dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
Christmas always makes me think about toys. I was thrilled when I saw a news story the other day that said that some of the most requested presents for this year, after fancy electronic gizmos, are classics like Legos and Barbies.

When my sister and I were little, we didn't get random toys; new toys came at Christmas and birthdays, though we were spoiled on both of those occasions.

I was a kid in the 1980s, with many of the accompanying toys:

I had a Pound Puppy. The one I had came in a two pack in a cardboard doghouse; my sister and I each got one of the plush dogs for Christmas.

I had a Care Bear. I watched the Care Bear movie three times in the 48-hours we had it rented for my birthday sleep-over, but still only had one of the toys.

I had a couple of Barbies and some accessories, though my sister and I didn't really play with them a lot. I really only played Barbie when I had school friends over.

I had a couple of Popples, though they mostly came from garage sales, bought with my tiny allowance. I was late to a lot of the minor trends because I wasn't allowed to watch cartoons, so I missed the advertising and only tended to learn about the new toy fashions once my friends already something to show off.

I had a Cabbage Patch Kid at the peak of the craze. Long before there was Tickle Me Elmo causing riots in the toy stores, there were sold-out Cabbage Patch Kids. My sister had a little boy doll, bought still in box from the trunk of a car in the swimming pool parking lot from a mother whose daughter did not want a boy Cabbage Patch Doll, even if it was the only one left in town. My sister's friends were mostly boys, so she had no problem receiving Solomon. I had a little black Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which was perhaps unsurprisingly still on the store shelf in a small northern town where even the local "ethnic" restaurant – a Chinese restaurant with as much batter as chicken in their sweet-and-sour chicken balls – was probably run by white people. My doll came with the name Charlotte, but I just couldn't remember it ("It's something like carrot...") so my Mom and I applied to have it changed to Amanda. I bet my mother still has the revised "birth certificate" somewhere that the Cabbage Patch people sent us.

But there were a few things my parents didn't buy for me.

Mom didn't like Snugglebumms. I think she recognized that they were a short-lived fad with limited entertainment value. Or maybe she just didn't like that the name included "bum". Or maybe there weren't any available in the two aisles of toys in our small town department store. Anyway, for some reason, she didn't like them and so I didn't have one, except the one I made out of a scrap of terry cloth and some embroidery thread. Mom had to thread the needle for me.

I also never received a Teddy Ruxpin, despite my utter fascination with them when I saw them in a toy store in the "big city" (Sudbury). I spent many hours trying to re-create the Ruxpin experience: I recorded my own audio tapes, then sat my Ogi, my favourite teddy bear, in front of a ghettoblaster covered with a pumpkin-orange, rust-red, and harvest-yellow crocheted granny-square blanket. I would play the audio tape back while my sister and I would pretend that Ogi was talking. Sometimes I would do different voices on the tapes and sit multiple toys in front of the ghettoblaster so they could have a conversation with each other. This kept me happily entertained for hours at a time for weeks, using only things we already had laying around the house. My mother's wisdom shows again: I'm sure many a talking bear ended up stuffed in the back of a closet after only a couple of hours of use.

My sister and I did spend a lot of time playing with Precious Places, Charmkins, Playmobil, and Lego, all jumbled together and laid out in elaborate cities on a double-bed sized, wheeled platform that Dad made for us. The platform was brilliant because it could be rolled under the guest bed in the basement, so our games could remain intact when my mother vacuumed or when guests stayed over. We had to remove the Precious Places houses first, but all the roads and shorter buildings could stay.

However many hours we spent playing with those toys, however, we spent even more playing with no props at all. We had to: we would go camping in our motor home for weeks at a time in the summer, and there wasn't a lot of room for anything beyond a couple of packs of cards, a pile of library books, some paper and markers for drawing, and a couple of stuffed animals each. Together, we invented new worlds and spent entire days in them.

I've been spending more time in toy stores since my nephew was born. There are so many great toys out there – some new innovations and some classics – and I've had no problems choosing gifts for him so far. I look forward to buying him gifts for many, many years, but I keep returning to the idea that sometimes the best toys are the ones you didn't have.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
We've got rain, hail, and the occasional tree branch coming down. It's a good day to watch a marathon of "Lost" season three, drink too much coffee, and eat Bridge Mix.

Knowing that I probably wasn't going out much today, I chose comfort clothing: a flannel shirt that was once my Dad's over age-softened jeans. Russ was making us coffees when I entered the kitchen.

"That's the shirt you were wearing when we met," he said.

That was fourteen years ago. I think that says a lot about Russ.

It also says a lot about the state of my wardrobe.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
When my sister and I were little - under ten years old, I think, but we did this for years - we invented a world and two huge families of characters. We talked about our characters, acted them out, drew them, and wrote stories about them. Their stories kept us occupied for hours - days - especially while we were camping, away from our other sources of entertainment. My sister's characters were all siblings; a huge family that all lived in a massive mansion. Mine were a group of friends who were visitors from a planet called Timely (it's a pretty cool place; I still visit there sometimes).

Though we had characters that were little kids, we mostly played teens. The age range was from fourteen to eighteen years old. I remember that the eighteen year olds were the mature characters; they were mostly responsible people who babysat the little kids and took care of the pets. They were kind of boring. The sixteen year olds were our most-played characters; they were the perfect combination of young enough to be fun while seeming old enough to do all the things we were too young to do: dating, going to parties, being independent.

