Memento Mori Montreal

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It’s getting a little dark out, clouds are rolling in – we were supposed to get rain today; the only day of our trip to Montreal that called for bad weather.

The morning was SO hot for late May – we spent it wandering in the botanical gardens.  I get cranky when I’m dehydrated, but it was okay, I was with my dear old friend Colleen, who is used to me being cranky.

We had time to kill, as our Cirque du Soleil tickets were for the 8 p.m. show.  We had decided beforehand that the Amphibus would be fun.  I went on it years ago.  It’s corny, but only an hour.   They drive you around the old city and point out the sights, and then BAM – you’re suddenly in a boat, floating around down into the Old Port.

It’s an interesting way to see Montreal, for sure, from the water.    You get to see the cityscape proper, Habitat 67, the old biosphere dome and the ports where huge ships come in from the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The sky gets darker and more rumbly as we approach the land again.   I’m at the back of the bus, on the left side, in the window seat.  Most people are looking towards the land, at the city, but I see an interestingly shaped bumper studded with tires by the port wall that I want to photograph.

I look down, and not ten feet away, I see something floating in the water.  I’m not sure what I’m looking at, at first, I think it’s some debris, it’s weedy and sodden.   Suddenly, though, it came into focus.  It’s someone’s left shoulder, and their head.

“Excuse me,”  I yell, trying to get the guide’s attention.  “There’s a dead body in the water!!!”

Now, to be fair, our tour guide was a very young man.   I did think his response was a bit cold and odd in the circumstances, though.   “We are not equipped to deal with that.  That is for the Coast Guard.”

And that was it.  That was his whole response. Not “Oh my God!”   Not “We’ll radio the Coast Guard immediately.”   Nothing.   We’re past it before anyone can get another look, and pulling up the ramp onto land.

I realized at that point that they already knew about it.  There was a Coast Guard boat and other emergency vehicles parked beside the ramp, ready to enter the water as we emerged.   There is a waterfront spa right there as well, and I wonder if any of the genteel folk wrapped in their white robes lying on their deck chairs knew what they were looking at.

When we disembarked, I was a little surprised no one from the tour asked me if I was okay, but they didn’t.   UMM….   THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN TO ME EVERY DAY, FOLKS.

That was the evening I had a few patio beers.   We sat under an awning and let it rain, and enjoyed beer and Italian food, and decompressed.

I checked the news obsessively that night.   Apparently four bodies surfaced in the Montreal area in a 24 hour period.   The authorities don’t think any of them are related incidents, but rather a combination of a quick rise in temperature and the volatile currents of the cold St. Lawrence River.

I saw the body somewhere between 4:45 and 5 p.m.   The news report said they found it at 7 p.m.   That may be when they extracted him from the river, but they knew he was there long before that.

From what I gather from the news reports, judging from his clothing, and prior to autopsy, they believed him to be a homeless man who disappeared last October.

I’ve researched the topic of drowning victims a little, since.   It’s pretty gruesome stuff.   Men tend to float face down; women, face up.   It can take weeks or months for a body to surface, depending on the temperature, currents and other factors.  The lungs fill with water, and the body sinks, but when decomposition is advanced enough, gases build up and the body becomes buoyant again, and surfaces.

I really do want to know who he was.    I e-mailed the Montreal Police, but it sounds like this kind of information isn’t generally released, unless the family of the deceased approves a press release.  I’ve combed missing persons sites, and the Coast Guard site, but I can find nothing further.

I was staying with Colleen last night, as I wanted to attend my son’s graduation at Ryerson this morning, and she lives nearby.   We were talking about our experiences in Montreal.   I said to her that it was still bothering me that someone lived and died in obscurity, and no one knew him, and no one missed him.  She pointed out that if they knew so quickly who it might be, clearly someone DID know him, well enough to report him missing, anyway, so that is a comfort.

The only dead people I had seen up until that point had been cleaned up, prepared, and laid out for view, save and except my Mother when she died in hospital.  It’s completely different to come across someone who died unexpectedly, in a strange place.   It isn’t like in the movies at all.  It’s deeply, deeply disturbing.

I checked my camera afterwards, just to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently included him in any photos, and I hadn’t.   I feel like that would have been somehow grossly disrespectful; ghoulish and morbid.    I don’t need a photo, thanks.   It will be burned into my brain for life.

