Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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Star Trek: The Next Generation theme song with lyrics

I just saw this on Wil Wheaton’s page… it’s funny! Have a listen and let your inner geek (or outer geek…we don’t judge here!) have a moment to shine!! (Allan: I’m posting this for you in particular – I think you and Matthew could make a lovely duet out of this!)

When we worked on Next Generation, Brent Spiner and I would sit at our consoles on the bridge, and make up lyrics to our show’s theme song. I vaguely recall coming up with some pretty funny and clever stuff, but nothing that held together as perfectly as this, from the weirdos over at meh.com:

via this is brilliant — WIL WHEATON dot NET


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And then there were four…

There’s a scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula tells Ian about her huge Greek family. She says:

So, you have two cousins. I have 27 first cousins. Just 27 first cousins alone!

(Watch this 5-second clip to see how emphatic she is about it.)

My immediate thought when I heard that was, “27? Big whoop.” You see, there are 73 of us first cousins in my family, including me and my 3 brothers. Yup – 73. And no, we’re not Greek. 😉

Now, you might be thinking that to get that many first cousins, there have to be a lot of aunts and uncles, right? And you would be correct, but maybe there were not as many as you might think, since most of them had pretty large families themselves.

There were 7 siblings in Dad’s family (3 of whom died young) and 15 in Mom’s (4 of whom died young). All who lived to adulthood, except one, married, and all who married, except one, had children. So that’s 13 aunts and uncles (plus their spouses) who had families of their own, with a total of 73 kids – that’s an average of 5.6 kids each!

I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until later, discussing that part of the movie with friends, that I realized that my situation was actually the unusual one.

That said, I didn’t actually know most of my cousins on Mom’s side.  Geography separated me from most of them, as they were scattered across the province and country. Travel was very expensive back then and with the (obviously) large families everyone had, getting to visit with each other was not feasible. Everything I knew about those cousins came from occasional photographs, wedding announcements, and so on.

Then there were those who grew up in the same town I did, but from whom I was separated by age. Mom was one of the youngest of her siblings and she didn’t marry until the (then) ripe old age of 34. Her older siblings’ kids then, were much older than I was and had grown up and moved away by the time I was old enough to really get to know them. Most visited, though, for holidays and such, so there was still at least a closeness that we didn’t have with those who lived far away.

With Dad’s family it was somewhat different. There were still cousins on his side who were much older so that was still a bit of a challenge. But, while none of them lived in the same town where I grew up, they lived only a four- or five-hour drive away in or near the capital city of St. John’s. As such, we were able to visit them more regularly, especially as the highways improved.

Because of all of that, there were only two first cousins I actually grew up with. Out of 69, there were only two that I grew up with. Huh – I hadn’t thought about it in that way before! Bizarre.

Now, back to the aunts and uncles and the reason for today’s post.

Mom’s oldest brother, Roche, died (before I was born) of the industrial disease that left a couple of generations of families in the town I grew up in fatherless. When I was born, then, I had 26 living aunts and uncles (in-laws included). I’m now 48, so it’s no shock that, over the years, that number has dwindled.

Yesterday, I went to Burlington, ON for a memorial service for Aunt Nora, one of Mom’s sisters, who passed away last Sunday. She had moved back to Newfoundland for a short time in the late 1990s or early 2000s which enabled me to get to know her when I went home to visit Mom and Dad. We had kept in touch after she moved back to Ontario through phone calls and letters, as well as a visit a couple of years ago. She was funny and I had enjoyed getting to know her – I remember her with a ready smile and her fingers putting in her pin curls with a magical speed.  I was saddened by her loss and very glad to be able to go to the service.

While I was there, I reflected that of all of the blood-related aunts and uncles alive at the time of my birth, there are now only 4 left: Mom’s sister Flo, her brother Vic, and Dad’s sisters Lucy and Rita. It seems like one minute they were all there and now they are gone.

