Thursday, June 29, 2017

Waxing and Waning: A Crisis of Confidence

Ever have those moments when your self-confidence just dries up and blows away? 

When instead of focusing on the myriad of things you can do well, and do do well, you focus instead on what you struggle to do? Or don't do at all anymore because you suck at that particular thing... and so you gave it up and now you think you should try again because, well, giving up is like failing. Or you look at all the things that you thought you did well, and suddenly they look silly, or trivial, not as important, or essential to the world as the things everybody else you know does well. Suddenly it seems as if what you bring to the table is not of much value. 

Do you ever have those crisis of confidence moments? 

When all your self-confidence seems to have dried up and blown away.
Photo by Krista MacNamara
Maybe you focus on your personal appearance. And all of a sudden, your totally realistic idea of yourself as reasonably attractive, when you put in the effort, is blown clean out of the water. And all you see are the physical attributes on which you'd rather not focus. The fact that you really don't have a chin, except in certain pictures when you have three too many. Or the creeping weight gain, and the middle-age middle. Or that posture problem, and the small but worrying widow's hump in your back. Or that spot of thinning hair at the back of your head. And you are catapulted back to pre-puberty days. "Mu-um... why can't I have boobs like all the other girls? Why am I so skinny? Why is my face so round, and my hair so frizzy?" Except the complaints are now almost the antithesis of what they were when you were thirteen.

Sigh. Do you ever have those moments? Or days? Or weeks? 

Yeah. Me too. In fact I'm having one now. I guess I'm still in a funk, but this time I blame Eileen Fisher. Well, not her personally. But that lovely, linen knit Eileen Fisher tunic I bought a couple of months ago. Because as much as I loved it when I bought it, and loved it still the first few times I wore it, suddenly my love for it is waning. 

Mostly because I took some really unflattering shots of me in it. And I began to notice that the neckline is not that great on me. Nor the drape of the fabric in the front, which makes me look quite buxom, and top-heavy. Partly that's because of the bra I have to wear under it, and partly because... that's the way I am. Top heavy. And quite a bit bigger around the middle than I'd like. And whereas a structured, slim cut top with a bit of fullness in the front can make me forget that my middle-age middle is there... a longer, much fuller top like this makes me look as if I'm trying to hide a stomach. Which of course I am. 

woman posing in grey striped top, white jeans, black flats with a black and white bag   woman posing in grey striped top, white jeans, black flats with a black and white bag

I bought the top to go with my black, cropped Rag and Bone pants, but I'm not really liking them together. I think the problem is that the pants are too narrow, in contrast to the fullness of the tunic. Yesterday I tried the top with cropped black leggings. Ha. That look was downright funny. And no I didn't take a photo. Let's just say it was an extremely unflattering look. I tried it with my black walking shorts. Nope. Then I settled on my DIY cropped flared white jeans. The slight flare balances out the fullness of the tunic. I don't hate this outfit. I like it okay, especially when I'm sitting down. But, if the tunic were a bit shorter and a bit narrower, I'd like it better. You know, I should let this be a lesson to myself. Never buy in haste. I threw on the top at Nordstrom, and I love, love, loved it. But I didn't do my usual thorough analysis. So I'm paying the price. Buy in haste, repent at leisure, I always say. Ha. From now on, at least. 

woman in grey striped top, white jeans, black flats sitting in red Adirondack chair

And I'm paying the price alright. Because the shot of me that I took, looking overly buxom, and round in the middle, and a bit hunched, triggered a full blown crisis of confidence. A total over-reaction. An utterly self-indulgent, absolutely unrealistic response, I know. But that's me, folks. My self-confidence, which I've tried very hard to grow over the years, still fluctuates. Still waxes and wanes. Even at age sixty-one, when you'd think that I'd have it all together, wouldn't you?  

And mostly I do, I think. Most of the time I'm comfortable with who I am and who I've become. I know my own worth. I know what I'm good at, and what I'm not. It's just that some days... well... some days, as my friend Julie always says... I have to dig deep. To find my confidence. To not look in the mirror and despair at how much I've changed since my thirties, for instance. To not overreact over those few pounds I put on since last winter, and go on a calorie counting binge which we all know never works. And even works to our detriment, eventually. To not undervalue myself, especially since I've retired and I no longer have the constant feedback of the classroom, nor the satisfaction of implementing program with my department, or of successfully solving someone's problems. Well, except for solving Hubby's computer issues, or helping him wade through insurance bureaucracy. Some days I dig and dig and there ain't nothin' there, my friends. Or not much, anyway. 

I know I'm whining. But, putting all my self-critical hyperbole into words and sentences actually feels good. Makes me look at things differently. Makes me feel better. Helps to pull me out of my funk. I mean, it's been bad the past couple of days. I even asked Hubby yesterday if he thought I should take up golf again. That maybe I had given up too soon. Most of the other women in our circle of friends play golf. He just laughed, "I don't think you want to do that, Suz." And of course, he's right. I hate golf

walking across the dam at Watson's Mill in Manotick
Photo by Krista MacNamara
I should probably say that my current funk, isn't entirely down to Eileen Fisher, or my Eileen Fisher tunic, to be precise. Not entirely brought on by that dreadful shot of  me, with all my worst sides showing at once. But partly due to other things in life, not insurance worries, or computer issues, that have me feeling a bit down, and which I don't really want to get into. And also partly due to some blogging woes, which I'll tell you about another time, in another post. 

And I should also confess that I deleted all the really bad shots of me in this tunic. The worst ones with the boobs, and the stomach, and the hump. Much worse than I look in the shot Krista took above. Krista is a teacher buddy of mine. Well, she's a principal now, and a really great photographer. We spent an afternoon walking around Manotick in May, yakking and taking photos. And we plan to try the photo shoot thing again this summer. When I will not be wearing my Eileen Fisher tunic. 

So what does one do when one is deep into a crisis of confidence, anyway? When the old self image is waning, instead of waxing? 

Don't look at me. I don't have the answers.  

