All the time

Last week, on my birthday, I rode to work on a sticky, sunny day, one ear bud in (because two ear buds while cycling through a city is a death sentence), listening to bahamas. I’m a sucker for folk rock or moody emo music, especially if it’s about love and heartache. I’m a fucking hopeless romantic, like most women of my generation, raised on rom-coms starring perfect-nosed blonde women.

I’m about to date. I think this is what’s happening. And as is clear from the blog, I’m overthinking it already. I’m trying not to, honest. But the game has changed in 20 years. Who texts whom? How to respond? Am I asking too many questions? I’m a fucking journalist so the answer is probably yes. But maybe I just say fuck it and I stick to one rule: Just be me.

What have I got to lose? Really at this point, I can date whomever I want. Really and truly. The choices I made in my 20s were so much about ticking boxes and ticking clocks. Hurry up and find someone to make a baby with! Make sure he can get all the accoutrements of adulthood with you: house, car, dinners out, vacations. Dream of all the boxes you can tick together. Ignore that you are hammering a square peg in a round hole. It mostly fits. You’re not a carpenter anyway, just a girl who has boxes to tick! You’re not mad that it doesn’t fit yet, you’re 20-something! Anything is possible!

I’m on the other side now, I’ve got babies and in 10 years, if I’ve done my job right, I will have a mostly quiet house many nights of the week. I’m in the process of buying that house on my own. I have a beater mom-mobile. I’m self-sufficient. And with full days and nights to myself a few times a week, I’ve realized I’ve once again got the sexual appetite of a 20-something.

I’ve got all the time in the world, don’t you want some of that
I’ve got all the time in the world, don’t you want some of that
Don’t you want some of that, I would if I was you

As my sexy, curvy friend Carla says, “I don’t need you. Make me want you.”

The problem with overthinking is that I’m not ready for someone to take up space in the warehouse. I’ve just spent a good number of months clearing it out. I’m still clearing it out, still purging and coming up with an organization system. I’m still chasing the spiders out and reconnecting with old relics and long-forgotten souvenirs from countries I once occupied.

I just found the dust jacket from a 30-year-old album. I put the record on and listened to the lyrics with adult ears, my experience now layered over my understanding of the songs. I have practiced this language, but speaking it feels different in my mouth now that I’ve travelled the terrain.

I’ve found photos of a girl, laughing on a Georgian Bay beach in a skimpy bikini. She looks perfect, but I know in her head she thought she was fat, she was ugly, not good enough. Another photo, in Acapulco in her 20s, she is wearing PVC and a low-cut top, stripper heels and too much makeup. Night after night, she let a poor man’s Antonio Banderas into her bed, sound of the ocean outside her window. She let him put his hands up her shirt and rub his hard on against her, while telling her when they got back to Toronto he’d be committing to the homely girl who drove him to and from school every day. She was not a girl that guys dated, they told her, she was too much like a guy herself. I decided to tear him out of the photo and hang onto her, because man she looks fierce with that tan.

I had all the time in the world, you wanted none of that
I had all the time in the world, you wanted none of that
You wanted none of that, I would if I was you

I find a box of ugly words that I’ve said to myself over the years. I look at each one, ask myself if they were true and how. Then I burn most of them out back. (I keep a few for days where I want to go nine rounds with my brain.)

There’s a shelf covered in mom guilt. It has to go. There’s a costume that says “Perfect Mother” on the tag. It never quite fit, but sometimes I wore it anyway, just for the Instagram photo op. There are piles of crafts that I always had the good intentions to complete, but never made time for. There’s a cylinder that yells at you when you turn upside down, and then says, “I love you so much, I’m sorry I yelled” when you turn it back the other way.

Put my work in front of my girl, there’s something wrong with that
Put my work in front of my girl, there’s something wrong with that
Something really really wrong with that,
I know this to be true

In the back of the warehouse, under some old skids, I find the giggles of girlfriends, from a time before boys mattered. I find a biography of Duran Duran. I find promises to tell about first periods and first kisses. I find a Dickie Dee bell and a Popsicle stick. I find the absence of self-consciousness and the beauty of a moment.

