Friday, December 21, 2007

Google me this

I've never really paid attention to the stats for my blog but today I perused. Here's what I discovered.

Google searches that have led people here:

- Bony M
- Mary's Little Boy Child
- circulatory system
- went without glasses
- stringing popcorn and frozen cranberries
- the joy of an eye exam
- why love why
- wrapping garland on a tree
- Hawksley Workman
- glasses wear them all the time
- fucking accordion
- Ukrainian rhyme beets cabbage onions over the fence
- Winnipeg lola hairdresser job
- dirty dishes
- your mother called

(That Ukrainian one has me scratching my head. I'm sure you were disappointed when you clicked on my link, my friend. I know of no Ukrainian rhymes that involve beets, cabbage, and onions being thrown over the fence.)

I also discovered I've had visitors from Vancouver (BC), Baltimore (MA), New York (NY), somewhere in Ontario, Berea (OH), San Francisco (CA), Cumberland (RI), Winnipeg (MB), Kaneohe (HI), Georgetown (TX), Madrid (Spain), and Istanbul (Turkey). Hi everyone! (Picture me waving vigorously.)

Neat, hey? Oh shush - I think it's neat.

Well, here's a picture of Lucy so that you don't feel like you came here for nothing today. (You do enjoy pictures of my cat, don't you? Yes, I thought so.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

As cool as a high school musical

"Nat, you are a very mysterious person."

That is one of the best things anyone has ever said to me, and it was completely unexpected. Granted, I was being rather coy at the time. It was about three years ago and I was at work chatting with Michael, a co-worker. We were talking about some fabulous concert that was coming to town and I mentioned how I was much too broke to go.

Michael: Broke? It seems like you're always broke. You make as much as I do and you don't even have a family to support!

Nat: Yeah, well, I have a lot of bills and...stuff.

Michael: What, do you have a nasty drug habit or something?

At that point in my life I was quite firmly NOT out as a bi person. In fact, I was so far in the closet that I was practically hanging out with Mr. Tumnus and eating Turkish Delight. (Not that I'm terribly out now, but that's a different post for the future.) No one had any idea that I had a significant other and that she was a female! How could I tell him that my girlfriend wasn't working and so I was actually supporting us both? How could I explain that together we had a lot of bills to pay and sometimes we'd be so broke that I'd have to use my gas card to buy us groceries at the corner gas station? (Expired bologna and Wonder Bread, anyone?) I couldn't go into any of this, so I simply smiled and said, "No, just a lot of bills."

I've always wanted to be one of those mysterious women. You know the ones - they have this aura about them. You want to know everything about them but they give you nothing. They make you feel flustered and nervous when you try to talk to them. They're just so...so cool!

That's when he called me mysterious. I was THRILLED! I am the opposite of mysterious. You will know my life story within seconds of meeting me. "Hi-I'm-Nat-I'm-a-feminist-socialist-treehugger-who-hates-being-patronized-and-who-likes-music-and-art-and-taking-pictures-of-weird-stuff-and-long-walks-on-the-beach-and..." I'll go on and on. SO not cool.

However, as time goes by I've accepted that I will never be that dark, mysterious woman in the corner who everybody wants to know, and I think I'm alright with that. I like me, even with all my nerdiness. This brings us to the latest reasons why.

17 Reasons I'm Not Cool (And I'm Okay With That)

  • I've always like school, not for the social aspect (I never had many friends), but for the learning. How geeky is that?

  • I play the flute. Not the sultry saxophone or the wailin' trumpet or the pounding drums. The flute. Like Alyson Hannigan in that awful movie franchise, only with less body invasiveness.

  • I'm an adult and I'm taking beginner piano lessons.

  • I cry. Oh MAN do I cry. None of this stoic, strong stuff for me. I cry, I weep, I sob, I blubber. I cry when I'm sad, mad, or happy. And I don't look all cute when I do it, either. My whole face turns red and blotchy and swollen, my nose runs, my voice turns raspy. It isn't pretty. I'm just one big ball of deeply-felt emotions.

  • I get excited about things like sunsets and autumn and Northern Lights and hoar frost. (By the way, as I write this there is a particularly beautiful batch of fresh hoar frost outside. Fucking gorgeous.)

  • I take the bus. Or as my co-worker is fond of calling it, the Loser Cruiser.

  • I love reading!

  • I will go to the movie theatre and watch a movie by myself.

  • I am not cynical. I usually believe the best in people and give them second and third and fourth chances when they let me down.

  • I don't really do sarcasm. I tend to not realize when others are being sarcastic towards me and when I try to say something sarcastic, it comes out all wrong and people miss it entirely.

  • I like things! Cool people never seem to like anything. It doesn't matter if it's a movie, a band, a song, a holiday, or whatever - chances are I like it and all the cool kids don't.

  • I really really love my family. I know - how uncool! You're supposed to barely put up with your dysfunctional relations. You're supposed to make a sarcastic, cynical appearance at Christmas dinner and then get the hell out of there as fast as you can. You're NOT supposed to stick around and play crib or Scrabble.

  • I play crib and Scrabble.

  • I go to the library regularly and take out books.

  • I don't have cable television.

  • I can't dance yet I love it so I flail around every chance I get. Cool people either don't dance or dance very well.

  • I have a video tape of when I was in the community band. It is of our summer tour to the mid-western United States. It's filled with concerts and marching competitions. I love this video tape. When I first met my ex, I made her sit down and watch it with me. To her credit, she did not go running for the hills.

All I need to do now is find people who think this list is what makes me cool, not what prevents me from being cool. And if one of them should also think I was kinda cute, well that wouldn't be so bad either.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hope

I saw this a while ago and it made me feel happy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Christmas wish list

  1. A job where:

    • I feel like I'm contributing in a meaningful way
    • I get to interact with people with whom I have things in common
    • My co-workers acknowledge my existence, are curious about me, and will actually initiate conversations with me instead of just answering direct questions
    • I am doing something I enjoy
    • I can somehow help people
    • Even one of the above

  2. More friends. Don't get me wrong - the ones I have now are awesome and I couldn't love them any more. However, I'm always on the lookout for more so that my current friends don't reach their Nat Saturation Point (the NSP) and get annoyed at everything I do and say. Have I mentioned that I REALLY like people and enjoy being around them a lot? The NSP seems to occur quite quickly these days.

  3. A photography class where I can learn how to actually use my awesome little digital camera properly. When I purchased it at the beginning of the year, I had no idea I'd turn out to like photography so freaking much. To be more accurate, I've always enjoyed looking at photos, but I've never been much of a taker of photos. It used to take me an entire year to finish one roll of film. However, since I bought my digital camera? Look out! Um, so yeah. Knowing what I'm doing would be nice.

  4. Peace, love, and understanding.

  5. Someone to clean my apartment. Gawd, I hate cleaning.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Everyone's a critic, especially Lucy

I've been listening to Christmas songs for a couple of weeks now. Yes, I'm a bit of a Christmas nut. In the interest of spreading joy and settling nerves everywhere, I shall share some of these favourites with you.

Nat's Nineteen Beloved Christmas Songs

  1. A Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson - The band organization I was in from when I was 7 years old until I was 16 years old was made up of 4 levels - D (beginners), C, B, and finally A (the best musicians). Every year, all 4 bands put on a lavish Christmas concert in our local concert hall. We'd have sets and special guest and a huge audience. Near the end of the concert, the A band would play this song and I can remember thinking each and every time that I could hardly wait until I was in the A band so that I could play it, too. You know how sometimes you hope for something so hard for so long that when it finally happens it's a big disappointment? That totally didn't happen here. I was in the A band for 4 years and I relished each performance of this song. I know it so well I could hum to you the different instruments' parts. My favourite bits include the chime notes in Silent Night and those fantastic triplets in O Come All Ye Faithful.

  2. Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson - I also played this in band. It has to be the version with the whip-snapping sound, the jazzy section, and the trumpet-horse at the end. It was always amusing when someone new tried to do the horse sound. Sometimes in rehearsal they ended up sounding more like a wounded moose than an whinnying Clydesdale.

  3. Claire Fontaine by Hawksley Workman - This song is not overly Christmassy by it's on his Christmas album and is fun, nonetheless. What's not to like about a tribute to a paper-maker? Claire Fontaine you seem to bring the best out of me and the things that I write to sing.

  4. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono - You can't get cheesier than a couple of peaceniks and a children's choir but I love it.

  5. Go Tell It On The Mountain performed by Mahalia Jackson - She has such a powerful voice that she kicks my ass all over the place and makes me temporarily forget that I'm an atheist.

  6. Fairytale of New York by the Pogues - Any Christmas song that includes the words scumbag, maggot, drunk, and slut is tops with me. Him: I could have been someone. Her: Well so could anyone. Amen, my sistah.