Wait it out maybe. Know that this too shall pass. Give yourself a good shake, and a serious talking to. Remember all the things that you have done that were awesome. Put on a great outfit that makes you look fabulous, do your hair and make-up, and swan up and down the mall knowing that you are fabulous. Perhaps channeling Joanna Lumley in Absolutely Fabulous. Ha. If you see me doing this, you'll know for sure that I've had a bad week. 

Or maybe simply write it all down, like I just did. All the hyperbolic, self-critical, nonsense  and then read it over and chuckle ruefully, knowing that whether we're thirty-one or sixty-one, we're still really thirteen... deep inside. 

P.S. Please don't read this post as a plea for compliments. As I said. I'm good. Really. But just in case, I think I'll put some lipstick on, pour myself a glass of champagne, and maybe watch a few videos of Absolutely Fabulous on You Tube. 

What do you do when you find your self-confidence waning instead of waxing? 

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlike, Style Me WednesdayThursday Favourite ThingsPassion 4 FashionFun Fashion FridayFabulous FridaySaturday Share Link-Up.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Abundance of Blue

We have had an abundance of blue in our little part of the world these last few days. Yesterday morning, the sun shone, the river sparkled and reflected the blue sky, and Hubby's blue delphiniums were blooming up a storm. I love them. 

Blue delphiniums, green grass, blue water and blue sky above.
Blue flowers, blue sky, blue water.
And all this blue has me thinking that I seem to have an abundance of blue in my closet, all of a sudden. Especially blue tops that I'm not wearing very much. No point in these pieces taking up closet space if they're not pulling their weight. So I'm determined to make more of an effort to get them out and about. And mixing the old pieces with new ones is a great way to give them a fresh look. 

This blue and white Tory Burch tunic was a sale purchase in 2015. I had passed on it in the spring in favour of items I needed to take on our trip to France. So I was pleased when it came on sale later in the season. It's super light and feels like linen even though the percentage of linen in it is very small. I'm wearing it with my new (this season) Rag and Bone black cropped pants, and black suede Paul Greene flats. The bag is Michael Kors, and it's so old that my memory of its purchase is lost in the mists of time. But I still love it for the metallic clasp and the fat, woven straw. It has stood up really well over time. Especially since I use it most summers, and my sister Carolyn borrows it most winters when she heads down south to a conference. I'd wear this outfit to book club, or out for lunch, or downtown to a gallery visit and lunch with a friend. 

Woman in blue tunic, black pants, black flats with a straw tote bag

Woman in blue tunic, black pants, black flats with a straw tote bag

The other blue top that does not get out nearly enough is my blue Equipment shirt. Another 2015 purchase when I decided that maybe my white shirt was a bit boring. This would be a great outfit for running errands or going for coffee with friends. I swapped my Paul Green flats for my old Michael Kors sandals. Easy peasy. I just have to make sure the shirt is pressed. Because I won't wear it if it isn't, and if I'm in a hurry, I will pull something that doesn't need ironing out of the closet instead. 

Women sitting on a red Arirondack chair wearing black pants, black sandals, and a blue shirt.
My black pants and blue shirt look great with our freshly painted Adirondack chair.
This is the newest blue addition to my closet. I bought this Frame navy and white striped linen tee at Nordstrom earlier in the spring. It's quite sheer, with a shirt tail hem, outside seaming on the sides, and an interesting mismatched stripe in the back. It doesn't seem to be in stock at Nordstrom anymore, so here's the link to the Frame on-line store. I think it's supposed to be over-sized because I'm wearing size small. And as I said in an earlier post about my new Vince lilac sweater... a size small I am NOT. 

Woman in black pants, striped top, holding a straw tote bag.        Woman in black pants, striped top, holding a straw tote bag.
Channeling Jackie and Laura.

I'm going to get a ton of wear out of this outfit in the next few weeks. For shopping on hot days, or out for lunch, or just running to appointments. Wearing this, I feel like a cross between Jackie O. and Mary Tyler Moore in the old Dick Van Dyke show from the sixties. Remember Mary as Laura Petrie? "Ohhhh, Ro-ob." 

So... now I've a few "new" outfits lined up to grab when I'm in a hurry this summer. Trying to take advantage of the abundance of blue in my closet. Like a good golfer who is supposed to utilize every club in his or her bag... or so I've been told... a good wardrobe planner should utilize all the items in his or her closet. Otherwise, those pieces are not pulling their weight. And you might as well store, donate, or consign them in your next closet cull. 

Hopefully these three outfits will work as well under a rain coat. Because after I took the shot on our deck, above, the sun disappeared, the thunder cracked, and it began to rain. Hard. And then it hailed. And now it's still raining. And Hubby says that it looks like this will be our weather for the week. 

Sigh. Ah well, all that sun and blue sky was nice while it lasted. It's just that I'm beginning to think we may never be able to finish painting our deck chairs. We have two more left to do. They're stashed in our garden shed, waiting for a dry day. Ha. Maybe in September.


How about you folks? Any plans to utilize some of those items in your closet that may not get out enough? 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Funky Town

I have to say that despite the fact that summer seems to have arrived, the sun is shining, and I just returned from a fun little trip to Toronto. Despite the fact that I'm well, and happy with my life. Not to mention happily retired with no real financial worries... and no exams to mark, a situation which fills me with gratitude every January and June. Still, despite all this, I've been in a bit of a funk lately. 

pink wild roses amid greenery and blue sky
I'm in a funk despite waking up to this every morning.
Partly it's just the wear and tear of day-to-day life. I found my trip to New Brunswick last month stressful. And since I've been back it seems that on the home front all sorts of little things have been going wrong. Small stuff, like my new washing machine hasn't been working properly. Then my printer stopped working. Then my desk top PC started acting up. I had to take it for repair, and for two weeks I've been blogging on my i-pad mini which is a pain in the neck... literally. And now it seems to be performing poorly. I've googled articles on how to fix it and have done all they suggest, and everything else I can think of, but I'll have to take it into the Apple store... when I get my big computer back. You see? All small stuff. But somehow I don't seem to have my normal level of resilience to weather the small stuff. I'm usually calm in the face of frustration. Just not lately. 

