What emotion will you choose today?

Trigger warning:  talk about mental illness, suicide.

There are a couple of memes going around my Facebook timeline presently that assert that happiness is a choice.

The thing is, if you are going to say that happiness is a choice, then you’re allowing that unhappiness is also a choice.

Would a person really choose to be unhappy?  Sometimes, maybe, yes.  Maybe, in the twisted logic of distress, one would choose to be unhappy (perhaps as a way to punish someone else or even oneself).

If it is a matter of choosing our emotions, do we choose to be frightened by loud noises?  Do we choose to be angry when someone taunts us?  Do we choose to be sad when someone we love dies?

If unhappiness and its more serious and sometimes chronic cousin depression are choices, then unhappy people should be able to snap right out of it simply by choosing to be happy, right?

I suspect that anyone who believes that has never been in the jaws of depression.  So deep in the self-hatred and feelings of failure that every move, every decision is a painful one.  So agonized that suicidal ideation becomes a release; death becomes an option (however fleeting), because the dead don’t feel.

The idea that we can choose our emotions also leads to a disturbing phenomenon that’s already too prevalent in our society:  victim-blaming.  Blaming sad people for feeling sad. Ultimately, blaming the mentally ill for being mentally ill.  (People with depression are exceedingly capable of blaming themselves, so we don’t actually need help from society at large on that score.)  I mean, if sadness/depression/anxiety/fear/anger/jealousy/etc. are all choices, we only have ourselves to blame for feeling them, right?

And that is just not helpful.

It is true that we have control over our emotions, at least some of the time.  I’m sure a number of you reading this know all about forcing happiness at work, especially if you have a customer service job.  I know about that.  I also know how emotionally harmful it can be.  Controlling your emotions or forcing yourself to display a particular emotion, however, is not the same as choosing to feel one emotion over another.

Let’s go back to an assumption regarding the memes:  that choice is simple.  (Yes, the memes do not explicitly say the choice is simple.  However, it is implied.)  Not all choices are easy.  Some are gut-wrenching, soul-tearing, difficult decisions. Many range in difficulty levels between those two extremes.  Arguably, choosing to be happy could be simple, excruciatingly difficult, or somewhere in-between depending on the person.

Allowing that choices aren’t all simple, can we really choose our emotions?  Can you really wake up in the morning and say, “I choose to be happy today?”  I think that’s far-fetched.  What you can choose to do is to face the day with a hope that you will feel positive most of the day and a determination to face any challenges that come along.  That is not the same as choosing your emotional state.

As Zero Dean says on this blog post:

“No. Happiness is not a choice. Attitude is a choice.”

This idea is better than the whole happiness-is-a-choice one.  Even with attitude, though, changing your attitude can be as difficult as moving a mountain.  (Remind me of that the next time my kid is acting up, and I say, “Change your attitude.”)

Not everyone can change their attitude and feel better every time, as Therese Borchard discusses in this article:

“That’s what bugs me about ‘happiness is a choice’ philosophies. I think they work on mild and moderate depression, definitely on situational depression. But for some forms of severe depression and treatment-resistant depression or complicated mood disorders — at least for those periods of time when you’re on your knees begging God to take you — my experience has been that any attention to your thoughts only makes it worse.

…The trick is knowing when to apply optimism, cognitive behavioral therapy, and all the brain exercises that can form new neural passageways, and when to turn the brain off and just keep swimming.”

We humans need all our emotions, and it’s okay to feel them.  It is okay to feel sad or mad or glad or silly.  Feeling a wide range of emotions is healthy.

And I get it.  Memes don’t take into account every person, every situation, etc.  They are sound bytes in a world bombarded with messages.  They are images thrown into the vast sea of social media to inspire or to ridicule or to attempt levity in a world that has exploded with seriousness, because we have up-to-the-minute access to the terrors in our world.

I also know that these little bombarding bits of information add to the overriding culture. A drop in a bucket may be only a drop in a bucket.  But many similar drops in the same bucket change the whole amount in the bucket.

 

Little poem

I wrote this little poem in November.  Enjoy.

They say poetry is dead
out of my head
in my head
long live poetry!

They say Twitter is dead
running out of funds
and fun
full of cliques and trolls
with guns
long live Twitter!

They say Facebook is dread
full of targeted ads
and unwanted opt-out opt-ins
long forgive Facebook!

