Random Thoughts…and otherwise

Shout This From A Mountaintop: I Believe In Myself

Jul
18


Today I learned a secret. It’s the very best secret—one of the best secrets ever. Maybe the very best. Maybe of ever.

Actually, I’ve decided that, yes, it is definitely the best secret ever. My secret. THE BEST.

I want to blurt it out to the entire Universe, stand on a mountaintop, skip it out across every ocean. But I can’t. I can’t because I’m a very good secret keeper. If you say It’s a secret, I promise I won’t tell—it’s not mine, it’s your secret to tell. I am simply the keeper. But this one is mine. Mine! Solely mine. And, I’ve been told I can’t tell it, yet. And, it’s killing me. But I won’t tell. I can’t.

But, there’s a message. And that message? I will shout that damn message out to the Universe and beyond. Extra-galactically.

BELIEVE. That’s the message. B-E-L-I-E-V-E

Always, with your whole heart and soul, believe. Be unwavering in your belief in YOU. Invictus. Unconquerable. Don’t let anyone, anywhere, especially that nasty voice that lives in your head, or that heathen of a troll who sits on your shoulder and whispers nasty, negative stuff in your ear, shatter your belief that you—YOU—can do it, that you can do anything you set your fantastic and lovely, dreamy mind to.

Life is short. It’s a dash. This: – . That is your life. It’s simply the minuscule moment between the date of your birth and the date of your certain death.

There’s no dress rehearsal, no time to write the outline, the meticulous plan. Life is now. Today.

Your. Life. Is. Today.

Don’t follow the flock and do all the shoulds and what all the other cool, or important, or together, or judgy, or uncool people are doing. Do you. YOU. Do your wants and your needs. Dream. Don’t hope—sitting around waiting for something fantastic to happen is a waste of a dash. All the waiting is a waste of your valuable time.

Don’t wait. Don’t mull over. Don’t strain to hear a knock at your door. Just don’t.

Actually, throw don’t away. Use don’t as a ball in your fist to knock that heathen of a troll who sits on your shoulder off of it. Two birds, one stone. Gone.

Follow your dreams. Make mistakes. Pick yourself up. Do it again. Over and over and over. Keep moving. Never look back for reasons to stop. Just DO IT. Start today.

Remember Henry Ford’s words of timeless wisdom: Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right. Know you can. Ass-kick can’t right out of your internal dialogue. Poof. Gone. The negative of CAN no longer exists. CAN and WILL are what YOU roll with now.

You are beautiful and smart and kind and important, you deserve this. You BELIEVE you can, therefore you WILL.

So what if people think you’re crazy, irresponsible, that you’ve lost all of your tiny little mind? It’s your dash. Be the dash. OWN IT.

There’s a million excuses not to do something, just as there are a million reasons why you shouldn’t live your passion, follow your dreams. We can excuse and shouldn’t away anything, everything. Play it safe. Exist. Get by.

What if I fall?” Erin Hansen, wrote. Then, “Oh, but, my darling, what if you fly?”

What if you fly? What if? Perhaps you, too, will have a secret, and see the world and its endless possibilities in an entirely new and beautiful, wide-open, dream-like, brand-new way.

Here’s another secret: If you bust out and believe today—right now, this very day—you’ll skip the what ifs and a big, potentially wasted, part of your tiny dash. You’ll simply take flight. Take flight. You will. You’re about to do it. Right now, today.

You’re off! And, alas, darling, you’re about to fly!

A Shred of Human Kindness Yields Richness Beyond Compare

Jul
06

Tonight I went to leave my annual property tax payment in the drop box at City Hall. It’s a lot of money to let go of at once. It would pay for a pretty nice vacation, or two. But I’m grateful to pay it—I’m fortunate, actually privileged, to own a home, a nice home, to have a roof over my head and the luxuries that come with it.

Any struggles I’ll have this month due to having to pay this tax—hold back on the Starbucks, cook my own dinner, not buy those new shoes—is my First World problem: I have a home, clothes on my back, food in my fridge and family.

My bank account might lack in dollars at the moment, my wealth factor waning, still I am rich—beyond compare.

There was a young girl sitting alone with some bags and a backpack near the entranceway to the drop box at City Hall. She was maybe 20, or younger, and said she was resting in the shade, escaping the brutal heat of what was a 30-degree day.

“I’m fine,” she said. “It’s just too hot out there and it’s cool right here.”

Her name was Tanya and she didn’t have any water so I ran back and found her a bottle in my car. “Thanks, this is good,” she said as she gulped it down.

We chatted for a bit and when I left her I gave her $20.

I’m not usually that generous, but the house I paid my taxes for, the one I’m fortunate to own, is cool tonight, and there’s running water in four different rooms: If I’m hot and thirsty I’ll turn on a tap.

Tanya was grateful: “That’s too much, I’ll be ok.” Then, “Alright, I’ll take it. I’ll buy some food, more water. Maybe I should give a bottle to someone else. Yeah, good idea. Thanks.”

As I drove away, I thought of Wilfred.

I spent a good part of last Monday in search of a specific wallet for my husband. His was a decade old and had finally crumbled in to pieces and nothing but the same style would do. A wallet is a wallet, I thought, but went from store to store to store in search of ‘the one,’ because I can. I have my own car, money for gas, insurance, stuff like that.

I followed a crowd of would-be shoppers from the parking lot towards Winners, and saw an elderly man in a wheelchair holding a sign and trying to grab the crowd’s attention. Everyone kept walking, directing their attention elsewhere.

