Panic, Patriotism, and Purple Penguins

Photo by Hermes Rivera on unsplash.com

I woke up this morning in a panic. One minute I was dead to the world. The next minute I bolted out of bed as if my sheets were molten lava. I stood there muttering, “Oh crap,” over and over again. My eyes blinking wildly. Focus. Focus. Is that the time? Oh crap!

I ran into the living rooming and looked around wildly. My dog looked up at me, cocked his head to the side, and yawned. By the look on his face, I assume he was thinking, “What the hell’s gotten into you?”

Excellent question my furry friend!

I picked up my phone and checked the time again, just to be sure there wasn’t a glitch in the matrix, but it all lined up. Except for the extra minute of panic. Wow, I’d been in a stone-cold panic for one whole minute and I still didn’t know why. Okay, I slept in and I never do that. Not even on a holiday. 

A holiday? Today’s a national holiday. Wait, hold up, take a deep breath. Today’s a holiday. Oh, okay that changes a few things. I can unclench all of my orifices. Bend over, hands on my knees, and exhale slowly because today is a holiday.

I’m writing this on July 1, 2020, which means today is Canada Day. Happy Birthday Canada! My home and adopted land. You are a beauty, that’s for sure, and I’m so thankful for everything you’ve given me. Safety, security, a health care system that’s kept me alive while not sending me into bankruptcy. 

Was that a humble brag? No, just overwhelming gratitude for the country I call home. 

We immigrated to Canada when I was five. My parents wanted us to grow up in a safer country than the one we were born in. No shade to that country. Lovely place. Beautiful scenery. Delicious food. A health and safety record that leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve said it before, but it’s amazing how much fear you can live in, and not know how afraid you are until it’s gone. I didn’t know I was so scared. I didn’t know that it wasn’t “normal” to live behind bars or hide every time I heard a loud bang. I didn’t know that doing home invasion, bomb evacuation, and active shooter drills weren’t the norm for everyone.

Coming to Canada opened my eyes to a different lifestyle that felt alien. Actually, when I first heard the name Canada, I thought my parents were taking us to a different planet. What is this Canada you speak of? I’ve never heard of it, therefore it must not be real. Is it a trick? Are you sure it exists? What if it isn’t real and when we get there, nothing’s there? Just a barren pink landscape full of purple penguins with three yellow feathers sprout from the top of its head.

What can I say? A child’s world is very small but their imagination is very large. Or, the hypnotic power of Dr. Seuss was a little too strong.

We were welcomed into this frozen tundra with warmth, compassion, and generosity. It was, we’d come to learn, the stereotypical Canadian way. Kind to a fault. Open doors and open hearts. It’s not something that’s done for show. It’s a way of life.

For me, when I look at my country now, I see a diverse society with an ingrained social conscience. The self, the individual, is defined as much by their community as their personal attributes. That means that we’re all in this together, and we strive to help the weakest of us become strong again. We work together to protect the vulnerable even if that means we sacrifice some of our strength because our greatest strength is unity.

To me, Canada means acceptance, kindness, safety but I’m not foolish enough to think that this is true for everyone. I wish it was! I wish you could experience Canada like I do but, sadly, the stereotype doesn’t encompass all. We’re imperfect. We have a system that’s broken, and those fractures damage the very thing that makes us so amazing.

We’re a young country with a long history that’s not the storybook we like to pretend that it is. We have a lot of growing up to do. We’re still stuck in our old ways of systemic racism and colonial idealism. We’re trying to break down those walls and turn it into a lush field with room for everyone. It’s hard work, but the work is being down.

Three steps forward and two steps back? Baby steps, that’s the best description, because, if you’ve ever watched a baby walk, you know they fall down a lot. That’s us, I think, moving forward with clumsy, jerking, movements that trip us up. Sitting still is easier. Crawling is more comfortable. Taking a nap sounds nice but up we get. Reluctantly and with plenty of fist-clenching tears. Sometimes with full-blown temper tantrums.

There are a lot of good people that are putting in the work to help us grow. Parenting us, if you will. Social activists. Leaders from diverse communities. Kind people with hearts of courage and boundless empathy. People from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds are putting in the time, the tears, and the sweat because being Canadian means, to me, not settling for good enough. It’s not enough for the greater good to succeed. No, we want everyone to succeed. This isn’t simply in idealism but it’s action and deeds that go beyond an anthem or a flag.

When we stand for our national anthem we sing, “In true patriots love…” Patriotism isn’t about that flag waving high in the sky or a song we sing before a hockey game. True patriotism isn’t seeing the best and ignoring the worst. Yes, patriotism is loving this country for what it is but, contrary to all the songs, love isn’t blind. 

Loving this country doesn’t mean stagnation but growth. We love her so much that we want her to become greater than anything we can imagine. It’s seeing the flaws, the broken pieces, and doing everything in our power to fix what’s been shattered. It’s acknowledging our dark history and doing everything we can to heal the very deep wounds.

I love my country so much that when the wounds are exposed my heart breaks. I can’t even begin to understand the depth of the pain some of you have experienced. As I said, my experience as a Canadian has been idyllic. I’m spoilt rotten. Hearing your stories though? Seeing your reality on a tv screen? It’s a tale of two countries within one border.

How many indigenous people have lost their lives to a system that, we’re told, was put in place to “help”? A system that hurt so many of you and a system that’s continues to play our history on a loop. There are people living without clean water in a country that has the ability to send a person to space. We can put someone on a space station but we can’t deliver adequate medical care to remote communities within our own borders. 

It’s shocking, heartbreaking, and I’m so sorry for my own ignorance. We’re better than this! I know we are because you welcomed me, this stranger from a distant land, with open arms and a heart of gold. You gave so freely of yourselves and I’m so grateful. If you can do that for me, for my family, then surely we can take care of the people who’s land we stand on. The land we stole. 

That’s right, I said it. But, saying it is still controversial which says a lot about where we are in our development. It says a lot about how much work still needs to be done.

When I woke up this morning, I was in a panic because I thought today was tomorrow. In my half-asleep haze, I thought I’d messed everything up. I thought I was letting people down. I thought I’d missed some important deadlines. Then I woke up and now…

I’m trying to write a tribute to the country I love and it’s morphing into something I’m afraid to post. Pointing out our flaws, our failures, is akin to treason. Especially on a day we celebrate her birth. It just not done but birth, of a person or a nation, is not without suffering. How can we celebrate a birth without acknowledging the labour? The pain, the tears, the blood that’s been spilled. Some of that blood has been spilled for our freedom. Some has been spilled for our pleasure.

Acknowledging one doesn’t negate the other. It’s is not contrary to love our country but want it to change. Two things, no matter how opposing they may seem, can be true and wrapping our brains around that is enough to trigger a little bit of panic. It feels unnatural. It feels like an assault. It feels too big so we fight it or pretend it doesn’t exist. 

Not here. Not in Canada. We’re too nice for that sort of thing. We turn our eyes to our flag, place a hand over our hearts, and sing as loud as we can. We look away. We drown out the cries. We call anyone who objects a traitor and tell them to go back where they came from.

Don’t get me wrong, our flag and anthem have their place as symbols of noble idealism: Unity, community, human rights, peace, freedom, and the list goes on. They do represent these ideals on a global, and personal, stage. They have meaning and I would never discount or dismiss their significance.

I wear my flag with pride because I’ve lived under another flag that, for me, holds reminders of fear and pain. I love the flag that flies overhead. It saved my life. It saved my family. It’s given me so much and asked for so little in return.

When I travel, I proudly stitch the maple leaf onto my backpack because I am proud to be Canadian. I’m often treated with a great deal of respect because of the flag on my bag. It’s my shield that protects me from harm, but it’s also a sign of kindness. That’s our reputation. We’re kind. Sure, some make a joke out of it and our politeness is a little extra, but we can take a joke so keep em coming.

Back home, however, we fail to protect our own and we don’t treat them with the kindness that we’re famous for. We perpetuate tired old stereotypes and turn away from people who are asking for nothing more than basic human decency. We do this while hearing the cries from other lands and we rush to help them, as we should, but what about our own?

Can’t we help our own as well?

You might read these words and hear treason in my voice, but please hear the love instead. I love my country with all of my heart but that love hasn’t stolen my sight. On the contrary, love has opened my eyes wide, and I see so many of you experiencing a vastly different Canada to the one I know. I see you struggling. I hear you asking for decency, kindness, and respect.

The same decency, kindness, and respect that I was unreservedly given when my feet landed on Canadian soil. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not the world. It’s the most Canadian thing we can do! We can be kind.

Maybe we can even get people clean water, adequate medical care, and there are a lot of women still missing on the Highway of Tears. You know, while we’re being kind and all.

Shut up! I love you.

Photo by Gratisography from Pexels

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ― John F. Kennedy

Yesterday marked the thirteenth anniversary of my kidney transplant. Thirteen years. I’m actually shocked. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. I know it’s a cliché, but where did the time go? It feels like it just happened a couple of months ago but, at the same time, it feels like an eternity has gone by. How is that possible? 

Is time a construct of our global overlords or is it just messing with me?

