Who are you?

The book, “Awake and Dreaming” by Kit Pearson tells the story of a girl who wishes on a new moon for her perfect life, and wakes the next morning to discover that she is suddenly living it. All the people around her act as if it’s been that way all along, but she still remembers the terrible reality she was living in before. At first she is utterly confused and worried. But after some time, she settles into her new circumstances and is indescribably happy. One morning she wakes up to find she is back in her real and unhappy life.

Two months ago, I recounted the plot of this story to my partner to explain what it feels like to be with him. Except, of course, I haven’t awoken to my old reality.

One day, not so very long ago, Stephen became part of my life. It feels so right and we fit so naturally together that I find myself behaving in a way that suggests he has been there all along. At the same time, I remember my life before him. Unlike Kit Pearson’s heroine, I was happy and had everything to be grateful for. Nonetheless, the moments that constitute my days now seem more fantastic than real by comparison. It is more plausible to me that a writer’s ghost has performed an accidental magic to transport me into a fairy tale than the idea that a perfect storm of everything I hoped love would feel like is embodied in another human being.

And yet his coffee mug sits next to mine by the sink.

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Found a Peanut

Last night I took an over-the-counter antihistamine to guard against the effects of an evening spent in the company of two dogs. And then I foolishly had a large glass of wine with dinner. The effect was akin to a prolonged intravenous dose of antihistamines and within a couple of hours, I was slumped against my boyfriend’s shoulder, fast asleep on the couch. The lingering cloudy mind that accompanied me this morning stirred a strange melancholy for past emergency room visits.

I have spent nights in emergency room hospital beds, drugged into a stupor to save my life. Accidentally, I eat something which triggers an anaphylactic reaction. My body thinks we are under attack and begins to shut down in an attempt to defend us. It cannot listen to the mind that we could be ok if we would only please just treat that peanut like a strawberry. I am alerted to the impending lockdown by a tingling sensation on my mouth, or more recently, a horrible pain in the pit of my stomach.

The emotional response envelops me, suspended on the tips of raised hairs on my arms and the back of my neck.

First there is a calm, singular focus. All sound blurs into background noise and my thoughts establish a laser like precision. I must confirm that I am having an allergic reaction. I stride with purpose to whomever prepared or served my food and ask them if there were nuts in the dish. When they respond yes, I make arrangements to locate and travel to the nearest hospital. I try to avoid the drama of an ambulance because I think I have time. Momentarily indifferent to the burden of responsibility I am placing upon them, I have co-opted boyfriends, friends, and cab drivers into the mission of driving me to the hospital.

Shortly into the car ride, the illusion of calm, because it was always an illusion, begins to evaporate and is replaced by panic. As the last shreds of calm dissipate into the ether, I might instruct my driver how to administer an Epi-pen. And then I will become very quiet because I am thinking only about whether or not I am still breathing.

Eventually the rising panic manifests as tears. By the time I reach the front desk of the emergency room, I am nearly hysterical and if I am trying to explain the situation in a foreign country, it is possible that they will have no idea what I am talking about at all.

The emergency room staff will take over now, but I will continue to panic if they do not immediately begin an IV administering antihistamines. But eventually they will do this.

After drugs are administered, a temporary calm is re-established as I fall into the deepest sleep. But it is swiftly erased if hospital staff suggest discharging me after only a few hours. They almost never listen to me when I explain that sometimes I have a relapse reaction several hours later, which has happened twice at ages 15 and 23.

I will not be properly calm again until I have slept through a night and survived.

All of this is frightening and terrible. But I have a strange thing to confess. There’s something about it that I seem to enjoy. Not while it’s happening, but in hindsight.

I’m not sure precisely what it is about this experience that I sometimes find myself appreciating. Is it the adrenaline rush of a so-called near-death experience? Is it being the centre of attention? Is it the validation that in fact I didn’t make up the need to be so cautious all the time about what I eat? Is it a story that I can tell that makes strangers wide-eyed and boyfriends hold me close protectively? Is it the respite from daily anxiety about things I should be doing?

