A Good Home, Family Moments

Pride or The Lack Thereof

My good man doesn’t understand why I like my sister’s old clothes. She shows up with a bagful of clothing and I rummage through them like a kid with a treasure box.

The look on his face says: “At your age, you really should not be wearing your sister’s hand-me-downs.” 

I could tell him they’re not just any old cast-offs: they’re my sister’s cast-offs! But he didn’t have older brothers; he doesn’t understand.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat - bag of clothes

I could say that wearing each other’s clothes goes back decades, to stories like this one: for her first big job interview, my sister wore the light-blue suit that I had just bought with all my savings. She got the job and I shared in her pride. We never forgot that moment or that suit.

I could remind him that my sister did me a favour by accepting my collection of shoes.

Many had been bought on sale in Italy when I worked there.  But some were bought closer to home, after the car accident.  They were a commitment: I would heal, would wear “nice shoes” again.

It never happened, of course, and a few years ago, I finally surrendered. But I knew those shoes had to go to a special person. Someone who wore the same size and would understand.

My sister understood. My sisters always understand more than I tell them.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat full

They’d also understand why I bought this strange-looking coat, another thing my good man can’t fathom.

“Why are the sleeves different?” he said when I first wore it some years ago.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coatsleeve 1

Blog Photo - Cynthia coatsleeve 2

“And those buttons!”

I said each purchase contributes to funds for families in the Himalayas. That didn’t change his mind.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat closeup

It’s been over-worn. When the zipper got stuck last week and I had to step into the coat, cane and all, in the middle of a restaurant, he wasn’t there. And a good thing, that: he’d have turned white with astonishment — a difficult thing for a black man to do.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat zipper

“You did what?” he asked, when I mentioned it. 

“It was a struggle! And when I looked up, giggling, other patrons burst into laughter,” I blithely continued.

“And that didn’t bother you?”

“Of course not!”

You should have seen the look on his face. 

The issue, you see, is personal pride and dignity.  It seems I’ve lost all of mine.

~~

Dedicated to my sisters, and to my husband, who love me, no matter what.

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A Good Home, Dealing with Disappointment, Inspiration

Let Down, Looking Up

I am dealing with a big disappointment on a project.

I have felt let down and hurt.

I should be used to disappointment, right?  For years after the car accident, every visit to doctors and therapists was full of hope, followed by the crushing realization that my hopes were unrealistic.

Some injuries don’t heal that quickly.  Some careers, some projects, even some relationships, are not recoverable. One finally learns to live with the realities, to work with or around the limitations. To set about creating a new life.

“Ancora imparo”, an elderly artist once said. (I am still learning.)  I, too, am still learning, still remembering.  That even when one puts all the plans and arrangements in place, something can still go wrong.

I’m reminded, too, that good often follows bad. In my earlier years, I yearned for certain things, was discouraged when they didn’t materialize, only to achieve something better later on. 

Not always immediately, of course. Sometimes, great effort is required.  Sometimes, there seems no end to the bad.  Life has taught me that too.  But good does eventually follow bad. If we don’t believe that, what’s the point of living? 

I believe in prayer.  I do so knowing that prayer isn’t always meant to change the heart of God, but the heart of the one who prays. So this, of course, is a time of prayer. 

I believe in the kindness of others. That the consolation provided by a small group of caring people goes a long way.

And I believe, when disappointed, that one must honestly acknowledge the emotions, acknowledge the hurt.  It does no good to lie to oneself: your heart knows the truth.

And then it is time to focus on more positive things, such as the blessings all around me.  There is so much to give thanks for.

One of those blessings is my own capacity to help others.  In my darkest times, in those bad years, I had lost sight of that.  More recently, and again in the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that in the midst of my own disappointment, I can help others.

And so I have.  In recent weeks, I’ve helped friends. Helped a stranger too. All unasked. 

It’s not entirely altruistic, you know.  When I help others, it uplifts me.  It reminds me that I have the power and the gift to help.  In other words: it’s a present to myself.

~~

Dedicated to all who are dealing with disappointment, and searching for the faith and strength to move forward.

Childhood, Childhood Memories, Myrtle The Purple Turtle

What Makes You Different….

