Thursday, December 29, 2011

good riddance, 2011

It's one of those days. A day when I woke up with something nagging at the back of my mind. Not a thought so much as the shadow of one ... sneaky ... hidey ... furtive. I'm just sitting, and reading, and online-ing and pondering. And trying oh so hard to get that sneaky darkness out where it belongs - in the light of day where I can sort it through.

And then it occurred to me that 2011 is ending, and as happy as I am to see it over, it's now the new 'known' whereas 2012 is the new unknown. There was some great stuff this year - okay, really just STG, but that's a good one - but in general, this year was terrifying, disappointing, nerve-wracking and exhausting.

I didn't know at this time last year how shattering the year was going to start off. I didn't know that I'd be faced with circumstances I could never even imagine how to survive. But now I've survived them. There are still times I get inexplicably anxious, and I still wake up in the middle of the night with my heart in my throat, but those episodes are getting less frequent, and I'm constantly learning how to manage them, to stop the train, and break apart the fear. 

BB1 has commented on it - last week he said it'll be good to have this year over, and hopefully 2012 turns it around for us all. The truth is, if you look at our daily lives, we all seem to have recovered and be moving forward. My relationship is strong. I'm doing better at work. BB2 is kicking butt in his job and making a real life for himself. BB1 is putting foundations in place to really move his life forward.


I started writing this two days ago, but couldn't quite circle things around to the light enough to know where I was going. Today as I tidy my house and prepare to head off for a quiet, intimate afternoon and evening with STG, reflecting on what we've gone through together and what we're planning for next year, it struck me. Yes there is still some fear, but underneath that I'm furious. I'm furious at the people who brought such fear and mayhem and threat into my life. And I'm even more furious at the people who should have stood by us who disappeared. I'm furious that STG had to stand in the gap when he barely knew us because he could see other people weren't stepping up. I'm furious that those same people haven't bothered to ask how we're doing, and instead have averted their eyes.

To those people I say, "We're doing fucking brilliant, no thanks to you. We have everything to look forward to, and much to be grateful for. Wish we could count you in that list. Thanks for the lesson in not having expectations of people - I won't make that mistake again ... at least not with you."

2012 is going to be awesome ... and I will let go of the anger before midnight tonight. I just thought, just this once, I'd let it out in the light of day. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

the book of negroes: review

NOTE - this review has been sitting in drafts for a month ... some of my impressions may be slightly dulled. 

For some reason before I started reading this book, I thought it was non-fiction. Of course it would be ridiculous to have a first-person narrative from years surrounding the American Revolution only pop onto the literary scene in the last few years, but still ... I thought it was a research construction of a story. So it took me a bit to get into the very traditional novel structure The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill.

Hill's writing is lovely. There's a reason this book was such a huge hit when it was published in 2007 and continues to garner its share of attention. But it's a little too lovely - I'm reminded of an old trapper, Tom,  who was a neighbour near our farm when I was a kid. He came for dinner one evening, and at some point started leafing through a new Robert Bateman coffee table book my parents had recently purchased. Eventually Tom said 'these are beautiful pictures, but there's no reality - a hawk should have blood on its talons and beak, a hare should be missing a piece of ear."

View on Amazon
Throughout the story of Aminata Diallo's movements from Africa to America, back to Africa, and finally to England horrible terrible events occur in Aminata's life, but Hill consistently sanitizes these events. It's a weakness. I'm not a fan of senseless gore, but I do believe that if you are out to portray the absolute worst that humanity does to one another, it's cowardly to then remove the stench, the mess, and the cacophony that accompanies it. It's hard to say much more without giving some spoilers, and if you haven't read the book yet, I really don't want to spoil any of what happens - it's not the events that are missing, it's the details that pull you fully into them. 

The plot of Aminata's story is much stronger. I'm not normally a plot girl - I'm much more interested in characters and mood - but in this case the plot has such strong movement that it kept me engaged despite a weakness in the writing. The variety of settings, and the accompanying new characters introduced at each setting, weave a moving story. 

Like so much of the book, the ending is tied up a little too neatly and explained too quickly. When it comes right down to it, The Book of Negroes lacked believability. I'm pretty practiced with the whole suspension-of-disbelief thing, but when I'm repeatedly having to convince myself that things could work out the way they do in this story, it pulls me out of the world Hill has created. 

The Book of Negroes is a rich, powerful book set in the very early days of slavery in America, a time that we read less about than the period closer to the American Civil War. As a 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Best Book, it's clearly worth a read. But after having waited 4 years to read it, I can honestly say I was a bit disappointed. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

good luck, future self

To abstain from the enjoyment which is in our power, or to seek distant rather than immediate results, are among the most painful exertions of the human will.
~ NW Senior, 1836 ~

As I lay here on my couch, in my pyjamas at 3:30 pm, pondering this quote from a TED Talk I just viewed, a part of my brain is engaged in trying to remember which treats from Christmas remain in my fridge. A nice fat mint Nanaimo bar? A shortbread cookie maybe? 

I started a healing diet a week before Christmas to correct a few health issues I've been dealing with. After the first few days of detox (quitting sugar AND caffeine cold turkey was a shock to my system) I felt great. And, I had made an agreement with myself and my health professional that I'd take a break over Christmas and tack those few days on to the end of the 4 week program. At first I thought the break would last from when we arrived at my parents' house around mid-day on Christmas Eve until we left again Boxing Day morning. But as I packed the baking on the morning of Christmas Eve morning, I started pinching a treat or two here or there. 

On arriving home yesterday, so much food came back with me that I thought I'd at least do whole days - all day Christmas Eve to all day Boxing Day. But I woke up this morning and hadn't had a left-over turkey sandwich yet, so I had that ... and some shortbread cookies ... for breakfast. And on and on. My slide down this slippery slope is gaining speed. I'm having dinner with Mrs. Lady tonight, and she's adjourned her no-sugar plan until the 30th, so there's one more pebble in the balance on the side of 'it wouldn't kill me to take the whole week' scale. It probably won't kill me, but it also won't make me feel better ... like the clean eating so quickly did. So this is the last day ... and apparently I'm going to eat as much of the offending food in the house as I possibly can.  