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If you know me, you know I have Bad Days sometimes.   Cue eye roll here, if you want to.   You know, you know, she is the consummate worrier.  She’s so dramatic about Nothing At All.

Thing is, you don’t know the whole, and I can’t tell you my whole story.  Some of it you wouldn’t even believe, and some of it isn’t mine to share.   There are things that are buried far too deep, and are far too painful to dig up and display.   Like everyone, I have shameful, burning moments that play over and over, that I wish I could forget, and that I never share.

Some days, it’s a battle to even go outside.  I dread seeing people, talking to people, hearing people.   Often I feel like almost everyone I know just wants to take something from me, or wants to criticize me, and I definitely don’t want to talk to anyone I don’t know, because that’s ever worse.

And I’m red hot embarrassed tears angry scared hiding again.

Here’s what I’m afraid of:  I’m very, very afraid of abandonment. I’m suspicious that anyone who is nice to me is only doing it on a dare, so they can humiliate me later.  I’m afraid most people only tolerate me because they want something from me.  I’m afraid both of people and of being alone. I’m afraid of getting stuck, and I’m afraid of small spaces.   I’m afraid of the dark.  I’m afraid of pain, both giving and receiving.  I’m afraid of people.  I’m afraid of being stuck in a rut, but I’m afraid of change.  I’m afraid of being found out.  I’m afraid of myself, and where my mind goes.  I’m ashamed of choices I have made, things I’ve said, things I’ve done, and things I’ve failed at.

The thing is, I have reasons to be afraid of every single one of those things, based on past experience with the human race.   I give more than I get; I put into life more than I get out, and yet I remain awkward, solitary and afraid.  I’m bad at friendship, family life, motherhood and work life, and I suck at self-care.

I wish I could go back and confront some of those who contributed to the mess I am today; but some of them are elderly.  Some of them would not even remember who I am.  Some of them would just laugh.   I can’t confront anyone.   I cross the street and go blocks out of my way to avoid people.  I’m the turtle of confrontation.

I spend weeks and months just trying to push through, getting up, going out, saying I’m okay-I’m okay-I’m okay over and over and over, until I realize that I’m NOT okay, and I haven’t BEEN okay for a long time.

So, there it is.  I might delete this post, so don’t be surprised.

I just want to say – be kind to people.  You don’t know what they’re going through, or what’s been done to them in the past.   It can be very hard to glide through life carrying jagged rusty chains around.

 

A Year from Inside

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I try to do an annual recap here, and talk about triumphs and lessons and general newsy things.

It’s been an odd year, though, a year of loss and mindfulness and yet through those things, some growth as well.   It’s been a year of both creating and letting go.  It’s been a year of both bitterness and gratitude.  It’s really been a year of unexplainable internals, and is therefore a bit hard to blog about!

This is probably the vaguest post ever, I know.  It’s really hard to come up with much good from this past year, and as I don’t want to dwell on the negative, I’ll just say it was a year lived deeply, and with great thought, and appropriate measures of humility and hubris; and a year in which I bumped up against some hard truths, about myself and others.

We have to have these times, and learn these lessons.  On a lot of fronts, I think I’ve come to a better understanding of myself and my place in the world.  I don’t think I’m who I thought I was, or who I’ve been told that I was.

Growth is good.  Change is hard;  stretching hurts.  Muscles grow by tearing and mending, and I think the heart does too.   Is the opposite of winning really losing, or is it learning?

In general, what I’ve really learned is that standing up to people is hard, and sometimes you don’t make any friends by doing it, but you make a little peace inside.  I’ve learned about taking things for granted.  I’ve learned to admit that sometimes I need a little help, and that I am in fact deserving of assistance.  I’ve learned to bite my tongue and bide my time, a little bit, at least.   I’ve learned that it’s okay to sometimes hold unpopular opinions, and that sticking to your guns for something you believe in is more important than fitting in with a group. I’ve learned to try new things, and some of them have been successful, and some of them have not.  I’ve learned that history repeats itself in ugly and in beautiful ways.

So, that’s it really.  What have you gotten from 2015?

 

 

Walmart, Suck My D**k

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I am ticked.  Miffed.  Angry.  Yeah, that last one, mostly.