Other things that should have gone well, have not been doing so. Three weeks ago Hubby received in the mail his approval from our supplemental health insurance carrier to change one of his heart medications from the generic to the brand-name. He's been suffering side effects and his cardiologist changed his medication in hopes of alleviating them. Drugs for seniors are covered by the provincial government in Ontario, but only for the generic, most cost effective, formulations. Our supplementary health insurance would pick up the difference in cost, which is considerable, but we had to jump through a few hoops to get it approved. And we were relieved when he received his letter and could finally get that prescription filled. 

Ha. Or so we thought. I'm not going to go into a long-winded explanation here, let's just say that things did not go as planned. And since I'm better than he is at methodical analysis, careful reading of fine print, and then patient discussion of same... I made the phone calls to track down what was what and why. Five phone calls to our insurance provider, four to the drugstore, over three weeks, each call resulting in my finding the "answer," and Hubby returning to the drugstore, to be told each time that the insurance company had given the pharmacist the exact same reason for not covering his prescription. And finally, on Monday, I tracked down the problem, and the solution. Which it seems everyone knew all along, except us, and which no one told us. Not one person in all of those phone calls. The insurance people said the drugstore should have told us and vice versa. And everyone I spoke to seemed to think that it was not their job to actually help us solve the problem... just their job to tell us exactly, and only, what they were and were not allowed to do for us. And that is what really, really bugs me. No one anticipates that the person they are "helping" might not be as conversant with the details of their job as they are.  Still, Hubby has the new medication now, so that's good. Yah.

In the meantime, a few days before my much anticipated trip to Toronto, my vertigo, which I battled a number of years ago, came back with force. My head pounded, and I was dizzy, staggering about, feeling bobble-headed, as my sister describes it, as if I'm balancing a huge, lead-filled balloon on top of my neck. I saw our doctor; Hubby had to drive me. I'm fine. And the dizziness abated mostly, in a day or two, except for one bout at the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit caused by all the visual stimuli and the repeated head turning. So the dizziness is mostly gone, but the accompanying headache still lingers. Sinus issues, we assume. Allergies and pollen-filled breezes the problem, I'm sure. But it's making me cranky, and more impatient than usual. And at times a bit shouty, even, and then teary. Sigh. Poor Hubby.

Then the night before I left for Toronto, I received an enormous, and surprising, phone bill for the time period covering my visit to New Brunswick. I won't bore you with the detail, but I will say that after we purchased our new i-phone a few months ago, I spoke to three separate people making sure I knew exactly what my plan covered, and what it didn't. We are newbie i-phone users, and we didn't want to be caught unawares by a huge bill when we were in South America. Sigh. It seems I didn't ask any of the three people I spoke to at Rogers the right questions, or ask them to define their terms. Until the other night, when a lovely young man at the Rogers help line got an earful. As I said, I've been a bit shouty. I'm happy to say that he did feel it was his job to fill me in thoroughly and try to get some of the huge bill reimbursed. And he added long-distance coverage to my plan at no extra cost. So thanks for that, Jesse. 

Then Tuesday I received the call that my PC was back from repair. I was so relieved, and drove to pick it up right away. It would be just like a new computer, I was told. Back home, I plugged it in, connected all the stuff that needed connecting, and turned it on. And sat there. Mystified. WTF. And then, instead of doing what I would normally have done, fiddling around, trying to figure things out, patiently downloading and searching out desk-top short-cuts for all the programs that were no longer there... I just picked up the phone. Then I picked up the computer and marched it back to Best Buy. "Please restore everything the way it was when I brought it in," I said. "Yes, I know now that this is what you meant when you said it would look like a new computer. I understand you didn't know what programs I had on it once it had been wiped. Yes, I see that. But this is not what my computer looked like when I first brought it home after I bought it. And that is what I need it to look like. I don't have the time or the patience to fiddle around to install everything. Here is a list of what I need. Yes. Tomorrow will be fine." I'm pleased to say that I was not shouty. Maybe a bit shirty... but not shouty. 

I'm also pleased to say that I wasn't shouty with the restaurant where a friend and I hosted a retirement dinner last night for another friend. Where I made a reservation weeks ago for their private room, and was asked to call back a few days before the party with exact numbers. And when I called to tell them we would be twenty-four people was told (for the first time, I might add) that they could not accommodate more than twenty. And then was forced to listen to the owner whinge that large groups are so troublesome this time of year. "You have to understand our position," she said. Well, actually, I don't. But I listened because I'd never find a place three days before the party, and I really, really wanted her to squeeze us in wherever she could. 

So you see, what with things not working out as planned, and things just plain not working, and what with incorrect information, or insufficient information, or just plain old obstreperousness from the people who are supposed to be helping... not to mention feeling a little unwell... I've been in a bit of a funk. As I said. 

And it sort of culminated in a rather fraught moment the other day. I was on my exercise bike and Hubby came down to the basement and said, "Suz. What do you think we should do about dinner?" And I replied... or barked actually... "I DON"T KNOW... OKAY?" And then he said, "Are you going to cry?" And I said, "Yes." And then I did. Sigh. Poor Hubby. 

I think that somewhere in all of this I had reached the limit of my problem solving ability. And problem solving is usually my forté. I was reminded of my friend Julie with whom I taught for years. When we were having a stressful week, she'd always say: "This is one of those weeks when we're going to have to dig deep." I had dug deeply and reached the bottom of the pit, I guess. I was also reminded of an interview I heard on CBC radio a while ago. About the idea that we all have a limited amount of decision making ability. And sometimes during a very busy, very decision-y day, we use all that ability up. And that's why people make poor decisions at the end of a stressful day. Decision fatigue. It's a thing. You can read a very interesting article in the New York Times on that here

But, you know, all this problem-solving, decison-making is just day to day living in our modern world. I get that. Our very privileged first-world world. Where we filter through multiple layers of "please hold" and "press 8 for whatever" before we reach a person who is unable or unwilling to help us. Where we have to know all about what we are trying to get help with before we can get the right help. Where it seems we had better be armed with lots of information, and researched detail before we do most anything. And where it seems so rare to find someone who feels their job is to put themselves out for others. To really help. 

