Superwoman’s Trashed Cape

Personal upheaval is something that happens. It can come as a drizzle of raindrops, or it will come as a deluge of water that will send rivers rising, roads, and highways flooding until homes are submerged in water and are swept away by the current.

The year of 2018 was a year of personal change that came all at once. Some of it was planned: my mother’s move to Ottawa that neither went smoothly or swiftly. I longed to quickly place a checkmark in that box on my to-do list, but it lingered incomplete for several months. Part of the reason for this was that unknown to me at the time, Ottawa was in the midst of a housing crisis that continues to this day.

Today in Ottawa, a small bachelor apartment will cost nine hundred dollars. When I graduated from University over a decade ago, a bachelor cost me close to six hundred dollars. I struggled at the time to pay my rent on a salary that was a little above the poverty line. I don’t know how a person who makes a similar income today can live in this city. Nevertheless, I know our housing crisis isn’t limited to Ottawa; nationally, for years, Toronto and Vancouver have both struggled with the same issue. As well, from reading various news articles, I know it’s become a wide-reaching problem across Canada; and in many other countries such as the United States and in the United Kingdom.

These two obstacles (the move and the housing shortage in Ottawa) were not insurmountable hurdles to overcome. But there was also the new monumental experience of selling my mother’s house.  The endeavor left me terrified, anxious, and frustrated in a sweeping sandstorm of emotions. As well, while I’d coordinated office moves early in my career, the relocation of my mother across hundreds of kilometers left me wide-eyed at night with terror.  I attempted to reassure myself the office moves I’d coordinated had ended, well—relatively smoothly. Surely, if I’d managed those, I could blow the cobwebs out of my brain and figure out how to move my momma to a different city.

Easy-peasy.  

It wasn’t easy-peasy though—it was damn hard.

Adding to this flux of tasks, I’d also committed to run a half-marathon at the end of September of that same year. A long time ago, I was a woman that would run, run, and run, and I wouldn’t let anything stop me. Pain in my knee? The solution was physiotherapy. Not enough sleep? Don’t care. I’ve got a training schedule to do! Busy week at work? Fine, I’ll get up extra early and punch out seven kilometers before I jump in the shower and get ready to go to work. Snowstorm? I’ll slip and slide along the packed snow, jump over three-foot snowbanks, and if I encounter a snow wall at an intersection, I’ll climb over it.

I was so dedicated that when my father died in February 2009, I still planned to complete a scheduled half-marathon in May of that year. My last long run of nineteen kilometers occurred on a Tuesday night less than two weeks before the half-marathon.  (Ahem, that is not when your last long run should happen.) I remember the next day well because one of my co-workers looked at me from across the room as she engaged in a conversation with a colleague, stopped mid-sentence, and blurted out in my direction as only telepathic grandmothers have done in the past with these words: “You look tired?”

Yes, I was. But nothing was going to stop me from running that race. Who cares if I missed most of February’s training, due to frequent trips across hundreds of kilometers by car to my hometown, because my dad was hospitalized due to complications from lung cancer? That was no excuse. Or, that’s what I told myself.

Then my adorable, fluffy, chocolate lab tore some ligaments in my shoulder when we were playing ball-ball eight days before my race. It wasn’t his fault, but mine. I didn’t trust him. When I threw the ball, and he bumped it with his chubby black snout, the nose-bump caused the ball-ball to roll a little further away from him. He did what a good Labrador does—he chased it. I hung on to the retractable leash as my thirteen-month fluff-bum Pup tugged and launched me into the air. A second later, I crashed to the ground and landed with a thud on my shoulder. This was followed by a yelp of, “*insert common expletive here that starts with F!*” as an explosive pain swept through my shoulder that caused me to become nauseous and dizzy.

I lumbered towards an unknown neighbor who happened to be on her phone at the time, gave her my husband’s number with instructions to tell him he needed to pick up me, and Mr. I Broke Mommy. Even as I collapsed on the grass and continued to clasp that retractable leash tightly in agony with MIBM’s butt in my face, I already began to plot my next move and reassured myself with: I can still run.

I didn’t run that race though because when I walked, rolled over in bed, tried to reach for anything, the pain would tear through my shoulder and across my back as if someone had stabbed me with a nine-inch blade. That was the first race I ever missed.

Skip to a few years later, when I dropped out of races as a regular occurrence. My top five reasons might include:

  • We really can’t afford to go to Toronto so that I can run (another) half-marathon because one of us is out of a job, and the other person is now under the threat that their position has a ninety percent probability of going the way of the dodo. Pass
  • I can do a Ten Kilometer Race in my sleep. Pass
  • Here in Ottawa, on a frigid February day, it’s snowing. Again. Pass
  • Someone’s dead: mother-in-law, brother, friend… Pass
  • Not feeling it today. Pass

Family and friends called me out on my commitment to sign up for races, and then my non-commitment to actually run them. In response to a few comments made to me, I put my common sense aside and started to run again. This time I would swing back in the other direction. Nothing would stop me from running a race.

