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Speaking from the Heart – Part 7

March 17th, 2014 No comments

I don’t relish sharing this — I have a story that sharing about the dark side of things like despair makes me sound like a downer and someone more focused on complaining than moving forward and being responsible in their life.  Nevertheless, now that I’ve started down the path, here’s Part 7 of my ongoing foray into vulnerability.

As I sat and meditated tonight, I got present to something I don’t want to be with: despair.

Despair that things won’t “work out” (whatever that is).  Despair that, in spite of my best efforts, things are going to fail.  I have despair that even though I’ve asked for support, it doesn’t matter (and frankly, the places I’ve asked for support are pretty flimsy).  Despair that even if I do get responses to my request for support, I can’t fit it in, so what’s the point anyhow?

I don’t have enough time.  Even if I did, I’d just fill it up with more stuff.  I don’t have time to support other people, and I don’t have time to request support, let alone accept it if I was to receive it.

It’s a setup – and no wonder I feel despair.  Inside this context, there’s no room for anything else.  It’s Ouroboros.  I am simultaneously creating my own trap, getting inside the prison, locking the door, and then trying to figure the way out.

So here’s what I can distinguish:

  1. I’m not happy with the way things currently are.
  2. When you’re in a pattern, the thing to do is to notice your pattern, and choose anything different.
  3. Inevitably, I don’t choose something different (“But I really DON’T have time!”)

This work is infuriating.  While working on this last week with my coach, I got supremely furious.  I was confronted by the pointlessness of it all.  What does it even matter?  There’s no room for anything, and any time I clear space, people are going to ask for more of my time.

Now we’re back to despair.

My default is to go back to more doing.  Maybe if I do a bunch more, that will solve the problem?  Maybe I’m just not doing enough — if I did just a little more, and achieved just a few more results, I’m sure that would remove me feeling this way… right?

It won’t.  Because it never does.  It hasn’t for the last 35 years.  My survival mechanism wants to tell me that “wait, listen Adam, this time it’s different.  This time this thing that you need to do really WILL make the difference”.  But I know it isn’t true.  It’s in black in white, in those three steps up there.

Time to seek out some support.

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It’s hard…

January 17th, 2012 2 comments

It’s hard to be human.

It’s difficult to fully expose who we are, and to be comfortable putting that person out there, regardless of any judgment that may result from it.

We all know that other people may judge us, but how often do you devote thought to the fact that you are probably also judging yourself every time you expose vulnerability?

Getting comfortable with who we are includes accepting and indeed, loving, all of our emotions and feelings, including the negative ones.

The fact that you feel negative at the moment does not make you a negative person.  The fact that right now, you feel angry and resentful, does not make you an angry, resentful person.

It has been years since I’ve cried openly.  It’s not because I don’t feel overwhelmed with emotion at times (in fact, I do, often).  Rather, it’s that as soon as I begin to feel that way, I clamp down and assert control over how I am feeling.

Why?

To protect myself.  To prevent myself from experiencing emotions that I judge weak, or negative, or unhelpful.  To ensure that I am a positive person, and not a negative one.

I currently feel overwhelmed, some despair, and at times, like I’m throwing life away.  That doesn’t mean that I’m in over my head, suffering depression, or a failure.  It just means that I too experience emotions like overwhelm and fear.

I am working to embrace these emotions as part of who I am, and to share them more openly.  I invite you to do the same.

It’s hard to be human – but it’s worth it.

Debris from Shaw

March 31st, 2011 4 comments

Every two weeks or so, I come back home to Victoria and have to throw out mail from Shaw. The contents of the mail are generally offers for HDTV, or more channels, or better channels, or something else – none of which I care about.

I wrote to @shawinfo (Shaw’s Twitter account) indicating how obnoxious I found this behaviour. Ultimately, it just makes me resent the company. They’re wasting my time, paper and other resources.

The response I got back was to send an e-mail requesting that I be removed from the list. I’m reproducing the transcript from that conversation below – what do you think? Is this an acceptable response from Shaw?

Shaw

Thank you for contacting Shaw E-Care, Adam. We appreciate the opportunity to correspond with you.

We understand that you no longer wish to receive promotional/marketing material from us via mail to your address. We wish to clarify that as with most companies, we do issue bulk, unaddressed mailings to large areas. As these are not specifically targeted mailings and are delivered to all addresses, we are unable to stop these from being delivered to your door without you indicating to Canada Post that you do not accept unaddressed ad mail. However, for targeted mailings, we are able to prevent information from being mailed to your address. Please allow up to 8 weeks for this request to take into effect.

Please provide us with your mailing address so we can ensure your request has been processed and we have the correct account. Please also confirm if this is only for mailers you are receiving or emails as well.

Should you have any further concerns, please contact us at 1-888-472-2222 or visit our Online Customer Chat by clicking on the link

My response

Thanks for getting back to me.

Shaw’s attitude may be that bulk mails to my address is acceptable because that form of advertising is “the cost of doing business” or it would be impossible to stop those coming to me without alerting Canada Post.

That explanation may satisfy Shaw, but it does not allay the frustration I experience every time part of my day is wasted dealing with this type of mail, nor does it change the opinion in my mind that this is a totally wasteful practice.  Shaw may be able to accept, on principle, that “everyone else is doing it, so it’s okay”.  I am not, and this kind of attitude just crystallizes the fact that many larger companies are content to remain complacent rather than try to be truly innovative with their consumer outreach.  (as an example, having a twitter account to respond to requests like mine helps to some extent, but I was still required to do all the legwork to actually stop this mail coming in to me).

You have my business, so presumably this is considered moot and can be brushed aside without any fear of it generating corporate cognitive dissonance – that’s generally the way individual consumers are treated, after all.  Nevertheless, I see that both accountability and integrity are listed below in your company’s list of values. Perhaps sustainability isn’t part of either of those values, or maybe all bets are off when it comes to advertising?

 

My address is:

 

I do not wish to receive any advertising from Shaw, either in mail or email format (nor phone call, tweets, text messages, in person, singing telegrams, people in gorilla suits, and any other format you can dream up).

Shaw’s final response came the next day

Thank you for your further email Adam.

We can confirm we have processed your request to discontinue targeted mailings from being sent to your address. Please allow up to 8 weeks for this request to take into effect as mailers may have since been printed and sent to your address.

Furthermore, we appreciate the time you have taken to forward your thoughts in regards to the mailers you receive from us.  While we appreciate your feedback, we are unable to stop mailers which are not addressed to you from being delivered to your home address.  We have forwarded you comments to the correct area for further review.

Satisfied?

As a consumer, do you feel that this sufficiently addresses your concern?  Do you feel that this ends the conversation?  In the same position, I would be following up this e-mail with another one from someone working higher up.  In general, I feel a little cynical about the state of ISPs and their customer relations – we can only wait and see if this experiment will alter that balance for the better.

Don’t YOU want to be a centenarian?

March 9th, 2011 No comments

A quick post today, just to bring you an interesting article on the world’s Blue Zones.  These are the zones in which a significant portion of the population live above the age of 100 years.

