Wangari Maathai – The Hummingbird Story

A beautiful message from a lovely and inspirational woman. Yeah, yeah, I know…Starfish, hummingbirds… In lieu of my incessant nagging, picture one of these lovely animals on your shoulders every day! 🙂


Cold Weather Is Cold



Saving Echinoderms

Is anyone else bored of watching me work through the 10 factors of resilience?  I am.  Honestly, I did not mean to kick off the blog with what has become a self-indulgent stream of monotony (who knew it would take so long?!).  Until that nattering monkey is off my back, I will pepper resilience posts with other things.  Today, something lovely from someone I don’t know how to credit.  I have never found a source for this one, but thank you, whoever you are.  🙂  And Happy Riders in the Grey Cup Day to you, readers!

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”Image

Inability to Cope, Part 2

The first component of resilience that I actually seem to have is a moral compass.  In my child-world, the single worst thing I could do was lie to my parents.  Life would pass in a carefree breeze until, in a moment of laziness or poorly-planned insolence, I would tell an untruth.  Invariably, my mom or dad would discover my deviance and mete out punishment accordingly.


Jody’s front yard, early evening, c. 1980.  A group of neighborhood children engages in an intense game of tag.  Mom appears in the front doorway, looks through the group of approximately 25 children, and pinpoints Jody with laser efficiency.


Did you brush your teeth after supper?

Jody glances around, realizes she has been caught.  A hesitation, oh-so-slight but loaded with significance to an experienced parent.



Mom disappears into the house.  Jody, vaguely uneasy, turns in a sharp buttonhook-style pattern to avoid a slap on the back from “It.”  Mom reappears in the doorway.


Come here.  Now.

Jody freezes, seeming to hope that Mom cannot see her anywhere on the treeless lawn.  A second passes.  Her shoulders sag slightly and, as a netted fish being slowly towed toward a ship, trudges over to Mom, who she now notices is holding her toothbrush and indicating its lack of moisture.  Jody is whisked into the house where she is presumably presented with a list of chores including but not limited to: washing dishes, brushing carrots, cleaning the toilet, weeding, and taking out the garbage for the next ______ days/weeks.


This tiny excerpt from my childhood demonstrates several things, sadly not the least of which is that I was not the brightest star in the sky.  Later, I would learn to wet the toothbrush after supper (because that was so much easier than simply brushing my teeth), but this subterfuge never seemed to foil my mom either.  Over time, the realization that I would be caught in any and all attempts at deception caused me simply to stop lying.  The times I felt forced to lie later in life were not pretty for anyone involved and ruined many a surprise party and job opportunity.

What started out as a child’s terror at being caught in lies (and subsequently grounded without TV privileges) marinated in grandparental stories of what the devil would do to sinners and was bolstered by the folksy wisdom of Yoda and the righteousness of the Jedi.  Much later, I would become heady with the book-learning of Sociology and Native Studies 110 (THE PATRIARCHY/RACISM/HOMOPHOBIA/OTHERING/-ISMS!/INJUSTICE!).  I don’t know when exactly it happened, but the previously externally-imposed ideas of right and wrong had become internal and morphed into an ever-growing sense of how I need to behave in the world in order to get a good night’s sleep.

At this point I plead with you not to assume that my discussion about having a moral compass means I want you all to throw a party for me and my special awesomeness.  Knowing what I want to do is approximately 1% of my battle in trying to be a good person.  The other 99% is comprised mostly of failures and missteps and the odd moment of positive action.  Can I even pretend I have called out everyone who told a racist joke in my presence?  Has my language always been pristine?  Was I really too tired to ride my bike to work last Thursday?  Have images of my plastic Starbucks glass lodged inside a blue whale’s stomach always prevented me from having a green tea lemonade when my re-usable glass was at home?  The answers to these questions are: No, non, nyet, and nein.  The compass often points to true north while I hover somewhere around the SSE point.

Let’s get back to Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges again, where Southwick and Charney write, “In studies on personal values, researchers have. . . found that thinking about and affirming one’s values can diminish perceptions of threat, reduce defensive responses to threatening information, and decrease rumination after failure.  Focusing on personal values has even been found to buffer physiological and psychological responses during a challenging laboratory test (76).”

I certainly don’t feel as if my moral compass has buffered my stress, and I ruminate aplenty post-failure.  Does gut-wrenching guilt build resilience in me?  Doubtful.  I actually believe that knowing what I want to do and falling short is what makes life difficult for me.  Yet I also believe I will not be changing core beliefs anytime soon, so I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that the moral compass confers some strength in me so I can live to fight another day.Image



My Lack of Resilience and Powerful Inability to Cope

I am not a strong coper.  This fact is well known to colleagues, family, and anyone else who has witnessed my reactions to minor illness, the threat of bedbugs, species extinction, failed projects, bad things happening to children and animals, and most things that Stephen Harper has done while in office.  Many people are able to take a wait-and-see attitude with things and deal with adversity as it arises.  I, on the other hand, fret about things long before and after they happen, if they happen at all.

Wishing to be proactive and to arm myself against future trauma, I recently began reading Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges (by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. 2012).  The authors’ research involved speaking with people who had not only endured the seemingly unendurable, but who appeared to thrive after experiencing POW camps, war, or sexual assault.  Among the people interviewed, the authors found that the survivors had 10 key “resilience factors” in common: 1. realistic optimism, 2. facing fear, 3. moral compass, 4. religion and spirituality, 5. social support, 6. resilient role models, 7. physical fitness, 8. brain fitness, 9. cognitive and emotional flexibility, and 10. meaning and purpose.

Given my aforementioned lack of stoicism in all matters, I thought I would search for the presence of these factors in myself.  If you have read The Whale Weeps ever before today, you will already have an inkling that I will not fare well in all categories, to say the least.

I would love to say that my life is characterized by realistic optimism.  I believe I am realistic, but this leads me down a path most definitely not optimistic.  For the love of pearl there is an island of plastic larger than Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean!!  The population of the earth has long passed its carrying capacity.  Radioactive waste and oil gush into the ocean by the second.  People care what other people wear on the red carpet of the Academy Awards!  How does this realistically look as if it bodes well for us all and for the planet?



Facing fear is no friend of mine either.  How do people do it?  When I am scared, my favorite countermeasures include sleeping, playing online Spades, and otherwise diverting my attention (yes, I, shamefully, am one who keeps TV’s Match Game afloat).  These tactics are equally ineffective in my bid to work through frightening things and to strengthen my character.  A brave person sees scary situations as an opportunity to confront and tame, to punch terror in the nut-sack.  Not I, friends.  Not I.


Bubble Tea Diaries 1

A good friend and I have spend hundreds of hours going for bubble tea and chatting about the world.  As we are polar opposites on almost every topic, some tea sessions have been cut short and many have featured lengthy frosty silences.  But where better to discuss elections, utilitarianism, current wars, and the ATP tour than while sucking up delicious tapioca balls?  Nowhere, I say.     Bubble tea diaries 1

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