Whew, this March was a hard month. It did indeed come in like a lion; I am still waiting for it to go out like a lamb. As I write, I’m sitting on my couch, notebook in hand, coffee at my side—and the view from every window is the same: dark heavy branches weighed down with snow.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –“Muddling Through” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 29, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
When the long kind days of summer leave and fall and winter set in, my house is extremely dark at night. Set on four acres in a rural area, away from streetlights and shrouded from neighbors by forests, unless you turn something on, the hallway, staircase, and basement are pitch black. And it doesn’t matter how familiar I am with my home, every so often this deep darkness catches me by surprise.
The other evening, I started downstairs, not realizing someone had killed all basement lights. I was fine at first, but on the landing just before the final flight of stairs, the thought hit: Wow, it’s really dark. And just like that I lost my place and froze.
Eventually, since there was no other viable option, I moved forward again, prodding for solid ground, one foot at a time. Every so often, feeling empty air, my heart would race. Was this the spot I’d fall? And then I was safely on smooth floor once more, familiar with my surroundings again, relief flooding through me.
The small lesson felt like a gift.
I’ve had a difficult five or six months. There have been lovely times and moments, but there have also been terrible, wrenching events. The deep contrasts between life’s good and bad have been . . . harder than usual. I’ve been struggling to cope with the things other people suffer, and angry at the unfairness and randomness of so much of life. Plus I’ve been uncomfortably aware of the pettiness of some of my problems compared to bigger issues (personally and within the larger world) and frustrated with my inability to do much of anything to help.
And I’ve felt guilty for such negative feelings because even in the toughest times I’m poignantly aware of all I have to be grateful for—and I am grateful. Truly. But sometimes my blessings make the questions I have harder to stand up under, not easier. Why am I spared? Or blessed? Why is anyone?
During this dark time, my faith and core beliefs have taken a hit and I’ve been very, very sad—to the point that I’ve worried what if my resilience gets so battered I can no longer bounce back? What if one day I just can’t muster energy, or keep putting myself and my heart out there?
And then I had the stairs-in-the-dark incident, followed closely by a chance stumble into this Kurt Vonnegut quote:
Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let pain make you hate.
Do not let bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
I found the simply worded admonishment comforting. And challenging.
Pain can make us hate. I have to fight that in myself. Other people’s behavior can tempt us to harden ourselves. I need to resist that inclination. I have to let go of bitterness. It poisons and sours the sweetness that co-exists with the awful.
The world is a beautiful place—or can be—and that’s why the hard things are excruciating. We know how good things can be, should be, so we chafe against the bad. That can be beneficial if it gives us courage to change the things we can. It’s destroying when it keeps us focused on what we can’t change or prevents us from recognizing and taking joy from the things we have that are good.
I don’t think we’re ever prepared for the familiar to suddenly become alien or to find ourselves in times of utter darkness, but perhaps it’s unavoidable. Yet if we can somehow keep feeling our way through those times, eventually we’ll make it back to, or will create, a safe place. And meanwhile, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for feeling bruised and aching occasionally. That’s what happens when you’re soft. And softness is good.
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“Out of the Dark” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 28, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
My latest Terrace Standard column seems an appropriate thing to share on the heels of Mother’s Day. . . . I did most of my young mothering without my own mother or mother-in-law around to help or offer advice and I’ve always wondered if that loss and lack made me more neurotic than other moms. More and more, however, I feel comforted (er, wrong word, perhaps, but the closest I can find) that no, most of us feel wildly unprepared and terrified for every stage of our children’s lives, even while we’re thrilled and excited for them. Thoughts?
p.s. A special call out to my lovely, supportive step mom who is always the first to reassure me that all my angst is normal and that you never fully stop worrying about your kids.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –All is Right
When my children were small, I used to tiptoe into their rooms at night to watch their sweet sleeping faces. I would say it was for their benefit, that I wanted to make sure they were settled, but really it was to reassure myself that this loveliest of experiences was real. No matter what stress or problems nagged or future worries loomed, in the now, my children were sleeping, were safe.