Most relevant (in my own eyes) are the following things that each of the blue zones share in common:

  • Family – Family is put ahead of other concerns.
    • This should help ground us all right off the bat.  On Planet Money’s most recent podcast, the host mentioned that he felt embarrassed when he would have people from Baghdad or Burundi come and visit him in New York, on account of the wealth that is displayed.  Much to his surprise his guests didn’t say this at all.  Instead, they consistently commented that “everyone here seems so lonely – they spend all their time working, and so little time with their families”.  This is a message we should all take to heart.  Family doesn’t necessarily need to be your immediate family.  It could be your close friends, or whoever it is that helps you through the day.  The point that I take to heart here is that we should spend less time worrying about our careers and money, and place a priority on those that are most important to us (including ourselves).
  • No Smoking – Centenarians do not typically smoke.
    • This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us – it’s never too late to quit!
  • Plant-based diet – The majority of food consumed is derived from plants.
    • This is an interesting one.  At a risk of having every vegan on earth simultaneously say “told you so”, there’s a lot to be said for shifting your diet toward the consumption of more plants and less meat.  Bay and I made the decision to do this ourselves because of our own principles.  Sustainability and Ethics factored chiefly in my own decision.
  • Legumes – Legumes are commonly consumed.
    • This and the last item were listed in Wikipedia’s article out of order.  Since giving up meat for the most part, I find myself eating a lot of legumes in order to make up the protein and iron (mmmm chickpeas!).  I wonder if these two items are related.
  • Constant moderate physical activity – Moderate physical activity is an inseparable part of life.
    • When my brother and I were raised, it was never a question as to whether you were going to get physical activity.  Every Saturday was a soccer game, every Sunday was either swimming or skating with the family, and during the week we had soccer practice.  Although we can’t all have had the benefit of parents that gave us the awesome head start we were given, we can all take to heart the message that they imbued in me: physical activity shouldn’t be something that you do when it’s convenient.  It’s an ever-present part of your life.  Do you drive to work because it takes 30 minutes to walk there?  Start walking!  Do you take the bus to get across town because you’re in a hurry?  Start planning better and taking the walk.  Take the elevator up to your office?  Take it up to four floors beneath your office and walk the stairs the rest of the way.  Figure out ways to include physical activity in your daily regime, and don’t think of it as an option.  It’s simply part of your day.  Use the body you’ve been given.
  • Social engagement – People of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities.
    • As someone that goes absolutely mental without social contact, I can especially appreciate how important this element is to everyone.  Social engagement with your wife or husband is, of course, an essential component, but what about with friends?  Without outside contact, you’re never given the chance to question or challenge the beliefs that you hold in your head – and by direct correlation, you’re never given the chance to grow beyond your boundaries.

Definitely something to think about..

Find your analogies..

February 6th, 2011 No comments

We are often presented with situations in our life that are new and unfamiliar.  These are the situations that breed stress and anxiety, but also the situations from which we can draw the most new knowledge, wisdom, and growth.

A new situation is stressful by the very fact that it is new.  Old situations become familiar, and no longer generate much stress (provided you’ve learned how to approach and deal with them).  Consequently, they lose their ability to inspire new breadths to our ways of approaching the world.  Once you’ve learned how to deal with a situation, whatever it may be, it’s unlikely that you will generate new great new insight from addressing the same situation.  You may very well develop new insight specific to that endeavour, but as I have mentioned before, working within the same situations will generally only provide you with the ability to generate new insight within the confines of your current set of knowledge.

So, how then do we deal with these new situations that generate stress?  If the goal is to continue to pursue things that are outside of our comfort zone, we need to find ways to keep this stress manageable and to mitigate it.  One of the angles that I apply in these situations is to seek out analogies.

In Law, we spend a great deal of our time attempting to draw analogies.  New situations are constantly arising where there has not yet been existing law laid out that address the specific situation (since humans are dynamic and constantly evolving entities, it would be a contradiction to suggest that you could develop one set of laws that address all of the contingencies that could arise).  In order to evolve our system of law, while keeping it coherent with what has already been laid out, it becomes essential to draw analogies from what the current set of facts to what has been decided in the past.

The same requirement applies to our own lives.  We want (hopefully) to keep our working set of knowledge evolving, so that we may continue to evolve and develop cognitively.  When we are presented with new situations that we are not comfortable with, it is important to look for analogies from which we can draw on our wisdom and experience to help us deal with the unfamiliar.

The ability to see and connect analogies from new situations to those we have dealt with in the past is one of the hallmarks of wisdom.  Those able to apply their experience to each subsequent situation they encounter will better be equipped to deal with the stress and challenges that the new situations bring to the table.

Great wisdom is the ability to apply your working set of knowledge not only to the new situations in front of you, but to those contingencies that may or may not arise in the future.  The more analogies that you can juggle in your head, and leverage to assist you in determining what the best path to take is, the better equipped you will be to make decisions, remain confident in those choices, and mitigate the stress that may attach itself.

When bumping up against new situations that are pushing you outside of your comfort zone, find a moment to take pause, be present and aware to how you are feeling, and seek out the analogies that may help you address what you are dealing with.

Seeking inspriration

January 7th, 2011 4 comments

I competed a retrospective blog post on my ferry ride over to Vancouver last Monday, and left a note to myself to edit and publish it the next day.  However, when I logged back in to do exactly that, it turns out that my saves had not properly saved.  I’m not sure if it was somehow related to the spotty internet connection you get when you travel across the Georgia Straight, but for whatever reason, the post is gone.

I could rewrite the whole post, but every time I’ve tried to do something like that in the past, the result is uninspired and is a tedious process.  No matter, it’s a good segue into what I’m going to write about tonight.

Two-and-a-half weeks off is a great amount of time to spend with friends, family, and yourself.  However, towards the end of that time, I noticed that I was starting to drift.  I didn’t really have much to focus on, and the time that I wasn’t spending with Bay was generally being spent playing video games, or partying.

These are good things in moderation, but when I turn to activities like this as a way to simply pass the time, it’s a warning sign.  I don’t like doing something simply for the sake of passing time.  The best way to maximize what I get out of life is to avoid doing things out of boredom, and spend my time doing productive things that I want to do (this is my formula, and I make no contention that it will necessarily work for you).  The implication here is that once I start doing something simply as a way to pass time, I’m no longer really doing it because I want to – I’m doing it because I’m bored.

In part, I was okay wasting my time because I knew that I was moving to back to Vancouver and would be gaining new focus in the coming weeks.  Living in a big city by myself provides a tremendous amount of solitude, during which I can focus myself on personal projects and achieving goals.  I also knew that once I started working again, I would have less free time, so it was okay to appreciate llan abundance of time to myself, even if it meant being bored during some of it.

But, this week in Vancouver has not felt much better.  I’ve spent some time getting settled, and have started to familiarize myself with the new workplace and our wonderful tax statutes (good luck to any layperson trying to understand our Income Tax Act – better to just do what you’re told).  But, I  haven’t felt inspired.

And that’s what I’m really waiting for.  I can achieve a lot, given the right inspiration, but without some inspiration to get the ball rolling, it’s pretty hard to turn my focus toward anything in particular.

This doesn’t mean that I sit down and wallow in my lack of inspiration.  It means that I go out and try to find things that inspire me.  I read books, I take dance classes, I go out and walk the city (when the weather isn’t dreadful), and I listen to music.  Because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately, I’ve turned to meditating in the evening – an hour spent meditating is a preferable use of my time to simply playing video games out of a lack of anything better to do.

