Farewell Fort Simpson

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I’ve slept in three different places in four days here in Fort Simpson. I’m bouncing around because the house where I rent a room has had no water for over a month. The sewer lines are fine — we can let water down the drain — but the supply lines froze one day in March. The village maintenance people tried to thaw them, but after pushing their water-pic-snake down 150 feet, it was still frozen. So, I started hauling empty bottles to work and filling them with water to use at home. I can’t tell you how many times I turned on the kitchen faucet just to exclaim, “right! No water!”

Not having a toilet is the biggest problem. We really take flushing for granted! When faced with what to do about my waste, I am surprised how frustrated I got. Initially, I lined the toilet bowl with a garbage bag and used that for a couple of days. It worked okay. When it was full, I pulled it out and tied it up… now what!?! I knew it shouldn’t just go in the garbage — I took a composting course in February that taught me a lot about microbes — so I thought I would just take it to the sewage treatment plant. And then a rare vindictive streak came out — I could take it to the village office and say, “um, what should I do with this? You take it.” Yikes.

Obviously, I didn’t actually do that. I adapted and found other places to use the washroom. I showered at the firehall, which has just enough hot water for a short shower. I got a larger water bottle for transporting the blessed wet stuff. I made sure I used the toilet before heading home from work. What else can you do? The toilet took about 10 L of water to flush! So I did it rarely.

Human waste. It’s yucky. A friend of mine said that in second-world countries, people have learned to flush with far less water. If you throw it down the bowl, forcefully, it will flush with as little as one litre. So I tried it, with about 1.5 litres. It worked! But it must have been beginner’s luck, because as our time without water went on, I tried several more times and I could never quite make it work. Once, I splashed pee-water all over myself and the bathroom. That was my low point.

I wish I could say I was all zen about the situation: that I accepted what was, gracefully, but really, I didn’t. I was frustrated. I mean, I live in Canada. This should not happen in Canada. Yet I knew it did — last year in Wrigley, perhaps as many as a third of all houses had frozen pipes. But they don’t have underground sewer lines. Everyone uses tank water — a tank for good water, and a tank for sewage (and grey water — anything that goes down the drains). Trucks come by periodically and fill or empty the tanks as needed. But in a place with normal plumbing, I just couldn’t believe this was happening. Yes, I know I’m in the North, but it wasn’t even close to -40 C when it happened.

And it went on and on. The village made some visible efforts in the early days, and then they seemed to forget about us. Later, I heard there were quite a few houses in town that were having the same problem. So, the two maintenance guys ran from place to place, not quite hunkering down at any one house to fix the problem. I don’t think they are terribly inept, just mildly so. I made them cinnamon buns to thank them for their hard work — they had promised a temporary solution would be in place and I thought I wouldn’t be seeing them any more — but it never worked. I guess garden hoses aren’t what they used to be.

Are any of you noticing my awful jaded tone? As I said, I’m not proud of it. I would much rather remember Fort Simpson as the amazing island in the summer, with the ageless water of the Mackenzie River flowing eternally by. It is so peaceful in the evening, and evening just goes on and on. The community garden is an abundance of growth, vegetables, and glorious weeds — some of the best natural remedies!! I have seen the northern lights more times than I can count, and life-changing aurora a couple of times. So, I guess I have the Fort Simpson aurora to thank if I’ve changed! ;)

I’m changing my tune, and that’s important, because I’ll be leaving Fort Simpson soon. I don’t want to go out on an unhappy, frustrated note; I want to leave on a lovely song! My honey and I have some amazing opportunities coming up (which I’ll talk about soon in another post), so it is time to go. I’ll miss this northern land, with its helpful, genuine people. Sure, it’s not perfect — there’s a lot of drinking, a bit of price gouging, and the coldest, darkest winters I’ve ever experienced — but for me, it’s also an oasis of snow, a candle in a dark window, and an incredible pocket of friends.

**If you are in Simpson, please come out to my farewell potluck tomorrow, Sunday, Apr 13, starting at 4:00 pm at the Firehall. :) **

Why Live in a Tiny House

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Macy's tiny houseI’ve been thinking a lot about tiny houses, and I sometimes wonder what other people think about them. So I have to ask:

Do you think people are crazy to want to live in something so small?
Do you wonder how they manage to live with so little stuff?
Do you wonder why on Earth they do it?

