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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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.

I Really Like Natural Boobs… And Personality.

One of my goals for 2017 is to start a more consistent exercise program… of some sort.  I don’t really care if it’s ensuring that I get 10,000 steps in a day or if I swim laps for 45 minutes.  I just want to know that, most days of the week, I’ve used my body.  Done something good for it.

And so I’ve been finding myself at the pool lately.

I find the pool intimidating.  How does one know which lane to swim in?  How does one ensure that one doesn’t crash into that person flying by oh-so-close?  How does one wander about in their bathing suit while running into colleagues and such?  How does one get over their fear of running into Aggressive Guy whilst in a bathing suit?

I was at the pool last week.  I’d been swimming laps and was feeling really good as I opened the door to the sauna and saw three men in their early 30s look up as I entered.  I hesitated for a moment in the way that most women do when confronted with a room of only men.  But I went in.  Because it’s the public pool, it’s a safe place, and there’s nothing to worry about.  Silly me for my hesitation.

Let’s call these three gentlemen: Guy 1, Guy 2, and Guy 3.

Guy 3 leaves the sauna within a few moments of my entering.

Guy 2: “Did you see his new girlfriend?”

Guy 1: “Yeah, she’s totally a downgrade from the last chick.”

Guy 2: “Totally.  She’s still pretty hot though.”

Guy 1: “Nah.  I don’t go for the fake boobs.  So many of the chicks in the hot tub tonight have fakes.”

Guy 2: “I hate fakes.  She really is a downgrade.”

Guy 1, apparently realizing that this conversation might be inappropriate, glances over at me, assesses my situation, and says: “I really like natural boobs.”

Guy 2, realizes that they have been less than gentlemanly with their conversation, glances at me, assesses my situation, and says: “And personality.  Really I just want a good personality.”

(Throughout this conversation I had my head down and my eyes half shut in an attempt to block them out.  Politely.)

They then proceeded to discuss the girls in the hot tub and which of them they figured had fake boobs.  They rated their bodies and hotness.

At another iteration of “Fake boobs are so gross” I lifted my head, looked the offender in the eye, and said: “I guess it just depends on how good the surgeon is.”

(I’m not sure why this is what I chose to say.  It was like my Santa Claus moment of a couple years ago.  That’s what slipped out.)

Both guys turned bright red at the confirmation that I wasn’t in fact deaf and one stuttered out a: “Sorry, we weren’t trying to be rude.”

I shrugged, smiled, and replied that it was all good.

I hate myself a little bit for that smile.

But I was in a small contained space with two unknown men and I really did not want to lose my proud post-workout buzz by having to have that conversation.

You know the conversation.  The conversation that asks them if they would be okay with their mothers, daughters, sisters, wives or girlfriends being spoken about in the way that they were talking about the ‘downgrade girlfriend’.  (And can we just think about this for a moment… )

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The conversation that asks them if they wanted me to dissect their bodies as I sat in the sauna with a friend.  Should I speculate that they probably have small dicks?  ED?  (What is the equivalent on a man of fake breasts on a woman?)

The conversation that asks them why the fuck I need to ask them these fucking questions.

So I smiled at them.  And I made nice.  Because I didn’t have the energy for that conversation on this particular day.  Because I’m good at backing down.  Because men kind of scare me and life seems to reinforce that that’s smart.

And I shut down that little voice inside that wondered how lacking they found my body, encased as it was in a one piece swimsuit with far too much cleavage.  What did they think about the dimples on my thighs, the very visible dent in my ass from a fall last year?  What did they have to say about my lack of makeup, about my too-high BMI?  About the stretch marks littering the undersides of my upper arms?

I’ve fought so hard to be okay in my body.  It had been a fight to get myself to the pool that night.  To expose myself in such a way.

And to find that all my fears were true?  That the men I passed in on the deck really were staring, make assessments, and certainly finding me lacking?

Suddenly I remembered this…

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(I can’t find a source for this beautiful image…)

Yeah.  I still need to remind myself of that once in awhile.

I don’t care to excuse guys who talk like this anymore.  The men in my world don’t.  Boys won’t be boys.  Boys need to Find Something Else to Talk About.  Fuck off.  Realize that my body, and the bodies of all those women in the hot tub, are not fodder for your amusement.

Seriously boys.  It’s time to grow the fuck up.

…”Do You Spend Lots of Time on Your Knees?”