Holiday shopping pretty much always makes me want to come home and leisurely open a vein in a warm bath anyway, but …

I’m standing in line at the checkout in Hell, aka Walmart.  It’s  two Sundays before Christmas, so, it was very busy.   Suddenly, a staff person comes up to me and says “Excuse me, sir?”  I turned and gave her The Look.  So instead of apologizing PROFUSELY, which would have been the smartest thing to do, she continues “You can go to the express lanes and you’d get through a lot quicker.”   Well.   I was so flabbergasted, all I could say was “Get away from me RIGHT NOW.”

Now I am shaken; I am angry; I am humiliated.  There are other shoppers all around me, snickering and staring.   I turn around, and she walks by, smiling at me like NOTHING JUST HAPPENED.   I ask the cashier how I make a complaint.  She can see how upset I am, and pages a floor manager.  TOO BAD IT’S THE ONE WHO JUST INSULTED ME.  I said, no, NOT HER.  Then the offender proceeds to make it worse by saying she didn’t mean to be hurtful, but she looked at “the shape of me” quickly, and thought…  WRONG thing to say, lady.   I said “and thought WHAT?  I’m completely humiliated and embarrassed and you are making it WORSE.”

So they got a different manager over.  I told her that if they weren’t sure about a person’s gender, maybe they could just say “pardon me”, or “excuse me”, but that misgendering people is extremely hurtful.   She said they would have a word with their associates “so it doesn’t happen to anyone else”.    The point is, though, it happened to ME.  And it shouldn’t have.  And I am sick and tired of this, and I am mad as hell.   I got a number for their customer service, and have escalated this.

I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes and thinking that I’m overreacting.   But being misgendered is very hurtful.  I’m a straight, cisgendered woman.   I have a SLAMMIN’ cute haircut and I’m wearing jeans, boots, and a fringey poncho-style sweater.  I’m super-curvy and have a larger bust.  Also, as Shakira said, “hips don’t lie”.  Yes, I am taller than most women.   If you find that CONFUSING, don’t make assumptions; because you know what happens when we assume, right?

But just a moment – what if I DIDN’T happen to be cisgendered?  As someone off the “normal” scale in terms of size, I suffer these moments of humiliation only occasionally.  They hurt, and they hurt deeply, but they are relatively few and far between.  What if I was a transgender woman?  What if I was genderqueer?  What if it’s NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS WHAT MY GENDER IS?

So, I know.  Lots of people have it a lot worse than me when it comes to being misidentified.   I try to be sensitive.  We all need and deserve our dignity and privacy.    It’s 2015, people.  It’s not about having to be rigidly politically correct.  It’s not about being so worried about not offending anyone that you are afraid to speak.  It’s about not calling people out in public places.

It’s about dignity, though.   It’s about courtesy and kindness and common sense, not about humiliating people in public forums.  I’m a nice person, a good citizen, a loving partner and a good friend, and I deserve a little dignity.

Merry Christmas, Walmart.   Go to hell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving Forces

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I took Driver’s Ed in highschool.  I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but he taught shop as well (I think it was shop, but it might have been math or welding or something else in which I had zero interest), and I found it pretty dry stuff.   The best part about it was giggling with Colleen every time he mentioned the “exhilaration lane”.   I had my 365, as it was called in those days.   My older brother took my out driving a few times, on Golden Beach Road.  Mum’s old Mini was tricky, plus it was a standard, plus my brother was one of the most anxious, nervous people on the planet.  It didn’t go very well.  I took a road test, but failed.  To be fair, I did drive the car into a snowbank. So, yeah, there’s that.

In the fall of 1982, I moved to Toronto to go to York.  As a student, I definitely couldn’t afford to run a car.  We all took transit everywhere, or we walked.   In 1986, I finished my degree, and in 1987, I got married. My husband drove, and we had a number of cool old beaters, including the 76 Buick Regal;  it was red, with a white landau roof and white leather interior.  You could have pitched a tent on the hood.