This deferred gratification idea is a pretty constant theme around here lately, with food being just one of the issues. STG and I talked the other day about setting aside some time this week while we're both off work to plan our 2012 - and in particular to plan one domestic roadtrip and one beachy exotic trip and how we'll finance them. Any amount of time spent with my parents hearing stories of their travels will energize anyone's travel bug, and by the time we left them yesterday we were both bursting with images of hammocks and surf and 'real' Mexican food ... and I'm excited to put these plans into place. And also to develop plans to improve our fitness so our travels include physical adventures - biking, surfing, snorkeling, exploring land and see. And those slightly less fun plans to save so we aren't going into deeper debt to get there. And the best plans of all  - to build more shared memories together.

And yet, there's a part of me that thinks 'why bother?" - why give up coffee & sugar & re-lose the weight I've lost a dozen times. Why skip dinners out and movies and pile that money into a plane ticket? Why deny what I want right now and make plans for down the road and get my hopes up?

As Daniel Goldstein in the TED Talk says, "we might neglect our future self because of some failure of imagination or belief," moreover, the "future" self is weak - it is merely an imagining of what might happen, whereas the mint Nanaimo bar in my fridge is a very present reality. For some reason, imaginations and beliefs, in my experience, tend to be against fulfilling on my dreams. It's hard for me to have faith in the future - faith that a year from now STG and I will still be together and boarding a plane to some place beachy and warm. Faith that if I start taking care of my body I'll continue to do so once it feels good again. Faith that any current sacrifice is really an investment in an even better future. It seems like so many times, when I've relaxed and enjoyed the present moment the train has derailed.

But, as I said to STG about something the other day, 'the past is no prediction of the future.' It now occurs to me, however, that what may be a better predictor of the future is to take the steps necessary 

Friday, December 23, 2011


The original 'Beat' stockings - lined
up by the dozen
Stockings were big in my family. I don't mean size-wise - by today's standards, Grandpa's dress socks & even Dad's wool work socks were quite small. I mean, they were exciting, surprising hosiery of joy that we got to open en masse with our cousins and see what we all had in common, and what - if anything - differed. At our big family Christmases, of which there were many, the parents (I'm guessing mostly the aunties) and Grandpa all contributed to the stockings. With upwards of a dozen stockings to fill, the items were simple and the work was shared - free note pads handed out by Grandpa's bank. A wrapped sugar cookie. A candy cane. A mandarin orange in the toe. These were the bits you anticipated. But there was always so much more - candy, lip gloss, a cow-string toy that danced when you pushed up on the bottom, a crying lamb noise maker. Each token was a treasure to ooh and aah over. I got great presents - some truly memorable presents, but each year it was the stocking I couldn't wait to get into.  

remember that cotton
doesn't stretch.
When making stockings ...
I still have that fascination. Adults didn't get stockings when I was a kid, but for some reason now we all do. I think, maybe I contributed to that change - at least in our family. As a teenager with only a minimal part-time job and needing to save for our trip to Africa, I told mom that instead of buying presents for my sisters (then 17 & 19) I wanted to make & fill their stockings. We'd never had actual 'stockings' - we had socks - so even that was a shift. Little did I know that filling stockings, even then, was more expensive than whatever I would have bought my sisters - more expensive, but also so much more fun. I bought the smallest possible amount of contracting fabric from our local one-stop department store in Christmas red and Christmas green. Each paycheque in November & December I'd head back to the department store, or to the drug store and buy a few more treasures to squirrel away - wee stuffed animals, gloves, candy and makeup. A candy cane shaped tube of Bonne Bell lip gloss? Oh, hello 1984! - everything a teenage girl imagines her big sisters want. Those cheap cotton calico stockings didn't last long, but I took pride in seeing them hanging on our rock fireplace while they lasted. 

 It was a few years (okay, only 5) before I got to fill stockings again. Someone has said there are three stages to Christmas - we believe in Santa, we don't believe in Santa, we are Santa. And soon enough I was Santa and filling a stocking for my BBs. I don't remember what we used the first few years for BB1, but I remember sitting up stitching until I wanted to cry for BB2's first Christmas, putting the finishing touches on their cross-stitch stockings sometime around 2 am. Somehow BB1's never did get ribbon trim - I think I liked it better plain. I got better at making stockings, and better at filling them. 

That first year the cross-stitch and calico stockings were woefully inadequate, resting on top of stocking-stuffer filled grocery bags, and I was strongly encouraged by my sisters-in-law to enlarge them. There have been years when the now 'pockets' were removed from the bigger, stretchy fleece stockings - years when I was the lone Santa and couldn't quite manage the whole package. They only finally got hanging ribbon on them a few years back when I bought stocking hangers (when did those become a thing, by the way?). 

These two stockings are my favourite Christmas things. If I'd had a daughter, I might have made her a white dress with a blue satin sash. But I have boys - boisterous, adventurous, intelligent, loving sons who make my heart want to burst, in so many ways. These squishy, soft, impossibly time-staking gifts acknowledge that love each year. These are what I'd want to save if my apartment building burned down. Yes, I enjoy the shopping - I love picking out the things they expect (a mandarin, a sugar cookie, a candy cane, their special ornaments). I love finding new surprises for them each year. And I love the growing distance in them as the BBs become more and more independent men. I love stacking up the stuffers a few days in advance, making sure the piles are 'separate but equal.' 

This year I'm filling six adults stockings. It's my first Christmas with STG, and I'm thrilled to have a separate pile of stuffers for him - his own separate but equal pile of love. I wanted to make him his own stocking, but haven't quite yet found the time. I have piles for my parents - always a challenge and a reward, and another new pile this year for BB2s sweetie. It's been fun building the piles - I almost need a Venn diagram of what works for who - 2 females, 4 males, 3 'children', 2 parents, 1 STG. I sometimes think I'd be happy to do away with gifts and just give stockings to each other, though I know I'm full of hooey. 

Christmas for me is about many things - Christ, family, love, food, gifts. All of it. And for some reason, it all seems captured in this funny tradition of tubes of fabric filled with hope and joy and love. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

thank you for being a friend

  • Don't make someone a priority when they only make you an option
  • Respect people who make time for you in their busy schedule, but cherish the people who never look at their schedule when you need them
  • If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you - you shouldn't have to fight for a spot
  • Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth
  • It’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends
Over and over and over again I've come across these messages in the last few months. And their frequency is increasing. When I first started noticing these messages, I read them in the negative, full of judgement about the people I had thought I could count on but who, it seemed, evaporated when I most needed them. But now, as the chorus builds and I reflect on this year - one of the most emotionally draining that I've experienced in 43 years of living - I see not so much the empty spaces of people who haven't been there, but the amazing giants who've held me up on their shoulders. 

