Tuesday, June 28, 2016

for Freckles

This is not enough, but it will have to do somehow. My first roommate and bestie, the reason I hesitate to say any friend is "like a sister to me" (few friendships are as complex as sisterhood is) is turning 50 today, and after a month of humming and hawing and "shoot we should have planned something," this is what she gets. 

Freckles and I shared a room from when I was born until we were 12 and 14. I'm sure she must have hated it more than I did. I don't remember hating it. I remember being purposefully annoying (as little sisters are), and being relieved she was there when I was frightened (which was often, especially when night terrors came), and laughing hilariously at very stupid things. And her feeble attempts to uproot me from the top bunk when I just wouldn't shut up. 

I also remember being lost when she suddenly left at 14 to go live with our aunt and uncle in Bel Air. Okay, it wasn't Bel Air, but c'mon ... I was sad and confused and lonely - and jealous that she got to leave the going-nowhere town I despised. I can only imagine how she felt. 

Freckles was also the person, when she came back home 2 years later, who introduced me to Motown and Michael Jackson. R&B and Soul are still my two favourite kinds of music, thanks to her. If she hadn't been so world-wise lord knows what awful music I'd claim as my own. 

Freckles and I are about as alike as we look. She's petite and brunette and, well, freckled. HA. I was 18 months and she was 3 when I surpassed her in height, but she's always been able to whip me back in line. She's also introverted and plain speaking to my extroverted circumlocution. If I had a dollar for every time she quietly poked and I loud-mouthedly reacted and got in trouble, well, maybe she'd be getting more than a blog post for her birthday. She makes me laugh like crazy - which is generally a good thing, but less so in church. Sigh. 

I sometimes don't ask Freckles for advice on things as I know she'll be honest with me and I know I don't want the honest answer. But when I do want the truth, no matter how sharp an edge it may have on it, I know she'll give it with the best intentions for me and deep insight into who I really am. When I was in Jamaica, very drunk on rum punch and sobbing alone in my hotel room on my first weekend excursion, it was Freckles who knew best what I needed to hear. I forgot (ignored) what she said for a while since coming home, but it was/is powerful and keeps me facing forward. Sometimes - like last week - her truth comes straight out of nowhere and hits a mark I didn't know what even up. She believes in me in a way I have never been able to believe in myself. Sometimes someone else's belief is enough, at least to get you started.

Freckles, I wish I was with you today, laughing too loudly and embarrassing you with garish celebrations. Better yet, I wish we were off somewhere exotic drinking out of pineapples and toasting your golden birthday. But I'm here and you're there and once more the thought will have to count. 

I love you. 
Mexico 2013, in which I learn that sometimes it is better to travel with someone else. :) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

that pesky green frog

A mini-post to share two aphorisms with you that I just can't get out of my head lately. The first is a drop of folk wisdom I remember from grad school. The second is the coaching of a dear friend during some dark relationship moments of a decade ago.

A green frog doesn't have to tell you it's green.


When someone tells you who they are, be skeptical; when someone shows you who they are, believe them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

the playlist

My darling and brilliant friend Erin used to write a weekly music review in the Guardian online. It generally focused on music from the Caribbean (reggae, dancehall and soca) with insights into society and culture. She intelligently assessed pop culture to both entertained and informed. This is not that. 

I've had two weeks of chrysalis bursting, resulting in the need for a really fantastic "I am woman hear me kick my own ass and bust some serious moves" playlist. I put out a call for song suggestions to one of my favourite groups of powerful women, and the variety of responses was interesting. A bit Lilith Fair singer-songwriter angsty and/or hipster way too cool for me, but also some great "oh ya I love that song" moments.

Since crowd-sourcing was a bit of a miss, I decided to do some digging on my own. A week later, I think I've got a starting point. HA! Two insights I've had falling down my youtube rabbit hole of female power pop: 
  1. It is a na├»ve surprise to me that almost all songs that purport to be female empowerment songs are really about getting a man, keeping a man, getting over a man, showing a man what he lost, etc. Perhaps it's time to come up with a Bechdel test for music - it can't be about the boxes his stuff is in, or what you're going to do to his truck, or, really, about him at all. The songs that pass the SCWink pop music test are just about how awesome it is to be a woman. How powerful we can be. How resourceful, and creative, and loving (as mothers, daughters, friends, and THEN lovers). A part of what I love about being a woman is the alchemy that happens with some men, but that is not the totality of who I am, and until now it has not been the part that designs and creates an awesome life full of adventure. In short, the SCWink pop music test looks for songs that speak to the 93% of a woman that isn't her vagina.
  2. In the end, I had to embrace the fact that I am not one of the music elite. I love pop music. If I could only listen to one genre of music the rest of my life it would be R&B. I have a secret corner of my heart that only certain country songs speak to. There's little room for bitter irony on my list. We're wearing hot pink sundresses for this one, not slouchy hats and worn out flannel. 
This is not a list about cheating lovers or lowered expectations. This is not a playlist about him, or them, or I'll show you. It might be my running list as I train for the first race I've competed in since high school. It might be what plays as I apply the defibrillator pads to my writing intentions. Heck, it might just be what pours out my car windows as I roll out on a random adventure. It is, as I am, a work in progress. It's 100% ALRIGHTY - HERE WE GO! It makes me tap my fingers, throw my hands in the air, sing and dance. 

Wanna know what 20 songs currently make the "SCWink Unlimited" cut?