No child wants to be different. To be taunted for something you can’t change.

I know.

I wanted dark hair, like everyone else. Instead, during childhood, I had flaming reddish hair. “Reds” was the kindest of my nicknames.

I loved playing — boisterously — with my sisters and friends. Suddenly, I was struck with childhood epilepsy, and — over several years — would have to frequently retreat to quiet spaces. While my friends played, I read books, kept a journal and sometimes wrote little stories.

I grew to love reading and writing and — thank goodness — my family nurtured this love.  I read so well that my mother and grandmother sent me to read the Bible and newspaper to elderly patients in the local infirmary. 

It was my first “job” as a volunteer, but a weird role for a small child. I didn’t want to do it at first. I wanted to be out playing, like the other children.

~~

How was I to know that the very things that made me odd would also make me strong? 

That having reddish hair in childhood would strengthen my empathy towards “different” people, persisting long after my hair colour had gradually darkened on its own?

That having epilepsy — being forced to slow down and read — would nurture my love of stories and words and expand my view of the world outside our small village?

That all of it, even reading the news to elderly people, would help prepare me for rewarding careers in television, community service,  and — more recently — in publishing?

~~

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If I could, I’d tell every child in the world:

Don’t hate the things that make you different. Love them. Because the very things that you’re teased for, even excluded for, will provide some of your greatest strengths.

I’d say:

See the teasing and strange looks as proof that you’re wonderful.

It’s painful now, I know.

It’s hard to believe now, I know. 

Try to believe it anyway.

I know.

~~

Dedicated to every child who feels different, including a very bright young girl with purple glasses whom I recently met.

#loveyourshell

A Good Home, Critiquing someone's work

How to Give ‘Feedback’ to Anyone

A team member, working on a project with me years ago, had seen me give feedback to others.  She noticed that I always pointed out ‘the positives’ before getting to what needed improvement, and especially so if the critique took place in a group-setting.

One day, she told me: “If you ever have to give me feedback, just get to the bad stuff first. Please don’t spend a lot of time telling me what’s great: it’s the bad stuff I need to know about.”

So there came a time when I had to identify a few things she needed to improve. I respectfully pointed them out, specifically and without identifying the positives upfront.

It meant I’d compromised my own leadership principles to give her what she’d said she wanted.

But she felt deeply hurt.

~~

Praise matters. Everyone I’ve ever met wants to know what they’ve done well. The fact that you noticed it, the fact that you value it, matters. Praise matters. 

Praise opens up a door for the recipient to hear and absorb your suggestions about weaknesses in their work. This is especially true for work that is very personal or tasks someone has laboured over.

Honest praise matters even more than criticism of weaknesses.  Giving honest, specific praise allows you to reinforce the high standards that you believe the other person is capable of attaining. In some cases, that’s enough.

“I like how you described the setting in this particular paragraph. You used the five senses to great effect. It pulled me into the story and made me feel I was right there, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. Do more of that when you describe the other settings in the story.”

Being specific in your critique of someone’s work can point the way to continued improvement, as the above once did for me.

Early in my career, I deleted entire scripts, short stories or scenes of TV shows because someone I respected said: “It doesn’t work”.  It didn’t occur to me back then to ask: “What specifically doesn’t work?”

If someone requests your feedback, ask: What specifically should I look for?” (Is it the storyline, the character development, the way you describe things, use of dialogue — what?)

Criticise the work, not the person.  Most people flinch at receiving ‘negative criticism’.  One way to make that even worse is to criticise the person, when you should be criticising the work. It’s fine to praise a person’s particular skill in a personal way (“I’ve noticed that you’re skilled at writing dialogue,”) but it’s not okay to say “I’ve noticed you’re really bad at dialogue.”

Praise in public, criticise in private. I learned this soon after becoming a leader. Even the strongest personalities can be hurt when their efforts are criticised in front of others.

Agree on Guidelines for Group Critiques. You need to share expectations upfront with your group, and give each other permission. Never take consent for granted, even when everyone says they know what they signed up for.

Critiques should build up, not beat down. It’s not just because “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”.  It’s because feedback isn’t complete till you have identified both what works and what needs work. When someone receives your critique, s/he should feel equal parts challenged and empowered to make the changes required.