So… yah.  That’s where I currently am.  I would write more about this subject, but… I’m not really feeling inspired, so I can’t.  The most frustrating part about a lack of inspiration is having the energy available to act on an impulse, but lacking the spark to ignite the process.

I recognize that posting about this kind of thing is a little self-indulgent, and for that I apologize, but one of the ways that you get yourself un-mired when in these situations is to accept that things aren’t optimal and make do with what you have available.

Without a doubt, more to come as time goes on…

The art of managing a creative process

June 12th, 2010 1 comment

The title is a bit of a paradox.  Creative processes are typically those that fare and progress best when left to their own devices and are free of the encumbrances that attempting to manage them can impose.  However, as with everything in life, I believe that certain guidelines help, rather than hinder these types of processes.  A significant portion of my spare time living in Vancouver so far has been dedicated to improving my own abilities in the styles of dance that interest me most.  I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on this process, and have received some excellent advice from some newly made friends about this ongoing process of improvement.  This post represents the culmination of these thoughts and tidbits of advice after the first month of the Summer.

Let’s get it out of the way, because if I don’t, someone will mention it.  “You shouldn’t spend time thinking about dancing, you should just do it”.  This is a blanket statement that I have heard more times that I care to think about.  There’s certainly some truth in it, because at the end of the day, the most fundamental thing you need to do when you’re dancing is listen to the music, shut off your brain, and do what your body tells you to do.  If you aren’t doing this, and your goal is to dance, you have failed at your goal.  Beyond that though, this super-general statement will lead you astray.

You do need to put some time and thought into your creative processes if you want to progress in them.  Simply doing whatever you feel like doing, without ever providing yourself with guidelines, goals, and benchmarks, will hinder, rather than aid, your own progress.  It’s important to pursue a direction.  If you want to be a great photographer (as some of my friends are), you take classes to learn how to do that.  If you want to be a great painter, you take classes to learn how to properly paint.  Dancing is no different, nor are other creative processes.  If nothing else, education and thought devoted to your pursuit will vest you with new ideas, inspirations, and an understanding of what has been done, and how you can either build on that, or avoid making the same mistakes.

Okay, it’s out of the way.  I feel like I should just create a boilerplate disclaimer that states that so that I can dump it at the bottom of every post tagged “dance” and save us all a bunch of time.  I’m not going to though because I’m waiting for the ferry and typing that out helps make the time go by a little faster.  Let’s get to the meat of this post.

The Theory

At the core of almost any creative process are two facets: theory and application.  These are just abstract terms that I’m using, and may not bear any actual relevance to the way they’re described in any particular pursuit.  Further, these concepts exist outside of merely creative processes, and apply in a lot of other settings.  In Math, you begin by learning the theory of numbers.  How operations work on constants and variables, how a derivative is performed (ugh), etc.  Once you know that, you need to actually apply these concepts to proper problems.  You can’t apply anything if you haven’t learned the theory beforehand, but if all you’ve done is learn the theory, you’ll be unable to apply it to anything other than the most contrived circumstances that generally exist in laboratory or classroom settings.

This is a common critique that is levelled from both sides of the fence in the ivory tower/real-world debate.  People working in the industry, in various professions, lob criticism at pure academics, claiming that they exist only in the world of theory, and never have their theories and ideas tempered with the versatility and complications of application to real-world problems.  The academics riposte that industry professionals are hopelessly mired in the here-and-now and the application of existing principles to the problems in the real world, and are never able to advance their ideas at any significant rate (thinking outside of the box, so to speak).

They’re actually both right.  It’s important to take time to step back from the real world and analyze and assess our knowledge as it currently stands, and reflect on how we are currently achieving our aims (and whether or not those aims are even still reasonable).  This can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve if you are constantly confronted with the next emergency.  Equally important, if all you ever do is consider theory and never apply it, you’ll never really ground yourself in reality, nor learn the ability to apply your theory with the fluidity and flexibility that is important to any successful endeavour.

The application

The point of this long-winded metaphor is to state the realization that I’ve reached regarding myself and dance: I’ve been sitting in the ivory tower.

This realization has dawned slowly on me over the last couple of weeks.  Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, many of the street dancers (so that includes poppers, lockers, house dancers, whackers, and b-boys) head out to Robson Square and get down.  On each of these nights, you can usually find at least 10-20 dancers practicing and getting down (which is super awesome).  This was a pretty intimidating scene for me to plug in to.  A week ago this past Wednesday was the first time I’d gone out purely to practice.  Before that, I had been to the square to take some classes that were being taught there (also awesome), but nothing else.  I arrived early and practiced technique for about an hour before someone I’d met recently, named Boris, showed up, and then we started practicing in front of the many windows that surround the now ice-free skating rink that is downstairs.

I asked Boris for some advice, mentioning the frustration I feel every time I try to dance outside of purely doing drills.  Boris’s advice was simple, but profound:

“I’ve been there.  You need to practice freestyling and cyphering* more.  Freestyling is a skill, just like any particular technique is.  If you don’t practice that skill, you won’t be able to improve in it”.

We spent the next thirty minutes taking turns locking in front of each other.  It felt supremely awkward.  The truth is that I’ve never really danced in front of someone else, while they stood their watching.  Sure, I’ve danced at the bar plenty of times, but that’s a different thing altogether.  People at the bar blend into an anonymous crowd.  There’s individual faces, but it’s easy to ignore them.  Plus, at the bar, there’s other people on the dance floor.  I’m sure that being a person that has devoted time to the pursuit of dancing, people notice me when I’m dancing next to people that have not, but it’s easy enough to ignore.

When you’re in a situation like this, you start to fall back on the same things pretty quickly.  I’d come out with a sequence that I had thought up, and then fall right back to the fundamentals and have trouble moving beyond them.  But that’s okay, because this was the first time I’d ever actually tried to move beyond the realm of pure theory into the realm of application.  David and Michael, two twins that I’ve seen dancing at Get Down last year, and at some of the classes I’ve been taking this Summer, showed up later, but I needed some time to reflect, eat dinner, and stretch.  The next night, I repeated this process for popping, forcing myself to get into the cypher and do something – anything.  Dancing first – once that was happening, the technique could flow from it.

The result

I’ve often drawn parallels between squash and dancing.  If you look hard enough, you can find meaningful parallels between almost any two pursuits.  After the second cypher I danced in, I wondered to myself why I hadn’t felt like this was as big of an issue with squash as it was with dancing.  I believe that this is because squash is already set up to impose these two types of learning on your process.  You don’t have to pursue both the laboratory work (drills and working on movement) and the application in the real world (games and tournaments), and many people are content to simply play games.  In fact, squash is probably more likely to lead to people that have the opposite kind of problem to that which I’ve experienced with dancing.  Rather than spending all of their time in the lab working on theory, they spend all of their time playing games, applying what they know (again, this isn’t a criticism – if you’re content doing that, then by all means, continue to do so).

As a late dancer, pursuing a style of dance that requires a good deal of technique, it’s been easy to neglect the importance of real world application, and to simply work on theory, theory, theory.  The more I thought about these changes to my own pursuit, the more I realized that I may very well be passing along the same habits to my students.  Not once have we cyphered in one of my classes.  Why not?  Probably because I’d never done it myself.  Maybe because I was a little bit afraid to dance in front of people when the focus was exclusively on me.

