Archive for May, 2009


that is all.

(also I had a freelance gig cancelled–sigh–and now that really is all.)


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Happy Mothers

For years, the debate that occasionally rages about whether or not parenting makes people happy has bothered me. I think it misses the point.

No, of course getting up a thousand times a night to take care of a sick or sad or frightened child isn’t fun, and doesn’t make anyone happy. Never having five minutes to complete a thought, putting your hobbies and dreams on hold, having so many constraints on where you can go and when, doesn’t make anyone happy. It doesn’t make me happy, at any rate, but I’d still say PP is the best thing that ever happened to me.

I read those articles about how parents aren’t happy, or how they say they’re happy but when you check they report feeling frustrated and exhausted and depressed by most of the demands of parenthood, and I think, so what? 

PP frequently does make me happy. When she sits beside me on the sofa and angles her head to one side and gives me the big-blue-eyed stare and shares her latest profound thought about the meaning of life or at least the value of sandals and what the guinea pigs are saying, I am as happy as I am capable of being. Everything about her is delicious and perfect, even when she is whiny about having to put her toys away. (Last night, I gave her the usual five-minute warning for putting her toys away, and then the three-minute warning and the one-minute warning, and she ignored them and then, when I told her it was time to get her pajamas on and I would put her toys in storage for a week–because that’s the rule–she stood there by her tea-set on the floor, tears threatening, and said, “I’m not happy, Mumma.” And she was sad about it and I was a bit irritated about having to put her tea-set away for a week but still, I nearly laughed in sheer delight at the PP-ness of her at that moment.)

But not everything about being PP’s mother makes me happy. I’d really like to just stay on the sofa and finish my book and not jump up half a dozen times for glasses of apple juice and bits of parsley for the guinea pigs and all the rest of it. But that’s just not the point. I am a better person for being PP’s mother. I am a more patient, more disciplined, kinder, more stable person. I work harder and I care more. Being a mother has given my life more meaning and more significance, and that’s worth–more than worth–less freedom and fun.

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time heals all wounds

or words to that effect.

Every couple of months I go to the authentic happiness website and retake the quizzes; it saves your old scores and lets you compare them over time so you can see whether you are staying the same or getting happier/more optimistic/feeling stronger or the opposite.

When I first started taking them–six months after moving out of the house and away from the Ex, when I was at the worst possible point after the break-up w/ the Engineer, just over a year ago–my scores were in the toilet. About the tenth to fifteenth percentiles on everything. Today I was above the ninetieth percentile on almost everything. Better was when I looked at the scores over time and saw them getting higher and higher–so it wasn’t just two snapshots in time that happen to be far apart but there’s a trend. A big, steep trend.

It reassures me that I really am making good choices and moving in the right direction, no matter how frustratingly slow it may seem at times, including and most especially leaving the Ex. This could never have happened if we were still together. So much of it depends on being able to live a life much more in tune with my values, and our values were so opposed that–even barring the sex addiction, which is barring a lot–most of what I do now is stuff I could not have done with him.

I tell you one thing: I won’t give that up again. I truly, truly do not want to be a single mom for the rest of my life, but knowing how good things can be when I’m not compromising is too good to lose again.

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Here’s a question I keep coming back to over and over again, because I’m convinced it’s the key to our environmental issues but I can’t for the life of me see how to answer it:

How do you get people to love nature?

Non-human nature. The messy, unpredictable kind that comes with dirt and bugs and weather and uneven walking surfaces.

Arne Naess argues that people will fight to defend nature if they include it within their definition of self, and he calls that Deep Ecology, and I think he’s right. You look at famous environmentalists and it’s clear that their early experiences caused them to include a park or a species or a place or landscape in their definition of self.

Social psychologists show over and over that not only are intrinsic values (such as health, satisfaction, learning, ethics) more motivating than extrinsic values (such as wealth and status), but that those who are motivated by intrinsic values are happier, healthier, less prone to psychological problems and substance abuse, and so on.

Environmental psychology finds over and over again that people need exposure to non-human nature for our physical and mental well-being.

Behaviour economists find over and over again that, rather than opinion driving behaviour, that values drive behaviour, and behaviour drives opinion. In other words, what you value determines how you act (“I value this park, so I won’t litter in it,”) and that you act then determines your opinions (“Since I don’t litter, I am the sort of person who acts in favour of the environment, and therefore I support regulations on pollution”).

No wonder environmentalism makes such little headway. We keep trying to change people’s MINDS by going after their opinions when we need to be going after their HEARTS.

But how do you do that?

How do you get people to fall in love with a tree, an animal, a place?

Because if you (I) can do that, everything else falls into place. Values drive behaviour, which drives opinion. Intrinsic values create happiness and stronger motivations and reward people for undertaking supposedly altruistic pro-environmental actions. People accept a place into their self-definition and start to take actions to defend it. It becomes a positive spiral in which people do what needs to be done for the earth because they *want* to, for a variety of reasons including self-interest.

The trick is the values. That’s where I’m stuck. I can preach to the converted for the rest of my life about how wonderful nature is and how great it is to get outside, but really I need to get to the ones who are plugged into a machine 24 hours/day and equate nature with bugs and smells and rain and wind and a lack of television. How?

(I’ve been thinking and thinking about this since I was probably seventeen years old. You’d think I’d have an answer by now.)

