Part III: If I Could Only Breathe

“Mom-mmy, Mommy, Mommm-mmm-y!”

Mom took me to my horseback riding lessons. After, we would go for soft serve chocolate ice cream. It’s our favorite.

“Mommy!!!!!”

Her smile is the last thing I see at night. She moves in close to me with the sweet smell of her perfume surrounding me. Then mom pulls the sheets tight around me, cocooning me in my duvet. Once I’m tightly wrapped, she tries to plant one hundred goodnight kisses on my cheek. I always stopped her at fifteen. When I was little, I always let her go to one hundred. But at some point, I didn’t. I was too cool to have my mom smother me with all those kisses, even though no one else was there.

I don’t know why I stopped her.

“Mommy!!!” I scream through blurry eyes. I’m too frightened to turn away from Momma’s pale white face for fear I’ll never see her again. But at the same time, I don’t want to see her like this anymore. I want to see her smile.

“Alvina, Alvina, Alvina….”

I blink at the man’s voice who knows my name. I don’t know who he is.

Now, he’s dragging me away by the hand from momma.

“Mommy!” I hiccup through my tears. Drool escapes from my lips. My nose drips onto the carpet where my wide-eyed mother lies.

“Alvina, baby,” the man’s voice cracks apart like soil does in summertime when it hasn’t rained for several weeks.  The man’s lower lip trembles. I feel his hand shake inside of my hand. Small streams of water fall from the corners of his eyes.

How did I not know who the man was?

“Daddy!”  I shout as fear and comfort collide together inside of me. I thought I was alone. But now that I know he’s here, I’m relieved and yet, even more frightened at the same time. Daddy’s arms wrap around me and he lifts me up. I drop my head onto his shoulder and bury my face into the space between his neck and shoulders.

I’m being carried away from mom.

“Do you know how long she’s been like this?” a man asks who wears a paramedic’s uniform.

I blink at him. When did he get here?

Daddy places me on the ground. I stand beside him not quite certain what else to do. He continues to hold my hand. It’s comforting. But it doesn’t feel quite right. We never hold hands. It’s mom’s job.

I know this is bad.

I’ve got nothing else to do, so I stare at dad’s face. Water drips from his nose and he wipes it away with his free hand. Dad’s eyes are red. I hear him say, “I don’t know. I found her like this. I was working late.”

“What’s your wife’s name?” a bald paramedic asks with dark brown eyes and bushy eyebrows.

“Be-Beth,” Dad says stuttering.

Dad never stutters. He owns his company, and he says: he’s the man in charge.

I take a deep breath in and summon all the strength I have inside of me. Daddy needs me to be brave now. I squeeze dad’s hand so he knows I’m still here. Nothing is worse than feeling like you’re all alone.

Dad’s eyes glance down at me. His face contorts in a twisted expression of emotion. Water pours from his eyes, over his lips, and out his nose all at the same time.  His breath is laboured as he sobs for a few seconds.

From where mom is I hear, “Beth, can you hear me?” a dark haired woman paramedic asks.

I notice that at some point the paramedics moved mom to a stretcher and they’ve placed an oxygen mask over her lips.  As they wheel her past me and dad, her eyes roll over to where we’re standing next to a policeman.

I don’t remember seeing the policeman. Where did the paramedic go? But he’s the bald guy with bushy eyebrows. He wasn’t a paramedic. He was always a policeman. How did I mix up their uniforms?

I can’t believe I was upset over a grade earlier today. Stupid history test.  One grade. I can’t believe a few hours ago, that’s all that mattered to me.

My lower lip begins to tremble. But when I look up at dad, I stop it.  I notice dad’s calm now too.

“Come on, Alvina. Let’s find out what hospital they’re taking your mother to,” Dad says as he fumbles for his keys in his pocket.

We walk behind mom with our hands clasped together. Dad’s focused on mom. My eyes flip over to the window. Outside, I see the twenty acres of woods my parents own. I search there for one second of peace in the leafy branches. Because when I’m upset, it’s where I always go.

Through the window panes, I see a faint outline of a woman. The woman has long dark hair, and wears a plaid shirt, and blue jeans.