I barely knew the UberCoach a year ago, and only really got to see who she is for the first time when she helped me move in May of 2010. This year she has held up a very gentle mirror for me, she has helped me get away when I needed quiet, reminded me to laugh, and most of all encouraged me to take care of myself. UberCoach is absolutely one of my dearest friends now - we still don't have a lot of history, but what we do have is damn fine. How could it not be? It includes lavender margaritas, and weekends away, and the commiserating of frustrated, hopeful, endlessly loving mother hearts. With a little touch of Princess/Drama Queen now and then. 

Diva Moe and I go way back, but in a peripheral sort of way until 5 years ago. This year she's been my strong tower ... and the one to say 'enough is enough, get up, put some clean clothes on, do your dishes, it's time.' Diva Moe moves through her own heartache yet maintains an amazing and inspiring ability to put it aside when she sees other people who are hurting. She never resorts to one-up-manship (and she certainly has the right), but has seemingly endless reserves of generosity and compassion. 
Although my beloved Shiney and I live hours and hours apart, we still after all these years have a heart connection that has her be the one to call me as I fall in my door in tears, or that has me call her as she waits an hour for her bus. Shiney is the very epitome of friend - she loves me deep and long and wide and there seems to be no room in her for judging me. Shiney can make me laugh or cry in about three words, and there is nothing in this world I want more than tea and cookies and a night on the couch with her. 

I can shame-facedly admit that I was one of those girls who didn't always appreciate her Mother. I didn't understand women who said their moms were their best friend - in fact, I didn't just not understand it, I thought it was weird. And then came the time when I had to get real with my mom and tell her what was going on, and suddenly I saw what so many people have known about her for so long - she's strong (I knew that) but also so committed to her family, able - through her faith - to handle hurt and fear and worry. And to use that faith as well to guard the family she loves so much. I've been more honest with my mom this year than ever before, and I'm only now realising what my reticence and pride have cost me until now. 

And then there's STG. I don't have words. I'm told the human spirit can survive nearly infinite stress and pain, but I honestly don't know how I would have survived this year without the broad shoulders and broader smile of STG. The first earthquake shook my world on the night we met - our entire relationship was formed alongside unbelievable stress, and he has never uttered one word of complaint or 'drama fatigue.' He has believed in me and loved me and been the light beside me through a pretty long tunnel. I am so excited to start next year with him and see what our love looks like in better lighting. 

I'm incredibly grateful. This already long note could in fact be much longer. My life is full of love and friendship and support. Some of the changes to my dance card are not ones I would have chosen, but I wouldn't trade the results for all the coffee in Starbucks. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

late bloomer

A few months ago I showed STG some pictures from when I was a teenager. He'd shown me his teenage photos - the charming, handsome, smiling young STG a clear promise of the handsome smiling man he is today, and I thought I'd share in return. He was gentle, and quiet, and slightly, I think, confused. He finally said, "don't take this the wrong way, but you are so much more beautiful now." 

I couldn't take that any wrong way - he's totally right. I look at pictures of myself from when I was 14-19 and barely recognize myself. Or, perhaps more accurately, I look at pictures of myself more recently and don't recognized the pretty, confident face I see. 

I'm sure it's a fairly universal experience, but I was an awkward looking teenager. My hair was a mess no hairdresser seemed to understand - at puberty it turned into a muddy dark blonde with no real shape, too stubborn to be straight and too heavy to curl. My nose, particularly in my high school grad photos, was big in a way that changed how I saw it for a long long time (I was in a snow tubing crash the week before we had our grad photos taken ... my black eye had faded, but my nose was still swollen). I have high cheekbones now that for some reason hid then. Although my grandma had first offered to pluck my eyebrows for me when I was 13, I hadn't managed to tame them - they were dark, and thick, and constantly threatening to meet in the middle.

My tall, chubby, curveless body was hard to find flattering clothing for in the remote small town we lived in - and even when we went to the city to shop, I often ended up with clothes beyond my years in order to get the length I needed. Those long awaited curves really didn't show up until I had pregancy hormones. 
I could go on. I didn't know I was unattractive then - and to be fair to teen-age me 'unattractive' may be an over-statement. But it's very safe to say that in the looks department, I was a late-bloomer. And I'm not even saying I'm a stunning orchid now, but whatever I am showed up later than expected.

We act like it's not a big deal. We like to think that looks are superficial and shallow and not a determination of who someone is. But when you are a bookish, out-spoken, borderline unattractive teenager in a small town who never gets asked on a date, there are deeper implications. You learn to give extra weight to physical compliments, and to seek them out. Your objective reality - 'I'm pretty' - and your experienced reality - 'I'm invisible, at best' - constantly battle for years after. The strengths you've always relied on - intelligence, compassion, creativity, charm - never quite measure up in comparison - they are the consolation prize for not being 'the pretty one.' 
I see pictures of myself now - bright eyed, broad smiled, curly haired, curvy - and I wonder ... how would I be different as a woman if I'd seen that in myself at 16. Or if others had seen it in me then. Or if we really did live in a world where it didn't matter. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

silent night ... any time of day

I read this devotional at our management team meeting today (only slightly modified from this original). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

A Christmas Devotional - Silent Night

It happens every Christmas. Hustling, bustling, shopping, traveling, cooking. Parties, banquets, Santa Claus, pageants, decorations, trees, lights, clothes. We get caught up in the season of Christmas, stressed about making arrangements to see and please everyone, pressured to balance an already busy schedule with unlimited amounts of additional activities, pushed to attend, give, join, gather and perform.

But it happens every Christmas. We are busily tending to our own flock, when out nowhere, the calm and peace and tranquility of Christmas comes. We are never prepared for it. We are always stunned. And amazed. And we experience the awe of the nativity, an event we never witnessed, but of which we somehow have mysterious first-hand knowledge. The Grinch did. Scrooge did. The shepherds did. Each year it happens to us as well.

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin
mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace.

It happens every Christmas, and it is frequently this hymn that catches us off guard – though it may be another one, Let There Be Peace On Earth, for example. We vividly see and experience the serene relief of a world with a newly-born savior.

Then we are transported to the nearby hillside, where shepherds busily tended their sheep, completely unaware that they had been chosen to receive the best news ever heard. We join them, trembling, no quaking, with fear. And above them, the sky is laid open with what can only be described as glory.

Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born.

And this we can’t imagine or experience first-hand. Neither Bach nor Mozart ever composed music that remotely compared to the songs the angels sang that night. The total, absolute majesty that only heaven could produce, suitable for the greatest tidings from a glorious God to his lonely creation. We know it is unfathomable, and reserved only for the time when we enter his glory.

But we can see the glory in our Lord and Savior. He is our window, our path to our heavenly home. Even as a baby…

Son of God, love's pure light;
radiant beams from thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Every year we experience it – in a baby’s peaceful sleep. In the lull of Christmas Eve with the lights on and the family in bed. In the quiet moments sitting with a client. It may be fleeting, but we all experience. The true gift of Christmas – awe, wrapped in peace, and laying in a manger.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Today's Red Dress Club prompt is a one-word speed write (a.ka. flash memoir) on the word "Crash" ten minutes ... here goes:

Crumpling metal. Squealing tires. Shattering glass. Screaming girls. A heart-felt 'I told you so' from the driver of the cars we'd so recently passed on that twisting mountain road. I remember most one bystander with a parrot on his shoulder, and streams of guano down his back. Who are you to tell us how to do better, bird-shit man?

I didn't know then that car crash would also be the end of our friendship. As the glacier-fed river trickled past. As my friend was released from the drivers' side of the car. As I was helped into a stopped RV and offered a stiff drink to calm my nerves, the rage built. Every shaking nerve in my body wanted to scream 'YOU TRIED TO KILL ME!'

I knew it was crazy. That really she was just young and reckless and inexperienced. That two 18 year old girls on a shopping spree weekend were very likely candidates for a single-car accident. That she'd been pushing the limits of her vehicle the whole way. That she was the one now injured, whereas I was merely shaken up. And in that moment, I hated her.

Crisp mountain air spiced with pine slowly re-filled my lungs. I breathed deeply and once again I swallowed my rage. I told someone my dad worked just up the highway another 20 miles, and they went to let him know what happened.

But I couldn't look at her. And I resented the attention and sympathy she got as she crutched her way up and down the hallways for the rest of the school year, and across the graduation stage three weeks later.

It's been 26 years ... and I'm still a bad passenger on mountain roads.

Monday, December 5, 2011

the gift of advent is peace

I woke up yesterday with a knot of dread in my stomach - I knew it was the second Sunday of advent and that I'd need to write this post about peace. I did not feel peace. I felt fatigue, stress, concern, some annoyance, and a little fear. Anything but peace.

So I went about my morning aware of all that. I cleaned, and I sewed, and I thought about Peace, as I do at this and not a lot of other times of year. I considered what peace means - in general, and to me. I consider myself a pacifist, but hardly ever really experience deep, secure peace. Peace is more than the absence of war, but what more?

I thought about the knot in my stomach that has recently developed into a weeks-long ache. I thought about poor STG daring to occasionally suggest that I relax, and about how when I hear it as 'be at peace' it's probably closer to what he intends and to what I need to hear.

And suddenly, it was okay - being 'at peace,' I realised, is a choice and a mind set and has nothing to do with circumstances. That when someone wishes someone 'be at peace' it's a challenge and an invitation and ultimately a blessing.

And so I share, once again, my most fervent Christmas prayer - "let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the pause that really refreshes

I was bustling about a blustery downtown. Fitting in personal errands between work errands, trying to keep my receipts straight, and trying to keep the rain out of my eyes and my heels on the slippery sidewalk. It was not a comfortable shopping experience, even though I was in some of my favourite stores doing one of my favourite things - buying bits for creative projects. I was tired, cold, nervous of my slippery boots sending me gracelessly flying, and suddenly aware I'd skipped lunch. 

And then I peered through the window of a creamy, inviting haven. A real English-style (a la Victoria) tea shop in the heart of Chinatown. i've been trying to drink  more tea and less coffee, and this seemed like perfection a I peered through the window. As soon as I stepped inside, the world calmed. It was warm, dry, the epitome of welcoming, and brimming with charm. I actually squealed a little when I saw the stacks of real China tea cups & saucers balanced beside shelves of China tea pots of all sizes and designs. Classic bikes line the high walls, their baskets stuffed with bright red roses. 

I ordered a treat - how often do you see flourless chocolate cake that's actually cake, not fudge? - and it was the perfect accompaniment to a steeped pot of loose leaf blueberry black tea. The shop was empty when I came in, but soon a grandma and her adorable 3 or 4 year old grand-daughter entered and order their own pots of tea and a little plate of cookies to share. Grandma taught her protege how to hold the strainer, how long to let the tea sit. They chatted about her little sister, and coming there some day with her. As we sat, one of the owners brought around a tray of warm-from-the-oven ginger cookies ... so sad for me to have to refuse.

I can't think of a nicer way to spend a few minutes re-freshing, re-charging, and resuming the day. The decor was so homey and quaint and the owners/servers seemed to genuinely care about their products and their  customers' experiences there. I don't often write 'business reviews' and that's not exactly my intention here. I just wanted to share with you a perfect moment in an otherwise blustery, chilly, harried day. I can't wait to take STG there ... soon!

If you're in Victoria and looking for a great afternoon break, why not pop into Venus Sophia for a little spot of peace. 

who are you?

This week's RemembeRED prompt ... Everyone has a favorite photo of themself, whether it’s a childhood snapshot, a professional graduation or wedding photograph, or a close-up taken amongst friends. Some say a photograph steals the soul. This week, show us yours: take us into the moment that photograph was taken. Show us who you were then and what the photograph means–in 300 words.

I don't recognise myself in this photo, 13 years in the making. I can remember the satin gliding over my skin. I can remember slowly relaxing into the comfort of the white cotton duvet on the bed. I can remember the reassuring, relax, encouraging voice of the photographer. But I don't actually recognise the long, strong, lean legs, or the direct, confident eyes. 

The first time I heard of 'boudoir photos' I was unhappily married, unhappily over-weight, and looking for something to make myself feel better about ... everything. When I mentioned it to my husband, his responses included key phrases such as (in no particular order) 'slutty' 'waste of money' 'I can see you anyday' and 'why would anyone want pictures of a fat cow.' I guess somehow the fact that I wanted the pictures for me was lost on him ... or perhaps that was encapsulated in 'waste of money.' Bygones ... I knew that at some point my money would be my own. Only when my money was my own, splurging on photos of myself, when there was barely enough for rent and food at times, was not an option. 