I’ve never lost the awe and gratitude I felt at their births. Even now, I sometimes gawk at grown-up them and feel overwhelmed with it.
There were trying times through the years, of course. Exhaustion, heartbreak, turmoil, and guilt. (Ah, guilt that horrible part and package of becoming a parent, seeing first hand that no matter how hard you try, you’ll still fail them and be completely inadequate in some pretty crucial ways.) Yet through it all, the dominant emotion I associate with parenting was—and is—joy. Joy and deep thankfulness.
That said, the last two or so years have been tough. I knew my job would change once my children became adults, but I didn’t know how or in what ways—and I fully counted on my worrying about them to decrease. (I hear you other parents of adult kids laughing right now, and it’s not helpful. Not helpful at all!) More frequently than ever before, I was at a loss for what to do, what to say. . . .
Thanks to help from parents I admired and to a lot of reading, I knew how to rear babies and toddlers (which isn’t to say I did so well—but I knew the basics and could aspire to higher things). Ditto children and tweens. And I was one of those annoying parents who enjoyed raising my teenagers. (Don’t worry: I also pulled out a lot of hair and wept buckets too. I think that’s the developmental norm for parents of children that age.)
But adulthood? Somehow, seemingly overnight, I was supposed to trust we’d instilled the tools they needed to maneuver life, provide for themselves, build healthy relationships, etc., etc.
For a while, I went backward in my parenting skills. I struggled (struggle!) with letting go. It’s just that I have all this hope and love and desire for them, coupled with a truth we all learn pretty quickly: life can kick the heart out of you sometimes. I desperately wanted (want!) to spare them any pain. But that’s inner-Ev. Outer-Ev is more sensible and knows full well their lives and decisions are on them now—as they must be for them to mature into healthy, independent adults.
Thankfully, after some blue, anxious months, I had a small epiphany. My daughter was sharing some issue and as I opened my mouth to give suggestions, she held up her hand. “You don’t have to fix this, Mom. It’s not your job.”
A light went on. She was right. “Fixing things” for her isn’t my job anymore—and hasn’t been for some time.
Then I read an article, “The Danger of Micromanaging your Teenagers” by Mike Duran. It affirmed how my husband and I tried to raise our kids—and provided guidance for this next phase. He described parenting adults as a partnership. You’re still there for them, but as equals facing life together. You’re supportive, not dictatorial. Available, but not hovering.
I know I’ll be tempted to micromanage or to give more advice than is appropriate again (It’s just so hard not to look at them and see the toddlers who needed so much of me!), but I’ve been at peace since getting this tidbit of insight.
Will I still sneak into their bedrooms to check on them if I get the chance? Of course! Heh. Got you. Of course not. Part of me, however, will always want to. Just to know they’re all right. And to reassure myself that this loveliest of all experiences is real. I am the parent of adults, and in the now, they’re safe.
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“All is Right” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, April 29, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
If you read my column “Lessons From Bubble Pop,” I know what you’re thinking: What, she’s writing about another computer game? She has a problem.
While it’s kind of cruel of you to be so judgmental, I can’t argue with you. I really am a game addict and Tetris has topped the list of my weaknesses since approximately 1988.
At various times in my life I’ve been on the wagon, the longest break being the years I no longer frequented Gus’s Arcade. Online Tetris versions were lame compared to the arcade game—or were until I joined Facebook and discovered—Oh, the joy, oh, the agony, oh, the huge time suckage but wonderful stress reliever—Tetris Battle.
(You said there was a lesson in this blather, I hear you mutter—and right you are. Patience, patience. All the little blocks will fall into place soon and you’ll soon see what I’m putting down. Heh heh. A Tetris joke. Get it?)
ANYWAY, I’ve been playing like a mad woman again because after a six-month hiatus, I logged in and discovered I’d lost my rank and had to restart from scratch. (I know. It’s an outrage.)