I couldn’t help but think in particular of Uncle Vic and Aunt Flo – of the 15 children their mother bore, with Aunt Nora’s passing, they are now the last two. Even though they haven’t physically been around all of their siblings for much of their lives, there must have been some comfort in knowing they were there – knowing they could pick up the phone, or before cheap long-distance rates, pick up a pen and jot down a few lines.

I realize that that’s the case with all loss – we can’t just pick up the phone or the pen anymore – I feel it with both my parents being gone. But, for Aunt Flo and Uncle Vic, I have this image of a large family photo where most of the faces have faded and theirs are the only two distinct images left; the others are more like ghostly impressions than actual images. It must be a strange sensation.

Or maybe not.

We all deal with death and loss in our own ways and, because they’ve dealt with the deaths of their siblings literally throughout their entire lives, maybe it’s not as impactful as I think it might be.

I should have some sort of clear conclusion here before I end, but I don’t. I haven’t reached a conclusion on this one. It has, however, given me something to really think about.

Thanks to www.wordle.net for the word bubble image of our family names (aunts, uncles, cousins).

 


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Wise words about listening

Do you watch the TV show Black-ish? I do…I really like it. It combines two of my favourite things: learning and laughing.

Last week’s episode (which I watched on Thursday night – gotta love a PVR!) was pretty sad, though. It was all about how the two lead characters, a husband and wife duo, have grown apart. In case you haven’t seen it and would like to, I won’t say anything else about the plot. The only other thing I will say is that they did an amazing job at portraying the emotions of the situation.

Fast forward to Friday night. I was looking for some painting projects on YouTube when I saw there was a clip with Henry Winkler on The Late, Late Show with James Corden. I love Henry Winkler. Truth be told, I love everything Happy Days. So I watched the clip. It was James Corden with David Duchovny and Henry Winkler on the couch. It turns out, Henry and his wife just celebrated 40 years of marriage.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the conversation inevitably led to Henry being asked what he thought was the secret to a long and happy marriage. A few jokey answers were given, but then he said something that made me pause. Literally, I paused the video so I could write it down:

Respect what the other person heard as opposed to what you thought you said.

Go ahead…read it again. Realllllllllllllllllly read it and let it sink in.

It’s not rocket science. Communications specialists have been telling us something similar for years: Listening isn’t about us; it’s about the other person.

I really like what this quote says about it. So often, we get frustrated and upset because the person we are talking to just doesn’t “get it”. At the same time, because we are so focused on them not getting what we are trying to convey, and planning what else we are going to say, that we are equally not getting it. We are misunderstanding them. And when we stay focused on our own perspectives, things go awry.

We all live our own experiences (obviously) so when we say things, we say them through our own filter. And when we hear things, we hear them through our filter. The exact same words heard by 10 different people can be heard very differently by each of them because of that. So when we say something, whoever hears it may hear it completely differently than we, through our filters, intended to say it. I think this is particularly true in conversations that are very serious or important.

I know it’s just a TV show, but I couldn’t help but relate the quote to what I had seen the night before on Black-ish. Probably because it was so relatable. How many relationships head towards, or go into, the toilet because we don’t validate what the other person says, needs, or feels? And how many can be saved if we do the opposite?

Obviously, relationships are much more complicated than that – both personally and professionally.

I don’t pretend to any sort of expertise in that regard, but I do know, from experience, that when I’ve paid more attention to the other person in a conversation than to my own agenda, things have gone better. I also know that when speaking with someone who makes me feel that they are genuinely interested in my perspective, I’m automatically more interested in finding a positive resolution.

If you’d like some more information on communication, I recommend you check out the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most. It’s a super easy read and (yippee!) it’s fairly short. I love it and have gone back to it several times over the years. I’ve given it as a gift and recommended it to lots of people.

Anyhoooo…just some thoughts that I wanted to share. Hopefully you’ll find them interesting and maybe even helpful!!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below.  And don’t forget to click on Follow if you’d like to be notified whenever I post. 🙂

 


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Commitment issues, anyone?