His name was Wilfred. He was 72. “I’ve had bad luck since March. Goddamned diabetes,” he said as he pointed to an artificial left leg. “You got some spare change?”

We made a deal: Wilfred would remember where I parked my car and I would get some change in the store.

When I returned to the parking lot, Wilfred led me to my car and I gave him a few toonies as payment for his eagle eye.

“Last winter, I lost my car at Meadowlark,” he said. “Couldn’t find the goddamned thing anywhere. Finally took the bus home and came back in the morning when the parking lot was empty. There it was, sitting alone in the middle of nowhere. Miss that damned car. Part of my bad luck since March.”

“Thanks for the chat,” he said as he rolled away. “Oh, and the change. But the chat, thanks for that. God Bless.” God Bless.

It’s wrenching that we live in a society where people like Wilfred express profuse gratitude for a simple chat, a mere kindness, an acknowledgement of humanity, that costs absolutely nothing and gives us everything, a sense that we belong in the world. A kindness we freely dispense to the random people we cross paths with every day—baristas and store clerks and our neighbours as they water their lawns in front of their houses?

“You are so brave and quiet
I forget that you are suffering.”
Hemmingway

How is it that us ‘haves,’ who live in a world of comfort, framed by rose-coloured glasses, can be blind to the suffering of others and seemingly void of the simplest of kindness—the acknowledgement that human beings who struggle, who’ve had ‘bad luck since March,’ or forever, exist?

How do we choose to not look or see, or unsee what we’ve seen, write it off as not our problem, and then enjoy a pint with our $20 lunches on a fenced off patio without having even lent so much as a nod in hello?

Like the sea of business people in downtown Edmonton a few weeks back, who parted like the Red Sea to pass by a homeless man laying shoeless on the sidewalk with his pants down to his knees. How can designer heels, Italian leather loafers and $300 running shoes walk right by and leave a last shred of dignity exposed without even checking for a pulse?

How can a group of tour bus passengers, tramping along like cattle, on their way for a shot at Hemmingway’s favourite bar in Havanna, admonish the one amongst them who stopped to give an elderly woman begging a mere 5 CUC?

“She really fooled you,” they chuckled in unison. “Oh my God, you’re a sucker.”

How can a human write a Letter to the Editor, and sign their own name, to a city newspaper proudly professing that they’ll never go downtown, let alone spend a dollar there, because they’re always ‘accosted’ by ‘those people,’ when, in my experience, a simple “I’m sorry, I don’t have any change,” is responded to with a ‘Thanks, anyway. Have a nice day.”

What’s the answer to ‘how can?’ Who’s to know, who’s to judge.

But, I do know this: Having forgone a Starbucks, this cup of $.12 Nescafe I’ve nursed since I got home from City Hall is delicious. It’s full of flavour—dark, bitter, smooth—sweetened only by what was Tanya’s contagious smile, Wilfred’s “God Bless,” and the memory of a Cuban woman’s gnarled fingers gripping my sweaty neck, her tear-stained cheek crushed against mine, dry lips kissing my cheek and the whispered word “Gracias” that traveled warmly from those same lips, snuck into my soul and made a memory so precious it will forever remain tattooed on my heart.

And because of that, all of that, the gift of these important people—people—and many, many more, I will sleep deeply tonight in the comfort and knowledge that for what I have given, I am rich. Rich beyond compare.

And you, you understand that, I know. Maybe you’re rich, too.

A Crack in My Identity

Mar
30

During a family dinner last Sunday, the conversation landed on the topic of the words mom and dad. How, while everyone else is encouraged to refer to us—parents—by our given names, we teach our children to refer to us by these labels. And while this is both traditional and our normal, it’s at once very odd. Mom. Dad. Fork. Spoon. Chair. Table.

Some, we determined, shun the status quo and from an early age refer to their parents as Mary and Bill. While this is strange to us, it’s all very normal to them.

We circled around this subject until my youngest daughter announced that since we, she and I, are now the same—both mothers—she would begin referring to me by my given name, Linda, an ode to our equality. I felt sad for a moment, taken aback, gut punched by the significance (insignificance?) of it. But, once the moment settled, the whole name game felt somewhat freeing.

Perhaps it goes with the theme of my week: Cracked.

Earlier, Monday or Tuesday, as the sun hit the windshield when I pulled my car out of the garage, I was horrified to discover a crack had grown from a microscopic rock chip and had begun to climb the pristine glass from the very bottom towards the top. Poor, Noreen (my car), I thought, your perfect, youthful self is shattering.

Much like I thought a few days later, when after a sudden spring melt, and maybe a windstorm we’d had, I discovered a hairline crack in the paint above a window in my living room. Suddenly, it seemed the whole splendour of the room, the house, was marred, tainted, lost forever.

Just like my face, when I applied the coconut oil anti-oxidant facial treatment serum I bought for a deal at Winners on Friday, in hopes of sealing the cracks and crevasses that are now starting to show.

My world and I are cracking. Linda’s world. Linda, the new name of equality. Linda’s cracking. Me, I’m cracked

All this comes after a conversation with my husband: “You should think about going back to school,” he said. “Journalism.”

“What?! No.”

“Why do you say that so fast?” he said, his voice raised by frustration. “You used to be up for anything. Why not now? Why?”

I was offended. Caught off guard. Wounded. Hurt. Of course, I’m up for anything, I seethed. Just not that.  

“Take off your coat,” he always says, his metaphor for live your life. “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

And, it isn’t. Perhaps this whole cracked up week was a monster conglomerated metaphor, with the shift from Mom to Linda its bold underlining, meant to make the message urgent, let the light in.

