Monday, March 25, 2013

wrapped warm in a winter kitchen

There are few photos of me in this house that was home to my formative years. And the ones that do exist are as grainy and blurry as my memories, yet I have flashes of scent, sensation, and smell that continue to live in my body on the most cellular level. This house was on the outskirts of nowhere, and right next door to my one and only best friend. This home of slippery polished hardwood floors and purple bathroom curtains and fragrant kitchen smells and always a new batch of kittens.

It was a house of firsts and lasts. Of learning to tie my shoes. Of getting my last pair of hand-me-down shoes, which were also my first pair of heels. How often I've longed for those blue suede wedges again. It was likely winter, but it's hard to know for sure - winter was so long there, it seems like a safe bet. This was a safe house where nothing bad ever happened except in my imagination. No other house would be that again. 

I loved that flannel nightgown. It was pretty, feminine and so perfectly cuddly. I wore it until the fuzz wore off the elbows. I can remember the sadness of letting it go when it had served its purpose. Most clothes I grew out of, but some special ones I wore as long as I could. I've never liked the feel of lace, but this gown was perfect - the flannel protected me from the itch of the lace. 

Those woven orange dining chairs itched and scratched as well, so I pulled my nightgown over my legs. I'm tucked under the peninsula cupboard that separated the kitchen from the dining room, no doubt watching my mom cook or bake while I keep the kittens out from underfoot. Most pictures from those days were special occasions but this is just an ordinary moment in time - a snapshot of a girl who is warm and safe and loved and loving. I can imagine all kinds of amazing smells that filled that kitchen - cookies, or maybe beef rouladen. It might have been game meat of some kind - maybe moose. Or maybe some magical Christmas baking - shortbread, sugar cookies, rosettes, fruit cake. 

The kittens were from one of Muffins many litters. We'd gotten Muffin as a kitten when I was only three. She  died beside my bed when I was 18. People will tell you she was a nasty cat, but I loved her and every one of her kittens - I think she had 7 litters. At some point, nearly every one of my friends had one of Muffin's kittens in their house. 

I wish the photos and my memories were more clear. I loved living in that house. I loved how spacious it was, and being surrounded by playmates in our isolated way-station on the highway. It was a great house to be a child in.  

The Scintilla Project Today's Prompts: 

1. Post a photo of yourself from before age 10. Write about what you remember of the day the photo was taken. It may not be a full story—it may just be flashes of event and emotion—but tap into the child you were as much as you can.

2. The saying goes What you don't know won't hurt you, but sometimes the opposite is true. Talk about a time when you were hurt by something you didn't know.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

some who wander are lost indeed

I suppose it's a cliche now to say that 'not all who wander are lost,' but when BB1 first got that as a tattoo a few years ago I thought it was brilliant and insightful. Wandering is one of my favourite things - I rarely actually experience being lost in new cities, because wandering aimlessly is always a part of my plan. And yet, the plan can sometimes go awry. 

When I booked my cottage on the edge of Doolin, Co. Clare a few years ago, I knew that I would mostly be walking. I also knew that Doolin was a small village, even by Irish standards, and so assumed that I couldn't get much turned around. It turns out that's not entirely true. And, even worse, it turns out that after the first day of getting my bearings, I tended to take the same route on my daily wanders. Down the back road past the barn with no roof. A  pause to watch the cows in an emerald field. In to the village for lunch at McGann's pub. 

It wasn't until I'd been in Doolin for 3 days and finally took a cab somewhere that I realised I'd missed almost all of the village proper - the record store, two more pubs, a used book store, a shop full of yarn and Irish fisherman's sweaters. I did wonder before then where people shopped, but Lisdoonvarna was only 15 minutes by the bus, and had all kinds of stores. Silly foreigner. 

All who wander may  not be lost. But some who wander are definitely missing out. There's a freedom and serendipity to wandering, but something to be said for looking at a guide book now and then.

In Doolin, the plethora of signposts are actually only useful if
you take the main road into town.

The Scintilla Project Today's Prompt: 

1. Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?

2. What is the longest thing you know by heart (for example, a prayer, speech, commercial jingle, etc.)? Why did you learn it?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

event horizon

He tried to smile, though his eyes remained unchanged. He nodded.
- So, when do you leave? 
- Four months. End of June. It's so far off.
(Please, please ask me to stay. I'm scared. I'm hurt. Just ask me to stay.)
- Okay.

And that was that.

Some event horizons are so small, you don't hear the star implode on itself.

Event Horizon: The boundary (‘horizon’) of a black hole between its ‘outside’ and its ‘inside’; those outside cannot know anything about things (‘events’) which happen inside.

