All the Choir Ladies…

1997 wasn’t a good year for me.  I had too-short hair, glasses.  I was all hormones, and looking back now, I realize a good dose of depression and anxiety.  I couldn’t fit inside my skin.  I think most 12 year old’s understand that feeling.  That feeling of being out of place, uncomfortable, awkward.  1997 isn’t a year I look back on fondly.

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Me, at 12.

But one good  thing happened in 1997.  In 1997 I went to a choir.  A little group rehearsing in an old church in White Rock.  And there I met Sarona.

I think we all have those people if we are lucky.  Those few people who come into our lives and leave a mark. Leave us better than they found us.

Sarona was one of those people for me.

Sarona took us from being kids.  From being geeks, or loners, or losers, or invisible.  She took us and she made us into singers.

She taught us to work hard.  To do what we said we were going to do.  She taught us to stand up in a room full of people and sing our hearts out.

From Sarona I learned a work ethic.

From Sarona I learned how to fit into my  skin better – she always seemed to fit so well into hers.  

Several months ago I got an email that Sarona, my choir director,  was moving away and would no longer be directing the choir that I spent so much time in from about 1997-2003.  This woman who had taught me so so much was having a final concert and they were looking for alumni to sing.  I joined immediately.

And I found myself in a room with women I hadn’t seen since we were girls, teenagers.  Women who had been there at a critical moment in my life.  I found myself in a room with the women I had grown up with.  Women who were some of the first I told when I kissed a boy.  When I… more than kissed a boy.

And so we sang.  We sang for Sarona because we love her.  Each and every one of us talked about how this woman, this one woman, had taken us and given us a place to belong at an age when so few have that and so many need it.  She had given us a safe place.  Those words, “safe place”, came up again and again as we talked about her.

I sat in a coffee shop with two of these women on the afternoon of the concert.  Between us we had 3 marriages, 2 divorces, 6 children.  Our lives had taken us in directions that we could not have predicted.  And the mark that Sarona left hadn’t faded for any of us.  We all recognized the critical impact she had had on our lives.

So I sang.  I got up on a stage and I sang.  And we sang the old songs, songs I hadn’t sung in over a decade.  The songs came back as if there’d been no time.

It was like I was seventeen again.  Standing in my blue velvet dress, matching scrunchy in my hair, a single strand of pearls around my neck.  It was like I was on an adventure.  Like we’d just rushed out of some tour bus onto stage.  I thought about all of those moments and all of those children.  Young women, young men who had been given a safe place.  Who’d gotten to sing.

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Me, (and the blue dress), at 16.

Singing, music, is a powerful thing.  It bridges our differences.  It connects us.  It’s a beauty that is desperately needed in the world right now.

So I sang.

When the women’s choir said they were accepting new members I knew that that was the place for me.  I’ve been rehearsing with this group for a few months now.  Sarona’s mark is there even though she is gone.  It’s in some of the old songs people pick up.  It’s in the warm ups and the movement.  I’ve sung with other choirs in the past decade but none that have felt so much like home.

I look back and I see that 12 year old girl with the too-short hair and glasses.  The girl who couldn’t fit inside her skin.  A  girl whose hormones were spilling over.  A girl who was anxious, about everything and nothing.  A girl who felt so so alone, all day, everyday, at school.

I look back on that girl and I wonder who she would have become if she hadn’t found her spot.  If she hadn’t found her safe space to be, to exist.  To be seen and to be loved for who she was.  To be told that it was okay to be a little bit different.

That 12 year old girl has been trained away.  She has found a space and a voice and a way to fit in her skin.

But she’s always going to be under there.  And she’s always going to be grateful for Sarona.  Grateful that she came in and changed her life.

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My Brand of Crazy…

Yesterday A and I were out and about.  It started with a lazy morning (for me: he went grocery shopping and to the gym before I’d even crawled out of bed…).  I drank too much tea, talked to my sister, read a book.  Stayed in my jammies until noon.  Was made a breakfast of bacon, kale fried in bacon (yay, we had veggies!), and pancakes.

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Early afternoon we headed to White Rock.  We were going to a cafe, for a walk.  A lazy day in the sun.