It’s been a rough month. February weather is hard on my spirits in general (although the respite provided by the crazy, glorious snowstorm was lovely!), plus some things in my personal life have been tough—and professionally I’ve been fraught with indecision and insecurity about the path I’ve chosen and the direction I’m going. . . . Sounds familiar, right? Yes, I think it’s called life, sometimes. . . .
But I’ve been kicking butt in Tetris at least.
The lesson I want to share comes—as so many lessons do—from a mistake I made. For an instant, while battling a User-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I broke with my proven strategy and looked to see how my opponent was doing.
Gah! I recognized my error immediately. He was doing great. Had even dropped more lines than I had. (The horror, the horror!) Flustered, I made a rookie error, landed a Z shape at an awkward angle, leaving a gap exposed—then compounded the problem by dropping a square too close, so I couldn’t snug another piece under the jutting edge.
Even worse, I darted a sideways glance again to see how badly my screw-up had hurt my game. Bleeeep—KO’D. Even as the buzzer sounded, my brain screamed, “What were you doing? Don’t look. Don’t look!”
Wham! Crossover wisdom hit me and fleshed itself out. Don’t look at your neighbor or friend or peer. Keep focused on your plan, your goal, what works for you.
To win in Tetris, you can’t let yourself get distracted by someone else’s progress, concentrate too heavily on the way they play, or compare their results to your own. Doing so will immobilize you, fill you with doubt, and crush your game.
The same is true for other parts of life. I’m usually content with my home, relationships, accomplishments, work——until I fall into the comparison trap. I sometimes need to remind myself: Don’t look! Zeroing in on how someone else is doing doesn’t change my situation, skills, talents, or assets—but it does take my focus off what it should be on: what I do have, what I can do, what I should do.
Flipping that (because there’s always flipping in Tetris), all of life is not like the game. Sometimes contemplating what other people are doing encourages, challenges and spurs you on. . . .
The trick, I guess, is to know which to do and when. Thankfully, the answer’s fairly clear. If looking at others makes you dissatisfied or diminishes your ability to maneuver the pieces of your life with joy and ease, stop looking. If studying someone else fills you with a sense of possibility or lends you a strategy you hadn’t yet considered, gawk away.
And now I’m off to level up. 🙂
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“Don’t Look! A Tetris Battle lesson” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February 25, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
I get asked that fairly frequently, and my short form answer is always something like, body issues and food issues are something I’ve dealt with in many incarnations, personally, and I still see, despite all our modern so-called enlightenment and equality, etc., a disgusting amount of value put on people’s bodies and looks (by individuals against themselves and others, but also within the workplace and society) over who they really are. And I still see a lot of us doing horrifying things to our physical and emotional heath—and to our children’s—in the name of “health” that’s really just fat-hating, something that I think has very little to do with a number on a scale, and way more do with . . . well, a lot of other things. I wrote BIGGER THINGS partly to exorcise my own ghosts, partly to explore what I think about things, and largely (pun intended, lol) because the main character Jen appeared in my head one day, yammering away.
Anyway, as I was thinking about my response to the reader, I remembered a column for the Terrace Standard that I wrote a few years before I started the novel’s first draft—and I’ve dug it out for your reading pleasure (or something that’s hopefully not displeasure, anyway ☺). It was published Wednesday, January 30, 2002—and I’m happily surprised, though a little weirded out, by how it’s still a good reflection on how I feel about a lot issues surrounding weight and weight loss, with the following few caveats:
My children are young adults now and while I hope I was the good role model I wanted to be, I’m sure there were (are!) failing moments. Also, I’d be lying if I said I followed my “never diet” again vow perfectly. I still get tempted. Having a bad day or week? My first thought is usually that I should definitely start a diet. I usually manage to resist. . . . And I’ve also noticed that the language surrounding extreme calorie cutting and purging has changed. Some people still use “diet,” but a lot of us have gotten sneakier. We don’t go on abusive, calorie restricted diets of cabbage soup. Don’t ridiculous. We go on raw food or broth only cleanses. 😉 Don’t get me started! Grrrr! (By the way, I’m not saying you shouldn’t give your colon a break now and again—but we need to be honest with ourselves. Is it really about our health or are we weighing ourselves every day or so to make sure the cleanse is “working?”)
