Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Brains and Eyes and Hearts

Depression has its teeth pretty deep into my brain stem at the moment. I feel bizarrely lonely, which is stupid since I'm surrounded, physically and virtually, by wonderful people who love me. I feel ashamed that I'm wasting the beautiful fall days in sadness. I feel like I've accomplished nothing of note, and rushed heedlessly through my kids' childhood, and basically wasted my life. I know this is not rational or true. I know this will pass. I had a really good summer. It's okay.

I've been reading a bunch of stuff and finding it either acutely painful or strangely comforting - sometimes both at the same time.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is the memoir of a neurosurgeon who finds out he has advanced lung cancer at 36 just as he's about to finish his residency and start an illustrious career. I'm always a bit hesitant to read books like this, because you feel like a total dick if you can't give them a rave review, you know? When I was working at a little bookstore in Toronto, a book came in that a guy with locked-in syndrome wrote by blinking through the alphabet so someone else could transcribe every word. When my coworker asked what I thought of it, I said "It's definitely the best blink-written book I've read this year".

This book was quite remarkable. I feel like Kalanithi himself was quite remarkable, even allowing for some fudging which, come on, if you're writing an autobiography at 36 before you die of cancer, you're allowed. He was talented and engaged in both literature and science and could have chosen from a range of careers, and he had a massive, questing curiosity about where meaning and life and experience reside. He doesn't come across as martyr-like about his diagnosis, but he handles it as graciously as possible. At one point, while he and his wife are trying to decide if they should have a baby, she asks him if he doesn't think saying good-bye to his child will make dying more painful, and he says "Wouldn't it be great if it did?", because he felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering. This struck me deeply, as did his assertion that Darwin and Nietzsche agree on one thing - that the defining characteristic of a living organism is striving.  

So, yeah. Here I was, huddled in my reading chair, feeling like I'd been given a great gift by a dead man. I was stuck, pinned down, barely functional, but it was okay - I was striving to keep breathing. and happiness isn't always the point of life. Anyone who walks through this world never feeling the least bit fucked-up maybe just isn't paying attention, right?

On a lighter note, we read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides for book club. Having read his book Middlesex a few years ago, a dense, rich, subtle novel that dug deep into the complexities of family relationships and gender roles, this felt strangely flaky and shallow - I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but it seemed strange that it came after Middlesex rather than before. Someone at book club ventured a guess that he had started it much earlier and then dug it out and finished it (in a somewhat desultory manner), which seemed extremely plausible.

At one point, Madeleine, a college English major devastated by a break-up, reads and becomes obsessed with Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse. It seems not only beautiful and insightful to her, but gives her a sign that she's not alone. That's as it should be - I read and become obsessed with books, and blogs, on the same principles all the time. Then it says, "It had to do with Leonard. With how she felt about him and how she couldn’t tell anyone. With how much she liked him and how little she knew about him. With how desperately she wanted to see him and how hard it was to do so.” And then I was making fun of her for her angsty early-twenties philosophizing about a BOY.

And then I gave myself a mental slap for being a disaffected forty-something cynical shithead. Break-ups are HARD. Love is hard. Just because that's not my particular source of pain right now doesn't mean it's not a valid one for anyone else.

Then there was this: "“A Lover’s Discourse was the perfect cure for lovesickness. It was a repair manual for the heart, its one tool the brain. If you used your head, if you became aware of how love was culturally constructed and began to see your symptoms as purely mental, if you recognized that being ‘in love’ was only an idea, then you could liberate yourself from its tyranny. Madeleine knew all that. The problem was, it didn’t work”. 

That works for depression too, doesn't it? You can use your head, and understand that this is all a brain chemical thing, and, well, your symptoms ARE largely mental. Does this help to liberate 
yourself from its tyranny? Like fuck it does.

Finally, Madeleine's childhood room is wallpapered with scenes from the book Madeline, including the quote "They smiled at the good/ And frowned at the bad/ And sometimes they were very sad." And, well, damned if Ludwig Bemelmans hasn't summed it all up - life, the universe and everything - right there, yes?

