How to know you’ve OD’ed on philosophy

playing catch with philosophyFor those of us whose minds and mouths seem so much more adept at forming questions than answers… For those of us who swing wide on the flexibilities of our viable worlds… For those of us who can never stop exploring… Is it possible to overdose on philosophy? If there is one solid answer in this world, it is to this question. And three days ago it smacked me upside the head… YES!

It was the last dream before the morning. In the boundless, though tremulous reality of my dream’s gestalted storyline, I am teaching a small toddling self to play catch under a purple sky.

“OK, here we go,” I said. “I’ll throw you the ball, then you catch it and throw it back to me.”

My mini mirror caught my light toss with expert ease. But then she hesitated, looked up at me and asked, with blue eyes wide and questioning…

“Why?”

Is your ‘Secret Garden’ secretly killing you?

fat woman eatingSo many of us live double lives. I don’t just mean having a young filly or a well hung, obedient boy toy shacked up across town. I’m talking about your Secret Garden. You know, the private place you escape to when the world gets too loud and needy or we reach a Tetris tipping point. We all have our own version of ‘Me Time’, but often what begins as a safe sanctuary slowly de-evolves into a dangerous, even lethal, prison. One day you look up and the walls of your Secret Garden are too high to climb and you’re trapped as a slave to your glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls.

Feeling all high and mighty watching a Youtube obesity documentary while picking at a plate of asparagus on my lunch break, I was suddenly blindsided by an embarrassing parallel. The woman on screen had bustled her kids off to school, tidied up, put in a load of laundry, and then – efficiencies done – took a plastic grocery bag full of chocolate bars out of a hidden cupboard and proceeded to devour the entire gluttonous mess in a highly ritualized performance.

“This is ME-TIME,” she declared to the camera, almost as a threat. Woe-betide the fool who would dare try and rob her of this one true, loyal pleasure!

“Oh shit,” I said to myself, “do I really do the same freakin’ thing?!”

Of course, just like most of us, but my Secret Garden involved getting drunk and stoned watching old online episodes of Antiques Roadshow on a tiny netbook in my kichen while sitting on one of those horribly uncomfortable 1970s plywood stacking chairs. Grim. But how had this happened? I was in love, full of potential, with all joints as yet in working order. How had this sad, rather tragic scene become my be-all-end-all?

Genetics and circumstances dictate our unique set of personal glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls. These behaviours and externals are what we feel make our lives worth living. Some lucky bastards are coded to respond to running and quinoa, while others get off on fries or affairs. Stress, biochemistry, and trauma can make the brain more vulnerable to adopting extreme, often dangerous, glamours (eg: cutting and drugs) because these behaviours provide an immediate and seductively efficient neurotransmitter reaction. Tolerance develops over time and before you know it you’re either 500 pounds or base jumping!

Just like yours, my Secret Garden had been planted with all innocence – just like the one in Burnett’s classic children’s novel (a personal fave!). I made my own clothes and acted out heroic stories in the backyard – happy as a clam! Then life happened and somehow I ended up on that stupid hard-ass chair!

Be honest. What does your Secret Garden grow? Because whatever you think you want, whatever you think your dreams and goals may be… here’s the truth: your unconscious, primative mind is, at this very moment, concentrating all its energy and effort on the simple goal of getting you into that garden and keeping you there.

But we’re not children anymore. Once we acknowledge our current glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls, and accept them with unrelenting compassion, we can begin to pre-train new ones and eventually switch over more permanently. Click here to read about how the relationship between your efficiencies and indulgences can help reveal (and even begin training!) new personal glamours.

A politically incorrect rant against collaboration

office orgyAre two heads better than one? How about three? Or five hundred? Almost everything we touch, taste, see, hear, and even smell, is a product of multiple minds meeting in the middle. We live in a globalized culture of collaboration… a world of compromise. At all stages, from concept to marketplace, any new idea must survive countless negotiations and push backs. Logic and personality are our best weapons when battling for an innovation, but both are subjective and eat up substantial time and energy – along with team building, group brainstorming, meetings… meetings… AAAAAAAARG!