  7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings performed by the Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan - I know it's not cool to like BNL but I do. They're goofy and fun and their voices sound so damn good together. Add a kicky beat and the beautiful voice of Sarah and you have harmonic perfection.

  8. Carol of the Bells performed by whomever - I know all the words to this and sing along vociferously. What? You don't believe me? You think this song doesn't have words? Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, "Throw cares away." Christmas is here bringing good cheer to young and old, meek and the bold... I could go on. I won't.

  9. 3 Generations by Hawksley Workman - The words remind me so much of my own family Christmases, which tend to revolved around the kitchen. Put away the turkey to make sandwiches tomorrow and put away the bones to make the soup for the winter - but not the wishbone, just put it on the counter and let it dry out this week in time to make a wish for New Year's Eve. And then there's that last verse that always makes me feel a little sad.

  10. O Holy Night performed by Mahalia Jackson - When I was about five years old, my mom had a record of Christmas songs. When you opened the album, the middle had a pop-up nativity scene and I loved to look at it while I listened to the album. The one song I HATED was O Holy Night because it was performed by a soprano whose goal seem to be to shatter all the windows in my house. As I grew up, I associated the singer with the song and avoided it at all costs. Then I heard this version and the resulting goosebumps proved to me that the Mahalia is amazing and the song is actually quite lovely.

  11. Baby, It's Cold Outside performed by Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews - This is an awesomely jazzy rendition that makes me want to dance around and sing loudly while twirling a feather boa.

  12. What Christmas Means To Me by Stevie Wonder - Who doesn't like Stevie?

  13. The Christmas Song performed by Nat King Cole - That voice makes me melt.

  14. All I Want for Christmas performed by Samantha Mumba - Her voice is a tad whiny but that beat makes me move. Also my friend likes to sing along, including the super high note, and she always laughs at my attempt to hit the note. Sue me - I'm an alto at heart.

  15. Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses - Even though I love Christmas, I acknowledge that it can be a bit trying at times. This song sums up all the frustrations of the season.

  16. Mary's Boy Child performed by Bony M - Oh. My. GAWD I love this song. So much fun to sing at the top of my lungs, especially the last section with all the different parts being sung at the same time.

  17. Winter Wonderland performed by Aretha Franklin - What a voice. Also, she makes one change to the lyrics that makes me giggle: Later on we'll conspire as we groove by the fire. Hee. Oh Aretha.

  18. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald - What's Christmas without a little Ella? It's nothing, that's what it is.

  19. Hallelujah Chorus by Handel - When I was in band, we got together with an amazing choir and performed this in front of a gigantic audience. I'm pretty sure the shivers I experience during that performance stayed with me for weeks after. And he shall reign for ever and ever - King of kings, Lord of lords.

I got a little too loud with the singing on that last one and woke up Lucy. Here's the look she gave me:


So what are you listening to? Drop me a comment with the Christmas songs you love to love (or hate to love). If I had more readers and it wasn't illegal, I would hold a contest where the winning poster received a disc of all the above music. Ahem. [wink, wink]

Monday, December 3, 2007

Death by garland

This weekend I went to my mom and stepdad's house to help with the Christmas tree. I absolutely adore Christmas. I love the music, I love decorating, I love the fresh smell of a real tree, I love Christmas lights, I love baking, I love buying things for other people, I love cold Christmas mornings with sparkling snow, and mostly I love the warm, friendly chaos that comes from a house full of people who mean the world to you all rushing around getting supper together and presents wrapped and trying not to kill one another.

Naturally, when my mom asked if I wanted to go help, I jumped at the chance. Because this is the first year my mom and stepdad will spend actually living in the same house, it's going to be a bit weird. I figured by helping decorate, it will help me to feel that much more at home over the holidays. Plus, since my ex and I broke up I haven't decorated my own place. She was also cuckoo for Christmas and it's just not as fun putting up a tree and decorating all by myself.

When I got to their house, my stepdad was hanging decorations around their sunroom and the tree was all assembled. It's the kind that comes with the lights already in there to make life easier. Mom and I started with the garland. THREE HOURS LATER we finished hanging it around the tree. "What happened?" you may ask. Were we interrupted? Was there a tree-falling-down catastrophe? Did we construct a gingerbread village in there somewhere? Oh no. It was all garland, all the time for those three hours.

You see, my mom doesn't like the usual tinselly garland that most people use on their trees. She thinks it looks tacky. (Yes, Mom. Because none of our other Christmas decorations are tacky. Here is an actual ornament we hang on our tree every year:)

One year she made my sister and me string popcorn and cranberries but that didn't work out as well as she had hoped. We used frozen cranberries and when they thawed, the colour bled all over the popcorn, turing the whole thing into a bloody mess. Also, our cat like to eat it. So one year my mom found this looooong string of silver beads that was to be used for garland and ever since that year, we've had to deal with the Law of Garland Attraction (or Death By Garland).

Fig 1. This is what the garland looks like in its resting state. (Clearly I am still traumatized by the whole incident, because this should be labeled Fig. 1, not Fig. 3.)


Did I mention this fucker is LONG? Because it is. And as long as the string is not touching any other part of the garland, life is fine. However, it's not so easy to wrap garland around a tree when the string is stretched across the living room, out the front door, down the road, and along the highway on its way to Vancouver. This means that you have to wind the string around your arm or neck or body or something. And so begins the Law of Garland Attraction - AS SOON as this particular type of garland touches any other part of the string, the silver balls are so attracted to (or enraged by) each other that they must get all twisted up. See Figs. 2 and 3:


For the result of this twisting, see Fig. 4:


For the result of the dreaded garland knot, see Fig. 5:


My stepdad kept poking his head into the living room and saying one of the following:

  • Are you two still untangling?

  • I can't believe how long that's taking!

  • I can run to the store and get a different kind, if you want.

  • You guys are crazy.

We just snarled back and kept on untangling. We'd get a nice length all sorted out and work on another section, only to have the first section end up in a knot. At one point my mom remarked that we must be the only people in the world who used that garland more than once. I think she's probably right. She has vowed to find something nice and simple for next year but I'll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I'm going to enact my revenge by ending with a final picture of a beloved, not-at-all-tacky decoration that ends up in a place of honour every year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Supersuspicion...ain't a word

I received this from the always-awesome Wench:

Tag, you're it!

The Rules:

Write a list of things of which you are suspicious. Any number of them will do. Even the number 0 works. This is the first meme that can be done without even doing it. In fact, you're doing it right now.
Include the list of rules, if you feel like it.
Link back to the person who tagged you. Or not.
Tag however many people you want to tag. You can skip this step.
If you acted on rule four, leave comments on their websites to let them know that they have been tagged. This step is also completely optional.
Feel fantastic.


So, with no further ado I present you with

Four things that cause me to be suspicious

1) Miracle cures - Today it's goji juice that cures all. Yesterday it was cranberries. Tomorrow it's going to be aloe or pomegranate. PEOPLE! There is no magic pill. No fountain of youth. No miraculous elixir. Eat well, exercise, and be kind to one another.

2) Studies - The media is always reporting on studies done to prove this or disprove that. Who did these studies? Who funded them? How conclusive are they? Are there other studies that refute the claims? The other day I was ranting about the prevalence of gender-specific marketing for children's toys. If I see one more happy little girl in her playhouse with the realistic kitchen (to cook her man some supper), I might just vomit. Anyway, my friend said there was a study that proved little girls are naturally attracted to dolls while little boys went for the trucks. Really? Who did this study? Who were these children? Were they newborns? Because that's the only way to avoid preconceptions. If they live in our society for any amount of time, they're going to be exposed to gender stereotypes everywhere they look. That HAS to impact the study! Did the media report any of that when they presented the study? Which takes me to...

3) The media - There is no such thing as unbiased media, so instead I choose the radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and TV shows that have a bias I agree with.

4) People who compliment me - Whenever someone makes a positive comment about me, my gut reaction is, "What do you want?" because I can't actually believe they simply like something about me. Through rigorous training, I now just say, "Thank you."

And that's all, folks. I'm not overly suspicious. I'm that trusting person that makes it on the news because she let a stranger into her house to use the phone and ended up dead. Except I wouldn't do that (due to my rigorous training mentioned in #4).

I don't think I'll tag anyone, but if you're reading this and want to make your own list, leave a comment letting me know and I'll check it out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig

Okay, this time I've REALLY taken off my travelin' shoes. Honest. See - there they are in the back corner of my closet.