When the mercury soared in May 2016 on the day of a scheduled half-marathon, and I’d barely done any training because I’d lost a friend in April, (Hey, what do you want? It’s a daily battle when you lose someone you love.) I laced up my shoes. My husband bounced around me and said, “Maybe, it’s not a good idea? Maybe, you should sit this one out?” With my head held high and a laugh, I pinned my race bib number on my shirt, grabbed my car keys, and headed out the door for my race.

At two kilometers, I was surprised I was already tired. I rationalized with myself it was only another nineteen kilometers and change to go.

Ugh.

At the ten kilometer mark, a bitter taste swept through my mouth as I felt the blood drain from my face. The heat and humidity scorched me that day. I rubbed my hands over my temples in a miserable attempt to smooth out a headache. I brushed the salty sweat from my cheeks. I remember two volunteers stared at me with a smile of pity on their faces as they said, “How are you doing?”

I rolled my shoulders back, straightened my spine, and pushed my legs forward as I hobbled briskly past them with a huff of, “I’m doing fine!” I ran as fast as I could (I believe the tortoise past me) before the volunteers had a chance to call the paramedics and yank me from the course.

I did not die that day. You would think I would have learned something. I did not.

I should have dropped out of that scheduled race in September 2018. Truth is, the echoed words of the Quitter Ghost I was, haunted me. As well, I never completed a “sanity check” on tackling a new goal because my mind was already too busy problem-solving while I folded laundry, drove, bought groceries, and—on training runs.

The first day I ran and fell on my face (literally), it was post-appointment with my Cardiologist in May 2018. I was angry with him because I’d spent six months worried about my heart, received a couple of conflicting test results that he explained as “inaccurate,” and then he announced, “Enjoy your summer.”  The implied meaning: Stop worrying. You’re all good.

I decided on that run the Cardiologist was partly right: because I had low blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels, I wasn’t a candidate for heart disease. However, I also realized that if he’d missed something, I needed to fix my eating and exercise habits.  At that very moment, I decided running was no longer an “optional” hobby—it was a requirement for my health.

Then after I made that decision, I stumbled over my feet at my six-hour marathon pace. My body leaned forward. I wobbled. In a final, brave attempt to protect myself, I stretched both hands out as this thought surged through my brain: Holy sh*t! This is going to hurt!

I hit the paved road and skidded. My sunglasses flew off my face and fell ten feet from where the rest of me landed. Finally, the right side of my forehead smacked against the concrete. Pain ricocheted to my neck. Blood poured from both knees and elbows. Chunks of gravel that were mixed in on the road tore a piece of skin off my palm, and it flopped around. I did what any reasonable adult would do—I pushed on the loose skin. It bled. It also—hurt like hell.

That was the first time I fell down on a training run. It was mid-May.

Not long after, my hubby and I faced new problems. We went to have dinner one night with my husband’s father and noticed a yellow tinge coated his skin and the whites of his eyes. My husband and I blinked at him. He was jaundice and had failed to see it. A few months later, my father-in-law would be diagnosed with bile duct cancer—an aggressive and rare form of the disease.

Around the end of July, while my brain worked on moving around all the pieces of my puzzling life, I stumbled again on a training run. I managed not to hit my head on the pavement. But those barely healed elbows and knees dripped with crimson again. As I peeled myself off the road at a three-way intersection and limped away, I muttered for a bit, before I threw my head back and erupted into snorts of laughter. I decided at that moment that if there were a third fall, I might not be so lucky. Once I was home, and after I tended to my bleeding bits, I transferred to the Ten Kilometer Race.

It took two falls for me to realize that I may have over-committed myself to that half-marathon. Yet, throughout the final part of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, I still missed the bigger picture.

My pace sped up to supersonic speed as I attempted to help my mother settle into a new city; support my husband after my father-in-law passed away following an operation meant to extend his life a little, ended up taking it instead; walk that same tendon-pulling lab on at least two walks a day; keep our house tidy so luggage-packing vermin don’t make it their new “home”; work on my writing; meet with my friends so they know they’re important to me; maintain some level of exercise, and on, and on it went….

I tried to keep the pace up by multitasking more often, by doing three or four things at once as opposed to just two, by getting less sleep—by using every second of the day as efficiently as I could. My body in response to this non-stop to-do list responded: I would get chest pains and tightness in my throat when I thought about being late for work; my left eye twitched at random times; when I forgot to do something I would (or wanted to) cry; when I sat down to write, my stories were littered with run-on and incomplete sentences, common spelling mistakes, and I struggled to remember how to spell simple words. One evening when I attempted to write a query letter to a literary agent, I blinked at my monitor after I typed the word quankered.  I shook my head in frustration. I googled the word, but it took some time because I didn’t even have the first letter right.

The word I meant to type was—CONQUERED.

I realized something in the summer of 2019: I couldn’t do it all.

I know some people will say they can do more than me, and they don’t understand what my issue is. Some will also say, “I need to employ better time-management skills.”

Those people are correct. 

What I also know is that I need to make choices. Decisions, that are neither easy or ones without consequences. Some of the changes in my life revolve around applying better “time-management skills”; others require me to be more assertive and say, “Sorry, I just can’t do it.”