But if I really care about dancing, how is this a sustainable approach?  It isn’t, unless I’m willing to forever remain a laboratory dancer (I’m not).  This point was actually driven home during the first class I took in Vancouver – a locking class with an incredible dancer named Kim Sato.  At the start and end of the class, everyone got together in a circle, and rather than facing the front and the mirrors, where we could focus exclusively on ourselves, we faced in towards each other and danced that way.  At the end of the class, Kim announced that we would be following the leader, and each took turns doing something that everyone else had to repeat for a number of beats before moving on to the next person.  It was intimidating, and I loved it.

Truthfully, the hardest cypher you ever enter will be your first one, and, parallel to that, the hardest time to get into any particular cypher will be the first time.  Each time after that, it gets easier and easier.  I found myself walking to Robson square this past Thursday excited about the opportunity to get down with other dancers, and to work on my freestyle skills.  I knew that I would be intimidated all over again, and that I would find it hard to keep coming up with new things, but I didn’t let that bother me.  I just wanted to get better at the application of my technique.

You…

So what does this mean to you, the non-dancer that has stumbled across my blog because I keep publishing my notes to Facebook, or because you’re bored at work and I was the first thing that popped up on your RSS-reader?

It means that if your aim is continual, optimized improvement in a given pursuit, you too must be spend time reflecting on whether or not you’re spending enough time in the lab, and enough time in the real-world.  If you find yourself plateau’d and unable to break out and experience a new bout of improvement, assess whether or not you’ve been spending too much time, or too little time, working in the lab, honing your skills.

Bonus

Okay.  The theory for today is out of the way.  The other thing that I promised last time I posted was an update on what I’ve been learning.  That list is perpetually growing, and never-ending, and I feel like everytime I spend an hour in a class, it dovetails into me learning about seven other new things related (and sometimes unrelated) to what we were working on.  Maybe I learned a single boogaloo technique, but also picked up new ways to approach teaching, learned about a weakness that I need to work on, and learned that I don’t like dancing on a certain side.  Notwithstanding that, I will try to summarize some of the more salient points, because otherwise this blog amounts to nothing more than verbal masturbation, and that’s not really my steeze.

Up to this point, I’ve been taking three classes each week: One hiphop class, one locking class, and one popping class.  I started taking a hiphop class because it’s taught by someone that I have a great deal of respect for: Liz Vaesen (Please someone correct me if I spelled her name wrong).  Brooke and I first heard of Liz when we took a popping workshop that she was bringing over to Victoria (she brings about four classes over each year), and were both immediately inspired and identified with her approach and view on hiphop, and dancing in general.  An excellent teacher is a better predictor of my growth than anything else about a given class (which may sound trite, but that includes subject matter and many other factors;  I feel like I would learn taking a ballet class with a great teacher than I would a popping class with a bad teacher, all other things being considered equal).

Liz’s class is everything I love about hiphop.  It focuses purely on social grooves, is done in Robson Square (urban!), and it’s not about flashy moves or fancy choreography.  I never really grew up “plugged in” to hiphop.  I knew that I wanted to dance from a fairly young age (though was never able to find teachers for it when I was a kid, and was probably also too intimidated), but never really identified with rap music when I heard it on Much (it turns out I’m just a snob and, like all forms of music that is broadcast, like only a few of the songs that are put out at any given time).  It wasn’t until I met Brooke and started to talk with her about dancing and hiphop that I realized that many of the elements and feelings that exist in HipHop are elements that I identify strongly with.  Individualism, creativity, honest self-expression, and self-awareness (both individual and cultural) are all key aspects of my identity.

Although I struggle to reflect these virtues at times (as do we all), they are all aims that I pursue throughout my day.

Bay’s cousin, Michael (who I like and enjoy chatting with), said something to me the last time that I saw him that really put me off.  He was playing me some music from a group called Bass Nectar (who are pretty good, though not really my top choice), and as we were listening, he commented that “If not for these guys and this kind of music, rap would be dead”.  I smiled and let him know that I couldn’t disagree with him more.  To the outsider, rap, and by association, hiphop, is nothing more than the superficial parts of it that we see co-opted and projected to us through a TV screen, endorsement deals, and product placement.  To most of the public, hiphop is artists like Puff Daddy wearing flashy suits, or Soulja Boy making a catchy hook and posting videos of himself displaying his vast ignorance and the unfortunate arrogance that comes with youth (nothing wrong with that arrogance, as we all have to move through it – it’s just too bad that he’s chosen to have a camera focused on him as he completes that journey).

But hiphop is so much more than these superficial elements.  In truth, these elements are probably so distorted as to have become the antithesis of hiphop.  Michael’s statement that rap would be dead if not for artists like Bass Nectar displays the ignorance that most people have of what hiphop is.  Hiphop is a cultural movement.  A way of feeling, thinking, obeserving, reflecting, and creating.  Hiphop wouldn’t die simply because the mainstream lost interest in the superficial and  overly-refined products that the music and fashion industry have distilled from the movement.  By the same token, a movement that is about culture wouldn’t simply be rejuvenated because a new set of artists have adopted a new interpretation of that culture.  Cultural movements don’t die, or get reborn.  Cultural movements like hiphop are reflections of our society, and they morph and evolve, just like our societies do.

Sorry about that, I didn’t even notice that soapbox I was standing on.  Anyhow, let’s get back on track.  The things we learn in Liz’s class are social dances.  Grooves and dances that have evolved as new music has come out and people have interpreted that into simple movements.  The Humpty dance, the Roger Rabbit, the Bart Simpson, the Steve Martin, the Cabbage Patch, and yes, even the Running Man, are all social dances that have evolved and become a part of hiphop.  These grooves and the music provide a simple pallette for the dancer to paint with.  Their interpretation and creativity in how they use those grooves, and add their own flare, are what leads to a creative process.

I’ve already mentioned the locking class that I take with Kim, and that’s also an excellent class.  Kim’s one of those ridiculously talented dancers, accomplished in ballet, tap, hiphop, locking, and several billion other styles (from what I’ve been told).  I always finish her class exhausted, drenched in sweat, humbled, and with a greater awareness of what it means to dance, rather than simply to lock.

Lastly, I take a popping class with Jamieson, one of the member’s of the Groovy G’s – a very talented popping crew in Vancouver.  Jamieson, like the other two teachers I’ve mentioned, does an excellent job of focusing on the dancing aspect of popping, and is excellent at teaching you without you realizing that you’re being taught.  We usually start out with very basic dance movements, and by the end of the class that has evolved into several popping techniques.  The only thing that I find frustrating about the class is that I am having trouble figuring out how to take his manner of teaching and adapt it into something that I could share with my own students.

Before I left, Brooke and I had discussed teaching two popping classes – one beginner, and one advanced. However, in Vancouver, there’s only one open class for popping, and one for locking.  Furthermore, Jamieson isn’t teaching “advanced” techniques.  He’s just teaching movement, and layering that with technique.  Likewise, Kim isn’t teaching complicated choreography – she’s teaching dancing, and layering that with locking techniques.  I’ve had students come up to me and ask if I was going to teach a more advanced popping class, but I was never able to really understand what that class would look like, nor what I would be teaching them.  I’m more convinced than ever that this isn’t the right approach – I think that what would be better is to have a class once a week, and a cypher once a week.  If the advanced dancers aren’t happy reviewing fundamentals, focusing on dancing, and spending some of that time learning new techniques, they can come to the cyphers and practice applying the techniques they’ve learned.

