The Priceless Philo of a Girl by the Sea

We finally picked up the mail on Friday, and in the giant stack was a letter from my eighteen-year-old cousin Alexandra who recently moved to Halifax for university. I love Alex more than most people in the world.

We’ve been exchanging letters, and my last to her outlined some of my November blues, and here, on the last day of this not-so-awesome month, I will share with you some of her perfectly brilliant “philos” (short for philosophies).

Try as hard as you can to live in the absolute present – when you do this, without comparing to the past, or worrying about the future, you will most likely see how incredible your life is right now.

November is a herald to cold winter magic, and being wrapped in the warmth of people you love. Food also tastes better when it’s cold outside. This is absolutely true.

Everyone needs a quiet sanctuary with pieces of familiar, personal things. If you can’t create that in your head, either find a refuge, or carve one out for yourself. You can find these kinds of places anywhere once you start to look for them. If you are a creative person, living without this is just a bad idea.

Sometimes its important to tell the people who love us the most that even though we are treading a path that feels like it is taking us far, far away, they will always have a permanent home in our hearts, and we will always make time in our big adventures to find our way home to visit.

Putting your pen on a page will unlock your heart and often surprise you.

Opening yourself to the possibility of people, without expectation, can pave the way to beautiful friendships.

Things are mighty strange here in Schnooville. Despite this, I have this incredible feeling of stability, which had been evading me for a while.

Last week I started seeing a psychiatrist and parted ways with my day job, all in the same day.

The shrink is to help me sort out the events of the last several years of my life, and to help me develop better tools to deal with some cyclical thought patterns that are just not working for me.

The job thing was a mutual break-up. My priorities have shifted, and life is very different now, and a small and feisty not-for-profit deserves someone who is 110% passionate and committed to what they do. I wasn’t that girl anymore, and it wasn’t coming back. I’ll miss the team. They are such incredible people, all of them. Thank god I have such supportive partners. There are lots of amazing opportunities on the horizon, and both my girl and guy are committed to helping me realize what lies ahead.

This humbles me more than I have words to express. This kind of belief in my ability makes me feel so incredibly lucky. As a young woman, I took such things for granted, but I really feel like I’m positioned to make everyone very proud of me right now. As I grow stronger on the inside, everything I’ve ever wanted seems more and more possible. I’m working at accepting this gift of love and support. It’s a tricky one, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that I would do anything to help each of them realize their own dreams and aspirations. It’s so beautiful to feel such unyielding confidence in my ability from the people who love me. I’m not one to shrink under the weight of that, either. Positive reinforcement is the greatest fuel for my fire.

This weekend, we went to the Winter Fair at the girls’ school. A huge fundraising event, the Winter Fair sees the facility completely transformed. Waldorf schools are magical to begin with, I’m learning, but the sight of this place, and the atmosphere was completely inspiring. I keep wondering how different my life would be if I went to a school that taught us to believe in fairies and to honour the cycle of the year. Saturday was the best day I’ve had in so long. As our six-year-old took my hand and led me through her school with pride, and our three-year old chripped away with a chocolate-stained mouth, I took a deep breath and whispered a thank you. I felt like I really, truly belonged. Like I had a family who all loved me, and who all wanted me at their side. When our older girl introduced me to her teacher, the teacher said “I saw you there with your beautiful, fiery hair and I thought ‘This must be Schnoo’. I’ve heard so much about you, and its so nice to finally meet you.” I was warmly greeted by parents who I have met at other functions, and for not one second did I feel like an interloper.

It made me want my own little one to add to the joy, but in perhaps the healthiest way I’ve thought of such a thing in a very long time. The idea of baby felt like a sweet, hopeful addition to what was already so very beautiful. It was like adding icing to an already lovely cupcake, and the feeling of filling a deep void, or the anxious desperation were gone from that equation. It felt possible, instead of like the terrifying spectre of my own past difficulty.

After the Winter Fair, we went north to the country where I met my girlfriend’s entire family at their holiday reunion. I’m fairly sure that most people there knew about our relationship, but beyond a few lingering stares (to be expected, I think) everyone welcomed us and treated me like I was a very welcome guest.

Today I woke up to receive an email from a friend with a link to an article about a woman who lives with four other women and a guy, and they’ve been together for seven years.

Something I often hear is “Two-people relationships are so very difficult. How can three people possibly make it work?”