We can’t escape collaboration. Heck, conception is the ultimate collaboration and none of us would be here without that! But we’ve got to take a break from the office orgies! We’ve lost touch with the private, primitive urge to create independently – just for the hell of it. Social media and globalization have linked value to multiplicity – whether in ‘Likes’ received, dollars earned, or people converted. But stop. Just stop. Stop letting other people design your world.

With such an overwhelming breadth of new products and creative productions coming at us 24/7, we’re becoming desensitized to individual acts of self-expression, especially our own! But how do we resist the seductive fact that collaboration naturally produces idealized forms – Plato would be so pleased! We now need trainers, masseuses, uniform designers… to score a single hockey goal. A piece of clothing is nothing until it’s dressed up by models, makeup artists, photographers, and airbrushers. This progression to idealization is, of course, perfectly natural and predictable from a neurological standpoint. But why be a slave to your brain when it guts the value of your uniquely imperfect humanity?

We’re a competitive species, for resources, mates, and ego actualization. But how do we compete, head to head, with 7 billion people! Go back 30 000 years… one man… a dozen shells… one necklace. His personal tribal contribution was sacred and precious. Every moment he spent on the task reinforced his own value to himself and to his tribe. Does working a shit job to afford a Louis Vuitton purse really provide the same validation? Why do you think one is never enough? Look how fast our purchases become our insatiables. This is what happens when we lose connection with our individual ability to express our humanity as tangible sensory creations. But there’s hope. Let’s collaborate across time, not in time. Take the gift of the tools (farming, technology, etc.) designed by minds who have come before us, and start small…

Exercise in Engagement: Bring the system boundary back down to the surface of your skin, breathe, then stretch it out to the volume of your kitchen – nothing and no one else exists. You must be your own validation in this moment. Forage for ingredients and dare to build the most personal sandwich possible with what you find. Doesn’t have to be perfect, healthy, or follow any Food Network rules. Screw Plato! Explore the experience of this sandwich with each one of your senses, one at a time, then all together in a moment of total engagement. This sandwich is you because you made it without compromise or negotiation and because (not to be too graphic here) it will literally become you in a matter of hours. Now go forth and conquer!

How to tackle life’s Tetris tipping points

kitchen before and afterWhat’s a Tetris tipping point? You’re in the zone, everything’s stacking up perfectly – eating healthy, bills paid, emails answered, legs shaved (and/or face and/or whatever else)… When suddenly, life hurls one of those stupid wonky 4 square zig-zags at you and you try to fit it in, but everything’s happening too fast and now there’s a gap. Still, you’re sure you can recover, but the 4 square vertical you were counting on never comes, and no matter how fast you try to anticipate and react, you can’t keep up. All you can do is watch helplessly as chaos closes in and… GAME OVER.

tetrisAs we move up the levels of life in age, career, and responsibility, new stressors come at us faster and faster – just like in Tetris. Sure, you can practice and plan, but inevitably, if you’re human (and if you’re not, well, I’m sure you have other issues) you’ll face that GAME OVER screen again and again. Your perfect plan will go straight out the window because life, just like love, is unpredictable and overwhelming. And we wouldn’t want it any other way!

So, how do we tackle life’s Tetris tipping points? With unrelenting compassion. I suck at housework, always have, and probably always will. I have other skills and talents that can be quite useful around the home (just ask my husband), but dirty dishes will always be my nemesis. I’ll stay on top of things for days (occasionally even weeks) at a time, but then, for any number of reasons, the stack gets past a certain height and I just can’t deal and it just keeps piling up and… GAME OVER.

I’ve laid prostrate on the kitchen floor weeping at my ineptitude. I’ve rocked out to hard-core blues in bra and panties. I’ve dressed up like an Eastern European slave girl. I’ve turned the task into an archeological dig and you can be sure I always try to pawn those dishes off on dear ol’ hubby. And yes, in times of utter desperation, I’ve even resorted to buying paper plates and plastic cutlery. I’ve also, as you can see by these links, apparently blogged about doing the dishes more often than actually doing them!