In the fall of 2019, the most significant decision I made was to leave my full-time position. For me, I realized that after eight years of working full-time and writing on the side, I couldn’t do both anymore. If I wanted to improve in my craft I needed to take courses, commit more time to edits, market my blog, attend writing conferences, create more short stories, and build other manuscripts. I already didn’t have the time to do the things I had to do. Where would I find the hours needed to do all the other tasks that would allow me the smallest chance of success in a very competitive industry?

There’s no guarantee of success. I know that. But, dropping down to one full-time job was the right decision for me at this point in my life. I’m one hundred percent certain of my choice for this reason: This Superwoman’s tired—and that’s why I’ve decided—to trash my cape.

Perspective

When you see me, what do you see?

On a snowy, icy path, on a frigid day, a white-haired woman with her back curled forward leans heavily on her walker up a hill in the direction of Sam’s Grocery Store.

He takes a drag from his cigarette, sucking on it a little too long. His tearful eyes shift as he leans against the wall. Searching his jacket, he fumbles for his phone. When he pulls it out, he dials. The phone rings. There’s a click and he says, “Sorry, can you help me?”

She drops a plate. “That’s coming out of your paycheque!” the man at the counter shouts with a raised hand in Lucy’s direction. Nodding her head, she slowly walks away. Then, a piece of bacon slips from the plate she’s still carrying.  “And clean that up!” he barks at her as she heads towards the kitchen.

***

The Birth of “Dragon in the Mirror”

I’ve read that readers like to know how authors come up with their stories. And for this reason, I planned to reveal where the concept for my original short story, “Dragon in the Mirror,” was created from that was released in 2016. I planned to write this blog post in late December and then found I had better things to do like break down old boxes, clean the fridge, and work on new projects.

Procrastination took over me and then the non-existent post haunted me. I finally attempted to write this post again in earlier January and found that I started several times, stopped, and then threw out multiple versions. As time passed, I found that I snapped at my husband more frequently, began to forget things, and was distracted as I combed through my memories and drudged up events to include in this post. One morning, I sobbed in the shower as I considered whether a YouTube video might be easier. I realized at that moment, it wouldn’t.

This blog post was difficult for me to write on many levels and I know I can’t address all the reasons in a single post. The overwhelming reason though, is that slithering in the back of my mind a question will always haunt me and it’s this: Did I do all that I could to help my family?

Let’s first go back to the original question about where my stories come from. Short stories for me will sometimes appear out of nothing.  I will begin to scribble into a notebook (or sometimes with fingers tapping on my keyboard), and the words will roll into each other that will form words, sentences, characters, and a plotline.  Occasionally, a novel may begin this way too.

However, other times, the ideas are a combination between reality and fantasy; a mixture of traits molded together to manifest a quirky character or in the case of “Dragon in the Mirror,” a terrified and powerless seven-year-old girl who watches as her parents sink into financial and emotional depression who’s named Jayden.

My childhood was riddled with both high and low moments. We were comfortable as far as I remember, for much of my preteen years where my father worked as a Construction Worker and my mother as a Poultry Farm Manager. Then when I was sixteen-years-old, our situation changed when a recession strangled Canada and hit the area I lived in with high unemployment.

The fallout was that my father, the Construction Worker, lost his job. I was not Jayden, the seven-year-old girl we first met in the short story, “Dragon in the Mirror,” who was helpless and couldn’t do anything to ease her parent’s financial burden. Instead, as a teenager, I walked along the thin line between teenager and child that resulted in me flipping back and forth between helping, whining, and being angry about how unfair life was. To this day, I have moments when I’m proud of the teenage girl I was; while at the same time, preferring to hide my face in shame at some of the words I said to my father.

How did my father’s job loss impact me? There were times when our fridge was nearly empty and basic toiletries were depleted.  I remember on paydays, there was a sense of jubilation in the air when my dad, mom, or I got paid because it meant we could buy a few groceries. When the muffler on the car went, my father would fall silent, or would sometimes explode in a fit of frustration. There was also a time when my parents lived without heat in their house.  There were many days my father sat at the dining room table and counted the money he had in his wallet and then would turn and stare blankly out the window. Repeated attempts at asking a question would be met with continued silence from him, and when he finally answered the question, it was a meager reply.

The recession ended eventually but for my parents, their financial worries never went away. For them, financial instability lingered and swelled like a boil over time and was compounded by other events that happened later.

I would like to say I was the perfect teenager. Truth is, I was, at times, exceedingly selfish. Embarrassingly now, I remember one time we went to the mall to go shopping and I stared at a dolphin poster for some time as I contemplated whether I should purchase it. My father looked at it and said we couldn’t afford it. I snapped back, “I can afford it!”

Then there was the time I accused my father of purposely preventing me from getting my driver’s license because he didn’t want me to drive. (I was playing the girl card because my family wasn’t always very liberal towards females. But my father always supported me and encouraged me to pursue a university education. So even back then, I should have realized this wasn’t the case.) Somewhere along the way, either that day or another day, it came out that my father simply didn’t have the money to pay for my driving lessons like he did for my brother a few years earlier. Those are just two examples. I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, there are many more situations that would make me want to run away and hide.

