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.