Happy Friday! We’re All Going to Die One Day!

Alone in the kitchen this morning, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I raised both arms way, way up over my head in a luxurious stretch, and severely pulled a muscle in my upper back.

There is a lot going on in this opening paragraph, truly, so let me break it down for you. The first thing you might have noticed, should you know me in real life, would be the presence of a kettle. Surely, Elizabeth, you are a coffee drinker, are you not? And yes, I am. Or rather I used to be. Coffee, sadly, no longer agrees with me in the mornings, and so I have taken to brewing tea as my wake-up beverage of choice. And it’s fine, really. Although as I have said to my husband many times, “Tea is lovely, but it is not coffee.” Which is, I believe, a fair assumption. But, a hot beverage is one of the nicest things about waking up early – whether it’s for work or school or just life – and so tea it must be for me.

I can drink coffee, mind you. Just not first thing in the morning with nothing else in my stomach and not all the time and definitely not too much in one go. It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that getting older blows, yadda yadda yadda.

You might also be interested in the kitchen stretching portion of this opening sentence, but as one gets older (as one does, should one be mortal) one ought to take the opportunity to stretch whenever one can. And by one I mean me. Stretch like nobody is watching is a good motto to live by. Again, for me. I have a comfortable bed, a ridiculously-priced pillow (good for the neck and shoulder support or so I was told) and yet I wake up daily with stiffness and aches and pains. Often the root cause is one 65-lb husky who likes to lie at the end of our bed and rest her chin on my leg/hip all night long. She is a very good dog and her proximity and warm furry body are just delightful. For the first ten to fifteen minutes. If the entirety of the dog is about 65 pounds, the head of this same dog seems to be about 50% of that entirety. Dead-weight husky head clocking in at around 30 lbs, easy. I might be exaggerating. But even if she isn’t snuggled up to me all night, there are still those same – or sometimes different!? – pains each and every morning. So yes, stretching is essential and I try to do it whenever and wherever I can. Again, what a drag it is getting old.

But! The absolute horror story of stretching is that after a certain age you must, must, MUST pay close attention while you’re doing it. Failure to do so can result in severe muscle cramping and straining (like I experienced this morning) sharp pains in muscles that linger all day long (also like I experienced this morning) and death (you know, probably.)

It’s completely unfair that doing something to RELIEVE THE PAIN THAT AGEING CAUSES YOU can also cause pain – worse pain, actually – unless you apply the kind of laser focus on each tiny section of your body that is typically reserved for surgeons and air traffic controllers.

And so, to recap, I am too old to drink a damn morning coffee and too old to stretch on a whim, and the best part? Is that it only gets worse!

I don’t usually get too bothered about ageing, it’s mostly fine. There are even some perks, honestly (the virtual invisibility of the 50-something woman in society can be quite freeing) but there are days when everything seems to conspire against my body and it’s frustrating. And on those days I get a glimpse into my future and my fleeting mortality which, let’s be honest, no one really wants.

So now I sit with an increasingly stiff and sore back and I am AFRAID TO STRETCH IT OUT because that doesn’t always work out for me! And so instead I sit (and stand sometimes too because too much sitting is bad!) in the discomfort that represents the downward spiral of my ever-ageing body while I ponder what might be next on the growing list of age-related ailments and stare into the void.

Fuck it. I’m going to get a coffee.

 

 

 

Windsors, Schmindsors

I started watching The Crown last night. Yes, I am a habitually late adopter of basically everything, but what finally prompted me was the trailer for the 3rd season. I’d heard that Gillian Anderson would be taking the role of Margaret Thatcher and that kind of sealed the deal, but also the trailer for season three is excellent. It helps, of course, that this upcoming season – which begins as the country prepares for the Silver Jubilee – occurs in my lifetime, with events that I remember. And I toyed with the idea of just watching the third season on its own, (It’s history after all, and fairly easy to fill in the blanks) but decided to go for it and try to get the first two under my belt before embarking on the third. So I did, and after watching the first two episodes last night I have some thoughts:

