at hycroft

i am here at hycroft, the lovely, lovely 100-year-old home of the university women’s club of vancouver. my friend MJ ankenmann had invited some vancouver bloggers to join her in the unveiling of a painting in honour of the many 100-year events that will happen here in 2011.

just now i interviewed donalda falconer, who leads the club’s choir, the hycroft singer. they present a wide repertoire, from early music to broadway to jazz. they sing in many different venues and configurations. “we always have a good time and are good friends,” says donalda. recently at the last “christmas at hycroft” (a venerable vancouver christmas event), the choir did a flashmob. the public was milling about, with the choir mixed in and suddenly they erupted into in dulce jubilo. it was a lot of fun!

on friday march 18 there will be a festival of choirs, a women’s choir festival in the ballroom. so far three choirs are scheduled to sing, the hycroft singers, the lyric singers, and higher ground from north vancouver. doors open at 7, refreshments are available, the music starts at 7:30. tickets are $15 for members, $20 for the public – phone the office! there is limited space. the number is 604 731 4661.

i asked donalda to tell me why i should join the club. “there is such a variety of people and things going on. the interest groups are amazing. you can get really serious or not, you can do a little bit or a lot of it, the camaraderie is wonderful. when i first joined, i loved the variety of the members. a variety of age and interest. and that’s one of the big points of this club.”

another person i interviewed was kathy barford, a fountain of knowledge about hycroft. “there is something very enduring about this house,” she says. there is an effort to continuously make it closer to what it might have been when it was first built and lived in (and partied in! the ballroom and bar downstairs are huge!). during WWII, the house was converted to a veteran’s hospital. the beautiful, very large formal living room in which we are sitting right now was hospital green during the war and the floor battleship linoleum. afterwards, when the place was restored to its old splendour, the members couldn’t get any men to strip the linoleum, so they did it themselves. just imagine all these well-educated women way back in the 60s and 70s on their knees, stripping the floor!

cathy took art history in university, and loves hycroft because “it is just overall beautifully designed, the proportions, the scale of it, it’s all so well done, all the way through. sadly, this is a rare thing.” thomas hooper was the architect. his older brother became provincial architect in manitoba (hm, i wonder what a provincial architect is?) thomas hooper came here in 1886, just as vancouver was founded. he built many schools and churches in vancouver and victoria, e.g. the vancouver public library, the addition to the vancouver art gallery, and the winch building. he also did the provincial court houses in vernon and revelstoke. mccarter, who built the marine building, trained with him.

cathy looks after the volunteers at hycroft. right now she is putting together a lecture series about the history, heritage and antiques at hycroft. she is also part of the house committee, which replaces all the work a butler or major-domo would have usually done. “really,” she says, “we have a cooperative between members and staff.”

so, why should i join this club? “it’s interesting and there is fellowship and a beautiful house, advocacy on behalf of women’s issues and a great place to hang out.”

finally, i asked MJ a few questions. when MJ lived in toronto, there was a university women’s club but she never got around to joining it. when she got here, she saw the building and thought this would be an interesting place to belong to. when she first visited, she was immediately drawn to it. there are women of all ages. “one of my best friends is 87.” she doesn’t have that sort of multigenerational family connection here. it’s a real sisterhood, an older version of the sorority but without the politics. “we do some good work with advocacy. right now we’re working on a paper about prostitution. we are against legalisation and are involved with the canadian federation of university women; this way we are able to put forth a position. we do take a stand on things.”

why should i join? it’s a great place to meet and be surrounded by women who have ideas, who are creative who want to enjoy life. there is a wide variety of things to do, educational and fun, “we play poker and drink wine, and play bridge and drink tea.” there is also a connection to history, one because of the house and vancouver’s history, and we’re preserving some of this. there is also the history of the club in the house. when we bought it in 1962, women were not allowed to legally hold a mortgage on their own. they had to raise the money and buy the house outright. and they did that. rather than having a man co-sign it, they said, we’re going to do this. there are members from all over the world. it’s a great place to come to meet people.

validation therapy

many years ago, i learned a little about validation therapy but i keep forgetting about it. it is a form of therapy that works with very old people, especially people with severe alzheimer’s. of course, the types of therapy that work in these situations always have something in it that can be very powerful in other types of therapy, as well. today, my friend barbara posted a video about it. can you watch it without crying?

south asian mental health conference

first live blogging in a long time!

sitting here with 12 others to discuss putting together a mental health conference with a focus on the south asian community in british columbia. for those of you not familiar with the term “south asian” – it refers to people of mostly indian background, e.g. people with ethnic backgrounds in india, fiji, pakistan, etc. the idea for this conference started quite a while ago, shortly after we had our first mental health camp.