That part bothers me most.  

woman in jeans, tank and cardigan, pointing finger assertively
"Now you listen to me, young man."

The shot above was taken just before I left to march my computer back to Best Buy. Almost make-up-less, and loaded for bear. So to speak. Not willing to take you-know-what off anybody, nor to put up with any "you have to understand our position" bull. The poor young man who served me was really nice and helpful after all. 

Ha. Did he dare be otherwise? 

So what's got you in a funk these days, my friends? Do you ever feel unaccountably low on problem-solving, decision-making resources? Having to dig deep just to get through the week? Please tell me it's not just me.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Crazy for Georgia O'Keeffe

I may not know much about art or artists, but I know that I'm crazy for Georgia O'Keeffe. Especially since my friend Elizabeth and I just returned from a two day mini-vacation in Toronto where we took in the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

Posters for the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario 
Posters for the AGO Georgia O'Keeffe show were plastered all over downtown Toronto.

O'Keeffe was an amazing artist. A leader of the American Modernism movement, and an iconic figure in the art world. Her life is an inspiration to anyone trying to live and work on their own terms. Which is most of us, I think. Whether we succeed or not is, of course, another matter. 

Georgia O'Keeffe photographed by Alfred Stieglitz in 1927 
Georgia O'Keeffe photo by Alfred Stieglitz 1927

I adore her work. I know that she is most famous for her flower paintings. But I prefer her vivid landscapes, views of her adopted home in the American south west. Born in Wisconsin, she lived for many years in New York City, summering at Lake George in northern New York, with her husband photographer Alfred Stieglitz. But O'Keeffe said that beautiful as it was around Lake George, she found the rampant greenness smothering. And when she first saw the barren, arid landscape of New Mexico she felt as if she had come home. This painting below reminds me of our jaw-droppingly beautiful drive in March, along the backroads of northern Argentina. Similar colours, same starkness. 

"Out Back of Marie's" 1930, by Georgia O'Keeffe 
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico: "Out Back of Marie's II", 1930

Still, as much as I love those stark landscapes, the paintings she made of New York City are my most favourite. I adore the black, grey, and blue on black in the painting, below, of the Radiator Building at night. The clean lines. The Art Deco sensibility. So wonderful. Most of her New York City paintings capture views from her apartment on the 30th floor of the Shelton Hotel where she and Stieglitz lived for many years. You can see several of her New York skyscraper paintings on this website. I was interested to read at the AGO exhibit that she was heavily influenced by photography, by the work of her husband and other photographer friends like Ansel Adams. The exhibit also includes works by Stieglitz and Ansel Adams. 

"Radiator Building-Night" 1927, by Georgia O'Keeffe
Radiator Building- Night, New York, 1927

Stieglitz was an amazing photographer. And he spent a lot of time photographing his wife. Like this shot of her below taken in 1929. The AGO exhibit features fascinating information about O'Keeffe's life, her marriage, and her artistic influences. Including many famous shots of her taken by Stieglitz. That's what makes an exhibit great, for me, not just the art itself, but also the narrative of the artist's life, and the analysis of their works and influences. I admire Georgia O'Keeffe's work, but after Thursday, I'm intrigued by her as a person. 

Georgia O'Keeke photographed by Alfred Stieglitz 1929 
Georgia O'Keeffe photographed by Alfred Stieglitz in 1929

I'm intrigued by O'Keeffe's life. And also by her style. She was frequently photographed, by her husband, by Ansel Adams, Cecil Beaton, and every major photographer of the day during her very long life. She was wonderfully photogenic. And seemed so comfortable in front of the camera. Staring, serious-eyed, off into the distance, or straight at the camera. Calm. Contemplative. Insouciant, even. And then there was her style. That pared back aesthetic. Minimalist, austere, or as one article called it "monastic." Eschewing decoration. Severe suits. Flat shoes. Long skirts with wide heavy belts. Then there were the hats, skull-caps, and scarves. 

I think it's interesting that a few days before we left for Toronto, I saw an article in W Magazine, calling Georgia O'Keeffe the "Original American Super Model." Okay. MaybeBut the term super model seems too shallow. How Georgia O'Keeffe looked and how she dressed is, to me, anything but shallow. Her style seems to be an expression of her artistic values, of her stripped down to the basics sensibility, an exploration of contrast, and texture, and a distillation of the essence of herself. I'm struggling to say what I mean, here. That's because I'm not confident discussing art and artists. Now if she were a poem or a piece of literary prose I'd have no trouble waxing analytical. 

The final piece in the AGO exhibit was the photo of O'Keeffe, below, taken by Canadian photographer Yousuf Kharsh in 1956According to this article in the New York Times, written as a review of another Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit, currently at the Brooklyn Museum, O'Keeffe carefully crafted her public persona. Controlling who photographed her and how. The exhibit in Brooklyn entitled "Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern" shows "fifty works of her art, alongside fifty of her garments or ensembles," drawing parallels between her art and her wardrobe. I love the idea of doing this, examining how an artist's work is reflected in the way they present themselves to the world. It seems as if Georgia O'Keeffe was a trailblazer in many ways, not just artistically. A strong, successful woman, charting her own course, and deftly controlling her own image. Pretty impressive.  

Georgia O'Keeffe photographed by Yousuf Kharsh in 1956

Elizabeth and I didn't spend all our time in Toronto immersed in high culture. We walked and walked. The weather was beautiful. We managed to squeeze in a little vintage shopping, exploring the stores around Kensington Market. We had dinner with an old friend one night. Good food, a glass or two of wine, and lots of laughter. You know, the usual. 
Georgia O'Keeffe inspired iconic skyscraper image.