At least one thing is clear. Nearly everything I do to respond to my allergic reaction is wrong. I have never administered a Epi-pen, and I rarely call an ambulance. But I don’t do this because I have a death wish. I do this because I am genuinely uncertain about whether or not I’m having an allergic reaction. My reaction is slow. The mouth tingling phase can last for a couple of hours before it becomes hives all over my body. And I don’t know how long it takes after that for my throat to actually close because I always make it to an emergency room by then. I have experienced situations where I thought I was having an allergic reaction, but after several hours, the mouth tingling disappeared and it turns out there was nothing wrong in the first place. On two occasions I have rushed myself to the emergency room unnecessarily. So my first step is always trying to confirm whether or not I have actually ingested nuts. I do not know whether or not this is the right thing to do. My desire to avoid causing a scene should be inconsequential, and in fact is ironic since by roping others into the role of ambulance driver, I most certainly create unnecessary drama for them.

I can’t promise that I will react any better the next time a nut-shaped alien makes contact. But I can commit to practicing stabbing expired Epi-pens into oranges. I was probably 7 the last time I tried this, and became so hysterical at the thought of having to do that to myself that I fled from both needles and oranges by hiding under the kitchen table, sobbing uncontrollably. My poor mother.

My best friend’s little sister has the same allergy, and has coolly administered her own life-saving injection on more than one occasion. After hearing these stories, she went from being someone’s little sister to attaining god-like status in my mind.

My baby niece recently tested positive for a peanut allergy. They will follow up with a blood test to confirm, but this news spotlights the inadequacy of how I react to these situations. I am especially terrified that my irrational response has normalized that behaviour to my family, and they may think they have time to drive my baby niece to the hospital without the Epi-pen, without the ambulance. I don’t know how fast her anaphylaxis will be in that situation, but that’s the point. None of us will know. The responsibility of setting a better example for her hardens my resolve to be more like VL’s sister.

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Beauty Sleep

I have only a few minutes before bedtime. But let me tell you about what my day will consist of tomorrow.

I will wake up and fight the urge to go back to sleep. Rousing myself lately has been hard, and I don’t know whether to blame my linen duvet cover, daylight savings time, the fact that I’ve run out of turmeric tincture, or the rain.

When I eventually exit the sheets, I will examine my skin and my hair in the mirror, probably for longer than I should. Depending on the state of things, I will decide whether a shower, body shower, or mere face washing is required.

I will wash the dishes I neglected this evening, while coffee is brewing, and heat up steel cut oats with quinoa in the microwave. To this I will add coconut milk and strawberries. I will eat them in my living room while I inspect the weather through the window, and note forlornly that the bird shit on the exterior glass has not been shifted by the rain yet. I will leave the newly dirtied dishes in the sink.

I will try to get dressed quickly but I will change my mind several times. In a disingenuous concession to tidiness, I will place the unchosen clothes on the bed instead of the floor.

I will travel to work via bus, and chide myself for not biking. Again.

The morning will pass rather quickly, but I’ll be hungry for lunch at least an hour before noon.

Tomorrow is special because I will attend an event in the afternoon where I will listen to several panels of speakers, discussing topics which are interesting to me. The last of these panels includes colleagues with whom I collaborated on a project, and they are presenting our work. Due to a complicated series of events, I have mixed feelings about this presentation, and haven’t yet decided whether I hope they will do well, or poorly.

I will leave the event and go directly to a cafe where a tall man with blue eyes will undoubtedly be waiting for me, because I am habitually late, while he is unfailingly punctual.

He will drive me home at the end of the evening. I will remember that I can’t invite him in because there are clothes on the bed, dishes in the sink, and bird shit on the living room window. He will leave his car, still running, in the middle of the street, and walk me to my door. He will kiss me goodnight and if I open my eyes during said kiss, I will see that he is smiling.

As you can see, it is terribly important that I look well tomorrow.

Good night.

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Remember the Compliments

She is kind.
A friend who told a friend.

I’m glad I met you. You’re just super.
A new friend I admire and my grandfather comforting me.

I like the way you run your show. You are great just the way you are.
My best friend and a boy who chose another girl.

I never think you’re too much. You showed me how to use my imagination.
A complicated friend and a childhood friend.

Never stop telling me your stories. You bring people together.
A boy I once loved and a friend with a big heart.

I never worry about you. You are radiant.
My pragmatic grandmother and a boy who fell for me.