the topics that have come up already are stigma (“everyone wants you to hide it”), the lack of services, and the lack of involvement on the part of the community.

the idea so far is to create a one-day educational forum on mental health for the south asian community. the intention is to have workshops, perhaps meet with professionals, etc. the overarching goal is to reduce stigma and create acceptance. obviously you can’t do that with just one event but it might just be a start. it’s also important to give the community a voice – important to hear personal stories and anecdotes. there is a broken link between the people who require help and those who offer help.

there is an idea to have high school students volunteering. this would allow them to openly attend without immediately having a stigma attached to them (“why are YOU going to this???”)

let’s have some depression screening and ADHD screening there!

there should be some way of reaching seniors whose english is not very good.

let’s make it fun and interactive! “wow, i didn’t think about mental health in this way!” maybe adding some art into the forum would help with that. let’s have something that people can laugh at!

we could also look into “what is mental health?”

we want to work with people who have a balanced view of mental health; inviting pharma to be significant sponsors probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

an aside: it’s interesting to live blog something like this. so far i have only live blogged big events; this is a smallish gathering. it’s intimate and it feels a bit intrusive to try and live blog it. good learning!

one of the biggest challenges will be to assist the south asian community to make it easier to talk about mental health in general and to talk about mental health to each other. an interesting comment by someone: “when i went to my first event with my community, i thought, ‘oh god, they know everything about me!'” this is a very close-knit community, with all the pros and cons that come with it.

the wisdom to know the difference

the good people at TLC book tours asked me to write a review of eileen flanagan’s book the wisdom to know the difference – when to make a change, and when to let go. let’s start with a tidbit that resonated with me

“often when we accept something we shouldn’t, we feel resignation, rather than serenity.”

the book, as you might have guessed, takes as its root the serenity prayer

grant me the serenity
to accept the things i cannot change
courage to change the things i can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

the quote above goes right to that difference. how do you know when to accept something and when to change it? the answer is often quite muddled, and so we need wisdom. one of the ways the wisdom can come to us is through feeling into a possible decision. acceptance, ideally, brings with it a feeling of relaxation, of a burden lifted. and no, resignation and serenity are absolutely not the same.

a propos differences, let’s talk about how eileen flanagan’s oeuvre is different from other self help books. flanagan, among other things, is active in the quaker community, and you can see the quiet friendliness that we tend to associate with quakers all over the book. she does not wield the heavy stick that i often find in self help books; rather, she tells stories and gives gentle suggestions. each chapter of the book ends with a few queries (another quaker tradition). i liked this one:

“if you were to translate the proverb, ‘trust in god, but tie up your camels’ for your own life, what would it say?”

good question. i like the idea of translating proverbs.

the book is also well-researched. for example, she cites another of my favourites, andrew greeley (a roman catholic super priest who churns out not only one bestselling novel after the other but is also a well-respected journalist and sociologist), who “has developed a tool he calls the ‘grace scale’ that measures a respondent’s image of god … how we conceive of and describe god has profound implications for how we live.” flanagan talks about this in a chapter entitled “the courage to question”.

the serenity prayer is most often associated with 12-step programs (alcoholics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, narcotics anonymous, etc.) interestingly enough, 12-step programs encourage their members to work on their image of god, even to manufacture one according to one’s needs. however, this is by no means a 12-step book; while it occasionally mentions concepts associated with “the program” and also tells the tale of someone in AA, these instances are just one among many. this is another thing i liked about “the wisdom to know the difference” – flanagan takes great care to present a diversity of experiences. the stories that populate self-help books often have a canned feel to it. there is always the 36-year old single female executive who is disillusioned with her career, right? flanagan uses those cliché sparingly; her illustrations seem a little more alive, for example when she traces the life of a middle class african american woman who is both bewildered and inspired by the history of her ancestors. this historical and cultural context is also something that sets flanagan apart.

i noticed that most of the sections i underlined where ones where flanagan cites others. a few more examples:

“we live in a culture [that encourages] people to pursue perfection and control. the result is inevitably frustration and angst.” in quoting another book i find quite helpful, the spirituality of imperfection, flanagan points out the “anxious determination to take control, to be in charge” engrained in our culture. replace that wilfulness with willingness, is the suggestion.

quoting st. teresa of avila:

“one day of humble self knowledge is better than a thousand days of prayer.”

and a quote from thomas keating’s invitation to love:

