My Year of Slow

This morning I was texting with my friend Vivian as I usually do in the mornings, and she asked what I was up to. I mentioned I had just rescheduled a couple of appointments that I had this week and that it felt pretty great to do that. I continued, saying that I’m trying to make 2019 the year I don’t overstretch myself and, at the risk of seeming precious, I am just tired of constantly running from one thing to another. I want this to be my year of slow.

My year of slow. Even typing that felt amazing. I sat back after that text conversation with that phrase in my head and considered. Slow. Slow what, though, exactly? Slow down the pace, mostly. The pace, lately, has been unreal. Let me tell you.

On November 16, our youngest son suffered a brain hemorrhage caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which is basically a faulty blood vessel. It was something we didn’t know he had, and you can’t really know you have it unless you’ve had a CT scan or MRI for something unrelated or in a kind of investigative way – as in, what’s causing all these migraines, did that fall result in a concussion, etc. An AVM is a sort of timebomb that can happen anywhere in your body. Obviously, your brain is the worst possible place to have one, as we found out two months ago.

In a lot of ways, he was lucky. Lucky that his dad and I were with him when it happened. Lucky that it happened in downtown Hamilton, so that when I was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, we could, almost immediately, hear the siren as the ambulance made its way to us. Lucky that it was late evening, no traffic to speak of and so the trip to the ED took mere minutes. Lucky too that we live in the city that hosts the regional trauma centre and one of the best neurosciences programs in the province.

Of course, our understanding of all this luckiness came much, much later when we were able to finally breathe a little bit. At the time it didn’t feel much like anything except terror.

From that night until now it’s been a constant state of vigilance, of running to the hospital, of making sure we were around to meet with doctors and therapists. Max was in hospital from that awful night in November until the 19th of December. 33 days of pacing, of waiting, of hoping, and waiting some more.

Once he was finally home the running continued. Now to a clinic every couple of days to have the tubing changed for his PICC line, to have the PICC line flushed, to see what was causing the incessant beeping of the IV pump. These trips, while not far in distance, were often a nerve-wracking struggle. And, because of the nature of temperamental technology, they often occurred two or three times a day. And all the while Max, who bore the brunt of this, was trying so hard to recover from three open skull brain surgeries and surgery to install a shunt in his brain. You know, no big deal!

For us, life has now somewhat returned to normal. The PICC line is out, there are no more trips to the community clinic, and the only thing Max needs to do now is to attend physiotherapy twice a week to work on things like balance and to regain some of the strength he lost being practically bedridden for nearly five weeks. He is able to go out with friends occasionally and to do most of the things he enjoyed doing before his injury – video games, continuing with the screenplay he had begun writing, practicing for and attending his singing lessons, etc. – and we will never ever take those things for granted ever again.

I have returned to work and the transition has been relatively smooth, helped in no small part by my wonderful coworkers and my supervisor, and so life is actually fairly uneventful in the early stages of 2019. I hope it remains so.

Not surprising, I’m sure, that our family has taken stock over the past few months. Taken stock as to what’s most important, what can be eliminated from our lives (stress, please!) and what we want more of (family time, down time, time with friends) and so my commitment to slowing it all down began to emerge.

I used to look at my calendar and see several things listed for at least four of seven days, sometimes more than one thing listed in the same time slot. They weren’t always huge time commitments and sometimes they were really fun commitments, but often they involved driving or bussing from one location to another with little wiggle room to be on time for the next appointment (I have always had an extraordinary fear of being late, it causes me so much stress, I am actually your dad, five hours early at the airport!) and I have decided that those days are over, as much as they can possibly be.

So far it’s been fairly easy to do this, and I certainly do recognize the privilege in being able to reschedule things, to eliminate some of the stressors in my life this way. And to be honest, it might not stay like this, but for now, I am really enjoying it. As someone who was chronically overcommitted for most of her adult life, I have become a convert to the slow, undercommitted life and it’s quite glorious.

And, as a testament to this commitment to being undercommitted and embracing the slow life, I would like to reveal that I started this post on January 22nd and am finishing it today, February 12th. How’s that for commitment to a cause?

(Actually, it’s just that I am horrendously out of blogging/writing practice, pals.)

