Thursday, July 30, 2020

Things that deserve the stink-eye:


If you live in Alberta or British Columbia, you might relate? I opened this virtual assistant at 19:15. Great service, eh? If you live elsewhere, I'm sure you have similar stories. I haven't used the Telus Babylon health services app, (and probably never will because, Telus) plus I'm hearing disturbing things

P.S. As I write this, I am still on hold with Telus (1 hour, 13 minutes...). Why access Telus both online & via phone simultaneously? This isn't my first Telus rodeo. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Love Letter

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Writers are urged to resist sentimentality. I've tried. But, disclaimer: I. Just. Can't.

Today is my Grandma's 97th birthday. We wrote letters to each other for over thirty years, at least until arthritis and a failing memory prevented her from writing back. She died less than six months ago. I miss her. I couldn't attend her funeral, so I wrote one last letter which was read at her memorial. 

Dear Grandma,

Thank you for what you did for me. It meant everything. You were my first real memory: you taught me how to tie my shoes. It’s a simple but essential skill I’ve used almost every day since, and one that I will use for the rest of my life. How could I not think of you everyday, at least for a moment? It’s easy to think about you. Because you cared. You listened. You noticed. You were the first person I trusted. I remember your kiss before bed. No one ever did that before. I remember every new pair of knitted mittens. I felt calm reading your Reader’s digest books. I felt smart doing Grandpa’s newspaper puzzles because you encouraged me. I felt warm being in the garden with you, watching Tub wander between the rows. I remember when I asked you to sit beside me at your electric organ because I had finally, finally learned a song to play for you, and together we sang Elvis’ hit song, “Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go….

I felt safe with you—the way you said my name, the way you paid attention. There is a lot of rejection in life, but you accepted me. I didn’t think I was lovable, but you loved me anyway, despite my faults and flaws. There was always a whirlwind of nervousness and shame and loneliness twisting my childhood insides, but I felt peaceful with you. I remember how you would look at me from across the room and smile, just for me. No one else did that. I had two modes as a kid: bawling or annoying. (No wonder you drank scotch.) Yet you were patient with me. I don’t know...maybe you were an annoying kid too, or bullied, or felt different, or loved somebody who was? Or maybe you were fueled by compassion? Whatever the reason, because you accepted me, I learned to accept myself. I will always be grateful for that, plus it taught me how I should treat others, how to support and respect everyone, all kinds of people. I failed these lessons many times, sometimes still do, but they were lessons I surely needed, and the world does too. Thank you. “Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled….

I learned from you that happiness is a choice, and people need reminders. You helped me understand that worrying and bitterness is inaction. Sometimes, I would listen while you had conversations with others around all those kitchen tables, and when topics got dark and hopeless, you would find something witty and positive to say, dropping a mic on all that pointless complaining. You were honest. You would tease Grandpa until he stopped worrying, mocking his voice with a wink. You were authentic. That can be a vulnerable and thus uncomfortable way to be for most of us, but I watched you, and I learned. I asked you what you wanted for your birthday once and you smiled and said, “I already have everything…plus a cane, and a walker, and one leg shorter than the other.” You were real. You had a way with words. You made me laugh. You taught me that honesty builds bridges between us, and laughter heals rifts, helps us cope, helps sustain us. You lifted us up. “Love me tender, love me long, take me to your heart….”

I learned from you the meaning of real strength. I once stopped by to visit and found you in your bedroom on your exercise bike. Your walker was nearby. Sweating, you jumped off and we sat together, talked, and ate cookies. You made jokes about how fat you were getting, even though I’d guess you weighed the same trim weight your entire adulthood. You did not take yourself too seriously, you were always humble, but to me you were perseverance personified. You built a farm, you raised three kids, you picked the roots and shooed the bears. You cooked the feasts and scrubbed the clothes, and during all of this, your hair was curled just so. You lost your only son much too soon. Then your husband, your siblings, three of your grandchildren, your oldest daughter. No one can plan for that kind of grief, for a life with that much heartache. Only once, not that many years ago, do I recall your strength wavering, when you said, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” I understood you, Grandma. You didn’t want to be a burden. None of us do. But this moment passed, thanks to ice cream and chocolate, which are actually two very good reasons to persist through the struggles. But I know why you were still here Grandma. I’m telling you right now. You were here for me, and for everyone else in this room. To show us that we can endure more than we realize, that we are stronger than we think, and you will continue to teach us that lesson as we age. “Love me tender, love me dear, tell me you are mine…till the end of time.”

