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Sunday, 26 June 2016

PIPE DOWN AND LISTEN


In couples therapy you will quickly realise (if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it. It’s like an enema for your relationship. Scary at first, but has total benefits that bring about a major release) that any healthy relationship comes down to two things: listening to your partner and communicating in a constructive way. And let's be frank, neither come naturally to the human species.

These days I look around and am not only appalled by what I see and hear, but it’s dawned on me that we as a human race have totally stopped listening to one another and OH MY lord, do we need some major therapy. At the moment, we are all on our soap boxes (ahem, Facebook) preaching, demanding, screaming (guilty as charged on all counts) about how the rest of the planet should live their lives, steeped in a we-know-best attitude. And of course, what we’ve failed to do (some are more guilty of this than others) is take a moment to sit down, shut up and listen to the person on the opposite side of the proverbial table. Most governments fail at this in such a disgraceful way it’s not hard to wonder how anything gets done (ahhhh….I see, nothing does).

I listen to talk radio every day. It would surprise most that know me (outside of my husband as he lives in the house with me) that it is a conservative radio station. Gasp. A self-proclaimed liberal (with centrist tendencies) listening to the ‘enemy!’ How on earth could you? Well, funny enough, I not only do, but I find it utterly enlightening at times (other times, utterly infuriating). At first I was horrified by some of the hosts and calls that would come in on any given topic and I would find myself hollering at the radio as if it could answer me. And then after awhile, my writer brain kicked in and started to just listen and take it all in; And in that listening, I now find that I am actually learning about the people that are different than myself politically, socially and economically. I definitely don’t always like what I hear, and definitely don’t always agree with it, but at times, I actually learn something, and to my utter shock, occasionally agree with someone’s viewpoint or feel empathy, even though they hold a different fundamental belief system than myself. 

In this, I was reminded that no matter how different we all are, or THINK we are, I hate to break it to you but we’re not that different when it comes down to it. As humans we fall foul of thinking about ourselves (whilst preaching that we’re solely thinking of others) far too often, we each believe OUR belief system is the only way forward, and we often have blinders on to anything else around us. On the positive side, we also want what’s best for our friends and families, we want to put down the struggle that life sometimes throws at us (or, let’s be frank, we create), and we want to somehow find some hope in a world that is often pretty bleak.

In light of what has been happening in my country at the moment (the UK that is…well, both my countries for that matter) I think listening to one another is the most vital thing we can do. And I’m not just talking about listening to your friends who share your belief system, that's far too easy; but instead, listen to those who do NOT share your beliefs and question why they feel the way they do (sometimes this is challenging I won’t lie) where they came from and what drives their viewpoint (ok ok, sometimes it’s going to be simple hate or racism, and there is not much one can do about that, but try to understand where that hatred and bigotry has sprung from).

From where I stand, it comes down to this, we can be Western about what plagues this world (and country) and just address the symptoms, or we can put on our Eastern minds and get to the root of the problem once and for all! There is an anger brewing out there and it is fierce (and it’s NOT, I repeat, NOT one dimensional, for those of you thinking it boils down to just one thing, or one class, or one religion or one ethnicity), and as much as I don’t always understand it, it is there and it needs to be addressed or else the top of our planetary kettle is going to blow right off. In this country there is a divide and it is getting bigger every day, and if we actively continue to ignore it, we’re going find ourselves in a bigger hole than we are now.

Moreover, what we don’t need right now, on either side of the aisle is more prejudice and discrimination. And living in England I am witnessing it in spades and it’s not only from the usual suspects that can be easily tarred with a racist or discriminatory brush. It can also be directed at those who encounter someone who dares to think differently than they do; instead of listening and giving some credence to another's viewpoint (or even the mere fact that they too have a right to that viewpoint), they are hurling the same prejudice that they are accusing others of possessing. Prejudice is a funny thing, it’s so easy to paint someone else as so, but sometimes very hard to see it in ourselves.

At the moment, due to the referendum that occurred on June 23rd, people are hurling generalizations fast and furiously without stopping to ponder the notion that perhaps things are more complicated than one thinks and they cannot always be boiled down to one particular issue. I have met and talked to so many people recently (as it comes up with pretty much everyone you run into at the moment) and each has had definitive reasons for their vote that defied much of what I thought (some varied, some simplified, some filled with contradictions and complexities, and some that downright surprised me) Moreover, contrary to the media, or what you may hear at the bus stop on the way to work, many of whom I talked to that voted differently than I did, did so with a thoughtful consideration and not a knee-jerk blindness based on ignorance, which I suppose was a pleasant surprise (obviously there are many exceptions to this and those of you that voted without doing your homework and just liked how an X looked in a box, shame on you). 