When I got there, sixteen turned out to be a less than ideal age: braces, acne, hormones, bullies, teenaged dramatics, school stress, too young to drink, too old to play Precious Places...

So, sixteen wasn't as perfect as I thought it would be when I was ten. And eighteen wasn't as boring and grown-up as I'd imagined. My ten year old self would consider me to be unthinkably old now - far too old to be fun - but I still feel like I'm just getting started.

Thirty-one is the new sixteen.
dreaminghope: (Giggle)
I have a problem with admitting when I don't know something, and I seem to encounter a lot of people who just assume I know the things that they know – I tend to just go along and hope I figure it all out. And I usually do.

I do it at work a lot. I have a lot of regulars, and all my customers know me because I'm the one who answers the phones and answers their emails and calls them back when they need to make last minute changes and I don't have to let them, but I do. When people call me at work, I act like I know who they are until I figure out who they are. When Dave Allen calls, I'm typing in "Allen" in the search box for my customer database as he says hello, and when it doesn't come up with any results, I wonder if it's under "David" or maybe "AllAn" instead of "AllEn", and that's when I realize that he isn't asking about apples or soy milk but is talking about RRSPs, which makes this Dave Allen, my banker, and not a customer at all, and it takes me another 30 seconds or so to shake my head into personal finance mode because I was so ready to talk about fennel recipes and this week's great deal on almond butter.

As far as I can remember, my mother-in-law has never told me what her health issues actually are, but she makes passing references to them. I know she can't eat seeds and that her feet are often cold because her circulation is poor and she's got swollen hands and she's often achy, but I don't know which symptoms are of a disease and which are the results of all the meds she has to take. There's been talk of colitis and lupus and arthritis – tests and theories – but she's never sat down and told me what's officially going on. She probably thinks Russ has told me, but he sometimes seems a little confused too.

My Mom's more of a straight shooter. When she was diagnosed with cancer, there was a full discussion of what that meant. Now, mind you, she didn't tell us about the cancer scare, but only once it was cancer, and I really think we all would have preferred to have been a little scared with her during the cancer scare instead of being thrown straight into the full terror of cancer – especially my poor sister, who found out first through a call from my mother's doctor – but that's my mother. She got her diagnosis and she laid out the plan: surgery – lumpectomy if possible; mastectomy if necessary – and if there's lymph node involvement, then chemotherapy and radiation and this dreadful drug that threw her into menopause and she got these hot flashes that was like an out of control sauna from the inside. And it was all laid out like a check list: cut, poison, burn, drug – check, check, check, check. It works with my Dad's way of being – the engineer in him isn't good with grays and hinting and suggestion. He likes lines and black and white; he ignores vagueness.

My mother-in-law's all vagueness, and it gets to a certain point where it feels really weird – really embarrassing – to straight out ask "What's wrong?" What's really wrong with your hands? What is your diagnosis? This is the disadvantage of faking it; if you don't figure it out, it's really hard to back-track, and say, maybe fifteen minutes into a phone conversation, "I'm sorry, who is this, please?"
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
We all have our stories, right? The ones we tell while getting to know someone; the ones about funny things, about slightly embarrassing things, about our personal quirks. We have the stories we tell when everyone's talking about childhood fears and beliefs, and the ones we share about food, about sleep, about bad sex.

My bad sex story has made the rounds. Any day now, I expect it to be told back to me as something that happened to the friend of a friend of a friend.

The story evolves a little with each retelling, so when it comes back to me, I may not recognize it. Or it may be someone else's story; I'm sure I'm not the only one this has happened to.

This happened years ago, when I was still living with my parents. They were out for the day and Russ came over and we were... hanging out. In my room. Naked. Right... so we were having a good time, when I started to feel a burning sensation in an unfortunate place. I excused myself and tried peeing, thinking about bladder infections, but this felt different. I went back in to the bedroom and confessed to my naked boyfriend that something was wrong and that there wouldn't be any sex, given the uncomfortable circumstances.

Russ blushed. He isn't normally a blusher, but this time he was red.

"I swear, I washed my hands."

"What?"

"Before coming over, I was over at Shane's. And we were making chili."

"I know."

"And I was chopping the fresh jalapeños. I washed up really well after, but maybe I missed some of the oils."

The burning took a couple of hours to complete go away.

It's a good cautionary tale; they might want to add that to some sex ed courses where they still have such things.

The other day, a friend started to tell one of my stories to a mutual friend, but she'd already heard it. I can't remember if I was the one that told it to her. I don't think I did. Maybe I did. It's a good story for telling to new friends.

There's a point in a new friendship that requires a little self-deprecation; a little revealing of a weakness or flaw. Nothing serious – not kleptomaniac-tendencies, homicidal fantasies, or a little problem with compulsive lying – but more like always pronouncing "animation" incorrectly or forgetting to turn the clock back every Daylight Savings Time. I like to tell this story:

Some friends and I meet at a major bookstore at a major cross-street. We walk along a major street for about seven blocks to a restaurant. Once at the restaurant, we only have enough time to get menus and order drinks before another friend called; she's nearby: can she join us?