There, Gudrun waits, for my return.

Part II: If I Could Only Breathe

Part II:

What a mess.

Beth was always a slob who never took her domestic responsibilities seriously. But then again, she never took anything seriously: not cleaning our home, not as my wife, or our wedding vows. Selfish. High-maintenance. Drama Queen. Those are the best words I can think of to describe my “beloved”.

“Beth?”

Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver’s Travels, Outlander, 50 Shades of Grey, The Alchemist. Her books are recklessly spread across the floor as if she’s had a temper tantrum and tossed them across the room.  That wouldn’t bother me if it were just her stuff. But my reading material is twisted together with her garbage: The Wealthy Barber, MONEY Master the Game by Tony Robbins, Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson to name a few.  I’ve never realized until now how different we are.  I’m made of the real stuff. I work hard to get things done. Beth is all about the fluff.

“Beth?” I say more impatiently. My wife dislikes me. But she normally at least shakes her head with annoyance in my direction when I say her name. Or for that matter, ask her any question.  I stop. Not one muscle flinches from her body. Not one hair moves on her head.

It’s quiet.

If there’s humming from the lights, I don’t hear it. If there’s a fly bumping along inside of a light fixture, I don’t hear that either.  My fists open and close. Trying to do what? Pump fuel to my heart?  I don’t know. Why am I panicking? I’m sure she’s fine.

“Beth, stop playing games!” I shriek at her uncontrollably. Her body is spread out on the multi-coloured Persian rug we purchased from Turkey a couple of years ago when things were still good between us.  There’s no response from her.

Weird.

My heart thumps like lightning does igniting fear in me.   I stumble over our books that impede my way as I scramble to Beth’s side.

“Beth!” I scream. My hands shake her limp body.

Wide-eyed, terrified eyes peer back at me. Beth’s skin is blanched like chalk. Her eyes remind me of a woman I pulled from a car at an accident a few months ago. It was the same night that Beth told me about her affair with Ross.

“Beth, hang on!” My voice shakes with terror as I fumble for my phone. It tumbles out of my hand and lands on The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. I grab my cell and punch at the keys mumbling, “Goddammit, it’s three numbers! How can dialing 911 be so difficult?”

“Momma!” Alvina screams as she enters through the wooden doors of the den.

No, no, no, no! Alvina, don’t see this! “Alvina, please stay back, honey!” I bellow to her.

Like mother, like daughter, she disregards what I’ve said. Now, she’s sobbing while holding Beth’s hand looking up at me with tears galloping down her round cheeks as her lower lip trembles whimpering, “mommy, mommy, mommy…”.  I could barely stand to see Beth’s wide, terrified eyes staring back at me. To see Alvina, my only daughter, like this –

“Police, fire, ambulance?” a controlled voice says through my cell phone.

“Ambulance!” I shriek.

If I Could Only Breathe

Part I:

Beads of sweat gather on my temples. I take a big gulp of air trying to fill my lungs. It’s absolutely useless. I’m no better off than I was before.  Desperately, I form a fist and place it over the left side of my chest. After a few minutes, I begin to pound at my breast with what I think is quite a bit of force. But as it turns out, it’s only a gentle thud.

Then my arm sweeps across the end table knocking it, and the books that were there, onto the hardwood floor.  My eyes are wide. I’m helpless. I can’t move. As I gasp for more air, my mouth is moving, but no words come from me.

I’m trying to prevent something from happening. But I have no idea what that something is.

Gretchen & The Red Ford Mustang

Flickers of white light crackle all around her body. Then sunshine warms her face. The landscape before her reveals green meadows, and some distance away, are white cliffs carved along the shoreline. A bird soars above the water, hunting.

Darkness descends.

A porch light switches on revealing a woman with blonde hair. When she turns around, Monica knows her name. Twenty-one year old Gretchen brightly smiles at her with beer-laced breath. Peter wobbles to his red 1969 Ford Mustang and reaches for his door handle. Once the door is open, he throws himself into the driver’s seat.

I want to say something. It doesn’t feel right.  Maybe they should stay? Or maybe Gretchen should just stay? But who I am to argue? They’re both adults.