Today’s blog assignment is about being inspired by social media. I was skeptical cuz that seemed like a bit of an oxymoron. But that might just be because my breakup with Facebook is still raw. 😉 Either way, I wasn’t going to let that get the best of me!

In the email, they gave a few tweets to pick from. The first one…the verrrrrry first one made me laugh. Out loud. To myself.

 

Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  We have a winner!

I just read a few of the comments and for a lot of people it seems this tweet is mostly about the tattoo part. And, you know, maybe it is. After all, I don’t know this Abby Heugel gal. But to me it’s about making a decision and sticking with it – reallllllllllllllllllllllly committing. And, boy, does that resonate with me!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total commitment-phobe. I’ve committed to lots of things – like potty training, personal hygiene and chocolate. Just to name a few. But man oh man…there are times when I cannot make a decision to save myself.

Come to dinner with me sometime! I’ll change my mind about what I’m going to order about five times before I actually commit to it. And even then, there’s no guarantee that I won’t ask the server if I can change my mind before she heads back to place the orders. True story. And if you’ve ever eaten out with me, you likely know that. (Feel free to comment to that effect.) If it hasn’t happened yet, don’t feel slighted – it will come.

I remember one time, in fact, when I was a kid and I was in Aylward’s Mini Mart to get a chocolate bar. I must have been maybe in my early teens, or maybe a tween (even though we weren’t called tweens back then…). I had already been thinking about what kind of bar I wanted before it was my turn. As I got closer and closer to the counter, the panic started to mount. “Which one do I want?!?!?!?! Which one???!!! Oh my….WHICH ONE!!!!!”

Then it was my turn. I still didn’t know. I picked something. I’m sure I ate it. But I don’t know what it was. And I don’t know if it was what I really wanted. But it was my turn and I had to choose. Sadly, that’s not the only time I’ve had the “Which chocolate bar do I want” conundrum. I’ve often wondered, “Why can’t there just be two options? Like plain chocolate or chocolate with nuts.” It would be easy then. The question would just be, “Am I in the mood for nuts or not?” Voilà!

Yeah…not so fast, Lucy. I know it wouldn’t be as easy as all that. What if I picked plain, but I really did want nuts? Nuts and chocolate are soooo good! But what if I picked nuts, and it turned out I only wanted the silky smoothness of melting chocolate on my tongue? WILL IT EVER END?!?!?!?!?

No…it will not. So, I feel kinda kindred to Abby. Not only do I not want a tattoo, I absolutely, unequivocally should not get one.


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So, what do you think?

As you know I’m doing one of the online blog courses WordPress has. My assignment for today is two-fold: first, I’m to write about where I write and then to ask you for suggestions of things to write about. I know…that’s not exactly a great hook, is it? And I get it… that wouldn’t likely make me want to read this post! So I’m intentionally keeping it short. At the very least, please skip to the last paragraph and leave some of your ideas in the comments. 🙂

I suppose the purpose of the first part is to get me thinking about the physical aspects of writing. Maybe so that I am more intentional about where and when I write, which likely then impacts what and how I write. Interestingly, I read the assignment itself yesterday and have been thinking about it since then. It motivated me to clean off the pile of papers and crafting stuff on the desk in my den so that, going forward, I can do my writing in there, depending on the weather. Laptops are handy that way!

Normally, I write where I’m currently writing: on my couch, in front of the TV, with a cozy blanket, and the soft light of a lamp. Sometimes it’s music instead of TV, but usually it’s TV. (I’m a creature of habit.) Nothing that I need to pay particular attention to…it’s just kind of there. Right now I’m watching (mostly listening to) an episode of Deep Space 9.