The Scintilla Project Today's Prompt: 

1. Write about someone who was a mentor for you.

2. What have been the event horizons of your life - the moments from which there is no turning back?

Monday, March 18, 2013

my fairy godfather

Some people just say ‘hello’ and you know things are about to get interesting – sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good, but always interesting. Sporty is one of those people, and I don’t imagine that I’m the only one who responds to him that way. Sporty is always surrounded by people. He’s an in-demand life of the party man who wins even more attention for pretending not to love it as much as he does. 

We met as guest speakers at an event; from the moment he introduced himself, his words were worth gold to me – though I can’t begin to tell you why. He laughed when I told him my name, and said “Man, with a name like that you could do anything!” I lived off that one sentence for the next two weeks - we were strangers, and his encouragement carried more weight than all the love I was surrounded with.

He didn’t know that just the month before I’d experienced my first panic attack. Or that I was seriously wondering if I needed to be on stress leave. He didn’t know that I had less confidence than I’ve had in years, or that I was hoping to be as unnoticed as a guest speaker can be, and that his words were more than perfect. 

We don’t chat all that often, but whenever we do, he leaves me with words that build me up, encourage me, and put wind back in my sails. He called me before a major event of the Christmas season and left a voice message that just said 'own the room tonight.' He’s a bit of a flirt and a charmer – the kind of a man whose words I’d normally discount, but for some reason that is impossible with him. 

Also impossible is the flip answer I’ve spent so much time and energy polishing. He hugs me, asks how things are going, and for some reason I want to pour a gin and tell him all about it. Last week we ran into each other, and he only had time to whisper ‘you got this.’ I don’t know what ‘this’ is, but I believe him. Sporty is my favourite cheerleader. He’s my fairy godfather. I wish everyone had a Sporty.

The Scintilla Project
Today's Prompt: 

1. Describe a time when the content of your character was tested.

2. Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.

Friday, March 15, 2013

hold on

I hardly remember a time when I've been in a car and not also been singing a song. Sometimes in the sunshine, a happy beach-lovers song, my hand dancing in the waves of out the window, warmth radiating off the whole world. Walking on sunshine. Not caring who hears or sees or laughs. At other times, the windows are sealed tight while my heart bursts open. A ballad. A love song for the lonely hearted. The pathetic fallacy of the rain outside keeping pace with my tears, with my loneliness. I try to remember - this song fills that space. This song eases that ache. I choke, spittle joins the tears. I pull over until the song is done. 

I thought we were ending. I always think we're ending. And then this song came on. We were just turning right, heading home from a wet coastal weekend. And this song came on. His hand was on the gear shift, and I touched it tentatively. We warbled. We are not warblers, except when there are tears in our eyes and words choked back in our throats. We warbled. We harmonized. We were okay. The road has continued to twist and turn. We continue to be okay. 

The Scintilla Project
Today's Prompt:

1. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Write about a time you taught someone a lesson you didn't want to teach.

2. Talk about a time when you were driving and you sang in the car, all alone. Why do you remember this song and that stretch of road?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

the life sentence

It wasn't a lie so much as a curse - a sentencing of myself. I yelled it over my shoulder as the door slammed shut behind me: “I’d rather be broke and alone the rest of my life than spend another day with you.”

He’d said I would never survive on my own. He’d said I was a terrible mom who didn’t deserve my sons, a fat cow, too selfish and stupid to take care of myself. I cared so little what he said that it wasn’t his lies that trapped me – it was my own. Having made my choice – to be alone and broke rather than suffer another day of ‘us’ – I couldn’t see anything but that insane binary.

It took me years to realize that I could be a single parent and not live in poverty. In my mind, that was the choice – be married and secure, or single and poor. My income made no difference to my economic status - that was determined by the lie. Until one day someone pointed out to me that I made more money than he ever had. Yes, I lived in a different economy, but that simple fact – I made more money than he ever had - set me free from part one of that life sentence. I still make some weird money choices, but I have never again been poor. Not board games for Christmas, pay the rent or the hydro, thank God for the good bank poor. A lie, once identified, can no longer be believed.

It took much longer to see through my other lie. To see that I didn’t have to be alone. It had to be broken down slowly – I had to sort through the other lies that had been piled on top of that first one, I have to constantly vigilante to what is real, I have to remember to listen to my heart – which never lies – rather than my head, which often does.

