It’s Cold, but it’s Good…

I think my spirit animal is a bear. Not a polar one, one that hibernates. Oh, and eats when it is only necessary. Yip, a bear, definitely a bear.

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I’ve always said that if I could have a single season all year round, it would be Autumn- the days are still long and relatively warm and there is a golden hue to everything around me, like an angel’s halo, glowing in the light. The trees dance a gentle waltz to the song of the breeze as their leaves change colour from green to red, red to yellow, yellow to brown, and eventually fall to the ground, their naked branches a stark fortune-teller that reminds us for rebirth to happen, death must occur.

Winter is not my season. At all. The days are short: it’s dark when I get up for work and in the height of the season, it’s dark when I get home in the afternoons, just shy of 17:30. For the most part, I’ve learnt to appreciate the darkness. Many a winter night I will get into bed early, with a hot beverage and just listen to the stillness that only a winter’s night can bring. It’s during these times that many of my troubles come to the fore, but also because of the clear blackness not only around me, but in my mind, I am able to think of systematic solutions. It is also a time when my Creative Muse seems to surface from her den, inspiring me to create something, anything, beautiful.

Just this past Saturday, while under a blanket on the couch at a friend’s place, I got the urge to cook – I’ve laid my hands on quite a few recipes, and am excited about the smells and warmth that will be emanating from my oven, or from the bubbling pots atop. I also unpacked all my cake decorating tools not too long ago too.  More importantly, I’ve indulged my true passion a bit more: I’ve been writing!

Looks like winter may be my season after all… hearty soups, hot chocolate, Port, stunning sunrises (because I’m awake to see them), time for self, time to create and above all, knowing that when it’s over, Spring springs and a cycle of new hope and new life begins.

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Virtues: Integrity

Today I want to talk about honesty’s bed partner: Integrity.

Where honesty deals with the spoken word, integrity deals with actions.  This sums it up well:

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Integrity implies that you adhere to a strict moral code; that you have scruples, and that you don’t veer off that path. Often though, we are faced with situations that may make us want to compromise our integrity, because the prospect is fun or easy. It’s also often short-lived. And when one looks back, not worth it at all – because it leaves a dead spot in your being.  Yes, that’s experience talking.

 

 

 

 

 

All jobs require integrity, but professions even more so – medical & judicial particularly, but even there, sometimes people buckle, whether it is the leaking of confidential information, or accepting a bribe to look the other way.

Again though, what is right and wrong, because as with honesty, sometimes things do get a bit grey.  We’ve all been taught that it’s not right to steal, but we’ve also been taught that it is the right thing to provide for your family. So, if an unemployed man gets caught stealing (whether food or money) to provide for his hungry children, is he doing wrong? The stickler-for-the-rules in me is screaming YES! But the more open-minded side of me is empathetically saying, No. Wouldn’t it be more wrong if he tossed everything in the fuck-it-bucket and abandoned them? The same with the occupations I mentioned earlier – there are reported cases in South Africa of intimidation and death threats to high profile professionals. Honestly, if I was in their shoes, and my life (or that of my family) was in grave danger, I might slip and roll right off the moral high ground.

Sure, there are moral lines that I wouldn’t physically cross, and some that I always said I wouldn’t, but have as youthful indiscretions.  Some I even did two- or three times, because apparently burning your fingers once isn’t enough. Again, as I said yesterday, with age comes wisdom.

Now that I’m older, as far as is humanly possible, I strive to be trustworthy, backing my words up with action, although I know Elizabeth is shaking her head reading this: I told her I’d make her swirled mocha chocolate mousse, and I still haven’t done it – it’s been over a decade already! But I will do it – if I ever find the recipe again.

Earlier today I had a customer pop in at my office. He’s a dear old man; soft-spoken, with kind eyes and old school chivalrous. He was telling me that he and his wife will be making chutney this weekend and enquired about my plans for the weekend. I told him that I try to spend some time every weekend with my parents, because it is the honourable thing to do.  He even thanked me for it. It was an odd thing for me to hear, because seeing my parents at least for a while every weekend, is second nature to me, and if for some reason I know I won’t see them on the weekend, I make a point of spending a night with them during the week. Words, actions.

We’re all human; we’re all different and I believe in my heart that the greater percentile of us is just trying to do good and live lives that don’t cause harm.

As with the other virtues I’ve already written about, I fail with this too – although not as much as I did when I was younger.  I’m a lot more open-minded and comprehend that things are not as black-and-white-cut-and-dry-cast-in-stone as all the handbooks would have us believe.