It devolved into a shopping trip.  I needed sunglasses.  And a new outfit.  Poor A.  He was a total trooper.

(Particularly when I decided to change into my new clothing in the car and I was wearing just a t-shirt and thong in the passenger seat.  He maneuvered through traffic as I struggled to pull up, and do up, a pair of tight new blue jeans without jostling the stick shift.)

(… giggles…)

The plan was to go to the beach for a walk in the beautiful sunshine.

Turns out we had different ideas of what that plan would look like.

See, A thought that we would park at the top of White Rock and walk down.

I thought that that sounded like the worst idea in the history of the world and I was wearing a new outfit and did he think that I wanted to get all sweaty and gross and if he saw how out of shape I was he would definitely stop loving me.  And I would really prefer it if he didn’t stop loving me Thank You Very Much.  

The result was that we went to the beach.  In a car.  On the first really beautiful day of the year.

Oh, did I mention that yesterday was a holiday in BC?

30 minutes later we were still crawling along the waterfront, no parking spots in sight, no way out.  A was feeling grumpy.  I was doing the nervous babbling that I do when men get grumpy.

(I should pause here and mention that A’s version of grumpy is almost unrecognizable unless you know him.  He just gets quiet.  He continues to be his usual patient and kind self.  Just quieter with occasional proclamations about all the things he’d rather be doing than driving at that very moment.)

We finally made it off the strip, parked up by my apartment building and wandered the neighbourhood.  We found a new brewery bar that we got pretty excited about and chatted with the owner.  We wandered around until his grumpiness, and my nervousness, had faded.

I explained how anxious I was about having to walk up a giant hill with him.  About the extent to which it filled me with dread.  Even trying to explain I could feel the tears just under the surface, the humiliation and shame about my body.  The panic that that humiliation and shame leads to.

Yesterday I revealed a few things about myself:

  • If I say I hate my outfit when we leave the house in the morning there’s a good chance that I’ll suggest a quick stop at the sales racks…
  • When I know someone is grumpy I get nervous and giggly and rambly – no matter how much I trust that that person is going to remain kind and good.  I’m working on it.  (Pretty sure he’s known this one for a long time actually.)
  • My issues with my body go far beyond just not liking the way that it looks.  I have a dread of the way that it functions.  It’s an issue that is going to take a long time to work through.

I learned a lot about him through this experience too.  But that’s mine to keep.

We went to dinner at a friends, met some new people.  Had interesting conversation with great food and wine.  Stopped on the way home to buy a bag of candy to go with a final beer.

Yesterday was a good day.  A day of learning and a day of laughter and a day of fun.   The type of day that leaves one smiling and hopeful, whatever the struggles you may have.

I hope your family day was as well spent my friends.

 

Shifting Selves…

The first man who loved me: loved the idea of me.

I was the Wife.  A character in the picture of a perfect life.  (That’s what it felt like anyways.)

I was sixteen when I met this man and he was twenty-three.  I had never really drunk alcohol, or gone to parties.  I had only ever kissed one boy.

Suddenly I was in a grown up relationship.

(I wasn’t a grown up).

I’m never sure how much ownership I should take for this relationship.  Because, yes, it did start this way.  But I was a grown up when I married him.  I was a grown up when I stayed with him.

When I look back at the self I was with this man I see a petulant, anxious, spoiled, scared little brat.  I was frozen in time.  I didn’t grow as a person.  I grew into myself, curled up in a ball.  I don’t like the self I was when I was with him.

He wasn’t good for me, and I certainly wasn’t good for him.  The self that I was when I was with him?  I wasn’t good for anyone.

The end of this relationship felt like relief.

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The second man who loved me was a good, kind man.  He knew me well, I think.

We had fun.  We had passion.  We were connected.

When I look back at the self I was with this man I see a woman growing into herself, learning, changing, opening her mind.  She’s still anxious and scared, all the time.  She’s a bit of a pain in the ass.  She’s trying so hard to be enough.

There is less to say about this relationship because it was good.  It was fun.

He was good for me, he pulled me out of my shell. I don’t think I was as good for him.

The end of this relationship gutted me in a way that I had never been gutted.  It made me stronger.  I got sad, then mad.  Then I let it go.