I have just returned home from another week away, this time in the far-less-glamourous (and much-less-smokey) city of my birth: Winnipeg. My time in Winnipeg is always a swirly mixture of eager anticipation and dread, fun and boredom, happiness and sorrow. It's great to see my family, but I'm never there long enough and people usually end up with their feelings hurt and fighting over me. (Sidenote: This used to drive my ex crazy. She didn't see why I put up with the snide comments and manipulation. Once she accused me of actually liking it. I quickly set her straight.) To tell you about my rollercoaster time there, I shall divide it up into the different people with whom I visited:

My dad
As you know, my relationship with my dad is not ideal. He's a long-time alcoholic who still acts like he's 16 years old. Most of the females he has dated since my ex-step-mom left him 2 years ago have been my age or younger and have been...oh, how can I say this nicely? Alcohol-soaked bar flies who used my dad for his money and generous spirit? Yeah, that has a nice ring to it. Well now he's dating someone one year OLDER than he is that he met at a pig roast! She's lovely and the two of us got along quite well. Normally when I visit my dad, he drinks rye and cola, I drink diet cola or water, and we sit on his couch and watch movies on his gigantic screen TV while I inhale 2 packages of second-hand smoke each day. This time, though, I hung out with his girlfriend and went shopping and got a pedicure instead. It was nice. Oh, there was still a lot of TV-watching on my part and rye-drinking on his part. And karaoke. My dad is a regular at a beer parlour on north Main Street and they have karaoke every Friday night. I tried to escape it but I couldn't - he wanted me to go experience the fun for myself. He wanted to show me off to all of his drinking buddies, including the guy who couldn't talk due to years of inhaling household chemicals, the 350-lb biker dyke with the black eye, and T-Bone, who only communicates by grunting. It was an interesting night, I must say. Oh yes, and my dad and I sang a lovely rendition of Bye Bye Love.


My grandma
I love staying in my grandma's house. I have my own bedroom, bathroom, and television in her basement. She cooks me delicious meals (I'd stab someone with a chef's knife to get at her buttermilk pancakes and chokecherry syrup). We go shopping, we play crib, we go for walks, she does reflexology on my feet. I adore my grandma. However (you knew there was a however, didn't you?), she tends to drive me a bit crazy. She points at my hair and says, "Did the hairdresser mean to do that?" She squints at my year-old, snazzy winter jacket and says, "You've been wearing that old thing for 15 years! Let's go get you a new one." She also jealously guards her time with me against anyone else, especially my dad. "You've stayed at your dad's for 3 night and only 2 nights with me. When are you coming back to my place?" she'll inquire. Sigh. This time she was actually quite understanding. She knew she'd be seeing me for Christmas and that I hadn't seen my dad for almost a year, so she allowed unequal visiting time. She also bought me a new winter coat because she didn't like my old one and a new pair of shoes because she didn't like the ones I was wearing. I drew the line when she suggested making an appointment for a hair cut with her hairdresser.


Uncle Steve
Uncle Steve is recovering nicely from his operation. It was great to spend some time with him. He cooked me breakfast one day and lunch on another. He drove me places, even though he's not supposed to be driving much yet. We talked about books we were reading (me: Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan; him: Death at Sandringham House by C.C. Benison), good movies we had watched (me: Martian Child; him: Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time ever), delicious new recipes we've discovered (me: Curry Zucchini Soup; him: Mediterranean Salad) and recent obsessions (me: taking photos of homeless people; him: finding cheap organic tomatoes). It was a little startling to see him looking so skinny and moving so slowly but his sense of humour was still there, thank goodness.


Auntie Beth
I don't often spend a lot of time with Auntie Beth. She's my dad's sister and I've never been especially close to anyone on my dad's side of the family. They're not what you would call a loving bunch. Nonetheless, my aunt wanted to get together for supper with me one night and introduce me to her girlfriend, Lola. We went to a Chinese buffet restaurant (bleh) and actually had a pretty good time. Even though I don't know her very well, I like Auntie Beth. It took me FOREVER to figure out her roommates were more than roommates. Even after I knew they slept in the same bed, it still didn't dawn on me they were anything but friends. I was a slow child. Give me a break - it took me almost 25 years to figure out I was attracted to both men and women. (We'll save that for another entry.)


Jane
Jane and I have been friends since university. Here's the story of how we met. It was my very first semester of my very first degree. I walked into my first French class and scanned the room for a friendly face. I saw someone who looked interesting and sat at the table in front of her. The tables sat groups of two - why I didn't sit with this potentially-interesting person, I'll never know. As the room filled up, a really odd-looking woman entered and looked for a place to sit. "Please don't sit here, please don't sit here...ah crap." She ended up being as weird as she looked. The next day, I made a beeline for the interesting woman's table and said, "I don't want to be stuck with that weirdo as a conversation partner all semester!" We laughed, bonding over the poor weirdo's weirdness. That was Sharon. (The interesting person, not the weirdo.) Sharon was friends with Jane and introduced us. Today, I haven't spoken to Sharon in years but Jane and I remain good friends. Sadly, she lives in Winnipeg and I don't get to see her much. I managed to see Jane not once but TWO WHOLE TIMES while I was there! It was great. There was beer involved and, on one of the occassions, her equally fantastic and hilarious sweetie.


Princess
Princess is a relatively new friend. We met through work - she works in the Winnipeg office, I work in the Regina office. Her position required her to take trips to Regina every now and then. We clicked immediatley and even though she no longer works for the same company, we've kept in touch. Before I left, I informed her that I would be visiting her city and that I'd love to get together one night. When I called her from my dad's house to see what she wanted to do, she informed me she was kidnapping me Saturday evening and not returning me until Sunday afternoon. She had a whole big adventure planned out - dinner, beer, dancing, and brunch the next morning. (My dad and my grandma weren't very happy about losing one night to someone outside of the family!) We ate sushi for dinner (delicious!), met up with her husband, Jane, and Better Than Awesome Paul for drinks (goofy good fun), and went dancing until the wee hours at a club located in an old bank, complete with the carved stone pillars and high tin ceilings. The next morning, while we were getting ready to go for brunch to a little bakery/eatery down the street, we heard on the news that a guy was stabbed to death in the very same nightclub where we were dancing to "Sexyback"! We both agreed that I should tell my family we were at a different club - one where there were no fatalities!


And that was my trip. I'm good until at least next summer or fall, when I'll have to do it all again. One of these days I'm going to take a secret trip to Winnipeg where I just tell Princess and Jane.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Just took off my travelin' shoes

I know I don't update here very often but it's been a while, even for me. That's because I was away all last week in sunny San Diego. Only it wasn't sunny because of the fires.

Before I left home, I had heard a bit about some fires in California, but nothing big - just a blurb or two on the news. Then on the flight from hell (it was freaking hot, there was a "big sitter" beside me (you know, the kind that don't know how to tuck their arms in and CLOSE THEIR GOD DAMN LEGS a smidge), and the kid behind me had two notes: crying and whining), the pilot came on the intercom and advised us that if we look out the left side of the plane we'd be able to see the fires. I looked out the window and saw great plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky. Obviously this was bigger than I thought!

When I got to my hotel, the place was all abuzz. A dozen people were in line to check in, people were walking to elevators with boxes of household items clutched in their arms, and dogs on leashes were around every corner. After I got to my room, I turned on the TV to see if I could get some news on the fires. Could I ever! Fire coverage was all that was on. I found out everything I wanted to know about "FIRESTORM 2007" in a few minutes. The Santa Ana winds were making the situation worse. There were 5 major fires to the north and the east of San Diego and they were between 0% and 5% contained. Nearly 600,000 people had been evacuated, many to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers. FEMA was coming to the rescue! California had to import energy from Mexico. And on and on and on. It was information overload.

The whole state-wide crisis helped reinforce something I've always maintained - it's not individual Americans that I have a problem with. It's America. The people are very much like me and those I know. A lot of people in my class were from the area and had their families staying with them due to emergency evacuations. My classmate were both stressed and relieved. Stressed over the proximity of extended family and relieved that every was safe. People everywhere were helping any way they could - cooking meals, providing shelter, donating tents and blankets. Whenever it was obvious that I wasn't from around there, someone invariably asked if I was there because of the fires. Upon seeing me pouring over a city map, one server at a restaurant even asked if I needed a place to stay because a community centre in his neighbourhood had free beds. After I explained that I was there from Canada for work, he aplogized and said sadly that my timing was unfortunate because usually it's a really nice city. He apologized for the inconvenience of a bit of smoke and no Sea World! People are people. They love and fight and fear and care and hate and they can amaze you wherever you are. Even in the U.S.

On the way back home I did a lot of waiting in the San Diego airport as my flight got delayed again and again. One of my fellow waiters was this guy in the red sweatshirt:


He had just graduated from basic training (or whatever you call it) and was on his way back home. I know this because he spent much of his time calling loved ones on his cell phone to tell them the good news. Here are some snippets I overheard:

  • I got sharp shooter! It means I can kill bodies at 500 yards! Awesome, hey?

  • I'm different now. It's amazing. I've definitely changed.

  • I can't wait to put some of my new skills into action. I'm definitely in a combat frame of mind. I want to show those terrorists who's in charge!

  • I love you Uncle Bill....Yeah, I'm proud of me, too. God bless you.

The whole thing made me really sad. The fact that he had to go kill and possibly be killed didn't phase him at all. He was so happy about such a scary thing.