And a note about the statistics I refer to below: the numbers are outdated now, obviously, but if you do some research, you’ll be shocked by how little progress we’ve made in this area. . . .
Anyway, enjoy my thoughts. I’d love to hear your reflections on the weighty topic too, so if so moved, please reply.
And if you’re interested in reading BIGGER THINGS, I’d be honored. It’s available in eBook form, pretty much everywhere, in paperback at Misty River Books, online (Chapters, Barnes & Noble, Amazon) or for order in at your favorite bricks and mortar bookseller.
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Losing me and finding me
By Ev Bishop
How many people made some sort of resolution to lose weight this year? It seems to be the most popular New Year’s goal.
Magazine companies know it. Almost every issue has some skinny, manically cheerful model assuring us that we can get thin. Pseudo-scientific facts are printed about how some latest discovery will miraculously help shed all unwanted pounds, without any effort, in just ten days!
I’m furious with articles that equate losing weight with changing who you are. “New Year, New You.” They may as well just come out and say, “You’re just a body.” “Change your body, change who you are.” And we fall for it! We believe that somehow changing our body weight will change our lives and eliminate the stuff of life that hurts. We think that shedding pounds will help us shed the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, don’t feel comfortable with.
Consider these statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association: Almost half of American women are on a diet on any given day, as are 1 in 4 men. Half of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
Are you thinking, so what?
Think about this then: 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and of those, 1 in 4 will progress to a partial or full syndrome eating disorder; the kind that, without intervention, can kill you.
In It’s Not About Food, Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark say that while the symptoms are different, the roots of all eating disorders are similar and that most of the mindset behind dieting has nothing to do with weight at all.
It’s something less tangible than actual weight that’s bothering the individual, usually a feeling that, as a being, they’re unacceptable or out of control.
At age eight, I had my first binge and vomit session.
The summer after grade seven, I lived on a box of chips and a two-lire of diet Coke a day. I lost forty pounds and started a decade-long war, the battle of losing me.
For eight years I abused myself, equating every problem in my life with the number on a scale and attributing every success to the same thing. Now I am fat. Don’t worry. I’m not putting myself down. I don’t see the word as an insult, more like a fact of life, like saying, “I have ‘brown eyes.”
Strangely, I’m more at peace with my body than I’ve ever been. I have been every weight, every size and I know that my life stays the same, my battles are the same and my pleasures are the same.
In some ways getting big saved me. It made me aware that the reflection in the mirror has no bearing at all on who I am as a person.
Despite the added weight, I’m probably healthier than when I was a teen. I can bump my knee without it turning purple and green all the way down my shin. I don’t get paralysing charley horses running the entire length of my leg, toe to thigh. I don’t wake up suddenly in the middle of the night in front of the fridge, scarfing down leftovers.
Still it would be healthy for me to lose some weight—yet I will never diet again. Ever. I have good reasons. I just don’t hate myself enough anymore to endure the agony of self-induced starvation.
I have two wonderful kids who need to know that their value has nothing to do with externals. Society won’t teach them that. It may give the idea lip service but everything else in the media will contradict it. They need a strong, healthy, kind-to-herself-at-any-weight role model, me.
So what can I do? I can start to listen to myself. I can quit stifling my emotions with food, thinking I have no right to them, and acknowledge when I’m pissed off, when I’m sad, when I’m afraid. I can move because it feels good to move, I can stop eating when I’m full because I know I will let myself eat again. Most of all, when the mirror says, “You’re worthless.” I can remember; the mirror lies.
Maybe by not waiting till I arrive at some magic weight to participate in life, by eating when I’m hungry, by refusing to buy into society’s beauty ideals, I will sometime arrive at what, a long time ago, was my body’s natural weight. But I might not. In either event, I am not my body.
If you are dieting, I hope you will remember that you are not a number on a scale. Your value is not in your waist size. Be kind to yourself and make sure that it’s weight that you’re trying to lose, not who you are.