  • John Lithgow makes a very good shrewd and curmudgeonly Winston Churchill.
  • Queen Mary is a literal boss, and I love that Eileen Atkins has already played Queen Mary at least once before as well as Eleanor of Aquitaine, so she truly knows how to get her royal matriarch on.
  • I am SO glad they portray Philip as the dick he is right from the get-go. The only unfortunate thing is that this entire series is based on real life because if it was fiction, you know he would get his comeuppance, but alas, he never does. And now he’s like, what, 95? Annoying.
  • They sure do like to shoot things, those mid-century royals. Ducks, pheasants, whatever. Just shoot ’em all, all the time. “Want to go shooting? Of course you do, you’re part of this family now, we shoot things.”
  • The monarchy is a helluva drug, you guys.

The other thing that struck me as I was watching is that although this royal family and royal extended-family has always been complex with its lineages as well as with its marriages that make the most sense politically and economically, is that even with all that background, all that history of ruling, it is still just an arbitrary group of people who hold enormous wealth and (now dwindling, it should be said) power, and it irks me beyond belief.

And by arbitrary, I mean of course hundreds and hundreds of years of being descended (sometimes but not always!) from the original arbitrarily designated person or people. Obviously I am reducing nearly 1500 years of history here, but if you do look into it, there’s a lot of “guy shows up and claims the throne and no one argues” or “guy shows up and claims the throne and there IS argument and possibly war, too” but I stand by my initial statement. Who were these people? Why them and not someone else?

I mean, I don’t often quote Monty Python, but when I do, it’s typically these lines from Monty Python and The Holy Grail:

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony…You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

Indeed.

When I was just out of university I got a job at a museum downtown and was what was known as a historical interpreter. It was a pretty great job, one that actually kind of related to my degree, I’ll have you know, members of my extended family!  Historical interpreters would take groups and individuals on tours of the house, imparting knowledge of the family who’d lived there, making note for visitors of various important parts of the house itself, the furnishings, what rooms were used for, what else was going on in Hamilton at the time, etc. I worked mostly during the holidays, and the house was very popular with school groups and organizations who loved to see it done up for Christmas. A giant decorated tree, the dining room table set for a big dinner, garlands and wreaths, that sort of thing.

Most of the time we had groups scheduled in advance and we would listen for the doorbell from the staff room/kitchen at the back of the house. There were usually three of us working at a time and when we heard the bell we would hurry to the front door and greet our visitors. It should be noted that women interpreters were in costume (uniform) dressed as upstairs maids, and any men on staff wore attire suitable for the male equivalent to that (I hesitate to say butlers, because I’m not sure that’s quite right, but something like that, anyway) so there was almost always an “Oooohhhhh!” from people at the door who were likely expecting normal-looking people, not these weird transplants from the Edwardian era. We were also meant to remain in character as best as we could throughout the tour and interaction with visitors, and that part could be a lot of fun. I was very good at deadpanning “I’ve always been here” whenever people asked how long I had worked there which mostly made them laugh but every so often a less humorous group would be unsettled by my joke. Occupational hazard. Everyone’s a critic.

When there were no groups scheduled we sometimes did a bit of research in the back, reading up on what was going on in Hamilton during the era we were to represent, thinking of other issues and events that we could potentially highlight during our tours so they didn’t get stale. The house was officially open all week and on weekends, and we didn’t get an awful lot of action during the week with people just dropping by, but it did happen.

One afternoon it was my turn to get the door when the doorbell rang and I smoothed down my apron and made sure my little bonnet was on straight and I opened the door. I was about to launch into my scripted greeting when a woman pushed past me into the hallway, dragging a large stroller with her. She wore a fur coat of indeterminate age and animal and there were large round circles of red blush on her cheeks. Her eyes were wild. She was taller than me and I would have put her at the time in her late 30s early 40s, and as she looked around the hallway for a place to park her stroller, I noted that it was filled with stuffed animals and one smallish baby doll.