Most importantly, throughout all of this, listening has been my biggest lesson. I won’t always agree, I won’t always like the argument, but there is a lesson in listening and I have definitely learned my fair share.  Where we go from here, it’s too soon to tell, but one thing I know for sure, it’s time to start listening, start finding common ground, and start coming together on a profound scale.




Tuesday, 10 May 2016

RUN FOREST, RUN


I ran a half marathon on Sunday. To be honest, I never had any intention or desire for that matter to do one. I’m a regular runner, but at my age, I know what feels good to me and what my limits are (and that’s not 13 miles by any stretch of the imagination). But, as it always seems to happen, a friend of mine planted the seed in my head about completing a half (which let's be honest, sounds much better than a full marathon) and well, long story short, I ended up by her side on race day in a throng of 16,000 people in 27 degree heat wondering what the heck I was thinking.

The run up to the race was a strategic mental position of denial. I did a bit of training which translated to, I just kept running when I was up to running, and otherwise told myself that I always had an out. I am a woman that’s all about the exit strategy even though I won’t necessarily use it. Call it a bit of a reverse psychology. Even on the morning of the race I woke up feeling dire. I told my husband that my energy was nonexistent and I wasn’t sure I could run the race. He of course smiled (half asleep) and said, ‘ok, don’t do it.’ Which of course meant, I know you’re going to do it, so I’ll see you at the finish line.

The lead up to the start of the race is an anxiety inducer at best. There were literally thousands of us suited up in running gear crammed onto an overground train heading to the runner’s village, as they call it. This is the time you find yourself looking around and what people are wearing, carrying, etc. and you can’t help but think, sh*t, am I prepared enough for this thing?! "She has a protein goo, should I have a protein goo? She looks rested? Am I rested enough?" Then it dawns on you that what is actually getting you over that finish line is sheer will and sheer will alone (ok, training matters, but at the end of the day, you have to want to get over that finish line). And some tell me I have that in spades (there are days I definitely doubt this fact, but hey), so I figured I'd somehow get through this.

So there I found myself, at the runner’s village, nervous and wanting this thing over with; which of course meant that I had to pee every two seconds. After a visit to the forest, ten minutes of stretching and a strategic think of where to stuff my protein bar (it went in my sports bra which was a big mistake as it had chocolate in it, unbeknownst to me, and melted all over the place once I opened it), we lined up in the pack of eager runners. We were realistic about our finishing time so headed far from those who were determined to finish the race in an hour! Then the wait began. I had obsessed over making the perfect playlist that would last me the entire run and of course as they left us standing there for ages, I had to keep starting it and restarting it in fear that my songs would run out during the run. It was so long in fact, that my friends and I ended up jumping the fence and hightailing it to the forest - looking like prisoners fleeing incarceration - to pee yet again before the race started. 

Finally, when the heat had decided it was just HOT enough to be obnoxious, off we went, and at that point all I could think of was, ‘there is no turning back now.’ Now, any one that knows me is that I’m not a crowd person. So running with that many people around me, all jockeying for a spot is NOT something I’m comfortable with. But we were all determined to keep together, especially my friend and I that trained together, so I just told myself, keep her in your sights and pretend every one else is not here. And to be honest, after awhile people begin to find their pace and the fray weeds down to a comfortable pack. Then of course you find ‘those people’ that your eye always seems to go to and sticks with through the race. For me it was a woman dressed as a banana (you couldn't really miss her) and a man who had 13.1 printing in large letters on the back of his shirt. I deemed him my ‘mantra man.’ Coupled with that, I had written my inspirational people on my hand for those miles when I needed to be reminded of why the hell I was doing this.

For the first few miles you’re just trying to find a pace, not be in your head too much, and figure out how the hell to get rid of the side stitch that keeps reappearing. AND of course NOT stare at the mile boards when they appear. There is nothing more disconcerting than thinking you’ve gone pretty far, and you’re only at mile 3. The biggest obstacle, aside from my melting protein bar (which was soon abandoned upon opening it and getting chocolate everywhere) and the blistering heat that had us all running for the shade, were the medics on the side of the road tending to other runners. And we’re not talking a few sprained ankles. The heat had rendered many runners to utter pavement-eating zombies. One woman had thrown up, a few men looked to be in convulsions, others on oxygen, it ran the terrifying gamut. And of course every time you passed this you wanted to cover your eyes and run screaming away from the sight of what could potentially happen to you. This of course provoked me to literally take a sip of something every thirty seconds as I was determined not to dehydrate. At one point, I had a bottle in each hand. One to drink and one to pour over my head.