The Mustang screams to life with a thundering noise, and then the King’s, “Jailhouse Rock” engulfs the air. Headlights shine light on the trees, but they are merely shadows of what I can see in daylight. The tree shadows remind me of a graveyard scene. I don’t know why.

Gretchen bounces into the passenger seat. She rolls her window down, and I notice she’s re-applied her red lipstick for Peter.  Joyful and giddy, from the booze and her man, she beams at me. After years of trying to catch Peter’s eye, she’s finally leaving with him!

Why should I say anything? She’s an adult, capable of making her own decisions. Besides, I tried to talk to her, and she said Peter was fine.

I watch the car backup, go forward, and then it races into the darkness. Red tail lights flicker at me. They seem to be saying with each pulse of red glow: you need to stop, STOP, STOP THEM – NOW!!

Gretchen’s ivory hand is out the window flapping from the car. A back hand wave, she signals to me, a final farewell.

One Moment, Please

“I’m suffocating.” Her eyes are wide. Hands rest limply by her side. She’s taken on the “look” as if she’s nearly drowned and was saved by some heroic passerby.

The man seated across from her scribbles something into his notebook. One eyebrow arched, like he does, he asks, “Physically, or figuratively?”

“Both,” she answers swiftly. Her voice is thick like overgrown trees and shrubs that will slow a hiker down in the woods.

His eyebrows arch towards the ceiling. He asks, “What do you think is causing you to suffocate?”

“The pace. The rat race. Crushing responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities? Such as your job?”

“Yeah,” her voice wavers. Quietly, she ponders how much more to say.  Of course, he picked up on the job immediately.  But there are other things. Responsibilities don’t only lie in a job. It’s everything, and at the same time, nothing at all. Will he think her a selfish whiner? One of those petulant children stomping their feet, screaming, “GIVE ME THAT! I DESERVE IT!”

This is a safe place, where she can say anything, right? That’s what she’s been told by him, and by others. With a sigh, her words tumble out in a rush, “I worry about being late for work, my boss thinking I’m slacking off, my neighbours thinking I’m lazy because I don’t garden more.”

“Are you slacking off at work?” His voice is a rhythmic hum as small dots of dust float up in the air as if there has suddenly been a gust of wind knocking them off of the bookshelf, books, or the oak coffee table in front of her.  But the two of them are barely moving. They sit there, talking. The shared words may mean something, or nothing. They’re digging, trying to get to the root of the problem. The thought comes to her of things she’s read about London and Rome where construction workers begin to dig and find burial sites, or ancient Roman ruins.  Who wins? Does the past get to keep the space? Or does the future, knock over the past?

She snaps herself back to the now.  “No, I don’t think I’m slacking off. I mean, I have days when I could do better.” There’s a pause as she waits for the moment of judgement to pass. She’s certain that’s the case. Will it matter if she says one more thing? She decides, why not? Finally, she adds, “I’m just so tired sometimes.”

His eyebrows knit together. Index finger rises, and pushes his eyeglasses up to the bridge of his nose.  “I think we all have days we can do better. After all, we’re human.” He stops talking for a moment. It’s a tactic of his to force her to consider the words he said.  “So, you’re not slacking off at work. Is there anything else you can do differently in the morning?  Maybe, leave earlier so you’ll have more time to commute to work?”

“I try to leave earlier most days.” She bristles as her arms fold defensively in front of her.  “I could skip my Starbucks run, but I don’t want to.” Eyes suddenly fill with tears. She knows what he’ll say next. He won’t get it, and will try to reason with her. Explain to her that it’s the most rational decision.

“You go to Starbucks every day?” His voice seeps with an incredulous tone as his hand begins to swivel and swirl around as the pen he’s holding stops and starts, racing from left to right, jotting notes down in his notebook.

“Yes, even if I really don’t have the time, and I’m already running late.” Stopping herself, she breathes out and then adds, “because I want just 30 seconds, maybe a minute of relaxing.” Her words rush out in a flurry. She needs to explain herself before he stops her. Make him try to understand her position. “I do the mobile order every day. But it’s the 30 seconds of running in and I hear the old time music, and the baristas are SUPER busy, but they’ll still take a moment to acknowledge me with a smile, or a hello. Then, sometimes all these people are in the coffee shop who are having conversations, reading their books, or sitting and sipping their coffee. All I think, I would love that. That’s how life should be.”