Thirteen years later, the dream came to life. I'm still over-weight, but loved and more frequently happy. I had one hour with the photographer, some coaching ahead of time, and a discrete hotel room. I was far more nervous than I expected. And far more pleased with the results. And, it turns out - those 200 photos - they really are for me. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

review, of sorts, of an author I haven't read, but will

You can tell I've come straight from reading The Bloggess again, because my title is so long, and has commas, which I don't think I've ever done before. It's okay though, I love The Bloggess nearly as much as I love run-on sentences. 

View on Amazon
The author referred to in my unusually long title is one Chuck Palahniuk. Who, you might ask (as did everyone I invited to come with me), is Chuck Palahniuk? Well, he's the author of, amongst many other things, the short stories and novels that lead to the movies Fight Club and Choke. In the interest of full-disclosure and post structure, I will here admit that I have never read anything Palahniuk has written, but I shall soon correct that. I did enjoy Fight Club, the movie, quite a bit as a unique narrative form and creative story - one of the few that has truly surprised me in the last twenty years. But more to the point, the tickets were free. I won them on Facebook in an instinctive response to someone asking a trivia question I happened to know the answer to. And, Fight Club is one of BB1's favourite stories and I thought he might be able to use the tickets. What happened about that is a blog post in and of itself. But back to the point ... 

In the end, STG came with me to the reading, - it was his first, and pleasantly it was the best one I've ever been to. For some people that might not be saying much, but there was a time when I was the poster girl for literature studies at my tiny little university, and attended poetry and book readings what seemed like every few days. So ya, my expectation of book readings is that they are somewhat dry and redeemed only by the relative talent of the author in question ... or their willingness to buy me a glass of wine. 

Not so with Palahniuk. Somehow he manages to be creative, edgy, human, current and accessible all at once. He was refreshingly free of cynicism, despite (or maybe because of) the darkness of some of his writing. His 'reading' was an event - it included participation games that sent almost half of the audience home with an inflatable of one type or another, six people clinging to free books, and many more people munching on king sized chocolate bars during the reading. His answers to the Q & A period were thoughtful, respectful (except perhaps to the fool who asked if he was a dog or cat person - come on!), authentic, revealing, and encouraging. The two short-stories that he read very much left me wanting more, and I look forward to picking up as many of his books as I can. 

What really struck me in his answers and in discussing his stories was how autobiographical, or more accurately rooted in and springing from his life they are. I often stop myself mid-story for feeling like what I'm writing is too 'true-to-life' - even though I know that when I'm inspired by life my writing is its most compelling. So it was hugely affirming for me to hear that someone as accomplished as Palahniuk actually had to take anti-anxiety pills to tell two of his most personal stories. I'm not there yet - that goes without saying - but seeing into Palahniuk's process was enough to tell me that when I can barely stand to write or read a story, I'm likely on the right track. I started a story I really want to tell - a story I really like - early in November, and I can see now that it is the story I need to tell now. So thanks for that, Chuck Palahniuk. And for an entertaining evening. And for the Bounty bar STG shared with me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

the gift of advent is hope

It's time. I bemoan the constant creep of Christmas marketing earlier and earlier into the retail year because I truly think the magic of Christmas is best preserved by keeping it to a specific season. For me that season lasts from advent to New Years' Day, which makes today the beginning, for me. It's time to kick into gear on collecting gift ideas, digging out the decorations, and considering what new recipes to try for Christmas baking and which old die hards we can't do with out. 

And while I enjoy all of that, none of it has anything to do with what I love about Christmas - the advent themes that remind us to focus on hope, love, peace, joy and Christ. And I'm sure that even the many of you who don't include Christ in your Christmas will still agree that there's always room for more hope, love, peace and joy in our lives.

HOPE. Four little letters. This year hope for me is contained in two phrases 'It gets better' and 'It came to pass; it didn't come to stay.'

The first phrase has been widely popularized by a campaign to combat the high rate of suicide among gay teens. People of all backgrounds, mainly gay, lesbian, bi and transgender, but also speaking to all kids who are routinely bullied, tell their stories in video with the hope that more children will choose life. It's a project I greatly admire and support. It means a lot to me to know that people are standing for our young people to choose life.

'It came to pass; it didn't come to stay' is a saying that I first heard from DivaMoe's momma, and then mine repeated it. It's a great saying for grandmas, even of the northern Canadian variety. It has a charming, backwoodsy ring to it that goes with oatmeal and rocking chairs and wool blankets ... not that either my mom or DivaMoe's are the rocking chair & oatmeal kind of grandma - ha! There have been days when that saying was all I clung to - my temporary mantra. It kept me moving forward when I didn't know that I could. And it held true - life is better than it was 6 months ago. What came to pass didn't come to stay.

And that is the gift of hope. It has people choose to keep on going, to choose life and forward movement and keeping on. And that is the first gift of advent. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

it's time to light the lights

Tonight I was transported. I was moved, touched, and inspired. And I was transported to a scratchy theatre seat with little padding. I was swooped up and carried back to 1980, to a small town theatre where I was introduced to one of my first and most lasting heroes.

I was reminded tonight why I so admire my small green hero - his tenacity. His leadership. His willingness to overcome his own limitations and fears and pursue his loves and dreams. He showed me then - and reminded me tonight - that no matter where you start from, and no matter what has happened since then, you really can live your dreams. He reminded me that your dreams don't matter if you have to leave the one you love to pursue them. And he and his friends reminded me that everything is better with music.

As a small town girl who dreamed of singing and dancing and acting and being famous, the story of a singing and dancing frog from a Louisiana swamp who makes it all the way to Hollywood was all I have ever needed to witness to think maybe it could happen to me too. And catching up with Kermit and his friends was the perfect medicine tonight.

I've been over-the-moon excited ever since I first heard a new Muppet movie was coming out, and the more I heard the more excited I got. As high as my expectations were, it did not disappoint. Not in the least. It was new and fresh and 100% loyal to the Muppet tradition of gentle preaching, encouraging songs, campiness, and more cameos than you can shake a stick at (just WAIT 'til you see who all is in this movie!).

The opening/closing 'big' song is a definite winner. Catchy and easy to pick up, witty and very seat-danceable (here's a little snippet): 

I doubt it will ever recreate in me the reaction I have to "The Rainbow Connection" - but that was my song in my generation and 'Life's a Happy Song' may be some young girls song now.