 

 

 

You’re Probably Not Doing Anything Else in November Anyway.

A few weeks ago I tweeted out to the world that I was thinking of signing on for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I asked if I knew anyone who had done it before, if it killed them, made them stronger, etc. Just out of curiosity, really. And no one really responded, which is fine, and I figured that was because I didn’t know anyone who had done it before. Or maybe I did and it actually killed them, I guess. Anyway, then I went and signed up. Because honestly, why not?

Why not indeed.

Back in June or July, I can no longer remember which, I participated in a writing challenge called 1000 Words of Summer, the brainchild of delightful author Jami Attenberg. The premise of this challenge was to write 1000 words (obvi) every day for two weeks. At the end of that, writers would have approximately 14,000 words under their respective writing belts. When all was said and done, and the two weeks were up, I had around 16,000 words. Added to the 4,000 or so I already had…well, that’s a significant amount of words. In sentences and paragraphs too, not just random words! (I feel the need to say that for some reason.)

The thing is, those first 4,000? Took me FOREVER to get down. Weeks of stealing a couple of hours at a time in the library or at home. Hours and hours of character sketches and plot points and reworking things. And all I had to show for it was 4,000 or so words. It’s not terrible of course, I was glad to have those words, but there is something about a goal and a deadline that really lights a fire under me.

The great thing about the 1000 Words of Summer idea was that I felt accountable to someone and that someone was none other than Jami freaking Attenberg. I mean, ok, it wasn’t like she was looking over my shoulder to check my word count, but she was sending out encouraging emails every day for those two weeks and that was super motivating. Often, she would write, that she also was having trouble getting the words in, doing the job, and that also was encouraging to hear. Theoretically and intellectually I know that most writers and authors have days or even weeks where the words just don’t come, and I love the writers that I know and follow who share this with the world so beginners like me can breathe a collective sigh of relief that we are not alone. But there was something about getting those emails directly to me (ok, and lots of other people too) that made my writing spirit soar every single day of that challenge.

Write when you’re tired, write when you don’t want to, write even if you know you’re going to delete it at a later date. These were all such good lessons for me, and at the end of the two weeks, there were only 2 days where I didn’t hit the goal and many days where I went way, way over.

20,000 words, give or take. That is tough to walk away from. And I didn’t. I’m still at it, and I’m going to do my best to turn those 20,000 into closer to 70,000

I know. It’s 30 days vs 14 days. 1000 words each day vs 1667 words each day. But it’s not not doable? Right? Right.

It’s a goal plus a deadline and both of those things are 100% my jam. I work best under pressure, I work to tight deadlines like a BAWSE. I got this. And, maybe, we got this? If you’ve ever considered NaNoWriMo, now is the time, friends. I learned first-hand this summer that the writerly community is one of the most supportive out there. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed, and it is so refreshing. So take the plunge with me! Dive in! It doesn’t even have to be a novel! Start some kind of writing project and commit to 30 days where you’re writing every day. Just start. Like I did. Like everyone who has ever written anything did. You just have to start.

It’s been a rough year and a lot of that roughness shows no signs of fading away. So write with me. Let’s lift each other up and share our struggles and our successes together. And, once it’s all over and the words are on the pages? We’ll drink a shit ton of champagne.

So NOW who’s in?!?

Food for Thought

I’m not much of a blogger anymore around here, but there’s something that I’ve been wanting to chat about that requires a bigger venue than Twitter, where I do most of my chatting, ranting, laughing, etc. It’s a bit of a heavier subject than some of my recent tweets and posts, and if you’re easily triggered, or there are subjects you need to avoid, I want to disclose that I will be writing about disordered eating, body image, and the like. I won’t be upset if you click the tab closed right now, in fact, I will applaud you and your knowledge of what you do and do not want to read. We have to take care of ourselves, friends. Close it down, or continue along, it’s your choice, always.

I have had a complicated relationship with food for a very long time. There were a number of years when food was primarily the only thing I thought or cared about. I counted it in calories or in Weight Watchers points. I measured it, weighed it, bought diet versions of it, and withheld it from myself for long periods at a time. I marvelled at how little food I needed throughout my day. I was in control of this, this body that just would not conform.

