Category Archives: Life

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.

 

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.

Wednesday night cold vibes

It’s 2018 now and Happy New Year, and let’s hope we make it through without dying in some horrible Twitter-related dick measuring nuclear strike incident! Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but there it is.

I am currently drinking orange cinnamon tea and eating toast with honey because I am ever-so-slightly under the weather. It’s just a cold, nothing serious, but it’s a good enough excuse to eat toast and honey, which I really don’t do often enough. Not just any honey, mind you. Stay away with your liquid Billy Bee is what I’m saying. I’m only here for the solid, white, slice it like butter honey. There is probably a name for this kind of honey, but it escapes me. But, this is the honey of my youth – and honestly, I didn’t know there was any other sort of honey until I became an adult – and it’s the honey I stand by. I also had it on toasted baguette because I am fancy.

When my mother quit smoking back in 1975, spoonfuls of this kind of honey are what worked for her. She also wallpapered the bedrooms in our house and did some painting to keep herself occupied, but she told me years later that every time she had a craving for a cigarette she would go to the kitchen and eat a giant spoon of honey, then go back to what she was doing. Whatever works, I guess. There were no drugs or hypnosis for smoking cessation, there was really just cold turkey. Or cold honey, in her case.

So naturally I associate honey with quitting smoking, but so far have refrained from asking smokers who are trying to quit “Have you tried honey?” They don’t need that kind of aggravation.

So back to my cold. It’s nothing, really, but earlier I did start to feel a little bit loopy like maybe I had a fever (I don’t.) I did, however, finish reading Michael Redhill’s Giller Prize-winning Bellevue Square and holy hell, now I realize that is definitely what made me loopy.

If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it for you. Mostly because I wouldn’t even know how to begin to describe it, other than it’s the story of a woman and her doppelganger. OR IS IT?

It’s worth reading, it really is. Redhill plays with imagery and humour, and his prose is beautifully done. At times I felt like I was the one wandering the streets of Toronto looking for her (I’m not even going to give you character names because I am still not sure of anything) it was that compelling. And like with a lot of novels that are twisty and turny – the technical terms, obviously – I felt completely unmoored at times and smacked in the face like Sideshow Bob and the rakes at other times. It’s a trippy trip, let me tell you.

And obviously, the Giller jury thought so too, so you know, it isn’t just me saying it’s a good book that you should read.

If you’ve read Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things you will recognize this feeling of not being in control of what you’re reading. I mean, I guess that’s kind of a weird thing to say, obviously an author has written the book, you don’t get to have control, it’s not like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of deal, but maybe you get what I mean? I don’t know. Read it, and then we can talk about it. Just not yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review, Year in. Part I.

Remember back in 2016 when everyone couldn’t wait for the year to be over because oh my god it was the worst year ever,? Then 2017 came along and was all hahaha up yours pal, you ain’t seen nothing yet? That was a trip, right?

I don’t see as many of those “just let this year die already” pleas as I did last year. Last year – at least until the US election – there was sadness surrounding celebrity deaths, and there were too many of them, of course. There was also that election, but until the ultimate awful thing happened, no one really believed it would. And when it did, people still held out hope. That everything would be ok. That there wouldn’t be chaos. That there wouldn’t be extreme hate. That there wouldn’t be fucking nazis running rampant and running a large, powerful country.

But there it is. It’s all happening in the worst way possible. And it’s horrible to witness and it’s much more horrible for Americans. American women, American POC, new Americans…you know the list of people it’s awful for, I don’t need to tell you. The list of people it ISN’T awful for is much shorter. Rich. White. Men.

This is not news, these are not revelations, I am not being profound or even original here. You’re all just as aware as I am, just as outraged as I am, and just as ready to burn it all down as I am. Perhaps even more.

But now it’s time for me to admit that while I know it’s not all about me, and I know that I actually have it pretty good from where I sit, based on who I am, based on where I live and all that, that this year has brought me the closest to absolute gutting anxiety, stress, and levels of depression that I have never before experienced. Ever. And I have had some bad years, trust. But this one. Man, the feelings of rage and angst, sadness and depression have been unprecedented.

It’s not all about politics and the state of the world, I’ve had some personal challenges as well, but I do believe the end times in which we seem to live now have had a rotten effect on my brain and my emotions. And I have struggled this year to make sense of a LOT of things, with varying degrees of success.