She's familiar with the bookstore but not the restaurant, so I volunteer to meet her at the bookstore. I get there fine – seven blocks in a straight line – greet her and we head back. I set out with confidence; after all, it's a seven block walk, in a straight line.

We're chatting as we walk. We walk for about six blocks before I notice that we're not on the bright main street but strolling alongside dark office buildings. I don't know where we are.

We turn around and walk back to the bookstore: six blocks in a straight line. Once there, I figure out where I went wrong: when we headed out, I went at a 90 degree angle from where I was supposed to and got us lost even though we only had to travel straight back the way I had just come. There were four other people there that day, and they will never let me live it down, and neither will all the friends they've told, nor will the ones I've told. It works for me; I really do have an awful sense of direction, so the spread of the story means that people don’t expect me to lead, give accurate directions, or follow them.

I have saved some stories; held them close, for the right moment. A story about stories needs, perhaps, a story about story-telling.

When I was in grade four or five, the story of Bloody Mary went around the school yard. Our variation involved entering a dark room at midnight, spinning around several times, flashing a flashlight on and off several times, and then looking into a mirror. Several girls claimed to have tried it and to have seen an awful figure coming through the mirror before they fled the room.

In the schoolyard, I was a voice of reason:

"If you spin around fast enough, you will get spots in front of your eyes. And if you are flashing lights on and off too, you are bound to see things. The other morning, when my mom turned on the lights very suddenly, I saw a spot in front of my eyes shaped like a pony."

Others seemed to believe me. Fears quelled, the myth of the murdering woman in the mirror disappeared from my circle of friends quickly.

In the dark, however, the story still had power over me. I developed a fear of seeing a mirror in a dark room. I never told anyone this fear, so to avoid seeing the mirror in the bedroom I shared with my sister, I would sleep with Susie the Seal on the outside and cover her with a thick duvet, to make the pile high enough to block my view. To this day, I don't allow a mirror in my bedroom.

The stories of other people were stronger than my own. Perhaps it is often that way.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
This is it... the end of my twenties. I'll be thirty tomorrow.

My uncle took it upon himself to tell me that turning thirty was the only birthday he had trouble dealing with. That's when he realized that he would never be twenty-nine again – that he wasn't a "young person" anymore – and he wondered if this was all there was to life.

I'm not having any such concerns. I've already had my age-related existential crisis.

My tough birthday was my tenth.

The night before I turned ten, I lay in bed, sleepless, restless, for hours. I would never be nine again. I would never be a little kid again. Was this all there was to life? Nothing was ever going to be the same ever again. After all, from then on, my age would always have two digits in it.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I am almost three-quarters of the way through the latté I bought at the bagel shop before I decide that it isn't worthy of the book I'm reading (One Man's Trash by Ivan E. Coyote). My drink's overly sweet and the espresso tastes stale or over-roasted or bitter or… bad, anyway. And I've got a blueberry cinnamon bun with cream cheese icing from Uprising Breads to enjoy, so I don't know why I'm still sipping this lousy coffee.

The phone rings. Call display says "M's parents"; I answer.

"Hi. It's Mom."

She doesn't sound right. I think I know already.

"How are you?"

"Fine."

She's not.

She continues, voice strained and tense: "Your Oma passed away last night. She was in a morphine induced coma. She woke up, just for a bit, but all she said was that she was tired. She fought so hard... but she was so tired."

I think of Oma. She liked rum-soaked raisins. She could play cards for hours; it was what we did every time she came to visit or when we visited her. She loved that my sister and I could play 31 and rummy when we were still very little. She gave me her collection of old Charles Dickens books many years ago, when she realized I was the only grandchild likely to actually read them. It was hard to feel close to her: my sister and I lived halfway across the country until we were in our teens, and my Oma has nine children, twenty grandchildren, and now a bunch of great-grandchildren too. But I love her.

I express my regrets.

Her aunts and uncle up in Nelson are meeting today or tomorrow to make funeral decisions, so my Mom will let me know when she hears.

My Mom is still hosting my sister's birthday dinner tomorrow.

"Is there anything I can do? Are you OK?" because what else do you say?

"I'm OK..." she starts crying a little, "I'm sorry. Sorry. I'll see you tomorrow night. 5:30, OK?"

"Yes, 5:30. I love you."

"I love you too."

I hang up the phone and cry. I don't cry for my Oma yet. I cry first for my Mom: for her loss of her mother, for her apologies for her tears, for the space between us. I cry for her because I know she won't let me cry with her. It's just not how my family is; it's not what my family does. I cry for Oma later, when I see a deck of well-worn cards on my bookshelf and realize that she'll never beat me at rummy again.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
"Authors are people who never grew out of their imaginary friends." – Andrew Davidson
"Please don't tell me they're imaginary." – Tristan Hughes*

My childhood imaginary friend didn't encourage me to steal cookies. She didn't colour outside of the lines or pull my sister's hair. She never took me on a grand adventure.

My imaginary friend told me to brush my teeth and that I shouldn't read after my bedtime by the street lamp outside my bedroom window. I ignored her on the latter point, but I still have very good teeth.