I thought of going to my newly tidied desk in the den, but took a pass. It looks out to the parking lot in front of my building. That sounds worse than it is. On a sunny day it’s still quite nice. The afternoon sun comes in that way and it can be quite cheery. Today, though, we’re having freezing rain. And, I gotta be honest, watching the ice build up on my car was not fun earlier when I was tidying up and it will be less fun now. Hmmm…that reminds me. I may need to go out and clean some of it off so that it doesn’t take me an hour tomorrow morning because it’s going to continue all night. And into tomorrow morning. Good times!

But I digress!

That covers the where I write bit. Next up is…what ideas for topics do you guys have? This whole course is about inspiration so now’s the chance for you guys to inspire me!


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Fake it till you make it!

Sometime in about my early 20s this became my go-to phrase, my mantra even. I don’t remember when I first used it, but I used it a lot. And I still use it to this day.

In fact, I lived it even before I knew it as a phrase.

I was a super shy teenager. Up to about grade 6, I think I was pretty comfortable socially, but when I went into grade 7, I was painfully shy. In the town I grew up in, we had a primary school (grades K-2), elementary school (grades 3-6), and then high school (grade 7-12). So grade 7 meant a new school – the big school, with the big kids.

I felt completely lost and out of place. In fact, I don’t recall having any friends in grade 7. My previous best friend had gotten cool over the summer and she was with a different group. I was completely out of my element. I’m sure I must have had at least a couple of casual friends, but I didn’t have a social group and didn’t have a bestie. I was extremely self-conscious, too. Ahhhhh…adolescence!!!!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Somewhere late in grade 9 or early grade 10, a couple of girls befriended me and started asking me to do things with them. When it was just hanging out at their houses, I was OK. But there were other social things (like going to dances or the local arcade/hangouts) that were completely out of my comfort zone – especially if I was meeting them there, as opposed to meeting at their house and going there together.

One night, my dad dropped me off at one of the hangouts where I would be meeting Stephanie and Shirley. I stood outside a while, walking back and forth along the street, trying to get up the nerve to go in – by myself! – before finally giving up and walking the 45 minutes home. I just could not make myself open that door. I don’t remember the excuse I made up when Shirley and Stephanie asked what happened, but I definitely did not admit that I had chickened out.

Anyway, at some point, I decided something had to change, and I was going to have to do some serious pretending in order to get me there. Without realizing it, I was faking it, hoping that eventually I’d be more comfortable in those large-group social situations. And I did. It worked.

Well, over 30 years later, I will admit that I haven’t fully gotten there. I still prefer more intimate social events. But when I have to go to larger events, I can handle it better than my 15-year-old self initially could. Plus, I now know that at least part of my social reticence is because I’m an introvert and that’s OK. I’m comfortable doing stuff on my own and when it comes to social situations, I know that I don’t always have to say yes. Oh, the perks of getting older!

Gradually, I applied the mantra to many more things, personally and professionally. It has truly become something I live by. Sometimes I use it in situations where there are things I don’t particularly want to do, but are important to someone I care about. Sometimes it’s a professional situation where I need to portray a level of confidence that I don’t necessarily feel.

I also struggle with depression and anxiety and sometimes making it through the day involves a lot of faking it. In that regard, it can actually be a life-saver to keep from spiralling.

And frequently, I use it as part of advice I give to others who’ve come to me for input on something. And I am only able to offer it as advice because it has helped me so much over the years.

Now…as much as I have found these words helpful, that doesn’t mean I think should be applied in every situation. You don’t want to have your entire life be “faked”.

I only apply it when it’s something really important to me (or to someone I care about) and something I really do want or need to do. I also only suggest it to someone else in similar situations.

For example, going back to when I was a teenager, I really, really wanted to get out of my shell. I knew that sitting at home, waiting to all of a sudden get over my shyness and self-consciousness was not going to happen. I was going to have to just do it – act as thought I was already confident and comfortable with the social situation – if I was ever going to get any sort of genuine level of comfort with it. And I was right.

For me, because all the times I fake it are important, in some way or another, the desire is genuine, so I don’t feel like I’m being fake, even if the emotion at the time isn’t really genuine.