Kalanithi refers often to the Samuel Beckett quote "I can't go on, I'll go on" in his book. I feel like a rusty pair of scissors trying to cut through a phone book right now. I feel like I've lost my way, especially here, where everything used to flow so easily. It feels like the world would be losing nothing of real value if I stopped. But people are writing books with their fucking eyelids, and the organism has to keep striving. So I'll go on. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Summer Catch-Up: Halifax, Part Two

Friday morning we got up and headed down to wander along the waterfront some more, because for land-locked folk like us, it really never gets old - okay, for me it never gets old, and Eve was happy finding a buttload of Pokemon. We wandered around looking at stuff, enjoying the East Coast accents and getting tattooed.

We had a lunch on a beautiful open-air patio, and when Theodore Tugboat approached, Eve, who used to find him delightful when I would bring pictures home from previous trips, now pronounced him unutterably creepy.

We went back to the hotel to wash up for dinner and made the horrifying discovery that....

We'd brought the same toothbrush, and now we had no idea whose was whose.

We met Anne Marie for dinner at the same restaurant where we ate with her SEVEN years ago when we were all here to see the tall ships.

 I had a mandarin mojito that was so fucking exquisite it even won Eve over.

I think oysters are the height of sophistication and elegance. I just can't actually make myself eat one.

After dinner we were slowly walking Eve back to the hotel so we could go out for a drink. Remember how when we bought the Rav and got Sirius Satellite free for a year, Eve discovered the Billy Joel channel and developed a now-permanent obsession? As we were walking past The Lower Deck, the cover band there started playing My Life. So we lost our minds.

Back in first-year university when we roomed together, Anne Marie and I were all Proclaimers, all the time. So when we walked a few more streets up (and I do mean up - remember, this was Halifax. When I stopped the car, Eve would have to cover her eyes and ears and sing to convinced herself we weren't going to fall down the hill) and through the open window of another bar we heard this:

This should be a short video clip of the end of 500 Miles, with two men on guitars visible through the window behind a few patio tables and a portly waiter serving beer. You'll have to imagine it for yourself, along with all the ways I violated the English language while trying to upload the video.

Well, shit, this was turning into a Mystical Musical Journey of a night.

We got Eve settled back at the hotel and went back down to The Lower Deck. We bought beer from a guy in a kilt and the band started playing this song. Anne Marie explained that Ron Hines was sort of the Gordon Lightfoot of the east coast, and said "this song is basically about emotional incest, but it's such a damned catchy tune!"

Then they played ANOTHER Billy Joel song and I had to text Eve a video. A few songs later, some girl yelled something and the lead singer said "What? You want to hear American Pie?" Anne Marie said "Jesus, someone must be really drunk." I thought I really didn't want to hear American Pie, but it turned out I kind of did - even with a few of the verses mixed up.

Walking around a beautiful city, with two of my favourite people. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Summer Catch-Up: Halifax, Part One

About two weeks into the summer, Matt said he had a fuckton of airmiles and Eve and I should go somewhere while he and Angus were busy with Goddamned Baseball. I looked at the calendar, and the next time I was on Facebook, I asked Hannah (HI HANNAH) if she was around the last week of July and not only was she around, she was on holidays from taking care of a passel of small children that week. Hardly daring to hope, I then asked Anne Marie (HI ANNE MARIE) if she was around that week and she was too, so I told Eve we were going to Halifax in a week and a half. She said "cool".

Then I had a massive panic attack about traveling alone with Eve and flying and getting around and packing and sleeping in strange places and possible sea monsters and a bunch of other stuff and thought "maybe not". Then my wonderful husband talked me down from California or Asia or wherever the hell he was at the moment and booked the flight and rental car on points so I couldn't chicken out. He is a good man.