The Scintilla Project
Today's Prompt:

1. What's the biggest lie you ever told? Why? Would you tell the truth now, if you could?

2. Tell a story about something interesting (anything!) that's happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual. (Step 1. Step 1. etc).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

my first job

It was, in so many ways, the perfect job for me. Just a few hours, really - Saturdays when there was nothing else for me to do in a town that specialised in nothing else to do, Tuesdays after school, and once in a blue moon an extra shift. Though, really, I was happy with my 12 hours a week, and happiest with my Saturday mornings, when my bosses took the morning off, and I had the whole priceless library to myself. 

For a  young and eager bibliophile, there is no better job than that of Library Page. Limited human interactions (particularly in a town where reading is low on the interests list), unlimited access to books, all kinds of peace and quiet. The best part was sorting the returned books - that was the best way to get my hands on the most popular books, the most sought after books, the books I would have to hide in my bag until I could secret them away under my pillow: Clan of the Cave BearFlowers in the Attic, assorted bodice ripping trashy romances.  I'd sign them out for myself, stash them so the boss wouldn't see and tell my mom what I was reading. Hide under my blanket at night with the imminent threat of either discovery or setting my polyester comforter on fire with my incandescent under-cover lamp. 

There was only one down side. One fly in my otherwise lovely ointment - the other Page. She worked the school nights I didn't. The library wasn't open on Friday evenings for some reason. We really had no valid reason to ever interact. She was a year ahead of me in school, and we certainly didn't have any friends in common, even in that minuscule town. But, years earlier she had taken an active dislike to me. The boy she'd liked (and who had eventually become her intermittent boyfriend) had lied about making out with me. The shameful irony was that I’d never even been kissed. And yet she believed his stomach-turning lie that I, in grade 7, had given him a blow job in the jolting, jarring, aluminum smelling interminable yellow bus ride home.

I suppose that as the self-righteous good girl I must have seemed like quite the imaginary conquest, though he rarely had even spoken to me. Two years later his best friend, her cousin, spread a similar rumour about me. On some level it was nice to even be noticed. I tried not to take the bus after that first lie. I tried, when possible, to catch a ride home with my mom instead.

We moved in to town the next year, but the lie moved with me, followed me four years later to the library stacks. A lie that seems so ridiculous and silly today haunted me throughout high school - even after the liars dropped out. For some reason, this girl clung to the lie, she became its ghoul. She left warning notes in my communciation cubby, dropped by when she knew the librarian wouldn't be there just to make sure I was still scared. 

I was. She was from what I'd been taught was a bad family. I don't know if that's what we still call them, but, that's what we called them then. She was tough, which in my mind meant she must also be stupid, and I frequently wondered how she'd gotten the other Page job. It was a terrible thing to be in my happy place, and to have it spoiled. In truth, it might only have been one threatening note - one time having her follow me through the stacks as I tried to get away from her, tried to make her stop. 

It might have been only one warning, but for a sensitive girl who just wanted to be alone with her books, once was enough. 

The Scintilla Project
Today's Prompt:

1. Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.

2. Tell a story set at your first job.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Most of the time, I walk through the world in a cacophonous daze, blinded and deaf by the noise in my head, unseeing. But I've been practicing being aware of my surroundings, making an effort to turn down the chatter and take in what's all around me.  

What happens is transportive. The scents of spring surround me. Lawns being mowed. The green buds of camellia, magnolia, forsythia and cherry aching to burst open. The air has been washed clean, is damp and fresh. Colour is returning to the area - well-hydrated greens, but also the earliest blossoms. White snowdrops. Purple croci. The sunshine of daffodils. 

In our built world, when I slow down I see things that normally disappear in my haste. I suddenly see the homeless person and slow down enough to smile and wish him a warm evening. On this day, that has to be enough. I spot graffiti art from my elevated spot in the parkade, and wonder about its creator. What does he or she want us to know when we see their art? 

And, if I really look around, I see the cheeky grin of an old friend - a grin that has always been there; I only had to look. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

tuesdays with morrie: review

There's a world of difference between 'the meaning of life' and 'a meaningful life.' The former supposedly can be found by visiting gurus in their distant hermitage. The latter can be found in the simple, accessible, compassionate lessons in this small book by Mitch Albom.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to read Tuesdays with Morrie. It wasn't lack of interest; it was more lack of access. I don't have a particular system for choosing what I read. When I finish a book, I tend to start next on whatever is to hand.

But this time was different. After three very lightweight very escapist novels, I wanted something different, and this little book fairly glowed on the shelf. Yes, it was little. And yes, it was a very fast read. But it was also very soul-satisfying.