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I am a pain in the ass, to be honest.  I am anxious.  I fall too hard and too fast.  I am quiet when I should speak up.  I am self conscious.  I will cry after a day of shopping because I feel fat and disgusting.  I text way too often.

I am also warm and kind and sexy and funny.  I am smart.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to mold myself into what men have wanted me to be.  (What I thought they wanted me to be.)

I have been patient when they were uncertain.  When they didn’t call or disappeared for days at a time.  I have stared at the phone and prayed for it to ring.  Wondered how I could be sexier, funnier, smarter.  How I could be enough to make them want to keep me.

(I once had a guy I was seeing tell me he would really want to be with me – if I lost 30 pounds.  And I laughed.  I agreed with him.)

Recently I stopped wanting to do that.  I don’t have the energy anymore.

I didn’t grow much in my twenties.  The worst of me, the self-conscious girl who didn’t like herself, was the part the flourished.  Suddenly, at 29, the world opened up and those voices started to fade.  Almost three years later I can’t recognize who that girl was.  I have dreams sometimes that I wake up and am back there and I can’t breathe.

The self that I am today is nothing like the self that I was with the first, or the second, man who loved me.  I’ve grown, shifted, more than I knew I could.  I’m a better person by far.

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Suddenly I’m in a relationship that feels simple.  A relationship that feels secure.  A relationship where I feel like I’m enough.  There are no guarantees.  There never are.  But it feels good.  I don’t feel like I’m compromising any piece of my self.

The beautiful thing is that I don’t know who I’m going to be in another 5 years.  10.  But I know that I’ll continue to shift, refine.  Grow more into the self that I know I can be.

Christmas Traditions…

I picked up my sister and brother in law from the airport on Friday night (a couple hours later than planned due to a lost bag incident).  They are in town from Montreal area to celebrate Christmas with us.

I picked them up, as I have done so many times before, well after 10 pm.  We loaded into the car and headed for “home” knowing that there would be a spread on the table of crackers and cheeses and pickles and sausages (from the hole-in-the-wall with the good kielbasa) and cider/beer chilling in a cooler in the garage.  We had our drinks, our snack, and all retired for the evening.

Christmas-eve-morning we sat and drank coffee (with Bailey’s) then headed out for some last minute shopping.  We did a long walk in Fort Langley and hit a brewery we hadn’t yet tried.  We had our traditional seafood feast for Christmas Eve dinner.  Christmas morning was coffee (with Bailey’s), impossible bacon pie, the slow unwrapping of gifts, a snack that matched Friday night (now with the welcome addition of Christmas baking), and a huge turkey dinner.  I skedaddled for a few hours to visit my boyfriend’s family in Richmond where they were doing much of the same things.

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My point is that Christmas is seeped in tradition with my family.  Our Christmas day looks much the same now as it did 25 years ago.  The same foods, the same rhythms.  Christmas is a rhythm for me.  A familiar pattern that repeats itself each year.

And I love it.

At Christmas I do not want the unique.  I want to feel my loved ones all around me.  I want to sit and chat and laugh (and eat).  There is magic in this time of year.  A magic that comes from love, and family, and repeated patterns.  It is in the lights of the tree as the reflect on the wall.  It is in the friends that gather.  It is in the games that we play and the music we sing.

My boyfriend convinced my sister and I to head to midnight mass with him on Christmas Eve.  We three are all agnostic’s but we wanted to hear the Christmas story, take a moment of peace to reflect.  We sang hymns and carols and the mass ended with a candlelit walk out of the church as a hundred people raised their voices, singing Silent Night.  It was a powerful moment.

Christmas will change over the years.  It will grow and shift.  I hope that sometime soon we (my sister, me, one of us, or both) will have little ones running around, making the quiet morning of coffee and chatter infinitely more chaotic.  I don’t expect that every year we will be together – but I hope that, for many, we are.

I am sitting this morning, watching the snow fall, my Christmas jammies still on, the Anne of Green Gables scarf my Dad gave me wound around my neck.  I am reflecting on these past few days of peace, these upcoming days of crazy fun, and I am hoping that all of you have some of the same moments this magical season.