I did feel guilty, though. Guilt for wanting things, for expecting anything from my parents who gave me more than they ever should have, and remorse for attending University in a city that was more than six hundred kilometers from my parents. Briefly, during my university years, I’d thought about dropping out of school so that I could go home and find a job to help my parents financially. When I confessed this to my father, who had borrowed money to send me when my Student Loan funds were gone, he said, “Help yourself first, and then you can help others.”

At eighteen, I left home to go to University, and from that moment on, I frequently cried because I believed my father would die of lung cancer. My father knew my worries and joked, “I’ll probably outlive you.”

One Thanksgiving weekend, a few years after I’d completed University and was married and settled in a different city, I’d returned home for the holiday. I remember a moment when I drove up the driveway and saw my father as he slowly walked out of the front door. There was that familiar distant look in his eye and he also held a hand to his chest. But, there was something else about that moment that left me unsettled; a concern that after years of struggle, my father might have felt no one cared about him.

So, to show our appreciation, I spoke to my mother and brother, and a plan was hatched to throw him a surprise party in the spring of the following year for his birthday. The plan went as planned; almost, perfectly so. My father, overwhelmed and grateful, shifted uncomfortably at the large number of people who gathered to surprise him made up of family and friends. It was a day to celebrate. Repeatedly he asked, “When did you guys plan this?” in his worn work clothes.

Hurrah!!! We had done it! We had shown the man we cared!

My father would die eleven months later of lung cancer.

I’m convinced poverty kills. It kills people through prolonged stress that leads to poor eating habits and results in an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Or, it will kill more directly through the consumption of cigarettes and/or alcohol that makes it more difficult to quit because of ongoing stress. (Yes, my father was a chain-smoker.) Those are just two examples.  I’m aware, there are many more.

This is where the original concept for “Dragon in the Mirror” came from—from witnessing my parent’s struggle to choose between necessities. The full-length novel continues to address poverty through Jayden however, it tackles many other themes as well.

But if I had to summarize though, I would say “Dragon in the Mirror,” was my attempt to communicate how heart-breaking and devastating poverty can be—especially when viewed through the eyes of a child.

The Gift of Empathy

Listen.

Nod.

Listen.

Agree.

Listen.

Make someone a cup of tea.

Listen.

If someone starts crying, it’s okay if you cry, too. It means you care.

Listen.

Put aside everything that’s ever happened to you.

Listen.

Make suggestions. But accept that your suggestions might not be right for them.

Listen.

But whatever you do, please don’t compare.

Listen.

This Is Not Me = Go Pug, Polar Plunging & Paintball Welts (Repost)

Repost from my first blog Pushing Boundaries (slightly edited) that ran from 2016-2017. At the time when I worked on completing the “challenges”, it was stressful and exhausting. Now that several years have passed, I look back at that time fondly. This blog post was written, I believe in July/August 2017, best encapsulates what I learned about myself while I completed Pushing Boundaries.

Good times.

***

This Is Not Me = Go Pug, Polar Plunging & Paintball Welts

If you look to a well-manicured lawn and garden, you will see the calmness of emerald-green grass while appreciating the beauty of flowers that burst with color. Flowers that may include any number of red roses, purple chrysanthemums, pink and red peonies, white or orange lilies, to the far off and most of the time separated—blue hydrangea.

Underneath the grass and around the flowers, you will find the odd weed that grows. To those that are merely passing by, they may not notice. But for the conscious gardener who tirelessly works to keep it flawless, it’s all they see.

I began a blog called Pushing Boundaries in October 2016 with a commitment of spending half the year completing a change. This worked out to roughly four changes per week, and by the end of the blog, I expected to reach 186 changes.

At first, it was invigorating when I woke each day and considered what the next “change” or “challenge” would be. Should I swap my daily earl grey tea for coffee? (Yes, I did it a few times. And overall, I seldom enjoyed the experience.) When Halloween crept up on me in October, I forfeited the old reliable witch/ghost ensemble that I donned throughout my grade-school years and did something completely different: enter the PUG. Did I try the limited-time offered Tuxedo drinks that Starbucks featured at the beginning of this year? Yes. Eat seaweed salad?  (Yes—and NEVER again.) In February when the wind howled, and snow and ice crunched beneath my feet, did I spend one evening painting my nails red in Kingston, ON and the next morning curling my hair to best impersonate a flapper girl from the 1920’s so I could dive into Lake Ontario for the Polar Plunge? (Yes! It was fun. TBD if I will do it again.) Did I climb all 1,776 stairs of the CN Tower? (Yes, and more importantly, I did not die!)  Wear purple nail polish? (Yes.) For me, the list was endless….

I am vanilla: Otherwise, known as Routine Girl. But I don’t enjoy the routine most of the time. I like to believe that I have imagination and inclination to do different things—to live on the wilder side. (Although, perhaps, not that far on the wilder side.) The problem with me is that I become complacent with life; opportunities that are at my fingertips waste away as I fail to commit the time, money, and energy to make them happen even when they cross my mind, sometimes, repeatedly.