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I have an exam today, and then I’m all done. I didn’t study, mind you. Well, I sort of did. I wrote out a couple pages of notes on definitions of terms and reread my notes from class, and in all spent probably about two hours on it. It’s not enough but my head has left the school building, and every assignment I’ve done in this class has been graded A+, so I figure even if I bomb the final (worth 20%) it’s effect on my overall class grade will not be terrible.

I mean, I could get 0 on the final exam and still get an ok grade in the course. It’s not exactly motivating, you know?

And right now I don’t have any writing assignments–plenty pitched and a couple of tentative yeses but nothing definite–so it’ll be pitch-pitch-pitch until something comes along. And blog-blog-blog, read-read-read. The suffering! (j/k) And apparently, shop-shop-shop. The prospect of getting paid again has gone completely to my head. You should see, Dear Readers, the enormous pile of books on my sofa (some from the library, but still).

Three books of poetry and essays by Mary Oliver (originally from the library but I love them too much to give them back, so I bought copies)
Getting a Grip: Creativity, Courage and Clarity in a World Gone Mad (or words to that effect)
can Poetry Save the Earth?–nice big meaty hardcover of essays on nature poetry
Two books by Pema Chodron
Childhood and Nature (Sobel’s latest book on getting kids over ecophobia)
Peasants and Other Stories (Chekhov)
Mothers and Others (Blaffer Hrdy’s new book on evolutionary psychology and the role of altruism in the evolution of homo sapiens–I can’t wait)
And on the way from Amazon is a book of Arne Naess’s collected writings on Deep Ecology

This is in addition to the to-be-read pile, which had been shrinking but–you know.

Dear Readers: Maeve, you have a problem.
Maeve: Yes, yes I do. And I plan to do exactly nothing about it, because I LIKE my problem.

Then add new copies of a pile of magazines, including Seed which has a cover story on the social science of climate change! I love Seed. Do you read Seed? You should.

But, anyway, in addition to the BOOKS, the mountain of books which has overtaken my sofa (and which I pet lovingly at night after PP goes to bed), I have also stocked PP up on t-shirts for the summer and got her a pair of sandals that fit and replaced the shoes I tore on my bike pedal last week. It’s like part of my brain is thinking–I’m not broke anymore, I must be rich!

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Would any of you believe me if I said that, despite the insane business and multiple difficulties of the last week and a half, I’m actually really happy right now? It was a good week. It was a way-too-busy week and there were exceptions, like when I ripped my shoes on the bike pedal and shouted “fuck!” in front of an elementary school’s open front door, but on the whole it was … good. Really good. I feel, oddly, good about having gone back to work–maybe because I made a decision and it’s settled, maybe because it takes the worry out of the financial situation, maybe because I’ve made up my mind to continue the writing thing while at work. But in any case, I don’t mind being there. There are particular tasks I’m not looking forward to, but hell, maybe I can get out of them. (Or maybe not, but even so, they’ll only be a couple of days.)

In a couple of days school will be over, then I’ll have more time to devote to the career-writing thing (for which I have no current assignments, but lots of pitches out there and at some point they will start coming through). I have an idea for rewriting the novel and a ton of interesting new books to read and a very busy social schedule for the next month or so, and the weather is nice and I got to see trilliums this spring and I’m more plugged into the local environmental community so I feel like I’m doing good, useful, relevant volunteer work as well. PP is fabulous, as always, and I’ve seen quite a bit of my friends lately. Plus the RG and I just had another lovely weekend, part of which was discussing the various subspecies of science fiction, compething theories of natural selection, black-and-white vs. colour photography, and how weird the RG finds it that he is a feminist and so many of his female friends are not.

(sigh) But I fell behind on my work again.

At any rate, it’s been lovely. Hectic, but lovely. And I think, actually, that my mental health is better when I am hectic but doing things largely that are my choice and under my control (and I am reading a book that supports me on that). So I’m going to keep up with the hectic for a while yet.

Just know that when I complain about it, or seem to be complaining about it, it’s not entirely accurate. Almost everything I’m doing right now I’m doing because I *want* to. I just, you know, don’t get a lot of sleep that way.

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My week, redux

Wed: bought guinea pigs

Thurs: went back to work, meeting, etc., PP went away for weekend w/ the Ex.

Fri: PP got a bad cold

Sat: PP came back hacking up and coughing. She can’t sleep, I can’t sleep.

Sun: Guinea pigs develop terror of her hacking cough (totally understandable)

Mon: Trying to work w/ not enough sleep and get pitch and homework done. Was going to make chicken & carrots for dinner, but the chicken (2 days before the best-before date) was bad when I opened it. Can’t get to grocery store b/c of sick progeny. Progeny makes it a challenge on any weekday, but sick progeny much moreso. Overnight reached nadir where I began to take PP’s cough personally because I was so freaking tired and could not sleep a wink.

Tues: Was planning to bring chicken leftovers to work for lunch, so had to make lunch Tuesday morning, and late for work. Ripped favourite blue shoes on bicycle pedal. More trying to work w/ not enough sleep and get homework done. Cough no better. Guinea pigs two bundles of furry fear. Poor PP, what a terrible time for her to get sick! I don’t want to call in my first week back–it’s making it hard to get the new pets to relax–just awful timing.

Is tomorrow really only Wednesday?

In better news: reading Rapt, a book basically about paying attention which is really cool so far, and a volume of Alan Dugan’s poetry, which is in spots absolutely brilliant, and discovered Mary Oliver, which made me very happy for several non-productive working hours today. Ordered Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s new book about women, mothers and evolutionary biology a couple days ago, and am in total geeky paradise because I love her so.  School’s almost done; long weekend coming up.

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