Maybe you think you know why people do it:
– because they can’t afford “a real house.”
– because they want to live like a hippie.
– because they like small spaces.
– because they want to be mobile — not tied down.
– because they want to live with a smaller footprint on the Earth.
– because they want to live simply.

Now, obviously, I can’t help but add my own feelings about why tiny houses are so cool. I particularly like the last 2, but I also should say that I think tiny houses are a direct response to the hugeness of modern houses — some are positively ridiculous! Unless you are housing 25 members of your family, it just doesn’t make sense to build such a mansion (in my opinion). So, for fun, I have taken some big houses and divided them up into triplexes. Why not? They are certainly big enough for three families, and with a few extra walls and another entrance or two, it is pretty easy to do.

big house floorplan-main floor

The other reason some people like tiny houses is so that they can actually own the house they live in. Some like the DIY aspect — to build your own house with your own two hands holds huge appeal. Some people are striving for a simpler life — wouldn’t you love it if your weekly housecleaning took a total of 5 minutes? Some want to live lightly — with less possessions, less obligations, less of an impact on the planet. Today, I stumbled on Leo Babauta’s this zenhabits article on living lightly. I thought this might add some insight into tiny house living.

Well, it wasn’t at all about houses, but it did give me plenty of insight. It starts with a quote by Eckhart Tolle:

Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. ~Eckhart Tolle

Wow, that alone would change everything about how you approach your day, wouldn’t it?

Leo’s main point is this: think of nothing as either good or bad. Stop judging, and stop expecting.

Regarding judging: “When you stop judging things as either good or bad, you are no longer burdened by the emotions of the judgement, and can live lighter, freer.”

Hmmm… that strikes a chord with tiny living, being lighter and freer.

Regarding expectation: “When people disappoint you, it’s not their fault. They’re just being who they are. Your expectations are at fault.”

My expectations are at fault? Could it be true? Oh yeah, that’s totally it. All the time.

“But why make this change? … Because judgements stop us from understanding, and can ruin our happiness. When we judge, we don’t seek to understand — we’ve already come to a conclusion. If we stop judging, we allow ourselves to try to understand, and then we can take a much smarter course of action, because we’re better informed by our understanding.”

Well, I’ve never lived in a multi-million dollar house, but it seems to me that a lot of judging is going on. People are constantly trying to appear better than their neighbours. It’s not just “keeping up with the Joneses” anymore. We want to seem happier and healthier as well as wealthier.

I think tiny houses let people give up on all that. There is no more keeping up. The tiny house is in a class all its own, and other tiny house owners aren’t interesting in judging, because they would much rather understand and learn. Maybe they have more scientist in them — a curiosity about life, an interest in living smarter, and a desire to live life to the fullest.

So, let’s not judge someone else’s choice of house. Let’s try to understand, instead. The same goes for others’ life decisions. Everyone has reasons — complex, unexpected, interesting reasons — for doing what they do. And, they have every right to do whatever they want without messing up your opinion of them, just because of your expectations. Live and let live, eh?

A Bit of a Rant, Some Free Money-Making World-Changing Ideas, and How I Think Our Economy Needs to Fundamentally Change

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We fought the Nazis, and Communists and the cold war. Lately, we fight the war on terror and the war on drugs. We, as a people, like to fight against things, it seems. I wonder if ever since we didn’t have to work all day just to find or grow food to eat, and life got a lot easier, we felt a little guilty for having it so good. So, we started looking for ways to make life harder, for things to fight against.

As a people, we have such huge potential. We are not happy to sit on our laurels — not for more than a well-deserved vacation or two a year. So we keep ourselves busy, and for many middle-class, first world people, this is by attempting to maintain a larger-than-life lifestyle — huge houses, several vehicles, jobs jobs jobs to make money money money to pay for bills bills bills. Oh, and toys. And entertainment. But we spin our tires a lot and don’t really accomplish much or get very many useful things done.