But something changed the day I accepted the beautifully human truth that I, Cymbria, am a woman utterly overwhelmed by doing the dishes. And that that’s OK. With unrelenting compassion, I released my guilt and shame – so often the source of our procrastination. It was a simple act, but one with profound and wonderful consequences.

Now when I face the scourge, I do it with humour, literally and figuratively. I crank up the comedy station on the radio, wear a scullery maid head scarf to get into character, and take my time. I still loath the task, but it no longer lurks as a constant ugly nag – threatening my self-worth – in the back of my mind. When I’m doing the dishes I’m doing the dishes, when I’m not, they’re simply not part of my Viable World.

If you’re facing a Tetris tipping point today, step back and take a breath. Maybe something happened and you couldn’t keep up… and that’s OK. You’ve been here before; you’ve failed, and you’ve survived. You might have to go back a few levels, but that’ll just give you more practice for the next round. You’re still you – and you’re still marvelously human.

Note: I let it slip in a cross-country conversation with my mother that I was posting a pic of my most recent kitchen nightmare. She was horrified. “Oh, you can’t do that!” she said. “You know how people label.” Well, dear readers, label away. All I can say is… my kingdom for a dishwasher!!   

5 Tips for staying human at the office

office phoneDenying or suppressing our humanity while at work can lead to tragic consequences… depression, anxiety, illicit stairwell trysts, office shootings, or the time my boss found me sitting on ‘the new guy’s’ desk after a drunken Christmas luncheon, performing an erotic reading of an article I’d found in a seismic geophysics magazine on the evolution of the scientific method – oh gawd the horror, the shame! Don’t let this happen to you! We are at our best and brightest when we stay connected to our passions and personalities. The following five tips are simple survival strategies to help you keep hold of your sanity and soul at your own office day job:

1) As counterintuitive as it feels, as hard as it is to say… go on, admit it, you WANT to be sitting there. If you don’t believe me, click here for compelling neurological proof.

2) Personalize, personalize, personalize! You don’t have to go as far as my art installation office phone pictured in the photo above. emoticon phone stickersEven I have to admit it might be getting a wee bit over-accessorized; I messed up twice the last time I had to dial our Xerox technician’s number on my emoticon keypad. A couple of your favourite pictures, inspirational quotes/posters (although these can all too quickly slide into the ironic), or comic strips can add some mood enhancing personal colour and flair.

3) Practice mindfulness brain games to help you reengage with your tasks and surroundings in novel ways. Try focusing on the experience of one sense at a time or imagine that you’re exploring a museum exhibit showcasing long-outdated 21st century office supplies. Trust me – it can really open things up. Just don’t advertise your little field trip, especially if you’re the only employee already risking your professionalism (let alone dignity) by dialing with customized emoticons.

4) Oxygenate! If at all possible, incorporate plants into your office environment. Spider plants are surprisingly easy to sustain and provide the optional bonus of an interactive tactile relationship. Refuel the rest of your body with a living lunch. I don’t mean go hunting for something (or someone) skulking around on the third floor, but get creative with your limited office kitchen supplies and make yourself something worth waking up for.

5) Keep your fantasies out of the office! Breaking news – you are a sexual being. Acknowledge this honest truth and move on. And obviously, do not, under any circumstances, engage in drunken desk hopping this holiday season! Keep your daydreams focused on your future, your weekend, or if things get really bleak, pretend you’re embroiled in a multi-billion dollar international corporate espionage conspiracy while filing your next report. Regressive? Perhaps. Nerdy? Decidedly. But desperate times call for decidedly desperate measures.

funny stickerMost importantly, stay conscious (always a good place to start) and on guard for subliminal, and not so subliminal (like that stupid Chubb door sticker I have to try to ignore every morning!), social and environmental cues that threaten to compromise your value as a precious, uniquely wonderful human being. And if you manage to get out alive this Friday, have a fabulous, unabashedly human weekend!