The latter. It’s definitely the latter. Government what-now? It’s Monday and I have horrible cramps. (I know: TMI)

Thirteen years ago, yesterday, I was sitting in pre-op with my brother. The doctors and nurses had just done their final checks. The IV was put into his arm, and we were wearing matching blue gowns. The whole family was there, but we had this moment to ourselves. It was early, and it was surprisingly quiet for a hospital.

Or the ringing in my ears blocked out all the noise.

I was so afraid. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty. Mom’s spaghetti…Wait, no sorry that’s not my story. Confusing myself with a white male rapper again. Typical.

I’ve had hundreds of surgeries, most of them pretty major operations, and I know the drill. One more scalpel cut, one more line of stitches, one more scar? No big deal! It’s a part of the game. A game I’ve been playing my whole life but my brother had never been through anything like this before.

Having a kidney removed isn’t the equivalent of an appendectomy. You can live without an appendix. You can live with one kidney, an heir and a spare, but a kidney is still a major organ. Having it removed is major surgery. Donating a part of your body is no small feat. It’s a monumental undertaking! An incredible thing to do, absolutely, but there are a lot of risks.

Risks my big brother was about to take to save my life and, that’s as heavy as it sounds.

I was so scared for him and if anything happened… I can’t finish that thought.

We had a few minutes alone and I asked him to back out. There are protocols for these things. If a donor wants to back out, but save face then they’ve got it covered. They can say the bloodwork is off and they need to do more testing. They can say that I had an infection, and we can’t go forward with the surgery until it’s cleared up. There are a dozen excuses. All we had to do was pick one. 

Please pick one. For the love of God, pick one and we can call this off. 

My brother, bless him, shook his head, and said, “Don’t be stupid. We’re doing this. You’re getting my kidney. You’re going to get better. That’s it. We’re done talking about it.”

The surgical team came and took him in first. I’d go into the operating room next to him, about forty-five minutes later. I sat on my gurney and waited. My eyes moved from the clock on the wall to the door down the hall. I nearly chewed off all of my fingernails. Time moved so slowly, and every time the hand on the clock ticked, I felt a sharp stab in my chest.

My brother, brave and selfless, was in an operating room having his kidney removed. All I wanted to know, all I cared about, were two words: He’s Okay. I needed to hear that he was all right before I went in. Just tell me he’s okay. Come and tell me he’s okay. I looked at the clock and back at the door. Come on, tell me he’s okay.

The nurse came to get me and she gave me the thumbs up. “Kidney looks great,” she said, but I didn’t care about that. “And your brother is doing just fine.”

There it is! He’s okay. Now, we can go and get my part of this show started.

We walked through the doors at the end of the hall, and down a long corridor. There were a lot doors leading to other operating rooms. Carts filled with gear. The air smelt like disinfectant and stale anesthetic. If you’ve never smelt anesthesia, it’s a bittersweet smell. I’m trying to find something comparable but it’s very unique. It’s kind of sweet like bubblegum but bitter, sour, like bleach mixed with lemon juice.

That’s an awful description but if you’ve smelt it, then you know. If you haven’t, well that’s brilliant, I hope you never need to fill your nostrils with that putrid odor.

We reached my door, and I looked back at the operating room next to mine. “He’s fine. He’ll be out soon,” the nurse said as she gently guided me into my room. 

Pro-tip, if you find yourself in an operating room: Don’t look around. The surgical tools look like medieval torture devices, and knowing they will be used to cut into your body is unsettling. The nurses count everything out, gotta make sure nothing gets left inside of you, and the process is a bit grim. From a patient standpoint, it’s grim. Don’t look. Focus on the bed, the ceiling, the kind nurse telling incredibly inappropriate jokes. Laugh at the jokes, focus on the ceiling, and let the anesthetic pull you out of your body.

I love anesthetic. Is that weird? My body gets heavy but my mind becomes light as air. There’s this moment of fear when mind and body disengage but then…I’m flying up, up, up into a clear blue sky. Do a few acrobatics, test out those wings, before the darkness pulls you down into a deep sleep. It’s a very strange moment that’s also, just little bit, fun.

Thirteen years ago I woke up in the intensive care unit, intubated (a machine breathing for me), and I heard the two phrases I need to hear: The transplant worked and your brother’s doing just fine. The kidney was a perfect match and my body welcomed it, with the help of anti-rejection medications, without a fight. It would take over a year to fully recover, which is normal, but today my brother and I are doing all right.

Without my brother’s gift, I wouldn’t be alive. I had six months left. If my luck held out which, let me be honest, I don’t hold much stock in the luck game. Six months to live, but thirteen years later I’m still here because of my amazing, sweet, brilliant brother.

There’s no way to thank someone for that kind of gift. There are no words, no deeds, or gifts that adequately convey the depth of my gratitude. Believe me, I’ve tried and I’ve searched. There’s nothing. I don’t know what to say and every time I try, my brother shrugs it off and says, “Shut up, you’re my sister.”

The only explanation needed. 

Is it, though? Are there moments, gifts, that don’t require explanation or expressed gratitude? After all, selfless acts aren’t done for applause or recognition. They’re done because of love. Unfiltered, untainted, uncomplicated love. They’re motived by the most innocent of desires. They act out of a genuine concern for someone else. It’s a desperate need to act that’s not based on greed, but of a purity that we seldom see anymore. 

An action so rare it borders on the miraculous.

How do you thank someone for being the miracle you prayed for? I’ve never found a way, and I’ve had thirteen years to look for one. “Shut up, you’re my sister.” I love you. I need you. You’re a valuable part of my life. A necessary part of my life. Food, water, air, you. Shut up, I love you.

If you’re lucky enough to have someone say that to you, and mean it with their whole being; hold on to them as tight as you can. It’s overwhelming. Emotionally and spiritually, it feels like too much electricity is passing through your circuits. You feel like you’re going to blow a breaker. Maybe you will, but hold onto them because the lights will come back on. When they come back on?

How do you say thank-you? Do you even need to say it or is this a moment of bonding, on a spiritual level, that surpasses expressed gratitude? A connection so deep, so selfless, that it makes words superfluous. A knowing. An understanding. Two entities united as one in this moment of kindness. No words needed. No deeds of recompense. 

All that’s needed, all that’s exchanged, is a knowing nod, a wink, or a hug shared by two people who’ve gone through a battle and survived. Survived through selflessness. That’s all that’s needed because, again, “Shut up, I love you.”

That’s not to say that I haven’t taken time to say thank-you. At least once I year, on the anniversary of the transplant, I say the words because it’s the least I can do. Needed? Not by my brother, but I need to say it. I need to take a minute to remember that moment, and poorly express emotions that are beyond words. I need to do that because it’s important to take a second to acknowledge the people who’ve impacted my life in positive ways. For them, absolutely, but also for my wellbeing.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget how loved and needed I am. I get caught up in the pain of the past, and I struggle to find hope in the future. There are days where I’m dark and twisty to the point of self-destruction. Taking time to mark these anniversaries, and express my gratitude does me a world of good. It’s as if I’d blown my breaker and now I’m flipping it back into place. Let there be light?

Six words can make a world of difference: Thank you. I love you too.

They might not need to hear it, but I need to say it. Whether it’s superfluous or not, these words have to come out of my mouth so I know how loved I am. I need them to know how loved and needed they are. If I can forget, then maybe they’ve forgotten too. I say the words out loud because it means something, on that spiritual level, and, yes, it feels inadequate but it’s not the words that matter. It’s the person saying the words, the heart beyond each syllable, that counts for so much more.

Thirteen years is a long time, and it’s time I almost lost. This isn’t hyperbole, without my brother, I would be dead. Believe me, I know that anything I can say will sound hollow, but please know that my heart is so full it hurts. A good hurt. A volcanic eruption, hot lava, of love and gratitude. I can’t express it well enough, but I can’t contain it either.

So to my brother, one of the most honourable men I will ever know: Thank-you! I love you too.

A Genuine Menace

Photo by: Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash.com

I should’ve just gone back to bed. I should’ve called it a day. Hidden somewhere safe. Zipped myself up in a bubble suit, and rolled into a padded broom closet. I know it’s usually a room but, in a pinch, the minimalistic solution will work just fine.

Mm, yeah let’s go with a closet with extra cushioning and a lock. You know, for added security and peace of mind. Oh, there should be a slit in the door. No, not for oxygen, though it’s a good idea and I’m glad you thought of it. I almost forgot that I needed to breathe. See! I’m a hazard to myself all ready.

Right, so a slit in the door for breathable air, and snacks. Maybe a hose? Snacks make me thirsty, and I should stay hydrated. Air. Food. Hose?

What’s the hose attached to? Uh, I don’t really have a preference but please be kind. I know quite a few smart asses who’d… Well, you know, ew. Hook the hose up to something suitable for human consumption and make it yummy. Um, maybe something that goes well with snacks?

So let’s see, we’ve got a bubble suit and a padded closet. Snacks and yummy drinks. What else? Entertainment! Right, boredom leads to fidgeting, and fidgeting always makes these situations worse. Fidgeting gets me into a lot of trouble so let’s avoid any further fidgets.