Life is challenging with new jobs, financial concerns, and most catastrophically—facing either your own health concerns or the health concerns of those you love. In the past, when I’ve lost someone I loved, I felt as if I were standing alone in a desert waiting for someone to arrive; or, for something magical to happen that would transport me away from it all. In front of me, there was nothing but a sea of endless yellow sand that when it was carried on the wind, it would whip against my face stinging my skin. To me, it felt that impossibly lonely, that empty.

But what I didn’t realize is that if I turned around and looked in any direction, there were cities that surrounded me that bustled with life; friends and family that I could chat with or hang out with, new foods to try, people to meet, and new adventures that awaited me.  All that I needed to do was to turn my head and start moving again in one of those directions.

I lost two people I loved very much in less than three years. Both of them were 42 years old when they passed. In September 2016, I turned 42 years old. I started Pushing Boundaries in October of that same year.

I don’t know if the blog was tied to the number 42. I’ve always had a sense that time was ephemeral: that whatever you planned to do, do it now because there are no guarantees of what tomorrow will bring. For me, Pushing Boundaries may have been my answer to ensure that I didn’t stop living. It forced me to continue to move in some direction.

Living life to the fullest is a cliché. But we keep clichés around and use them sometimes ad nauseam because they are true. Pushing Boundaries has helped me to continue to enjoy all that life has to offer, sometimes reluctantly. It forced me to get outside and try new things: restaurants, food, or to attempt a physical challenge that I’ve never done before such as the Polar Plunge or the CN Tower Climb. The blog forced me to revaluate things that I decided a long time ago I disliked (e.g., coffee), and make an attempt to try them again to see if my taste buds evolved. (Answer: Overall, I still hate coffee. Mostly.)

I open the blog with this:

“Change happens. It can be chaotic, but it helps you expand your mind and shapes the person you will become.”

I stand behind that statement to this day. But the other thing change does: it gives you heart palpitations in both the literal and physical sense.  After a few months, I found myself waking up at 3:00 AM, worrying about what four changes I would be tackling that week. Blonde hair? Wear make-up for 30 days in a row?  Streaking 21 days straight? (Ahem, that’s running 2 KM for 21 days; NOT running naked through the streets for 21 days.)

The stress of coming up with four changes per week was exhausting. Also, I found that some challenges required me to do them longer than one day. Cumulatively, this meant I could already be participating in several changes before adding new ones. For example, at one point, I had blonde hair, was wearing make-up every day, and I was also eating and drinking things that I didn’t want to consume. The blog, Pushing Boundaries, I started to help me become less bound by routine—started to constrain me more tightly.

And I missed my routine. I missed having time to sit and read a book without worrying about how long it would take me; to inhale the aroma of that first cup of tea and enjoy each sip without feeling guilty that I wasn’t trying some other beverage; I missed running when I wanted to run and exercise in general. I missed the routine and the calmness of knowing what was coming next.

A few months ago, I decided to scale back the blog posts. I no longer held to the requirement that I had to complete four changes in one week. In truth, I decided that to try to reach 186 changes in one year was too many.  I needed time to breathe, to savor, do chores, to go to work, and to visit with family and friends without worrying about what my next blog post would be, or when I would write it.

I made another change on Pushing Boundaries. Did I feel bad? Yes. Did I feel like a failure at not meeting the challenge, I built? Absolutely. But I knew I needed to take a step backward, to regroup, and make time to do the more significant challenges that I wanted to do. To be more selective about what I was changing.

At the time I write this, the last “change” I did was paintball. It was a steamy, July 22nd  day when that finally happened a few weeks ago. I went with my hubby and friends, and we received our instructions, pulled the paintball suit up, and yanked down the mask that suffocated us in the scorching heat and sun.

I never played paintball before and was warned that when I got hit by a paintball, bruising might occur.  The very first ball that hit me exploded in a shooting pain through my upper thigh. It was excruciating. So much so that a few days after the event, new bruises appeared where I hadn’t even noticed I got hit. That first direct hit was the one that stayed with me. Despite the pain, I loved paintball. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I learned some things about myself that day. More importantly, I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last 9 months while writing Pushing Boundaries. I’m not a gardener, never have been, never will be. (I used Google to look up each one of the names of those flowers at the beginning of this post and selected images, so I knew what the flower looked like.)   With my garden, I do what needs to be done so I can step back and say, that’s ok now.  But even I know the grass needs to be cut, flowers need to be planted, and weeds need to be pulled.

I need to tend to relationships, savor meals and drinks, enjoy conversations with family and friends; while also making time for adventure. After all, there are only two months left for Pushing Boundaries—bowling, laser tag, and indoor skydiving still awaits me. My life is this messed up bit of craziness—and I love every piece of it.