I’m happy with the length of this post, so I’ll cut it off here.  I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my commute to work, so I’ll aim to focus on reviewing some of the ones that I think are most worthwhile next blog post.  Until then…

* Cyphers are a little bit like a battle.  You have a bunch of dancers in a circle, and take turns going into the centre of the circle and getting down, one after another.  The aim isn’t to out-do one another (though playful one-ups-manship is fun), but simply to come together and create something, with the music, as a group.  The feeling is one of encouragement and creativity, rather than aggression and competition.

Frustration

July 24th, 2009 3 comments

Argh.

You ever have those periods of time when you feel like there are things you should be doing, and you’re not doing them?  Or where you can tell there’s something intangible pulling at the back of your head, but you just can’t place your finger on it?  Or maybe you come home from work and feel like you should actually be doing something, but instead you just sit in front of the TV?

I’m sure you have, because we’re all human, and this is just a natural part of the cycle we go through on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis (the frequency is different for everybody).

The more I learn to practice GTD effectively, the less often I feel this way, as I can allow my brain to embrace the mind like water ideal, and return to old ideas when I see fit.  Still, it is impossible to feel and act productively one hundred percent of our time, and so the goal must be to maximize the amount of time we can exist in this state, and learn to accept (and yes, minimize, though this is less important than acceptance) the times when we do need to feel the way I currently do.

As an exercise to break out of this mental state, I write.  As of late, two things have been on my mind more anything else: squash and dancing.

I hav been dancing a lot lately, as we are running two jam sessions a week at Vibestreet Dance, and that requires that I come up with something to teach twice a week.  I can’t even rely on teaching the same thing twice, as the same students may show up, and I end up feeling guilty about not being able to provide something new to them.  Maybe this is just something that I need to get over, as part of this whole exercise should be of benefit to myself, not just my students. A teacher that is not gaining something from each lesson that they teach is not missing out on part of the teaching experience, as are their students.

I have taken a couple of workshops lately, and they have been very helpful in showing me new ways of teaching something, as well as many new techniques that I would like to work on and incorporate into my own styles of movement.  Recently, I’ve been given lessons in breaking, locking, popping, and house dancing.  That’s a lot of stuff!  Getting lessons in these new styles of dance is awesome, and is opening up my awareness and broadening my own inspiration to a great extent. However, this only results in frustration if I can’t find the time to actually practice what I’m learning.  House, locking, and breaking are all very new styles to me, and really require that I take the time to sit down by myself and practice the basics. This is hard to do at home because of the way I have been feeling.

Even though I’m a reasonably experienced popper, I will never be fully satisfied with my level of skill (this is kind of a general theme for my approach to things I’m truly passionate about).  I often hesitate to teach something in class that I haven’t had the time to sit down with and internalize. Part of the solution here, I suppose, is just accept that nobody’s perfect, and that even if I’m still learning something, I can help the class with it.  One of the things that I really want to avoid is attempting to show my students something that I’m still learning myself, and in doing so, teach them bad habits, or end up getting them frustrated as I cannot break it down very well.

If you’ve read through the paragraph above, you’ve just seen me provide myself with some therapy, as I think I’ve come up with the solution to my first problem – just do it, and don’t worry about whether or not the class is disappointed that I’m not perfect at a move.  We all need to learn, and there’s nothing wrong with learning along with the rest of the class. Even better if I can provide a tiny bit of direction to help them along the right path.

The other thing that I think I probably need is a couple of sessions in the park with my ipod to just go over the techniques that I’ve been taught lately and internalize those. In GTD we have the concept of an open loop – something that requires action and is tugging at our mind.  Everything that I’ve learned lately is sitting in that same space.  It’s occupying space in my head, saying “You should put some time into working on me, otherwise you’ll lose this knowledge”.

The other thing tugging at my mind has been squash. Although my opportunity to increase the amount of time and effort I’m putting into dancing has been incredible, and something that I’ve wanted to do for a looooong time, it’s taken away from my ability to play squash. Although I’ve certainly been keeping myself fit (dancing requires a lot of energy, and I’m riding my bike as often as possible), I can feel the rust starting to creep up on my squash game, and this drives me nuts.  Part of the reason for that is because I trained so hard this past season, and was really feeling good about where my efforts had led me. 

Although all of our hobbies should be things that we do for fun, and don’t become a burden on our mind, it’s difficult for someone like me to make that leap and just let something be.  That’s the nature of life though – if you want to do more of one thing, you are going to have to sacrifice something else.

In an effort to have my cake and eat it to, one of the projects I have set aside for myself to take on once I end my tenure at work, is biphasic sleep.  The notion of biphasic sleep sounds extremely silly when you initially hear about it: go to sleep more frequently in order to sleep less overall.  With one single phase of sleep during a twenty-four hour period, our body generally requires eight hours of sleep.  However, by breaking our sleep up, we are able to train our body to fall into REM sleep more quickly (which is the part of sleep that is evidently important), and thus require less sleep overall.

Although some people are absolutely insane and have managed to function quite effectively (arguably more effectively, if some of the blogs out there are to be believed) on as little as six twenty-minute naps a day (that’s a mere two hours of sleep in a twenty-four hour period!), the goal I’m setting for myself is quite a bit more modest, and is based on the Hispanic tradition of siesta. The aim is to reduce my core sleep period to about five or six hours, and supplement that with a twenty-minute nap in the evening.  In doing so, I will be able to create (as though by magic) an extra two hours of spare time, everyday.

This almost sounds too good to be true, and it very well may be.  However, I enjoy an experiment as much as the next guy, so we’ll see how things go.  I could end up with an extra two hours of spare time every night (which may also be essential, if the workload required for Law is what I’m told it is), or I could fail spectacularly, in which case I will have spent a couple of weeks deprived of sleep, and return to my normal monophasic sleeping schedule.  The worse-case scenario doesn’t strike me as that bad, so why not try it right?

Anyhow, I think that’s a sufficient ramble.  Our drop-in sessions at Vibestreet have been growing steadily, and last Monday we had about twelve people in attendance to learn some popping from myself, and some breaking from Steve (good strength training!).  If you’re interested in learning more about any of this, drop a comment and I can blog and elaborate further.

Biking is awesome

June 4th, 2009 No comments

When I graduated from University, my parents offered to get me a graduation present, or to just give me some cash to do with as I pleased.  My family is very practical this way; you can ask for gifts and have us find something along the lines that you are asking for, or simply get the money and spend it how you choose.  Some people think that this takes away from the spirit of gift-giving, and if that’s how you feel, that’s cool.  We’ve always found that it eliminates those awkward situations where you hint about something all year round, then get annoyed when you open something that is not at all what you wanted.  I’ve also found that there’s plenty of room left for surprise in this approach, so it’s all good with regards to that.

Anyhow, I’m digressing.  The point is that about 5 years ago, I got a bike for graduation.  For the first three years of my post-university life, Bay and I rented apartments that were very shy on storage space, and we had to leave the bike at my parent’s place.  As a result, it really didn’t see much use.  The next year we moved into our condo, in the process of moving, painting, buying furniture, and everything else, I kind of forgot that I even had a bike waiting for me. 

