Random Thoughts…and otherwise

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.