So we got to the airport and through security without incident (okay, that's not strictly true, I walked through and beeped, so I went in the big scanner and then the guard said "I'm sorry, you alarmed in the chest area ma'am" and I said "story of my freakin' life" and then I got a little action from a woman in uniform), and got on the plane. Then something went wrong with the plane and we sat on the plane for a long time while maintenance people got off and on and turned things off and back on again, but they left the air on and gave us water, which is not always the case as I understand it, so we were okay. Then we got off the plane because we needed a new plane, and got sandwiches and Starbucks with the vouchers they gave us, and Eve was okay because hey, Free Starbucks. In the end the delay was longer than the actual flight, but we weren't really on a tight deadline and had no connection, and we had books, so no biggie.

We landed and went over to get our rental car. This was my first time renting a car without another driving adult and having to figure out directions. I told Matt to get me one with a GPS. I love my GPS. I have a close, intense, possibly co-dependent relationship with my GPS. He said "no cars have them anymore - everyone just uses their phone." SAY WHAT? That's just STUPID. You're not supposed to be looking at your phone while you're driving, you're supposed to be sitting straight, with your hands at ten and two (or nine and three if you want to be all crazy and newfangled) looking at the road listening to the calm, reassuring voice of your beautiful GPS telling you when and where to turn.

Fortunately, I have Eve, who is in many ways more like my sister than me. I handed her the phone and started driving. She said "Mom, you're CRUSHING this" very reassuringly, but I told her to maybe wait until we were out of the airport parking lot before she laid on the praise.

Also fortunately, as Hannah had said, the road from the airport into Halifax and where Hannah lives is a nice, uncrowded, twinned highway, not a "bonkers six-lane Ontario monstrosity".

We got to Hannah's at about nine-thirty at night. Pay close attention here, because this is important: Hannah welcomed us into her house and cooked us lobster, at nine-thirty at night on a Wednesday night of her one week of day-care-freeness of the summer, on a day when she had spent hours laying a new floor in her downstairs bathroom, two days before her oldest son's birthday.

*excuses self to go send Hannah a nice gift*

She did make me sleep in the nap room, surrounded by empty cribs and creepy dolls, but still - above and beyond.

Thursday she took us to Peggy's Cove during what was apparently the busiest Peggy's Cove season in recent memory. Hannah and I enjoyed the ocean view and Eve and Hannah's three boys enjoyed looking for Pokemon with Eve's phone.

Thursday afternoon we drove into the city to find our hotel, which was fine until the very last minute when we ended up in a you-can't-get-there-from-here situation and possibly went down a one-way street the wrong way and finally found the hotel parking lot and decided that the rental car could stay there until we drove back to the airport. We also got briefly lost in the huge, airless parking garage before we figured out that we should have driven a little further around before we parked. Once we got into the elevator, Eve confessed that she'd already been texting for help.

We checked into our room and then went down to walk on the Waterfront. Apparently there are a LOT of Pokemon hanging around the Halifax Waterfront. We found what Eve pronounced the most perfect fish and chips ever.

We went to Anne Marie's house for dinner and met Sheila - the three of us went to high school together an unmentionable number of years ago (my general rule for this time of life for most things is Never Do the Math, which come to think of it is a rule that's been in play through a lot of my life). It was half of our usual girls' week-end group of six, but still very nice.

Anne Marie finished the night proving what a loving mother she is by finally going out on the porch and allowing her son to put his "tarp full of water on the second floor to be released while someone is out on the porch admiring the plants" prank into effect. He later allowed that ping pong balls might have been a better way to go.

We went back to the hotel, where I had jacked the air conditioning up to arctic. Eve said she'd be fine with an extra blanket. I got out of the shower and found her like this:

She's sensitive.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Summer Catch-Up: Bluesfest

I took Pam the first night because for some reason Eve was not intoxicated at the prospect of seeing Joe Jackson and Billy Idol. Funny thing about liking music in the eighties - without the readily-available wealth of Internet information that exists now, you could like a musician without knowing much about them at all. For this reason, I'm pretty sure I didn't know Billy Idol was British until just before Bluesfest. I also didn't know Joe Jackson was British. Or white. This made Angus laugh almost as much as watching the video for Rebel Yell.