What do you do to stay human at your 9 to 5 job?

Recovering from shameful acts of self-promotion

louis vuitton logoWe’re used to having other people’s names stitched into our underwear and going to punk rock concerts sponsored by banks, but how do you build a blog brand? Sure, Gucci can get away with bedazzling its logo on dog collars, and no one would bat an eye if Louis Vuitton came out with a line of luxury baked goods, but publicizing a personal blog without overt awkwardness or coming across as, heaven forbid, (just typing the word hurts) narcissistic, is almost impossible.

It helps to get creative. Some of my, if not classy then at least less dignity destroying, strategies have included blog advertising shoes and a promotional bookmark flip book. These two DIY methods tend to catch people off guard, which, not coincidentally, is key to both advertising and horror movies. But for someone whose fear of networking can best be described as pure liquid terror, I am completely in the dark (possibly hiding under a table somewhere) about the social etiquette of self-promotion, especially when it comes to blogs. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’ve actually handed out said bookmarks at funerals (oh for shame!) and even in airport public washrooms. I know, I know, totally inappropriate. All I can say is that like so many stupid-in-hindsight impulses, it always seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I have to confess that last night I hit a whole new low on the appropriateness scale. I was riding Calgary’s C-Train when another one of those “good ideas” popped into my head. The temperature had also hit a new low last night, and the two glass panels of the door I was standing beside were covered with a thick layer of frost. Someone had scrapped a jagged window with finger marks that looked like they’d been trying to claw their way out. Which, being a public transit regular, I can totally understand. I drew a small happy face in the top corner of the closest panel with a gloved finger. But that wasn’t enough. My gateway doodle led to a panel wide artistic portrait of a woman’s face, quite impressively executed, considering the medium – if I do say so myself. I spent the next few stops appreciating the poetic irony of being bundled beyond recognition while looking at a reflection that was the mirror image of my summer self.

But, of course, that wasn’t enough. Here was a rare opportunity for a DIY blog billboard! I scratched BLANKCANVASLIVING.COM into the second panel in an inverted U shape, leaving the space in the middle open – because every advertisement needs a visual. And what better blog brand ambassador than our darling mascot (see side panel) Mitch-the-insatiable-itch! Here’s where things went horribly wrong. By this point my finger was blunted with snow and I had to rush because we were almost at my stop. Finishing my ‘artistry’, I hurried out the opposite door – already beeping with urgency – and took a quick look back to survey my handiwork.

Oh Gawd! I’d just drawn – with wiggly distorted lines – what could best be described as a horned stick figure with a set of disproportionately huge male genitalia dangling under its belly!!! I had to watch it leering at me from under my calling card as it set off down the tracks – in full view of all the passengers! Nothing like lewd graffiti on public transit to really take your blog brand to the next level… sigh.

Recover from a bad first impression using only the clothes on your back – and someone else’s!

terrible first impressionWhen I get off the elevator Tuesday morning on the 6th floor, I find Dr. C talking to my boss, who looks quite overwhelmed by the white haired 10th floor phenom.

“Cymbria!” Dr. C turns and greets me with neon pink lips spread wide. “Paper’s got to roll itself for a few minutes. I’m borrowing you for an emergency.”

She doesn’t say another word as she leads me up to Blank Canvas Living’s offices, despite all my questions and panicked pleas for training, something, anything, Aaaack! We get off the elevator and she takes me down a bleak, almost institutional, hallway without giving me the tiniest hint of what to expect. Not even when she opens a green glass door, about halfway down, and guides – who are we kidding, shoves! – me through. The door clicks shut behind me and I’m in a small white office with silken green carpeting that looks suspiciously like-high end Astro Turf. There are two chairs, but their purpose is lost on the fire haired woman who, I’m assuming, is my first ‘real-time’ creative counseling client.

