Category Archives: Relationships and Behaviour

Thoughts on what we do and why – men and women, parents and children, friends and strangers.

The Look of That

“I don’t like the look of that.”

I don’t quite wince, although it’s not what I like to hear from my doctor when she’s staring intently at me—well, at my nose, and at two spots thereon that just won’t heal.    Continue reading

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Filed under Day-to-Day Encounters, Relationships and Behaviour

When I Grow Up

“Does anyone else feel uncomfortable?”

Chuckles run around the assembled floor sitters, university students all.  It’s the summer of 1971 and we’re being oriented to our upcoming four months of work at what is then called Ponoka Mental Hospital.

The psychiatrist leading our evening session has just asked us to share how we’re feeling.  The response?  Many averted eyes and nary a mumble.

As the silence fills the room, I do my standard thing: going first so others don’t have to, and using what I fondly think of as humour to defuse the tension.  Well, at least to relieve the discomfort I’m feeling as, collectively, we fail to meet the leader’s expectations.

“Does that mean you feel uncomfortable, Isabel?”  The psychiatrist’s question appears, unbelievably to me, to be genuine.

Duh.  Come on.  Fer chrissake.  And, umm, yeah.  I mean, isn’t that the clear meaning of the expression I used?  But beyond that, of course I feel uncomfortable sharing my feelings with strangers.  Who doesn’t?

To the newly minted 19-year-old me, his question also appears to be an impatient rebuke: “Come on, Isabel, share your feelings.”  Or maybe a criticism: “What’s wrong with you, Isabel, that you can’t share your feelings?”

Excellent.  Now I feel uncomfortable and inadequate.  Thppt.

Fast forward 45 years and I’m watching a delightful YouTube video in which Idris Elba, hitherto unknown to me, asks people what they want to be when they grow up.  Given that the askees are all adults—a few are seniors or close to it—it’s an ask that provokes a few chuckles.

Their answers are disarmingly honest: an actor, a drummer, a hot-air balloon pilot, a professional football coach.  Their answers are revealing, too, in how they’re delivered: quietly, raucously, defiantly, matter of factly.

“What’s stopped you from doing that?”

Ah, now they step back from that precipice of self-disclosure.  Each responds with a comment about, you know, people in general.

“It’s time, isn’t it?  It’s taken years just to get to where we are now.”

“At a certain point in your life, if it hasn’t happened, you think it’s never going to happen.”

“I don’t think that people have enough time to dream, bro.”

“Unfortunately, real life does get in the way of your dreams, I guess.”

As I listen to them, I wonder how often I speak this way: Stopping short of owning the feeling, or of owning my life decisions and actions.  I wonder, too, whether I want to speak differently sometimes, as that psychiatrist was gently suggesting, bless his heart.

But bless Elba’s heart, too.  He doesn’t say, “Does that mean you don’t think it’s going to happen?”  Or, “Are you saying real life has gotten in the way of your dreams?”

Because, duh.  That’s exactly what they’re saying, in a way that allows them to answer without disrobing.  Or without crying, maybe.

And that’s OK.  They aren’t obliged to share or to hide their feelings; neither am I.  And there’s no need for them—or me—to feel uncomfortable or inadequate for choosing either path.


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Filed under Language and Communication, Relationships and Behaviour

A Conversation with Tammy Wynette

Miss Wynette? Come in please. I’m the new lyrics editor here at Epic Studios. I have a few questions about your latest song. If it’s all right with you, I think we should just go through it together, line by line. Shall we get started? Great!

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

Hard, easy – isn’t it just inevitable, at least for you and me? Ha ha! But I don’t want to pick, because I can see that you’re setting up for the next line. So let’s move on to it.

Givin’ all your love to just one man.

Now there are two assumptions embedded (ahem) here: that a woman does give her love to just one man; and that somehow things would be easier for her if she didn’t. I’m pretty sure the record from Biblical times to the present day shows that both assumptions are somewhat fraught, so I’m going to suggest that you take a look at those lines again.   Continue reading

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Filed under Relationships and Behaviour

Not Yet 60

The mid-afternoon autumnal light slanting across the parking lot warms the day and lifts my heart, an involuntary response to something in the quality of the light. The air has a crispness we don’t get in the heat of summer. Dried leaves whisper among themselves, thrown together at random by the winds swirling in the corner of the L-shaped strip mall.

Without much difficulty I dodge the cars moving gingerly in and out of parking spots just a shade too narrow to accommodate them, and make my way over to the mailbox. As I stand in front of it with my card in my hands, I think of the intended recipient.

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, all-round good soul. Not yet 60; starting chemotherapy.   Continue reading

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Filed under Relationships and Behaviour

Sayin’ Somethin’ Stupid

An encounter with a gracious Glaswegian and a comment remembered from a decades-old sexual assault case in Edmonton come together to remind me that I can always choose how I respond, both to silly comments and to egregiously offensive ones.


I haven’t actually seen that, but, yeah, potentially.

In our back-row seat, the Big Guy nudges me with his elbow and I turn my head in a mute, What? Just as quietly, he subtly inclines his head toward the front of the van, where our Glaswegian tour guide has just wrapped up his answer to an earnest and sort of silly question from one of our tour group.

Ah, I think. This is what he was talking about. After a week listening to various interactions betwixt this tour leader and our fellow tourees, the Big Guy has broken the code.  Continue reading

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Filed under Relationships and Behaviour