Towards the end of Fall this year, I remembered I had a hog waiting for me at my parents and brought it back with me.  I started riding the bike the same way I do everything – gradually.  However, as time has passed, and the weather has improved, I’ve become more and more enamoured with the sport, to the point that I no longer see it as simply a way to cross-train fitness to play better squash, but as a something worth pursuing on its own.

I’m going to mention some of the benefits of biking, and give a quick run down of what your options if you think you may be interested in getting a chopper yourself.

The Benefits

Biking offers a number of obvious benefits.  Chief among those is that it’s an excellent form of cardiovascular workout.  Cardiovascular workouts are ones that keep your heart rate at a moderately-elevated range for a decent amount of time.  They exercise and strengthen your heart and your lungs, and are efficient workouts to burn fat (and we all want that right?). 

Biking gets you out of the house, and it doesn’t require a lot of preparation on your part to start.  This might seem like a small benefit, but the longer and more involved the process is to actually begin your workout, the more chance you have to talk yourself out of actually doing it (I’m sure we can all remember times when we’ve talked ourselves out of going to the gym, simply by thinking about the annoying walk there before we even start the workout).  Grab your bike and your keys, and leave the house.  Start riding.  Worry about where you’re going to go once you’re on the bike. 

Riding also fits very easily into other parts of your life.  Although I initially started riding to train my cardio, I quickly started making it my primary means of transportation.  Instead of driving to my friend Steve’s on a Friday night, I started asking myself, “Why wouldn’t I just bike there?”.  Instead of driving to the store to pick up a few select groceries I need for dinner tonight, why not bike there?  Why not bike to dance class instead of driving?  Once you start hopping on a bike regularly, you’ll notice a couple of things: you start to see other places where it makes sense to take your bike instead of a car, and it takes a lot less time to get somewhere on a bike than you might think.  Riding from our place downtown to Town and Country shopping center, near the start of the Island Highway, takes roughly the same amount of time on a bike or a car, given that a bicyclist has the benefit of taking the Galloping Goose trail and avoiding all traffic.

Unlike jogging, the motion used to propel yourself forward on a bike is one that is impact-free.  Don’t get me wrong – I like jogging a lot.  It’s just murder on the knees, especially if you’re on pavement.  A biker doesn’t have to worry about these problems.  Riding every day will strengthen the muscles around your knees and activate the joint, ensuring that you retain mobility for a long time to come.

One of our favorite things about biking is that we see so much more of the city that we live in.  When you’re walking, you’re constrained to a small area, as you can only cover so much ground in a given amount of time.  When you’re driving, you’re focus is on the road, other drivers, and getting to your destination.  But on a bike, you can explore.  You’ve got the time to seek out new areas that you haven’t been before, and explore new streets.  Since starting to ride, I’ve become much more acquainted with Uplands, James Bay, Esquimalt, Ten Mile Point, and Oak Bay.  It may seem trivial, but it is kind of neat to develop a familiarity with your home town.

Your Choices

Okay, enough wanking about the reasons to start biking.  What are the choices you have when buying a bike?

Your choices are generally three-fold, with some less-common and more trendy variations on top of those first three.

The Mountain Bike

A mountain bike is a bike that is specifically targeted for off-road riding.  They generally have a well suspended frame, which allows the bike to absorb a lot of shock that comes from riding on rocky terrain and taking drops as needed, and a frame that can take some (lots of) punishment.

Mountain bikes also come equipped with a hefty set of tires, in order to better grip the uneven ground that you’ll be riding on.  You can take a mountain bike on the road, but you’re going to notice some disadvantages.

For one, the extra thickness of the tires, and the multitude of treading, is going to mean that you have extra friction with the road, which will slow you down.  It won’t feel like riding in sand, but it’ll feel a fair bit soupier than if you were on one of the other options.

The heavier frame on the mountain bike is also going to lead to added weight that you need to pedal around.  On off-road terrain, this isn’t going to be a problem, as you don’t really have any other choice, and your riding is more geared to short spurts than to longer endurance riding.

The suspension on a mountain bike’s frame will mean that riding on a road feels a little soggier.  Every time you turn your pedals, some of your downward momentum is going to be absorbed by the suspension.  It won’t wreck your ride, but again, the little things add up.

A mountain bike is a great choice if you’re a thrill seeker and like going for that kind of ride.  Downhill, highly technical riding, with a potential to fly over your handlebars and hurt yourself.  It’s not for me, but it’s a lot of fun for those that like it.

The Road Bike

Road bikes represent the antithesis of the mountain bike.  Their frames have zero suspension, because they are designed specifically to be ridden … on the road.  Our roads are designed so that they provide as smooth a ride as possible, and so suspension is only going to slow you down.

The frames on road bikes are much lighter than those of a mountain bike, as you will not be putting them through much abuse.  The alloy that they use to make the frame will also be more rigid.  The composition of the frame and the lack of suspension on a road bike means that they won’t be able to withstand nearly the kind of punishment that a mountain bike could, but they will provide a much crisper and responsive ride when you’re on the terrain that they are intended for (roads, obviously).  When I talk ab
out “punishment”, I don’t mean something akin to riding off a sidewalk’s curb.  I mean taking the bike off a six to ten foot drop.  Road bike frames can handle some abuse – just not a lot.

The tires of a road bike are optimized for riding on the road, which means that they will have narrow tires with as little tread as possible.  The width of the tires are optimized to minimize the amount of friction you have to overcome, but provide enough that you can accelerate and pedal at a good speed.

Road bikes often come with a set of drop handlebars, which are designed to allow the rider to lean forward when they ride, creating a streamlined shape.  The handlebars are also closer together, bringing the hands closer, and creating a V shape relative to your elbows.  This also serves to streamline the rider and allow for faster rides.  Road bikes obviously come with shifting and braking components that work with these kind of handlebars.

All of the features of a road bike make them great to use in the confines of a city, where you are guaranteed well-maintained roads.  These features also make the bike suck as soon as you get off of pavement.  While it’s possible to take a road bike on to trails, even the slightest bit of loose gravel can cause problems for your tires ability to stay in contact and provide you enough friction to effectively pedal.  The rigid frame and lack of suspension on a road bike will make a ride on a bumpy trail quite a bit less comfortable, as each shock will be transferred up through the frame and into your arms and legs.

The Hybrid Bike

A hybrid bike represents the midpoint between the two bikes mentioned above.  The frame is slightly less rigid than a road bike’s, and will usually have some form of shocks on the front forks, and possibly on the seat.  These shocks will often have a feature allowing them to be locked out so that you can turn them off when you’re riding on the road, which means you can have the benefit of shocks when you need them, and turn that off when you want the more responsive ride on the road.

The bike’s frame will be a fair bit sturdier than a road bike, but not as much as a mountain bike, providing a good compromise between the ability to take some abuse and a bike that isn’t too heavy.

Hybrid’s usually have handle bars that are more similar to those of a mountain bike, and are outfitted with tires that are smooth in the middle (allowing for good riding on the road), and treaded on the outer edges (giving you good grip whenever you dip to the side, especially useful on trails).