To end this off, here are a couple of reasons why for you:

Why I Like Travelling:
Newness. When one goes to a new city, it's all so different. I love wandering around with only a vague notion of where I'm going and how to return. I get to discover new types of trees, flowers I haven't seen before, flavours I've never even though of. (Speaking of new flavours, there was a Ben & Jerry's not too far from my hotel in San Diego that had a new flavour - pumpkin cheesecake! If you get the chance to try it, do!). I want to go everywhere and see everything. I want to experience what life is like in that particular place. What makes it fun/unique/boring/sad? I want to know it all.

Anonymity. It's pretty neat to be in a place where absolutely NO ONE knows me. I could make a complete idiot of myself in the middle of downtown and it wouldn't matter. I could trip and fall on my face. I could run around with a sign declaring that the end is near. I could dress in a clown suit and dance a jig. Some people might think, "Who is that whacko?" but that would be it. Um...not that I did any of those things. Ahem.


Why I Like Coming Back Home:
Familiarity. I know exactly where I can buy stamps or a good cheap meal and I know where I can walk alone when it's dark and where I can't. I can find all my stuff in my apartment, even with my eyes closed. I know the city well enough that I don't feel like I always have to go exploring. It's nice sometimes to do nothing.

Music. When I'm away I usually just have my mp3 player with me. I'm able to consume music (through the earbuds, the radio, or the TV) but not make it. I miss my stereo and my piano and my flute. The first thing I do when I get home is put in one of my mix CDs where I know all the songs and belt out the words so loudly that even my toes vibrate. It's wonderful.

I will leave you with another photo from my trip. One thing I can say about all the smoke in San Diego: it made for some awfully nice sunsets!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Images of broken light which dance before me

I have three stories for you today. The first one is really long, the second is much shorter, and the third is so short that it's not really a story. All three are rather meaningless.

Story One
I got on the elevator at work today. I had just finished my lunch in the 2nd-floor cafeteria and was going back up to my cubicle on the 5th floor. A man I didn't recognize followed me in and as I leaned to press 5, he pressed 3. I started mentally rolling my eyes at yet another 2nd-to-3rd-floor traveler, but then I noticed he was also carrying a huge and heavy-looking black case. The case had a sticker on it that read MUSIC IS MY LIFE. I immediately felt a tad guilty and judgey for my eye-rolling and my curiosity was piqued. This intriguing case made the man infinitely more interesting to me. What treasures lay inside? Why would somewho works in the IT department of a financial institution proclaim that music is his life? (There goes the judginess again.) Why had he brought part of his private, non-work life to the office with him?

These thoughts must have passed through my head rather quickly because, even with the nausea-inducing, speed-of-light, one-floor elevator ride, I still had time to ask him what was in the case. He flashed an embarrassed smile and informed me that he was lugging around an accordion. Then the door closed and the mysterious accordion-playing IT geek was gone.

All this elevator excitement forced a memory to come bubbling up to the surface. It was a fresh new 2003 - January 1st, to be exact. I was awake and moving around on a statutory holiday at the ungawdly hour of 5:30 a.m. because my job involved shift work anywhere between 6:00 a.m. and midnight, 365 day a year. I was one of the lucky New Year's Day suckers. So at 5:30 I stepped outside into an absolutely beautiful morning. It was one of those crisp, brisk winter mornings where the cold sucks the air out of your lungs and makes you glad to be alive. Of couse, it was still dark - in the dead of winter it seems like it's always dark - but it was that curious bright darkness that happens so often in December and January. Snow was floating down in large, fluffy clumps and the city was so quiet.

At the time, I was living with my then-girlfriend in the basement suite of a house. As I walked out the back door into the gentle morning, I noticed a strange, dark object in the back yard by the fence. My heart quickened at this intrusion but the object was too boxy to be a dangerous and feral animal, so I crept over to have a look. It was a large black case with band stickers plastered all over it. Even though I was running late for work I dragged the surprisingly heavy case in the house, undid the latches, and peered inside. If you're following along, I'm sure that you have guessed that the mystery object turned out to be a nifty, shiny accordion. Before I could explore any further, I noticed the time and realized I had to leave for work tout de suite. I closed the lid and scrawled out a note ("Look what I found in the yard!") so that my girlfriend wasn't completely mystified when she awoke.

While I was gone, she poked around in the case and discovered that the accordion belonged to a semi-famous Western Canadian celtic/rock-ish band. I e-mailed them, asked if they were missing anything, and explained the situation. The accordion player sent a very excited and grateful message back telling me how they had played a New Year's Eve gig at a bar about 2 kilometres away from my house. They had finished their last set, loaded their gear into their van, and returned inside for a few drinks. While they were imbibing, some rotten people broke into the vehicle and made off with amps, guitars, and yes, the accordion. We made arrangements for me to sent it back to him by bus and he sent my girlfriend and me a whack of their CDs as a thank you.

To this day I enjoy imagining the thief that nabbed the accordion. He and his buddies probably took off running at breakneck speed but eventually the weight of the case would have started to slow him down. (Accordions can weigh between 15 and 25 pounds!)

"Guys! Wait up!"
"C'mon, faster!"
"I can't do it. What the fuck is in this, anyway? [thump, click-click, creeeak] What the? Fuck this shit! I ain't carrying no fucking accordion!"
"Fine. Here - throw it over this fence. Now come ON!"

Story Two
I bought a new pair of work pants last weekend. They're really quite lovely - dark, slate grey, stretchy material, a nice flare from the knee down. I decided to cut off the tags this morning and wear them to work. Well, apparently these pants were not made for my body because all day they kept sliding down my waist and I kept hiking them back up to avoid showing everyone my underwear. The pants got worse and worse as the day dragged on. My walk home was ridiculous. The pants were in surprising danger of slipping right off of me, so with one hand I carried my briefcase/bag thing and I shoved the other hand into my jacket pocket and clutched the top of my pants through the fabric of my pocket and my shirt. This meant that one side of the waist slid further and further down past my hip bone but the other side was safely secured in my grasp. This also meant that I had no free hands to stop stray hairs from blowing into my eyes and sticking to my lips. As well, a small stone managed to hop in and hitch a ride in my right shoe. If I had been wearing sandals it would have been easy to dislodge it but because I was wearing normal shoes, it seemed like far too big of a hassle to do anything about its presence. I'm certain my pants would have slipped down around my knees if I let go. I eventually made it home, pants crooked, clumps of hair in my mouth, and a distinct limp to my gait.

Story Three
Before I headed to bed this evening (where I am currently typing to you), I went outside for my end-of-day breather and there were Northern Lights in the sky! I haven't seen the Northern Lights in a very long time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Family matters of the heart

Uncle Steve. Uncle. Unc. I've called him all three names throughout my life. He is my mother's only brother and my only uncle-not-by-marriage, though at times he's seemed more like an older brother to me. Here are some scattered facts and memories:

  • He is nine years younger than my mom and twelve years older than I am.

  • We were both born in the Year of the Rabbit.

  • The day I was born there was a large lumber yard fire in Winnipeg. My dad and Uncle Steve were on their way to the hospital to see me but they stopped instead to watch the fire. Their defenses?

    • Dad: I had already seen you.
    • Uncle: Well...I was 12 and it was a big fire!

  • My grandma has a tape that consists of three-or-four-year-old Nat trying to sing various nursery rhymes. I say trying because every time I would get going on one, "Unc" would be right there, bugging me and making me mess up.

  • Around the same time, my grandma, grandpa, uncle, and I all took a road trip from Winnipeg to Hecla Island. Apparently I tried (there's that word again) to sing Baa, Baa Black Sheep the entire two-and-a-half hours. Uncle Steve would always interject with the wrong lyrics, forcing me to start over. My grandma recalls this trip with a laugh and the smallest of shudders.

  • I quite clearly remember when he still lived with my grandma and grandpa. He was a typical teen with Rolling Stones pictures hung in his room and loud music eminating from his speakers. He has introduced me to some fun music, such as R.E.M., Modest Mouse, and Badly Drawn Boy (sound warning).

  • My grandpa rigged a buzzer from the main floor kitchen to Uncle Steve's room in the basement to save my grandparents the trip downstairs if he was needed. I delighted in pressing the buzzer repeatedly at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning. He quickly disconnected it.

  • My sister and my uncle have been playing an ongoing, rambunctious, and often annoying game of in-house tag since approximately 1989. I am a casualty of this game, which consists of them simply chasing and whacking each other. My sister tagged my uncle and ran down the stairs at my grandparents house. Uncle Steve quickly followed. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he spied the closed bathroom door and figured my sister was hiding inside. With a flourish and a loud "A-HA!" he flung open the door to reveal an extremely naked and shocked Nat, who had just gotten out of the shower. He maintains all he saw was a flash of flesh and a whirl of towel. I suspect he's lying.