In fact, then new movie revisits The Rainbow Connection - among other beloved favourite Muppet tropes - and from the opening chord I sang along with a tear in my eye. I don't think the other people in the theatre minded. Mine certainly wasn't the only voice in the audience.

It's no secret that my spirit's been a little flat of late, and few things like music boost it. This song in particular - with it's connection not just to that small town theatre of long ago where a frog taught me it's okay to dream, but also of singing my BBs to sleep and hoping they dream to - never fails to remind me to believe. In love, and dreams, and magic and myself.

Please go see The Muppets. You are not too cool, or too grown up, or otherwise immune to its charm & wisdom. We need all the hope we can get these days. At some point in the movie, someone says the Muppets are no longer relevant. That what people want now is bashing each other in the head and cynicism. That statement is sadly recognizable, but the point of the movie - one of many good points - is that people really DO still want the Muppets. We want music and laughter and team work and family and hope.

Oh, and by the way ... mana mana ;-) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

it had to happen sometime

I just got off the phone with BB2. He's good - living his life in another town. Working hard. Taking care of himself and his home and Sweetie. He's only 19, but he's so suddenly an adult. 

We had a nice chat, mostly talking Christmas plans - which is no simple equation when we have to consider his Dad's family Christmas, Sweetie's 2 parents separate Christmases, and then even just our Christmas involves finding out what's up with STG & his kids, waiting for G&G to get home from Mexico to find out their plans, and hoping against hope that he'll get the right days off. 

He was in a happy mood - he and Sweetie had just gotten back from buying their first bunch of Christmas ornaments and they are looking forward to getting their first tree. And all of a sudden it occurred to me - those special ornaments I have bought him every Christmas since he was born ... they are his now. It's time to package them up, send them to Langley, and find new ornaments to fill in my tree. 
It's a bitter-sweet moment. The intention of that tradition, one my mom started for BB1's first Christmas but that I took over, was always that when the BBs have their own trees the ornaments would give them a start on their own trees, and a connection to Christmas past.

It's been fun - there have been some great ones, like the light-up Mickey Mouse & frozen bowl Pluto that they opened in Vancouver International Airport as we awaited our Christmas morning flight to Disneyland, and the blown glass soldier from when BB2 was in cadets. And there have been 'oh man I'm out of money and still need to get ornaments' Dollar Store and craft options. Many are from craft fairs. Some are a little worse for wear. Most tell a story from the year that reminds us where we've been and what we've done. Some are lovely and generic and just because.

Turns out we don't really have one for every year. Their dad kept some that were discarded when someone else took over trimming that tree. A few have broken. But for 22 years they've been the highlight of my tree. 

It's not the end of the tradition - the BBs will continue to get an ornament in their stocking until there are grandbabies for me to dote on instead ... and maybe even then. I guess there's time for new highlights. Maybe an 'our first year together' ornament for STG and I. Or something just for me.

Everything is as it was intended to be. BB2 is putting up his first tree, and it will be trimmed with as many of his special ornaments as I can find. And I will pine (or more likely Douglas fir - ha!) over the bare spots in my tree this year. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

middle-aged wisdom (no, not from me)

I don't normally read all the way through email forwards, but for some reason this one caught hold and seemed like just what I need. I did a little more poking around, and it seems (according to the author herself) that the Internet has prematurely aged Regina Brett. Some part of me wants her to be 90. Because, as we all know, wisdom is preserved for the aged, and if we can be this wise in middle-age, then what's my real excuse? Someday I hope she will be 90. Right now she's 54. Also, the list is supposed to have 50 entries ... somehow it's become edited ... I suppose there were some lessons in there other people didn't want to learn?

None the less, I paste here, for future reference as a little life barometer, the email in its incorrect entirety. And a link where you can learn more about Regina Brett and her middle-aged wisdom. 
Written by Regina Brett, [not] 90 years old. This is something we should all read at least once a week!!!!!

"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.. It is the most requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Change the way you think.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. Release your children when they become adults, its their life now
9. Save for retirement starting with your first pay cheque.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, but don't worry - God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Just because you believe you are right, doesn't mean you are. Keep an open mind.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. Your job is to love your children, not choose who they should love.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come... (Can’t wait to find out what! )
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield..
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.
46. If you don't ask you don't get. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

truth or dare

Yesterday someone on Twitter was playing truth or dare, and I jumped in and said 'truth.' I'd seen some of his dares, and wasn't feeling like getting out of my seat at the moment, so ... truth seemed easier. Due to some 'glitch in the matrix' (his words, not mine) I ended up getting two truth prompts:
  • What's something you wish your twitter followers realized about you that they don't know right now?
  • What story do you wish you would blog about, but wouldn't dare?
And the prompts brought up an issue that swirls around every once in a while - when you're an open book, where do you draw the line?

A friend of mine on Facebook announced yesterday that she's leaving Facebook for a while for personal reasons. I use the term 'friend' in the Facebook sense - she's a girl I went to high school with. It was a very very small high school, so in many ways everyone in our class was friends. But she's not someone I hung out with, or who I had much interaction with. She was more popular than me and as 'in' as there is room to be in a class of 45, and I was mostly just interested in surviving and getting out of town. But through the magic of social media, after all these years we've reconnected. I have insights into her life, and inferences about why she's leaving Facebook that I'm probably not actually enough of a friend to know about. And I think she has the right idea.

What I realised through Kris' prompts is that I have tended to leave very little unsaid on my blog or on Twitter. Less so recently on Facebook - it hasn't felt like a particularly 'safe' space, and I haven't wanted to be terribly revealing there. Most of the really deep stories I have left are not mine to tell - they belong to my BBs and may or may not come out when they are ready. And many of the things that seem revealing - my fears and insecurities, for example, I think people already know. Anyone who has been paying attention knows I struggle with depression and have for many years. Anyone with any sense of interpretation can see that I can turn anything less than "A+ 100% we love you!" into an utter rejection and failure. People have read about my bumpy  search for love and finally finding it.

There are a couple stories I want to tell that I'm incorporating into my  novel so that I get to say them and protect the 'innocent' (mostly so I can hide behind the veil of fiction). But otherwise, I think the move is towards more subtlety. I can be authentic and self-expressed without revealing everything.

As dear Joan Holloway says "Leave a little something to the imaginations, girls."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

knowing makes no difference

I knew.