Essentially, it’s a matter of finding the balance of faking it…without being fake.


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Choices

“Are you freaking kidding me?!” Cynthia grumbled loudly as her coffee cup slipped out of her hand and its contents spilled down the front of her left leg. It couldn’t have happened on the way to the car as she left the house. No, no. It had to happen on the steps up to the main entrance of the stately corporate building. The very busy main steps.

She knew when she had gotten out of the car in the parking lot that she shouldn’t have chanced it. Hauling her weekender-sized purse, laptop case and shoe bag were more than enough. Fumbling to take out her building pass had been the straw that tipped the carefully balanced bundles and she lost her grip on the cup. Which had no lid. Because she had been running late as she left the house and ignored the little voice that said, “Cynthia…you need the lid. It will spill.” Even as she had worked to silence it, it eked out an ominous, “OK…don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.”

She was quite familiar with that little voice and its warnings. She knew all too well from experience that when she didn’t listen to it, she always wished she had. But she had told herself, as she threw her bags in the passenger side and sank into the driver’s seat, that her bodiless friend was over-reacting today. It would be fine. She’d finish the coffee in the car and all would be well. Besides, she had a huge meeting first thing this morning and if she lost any more time, she’d be late. And this was one meeting for which she could not be late.

However, she hadn’t been able to finish the coffee on the drive in to work and there was no way she could get through the meeting without her complete first dose of caffeine. She’d just need to be careful as she balanced her bags and the cup, that’s all. So, once she had locked the car and put her keys in her purse, she slipped her right forearm through the shoe bag handle and slung the long straps of her purse up over her left shoulder. She took her coffee cup in her left hand and carried the laptop case in her right. Everything was going really well until…well, until it wasn’t.

As she began to ascend the steps, she let her purse slide gently down her left arm, being careful not to tip the cup over, so she could get her pass out for building security. She unfurled the fingers of her right hand from around the laptop case handle and tried to wiggle them into the pouch on the outside of her purse where she kept her pass. She almost had it, too. But she was paying so much attention to not spilling the coffee that she missed a step and stumbled. Only a little. But enough.

The shoe bag slipped. The laptop case slipped. Then it all seemed to slip. In fact, as she watched the ebony liquid trace its way down her beautiful, ecru silk pencil skirt, she thought she could see her future – her division’s future – slip away with it. She looked down at her watch. It confirmed what she already knew: There was no time to go home and change.

For a moment she thought of just dropping everything, literally and metaphorically, and skipping out on the meeting. How on earth could they take her seriously looking like this? But too many people were counting on her.

Two months ago, John Hollingsworth, the vice-president of human resources, called to meet with her. He had been her first manager when she started with the company 15 years ago and they had stayed in touch. They met a few times a year, for coffees or quick lunches, and he had become a sort of unofficial mentor to her. She wasn’t surprised, then, when he called to say he wanted to see her. But the tone of his voice said there was something afoot besides coffee or lunch. She didn’t even need that little voice to help her figure that one out.

Sure enough, when she got to his office, it was the same spiel other managers had told her they had gotten: unstable economy, need to find efficiencies, and the dreaded “We’ll need to let some people go.” In fact, Cynthia’s whole division was going to be downsized. When she quizzed John further, he clarified that the vast majority of her 114 employees would be let go and the remainder would be absorbed into other areas. Her job would be safe, though; she would take over as director of Andrea Kelly’s division as Andrea would be retiring soon.

Cynthia had been floored. Names and faces floated before her eyes. Stories of kindergarten graduations and weddings and vacations streamed through her memory. She couldn’t just let them go.

She spent some more time with John to find out exactly what the concerns were and begged him to give her two months to come up with another solution, to find her own efficiencies, and try to save at least some of the people she would otherwise have to let go.

She and her management team had spent a lot of late nights working on this and today was the day – win, lose or draw, it would all come down to this meeting.