I come from a very long line of people with stiff upper lips. People who just dealt. Coped. Kept calm and carried on. It’s a very hard thing to break, this feeling that you need to keep it all inside, to just keep on keeping on, smile though your heart is breaking, etc.

When you’ve always been admired for your strength, it can feel like betrayal to admit you’re struggling. Betrayal to yourself (I should be able to handle this, what’s wrong with me) and betrayal to your friends (You’re always so strong. I don’t know how you do it, I would be a mess in your position.)

This is not to imply that my friends and family would feel betrayed by my asking for help, this is 100% me not wanting to burden anyone with my problems. Like I said, it’s a hard thing to shift.

And not to go all It’s a Wonderful Life on you, but I think we can all agree that if George Bailey had been able to send a group text like “WTF my crazy uncle lost 8 grand on me, can u guys help me out til the new year? Thx pals” he might have saved himself a lot of agony.

And while I have been George Bailey in the past, and in some ways continue to be George Bailey, I am working on it. Taking care of myself and making my needs a priority is new. Telling people I’m suffering, struggling, not dealing well is also new. It’s baby steps. And the people who love me get it, and I am so grateful for them.

2017 has been, we can all agree, an absolute trash fire in a lot of ways, but good people can still get you through. Find your good people and let them know. Check in with them on the reg, and find out how they’re doing. See them as often as you possibly can. Eat delicious food with them, have lots of laughs and drinks. Take copious amounts of selfies with them and host impromptu dance parties.

And when you’re struggling, ask them for their help. Don’t pretend you can go it alone, don’t pretend you’re fine when you’re not. Your people want to help you, and you need to let them help you.

That last paragraph was for me, mostly. But it’s yours too, if you need it.

 

 

 

Holiday Monday Feels

Like most Canadians, I’m at home today given that it’s Thanksgiving Day. And also, like many Canadians, we had our Thanksgiving meal yesterday, leaving us with leftovers for today, as we lounge about in sweatpants and eat pumpkin pie for breakfast and/or lunch. It’s a good holiday, Thanksgiving, one of my favourites.

Usually, by Thanksgiving weekend we also have lovely autumn colours and crisp temperatures, making Thanksgiving a cozy kind of holiday, where you don’t mind turning on the oven and boiling water for several different vegetables. But this year we have muggy low 20s temperatures, turning the house into a sauna, and green trees as far as the eye can see. Damn it all.

Still, we had nice later evening dinner yesterday, both boys were home, and we were joined later by our eldest son’s girlfriend, so it was fairly festive. And then I went to bed around 9:30pm.

My parents used to host Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. At least. Hordes of people. 20 for dinner IS a horde, don’t even judge me. And they did it beautifully and perfectly and damned if I didn’t just ATTEND these dinners, with very little to do. But now, it turns out dinner for 5 can just about kill me, so what is the difference between me and my parents? Probably not much. They probably went to bed early too, I have just forgotten that part of the equation.  Also, dishwasher. We don’t have one.

Fortunately for me, the rule in our house (mostly) is that those who do the cooking do not have to do the cleaning of the utensils used to create and consume the meal so that usually means I don’t do any of the post-meal cleaning up. But honestly, having a dishwasher automatically gives you loads more counter space, and I have determined part of what exhausts me so much when preparing large meals is the time I spend trying to creatively create space for things where there is no space for things. My kitchen is SMALL, friends. And the counter space therein is practically non-existent. But every time I plan a large dinner party or get-together for friends and family I 100% forget that there is no actual space to prepare foods for large numbers of people. And yet? I continue to do it because I love it so much.

To me, there are few things better than feeding the people you love. When the boys were small and we had a million places to go after work/school and I was trying to get food into their faces before we ran out the door, ok then maybe there were lots of things better than feeding the people you love. But even back then, I loved having a weekend to prepare food and the time to enjoy it with my family. Or to create something special for friends who maybe didn’t always have the time to make Sunday dinners for themselves. And just texting or calling a friend to say “What are you up to? Wanna come for dinner?” and knowing it can make their entire weekend is such a great feeling. And it isn’t that I pull out all the stops and do a massively elegant and luxurious feast (I mean ok sometimes I do) but often it’s just mac and cheese or nachos or ordering pizza. But it’s still sharing a meal, talking about our week, solving the problems of the world. As one does.