© 2016 by Robin A. Sams

End of 2015

Well, the December holidays have rushed past.  I thought I would pause to reflect on some of the writing highlights from my year:

NaPoWriMo:  I took part in NaPoWriMo again this year, writing a poem a day for the month of April.  My poems can be read on this blog, starting here.

Cascadia Poetry Festival:  I had the fortune of attending the Cascadia Poetry Festival, which was held in my town this year.  I listened to many new (to me) poets, read some of my own poetry during the Living Room readings, and acquired three new books of poetry.

Channillo:  I tried something different this year in splashing feet-first into the realm of subscription-based, serial literature.  I wrote a series of blackout poetry based on Piers Anthony’s Xanth novel The Color of Her Panties and put it up on Channillo.com.  While the series completed in November, it is still available for reading here.  (You can subscribe to 1-10 series for $4.99 per month.)

NaNoWriMo:  In November, I took part in NaNoWriMo to work on my fantasy novel.  While I did not reach the 50,000-word goal, I did reach 20,693 words and got a good start on the novel.  As the new year approaches, I’m gearing up to get back into novel-writing.

Publications:  This year, I had a total of five poems published in textIsland Writer magazine, and the e-zine Restless.  I also had a book review published in Island Parent magazine, which you can read on my blog here.

Reviews:  Besides the previously mentioned review, I also reviewed the Genderific Coloring Book here on my blog.  Given the popularity of that post, I’m looking forward to posting more reviews in the coming year.

I am also looking forward to working more on my novel and submitting more poetry.  I hope to get more blog posts happening on here, which I realize is an annual hope.

In the meantime, I have Yule-Christmas decorations to take down.  I will be spending the evening with my spouse and child, watching a movie, maybe playing games, and enjoying the toll of midnight with a glass of sparkling apple juice.

 

November is here. Time to put pencil to paper, fingers to the keyboard. Go!

My poetry series on Channillo will be drawing to a close later this month.  I have four more poems to write and upload to the site.

In the meantime, I am starting NaNoWriMo this month as a way to motivate me to continue work on my novel.  I’d had the idea for the book in my head for several years and started writing notes and several scenes earlier this year.  Then, mid-summer, the writing stopped.

Now I am planning to get back into it and get my story out onto the page.

Sore’s Anniversary

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of my first poetry book Sore:  fantasies and inhibitions. Why not celebrate by buying a copy today?  🙂

I’m quite pleased with how this book turned out.  The poems are jam-packed with desire, longing, love, sex, loneliness, jealousy, caring.  They are a love note, an explosion of pent-up desire, a long-held longing.  I enjoyed writing these poems.

Creating the book was a learning curve and a great experience.

I hope all of you who read my book enjoy it and share it with others you think will enjoy it.

And thank you for supporting me.

Happy Random Acts of Poetry Day!

Here’s a new poem for you:

I meant these words to leap
to tell a month’s joy in glorious detail
it seems they are too much like me
turning pages of stabbing lines into the heart of it
which exaggerates the sagging truth dragging
itself through my faultlines
ripping the ragged edges
dipping a finger to the clear horizon
of parchment unwritten upon
tempting a new crack to break the view
until letters tumble back to the safe
zone of okay     let’s go
a word at a time tip-toeing the line
whispers hiding as shouts
to keep down the noise
the push    pushing through a burning dawn.

© 2015 by Robin A. Sams

Back from holidays with fresh poems

I’m back from a near six-week vacation visiting my family in the States.  I have some blog posts in mind which will hopefully get written and posted soon.

In the meantime, I’ve added some fresh poems to my Channillo poetry series The Colour of Her Mind.  You can read the series (and up to nine other series of your choice) for only $4.99 per month.  My series is ongoing until November, so check it out!

The first poem is available for view for free here.

Let’s compare.

I have been sadly lagging in my blog posts.  My only excuse is that I’m busy prepping for a trip to the States to see my family.  However, I have had a couple posts in mind.  Here is one of them.

Recently, a friend on Facebook posted this meme from Rock 100.5 (“Atlanta’s Classic Rock”):

badlyriccomparison
The post contained this comment from Rock 100.5 under the picture: “37 years of progress brought you these lyric comparisons.”

There are so many things wrong with this comparison.  Let’s start.

1)  Comparing lyrics from a randomly chosen year to lyrics from a year in recent history reeks of the kind of attitude of:  kids these days, with their Snapchat and their Nicki Minaj and their…GET OFF MY LAWN!

2)  It compares lyrics from different musical genres (hard rock vs. rap).  Different musical genres have different histories, different uses of language, and different conventions.