I had already decided not to ask her to pay the entrance fee, but it turned out not to be an issue, because she began by introducing herself as the rightful heir to the house and she spoke in a sort of English accent that would, more often than not, slip during our time together, and she also told me that she was expecting to move back in any time now. I asked her if she would like to take a look around and she agreed after I assured her the stroller and baby would be safe in the hallway.

We headed upstairs and she regaled me with tales of her connections not only to the family who had lived in this house in particular but also to the royal family in England and possibly some others.

I tried to do a little bit of my official tour guide banter, but she was more interested in checking out the furnishings, ensuring they were suitable to her tastes and telling me more about her royal lineage, her claim to the throne and more. I was 23 years old and had a pretty good idea that I was dealing with someone not entirely based in reality, and felt it was better to just listen.

At the end of our tour, she thanked me and I asked her to sign our guestbook which she did in a flourish, taking up three full lines:

Mary Elizabeth Anne Rose III (Royal)

She collected her stroller and bumped it down the front stairs and I went back to the kitchen to my colleagues.

I think about her every so often, usually in conversations with friends about odd or interesting situations we’ve found ourselves in with various jobs, but I thought about her a lot last night after watching The Crown when that whole “one random person eons ago started something and look where we are now” concept kind of struck me.

In this case, the woman who visited that day back in 1990 was likely extremely far removed from the family who lived in the house where I worked, and even further removed from royalty of any sort, but, much like those ancient “kings” who showed up from Denmark or wherever and claimed the throne, because someone sent them, who is to say who gets to be what they get to be? There are probably people who show up to royalty-type things all the time claiming some kind of connection – modern-day Anastasia Romanovs if you will – and security gets called to oust them and their claims, yadda yadda. But all I’m saying is that a few hundred years ago, this kind of stunting could have totally worked, and probably did work, too.

People are born into the situations they are and it’s honestly just sheer luck of the draw whether you’re born a Windsor or a Hamiltonian playing dress up in a historical house giving tours to people at Christmas.

And, if you work backwards from the Windsors and you go back far enough into the past it all gets pretty muddied, anyway. In another reality or another time, it just might have been my visitor shooting all those ducks or marrying that dick Philip.

I’m grateful she was spared that last part, at least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sick Day(s) Reading

My cold started on Friday afternoon with a scratchy throat and a stuffy nose. By Saturday it was worse, but I mostly ignored it because I had, like most people on the weekends, SHIT TO DO. On Sunday I was practically bedridden, and honestly, I probably deserved that.

I stayed home from work on Monday and Tuesday, and while I spent a lot of that time napping, feeling sorry for myself, and staring into the middle distance, I did manage to read three books.

Regular days never seem to have enough hours in them, but sick days draaaaaag, so I was happy to be able to do something with my time. When you’re not exactly sick enough for bed but also not well enough to go to work, well that’s the perfect storm for sick day Netflix bingewatching (I did a little bit of that too, thank you Derry Girls, season two) and sick day reading. And fortunately for me, Hamilton Public Library had come through with a bunch of my holds last week, so I was set.

I’d been waiting to read Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things for months, and I was so happy to finally have it in my to-read pile. It’s as good as advertised: funny and dark and strange and occasionally kind of gross – taxidermy is at the heart of the novel with lots of graphic descriptions of animal gutting, roadkill scraping, and more – but there is also the story of a family grieving for loves lost and trying to come together to thrive and survive in spite of the forces against them, and the ones truly of their own making. I loved the Mortons and their drama and their messy, messy lives, and the book was a dream to read.

I also read Supper Club by Lara Williams. A few weeks ago while waiting for my son who was attending a comedy show in Toronto, I spent some time wandering in Book City. Supper Club was a book I picked up initially for the cover (it’s lovely) and then for the front flap description because it sounded intriguing. And while I didn’t purchase it that evening, I was intrigued enough to add it to my library holds and I’m very glad I did.