It’s my turn to be speechless. A faint scratching, grinding sound is coming from under the opposite chair. That’s right, under. My client, a well-dressed 30-something businesswoman, is curled up in the fetal position gnawing on a chair leg. No joke. What the hell?

I wait for an opportune lull in the gnawing. “Are you Ok?” I ask.

“Do I look Ok?!” she snarls. “I’m gnawing on a f*&^^*ing chair leg! I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate my hair. And I hate the *&^^%&*((* photocopier that jammed and made me crazy this morning!”

“I like your hair.” My voice is so meek, even I’m not sold.

“Whatever. Who the hell are you anyway?”

“I’m Cymbria. It’s my first time.”

“Dr. C had better not be charging me for this. And seriously, why would I take advice from someone wearing such an abomination of a sweater?
recovering from bad first impressionShe’s right. Dr. C may have helped me burn my ugly pants, but the sweater she met me in still haunts my closet, its ease too easy an argument on so many grey/black branded mornings. I take it off and toss it on the grassy floor between us.

“Oh sure,” she says, letting go of the chair leg, “like that ratty old tank top is any more professional.”

“Fine.” I take that off too, and let it drop like a limp white flag of surrender. But this is no resignation. I’ve got her full attention now that I’m down to my bra and jeans. It’s my turn to call her out: “And I don’t know how I can listen to someone bitching about their life when they’re wearing a fresh-pressed button-down and Christian Louboutin heels!”

“Fine.” The woman picks herself up, strips off her shirt, and kicks off her shoes. She stands her ground with arms crossed and jaw set, challenging me.

“You want professional?” I say, as I take her white oxford from the top of our laundry pile and button it over my bra. It’s a tad loose, but the more like a lab coat the better. Off go my jeans and I make an improvised matching skirt from my repurposed ‘ratty’ white tank top. Recovering from a terrible first impression demands high risk creative problem solving. “Now hand over the tights. You came here wanting to expose your brain for someone to poke around in. Hosiery sharing isn’t anywhere near as intimate and you know it.”

She gives me her tights and lets me dress her in a true tickle trunk representation of how she says she feels. I tie my sweater sleeves (so what if they stretch – t’is a noble sacrifice) behind her back for a straightjacket effect, then get her to put her feet in the wrong end of my jeans to trap her legs. She draws the line at letting me hood her with her black gabardine pencil skirt – “can’t wreck the hair,” she says, which I take as a possible sign of improving moral.

We sit facing each other, transformed. “Now,” I say, as professionally as possible, ignoring the pain of her glorious but too-tight Louboutins, “how can I help?”

This is a Story Thread post – Click to read more…

Dear Friday, how could have I let you see me like this?

Startled? Shocked? Horrified? All of the above. How could this have happened? Oh, I could give you a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I’m wearing slacks today – not pants or trousers, but honest to goodness slacks. And I swear I’m only surfing celebrity gossip to calm my beta-brain into a blissful alpha interim before boosting back up to finish my intellectual tome-of-the-moment (and it’s a really thick one too). But on the surface, I have completely submitted to the stereotype: the hair, a bun; my shoes, practical; my cardigan (yes, cardigan), thigh grazing and demure. I’m even drinking from our office kitchen’s “make every day a Friday!” mug. The horror.

Now, before I confess what I’m about to, I’m trusting you to understand something, that this moment does not define me. Just as I’ll trust that wherever you might find yourself today – in whatever footwear – that you, at least, have hope that someday you will find your own expression of whatever marvelous uniqueness your soul is coded to contain. That said…

My full surrender to the stereotype came as I reached into my desk drawer and dug out a cherry filled chocolate from my secret stash… and then another. Yes, dear readers, I’m typing this with still-sticky fingers. I’m living the very paradigm I’ve spent a lifetime trying desperately to escape. And I ask myself… What effect does environment really have, on our identities, our actions, our morale? Maybe we are not so independent of circumstance? Maybe my day job is more than a time ticker? Maybe you and I are risking more of ourselves than we realize? So let’s do something radical this weekend. You and me. Pinky swear…