And by “useful,” I mean we don’t grow food. We don’t purify water. We don’t create clean electricity. We just eat food, drink water and use energy of all sorts, so we can work work work, money money money, bills bills bills.

But this should not be surprising, because like the adage says, “money makes the world go round.” (This isn’t true, by the way. The world goes around because the whole solar system was spinning when it was formed… but I digress.) We live in a capitalist society, so it’s up to companies to hire people to do things — make things, move things — and make a profit doing it, so that the economy is strong and people are able to do what they want and have happy, prosperous lives.

Sure, you bet. It works, sorta. In the background is the struggle against various things, because we like a challenge and we definitely don’t think everything can be easy or good all the time. Quite a few of those companies make products and support the various “wars” and make quite a bit of money from them, which is great because it keeps the economy going strong. Always, we have to keep that economy moving, because if we stop working on it for a moment, it could collapse again, immediately.

Except that there are more and more people all the time, and they need food to eat, water to drink, and clothes to wear, so it makes me think that actually, the economy is not in danger of collapse, as some would say, but it might have to do a bit of a metamorphosis.

parthenos sylvia butterfly

Metamorphosis, for those who can’t quite recall high school biology, is the process whereby a caterpillar spins itself a cocoon and emerges later to become a butterfly. It’s got to be terribly awkward and tricky for the caterpillar, but once it’s in, a natural process kicks in and converts chubby worminess into a slender body with wings. I think that’s what our economy needs — to go into a cocoon for a while and emerge with a new purpose, a new form, and wings — an altogether new mode of operation.

And I don’t think I’m crazy. I wonder what would happen if we could convert our paradigm from one of consuming resources, to one of protecting them. We may never get over our human nature and the desire to have a struggle, and we may also never decide or find a way to leave capitalism behind. But we have such incredible potential — such capacity to accomplish things! Have you seen any of the “Biggest” series on Discovery Channel? Biggest equipment, biggest ships, biggest mining equipment, biggest buildings, bridges and towers. We make islands, launch satellites into orbit, and have built a space station that people live on 24/7/365… We do some truly epic stuff!

– So why couldn’t a monster petroleum company partner up with a monster ship builder to create a boat — almost a floating island — that scoops up all that waste plastic in the ocean and, on the spot, converts it into useful products: vinyl siding for houses, plastic roof panels, durable reusable storage bins, etc. (That idea is free, by the way, so please run with it.)
– Why couldn’t a biotech company come up with a way of removing the microplastic from the ocean.
– We could use some epic engineering to create massive air filters to remove aerosols and dusts that are making air quality worse.
– We could have compost facilities alongside every dump in the country. They would reduce landfill size, methane production, and create wonderful, healthy soil. Even biosolids (from waste processing facilities) can be composted.
– Some of the really big power companies are welcome to run with my idea of a run-of-the-river hydroelectricity generator that uses turbines mounted on the river bottom. The current turns them, and they would be undamaged by ice or debris year round. This would work especially well on large rivers (Peace River, Mackenzie River). No need to build dams that cause so much damage to the landscape.
– Would it be completely crazy to say that the health industry might benefit from studying more intensely what makes people healthy, rather than all the many ways people can be sick?
– Why not make health care available to all people who need it, and let the ones who are terminally ill go? It’s in our nature to hang on to life so tightly! But I think we can all agree that extending life when it is full of pain is not what anybody wants.

The interesting thing about this metamorphosis is that we don’t have to give up money, or plastic, or progress. We just need to realize that money doesn’t make the world go round, because in our current mode of operation, it’s making the world go bad. Life makes the world go round, and we have been using and abusing life a little too much. We could harness our intelligence, our technical savvy, our problem-solving abilities and even our capitalism, to clean up the planet, to grow real, healthy food, to make our world a healthy place to live.

It used to be perfectly acceptable to throw trash out your station wagon windows; now, we know better and don’t do it. People used to dump raw sewage into rivers; now, we would never dream of doing that. It used to be acceptable to buy things individually wrapped in three layers of plastic; now, we know better and we look for more earth-friendly packaging. We used to buy potatoes grown half-way across the continent; now, we know that we can grow oodles of potatoes locally and do it with no pesticides.