Everyday is a new beginning, a chance to try again. Tomorrow I will strive not to commit murder in my mind (because I’ve failed hopelessly at it today…)

Virtues: Honesty

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what my writing approach to the virtue of honesty, which will be followed by its significant other, integrity, would be. It’s been tough, because it isn’t as cut and dry as other virtues like kindness – you’re either kind or you’re not; patience – you’re either have buckets full of it, or the little you do have wears thin very quickly; creativity – you either have some kind of arty-farty side, or you don’t.  Honesty though, is quite a grey area I’ve come to find as I’ve been chatting to various people in preparation for this piece.

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Honesty implies being truthful with your spoken communication, but in the words of one of my favourite musicians, Billy Joel, Honesty is such a lonely word // Everyone is so untrue which is a fair generalization.

Face it – we all lie at some stage of our lives, whether it is telling the- proverbial little white lie*, an outright blatant one#, or omitting the truth+. Most times these dishonesties are justified by good intentions – the examples below are ones I’ve personally heard.

*My ex-wife wanted me to tell our four-year old daughter we were going to the park, because she didn’t want to get into the car to go to church.

#Of course those pants don’t make your arse look fat!

+I spent the day baking (the bit that was omitted was space cakes)

Nikita, the colleague I travel to work with, gave me an entirely different angle as to why people aren’t entirely honest – fear.  She used a simple illustration of having spinach stuck in her teeth and me not telling her, for fear that she would be upset with me for the potential embarrassment she’d initially have, but that she’d rather I told her, than have her walk around the office for hours without knowing and everyone having a right old snigger behind her back.

The thing with any forms of untruths is that they may open the door to the creation of trust issues and let’s not try and baffle each other with bullshit here – if trust is broken, it is seldom ever one hundred percent restored.

This is the reason many relationships fail, because the words are empty. Neil Diamond summed it up well when he recorded Love on the Rocks in 1980. Love on the Rocks // ain’t no big surprise // pour me a drink // and I’ll tell you some lies…

The question though is if you really know the person you’re communicating with, and they’re not being entirely honest with you – is it not because they’re trying to protect you? Or because they know you well enough to know that you can’t handle the whole truth (at least not at that moment in time)? Simply answered (and this is hard for me to admit) – yes. However, with that said, there are only a handful of people I know would opt to go this route because they’re thinking more of me, than they are of themselves – and they are the people that are not only honest in my book, but the ones that have integrity too, because they will back up their words with their actions.

I’ll be brutally candid here – I’ve failed at being honest in the past, but with age has come wisdom and I know that my words have power, so I try to be as truthful as I can, with whomever I come into contact, and I will by that same yardstick, maintain my integrity back backing up my words with actions.

I love this definition of honesty – because it is not as black & white as many of the others I’ve found during my research and it is fundamentally true.

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Virtues: Chivalry

Continuing with virtues – today’s topic: Chivalry.

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Could it be that we, as modern-day women believe that chivalry is indeed dead? Or is it that we’ve become so jaded (or as we often prefer to label it ‘independent’), that we don’t notice that some gentlemen still exist? Or do you not associate the adage of Manners maketh the man to be chivalry? I’m going to use practical examples from my life, but I’m curious to hear your views, so please leave a comment, if you’d like.

Me? I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, and a giver. A believer of idealistic fairy tales, with their proverbial knights in shining armour.

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As a result, I’ve been burned, more times than I care to admit and honestly, cynicism and bitterness had crept into my heart, but I had two choices – allow it to poison me and become hateful or continue to hope and believe that not every man is a bad egg. So, when my friend, Frank replied to my Facebook poll that chivalry is an underrated virtue, it struck a chord the starry-eyed dreamer within me, because I actively started looking for chivalry in my day-to-day dealings with the men in my life – whether family members, colleagues or friends.

I’m ashamed to admit, that I experience chivalry every day but that I hadn’t noticed it because of my own unrealistic idea of what it should be. I’m not going to lie and say I’m not a hearts and flowers girl, because I am. I want those tokens of romance, but I’d much rather have a man walk on the outside of the sidewalk when I’m with him to ensure my safety (because if you know me, you’ll know that I trip over thin air and am likely to get hit by a real car!), or help me carry my parcels when I’ve been grocery shopping.

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Most of the senior management at the company I work for, is well, senior, and male. Whenever any of the female staff walk out of a room, one of the men will open the door and they will all wait until the ladies have exited the room, or if one of the ladies has been asked to make coffee for guests, and is carrying the tray, our management will stand up and one will take the tray from us. That’s a chivalrous gesture, not so? Also, in the seven years I’ve been here, I’ve not heard any of the men talk to the women in a disrespecting tone of voice.