Sighing, she readjusted her bags and slowly continued the rest of the way up the steps and through security.

She thought of which executives were most likely to be in the meeting this morning. She knew John would be there. He was skeptical, but also seemed like he hoped she’d be able to do it. There were a couple of others who might also quickly see the benefits of what she was going to propose – benefits to the employees, but also for the company. But as the other faces floated through her mind, she started to feel that temptation to flee again.

There were a couple in particular who always managed somehow to make her feel like she was off her game. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but somehow whenever they came around and asked questions she felt like she was a novice and completely incompetent, rather than the strong, professional, qualified woman she otherwise knew herself to be.

She had worked years of long, hard hours to get where she was and still maintain her integrity. She had been hired through a program within the company to hire recent university graduates. There were several other graduates hired with Cynthia that year. Some had burned out within the first five years and some had zoomed past her on the corporate ladder. But most of those, she knew, had sold either themselves or those around them out in order to obtain their prestigious positions. To be honest, there was a time when she had felt herself heading that way, too, but she had caught herself in time.

It was during her first opportunity to work on a major project. There were, of course, tight deadlines with some critical deliverables. In her inexperience, she had missed one of them. She was terrified she would lose her job. Her parents constantly told their friends and family how proud they were of her and she had no idea how she’d ever be able to tell them she had gotten fired.

The night before she was to provide an explanation for what had happened, Cynthia had dinner with Brian, one of the graduates she had been hired with. He suggested that she should throw the blame onto one of the two student interns who were also working on the project with her. He made it sound very appealing: They were interns and students. They had plenty of time to get experience before they graduated. Plus they weren’t even getting paid, so they wouldn’t really lose anything. On top of that, Cynthia had learned her lesson and it wouldn’t happen again, so there’d be nothing really bad that would happen to anyone.

Cynthia didn’t sleep much that night. No matter how much she tried to bring herself around to Brian’s way of thinking, she couldn’t do it. Though she was terrified of what would happen, she was completely on the same side as her little voice the next morning when she accepted full responsibility for having missed the milestone and presented a plan to make up for it so that the entire project could stay on track.

She knew then that her integrity could not be bought or sold. She saw Brian less and less and even when she saw him and others like him promoted over her time and time again, she consoled herself with the fact that she could sleep at night and never had to worry about answering for her actions. She knew she wouldn’t make the right decisions all the time, but she also knew that whatever decisions she did make were for the right reasons and she could defend them.

While the climb up the ladder had been slower for Cynthia, it had also been (unbeknownst to her) a sturdier climb. She had annoyed a lot of people with her continued commitment to integrity, but she had also gained a lot of allies. And everybody, including those who didn’t particularly like her, knew she was committed to the company and they respected her for it.

That respect, built over the years, was the reason that John had given Cynthia those two extra months and that the other senior executives had agreed to meet with her. They were certain that whatever she would say would be well-researched and that she’d be able to substantiate anything she would propose. They knew that while she was very committed to and respected by her management team and employees, she was also very committed to the company. She was able to see and understand the complete picture.

Of course, Cynthia didn’t know any of that when the elevator bell rang and the door opened. She stepped off and looked towards the executive boardroom. She could see them all in there through the wall of glass. Impeccable Gucci, Armani and Prada suits sat around the highly polished conference table…everybody in there looked executive – from well-coiffed top to luxe leather bottoms. And not a coffee stain to be seen.

She  looked down again at her skirt and sighed.

Then she quickly glanced back toward the mirrored reflection of the closed elevator doors. She didn’t see her face or even her stained skirt. She saw the faces of the people who depended on her, the people who had encouraged her and toiled endlessly beside her the past two months. She saw the many employees who had told her that regardless of what happened, they would know she had done her best for them and would appreciate the effort that she had made to save their jobs.

Turning away from the elevator, she shook off the doubt. By the time she got to the conference room, she had forgotten about the coffee stain. With a bright and confident “Good morning, everybody!” she opened the door and entered the room.