By the time I saw my husband and son at mile 10 (I told him strategically where I needed him) I literally wanted to lie down and bathe in a cold bath of ice cream. I think I shouted ‘foooood’ as I approached them, and my husband knowing me all too well, had a protein bar ripped open and waiting for me. I kissed the King, shoved the protein bar in my mouth and off I ran…or limped. I’m not sure at that point. The other thing that dawns on you during race other than why why why, is the power of the people shouting in your face as you run by. Half of them you don’t even see as you’re kind of in this runner’s fog, and the others you’re so thankful for as you truly feel like they’re pulling you forward with their funny signs and gifts of candy and water. One woman shone like a flipping beacon on the side of the road as she held out a bag of ice. I swear to you, I almost kissed her. My friend and I grabbed the ice and shoved it in our sports bras (or perhaps that was just me) and I have never been happier. 

By mile 11 I truly thought I was going to have to crawl over the finish line. I just kept saying to my friend, “I’m not sure I can do this, can I do this? Where is the god d#*@()#m finish line?!!” And thank god for her, she just kept telling me to keep our pace and we’d get there. And well, get there we did. Seeing that finish line literally made me want to burst into tears. My friend and I held hands and ran right over that thing and I have to say, it felt pretty darn amazing…..for about three seconds, then I thought I might puke.

Needless to say, our cheering sections were waiting for us with supplies (the King tried to take most of the snacks in my goodie bag. Typical) and by the time I collapsed on the grass, I contemplated just spending the night there. Funny enough, with a few days have gone by, running 13.1 miles kind of feels like child labor. I know it hurt. I know it hurt a lot, but I have forgotten the pain. And I may just even be dumb enough to do it again. Then again…I could always stand on the side of the road next time with a bag of ice and make someone’s day next time. Somehow I think that might feel a helluva lot better. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

SAY CHEESE


Recently, a 15-year-old boy in India shot himself while taking a selfie with his father’s gun. There is so much wrong with that sentence, I’m not sure where to start. Firstly, how horribly sad when anyone dies, especially when it is a totally senseless death. Apparently this young boy was posing with his father’s 32-caliber pistol (which ONCE again was unlocked and available for a teen to play 'let's take a photo' with) when he accidentally shot himself. Clearly no one in his household hammered home that a) playing with guns is irretrievably stupid and b) put the damn safety on the gun.

This recent death put India at the top of the list for selfie related deaths, bringing the total to 49 deaths in 3 years. Honestly, I had no clue there was even such a statistic and the fact that there is one makes me want to weep. This fatality has now sparked concern with the Mumbai police and they are on the lookout to impose non-selfie zones. (OMG people, is this what the world has come to??! Non selfie zones?!) So clearly, we as a people are so desperate to take photos of ourselves doing ridiculous stuff that we are now risking our lives to do so.

Other countries have also taken action against unsafe selfies by issuing brochures that remind people that there are certain situations in which taking selfies are not a good idea. The brochure is almost comical if it weren’t so darn sad that people need reminding that taking photos of themselves in dumb places is just….well, dumb. Some of the bad selfie locations are on a railway track (really? when has that ever been a good idea) on or near power lines, posing with weapons, on water in a boat, on the roofs of buildings and with large, dangerous animals. To be honest, if you are posing on a high building, next to a lion, holding a gun, hanging from a power line, you deserve your fate.  

Have I taken a selfie before? Sure, now and then I fall prey to the moment and snap a photo of myself and the King, or the husband and I at a concert, and voila, I’m guilty as charged. Do I own a selfie stick? Never, not on your life. It takes all the patience that I have in the world to pass someone posing with a selfie stick and not beat them over the head with it. I think it’s narcissism run amuck and it scares the life out of me. So, those of you that are desperate to take selflies 24-7, I have an idea…next time you want to pose with a gun, go get a fake one (they sell them at toy stores), and ask your friend to take the photo of you. You’ll still look super cool on Instagram, I promise you.

Friday, 29 April 2016

LOOK OUT, I'M ON THE ROADS PEOPLE!