It's an amazing gift for a book to teach courage, honesty, humility and vulnerability, yet this book accomplishes that and so much more. I wrote the following thank you note in the midst of reading the book to someone I wanted to make sure was thanked just because - not in a time of crisis, but in a time of gratitude:
Anyway, at the end he asks, have you ever really had a teacher? Someone who saw the rare & previous gem you were & helped polish you to s proud glow? I'm paraphrasing, but ... 
For me, you are that voice that reminds me that I'm more than I ever knew I could be. You taught me to be more human, more vulnerable, more open. You still teach me - when I'm lost I often think what you would say to me to put things in perspective.
I should  probably also thank Mitch Albom for writing this gift of a book. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

trouble in stilletos

I was reminded yesterday, through this brilliant post on my friend Lauren Bacon's blog, about a funny story.  I was probably 28 or 29, late in my return to university career, and surround by thinking friends and thought-provoking conversations. I was not yet divorced, but it would come soon enough. In the course of a typical humanities student conversation, my friend Toodles - a male - made reference to me and feminism, and I blurted out inelegantly "Woah. Hey - I'm not a feminist." Toodles looked aghast, if not horrified, swallowed his dumfoundedness (that is too a word - I just used it!) and explained to me that yes, I was a feminist, and then proceeded to explain to me all the things that word could mean beyond my misunderstanding of it.

It took a man to unveil for me my feminism, in part because women were unwilling to do so, in all the ways outlined on Lauren's blog. I had been told I couldn't be both a Christian and a feminist. I was told that if I was really a feminist I wouldn't have taken my husband's name when I married him. I had my own prejudices (still do) that feminists are belligerent, dogmatic and humourless, and I wanted to be none of those things. Finally, it took a man to explain feminism and my relationship to it because - and in a dynamic that is designed to perpetuate the status quo - I believed it more coming from a man. He was not recruiting me to the team - he was only telling me the team I was already on.

Let me pause here to say that Lauren's post is more thoughtful, more carefully thought-out, more macro, and more compassionate than mine - please go read it. Lauren's post is about Marissa Meyers, Feminisim in general, politics and intersectionality. Mine is about stumbling through the swamp of feminism/femininity in my high heels.

And no, my awesome shoes DO NOT
make me a cougar! 
Politically, I am a feminist. I was raised in a house where both parents worked and both parents contributed to the running of the household. Yes, my parents mostly divided labour along fairly traditional gender roles, but I had equality of the sexes in rights and responsibilities modeled for me, and we three daughters were taught we could be anything we wanted to be. Socially - by which I mean as a creature of my socialization and society - I am feminine. I relish emphasizing my femininity with heels, skirts, jewelry, my baby blues and my golden locks. Philosophically, I am a Christian humanist. I believe (grossly oversimplified) that human beings are one of God's amazing creations, capable of both untold good and unthinkable evil. Physically and mentally, I am female. I am a mother, a daughter, and a girlfriend. Sexually, I am heterosexual – I adore men and almost everything about them – I giggle and blush and flirt and daydream without even knowing I'm doing it. All in all, I love being a woman. And, I shudder at the way women occur in the news, in popular culture, and in every day life.

It’s not just a ‘rape’ culture, or living in a society that consistently turns a blind eye to violence against woman and children. It’s not just the razor sharp line between being a whore and being a prude that leaves no room for self-expression or finding one’s own way. It's the unrelenting castigation of women - in groups and as individuals. We live in a world where it’s not okay for Katy Perry to sing about kissing a girl because she’s not a lesbian, but it's also not okay with a whole lot of people for Ellen to be a lesbian. Joan Rivers is mocked as a post-modern Frankenstein's monster for clinging desperately to relevance and ‘beauty’ even while she slags on Adele for being overweight. Angelina needs to eat a sandwich while we salivate waiting for Jessica Simpson to regain the weight she's lost. 

We laugh it off as the price of celebrity, but we also live in have created a world where girls are over and over and over again blamed for the brutal violence done to them – when college girls are raped ‘they asked for it’ in their clothes, their behaviour, and who they spend time with. Women who stay with men who beat them ‘would leave if it was really that bad.’ Girls who are bullied and shunned for being different in high school should ‘try harder to fit in.’ Eating disorders and mental health issues flourish while the businesses that capitalize on them flourish. 

All of this is obvious. It’s discussed over and over again in all kinds of liberal/alternative/feminist press outlets, and increasingly in mainstream press. I just don’t know where the answers lie. Yes, slut shaming and victim blaming focus the attention on the wrong end of the problem, but does that mean we don’t tell our daughters how to protect themselves, not to be naive, that they are at risk. We teach them to be careful, but why does that burden have to fall on them?