– We are lucky in the north, because it’s too cold for potato bugs. So why aren’t we growing more of the world’s potatoes? (Another free idea, so go for it!)

house metamorposis

I hope someday we can say: People working for big companies used to do unscrupulous, harmful things just to pay out more to the shareholders; now, the shareholders would never put up with any practice that harmed people or the planet! How ridiculous!

No more profit for the sake of profit. No more making money while abusing the environment. Why not make money saving it, and spend the profit on improving things even more?

We, as a human race, are capable of so much. Let’s deliberately step off the treadmill of consumerism and get on with simply living, creating more green spaces and — importantly — enjoying them with an optimistic heart and a hopeful frame of mind. Let’s start being smarter about how we use our resources and put all of our energy into making sure everyone has food and water and fixing the mistakes we’ve made on the planet. It’s not that hard. We can do it.

Thanks to the peeps of AlmostGlamping.com for the tiny house photo, and to ifoundbutterflies.org.

I listened to Q on CBC Radio, and heard Lily Cole from impossible.com! That’s what I’m talking about! So cool!

Teresa’s Top 10 Signs You’re Tired After a Night Shift

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Time for another top ten! This time, it’s signs I might be a little bit tired from working night shifts!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job! But, the 12-hour night shifts do occasionally get to me a little… :)

10. I drove home all the way on the highway in 4th gear. The Pathfinder has 5 gears, I just forgot to shift that last time, and didn’t even notice how high the revs were.

9. I wrote January on something in March.

8. I have been forgetting to brush my teeth, more often than I’d like to admit.

7. I can’t listen to the radio on the drive home; it’s just too distracting. I need all my concentration to drive.

6. I get very heavy eyelids, crossed eyes, and seriously risk falling asleep if I don’t drive with anything to help me keep awake. The solution: singing along with my favourite songs on my iPhone.

5. When I get home, I just can’t seem to park in the right spot. Day after day, I end up a little too far forward, then too far left, then too far back, then too far right… (One time, I almost backed into the house!)

4. I have difficulty getting my front door open. Hand-eye co-ordination not working so well.

3. After putting PJ’s on, I just cannot bear to put my clothes away properly. They lie in a crumpled heap on the floor for a few days until I can face them.

2. The day after I did some laundry, I discover that I forgot to take a third of the pile or so. Just plain forgot. So I have to do a small load so that it’s all done.

… and the number 1 reason I know I’m waaaay too tired after a night shift:

1. Just can’t talk. Words not forming. Can’t think of the word. Can’t think. Can’t… what?

Related Posts:
All Teresa’s Top Ten’s
Fort Simpson Traffic (a post about my job)

Attitude is Everything!

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The undefeated Canadian Women's Curling team! Masters of their mental state.
The undefeated Canadian Women’s Curling team! Masters of their mental state.
With the glow of the Sochi Olympics fading, we recall the highlights, the winners, the exultant moments! There are too many to list, but I’m sure you have a few of your favourites in mind. I watched my share of it, which is saying a lot, since I don’t usually watch TV.

You know what struck me the most, as it does every time I watch the Olympics? The incredible composure some of those athletes have. Sure, they are in their prime physically, but I daresay, they are also masters of their mental state as well.

Speaking of masters of their mental state — and inspiring overachievers — I’m reading Col. Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t tell me how it ends, okay? Here’s an interesting part about attitude.

In spaceflight, “attitude” refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen: the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death…
In my experience, something similar is true on earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal. – Col. Chris Hadfield

So, it follows that if I keep a watch on my attitude, I will not tumble out of control, feel disoriented, or stray from my course. I will be on track, feel like I am making progress, and have more overall contentment and lightheartedness. As Chris says, it is more important to maintain attitude than achieve a goal.

A lot of goal-setting, performance-oriented, time-management, efficiency-optimization shtick came out of the late 80’s and 1990’s. This was the heyday of books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I’m not saying those aren’t good books, but I feel like the collective personal development mindset focused on achieving goals and nothing was said about attitude. And yet your attitude is the key! You can be happy even when you haven’t met all your goals, and you can look at life as an adventure rather than an obstacle course to conquer.