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

This is a hard stage of life: My daughters are grown up, mothers, and they don’t need me so much anymore, at least in the ways they once did. They’re fine, independent creatures, quite capable of looking after themselves, and theirs, without me. I don’t need to be their caretaker, be at the ready, anticipate their needs. And I’m proud of that: It means I did something right.

They’re my friends, my heart, my beautiful babies, my besties, and, in return, I’m the keeper of their nothings, a grateful and honourable place to be. Perhaps, in return, I owe them my light, to embrace the cracks, widen the cracks, draw the light, shine it.

The crack in Noreen’s windshield began at absolute center bottom, travelled straight up to midway and now, after a road trip punctuated by potholed spring roads, is bending slightly towards the driver’s side. Perhaps the metaphor means to lean in and move from passenger to driver in this life that is not a dress rehearsal. To let go. Or let. Or go.

The word mom, the role, bears a complex juxtaposition—the torture, the elation. At the heart, my heart, it’s an overwhelming, gripping, all-consuming, passionate, love and gift that is incomparable, only penetrable by second-guessing and a constant desire to always do right.

But there are cracks and there is light, their light and my light, and there is life. And it is spring, a time of new life and new beginnings. Of letting go, letting be.

There is Mom. There is Linda. And this morning, Linda discovered a small rip, a crack, in her coat. So she took it off, threw it away and went for a walk. The sun was shining, warm on her bare, pale skin. She followed the sidewalk until she came to the edge of a forest and decided to take a path less traveled. In a clearing, the rays of the sun danced through the pine boughs, and bounced colour and possibilities off of the puddles of melted snow. She found a stick and wrote I am Linda in the mud, and smiled.

When I got home there was a text on my phone from my youngest daughter, my equal, that said, “Yo, Momma.” And my heart burst, because despite it all, me, Linda-Uncoated, there will be many things, but there will always be Mom.

Life itself is a fantastic juxtaposition, a complicated, dirty mess of right and wrong, do this and that, heartbreak and heart-on-fire, know-for-sures and second guessing. It’s impossibly hard and a breezy, delightful gift. It’s what we have. Just this once. Today.

There is a crack in my identity, and I plan to widen it, leave off my coat and fully embrace the light.

The Story in My Mind at a Writer’s World

Mar
19

During a massive purge of stuff last month, I happened upon a file of old programs from writer’s conferences I’d attended years ago.  I seriously want to go again, I thought excitedly, and then my mind flashed to 1998, and my stomach churned and I remembered my old friend, DOOM.

I’d decided to attend that first conference—the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, to be specific—on a whim. My interest in, and growing passion for, writing was new. I knew I wasn’t a writer-writer, or, in my mind, even a writer, but I’d begun to write, a little. More, I was a lifelong, voracious reader, who had recently left her career to raise her kids and challenged her mind with words. I was someone who’d accidentally—thank you Birch Island house fire—landed herself a job freelancing at a small-town newspaper, who’d tapped into a bit of unknown talent, whose mind was newly on fire and who decided on that same whim to play with that fire.

Being unconnected to the writing world—it was my early days of Internet, I lived in a relatively isolated community and didn’t know one writer—I have no recollection how I learned of the conference, but, nonetheless, I did.

I registered on a whim, and after learning my registration allowed me a one-on-one meeting with an actual living, breathing, maybe New York agent or editor, began, on a whim, to write a novel. (Who wouldn’t?)

And it was Whim who packed my bags, waved goodbye to my family and carried me off to Surrey and, finally, into a fourth-floor, king-room at the swanky conference hotel.

And then, BAM. As the door closed, with my suitcase and my new leather attaché case of writing laying on the plush carpet at my feet, Whim left, seemingly riding off on a magic carpet fueled by my dreams.  In its place, I met DOOM, the horrid truthsayer I was left with to the battle the image in the mirror—a reflection of a fraudulent, pity-some poser and writer wannabe.

My long night of fear and loathing and waning belief had only begun. What had I done? A WRITER’S conference? Me? What the hell had I been drinking? Surely, I’d experienced a break, was a psychotic victim of a lapse into extreme and magical thinking? I’d be demonized. Made a fool of. At the very least, laughed (rightfully so) right out of the room. How insulting they’d find me, a writer? Sad, sad girl, be gone!

Come morning, exhaustion and reality had decided I would face my fate and attend the conference’s opening address, if only to give me the means to honestly tell people I’d attended the conference. (I may have been a pity-some poser fool, but I was not going to add liar to the list.)

The ballroom was packed. Stuffed to the gills with hundreds upon hundreds of successful, real writers, editors, agents and important people, chatting about, the whole super-powered, uber-talented, gifted, rich and famous clique of them. There were even uniformed men at the back, quite obviously body guards for the most famous among them, charged with keeping the likes of posers like myself out and away from the precious fray. This, now, was even bigger than I’d imagined. Imagine.

Fortunately, prior to dumping me, Whim had the forethought of a smart new outfit to help me blend—a simple knit sweater over a short black skirt completed by the most foreign of shoe, heels. Gripping tight to my bright purple clipboard folder, I managed to teeter, tight-kneed to a seat in the middle of the room.

Unfortunately, Whim had not had me sit in the short black skirt prior to that moment, an act that proved impossible while maintaining ones dignity. No matter, my bright purple clipboard folder proved an adequate anatomy blocker, while its contents provided busy-work as I avoided eye-contact by shuffling through its now meaningless content (the first 50-pages of my sad little novel) and fiercely doodling disconnected words, trying to make myself appear vitally interesting and important. All good though: the famous were busy with the famous and the speakers were about to begin.