Supper Club is the brainchild of two young women in London who dream of and then create a secret club, a place where women can be themselves, can take up space, can reclaim and sate their appetites for food, drink, and life. Their lives outside of Supper Club are messy and their relationships challenging. As the book progresses, we slowly learn more and more about the book’s narrator, Roberta, the trauma she experienced that ultimately leads to the demons that drive her and to the choices she makes.

Like Mostly Dead Things, Supper Club is graphic in its descriptions, but instead of taxidermy, here it’s food and drink. Food is ever-present, the backdrop, the all-encompassing ingredient that motivates and drives and it is, frankly, glorious. (And now I know how to create a sourdough starter, should I ever want to.)

And finally, to round out my sick day reading list, I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and I can’t remember for the life of me where I heard about that book or why I put it on my holds list, but I’m not even going to talk about it here except to say that I didn’t like it. I found it reductive and predictable and while some of the language was lovely it was overall a quick, relatively unsatisfying read.

So there, Reese Witherspoon.

And, now that I am healthy-ish and back to work, my book consumption will return to its regular pace, alas. Still, it was kind of luxurious to spend three days just reading. I’d like to do it again soon…this time without the fever and sinus headache, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back 2 School, Back to the Future

I am late, so late to the back-to-school season, I know. I had planned this post for much earlier in September, but things happen. Not terrible, awful things, mind you. Just…things.

But a few weeks ago, closer to the beginning of the school year, I posted this picture of me on Instagram and it sparked a back-to-school kind of vibe that I didn’t even know had been lurking in my brain.

This was Kindergarten class photo day. The year? 1972.

When I look at this photo I am overwhelmed by some pretty intense feelings for this little girl, this tiny 5-year-old whose cardigan game was fire, even then.

There is a kind of trend online these days where people write letters to their former selves, their childhood selves, their other selves. And I love it, I really do. Imagine being able to confront yourself in another dimension, so to speak; to be able to warn yourself, to prepare yourself, to encourage yourself. To impart the knowledge you have now to yourself back then. What a wonder.

What would you say to another you, a younger you, a different you? I had never really felt the urge until I posted this photo.

There is something about the girl in this photo that feels, to me, more vulnerable than any other school photo I own. Perhaps because it’s Kindergarten, her first foray into the education system, a year that helped forge her love of learning, of reading and writing and of following rules. (oh how she loved and continues to love rules.)

And perhaps it’s because of this vulnerability that I do, finally, have some thoughts for 5-year-old me:

  1. You are a pretty smart little kid and for the longest time, you will be picked on for being “the smart one” in the class and you will resist that completely until one day you will learn that someone else is “the smart one” and you are just the ok one, and you will find that extremely hard to take. So I am here to tell you that it’s ok to be the smartest kid in the class. It’s also ok to not be the smartest kid in the class. This probably feels like a contradiction but as with everything I’m about to tell you, you just have to trust me. Be yourself. You are actually pretty great.
  2. Your illness does not define you. I know it’s hard right now, it’s so, so hard. But soon, very soon, you will get a diagnosis. You will be asthmatic for your whole life, I’m sorry to tell you, but there eventually will be medication to help you breathe. It won’t be great at first, but it will be something, and the medication only gets better as time goes on. Trust me. You won’t always miss so much school, so much life. You will dance and you will run and in 2015 (a lifetime from now, I know, but just you wait) you will earn a black belt in karate. YOU will do this. YOU.
  3. You will always be emotional. Lots of things make you cry now, and lots of things will continue to make you cry. But this: your empathy, your compassion, your ability to put yourself in others’ shoes, these things actually make you strong. So go ahead and cry and continue to feel things deeply. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t.
  4. I know that Rosa Too Little by Sue Felt is your favourite book right now, and the only book you ever want to borrow from the library,  and that’s ok, but you know what? You will move on from that book, and even though it will always hold a special place in your heart, you will read HUNDREDS of other books. Really! And the library will continue to be a place of solace for you and one day when you are grown up you will not only WORK in libraries but you will also be asked to teach classes in the public library and you will think that you could not be any luckier. And this will actually be true.
  5. You will spend years trying to find your signature “look” with various fashion trends but your ultimate style will come full circle to this very photo. A plaid dress, a sensible cardigan, tights, and cute shoes. Own it. It’s your destiny.