“How life should be?” He peers at her through his spectacles as wisps of hair fall forward onto his forehead.

“Yes,” her voice is emphatic. Hands wave in the air making small circles, “life should be full with books to read, feeling the warmth of sunshine and heat on your face….You know – sipping beverages and chewing your food properly, and when you have an indulgent delicious dessert savouring the lemon, chocolate, or cinnamon taste in every bite.  Versus shoving food into your mouth in between stop lights, while eyeing other cars suspiciously as if they’ve all conspired together to leave at the exact time you did, because they want you to be late for work.”

“Do you believe that?” His pen pauses on the paper. He reclines back and uncrosses and then crosses his legs waiting for an answer.

Paranoid, she imagines him writing.

She throws her head back, laughing at the question.  “No,” she answers.  “But it feel like I’m in a race with everyone else, and I need to get as far as I can quickly, to give myself the best chance of making it to work on time.”

“Have you thought about going to Starbucks after work?”

She snaps, “I’ll never go.” More than ready for that question, she didn’t hesitate. He’s not the first one to ask her that.

Eyebrows furrowing together, he remembers back to another conversation they had, and asks, “Is that why you take short trips?  Because you think you’ll never have the time to take longer vacations?”

Nodding her head, voice rattling a bit, she answers, “I know I won’t.  So many people say: I can’t go now because I don’t have the time or money.  I’ll go later, when the time’s right and I can do a bigger trip.  But for a lot of people, it never happens. I’d prefer one minute at Starbucks if that’s all I could have. I would prefer two days in New York, if I can’t afford five days. And if I never have two weeks off to go to Australia, I’ll do one week. I don’t want to wait for the perfect time, because one day, I won’t have any time left.”

Deconstructing Stupid

“Alright everyone, take your seats.” It’s said with a certain level of gravity Mr. Bryson seldom uses.

The kids wiggle into their seats as a quick hush descends over the classroom. There’s an unending pause that lingers in the air -; it’s the same weightiness found in churches when members of a congregation perched on wooden benches wait for an inspirational sermon to be given by a priest or a minister.

“Tom,” Mr. Bryson says. “Are you on your phone?”

“No, Mr. Bryson,” Tom lies as he casually scoops his phone into his Under Armour sweatshirt pocket.

“Well, if it’s already away, there’s no point getting it out for this exercise. Everyone else, get your phones out.”

The students wonder: is this a joke? They glance around at each other waiting for someone else to make the first move. After a few moments, someone grabs their knapsack, and there’s an echo of rustling bags being shuffled around as other kids slowly reach for their cell phones. Once found, twitching fingers are poised and rest lightly on their telephone keypads as they wait for further instructions.

Tom casually removes his mobile phone from his pocket. Mr. Bryson stares at him. There’s an exchange of glances between them. After he can’t handle it anymore, the boy averts his eyes and focuses on the desktop in front of him.

“I can’t believe he’s letting us use our phones!” Jenna whispers to her friend Beth who’s seated in the desk beside her.

“Yes, I am,” Mr. Bryson answers. His voice cracks through the noise that consumed the air with the movement of books, bags, and low murmuring of voices. Everything halts instantly.

“We were going to continue to talk about The Giver today. But I’ve decided to do something different.”

The tranquility returns. It lasts so long a buzzing fly’s zzzz is loud and long enough several children spin their heads around in search of the annoying insect.

“As everyone knows, I was a monitor in the schoolyard at break today. When I was outside, I heard a word that I feel should never be used.  The word was…”

Mr. Bryson’s arms were protectively folded in front of him as he casually leaned against a wall in conservative “teacher dress” of beige dress pants, and a short-sleeved plaid shirt. But he breaks away from the standard dress code with his funky red tie with Rubik’s Cubes on it. His attire is a reflection of his teaching style: strict when required, but otherwise, cool and jovial.