I know I inherited this from my parents. It’s in me because it was in them.

One of the last things my dad ever did before he went into hospital for the final time was to host a fish fry at our cottage for my mum, the four of us, and our neighbours. Next week will be the 14th anniversary of his death, and while a lot of the details about him are gone from my memory, (which SUCKS, trust) I don’t think I will ever forget the pure joy that was on his face during that meal. The happiness that radiated from him for just the simple pleasure of cooking for people he loved. That has stayed with me, and it’s him I think about every time I welcome the people I love to our home, offer them a drink, and encourage them to have seconds of whatever is on the menu.

Happiest of Thanksgivings, friends. Big kitchen, small kitchen or no kitchen, I hope you get to celebrate surrounded by people you love.

 

Thursday Night

I went to yoga tonight. My last yoga class was sometime in 2007 – after I started taking karate but before I started kickboxing. I wanted to keep doing it all, but there are just not enough hours in the day. At least there weren’t back then. There might be now, but alas, I am too broken for karate and kickboxing, so yoga on its own it is.

And it was great! Nearly everything came back to me; the breath, the focus, the postures, the way I knew what the instructor was going to say and where she was going with the practice before it happened. Muscle memory, I guess? Something, anyway.

And yes, this is the same instructor I had all those years ago when I used to yoga. We were reminiscing. It was probably 2001-2002 that I started classes with her. Max was wee, Charles barely in school. Her own daughter was just a few years older, and now she is doing a Masters degree. Time goes on.

And my body. Oh dear, my poor old body. I am 10 years older, several pounds heavier, and oh dear. So what didn’t come back? The flexibility. Holy god, I have lost it all.

This is the kind of thing that would have, back in the day, bothered me so much that I would have given up. But tonight I was able to cut myself some slack, work to my limit, and not go beyond that. I was, as a matter of fact, present.

I had kind of a shitty summer, friends. I won’t go into details, but there was a lot of stress, a lot of shit going on that I was unable to control. And, if you ever ask me what level of control I would like to have in any given situation, my answer is typically ALL OF IT. So you can see how this would have been kind of a problem.

When we were asked at the beginning of class what brought us to yoga – or brought us back to yoga – I said I missed the ability to be present, to be mindful of the present. I had lost the ability to focus on the now, and, after this summer, I needed to get that back. I hadn’t planned on saying that. Usually, in those kinds of situations, I say something benign, something generic, so the instructor just moves along to the next person. But tonight, those words – present, mindful – just rushed from me. Clearly, they needed to be said.

The class flew by. Suddenly we were settling in for savasana, and then it was over.

I am going to be SO SORE tomorrow, I know it. I have not moved like that in a very long time. But as I always like to say it’s a “good hurt.” The hurt where you know you’ve done something amazing for your body, so you don’t mind the pain.

My body hurts, but my brain – for the first time in quite some time – does not. I call that a win.

Also? Hi. Thanks for sticking around. I think I might be back for good this time. This too is good for the brain.

 

Goddamn it, Howard the Duck. I can’t ever quit you.

Yesterday, an 80s pop culture account I follow on Twitter reminded me that On This Day in 1986, Howard the Duck was released in theatres. How thoughtful of them.

The summer of 1986 stands out for me for the following reasons:

  1. I wrote exams and successfully completed grade 13.
  2. I accepted an offer from McMaster University.
  3. I flew, on a plane, for the first time ever, to spend eight weeks on Vancouver Island.
  4. I saw Howard the Duck. In the theatre. On purpose.

In the summer of 1985, I joined the Canadian Naval Reserves and completed training in their (now defunct) Summer Youth Employment Program. In the fall of ’85, I started working in my Navy trade of musician. Yes, this is a thing. One of the requirements to advance as a musician in the reserves was to attend the Canadian Forces School of Music (yes, that also is a thing) at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, on Vancouver Island. There I would be practicing for TQ (trade qualification), performing in bands and other ensembles, and taking part in parades and events with the other students. And, in case you were ever wondering, Homer Simpson was correct when he said “It’s not just a job, it’s a really, really easy job.” (Go Navy!)

