Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why use paper when feet will do?

The original  Modern Mothercraft has a lot to say about drawing. "Most children of three have discovered the delights of drawing", it says. "Facilities for drawing and painting encourage self-expression." It even includes a photo of the aforementioned facilities:

I wonder what the 1945 authors would have made of my daughter's recent delight in drawing, especially given how resourceful she was in using her own 'facilities'?

I think that had my daughter been alive in 1945. given her current 'the world is my canvas' philosophy, that nice white bonnet worn by the girl in the photograph above would have been covered in her 'self expression' as well. 

In fact, maybe I should add a nifty white bonnet to my list of things from Ye Olden Days to buy one day. At the very least, it might serve as an effective decoy away from our nice white carpet next time my daughter is unleashing her inner Picasso ...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ashley Madison hack and the new scarlet letter

In the liberal West, an adulterer wouldn't be paraded through the streets in front of a jeering crowd and made to wear a scarlet 'A'. Scarlet letters and public stocks have been relegated to where they should stay: firmly in the past.

This then raises the question: how have we regressed to a place when it's OK to publicly shame people for these actions again?

I recently read the fabulous book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, so these thoughts were front of mind for me while reading about the Ashley Madison hack. The author of the book, Jon Ronson, discusses the real-life implications for people shamed online, and his conclusions left me feeling deeply uncomfortable about the mob-mentality and en-masse schadenfreude that can occur when someone transgresses online, or is caught on camera doing something shameful.  

The idea of public shaming makes me think about the couple in Christchurch caught on camera at work.  I wonder: would those involved have preferred to be paraded up and down the street, or the media and online buzz around their actions? If paraded in front of a jeering crowd, only the people who lined the street that day would have witnessed their shame. Things are much more permanent when they're online, and the potential audience wider. A scarlet letter sewn onto your clothes can be physically removed with more ease than your Google results, especially when your name is linked to something shameful.

Sure, the Ashley Madison website looks seedy and icky, and I wouldn't be terribly impressed if anyone close to me was a member. But, before making the names public, we still need to ask ourselves what is to be gained from naming and shaming. If no laws were broken and the people involved - including previously unsuspecting partners and children - are likely to be more hurt and humiliated by the details being shared in the public domain (like this woman in Australia), why do people share such information? Some people share with malicious intent, but I think that more often it's just people enjoying a laugh at someone else's expense.  We like and share and comment about things that happen online all the time, and forget that it's real people that we're talking about. 

Before we share such information about people caught cheating, we have to ask ourselves: if this person was being paraded down the street for their transgression, would we go and jeer at them? Would we insist that they wear an "A" on their chest? Throw rotten fruit at them? I haven't spoken to anyone who uploaded videos of the Christchurch couple online or shared it on Facebook, but would be interested in their answer. I suspect that most of the people would say 'no'. They just shared the information because they thought it was funny. 

And if your answer to either of these questions is 'no' regarding the Ashley Madison names, then you really shouldn't be shaming the individuals via likes and shares either. Because, after all, it really is the same thing.  

Mindfulness - 6 days of trying

I've tried to be mindful for a week. And the result? I have decided that mindfulness is like eating veggies and exercise - you know it's good for you, but it still takes willpower to pick up a carrot instead of a giant slice of chocolate cake. 

If my mindfulness experiment were an exam, the paper would be covered in thick red pen, and "see me after class" would be scribbled in the corner. It would have been an exam more reminiscent of the algebra tests of doom I took in High School rather than the history exams I took at university when I actually loved what I was learning. 

BUT, I am still glad I tried. Firstly, the times I succeeded in only doing one thing at a time, living in the present and disentangling myself from gadgets were very satisfying. My lack of blogging about it this week hasn't been down to mindfulness failure either - rather, I have chosen to do other things in the evening apart from leaping online without thinking about it. I picked up Sudoku for the first time in years, and remembered how thoroughly pleasant and relaxing it can be to use your brain in such a way. My husband and I have had lovely conversations while drinking herbal tea, rather than disappearing behind our respective screens. Most importantly, I have given my children more quality time. None of my initial goals were met consistently or well, but it was better than nothing. 

So, if my mindfulness experiment were an exam, it would have been a bad mark, but not an absolute fail. A solid D+, rather than an F.  I have also learned that while my application is poor, I do get why mindfulness is a good thing. So, I have decided to keep working on it. The giant slice of chocolate cake might look delicious, but the carrot will leave me feeling better in the end. I'll keep trying to be more mindful, then maybe next time I'll be in better habits and be able to drag that D+ up to at least a C-. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Day two of being mindful - failure!

Um, yes. The heading says it all, really. My second day of trying to be mindful was as successful as the time I tried a new and exotic recipe from Guam, and after eating it my flatmate said he never wanted to eat anything I cooked ever again, ever. In other words, not a success at all. 