With the incomplete, unspoken word that hangs on tethers in space, he turns his back towards the class and grabs a piece of chalk. He scribbles STUPID on the chalkboard.  Once he’s finished writing the word, he tosses the chalk and it hits the ledge with a gentle thud.  The sound ricochets throughout the room. It’s louder than Mr. Bryson intended.

“Okay, that’s the word that was used in the schoolyard. Does anyone know the meaning of it?”  Mr. Bryson asks as he paces back and forth with uneasiness like a caged lion at a zoo.

Sixty-two dilated pupils stare at him.  Heads begin to turn in all directions. A low-level whisper begins as everyone poses the same question, “was it you?”

Mr. Bryson nods his head in answer to the question no one will ask him directly. He leans backwards and adjusts his tie. Quietly he says, “It was no one in this room. Thank goodness.”

Silence.

Time passes.

There’s a small cough.

Otherwise, nothing else is said.

Not one child raises their hand.

Finally, Mr. Bryson says, “If you don’t know the exact definition, that’s okay. Let’s brainstorm together.” He spins on his heel and snatches up a piece of chalk. With impatient fingers, he stands ready to write.

Hailey’s hand shoots up into the air.

Mr. Bryson points at her and says, “Okay, Hailey. What am I writing?”

“People say it when you’ve done something wrong.”

Done something wrong, Mr. Bryson writes, “such as?” He asks Hailey.

“If you… Spill your drink!” She offers.

“Well, that sounds like an accident to me. But we’ll put it down. Because you’re right – people say it in those situations.”

“Okay class, let’s go! You can just shout out your answers. Better yet…” He faces the students. Placing the piece of calcite down he continues, “I’ll give you five minutes. Just come up and write on the board what you think the word means. Or, you can also provide examples of where you’ve heard it said before. The examples might help us figure out the definition. ”

A line forms and the students write:

When another person in a car cuts you off in traffic.

When you don’t know the answer to a question.

When you chase your ball into the street, and forget to look both ways for cars.

When you forget your gym clothes. 

It’s a name that’s called.

They call you stupid when you talk about becoming an Olympic Figure Skater when you grow up.

Stupid is the opposite of smart.

When you tell somebody something, like a fact, and it’s wrong.   

When you wake up late for school.

When you fail a test.

When you trip on a curb…

***

Mr. Bryson quietly skims some of the sentences written on the chalkboard. It’s obvious to him these were things either said to the kids, or that they’ve heard.

“Wow,” Mr. Bryson says as the last student places the chalk down and returns to his seat. “We’ve filled up the board. Okay Tom, do you have your phone out?”

Tom stares out the window for a second. When he faces Mr. Bryson again, his cheeks are crimson. With a snort of laughter, Tom answers, “yeah.”

“Okay, can you look up the definition of the word for us?”

“Already, did it,” Tom says raising his chin proudly.

“Great!” Mr. Bryson’s head is bent downwards as he grins at Tom. “Can you read it to us?”

“It says, having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense,”[i]  with hands over his mouth he says in a muffled voice.

“Okay,” Mr. Bryson responds. He quietly stands in front of the chalkboard and writes the words Tom said.

Mr. Bryson walks to the middle of the room with rows of desks on each side. He turns to the right, waves his arms at the students seated there and says, “You guys, google the definition for intelligence. And you guys,” he says turning to the left and motions to them, “look up the definition of common sense. As soon as you find it, raise your hands.”

Tap, tap, tap…..

There’s a steady clicking sound of buttons being punched into phones. Moments later, several hands rise up into the air.

“Brianna, give us the definition of intelligence!” Mr. Bryson shouts.

“It says the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.”[ii]

Mr. Bryson races to the board and scratches the words onto it.  “Okay,” he says with his back to the room as he casually spins his white flaky writing instrument around between his fingers reminiscent of baton-twirling girls at parades. Without turning around, Mr. Bryson says, “Liam, I think you were first? What’s the definition of common sense?”

Liam nearly drops his phone when he hears his name. The poor kid stutters, “ah sorry….okay, it says, good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.”[iii]

“Excellent!” Mr. Bryson says. He scrawls the definition onto the board. When he’s done, Mr. Bryson drops his white scribbling stick on the ledge. Facing his students he asks, “Does anyone see a problem with the definition of stupid?”