So let’s start a new wave where attitude is everything! I often lay in bed for a few minutes before getting up, just to check my attitude. I would rather go about my day cheerful and grateful, wouldn’t you? The world needs less grumpy people! As Chris Hadfield says, “losing attitude is far worse than not achieving my goal.” Would the world stop spinning if we all just tossed our goals out a window — or put them on the back burner — and started enjoying life? I think not. :)

less grumpy people

Hadfield-An Astronaut's Guide

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The Solitaire Experiment
The Best Way to Help Someone
Lies We Believe

How Big Does a House Need to be?

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As many of you know, I have two homes, one in High Level and one in Fort Simpson — actually, three places to call “home” if you count the farm I grew up on, which I think of often. Over the last year and a half, I have been shuttling myself and various stuff back and forth from northern Alberta to the NWT. In Simpson, I have a great little room in the attic of an old log house, and in High Level, my honey and I have a small, bungalow-style house.

When in my house, I’m often amazed how much I walk from room to room. Because all 1400-ish square feet of the house is on one level, it makes for a bit of back and forthing. It’s kind of annoying — a huge first-world problem, having to take fifteen or twenty steps to get from the kitchen to the bedroom. I know, it’s silly to even mention, when there are people who have no roof at all over their heads at night.

school-bus-cabin-1And then I discovered tiny houses. You see, I was looking for an option for my living arrangement in Fort Simpson — I know I won’t be able to rent the attic room forever. So, I started researching tiny houses, and by “researching,” I mean reading blogs, making drawings of possible floor plans, learning about construction methods, insulation options, heating solutions, and considering storage efficiency, appliance needs and alternative energy sources. It’s been a blast thinking about an adorable little living space I could create, perfect for me and perfect for my environment. I’ve asked myself how big a kitchen really needs to be. How much counter space does it take to make a batch of cinnamon buns? How much room would I need for clothes? Books? Hobby stuff? These are real challenges, since I love reading and knitting, and I have quite a selection of winter clothes for various outdoor activities. How many turtlenecks do you have, because I have 6. How would I pare it down to only the essentials? Why do I own so many bras, anyway? How on Earth would I ever decide what books to keep and which to give away?

As a result, my relationships with stuff is changing. I have started going through old stuff — all sorts of momentos, photos and other schtuff — and I am having fun turfing some of it. Until now, I’ve been a bit of a hanger-on — I’ve had a hard time throwing things out. I thought I needed momentos in order to have good memories; I thought I’d forget the best stuff if I threw out the trinkets, maps and old papers. I am starting to realize that I don’t have to keep stuff to keep memories, and that I am more interested in making some awesome memories in the future than reliving every nice memory from the past.

Merlin gameWhen I was growing up, I could ask my mom where anything in the house was — “Mom, have you seen my Merlin game?” — and even if the item hadn’t been seen or used in years, she knew where it was — “On the shelf in the basement, beside the box of Tinkertoys.” I think I may have inherited my mother’s ability — I usually just know where stuff is. Lately, however, with all my travel between two homes, I am losing track of things. I spend more than a little brain power trying to remember where stuff is. “Didn’t I used to have a blue toque? Where is it? Didn’t it used to be in the box of winter stuff? Maybe it’s in Fort Simpson…” Maybe for other people this isn’t a big deal, but it can get pretty frustrating for me.

I am definitely realizing I don’t need as much stuff as I think to be happy; in fact, I feel lighter and happier owning less stuff. Over the last year or so, I have been gradually getting rid of clothes I don’t enjoy. You thought I was going to say “clothes I don’t need,” didn’t you? Well, those too. For me, clothes used to just be something to cover me up (or to keep warm). Sure, I gave some thought to being dressed right for meetings or whatever, but it was never about fashion for me (I guess I’m a tom boy that way). I like eclectic stuff from second hand stores, but that’s mostly about not dressing like everyone else. As my relationship with stuff changes, I find I want to keep only the clothes that I truly enjoy and appreciate — only my favourites, things that make me say “yay! I going to wear THIS today!” The clothes-purging process is going to take some time, but since I’ve started, I really like having a little empty space in my dresser and closet.