I was so good at the beginning of the day - I even practiced mindfulness while waiting at the bus stop and while on the bus. It was actually very relaxing, and I had some very pleasant trains of thought once my mental thumb-twiddling ceased and I let my thoughts meander around. I also had a lovely time playing with my children, putting everything away and giving a complicated game of "the cow says MOO!" my all.  

The rest of the day didn't work out quite so well; At one stage I even found myself checking two different phones while trying to unload the dishwasher. Hmmm. But, as the day is not yet over, I am going to shut down the computer, put away my phone, and try and enjoy something simple. To be honest, I'm quite looking forward to it. Especially as the simple thing I feel like enjoying, and being present for, is an ice cream sundae. Yay! 

And, I'll try and be more mindful tomorrow - I did enjoy my bus journey this morning more than usual, and my children appreciated me giving them my full attention, so I am starting to see the benefits of this mindfulness malarkey. Maybe tomorrow I'll make it last more than an hour.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Day one of being mindful - being present

So, I've tried to be mindful for a day. 

The first thing I'd say is that since blogging about it yesterday, I've now realised that my rules for mindfulness aren't always what other people are talking about when they talk about being mindful. I'd always taken it to mean being more at peace in my mind and feeling less cluttered, but when talking about mindfulness many others go a step further. It's about training your mind to be more aware of your body, they say. It can also be about "seeing things and responding more wisely" according to one website

Oh well. I'm going to try and stick to my own five rules for mindfulness this week, and maybe think about complicating things further next week if this week is a raging success. Which, based on today, it may not be. My old habits, especially around constantly checking my phone, are hard to break. I think that during the course of the day I broke each rule at least twice. In fact, the only rule I can even say I achieved was being present, and that was by largely by accident. 

I had a delightful day with my children and husband; swimming lessons, followed by a trip to the zoo. We were busy and having fun, so it was easy to be present and engaged. Being present and paying attention to my surroundings at the zoo was made even easier by neither my husband nor I having a camera on hand. So, instead of fumbling around for the perfect shot while our daughter was up against one side of the glass and a serval had its paws up against the other side - with her little hand against the serval's paw - we just stood and enjoyed how amazing it looked. 

OK, so I lie. We marveled at how amazing it looked while berating ourselves for not bringing a camera, but I do have to admit that not having a camera made me feel more present. As I've written about before, a lot is lost when we live life behind a camera phone. Today was an excellent example of that - I even wonder if my kids had more fun without me constantly thinking "which of these pics would look best on Facebook?" It meant that the lovely outing won't be memorialized in pictorial form, but in the scheme of things, that doesn't matter.  It's not the first time my kids have been to the zoo, and it won't be the last. I'm also sure that the people on my Facebook feed don't have a gnawing sadness this evening caused by not having seen a hastily-taken photo of my daughter and a serval. 

Today, being present was a success, but the rest wasn't. I also think that moments are easier to be present in when they are fun and my children delightful, so tomorrow might be more of a challenge. We shall see I suppose, and I'll keep you posted ... 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A week of "mindfulness" - the beginning!

Mindfulness. That word that keeps turning up in magazines, on TV and in water-cooler conversations with colleagues. But - what is it, and does it even work? I have no idea, so I've decided to try it for a week. I hope that by the end of the week my mind will feel less cluttered, and I achieve zen-like mastery of my surroundings and inner life. Or, at the very least, regain the feeling of being able to actually finish a thought properly before zipping on to another. 

I saw a great share on Facebook once, likening the person's thoughts to being like having 10 internet explorer screens open and constantly jumping between the windows. I completely understood what they meant.  Work! Switch screen. Book son's dentist appointment! Switch screen. Wasn't I in the middle of something, to do with shoes? Switch screen. Is it still OK to use that old pumpkin for soup? Why don't I just ... Switch screen. Shoes. Shoes? What was that thing I needed to do with shoes? Switch screen. Pumpkin shoes! No that's not right ... and so on and so on. 

I've complained a lot recently about feeling busy, but in the absence of a cloning machine (and while I still wait for the book about how I have more time than I realise to arrive from the Book Depository), I probably just need to use my time more efficiently. Trying to be "mindful" for a week is probably a good start. 

These are the rules I've decided to try and follow for a week:

1. Check my mobile phone less. Once an hour, tops. 

Given all of my Facebook messages turn up on my phone, it's so easy to just have a sneaky look while I'm waiting for the jug to boil. Which then turns into a sneaky conversation, which turns into the kids needing me again and me only remembering I was making myself a cup of tea an hour later when I go into the kitchen for something else and spy a lonely looking teabag sitting on the toaster. Which turns into me checking online again after I flick the jug on again, the situation repeating, and the poor teabag staying unused and neglected, probably wondering what on earth it's doing sitting on the toaster in the first place. Unfortunately for the teabag, by then I don't remember the answer to that either. 