Behind the furnace, a heart pillow from the 1980s. A prize from a fair, smiling, arms open, beckoning me to embrace it, its fuzzy velour exterior, dusty and worn from neglect. I wipe it down lovingly and squeezed it until it glowed.

I decide to open the windows and let the fresh air in. I sweep and sort some more. I make a donation pile.

I start to envision a space with things in it, but I’m not ready for someone else’s chairs and tables and luggage to accumulate clutter. I’m not ready to share. I know I won’t be single forever, so what’s the rush? But maybe, I could throw one rager of a party in there this summer. Or perhaps host some quiet pop-up dinners in the space. Maybe I just gotta learn to let go of all these plans and thoughts and just surrender to having a little fun, no expectations. I’ve got the keys to the warehouse after all, and I get to decide when to tell everyone to get the fuck out. I’ve got all the time in the world. And for the first time maybe ever, I get to decide what to do with it.

Certainly before the ugly lights come on this time please.

 

 

Love me now (like it’s all I have)

So there’s a new boy in my life. Well, a new-old boy. Someone I’ve known. Someone who would pop into my thoughts from time to time, but now I. Can’t. Stop. Thinking. About. Him. Sigh.

It’s actually, rapidly becoming a problem, because I don’t know if I want this – the thought stream. I want the boy. I want his hands on my body and his mouth on mine. I’d like to see him with his clothes off. But I do not want to see myself like this. Needy. I don’t want to become infatuated. I don’t want to overthink everything, or get too far ahead of myself. Because that’s not solving this problem that I’m on a journey to solve. The goal right now is “I gotta get right with me.”

But today, while meditating, I realized that this, too, is a lesson. Because constantly checking your phone to see if someone has texted, or updated his Facebook, or liked your Instagram photo—it’s the same nutty, distracted thought pattern that occurs with all social media. It’s a form of seeking external validation and also has to do with impulse control. You are bored, or uncomfortable, or just not liking yourself for a moment (you may not even be conscious of this), so you flip to social media (or if you’re on a desktop, one of the 376 tabs you may have open). “Let me see what everyone is doing,” you think. Or, worse, you’ve posted something and then it’s, “Let me see who likes/loves me,” you think.

You need that zing, because we are all addicted. Our brains are wired such that we often get addicted to some kind of zing: that 2 p.m. coffee, the after work drink, picking at your cuticles, buying something with Amazon 1-click, binging something on Netflix when you know you should exercise or sleep. I’m currently reading/listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and the key, according to the book, is to replace bad/unproductive habits with good ones. You’ll never really change the impulse, but you can change the action using a system of cues and rewards. Let’s park this for a moment.

Then I read this today, after it came through my Medium email and Kris Gage totally nailed it. Most of what we think is love is bullshit. It’s us trying to love ourselves using outside influences, rather than work through the shit in our minds and learn to love ourselves from within. Those who have reached enlightenment will say that it’s because we don’t really know what we are. That because we fill our lives with noise and don’t make time to let the divine in, and as such, we can’t truly understand just how loved we are, right from the source.

I find the idea of divine love very appealing, frankly, and I don’t care how crazy-Oprah-woo that makes me seem. Because I don’t mind being vulnerable. I’ve spent my whole life trying to beat everyone to the punchline. I am learning not to mind being judged. How I choose to experience and perceive this life is up to me. And how I feel about me is up to me, not due to anything anyone else says. But this takes PRACTICE.

The new-old boy and I have had just one date (that I didn’t even know was a date), so really, when I feel like texting, “Just had jerk chicken and thought of you,” that’s just me looking for a bit of something to boost me up. That’s me seeking a, “You’re so hot” text in return. I mentioned my current obsession to my friend and unofficial guru, Dr. X, today, to which she smartly replied, “Don’t be infatuated. Take each moment, each happening in the present moment. Stay grounded and enjoy.” Awesome. Great. But how?