When I was 19 I got a job working at a car dealership as an accounts payable clerk.  It was a couple days per week, while I was going to school full time, oh, and working a second job as an office manager in downtown Vancouver.  I was a busy, busy girl.

I don’t remember much about this job, it was so long ago.  But I do have one very clear memory.  I was filing a pile of invoices, kneeling on the floor, when one of the salesmen, a much older man, came wandering over.  He placed his body directly in front of me so that I was trapped between him, the cabinet, and the wall.  His crotch was at eye level about four inches from touching my face.  He laughed and asked if I spent lots of time on my knees.

I could see past him to several other men who worked there watching and laughing.

I just remember turning bright red, forcing myself to laugh, and responding with some inane remark.  I remember feeling trapped, uncomfortable, and beyond angry.  I remember thinking that I needed to keep my cool so as to avoid making the situation worse.  I left that job quickly.

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A few years later I had a boss who would stand behind my deck, close, breathing down my neck.  Literally.  I remember that whenever I went into his office he would ask me questions aggressively about the file that I was working on and then interrupt the moment that I attempted to explain, as if I was the stupidest girl he’d ever been forced to deal with.  I remember that after almost every single meeting I would go into the bathroom and shake and cry in one of the stalls for several minutes until I could calm down from the way this man spoke to me.  I remember that there was a couple of other women who did the same thing.

I remember my boss Greg.  Greg owned a small accounting firm and I was his only employee.  It was just Greg and I most of the time.  I was in my early twenties and worked for Greg for a number of years as I completed my degree.

Greg was an incredible boss.  

He was a few years older than me.  He mentored me, believed in me.  He paid me a fair wage and gave me a ridiculously generous bonus each Christmas.

If I was struggling with a class Greg would offer to help.  He would give me time off for exams.  If I did something wrong Greg would teach me.  Greg didn’t mansplain, or bully, or stand too close.  He didn’t stare at my breasts and ass when he thought I wouldn’t notice.  (Or when he knew I would).

There are good men in this world.  Lots and lots of them and I have been blessed to have many in my life.

I have also had some pretty awful men in my life.  Without the good men I don’t know if I would have realized that they were treating me badly.  It’s easy to become used to this behaviour and brush it off as “locker room talk”.

It’s not locker room talk.  Or.  It shouldn’t be.

I am not a political person.  I don’t watch debates or hold strong policy opinions.  When it is time to vote I look around, find out who matches best with my values, drop a ballot into a box and wait until the next time.

But I watched the debate last night.  I watched the debate last night because it was all we could talk about at book club earlier in the week (this was pre-“grabbed her by the p*ssy”) and already all we were talking about was feminism and Trumps attitude towards women.  We were despairing that Hilary might not make it, even though people don’t want Trump because, for some men, it would just be too hard to vote for a woman.

And I know nothing about US politics, okay?!  I don’t want to hear about policy.  Trump is a racist, and a sexist, and I think that that alone should disqualify him.

Hilary is going to win.  I have too much faith in humanity to believe otherwise.

But I think that something even more powerful is going to come out of this.

We are talking about it.  We are talking about our own “grabbed her by the p*ssy” moments.  We are saying: we are done smiling when uncomfortable.

It won’t happen overnight.  Two months ago, on a first date, a man pinched my nipples so hard he left a bruise.  (He did not have permission to touch my nipples).  I left and the next day told him he had made me very uncomfortable.  I left it at that because, what else is there to do?

A quote from Amy Schumer…

“Most women I know that I’m close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn’t completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it’s not all black and white. There’s a gray area of rape, and I call it ‘grape.’ It’s the guy you went home with in college, and you said, ‘No,’ and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. …

“There’s just so many different things that can happen, so it’s not always this, ‘Well, you’re going to jail and that’s it.’ There’s other stuff where it’s like, ‘Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to … press charges or take any action against this person.’ But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like ‘grape.’ “

(There is a really great article about “grape” here).

Mine wasn’t “grape”, I left and he let me, but it was kind of… Assault-Light?

My point.  What’s my point again?

We are in a culture where every single woman I know has a story about grape, about their “grabbed her by the p*ssy” moment(s), and we don’t talk about it.

And, suddenly, the conversation, uncomfortable as some might find it, has opened up.

So let’s talk about it.  All those good men in our world, you guys need to talk about it too.

Let’s make it clear that it isn’t something we are okay with.