I admire how you live your life. If you wrote a book, I would buy it.
My mother explaining things to me and a classmate I’d just met.

When I first met you I thought, what a complicated girl. I wanted to know you better.
A roommate who became a friend.

 

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Wake Up Slowly

Sleep naked.

Wake in the darkness of your still room and be unsure what time it is.

Lie quietly for a little while before turning on the lamp next to your bed. Find out the time and choose not to go back to sleep.

Retrieve your book from where you left it splayed open on the nightstand yesterday evening.

Read for awhile.

Stir from your nest to drape a robe on your shoulders, but leave it untied and admire the bird’s eye view of your naked form.

Examine your face in the bathroom mirror and notice the ways in which sleeping has changed you.

Take your morning dosage of an elixir of turmeric and other herbs.

Quietly set the coffee pot to working.

Return to the lamp-lit corner of your bed and take up your book again.

Remember the coffee. Go back for it.

Sip your coffee while reading. When you have finished at least half a cup, it’s time to open the curtains and lift the blinds.

Survey your room with it’s flotsam and jetsam of clothes and bags, and a lone curling iron washed up on the floor. Notice how sleepy they look in this grey light.

Bring your attention back to your book.

If you have finished your coffee now, revisit the kitchen to pour another mug.

Layer a cardigan over your open robe.

If you are awake now, I suggest breakfast.

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Rules to Love By

I’ve become very generous with both solicited and unsolicited advice in the last year or two. Here are a few things I can tell you for free.

  1. You can’t change your partner. Do not be in a relationship where either of you has told the other: I will stay with you as long as you work on changing the following things. Only be with someone you can accept just as they are, even with all the things they do that you might dislike or disagree with.
  2. People never stop changing. The box in your mind where you keep people is too small to contain the infinite potential they have to grow and evolve. The same goes for your own potential to grow and evolve. Try to remember this at the same time as bearing the first point in mind – both are true.
  3. You don’t need to rationalize the way you feel. If you find yourself trying to convince your partner (or yourself) of the reasons why your feelings are valid and legitimate, simply stop. Your emotional needs are just as legitimate as a sore neck, an itchy back, a growling tummy, and tired feet. Honour that.
  4. Do for yourself what you wish your partner, real or imagined, would do for you.
  5. Be honest and unafraid to articulate what you are willing to give to others. Do not be in a relationship with someone who won’t be honest about what they are willing to give to you.
  6. There are no hard and fast rules about what your relationship should look like. You and your partner get to decide that together. The important thing is that you both agree on what that is, and get what you need from each other.

I’m working on all of this too.

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Where I Landed

My posts have gotten shorter and shorter, so I think the challenge to write less more often was a success! (yes, I’m calling once a month more often). But it’s time for another mega-post because I want to revisit the resolutions I made back in February.

Reminder:
1. Share my writing in a public forum. to be discussed.
2. Continue writing on Girl Fight. Publish at least one post per month. CHECK!
3. Take steps towards writing a novel to the point that a draft is finished by the end of the year, or it’s at a point where it makes more sense to finish it than to quit. hahahaha.
4. Start a podcast. Release at least one episode by the end of the year. ibid.
5. Perform onstage. to be discussed.
6. Make something with my hands that I’m excited about. Things I’d be excited to make are: collage, photography, wooden furniture, clothing, woven wall hanging, macramé wall hanging or plant holder, something knitted or crocheted, wood carving, or pottery. CHECK!
7. Lead climb with confidence. to be discussed.
8. Go on at least a dozen hikes. CHECK!
9. Urban cycle in Canada. CHECK!
10. Visit at least five art galleries or museums I’ve never been to before in Canadian cities. to be discussed.
11. Start earning a paycheque. CHECK!
12. Manage a project or plan and coordinate an event. to be discussed.
13. Unpack all my moving boxes and suitcases. almost.
14. Add at least three new recipes to my collection. CHECK!
15. Start learning Spanish. Well, I started…
16. Be a confident babysitter of my niece. not quite.
17. Take time to have really good conversations with my dad. Let’s say at least five. to be discussed.

There are a respectable number of items checked off on this list, a decent number of caveats, and only two outright failures. I feel pretty great about that!

First, the successes!