Love you all,

M.

Who Says You Can’t Go Back?

About five months ago my building announced that we needed a new roof which resulted in a “special” assessment of a couple thousand dollars.  Two weeks later I took my car in because it was making a funny noise and found out that it needed (more than) a few thousand dollars worth of work.

I patched the car up as best I could and I started saving for the special assessment.  But my budget is pretty tight and, even though I’d known about it for lots of time, I was struggling.  The car was hanging over my head like a guillotine.  A few more things happened that were comparatively minor but still significant… And I realized that I was in over my head.

So I thought through my options and asked Mommy and Daddy if I could come home for a bit.

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Taking on debt wasn’t an option.  And I simply couldn’t come up with the several thousand dollars needed over such a short period of time.

Living in the lower mainland isn’t easy.  My mortgage, taxes, strata and utilities take up about 46% of my net each month.  If you amortize the cost of the new roof over say, a two year period, we are at 50%.  So.  50% of my net over the past two years has gone towards housing.  Then there is car insurance, cell phone, fuel… It’s all rather a lot.

(I’m going to be fully honest here and tell you that I also eat out too often and have far too much clothing hanging in my closet.  These are my vices.  Giving them up would not have made the difference in this scenario.)

Because I get steady salary increases each year I am not concerned by the long term.  I was concerned by this moment, here and now, and how to get through it.

And I was really, really lucky to still have parents who could lend me a room for a few months.

So I’ve rented my non-rental strata unit out to a couple of girls who wanted to try living on the west coast for a few months.  And I’m going through the, rather humiliating, process of convincing my strata that, yes, this is my only option.

I’m sitting in the small upstairs bedroom of my parents house surrounded by too much stuff feeling pretty shitty about myself but also pretty grateful.  And the dinner that Mom made was pretty damn delicious.

Sigh.

Here’s the thing.  I’m going to turn 32 while I’m living with my parents.  I’m not a kid anymore.  I’m a grown-ass-woman and I feel like I’m failing.  I feel like I’m screwing up in a bunch of different parts of my life.  I feel like I am self-sabotaging with the best of them.

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My reboot was going well.  Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.  Too many things converged all at the same moment and I found myself crying on the drive home wondering aloud why I couldn’t do anything right.

The thing is that I can do stuff right.  (I swear!!!)  It was just too much, all at once.  It was the feeling you get when you know that one more thing will break you.

Mom and I were struggling yesterday to pack the large and unwieldy cat tower into her truck.  It wouldn’t fit and I kept having to crawl into the back, (in a work dress, pantyhose and heels, because what else does one wear when moving?), and I kept thinking about how many people in my life had offered to help me.  And how I had stubbornly said “No, I’ve got this”.  And how that meant that my poor Mother and I were now giggling helplessly and slightly hysterically at our failure to lift this heavy damn tower.

I was able to ask my parents for help when I needed it.  But I’m rarely able to ask anyone else.  This is a problem.  Asking for help is so incredibly scary.  It makes one raw, vulnerable.  Saying “No, I don’t have this” is a terrifying thing for me.

I have always hated admitting that I don’t know how to do something.  It is crippling for me to try something for a first time and have to admit that I need help.  Anything from an exercise class to using a compass card.  Stupid things that shouldn’t be embarrassing!  I will research it, I will barrel through.  I will not admit I don’t know.  I will not ask for help. Even when help is willingly, lovingly offered, I often will not accept it.

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It’s not an attractive quality my friends.

I feel like each and every moment of my life I am one shown weakness away from… What?  People not loving me anymore?  My friends know my weaknesses, my failings.  My family does too.  None of them love me less for these things.

It’s something I’m working on.

This “Extraordinary, Ordinary, Life”…

If you have known me for more than roughly 5 minutes the chances are good that I have sat you down to watch the movie About Time.  It is my favourite movie, I think it is genuinely brilliant, and I think that every single person should take a couple of hours to watch it.

**Spoiler Alert**

The movie is pretty simple.  It goes beyond your average love story because… It is about family.  About the rhythms and patterns we create with those we love.  