We moved to Peterborough in 1990, and had the babies in 1992 and 1994.  That’s when it started to become apparent that I needed to learn to drive. It was around 1995 or early 1996 when I called up Young Drivers of Canada.  They assured me that it was for drivers of all ages.  Maybe so, but I was the only 32 year old in a room full of 10th graders.   I remember bringing my older son in with me once, as he wanted to see where I went to school, and the kids oohing and aahing over him.  He was just concerned with the magnetic demo cars on the whiteboard, and caused several rather remarkable driving scenarios.

I didn’t get my full license until after I separated in 1999.  I failed the road test the first time, but once I finally passed, I never looked back.  At first highway driving made me nervous, but soon enough I conquered the 401, freezing rain, and downtown Toronto.   I felt like a real, responsible grownup, finally!  I’m a fairly aggressive driver, but I’m all about the rules of the road, and I’ve never had an accident.  I’ve never even had a speeding ticket (although I came damn close, but that’s a story for another day).

Now, of course, as some of you know, on the advice of a neurologist, I have had to give up some of my driving privileges temporarily until I get my sleep issues resolved.  This has been a major pain, as I can only drive 15 – 20 minutes at a time, which basically limits me to driving within the city.  I  am adhering very strictly to this, as I have no wish to fall asleep at the wheel and kill myself, or anyone else.   I work out of town 3 days a week, and I’ve had to arrange a rideshare.  I’ve had to give up some aspects of my job, like visits to Her Majesty’s guests at Warkworth.  I haven’t been able to go up to Dorset to see the leaves, or to Muskoka, or to Hamilton to see my brother and his family, or to Toronto to see my own children, or just to shop and visit.  I haven’t been able to run down to Cobourg for an afternoon’s thrift shopping.   I just saw a photo of my niece in her Hallowe’en costume, Marie Antoinette, and I hardly recognized her, she’s grown up so much.

It’s very, very frustrating.   I know that driving is a privilege, and I completely acknowledge that having someone on the road who falls asleep at the wheel is not a good thing.  But my wings are clipped, and I have to rely on other people.  I’m not good at relying on other people, as I’ve always relied primarily on myself.   It makes me feel guilty and awkward to have to ask anyone for anything, ever.  It’s hard.   Everyone is very kind, from my supervisor at work, to my new friend with whom I drive to Lindsay, but I am very, very tired of this.

Unfortunately, nothing will happen until the end of January at the earliest, when I go back to the doctor.   So, I face the holidays coming up with no ability to travel, which really messes things up.

I might just hibernate.

Arf. Rufff, Ruff. Grrrr. Who’s a Good Dog?

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Over the past month or so, I’ve spent a lot of time with dogs. I have figured out a couple of things:

1. Although I only really like about 40 – 50% of the people I meet, I like about 95% of the dogs.

2. I’m not good at remembering names and faces, except for dog names and faces.

I like dogs. I like their distinct personalities. I like their sense of humour. I like their pragmatic natures. Most of all, I love their loyal, loving, protective hearts. I’m feeling very squishy about dogs this week.

I get very nervous at gatherings, large or small, particularly when I don’t know a lot of the people there, but if there is a dog at the party, it’s all good. I’m the one in the corner playing with the dog, who doesn’t care whether I’m pretty or if I know anything about anything or if I’m a complete geek. All that dog knows is that I will kiss him and rub his belly and sneak him meaty snacks. I can get to know a dog in about ten seconds, and I don’t even have to sniff his butt.

I’ve never had a dog. My older brother was allergic, apparently. I’m not even sure if this is actually true, or just something my parents made up so we couldn’t have a dog.

Here are some great dogs I’ve known:

George (Great Dane) – my ex-boyfriend’s sister’s dog, an elderly gent when I met him. He thought he was a lap dog and he smelled horrible. An afternoon cuddling with George resulted in immediately laundering everything you wore that day, but what a love!

Muzby (unknown – maybe St. Bernard/Shepherd mix?) – George’s brother. A BIG lovely boy. Liked to bring people sticks to throw, although his “sticks” turned a game of fetch into a caber toss, and you had to be careful if he ran up behind you with a stick, because he could take your knees out.

George and Muzby’s brother Doat. Doat was actually a goat, but whatever, in his heart, he knew he was a dog.

My friend Martha’s lifelong series of dogs, including Max, Ralph, Gracie Wallace, Timbit, and many others. If it turns out that reincarnation is a “thing”, I want to come back as Martha’s dog. It’s a pretty sweet looking life, with lots of long walks, treats, soft beds, and love.