Item 2 = Write once a month on Girl Fight. I’ve kept up my once per month posting schedule, with a few sneaky make-up posts sprinkled in there, but overall I’m rather pleased and I’m going to carry on with my once a month target into the new year, with the added caveat to post all the draft content I’ve started and not finished. I’m thinking of doing this as a rapid fire writing challenge over the holidays. Draft titles for posts I’ve started include: Perseid Meteors; Things I Kept; Audrey Jane; Time on My Hands; Magic; and an as yet untitled post that begins “On the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Dodacanese…” Stay tuned. Also I’m thinking of writing more mini-posts wherein I transcribe whatever I’ve written on the most recent page in my travel notebook. Maybe when prompted by a random signal that I don’t have control over? That could be dangerous/bothersome…TBD. Another thing I’m playing with committing to in the new year is simply being more public about this blog, and sharing my new posts more widely via Facebook; however, I have a lot of doubts about the wisdom of this. Also TBD.

Item 6 = Make something with my hands! I started a beautiful macramé table runner this summer, although the project is on hiatus because it wasn’t able to make the move to Vancouver with me (it’s pinned to a rather large bulletin board that wouldn’t fit in the car). I’ll work on it again over Christmas, but it won’t see any real progress until my parents drive out here to visit and bring the rest of my stuff. The best part about this project is that my mother is teaching me how to do it. She used to macramé when she was a teenager, and what is absolutely incredible to me is that she still remembers how to do each kind of knot, no reminders from Google required. When I’m tying the knots in my table runner, I like to think about her spending the summer after Grade 13 working on a set of macrame curtains for her college dorm room. She bought cord by the pound from one of the neighbours, and dyed it all different colours in buckets set out on the dock. She hung the project from her bedroom ceiling so she could lie back in the top bunk, and tie knots late into the night, with my aunt dreaming away in the bunk below her.

Item 8 = Go on a dozen hikes. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel totally satisfied that this goal is quite achieved for the year. There were 5 in Iceland, 1 in Canmore with my mum’s hiking group, 2 with the boy I felt badly about breaking up with (actually, 1 hike and 1 mountain bike ride), and 1 really long hike plus a bunch of shorter approaches to the crag on Kalymnos. I really only made it to 12 if I include those short approach hikes, but it feels like cheating. This state of affairs is especially disheartening because there have certainly been opportunities to go hiking a dozen times, but plans can fall through so easily. But the year isn’t over yet, and I have plans to snowshoe over Christmas. If I snowshoe 3 times before New Year’s Day, I will feel like I properly accomplished this one.

Item 9 = Urban cycle in Canada. Baby, I take the bike share to work every morning. Even in the rain, even in the cold! Flames. The best part about using the bike share is being able to jump on the bus home at the end of the day when it’s dark and I’m very happy to have 15-20 minutes to scroll through my Instagram feed. But I predict I will bike both to and from work when the days are longer and brighter.

Item 11 = Start earning a pay cheque. I got a job!! Not just any job, but a job I really like, in the city I wanted to be in, for a really great employer. I’m a very happy camper, and this state of affairs is what prompted the very grateful reflection articulated in my “7 minute update” post. More flames.

Item 14 = Add 3 new recipes to my collection. I haven’t actually written them down on my recipe cards yet, but the important thing is that I found 3 new ways to prepare food that I like enough to put on regular rotation. They are: baked salmon (as in, I never knew how to prepare fish and I realized baking salmon is both easy and delicious – this is hardly a “recipe” but I’ve done it 3 times now so I think it counts!); braised red cabbage with raisins (the perfect thing to do with all that leftover red cabbage after you buy a whole head of it for garnishing fish tacos, which was a previous go-to recipe); AND smashed potatoes! This last one is especially precious to me because I learned about this method of potato prep from my excellent friend Danika, and got to impress my family with it out at camp this summer, AND share it with another friend. Plus smooshing baby potatoes with the palm of your hand is good clean kitchen fun. All that’s left to do is write these down on recipe cards so I don’t forget about them. And yes, I certainly will write down the steps for baking salmon on a recipe card. Hate on, haters.

Now for the caveats.