“the regular practice of contemplative prayer initiates a healing process that might be called ‘the divine therapy’.”

miscellaneous thoughts – addiction, books, and new years resolutions

oh boy, i haven’t posted in ages! let’s have some random stuff here then:

stuff #1 – we are on vacation in arizona right now – on our last leg, in a tiny place called congress, which is close to wickenburg with the huge population count of 5,000. supposedly, wickenburg is known for its fancy addiction treatment centres. i had a quick look at the websites of four of them but so far nothing looks like something i would recommend. as much as i think the 12 steps are great, i have a problem with them being a required part of a treatment centre. that’s not how the 12 steps work. and i have a problem with a treatment centre where the only books you’re allowed to read are AA’s big book and the bible. but i guess it works for some people.

stuff #2 – been thinking a lot lately about how to keep blogging and partaking in social media. to what degree do i want to contribute to the overwhelming symphony (cacophony?) of virtual voices out there? how will i help make the world a better place if i do that?

stuff #3 – the second edition of my poetry book is out. should i have a l(a)unch party? oh, that’s so much work. i totally don’t feel like organizing ANYTHING right now. but you know what, that book is darn good. it was fun to look at it four years later and to spruce it up a bit.

stuff #4 – i am reading – i am reading – i am reading – ok, i’m gonna say it, i am reading eat pray love right now. yup. i finally did it, grabbed the book off my sister-in-law’s shelf and went to it. it’s actually not that bad – there are a few neat ideas in there so far. for example the petition to god. will it make my “best books of 2011” list? no.

stuff #5 – oh, but HERE is a book that will make the list – alistair mchoag’s rollercoaster memoir invisible driving about his life with bipolar disorder. holy razmatazz! no need to be interested in mental illness to read that book, all you need is a love of reading. a review is coming up, and i’ll have to gather all my half and quarter wits to come up with something interesting after all the rave reviews he already has.

sleepingstuff #6 – resolutions. resolutions? i don’t know. i engaged in a bit of a rant against the typical approach to them in an interview with CBC parenting columnist michelle eliot the other day. more and more, i prefer themes rather than resolutions – ideas or actions i wouldn’t mind pursuing in the coming year, without going crazy about it for three weeks and then slacking off (“i will exercise of 60 minutes every day!”, “i’ll stop smoking forever!”). so two themes i’m proposing for this year is to slow down, and then to slow down some more. and extermination. of guilt.

aaah. slowing down. maybe i should stop now and go to bed.

and you?

christmas in new orleans – not so wordless wednesday

The holidays hit New Orleans Square

as i’m going back to working on my “magnum opus” novel, i thought i’d get back into the swing of things by evoking some images of louisiana, seeing that’s where the majority of the story takes place.

why “not so wordless wednesday”? as some of you may know, i used to put up an image every wednesday, without words. so it’s in the same tradition – but different, because the way to keep traditions alive is by changing them up a bit, let them grow with the times.

the picture is by loren javier.

energy audit

i just participated in another wonderful chat about mental health and social media. the topic this time was stress. one of the things i mentioned is that i have been inspired by tony schwartz to do a daily energy audit at work. two people asked if i could post about it so here it is.

in the summer my energy dropped somewhere into the basement, and when i was assaulted by a bad back for the first time in my life, i knew i had to do something. so i sat down and asked myself what impinges on my energy, and what feels important for my energy. here are the questions i came up with:

– how hopeful am i that i will get through the day?
– are there any resentments or other gremlins crowding my mind?
– what’s my physical energy like?
– what’s my emotional energy like?
– how “buzzy” do i feel? (feeling ungrounded, or “buzzy” zaps my energy)

i put the whole thing on a spreadsheet and assign a number to each question. 1 means i feel lousy, 10 means i feel great. i also make little comments that explain some of the numbers. and because i like statistics, i like to pour over the numbers the way a tea leaf reader pours over a cup of darjeeling and glean some wisdom. for example, i’ve noticed that on some questions, i fluctuate a lot and on others only a little.

here is a screenshot of a recreated spreadsheet. what do you think? would this be useful for you? what questions would make sense to you?

a spreadsheet to measure the energy level throughout the day

psychology dailies

a few months ago, some people in switzerland came up with paper.li, a program that organizes links shared on twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. newspapers can be created for any twitter user, list or #tag. (there is a fun little wordplay to the name: the “li” at the end, a sort of diminuitive, is a hallmark of switzerdeutsch, the swiss version of german.)

i think this is a neat idea. here are some examples:

the psychology daily
the mental health bloggers daily
and one i put together: the world changers daily