Bella, Linda’s smooth-haired collie, a well-behaved and calm girl who was my cats’ first dog encounter. Grace was ambivalent, but I think Miss Martha Muffin would really like it if I got her a dog. I was surprised on a few outings with Bella at the number of people who asked Linda if she was shaved (Bella, not Linda).

Floyd, who was some kind of super-mellow brown spaniel who hung out with me waiting for the dudes to finish their band practice.

Carly, a slightly excitable, super loving little terrier.

Freddie (basset hound) a former fat boy with a delightfully wondrous nature.

Daisy, Boss and Peggy, three silly, adorable pugs and their big brother Stryker (named after a hospital stretcher frame), a big silly white german shepherd.

Rookie and Lilly, a couple of golden retrievers, Jess, a cute little deaf redhead mutt and Kirby, who is some kinda black dog, all of whom I spent time with yesterday.

I’ve known bulldogs, chihuahuas, standard poodles, English sheepdogs, dobermans, Jack Russells, Newfoundlands and all kinds of other mutts. Almost without exception, I have been completely enamoured with them. And completely without exception, they have huge, wide-open, loving hearts.

About the only dogs I don’t like are “power dogs”. I’m not talking about the so-called “biting breeds”, like pit bulls, dobermans and rottweilers. They can be absolutely delightful dogs. I’m talking about dogs who are badly treated and trained to be vicious. I truly do believe the adage that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. I think that sometimes certain people who, for whatever reason, lack personal power, like to get a dog to put between themselves and world. I honestly don’t think it’s breed-specific. Like us, dogs learn what they’re taught. If the world has been cruel and unfair to a person, they treat their dogs accordingly. A world that is cruel and unfair to humans doesn’t produce better humans, nor do those humans in turn produce better dogs.

I went through a phase you may recall a while ago, when I really, really, really wanted a dog. I had settled on a King Charles Spaniel. I met one at the farmers market a few weeks ago, and she was just as I thought, sweet and calm and loving. I am very aware that I don’t have time to devote to a dog right now, but having a dog is very much on my retirement list. Dogs get you out in the world, exercising, and meeting people. Dogs are the best listeners. Dogs give you someone to care about, who cares about you too, especially when things are tough. Dogs want to protect you, and please you. Dogs never lie. Dogs are true heroes.

I worry, though. Dogs don’t live very long. When our cat Gracie left us after 19 years, I was heartbroken. I still miss her, very much, every day. Cats are lovely, but I don’t feel like they need us the way dogs do. I think if I were to lose a dog after seven or eight years, it would just rip my heart out. I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready for a dog to come into my life for a little while, steal my heart, and then leave.

So, “who’s a good dog”, then, indeed? All of them.

McCarthy-ism Gone Wrong

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I love clothes.   I admit it.  I have a lot of clothes, probably way too many.

Thrift shopping has always been the greatest of adventures, even back before it was “hip”.  In the late 70s and early 80s, my highschool days, I was scouring the Sally Ann for mens’ ties, at a dime apiece, to repurpose into skirts; for vintage sweaters, overcoats, and any other cool merch I could get my cheap little hands on.

Putting outfits together fascinates me.  I always like to insert a little unexpected juxtaposition in there.  Menswear elements with eyelet lace.   Pre-Raphaelite cowgirl?  Sure.   Stevie Nicks meets Mrs. Roper?  Okay, let’s try that.

My mother was not a large person, and I think she was embarrassed and overwhelmed by my size.  I wanted to dress like the other kids, whether the clothing was “flattering” or not.  I wanted bomber jackets, bell bottoms, and platform shoes.  She felt I should be camouflaged, mostly for my own protection. As we all know, though, kids are mean, and there’s no hiding being a foot taller than the other girls. “Navy blue is a sensible colour for Big Girls,” I heard.  That turned me off the colour for life.  “Big girls can’t wear (ruffles, pleats, big patterns, horizontal stripes, etc., etc., etc.)”.  Oh yeah?  No one puts Baby in the corner.

One thing I will be forever grateful for is that Mum taught me to sew.  She realized that I would always have trouble getting things to fit.  My mother was an amazing seamstress.  She had a unique sense of style, and after she retired from teaching, she went to work at Fabricland.  I’m not sure whether her motivation was the actual paycheque, or just access to their employee discount.