Item 1 = Share my writing in a public forum. I didn’t do this yet, but I have been offered the chance to write a blog post for a well-respected non-profit organization and plan to do this in the new year. This feels like a very important step in the right direction for satisfying my writing goals. Also stay tuned on this one.

Item 5 = Perform onstage. Does giving my final thesis presentation to the company that gave me research funding count? Maybe not, but I absolutely killed it when I did, so let’s say yes. I still want to work towards feeling like I 100% achieved this one so it will have to make a reappearance on my 2017 list of resolutions.

Item 7 = Lead climb with confidence. Kalymnos was a crash course in lead climbing, and at certain moments I felt confident and so proud of myself up there, but there’s definitely a long ways to go on this one. I hoped to take a lead climbing course and practice falling a lot before the end of the year, but job hunting took over my whole entire brain for about 6 months (despite my jibber jabber about not letting that exact thing happen), and climbing fell away on the priority list. Which is really stupid since it would have provided exactly the kind of stress relief I really needed during that time, but c’est la vie. Now I feel terribly weak and out-of-shape, but the good news is I’m not dead yet so there’s still time to get back into it.

Item 10 = Visit 5 new art galleries or museums in Canadian cities. For the same reasons that climbing and hiking were harder than anticipated to work into my schedule, I also didn’t spend as much time in art galleries as I wanted. At least not in Canadian cities. In Reykjavik, I went to almost every single gallery in the city, plus the design museum. It was bliss. That holiday mixed the exact right amount of time spent going to coffee shops, art galleries and interesting little boutiques with hiking, napping in moss, getting  sweaty and muddy, and throwing arms open to sunshine and incredible views. May all my future vacations contain the same mix of activities. In Canadian cities, I revisited my old favourite (the AGA in Edmonton) and made a new favourite (the VAG in Vancouver). I also made short spontaneous visits to a couple of small galleries in Vancouver: a commercial contemporary art gallery, a commercial photography gallery, and a small exhibit room at SFU. So I went to 4 new and 1 old in Canadian cities. Again, the year isn’t over yet, and I will try to schedule a visit to Contemporary Calgary over the holidays.

Item 12 = Manage a project or coordinate an event. In hindsight, this goal seems too vague. It feels like all I did this year was manage and coordinate. Finding a job was a project, and now I’m managing several projects at work for a project team of one (i.e. just me. Most of my work is solo). Finding a place to live, getting myself packed and moved to Vancouver was a major life event to coordinate. Etc. etc. So I feel like I did this, but it wasn’t really a satisfying goal to have in the first place.

Item 13 = Unpack all my moving boxes and suitcases. Theoretically, I could do this in my new Vancouver home, but practically speaking, I could only bring what fit in my car here, so there’s still some boxes in storage in Calgary. Hopefully they can make their way to me via my dad’s truck in the new year. But for the time being, I feel amazing about having the majority of my nice kitchen things put away in my not-a-student kitchen. Now if only I could get my roommate to put the spatulas away in the right drawer every time.

Item 15 = Start learning Spanish. I reset my Duolingo from Dutch to Spanish and I started the modules, but haven’t looked at it in many months. I thought about it for awhile, decided it’s still something I want to do, and I’m going to try again.

Item 16 = Be a confident babysitter of my niece. If I had written this update post in the middle of the summer when I was babysitting my niece more regularly before finding a job, I would have said: yes I achieved this! But since I permanently moved here and started working, I haven’t spent that much time with my niece. I’m debating if I’m actually willing to make the time commitment to babysit on a regular basis. Moving here and starting work happened so quickly and I still don’t feel like I have my feet under me. I’ll have to re-assess my commitment to this in the new year, and after my life feels a bit more settled.

Item 17 = Have 5 really good conversations with my dad. Five was a tall order. Also, I haven’t been counting. I would say we’ve definitely had at least 2. Maybe 3. I don’t know. I think a better time to re-assess how I feel about my relationship with my dad will be after I spend Christmas with my parents in Calgary.

Finally, things I didn’t do.

Item 2 = Write a goddamn novel. Super lols. In hindsight, this was never a realistic goal to set for a year where I would be job-hunting and moving. But good for me for being so ambitious. I can try this again next year, or a better thing to do is probably scale this goal down to a series of steps to take in that direction.