*Flights of Fantasy, Vancouver International Writers Festival, 2008
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
Moments of Devastating Beauty

The sun is setting. The spring has been so cold and drawn out this year that the onset of summer feels sudden. The air's still warm tonight, but there's a breeze tossing the leaves and my hair. Someone's barbequing down the street; the air smells of campfire.

I can close my eyes and be at the campfire. We're far enough from the light pollution to really see the stars, far and cold. The lake is on one side, the tents and cabins on the other. By the light of the fire, all that's visible are the first two rings of log benches circling the fire pit.

There are about a dozen drummers. They aren't all very good, but the ones who are pull the others along. I'm sitting three rows back from the fire, wrapped in my black cloak and my anonymity. The drummers aren't all great, but the ones who are pull at me, make me need to move. The drums are like another heartbeat. I wait as others get up and start swaying. Finally, I drop my self-consciousness and my cloak and I move to the edge of the fire. The flames are on one side, the drums on the other. I look at the stars.

I dance first for the stars, because they don't care. I reach for them and sway.

Around the fire, other dancers shimmy their hips. They bend and twist. Their long skirts and scarves flicker like another circle of flames.

The fire makes us all too hot, and we begin to remove clothing. It isn't a striptease – we shed shirts like dead petals.

My hips circle to the rhythm effortlessly, mindlessly. The world is reduced to the fire and the drums and the dancers. We are all entranced together.

The natural flow of the dancing takes me around to the other side of the fire. The lake is on one side, the fire and drums on the other. There's only the dark water, the fire, and the beat in my hips and hands.

The drummers falter, and my body slows as they work to bring the beat back together. I look up at the stars. All the dancers and drummers together are still only a tiny spark in the night.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
Childhood clings in random and unexpected ways. I still step over cracks in the sidewalk to save my mother's back. A certain damp snowy Spring smell can immediately take me back to walking through the wetlands, collecting pussy willow branches and admiring the soft cat-tails. Today, I found myself singing "little bunny Froo-Froo, hopping through the forest, picking up the field mice and bopping them on the head..."

Middle of the night, I'm suddenly awake for no discernable reason. There's a hum from under the floor: the dehumidifier in the basement. It's faint; I can only hear it when I listen for it in the quietest dark.

When I was a kid, there were a lot of rules, some stated and many not: no TV before the dinner dishes are done (unless Mom was watching talk shows while she did the ironing), only two cookies for dessert, no after school snacks, soda only with permission. Right from when my parents first started leaving me home alone, I started breaking those little rules: sneaking extra cookies and cups of chocolate chips while watching lots of forbidden television. Later on, it was reading naughty websites and fooling around with Russ in the living room or my bedroom.

The key to never getting caught was always the same: listening for the sound of the automatic garage door going up. No matter where I was in the house, I would hear that hum and would jump to turn off the TV, switch to a different website, put away the sugary evidence, and get dressed. The things my parents would have caught me at if they’d just once parked in the driveway and walked in the front door...

More than ten years after moving out of my parents' place, in the middle of the night, the dehumidifier comes on automatically. The hum – the low hum from below my bedroom – brings me awake and ready to hide my childhood crimes. Deep breath, a smile at my child-self, and I roll over and go back to sleep.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
Some purchases feel like they should be marked by confetti and trumpet flourishes. Momentous occasions, marking major life changes, happening in front of blissfully unaware store clerks.

Do you remember the first time you bought "feminine hygiene" products?

My Mom kept my sister and I's bathroom stocked through high school, so I was in first year university the first time I needed to buy my own pads. As a budding feminist and environmentalist, I was offended and annoyed that the clerk bagged my pads into a brown paper bag before adding them to the re-usable bag that held all my other purchases. Not offended enough to say anything, of course, but annoyed enough to complain about it later in my Women's Studies class.

Do you remember the first time you bought condoms?

Russ offered to go to the pharmacy, but I insisted that I would buy them. A rite of passage, perhaps, or a test of my ability to do this "adult" thing. It was such a big deal to me - I felt shaky and jumpy - but to the clerk, I was just another student in an on-campus pharmacy full of students getting ready for the weekend. I lost my virginity a couple of days later.

Do you remember the first time you bought a pregnancy test?

I doubt there's ever been anyone who has bought a pregnancy test for themselves or their partner in a neutral emotional state. Considering my emotional turmoil, I was a little surprised that a pregnancy test was just scanned through along with my bread and cheese. Given my state of mind, I expected the transaction to be remarkable, maybe even traumatic.

Standing in this virtual room with a hundred-odd friends, acquaintances, and almost strangers, I have this to say: I am not pregnant.

More than two weeks of nausea, bloating, breakouts, smell sensitivity, breast tenderness, mood swings... despite being a consistent Pill user, I really thought I was in trouble. Even after my period started, I took a pregnancy test this morning, just in case.

One beautiful line. Relief.

I am not pregnant.

"Congratulations" isn't quite right, is it? After all, non-pregnancy isn't really an achievement. Never mind; I will celebrate my non-pregnant status tonight by spending the evening as I spend many Wednesday evenings - crafting - but accompanied by a large glass of wine.

It's been a stressful couple of weeks. Maybe two large glasses of wine.
dreaminghope: (Thinking Zoey)
Equality

Privilege Meme )

I think there are problems with this list of privileges; I think I had the most privileged childhood possible, but I cannot answer "yes" to every question. That leads me to believe that either my childhood was not as privileged as I thought, or the list doesn't measure privilege in the way I would. Since the former is impossible, it must be the latter.