Joe Jackson was stylish and smooth and the show was really cool - he started alone on the piano and then was joined by drums, bass and guitar one by one, and then they finished the same way, and when he left the piano kept playing. I loved his old stuff and I did end up wanting to search out his new stuff, which isn't always the case. 

Billy Idol was exactly the same as thirty years ago except a bit more leathery. He seemed to be having a total blast and still sounded good except for one song early on where he was having earpiece problems and we were afraid it was all going to go horribly, embarrassingly wrong, but it got fixed. 

Considering this has been the driest Ottawa summer in years, we got rained on A LOT at Bluesfest. Before the Lumineers (transcendent show in the pouring rain), we went over to watch The Cult with Collette and Rachel. The girls took off into the crowd and Collette went to get a grilled cheese. Someone in The Cult said something about "all lives matter". I hissed in disbelief. Collette came back with her grilled cheese and said "I didn't know that Cult guy was an ignorant bigot". I said "Eve is flipping out in the crowd right now." Three minutes later, I got this text:

We brought a friend for Eve whenever we could manage it. For Alessia Cara and the Decemberists, this worked out really well. 

For Sam Hunt, things went a little sideways. We got there and everything was fine, but then there was a severe thunderstorm rolling in so the announcer said they were postponing the concert to "keep the performers safe". I found the corresponding "but screw all of y'all out there in the open field" implication sort of amusing. We took shelter in the museum, along with everyone else there. Remember I said Eve and I were okay with crowds when we were outside?

It was a little unsettling. We were all jammed together, it was humid because of the heat and the rain, and every time we said "it can't possibly keep thundering and lightning-ing like this" we would see another enormous flash through the skylight. Finally we decided we were going back out no matter what. We made our way back to the doors and got out and it was only drizzling. I suggested that the girls should drown their frustrations in deep-fried festival food in case we didn't end up seeing any music.
So they did.

And then the show went on anyway, so it was all good.

Then there was Red Hot Chili Peppers Night, aka The Only Time I've Almost Died in a Crowd at Bluesfest. I thought nothing could be worse than going down to the Monster Stage to see Hawksley Workman last year and then having to fight through the Kanye crowd with Eve to get to the exit.

I was wrong.

I was down with Collette and her family watching Coleman Hell. When we walked up the hill to the big stage, the kids took off to the front, we lost Collette's husband entirely and the two of us were behind two really tall guys to the right of the stage. It was okay for a bit (this picture is from when I said "hey tall guy, can you take a picture for me?), but Collette couldn't see so she suggested we move towards the back and try to get more of a centre view. I agreed, because why not?

Big, big mistake. Huge.

It was nothing but people. A dense, sweaty, hostile wall of people. Okay, not everyone was hostile, but there were enough that the overall vibe was not friendly. People kept doing that thing where they think if you just keep pushing a space will open up, and sometimes they're right but this time there was literally no space. It was claustrophobia and fight-or-flight-with-no-possibility-of-flight and panic and awfulness. It kept seeming like we MUST be almost at the end, but THERE WAS NO END.

Finally I saw a fence and pulled us into the corner it made, which was actually the area right by a line for the bar. A minute after I did this, some drunk chick freaked out and got taken down by security and the security guy pulled the fence in and closed out the heaving crowd so we had some breathing room. This was cool with us - not so much with the people still waiting to get drinks that were closed out and only let in a few at a time. I never drink at Bluesfest - the lines are too long, I hate being drunk in a crowd and/or in the dark, and why would you increase the number of times you have to use a port-a-potty? 

So we waited out most of the rest of the concert in there until security kicked us out and by then there was a little more space to get to the back. We found out later that it was the biggest crowd in Bluesfest history, and Jesus I hope they learned something because they did NOT handle it well.