Friday, May 13, 2016

turning the world on, with wrinkle cream

I loved Mary Tyler Moore show re-runs when I was a kid. I loved Mary's independence, and her flailing, and her friendship with Rhoda, and most of all the theme song and Mary's youthful zest at the end of it, spinning in a circle and flinging her tam in the air. When I think of that show, I think how odd it was that everyone, including ingenue Mary, was old. Submitted as evidence, this cast photo from the first season in 1970: 

in today's TV universe, all of these people are straight up old. 

Ed Asner, in particular, was an OLD MAN and his character Lou Grant was an OLD MAN. In the second season there's a whole episode about Lou being old, out of touch, and irrelevant. That episode is called "The 45 Year Old Man." Watching it today, and seeing the title, I got a little queasy. I am older than Lou Grant (no, don't bother pointing out that there is no Lou Grant).


I spend an embarrassing amount of time concerned about my age, concerned about (not) looking my age, and attached to being youthful. I'm extremely grateful for good genes, though it contributes to my confusion that my parents don't "look their age" and my grandmothers never "looked their age." We live in a world in which 30 year olds play high schoolers on TV and we're told "it's just a number" but billions of dollars are spent encouraging us to spend other billions of dollars defying and disguising that number. What does 35 or 48 or 56 look like anyway? Never mind 74 or 92 or 101. And then there's that looming round number steaming towards me. 

Part of me - the aware, compassionate, "our culture is broken and needs a total revolution" part hates that this is even a subject I'm indulging. There are real issues in the world. What matters to me is social justice, and safe spaces, and creative expression, and being part of a tide that raises all boats, and ... oh crap that other part won't shut up. 

The damn other part - that part wants to be seen and celebrated and successful within this warped culture. That part misses hearing "No way, you can't have adult sons," and being carded and being the youngest anything anywhere. I don't want to look good "for my age" - I want my compliments without qualifiers. I fuss over chin hairs and crows feet and sags. And, apparently I'm having reactions to 46 year old tv shows. 

Lou Grant was OLD. Mrs. Walton was OLD. My Grade 1 teacher was practically a fossil. They were all younger than I am now. That hurts, but what hurts more is that I even care. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

it's not you; it's me

I met with my doctor again yesterday. We meet every four weeks to see if our current approach is making a difference with my major depressive disorder (MDD). Yes, that's the official diagnosis; that's why I've been on medical leave for months. Yesterday's tests showed that no, we're not getting anywhere yet. 

If I had some other illness, I probably wouldn't have to tell you that. If I had some other illness, maybe you'd see my gaunt face, or you'd hear from someone how I haven't been able to leave the house so they're organizing meals. Or maybe you'd see me in a wheelchair or on crutches or dragging an oxygen tank. 

I told my doctor how frustrating it is to have an invisible disease. I reported some of the thoughtless things people have said. And some of the thoughts those have lead to in me. Thoughts like "Maybe I should go back to work even though I can't concentrate on anything, would be doing terrible work, and would end up shaking/crying again by the end of the first week." But mostly thoughts like "People think I'm shirking, that I'm not really sick, that I'm abusing the system; it matters to me what people think. If I went back they'd respect me again." 

My doctor was sympathetic. To the people in my life who've said those things, as well as to me. He pointed out that there's no way for people to know what it's like to have MDD if they haven't experienced it. They don't know the bone deep fatigue. The scrambled thoughts. The jangling nerves. The inexplicable head and body aches.

My doctor also said that I am not helping anything by masking my symptoms - that maybe if I walked around and showed people my test results they'd see something that doesn't show on my face or in my behaviour. Maybe if I fulfilled people's ideas of a mentally ill person they'd believe me (it reminded me of rape victims who aren't believed because they don't follow some expected response, but I digress). 

It made me laugh a little bit, sardonically. People often say that I'm an open book, and that my face betrays me - that's true. But a lifetime of pushing through has given me skills at showing the surface so I can hide what's behind it. I'm the Emperor of Oz, and like Dorothy my world is charcoal grey and the Technicolor is the illusion. The yellow brick road has fractured. I've hit some wall. I can't seem to keep pushing through. 

I could ask for help if I had any idea what to ask for. I could stop only seeing people when I'm on top and disappearing when I'm depleted. How could you know how bad the bad days are if you never see them? We all know that Facebook is a carefully edited highlight reel; it now occurs to me that my entire outward persona is a carefully edited highlight reel. I cycle between mysterious recluse and charming social convener - between Greta Garbo and Debbie Reynolds. The latter is the identity I prefer. I'm invested in you seeing me that way. I've been taught it's the identity most likely to be accepted. 
Really, which one would you rather hang out with?
I'm not on an extended holiday - I'm doing hard work trying to get better. Besides my doctor I currently have a team of 5 people supporting my overall health. My health trainers, a massage therapist, a counsellor, a digestive wellness coach (90% of serotonin is created in our guts, yet few depression therapies address gut health ...). I'm taking meds, but I'm also eating better, exercising, sleeping more. Pretty soon I start an 8 week cognitive training program - I'm excited about that. 

I shouldn't be writing this. I definitely shouldn't click publish. I want a better job, and in the meantime I want more responsibility at my current job when I return. I want to work. I want the routine and the social interaction and the income. Eventually I want clients who trust me to perform in my own business and help me create a life that's location independent. How is any of that going to happen when people know that I have unresponsive MDD that we (my team and I) haven't found an effective treatment for yet? How can they trust it won't recur when we do find the right treatment? 

But right now, today, I want you to know. I get that I'm responsible for not letting you know before. I get that you can't get it, and I'm sorry for judging you for that. Most importantly, I'm saying all this with the hope that maybe next time someone you know is on medical leave for a mental illness, you'll believe them. Maybe you'll take them seriously. And maybe, if you can't manage that, you'll at least keep it to yourself. 
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