RU OK? World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is RU OK Day, also known as World Suicide Prevention day.

This is an awareness very close to my heart.
I’m not going to expand on why, because I want the focus of this post to be positive and encouraging.

The message is important not just for today because it’s a special awareness day. This message is permanently, crucially important.

We need to take care of each other. Each of us is uniquely placed to offer support and encouragement to the people we know – friends, families, colleagues, students, whoever we cross paths with in our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be their only support, although sometimes we might be just that. 

If you think someone is down, if they look tired or unwell, or notice they’re not taking care of themselves as well as they usually do, ask them if they are okay.  Don’t just ask as a throwaway question. Be willing to have a quality conversation that includes questions like:

  • What’s going on?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there someone I can contact for you?

Taking the time to check in with someone deliberately and thoughtfully is a powerful communication of care and concern. 

It’s important  to realise that you or I might be the one positive thing that happens in someone’s day. We might be the only source of encouragement and light that they encounter. 

We also need to consider the power of our words. A curt dismissal or snide remark in response to a comment that might actually be a true confession of desperation, depression or anxiety can be incredibly destructive. We should never, ever be making a joke of that. Yes, sometimes it is attention-seeking or needless drama— but sometimes it’s not. 

A kind word or message of encouragement could be the difference between someone actually deciding that now is the time to end their life, or not. 

I know. It’s a huge responsibility. 

But imagine a world where each of us gives someone that kind of support, and someone else gives it to us when we need it. 

And if you’re thinking you’ll never need it, stop right now and be very, very thankful for the blessings in your life and the comfort of good, stable mental health. It’s not possible to emphasise enough just how lucky you are. 

If you’re one of those who is struggling, or feeling like you’re drowning, or tired of treading water… please, please, talk to someone. Seek help. Look for reasons —  any reason — to stay.  Please stay.

I wrote this poem after one of the darkest seasons of my life thus far. I hope that you will gain both perspective and insight from reading it. 

Before you read this poem, there is somethingI would likeyou to know.

This poem is absolutely, 100% true. It is personal, it is painfully honest, and it tells of my own experience, not anyone else’s. And you may find it quite confronting.

Despite its darkness, it is written to be positive, not negative.

It was not written to win sympathy or make anyone feel guilt: it was written so that people might understand what’s in my head, and what I’ve been feeling, and why I’ve made the choices I have.

To answer your concerns: I have chosen to stay here and to defy all impulses that tempt me otherwise. I don’t always feel okay, I’m not always okay, but I will be okay.

For anyone in a similar position: hold on. Stay here. You matter more than you know.

Promo X Still Here Plain.jpeg

STILL HERE.

For a moment-
One fleeting, isolated point in time-

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Misunderstood Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true”

There are thousands of images of this quotation in various fonts, or in hand-drawn calligraphy, as a caption on tee shirts, jewellery and even furniture, and as “motivational’ tattoos on Pinterest and Instagram. 

I cringe every time I see one of them, especially the tattoos. A photo can be deleted; a tattoo, not so easily. Don’t get me wrong: I love tattoos. I have six of my own. But the quote doesn’t mean what all those people think it does. 

The quotation comes from Act 3, Scene 3 of Hamlet in which a man named Polonius admonishes his son, Laertes, for still being at home instead of already on board the ship that is going to carry him to France, and insists that the ship will be waiting for him. Polonius then proceeds to keep on talking so that Laertes is even more delayed than he originally was. He cannot resist taking that one last opportunity to give Laertes a few pieces of “expert advice” to take with him as he leaves home and makes his way as a man of the world.  

At the end of the lecture he drops this bomb: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

These days, people tend to interpret this as Polonius encouraging Laertes to be proud of who and what he is, to be individual, and embrace his own character in an early modern version of “you do you”. 
Sadly, that is not the case. Polonius is not a candidate for any “Enlightened and Sensitive Parenting Award”. 

The intention behind “to thine own self be true” is neither about resilience or integrity. What he’s really saying to his son is “Screw everyone else. Put yourself first, do what you want, and don’t worry about what other people might need or want.” 

Nice, eh? Because what the 17th (or any other) century needed was more selfishness and arrogance from over-entitled, egotistic men.  

Rather than promotion of healthy self-awareness or individuality, this quote is, in fact, really bad parental advice given to a young man by his father who happened to be a self-important, pompous ass who liked the sound of his own voice far more than anyone else liked it. 

I’m all for healthy self esteem and individuality. We should definitely be promoting that. But we should also be promoting respect and tolerance for others and the ability to consider their needs at the same time, and Polonius was never going to be interested in any of that.