It’s Your Fault

I’m waiting in the sterile no-scent room of a reproductive clinic where chubby-cheeked babies with expectant glistening eyes stare back at me from framed photos on the wall. Everywhere I look, happy newborns and toddlers are dangled in front of me in a carnival-like atmosphere as if they were a prize I could win if I followed the rules of the game. The truth is: I already haven’t followed the rules. So, would a bouncy, blue-or-pink-clothed bundle of drooling joy escape me for the rest of my days?  Secretly, I hoped not. Publicly, I told my friends and family it didn’t matter.

“He’ll see you now,” the receptionist says to me.

I enter the doctor’s office and settle into a chair on the opposite side of a grand mahogany desk. Odd to me sometimes, how the medical profession is set up that the Doctor sits over there, I sit over here, and together, we’re expected to come up with a plan to fix my problem. Yet, right from the start, I don’t feel we’re playing on the same team.

Bespectacled doc flips through his notes and says, “We have several problems. Your fallopian tubes are blocked and you’re not ovulating. We can attempt hormone therapy. But you’re not a good candidate for in vitro fertilization given your age and other problems.”

His words cut me.

Smiling, I nod, and say, “That’s alright. I didn’t want to go to extreme measures. If it happens, that’s great. If it doesn’t, well, my fiancé and I, we tried.”

He closes the file in front of him and folds his hands over the folder. “Listen,” he curtly says. “Given your age, you’re close to the end of the time when I’m permitted to help you. It sounds like you don’t care, either way. So, if you’re not committed to this, why should I invest any more time?”

My mouth gapes and my cheeks burn. I slowly say, “Uh…well…Antonio wanted to see if it was a possibility. He would like children.”

The Doctor snivels at me and says, “That’s your fiancé?”

I nod my head. I’ve lost my ability to respond with words.

“Well,” he says. “I suggest you give him the information that I shared with you today. If he still wants children, maybe you guys should think about parting ways.”

I begin to nod my head as I gather my coat and purse.  “Thank you for your time,” I manage to say as I slowly reach for the door. As I stride out of the office I gather more speed, and when I’m out of the building I run across the parking lot towards my car with tears streaming down my cheeks.

I’m embarrassed that I even tried to seek out professional help—and angry that the Doctor never asked me why I didn’t try to have children sooner.

Old Hands

Age spots, lines, and scars scattered here and there are etched into my frail nearly one-hundred-year-old hands. What do you see when you look at them? Are they only the fingers you remember from your childhood when I scrapped peanut butter and jam on to bread for your lunch and then shoved you out the door onto rainy or snow-covered sidewalks to shuffle your way to school?

Do you know these hands served other purposes?

As a chubby toddler, I used these same hands to wipe my face when my father came in with red eyes and no tears, to tell my brothers and sisters and I, that mother had died. Tuberculosis had killed her. I was young, too young, to know what that meant. My brothers didn’t cry because that’s the way it was back then. My sisters, on the other hand, howled and sobbed. Father did his best to comfort them as he wrapped his arms around us girls. This moment of grieving was short-lived for my family though; my sisters and I were expected to do Momma’s chores now; Daddy still had to put food on the table, and my brothers had to help with the farm. In that way, our family was a team.

These same fingers were intertwined in John’s hands when we walked along storefront sidewalks in the early moonlit evening. John was my first love. And, he was not your father. John’s hands slid along my clothes and I used my fingers to stroke his arms as we kissed and caressed each other by a small river not far from my house before he took me home. This was away from the prying eyes of father and my brothers because this form of affection was frowned upon back then. As well, my father who was always gentle would not be, if he found out.

When John was killed in the war, my fingers were wrapped tightly around my white handkerchief as I quietly cried in the back pew of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. I was not considered acceptable by John’s parents; a non-Catholic, poor farmer’s daughter and for that reason, I was not welcome at his service. I went and hid in the back row with a couple of my girlfriends. I needed to say good-bye to the first man I had ever loved.

These hands were my instruments when I was young too and made love for the first time. Sure, you shift uncomfortably in your seat when you hear these words because all you see is an old woman who would never have had such desires. However, I was more than just a mother. You, my son, have never seen that. Or, you’ve always kept your blinders on to it.

But I am not resentful for my role as your mother. I love you. I hope it showed when I placed the back of my hand to your forehead to make sure you didn’t have a fever; or, if you had a fever, the way I gently placed cold cloths to your forehead and read to you until you fell asleep.  Indeed, terrible fear washed over me every time you were sick or injured because I didn’t want to lose another son. When I lost your three-year-old brother, Michael, because of measles it was by far the worst day of my life. (John’s death years earlier, was nothing in comparison.)

There are other things I could tell you about: the time I worked as a nurse at the end of the War and comforted and tended to injured soldiers beside doctors; or the one time I pulled your delinquent childhood classmate James (who skipped school that day and yes, I also knew he bullied you) from the river after he fell in and was almost swept away by the current. But I did not tell you that, or your father. I kept the secret. Terrified, James confessed to me that day he was frequently beaten by his parents and worried about what they would do to him if they found out he had walked too close to the embankment. After that day, you and James became friends, and our house became his refuge.

Did James tell you that before he died in a car accident in his fifties?