I was a chubby baby, a skinny little kid, a pudgy preteen, a thinnish teenager, a fat teenager, and a fat adult. Then a thin adult followed by a too-thin adult. Then a fat adult once again. Throw a couple of pregnancies in there, and one or two abdominal surgeries (not counting the c-sections from the pregnancies) and my body has endured a lot. And it is only recently, now, in my 50s, that I have started to appreciate it. Not appreciate it in a “Woweee look at meee!” kind of way. At all. It’s that I have learned to appreciate the fact that even though I tried to beat my body into submission, it was resilient. It survived, intact. I survived. Mostly intact.

I use the caveat that I have survived mostly intact because there are some things that will likely never leave me. I still often think in terms of how many “points” are in certain foods, and if I do the math I can have this many, and so on. Points, if you don’t know, at one time was a Weight Watchers tool of measurement for foods, and let me tell you friends, Weight Watchers, for me at least, was a helluva drug.

I will also still want to substitute certain foods for others, remind myself to make “healthy choices” and consume litres and litres of water in order to stay “full” so I won’t want to eat. Basically, so I can subsist on water and air and whatever is in car exhaust I guess? It’s maddening. But it’s not surprising.

When I was in my 20s and 30s and living the WW lifestyle, losing weight, dropping sizes, buying smaller jeans, I thought I had found the secret. I watched other women, women I worked with, try all the fad diets: Atkin’s, grapefruit, the one with lemon water, maple syrup, and cayenne. And I scoffed at them. But, even as I scoffed, I wanted to know does it work? Was someone doing that diet for a few weeks and then stepping into the office in a smaller size? Should I try that too? Maybe that’s what I need to drop those last five pounds.

I was on the WW program for years, dropping it when I was pregnant, but then going back as soon as I could after the babies were born. I cringe to think of it now, but WW had a program for breastfeeding mothers, and yes, I was on that for months too. In those months when I was so very tired with a baby, and then with a baby and a toddler, I somehow stuck to that damned regimen, weighing and measuring and restricting, and eventually I started to think what the hell am I doing? And I needed to get out.

And I got out, and I have been trying to heal and deal ever since. It’s been a long road, friends, and anyone who is nodding along right now can tell you that it’s hard, so very hard not to fall back into the routine, the ritual.

I have been wanting to write something like this for a long time, and I think what kicked it into gear was a tweet a friend liked or retweeted and it was something along the lines of how eventually we need to talk about how a lot of the diet cultures that have sprung up in recent years (think clean eating or vegan culture) are sort of code for disordered eating or eating disorders (I forget which was used in the tweet.) And I felt that so very deeply.

There is a lot of diet culture talk in the lunchroom at my workplace, and while I love the people I work with, and I normally love chatting over soup and sandwiches, I often have to remove myself from the table when paleo or keto or whatever latest trend is the topic of conversation.

And I get it, I was one of those young women (it’s mostly the young women who chat about diets) and I remember how exciting the changes to my body felt and how I wanted to share them, how powerful it felt to restrict myself to certain foods at certain times, to eliminate entire categories of foods when I needed to. But these are conversations in which I can no longer participate.

I sometimes want to say, “Let me tell you a story,” but I know that wouldn’t have worked on me. I thought I had it all under control, and they do too. And who knows, perhaps they do. Part of my issue might be my personality, my desire for control, no matter what kind of control it is, my deep need to organize, to classify and to restrict. So I continue to work on it, and I continue to quickly finish my lunch, and move on.

And on those days I try to be extra nice to my body, to myself. I try very hard not to deconstruct and critique the lunch I just ate, and sometimes I will go and buy myself a little treat or take a 5-minute meditation break to prove to myself and my body that we are enough. It’s slow progress, but it’s progress just the same.

And if you’re reading this and feeling like I am speaking to you or to your experience, please do feel free to reach out. I don’t have a lot of answers, but I have experience (did I mention I am an old) and I am always happy to be a shoulder or an ear if you need one. Always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You’re a Jet…

I have been reading A LOT lately. A lot. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary, but at the beginning of the year I set a goal to read 40 books and you guys. You guys, I have read 21 books so far. And it’s not even the halfway point of the year. And I haven’t even had vacation yet, which is when I typically do the bulk of my reading. So, making pretty great strides if I do say so! And I want to do a roundup of the latest books I’ve read, I really do. But I need to tell you first about the book I am currently reading, and about one passage in particular.