Have you ever said a word so much that it stops sounding like a word? Fidget. Fidget. Fidget. It sounds like I’m speaking Latin. Who speaks Latin nowadays? On no! I sat still for too long. My contemplations are causing an itch. An itch to, you guessed it, fidget and this is when things go horribly wrong.

Am I the only one who’s had a day where everything goes wrong? I’m not talking about a bad, no good, horrible day. Bad days are a dime a dozen, especially this year, and they’re something to endure with a glimmer of hope that better days are on the horizon. Bad days happen, but the day I’m talking about isn’t one of those days, per-se.

Oo, now I am speaking Latin. Fancy.

No, my inner werewolf wasn’t trying to make a bid for freedom. I didn’t get drunk on beaver milk. I’m fine, at the moment, but I think I experienced a bit of a glitch. A hiccup in my programming. I’m not sure if it was a coding issue or if some wires got crossed while I slept. Either way, I had a day where I couldn’t function according to factory specifications.

I couldn’t coordinate my limbs. My mind and my body weren’t on speaking terms. I was a little more absent-minded, clumsy, and accident-prone than usual. Oh, and I’m a clumsy one, Mr. Grinch. 

On a normal, average, no-nonsense day I accidentally injure myself once, maybe twice, during the eighteen hours I’m awake. I’m working purely on the bruise count here. I’m so clumsy I barely notice the slips, bumps, and scratches. I wake up, check for new bruises, and try to figure out where they came from. What can I say? It’s a hobby. 

The day I’m talking about was quite exceptional and I don’t mean that in a fantastical way. I woke up in the morning and I had a feeling. It was an alarm bell in my gut. Screaming at me. Telling me to stay in bed. Don’t risk it! It’s not worth it. Stay where you are for the foreseeable future.

Did I listen? Sigh.

To be fair, every morning I open my eyes and think, “This again? No, I’m staying in bed. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to be a person today.”

If I stayed in bed every time I had that thought then my body would become one with my bed. Melded together for eternity. A new form of life. A bed-person? No, there’s gotta be a better name for it. Why can’t I think of a better name? Think. Think. Think.

Nope, nothing, and I refuse to become a mattress. I just can’t do it. It’s so…Off-topic.

The urge to stay in bed all day is always there, and every day I ignore it. I peel myself up, swing my legs over the side, and mutter a lot of incoherent words that, I assume, contain a lot of profanity. That day, the day that will go down in infamy, was no exception but it really should’ve been the one time I caved. Why wasn’t it the one time I caved? Arg!

I got out of bed without looking, because my eyes were too busy talking to the manager. It’s cruel, that’s what it is, expecting eyes to focus and pupils to dilate. Not at this time of the day! It’s inhumane. The sun’s barely up and you expect us to see clearly. Ha! That’s right, my eyes ha’d at me. My own eyes ha’d. Well, aren’t we’re off to a great start?

My eyes laughed, and I tripped over my damn cat who, coincidentally, decided to dart from under the bed at that exact moment. No, she’s wasn’t trying to kill me. Nope. Uh uh. Then again, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and she’s staring at me. Just staring and licking her lips. For a second, I wonder if she’s thinking about eating my face. Then she purrs and I know, with absolute certainty, that she’s contemplating my demise.

The cat darted, I tripped, and I landed face first in a pile of dirty laundry. I really should get on that or I’m going to have to air dry my entire body. What will the neighbours think? Screw the neighbours! This was my chance. The warning shot. I could’ve listened. I should’ve listened. Alas, with a dramatic sigh, I called my cat an asshole and got to my feet.

The bed was behind me, and the bedroom door was in front. A choice was made, and it was a choice I’d come to regret. Fist to the heavens, head thrown back, and with all my might I yell, “Why?” Why didn’t I go back to bed?

Yeah, I’m being very dramatic. Overly dramatic? Quite possibly but it adds flare. I love a little flare. 

By 12:36 pm, I’d slipped in the shower twice, slipped on the bathroom floor three times, and almost fell over towel drying my hair. I’d opened my front door a fraction of a crack before realizing I didn’t have any pants on. Then, you guessed it, I nearly fell over putting my pants on. I walked out of my front door, and got all the way to the lobby before I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes. After putting on my shoes, I left my apartment for the third time. Did you know you can’t lock your front door or start your car without keys? Go figure. 

If you’re counting, it took me four tries to successfully leave my apartment.

At this point, most reasonable people, would’ve taken the hint and found a safe place to lick their wounds or count their losses. It would seem that reason had abandoned me because I kept going. I broke two cups, tripped three more times, and shattered my apple watch. Did I get the warranty? If only you could see my face and hear me sigh.

Thankfully no one else was hurt in the making of that day, but by the end of it I felt like a complete menace, and seriously started to question lady luck. Okay, I don’t know if I believe in luck, or fate, or the stars doing things when other things are in retrograde. Clearly, I’m an expert. Yes, that was sarcasm and I know you know that, but this is the internet. One can never be too careful on the inter-webs.

Inter-webs is a fun word to say.

I’ve heard people say that there’s no such thing as luck. Life comes down to hard work and perseverance. I’ve also heard people say that hard work and perseverance will only get you so far, and luck takes you the rest of the way. My mom always told me to get out of my head, and watch where I’m going. I don’t know about the first two, but my mom’s a smart woman and, in this case, she’s probably right.

I’m a very heady person and, by that, I mean I spend far too much time inside my own head. I get lost in thoughts, daydreams, ideas, and riddles. I follow a rabbit down a hole, and I lose hours of my day. I forget the outside world exists. I look through things and people. I walk around in a haze because I’m so busy trying to get a straight answer out of an overdressed rabbit.

Most days I catch myself, and heed my mom’s advice. I write out my rambling thoughts, questions, or riddles so I can solve them with you. I let the rabbit run in the open air so I don’t have to get wedged inside another hole. It’s safer for everyone, but mostly myself because when I get lost in my head, bruises form.

As I follow the rabbit through a maze of twisted roots my body tries to keep up. How can a physical being keep pace with an imaginary creature? It can’t, obviously. Which is why I walk out of my apartment without pants on or try to start my car with my toothbrush. It’s why I break an overpriced watch, think my cat is a homicidal maniac, and why I’ve run out of cups.

Trust me, making tea in the palm of your hand is inadvisable.

I really like my rabbit, it asks interesting and provocative questions, but maybe I can leave some questions unanswered for a little while. I don’t have to follow every thought or solve every riddle. Oh, that makes me want to sigh dramatically, yet again. It makes my eye twitch! Ignoring an intriguing flight of fancy? I mean, that seems a little extreme, but it sure beats tripping over my own feet. 

Or am I making a rather large assumption?

If my assumption is true, does it mean that, instead of pulling my head out of out arses, I need work the other way round? I’m not sure how that’s physiologically possible. Should I do yoga first? You know, limber up a bit before I give it a try. I don’t think I’m flexible enough and, honestly, milking a beaver sounds easier.

Damn it, now my rabbit is bouncing up and down waving its top hat. Not this time you little menace. I won’t follow you…Oo shiny.

Ouch! Not again.

Yeah, You Can Milk A Beaver!

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”– Stephen King

I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of hours now and all I have are a whole lot of words on a page. They aren’t horrible words. They make sense and are, for the most part, grammatically correct. There’s a logical progression of thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with the words I’ve written, other than the fact that they feel wrong.

Does that make sense? Can something be both right and wrong at the same time? Apparently, yes, they can because I’ve been writing the wrong words for three or five hours. I’m frustrated. I’m uninspired. I’m…Here, alone with my thoughts and very little inspiration.

I thought I had it! An idea, a concept worth exploring, and I was ready to dive into it with both feet. I opened my laptop, clicked on a new document, and started typing. I got about seven hundred words deep and then it hit me like a blunt object to the side of my head. I’ve been working away for who knows how long and I’m not saying anything.

Well, that’s a sucker punch! What am I going to do now? I’ve gotta put something up and now I have nothing. Perfect.

I’m a quiet person. Painfully shy. If we were to meet in person, you’d find that getting words out of me is as challenging as getting milk from beaver. Technically possible but really not practical or sustainable in the long term. How many of you just googled: Milking a beaver? Mm-hm, don’t be shy. We’ve all done it.

The reason I’m so quiet isn’t a lack of vocabulary or knowledge. Which is just a nice way of saying, “I know how to use my words and I’m not stupid.”

I’m quiet because I’m way too thoughtful. Not in a kind and generous way. Though, I hope I’m kind and generous. I mean, who wants to be an asshole? No one. At least, not intentionally and certainly not as an alternative lifestyle. We all want to be kind, right? Some of us just pull it off with more conviction than others.

Where was I? Right, I’m thoughtful in a different way. It’s a: stop and think things through until the moment has passed and now we’re on to a new topic and you just stood there making weird squeaking noises…Sorta way. I know, that was a run-on sentence. I apologize with half of my heart. The other half is still googling beavers.

It’s not a personality quirk that plays well at parties. I’m always the odd duck sitting in the corner all alone. Slowly inching closer to the nearest exit. Hoping my subtle movements won’t draw anyone’s attention because if they see me, they will try to engage. It’s kind of them to try, but we both know it won’t go well.