This was pretty huge for me, honestly. I had never been away from home for THAT LONG before. I had never even been on a plane, but then one day in early July, my dad dutifully drove my friend and me to CFB Trenton, where we spent the night, then arose bright and early to board a plane to Victoria. Well, ok, we boarded a plane to Winnipeg. Then to Edmonton. Then to Vancouver. Then we got on a completely different plane – one that sat 6 people and luggage extremely uncomfortably – and then, finally, we arrived in Victoria. It was the longest fucking day of my life. Once we arrived in Victoria, we boarded a bus to the base in Esquimalt, and then we collapsed into bed. BUT NOT FOR LONG.

The first few days were a sort of culture shock. We were jetlagged, nervous about the job, trying to get the lay of the land and figure out where we needed to be at any given time.

We were housed in barracks with about 40 other women, required to be present for daily inspection which included our bed and the area around our bed, our locker, the shared bathroom, the common area, etc. We were given rulers to ensure our pillowcases were a certain size, and that our sheets were turned down the appropriate length, with counterpanes tucked in just so, and boots and other footwear lined up under the bed in exactly the correct way.

And, if I’m being honest, I fucking EXCELLED at this. I love nothing more than organizing a closet, making sure things are JUST SO. This part was SO perfect for me. Other parts of being in the military, not so much. But the ironing and the organizing and the cleaning? I was there for it.

Eventually the terror of, you know, everything subsided, and we spent our downtime exploring the base and hanging out with and getting to know the other students at the School of Music.

We had, it turns out, quite a lot of downtime. We were typically finished work for the day around 4:00 pm, and then after supper, our time was our own. With just one stipulation: we weren’t allowed to leave the base.

We watched other people come and go through the gates of the base all the time, but there was a rule for those of us who were new and that was that we had to stay on base for the first three weeks of our tenure there. I still have no idea why. Did they think we run away and never come back? WE WERE ON AN ISLAND, how far could we get? Anyway, that was the rule, and I a and have always been, a rule follower to the extreme. See above for goddamn sheet measuring.

So we were “stuck” on the base for 21 days, and at first it was fine because we were a) terrified and b) we had no money. But once we’d been paid, we were anxious to spend money. And the base activities were growing increasingly dull as the weeks went on. As well, the lucky ones who could escape for the evening would regale us with fantastic stories of pints at The Tudor House (RIP),  buses to Victoria for shopping and movies, and tea at the Empress Hotel. ROGERS’ CHOCOLATES, people. It was glorious, and when we finally were able to make our way through the gates, military ID firmly in hand for our return, we were giddy with anticipation. And what had we, as a group, decided on for our first foray into the city? Why, a screening of Howard the Duck, of course.

I vaguely remember the bus ride into town and lining up – LINING UP – to get our tickets. There was probably popcorn and a drink and then the movie itself, which, I don’t think I have to tell you, is one of the WORST movies ever made. And to be honest, I remember very little about the movie. I can recollect precisely zero plot (perhaps there wasn’t one?) although I vaguely remember a suuuuuper awkward bedroom scene that caused 19-y/o UIG to panic in a “OMG there’s not going to be alien duck/human sex, is there? I don’t think I can handle alien duck/human sex right now.” There wasn’t but honestly, fuck you everyone involved in the making of that dumb movie for causing anyone to have to EVER worry about Lea Thompson potentially having sex with that goddamn awful duck.

ANYWAY.

Our group of freshly-released navy friends exited the theatre, and I think there might have been beers afterward, or at least food that wasn’t served cafeteria-style from bored military cooks, and then we took the bus back to the base, having survived our first big adventure.

The entire summer was one of high adventure, honestly. I was four entire provinces away from my home and my parents. I was working full time for decent pay, so I didn’t have to worry too much about tuition heading to university that fall. I was navigating a new city, figuring things out on my own, AND going for tea at the motherfucking Empress Hotel.  It was the most grown-up  I had ever felt until that point, and it was a pretty glorious feeling.

So thanks, I guess, Howard the Duck, for being so terrible that people can’t help but talk about you every single year, reminding me where I was, and what I was doing in August, 1986. Perhaps if we’d seen a different, better movie, there’d be less to talk about each year? So I guess I’m grateful?

FINE, let’s go with grateful.

NEVER FORGET