It was difficult at first to hear what was being said: The echo chamber in my head was filled with the voice of DOOM, taunting my ridiculousness, gurgling my stomach, inching up my skirt. Na-na-na-naing.

And then it happened—the speaker announced the winner of the Special Achievement Award. There was a burst of activity at the back of the room, heads turned, and to avoid the attached eyes, so did mine.

The bodyguards had converged, their focus on one man. A threat? A poser, like me? No. There were flashes of metal. Handcuffs? Not bodyguards, at all, they were prison guards now unshackling a man dressed in a suit, who soon walked head down to the front of the room, stood in front of the podium for what seemed like ever before he raised his tear-stained face to talk.

He was an inmate at Matsqui Institution and had won the award for inspiring other prisoners to write, through a writer’s group he’d helped create.

“I don’t deserve this,” Deltonia Cook said. “I’m just a con who found out he loves to write.”

And, that was it. Not only was I a poser, and a short-skirted skank, I was now a tear and mascara stained, snot-globbed hot-mess, forced to quell the flow with the inside cuff of my new knit sweater. I’d hit bottom. And, it was there, at the bottom of that sorry lot of other tear stained writers, some also sporting drivlets of mascara and globs of snot, I realized my place in the room: I belonged.

We were all, fancy, famous and whatnot, cons who loved to write. And while Deltonia Cook had found freedom in words while a prisoner, I had nearly let fear and self-doubt imprison me, rob me of my love of playing with words. I was a writer, damn it, just like every other beautiful, humble, welcoming soul in that room.

Pursuing a passion isn’t about fame and fortune and stature in a community, unless you want it to be. Pursuing a passion is about allowing yourself the freedom to be who you are, to fly with it. Someone who strums a guitar is a musician, just as surely as Hendrix once was; as someone who strokes a brush has the possibility of Van Gogh; and someone who weaves words shares the wonder of Hemmingway.

We all belong.

Those hundreds of super-powered, uber-talented, gifted, rich and famous turned out to be welcoming and, just like me, lovers of words, of weaving, people who get lost in their craft. They know about the zone, how 8 PM turns to 4 AM, how it feels to channel through a delightfully mysterious muse. They wonder, they know, they marvel, they write. They get it. They’re writers. Like me.

Sometimes the very moment when it all falls apart, is the magic moment when it all comes together. I found Whim again. She flew back in and banished DOOM, somewhere in the smile that overtook the muck on my face while I was lost in the beauty of that moment when Deltonia Cook tearfully talked of his love of writing and the difference it had made in his life.

I know, for sure, that was the moment we were both granted our liberty. In that room, surrounded by kindred spirits, we were both freed for a time by the magic of words, only to be found in a writer’s world.

Related:
Surrey International Writer’s Conference
Here. I. Go.

The Gift of ‘Ah’ in My Journey to Minimize

Mar
11

This afternoon, I went swimming. Which may not sound like a big deal—just a short drive down the street and a leap into the water—but for me the trip was significant and monumental, as it’s what I had planned to do every day in February, and didn’t.

February was going to be my month: For the first time in a very long time I would be alone. And because of this, I was going to spend those 28 days in an intentional, personal detox and cleanse, from a particularly challenging 2016—a revive, a refuel, a re-me. I was going to sleep and swim and practice yoga, and read and write and re-energize. I was going to take care of myself, because, unfortunately and ridiculously, that is not something I usually do. Or, do well.

I plan to, intend to and want to do these things. Often, I set aside time, but usually at the last minute I don’t. Not because I’m lazy or a slug or a quitter (sometimes I’m one, sometimes I’m all), but because I’m a well-practiced procrastinator who is easily distracted from doing things that bring me joy. I’m distracted, like many, by the voice in my head that says You should really be doing, or looking after, ____. And, it’s not a lot of fun. At all.

So, I had plans for February, big plans, joyful plans, and, then, well…

Sometime around the night of January 31, while I was looking for something to watch before bed, I happened upon Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. And, that was that: Less than half-way through I looked at my swim bag sitting on my dresser, looked back at my screen, and the voice in my head said, rather loudly: You should really be doing this. And I listened.

For every one of the 28 days of February, with laser-like precision and intense, un-wavering focus, I was not lazy or a slug or a quitter: I conquered. Victoriously. Every room, closet, drawer, cabinet, surface, paper, nook and cranny of my life, including, most-importantly, the four large boxes of ‘Childhood Memories’ in my garage, which I have carted with me throughout 20-some moves in my adult life alone; the boxes of school work and trinkets and mementos from my adult daughters’ childhoods; hundreds upon hundreds of photographs; and the two large boxes, also in my garage, filled with my late-parents’ belongings—the boxes I’ve been petrified of touching, the boxes that have haunted me day and night for the past eight months.

I loosely followed The Minimalists 21-Day Journey into Minimalism, read every post and every single additional essay included, from beginning to end. Sometimes twice, sometimes more. And, while lots of it was easy—turfing a toaster, a lamp, unworn clothes, travel mugs, scores of mini shampoos, soaps and conditioners, my daughter’s wisdom teeth (no explanation), picture frames, endless, endless crap—some tasks were extremely hard, a lonely, devastating, sometimes laugher-filled, often soul-crushing, emotional journey.