  • Once, at a extended family function (someone's 50th wedding anniversary, I think), Uncle stuck a chicken bone up each nostril. I thought this was hilarious. Still do, in fact.

  • Uncle Steve is a great gift-giver. I can usually count on music, books, or kitchen things from him. However, my favourite Unc gift ever was a knee joint keychain. See, I called him Unc, so he called me Nee (as in niece). Man, I loved that keychain!

  • Each and every time my family plays Bid Whist, my uncle loudly complains about one of the rules. The way it works is that the number of bids that we all give cannot total the number of cards that have been dealt. It is the dealer that gets screwed with this rule, as he or she bids last. When Uncle's the dealer, he tries to make the bids equal the cards and then acts all shocked when the rest of us sigh, roll our eyes, and lambast him for his blatant attempt at cheating. I know this point will make no sense to you non-card-players out there. So it goes.

  • This morning, someone was literally holding Uncle Steve's heart in his hands. He was hooked up to machines, given an anaesthetic, and opened up so that the doctors could fix his faulty heart. He is 44 and needed open-heart surgery. That doesn't seem right. Tonight I spoke to my grandma and she has reported that he is doing fine, which is an immense relief. I don't know what I'd do without him to amuse me at the next family gathering. Heal quickly, Unc. Love you.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Monster in my house

As I unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door, I heard an unearthly sound eminate from the back room. I crept down the hall and through the kitchen. The sound got louder. Something was back there. I pulled back the curtain and I saw...


THE DEADLY TWO-HEADED, MULTI-COLOURED CATBEAST!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jobs I have known

Happy belated Thanksgiving! Did you all eat an inhuman amount of food, too? Here is a breakdown of what I gorged myself on, as prepared by my wonderful mother (with very limited help from my sister, my stepdad, and me): goat cheese crisps with mushroom ragout, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turnip fluff, coleslaw, beet salad, holuptsi (cabbage rolls, for you non-Ukrainians), glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, dill pickles, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie with a gingersnap crust, and whipped cream. Each and every item on the list was entirely homemade, up to and including the dill pickles, and it was all absolutely delicious. Scrumptious, even.

In addition to stuffing my face, I got to play a goodly amount of crib (I won exactly 50% of the games - not really a stellar record), did some good-natured family-bashing, washed a whack of dishes, and watched a few episodes of season one of The Office (the American version). It was a delightful long weekend that allowed me to forget how dissatisfied I am with my work situation. However, as I rolled myself out of bed and into the shower this morning (sadly, almost literally), all of that work crap came flooding back. The intense boredom. The isolation and loneliness. The unknown and possibly scary changes a-comin'.

In an effort to show myself that it could always be worse, I present to you Crappy Jobs I Have Known:

1. Cleaner
I was about 12 years old and this was my very first job. My then-step-dad paid me to go into his store on Sundays (after he dragged me to church) and clean. He sold bedroom furniture and closet organizers and things like that, so it was mostly like doing housework. It actually was kind of fun - I got to listen to the radio the whole time because the store was closed, and there's something really satisfying about housecleaning. There are defined tasks to complete, there are small victories (yes! the vacuuming is done! on to the dusting...), and there's always an end in sight. Plus I got paid to do this! Mom never paid me to clean at home! So why was this job crappy (besides the fact that I was a kid and what kid wants to work)? Firstly, I had to spend the entire day with my then-step-dad. Not fun. There was a reason my mom chose to raise two children on her own rather than stay with him. And secondly, I was paid $5 a week! Even for a 12-year-old in 1987, that wasn't much. Interesting side note: I think this job got me used to being paid to clean. No one's giving me a dime to clean my apartment? Not gonna do it then. So there.

2. Private flute lesson teacher
As mentioned previously, I used to play the flute in a community band. There were four differnt bands you could be in, and as the years went by you would audition to move up a level. Once you reached the highest level you earned the right to provide private lessons to kids in the lower bands. When I was 14, I graduated into the highest level band and was super excited to teach flute lessons. I sure didn't know what I was in for. I had visions of young pupils staring up at me, all awestruck and admiring. They would write down my words of wisdom word for word and practice feverishly all week just so they could impress me with their progress the following weekend. Apparently I failed to remember back to when I was a pupil and would scrawl down cryptic notes in my lesson book, forget to look at anything again until an hour before my next lesson, and practice madly right before I had to leave because I thought that would fool my teacher. (Hmm...looking back, I see that not much has changed.) Anyway, my students were awful. They didn't want to be there, the didn't respect me, and they never practiced. Oh, also? One of my students was my little sister! Talk about impossible! She never listened to me or believed that what I said was true in non-lesson life. Why would she listen to me as her tutor? Well, the answer to that was she didn't. Mom quickly saw that this arrangement would only lead to disaster and quickly found another teacher for her.

3. Canvasser
I was so super stoked for this job when I started it the summer after grade 12. Why on earth would anyone be excited to go door to door, begging for money? Because it was for Greenpeace! And I was a treehugger! What could be more perfect? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Let me tell you what could have been more perfect: ANYTHING! Their, ahem, office was a tiny, possibly-condemned downtown bachelor apartment. "They" were a bunch of miserable, anemic-looking, chain-smoking twenty-something-year-old hipocrites. My training consisted of a pamphlet thrust at me the second I entered the room. I was quickly introduced to the other canvassers and assigned a buddy. Lexie was friendly enough but when we received our assigned section of the city, she told me the best way to learn is to plunge right in. She made me do the first house we went to by myself. I struggled and stammered through a half-hearted pitch only to have the man laugh and tell me he wouldn't give money to Greenpeace even if the planet was on its last legs. As I walked dejectedly back down the driveway Lexie popped out from behind a tree, laughing her ass off at me. She pointed out all the things I had done wrong and offered no pointers on how to improve. After five more hours of this, I had enough. I worked for Greenpeace for one day.

4. Professional grease-squisher-outer
Unlike most people, I was in university (rather than high school) when I got the ubiquitous fast food job. Apparently, those few years make a huge difference because a lot of people I know who worked there in high school rather enjoyed their time there. I hated it. First of all, I really wanted to be out front serving customers but but they stuck me in the kitchen. I can do things well or I can do them quickly. I cannot do both. As you may guess, that didn't go over well during the suppertime rush. I apologize to anyone who, back in the summer of 1994, received cold hamburgers topped with ketchup, onions, and syrup. Also, most of the people there were a lot younger than I was and had been working there for a number of years. This odd mix of immaturity and seniority resulted in rude jokes and pranks at my expense and a feeling of me against all of them. AND one of my tasks was to squish grease out of the hamburger patties as they came through the grilling machine. Really!

5. Hostile Hostel worker
Nostalgia allows me to turn this job I had in my early twenties into the Best! Job! Ever! But when I look at those five years with cold reason, I admit it had it share of awfulness, too. The Good: I got to meet really interesting people from all over the world. Most of my co-workers were fun, young people who loved to travel. One of my co-workers eventually became my girlfriend of 6 years. I was rarely bored - when there was no one to deal with at the front desk, I could clean; when the cleaning was done, I could do yardwork; when everything was done, I would visit with the guests. I liked the mix of physical work (the cleaning, the yardwork) and office work. The Bad: I had to work split shifs: 7 a.m. to 10 a.m and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. My sleep schedule was completely wonky. I always stayed up far too late and ended up napping for most of my time off in between shifts. I only received one raise the entire five years I was there, and that was because minimum wage went up. I had zero benefits. I had to work bingos. I received a month of vacation every year when the hostel was closed...in JANUARY! Who wants time off in fucking January? The Ugly: The manager was awful. She hated travelling and didn't like young people. The guy she got to live in the small apartment in the back so that someone was there at all times in case of emergency was awful. He was an alcoholic who was friendly enough on sober days and super icky every other day. Even though he was supposed to stay in his apartment, when he was drunk he was always lurking around the hostel. He was in his seventies but hit on all the young female guests. He wore a loosely fastened, threadbare bathrobe all hours of the day. Most of the time he forgot to put in his teeth. He got weepy and depressed. He invited prostitutes into his tiny apartment. Some of the guests were awful, too. There was the former businessman who had been sent to jail for embezzlement who always said your name and asked permission for everything. "Hey Nat. I'm going to go to the bathroom, okay Nat? And then, Nat, I'm going to go to church, k?" There was the weirdo who was supposedly biking across Canada but stayed with us for over a month and ate Burger King every day. There was the woman who kept placing packages of raw meat addressed to various Canadian celebrities into the coin lockers in the basement. I spent my last day at the hostel out on the deck, sipping tequila from a coffee cup, and visiting with two awesome guests from the U.S.

So you see? It could always be worse! Things can only get better! A job is what you make of it! Yadda, yadda, yadda. Tell me, what are the awful jobs that you've had to endure over the years? The crappier, the better.