Oh... and we took a few selfies. This one made us chuckle. Especially when I pointed out that we were wearing the exact same outfits that we wore on our New York trip last fall. Hmmm. Let's reflect on that. Might this mean that we are boring and predictable? That maybe we don't have large enough wardrobes to ensure selfie variety? Or are we creating iconic Sue and Elizabeth images that reflect our artistic sensibilities and which are synonymous with our curated public persona? Ha. I know what I think, but I'm keeping it to myself. 
Sue and Elizabeth in Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto 
Elizabeth and Sue in Nathan Phillips Square

So, I learned a lot at the O'Keeffe exhibit at the AGO this week. About art, and about Georgia O'Keeffe as a person. I discovered that I'm crazy for Georgia O'Keeffe. The art, the clothes, the whole deal. 

And I admit that I may not know much about art... but I'm working on it. 

How about you folks? Are you familiar with O'Keeffe's work? Feel free to weigh in here. About O'Keeffe. About art. About selfies. Whatever. 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Teaching Empathy in the Age of Trolling and Scrolling

Apparently we can be taught to be more empathetic. Really. Good news, don't you think, in this mean old world? This world where we seem to be getting a little bit meaner each year, unable or unwilling to put ourselves in another person's shoes, unable to understand, care about, or even identify how others must be feeling. This world of scrolling and trolling. Where we consume information, opinion, and hyperbolic headlines with the flick of a finger. Where the distance provided by our screens enables us to respond to what we read and see... instantly, sometimes anonymously, impulsively, and often free of consequence. Yep. This world definitely needs more empathy. 

And you know how we can learn to be more empathetic? And teach others to have more compassion for others? By reading more fiction. I swear. This is not just something that we dedicated readers have cooked up to justify our many hours of splendid isolation, slipper-clad feet up, balancing a good book in one hand, and a nice cup of tea in the other. It's true. Science says so.

"The Explorer" Rebecca Campbell 

Teaching empathy is not a new idea. I first read about it years ago, in a short essay we used on a grade twelve English exam. Most high school English exams include a short text which the student is unfamiliar with, and to which they must respond. We tried to choose timely passages, and ones which we could link to the themes of the works we had studied in class. And this short essay on this particular exam has always stuck in my head. It was about how literary fiction was being used to teach medical students how to better understand their patients. Teaching them empathy, in other words. I have no idea where the original essay came from, but I started looking around on the internet this week .. seeing if I could find it. Or one which espouses the same ideas. Wow. Could I? 

After separating the wheat from the chaff, I found some pretty interesting articles. Like Sandra Boodman's How to Teach Doctors Empathy in The Atlantic, where she says that "being a good doctor requires an understanding of people not just science," and doctors who learn to better understand people become better doctors. Mohammadreza Hojat, research professor of psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College, explains in the article that "empathy is a cognitive attribute, not a personality trait." So we can learn to be more empathetic. He goes on to say that the time used to teach young doctors to be more empathetic is time well spent. And many medical schools are doing just that... teaching empathy. Some more explicitly, through courses which teach better listening skills, and how to decode the facial expressions and body language of their patients. Others through what is called "narrative medicine" which involves the reading and discussion of literary fiction, novels, stories, and poetry.

In the New York Times article Stories in the Service of Making a Better DoctorPauline W. Chen M.D. says that "exposure to literature and writing during residency training can influence how young doctors approach their clinical work." That even for young residents whose days are already very busy, it's important to "[spend] a half hour a day to remember that we are all human, not just doctors, or pharmacists, or nurses, or patients."  In fact several doctors interviewed for this article speak of how reading and discussing literature has transformed how they do their job. That's pretty cool, I'd say. 

And finally, the article Wrapped up in a Book: The Role of Emotional Engagement in Reading explains the science behind all this, how emotional engagement with literature can make us more empathetic, and includes links to the studies which make a connection between reading and empathy. And while most of the articles I read say that the long term effect of increased physician empathy on the health care system is still unknown, they also say that in the short term greater physician empathy certainly leads to greater patient satisfaction, fewer malpractice suits, and even possibly fewer cases of physician burn-out. So it would seem that the reality here is that everyone benefits... from reading fiction.  

Now all this is not to say that doctors alone should learn to be more empathetic. Au contraire, my friends. These articles about doctors and empathy are just by way of an example. Because if busy medical residents who have enormous demands on their time, who have to learn all kinds of scientific knowledge, and master all kinds of technology, can take a half hour a day to remind themselves "that we are all human," what's to stop the rest of us from doing the same? Nothing, I'd say. Nothing at all. 

And for those naysayers who think that reading fiction is a waste of time, I have an anecdote for you. Ha. Don't I always? One year, when I was still teaching, I was able to sign-up my whole department for a fabulous workshop given by Jeff Wilhelm, an English teacher like us, and co-author of the book Reading Don't Fix No Chevys. Wilhelm gave us all kinds of awesome ideas for engaging kids in the discussion of literature. Fun stuff, you know. And he told the story of a boy in his class, a boy who loved cars, and had every intention of becoming a mechanic, and spending his life working on cars. And the boy said to him: "But Sir, what is reading Romeo and Juliet going to teach me? It sure isn't going to help me learn how to fix cars." And Wilhelm replied, "What? Nothing to teach you? You don't plan to fall in love? No family squabbles at your house? You've never had to make a moral decision that you've come to regret? Huh?" Or something like that. But you get the point, I'm sure. Which is that reading fiction, reading stories, has all kinds of benefits. Way beyond entertainment. Beyond relaxation. Beyond that lovely sighing feeling when you sit down and open up your book and find out what so and so is up to now. 

Reading helps us to be better people, I think. Teaches us to "[escape] our own egocentric bubbles and [understand] the lives of others." Or so Ed Yong says in his article in The Atlantic. And that my friends is something we could all learn to do better. By getting off our screens and reading a book. Or reading a book on our screen.... but without checking Twitter or Instagram every five seconds. 

favourite authors in my bookcase 

That's one of my bookshelves in the shot above. With a few books by some of my favourite authors. Books I love, and which I think have helped me to better understand the world in which we live. Books which I hope have made me better at "climbing into other people's skin" as Harper Lee so famously said in To Kill a Mockingbird. Now there is a book which teaches kids to have empathy!