Every time I see a young woman and think ‘she seems to have forgotten to wear pants’ I feel old and irrelevant. Worse, I feel like I, a natural ally for these young women, have made myself the enemy. In my experience women are far more cruel to each other than most men are, at least in our conversations. How did we get to the place where our tolerance margins for what is acceptable in dress and deportment, for what we say and do, for who we are, are so miniscule? 

I’m afraid I don’t have any great insights ... I’m just trying to work out my simple thoughts on a very complex subject. Sometimes I think it'd be easier if we all just burrowed away, hidden inside hoodies and sweat pants and straggly hair. I have often felt like feminism left no room for being feminine, sometimes I wonder if we even allow each other to be. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

lost: one sparkle. if found return to owner

Someone I trust and respect asked me on Saturday when the light went out of my eyes, when I stopped thinking it was okay to express myself, when I lost my sparkle, and if I knew what it would take to bring it - and me - back. She reminded me of the time a couple years ago when I had spontaneously sung ‘This Little Light of Mine’ solo and acapella in front of 100 friends, acquaintances and strangers just because it was my  song. She wondered, with compassion and concern, where that Shannon has gone.

When I mentioned that conversation to UberCoach, she concurred, and mentioned that while the blogging challenge has been a great way for me to write everyday, I actually haven’t been sharing myself. The posts, for the most part, have been quick, perhaps shallow, and very safe. I guess that explains the sharp decline in readership in the last month. 

It really got me thinking. I don’t know when I decided (again) that it is not safe for me to share myself. I know that it’s a relatively recent resurrection of a fear that was conquered for a good long while and that came back like a zombie phobia in the last twelve to eighteen months. It’s also tied to my weight gain – I’m heavy-hearted and it shows in my body. What’s funny – by which I mean annoying – is that I also feel very small. Why can’t my body express that? Sheesh. Anway. 

Somewhere along the bumpy ride of the last two years I made a series of decisions – it’s not safe to be open with people. There’s no point dreaming. You can’t trust anyone with your innermost secrets. Why bother  fill in the blank  (planning for a real holiday/getting fit/paying off debt/eating well/writing from your marrow) when it will all come to naught.

Really, I suspect there isn't any one point where I made these decisions – and I know that there were specific moments where particular relationships became unsafe. Thoughtless comments. Being gossiped about. Shattered promises. Dropped connections. They all add up. But I don’t know which straw broke my back. I just know that I am no longer someone who stands in front of a room singing my theme song. And, if I did do that, my theme song right now wouldn't be ‘This Little Light of Mine.’

When you (meaning I) have to hide one part of yourself here, and another part there, pretty soon you are spending all your energy trying to stay safe. I don’t know what it will take to regain that openness. But I promise I won’t give up the search. 

See - sparkles 

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Ahh, the satisfaction of completing a major commitment. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but today is my 100th straight day of blogging at least 100 words per days. Some days I wrote longer. Some days I also blogged at The Mountain Bike Life. Some days I also wrote on my work blog.

It was an interesting exercise, and I’m pleased to be done. Not that I don’t have more to say, but 100 days was the target, and now I can stick to blogging on days when I have something to say. I wish I could say that every post was a winner, but that’s just not true – when the target is commitment is to write fresh every day, it can’t always be awesome. From here on, the quality should be higher. We’ll see.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I wish I was an oyster. I wish that when things annoyed me, I was able to isolate them, seal them off, and turn them into something of value. I don’t really know that that’s exactly how oysters/pearls work, but I know it’s something along those lines. 

It would seem though that that is not who I am. Who I am is the person who glares, then shushes, then swears at noisy movie goers. Who I am is someone who allows things to simmer & fester. I am someone who, once I notice something annoying, seizes upon it, having it grow, stealing energy and attention far beyond its actual worth.

I wish I wasn’t that person. I wish I was an oyster.

Friday, March 1, 2013


It’s hard to write about safety without thinking about its absence.
It’s unclear to talk about lessons learned without say what came before that.
It’s unfair to tell others’ stories if I’m not willing to tell my own.
It’s unsettling to drag up past dangers in the warmth of my current home.

I waffle, with this post, between wanting to throw the doors of the past wide open and just posting a Men Without Hats video. The stories of the past only have relevance if they can inform and guide us now, or if we can share them in such a way that they help others. Otherwise, it’s just so much drama, and we’re better off leaving that to the experts in Hollywood.

Oh, what the heck - when isn't a littl 80's flashback the right answer? 

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