People say that everyone growing up needs that one person who believes in them. You were that person for me. You never missed my birthday or any other important occasion in my life. You never raised your voice. You made extra chocolate cupcakes just for me and told me to eat, eat, eat. (This may have worked too well on me Grandma.) You never judged me, ever. You told my wife once, “David gets me.” You got me too, Grandma. You were my unconditional love. Thank you, because it made me a better, stronger person, even though I’m bawling a little bit right now and I can still be annoying. I will never forget you Grandma. You were loved and will always be loved; you will always be part of my stories, and if I have grandchildren someday, I will treat them exactly how you treated me…  “Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled….”

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Boost

Endless possibilities: YouTube
I never once had a babysitter growing up, other than the TV. My 70s/80s parents had no qualms about letting me watch whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Many months ago now (well before covid-19), I cut ties with regular television. I had been contemplating it for years. I went back to school online to get another degree, and had less time to waste. Telus pissed me off, yet again. Plus, there were new, less mainstream choices to explore. So now we have Netflix and a few streaming services. But my favourite? Definitely YouTube.

When I told my daughter YouTube was my new favourite "station," she joked, "What are you watching Dad? Make-up tutorials?" Nope. But almost everything else: short films, European talk shows, how-to draw videos, Ted Talks, renovation clips, people seeking attention...and old clips of shows from my youth (I missed you Bionic Man), family reunions, adoption stories, old music videos. Similar to the time I binge-watched Parks & Recreation, YouTube is lifting me up, boosting my mental health. I love the variety, current content and awkward clips from the past. I love the way the algorithms make choices for me; I love trying to find the threads between these choices. I love watching people be creative. It inspires me. I take notes. I make plans. I know, I know; I'm not dumb: it's all about the dopamine, it's all about longing for less fraught times, and I admit that currently, much of this time-killer is passive consumption. I should be writing/creating/working. But, like some of you I suspect (?), I still need some extra down time to percolate, before I fully face the weary world again. Thanks for being my newest babysitter YouTube...gotta go now and watch the original Wonder Woman spin around and save the world. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

I tell myself

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It's snowing here. More snow is forecast. I tell myself Spring will come.

I have never felt a more empty nest in our home. Sentimental, I remind myself we are fortunate, that everyone is currently separated in some form, all for the common good. But I continue to wonder about my grown children's safety, and our own. I continue to wonder about the elderly, the sick, medical staff, grocery-store employees, the babies not yet held by their grandparents. Others. I remind myself to be grateful. For my health. For my job. Many have lost theirs, including some of my colleagues, callously informed via Twitter/Facebook this weekend, promised the opposite only days ago. I wonder how parents are coping, and their children, their mental health. Then I notice through the window two neighbourhood kids wrapped in colourful snowsuits playing in their backyard, simultaneously climbing and sinking into a snow-hill, and I tell myself, they are strong.

I tell myself I can learn a lot from childrenan educator, they have been my constant teachers. Buoyed by their inspiring ability to adapt, I tell myself to get focused, get creative, seize opportunities, persist, and learn everything I can from this. Meaning is more found in the bad times, right? I'm reading Sapiens: a Brief History of Mankind. Confident and wise, Yuval Noah Harari attempts to answer life's biggest questions. Couldn't we all use some answers right now? I wonder if Harari's answers still resonate with him, in this new season of history, weighty and charged with us all thinking the same questions. And it continues to snow.

Yet I know for sure that the writersthe storytellers, the philosophers, the filmmakers, the poetsthey have all asked these questions before, and so I tell myself Rilke's words: "Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror, just keep going: no feeling is final."

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Peanut Butter & Jam

As this pandemic unfolds, I notice curiously random brain behaviour both in dreamslooking into a stranger's eyes, and then the sinking gravity in our locked eyes as we realize we are shaking handsand awake. Most mental filing cabinets get accessed quickly, but navigating new (and often fraught) problem-solving at work and socially, some odd cabinets seem to pop open during daily tasks. What's in those? It surprises me every time: a memory of a word game we used to play with our kids on road trips (first letter, last letter); a staccato song lyric from the 1980s All for freedom and for pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever, everybody wants to rule the world...and my childhood cat Bigfoot, curled on the couch next to my Dad, and so on. Writing this, I detect a pattern I hadn't noticed earlier. Sigh.