I came home from school to the smell of fresh baked cookies and homemade bread. I came home from school to a Mom who chose to be a stay-at-home-mother, and who had the financial support from my Dad to make that comfortable.

We ate dinner around the table every night as a family. At the kitchen table, I learned that whales are mammals and that two cookies for dessert is the right amount.

I had a small allowance to teach me how to save for what I wanted. It took me three weeks to save up for each Fabulous Five and Baby-sitters Club book I wanted.

We camped every summer. We crossed Canada in our motorhome to visit Expo 86 one year and to tour the Maritimes another. My Mom read my sister and I Heidi as Dad drove. Over the course of my childhood, we went to England, Mexico, and Florida. I went on class trips to Quebec and to France.

TV was very limited in our house. There were no Saturday morning cartoons – I thought they only played in hotel rooms. I don't think we had cable until I was about ten years old. I've never had a TV in my bedroom. My sister and I learned to play together. I drew, and read, and learned to knit.

The many benefits I reaped originated mostly in financial and class privilege. Although my parents were not wealthy when I was very young, we were middle-class, and my parents made careful choices about what to do with their resources. They chose a trip to England over a TV in my bedroom. They put me in French immersion in public school and put money aside for my post-secondary education instead of putting me into a private school.

Sometimes when confronted with the vast inequalities that exist even within my comparatively wealthy country, I understand why people want to believe that hard work automatically means success, and that the lack of success clearly means a lack of will and hard work – it's hard to admit that what you have may have come from luck of birth.

I did earn scholarships during university, but maybe only because I didn't have to work a part-time job at all during high school and not much during university. And my parents taught me to love to learn by taking me to the library, by reading to me, by learning themselves.

I have worked hard to save money for home improvements and an upcoming trip to Italy, but my parents gave Russ and I a huge head start by giving us money for our down payment. And my parents taught me how to manage money.

Financial well-being itself is privilege, but more importantly, it can buy other privileges: time and attention, education, travel. And I think that's where the "Privilege Meme" fails: someone whose parents were very wealthy would score very high on the test even if their parents were only wealthy because they worked all the time and couldn't spend any time with their kids. I knew those kids: they had everything a kid would think to want from the best toys to the most desirable clothes, but they never ate dinner with their parents. I was more privileged than that.
dreaminghope: (3-Day Novel)
When I was a very little girl, I wanted to be a vet. That I was scared of every animal that walks, flies, jumps, or crawls - everything but snakes (slithers) and fish (swims) - didn't seem to me to be an impediment. I was aware that most pet owners have either cats or dogs, which were the scariest creatures in my small world. I knew, from friends' tragic incidents involving goldfish, that vet assistance is rarely sought for fish. But I also knew that being a vet was a Good Thing, so that's what I wanted to be. My Mom is incredibly generous of spirit: she never laughed at six year old me who declared that she wanted to be a vet. At least, she didn't laugh at me to my face.

When I was a slightly older little girl, I wanted to be a nurse or a doctor. That I felt sick at the sight of blood and had to cover my eyes even during fictional medical procedures on TV didn't seem to be insurmountable problems. I knew that doctors and nurses made people feel better, and that’s what I wanted to do.

When I was graduating from high school and trying to decide what to do in university, I decided that I wanted to be a journalist. I didn't take into account that I dislike talking to strangers, that I get claustrophobic in crowds, and that I don't deal with stress well. Journalists were noble, and smart, and they gave people power through information, so I wanted to be one of them.

Through it all, what I really wanted to be was a novelist (and a drag queen, but that's a story for another day). In many ways, I'm well suited to it: I'm imaginative and a natural people-watcher and eavesdropper, and I like spending a lot of time alone, writing. I wonder that I never mentioned it in the "what I want to be when I grow up" field in the memory books I would fill out with my Mom at the end of every school year.

Maybe I didn't mention it because I took it for granted: I couldn't not tell stories; I couldn't not write. It didn't matter if anyone else was reading or not, I would still write.

Or maybe I didn't mention it because, even as a kid, I've always been a practical person, and I knew that I would need a day job too. Vet by day and novelist by night! Or, you know, office manager by day and novelist on long weekends.

I mailed in my early registration for the 2008 3-Day Novel Contest this week.
dreaminghope: (Cute but Deranged)
My Most Annoying Personality Trait

When I first get into work on Sunday mornings, I turn all the highlighters cap down, make sure the pens and scissors are in the correct slots in the desk organizer, flip the ruler so it sticks out the left side of the file holder, and return the stapler, post-it notes, and calculator to the correct spots. My Friday assistant always shifts things around when she uses my desk; I need everything in its place before I start to work.

***

"I have a plan. I always have a plan."

***

It was like something straight out of a Judy Blume novel (Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, to be exact):

"Everyone take two pieces of paper and write your name on them both. On one, write Good Things and on the other, Bad Things, or Not So Good Things, if you prefer. Then we will all write about each other’s best qualities and worst qualities on the sheets."

I took the leader's Bad Things paper first and wrote on it in my big handwriting: "I think this is a passive-aggressive exercise and if you have anything to tell me about my personality, you can tell me to my face." As we all grabbed papers at random in the half-hour that followed, I always knew who had that paper because they would look at me and chuckle.