Am I naive to think that if the traditional model isn’t working out so well for most people, that perhaps the time has come to try something else?


Making a list, checking it twice

My horoscope says that my biggest problem will be deciding which grand idea to pursue. I like this.

I also like the font that this blog is written in. I have no idea if it looks the same to you who are reading it, but it’s a kind of lovely old-fashioned type face that makes me feel like I know what I’m doing.

I know what I’m doing. Sometimes my methodology is so strange that even I am puzzled, but I really, really believe that deep down, some part of me (and I’ll credit gut for this one) knows exactly what’s going on.

The secret is to filter out all the fuzz to get at the heart of what I really want, and what I really want is this:

I want to write, and make really compelling live performances that people will want to go to, and make a living doing both of these things.

I want a family and a baby that was made partially by me.

I want a home to call my own, with my own distinct touches, and a real sense of ownership.

I want to travel.

I want to trust that everything is ok. Really, fundamentally trust that. If you can do this, you have no idea how lucky you are. I used to be good at that too.

I want a sturdy dog with a nobel head.

I want outdoor space to wander with the fore-mentioned sturdy dog with a noble head.

I want a small, beautifully organized studio for making pretty things.

I want a big kitchen/dining area to always host family and friends.

I want weekends at the market with children who are excited by the colours and smells.

I want bubble baths with my girlfriend where we have epic conversations.

I want my boyfriend to read out loud to me in the evenings.

I want quiet romantic, candle-lit moments with each of them, and both of them, and sometimes all alone.

I want to give all of my talented friends opportunities to shine.

I want to touch people by expressing the things they fear, love, dream of, and desire.

I want to leave something behind when I’m gone.

The morning is moving along. I had better get started.

What do you want?

Please Be Sure to Secure the Overhead Compartment

Madame Tutli Putli

I think I’ve figured out why my new digs feel so crowded. Besides the obvious reasons associated with adding a fifth person to a household of four, of course. I think perhaps I may have too much baggage.

While some people show up with a smart little bag on wheels I have two steamer trunks, ten hat boxes, and three large suitcases. I don’t think I realized how much stuff I had until I tried to fit it into someone else’s space.  Stacking each piece up, one after the other, realizing that nobody else had arrived with so much, is getting to be a little embarrassing. It just doesn’t fit. I always thought it meant I was prepared for everything, but as it turns out, a handy all-purpose something or other that is more neat and compact would have been a better choice.

Now I’m standing at the station, surrounded by cedar-smelling, leather-trimmed boxes. I’m sifting through piles of soft unmentionables, awkward, cumbersome mementos, stacks of crumpled old letters, strange-smelling warm things, and some old, tattered, unflattering bits that haven’t fit me for years. I don’t know what to keep and what to leave behind.

A lovely woman is at my side. She means well, but has no more a clue than I about what is valuable. She knows which pieces bring out the colour of my eyes, and which garments are cut to fit me best, but she also understands the value of sentimentality in moments such as these.

A man gazes from his seat, out the window. His expression is drawn, and tired. I can’t tell what he’s thinking, but I think it’s safe to say he’d like to get going, and he’s wondering if the train is going to wait much longer. He buries his nose in the paper and tries to distract himself from my frantic rummaging.

When I was eight, I was almost left behind on a VIA train platform in Quebec. My family had been to visit my aunt, and when we boarded our ride home, my Nana and I got separated and ended up in a separate car. Rather than patiently wait for the conductor to open the connecting doors and let us pass through to meet my mom and dad, my Nana insisted I get off the train and run around to get on their car. I’m still not sure why she did this, though part of me believes she might have been trying to get rid of me.

As soon as I hopped off the train, the doors slid shut, the bells started dinging, and the train began to slowly pull away. White, cold panic spread through my little body, and I began to run, and cry. My mom freaked out, and someone must have hit the emergency alarm, because the train screamed to a halt, and the doors popped open again. My father ran out and scooped me up into his big strong arms, carrying me on board to my tearful mother. I don’t remember much else, except that the conductor let my Nana through, my mother was furious, and my Nana called me a “baby” for crying. My mom didn’t have much to say to her for the rest of the ride.

I don’t want the train to leave without me. I’m purging and re-packing just as fast as I can, but there is a vast collection of stuff here – years of hoarding, in fact. Maybe the trip will be easier if I stay behind and look forward to post cards.