Don’t follow any advice that comes from Polonius, kids. Hamlet was 100% correct when he called him a rat. Neither he nor his self-serving philosophy deserves your respect. 

The Day After Yesterday

Yesterday was abysmal.
That’s not even an exaggeration. In my string of at least a month’s worth of rotten days, yesterday hit new lows. 

I can’t even pit into words how bad it was. It was a day in which I began to question everything I thought I knew about myself professionally, and some of the things I thought I knew on a more personal level. 

It was a day of alternating between being in tears in my office and being in class pretending nothing was wrong.

If the fact that my students have no idea what I have been going through for the past five weeks is testament to my ability as an actor, then yesterday’s performance was nothing short of stellar.

Even leaving work didn’t help: things just kept getting worse.

Today has been better – not because anything has actually changed— it hasn’t at all— but because of the people who told me they believe in me.

It does not change the way things are, but it does empower and encourage me to keep going. For every person who has no faith in me, I have two who do. 

So, I’m going to soldier through it and get things done. I’m going to focus on the positives. And if people try to bring me down, I’ll show them what I’m made of, and then I’ll probably put them in a story and kill them gruesomely. 

Hey nonny nonny. 

‘Measure for Measure’: When Shakespeare is More 21st Century Than You Realise

Written in 1603 or 1604, ‘Measure for Measure’ is a play with enormous relevance to the 21st century. 

As I listened to the play on the BBC’s ‘The Shakespeare Sessions’ podcast yesterday, it struck me just how timely and relevant it is. 

The play features a man named Angelo who, having been left in charge by the Duke, totally abuses his power in the interests of sexual gratification. He tells Isabella he will pardon her brother Claudio, who has been sentenced to death, if she has sex with him. When Isabella refuses and threatens to tell everyone what he has suggested, he simply asks, “Who will believe you?” 

from ‘Measure for Measure’, Act 2, Scene 4

Angelo is clearly relying on his powerful position, and his ability to hold something over her, to get away with sexual abuse and bribery. And he dares to call it “love”, when it is anything but that. He is attempting to romanticise his proposed rape and abuse of power, as abusers so often do. 

This is exactly the kind of behaviour we’ve seen exposed by the #metoo movement. Men abusing their positions of power and pressuring women to give in to them because they have the power to grant what the women need – a job, justice, whatever… and relying on their position to give them more credibility than a woman in a weaker position in society. It really does foreshadow those now infamous words spoken in 2017 by yet another reprehensible character: “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Not easily intimidated, Isabella points out that what he is suggesting is exactly the crime for which he has sentenced her brother to death.  His hypocrisy is abundantly obvious to not only Isabella, but also to the audience.   That she calls him out on it demonstrates her integrity and intelligence. Bravo to Isabella for not taking his crap or falling prey to his greasy manipulation. 

Caught in between wanting to save her brother’s life and not wanting to have sex with Angelo, Isabella verbalises the impossibility of her situation in that very poignant and thought-provoking line: “To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, who would believe me?”

Still, even though she understands that what he says is probably true, she neither yields to him or gives up on her brother. Instead, she finds another way to solve her problems and expose the bad behaviour of Angelo.

As suggested in the title, justice is received at the end of the play in the same measure with which it is meted out at the beginning. 

In this, we see a woman standing up for what is right, defending herself, refusing to give in to a man’s manipulation and sexual pressure, and winning. Angelo is punished for his corruption, and Isabella saves both herself and her brother. 

This is a powerful contrast to most of the women in Shakespeare’s other plays, and indeed in the early modern times in which he lived and wrote, few of whom had any real agency or ability to stand up for themselves against the will of men. 

‘Measure for Measure’ is a thought-provoking and entertaining play which demonstrates that while times have changed, the effect of power and position on human nature has not. Even so, it does remind us that evil people can, and should, be resisted, and we should never stop pursuing justice just because it’s difficult to do so. 

That is truly a message pertinent to life in the 21st century. 

Taking Control of My Social Media

Over the past few months I’ve been making changes to my social media usage in an effort to take better care of myself. 

I have for quite some time now had  a pattern of posting, responding to other people’s posts, and then looking for posts of value or interest to share. While those are all great things to do, I came to realise that I needed to put some limits on how much I did of each. 

It’s so easy to get sucked into the mentality of thinking that we have to be perpetually present, always available, and never really “switched off”. 
That way of thinking is a lie— and a dangerous one at that.  It’s a really unhealthy pattern that leads to a sense of social obligation that is really hard to break. 

Sure, we all want to interact with friends, respond to their posts and see what’s interesting out there in cyberspace. We all want to share our own posts and, for those of us who are authors or other types of Indie creative, we need to promote our work. 