On the other hand, as far as personality quirks go, if you’re a writer who’s trying to produce thoughtful content on a weekly basis then, you’ve found a home. Welcome! Seriously though, did you google the beaver thing? I’m not saying it’s required reading, but you’ll thank me.

My excessive thoughtfulness has created one particular life motto: If you can’t say anything productive, shut up. Or more often than not, if you can’t say anything, do yourself a favour and stop making weird squeaking noises. It’s creeping everyone out. It’s not as subtle as you think. For the love of all that is unicorn in this world: Shush.

All that to say that, about twenty minutes ago, I realized I was saying a whole lot of nothing in particular. Well, more specifically, my heart wasn’t in it. I was fighting to find the inspiration, the motivation, to keep going and that’s usually my cue to stop. It’s not working. I can’t do it. I should give up, walk away, and shut up because my voice isn’t working very well.

Oh, the panic! It’s Monday, and I said I’d post something every Monday and Friday. I owe it to… Huh, maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself? Maybe I should just cut myself some slack? Maybe it would be okay to miss a day? 

Maybe it’s time for me to shut?

Or, inspiration is overrated and I need to put my head down and do some hard thinking. Put my back into it a bit. It’s not all sunshine and dandelions. I may be artsy-fartsy but sometimes I need to be less art and more…Uh, never mind.

Those of us who are creative by nature, by instinct, tend to put a lot of faith in the magical power of inspiration. It’s the key that unlocks many different worlds and it allows us to see beyond our limitations. It’s a magic carpet that transports us to other realities where boundless wonders reside. It’s a spiritual experience full of bright colours and beautiful music. A technicolor wonderland.

Without its wondrous gifts, we’re lost or, worse, we’re left stranded on a barren island. Wordless. Voiceless. Creatively alone and forlorn. Just us, a coconut named Steve, and a single question floating around in our minds: What about the beavers? I’ll never know about the beavers!

There was nothing wrong with the words I put down on the page and I’ll go back to it tomorrow. It’s not all lost. I’m not a complete failure. Inspiration may have left me to my own devices, but my own devices will suffice. When I let go of the strings, let inspiration fly off on its own solo adventure, I found some odd thoughts clanging around. Slightly amusing, kind of bizarre, and perhaps you’re wondering what I’ve ingested.

Nothing. I’m completely sober. I know, right!

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we’re forced to work a little harder instead of relying on old faithful. That applies to other fields, not just the creative side, because where would we be if a mechanic only fixed cars that inspired their genius? What would we do if our doctor only operates when the mood is right? How would we learn if a teacher can’t teach until the stars align? How would we taste the sweet nectar of the beavers if beaver milkers…Too far?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a super-boost of electrical inspiration. It’s the spark to my fire but somedays it rains and I’ve got to light my own fire. Rub two sticks together or something and, yeah, it’s nice to know I can do it on my own. I can create my own inspiration with a little elbow grease and a few cues from Frankenstein. Hammer and nails. A little more brute force. Gritting my teeth and squinting my eyes. It’s almost there. Now, I just need a silly little google search and… You can milk beavers! Who knew? 

Wait, who’d want to? Two words: Anal glands. I know! Ew.

Inspiration isn’t something that comes to us after we wish on a star and it’s not a tap we turn on and off. It’s us. We’re the inspiration. Go look in the mirror, focus on your eyes, and don’t look away. Keep looking. Don’t blink. There! Do you see it? For a second, there was a spark. You are all the inspiration you need to get it done. 

Whatever it is you’re working on right now? Don’t look away. Don’t back down. Don’t sit and wait for the right moment. Inspiration is the result of a lot of hard work and a hefty dose of perseverance. If I can get a blog out of beaver milk then just imagine what you can do!

Bring Back The Clowns

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash.com

Clowns. They aren’t that bad, are they? I mean, if they’re hiding in a sewer and offering kids red balloons then, okay, that’s kinda creepy. Is that how that movie went? Yeah, I never saw it and I never read the book. I’m not a fan of scary stuff. Too many real-world scary stuff. I don’t need to add a dash of it to my popcorn.

Not that clowns are scary! A little off-putting, maybe, but they just wanna be loved. Is that too much to ask for? No, no I don’t think it is so let them be loved, damn it.

There’s a chance that I’m a little bit biased and it’s important to admit to one’s biases. Let’s not start off with two secrets and a lie. That’s just not cool so, I readily admit,  I have a slight clown bias. There you have it. Full disclosure and all of that.

It’s a trust thing, isn’t it? Admitting a clown bias straight off the tip of that big red nose. It’s better than pretending I’m a nonpartisan pollster. Going door to door conducting “research” and collecting “data” for the Clown Institute Of The Place. Nope, honesty is more endearing and a bit refreshing in these batty times. 

Wow, how’s that for an indictment of the human race? Honesty has become a refreshing beverage instead of a full meal deal. We’re so used to hearing half-truths and outright lies that when someone actually speaks the truth? Those damn rubberneckers cause a traffic jam!

Where am I going with this? Be damned if I know, but if we keep going there’s a chance we’ll find out together.

So, bring back the clowns! In a manner of speaking. Don’t worry, a gang of clowns aren’t about to flash mob your humble abode. I’m good but I’m not that good. Okay, I’m not even all that good but I put my back into it so that counts for something.

Here’s a little known fact and, I assure you, there’s no word of a lie to be found: I was a clown. Not a class clown. I’ve always bee too shy, quiet, and easily distracted by shiny objects to pull that off. Oh, and I’m way too socially awkward to be that kind of clown. Perish the thought.

 I was a real-life clown.

I had the full get up. The painted face, gaudy wig, and silly costume. That’s right my friend, I went all-in. I know, it doesn’t really sound like me. Putting myself out there in a costume, and situation, that’s so bizarre it’s sure to trigger my social anxiety. You’d be right to assume that it’s something I wouldn’t even entertain but I did it. Shocking. I know. It’s weird, right? 

There was a theatre group and, in a moment of uncharacteristic whimsy, I thought, “What the hell? Let’s give it a whirl.”

So I whirled it, and I gotta say it was a lot of fun. There’s something so liberating, pure, and almost innocent about clowning. The make-up. The hair. The goofy outfits. Coming up with a character that defies our usual identities and pushes us out of our comfortable little holes. Finding new ways to move the body and express thoughts, emotions, without words. Changing yourself into a different person, creature, entity type thing, means you can be anyone or anything. You can play freely without judgment because, look at yourself in the mirror, you aren’t you right now.

I can see that, for some, the idea of wanting to be or pretending to be, someone else could strike a sad note. After all, we’re all told to love who we are and the best gift we can give ourselves is self-acceptance. Well yeah, of course, that’s true but how often is that our reality? How long are we able to maintain that reality? 

We all have things we’d like to change about our lives, personalities, or our bodies. We all have moments when we don’t like ourselves very much. Do we all have moments when we hate ourselves, our lives, our bodies? Maybe we won’t go that far but a lot of us come very, very, close.

How often have you looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, for a fraction of a second, that life would be a lot better if you were someone else? If you looked different or acted differently. If you could change that one thing about yourself. Would life be better? Have you had those thoughts or am I’m the only one. 

It’s possible that I’m out here alone but I doubt it. Even the most evolved among us have experienced moments of depleted self-esteem, self-love, and self-acceptance. It’s a natural part of the human experience. We aren’t all in, all the time. The thought of that is exhausting!

Or, I’m just looking for some reassurance that I’m not the only one. Who knows? It could go either way.

The moment I put on the face paint, tucked my hair into the wig, and zipped up the parachute onesie I felt a surge of confidence. I wasn’t sick, crippled, or any other moniker life had bestowed upon me. Everything that had happened, or could happen, ceased to exist because I wasn’t that person anymore. I got to choose who, or what, I was. I decided what my own identifiers would be and I had the power to use them in any way I, or my clown, wanted because I had the power of self-creation. 

Creating my identity meant that I could be anything, anyone, and that gave me the freedom to explore. I got to play. I got to try things I never would attempt in my regular human form. I could be weird, strange, kinda out there and that was okay because clowns are supposed to be a little odd, goofy, and whimsical. They’re supposed to act in unpredictable ways. They’re supposed to be unique and it’s their uniqueness that’s celebrated. 

Their uniqueness is also feared. Their unpredictability, their lack of known identifiers, and their painted faces are abhorred. Clowns are scary for a lot of reasons, I know that, but for some of us, it’s their lack of conformity that triggers something very deep inside of us. Repulsion, aversion, or intense hatred.

So, is anyone else picking up on a lot of mixed signals or am I reading too much into things? Be unique. Be different. Love yourself. Accept who you are. Be proud of who you are. Be true to you. Be you!

Whoa, hold up now! We don’t want that kind of uniqueness and, while we’re at it, dial back on the you-ness! It’s a lot. It’s making me uncomfortable. Don’t you know how the world works? You should be unique like everyone else. Quit clowning around and get in line.

Arg, I’m so confused. 