And isn't that what all great books teach us? That we should learn other people's stories, climb into their skin and walk around for a while, before we judge? This lesson is valuable for us all, not just for English students, or budding doctors. But for teachers and retired teachers, taxi drivers and hair dressers, lawyers and professional athletes. And even, dare I say, politicians. Maybe especially politicians. 

I know. I'm preaching to the choir. I know.

Still, it felt good to get that off my chest. I read a bunch of other fascinating stuff, but maybe we'll get to that another time. Right now, I'm going to retire to my sunroom, sigh, open my book, and find out what so and so is up to. 

And it's your turn, anyway... my non-trolling, book-loving, empathetic friends. Any stories about books you'd like to share? Any particular books that you'd like to tell us about, which might help the world become a more empathetic place?

P.S. Thanks to my friend Susan Webb for the birthday card with the image at the top of the post. It's a painting called "The Explorer" by Rebecca Campbell. 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Black and White Reboot: Classic or Boring?

I admit, when in doubt about what to wear, I fall back on my old favourites. Combinations which I know look good on me and... well... just look good. And one of those combinations, especially for summer, is white jeans and a black top. The reverse restaurant waiter look, I guess you could say. 

I've had a pair (or three) of white jeans hanging in my closet since the seventies. From my first pair of Levi's five pocket white jeans in university, to Howick high-waisted, wide flares in the late seventies. Anyone remember Howick jeans? And more recently skinnies, and cropped skinnies, boot cut, and now my newly refurbished, DIY cropped flares. 

This is only the second outing my white DIY unfinished-hem jeans have had since I "created" them with my trusty scissors. You can read about that here  if you haven't already. I'm liking them with my new Paul Green black suede flats. And my summer workhorse black Helmut Lang jacket and Rag and Bone tank, staples in my closet since 2015. And my black Mackage cross-body bag. The small cross-body bag is a necessity since I'm going to a party where I will need to be hands-free: one hand being required to hold my drink, the other to provide one-armed hugs, and for waving around and gesticulating as I am wont to do when I get into animated discussion.

Black Helmut Lang jacket, black Rag and Bone tank, white Hudson jeans, black Paul Green flats, earrings from Magpie Jewellry, necklace by Anne-Marie Chagnon, bracelet vintage 

Here I am, below, trying to get some out of doors shots, showing off my Anne-Marie Chagnon necklace. I really like the combination of black, gold and silver/pewter in this necklace. It goes with everything. The small black and gold watch I bought for ten bucks in the Vancouver airport a decade ago. Funnily enough I hadn't worn it in years, and not too long ago, when I decided to see if it needed a new battery, I was amazed that it was still keeping perfect time. Wow. Pretty awesome for a ten dollar watch. I popped it on my wrist and hustled out the door. Ironically I had checked it at 8:30 that morning and was a bit chagrined to see it was still 8:30 at noon. Ha. Maybe not so amazing after all. Still I like the look of the watch, and now that I'm retired, who needs to know the exact time, eh?

Black Helmut Lang jacket, black Rag and Bone tank, earrings from Magpie Jewellry, necklace by Anne Marie Chagnon. 

Black Helmut Lang jacket, black Rag and Bone tank, white Hudson jeans, black Paul Green flats, earrings from Magpie Jewellry, necklace by Anne-Marie Chagnon, bracelet vintage 

White Hudson jeans, black Helmut Lang jacket, black Rag and Bone tank, black suede Paul Green flats 

I feel great today. It's summer, almost. The weather is beautiful; the rain has finally stopped. And I'm wearing an outfit combination that has always worked for me. In one form or another. White jeans and a black top: sweater, or tee shirt, tank, or tank and a jacket. Classic... yep. Maybe a little boring, somewhat predictable, I'll give you that. But with a bit of a reboot, updated jeans and a new pair of shoes... it's not entirely beyond the fashion pale. I know I'd committed to being more adventurous this season. But jeans and a structured jacket, especially white jeans and a black jacket, is too deeply engrained in my fashion DNA to entirely jettison it from my wardrobe. Like an old friend... who knows me so well that I can let down my hair, and say whatever I want... this outfit always makes me feel good. Like myself.

So off I go to my party feeling good. But not before I stop off to visit Carmen for a hair cut and colour. I can tell you folks... my hair will look a heck of a lot better than this by the time I get to the party. What would I do without my old friend Carmen? She tells it to me straight. And gently nudges me away from pictures of cuts which will not work for my hair. Will I ever learn? Maybe. Someday. Perhaps. 

And then... with newly coiffed hair and my classic/boring/been wearing it all my life outfit... I'll be yakking up a storm with my old buddies from school. The party is in honour of the retirement of two wonderful ladies who have run the office at John McCrae Secondary School for years. What will they do without them? Gad. I hope they don't have to close the school down. 

So you see, it's an old friends day all round. And old friends... my lovely readers... are never boring. Right?

Monday, June 5, 2017

When Getting Dressed Stops Being Fun.

I read an interesting post over at Man Repeller the other day, in which Leandra Medine asks the question: What Happens When Getting Dressed is No Longer Fun?

I know, I know. I swore off Man Repeller a few months ago because I was offended by their article associating retirees with "baggy pants and pastels and slippers." I was in such a snit that I wrote a whole post in response, describing how the internet makes me crazy in so many ways. But lately I've been drifting back to the blog. I think the young women who post there are talented: bright, witty, and really good writers. And even though I'm definitely NOT in their target age demographic, I still like many of the articles. Reading them makes me feel as if I were still teaching, as if I've just stumbled into a conversation with several female students breathlessly talking prom dresses, or new shoes, or career plans. I used to love those conversations. And I miss them. So I read Man Repeller

Anyhoo. I was reading Leandra Medine's post the other day. And it started me thinking about why it is that, at certain times in our lives, getting dressed stops being fun. And then I thought, "I'll bet getting dressed is no fun for Brigitte Macron these days." 