My saving grace and champion and muse, was a simple passage I found it one essay, entitled “Letting Go of Sentimental Things” which validated the truth of which I have known all along:

“Our memories are within us, not within our things.
Holding on to stuff imprisons us; letting go is freeing.”

And those are the words that carried me to the pool today: The voice is quiet, for once, I am free.

I spent close to three of the four weeks sorting through my memories, and, I will not lie, or make it pretty, it was fucking hard. However, and quite beautifully, in the most unexpected way, I finally allowed myself to grieve. Alone, I didn’t need to be strong; I could allow myself to be and feel like the little girl, me, in the pictures I found. The girl who’s spent both years and months attempting to make sense and accept the loss of those from which she came.

And, that, those three weeks of spent emotion, have been the greatest gift I have ever given myself. Raw. Cathartic. Healing.

Again (I suggest you tattoo this to your brain):

“Our memories are within us, not within our things.
Holding on to stuff imprisons us; letting go is freeing.”

This is what I’ve learned: In the heaviness of life, and the tribulations we come to endure as our time marches on, we sometimes forget where we came from. We get caught up in the minutia, the noise, the hurts and losses that multiply amongst and on top of each other, that become a darkness and a burden and a shackle, that, somewhere along the way, overshadow our truth.

Or, much simpler, our truth gets lost in our crap—material and emotional.

I have a beautiful life. It began here, in the joy found in this picture…

I’m there too, you just can’t see me: I’ll draw my first breath from this beautiful world five-months after they danced.

Soon I’d have this…
and then this…and this… and this…

And all I need are all of these thises, a small box of a mementos, a broach in my drawer, a reminder to be grateful and the words “You Are Loved.”

On the 28th day, after many trips to the thrift shop, I took a tote to my daughter’s, stowed a tote for my other and posted two boxes to my brother: My heaviness lifted, the things I held for too long, with love and fond memories, gifted to those to whom they really belong.

And, then I sat for a moment in my car outside of the post office and went ‘Ah.’ Ahhhhhh.

Ah is a feeling, not just a word. Ah is a cage door opened to freedom. Ah is a light. A bright shining light. Ah is a sensation. Ah is awe. And, awe, are the memories within me, forever and ever, no longer within my things.

And, then, this afternoon, because there is joy, I went swimming. And I was free.

Related:
Minimize Me, Maximize Me
Less Will Be More in 2017
The Minimalists  (Highly recommended: Perhaps required reading for a lighter, more meaningful life.

Walter’s Gift: A Lesson in Empathy and Humankind

Mar
09


Last week, while out running errands downtown, I ran into my old friend, Walter. Today, still, if I were to win the lottery I would care less: by, finally, seeing Walter, I’ve already won.

Walter is a survivor of both the Indian Residential School System and traumatic brain injury, whom I met as a client of an agency where I used to work. At that time, some nine or ten years ago, he was a complete and utter mess; a 50-something posterchild for “those people” who live on the streets of any city’s downtown.

Having recently received a pittance of a settlement from the government in exchange for his childhood, culture and the abuse he sustained, and being, in turn, shafted by the ‘friends’ new money attracts, he was deep in the wretched grip of his addiction to alcohol. Once his newfound wealth was lost, his drink of choice downgraded from cheap wine to Final Net hairspray—easy to lift from drug stores in the neighbourhood, and an affordable, instant drunk that would obliterate his pain for a time.

There were few rules at our agency, and most that there were were bendable, but the one hard and fast rule was that anyone under the influence was not welcome to stay, for the safety and comfort of others who were often struggling to stave off addictions of their own.

Yet, there was always Walter, who often appeared at my office door, usually in the morning or in the late afternoon as we were about to close for the day, strung out on hairspray, his disgust in himself at his self-medicated stupor, compounding the pain of his other pains, inconceivable, awful, awful pain.

Always polite, kind and respectful, he wore the pleading helpless expression of a little boy needing a hug from his mommy, any mommy, compassion, care, anything. Sweaty, greasy face, stained with the driblets of blood and puss seeping from the open sores on his face, where the toxic mix of Final Net poison found refuge from his blood stream and tried to break free, he would stand there, at my door, crying.

“Walter, hun, you know I have to ask you to leave.”

“I know. I just need a hug.”

“Thanks for being here, Walter. Me too. So, do I.”

Hug. Repeat. A sorry script we played out often and for seemingly ever and ever.

He would leave, and I would hope and I would wonder. Until next time, sometimes the next day, sometimes not for weeks. Sometimes, Walter would be assaulted. Sometimes, he’d be hungry, and on those days we’d do the best we could to find a few things in the pantry to send him off with. Some comfort, some care.

While he wasn’t always welcome, he always was: Sometimes the value found in a connection trumps anything else, like rules.

Sometimes a connection, spawns a strength and an ability to believe and value oneself. And sometimes, like one day, something miraculous and beautiful happens: Walter, for the last of many, many times, made the decision to stop drinking. And did.

Walter started looking after himself—he exercised relentlessly, ate well, reconnected with his family, worked every minute to stay sober, for Walter, for himself. And, then he thrived. For the first time, perhaps in his life, Walter believed in himself, and in turn others believed in him. He accepted an offer for supportive employment and felt great pride in contributing to his community.

I knew Walter had won when about a year later I read a comment he’d made about a snow shoveling job he’d completed: The look on that old lady’s face was something else I’ve never seen.