There’s no sound except for the steady hum of lights above them. Everyone holds their breath as they wait for the answer.

Mr. Bryson stares at the sea of wide-eyed blank faces.

“Intelligence is something you acquire over time. Some people have a natural ability in certain areas such as art, mathematics, or maybe science. But in order to develop a natural ability,” Mr. Bryson starts to walk up and down the rows of desks and continues, “you need to have access to education and the right teachers. Any ideas where this might not happen? Where kids might not get a chance to learn?”

“Third world countries,” James announces.

“Right again! Third world countries! Do you think it’s fair to use that word to describe people in those situations?” Mr. Bryson asks.

Each student’s head moves from right to left, signalling, no.

“Good. We all agree to that.” Mr. Bryson’s words are slower now as he considers each one carefully. He places his hands in his pockets and calmly strolls the wooden floor of the room as if he’s in a park on a warm summer’s day and says, “but what about when someone can’t learn because they’ve had a terrible teacher?”

Small snorts of snickering reverberate throughout the room.

Mr. Bryson’s eyes glisten in recognition of his joke. He waits to see if anyone is brave enough to answer the question.

No one says a word.

Finally he says, “No, it’s true. Just like in any job, we have some mediocre teachers. I try not to be one of those.”

A low chuckling sound quietly sweeps across the room. Some kids nod their heads in Mr. Bryson’s direction. The students are thankful for Mr. Bryson’s honesty: no one else, not another teacher, principal or parent – has ever admitted such a thing before.

After everyone stops laughing, Mr. Bryson says, “Here’s something else for you to consider… What happens when a good teacher who’s used a method for a long time, still can’t teach a kid something? Any ideas?”

Samuel says, “You need to change your teaching methods.”

“We sure do. Sometimes teachers don’t realize how they’re teaching might be wrong for a particular student. So we need to adapt our methods in order to help those kids. Is it fair to use that word to describe someone, when the person may learn things differently?”

“No,” the kids whisper together.

Mr. Bryson calmly walks back to the chalkboard and places a hand underneath the word saying, “words matter.”

He states it as a fact. It’s not a point to be debated.  

He waits a second and adds, “This word – is a value-based judgement word. It’s dependent on any number of factors. Who taught the person? Where the person lived? What kind of teacher they had?”

“Even the common sense factor in the definition of the word can be argued. It might be common sense in North America to look both ways before you cross the street, so you don’t get hit by a car. But in some countries, where there are few cars, maybe you need to be more aware of hippos hiding in lakes that want to trample you.”

Laughter bounces across the room.

Mr. Bryson waits a moment, and then continues, “I’m being somewhat funny. But I’m serious too. What you think is common sense and matters here, might not be important if you live somewhere else.”

“As for this one,” Mr. Bryson says pointing to the figure skating line, “sometimes people will use name-calling as a way to force another person to conform. They want the person to pick a reasonable career because the chance of success might be low, and if they do succeed, they will have done something that seemed impossible. But you can’t let their negative comments stop you. People dreamed of travelling to the moon, and wrote about it, way before it happened and were ridiculed for it. Without those dreams, without those books, without those scientists – we as a world may never have gone to space, to the moon, and now we’re looking at going further into the universe.”

Mr. Bryson gingerly picks up a chalkboard brush, and using his other hand he places a finger beneath the word and quietly says, “This word… is a word…that should be erased from our vocabulary.”

With a slow wipe of the brush, Mr. Bryson, makes stupid disappear.

[i]  Stupid. Retrieved October 5th 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stupid

[ii]  Intelligence. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/intelligence

[iii]  Common Sense. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/common_sense

Who I AM

I am not an enthusiastic gardener who aims for a bronze tan as a badge of honour that I’ve earned, after spending many hours toiling in the sun planting oleanders and roses. I’m allergic to dirt and mulch. My eyes become reddened after simply planting one Annabelle hydrangea. The truth be told, I only garden as much as I do to keep a respectable appearance that I care with my neighbours. Otherwise, I’m quite happy with grass.