So this week, I’m going to work on that. Every time I start to check my phone to see if I got a bite on my last cast of the line in the lake, I’m going to take a moment to love myself instead. It’s gonna take a mantra of some sort. Something like, “I offer myself kindness.” Or, “I offer myself love.” It’s certainly no crazier than checking my phone 1000 times a day to try to get a little lift in my mood. Or, I’m going to come here and write until the urge to be loved by others passes. Because writing, for me, is loving myself. It’s tipping a respectful hat to who I am, feeding my passion, grounding myself in the present by synthesizing my thoughts. And heck, it seems like a good habit to replace the bad one.

Besides, we have date #2 pencilled in for later this week. And this one, I am completely sure, is a date. Which will lead to more snogging. Oh god, here we go again…

Don’t be chicken-shit

I rode my bike around tonight, smelling the linden trees and just being grateful that I survived this year. A year ago yesterday, he told me he “wasn’t in love with me anymore.” I thought it was bullshit, just another sign of the issues he’d been struggling with. I own some of that too, of course. I made some regrettable choices in how I behaved, nagging and raging and pivoting until there was nothing but confusion and chaos. But then the marriage counsellor fired us.

After the “how did that make you feel?” (um, like shit? Shall I describe the poo I felt like for you?) she took a breath and said something like, “At this point, I don’t think we should continue. I don’t think I can help you where you are at right now. I would strongly recommend seeking individual therapy to unpack what this means for each of you.”

So I did that. I also started to put myself out front, started to see that the only place I didn’t see myself as awesome was in his presence. I spent time with girlfriends, spent time on my bike, spent time going to yoga, spent time reading. And I did the work. I woke up every day at 6 am and meditated (thanks Andy and Headspace app). I processed my feelings with a therapist. The goal was mental fortitude, I thought, so I could steel myself from these insane verbal assaults. But the outcome was an understanding and acceptance that calling it quits did not make me a bad person or a bad mother.

Six months went by and we went through the motions. And one morning, a proposition was made to keep the marriage going that I couldn’t abide. It just wasn’t me. I cried for two days, while he played “Flamenco” by The Tragically Hip on the guitar.

Does it diminish your
Super-capacity to love?

Yes. The answer was a resounding yes. My marriage was diminishing my super-capacity to love.

I had booked a flight. Four, actually. From Toronto to London. We were meant to go on from there, the four of us, to visit his family elsewhere in Europe. It was six months away, but how could I go? How could I face everyone looking at me like the love fool that I was? They’d all seen it, seen me diminish, seen me become an angry, unhappy version of myself. No, I couldn’t go. And that is how I began the most painful but liberating conversation of my life.

Walk like a matador,
Don’t be chicken-shit
And turn breezes into rivulets
A whisper of an idea emerged, I would travel alone. I never had. Not for more than business. Not beyond flying to see him when he lived in London. London was our place. It could still be. Neutral, like Switzerland. But a jumping off point to other destinations.

Flamenco-sweep the air
And weave the sun
And stamp your feet for everyone

Over one of the most tumultuous weeks of my life, the plan took form. Spain. I would go to España to visit a dear friend, a healer who had been at my daughter’s birth. I would see a flamenco show. I would weave the sun and stamp my feet for everyone.

But this is not a post about that. That would take too long right now and frankly, there’s a very cute book title that is going to be on the cover of that story. No, this is a post about the universe.

Yesterday morning, I was low. I was regretting this break-up. I was thinking that I should not throw away a 20-year project and start over. I was feeling lonely and missing him. I didn’t want to feel that way. I emailed my therapist and told her I needed a tune-up.

My day began to get better! I had lunch with a former colleague and she is so great at filling my bucket. I know she’ll be glad when she gets to read me here, as she’s always been so encouraging of my writing. Then, while standing on a street corner, I got a call from another former colleague. She’d spotted me from inside a cafe and I got to hang with her and her baby for a while. Like Mario jumping on a Power Up, I felt myself getting stronger, feeling happier.

After work, I had plans with another former colleague, a man whom I have deeply admired and respected for a long time. Ok, and maybe had a bit of a crush on. When we made plans, he’d typed, “It’s a date!” But that’s just a thing people say, right?

