"We can only know others by ourselves."
-Robert Louis Stevenson
I find this quote true is so many ways. We learn empathy through our own experiences. Our triumphs and our failures, our joys and our sorrows all help us to understand others going through similar situations. In many ways the human condition is universal. This is a good thing.
The flip side is that we often judge others by our own standards, not taking into account their different experiences, upbringing, culture and beliefs In many ways, each individual is unique. This can cause a lot of misunderstanding.
Both of these interpretations has a caveat: story. Story is a vicarious experience we enter into. One that changes and enriches us. One that can make us more empathetic without having experienced a similar event, and broaden our outlook to avoid the misunderstandings that arise from judging others according to our own upbringing. That's why you'll see my logo, "Promoting understanding through story" on the pages of my website.
Another interpretation is that we see in others what we see in ourselves. Have you had someone accuse you of something - lying, jealousy, whatever - and known that they were somewhat deceitful, or jealous, themselves and were assuming everyone else was like them? The criticism we have of others is often an insight into our own flaws.
Today's writing prompt is threefold: Think of a time when an experience you had helped you to understand what someone else was going through, and to help them. Or, think of a time when you made an assumption about someone else that turned out to be wrong. Or, think of a time you criticized someone - was it a true reflection of them, or a veiled reflection of yourself?
We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal. - Robert Brault
Is there a time in your past when you chose a lesser, more certain goal instead of a greater but less easily achieved one? Which did you choose? Why? How do you feel about that choice today?
I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Do you remember a time in your life when someone did or gave you something for which you were extremely thankful? Write a short story or scene about it with as much detail as possible. Why was it so important to you at the time? End with a reflection about what it would mean to you now or how you feel about it now.
“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.”
Is there one thing that you do every day, or used to do daily, that mattered? Or, what is important and interesting about the place you live, or a place you once lived? Write about it with as much detail as possible.
"We exaggerate misfortune and happiness alike. We are never as bad off or as happy as we say we are."
Honore de Balzac
Think of a time when you (or your character, if you are writing back story) thought you were more happy, or more unhappy, that you actually were, in retrospect. What made you happy or unhappy? Why was it not as significant as you thought at the time?
Yes, I know, September is a long way off. I've got some great ideas to make this year's challenge a little different but just as much fun as last year's. In the meantime, I'm going to post a weekly prompt here every Friday to get your (and my) blogging juices flowing!
Here's the first one:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…’. — Isaac Asimov
Can you remember a time in your past when you said "That's funny..." ?
(You can read my posts here, starting at Year One
, for this challenge, or hop to the other participants listed at the right.)
Well, it's been a blast - and a lot of work! I would never have thought I could write 25 posts in one month before doing this. I've learned a lot - about blogging, about myself, and about a host of other wonderful bloggers who joined me in this challenge. I have loved getting to know each one of you, and feel proud to call you my friends. And I'm delighted to hear that everyone else seems to think it was both fun and worthwhile, too.What a great variety of posts we've had. Such creative ways of interpreting this challenge
- fiction, poetry, memoir, gardening, photography & reflection - you name it, it's come out - and the challenge has been richer for it.For some great ideas for next year's October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge
, check out this post by Joy Weese Moll.
I’m thinking of doing it 3 days a week instead of daily, next year ( Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays?) to give people more time to research and write their posts, more time for hoppers to read the post before the next one goes up, and allow those who are taking more than one challenge on in a month, days to do the others. That would mean about 10 posts in the challenge instead of 25. What do you think?Best of luck to all of you, especially those who are going on to NaNoWriMo. I have been convinced to try it for the first time. I don't expect to complete it - I have too many things already on the go this November - but I will learn about it best by doing, and I'm sure I'll accomplish more than if I didn't participate in it.
So look me up - my handle there is: JAMcLMy fondest hope is that all of you will come back next year for the October challenge, full of great news about your year and trailing friends who want to join the fun! I would like to hear any comments or suggestions you have about this challenge to help me make next year's bigger and better.
Love ya all! - Jane Ann
At twenty-four, I went to grad school
. (Linked to post)
In the winter I start to get sick. It gets worse. The campus doctor increases my medications, but the stress of grad studies has caused a flare-up of my colitis, and I continue to worsen. I am wracked by abdominal cramps, depleted by exhaustion, vomiting, feverish, and spending hours in the washroom, day and night. The doctor wants me to go home and see my gastroenterologist."I can't," I tell him.
I am now 2 & 1/2 months short of completing my courses. In those days, courses were year-long, not one semester. If I leave now, I'll lose my whole year. Not going to happen. Somehow I make it through to the end of classes, and earn an A- average.Back home I rest, and improve a little. I take a summer grad course at U. of Toronto for my final credit, and work on my thesis. The date to defend my thesis is set for early September.By the end of August, I am beyond sick, but still refusing to quit. Ian finally makes an appointment with my gastroenterologist and half-carries me to it. After a short examination, he orders me straight into hospital; I'm not even allowed to go home for my toothbrush.
I'm in hospital 6 weeks; that's where I spend my 25th birthday.My summer course grade comes back: A-.
My thesis adviser writes to tell me I have missed my defense and that's it. No appeal; I'm out. All along I have been a number for him - one of the 50% who don't complete - and now he has proof. He doesn't say this, but it's there, between the lines. I appeal to the Chair of English Grad studies. My gastro gets his receptionist to write a letter informing of my condition. I never see this letter, but this is one formidable lady, believe me. I'm relieved but not surprised when the Chair writes back assuring me I can defend my thesis when I get well.