I do not care that my dog’s tongue licks are smears on the glass door of the front hallway closet.  I vacuum as often as I do, only because my adorable beast carries soil on his paws and pollen on his coat into our home. Unknowingly, (as if he cares) he then distributes both across the floors and onto our couch. This pollen distribution in our home will give me sneezing fits, runny nose, and burning eyes. And if I manage to avoid a reaction – the poor shaggy beast himself, will chew at his toes after a couple of days, and will begin scratching at 3 AM due to his own pollen/ragweed sensitivities.  This bothers me for two reasons: 1) I love him so much and therefore I hate to see him suffer (especially because I know this – ALLERGIES SUCK!) and 2) because he wakes me from my already limited sleeping slumber.

Yes, that is right. Let me write it free of restraint, as it is the truth: I do not like to clean or garden.  I know of some people who love to do both. Not necessarily both, although I’m sure it’s possible.  But they may like one or the other.  To those people I have this to say, “I raise my glass of champagne to you, in a toast of celebration!” And that is the truth. Because I know that people are all different and enjoy different interests, hobbies, and things. Let us celebrate our differences.

I rarely wear make-up. My clothes are functional. The reason I exercise and wish to lose weight is not tied to my appearance. (Although, I admit, it is nice to wear pants that are not so tight.) Instead, my objective is simple: not to have sweat-soaked armpits after walking one block on a warm summer’s day; and not to be winded climbing two flights of stairs.

Women who invest time in their appearance, I admire. I know it’s hard. That’s why I don’t do it. Women, who take the time to coordinate clothes that don’t clash, and make a snap decision on the perfect shade of lipstick because they just know, are simply AMAZING to me. And I celebrate them too.

I want to return to sweating for a moment. Under the right conditions, I love to sweat! And for this reason, I love to run.  But at the same time, I lack a competitive streak.  My objectives for running are the following:

  • Get outside and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts
  • Sign up for the odd race and say, “Yeah, I did that!”
  • Endorphins, baby. Endorphins.

I can’t tell you what my split time is. Nor can I explain to you what my race pace will be. It doesn’t meet the requirement of, “have a good time.”  Once again those “speedster” runners who can almost keep up with the Flash when they complete a marathon in under 4 hours (Ahem, I’m much slower) I’ll buy you a drink. How FANTASTICALLY DEDICATED AND BRILLIANT you are!  Because I can tell you this: I’ve run a marathon, slowly. It takes a lot of hard work to just get across the finish line. But those other people, who do it quickly – WOW!

I have other loves, and you can guess another one, with this blog post. But I will not list them all here because that’s not the point. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago, when I devoured two whole large pizzas by myself on the couch. I have changed. Transformed. Become someone different.

Everything you read in this blog post about me might be invalid tomorrow. (Or, twenty years from now.)   As “Dr. Who” regenerates and becomes different, I too change, grow, add likes, revisit things that I thought I didn’t enjoy, and become someone different. After all, eighty years (I hope) is a long time to stay the same person.

I had a chance to see my favourite actor who played “Dr. Who” at Comicon a few weeks.  During the Q&A, he said one thing a few times that stayed with me, and it was this: “keep moving forward.”

Yes. Keep moving forward.    

Be Happy

“I want to be happy.”

It’s not a question, or a statement that ends with an exclamation mark. It’s not said with a red flushed face full of rage, and clenched fists by my side. Nor is it said with childhood giggles of naivety, and dreams of white unicorns, and rainbows at the end of every road.

I say, “I want to be happy,” as a goal that I reach for in the background of my mind. It’s something I raise my hands in the air towards, and stand on tippy toes to give me an inch of extra height, in the hopes I may reach it.

I’m old enough now, to know what doesn’t make me happy.  Reluctantly, I admit that what I’ve heard in darkened corners of doorways, and with whispered breath, turned out to be true: “It’s not about the money.”

Money is necessary. I’ve struggled financially. I know money allows me to purchase food to fill my fridge and cupboards, to keep the heat turned on, and a roof over my head. I know it allows me to replace worn out shoes, and tattered clothes when needed.