But my most spine-tingly example involved toasting a bagel a few days ago. As an educator who works in multiple schools weekly, I take a bagged lunch, but much lunch fare is contraband. Some schools restrict peanut butter, some nuts in general, one used to restrict fish and eggs. It makes for few easy lunch choices. Thus, I hadn't eaten peanut butter for years. However, with students relegated to their homes, I realized I could take a peanut butter sandwich to work, a momentary woo-hoo. Soon I found some in the back of our pantry; we were together for lunch, once again! Then, to treat myself one evening, I decided I needed a peanut butter and jam bagel. But when I placed the peanut butter knife in the jam, a strong familiar voice popped into my head, "Never put the peanut butter knife in the jam!" My oldest brother LOVED jam but HATED peanut butter so this was a rule growing up. He's been dead since 2013; I hadn't heard his voice for so long. I laughed and then it nearly broke me. But I ate that damn PB&J bagel, determined. Friends, use those voices inside you now, the ones that summon courage.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

For Clarity

It may not look like it yet, but Spring is almost heremy favourite season. This Spring will be like none before, at least in my lifetime. Still, I am grateful for Spring. For conversations with my daughter. For a silly video from my son. For the way my wife looks at me sometimes. For friends. For my work colleagues and their dedication to all things education, even without students. For doctors and nurses and medical staff. For scientists and leaders who heed them. For surprise chocolate-chip cookies. For one last gift from my 96-year-old Grandmother. For wanting to write again. For another day. For clarity.

What we do for othersit's all that matters.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Fave Reads 2019

Paulo Freire said, "to speak a true word is to transform the world." I didn't realize it until now, but many of my favourite 2019 reads were about uncovering truths. Not an easy task; it requires adjusting and readjusting mindset. Some books hold truth like pebbles--gather enough and finally there comes an identity landslide. Some pebbles, some more, these were my favourite reads this year.

I re-read this short memoir this
year, probably for the third or
fourth time. It's just pure honesty.
I became fascinated with
artist Paul Klee, whom I studied
for a research project. Part
philosophy, part drawing
guide, this book is packed with
ideas that jolt us from a passive
view about art & design. 
The plot unfolds backwards
revealing a doctor's sickening
history, but the narrator's
confusion and despair
unfolds forwards, and
breaks his heart.
It's gripping, and despite
Atwood's eerie dystopia
firmly connected to our
modern times, it's hopeful. 
As a teen, I read almost everything
King wrote. This book made
me want to re-read those
and so many others I've missed.
Using magic-realism, King
asks us to reflect on what weighs
us down, what immobilizes us.
\not scary, this novella works like
 a companion to King's best books
because it shows us the good
inside his heart. 
I read this as part of a
creative nonfiction class.
A brave author who
holds nothing back. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Let's be honest:

we should all have the confidence of a miniature donkey.

They have mohawks. Long fuzzy ears. Beautiful down-cast eyes. Upon entering the fence, they just mosey on over and stand next to you, waiting to be petted. Don't try to move them though; they are tiny, but solid and, as advertised, stubborn. And I swear they are nervous system regulators.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Unexpected

My daughter got married last month. I've always told my children that the most important decision they'll ever make is whom they choose to marry. She chose well. But marriage is a choice too. I didn't expect this. Any of it.

I didn't expect my daughter would wear her mother's wedding dress. I didn't expect my daughter would ask me to read Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese." I didn't expect those vows, with hints of tender history and romance and humour. I didn't expect my wife's uncle to whisper this to me just before I went to the podium to speak, "Don't. Fuck. This. Up." I didn't expect to laugh so much, and cry, and laugh again. Or that they would sing that song, carefree and full-throated at times because that's what musicians do I guess. I didn't expect them to swing each other around in a circle during the first dance. As my sister-in-law remarked through joyful tears and laughter, "Who does that except L & P?" I didn't expect people from all over Canada, even the world. I didn't expect people to tell me how much our daughter means to them. I didn't even expect the father-daughter dance. I didn't expect to be the last one to leave the dance hall. I didn't expect that even though I've been a Dad for a long time, it will always be new, again.

I didn't expect to feel this content. Isn't it a wonder that we are always surprised by love? Forgive me: even though I've been parenting for 25 years, I've never done this before. And I'm grateful.
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