It feels a bit weird to post this copy of my October 2013 column because I’ve been on my marvelous trip and am back already, but as this blog is the best way for me to archive my Terrace Standard column, and because some of you may be curious about what I got up to in London, sharing this still seems the thing to do. Enjoy!
I suspect my November column may share reflections on my trip. Oh, wait, no! Now I’ve gone and spoiled the surprise. I guess I should’ve said: Spoiler alert: in November’s column I’ll share reflections on my trip. 😉
And now, without further ado, I present “Today is my day … I’m off and away!” by me, Ev Bishop, originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 30, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
—————————-I’ve long-loved Dr Seuss’s book Oh, the places you’ll go! For being silly and hilarious, it’s oddly inspiring, and whenever I read it, I’d want to travel and wonder when, when, when?
I love almost everything about Terrace, but I’ve always been fascinated by other places and hoped to travel physically, not just through the words of a story or pictures in books (though I wouldn’t trade those journeys and adventures!).
And I’ve gone on some very fun gallivants—lots of road trips and camping excursions, annual conferences, and beach seeking. But I’ve always, always, always—since I was barely able to read—wanted to go to England, particularly London.
And guess what? The day has arrived. Literally. I leave tomorrow (or, rather, since you’re reading this in the paper—I left last week!).
London is definitely romanticized in my mind, and I don’t know if my trip can possibly live up to my expectations (except even as I write that a little voice is yelling, “Of course it will. It totally will. You are going to love, love, LOVE it!).
I can hardly read over my itinerary without squealing—oh, who am I kidding? I don’t even try not to squeal. I’m staying with one of my best friends and a favourite fellow writer, so it’s really a holiday dream trip.
Here’s our rough plan (please forgive the copious exclamation marks. I can’t help myself):
Day 1 – I arrive, YAY! Most likely very jet-lagged—or so everybody warns. I suspect I’ll be too freakishly excited to be tired! A drive about tour, then dinner in London. Then, supposedly, wine and chatting at my friend’s flat, but I suspect the first sip will put me to sleep.
Day 2 – Weather permitting we will tour Highgate Cemetery, and visit Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town, and the Covent Garden area. My friend also wants us to “pop into” the Natural Portrait Gallery just to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (Her words, “Just for a minute because it’s free and near the door, so it won’t take long.”—mind boggling!)
Day 3 – Church of some kind, somewhere. Visiting and walkabout. Harrods for tea!
Day 4 – The Natural History Museum and Westminster Abbey. Also Big Ben, dinner in Soho (at my friend’s favourite fish restaurant, Randall and Aubin), then sightseeing and exploring the area.
Day 5 – Off to Lancashire on the train to visit family I’ve never yet met, and seeing cool rural things full of my roots (am hoping for a cemetery, along with the old family halls and farms).
Day 6 – Day in Lancashire, evening train back to London. I’m so freakishly excited about the train! I’m first class on the way down, and last class (ha ha) on the way back. If only I had Harry Potter-esque robes for the journey.
Day 7 – The Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Day 8 – Hyde Park and explore Notting Hill area.
Day 9 – Our chauffeur (a.k.a. my friend’s hubby) will deliver us to Stonehenge, and then we’ll head to Oxford for exploring and dinner/drinks in the Eagle and Child—the pub, established in 1644, that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings had their weekly writers’ meetings!
Day 10 – Stratford Upon Avon!!!!! I will see Shakespeare’s grave!!!! Eeieieieieieieieeieieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!
Day 11 – Up in the air . . . again, literally. I don’t fly out until afternoon, so I may sneak in a little something else.
I have a brand new sketchbook journal in honour of my trip, along with a package of gorgeous drawing pens as I have delusions of doodling things I see and trying to jot down interesting bits I spy and hear and experience. I suspect, however, the journal will be neglected as I ogle my surroundings eyes wide, mouth agape. I can’t wait!
And on that note . . . I should pack. Hold the fort until I’m back.