When I got my first student job, I found that suddenly I had money to buy and make my own clothes.  I wasn’t under anyone’s fashion thumb anymore, and I think I may have gone a little off the deep end.  Dobby is a free elf!  I cheerfully admit I am a boho hot mess:  a swirl of fringe and paisley, a little too much, and my favourite colour is All of Them.  I took the words I had heard so many times, “you can carry off that dramatic look because you’re so tall” and ran with them like Usain Bolt.  Do my clothes “flatter” me?   I have no idea.  What does that mean, anyway?   Hide the parts of myself that I’ve been conditioned to believe are unacceptable, so no one has to be “offended” by seeing my body?   Whatever.

I tell you what – I’ve been fat, and I’ve been slim.  In my adult life, I’ve worn everything from a size 12 (at a time when I was so thin from stress and worry that I made myself ill) to a size 24 when my weight got really out of control, and was starting to affect my health.  I am larger than I’d like to be right now, around a 20, depending .  I’m most comfortable with myself at around size 16.  But regardless of where my size was at, I’m still six feet tall with a 36″ inseam. Surprisingly, that never changes.

So, I have trouble finding clothes.   I shop online a lot, and I have a couple of favourite retailers (One Stop Plus and Zulilly, mostly).   Long Tall Sally (formerly Tall Girl) is very expensive, so although I drop in and ogle every time I’m in the city, I rarely buy very much there.   We don’t have a tall specialty store in Peterborough.  Staff at Old Navy here told me that they don’t stock tall jeans anymore because no one buys them.  Umm, hello?  I am buying them.  I can get them online, though.  Walmart is okay for basic things, sometimes, but I don’t like supporting the Mega Monster Godzilla store.  There’s the plus size specialties, Penningtons and Addition Elle, but often I find Penningtons clothing is not good quality for the money, and I can seldom find what I’m after.

I’ve learned a lot of work-arounds.  One piece bathing suits are out.  They’re never long enough and are torturous to wear.  Tankinis work.  I roll up my sleeves quite often, as they’re never long enough.  I wear more skirts than pants, because pants are almost never long enough in regular stores.  I wear short boots, because long boots either don’t fit my calves or aren’t long enough and look funny.

In short (pun intended), regular stores and regular clothes are often a nightmare for me.  Either nothing is big enough, or it’s big enough, but not long enough, or it’s exorbitantly expensive.  Someone long ago decided that large women really liked synthetic fabrics, baggy styles, and ugly prints.

So, imagine how excited I was to hear that Melissa McCarthy was coming out with a clothing line.  I LOVE her.  I loved her on Gilmore Girls as sweet, neurotic Sookie.  I howled over her in “Bridesmaids”.   I even liked “Identity Theft”, which was almost universally panned.   She’s unapologetic and outspoken, and takes up as much space as she wants to, thank you very much.

I have never been quite so disappointed in anything as I was with “Melissa McCarthy Seven7”.

She stated that her mission was to make the clothes she wanted to wear, to make high-quality, stylish, dramatic pieces for larger bodies.

Everything in the collection, almost without exception, is black, white or grey. It consists almost entirely of baggy overshirts paired with skinny pants and leggings.   And they are not cheap!  Jeans are $119, and fairly simple tops weigh in at between $59 and $89.  If the clothing was truly exceptional, I would perhaps be willing to pay that, but it’s simply not.  I am quite underwhelmed by this collection.

My point, I suppose, is that I always saw her as an icon of body positivity;  an in-your-face, “here I am, ain’t I gorgeous?” beacon of hope for those of us whose bodies don’t fit into the little box that society tells us is acceptable.

I wanted MORE.   I wanted clothes that fit, yes, but FITTED clothes, not baggy tents.  I wanted beautiful details and eye-popping colour combinations.   If she can’t do it, who can?

Melissa McCarthy, I’m sorry.  I still love you, but I’m really disappointed.   I don’t think these clothes reflect your sunny, hilarious, confident, outspoken personality.   I think I’ll stick with doing my own thing.  I hereby give you, me and all of us, permission to take up as much space as we require, and to wear whatever makes us happy in that space.