Man and a woman striding along a path through a field
 Brigitte Macron with her husband the recently elected President of France
Catapulted into the international spotlight when her husband became the President of France, Brigitte Macron is now the object of intense international scrutiny. Of course she was scrutinized before he won the election, but now the attention is international, no longer just in France where they are perhaps more sanguine about leaders with controversial personal lives. Much of the attention has focused on their twenty-four year age difference which is, weirdly enough, the same age difference between Donald and Melania Trump. And like so many things on the internet, what I've read about the Macrons swings wildly between the ecstatic and the vitriolic. 

Brigitte Macron sprang to mind for me because of a post I read last month on Tish Jett's blog A Femme d'un Certain Age. Tish writes briefly about the dress Mme Macron chose to wear to a function at the NATO conference in Belgium. But the conversation really takes off, as it often does on blogs, in the reader comments. Oh my, Tish's readers sure had a lot to say about Mme Macron's dress, her shoes, her posture. And then there were the comparisons with Mrs. Trump's dress, and posture. Among other things. Phew. 

woman in jacket and leather leggings
 Brigitte Macron looking chic and much more relaxed at Paris Fashion Week.
I will say that the group photo of the spouses and partners of the NATO leaders, which prompted the conversation, was a dreadful shot of Brigitte Macron. I didn't include the photo in my post, but you can see it here if you're interested. Like many of the readers of Tish's post, I didn't much care for Brigitte's new dress. I agree she does look a bit stooped in the photo, and very uncomfortable. And since I've seen many other shots of her looking chic and relaxed and lovely (see above) I can only imagine how chagrined she must be that this one terrible photo has now gone viral. The shot made history, not because of Brigitte Macron, but because it includes Gauthier Destenay the same sex spouse of Xavier Bettel, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. But still, how devastating to have that terribly unflattering picture be the one by which you are judged by so many strangers. 

And I wonder, did all the resulting chatter make Brigitte Macron doubt herself just a little? Did it shake her confidence? Does it make getting dressed in the morning a bit more stressful now? Less fun? 

You can say what you will about political spouses... that women should know what they're getting into when they marry politicians, that they should expect to be the object of scrutiny, learn to weather the scrutiny, learn how to behave and to dress for the part, whatever that part is in the political landscape. But the bashing many female politicians and wives of male politicians take about their looks and their fashion choices is stunning. And usually mean-spirited. And often unfair. Sylvia Bashevkin, a political science professor at the University of Toronto says in this article in McLean's: "We dissect female politicians and wives of [politicians] in terms of intimate and trivial details-- their appearance, how they speak, how they raise children, and treat their spouse-- very little about the benefits they might bring to public life, which is how we evaluate male politicians or even male spouses." 

Two women in dresses laughing
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Michelle Obama in Washington in March 2016
In her article in Chatelaine about Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Rachel Giese says that many times political spouses just can't win: "Too dutiful, and you're letting down the sisterhood (see: Hillary baking cookies.) Too outspoken, and you're a scold (see: Hillary pursuing health care reform.)" Maybe Mrs. Clinton in her former role as the wife of President Bill Clinton is a poor example for Giese to use here. Hillary never looked that comfortable as a politician's wife to me... being, in my opinion, much more suited to the role of politician herself. Still if, like Hillary, fashion is not your thing, how galling to be judged by what you wear rather than by what you do. Grégoire Trudeau seems quite comfortable in her public role as wife of the Prime Minister, though. She is relaxed in front of the camera, which is no surprise since she worked in media in Montreal before her marriage to Justin Trudeau. Grégoire Trudeau is also what Linda Trimble, political science professor at the University of Alberta, calls in the McLean's article, a "pillar of the Trudeau brand." The Trudeaus being so very skilled in that increasingly common political strategy of "using domestic life to optimize a leader's identity and appeal." And I guess, whether we like it or not, part of the appeal of the successful wife of a public figure is how she looks. Like Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau seems to know exactly what to wear to suit her public role. And her exuberant personality. I find she rarely puts a foot wrong, sartorially speaking. She always looks lovely. 

Man, woman, and child walking hand in hand on the Great Wall of China
Grégoire Trudeau with her husband and daughter walking the Great Wall of China in 2016
Believe me, I say that in full awareness of how deplorably sexist that statement sounds. In my defense, I will add that I think Justin Trudeau is just as concerned with his fashion choices as Sophie. And he never puts a fashion foot wrong either: the famous choice of brown shoes with his blue suit, the strategic sleeve-rolling signalling he's ready to get down to work, the distressed jeans and tee shirt, and all those colourful socks. Then again, he is his father's son. I wonder how many of us here in Canada remember Pierre's cape? And whether you liked Pierre Trudeau's politics or not... you have to admit that man was seriously cool. 

But, getting back to Leandra Medine's post on Man Repeller. Medine attributes her fashion malaise to a possible identity crisis. That makes sense when you consider that she has always made "a case for style as a litmus test for identity." She says that not knowing what to wear "feels like writer's block." I love that line. When you express yourself through your clothes, not knowing how to dress would most certainly feel like writer's block. 

I can see how an identity crisis would take the fun out of getting dressed in the morning. "What should I look like if I don't exactly know who I am?"... sort of thing. 

And I can't help but wonder if Sophie Grégoire Trudeau's fashion choices (and indeed her husband's too) work so well because she knows who she is, or at least what her very public identity should be. The "Trudeau brand," so to speak. 

I can also see that Brigitte Macron's new identity as the wife of the President of France will make her fashion choices more difficult, more treacherous... shall we say. She clearly loves clothes and fashion. But I imagine that getting dressed will probably be a lot less fun from now on. Since she will certainly be closely scrutinized to see if she puts a foot wrong. And not only because she is the spouse of a president, but also because she is the older spouse of a much younger man. 