As I walked to the restaurant I thought, is this a date? Whoa. But I’ve just spent a decade silencing any sexual spidey sense I have. I’ve just spent a decade not vibing off any male energy. So I went in, sat at the bar, ordered a cocktail and waited for my friend to show up.

Does it exhibit your
Natural tendency to hate

A year after that horrible night, where I was told that the man I thought I was spending the rest of my life with didn’t love me, my life was completely different. And in walked my handsome dear friend. Who proceeded to get very touchy with me. I thought, “Wow, he’s really friendly outside of work!”

It took two drinks before I blurted, “Are you flirting with me?” Yes, apparently, he was. In fact he’s been thinking about kissing me for a long time. And then he did.

Maybe a prostitute
Could teach you
How to take a compliment

We sucked face for HOURS. First base all evening. When was the last time you just made out? I have an answer. May 1998. This kissing was A++ even when my nose got in the way. I was gobsmacked. Was this REALLY happening? Was this young, super smart, well-dressed, lover of life telling me I was beautiful and putting his gorgeous lips over mine, over and over? Nah. Can’t be happening!

He knows me. He’s seen me at peak performance and peak stress. He knows I’m funny and smart and good at my job and he’s not threatened by it. It’s actually a turn on. He’s funny and smart and good at his job, too. He’s a romantic and a logic brain, and quite different from a lot of men I know. And holy shit, dudes! I think he’s super into me! (And no, I’m not ready to share his name, so if you’re texting me to ask, don’t.)

“Is this a THING?” I ask incredulously in between kisses. Because I’ve known him for so long, but NOT like this. I mean I KNOW him, I trust him, but I’ve never touched his skin until this moment. He looks right into my eyes and says, “Yup, it’s a thing. I just want to go to cute places and artsy things with you.” It’s the reason I deleted the dating apps, because all I have room for right now is a companionship built on mutual respect that also scratches some itches, and finding that on a dating app is a huge time suck. But here he was on my couch with an ideal proposition. My friend, who I now think about kissing all day, just happened to drop in at the perfect time.

Whenever we get scared of the new direction we’re taking, the terrifying unknown path that we need to be on to reach our destiny, we want to retreat back to what we know, even if deep down we know it’s not good for us. Last night, the universe said, “Shhh, stay on the new path. I’ve got fun stuff planned for you.”

And as crazy as it sounds, I am just going to surrender to that idea.

Maybe I’ll go to New York,
I’ll drag you there
You said, “no one drags me
Anywhere”

Does it diminish your
Super-capacity to love

For the first time in a long time, no.

Songwriters: Gordon Downie / Johnny Fay / Joseph Paul Langlois / Robert Baker / Robert Gordon Sinclair
Flamenco lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

Stop and smell the peonies

June, the month of glory, where the humble yet majestic peony embosses every Instagram post of every girl who needed something new to signify she’s alive and of this earth. After posting the crocuses (to symbolize the thaw), the tulips and daffodils (oh, here comes spring), and an ever so brief dalliance with the sakura (cherry blossoms), the peony signals the acceptance of spring’s growth and the anticipation of a brief, thigh sweaty summer.

She was a peony once, tight and furled into herself. New. Next to her was a bud, attached at the junction that leads to the root, growing alongide her, together but apart. The sun kissed them, the rain fell hard upon the pair, but they weathered the storms as best they could. It’s not easy being exposed, some buds have stronger stems than others. They kept each other company, laughing at the silliness of alliums around them, and just as they felt lonely in the space they occupied, two tiny ants appeared.