If you follow me on social media, you probably saw photo earlier today of a page from a book with a crude red sort-of-square around a paragraph with the caption “I…I have never felt so seen.” Which is, honestly, pretty dramatic, even for me. And I feel I need to expand on this, because it brought a flood – A VERITABLE FLOOD – of memories, and I think you, my half dozen or so loyal readers, will enjoy this story that will serve to explain so much about me.

The photo in question

This passage is from Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion and it is excellent. That’s all I am going to tell you about it, you can read the reviews – the book came out yesterday – and they will tell you everything you need to know, and a hundred times better than I ever could. Moving on.

I learned to read when I was around 4 years old. I spent a lot of time indoors as an asthmatic child. The asthma went undiagnosed until I was about 8, and because of that, in my early years I suffered a lot of sleepless nights (as did my mother) and since I couldn’t always be particularly active, I learned to read.

By the time I got to kindergarten, I was reading at about a grade 3 or 4 level. Other parents expressed shock that I knew how to read, and told my mother that she should have left it for the the school teach me to read, that it was no good to arrive at kindergarten already knowing how. My mother, thankfully, rolled her eyes, said “What am I going to do, stop her? How can you stop someone from reading if they want to read, and why would you even do that?” and gave me more books.

By grade 1 I was reading everything, and reading was my favourite part of any school day. Our lovely teacher Mrs. Rieger developed reading groups for our class, each child assigned to the group based on their reading level. You probably remember the leveled readers in elementary school, they might still even have them. We had Mr. Mugs and Pat and Cathy (Mr. Mugs was a dog) and the idea was to work your way through each level. You can probably guess how fricking excited that made me.

Our groups were named after animals, and while I don’t remember all of the groups, I remember the lowest level were known as Kangaroos, and the best readers in the class were Elephants. I was an Elephant.

After a few weeks, it must have been pretty clear that I was burning through all the readers, and while I don’t remember ever saying I was bored – I was 7, and all shiny-eyed with how much I loved school  – but it seemed that Mrs. Rieger felt she needed to challenge me.

When we next broke up into our groups, I remember her very clearly saying “Elizabeth, you’re not with the Elephants anymore, I have a new group for you – the Jets!” At first I was excited – even though Jets are not an animal, and 7-year old Elizabeth liked everything to be just so, why not another animal, Mrs. Rieger – but then I was worried. I was the only Jet. And so I took my brand new reader and went to my section of the classroom to read. All by myself. And I read that book with tears running down my cheeks.

When my mum came to pick me up from school she could tell I was upset and when she questioned me I cried so hard, and through my blubbering, I said, “I only just want to be an Elephant!”

This must have confused my poor mother so much, not having a clue about our reading groups or what the hell I was talking about, so I guess I must have filled her in because the next day mum came to the classroom to explain what the actual fuck was wrong with her daughter. To me, at 7, being in a group of one, even though it was the “elite” reading group – to which others would probably have been added eventually – was a punishment. 7-year old Elizabeth was a fantastic reader, but she was also a very social child (she still is, actually) and while poor Mrs. Rieger thought she was doing me a favour, in reality – well in my brain – she was condemning me to a life of isolation and social exclusion. DRAMAAAAAA.

And of course the story has a happy ending, because I got to go back to being an Elephant, and I was allowed to take the readers from the Jets group home with me in the evenings and even write reports on them if I wanted to – which obviously I DID, because duh.

Please know there is SO MUCH MORE to The Female Persuasion than that passage. This was just one that stopped me in my tracks and made me think I was being Punk’d. Honestly. And I’m glad it did, because, as I said earlier, that is probably the story that best represents me and who I am.

At 7 years old and, 44 years later, at 51.

 

Apocalypse, later, once I figure some stuff out, please

When I was in grade 6, my homeroom teacher read the class a book that I think set me on the path of dystopian fiction fascination that persists to this day. The book was The Girl Who Owned a City, written by O.T. Nelson, and I have such vivid recollections of the story and the characters that I don’t even have to go to the Wikipedia page to give you the full synopsis, honestly. I won’t bore you with all the details (there are a lot, and I remember them ALL) and you can look it up if you like, but the basic premise is that a virus comes along killing everyone over the age of 12 – twelve! – and the kids are left to survive on their own.