Better fasten your seat belt Brigitte. It's probably going to be a bumpy ride. 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Searching for Sunnies

Don't you just adore sunglasses? I do. I'm not sure I have the sort of face that looks good in sunglasses, but I still love them. Sunglasses and big hats like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Audrey Hepburn in a hat and sunglasses
Or oversize sunglasses with white jeans and a simple tee shirt. Like Jackie Kennedy wore. You can go just about anywhere in the summer with white jeans, a black tank or tee, and a great pair of sunglasses.

woman in white jeans, black tee, and sunglasses holding the hand of her son
Sunglasses are a must for me in the summer. And not just as accessories. My eyes are really sensitive. I squint and tear up very easily... sometimes disastrously... if I don't wear sunglasses on a sunny day. One summer morning many years ago when I lived in Ottawa, worked at the cosmetics counter at Simpson's, and had to walk several blocks to catch the bus to work, I forgot my sunglasses at home. I was already late, and didn't have time to go back for them, so I squinted, and held my hand over my eyes to block the sun all the way to the bus stop. I was so relieved when the bus came and I could escape into its shady interior. Several stops later, after a few quizzical looks from other passengers boarding the bus, an older lady approached me, proffering a tissue, and whispered: "You have a bit of something on your cheek, dear." I thanked her, pulled a mirror from the make-up bag in my purse, and gasped in horror when I looked. I had two giant black rivulets coursing down my cheeks. I kid you not. They were an inch wide. I swear. Damn that new mascara. Stupid me for being soooo very liberal in my application. I scrubbed away surreptitiously, red-faced, black-cheeked, mortified. And bought a new pair of sunglasses on my lunch hour. 

So now I always own at least three pairs of sunglasses. One for my purse, an old pair that stays in the car for emergencies, and a pair at home. The pair at home are really good Ray Bans which I've had for years. I wear them cycling, fishing, skiing, hiking. In fact for any activity when I'll be outside for an extended length of time. They are quite large, and slightly wrap-around so they provide really good protection for my eyes. And they're the kind that block 99% of UVA and UVB rays. The pair for my purse are usually a bit more fashion forward than my old Ray Bans. These are the glasses I wear when I'm out and about town. In and out of stores, in the car, lunching on a patio with friends... you know... normal downtown summer stuff. 

And since I accidentally left my second pair of sunglasses, the fashion forward ones, on a table in a cafe at the airport in Lima, a few weeks ago, I've been shopping for replacements. 

a collage of pictures of woman in different styles of sunglasses
So many style... I'm confused
I have three requirements for sunglasses. They have to provide decent UV protection and good coverage, I dare not risk another mascara incident. They have to look good and fit my face. And they have to fit on top of my head, and stay in place up there. 

I know that sounds weird. But I have a huge head. You'll already know that if you've been reading my blog long enough. If not, you can read in this post how the size of my head gave birth to my rather fraught relationship with turtlenecks. Not all sunglasses that fit my face will stay on top of my head. And they need to, since that's where they sit half the time. I can't keep packing them away in my purse every time I go into a store, and dig them out when I leave. That's just annoying. I don't always have a handy pocket to stash them into. And I don't want to string them on a cord around my neck. I prefer to put them up on the top of my head. And I need them to stay where they're put on top of my head, not slip down onto my forehead, or move around and smush down my hair, so that I eventually take them off and lay them down somewhere... and forget them. 

So as I said I've been shopping for a new pair. Shopping and shopping. Looking and looking. I tried on a million pairs. Or so it seems. And felt like I was going in circles.

Until I finally fetched up at The Bay, last week, determined to make a decision. I almost dished out for another expensive pair of Ray Bans. But just as I thought I had made my decision, I realized that while I liked them on my face, they didn't like it on top of my head. So I opted for my second choice. These Calvin Klein glasses below. And lucky for me they were on sale at a third of the price of the Ray Bans. So I went home with them. Happy with my choice. And really happy with the price. 

woman in black raincoat, black pants, pink sweater and oversize sunglasses   woman in black raincoat, black pants, pink sweater and oversize sunglasses

I may make light about needing to wear sunglasses to avoid embarrassing mascara incidents, but I know that wearing them is a seriously good idea. For several reasons. As a blue-eyed person, my eyes are naturally more sensitive to sunlight, so sunglasses prevent my eyes from tearing, but can also protect them from photokeratitis, or sunburn of the eye.  Sunglasses also protect us from cataracts which develop from UV exposure. Hubby had to have cataract surgery in his early fifties probably due in part to his aversion to wearing sunglasses, especially when golfing and fishing, when he is out in the sun for extended periods. And apparently sunglasses also protect us from age related macular degeneration, and pterygium or surfers' eye which is the abnormal growth of tissue from the corner of your eye inward. 

woman in black coat and pink scarf with sunglasses on her head
My new sunnies fit the top of my head perfectly... and stay where they're put.
So I'm happy with my new second pair of sunglasses. They provide good coverage, and will protect my eyes from damaging UV rays. They fit on top of my head... where they stay in place and do what they're told until I remove good sunglasses should. 

woman in black raincoat, black pants, pink scarf and oversize sunglasses

And they look pretty darn cool, even if I do say so myself. I think Audrey would approve. Now if only we'd get some warm sunny weather for more than two days running, weather that would require me to wear sunglasses, I'd be ecstatic. I guess I'm no longer searching for sunnies... just searching for sun.

Audrey Hepburn is a big hat and oversized sunglasses
That pale lipstick with the black hat and dark glasses is divine, don't you think?
Hubby is away fishing this week. He took his sunglasses, even though it's been raining every day, because he learned his lesson about sun damage to his eyes. 

"And what am I doing while he's gone?" I'm sure you're asking. 

Ha. Whatever the heck I want, people. Retirement can be wonderful that way. 

This morning, since the sun is shining at least for a while, I'm going to go put on a pair of white jeans, a black tee... and my new sunglasses... and get ready for my pedicure appointment. I may be chanelling Jackie in my outfit, but I'm feeling very Holly Golightly about my new sunnies. Sigh. Wish I had a big hat like that.

What about you, my friends? Are you searching for sunnies this time of year? Do you have any special requirements for your sunglasses?