For a short season in my life I had a friend, William – eleven years my junior, the eldest of three brothers, from good stock. Whenever he would come to visit, or we’d go out, he would make a point of pouring my alcoholic beverages for me, because, as he’s been raised, a woman doesn’t pour her own booze, and she doesn’t ever pour booze for a man – her husband or not.  Even his youngest brother, a high school junior abides by this rule. It was something tough for me to deal with, because I am after all, capable of unscrewing a bottle cap, finding ice in the fridge and pouring my own drink, but in their book of chivalry, that’s not the way it is supposed to be. One thing that he never fails to do (which some of my guy friends also do) is open the car door for a woman.  Even when I’d visit at his parents and everyone would walk out to the car to bid me goodnight, he would take my car key, unlock the driver’s door, and open the door for me. Again, a small gesture, but chivalrous nonetheless, and one that gets noticed when it no longer is done, as if often the case when the guy has got the girl, and feels there is no longer a need to impress her.

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One of the sweetest, most chivalrous gestures in my book is a man helping a lady into her jacket, or if she doesn’t have one at hand, offering her his when she is cold. I personally almost never have anything warm with me, because I don’t get cold, but when offered a jacket, I will graciously accept, because it shows that the man I’m out with is more than just well-mannered; it shows that he is willing to sacrifice his own comfort for mine.

Almost every year, a friend of mine from Cape Town, Jack, comes to visit for my birthday if he’s in the country.  He’ll pick me up, open the car door for me, take me out for a meal at a restaurant of my choice, where he’ll pull my chair out, and we’ll have a good catch-up.  At the end of the evening, he will walk me to my door and see to it that I’m safely inside. Again, no ostentatious gestures, but small things that are kind and gentlemanly.

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I will also concede to the gallant gents out there, that women (and I know I’m generalizing here, ladies – don’t get your panties in a twist) don’t always make it easy for you either. To give a practical example: Who pays the dinner bill when you’re out, whether as friends, or more? The reason I pose this question is because I have been in relationships where I’ve pretty much fit the bill every time, and as a result, I’m super-mindful of not wanting to be that kind of person. I’m also aware that some of the guy-friends I go out with, earn more than I do, and are happy to pay for a meal, or drinks, but on some level I want to reciprocate. Maybe it’s misguided pride from my side, I don’t know, but it is who I am.  I’ve had this discussion with my mate, Charlie and he gets it; he appreciates that I’m willing to put my hand in my pocket, but to some men, it may be perceived as an insult.

In closing, I think a great deal of the ‘problem’ with us as women, is that we often expect huge, grand gestures, instead of seeing the little things, which are the ones that in fact matter the most.

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A man offering you his jacket every time you’re out, and it’s cold, is worth way more than a bunch of flowers once in a blue moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtues: Kindness

Many years ago, when I was doing my novel-writing course, my tutor, Alex Smith, said that if a character needs a bit of development, I should use this Proust questionnaire as a starting point. Every so often I take it out and have fun with my friends, “interviewing them”.  It’s also fun to look back at what original answers were vs what they are now.  Some things change, some things stay the same.

One of the questions that always fascinates me is “what is the most overrated virtue?” It is a question that, at first glance, seems easy to answer, but in reality, it isn’t, because not everyone has the same understanding of what a virtue is, nor do their moral compasses face the same True North.

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So, instead of working it from that angle, I’ve opted to discuss what the underrated ones are – in my misfit opinion, but also in the opinions of others who opted to reply to a post I put on Facebook in an attempt to research more about the topic.

To start, I’ll talk about one of the virtues that ranks really high on my list, but that is very often disregarded by others (whether intentional or not, it doesn’t matter): Kindness.

What has become my motto in life is this quote by Ian Maclaren:

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Face it…  Every single one of you reading this post has had it tough at some stage of your life.  Would something as simple as a smile from a stranger, a hug from a friend, an encouraging word from a colleague, or a gentle squeeze on the hand from your spouse have eased the trial, if even for a fleeting moment? I believe so. I’m not in any way trying to say that kindness is the key to solving the problem, but merely that it lightens the burden, if only for a short while. It opens the door for other virtues, like hope and perseverance.

Do I fail at being kind? Sure, I do.  I’m not infallible. Honestly, I fail at a lot of the virtues that will be blogged about during the course of this month. My creativity sometimes leaves for months on end; I can sometimes be selfish instead of selfless; sometimes I am conceited, instead of modest…

In closing, I challenge you to be kind to everyone who crosses your path today, bearing in mind that kindness, like every other virtue, does not require a grand exhibition of self, but a pureness of heart and a humble spirit.