When I was a clown, I was able to freely be whoever my clown wanted to be and no one thought worse of me, er her…Us? We were unique, different, and we could be proud of who we were. We could be true to ourselves. We were being exactly who we were. Unrestrained, unfettered, and free.

But the wig comes off, the make-up washes away, and the onesie is hung up in a closet. My clown vanishes and I slip back into my body, my identifiers, my life. Restrained, fettered, free but in a way that, I imagine, closely resembles parole.

Sorry, I know I’ve been talking about the idea of identify a lot lately, and maybe you’re getting sick of it. It’s something that’s been consuming my thoughts and it’s something I’m trying to understand. It’s something I’m struggling with in many ways. Personally. Professionally. My health. My life. My identity as a whole person. 

There’s the person you see, the person my family sees, the person the world wants to see, and the person I see in the mirror. It’s a jumble and I’m trying to line them all up but something’s missing. I’m not sure what that is but I know I’m not whole yet.

Maybe I’m missing the sense of freedom I felt when I was a clown, on a stage, in front of an audience. There weren’t those mixed messages. I could be my unique self. I could identify as anything with anyone. I could step out of one body and into another. I could test the waters. Experiment. I could try out new skins. I could play without fear or be burdened by doubt.

No, I don’t think I’m going to paint my face, put on that wig, and zip up that parachute onesie anytime soon. While the freedom was nice it was also a bit of an illusion. Pretending to be something, or someone, else is fun and it’s a nice vacation. It can help us test our limitations in the safety of a small community.

But it’s very easy to deadhead the exploration when the costume comes off and leave the work half-finished. Testing my limits was great and I learned a lot about myself but when it was over, I stopped learning. The safety net was gone and I was left with a clean face staring back at me in the mirror. 

I have so many questions about identity as a broad concept but also in the microcosm of my world. My place in the world. Who I am? Who I want to be? How do I become that person when all around me people are telling me to dial it back? How do I accept the person that I am when, who I am might scare people? How do I accept myself when who I am scares me?

I’m looking for answers and exploring the concept of identity. I’m digging through it but it’s not as simple as I’d like it to be so I doubt I’ll have any answers, anytime soon. If only it was as easy as painting my face, putting on a garish wig, and twirling around in a parachute onesie. If it was easy everyone would do it? Maybe everyone should give it a try at least once?

Full disclosure: I miss my clown. Clowns are an underrated species. The deserve more respect. We need to bring back the clowns!

Just not the creepy red balloon clown. Nope, he’s not invited. So much drama! Geez.

When I Look In A Mirror

Photo by The East London Photographer on Unsplash.com

“I am not my body. My body is nothing without me.”  ― Tom Stoppard, Rock ‘n’ Roll

There are times, when I look at myself in the mirror, that I don’t know who I’m looking at. I bite my lip, and the stranger in the mirror bites hers. I close one eye, and she winks back. I hold my breath, she holds hers, and we wait for each other’s will to break.

Sometimes, I see myself, my body, and it feels like a stranger is looking back at me. A stranger but a kindred spirit. I trace my fingers across the scars. I feel the silky smooth skin, sunken into the flesh. I feel nerve endings trying to make connections across severed lines. I feel the muscles ripple and shiver. Those are my fingers, I know they are, but they’re tracing the lines on someone else’s body. 

No, it is my body and I feel it, but it still seems foreign. 

I’m standing there, all alone. It’s just me and my reflection but it still feels like it’s not my body. It feels like I’m an invisible entity, standing off to the side, watching the movements of those fingers, seeing the affects they have on the skin. A head tilt. A furrowed brow. The invisible me is curious but detached.

It’s an odd sensation. Not a terrifying one. I’m not afraid of what I see or feel. It’s a little uncomfortable but that discomfort isn’t bothersome. Maybe it should be. Maybe I should be afraid of it but, no, it’s a curiosity inside one of those old circus tents. A traveling freak show? Is that what they were called? I don’t like that comparison any more than I like those tents. Those people, in the real-life tents, deserved a hell of a lot better.

But that’s a conversation for a different day.

When someone asks me about my life, or I’m telling my story, I feel an odd sense of detachment from that as well. It’s not like it happened to someone else. I don’t feel like I’m watching a movie and spoiling the storyline. It happened to me, I’m very well aware, but it kinda feels like it happened in a different life. Like I’m doing some past life regressions. Is that what it’s called? No idea, and I don’t know if any of this makes sense or if I’m being an obscure oddball?

I suppose both can be true.

I’m sure there’s some psychological term for what’s going on and I could spend five minutes googling it. The name, the diagnosis, isn’t important for this conversation. It serves very little purpose, for me, other than adding a label to a box. I have enough labeled boxes in my attic and I’m not sure I can fit one more so let’s leave this one for another day.

This phenomenon has brought up an interesting question for me and that’s: Who am I if I’m not my reflection? My scars? My illness? My past? My Story? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot over the last few months. I’ve been trying to redefine myself or, at the very least, challenge my internal dialogue. A measure of self-exploration that I hope will help me find a more settled, balanced, life.

Are we all defined by our most dramatic moments, appearances, or life experiences? We’re all so quick to try and put each other, and ourselves, in boxes with pretty labels. It makes us feel safer when we can clearly identify the people we come across. It makes us feel safer to have a definition of ourselves because it’s easier to find others who are like us.

It brings a sense of belonging. Isn’t that a universal need, desire, craving?

I’ve defined myself, been defined by others, by my chronic illnesses. I’m a kidney patient, a transplant recipient, and a survivor of multiple cardiac arrests. These scars on my body are my badges of honour. They prove that I’ve walked through hell, and I’ve survived death. That’s who I am. I’m not ashamed of who I am because it’s my story. 

I just want my story to be more complex, vibrant, and a little more silly. Why so serious? No idea. Despite my best efforts, my life has been pretty serious and I want a bit more variety.

I have no idea what that is. I’m fresh out of ideas. No clue. Not even the foggiest. What will be my “more” and how will that define me? I can’t even begin to picture it and the thought of having another definition added, makes me cringe. I don’t think I want another definition, another labeled box, but I don’t want the boxes I’ve collected to become the sum of who I am. 

Or, is that all ready predestined?

I have to be more than this body I inhabit. This shell of a human. A physical representation of something more complex. It’s not who I am but, at the same time, it is exactly who I’ve become. I am my body but what is my body without me?

Without my soul or spirit, if we have to give it a name, my body is nothing more than a reflection of who I was. Oh, but now I’m inching my way into something that’s a bit morbid. Sorry about this. Hold on tight. I’ll get through it as quickly as I can.

Ready or not…

Have you ever seen a dead body? A human body. Let’s be clear. This is no time to spin the wheels. Have you ever seen a dead, human, body? An open casket, for example. There they are, lying in repose, and it’s a bit surreal. Or, was that just my interpretation? You look down at someone you used to know but that person isn’t there anymore. What made them, them, is gone and what’s left is nothing more than a memory.

My grandmother passed away several years ago. We were very close. I adored her and we spent a lot of hours together. Drinking tea, eating cherries, and talking about everything or nothing. She was someone I’d call a kindred spirit, and that’s not a term used very often. It’s not often you find someone who so clearly mirrors who you are.

After she passed, I sat by her bed and looked at her face. She was smiling. A tiny little smirk. She was the picture of peace. I stared at her for a very long time. I wanted to memorize every little detail of her face so that I wouldn’t forget what she looked like. I was worried that if I forget her face I would forget her, but that was silly.

Whenever I think of her, I struggle to picture her face but I clearly hear her voice saying, “Hi Luv.” I hear her laughing, as if she was standing next to me. I remember the stories she told me. I remember the way her long fingers knitted blankets for newborn babies. I remember how safe she made me feel. How loved I felt when she smiled at me and the light in her eyes when she told me she loved me. I remember her, the person she was, but her body has quickly become a faded photograph.

Why? Simply put, she was not her body and, once she was gone, her body was no longer who she was. Her body was never who she was. I’m sure she was defined a hundred different ways by everyone that met her. Mother, grandmother, nurse, friend. But who she was, went so far beyond the person we all saw. That image didn’t determine her character. Her character far exceeded any definition our limited imaginations could conjure.

I can see that in her, I can see that in you, but I’m struggling to see it in myself. Can I be more than a diagnosis? Can I be more than knees that won’t bend or a heart that won’t keep its rhythm? Can I be more than the pills I take or the doctor’s appointments? Can I be more than a limited definition of what a disabled person can or should be?

If you asked me these questions, I’d say without hesitation that you can be whoever you decide you want to be. That power is yours. You aren’t your body, diagnosis, or any other label the world wants to pin on you. You are more than all of those things. I see so much potential in you, and I hope you see it in yourself.

When I ask myself those questions? Well, there’s a kindness that we’re able to extend to others, but when it comes to ourselves? Kindness is harder to find.

One day, I’ll stand in front of that mirror and my two halves will come together. Logic and emotion will realign. Not only will I know, without any doubt or reservation, that I’m more than my body but I’ll feel it in my soul. A kindred spirit of sorts? Without which, neither body nor mind can exist.