Happy September, friends. Knock ’em dead.

 

 

Come and cry with me as I gush about Melissa Barbeau’s The Luminous Sea!

It’s not difficult to become completely taken by The Luminous Sea based on the cover alone, which of course they tell you not to judge books by, but here is a secret for you: I do in fact judge books by their covers. Well, maybe not judge exactly. But I am definitely a sucker for a well-designed and beautiful book cover and this one might be the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

The premise of this novel is a relatively simple one, yet we quickly find out that simplicity is deceiving. Vivienne is a young summer student hired to study the potential reasons for the glow-in-the-dark waters in a fictional bay and area of Newfoundland. One evening while out on the water taking samples she catches a creature unlike anything ever seen before, brings it to the lab where she works, only to have her discovery taken over by other researchers whose motives may not be as pure as they should be.

I would like you all to know that from the moment the fish creature landed in Vivienne’s boat, I had made up my mind that I would die for her. The fish creature. Well, for both of them, really. And the entire book had me holding my breath, waiting to see if I needed to jump in, somehow, and rescue them.

The Luminous Sea is a short-ish novel, under 250 pages. By all rights I should have been able to finish it in a day or two. Between commuting. lunch hour reading, and after work reading, I usually consume a lot of pages in a few days. But this book. This book I had to take in small doses, doling it out to myself as a reward for completing a task. It was something to be savoured in the early evening sitting on the deck after dinner with a glass of wine. A chapter or two at a time, no more. This story demanded to be drawn out, to let the words – the beautiful, evocative words – settle in my head and my heart. I needed time to process each magical phrase, to allow the imagery to wash over me.

I realize I am being dramatic, but there is not a lot I can do about that, I’m sorry. Read this and you’ll understand:

“The evening is calm, the ocean uneventful. The copper sea unspectacular in its beauty. Sun pennies dapple the water and Vivienne feels as if she is sitting in a bowl of shining coins worth so little they have been taken out of circulation. She eases the boat around the point and heads towards the stacks of the sunken ship, just past the lighthouse. As the sun sinks in the sky, the pennies disappear and the water regains its mundane jewel colours — emerald, sapphire, lapis, turquoise, tourmaline. The ocean extends for endless, monotonous, beautiful miles.”

Every line is like this, every line is beautiful.

Fog is exhaled onto the landscape by the fog dragon that lives over the far hill.

The night is described as ‘glassy’.

The sea throbs; the fish creature curls like a galaxy.

It is all too glorious.

The novel is fast-paced as well, and that is one of the reasons I slowed it down as I read it. It is so easy to read quickly because the story itself is gripping, but doing so would be like taking a train trip with only the destination in mind, being in an incredible hurry to get there, with no attention paid to the breathtaking scenery en route. And that would be a shame.

The Luminous Sea did, in fact, leave me breathless many times as I read it. The final section unravels at breakneck speed, and the ending is perfectly poignantly, perfect.

Wade into it, friends. It’s a stunning, wonderful read. And promise to let me know how much you loved it. And how much you cried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family (and other) Dramas R Us

I don’t usually think about the ways in which the novels I read might be linked. Occasionally something occurs to me midway through a book and I remember another book, recently read, with similar themes, perhaps even similar situations, or similar locales. I read a lot of Canadian authors, so that kind of checks out, location-wise, at least. It’s a big place, Canada, but when you read enough, you’re bound to read more than one novel set in St. John’s or Winnipeg or Cape Breton.

I read three novels in relatively quick succession recently, set in those exact locations, and in that exact order, but I didn’t realize until I wanted to write this post that all three were first novels for each of the authors, which is kind of a coincidence. And I do love a good coincidence.