Item 3 = Release a podcast episode. This was a burning desire at the start of 2016, but it’s completely ebbed away and simply doesn’t feel like an important thing for me to do anymore. There are so many great podcasts, and I feel very content to support the ones I feel need it most through monthly donations, but otherwise I’m happy to just enjoy the work of others without being a creator myself in this field. I think that’s a good thing to have realized though.

As always, it feels cathartic and amazing to write a long blog post. And at the end of the year, reviewing what I wanted to achieve and how I feel about my progress feels especially satisfying. I’m doing ok. The winter blues start to set in every year when it turns cold, so it’s important to remind myself that bad days are just days. Overall, it’s been a very good year.

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Come home soon

I would change nothing about Tuesday night
And since I can change nothing, it’s good that I wouldn’t.

But if I could, I may not be able to resist temptation to do the following:

Extend my hand with an open palm with the hope that you would take it.
Invite you to wind your long arms around me.
Confess that I could listen to you speak for as long as you’d let me.
Implore you to say nothing at all while your arms are around me.
Reach out to feel the space beneath your tired eyes.
Place your fingertips on my lips.
Use the word besotted to describe the way I feel about you.

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7 minute update

I’m so happy. But more importantly I am
grateful,
incredibly aware of how lucky I am,
excited about the next day and the next one after that,
taking care of myself,
going to bed early,
making a budget,
saying yes to new people,
letting go of old griefs,
light as a feather.

Let this be a lesson to myself not to host self-doubt for so many years. He wore out his welcome. Stayed too long in my house. We get along better when he’s an overnight guest, that politely packs up and heads out of town again the next day. It is all ok in the end, came out in the wash, rainbow after the storm, happened for a reason.

If I did it all again, I would try to be more mindful, live in the moment, savour it. But I have no regrets. Only gratitude for everything that happened.

7 minutes up.

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All My Flaws

Last night I broke up with someone and felt incredibly guilty about it. The person I broke up with is a kind man who has many qualities I admire and find enormously attractive. But he also has habits and traits that offend, annoy, and embarrass me.

After our break-up conversation, I did that cliché thing where you’re driving home and an emotionally charged song comes on, so you turn it up really loud and drive faster, drive past the turn home and keep driving into the night half-singing, half-yelling along with the radio. God help me, the song was Closer by the Chainsmokers. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse that this angsty scene only lasted as long as the song itself, after which I abruptly lost all energy for the trope and pulled a U-turn home again.

True to form, once I was in bed I commenced over-analyzing this short relationship in order to distill some meaning from it’s rise and fall. Also true to form, I tried to enlist a late-night insomniac phone-a-friend to play sounding board. Because I’m slightly less self-absorbed than I was in high school, I refrained from actually phoning people at midnight and satisfied myself with inquiry texts instead (with the exception of a friend from high school who recently re-entered my immediate social world, and whom I have pulled this stunt on so many dozens of times that I didn’t really blink twice at the prospect of doing it again. Probably for the best, he didn’t pick up or wake up). I hit my mark with a friend in London, who awoke on his Saturday morning to the sound of Whatsapp pings: “What are you doing” “Are you awake” “I’m having a crisis.” Thank goodness for time zones.

A accepted my Skype call like a champ, and served up a much needed reality check. He occupies a unique place in my life as a person who knows me well enough to call me on my bullshit, but makes me feel so secure in our friendship and his good opinion of me that I’m able to listen to his advice without getting my back up. My knee jerk reaction is to see advice from friends as thinly veiled judgement or condescension (and in many cases, I will maintain, it totally is) so I tend to turn hostile towards anyone that deigns to dispense it. This is a great example of how I’m a raging hypocrite, because I’ve gotten more and more comfortable handing out both solicited and unsolicited advice as I prepare to depart my twenties. But I digress.

After a rambling monologue in which I self-flagellate on the basis of being too shallow to call myself a good person, too fucked up to love someone who treats me well, and too emotionally needy to self-soothe, A stepped in. In brief paraphrase, here’s the gist:

You are emotionally needy. That’s ok.
Sometimes, you are a total princess. That’s ok.
Sometimes, you are very shallow. That’s ok.
You are not too fucked up to love someone who treats you well. You just don’t like this guy. That’s ok too.

And it was all ok.

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