If you don’t have a specific use in mind for your bike, I think the hybrid is your best choice.  It’s never going to be a good as a mountain bike for off-road technical riding, and you’ll never be able to ride quite as fast as a lightweight road bike on the road, but you won’t be prevented from doing either of these activities.

These are the main three types of bikes, but there are a few more esoteric offerings out there as well.

The Townie

Townie bikes have been popular in the past five years or so, especially with women. Townie bikes are designed as commuter bikes, and are designed for comfort.  The handlebars are generally built for the rider to sit fairly upright, rather than bent forward, and often come with other attachments like handlebar baskets, or a basket behind the seat.

Some people refer to these bikes as commuter bikes, and I think that’s probably fair.  If your primary intent in owning a bike is to get from point A to point B, this is a bike that will do you well.  The upright design of the handlebars will provide a comfortable ride, and this type of riding is rarely about pushing yourself. 

These bikes have a very romantic appeal to them, and evoke images of cycling through Paris streets on a sunny weekend, with fresh-picked flowers in the handle basket, along with a couple of baguettes.  If you primarily intend to use your bike to ride casually around the city, this is a great choice.

However, the things that make this bike romantic also make it impractical for serious exercise.  Upright handlebars create a poor rider profile for getting any decent speed up, as you will not at all be streamlined.  If you want a bike that looks cute and is comfortable, this is the one for you.  If you think that you may want to use this bike for an actual workout, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Single Gear and the Fixie

The Single Gear bike (not the correct name, but I don’t know what it is) and its counterpart, the Fixie, have started to replace the townie as the latest trend.  Both of these bikes have grown out of the minimalist and bike courier movements, and are in abundance in Victoria.

The single gear bike is exactly what it sounds like.  A bike with just one gear position available to the rider.  Bikes like this will be lighter than most bikes, because the added weight of a the gears and a shifting mechanism are not present.  These bikes will typically come with drop handlebars, and two brakes, and that’s it.  Pretty minimal right?  Although these bikes are certainly very trendy, I don’t personally think they are a good idea.  Having gears allows you to make your mechanical work as efficient as possible.  I’m a big fan of minimalism, in general, but I think that this approach unnecessarily cuts out a useful function on a bike, and by buying a bike like this, you limit where you can take your bike.  Having said that, I suspect that bikes like this would probably cost less, due to the fact that there are less components being purchased.

Think that sounded minimal?  Well, the fixie goes one step further, fixing the pedals to the rotation of your tire, meaning that one full circle of your pedals correlates directly to one full rotation of your tire.  For this reason, fixies do not allow the rider to coast or back-pedal, and are not as mechanically efficient (meaning you require more energy input to achieve the same amount of work) as bikes with a system of gears.  Some claims have been made that this encourages better biking as the rider is forced to pedal through corners and adjust their speed appropriately.  I personally think this is a needless contrivance, but if people enjoy riding them, that’s cool.

Depending on how far you want to take it, fixies can be found with two brakes (one for each tire), only one brake (I’m not sure which tire you would put this on – presumably the back?), or no brakes at all (in which case you are completely reliant on using your legs to slow down the rotation of the tires).  As of late, it has been popular to replace the drop handle bars with a completely straight handlebar.  This is about as minimal as you can get: Two tires, a frame, a piece of metal for a handlebar, and pedals.

Although minimalism and trendiness certainly have their appeal, it’s still possible that the single gear bike may serve you well.  However, I don’t personally see the value in a fixie, other than for aesthetic appeal.  If that’s your game, then go for it.  If not, treat the purchase of your bike as an investment, and go for something that will serve you in the short- and the long-term.

Get a bike!

That about covers as much about bikes as I’m comfortable discussing with my own knowledge.  If you consider your options and choose wisely, a good bike is an investment that will serve you well for a very long time, and, provided you are the type of individual that will use one if you have one, will directly correlate to you leading a healthier, happier life.

Marriage Preparation

April 28th, 2009 1 comment

I picked Bay up from the airport yesterday at 2:30, fresh in to town from her three week trip to Brazil.  It sure is nice to see the person you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life with when you’ve been separated from them for any length of time.  The sequence of events for our day went like this:

  • 2:30 – Pick Bay up.
  • 3:00 – Grab something to eat at Boston Pizza
  • 4:00 – Get home, unpack a little, look at souvenirs and some photos
  • 5:00 – Go for a bike ride
  • 7:00 – Get home
  • 8:00 – Go and meet some friends downtown at Whitebird to see Jess off before she goes to Ottawa for her summer co-op job
  • 10:00 – ZZzz..

That’s a pretty full day – I’m not quite sure how Bay managed to pack it all in after having traveled for the better part of an entire day previous.

Because Bay was away this past weekend, we missed the opportunity to take part in the marriage preparation course that we normally help out with.  This course is something that Bay and I have been doing for just shy of two years now, but I’ve never written about it, so here’s where the curtain gets drawn back, and the magic is exposed for what it really is (pro-tip: At the core, it’s about effective communication).

Background

When you get married in the Catholic church (While I’m best described as a secular humanist or agnostic, Bay is a practicing catholic, so this was a requirement for us), you are required to take part in a two day marriage preparation course, and to present the certificate you receive to the priest officiating your wedding.

Interestingly enough, before I had even met Bay, the first co-op supervisor I had had told me that her and her husband (one of the owner’s of the company I currently work for) had gone through a similar course as well, and found it quite valuable.  Being a big fan of any opportunity for self-improvement, I had always felt that there was no harm done in taking a course like this before getting married, and had planned all along that it was something I wanted to do, regardless of who I was marrying and what religious beliefs they held.

When Bay first mentioned it to me, she was somewhat surprised to hear this, thinking that I would be adamantly opposed to any kind of course like this being imposed upon us by the church.  In any case, what really mattered was that we both felt this was a good idea, and went ahead with it.

As it turned out, we really enjoyed ourselves, found the course fairly helpful.  The people that were leading the course when we took it were actually friends of Bay’s from her church (and came to our wedding), and shortly after, asked us if we had any interest in helping out.  The two couples currently running the course were all aged above fifty, and their feelings were that having some youth in the mix as well would help round things out.

The Course

So..  That’s how we got to the point where we were actually teaching the course, but what exactly is it that we’re teaching? 

The course itself isn’t about sharing feelings with a group – it’s about each couple getting an opportunity to discuss things with each other.  Some of the topics that are covered include:

  • Resolving conflict (a sticking point for many people, whether they realize it or not)
  • Discussing plans for the future
  • Managing finances as a couple
  • Aging together
  • Some of the things to expect in the future

These and a few other items are all tackled using videos (hilariously cheesy ’80s videos actually, although they still have a strong and valid message), handouts, some discussion, and a lot of individual talk between the couples.

Bay and I lead one quarter of the course, specifically going through efficient ways to resolve conflict in a relationship, and managing finances as a couple.

Resolving Conflict

The most potentially embarrassing part for Bay and I is always at the very start of the course, when we have to introduce ourselves to the class and mention the fact that we’ve only been married for a year-and-a-half.  However, we have been together for five years previous to actually getting married, and though the Catholic church may not like people living in sin, it’s undeniably going to lead to a lot of growth and experience for a couple.

As I said earlier (and it’s pretty cliched by now), the real key to any successful, happy relationship is effective communication.  However, merely stating that is a bit of a platitude, and doesn’t really get us anywhere.