Last week, when I met Walter, he was on his way to the bank to cash his pay cheque earned from the job he still has. He is beautiful—his long hair braided and tucked beneath a warm toque, his tan skin clear, clean and glowing, save a few scars. And, his smile, proud and confident, contagious, has replaced that pleading, helpless expression of a lost little boy.

“In May, I’ll be sober six years,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m taking a month off soon. My brother has cancer and I’m going home to build him a cabin.”

Sadly, Walter’s story and plight is not unique. Walter is alive and struggling in every community in this country, in “those people,’ who merely survive on the streets of our downtowns, huddle in doorways, ask if we can spare a quarter. Sometimes, it’s easier to turn our heads and pass by, complain about their existence, make up stories about how they could or should clean up their acts, get a job, make better choices, pretend they don’t exist. Truth and reality are uncomfortable. They force us to look at ourselves.

But sometimes, most times, by doing so we miss out, like I would have if I’d followed the rules.

And, because, I didn’t—we at my agency didn’t—Walter didn’t need a hug that day last week, he’s good, but I did. I needed to hug him in gratitude and relief. I needed to thank him for all the lessons he taught me, about resilience, overcoming our struggles, forgiveness, kindness, generosity of spirit and love, that if we are without empathy and humanity we are nothing.

Mostly, I needed, after four years of wonder since I left that job, to thank him for what he gave me: In knowing, and believing in, someone as important as Walter, I received a gift…I am rich.

In Search of Kathy Harder (AKA La Goddess of Coiffdome)

Feb
26

After nearly completing an archeological dig (and mostly-turf) of all my crap, I came across this piece I’d written about 20 years ago, and welled up with, raw, long-suppressed emotion. Maybe, I am vain? Still, she should know, since she’s been gone, I’ve never again committed: Once there is real, true love, it can never be replaced.

On what could be the 21st anniversary of our last (sniff, sniff) appointment, I give you this.

WARNING: DO NOT READ IF YOU’RE HAVING A BAD HAIR DAY

Kathy Harder, where are you? Whatever happened? How could you leave me without saying goodbye?

This is a story, in a certain sense, no less tragic than Romeo and Juliet. It is true, very personal and cuts deeply. I know that I don’t stand alone in the tragedy of it. There are women the world over who will only need to scratch their surface and look in the mirror to relate and find the compassion to understand. It’s a story of an apparent one-sided connection that has sent me on a seemingly lifelong search for answers.

I’m not a vain person. At least, I try very hard not to be. My standard uniform is my comfy Calvin Klien’s topped off with a t-shirt and a belt. My ‘jewels’ are minimal, and in the make-up department my philosophy is a little-dab-will-do-ya. Sometimes I even greet the world au naturel! However, the one aspect of vanity that affects me like the fate of the world depends upon it is my HAIR. It’s my own personal barometer of how the day will be: An unruly doo screams to prepare for an unruly, disorganized and depressing day, as opposed to days when every lock is luster lovely, in perfect harmony with its neighbor, spelling out only blue skies and sunshine, no mountain I can’t climb.

Enter Kathy. We met somewhere around 13 years ago. It was pure fate that brought us together. I was a young, small town girl in search of guidance des cheveux, and she was La Goddess of Coiffdome, practicing her craft at a shishi-poopoo, city salon where I was willing to gamble my heard-earned pesos. I made an appointment, was placed in her gifted hands, and the rest is, what I thought, a mark in history.

Our first appointment together was a transcending moment. I remember entering the salon, being greeted and handed a silky smock to change into. After a short, anticipation-filled wait, we were introduced and it was truly the start of something beautiful. Kathy could instinctively work hair like a maestro directs an orchestra: She needed only to take one look to know what needed to be done. With a quick flash of her trusty shears and what seemed like a sprinkling of magical fairy dust, I was transformed, all at one once beautiful, confident, ready to conquer.

Throughout the year that Kathy was a vital part of my life, I never once told her what to do. I would sit high upon her throne and watch spellbound as she wove her special brand of magic. She taught me what to do, how to do it and what to never have done (specifically the then-trendy, horrific curly perm).

She taught me how to go from start to finish without ever having to touch a brush: scrunch, blow, spritz, voila! I would walk in knowing that when she was finished, I would leave seemingly floating, my head held high, beautifully betressed and ready for any challenge the world dared to lay on my plate.

Then one day the unthinkable happened. I called to make an appointment and she was gone. “I’m sorry but Kathy doesn’t work here anymore.” Huh? I was no less stunned than if Evander Holyfield had come from behind me with his best left jab to my stomach. She left me? She’s gone? No explanation. No Dear Jane letter. No fond or lingering goodbyes. She had simply vanished, seemingly carried off to the abyss by the same fairies whose dust I knew she sprinkled.

I begged to know where she was, had gone, but they wouldn’t tell me. I called over and over and over, trying to muster up the accent of every foreign language catalogued by the United Nations. All I wanted was an answer: Click, dial tone, ouch! I later heard a rumour she may have married and moved to Sweden. Sweden, Kathy? Too far from home, too far from me.

Needless to say, the ensuing years have been like riding the rollercoaster of coiffdome. I’ve been relentless in my search for a replacement, extremely open-minded as I’ve cruised the salon circuit: It’s challenging to succeed the sweet perfections of first time love. You see, Kathy and I had an unspoken communication I can’t begin to explain, a certain sixth sense. I know that most in her wake have tried their very best and I’m sure that I’m partly (completely?) to blame. I’ve taken them pictures, gone step-by-step through every intricate detail. Conclusion—there’s just no second best.