In the story, Lisa, the main character is such a smart, badass girl, and I think the reason I continue to love this book so much is that I was around the same age as Lisa when Miss Budge read it to our class, and, at the time, I totally identified with her. I too had a little brother! I for sure was as smart as her! I could save my friends/the world too! Let a virus kill all the adults! I GOT this.

Except…I really don’t. As much as I am an excellent person to have around in a crisis, I would probably be the worst person to have around during some sort of global pandemic. Supplies? Well, um let’s hit the sushi bar at Fortinos, I guess? Looting? Hell yes, head to Sephora and get allllll the lipsticks! I mean really. I am not a survivalist AT ALL.

So I think this is why I love me some dystopian fiction, especially the kind written by and starring smart, badass women. Women who KNOW that you need water filtration stuff to survive. Women who understand First Aid and what to take from an outdoorsy kind of store so that you don’t die in the first three days. And it just so happens that I read two excellent examples just recently.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison* follows the story of The Midwife, who manages to survive a deadly plague that kills most of the women and children of the world, and makes pregnancy and childbirth highly dangerous for both the woman and her baby. As a result, women are highly prized commodities, and you can imagine how that goes with men in charge. She journals her experiences as she travels often alone, occasionally with others, making camp and finding places to live and to offer her nursing/midwifery skills, attempting to keep herself and other women as safe as possible. The entire novel is fantastic, the characters are diverse and extremely well drawn, and I devoured the book within a couple of days. 10/10 for exciting survival skills tactics, I think this is one book I should probably keep on hand for the coming apocalypse so I can use it as a guide. What would The Midwife do?

Future Home of the Living God by Lousie Erdrich* has a different take on the end of the world, but Erdrich’s apocalypse is somehow creepier. In this story, evolution is reversing, and there is nothing science can do to stop it. 26-year old Cedar Songmaker is pregnant and on the run from the government – or whatever it’s called now – that is imprisoning pregnant women, often turned in by neighbours or family members. As is the case in times of crisis, little is known and what is known can’t always be trusted.

Erdrich has created a terrifying world, and like a lot of end-of-the-world fiction, it doesn’t even seem too far-fetched. Such is the state of our own world while we watch species vanish from the planet, while rights – reproductive and other – are being stripped (from women especially) and while resources continue to be depleted without a second thought from those in power.

It’s doubtful that these novels were written and intended to be survivalist manuals, but there you have it! As much as I am drawn into the story and the characters and their plight, there is a part of me that will always be excited for the “trip to the sporting goods store” scene in any apocalyptic fiction. Stocking up on weapons, (I can actually clean, load, and fire a rifle, so maybe I’m not so useless after all?) sleeping bags, water purification tablets and all that will always hold a special place in my heart, thanks to Miss Budge and her excellent choice of novel for our grade 6 class, nearly 40 years ago. She must have known what was coming.

 

 

*Meg Elison’s book was on Roxane Gay’s Tumblr as one of the best books she read last year, and Louise Erdrich’s was highlighted by Kate Harding in an article she wrote for Electric Literature. Your favourite authors can be great sources for book recommendations and what to read next!

Keep the Story Going

Back in January, I made some resolutions. More like goals, I guess you could say. Things I want to accomplish this year, things I want to do, etc. There is nothing exciting at all about this, this is the kind of thing people do in January, I am not unique in this, of course.

I wrote these goals/ideas down in my journal, because once they are on paper, they are a bit more real. I suppose sharing them here would make them even more real, but I’m not ready for that, sorry. I still want the ability to renege on them if I choose, and if they’re here, well…

My journal has a table of contents page, so I have taken to indexing it by month (nerd alert) so for example pages 37-52 = January 2018. Oh, that’s because I actually started this journal in September, the ACTUAL new year, when you’re a freak who still gets excited at the beginning of the school year.