You do not know me, my son. But I suspect no one knows another person completely. We are complex and emotional, with things we want to share with others, and other things we don’t. But I wish you would ask me more questions, instead of believing you already know the woman I am.   

Why Am I Afraid?

This is how this blog post was to begin:

“Prisoner 45769, you understand the reason why you’re here?”

And then, all the clear thoughts that I’ve had in the last few days related to that story disintegrated into a thousand dusty parts and were carried away to the Land Without Imagination.

I have absolutely no idea why.

But, that’s not true. I know why. My brain’s doing that thing it does: When the stakes are high, it stops being able to work through problems, re-evaluate plans, or find a way out.  My fingers become clumpy and I spend more time hitting the backspace key than putting letters on a screen that might make up a story.

This same “brain freeze” happened to me in University when I wrote my first-year exams and it suddenly occurred to me, Okay, if I don’t pass this test, it’s game over for me. The professors already said half of us won’t be here next year.  Then, I would uncomfortably shift in my chair. I would cross and uncross my legs. Frantically, I would look down at my watch as my throat tightened and my heart pounded in my chest. In desperation, I’d flip through the pages to see how many questions I had to complete, and hunt for easy questions I could answer as the digital numbers crept closer to the end time. Most of the time, my brain unfroze. But sometimes, it didn’t.

Why can’t I write now? Writer’s block?  Maybe. If I were to guess though, I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve gambled everything I have on a writing career. Both feet are in, and I’m one hundred percent committed to making this work. Savings, be damned. Except now that I’ve given everything up, what happens if I fail? Then what?

Transitions are hard. When I first started writing, the same terror swept across my keyboard when I tried to write the first words for a novel and I just sat there. Then slowly, like a teetering toddler standing on their tippy-toes taking their first steps, I wrote one word and strung them together to form complete sentences and built chapters. A year later, I had a complete manuscript.

Cold sweats drenched my body again when my first manuscript was passed to an editor for review; when I submitted my first short story to a literary journal; and when I drafted query letters to literary agents; and built packages for publishers. Once again, I felt this same level of trepidation before hitting the “publish” button on my first blog post. (Some successes with each new step taken, but a lot of rejection too. And none of this scares me anymore.)

The writing fear becomes overwhelming, whenever I take another fearful step forward. My problem is this: I don’t do well with going nowhere. Going in reverse also doesn’t make me happy.  So, at this point, I have no choice, but to move forward.

I know that right now, I’m struggling to create. What I didn’t realize in University was that my Degree didn’t hinge on just one test.  It was a combination of different parts: writing assignments, tests, exams and showing up to classes.  The mix of all these things, and working hard at them, meant that I did earn my Degree. I have my suspicions that writing might be along the same lines. Some days are easy with words built on one another in a rhythmic movement. Other days, other times, in particular when I face crossing an old rickety rope bridge over ocean waves that smash against rocks, it might be that I need to lift one shaking toe forward before I take one full step.

Give Me Dragons, Knights, Wizards, and Witches

I love fantasy books.

I’ve started and stopped this blog post several times. I was going to attempt to write why other people don’t like the genre as it would provide me with a starting point to outline, why I’m fascinated by it.

Then, I realized, I can’t do that. I’m not those people. I don’t have access to their thoughts and understanding of the world as to why they feel the way they do towards a particular genre of books.  I have friends and family who have told me why they don’t enjoy these types of books; but unless I’ve recorded their conversation and gained their consent to write about their views, there’s no guarantee I would correctly represent their thoughts and ideas in this blog post. A mind is a faulty machine, and time whittles away and bends truths once told to us.

So, let’s forget that.

Here are my reasons why I adore fantasy novels. Fantasy allows me to be swept away to a completely different time where trees may grow upside down and a child might have a two-headed labrador retriever. Unconstrained by our current world and what we already know to be true, the author can commence building their world; a world that is only limited by the author’s imagination. You can create a dark world where “Sluaghs” rule the world and live in black clouds. High up in the clouds, Sluaghs whip chains from above against the humans on earth, and they don’t care what gets caught in the whip on the way down. They randomly kill whales in the sea, trees in their way, and flowers in their path when a Sluagh’s wrist bends forward with the whip to strike anyone or anything below. The more damage they do, the happier the Sluaghs are.

Every person in the world is destined for hell, because they’ve given up and refuse to fight those who are above them.

There is no hope.  

Except, then the story turns when a man, Jackson, marries a fairy named, Prydem….

From there, a long history can be created that links families together. The history of the new world can be long and complicated. But as the Reader flips back through the tangled web of alliances forged and then broken, it becomes clear how what happened before, created the world and problems humanity now faces.  When reading such passages, I’m instantly mesmerized by the author’s detail in describing the new world or people, and I can’t help but wonder: Wow, how did they come up with that? 

Battles are fought both on large and small scales. That’s the beauty of fantasy: it’s the twisted, unexpected turn of events that keeps us belted into our chairs and hanging on tight as we bounce, swerve, and bump along the fantasy ride.