Sitting in the back seat of the white Lincoln Town Car my Dad had rented for the occasion. As my hands, clad to the elbow in white satin, slid apart no matter how tightly they grasped each other. As my dress – so much more satin meringue than I had ever imagined wearing – billowed around me, the train cocooning my legs. I knew, in that back seat, hands wringing, satin wrinkling, praying my most fervent prayer:

“Please, God, please. I promise not to doubt you again, if anyone says one worth that suggests I don't have to go through with this. Please, God. Make them speak. Make mom turn her head and see my horror and regret. Make dad feel my pleading eyes burning into the back of his head. Make my maid of honour comment on my most unusual silence.”

I knew - as the Town Car pulled into the church parking lot filled with satin and silence - that the vows I would say that day were a lie.

I knew.

As the first birth control pill circled the drain. Within weeks I knew, as I felt my breasts ache and stretch and then felt BBs first fluttering movements. I knew that he didn’t want a baby, yet. That he didn’t feel the same unbearable ache of loneliness in that frozen damp village we’d landed in. I knew, as I planned and dreamed and sewed and read What to Expect When You're Expecting

I knew that ultimately I’d be raising that baby alone, so it was my decision to make.

I knew.

Staring absently at the marriage counsellor's ugly yellow teeth. As I tried to ignore that he was talking to my chest again. As he rattled on about wifely duties, and commitment, and not saying yes unless you mean it. I knew as my husband reiterated his favourite highlights of that pointless conversation on the drive home. I knew. At long last I really truly knew.

And after ten years of knowing, I finally stopped waiting for permission and left.
*remembeRED is a weekly memoir writing prompt from Write on Edge that will now be a regular part of this blog 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

all booted up

I don't know when I became a boot wearing girl. Heck, growing up in snowy frigid  Northern BC I wouldn't even wear snow boots in winter. Between inheriting my dad's muscly calves, and adding my own layers of fluff over the muscle, stylish boots haven't often been an option. 

I tried to pretend for a long time that I was fine wearing ankle boots but ... really ... we all know those are just for fat girls who can't wear real boots. As a young mom, and then a returning univeristy student, there wasn't a lot of money or need for stylish boots, and I wasn't a particularly stylish person.

But somewhere, somehow, over the last 10 years - maybe it's living in Victoria, or maybe it's losing some weight, or maybe I've just come into my own in my 40s - I have become a boot girl.

Ankle boots, yes, because they are blue suede, and lovely, and remind me of Glasgow where I bought them, and they are now a style statement rather than a consolation prize 

But also calf hugging black stretchy boots that massage gently with every step and whose solid square heel and kicky square toes say "Heck ya, I'm tall, and I'm wearing these boots - deal with it!"

And sexy blood red boots with fun polka-dot seams that look like trouble

And comfy almond toe brown boots that do nothing for my ankles but everything for my spirit with some fantastic curves and buckles. 

Delicate grey suede boots that murmur gathered femininity with the click of each kitteny heel.
and now I'M A PIRATE YOU BETTER WATCH OUT over-the-knee/fold-down boots in black leather, with laces that shiver his timbers.

Oh, by the way, I finally own winter boots ... now that I no longer live where real winter happens. 

Yes, I am a boot girl now. And a shoe girl. And a bags girl. I don't collect any of them indiscriminately. I don't have insane piles of them that people comment on. But I have them. And want more of them. And each pair and each bag says something different about the many sides of me.

That was fun! 

Monday, October 31, 2011

a very spooky blog post

Somebody asked on Twitter the other day "When did Halloween get to be about adults?" Or maybe that was on some TV show. Either way, the question stuck with me. 

I am a huge fan of Halloween. I love the kiddy aspect of it (though I really hope no neighbour kids drop by tomorrow, as I'm not buying any candy and they HATE that). But I also really enjoy the night of bacchanalia. The costumes. The parties. The time of casting off our every day restraints and letting loose for a night (or a weekend, it would seem) to not just our fears but our fantasies. 

It's not even that there were no Halloween parties for adults when I was a kid. It just wasn't quite as big a deal. I've generally assumed that part of that was because I was raised in a Christian home, and so making too big a deal about a night dedicated to ghosts and goblins would be inappropriate. But for several years we lived in company housing outside of our small town, and the company put on two parties - an amazing fun fest for the kids, complete with bobbing for apples and crafts and hot dogs and dancing to the never-changed singles on the community hall jukebox. 

En masse following the party we'd trick-or-treat through the 15 company houses. And then we'd all pile into as few vehicles as possible - the Herman's van being prized for its spaciousness - and hit the neighbouring farms. People were generous - perhaps it was the time, or perhaps it was that they knew we had few houses to visit, but they would give out full size chocolate bars and cans of pop and my mom made amazing popcorn balls and we cherished the seasonal rockets and tootsie rolls. 

And we took such pride in our costumes. Costumes then - and still, in my opinion - only really counted if they were home-made. Being blessed with a creative Mom & big sister, I can remember certain fabulous costumes I still wish I could recreate. Like when I was 7 or 8 and went as Pinocchio, complete with blue velvet shorts held up with embroidered suspenders and a nose made out of conical paper towel roll centres that wilted as the condensation from my breathing built up over the course of the night. And yes, it snowed that year. It wasn't unusual to have snow at Halloween where I grew up, so I wore snow boots with my blue velvet shorts, and rushed between houses and from the car to the doorway. But it was a fabulous costume. 

And a few years later, when DJ was too big for such foolishness herself, she made me the most fantastic Pippi Longstocking hair do - thick blonde braids died red, and held straight out with a re-shaped clothes hanger that dug into my head all night. That might have been my last year at those parties. We moved into town shortly after, and town kids didn't have parties like that. 

But the counterpoint to the kids party was the adult party. And it surprises me to remember how much fun my parents seemed to have with their costumes. I remember one year when my mom went as - as we called it at the time (Oh how we wouldn't dare now!) - an 'Indian chief'' - with a full rubber mask, her body disguised in a worn wool blanket, with a wide-brimmed felt hat on. She sat quietly in the corner most of the night, and some of the neighbours never did figure out who she was. I think that was the same year Mr. Ens - gruff, strict Mr. Ens, who always slightly scared me - went in drag. With a Mrs. Robinson-esque little black lace dress, shaved stockinged legs, a blonde bob, and a cigarette holder that went for miles. I've only seen pictures of course, and let my imagination run away to fill in the blanks of how chic the party must have been, despite it's location being the same as for the children's party. The same waxed basketball floor to dance on. The same jukebox playing the same songs. 