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Now, the movie was written and directed by Richard Curtis, the same guy who created Love Actually.  We won’t hold that against him.  (To be clear, I have an irrational dislike of Love Actually).  

Our main character is Tim who discovers, on his 21st birthday, that he is able to travel through time to places within his own life.  (As are all the men in his family).

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Tim decides to use his powers to find love.  And, of course, he finds it.

He meets the girl, he loves the girl, he marries the girl.  There’s no hesitation in Tim.  He’s… earnest.  It’s lovely.

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(Tim is played by Domhnall Gleeson who is absolutely yummy.  It’s worth watching the movie for this fact alone).

I question sometimes why it is that I find this movie so captivating.

These characters fall for each other and move ahead.  They have babies because they want them.  They joke about how broke they are and how they can’t afford the house that the babies have forced them to buy.  They have one of the most disastrous weddings of all time.  They fight.  Their hearts are broken in the ways that everyone has their heart broken.  They lean on one another in the ways that one should be able to lean on a partner.

Aside from the ridiculously beautiful family home and the abnormally good looking lead characters… The characters feel normal for me.  The life that they live is something that I want to build for myself one of these days.  It feels real.  It feels ordinary.

We are a hesitant generation.  And, don’t get me wrong, taking time is good and smart.  But do we need to wait 3 years?  4?  5?  10?

I talk to my parents and their generation and everyone seems to echo the same thought… They just did it.  They met, fell in love, married, had kids.  They don’t talk about agonizing in the same way that we do.

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This movie is about the ordinary moments and that captivates me because life is about ordinary moments.  It is about fights and power outages and time spent giggling on the couch.

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Bridget Jones’s Baby…

I woke up this morning, a headache pulsing, low and threatening, at the base of my skull.

I had big plans for today involving the beach and a blanket and a bucket of fish and chips.  Instead I ate cold leftover lasagna for breakfast (and then lunch).  I took three baths in my tiny tub.  I had two naps.  Nothing touched the pain.  In fact, it began to build.

I finally got out of bed around 3 pm and decided that I was going to laugh my pain away with a good dose of Bridget Jones.

So I went to the movies.

I have to tell you all:  GO SEE BRIDGET JONES’S BABY!!!

It was so good to catch up with Bridget Jones.  She’s all grown up now and has finally reached her goal weight, but has maintained that quirky gets-nothing-quite-right attitude that made us all fall for her in the first place.

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(Points to anyone who really gets what is going on in this scene…)

There’s a scene at the start of the movie where she dances around her house with a large glass of wine singing all the lyrics to Jump Around that I’m fairly certain any woman living on her own will find very relate-able. (Also I may have caught myself singing along with Lily Allen’s Fuck You when the music abruptly cut off and my voice was, for a brief moment, the only sound in the theater.)  The soundtrack to this movie is absolutely fantastic.

Anyways.  Bridget Jones is having a baby.  She just doesn’t know who the father is.

(Cue lots of jokes about sex and semen and polyamory.)

It was completely charming.  And rather touching.

I liked that we are reunited with the stiff and awkward Mr Darcy who still adores Bridget and still can’t quite acknowledge it.  I fucking love Mr Darcy.  I liked Jack, the new guy on the scene, as the open and loving match who tries to sweep her off her feet.  I’m not going to spoil the ending and tell you who the father is, k?

It’s fun to find out.

I kind of wished that I’d brought my notebook to take down quotes as the movie went on but I’m sure that we’ll see lots of lines from the movie in our Pinterest quote feeds soon.  I did break out my pen and jot this one down though…

Sometimes you love a person for all the reasons they’re not like you.  Sometimes you love a person just because they feel like home.   – Bridget Jones

This seems to be a constant refrain for me here.  Looking for a love that feels like home.  For someone who fits in that way.  For someone who wants to have me (and keep me).

It takes a long time and lots of effort to know whether or not you want a person enough to keep them.  There’s always a risk.

It takes Bridget Jones until 43 to find home.

In conclusion?  I’m in my jammies now and the pain has migrated to the front of my face and filled the tissues of my upper back and shoulders.  Tonight is gonna suck.  But at least I got to see BJ’s Baby?!

This song is dedicated to my head:

(Warning, do not play with children in the room.)