So I Became The Smoke

Photo by Jaroslav Devia on Unsplash.com

Let’s just make a few adjustments, shall we? We need to cover the dark circles under those eyes and add some colour to those cheeks. There, that’s a little bit better. Now the hair, the clothes, and…No, no slouching. Stand up straight. You look like a question mark! Who’s going to believe anything you say, looking like that? Now, stand up straight. Put a smile on your face. A little wider, a little brighter, almost there. 

Mm, no, no this isn’t working. It’s all wrong. So very wrong.

A box is pulled from a shelf. It’s a very old box. The edges are torn and stained. There’s a thick layer of dust on top. A deep breath and a mighty exhale. The dust is caught in a gust of air and it flies up, up, up before floating gently to the ground. The box is dropped onto the counter with a dull thud, and the lid is slowly lifted.

Lean in a little closer, furrow those eyebrows, and bite the bottom lip. Its features are delicate and the design is elegant. It looks so real! They’ll never know the truth. It’ll have them fooled for sure. Lift the mask out of the box and secure it in place. It blends in so nicely. No one will ever know that the real me is hiding underneath. They’ll never know the difference. They’ll think that this is me, all dolled up and ready for their approval.

We all do it. I know we do. We have different faces for different events. Like a theatrical mask, we give the audience what they came to see and hope they don’t see through our play-acting. The curtain rises and falls. We’ve played our part. The applause reaches the stars and a hum of gratitude soon follows. We’ve done it. They’ve bought it and without question. Take a bow. It’s well earned.

Different faces for different places. A necessary part of our social graces. There it is, written in bold letters. Be who you need to be, who you’re expected to be, to pass as one of them. Pass inspection, and you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

We do it for them because its what’s expected but we also do it for ourselves. A protective mechanism. A way to cover up the parts of our identity that’s sensitive to light. Exposure is painful and we burn easily. Who we are, the real version, can’t handle the spotlight. We’re not ready to step out onto that stage. We’re not ready to stand in front of everyone completely exposed. Naked. Our imperfections on display. There to be judged, ridiculed, and humiliated. 

It’s all too much so we cover up our inadequacies. We take that dusty box off the back shelf and put on our masks. Stand up tall. Don’t slouch. Smile, whether that can see it or not. Walk with confidence and elegance. Make them believe you are who they need you to be, and everything will be okay.

Calling me socially awkward is very polite, and I appreciate the overestimation of my ability to interact with other people. Socially inept is probably more of an accurate description. Then again, it could just be a matter of semantics. Either way, I put a mask on that closely resembles a smokescreen. The outline is there but you can’t really see anything. If you can’t really see me than I can blend in and disappear because that’s where I feel more comfortable.

That space, behind the smoke, is more familiar which is why it’s more comfortable. Growing up, I was always the sick kid and no one knew what to do with me. What do you do with someone who’s sick all the time? It becomes trickier if that person looks sick, fragile, weak. That’s so uncomfortable. What do you say? What do you do? No one seemed to know, so they sidestepped me and went to my brother or parents. It didn’t take long for the mask to become muted because I became the smoke.

Going to a Christian school, as the token sick kid, made it a little stranger. Not worse but, well, let’s call it an interesting experience. I’ll preface this by saying that nothing was done to be hurtful in any way. It was never intentional. In fact, I believe that it was all done with a genuine, perhaps misguided, desire to be helpful in a helpless situation. 

In school, for reasons I struggled to understand, I often found myself pulled upfront as a target of prayer. Again, it came from a good place. They wanted to help and prayer, in a religious setting, is the preprogrammed response. It was meant as an act of kindness but, for me, it often felt like I was being placed on some kind of an altar. I was never quite sure if I was there as a sacrifice or a show of good faith. I just knew it was my duty to let it play out.

During school assemblies, I’d be called upfront, and I would stand there, awkwardly picking at my fingernails, waiting for the performance to start. I knew the role I was expected to play and playing that role never felt optional. Maybe it was. Maybe I could’ve politely declined but I had the mask all ready to go. It was polished, and the craftsmanship was impressive. It would be a shame to put it back into its box and shove it back up onto the shelf.

I would make sure the mask was straight, square my shoulders, and stand at the ready. Prayers would be offered. Smiles would be shared. Sometimes there would be clapping if people were feeling frisky. Then I was ushered back to my seat, and they’d go on to announcements. Oo, pizza day on Thursday. Yum!

The one thing I noticed, while I was waiting for the floor to swallow me up, was the look in their eyes. No one really saw me. Most wouldn’t make eye contact but when they did, they weren’t looking at me. They were looking through me. No one noticed how uncomfortable I was and no one asked if this is what I wanted. I was the smoke caught in a glass jar.

Then again, let’s be fair, my mask was very good and I became very adept at playing the part they wanted me to play. Stoic. Stiff upper lip. Smiling at the right moments. Looking sober or reflective when the tone shifted. Grateful and appreciative. I could pull one mask off and put another one on without anyone catching a glimpse of the real me underneath. It’s a sleight of hand trick that would be the envy of any master magician.

Did you need me to be brave, strong, indomitable? Got it. See, I’ve got steel in my veins. You won’t see a teardrop roll down my cheek. You won’t hear a sniffle. You won’t see me flinch. I’ll set my jaw, clench my fists, and look death square in the eyes. Is that what you need?

What do you need me to be? I can be anything but if I have to be me then we might have a problem. I’ve gotten too used to being what other people need me to be because, so often, I was expected to be something other than who I was. Who I was, the sick kid, seemed to make a lot of people uncomfortable. If I was, who I was, then they’d walk away so I became what they needed. I became the smoke.

We look over, around, and through the person in front of us but we don’t see them because they don’t fit into our societal norms. They don’t fit our understanding of how things are supposed to be, and that makes our brains itch. It’s an itch we can’t scratch so we shut them down or push them out. We breathe a sigh of relief because out of sight relieves that uncomfortable tickle.

When we’re the evictor, we feel relief. When we’re the evicted we feel isolated, lonely, unworthy and our brains don’t itch; they break. Even socially awkward introverts are social creatures. We just don’t fit into society and who we are, makes people uncomfortable. What do we do then? In my case, I created a new mask for every occasion and built and big old shelf to hold them all. Some of them collect dust while others get used a little too often.

It’s not the healthiest thing in the world but sometimes it’s the safest. When we make someone uncomfortable, they take their discomfort out on us because we’re “making” them feel that way. It rangers from childish name-calling, or what I like to call the Doo Doo Head Offensive, to outright violence. I’ve been called a lot of awful things because of my disability and I’ve faced threats of harm. I’ve been shoved aside, and I’ve had sharp objects stabbed into my back. I’ve been ignored. I’ve been dismissed. I’ve been looked at with disgust. I’ve lost jobs, and I’ve had friendships end. All because my mask slipped and who they saw made them uncomfortable.

I’m lucky! I can wear a mask. I can play pretend. I can become the smoke. I can hide who am if I need too. Not everyone has that luxury. Is that the right word? It might be a luxury but it’s not alright. Wearing a mask for physical and emotional safety shouldn’t be necessary. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to do it but if I need to, I can. I can minimize my limp, cover up my scars, and hide my illness. I can play pretend when someone else’s discomfort becomes toxic. I can make myself disappear into that smoke when pretending doesn’t work.

I can do that. Some of you can’t. Neither one of us should have to turn ourselves into smoke to walk through this world unharmed and loved. 

Some of you have managed to keep your form. You haven’t turning into smoke. There’s so few of you but you have the courage to maintain your identity despite the challenges that brings. You are who you were created to be and you’re proud to be who you are. Thank God for you! You precious few. The ones who dare to be different. Who dare to be true. Who dare to show the world the different is beautiful. Bless you for fighting on the side of angels because you will make the world safer for those of us too beaten and bruised. 

Keep standing tall and be proud. Be who you are. You wondrous, magnificent, miraculous human being. Bless you!

A Long A Silver Wire

Photo By Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez on Unsplash.com

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.” ― Sylvia Plath

My life has been put on hold for a few months now as I’m sure, has yours. The global pandemic has been a real monster and it’s hard to find an upside but I’m trying. Sure, I spent the first half wallowing in self-pity but now’s the time to turn it around. Look for the silver lining on the bright side of the moon. I’m sure it’s there. It has to be there. Maybe if I lift some rocks? Kick some dust. Move that flag over just a bit. Oo, a footprint!

Okay, maybe there’s not a whole lot of good floating around right now but there’s been plenty of time to think. Yay? No, I’ve had a little too much time to think. I’ve just about run out of things to think about. Can we run out of thoughts if we think too long? Huh, that’s an excellent question if I do say so myself.

Before I run out of thoughts, here’s a thought I’ve been turning around in my noggin. I’ve come to the realization that I take a lot of things for granted. Small things mostly. Going to the grocery store and smiling at strangers. We do that in Canada. Smile at each other as we walk by. Having to wear a mask has been a cultural nightmare. It’s hard to smile at someone when you’re wearing a face mask. Sure, we try to add a little more light to our eyes and we arch our eyebrows in a way that, hopefully, conveys a good old fashion, “Hey bud!” Maybe I need to get a mask with a smiley face on it so I can just point at it and they’ll know.