Which, of course, won’t last if I move into a tiny house! Most houses I’ve seen — the ones that are being lived in 24/7, not just used as RV’s — are filled to the gills with stuff, tucked into every nook and cranny. And I’m okay with that too! As I think about layouts and storage, I am reminded about how, as a teenager, I used to design houses. I considered going to school to become an architect, but pure science called to me instead.

So, I leave you with a few images, scribbly drawings and such! Is it crazy to think of living in a space 200 square feet or less? Maybe… Do you think you could do it?

A school bus turned into a cabin!
A school bus turned into a cabin!

This one is made in an old fire truck.
This one is made in an old fire truck.

An adorable houseboat
An adorable houseboat

Great design on a 5th wheel!
Great design on a 5th wheel!

A sweet design!
A sweet design!

Tiny house community in Washington, DC

My Designs

(click for larger versions)
(Yes, they are rather scribbly… sorry!)

Tiny house layout on a 15' trailer
Tiny house layout on a 15′ trailer

Layout similar to the one above, but with a hip roof
Layout similar to the one above, but with a hip roof
My own take on a gooseneck trailer design
My own take on a gooseneck trailer design
Tiny house layout in a 27' long bus
Tiny house layout in a 27′ long bus

Am I Part of the Problem, Part 2

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Normally, I get along really well with those around me. Throughout my life, I have learned how to communicate with different kinds of people, although I have to admit, it comes pretty naturally. Even from a young age, my family would call me the peacemaker — because I was always liaising between my two sisters, because I could naturally see both sides and communicate to both. My dad once told me that he thought it was neat how I could talk to anyone about anything. :)

Lately, though, I’ve had occasion to not see eye-to-eye with one man who comes in to my workplace periodically. I’m not the only one to not get along with this fella — he has a chip on his shoulder, that’s for sure. I’ve caught myself thinking about the next time I have to interact with him. What will he say? What will I say?

Last time, I had to strongly defend a friend of mine whom he started to put down. That’s not something I have to do very often. It was a slightly heart-pounding experience; it was a conflict-creating move for someone whose nature is much more about conflict-avoidance. Although I learned to deal with conflict in my first marriage, it still makes my heart thump a little harder.

So what’s the deal with this guy? Why is he so obstinate? I was thinking that in our next conversation, perhaps I should try to be more understanding, try to see his side. And then I recalled something he said that really struck me. He said “people are always keeping information from me, so that I can’t do my job properly.” At the time, I proceeded to tell him more about how his job interfaces with mine, explaining things that might have been “kept from him.” Later I thought, buddy, it’s your responsibility to find out whatever you need to in order to do your job. In future conversations, perhaps I could try and explain that if he could do away with that victim-stance, and the chip on his shoulder, he’d do better. His air is so confrontational, perhaps he could try a co-operative mode instead.

But I don’t think he can do it. It’s too far from his modus-operandi. It’s too big a stretch. I don’t think he knows how to co-operate. I honestly don’t think he’s learned how to work co-operatively with others… which is too bad, because the pattern for his life isn’t likely to change otherwise.

Of course, I always like to turn the tables, look in the mirror and see how this applies to me. Is there something that I don’t know how to do, which affects the direction my life is taking? Is there something that I would benefit from learning?

Hmmm… does accounting count? That’s certainly not one of my strengths! But hot damn, I’ve been learning! :) How about you? If you could step outside yourself, what advice would you give yourself? What might another person — a wise, helpful person — suggest you try doing?

I also have to ask myself, am I part of the problem? Wouldn’t this man’s experience be different without me here? Kind of turns it upside down doesn’t it? He and I wouldn’t be having this conflict-filled experience if I weren’t here, or if I were different… So, I must have some conflict in me, which isn’t a bad thing or a mortal flaw. I simply must have been sending out some fightin’ vibes the day he talked bad about my friend. I haven’t had any run-ins since then, which I take as evidence that I’m feeling better about life now!

As usual, I just enjoy giving you some things to think about! :)

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Am I Part of the Problem?
How not to be a Bitch
It Takes One to Know One