That we aren’t going to stay quiet anymore.

(Even if it just means telling that man from work that, no, you don’t spend a lot of time on your knees).

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.)

Reset…

September is a reset moment for me each year.   Far more-so than January my year starts and ends each labour day weekend.  It is something that is programmed in from our school days.  September was new clothing, fresh pencils, empty workbooks.  September was the start of the year you were going to be cooler, smarter, get your homework done on time.

Of course this is never how it goes.  We are who we are and all the new clothing and pencils in the world cannot change us at our core.  But we make small improvements each year if we are lucky.  We grow.  We move forward.

I have had a wonderful summer.  I swam in lakes and oceans and rivers.  I saw places I have never been.  I stared out at scenery and marveled at how big and beautiful this world can be.  I day drank in Ikea and laughed until my stomach hurt.  I spent hours in cars with my sister and soaked up her company.  I floated in my parents pool where we spent too many hours chatting.  I enriched friendships with shared experiences.  I followed my heart when logic just wouldn’t do.

But as of this weekend things reset for me.  It is a return to routine, a return to my days having a rhythm.  It’s the start of a new year and all that that entails.  So what do I want for this next 12 months?  I want to settle.

  • I want to get up and go to bed at the same time each night.  I want to start my days rested and ready.
  • I want to cook good food and take the time to enjoy the process.
  • I want to come home in the evenings and read a book in my hammock.
  • … Or lay on the couch and laugh at a stupid TV show, head in a lovers lap.
  • I want to go to the gym at the same times each week and get to know the people around me.
  • I want to sing.
  • I want to drink less and hike more.
  • I want to take my Grandma for coffee each month and treasure her company.
  • I want to ground myself in nature.
  • I want to meditate.
  • I want to worry less about where my life is headed and just enjoy the everyday.

I have some major changes coming up.  I am moving home for several months and will live with my parents for the first time in a long time.  I am working at a new place.  Many would classify my Love Life an utter disaster.  (It isn’t).

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It’s like that first day back to school, crisp new backpack, a carefully considered outfit, newly sharpened pencils in a bright pink case.  I can’t escape who I am and I wouldn’t want to.  But I’d like to settle into her a bit better these next 12 months.  Forgive her her imperfections.  Cherish her.

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This past year I often haven’t felt like a good daughter, friend, granddaughter, sister.  I have been racing from one thing to the next.  I have been disconnected from myself and those around me.  I have let heartache eat away at me.  I have put my energies into the wrong people and places.

I have been resetting that this summer.  I have been trying to be better and truer to myself.  I haven’t been perfect.  I have done my best.

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So I’m going to focus on myself this year.  The people who are meant to be in my life will benefit from this.  The people who aren’t?  They’ll be fine too.

My goals are tiny.  Manageable.  Some might say boring.

They’re me.  They’re the me that I want to get back to.

So.  Reset.

Okay! Okay! I Get the Message!

I’m going to start this by saying that I don’t believe in God, I am not a religious person.

But I do believe in the universe.  I believe that sometimes the universe sends us messages and that we should listen to them.

My date with Aggressive Guy scared me.  It was the universe slapping me in the face and saying “Stop What You Are Doing!!!”.

A few days later I went on a date so filled with crazy I was left speechless.  It took a full blown panic attack on the side of road for me to realize that this wasn’t working.

The date filled with crazy was harmless.  It was the universe, irritated, flicking me between the eyes as it sighed.

I went home and deleted my dating app (Tinder) and my online profile (OkCupid).  I decided to be done.  Because I don’t want to be scared of my date.  Because I don’t want to meet crazy and have coffee with it.

I simply don’t care that much.

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I tend to view online dating in the same way I usually attack a job or task.  Logic says “I want to meet someone, get married, have babies” and, like any other thing I have wanted in my life, I take the logical steps towards achieving it.  Which was online dating.

My heart though?  My heart so isn’t interested in forcing it.  My heart isn’t interested in a million messages and likes and dates and swiping right.  My heart is tired and will tell me when and if it’s ready to try again.

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I’m not closing myself off to anything.  I’m still seeing people and I will continue to see people.  But.  I’m not putting any pressure on myself.  I’m going to lean into my current ambivalence towards love and men instead of trying to force something.  Instead of attacking dating like a job I am going to sit back.  See what the universe is up to.

And if I get to feel safe on all future dates?  That’d be pretty good too.