It’s interesting how books in my life line up to be read. Sometimes it’s library holds coming in fast and furious and in order to make sure the books are returned on their due dates, they need to be read in a particular order. With or without renewal options. Sometimes books just jump out at me from a list on a blog or in the books section of a newspaper or maybe someone whose book suggestions I respect has tweeted something about a particular book and bam, that one gets added to my list as well. I typically have a to-be-read stack like most people, but that stack might sit neglected for weeks or even months when holds arrive and other books are thrust toward me. And that’s ok, they’ll be there for me, they’re not going anywhere.

The books I am talking about here are ones that came, seemingly, out of nowhere. Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles was a book that sounded intriguing to me, so I added it to my holds list a very long time ago. And it arrived, suddenly, like all holds do, and so I read it, and to be honest, it took me a few tries to get into it. Once I found I was able to sync up to its groove, though, I tore through it in less than a week. It’s not an easy read, parts are harsh and cruel and I occasionally had to walk away from it. I wondered at one point if my initial hesitation had to do with what was coming. Can you be “book psychic” I wondered. Or does the author just do a really great job of setting everything up for us? Is it foreshadowing at its absolute best? Probably, yes. Definitely, actually.

Next, I read Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead because of a tweet from someone (I no longer remember who) who had read it and loved it, and it was available at my library so I grabbed at it too. I loved the characters in this book so much and the story was so beautifully told with love and pain and longing, and it was hard not to get dragged in deep to its world of equal parts love and pain.

Finally, I read Crow by Amy Spurway because I read a review of it and it too was shockingly available at the library. Crow is a tragic, hilarious, and at times overwhelming family and community saga with a whole lot of wild twists and turns and some of the most unforgettable characters ever.

And so while I didn’t start out planning to read a theme, I somehow did read a theme. Another coincidence, and a happy one at that.

In all three novels, family is at the heart of the story, and not just the family you’re born to, but the family you choose, the relationships you foster and the ones you run from. The ones who drive you around the twist and the ones who keep you sane. The ones who hurt you because of the love they have for you, and the ones who just, well, hurt you. And sometimes they are all one and the same, sometimes even wrapped up within the same person. The characters in these novels are wonderful: complex and perfectly imperfect, fighting for their lives, their loves, and their places in the world, much like we all are.

Relatable? Completely. And very, very highly recommended.

 

 

 

Who Are the People in YOUR Neighbourhood?

A couple of days ago, a woman I know only because we follow each other on Instagram, had a baby. This is her second – she now has two boys which of course I think is great because I also have two boys – and I also remember when she had her first son, almost three years ago now. Time flies! She and baby boy seem to be doing well, and he is the loveliest, chubbiest little fellow. My heart is so happy for her and her sweet family.

Early yesterday morning, another woman I know posted a photo of herself heading into the hospital to have her second baby. This woman I actually know IRL; her grandmother and her great-aunt were good friends of my parents back in the day, and so we’ve chatted and interacted over the years, and now she and her family live across the street from me. Small world! And, not only that but when I was around 14 years old, I attended a baby shower when she was born. Which is…weird, yeah? I held her when she was a few months old and now she is a grown woman with a successful business and a family of her own.

Which, ok duh, yes, that is indeed how time and life work, but there is a very visceral part of me that kneejerkingly wants to react with “Oh my god, I’m so old!” But there is another part of me that says “Oh wow, this is keeping me so young.”

And then I started thinking about community and about belonging.

When John and Charles and I moved to this house in the fall of 1999, we were, clearly, a young family, just starting our lives together. Charles was not even two, Max, not yet even conceived. We had hoped to add another baby to our lives and when Max arrived in July 2000, our family was complete and we began to fully settle into our home and neighbourhood. Eventually, the boys went to school, we met neighbours who became friends and we met neighbours who we knew only to say hello to. There were neighbours who moved in and stayed for a time then left, and neighbours who were there before we got here and are still here.

And as we’ve aged and our children have grown up in this neighbourhood, a funny thing happened. It seems as though, now, we are the old people. I know, right? But, at 52 (me) and 53 (John), and having lived in the same house for nearly 20 years, it’s honestly true. And I kind of love it.