She, without thinking, fed them and in turn, they pollinated her. It was exhausting, but rewarding, giving the these little-legged creatures room and board. They were ceaseless with their demands. But without them, as June waned into July with a great celebration, she would not have become as beautiful as she realized she was that day. She would have remained closed in the bud, failed to bloom fully. They occupied her petals, forcing her to open wider than she could have imagined. Their efforts, their relentless crawling all over her, their quiet naps in her folds, helped her to blossom. They chose her  she needed them to survive

Her best bud, however, refused to open. He wanted to stay outside as long as possible. He did not want anyone to notice him, lest he be cut down too early and taken indoors. He did not mind the epic rains of that June, they cleansed him. He convinced himself he was happiest alone anyway. Oh sure, he enjoyed the ants. They helped him to find calm. But he was completely uncomfortable with how passersby to stop and smell the blossoming flower he was attached to. He despised her social media success, her showy display. He found it confusing that she seemed to get energy from the appreciation, that she enjoyed her minor celebrity status. They were so different, he thought, how could this possibly work?

He began to pull away, to stay tighter within himself and reveal nothing but his pain and distaste for her. After a particularly windy storm, she began to feel the weight of it all, began to feel herself drooping, dropping petals. The time spent trying to make herself smaller and to contain her beauty, dull her fragrance, make herself invisible—so as not to make him leave her—became unsustainable. She knew what she had to do to survive. The season was almost over for her, but she still had a shot. She woke up one day, conscious of the need for a bud to love her for who she was, to appreciate her awesomeness, to be co-pilot on her quest for life’s beauty. Someone to hold her up and support her during the torrential spring rains that flooded basements and created lakes in parking lots. But first, she knew she had to learn to stand on her own.

She said her goodbyes and cut herself down, liberating herself. It was painful as fuck, but eventually she graced a dining room table, the centrepiece for family conversations, present in the moments that mattered. She knows she is wilting and that the ants will soon abandon her, in search of toast crumbs hiding on the unswept kitchen floor. But for now, her pollen is enough to sustain them, and their company enough to sustain her.

Title track

I’ve been listening to a heap of R.E.M. since The End of The Great Love (a.k.a. the breakup of my 19-year relationship—NOT an album title you didn’t know about). I don’t know why Michael Stipe is so comforting, but he is and has been for many people. I wish he’d release another album, one for the truly heartbroken, where words and melodies could heal all the hurts of the past. But alas, that’s a tall order, and one might argue that the band released—over umpteen albums—a cannon that included many tunes which would qualify as filling the aforementioned desire.

The title of this blog comes from one R.E.M. track, “E-Bow the Letter” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, mid-career for the band, just before they signed “its then record-breaking five-album contract with Warner Bros. Records.”  According to Wikipedia, the song became the lowest charting lead single for the band, reaching only number 49 on the Billboard music charts. Americans didn’t love it, but it did well in Canada and the U.K. For many of us moody chicks, what makes E-bow ultimate gold is the little bit where Patti Smith comes in. Because Patti, she’s seen some things. While Michael exudes sensitivity and the pain of growing up gay in the conservative south, Patti’s voice is whiskey and cigarettes, and beautiful arsty men converging with and then injuring her poet soul, causing her to grow a layer of protective fur and rise up like a she-wolf, howling at an August moon.

The song has always raised critical questions. What is an e-bow? Again, Wikipedia to the rescue (thank you Wiki volunteers!): “The song’s title refers to the EBow, an electromagnetic field-generating device that induces sustained vibration in an electric guitar string (creating a violin-like effect), and to a “letter never sent” by Michael Stipe.” Still a bit confusing, but OK!

Why is Michael Stipe “dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is”— that is the question we need to answer here, to tie this thread together. Maria was a Greek-American opera singer. And a great beauty with a big fucking honker. This is important to me. We are too limited in our view of what’s beautiful. I need a hook, a theme, to jump off of when writing. I need a muse. Maria Callas, you’re it.

I am at a point in my life, nearing 43—which I hope is not quite the half-way point—where I feel like what bit of beauty I have (and never had the sense or gratitude to appreciate in my younger days) is slipping away. South, to be exact. Towards R.E.M.’s Georgia maybe, where I’ve never been. Sliding down like a soft serve cone on a hot day. Soft, shapeless, worn, with an unflattering middle. I AM the unflattering middle. Or so I feel.