(As if to prove how lucky I am, the universe offered up this guy on my way to work this morning. Perhaps my little city can't afford those big, expensive street sweeping machines and have hired him to do the job. Good luck, buddy!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Happy reasons why

8 reasons why I love my mom
• She's awesome
• She taught me to love reading
• She makes delicious and adventurous food which has resulted in me being not picky at all
• She's kind and loving and lovely
• She pushes me when she knows I need pushing
• She didn't let me quit music
• She's encouraged me to travel as much as possible
• She was such a good sport about that stagette my sister and I threw for her

7 reasons why I don't drive
• I don't have a license
• It's better for the environment
• I buy less stuff because I go on fewer shopping trips and only get what I can carry
• I get to enjoy different aspects of my city you don't get to interact with in a car
• I support smaller local businesses that are near to where I live, rather than the big box stores on the outskirts of the city
• I'm not convinced humans are meant to hurtle themselves around at 50 or 100 kilometres an hour
• It makes me feel better

6 reasons why I did a political science degree
• I was the right age for discovering that there was a world around me
• The classes made me feel all passionate and powerful and caring
• Most of the profs were old lefty hippies
• Classes rarely started before eleven o'clock in the morning
• Debating and arguing are both incredibly FUN
• I love people and studying how they act when they live together in societies is fascinating

5 reasons why travelling alone isn't all that bad
• You can go where you want
• You're more likely to interact with other travellers and locals
• You can spend as much or as little as you want on food and lodging
• You become stronger when you only have yourself to rely on
• You can sleep as much or as little as you want, and the hours that you want

4 reasons why I'm glad I was a band geek
• I got to travel around Canada, the U.S., and Europe
• I learned how to read music early enough that now it's super easy
• I adore music
• I've experienced what it's like to make music with 120 other people who are all trying their best to create one beautiful moment

3 reasons why I live in an apartment
• I can't afford a house
• I'm not into home improvement
• I enjoy feeling like I could take off at any moment, even though I probably won't

2 reasons why autumn is my favourite season
• Cool, crisp evening walks through crunchy leaves
• My wool sweater

1 reason I like you (yes, you!)
• You're AWESOME!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Scents and sense (of self)

I smell really good today. I love it when I use a shampoo that I haven't used in a long time and the scent is super-noticeable all day. I'll be sitting there thinking, "Mmm...something sure smells good," and then I realize that it's ME! It sure makes me feel good.

Scents don't always ake me feel good. I buy fragrance-free deodorant, laundry soap, regular soap, and hairspray. The smell of other people's perfume or cologne makes me nauseous and usually gives me a headache. Throughout the years I have had to abandon many beloved personal grooming products because they would literally make me sick. However, I have found that not only can I tolerate the spicy, sandalwoody, pachouli-ish family of smells, I LOVE them. I love their warm, earthiness and their association with folk festivals and incense and exotic countries. And thanks to this wonderful shampoo that my friend Cake bought me, that's exactly what I smell like today.

I think I love these smells because I don't get much of a chance to express who I am through my appearance. I hear so many women complain about the lack of shopping opportunities in my city but let me tell you this: until you've tried to buy clothes here as a fat female, you have NO IDEA how crappy it is. I basically have 3 or 4 stores to choose from. Period. And none of these stores carry clothes that I think are me, so I end up dressing for comfort rather than how something looks. Don't get me wrong - I don't go to my office job in sweats and a pair of thongs (the foot kind, not the underwear kind). However, I do come to work in baggy, stretchy, and/or elastic-filled clothes. I figure if I'm going to look hideous to varying degrees, I might as well be comfortable, too.

I buy shoes the same way. Skinny people may not realize this but when you're fat, everything's fat, including your feet. I need wide shoes and those are a rarity in our trendy shoe stores we have in my city. I also walk A LOT, so whatever I buy must be comfortable. As a result, when I'm shoe shopping I have to pass on all those adorable, funky, cool sheos and go for the "sensible" variety. This means that I end up looking like an old lady or a butchy lesbian. (As a bi chick, there are worse things than looking like a lez but face it, they're not known for being uber-fashionable.)

This frumpy exterior is also one of the reasons I like to talk about myself. Our society puts a lot of stock in first impressions (this site says it takes THREE SECONDS for someone to make up their mind about a person). I'm not sure I like the conclusions that are likely drawn after seconds of seeing me. Boring. Schlubby. Uninteresting. Unexciting. Not words I want associated with me. So I talk and talk and talk about myself. "I've travelled! I'm passionate about politics! I'm a treehugger! I'm musically-inclined! I love art and photography! I read! I cook! I have 3 degrees! I'm not boring, I swear!" I want everyone to know everything about me right away so that I can overrule that awful first impression. Mysterious and private I am not.

So here I am in my ghastly tapered pants with an elastic waist, my stretchy cotton t-shirt, and my loafers, writing all about myself. But boy-oh-boy, I sure smell good!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Happy birthday

I'm here to report to you that I am not a very good daughter. Today is my dad's birthday and I waited to call him until I was pretty sure he wouldn't be home, just so that I could leave a message and I wouldn't have to talk to him. My awful plan didn't work though, and he ended up being home when I phoned. The joy in his voice when he heard it was me was palpable. It struck me right in the gut.

In order to understand why I was hoping he wasn't home, I guess I should explain some background. My mom and dad met when they were teenagers. I don't know a lot about their early years together but I do know he was something of a bad boy. Today, a rebel is the last kind of guy I imagine my mom would be attracted to, but back then I guess she was. He played drums in a band. He bought, did, and sold drugs. The police would drive him to the outskirts of the city and drop him off. I don't know if he was a thief, but I'm sure he could hook you up with whatever you would need. When they got married he tried to turn respectable. I'm not sure if it was because he wanted to or because my mom wanted him to. He got a job at his father's bakery and worked the awful hours of a night baker. He hated it but he figured it was only temporary.

After I was born his situation became less temporary, as he was now responsible for two lives. Even though my father loved me very much, I imagine he was deeply unhappy. He was the kind of guy who wanted to go drinking and tear up the town with his buddies. The details are fuzzy here - he may or may not have had an affair when I was about three - but I do know that he and my mom fought with each other more and more. They tried to keep me away from the tension, but I remember laying in my bed at night, silently crying because I could hear them yelling. I adored my dad and didn't want anything bad to happen. In the mornings when he would get off work, I would wait at the window for his big blue van to appear in the driveway. I would run to the door and greet him with squeals and hugs and giggles. Even though I was only 4 years old, the day my dad told me that I would be moving away with my mom and not him is etched in my memory as one of the saddest days of my life.

He tried the best he could to be a good weekend dad but Ward Cleaver he was not. He had no idea how to care for a young child so instead he spoiled me. When it was a Dad Weekend, I knew I could look forward to mountains of delicious junk food, television until my eyes dried out, and so many Atari games that I would dream about Pac-Man and Space Invaders. All of these forbidden pleasures distracted me from his almost constant drinking and his many and sundry "lady friends" that would spend the night. We'd go on outings to the neighbourhood beer parlour. (Is this a common term? I have no idea, but it's what he's always called the dank, dark pubs where he drinks.) He would order a triple rye and Coke, pour a drop or two of the cola ("just for colour") into his rye and give me the rest to drink. I would sit there, sick to my stomach with fear and discomfort, and sip my drink as my dad bought round after round for his scary drinking buddies.

Our relationship became more strained and distant after I moved to a city 500 kilometres away. I only saw him during holidays and over the summer, and it seemed like every time I'd talk to him on the phone he'd be drunk. Eventually, he married a pretty awesome woman with whom I had a good relationship. He straightened himself out for her, just as he had done with my mom all those years ago. He seemed happier and more content with his life. Sadly, this didn't last. Around the same time that the love of my life was dumping me, my stepmom left my dad. It destroyed him. He started calling me, crying, at three or four in the morning when he was done his shift at the bakery. At first I answered these calls because I thought there might be an emergency but after a while I just ignored them. I woke up to long, rambling, sobbing messages from him about how he still loves my mother and how my ex-stepmother is such a bitch and how I never visit him anymore. Through the wonders of caller i.d., I hardly ever had to talk to my dad. I also knew when he'd be at work, and that's when I'd return his calls. I'd leave message like, "Aw, too bad. I figured you'd be at work but thought I'd take a shot anyway. How're you doing?..."

Two years have passed since that tumultuous time. When my stepmom was around, my dad would drink one day a week instead of the seven days he does now. They would do things like go for dinner or see a movie. Without her around, all my dad does is drink and smoke and work and pick up women at the beer parlour. I don't enjoy talking to him on the phone and I try to limit my visits with him and all this makes me a terrible daughter and an awful human being. He loves me so much that the sound of my voice has the power to make his day brighter.