I passed my driving test today. Those of you that regularly read my blog know that I have been driving for a very long time, 28 years in fact (yes, yes, I’m old). Granted, most of that time was in the United States, but regardless, I’ve been on the road for a very long time and I’ve yet to run a car into a living room window (I’m saving that up till I’m super old and they can’t hold me accountable). As I live in the United Kingdom – and eventually we want to a get a car one day soon - I had to take lessons, study like a demon and take my practical exam all over again. So today was the practical exam, and as expected I was nervous as hell. That’s the funny thing, no matter how long one has been driving if you tell them they are going to have an exceedingly grumpy stickler beside them with a clipboard judging your every move, well, nerves are bound to be a factor. Coupled with that, the pass rate in this country is extremely low and it’s getting lower all the time. The infuriating part is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it (when you talk to the instructors who teach driving). Some examiners are known to be hardcore when it comes to the rules (and will fail you for the most minute of discretions) and some are more relaxed and well, human about the whole thing. I don’t have to tell you how hard I was praying for someone with Valium running through his or her veins.

So for anyone that has not taken this exam for decades, you get to the test center and you sit in this little room with really bad wall color and wait for your examiner to come out. The instructors (who come with you as you can use your driving instructor’s car to take the test) all look calm and sit on their phones joyfully knowing that no one is going to judge them in the next 40 minutes. In my case, my instructor – god love him - was literally selling stuff on eBay as we sat there. The prospective victims – that’s us driving students – on the contrary all looked positively ill. As each person in front of me got called and their examiner came out, I of course was trying to judge who looked the most human and understanding. And trust me, this isn’t easy, as this polite blond woman I was hoping to get turned out to be a real stickler and someone I wanted to stay as far away from as possible.

So alas, after far too many minutes of pacing the room, telling myself to be calm and wise like a driving Yoda, my instructor came out. She was an elderly lady who at first seemed kind of stern. Trust me, I was reading her body language in hopes of getting any clue I could. But after she forgot something and kind of laughed it off, I took it as a good sign. Then again, I was taking the fact that it hadn’t rained and I still had a pulse as a good sign. We went outside and the first thing they do is ask you to read a license plate kind of far off in the distance. I of course went into panic mode as heck, a 5 can certainly look like an S to my 44 year old eyes. Thankfully they didn’t fail me and we walked to the car (which my instructor and I had strategically parked so that no one could park in front of me and I had an easy exit) and low and behold, some shmuck and sandwiched me in to the point that no amount of car grease was getting this car out of the space. After finding the guy and making him move the car, we got in and started the test.

At this point all you’re thinking of is, STAY CALM and remember every sodding thing the instructor told you to do in your lessons (even though I had been driving for decades, there are things they want you to do over here in the test that just seem, well, pointless). The other thing that passes through your head is please don’t let this be the day when people are diving into the road trying to off themselves cause I really wouldn’t know how to handle that. Needless to say, after answering a few ‘inside car’ questions (how do you tell the power steering is working bla bla bla), we set off. I was warned by my husband (who I quizzed within an inch of his life) that the examiner will not make chit chat and it’s to be 40 minutes spent in silence. Which, considering I’m supposed to be concentrating is a good thing. I swear, I’ve never looked in my mirrors more diligently in my life (center mirror, side mirror, signal, ebrake…). I felt like I had eyeball Tourette’s as I glanced in my mirrors, to my blind spot, back to my mirrors, don’t forget your blind spot! Ahhhhhhhhh!

All was going fine until my examiner asked me what I did for a living. My first thought was that she was challenging my concentration skills to see if I could talk and chat. Then when she then started asking me 20 questions about the minutiae of writing, I started to wonder if I had already failed and she was now just in it for the conversation. Or, in fact, if the inner writer in her was dying to get out and being a driving examiner was not her life’s quest. It got to the point where she was so curious (and talkative!) I was starting to ponder asking her to button it so I could focus on parallel parking.
Trying to lean on the positive side of the street, I told her that only the extremely persistent (who are great drivers!) are crazy enough to take on screenwriting as we spun around mini roundabout after roundabout until low and behold we were making our way back to the test center (definitely the most nerve wracking 40 minutes of the last year).

By the time we parked up, I’m pretty sure I had broken out in hives on my face from the sheer adrenaline of following directions for forty long minutes. Then of course you have that moment where they toy with you, and they pause….before telling you if you passed or failed. I won’t lie, when she said the word PASS I about hugged her talkative little body. And then you realize, OH MY GOD I don’t have to do this again until I’m so old and grey that I probably won’t want to drive anyway (taxi!!). 

Gooooood riddance and give me that license lady!



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