At the end of the exercise, I stuffed my papers into my purse unread. At home, I dropped them into a desk drawer and forgot about them. I came across them months later while looking for something else.

I don't remember anything from either page except for one Not So Good Thing entry: "Sometimes you get a little 'my-way-or-the-highway'."

"Just a little?" I asked.

***

"There is a plan. Don't fuck with the plan."

***

I am going to start training a new assistant at work tomorrow. Wish him luck.

Orange highlighter for the customers with changes to their deliveries. All the grocery codes are written in black ink: a four letter code, one space, a slash, one more space, then the next code. Circle them in blue highlighter. Notes to the customers are highlighted in green; packing instructions in yellow; packing instructions in pink. Bin counts in blue pen. Office notes in red pen.

I have very specific ways of doing every tiny task. I always have a reason for doing things the exact way I do, but sometimes my reasons don't seem important to other people. I seem controlling and obsessive...

***

"Just stick with the plan, and everything will work out perfectly."
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
Whose LJ is it Anyway?

When I was in grade two, I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I curled up on the orange and brown couch in the living room and balanced the big hardcover book from the library in my lap. I read while my Mom was making dinner.

They had just started to cross this queer bridge when a sharp growl made them all look up, and to their horror they saw running toward them two great beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers.

"They are the Kalidahs!" said the Cowardly Lion, beginning to tremble.

"Quick!" cried the Scarecrow. "Let us cross over."

So Dorothy went first, holding Toto in her arms, the Tin Woodman followed, and the Scarecrow came next. The Lion, although he was certainly afraid, turned to face the Kalidahs, and then he gave so loud and terrible a roar that Dorothy screamed and the Scarecrow fell over backward, while even the fierce beasts stopped short and looked at him in surprise.

But, seeing they were bigger than the Lion, and remembering that there were two of them and only one of him, the Kalidahs again rushed forward, and the Lion crossed over the tree and turned to see what they would do next. Without stopping an instant the fierce beasts also began to cross the tree. And the Lion said to Dorothy:

"We are lost, for they will surely tear us to pieces with their sharp claws. But stand close behind me, and I will fight them as long as I am alive."


I was so scared for the Lion that I immediately did what I did when something on TV scared me: I closed my eyes and covered my ears with my hands.

I sat there for a moment before I realized that my plan wasn't going to work. I couldn't hide until the scary part was done; the story wouldn't go on without me.

*****

My childhood attempts at diaries were small black notebooks with two stickers stuck to the cover to look like eyes. I started every entry with "Dear Diary", and almost a third of my entries start with "sorry for not writing sooner". Lacking an audience, I imagined one.

I went flipping through my childhood diaries expecting, I think, to see the kind of brutal honesty that kids are known for. When we are young, we're supposed to be too naïve to hide our true feelings; the resulting writing should be a kind of real that adults can't easily achieve.

I did find a peculiar kind of honest: Over the Christmas holidays I misplaced my old cloth purse. It had over $12 in it. I found it in the most oviouse (sic) place and my pride couldn't take it so I hide it in the basement. Of course I couldn't let the money go to waste so now, quite a while later, I am 'smuggling' it with me. (March 8 – 12 years old).

There was also a lot of self-consciousness and self-censorship: Boy, do I have a snoopy good sister! (April 26 – 9 years old).

Though my imaginary audience wasn't motivation enough to write frequently – as evidenced by gaps of months or years between entries – I wrote for the possibility that other people would read my words one day. I wrote who I wanted to be as much as I wrote who I was.

*****

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dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
The Giving of Thanks

Dear Aunt Judy and Uncle Pete,

Thank you very much for the lovely bear Christmas ornament. It is very beautiful and will look really good on the tree next year.

We had a very nice Christmas. Uncle Tim came and stayed with us on Christmas Eve. We're going to have a skating and sledding party in the back yard for New Year's Eve.

Thank you again for bear. I hope you had a merry Christmas!

Love,
Melissa


My mother believes in thank you notes. When we were kids, Mom would keep a careful list of who sent us what as we opened each gift. Within a week, Mom would force us to sit down at the kitchen table with her list and write the notes by hand on pieces of her stationary. Mom would tuck the notes into cards and address the envelopes; my childish handwriting would have easily filled the front of the envelopes and left no room for a stamp.

Since my mother comes from a large family (six sisters and two brothers) and only one was local to us, there were a lot of notes to write. For Christmas every year until high school graduation, every aunt on my mother's side would mail a tree ornament – often handmade – to each of the cousins. I have enough beautiful ornaments to completely cover a tree with hardly room for lights, and each one represents a thank you note written in careful black pen.

Dear Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Ian,

Thank you very much for the adorable snow angel ornament. It is very cute and will look really good on the tree next year.


"I'm so sorry I'm late making my changes," the customer on the phone says.

"That's OK; I think I can get them done for you."

"That's great!" and then she rattles off three changes and five additions she would like. I carefully note them all down and read them back to her.

"Anything else I can do for you?" I ask.

"Nope. I think that covers it."

"Thank you very much!" I conclude.

I say "thank you" automatically, and as often for when I do something for someone else as when they do something for me. Too much time in customer service.