Now within those months I can make a page reference to something specific should I want to, and so I have noted in my ToC that my new year’s goals are listed on page 37. This has been quite handy for me to refer to, honestly. It’s actually pretty great to be able to flip to a page and find where my head was at on January 1st, and to see how I’m doing. And not in a judgey way, either. Every so often I take a look at what I wrote down, to remind myself of what I want to accomplish, what I don’t want in my life. And that’s important.

One of my goals was to submit at least one piece of writing somewhere. It doesn’t matter where. A magazine, a contest, a blog…nothing hard and fast, just make sure to get my writing out there. Wherever “there” might be. And, I am pleased to say that at the end of February, “there” became the CBC nonfiction contest. I mean go big or go home, right? So yes, I wrote a piece, paid my entry fee, and sent it off into the ether where someone that I don’t even know will read it and judge it and deem it worthy or not. Even typing that breaks me out in a cold sweat, but hey, guess what? I did it. It’s out there.

And the “worthy or not” part is totally true, and totally fine. I do not expect to win, place, or even show in this contest, and that is absolutely fine. It’s all about the process, all about keeping the story going. My story. Pretty happy about that part.

 

Arm(y) of Me

On Monday night I went to bed like every other night, although that night I was anticipating my birthday, which was the next day. Tuesday. Yesterday. It might seem weird to you that a woman about to turn 51 years old was excited for her birthday, but as one of my 2018 goals, I promised myself I would not be mad about my birthday anymore. I was mad when I turned 50, 49, 48…the years stretch back in a series of annoyances. I’m getting old, damn it. But this year I decided to face it head on because, as they say, the alternative is worse.

I suppose I could lie about my age, but I’m a Capricorn, and we don’t like to lie. Mostly because we always worry we’ll get caught – and a lot of times we do get caught – because we’re just not good at it. So it’s either embrace the potential of a birthday in a positive way – another year on this planet! Presents! Cake! etc. – or be an old lady curmudgeon for the rest of my days. I decided to choose the happy persona.

So. Back to Monday night. Went to bed, the usual. Then at around 1:30am I woke up with a screaming, burning pain in my left arm and shoulder. There was numbness in some parts like it had fallen asleep, that pins and needles feeling. But mostly it was agonizing pain. And left arm pain is never a good sign.

I made my way downstairs for a heating pad and some Tylenol. and sat in a chair wide awake and wondering “Is this a heart attack? Should I wake John? What are the other symptoms? Why can’t I remember? Wait, heart attacks in women present differently. What else should I be looking for? Should I grab my phone and consult MedlinePlus?” And then “Of COURSE I would be the person to die on their birthday, why not.”

I need to mention that I was really calm throughout, which pleased me. I am, actually, a good person to have around in a crisis. Should you require one, I can be available. I am very, very practical, and I rarely panic. And I think that intellectually I absolutely 100% knew that I wasn’t having a heart attack, that it was likely just a pinched nerve, or even maybe I had been sleeping funny, but I had to go through all the “what ifs” before I could rule it all out.

I suppose if it was a heart attack I could have been DEAD before my brain reasoned its way through all the evidence, but whatever.

In the morning over birthday coffee, I told my husband what my night had been like and he was pretty pissed off that I didn’t wake him up while all that was going on. I shrugged and then I uttered the words that drove me the most batshit about my mother: “I didn’t want to bother you.”

I DIDN’T WANT TO BOTHER YOU.

Even our 17-year old said, “Mum, I think that if you think you’re having a heart attack and maybe dying, THAT KIND OF CONCERNS THE REST OF US JESUS CHRIST.”

My mother, for reference, fell down a flight of stairs and busted up her face, but waited THREE DAYS to go to the hospital and only ended up there because her friend happened to drop by for something unrelated, took one look at her, and forced her into the car to go to the ER. When she called me later, after they’d fixed what they could, I asked her why she didn’t call me. That’s when she told me “Oh it was a few days ago, I didn’t want to bother you.” And that’s when I lost my shit on her.

 

But, as it turns out, I have that same tendency.

Fortunately, it was a false alarm, I remain alive and able to celebrate my 51st year unscathed, the arm pain was likely from having a 65lb husky drag me around the city 7 days a week. Good to know, I guess.

Happy Birthday to me. Still alive, still annoying af.