I’ve had cuts from borderline perfection, to those requiring of me to lie about an intruder with garden shears then holing up in self-imposed quarantine with windows covered until something grew. I’ve had colours bordering on spectacular, to zebra stripes and those that have triggered people’s suppressed cravings for caramel ripple ice cream. I’ve even been talked into Kathy’s don’t-you-dare-even-go-there perms and been left to feel like someone’s ungroomed poodle was sleeping on my head.

I apologize to those of you whom I have stared in the face and exclaimed It’s perfect, I love it, then with lightning speed booted it out to my car to frantically muss and spray, eventually letting out a wail and donning a toque in July. You tried, and I simply didn’t have the heart to tell you you’d failed. You did. You failed.

In the age of find-your-lost-everyone—first grade teacher, first love, birth family, Great Aunt Lulla-Belle, twice removed—there just isn’t a Stylist-Find, or, at least, a Stylist-Find that I can find.

As I pray to the Wish Fairy, all I ask is for one more time with those magic shears and fairy dust, so I might relive the euphoria of betressed perfection.

Kathy Harder, wherever you are, I wish you only great things and happiness, and that once more in this lifetime our paths will cross again.

Kathy Harder practiced her magic in the mid-1980’s at Shear Talent on 8th Street in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Minimize Me, Maximize Me

Feb
07


I’m in the midst of a ginormous purge, and the growing To-Go pile of stuff in my dining room is becoming something of an epic monument, symbolic of an evolution, impending freedom. Think, Lady Liberty. Think, ahhhhhhh!

I began this purge a week ago, in honour of a vow my husband and I made together as we spent the last days of 2016 in Mexico.

2017 will be different, we said. Our focus will be changed, mindset tweaked: Simple, joyful, grateful. Pared down. Light. And, really, it’s the light. This is about that light.

2016 was abysmal, cast perpetually dark by fear and sadness and worry that spread like a cancer, metastasizing, paralyzing: Work and money, or lack thereof; diminished motivation, little adventure; death and grieving; hopelessness and loss of faith, in the seemingly imploding entire world, our world, ourselves.

Dramatic? Perhaps. Truth? Absolutely. Abysmal can be a runaway train.

But, who wants abysmal when by nature your outlook is that of an optimistic dreamer who closes her eyes in the quiet, and through rose-coloured glasses views this world, her world, with endless possibility and goodness, a playground in which to entertain her wanderlust? Not I. Not I.

Stuff, what is stuff?

The Macmillan Dictionary defines the word stuff as: a variety of objects or things (things being an item). Very benign, very inanimate. Kind of.

Stuff has never really mattered to me, not in a consumeristic, have-to-have sort of way. I’m not a shopper. Au contraire. In fact, most days I would rather visit the dentist than the mall, the gynecologist than any big box store. Still, there is stuff. It’s emotional, accumulated over a lifetime, from this and that, him and her, gifts, treasures, memories. Things you need, things you want. Stuff you believe serves a purpose, fills you up, says “This is me,” is you.

Until you think about it. Really think about it, feel its weight. Stuff becomes a problem, becomes clutter. It clutters your mind, weighs you down. Stuff becomes a life force of its very own that is heavy, draining, demanding, noisy, exhausting. It turns dark, becomes a shackle. It blocks your path ahead until you wake up and one day realize the Macmillan Dictionary’s alternative definition of stuff: things that are not important.

Does it add value to your life?

Last week, exhausted by procrastination, I was scrolling through Netflix looking for a documentary to watch before bed, when I came across The Minimalists: A Documentary. It’s an inspiring and insightful account of two millennials, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, who radically changed their lives for the better after having achieved the “American Dream,” yet were unhappy and unfulfilled, depressed, deceived and depleted.

It was A-HA! It was I-can’t-wait-to-go-to-sleep-so-I-can-wake-up-and-get-started. To. Wake. Up. It was seven words that have potentially exorcized me, gifted forward momentum, changed my life: “Does it add value to your life?”

As in:

Do the ‘good dishes’ in your dust-filled china hutch add value to your life?

Does that lamp that you have literally never turned on in two years, sitting on that table in the middle of nowhere, add value to your life?

Do the bags of maybe 100 shampoos, conditioners and lotions you’ve collected from hotel rooms, store under your bathroom sink and never use, add value to your life?

Does the packet of (not embarrassed to say this) your daughter’s wisdom teeth, which she had removed roughly three years ago, sitting in your desk drawer, add value to your life?

What about that Chantilly Body Lotion and Oscar perfume, from 1984, buried in the basket in your bedside table drawer, do they add value to your life?

Or those barely dented bulk packs of 10 Multigrain Rice, Organic Ancient Grains and Black Bean Pasta sitting in your pantry? Despite how righteous purchasing them two years ago made you feel, do they add value to your life?

And those boxes in your garage, black-markered Childhood Memories, sealed shut for years, lugged along with you for some 20-some moves just in your adult life, do they add value to your life?

Those unread books piled high on your nightstand? The clothes from 10 pounds and 20 years ago stuffed in the back of your closet? The knick-knacky thingies all over the place? The boxes of old writing? The framed photo you took in Mexico 5 years ago of two kids you don’t even know? Get the picture? Value?

Not at all. Which is why all of the above now provide a solid foundation for the growing To-Go pile in the middle of my dining room. And I can’t wait to complete this glorious task and escort it all out the door.

It’s about time and about me. It’s about living one’s truth, not the Joneses. And that truth is I’ve never coveted stuff to begin with. I’ve never wanted for anything. I’d much rather do than have: be, than be had. And that’s what my stuff has done: It’s had me.