I also apologize to inanimate objects when I bump into them, but that's normal: I'm Canadian.

I try to remember to mean it when I say it, but words are so easy. Typed thank you notes can be cheats too: copy and paste makes it simple. It is too easy.

Dear Aunt Brenda and Uncle Urs,

Thank you very much for the "Drummers Drumming" ornament. It is very beautiful and really completes the 12 Days of Christmas collection perfectly.


Some of my aunts still remember my annual thank you notes, though I haven't had to write one since my graduation ten years ago. There's something meaningful about ink on paper, written and addressed by hand, and mailed with a real stamp.

Embodied gratitude: saying "thanks" less and giving thanks more.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
I was a good girl. I didn't talk back, I got good grades, my teachers liked me, I didn't make trouble, I liked to read and knit (a long garter stitch scarf; no purling), I did my homework and went to Girl Guides, I was always on time, and I never got grounded. I was good.

I come from a WASP* family. But a middle-class Canadian WASP family, which means Protestant on paper only; functionally agnostic. My mother stopped taking my sister and I to the United Church when we moved from small town Northern Canada to a Toronto suburb. I was nine. I didn't miss church.

I was ten when I "got religion". But I was still a good little WASP girl, so I got religion very quietly by praying for a long time every night (my childhood bedtime prayer followed the Lord's Prayer followed by a couple of minutes of silently meditation) and wishing that I was Catholic so I could become a nun. Or maybe a saint. I wanted to be devote.

My family didn't talk about faith.

One day in grade five my teacher handed out permission slips. They were from a local church – I don't remember which one – offering free New Testaments. At the bottom was a place for your parent to sign that it was OK to give you one. I wanted a Bible.

"Mom, I got this form from school."

"What is it?" she asks as she scans it, "oh. You don't want this, do you?"

"Um... no."

My family didn't talk about religion either.

So, I was a good girl, and a wanna-be person of faith... and I didn't have a Bible. This simply could not stand. I took the form out of the recycling bin. I took a permission note my mother had signed for an upcoming Girl Guide outing. Then I just needed a bright window and a black pen…

I forged my mother's signature to get a Bible.

Epilogue: The guilt interfered with my ability to read my new copy of the New Testament, so my acquisition ended up in my underwear drawer. Some six months later, my mother found it and asked how I had come to own a Bible.

"Um, well, Natalie had two, so she gave me one."

*W.A.S.P.: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Shave my legs; I want to wear a skirt tonight, even if it means navigating a razor around the two hives on my right ankle. Damn allergies.

Ten years. More than a third of my life.

Change the kitty litter. Give the cats fresh water. Russ must have fed them before leaving for work, or maybe they just aren't eating as much because of the heat. It is so stuffy in here.

A couple of weeks ago, he brought home Dairy Queen Blizzards. He didn't bring home spoons; he knows that I wash and keep all the plastic spoons that come into our house and that we have several Blizzard spoons in the drawer.

Ten years. Double digits. A milestone.

I forgot to do the dishes last night. This heat is making me lazy and forgetful. No time to do them this morning; luckily, Russ rinsed everything after he served seconds last night, so it won't be too bad later. I'll try to get them done before we go out for our anniversary dinner. I give the counters a quick wipe to clean up crumbs and coffee marks from the morning's preparations.

A decade. That's a daunting thought. One day, one month, one year at a time, and now we've collected a decade. Today isn't actually different from yesterday, but now it's ten instead of just nine and some.

I've got my purse and my travel mug. Russ left me the last of this week's cherries. I don't think I've forgotten anything. 7:30 already; I've got to get going. The garbage truck is rumbling in the alley, but I remembered to put the garbage can and blue box out last night.

Yesterday evening was a warm-up to tonight's anticipated sappiness:
"I'll be in the living room."
"I'll bring you dinner when it's ready."
"I love that! I love that you bring me dinner every night."
"And I love that you bring me clean underwear every week."

I kissed him for the first time ten years ago today, after we saw Men in Black in the theaters for the second time together. How many kisses is that now? And how many movies seen, meals eaten, tears shed, laughter shared, and orgasms reached?

I'm still new to this MP3 player thing. I fumble with it - drop it when I tangle the cord with my house keys - and when the music finally comes on, it's like an omen, playing song 14: Give Me a Kiss You Dirty Old Bugger*:

most married couples seem to get kind of sick of each other
after too much time together
but once in a while you see an old pair with a sparkle in their eyes
that's strong and weathered

Ten years is nothing really. My parents have together for more than thirty. My grandparents were together for about 60 years before my Grandpa passed away. My great-grandparents were married from young adulthood until Grams passed away at 90 years old. Ten years is just a blink of an eye. It feels that way, anyway.

At work already. The walk does seem to go faster with music. I'll have to remember to thank Russ again for giving me his old MP3 player when he upgraded to a better one. Get the computers up and running and start the emails downloading. During university, when Russ had an office job, I used to go to the computer lab in the main library during my breaks to email back and forth with him. I bet I still have those old emails printed and stored in a binder somewhere. I have mementos from every year, but I don't need to look at them to remember. Only ten years, after all; after another fifty, I may need touchstones to bring back even important individual moments from these early days.

