loyalty that counts in this movie is consumer loyalty, and that’s all that is rewarded too.

But Bingham’s world is suddenly upset when two women enter his life, each in her way a mirror of himself.   Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, is a 23-year-old Cornell grad who considers Bingham “old,” and who sells his boss on the idea of laying off workers more efficiently – by computer! Threatened with the risk that he’ll be confined to an office, Bingham takes her on the road to prove her wrong.  And Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, is an executive who, like Bingham, is a “road warrior” and enjoys elite status. “I’m you with a vagina,” she tells him.  As they journey together, Ryan Bingham has the opportunity to reconsider both his luggage and his destination.

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner won Golden Globes this year for their adapted screenplay in Up in the Air, and have an Oscar nomination as well.  The dialogues are brilliant!  This is a movie well worth seeing!

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It’s Complicated

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Saw “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.  It’s an excellent adult comedy, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but lots of wisdom too.  This is a movie directed by a woman, Nancy Meyers, and it shows! It’s a great portrait of the different stages that we all go through in life and how unfortunately out of sync they are between genders.  Pay attention, men!  Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin are perfectly cast as the divorced couple, reassessing life, their relationship and their future, as individuals vs. as a couple.  Ya gotta love an actress who has the courage to poke fun at her own drooping eyelids!  And Alec Baldwin has a lot more “beefcake”.  It’s a movie that “women of a certain age” will certainly appreciate.  But there is something here for everyone, including the children of a divorced couple. Steve Martin is perfect in depicting the early stages of the divorce experience from the male perspective.  And I loved John Krasinski as the perfect son-in-law!  Heck, he’d be the perfect husband!

Nominated for 3 Golden Globes:  In addition to Best Picture, nominations include Best Comedy and Best Ensemble Cast.  Nominations well deserved!

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