Seven Years & Still Going Strong…

Seven is considered in many cultures to be a lucky number; in some even spiritual. I think that in this instance, it’s both.

Today, seven years ago, my life changed. I landed a job at a company that has afforded me the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally and allowed me to utilize my talents, all in a safe, happy working environment. In the time I’ve been here, I’ve picked up scraps with some colleagues, but that is an occupational hazard everywhere. The difference is that the people I work with are not just like family, they are.

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I was saying to Nikita, whom I sometimes carpool with, that I still remember my first day. I parked my car in the visitor’s bay and my boss came to me and pointed to a bay demarcated for my car.  I didn’t do much that day, because my boss had just returned from a two-week-long overseas visit. I was shown to my office and then taken through the factory to meet everyone.  The rest of the day I settled in.

In the time I’ve been here I’ve got to put my writing- and proofreading skills to good use.  I also received incredible support when I decided to complete the final subject for my tertiary qualification.  I’ve been mentored by incredible leaders, admonished when necessary by one father-figure in particular, teased like a little sister by some colleagues and carried by others when things have not been all sunshine-and-rosy.  See, family.

How many of you reading this can honestly say that going to work isn’t something you abhor, but look forward to? How many of you can say that spending time with your colleagues is not something you do simply because of the pay cheque at the end of the month?

I can, because seven years ago, when I walked through the door, I wasn’t half the person I am today, and for that I’m grateful.

Here’s to the next leg of the journey – and of course, cake to celebrate!

I Don’t Need a Crystal Ball

I’ve done a bit of reading on psychic abilities in general of late, spurred after rereading Stephen King’s Carrie.

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According to the research I’ve done, everyone possesses psychic abilities, but not everyone hones the skills.  Probably not a bad thing, because if I had pyrokinetic abilities, I think a lot people I dislike would be sitting in hot-seats every day.

Wikipedia has a long list of notable psychic abilities which I am keen to learn more about, but for now, I want to discuss one in particular.

Precognition. Or as it’s more familiarly known, premonition.

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I have this ability, but it is not well whetted. Honestly, I’m not sure if I want it to be sharpened given that every foreboding I’ve had has been a sign of something bad. Only one has signalled death, the others all related to something less fatal, like illness, job loss or car accidents.

In my case, I get feelings of dread and angst, and I know – soon I’m going to hear bad news about someone I care about. I don’t always know who, but sure as the sun that rises in the morning, these feelings are proved right, time after time.

I seldom talk about this specific intuition because I know many people perceive psychic capabilities to be evil, or even simply, a bunch of hooey.  Tina and I spoke about it a while ago though, because I had a feeling that something was amiss with her.  I didn’t know what it was, but I knew something was off.  Turns out her relationship was on the rocks, despite it being the perfect proverbial husband-two-point-five-kids-two-dogs-manicured-lawn-and-a-white-picket-fence-picture. She sobbed as she shared the trials of months gone by.  My heart went out to her and while there was nothing I could do to comfort her, I knew she was grateful to have me there, if only to listen.

Last week, again, I was in a bad space.  There was no definitive reason for me to feel down.  Sure, I’d had a bit of a disagreement with my boss, but it isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. I felt restless, and overwhelmingly sad, yet I didn’t cry.  I knew I would hear ill tidings at some stage in the future. I couldn’t weep (although the tears would have been cathartic), because I didn’t know what I’d be crying about.  I also had a panic attack, for the first time in almost ten months. This time though, on Thursday night, it was in my sleep. I woke up drenched in perspiration, my hair wet, as if I’d been swimming and tears streaming down my cheeks, with Jasmine ringing in my mind.  Shallow breaths racked my lungs and my pulse would have rivalled a racehorse at Ascot. After that, I slept like the dead, for six-, uninterrupted hours (which is a record for me!). I was happy for the rest, because when I woke on Friday morning, I felt better. The feeling of being caged in had lifted.  Had my premonition been a false alarm?

No. It hadn’t.

Yesterday I received word that Jasmine, a close friend who had surgery for cancer not too long ago, had been readmitted to hospital, this time with shortness of breath and chest pains.  We have known each other for twenty-five years, but our lives took different paths and while we stayed in touch, it is only recently that we really reconnected.  She’s been someone I have been able to confide in about certain things.  As soon as I heard what had happened, I found myself thinking that’s why you felt so awful.

I’ve spoke to her earlier.  She’s doing better and is taking it easy.  So, for now, my being is at peace.  There is calm, happiness and joy in my spirit, which is the way I prefer it.

Here’s to a new week! Let hope, gratitude, mercy, kindness, forgiveness and love abound.  Let’s drive the darkness out with positivity 😀