On the last day we went, we watched a bit of the Nelly show before heading over to get a good spot for Duran Duran. After the second person got punched bloody beside us, we cut that short; Eve, however, had been in the front row with a couple of friends so it was a tense few minutes texting her while she made her way through both crowds to find us. She said working the "I'm little and I'm looking for my mommy" strategy was very effective, and a couple of girls smacked their boyfriends in the head for using bad language or not letting her by fast enough, so that was nice.

Duran Duran was great fun. I didn't like their new stuff as much as Joe Jackson's, but there was lots of old stuff done really well, and the rain had stopped. In the end, the first night and the last were my favourites, which is kind of satisfying. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This is Not That Post

Remember how I took Eve to Bluesfest for the first time last year and almost died of anxiety? But also found out that she loves Bluesfest as much as I do, because we both love live music more than we hate crowds? And crowds outside are different from crowds inside (usually - more on that later)? So this year I got us passes again and when it was time to drive there for the first time I felt a sort of baffled tenderness for last-year me because what's the big deal? And Bluesfest was wonderful.

But this is not about that.

Some of you might remember a big dress-code kerfuffle stemming from an incident on Eve's three-day year-end camping trip in June. A male teacher asked that a girl change her jean shorts because they made him "uncomfortable", I email the principal and vice-principal, the vice-principal doubled down on a bunch of stupid untrue stuff, Eve's idiot teacher made it all worse, I threatened to escalate my complaint and the principal sort-of capitulated.

Photo credit Dennis Deery

But this is not about that.

This is about me, the woman who had said "for God's sake, she was wearing a bikini two hours earlier, how much worse could a pair of jean shorts be?" sitting on a blanket at Bluesfest, with my head squarely at ass-level, looking around at a sea of flapping butt-cheeks, thinking...

"I may have been mistaken".

Kidding. Mostly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Oh, Never Mind, Blogging's Dead

I was so anxious about the fact that I wasn't blogging back in - whenever that was. At one point, I started typing my URL and it didn't auto-populate to my site, but sent me to the Ottawa Public Library instead. I felt sick.

Then I thought - what the hell am I worried about? I don't get paid for this. I figured out quite a while ago that I'm not going to try to get paid for this. Are all my readers going to leave? Well, most of them are my friends, so chances are NOT.

I get confused about what exactly this blog is sometimes. Who cares? It doesn't have to be anything. I can just write about whatever random nonsense is in my head, or write down things that I don't want to forget, like how today after I took the kids to the meet-and-greet appointment with their new doctor at the ridiculously close-by new clinic, which lifted my kids-doctor's-appointments anxiety by eight hundred percent, we went to the Dairy Queen and they fake-fought hilariously and poked each other with ice cream spoons and then we saw one of Angus's friends and he was waving at me and I thought he was a total stranger because I hadn't seen him for a year and suddenly he looks like a man. Then when we got home, one of Eve's friends had moved our little green decorative chair from the side of the front step to right in front of the door and left a little pop figure of Hermione on it for Eve, but Angus was unfamiliar with pop figures and found the movie Annabelle terrifying and thought someone had left us an evil cursed doll, so he jumped out of the car, grabbed the doll and ran down the road screaming and tried to throw it in the bush.

So hey, if you're still here, thanks for waiting, or coming back. Apparently blogging's dead, but so is eighties hair and I'm still rocking that. I love hanging out with you here, and that's what I'm going to keep making myself remember.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Pam: "Come on, let's go to the gym."

Me: "But it's Monday. Who wants to go to the gym on Monday?"

Pam: "We always go to the gym on Monday. It's our gym day."

Me: "Didn't we just go to the gym yesterday?"

Pam: "That was LAST MONDAY."

Me: "What are we doing at the gym."

Pam: "Cardio and weights."

Me: "What kind of weights?"

Pam: "Arm and leg."

Me: "We did that last time. You have to rest your arms or legs between sessions. Or something."


Me: "How about we just go cupcake shopping?"

Pam: "You realize that in real life Mindy Lahiri would probably be very unhealthy and have no friends, right?"

Me: *grumpily picks up gym bag*