For the most part, I take the small things for granted but I try very hard to keep enough gratitude in storage for the really big things. You know, important things like family and friends. The love of good people. People who’ll come to my rescue when I’m stranded on the side of the road. It was forty below zero, Celsius, and there they were; putting a new battery into my old car. Yeah, I didn’t take that for granted.

There’s the time my kidneys failed and they all rushed to get tested. No hesitation or a million ultimatums. They dropped everything to see if they were a match for transplantation. They actually yelled at me because I didn’t ask them for a kidney. Clearly, I was being very rude. How could I not ask? Geez! Then again, how do you ask someone for a part of their body and not sound like a complete creep? Buy them a cup of coffee and when they thank you, say: “No worries! Just give me one of your kidneys and we’ll call it even.”

Maybe I should’ve offered them some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Okay, maybe not but they were still willing to donate their kidneys. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is and I’m so grateful to have these people in my life. I don’t always express my gratitude. Sometimes I don’t know how and other times, I fear, I take their kindness for granted. Maybe it’s because, in some ways, I’ve lived a very blessed life. When you don’t go without things like kindness and love? It’s too easy to get comfortable and forget that, for once, the coin landed in your favour.

I have a family who loves and supports my crazy endeavours. Whether it was an odd rock polishing phase or writing a blog. No matter how questionable or how many times I’ve failed; they’ve been there to cheer me on or pick me up when I fall. Their support has always been unwavering. If I’m in trouble, all I have to do is pick up the phone, send out an SOS, and they’ll come. Two simple words: Help me. That’s all it takes and my people show up. 

I’ll never take these people for granted but, as I said, sometimes I overlook their kindness. When your lucky enough to have it, it’s easy to assume it will always be there and maybe it will. Maybe my luck will hold out, and these wonderful people will be in my life until my last breath. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be acutely aware of their kindness or assume it will never go away.

Without a doubt, I could endeavour to show more gratitude than simply saying, “Thank you.” Though I find expressing gratitude, or any emotion, is harder than it seems. I don’t know why, but I always feel awkward, or do I feel inadequate? Either way, it never feels enough. No matter what I do or say; I feel like I’m ill-equipped to express the depth of my emotions.

It’s easier to assume that they know how I feel without feeling all the sticky, icky, sentimentalities. An assumption that has caused me to have a very costly lapse in judgement. If I don’t express how I feel than I find myself taking it all for granted.If I do that, then how will they know how much I love them? I can’t just leave it at that. If I do?

But what if the already know without me saying anything? What if there’s a chance that’s true? I’m not saying telepathy is real because, you know, science and all that. But, with the people we’re deeply connected to, is there some sort of emotional telepathy that lets words go unspoken? Is there a bond so deep that it renders those words superfluous?

What a nice thought! When words fail me, when my body is too weak, there’s this silver wire from my heart to theirs. I can close my eyes and simply feel the emotions I want to convey. Those feelings, thoughts of love and gratitude, travel along that silver wire like a spark from a flint. As soon as I feel it, think it, the spark shoots off and it reaches the kindling. The fire’s lit and they feel a warmth spread throughout their body.

Every time I think about them, the fuse is lit and off it goes down the silver wire. They’d know how much I care. They’d know that I’m thinking of them. Never, for a second, would they wonder if I take them for granted because the fire would keep them warm. It wouldn’t matter where they are in space or time. The wire can’t be broken and the spark can’t die out.

What a beautiful image! If only it were true then words wouldn’t be needed. 

When the roles are reversed, I don’t need their words of gratitude. They don’t need to buy me coffee or fava beans. I love them and would be there for them in a heartbeat. Just like they are here for me without complaint or judgement. But, it’s nice to hear that I’m not taken for granted. Necessary? Not at all but it feels good so why wouldn’t I send that feeling back along the wire? 

I think, for most people, we don’t need verbosity or grandiosity. We don’t need a master production. We don’t need an epic soliloquy. We don’t have to be Shakespeare to get it right. We just need to show up and remind them, and ourselves, that we’re lucky to have each other.

Life is hectic, it’s easy to slip into a holding pattern and forget about the things we take for granted. Big or small. Smiling at strangers or standing in freezing weather. The people that have shown up for me? I can’t take them for granted. I can’t take their kindness for granted. I can’t take my good fortune for granted because it’s a gift and gifts can be returned to the sender.

I’m sitting in my little apartment, hiding away from the world, and I’m traveling down a morose thought. I’ve always had this precious gift. It’s always been this way. I’ve always had good people in my life but what if I didn’t? What if a time comes that I make a call that isn’t answered? Out of all the what-ifs in the world? This is probably the most terrifying of the lot! 

Wow and with that one thought, I realize how often I squander a very precious gift. Not out of malice or greed but laziness and presumption. What has always been may not always be so I can’t take any of them for granted. My people. My family. My friends. I am so lucky to have you all and I wish the silver wire was real so you could experience that emotion as intensely I as I do. Just in case, I’m lighting the fuse and sending it your way.

As for you, dear reader, know that I don’t take you for granted, either. You could be anywhere, doing anything, but you chose to spend some time with me. Believe me, that means more than you’ll know.

But I’ve Never Even Changed A Diaper!

Wanna hear a joke? Me too! What a coincidence. Funny how things work out when you write the script. I can’t tell you how much I need a good laugh. It needs to be a deep, from the toes, full-body, laugh until I cry kind of thing. When I laugh too hard my ears pop. That’s what I need. I can’t express how much I need it right now.

So, um, do you know any good jokes? I’m flipping through the archives but nothing’s jumping out at me. For some reason, the only ones I can think of are really nasty or involve a poor, unfortunate, chicken. Not funny haha. More funny ew or aw. Actually, most of them would make an adult groan and a prepubescent blush. 

I need funny haha! These last few months have been really heavy and it doesn’t look like it’s going to ease up anytime soon. 2020 has been a monster and we’re only in June. We’ve got a long way to go before it’s over and who knows what next year will bring. 

Damn, that’s depressing. I just brought the room down several degrees, didn’t I? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. All I wanted was a joke. A real good rib-tickling haha kinda joke but I’m not really up to date on the latest knock knockers or chicken crossers.

Google! That’s what we should do. Google knows everything! Oh no! Wait. Parental permission. Google it with parental permission if you’re under the legal… Googling age? I don’t know how the fuck these things work. 

Oh crap! If you’re not old enough to google then you’re not old enough for cursing. I don’t know much, obviously, but I know we’re not supposed to use “bad words” around impressionable minds. That’s detrimental for…things. For some reason. I think it’s science. Maybe? Or, is it superstition? I don’t know but I’m sorry I said a bad word. Kids, don’t do what I do. Seriously! You can do better. Easily. You can easily do better than me. You’re probably doing better than me right now. Good on ya. Keep it up!

Here’s a shocker: I have no child-rearing experience. I know mind blown. Egads! I’ve always wanted to use that word. Egads! Check that one off the bucket list.

Puppies. Kittens. A tiny, little blue parakeet. A couple of goldfish but they only lasted two weeks so forget I mentioned it. I have plenty of animal rearing experience but I’m told it’s not, “The same thing” or something like that.

I had to get up every two hours with a puppy. Pick up poop. Wash bottoms and bathe the rest. Hold the thing when it cries. Teach it right from wrong. We can’t have the kid, or pup, chewing on the sofa now, can we? Do kids chew on sofas? No idea.

Sure, animals grow out of it a lot faster and kids need other… Stuff?

Yeah, clearly I don’t know a baby from a pre-teen. Then again, given my proclivity for profanity maybe you shouldn’t entrust me with the lives of anyone under the legal googling age. Unless, of course, they love sarcasm, offbeat humour, and don’t repeat anything I say. Then we’re good to go. But to be safe let’s have a responsible teenager take over. That’s the age right? Babysitters. A kid enters the double digits, and they get paid to watch other people’s offspring. That’s how it works, yeah?

Don’t look at me like that! I know I should know this stuff, but I didn’t have a normal upbringing. I wasn’t a normal kid. Sure, I had a child-like viscosity but in every other way, I was the farthest thing from normal. From here on, it’s safe to assume that I didn’t learn what you learned, at the age, you learned it. Just because everyone is supposed to know it, doesn’t mean everyone does. 

For example, I never babysat. Ever. 

No, I’m lying! There was one time, but I was helping a friend take care of a couple of kids. The kids were old enough to be cool, and I basically played video games with them until bedtime. My friend was the “responsible” one. I was just there. Which is why she got paid, and I got snacks. 

Wait! Was she babysitting me too?

I know babysitting is a right of passage. Especially for girls because society loves stereotypical gender roles. Hit a certain age and start earning some money looking after small children. The fact that a teenager’s frontal cortex isn’t fully formed is a minor inconvenience. After all, who needs complete control of the decision making part of their brain when looking after tiny, breakable, people? I’m sure everything will be okay. 

Babysitting is a normal part of growing up. I should stop using the word normal. What is normal? Not gonna say it’s a setting on the thingy. That would be cliche. I’m a lot of things but, damn it I don’t want to be a cliche. Then again, not being a cliche is a cliche. Huh, is life one giant cliche? No! I’m getting on a tangent. Don’t worry, I’m reeling it in like a teeny, tiny baby tuna because I have very poor upper body strength.