The tenth time we've celebrated an anniversary. Well, not really, since some years we've both forgotten our anniversary; we aren't really romantic like that. Last year we noticed a week late that the date had passed. There's just sometimes too much day-to-day life going on: vacuuming and weeding and answering emails and paying bills and grocery shopping. The things that fill days and years; the things a decade are built on.

It's not even noon yet. I'm feeling a little giddy, and I'm not sure if it's the first coffee I've had this week or the excitement of going out to dinner tonight. Russ has a surprise for me that he is being very mysterious about.

Ten years: A university degree and a college diploma; Mom's cancer, Grandpa's Alzheimer's, best friend's cancer, and Grandma's cancer; six moves and five homes and one house; two cats and one iguana; three beds; two trips to Mexico; Grandpa's death; nine jobs; two months of unemployment; numerous trips to the ER; three vacuum cleaners; four minor car accidents; countless family gatherings; three coffee makers, two French presses, and one espresso machine. And two less Blizzard spoons.

*Kim Barlow, Gingerbread.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
As I'm walking down the sidewalk, two kids are running towards me. Their father, or maybe grandfather, is half a block behind them, ambling, smiling at the kids and at the world.

The older of the two kids is a girl, maybe seven years old. She runs facing forward. She's focused, but not in the way that adult runners are focused. Adult runners are concentrating and pushing themselves; they are working. The little girl is flying. Any destination is arbitrary; the goal is only to feel the wind and to run because she can run and she wants to run.

The little boy who runs beside her is about five years old. He runs fast enough to keep up with his sister's longer stride, and he watches her as often as he looks ahead. He runs to be beside his sister; he runs to not be left behind.

I'm on my way to the Chinatown post office, some Swap-Bot postcards in hand needing US stamps. I'm forcing myself to walk at an unnaturally slow pace; it's my day off, and I'm trying to at least imitate relaxation. I've promised myself some ice cream on the walk home from the post office.

When I was little, we used to camp at Esker Lakes Provincial Park almost all summer, every summer. We'd set up our motor home once at the beginning of the summer, then Dad would drive up to camp with us on the weekend and then back home to work during the week. Mom, my sister, and I would stay at the camp ground, and walk to the beach, or the picnic site, or the hiking trails, or the cabin where they show movies at night. And once in a while, we'd walk to the park store.

The park store was magical. There was ice cream and candy, used books (mostly romances that park patrons would trade in when they were done with them), bug spray and necessities, and, one year, the owner made big stuffed animals that all the regular summer kids ended up buying at $10 each. My sister got a pig wearing a vest and I got a seal that I named Suzi. Suzi the seal lives in my craft room now, with Ogie the bear and Fred the dog.

The park store was a long walk from our regular campsites. Well, it seemed like a long walk to our little legs, anyway. And there was a long winding hill leading up to the store, getting you all hot and ready for your ice cream treat when you arrived. Sometimes I would get bubblegum ice cream. I liked that it was bright blue. Sometimes I would get an individual pack of Twizzlers, because I liked to bite a little off each end, then suck Twizzler-flavoured air through my Twizzler straw. Also, a package of Twizzlers lasted a lot longer than a chocolate bar or even a box of Smarties (the chocolate Canadian Smarties, not the American candy). I don't remember when I last had Twizzlers.

After Mom would do whatever errand she needed to accomplish at the park store and my sister and I would get our treats, we would head back to our camp site. If we'd finished our ice cream, or if we'd chosen something that would last, my sister and I would run down the long winding hill while Mom followed. I ran facing forward; running for the bottom of the hill, and running because I could and because I wanted to.

I haven't been looking ahead this weekend. I’ve been watching Russ instead. Friday night, we went to see The Average White Band - my anniversary present to him. I've never heard them before, except for the covers Russ plays with Leisure Lab. It was an excellent show; I loved watching Russ get so entranced by the music and so inspired by the sax player's solos.

Today, it was Russ' godfather's memorial. His great-uncle Geoff was 91 years old when he passed away suddenly a couple of weeks ago, and today was the service. I had the honour of meeting Geoff several times, and he was a warm and happy man. Still, I was there for Russ, and I watched him just as much as I watched the pastor.

I walk back from the post office. I stop at the corner store and look at the ice cream freezer. There's no bubblegum ice cream, but there's some higher quality ice cream bars. I choose one of those, and walk slowly – as slowly as I can bear – homeward, thinking of the memorial service, of the band, and of kids running. Even though I walk alone, I don't look straight ahead.

Fluffy

Jun. 9th, 2007 11:08 pm
dreaminghope: (Sleeping Zoey)
When I was a little girl, I wanted to have a tail. I've heard that lots of little girls want to have wings - angel wings, fairy wings - but I wanted a tail.

I had a very precise image of the tail I wanted too: it had to be long and it had to be fluffy. It would be like a raccoon or skunk tail. And it would be like always having a fluffy blanket and pillow with me, because I could just curl up anywhere and wrap my tail around and over me, with the tip covering my nose.

I suppose if I'd gotten my tail, I would have had to learn to sew so I could modify my clothing. I don't really like sewing and it's hard enough to find clothing I like without extra complications; sometimes it's better that we don't get what we wanted as little kids. I still sometimes wish I had that tail, though. My nose gets cold at night.

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dreaminghope

February 2014

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