I don't need to check my phone that often.  I don't get that many texts and calls, and if someone really needs to get hold of me they'll ring and I'll hear it, surely? I need to repeat the mantra "my phone is not an extra limb," and only check it every now and then. This one will be hard for me  -  I checked my phone three times this morning in Subway while waiting for my sub to be made, so ingrained is the habit.  That's about once a minute, which is ridiculous really.  This will be hard, though.  I don't know at what point in my life checking my phone became the default thing to do whenever I stand still, but it has.  

2. Only do one thing at a time. 

One things at a time: play with my children OR do chores, not trying to do both at once and as a result doing neither well. watch TV OR surf the internet. Play with my kids OR check my phone. Talk to my husband OR play on the computer. Write a blog entry OR read the news online instead of doing each for a minute at a time and constantly forgetting where I am up to. Something about pumpkins, wasn't it  ... ? 

3. Give myself longer to reply to messages. 

This really doesn't have to be instant. I've not met anyone on their death bed, but am sure that not many people lie there and think "I really which I'd responded to that acquaintance-that-I-don-t-really-know-that-well five hours earlier than I did". Unless of course not responding to aforementioned acquaintance caused them to be on their death bed, in which case such thoughts are perfectly reasonable.

4. Let myself get bored.  

Apparently boredom makes you more creative. Here I was, thinking that boredom just made me bored, and, to quote my mother when I would complain about being bored as a teenager "only boring people get bored". 

I hate being bored. When I was a teenager I spent four months living in a small Italian village with a host family, where between the hours of 2 - 6 every day I wasn't allowed to leave the house. There wasn't much to do in the house either - I didn't have books to read as didn't speak Italian, I couldn't watch TV, it was during those dark pre-internet times, and I didn't have anyone to talk to. Some days, I actually felt like I was going mad I was so bored. It was an awful, unhappy time, and I think I've had a fear of being bored ever since. But, that was a long time ago, and staring into space while waiting for the bus isn't the same as not having anything to do for days on end.  At the least, I need to stop fearing boredom as a way of enabling me to check my phone less often.

5. Be present.

I'm hoping this will flow from the other 4 rules, but we'll see. 

Anyway, I'll see how this goes, and keep you posted. Now, I must really get back to that poor neglected teabag ... 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Working mums: we have more time than we think?

Today I read a headline entitled "Working mums: you have more time than you think". Really? I thought, all ready have the red mist descend and to fly into an indignant strop. The heading itself practically had me reaching for a pitchfork and torch even before I had read a word of the article.

It certainly doesn't feel like I have much free time at all, so the last thing I want to read is that the feeling of always being busy is due to my poor planning. Work is busy, parenting is busy, and I have entire weeks when I feel like I don't have any time to do anything for myself. Work's not suffering, and my kids aren't suffering.  When I'm busy, though, it's as if those two things take up all of my time leaving me nothing left for myself. It's hard. Exercise, going to the doctor for non-essential appointments, getting haircuts, eating well - that's what gets thrown by the wayside. I already do all of the things that internet forums, online listicles and my friends tell me I should do to make things easier: I cook in advance, my husband pulls his weight, I write lists, I have a slow-cooker, I write more lists, I do online shopping, and some evenings all we eat is tinned soup and toast. But, I'm still busy. And when I'm not busy anymore and the kids are in bed and I don't have work to do, my brain is instantly transformed into a pumpkin-like mush, and all I want to do is vegetate while grunting single-syllable words, preferably while watching television through glazed-over eyes. The last thing I feel like doing is anything useful. I think that if I spent that glorious brain-pumpkin-mush time doing useful things, I'd get so tightly would up, I'd snap. Or get sick.  Or get behind on my essential TV viewing.  I didn't want to read an article that told me otherwise.

Further reading showed that the article is about a book, which I suppose I should actually read before assuming that the ideas contained within will send me into a rage. In fact, the book, I know how she does it, actually looks quite interesting. Before reading it, though, I had a quick brainstorm about this extra time that I may actually be wasting (apart from my invaluable brain-pumpkin-mush time), and all I could think of was the time I spend asleep. What a waste of time that is! Maybe being a vampire would help? The weather's been so bad recently the whole not being in daylight thing may not even be an issue if I were to turn into the un-dead. Although, now I think about it, becoming a vampire is a tricky business. Plus, all of that fighting with werewolves would become tiresome, and potentially take up even more time. Maybe the sleep will have to stay, and I'll have to actually read this book to get tips. Watch this space, then, I suppose ...