But in this investigation of muses, I learn that Maria Callas didn’t want the show to be over when the fat lady belted out the final high-note, so she lost a ton of weight—get this—mid-career. It is believed that this contributed to vocal decline and ended her career early. (Unlike robust Aretha Franklin, who could belt out “Nessun Dorma” in her 70s.) Then I think of Jennifer Grey (star of Dirty Dancing, pictured in the header image above), who famously had to have her atypical nose corrected, making her just another pretty face and taking away any character she once exuded, ruining her acting career.

So, the lesson here: learn to love the unflattering middle. Learn to accept and find beauty in the unflattering middle. Be it the middle of your torso, the middle of your face or the middle of your life (for those flat-tummied, tiny-nosed folks out there), you are at the point where you choose whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. Or rather, what you will do to fill the rest of your glass, or how you will enjoy and savour the half that is left. Welcome to my journey through the middle, at times unflattering, but soon to be loved fully.

E-Bow the Letter

Look up, what do you see?
All of you and all of me
Fluorescent and starry
Some of them, they surprise

The bus ride, I went to write this, 4:00 AM
This letter
Fields of poppies, little pearls
All the boys and all the girls sweet-toothed
Each and every one a little scary
I said your name

I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
Hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
Dreaming of Maria Callas
Whoever she is
This fame thing, I don’t get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
This star thing, I don’t get it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

Will you live to 83?
Will you ever welcome me?
Will you show me something that nobody else has seen?
Smoke it, drink
Here comes the flood
Anything to thin the blood
These corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
Phone, eat it, drink
Just another chink
Cuts and dents, they catch the light
Aluminum, the weakest link

I don’t want to disappoint you
I’m not here to anoint you
I would lick your feet
But is that the sickest move?
I wear my own crown and sadness and sorrow
And who’d have thought tomorrow could be so strange?
My loss, and here we go again

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

Look up, what do you see?
All of you and all of me
Fluorescent and starry
Some of them, they surprise

I can’t look it in the eyes
Seconal, spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene
Cherry-flavored neck and collar
I can smell the sorrow on your breath
The sweat, the victory and sorrow
The smell of fear, I got it

I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over, there
Aluminum, tastes like fear, there
Adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
It pulls us near
I’ll take you over
I’ll take you over
It tastes like fear, there
It pulls us near
Pulls us near
Tastes like fear
Tastes like fear
Nearer, nearer
Pulls us near
Over, over, over, over
Over, over, over, over
Yeah, look over
I’ll take you there, oh, yeah
I’ll take you there
Oh, over
I’ll take you there
Over, let me
I’ll take you there
I’ll take you there
There, there, there, baby, yeah

Written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Michael Stipe • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

As plain as the nose on one’s face

When my friends and I watch award shows, it’s with a device in hand, tapping between our What’s App group chat and Twitter. Recently, after seeing a certain small-schnozed actress, I joked to another big nose friend that whenever I see small actress noses, I wonder what it’s like to live like that. To look out at the world and not see your nose take up some of the view. She and I had a giggle and the other two in the thread had no clue what we were talking about. “Really? From every angle?” Yep.

Most girls of my ethnic background get nose jobs in their teens or early 20s. How will they ever find a husband with a nose that big? I remember my uncle telling me that if I saved my money, he would pay for half of the surgery. I thought about it but then spent that money going to Acapulco for spring break and getting raped instead. How validating! If I guy wanted to take advantage of a very drunk me, that meant I was pretty, right?

I kept the nose, somewhat as a fuck you, but every few years I think about trimming it down. Especially after I read that your nose and ears continue to grow until you get old. Holy fuck, this thing is going to get bigger?! As my face slides south? That just seems cruel. Like running over baby rabbits with the lawnmower or something.

Like most big-nosed girls, I’ve learned to be funny. For a long time, that funny was self-deprecating. Make them laugh at me using my own jokes, before they could dictate the narrative. I’m middle-aged now, so my humour has matured, so I don’t do that anymore so much, but there’s a time and a place for it.

Anyway, here I am, trying to get some words down in between work and kids. Hope you come back.