3)  It compares lyrics by a white male rock band to lyrics by a woman of colour rapper.  Who wants to touch the misogynistic, racist implications with a ten-foot pole?  Anyone?  Anyone?

4)  It ignores every other lyric by said artists and by other artists of each year.

So let’s fix this comparison.  I’ll start by comparing Led Zeppelin to Led Zeppelin from the same year:

Ooh, your custard pie, yeah, sweet and nice
When you cut it, mama, save me a slice
Your custard pie, yeah,
I declare you’re sweet and nice like your custard pie
When you cut it, mama… mama, please save me a slice.

Oh
I chew on a piece of your custard pie.

Yes, that is my eyebrow raised to the ceiling.  Why do you ask?  (You should see the rest of the lyrics from that song.)

Now let’s compare the original Led Zeppelin lyrics to lyrics by another hard rock band in 1975.  From Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way:”

backstroke lover always hidin’ ‘neath the covers
till I talked to your daddy, he say
he said “you ain’t seen nothin’ till you’re down on a muffin
then you’re sure to be a-changin’ your ways”
I met a cheerleader, was a real young bleeder
oh, the times I could reminisce
’cause the best things of lovin’ with her sister and her cousin
only started with a little kiss
like this!

Or this Aerosmith lyric, also from 1975:

I, I, I cover her with kisses
and when we’re in a lover’s clinch
she gets all excited
when she begs for my big 10 inch

Classy.  Yeah.  I’ve barely started the comparisons, and my eyebrow isn’t coming down.  So white male rockers can go on and on about how they like to have sex (particularly with young women/girls) and have big penises, but a woman can’t dare to point out a “stupid ho” repeatedly.

Or let’s compare a white male rock band’s lyrics to a white female rocker’s lyrics from 1975.  Suzi Quatro:

Turn down the bedroom lights and warm my soul
Let all your inhibitions go
We’ll reach the kind of heights we’ve never known
Laid back and easy
Take it slow slow slow
But wait, are your intentions what I think they are
Unless you’ve sold it, won’t you hand me back the keys to my car

Or Jefferson Starship’s song “Play On Love” (lyrics by Grace Slick) from 1975:

You been a-reading it without living it
Now that’s the golden prison we can always find
Living in stories and living in books
Or we can live and leave all the stories behind

Now let’s compare Nicki Minaj from 2012 to Nicki Minaj from 2012:

It all comes down to this
I miss your morning kiss
I won’t lie, I’m feeling it
You don’t know, I’m missing it
I’m so dumb, I must admit
It’s too much to hold it in
I can’t say no more than this
I just hope your heart hear me now
Gotta let you know how I’m feeling
You own my heart, he just renting
Don’t turn away, pay attention
I’m pouring out my heart oh, boy

Here’s a lyric by Missy Elliot from 2012:

Now I’m in the 9th inning
Thought I fell off, I ain’t quite finished
Yeah, I’m ’bout to put my foot in it
Talk wit’ it, walk wit’ it, I’m no gimmick
(YEAH!) Twenty-twelve, there be no games
Real rap, real bars, I’m not playin’
Haters y’all lame, you a Missy fayne
I’m a beast in the booth, I’m just sayin’
(YEAH!) I make ’em wanna get low
Duck wit’ it, buck wit’ it, let’s go
Every time I spit a rhyme, it’s a sick flow
You newcomers better sit back and take notes…

I also looked up male rappers’ lyrics from 2012 for comparison; however, a lot of the ones I found contained the n-word, and that is not my word to say (even in quotations).

So I will wrap up this blog before it gets over-long with my point:  if you are going to make a comparison, compare apples to apples.  Compare white male hard rock lyrics to white male hard rock lyrics, or woman of colour rapper lyrics to woman of colour rapper lyrics.

Note:  The lyrics quoted in this post came from azlyrics.com and metrolyrics.com.

The Genderific Coloring Book!

Last month, through a post shared by my friend and fellow writer Katje van Loon, I heard about an artist seeking parent bloggers to review her new colouring book.  It wasn’t just any colouring book but a colouring book about gender identity.  Yes, please!  So here is my review of The Genderific Coloring Book by Sophie LaBelle.


GenderificColoringBook

This colouring book is filled with fun images that bring awareness to the fact that gender isn’t as simple as girl/boy/boy/girl or as simple as looking at someone and saying, “Bam!  Girl!”  (And if you did say those exact words, the person in question would likely run away.)  The images presented in the book range from the realistic (children dressing up, roller skating, etc.) to the fantastical (dragons, giant pangolins, etc).