I should be nicer, more understanding. My dad has the kindest heart of anyone I know. He'll lend money he doesn't have to friends in need. He is constantly taking on renters who can't afford to pay him rent. I know that he drinks because he's unhappy. I accept that. I also know that he hooks up with so many skeevy women because he's lonely. I guess I accept that, too. In fact, now that I'm older, I can see a shockingly large amount of him in me. How is it that someone I lived with for 4 years - an mere eighth of my life - has had so much impact on who I am today? We posses the same lack of ambition, the same woefully inadequate grasp of all things related to money, the same revulsion to housework and attraction to food with zero nutrition, and the same tendency to be less than truthful at times. We also have the same need to be loved and accepted and the same loneliness in our hearts. Why couldn't I have inherited his skinny genes or his amazing woodworking talent? Why did I get the bad stuff? Maybe it's all of our similarities that scares me and makes me avoid my father.

Whatever it is, I'm going to try to be a better person. I'm sorry I didn't want to talk to you, Dad. I'm sorry I don't know who you are and you don't know who I am. I'm glad that you were home when I called and that you're having a good day. I hope your date tonight with your newest girlfriend goes well and that you have a truly happy birthday. I really do love you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thirty-seven things

Things are happening at my work that are making me very unhappy. Change is always stressful but when I can't even come up with a bright side of any part of it, it's even worse. But change is a-happenin', whether I like it or not, so instead of dwelling on things, I'm going to make a list of things that make me happy. Here is the list (in no particular order):

1. Kind people
2. Funny people
3. Intelligent people
4. My family
5. Singing at the top of my lungs
6. Dancing like an idiot
7. Noodling around (badly) on the piano
8. Cooking
9. Dinner parties
10. Getting to really know someone
11. Friends you can watch the sunrise with
12. Reconnecting with old friends
13. CBC Radio 1
14. The National Research Council's official time signal where the beginning of the long dash following 10 seconds of silence indicates exactly twelve o'clock noon (or sometimes, because we don't change our clocks in this province, eleven o'clock)
15. Accents
16. Outdoor music festivals
17. Camping
18. Coffee houses
19. Pubs
20. Red wine
21. Wheat beer
22. Lively debates
23. Plane trips
24. Road trips
25. People who let me control the music on road trips
26. Cats
27. Rick Mercer
28. Rain
29. Trees
30. Staying up all night reading because the book's so good you can't put it down
31. Sundays
32. Fridays
33. Board games
34. Bed
35. Waking up when the sun is about to rise and going for a walk around the lake before work
36. Spring
37. Autumn

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A really long post all about me

Something wonderful happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Three people, all independant of each other, mentioned how creative I am. This caught me completely by surprise because I had forgotten that, at one time, I was a bit of an artsy-fartsy type.

Before I go on, I must digress and tell you about the two equal but opposite forces that have dictated the course of events for my life.

Force #1 - I like people

I have a cat named Cazzy. She is not a cat that likes to be held or who likes to curl up in my lap, however she always likes to be close to people. If I'm cooking, she's sleeping on the kitchen windowsill. If I'm watching TV, she's curled up near my feet.

I am like Cazzy. When I was little I was quite happy amusing myself but I liked to be near people. The quiet hum of daily activity comforted me. Silence was creepy. This carried on as I grew up. Most people I know loved to retreat to their rooms when they were angst-filled teens. Sure, sometimes I did that, but for the most part I liked being in the kitchen or the living room and close to the other members of my family. I absolutely adored Christmas at our house when we would have 5 or 6 or 10 extra people staying over and there was madness in every corner.

I have never dreamed about moving out and getting a place of my own. Instead, I wished I had a pack of crazy friends with whom I could rent a house. It would be pure bohemian chaos and I imagined I would love every minute of it. Sadly, I never had the required group of friends. I lived at home until riduculously late in life (25) and only moved out because I had 2 people to go live with. I was sad when they were away, comforted when they were home, and delighted when others came to visit us as well. The more, the merrier, I said.

It's not that I was scared to be by myself. I wasn't worried that I wouldn't be able to handle it or anything. I just prefer to be not alone. I am utterly and completely a people person. I love nothing more than to meet someone interesting and proceed to get to know them bit by bit over beer or coffee or e-mail. I love the easy banter that goes along with working with a close-knit group of people. I love friends of every type: best friends, drinking friends, movie friends, friends who live away but who visit during the holidays, work friends, and yes, even casual elevator friends. Every person I meet and somehow click with is a potential friend. Which takes us to...

Force #2 - People do not always like me

Despite my love of people, I have always had difficulty with friends - I have a tough time making them and an even tougher time keeping them. It's not for lack of trying on my part. I think that maybe people just don't get me. But in grade one, glorious grade one, not only did I have a friend but I had a BEST friend. We did everything together. We climbed the monkey bars together, we sat beside each other, we, uh, did whatever else 6-year-olds do for fun together. Then one day as I was in the bathroom I saw her shoes walk up to the other side of the stall door and stop.

"Nat." she said.

"Yeah." I replied.

"I kinda don't want to be friends anymore, k?"

"What? No!" I cried. But it was too late. Those shiny brown shoes were gone like a flash, taking my ex-best friend with them.

Shortly after that I moved and started the whole cycle again. Ever since I can remember having friends, I can also remember said friends dumping me. It happened in elementary school, high school, the community group I was a member of for 9 years, and a few times in university. I would be part of a fantastic group of people and then one day I would show up and no one would talk to me. Or it would happen more slowly, being excluded from more and more get-togethers until one day the invitations would stop.

The result of all of this is a terrible lack of self-confidence. To this day I have a tough time with friends. I come on too strong, reeking of desperation and full of neediness. At other times I'll push people away and isolate myself, believing there's no possible way these people could actually like me.

I can hear you asking: But Nat, what does all this have to do with creativity? Yes, I'm getting there.

When I left university, my difficulty with friends wasn't an issue. I immediately met a wonderful person, fell madly in love, and moved in with her. For six years, other people came and went but she was always there for me. However, a year and a half ago we broke up and I found myself in the unwanted position of living by myself. There I was, utterly alone. Yes, I had friends, but we only got together 2 or 3 times a month. Outside of work, I was forced to spend the vast majority of my time with only my cats for company. Then a year ago, something happened that made things even worse: I got a promotion at work. At first this seemed like a great thing. It meant more money, more freedom, less stress. But it also meant MUCH less interaction with people. Not only was there no one around during my evenings, but I would hardly see anyone during the day either. Sometimes my phone would ring at three o'clock in the afternoon and when I would answer it, my voice would come out as a croak because I hadn't spoken to anyone since the previous afternoon. For someone who loves people as much as I do, this was torture. I would sit in my cubicle and listen to my colleagues talk to each other about their spouses, their children, their home rennovations, and I would silently plead for someone to just say hi to me or to ask me how my weekend was. Returning home for the day would offer no relief from the crushing loneliness I felt.

But then around six months ago something strange happened. Instead of coming home and watching TV until I fell asleep on the couch, I started noodling around on my piano and my flute more. I took more aimless walks. I started writing letters. I bought myself a digital camera and discovered that I absolutely LOVED taking pictures. I re-learned how to knit. I started a blog.

Now for the first time in my entire life, I am okay being by myself. In fact, I'm better than okay. I am far more alive and creative than I have been in a long time. The isolation I experience at work is still there but once I arrive home, I feel better. A whole range of activities that make me feel good are right there at my fingertips. This brings us back full circle to the beginning: people have begun to notice that I am doing more these days and they have expressed their appreciation for what I've created. In turn, this makes me feel better and better about myself and more like to do even more. It's a wonderful cycle. I never thought I would find solitude so enjoyable but I'm going to go with it and see where it takes me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The secret lives of dentists everybody

You know the old question. "If you could have one superpower, what would it be?" Most people I know have answered that they want to fly. Not me. I always reasoned that cars and airplanes make me sick enough - I can't imagine what actually flying would do.

No, I always thought it would be neat to be able to jump inside other people's minds. Not literally, of course, but rather to be able to see the world through someone else's eyes, to know what he or she is thinking and feeling and experiencing. Other people have always fascinated me and to know their stories would be an amazing gift.

We are all so wrapped up in our own play. Unconsciously, I imagine all the people that come and go from my life as extras. When I don't interact with them, they go and wait patiently in the wings for their next entrance. Is it any wonder we tend, as a species, to be so self-involved? It's easy to forget that there are six billion of us, each one lugging around an 800,000-page script of our own life.

Now and then I get little reminders of these billions of other plays being enacted. Tonight I was out on my balcony. I live in a fantastic old apartment by one of my city's hospitals. The neighbourhood is full of interesting characters and I enjoy going out there to see what's happening before I head off to bed. Usually all I see are doctors or nurses whose shifts have ended and who are walking to their vehicles, or homeless people picking through the garbage bins and salvaging the still-usable stuff we homed (homeful?) people have thrown out. This time I saw a minivan park on the street and a man and and woman got out. They starting doing that half-jog, half-walk thing as soon as their feet hit the pavement. As they passed beneath me, I heard him say to her, "Don't worry," and then he grabbed her hand as they rushed towards the hospital entrance.