Now, as I travel from room-to-room, closet-to-closet, drawer-to-drawer, considering value and adding to my pile, I feel untethered, free, un-had. I feel simple, joyful, grateful. Pared down. Light.

I feel light. And this, this is about the light.

Related:
Less Will Be More in 2017
The Gift of ‘Ah’ of My Journey to Minimize
The Minimalists
Our 21-Day Journey into Minimalism

We’re All Just Dreamers

Feb
06

Less Will Be More in 2017

Dec
26

At this moment, I am sitting on the balcony of my hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It’s midday and we have yet to leave our room. It may be awhile. We love it here, this room, this view. We are in Old Towne, which some might say a decrepit part of the city, but to me it’s beautiful. Regardless, fancy does not live here.

A man, a woman and toddler are riding down the street on their motorbike, and another man is trying with earnest to push his baby across the cobblestone in an umbrella stroller. There is a pile of black bagged garbage awaiting pick up on the sidewalk, and three chihuahuas are circling the roof across the street as they do most every hour.

The trees have grown now and I can’t peek in the glassless window below them anymore, but in past stays here I have been equally saddened and intrigued by a shrine on a table inside that appears to be for a baby lost. Now I don’t know it’s still there, so I wonder.

The Luncharia across the street is open today, Boxing Day, and the woman who runs it has just finished scrubbing the sidewalk with her broom and a bucket of fragrant soapy water. I love that scent, that smell: It is here, the smell of here. She has had no customers yet, but she’ll wait. She will. They always come.

Last night, walking through the neighbourhood after dark, we bought churros from a street vendor who fried and sugared them on the spot. They were a peso a piece, yet the most delectable treat to pass these lips in recent memory–warm, sweet, cinnamon deliciousness. Simple. “Felix Navidad, Gracias.”

I’d love to have more right now, but surely we’ll repeat tonight. My dream, more churros, washed down with coffee still warm in my cup from the morning sun.

Now, in my view, there is a man on a quad, the Lopez bus and a cow in the back of a truck. I think it’s paradise, as I look up the hill at the massive, distant houses, and wonder if Liz Taylor ever wistfully looked down through her gold gilded windows to the scene of this lovely, simple humanity below.

There he is! Down the block, the man who spends his day washing cars on the side of the street! He is friendly. “Hola, Amigos,” he always says when we walk by. “Hola,” we greet him in return.

He’ll make them, the many changing cars of his day, shinier than new with his ancient, wholly rag and a bucket of warm, dirty water. That’s him, the Car Washer, just down from the Luncharia Lady, the Mourning Mother, the Churro Seller, the Wannabe Rockstar walking, a ridiculously large boom box teetering on his shoulder, singing aloud random accented words as The Archies belt out Sugar, Sugar: The colourful people, woven together as a tapestry, the colourful, ever-charming world of this street.

Yesterday, on a walk in the Romantic District, after climbing what felt like 1,000 crumbling stairs from the beach to the street, I saw my car–a white Nissan Micra with Jalisco plates. Same year, same interior, same everything as Noreen’s (my car’s) Mexican cousin, waiting proudly on the edge of the cobblestone, and I wondered if one day, some time ago, on the ship from Japan they had sailed side by side, then parted, and now one is here and the other is there, where I live, chauffeuring my life. And I felt sad. Noreen, perhaps, missed out.

Our year together, Noreen’s and mine, has been a rather shitty, crappy affair, with the blessing of Prince P’s arrival and the innocent joy that he and Wee Man C and their mamas cast on our life, thrown in to sustain it: I will not be sad to see it soon go, 2016.

I lost my dad, and with him and his wisdom and humour and love. I was cast astray, left untether from my childhood. Without him and my long lost mother I am no one’s child: I’ve become an ancestor, a matriarch, an unprepared adult.

Add to that, the challenges of a world gone mad, fear and sadness, and endless worries about losing our grounding, our way of life, jobs, work, money, money, money.

Our visit to this country, my husband’s and mine, at this time, feels profound.

Our room has a bed, a shower, a toilet, an old dresser, a ceiling fan, a TV and this balcony, and aside from my people, Prince P, Wee Man C and their mamas, this is all I need. The contents of my backpack, my husband and his, our little kettle and its stories of our travels. Just this. And the metaphor of simplicity I watch and learn from my view, the moving picture, this art, this promise, off this balcony. Simple, joyful simplicity.

This morning I read a Swedish proverb: He who buys what he doesn’t need, steals from himself. I wonder as I look around at this, how self pillaged I’ve become. As, I also read Plato, who said, “The greatest wealth is to live content with little.”

A paradox: Today, the people of my country, a world away from this, will be frantic in their pursuit of stuff as they line up early to beat the rush of Boxing Day sales, and I, in this moment, can’t wait to get home and purge mine.

Stuff and practices. Routines and cares.

We have this moment, and in mine I am grateful: I am here. Not just here on this balcony, in this neighbourhood, in this country, but here in this world. Alive and grateful.

We return home on New Years Eve–our plane lands at 11 PM and with customs and time to warm the car and make the 15 minute drive, we should arrive at our home, hopefully, shortly after midnight, in 2017. The slate will be fresh and this shitty, crappy year will be gone, finished, terminado.

We’ve designed that 2017 will be different, our focus will be changed, mindset tweaked: Simple, joyful, grateful. Pared down. Light.

And, practicing the wisdom of Plato, with this view etched in our memories, a new lease released, because fancy doesn’t need to live there either.