There were a few years, I suppose, when Halloween was irrelevant to me. A a teenager too old to trick or treat and too uncool to be invited to do anything else. And those first couple years at a Christian university, where I'm sure even mentioning that holiday was discouraged. 

And then I had little boys. And my own creative fun coming up with their costumes. I still have a couple of them - hoping someday, I suppose, to see them on grandchildren. Or just holding them for posterity. A clown with all the primary colours in every combination of polka dot - white on red. Blue on white. A yellow pom pom atop the hat. And BB2's bunny costume, with it's wiggly tail and green gingham bow tie. Transforming what was Peter Pan one year into a tunic for Frankenstein's monster the next. And most recently BB2 as a teenage Travelocity gnome.

In my 30's Halloween became a big deal again. Fun-loving grad school friends convinced me to dress up and go out with them. We made amazing costumes - I wish I still had my genie outfit - and I was outraged when a store-bought costume won the contest at the bar we went to. It re-connected me to the fun of Halloween. To the importance of escaping once in a while the masks we wear every day and putting on one we normally shy away from. I've dressed up most years since then, and every year I wish we had other reasons to dress up throughout the year.

At some point this fall BB2 asked me to help with his costume again. And I got a little thrill to think of him-  adult & living in another town with another woman, paying his own bills-but still including me in one of the traditions we both love. He and his sweetie decided in the end to go another way, but I liked the planning and the plotting for what might have been. And for what might be next year. 

I got nostalgic tonight, carving my pumpkin without BB1's artistic influence. Without him here to urge me on to try something I know I've no way of recreating, but am still easily convinced to try. He'll be here tomorrow for a visit and will laugh at what I ended up with and say it's good, and I'll defer and say it's not what I had in mind. And that'll be it.

This year, I'll be home. In my disguise as a responsible citizen, the jack o'lantern on my patio the only hint of who else might live here some other October 31. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

the girl who played with fire: review

As with the first book in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I struggled to finish The Girl Who Played With Fire. Actually, that's not accurate - with both books I struggled with the first third or so, and then couldn't put it down. I find the translated Swedish, or perhaps Stieg Larsson's savant-like attention to detail, labourious. And yet the story moves at a pace that sweeps me into it like a horrifying roller coaster through hell. 

View on Amazon
My bigger issue with reading the Millennium trilogy - the third and final book is coming up soon in my book stack - is that I am struggling to reconcile my enjoyment of the content with the reality of its themes. As someone who has experienced sexualized violence, how can I read about it for entertainment? As someone who has seen the impact of bullying and neglect on the mental health of families and individuals, how can I relate to the book as 'just a story'? As someone whose colleagues help women escape relationship violence and see every day the gender power imbalance that still exists in our society and its real impacts on the safety and security of woman and children ... well ... I guess you see my point here.
The titular girl is missing for much of this second story; missing, but not so much missed. The introduced characters add an interesting texture, particularly in the persons of her lover Miriam Wu and her boxing trainer Roberto Paulo. And, much of her story is filled in through other characters - ones we already know from Dragon Tattoo as well as new players. The most fascinating character is only alluded to until the final chapters, and since the mystery of that person is crucial to the plot, I won't say any more here.

A minor character who is skillfully managed in this volume is Holger Palmgren, Salander's lawyer who suffers a stroke early in Dragon Tattoo. Particularly compelling is his recovery from that stroke once Salander begins to visit. I would have to ask some work colleagues how accurate said recovery is, but from what I've learned about acquired brain injury, relationships provide stimulation, motivation and hope for people post-injury, so Palmgren's improvement not only makes sense but also provides some encouragement in what is otherwise a bleak landscape.

In the end, when these books aren't turning my stomach they are engaging my imagination. The characters are compelling, in their train-wrecky way. But it's really the plotting that moves the stories and keeps me reading. Where Larsson's grocery list detailing drones in describing a shopping trip to IKEA, it builds layer upon layer of tension in the movement of the story; delivering blow by slow-motion blow in the fight scenes, and inflections of meaning in human interactions slowed down by the act of observation.

I will read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest soon and I've no doubt that I will again struggle to distance my fascination with the story from the reality of what it presents. But I will also learn more as a writer about managing detail, building characters over time, and moving plots in slow motion. And that will make the reading more rewarding than even the great story does.

Friday, October 21, 2011

the gaslighting oroborus

A few weeks ago this article by Yashar Ali about 'gaslighting' made the circuit on Facebook. I'd never heard the term before then, but instantly recognised that it's a practice so common that I hardly know a relationship in which I haven't experienced it. 

I'm a woman of emotion - perhaps not more than average, though I suspect, based on the common family myth, that I might possibly excel here. And it's been an issue throughout my life to have what I think are valid concerns heard because I express them packaged with emotion.

"You're too sensitive."
"You're over-thinking."
"Just relax"

They've been such common refrains since I was a child that I've just come to expect to debate those statements instead of whatever the issue is. 

So it was a huge relief to me to read Ali's article, and - yes - I admit that it held a little more credence for me because it was written by a man. 

And then last night I gaslit myself.

I had a valid concern. But I also hadn't eaten in a while. And I had carelessly eaten gluten 2 days before and spent all day with ... extreme digestive distress. And FedEx wouldn't deliver where I need them to, and I can't figure out how to pay for what I need and still do what I want, and ... and ...


But behind the tears and the moaning and the drama I had what to me is a valid concern. And before STG could even get to my house, before he even said his first loving, supportive, word I had already started:

'It's not a big deal'
'I'm just worn out'
'I should probably just eat something'

I caught myself - gagging on the taste of my own tail. I stopped. STG said it wasn't the time for a conversation - it was just time to be. And he was right. And so we be'd. We ate M&Ms and cuddled and watched TV and I tried to breathe.

I've spent some time this week reading discussions of feminism and patriarchy and culture and class and what's changed and what hasn't and how so much of what we live every day we don't even know to question or even have the distance to fully experience because it is so much just the air we breathe.

I'd like to change the air I breathe. And to stop doubting everything I say just because it's accompanied by a feeling. And ... maybe ... read packaging better so I don't stupidly assume that things that 'shouldn't' contain gluten don't. But that's a post for another blog. 
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