Here is a picture of mermaids my daughter and I coloured:

mermaidprincesscoloringpage

Do cats have genders?  There are a couple of pages in the book asking exactly that.  Here’s my child’s answer to one of them:

Cybercatcoloringpage

Cybercat is totally a gender.

This book makes a great addition to our homelearning environment.  It challenges ideas of what makes a girl/boy/other gendered-person and creates empowerment for children (and adults) to decide what their own gender is.  There is a page with the picture of a child and a banner that says, “My Gender is _______.”

My daughter was a bit confused about the term gender, as I suppose we hadn’t gone very in-depth about it before.  It would have been useful if the colouring book had a quick glossary for gender terms.  Then again, it provided a starting point for a discussion with my child about gender, and that works, too.

As for what colouring media work best on the paper, crayons work well and markers work fairly well.  There is little bleed-through with markers on the back of the page.  I did notice a couple pictures transferred marker marks onto the opposite page, so I advise making sure the marker is dry on one page before turning to another page.

About the artist/author:  Sophie LaBelle is the creator of the webcomic Assigned Male.  If you would like to support her, check out her Patreon account and buy this colouring book.  It’s fun and…genderific!

Puberty: Coming to a body near you!

The following book review first appeared in abridged format in the June 2015 issue of Island Parent Magazine (in print and in pdf on their web site).  I’m presenting the unabridged version here, as this book is an important tool for both parents and children.


Cover illustrated by Elisabeth Steinmeyer
Cover illustrated by Elisabeth Steinmeyer

Puberty, that tumultuous time of big changes, happens to every child.  How do we parents prepare our children for it?

There are many books on the subject, much Internet advice, and many variations on The Talk.  Now there is a new puberty book to add to the mix.  Puberty:  Coming to a body near you! is a puberty workbook written by local certified sex educator Kerri Isham.

Ms. Isham has a Bachelor of Physical Education and Bachelor of Education from Ottawa University.  She has taught in School District 69 for fourteen years; for ten of those years, she was a Sexual Health Educator at the middle school level.  I asked Ms. Isham what her goal was with the writing of this book.  She said:  “The goal of this book was to have kids and parents interact with each other, while discussing a topic that is difficult for some to talk about.  I wanted kids to be proud of their body changes and to be able to discuss these changes with confidence.  Puberty is a rite of passage and should be celebrated.”

This book is different than most books about puberty, in that it is interactive. When asked why a workbook, Ms. Isham replied, “I chose to make this a workbook instead of a book, because there are a lot of great books out there already. I couldn’t find a workbook, and I know some kids have a hard time reading a lot of text. This book is accessible for all learners.”

Despite containing thorough information on a variety of puberty-related topics, Puberty:  Coming to a body near you! does remain accessible.  Information is broken up into sections, many of which have accompanying worksheets to go with them.  (And, yes, there is an answer key at the end of the book.)  The book is filled with illustrations, pictures, and even drawing opportunities.

Three parts of this book stand out as favourites for me, besides the worksheet aspect of it.  First, there are illustrations of what different genitalia look like.  Media bombard us with a lot of images, but these images are so homogenized we tend to have a narrow view of what is “normal.”  Not all breasts (or anything else) look alike.  These illustrations help to normalize this unique-ness.  Second, I like that there are sections about gender and about sexual attraction.  Third, I am ecstatic that there is a section about consent.  I don’t recall any talk about consent when I was learning about puberty.  It was all about the changes and reproductive capabilities.  Consent is a talk as vital as any talk about physical and emotional changes.

Given that puberty can be a difficult topic for parents and kids alike to discuss, I asked Ms. Isham what the most important thing people don’t know about puberty is.  She said, “Easy…there is a WIDE range of normal. Being a unique being brings richness to the world.”

Overall, I love this book.  My daughter is a little young for it yet, but the time is coming soon; Ms. Isham’s website recommends this book for grades 3 to 7.

Kerri Isham also facilitates workshops on Vancouver Island about sexual health and media savvy.  She has workshops titled Body Smart (three different workshops for parents, divided by children’s age groups), Navigating Girl World:  Effective Strategies for Parenting Girls (I took this one a couple years ago, and it was great), Boxed In – Sexism and Gender Stereotypes, and 6 Must Have Conversations with Teens.  If you’re interested in Puberty:  Coming to a body near you! or any of the workshops, check out http://powerupworkshops.ca/ or e-mail powerupworkshops@gmail.com.