That doesn’t mean that we have to do it constantly. 

Consequently, I’ve made some changes. I have chosen to take control of my social media, instead of it controlling me.

I’ve cut down the number of times a day I check my various social media. I have found that checking in a couple of times a day is actually just as effective as checking in far more frequently. 

I’ve made a deliberate effort to reduce the amount of time spent scrolling through my newsfeed. Scrolling through when things are new and there are people and posts I want to respond to is fine, but the mindless scrolling that often followed wasn’t helping me get things done. Once again, I have found that I’m interacting just as much, but wasting less time and energy in between. 

If I need to post something in between as I often do, I post it, check my notifications for anything important, ignore anything that can wait until later, and leave again. 

The verdict: 

I feel a lot less distracted and far less pressured to “perform” on social media. 

I’m using my time more constructively without losing out on contact or interaction with others. 

I’m resting better. Because there’s less “white noise” in my thoughts, I can get the peace I need to relax. 

Making my social media work for me is far better than me trying to fulfill its never ending demands. 

I’m not saying I have total control of the circus, but at least now I am a lot closer to directing the show. 


Dear Facebook… Yet Again.

I quote, verbatim, this afternoon’s status on my Facebook profile.

Dear Facebook,

You have been temporarily blocked from accessing some of my features.

I’m not telling you why. 
I”m not going to listen to your appeal.

But you can bet your algorithmic little hiney I’m going to have my eye on you for quite some time. Possibly forever.

Joanne Van Leerdam, June 25, 2019.

So, it seems that I’ve run afoul of the Facebook algorithm yet again.
Now they’re suggesting I’m a robot.

You read that right. A robot.

I haven’t made identical posts in forever. I vary what I post from page to page. l really don’t know what brought that on.

And let’s not overlook the irony of an algorithm calling me a robot. It’s beyond ridiculous.

They can’t still be sour about my “What I Do and Don’t Like About Facebook” post… can they?

One suggestion that has been made is that when I’ve posted about things that annoy me, some well-meaning people have responded with the “angry face” reaction because they’re angry at the nonsense that a certain social media platform is throwing at people lately.

Apparently, for all its cleverness, the Facebook algorithm is unable to comprehend that it’s actually Facebook people are angry at. It interprets this reaction as those people being angry at me.

This is good to know.

Because who could be angry at Facebook or its ever-changing algorithm?

It’s fair to say that Facebook is not doing a single thing to recommend itself to me right now.

Courting Justice.

Today was hard. 

It was spent in the presence of someone I’d rather never set eyes on again. It was spent in pursuit of justice. It was spent blinking back tears and swallowing my revulsion. 

There is still anger burning within me that I cannot quench. My heart is heavy with the reopening of old wounds. 

And I am powerless, unable to do anything but look on and observe.  

I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t have the psychic power to set someone on fire from across the room. I could do so, quite willingly, if I were able.

It’s fair to say that if a certain person did happen to spontaneously combust, I would make good use of my bottle of water by drinking it.  

I do not, as a rule, harbour such feelings toward other people. I am fully aware of my own sins and imperfections. But when people commit to the unconscionable and then defend it, any concept of “benefit of the doubt” or “we all make mistakes” is well and truly cast aside. 

I can feel another horror story coming on, but it’s not ready to be written yet. The ideas need to percolate more. And so, I must bide my time.

It will come… and, I trust, so will justice.

Why a Heart is Better than a Thumbs Up

In the ever-evolving state of affairs that is the Facebook algorithm, there is one recent change that is actually quite easy to work with. Facebook now places more value on the other reactions than it does on the standard  “thumbs up” or “like”. 

I can understand why.
It takes just a little more effort, so it is easy to see why it might be interpreted as a more thoughtful and deliberate response to a post than simply hitting the default. 

It’s all part of their reported change of focus from content to engagement. It may be that this is a way to still be able to increase the reach of our posts, and boost our audience engagement at the same time. 

So, I’m trying to respond accordingly: 

  • I’m using the heart and surprised “wow” face more. I don’t know how much difference it makes, but for something so simple, it’s worth a try. 
  • I’m responding to the posts I make via my pages and groups with those “power responses” using my personal account in the interests of pushing my posts to gain more reach and engagement. 
  • I’m trying to respond with more comments, even if it’s just an emoji or a gif, in addition to using one of the response buttons. Obviously, I can’t do this for every post because I don’t want to spend my entire life on Facebook. I may have to be choosy, but there are posts out there that deserve a little extra love, so I’ll try to give it to them. 
  • I will still use the “thumbs up” to acknowledge posts. I don’t want to stop using it altogether, because then the others will become the default, and everything will undergo another adjustment. 