How do we effectively communicate?  Is it simply through yelling at each other when we’re upset (well, that’s not always a bad idea)?  The process that we go through is a fairly simple and effective way to begin with an issue and to iterate through it, performing the following things:

  • Choose a time to discuss the problem

This seems like an obvious item to many people.  “Right now!” is typically the response people have initially.  However, there are many times when you’re much better off waiting:

  • One or both of you have been drinking
  • One or both of you are hungry
  • One or both of you are tired
  • You’re not at home or in a place that lends itself well to discussion
  • You have something that absolutely has to be dealt with

All of these may be fairly obvious, but there are plenty of other
reasons that it may not be a good time to discuss the problem that you
want to deal with.  If either of you isn’t able to commit the time
right now, set aside some time to deal with the issue specifically the
next day, or sometime soon.  Reneging on this appointment isn’t an
option – you both need to commit to sit down and discuss at this time.

Above all, ignore the old saying that “It’s better to stay up and fight and go to bed angry”.

  • Identify the problem

This step is typically a bit deceptive.  People often begin arguing with each other, assuming that they’re both talking about the same thing.  Half of the battle can simply be getting on the same page, and talking about the same thing that bothers you.

Perhaps I hate it that Bay is friendly with other attractive guys, but Bay hates how jealous I act when she is simply being friendly with people that she works with (this is hypothetical).  It could take some discussion before we’re both aware of what is upsetting each other (you’ll notice that the hypothetical issue above is really two different perspectives on one thing).

A real key to this step is learning to pick and choose the thing you are going to work on.  One friend of mine mentioned that when he would bring up an issue with his girlfriend, she would counter by saying “Well, I’ve been holding back bringing up all of these things, but this really bothers me, and this upsets me, and that is annoying…”.  Each of those items is something that probably needs to be dealt with (it’s not fair to you, your significant other, or your relationship to simply harbour issues you may have), but you can only work on one thing at a time.

  • Brainstorm solutions

Now we’re getting to the actual meat of resolving a problem.  Although this is the part where you’re actually going to start figuring out how to resolve an issue, the previous steps are really about laying down a good foundation to do that.  Without a strong foundation, a building will collapse, and you should put the same amount of importance into establishing a good foundation when you are aiming to resolve conflict.

This is exactly what it sounds like.  In school we used to start writing projects by brainstorming ideas.  I thought it was cheesy and stupid.  Nowadays, I use brainstorming whenever I’m getting stuck trying to find focus.  By dumping out all of the ideas that come into my head, I get a quick overview of my thoughts.

Brainstorming solutions to a problem should be no different.  Just blurt out ideas that come to mind, and write them down.  In the course, we usually end up with a number of jokes that get shouted out, but that’s okay too – behind every joke there can be a nugget of truth.  Don’t allow yourself to get caught up judging or thinking about a given solution during this phase.  Write it down, and move on to the next one.

  • Choose and contract a resolution

Now you get a chance to go over all of the ideas that you have brainstormed.  Evaluate each item and see if it’s a valid solution to the problem you’ve identified.

As you start to come up with a possible solution, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are looking for solutions that are measurable.  Good intentions are great, but they’re a very poor way to reach a solution.  An example:

  • Good intention: “I promise to pay attention to you more often”
  • Measurable solution: “I will give you a big hug first thing when I get home from work, and devote at least ten minutes before I start doing chores to talking with you about your day”

Does that sound kind of cheesy to you?  It does to me as well, but that’s okay.  The key item here is that it’s something you can specifically look to in order to determine whether or not your solution has been successful so far.  You can also see that it is much easier to make sure that you’re keeping up your end of the bargain with a solution like this.  It’s pretty near impossible to ever truly prove or disprove that you are “paying more attention to someone every day”.

Once you’ve chosen a solution, set a date a couple of weeks from now to evaluate your progress, and see if it’s working.  If necessary, mark it on your calendar so that you don’t forget. 

When that date comes…

  • Evaluate your progress

Here’s the semi-last step of the process.  A couple of weeks after you’ve contracted your solution, get together and determine whether or not you’ve been successful.  How do you both feel about how things are going? 

If things are going well, then hey, that’s great – you’ve resolved a small amount of conflict.  This is what you’re aiming forever.  That’s not always the way things work out though.

Maybe the solution you’ve come up with is just imposing too much of a burden on your time, and you need to scale back a little bit.  Maybe you’re both abiding to the solution you came up with, and the problem still exists.  This is when you move on to the next step:

  • Iterate, if needed

As I’m fond of saying, failure is just an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and determine if you need to adjust them.  It doesn’t mean that you failed as a couple, or that you’ll never be able to work things out.  It could mean that the solution you contracted simply wasn’t realistic for both of you to stick to.

Often, people will identify what they believe is the problem, only to then later discover that this was just the symptom of a deeper problem.  Maybe the problem Bruno Mexidando identified was that his wife doesn’t kiss him enough, but the real underlying problem is that Bruno is always going to kiss Betty-Jo when she’s in the middle of a conversation with someone that makes him feel insecure.  The deeper problem here is likely insecurity and jealousy on Bruno’s part, and a lack of sensitivity on Betty-Jo’s part.

Start back at the top, setting aside time to discuss, identifying the problem, and moving from there. Be willing to accept that maybe you got the problem wrong the first time, and be willing to iterate over these steps for the sake of your relationship.  They really are important.

So that’s the main gist of the process.  We have a number of examples that we go through with the class, iterating over these five main points, as well as bringing up some scenarios from our own past (we’ve certainly had our share of conflict).

We also review a number of common pitfalls that couples run into that can create conflict.  Things like round-robin fighting and dismissing each other’s complaints (“Here we go again, you always get upset about this!”), and the one I think is most important: avoiding the temptation to put each other down, even jokingly.  This last one is especially important, as it’s a very unfair way to treat your partner.  By putting them down as part of a joke, you preemptively take away their ability to respond and indicate that you’ve hurt their feelings (“What, I’m only joking – can’t you take a joke?”).

What we get out of it

I get an interesting assortment of looks from people when they find out that we do this.  Some people are interested in the process.  Some people could care less.  Some people appear a little skeptical, as though the notion that you can teach an effective way to resolve conflict is silly, and some people even come off a little resentful (“Who are you to tell someone how to solve their problems?”.  The distinction is that we’re not telling someone how to solve their problem.  We’re teaching them a method for solving their own problem.)

Precluding any of this is of course the fact that you will get out of this kind of thing no more or less than what you are willing to put into it.  When we took the course, we approached it without any preconceived notion of what to or not to expect, and took away from it a number of good ideas.  Each couple’s mileage will vary, depending on how willing and open they are to new approaches to these kinds
of things.

Although we volunteer our time to teach the course, the benefit we derive from doing so easily makes it worth our while.  Everytime we iterate over these ideas with the class, it helps solidify our own understanding, and internalize the process.  After every class, we leave having new insights into how conflict can be resolved, and how a successful relationship can be managed (or fall apart).

The single biggest reward out of any of this though is the most obvious one – it’s a chance to spend a weekend talking and thinking about our relationship together.  The longer you’re together, the less often that seems to happen.  Opportunities like this one are easily worth the small amount of time that they demand of us.

That’s all for now.