I love sharing in a community of people who are at different stages of life; like the older couple behind us who were here the day we moved in, and are still living in that same house behind us. Like the family two doors down who moved in back in February and just had a baby (hooray neighbourhood babies!)  I love that nearly 19 years ago we were the ones introducing a new baby to the neighbourhood and now, going forward, we get to be the ones to do the welcoming, to introduce ourselves to the families with the tiny new additions. To look out for them and their kids, like our neighbours did and continue to do for us and our kids.

And that is our community, our physical community. And I love it. But what about the other community, the online community, the one created through follows, and the friends I’ve met through social media? Where does that fit? Does it fit? My argument is that it does. Of course, it does.

And yes, some would insist that these people, these online people cannot actually be my friends since I don’t actually know them, and to those people, I say, whatevs and also shhhhh, let people enjoy things. Because it’s 2019.

I have engaged with people online who I have not met, who I might never meet, but my heart has broken for them when they tell me/their followers that their mother is terminally ill, or that their child is being bullied. I have celebrated the births of their children and mourned the loss of their parents, their beloved pets. I have reached out to these people sometimes on their timeline or feed, but more often in a private message (should they welcome private messages) because I wanted to offer condolences or congratulations or support not in a performative way, but in a heartfelt way. This isn’t to say that all posts on timelines and feeds are performative, but much like a handwritten thank you or sympathy card from days of old, a direct message seems more personal, more thoughtful. We see a lot of “thoughts and prayers” in the media, from politicians and celebrities and regular people and the entire meaning of that phrase has been lost in the noise of the online world. Many people lament the loss of human interaction in favour of this online world, but I am not one of those people. I think if you are deliberate in your intentions and your wishes for your online friends truly come from a place of caring, a Twitter dm can be as effective and welcomed as a letter.

When Max was in hospital last fall, people I had never met, people who follow me on Instagram or Twitter for my dog or my wine and library-related antics (which are truly legendary it must be said) reached out to tell me how much my updates meant to them, how hard they were pulling for Max and for us, and how much they wished they could help. Many of these messages began, “You don’t know me, but I follow you and I want you to know I am thinking of you and your family…” and others read “Thank you for sharing and for being so open…” and honestly, some of these messages moved me as much or more than ones from close family members. Some had had similar experiences and offered an ear if I had questions. Others just wanted to send a virtual hug and a kind word. And it was lovely and it was overwhelming.

“People are too nice!” I would say, almost daily, to my husband, usually through my hiccuping tears in the midst of an ugly crying session. The thought of (virtual) strangers taking the time to send their support, their prayers, and good vibes was astounding to me. And at the same time not astounding to me, because it’s the sort of thing I do too.

It makes me so happy to be the old person in the neighbourhood now, the one that has been here “forever” as my kids would say, and I’m just as happy to be the old person on your Instagram feed encouraging you and supporting you and feeling for you too. I want to read about your struggles with getting your toddler to eat or getting your dad to go to the doctor about that mole on his leg. I can even offer advice if you want it (I would never give unsolicited advice of course) too! Please do keep in mind that my parenting skills were honed in the early to mid-2000s and any advice I have to offer is likely highly out of date, but it’s yours if you want it. And it will come with a warm internet hug and a LOT of encouragement that you are already doing amazing. Just keep going.

And, as I said way up there at the beginning of this post, being involved in this kind of community keeps me young. Not in a “How do you do, fellow kids?” kind of way, but, much like living in a neighbourhood with families and seniors and more, having a varied internet community allows me to witness life unfolding in so many different ways, and at so many different points in time, and that can only be a good thing. It is such a privilege to be able to share in the experiences and milestones of my social media friends and their families. At times it’s heartbreaking and at other times it’s glorious and wonderful. You know, just like life.

Community is community is community. And I know the internet can be a dark, dark pit of despair, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet. There’s so much more I want to be a part of. And I like all of you too much, too.