But for me, once those basic needs were met, I found myself spending money on frivolous items that brought me only temporary happiness.  Manicures. Pedicures. Facials. I would purchase clothes in a credit splurge only to realize once I was home, I never liked the colours, or the fit of the garments at all. The cast off clothes would collect dust (quite literally) until finally in a springtime purge I would reach into my closet, and pull the never or rarely worn shirts, pants, and dresses out. Forcing the items into a black garbage bag, I would haul them to my local donation box. I always hoped the discarded items saw more light with someone else, than they did with me.

Other things that I dislike: being stuck in traffic with cars lined up as if we’re all fleeing some natural disaster that’s about to strike. I’ve also found my happiness dial moves in the opposite direction, when I find myself in a perpetual five mile marathon pace rushing from one errand, or event, to another.  I’m impatient. What that means is that I get irritable and sullen when I’m stuck: whether it’s in writing a conclusion to a story, or in a long line-up, you’ll find me shifting from foot to foot, muttering under my breath, “Come on, already!”

I live to hang out with my husband and dog, reclined on my back deck, with a glass of white wine in my hand as we talk about our plans for the future, or where we’ve already been. I enjoy spending time with family and friends; whether the gathering is in a local coffee shop, in a restaurant sharing a meal, or on a walk through the woods on a crisp winter’s day with new fallen snow, you are guaranteed I am content.  I relish good food made at home, and if I’ve managed to make fresh bread, you can be certain that between mouthfuls of hot, spongy, white deliciousness, you’ll find a smile on my face.

Then there’s my passion: writing. I consume huge amounts of time on this “hobby” (and paper) with no guarantee of a rainbow at the end of it. But it’s the one area where I have a voice, and I am in control of the story. My protagonists can be brave, witty, strong, or smart. The challenge they must overcome can be small or large. I can make the characters similar to me, or completely different. And sometimes I may write something, some shared experience, that many people can relate to, and connects many of us together.

These characters in my mind, the places I create – they make me happy when I get the chance to unlock them, and place them on screens, or paper, and share the tales with readers. All the sweat and tears, (yes, I sometimes sweat when I write) all the late nights, all the money invested in books and revisions, is worth it because this endeavour gives me a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, and most of all – happiness.

Climb

I’ll be honest with you. I sometimes get discouraged by this “writing thing”. I often second guess my abilities wondering if writing those manuscripts (there’s one that’s complete, and another I still need to rewrite) was worth it. Through weepy, sleep-deprived, blurry-eyed vision, and heart palpitations followed by anxious sweats, I wonder at least ten times a day, will it all be for nothing?

The answer is this: I still don’t know.

Why do it then? Why struggle? Why fight?  When there are no guarantees of a rainbow at the end of the road.

Stories consist of struggle: struggle between other people, within a person’s mind, or with nature.  I enjoy reading stories with a triumphant end, where everything is neatly resolved wrapped up with a pretty red bow. Don’t get me wrong, the ending matters. But when I read novels what makes them intriguing, interesting, and will keep me flipping the pages is the challenge the hero/heroine must overcome. Whether it is Superman versus Lex Luthor, or a waitress wanting something more but plagued by debilitating self-doubt, I want to see them overcome the challenge that is pummeling them into the ground. (Again – whether this is literally Lex, or just a relentless internal negative voice, I want them to win.)

Without it? Without the challenge?

Why would I flip those pages?

It’s the climb towards something greater that makes the story worth it, not simply the ending.  Sure, there’s always a chance the hero/heroine while reaching up will place a foot on an unstable rock and will slip backwards falling hundreds of feet.  It might be heartbreaking to read, to envision it – to feel it. As a reader, I will find myself frantically skimming the pages while shaking my head in awe the hero/heroine doesn’t quit. Because with each step forward it’s a win, and with each fall backwards it’s a loss.  It’s the struggle that makes a good story – whether it lies in fiction, or in reality.

I don’t know how this writing thing will all end, and if I’ll ever reach the top of the mountain.  All I know is this:  along the way I’ve already seen pine trees that cling to the side of the mountain, with blue rivers and streams that cut along the rocky base, while birds soar in the air above me.  It’s not simply the final ascent to the top of the peak that only offers a heart-stopping view – it’s the climb towards it.