Of course, there’s some familiarity in the creation of fantasy novels with dragons, knights, witches, and wizards but you’ll have absolutely no idea how it will be used because a huge part of the genre is with the use of magic.

With magic, anything is possible.   

But here’s the real reason I love fantasy: life is hard, unpredictable, and challenging. Except, when it’s not because there’s a garden to weed, grass to cut, and floors to be swept and mopped. But when I open a book, I love diving in deep and being swept away to another place, far from anything I’ve ever known or expected. Whether the book is four hundred pages and change, or six hundred, if I open a fantasy book, I am transported to another time and place, where a bigger and more unpredictable adventure awaits.

That doesn’t mean I don’t read memoirs, thrillers, or mystery novels. I have, and most certainly, I will continue to do so and those to can transport me to another time or place.  But there’s something about reading a well-created new world that stokes my mind and my own imagination. For me, for a few days or weeks, I’ve found a place to hide that’s completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been, and where almost anything, is possible.

Affordable Housing: Why It Matters

I’ve been living in a bubble, and I know it. I’m lucky to have a roof over my head and have not given it a second thought in over a decade. Last year though, my eyes were rudely awakened to the fact that Ottawa is facing an affordable housing crisis when I searched for several months to find my mother an apartment. I was astounded to see that a one-bedroom apartment was expensive at over one thousand dollars per month and only increased from there. To my horror, a bachelor apartment began at nearly nine hundred dollars.

I found my mother an apartment after several months of searching.  Nicely settled, this is where I should no longer care.  Something continued to bother me though about the affordable housing crisis in Ottawa because I already knew both Vancouver and Toronto struggled with the same issue over the last several years. I pondered if the issue wasn’t only in a few cities, or if it had ballooned to a national epidemic. A few months ago, my worries were confirmed, when I read multiple articles in the CBC, The National Post, and in The Toronto Star that outlined multiple Canadian cities grappled to contain the housing shortage and included the small maritime town of Charlottetown, PEI. (https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/charlottetowns-housing-crisis).

I grew up in a family where my parents struggled financially. I know what happens when you live from paycheque to paycheque and “get by”.  A time comes, when you no longer have a paycheque, and there’s nothing in savings.

Then what? 

Then you borrow as much as you can and hope things will get better before you reach your borrowing limit.  Lucky for my family, I never experienced what comes after that. We managed (barely) to keep the roof over our heads, the heat and lights on, and some food in the fridge.

My father told me, you can always find work. I believed it. I also naively, believed, I could never be homeless.

Canada is not the only country attempting to address the affordable housing crisis.  Both the United States and the United Kingdom are attempting to tackle and correct the same issue. (I know about London, because I saw a Tube station sign there last year, stating the Mayor was working to address the issue.)

Recently, we planned a vacation to visit Portland, Oregon. We were aware affordable housing was a problem there too, and they now also tackled a homeless issue. (https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2019/08/38000-in-portland-area-were-homeless-at-some-point-in-2017-study-finds.html )

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw there though. Along the interstate and under bridges, tents were pitched. Garbage littered the side of the highway and included a crumpled umbrella. In the city, we saw discarded socks on the paved sidewalks. In the city of Portland, during the day, homeless people sat on the curbs and stretched out and slept on the streets.

One day when we were on the train, I noticed a woman standing on the side of the road with a sign around her neck that read, “Houseless”. Below the word, was a simple request for a little money, whatever could be spared. The woman never looked up but focused her eyes on the sidewalk. She only raised her head, when a woman in a truck called to her and gave her some money.  The woman smiled at her gratefully and looked a little relieved.

I was mistakenly under the impression, homelessness occurred under particular circumstances such as drug addiction and youth fleeing an abusive home.  These were not excuses to ignore the problem but provided some context in order to explain how a person ended up on the streets. However, the reasons also conveniently and falsely reassured me, I might never be homeless.

If affordable housing continues to be a problem, I now know I could be. Examples of circumstances that may reduce my ability to earn an income include: if I’m unable to find work; if I suffer a serious health illness where I’m unable to work, or not able to work for a long period of time; or, when I’m a senior and need to find a rental apartment on a fixed income. As well, even if it doesn’t affect me directly, there’s a greater possibility it could affect family and friends.

Homelessness isn’t a risk for a small minority of the population if it ever was. There’s a risk it could or already is a national problem.  I know the time has passed where I can protectively fold my arms and say: It can’t happen to me. The point is passed too where I can shrug my shoulders and mumble: Someone else will take care of it. It’s not my problem.

Truth is I know affordable and low-income housing are problems in this city and in this country. Based on a December 2018 article in the CBC, it stated that homelessness in Ottawa had “risen by 21 percent.” (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/shepherds-good-hope-ottawa-homelessness-1.4946896) Somehow, I failed to notice it.

I have lots of reasons to step back on this topic: the politicians are addressing the issue; Canada has a large social system that might be able to manage and take care of those who are close to becoming homeless; and finally, who am I to make suggestions and try to help? I don’t have the experience and should leave it to the experts.

Portland’s changed me though. Now, I know I need to absolutely help if I can. Assuming, it’s not already too late.