What horrible scene awaited them there? I could try and trick myself into thinking that it was actually their daughter they were rushing to see, and she was in the middle of having her first child and they were merely concerned for her safety. But no - I could hear it in his voice. I could see it in their cluched hands. Tonight's portion of their play is surely going to be a tragedy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Trees have leaves?

It was English class. Mrs. Green. She was writing notes on the board and I was writing notes to a friend because I was bored. (See what I did there? Clever, no?) I was probably asking dreadfully important questions, such as, "Do you think that maybe Greg likes me?" or "Have you ever taken Mr. Hottie McHotHot's math class?" or maybe even "What do you wanna do after school? I don't wanna go home cause MOM's gonna to be there." (Don't worry - I've grown to absolutely adore my mother.)

Actually, I was writing notes to a friend for an entirely different, much more secret reason. And I was so wrapped up in my teenage angst that I didn't notice Mrs. Green had finished writing on the chalkboard and was walking up and down the aisles. She got to my desk, noticed I wasn't writing down her thought-provoking questions about Animal Farm ("The farmyard represents human society. Discuss."), and raised a bushy, black eyebrow. In a quiet voice, she asked, "Nat, why aren't you writing down today's notes?"

Now, despite the odd transgression (like getting out of gym class by saying I had to go help the music teacher with a project and then just going and hanging out in the music room) (I was a bit of a music/drama geek, if you couldn't guess), I was a pretty good student. My marks were mostly in the 80s and 90s. I didn't cut class. I did my homework. I didn't like getting in trouble. So when faced with this question from Mrs. Green, my instinct was to tell the truth.

"I, um, can't see the board from back here. I usually just copy Lynn's notes after class."

"Oh. Okay."

And then she walked away. I thought that was the end of that, but the next day I got called down to the nurses office for an impromptu and amateur eye exam. When I could barely read any of the letters on any of the lines, the nurse called my mom and advised her that I desperately needed to go to the optometrist. Soon I was whisked away to the eye doctor who promptly and ominously declared, "Young lady. You. Need. Glasses." He told me that I may not have to wear them all the time but that I could use them for school when I needed to see the board.

I didn't want glasses. Geeks wore glasses. Grandmas wore glasses. Young women fumbling their way through high school hell, just trying to get by unnoticed, did NOT wear glasses if they knew what was best for them. Nevertheless, I went with my mom to pick out some frames and week or so later, we went and picked up my brand new specs.

I can't even describe the joy I felt when I put on that first pair of glasses, even if they were hideously large and ugly. I remember looking around and thinking, "Trees have leaves!" I walked around the neighbourhood that day just looking at everything, revelling in all the details. Cracks in wood fences, bark on tree trunks, the texture of bricks - I could see it all and it was beautiful.

I never went without glasses again. I didn't choose to only wear them at school, like Dr. Needham suggested. Seeing was too wonderful to dispose of. I get that same feeling of joy whenever I get my prescription renewed. Slowly but surely, my eyes degenerate over the course of months and years and then I give in, get my eyes checked, and get new lenses. And the first thing I notice each and every time is that, once again, trees have leaves.

Sorry for the slightly tedious subject matter of today's post but - can't you tell? - I just got new lenses! Here's a before and after picture for you.

(Sorry about the weird white space. I can't seem to get rid of it. But you can click on the picture to enlarge it and get the full, delicious effect.)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Three reasons

See! I told you that sometimes you'd get the why.

Reason #1: Why playing piano is better than playing flute


One word: CHORDS! After 25 years or so of playing the flute, it is absolutely delicious to be able to play more than one note at a time. Flute is nice - don't get me wrong - but when you don't have an ensemble to play with, your sonic adventures are quite limited. But with the piano, you don't need those pesky clarinets, trombones, or French horns to sound good. (Well, French horns are always a welcome addition to anything musical.)

Often I'll just sit at the piano and play with different sounds until I almost fall over with delight. Tension, tension, tension, aaaaaaaaand...release. I'm grinning just thinking about it. The theory of it all rather escapes me for now (major! minor! 7th! diminished 7th! minor major 7th!) (oooh, check out this page if you want to make your mind swim with all the different chord possibilities!) but I like experimenting with the different clashes and compliments.

Reason #2: Why playing flute is better than playing piano


Sometimes, I just want to not suck. Let's be totally honest here - playing the piano is hard! There are times when I'm expected to do a split-second glance at the page and then play EIGHT NOTES AT ONCE. While the result may sound pretty fantastic (see above), it takes almost all of my brain power and waaaaay longer than one-tenth of a second to do so. And what the hell is with bass clef? My god, what sort of evil, wrinkly soul thought this up? I spend 25 years of my life with Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge as my musical mantra and then all of a sudden I have to change it to Good Boys Deserve Fudge Also? Oh and don't even get me started on how FACE becomes All Cows Eat Grass. (Though, according to this page I should be thankful I only have to worry about 2 clefs at a time!) Anyway, you get the idea. Playing piano = tough.


Playing the flute, however, is something I can do on autopilot. When I see a C on the page, I don't have to think, "Okay, what note is that? F-A-C - C! It's a C! Okay, what fingers do I use to play a C? Um...oh right! Index finger on my left hand, pinky finger on my right hand and...that's it." I may have done that when I was seven or eight but now I just see that blob that means C and my fingers automatically go there. Mind you, I'm not as good as I used to be but I definitely don't have to think the whole time I'm playing. If I'm playing a song that I used to play with the concert band I belonged to, my mind will fill in the other instruments so that, in my head at least, it sounds like I'm playing with an entire band again. Or maybe I'll start thinking about other times and places where I performed the song. Or maybe I won't think at all and I'll just listen and feel.

Reason #3: Why singing kicks both their asses


Singing feels great! When I'm playing the flute, I'll often adopt a hunched-over, almost fetal, position that I imagine makes me look super cool (but would probably make this guy red with anger). After an hour of playing, there are unpleasant twinges in my back and an alarming number of fingers have fallen asleep. Similarly, after a good solid go at the piano, my back, butt, AND hands all ache with equal urgency.

But singing? Singing I can do any time, any where with great ease and no physical discomfort. Whether I'm doing dishes, cooking supper, having a shower, or - when I'm feeling particularly reckless - walking down the street, nothing feels better than belting out a song I love. The way each particular note sneaks up and out from my lungs and makes my whole body hum with acoustic resonance never ceases to lift my mood.

Ah music. If you'll excuse me, I think I need to go...sing. No, play piano. Or flute. Um, maybe I'll just go to bed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cartoons speak the truth

I have something deeply embarassing to admit to you, dear readers. (However, since I imagine there's only one of you out there, I don't feel so shy about doing so.) I recently went to see a movie. I was supposed to go see something with friends but that didn't work out so I went by myself. AM I EVER GLAD I DID, because even though this movie was a comedy, one line made my stomach feel queasy and my heart squeeze in my chest. Before I even knew what was happening I had tears streaming down my face. It kinda bummed me out for the remainder of the show.

What was it? The Simpsons Movie. Yes, the one movie that I'm sure has made no one else cry in the whole world made me weep like a willow. The line came somewhere near the middle. Marge was mad at Homer for being such a dolt (surprise) and he was trying to defend himself against her attacks. He said that he's not really the type of guy who thinks very much, though he does admire people who do. Then he said the line that was so achingly beautiful and sad that it reached into my soul: I just try and make the day not hurt until I can crawl back into bed with you.

I realized that this is what I do all the time. I try to get through my days with as little thought as possible. In the mornings, I go for a walk before work. A lot of people would use this time for self-reflection and soul-searching. Not me, nope. I pop on the earphones and listen to music. Loudly. Then when I'm getting ready for work, I turn on the radio and listen to CBC. Sometime I get mad at the morning show host, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I ponder the problems in the world, sometimes I'm merely amused. What I don't do is turn those thoughs internally. For my walks to and from work, there's more music to silently sing along to. While I'm at work, I'm generally focused on the tasks I'm doing or the people I'm having lunch with. And finally, when I'm home again, I busy myself with television, radio, or (again) music. Even just before I go to bed, I read a few pages of whatever book I happen to be reading so that I'm thinking about the plot or characters as I'm drifing off.

From the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, I do everything in my power to avoid thinking about myself. I'm pretty sure this is because I know, deep down, that I'm dreadfully unhappy, and I also don't believe there's a hell of a lot I can do about it, so why think about it too much, right? I'm doing what I can to "try and make the day not hurt." Some people turn to chemicals to do this. Apparently I turn to the entertainment industry and to socializing (with some chemicals thrown into the mix on the weekends).

I'm sure that I won't do anything with this new insight into myself but one thing's for sure: I'm going to be avoiding any so-called comedies from now on.