It’s all positive interaction and engagement, so it can’t hurt. 

Hopefully, it will be contagious. If people see more hearts and wow faces, and additional comments, they might start using them too! 

Ten Great Reasons To Preorder That Book!

Authors making their books available for preorder is becoming more and more popular these days. It’s natural. They’re excited about that upcoming New Release, and they want you to be a part of it. 

Apart from the obvious value of supporting authors and encouraging their creativity, there are some very good reasons why you will benefit from preordering a pending book release. 

Why You Should Preorder That Book 

  1. You will have it as soon as it releases. 
  2. It satisfies that “I want it now” feeling that we all have upon seeing a beautiful cover and reading an intriguing blurb.
  3. It’s convenient: you don’t have to remember to go back and order it later. 
  4. You get to share in the excitement of a pending arrival. Consider it a baby shower gift for someone who has worked hard for months to make that book a reality.
  5. Anticipation is a positive and highly motivating emotion. 
  6. For less than the price of a coffee, you can make someone’s day AND get a great read at the same time. 
  7. Books have zero calories, so it’s a guilt-free way of treating yourself to something wonderful. 
  8. It’s like giving yourself a gift. You order it, and a short time later, a wonderful surprise appears in your eReader. 
  9. You will have the satisfaction of knowing your supported someone’s creativity and talent. 
  10. Positive Karma.

What’s not “feel good” about that list?
If you have any more great reasons, feel free to add them in a comment!

What I Love… and What I Don’t… about Facebook.

There’s no doubt about it: Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms on the planet.

Like anything, it can be fantastic if it’s used the right way, and it can downright dangerous if used for sinister purposes. 

There are some aspects of Facebook I really enjoy:

  • Being able to connect with my family and friends all over the world in real time. What a blessing! When I’m homesick for someone I love – there they are! When I’m lonely – my friends are right there! I can see their pictures and videos, and respond to them right away. I can chat with them, talk with them, and send them stupid memes to cheer them up when they are down or unwell. 

  • Being able to connect with like-minded people all over the world. As part of the Indie author community, I have received so much help, encouragement, knowledge, advice and good direction from people in Facebook groups.

    It has also been a very great pleasure for me to be able to pass some of that knowledge and advice on to others, and to encourage them in their journeys.

    Similarly, I’ve made some wonderful lifelong friends in a particular grammar-nerd group, and have met two of them on one of my trips overseas.  I can’t imagine not knowing them or being able to talk with them.

  • Being able to find things I’m interested in via the pages people create. I’ve discovered some wonderful blogs to follow, some great information on specific topics, and I can’t tell you how many excellent Indie books I’ve found to read. That number has to be in the hundreds. 

  • Being able to permanently hide things from my timeline that I don’t want to see. This is generally anything racist, hateful, or politically zealous. 

  • Being able to permanently hide things from my timeline that I don’t want to see. This is generally anything racist, hateful, or politically zealous. 
  • Memes, jokes, and videos that make me laugh. Some of that stuff is pure gold.  
  • The block function. It’s really good. 

Of course, with the good comes the not-so-good. 

There are things I really hate about Facebook. 

  • The fact that they don’t show me everything my friends post. If my friends think it’s worth posting, I probably want to see it. But no… Facebook gets all choosy about showing me their posts, and when showing mine to them.

    Of course, they’ll tell you that boosting your post will get it shown to your friends. For $13, your post can reach… er, how about no? I’m not giving them money to show my posts to my own friends. They should do that for nothing. 

  • That dratted algorithm. It seems any moron can make a stupid post that will go viral because people “like” and  respond to it, but you can’t post a link for a product, or a blog post, or an event, or a website outside of Facebook without them suppressing it so that maybe 3% of the people who follow you or your page will actually see it.

    And every time you get clever about how to communicate your product/event/website to your audience, they change the algorithm so you are actually  no further ahead, yet again. 

    I know: it’s a business. But if they showed my stuff to the people I know, I’d probably be more interested in giving them a bit of cash to show it to folks I don’t know. 

  • The perceived freedom some people feel they have to deride, belittle, criticise, mock and bully others.  In a not-so-surprising coincidence, this correlates very closely with one of the things I hate most about people in general.  Just because they’re hiding behind a profile picture or an avatar, they think they can say what they want to and have no consequences. 

    Not in my world, Julie.
    Block, block, block.
    Fixed. 

The verdict: As much as I hate it, I love it.
I’m definitely keeping it.

But if I ever meet that algorithm in person… it may just walk away with a black eye.