And so, just before Christmas, I go to Ottawa to defend my thesis. My adviser gives me a pep talk just before it begins: "They're going to give arguments against your thesis," he tells me, "But don't agree just to be nice. You have to argue back." I'm 5'2, eyes of blue, and I'm sure I still look thin and wan and weak. He expects me to get slaughtered. And I'm sure his only concern is that it will reflect unfavorably on him.I manage to keep a straight face as I assure him I will. I come from a family of debaters; I argue in my sleep.
And so I walk in and it begins. What a blast! I love debating English, I'm quick on my feet, and this is my thesis, I know it inside out. I'm genuinely sorry when it comes to an end, and wish I could think of a way to keep it going. Outside the room, my adviser looks at me speechless for a moment, then tells me I did very well.And so I have my M.A. But it has taken it's toll. I know I can't get my PhD. I will never be a university prof. This is the road not taken.We can spend our life in regret over the road not taken, or we can focus on the road we did take. Two years later, I have the first of my three daughters: an all-consuming love. And many years after that, I am a college prof, instead of a University Prof. I don't teach 18th C poetry or even Can Lit - I teach business writing and Ethics, drawing on my undergrad minor
in philosophy. But I enjoy the teaching. And in between, I have done a multitude of interesting things.The road not taken is not always a tragedy. Often, it is just the road not taken.
What is the road you didn't take? Do you regret it? Did you find another road?
Despite my diagnosis of Colitis, I complete my Honours B.A. and apply to Grad school. The plan to get my PhD and teach at University is still intact.
Three of the four I apply to offer me Teaching Assistanceship incentives to come. I accept Carleton U., because Ian has applied to two Ottawa papers and we hope he will follow me. Instead, The Globe & Mail, in Toronto, offers him a job, so we are apart for the year that I am doing my course work. Just as well - in an effort to get on with my PhD, I take all my courses at once, planning to write my thesis over the summer, defend it and start my PhD next September. Did I mention having the quality of impatience?
The first hurdle is to find a prof to work with me on my Thesis. I have decided to study Canadian Literature, thinking it will be more practical than 18th C or 19th C Poetry, which I love. Unfortunately, nothing in our literature really speaks to me; I am not a modernist. This does not make me an interesting candidate to work with. I am told "50% of M.A. students never finish. I haven't time to take on another." One female Prof baldly tells me she "doesn't believe I have what it takes." Finally, with great reluctance, one takes me on.
I sign up for five courses, treating myself to one Drama and one Shakespeare course: the rest are as dull as I feared Can Lit would be. One of those is with the prof who thinks I don't have it in me to get an M.A. She is one of those attack-prof types - she pounces on the student who obviously doesn't want to be called on and berates him/her soundly for not having read the assigned pages or not giving the answer she wants. In the first class after my unfortunate interview with her when she refused to take me on as a thesis student, she calls on me, as I hide behind my text, to explain the meaning and significance of a passage.
Grad school is grueling. I work day and night to keep up, and still don't always get the readings done. (Maybe because I'm taking twice as many courses as most of my grad colleagues?) At any rate, I am madly reading the passage as she hesitates, letting us sweat, before she picks me as her prey. I look up into her wolfish grin, see her holding her breath, her eyes hungry as she prepares to demolish me.
And I begin to explain the passage to her. Let me tell you, I can barely add two 3-figure numbers. Geography and science are foreign languages to me - no, worse, I'm pretty good at languages. But English? I am a whiz at English. Having whipped through the passage for the first time in the few minutes it took her to ask her question and choose me, I begin to explain it, ideas coming to me as I speak, getting more and more interested in this stupid text as i delve into it, all off the top of my head - and I see the grin on her face fade, replaced with surprise, disbelief, a fading hope that she can find something wrong or lacking in my answer, and finally, re-evaluation of me. When I am finished, she stammers, "Yes...well.. very good," and hurries on to the next passage.
I walk out at the end of that class, go straight to the admin office, and drop her course.
After returning from Europe I get a job and work until the end of August. Ian and I are married on Labour Day weekend. I turn 23 on my honeymoon.
I hate to admit that this is a difficult and unhappy year. I move cities to Oshawa, where I know no one, and commute into York university to finish my last two credits - the goal of getting my Phd and teaching is still in place. I have too much free time, even with 2 part-time jobs, and Ian, at the beginning of his career, has too little. The adjustment to marriage is hard, and I'm sure I've made a terrible mistake.
To complicate matters, I'm ill. One day I faint at University, and immediately take the bus home. I mean home, not the one-bedroom apartment I share with Ian. I want my Mom!
Three months after the wedding, I am hospitalized in Toronto and diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. They'll fix me, I think, but I soon learn that this is not a fixable disease - it will be with me for life. Medication is prescribed, and I improve, although it never goes away. I am not one of those who go into remission. Instead, I learn to build a life around it. Not the life I imagined, but a very good life, with my loving family, many good friends, my wonderful daughters, and a husband who stands by me through it all.
What more can one ask? A lot. Everything is not possible, as I thought, standing on the threshold of adulthood in University. Pain, illness and fatigue remove a lot of options.
But there are compensations: since I can't work, I meet many wonderful people volunteering, and I get to stay home with my children, an option I would have wanted anyway. And thank God I live in a country which has excellent health care and considers that a right, like schooling and roads and police and fire services, not a luxury only for the rich. No matter how often I'm in hospital, we don't lose our home or our car, or suffer the shame of bankruptcy, or have to fight an insurance company for the treatment I need. Thank you Canada!
Colitis teaches me to count my blessings; to ennumerate the things I'm thankful for every day; to notice happiness, and nurture those things that increase it; to be grateful for things I might have taken for granted. Would I have liked a life free of illness? You Bet! Would I have been happier? I'm not sure..
What curve-balls has life thrown at you? How do you view them from the distance of time? Did they come with hidden blessings?