Where was I?

Not normal. Right. Okay for those of you who are new, hello, and welcome. I’m not always like this but sometimes I can’t help myself. I haven’t slept, the world is too banana pants for sleep, and I had two sips of coffee. Coffee doesn’t agree with me so now I’m talking a hundred miles an hour in a ten-mile zone. I’m gonna get pulled over any second now.

I have kidney disease and I was diagnosed when I three years old. The disease was managed with medication and diet for most of my childhood. Right up until those pesky double digits. When I turned 12, my health problems blew up. We knew it would. The doctors told us that my kidneys wouldn’t be able to handle the stress puberty put on my body. Those damn hormones!

My kidneys were already fragile. They did the job but barely. Once my body started to change, they couldn’t keep up and they crashed. Complete system failure. Turning it on and off again didn’t work. A swift kick? Nope, didn’t do a damn thing so I went on dialysis, that’s fun, and started the workup for a transplant.

Between school, hospital visits, and dialysis there really wasn’t time or energy for normal things like babysitting. Not that I wanted to do normal things like babysitting or standing in front of a 7/11 looking all emo. I wanted to climb trees or go sit in my closet fort and read a book.

What? You didn’t have a closet fort? You’re telling me that you never went into your bedroom closet to clear out some space. Brought in blankets, comfy cushions, and a nice little tray for your favourite beverage. Oh and a flashlight. When that door closed, it got dark. Wait! Never shut yourself inside something. It’s probably bad. Look at me being maternal. Safety first kids!

Okay, maybe it’s weird. Going into a closet, nesting down with a book, and reading by flashlight. Most kids don’t do that right? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking. You didn’t do that? Yeah, it was strange, but it was also kinda perfect.

Almost as perfect as climbing the tree in our front yard in my church clothes. That’s a special feeling. Knowing it’s wrong. Knowing I shouldn’t. The look on my mom’s face when she found me sitting on the biggest branch. Her long, exasperated, sigh. 

“We don’t have time for you to change!”

Then you shouldn’t have made me wear these ridiculous clothes. Oh, the look she gave me! I definitely didn’t want to come down after that look which was kind of the point. I liked my stains. I liked the quiet of my closet fort and the solitude up in the trees. Does that make me weird? I think we both know the answer to that one. 

Weird kids like me don’t do normal kid things. Sleepovers, softball teams, taking care of other peoples kids. Yeah, I’ve never changed a diaper or chiseled Cheerios off of a kids face. I didn’t do any of that stuff when I was a kid. This might be why I, as an adult, have no idea how to actually take care of a child.

It doesn’t come up that often but it has, recently, become slightly problematic. See, I’ve been told that it’s a good idea to do some inner child work. I told them I couldn’t do that because I have no child-rearing experience. Pause for laughter. Huh, they gave me the same look you’re giving me now. What a coincidence!

I might’ve promised you a joke so there you are. At least I tried. I think it was moderately funny. Not roll on the floor, receive fifty stitches, funny but worth a giggle. Not a pity giggle either. No? Okay, fine, I’ll take your pity giggle but our relationship is off to a rocky start.

The problem is, my inner child has always been a ninety-year woman sitting in a closet fort. Flashlight tucked into the neck. A half-empty glass of milk on a wobbly try. A stack of books that have been read a dozen times. Her clothes are covered in stains. Her knees are scared over from climbing a little too high. She’s stuck in her ways and a little hard of hearing.

She’s also kind of a bitch but that’s what you get when you live in a closet fort for eighty years. Not saying she’s antisocial. Out of practice? Yeah, that seems more polite.

Who can blame her? The outside world is scary, mean, and it hurts. There’s a global pandemic. Countries are on fire. Threats of world wars and nuclear fallouts. People are being killed because of their skin colour and the good guys look a lot like the bad guys. All we’re missing are dragons and trolls but hey, it’s only June. 

None of that stuff exists in the closet fort. Nope. It’s not allowed. There’s a sign on the door and everything. Monsters and cooties have to stay out. Cookies and milk? Yes please! Supplies are running low.

Every once in a while my inner child peaks through the crack in the door to see how things are going. Nope, the outside world is still too scary! You can try to beg, coax, or bribe but nothing will convince my inner child to come out and play. 

Do I distract her with shiny objects? Maybe I should bounce her on my knee until she vomits. Guess I could try to put her on top of the tumble drier until she falls asleep but that doesn’t seem safe.

Kinda feels like inner child abuse. Is that a thing? Seems like a thing. A very bad thing. Damn, there is so much to learn about parenting my inner child. It’s been five minutes and I’m exhausted. I need a nap. Maybe I should sit on top of the drier. Do inner child parents get to take naps? Please tell me there aren’t any diapers. I just can’t handle that right now.

There is so much I don’t know about nurturing my inner child. I don’t even know where to begin. It almost seems like a shame to pull her out of her comfy little closet. She looks so peaceful and safe. You’re not supposed to wake a sleeping kid right? Maybe I can let my inner child sleep a little longer. Tucked away in her closet fort.

You know, just until the world finds its way and life becomes a little bit safer for everyone.

It’s Time To Be Uncomfortable!

Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash.com

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” — Elie Wiesel

Today, I’m keeping this short because, honestly, I’m at a loss. So much pain and sorrow. So many people standing with their hands up and peacefully saying no more. They’re asking for the right to live, to breathe and they’re being beaten for it. How is a breath of air too much to ask for? They shouldn’t have to ask. I don’t have to ask! Why do they? It makes no sense. I don’t understand any of this. 

I don’t have the words.

I’m at a complete loss. 

I was born in a country ruled by apartheid. Race and inequality were staples of daily living. Living there, seeing the violence and the segregation, I was well aware of the privileges I add. It was blatantly obvious, and it was flaunted, by many, with violent glee. The pain. The fear. I’ll never forget.

Then we immigrated to Canada and those inequalities were hidden. I thought it was over. I thought I was living in a different world. I was young and naive. 

Turns out, the machine works hard here too but the engines are a lot quieter. Its disguise is pretty damn convincing or maybe I just wanted to believe that things were different. Either way, I’ve lived inside of a system that’s designed for my convenience and success. I ignorantly, and sometimes arrogantly, believed that systemic racism wasn’t in this country. I happily believed, so I never thought twice about the life I was living. I never noticed the privileges afforded to me because of the colour of my skin.

Ignorance is bliss until you learn the truth. 

The truth is a powerful punch to the side of the head and my head’s still spinning. It’s been many, many, years since my eyes were opened by very kind, very wise, people who took me aside and shared their stories. They owed me nothing. The didn’t have to teach me but I’m grateful for their compassion and grace. They opened my eyes and for the first time I saw what they went through and I’m…I have no words. Plenty of tears, anger, and confusion.

But the words? I don’t know what to say.

As a general rule, when I don’t know what to say, I try not to say very much. In this case, I think that it’s best to listen to the voices that have been silenced for way too long. Not just listen! Hear them. See them. Respect the courage it takes to speak truth to people who are afraid to listen. Thank them because I’ll say it again, they owe us nothing.

But if I stay silent for too long, then what? I would call myself anti-racist but if I stay silent then I empower the oppressors. If I stay silent, I become the thing I despise. That’s not something I can live with, so I’m taking a deep breath, and with all my strength, I say: BLACK LIVES MATTER!

Please don’t come at me with all lives matter because if they did another black man, George Floyd, wouldn’t have lost his life. If all lives mattered then a black woman, Breonna Taylor, wouldn’t have been shot to death in her own bed. Ahmaud Arbery wouldn’t have been killed while exercising if all lives mattered. There are so many more. How many black and indigenous lives have been taken? Stolen. Silenced. How many names have been lost to history?

They didn’t commit a crime and even if they did; I doubt I would’ve been treated the same way in their position. That’s privilege. The colour of my skin would’ve, I’m sure it already has, saved my life. Again, that’s privilege and we can’t have equality with that imbalance in place. We can’t claim to be a just society until we have equality for everyone.

I know it’s uncomfortable, no one wants to believe they’re on the wrong side of decency, but being uncomfortable isn’t fatal. Being silent is! People are dying. People are suffering. People with dreams, hopes, aspirations, and loves are losing their lives. That should make us all very uncomfortable. It should make us all very angry. It should, but we’re so focused on what we’ll lose if this system, the one built for our comfort, is dismantled.

The thought of losing that power and privilege is worse than the lives being lost? Really? That makes no sense! I’d rather lose my privilege than watch someone lose their life because that life is precious. That life is needed. That life deserves the chance to shine bright.

Something has to change, but I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know what to do. I’m not the strongest, my voice isn’t the loudest, but I’ll help in any way you need. For whatever it’s worth, please know that I am listening and I’m learning. I see you. I’m here for you. I have your back. I am an ally and a friend.

Now I’m going to step back, shut up, and let you speak. It’s your voice the world needs to hear.Now more than ever:

  • Why I’m No longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Natives by Akala