Why I Hate Chris De Burgh

The other day, “The Lady in Red” came up on a random list of tunes on our Apple TV.

This song always makes me nauseous.

When I was eight, I began to wear glasses, and life changed radically. I believe that my new four-eyed state became the excuse that the other kids needed to make fun of me. It was the perfect explanation for my funny big words, my weirdo imagination, and my incredible advocacy for the underdog. I was a nerd, a geek, and a goof, and now the glasses were the evidence my classmates were looking for.

My self-esteem changed radically, and I discovered a whole new level of self-consciousness. I HATED my glasses and this feeling has carried over into my adult life.

In my first year of high school, I finally worked up the nerve to go to the Christmas dance after skipping the other two that came before. I decided to be festive and wear a red velvet tunic, black tights, and the pointiest shoes that I owned. I teased my bangs into the most brilliant peacock I could manage, and of course wore my glasses. My stupid, red, Sally Jessie Rafael glasses, which by the way, those goddamned hipsters have brought back into fashion.

I hung out awkwardly with my small group of friends, and during a pit stop in the cafeteria to use the bathrooms, the football coach, Mr. Bullard, approached me.

“Hey, what’s your name?” he asked. He was my gym teacher, and should have known my name.

“Um, Schnoo.” I replied.

“Schnoo” he said “I need your help. We’ve told Mario* that he has a secret admirer here, and that she is going to reveal herself to dance with him for a special song, and I need you to be that girl.”

I was confused, and skeptical, but I went along with this. Mario was the quarterback who I had a fairly huge crush on, and I figured this might be the only way I would ever get to dance with him.

Fast forward to later that evening. I hadn’t danced with anyone all night long. Then, suddenly, Chris De Burgh’s “Lady in Red” comes on. Bullard is there, tapping me on the shoulder. He says “This is it.”

The D.J. announces “Mario, this song goes out to you from your secret admirer.”

I walk tentatively to the crowd of jocks that Mario is in the centre of. I ask him to dance. He turns crimson, and all the other dudes start smirking. One of them is already doubled over. He reluctantly accepts, and we start to dance.

Missing the point entirely, I’m actually enjoying this. He smells so nice, and he’s so handsome, and just for a moment I allow myself to pretend…then I feel hundreds of eyes on me. I look up and the ENTIRE football team and ALL of their pretty, perky girlfriends are laughing. Laughing at Mario. Laughing at me. I realize then that I AM the joke. Mr. Bullard picked the dorkiest “Lady in Red” he could find to round out their stupid prank, and god only knows what kind of fabricated love notes came before this moment.

I die a little inside, but I carry on until the end of the song. Mario (dick head) starts hamming it up for his pals. He’s stroking my hair, and dipping and twirling me. My 14-year-old brain decides to see this through because it might be my only opportunity to ever dance with a boy so handsome. And popular. When the song ends, he makes a big show of bowing to me and all his friends crack up again.

After that, I call my mom for a ride home. I pass Mr. Bullard in the hallway. All the other kids love him. He’s so funny, and he really “gets it”. I decide that he too must have been a big dork in high school and is making up for lost time now that he’s finally in charge of all the jocks. I hate him. This doesn’t change over the next four years.

It’s a long time before I go to another school dance. The next one I appear at, I FINALLY have my long-awaited contact lenses. I have an ok time. I’m still an outsider. I’m still not one of the popular kids, but I don’t want to be anymore. I’ve carved out my own world with the drama geeks. I still don’t dance with anyone, as I recall, until the very last song, which is always the same song – “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. I feel someone tap me on the shoulder and I turn around. It’s Eric, the Asian boy with Down’s Syndrome. He wants to take me for a spin. I glare at the jocks, who are all staring and guffawing, take him by the hand, lead him to the dance floor and endure his teenage hard-on for the entire eight minute tune. I do this because I know what it’s like to be different, and how much it sucks to be laughed at for that.

Then, I decide to never go to another school dance again.

This lasts until graduation, when my seventeen year old self decides to bring my 24-year-old local indie rock-star boyfriend as my date. Three people ask me if he is actually my uncle, and he hits on every girl he gets the chance to talk to, and one or two of the boys.

I hated high school, and I hate Chris De Burgh, but whenever I hear “Stairway to Heaven” I think of Eric and I wonder what he’s doing now.

*Mario may not have been the name of this quarterback but at a Catholic High School in Stoney Creek, it’s a pretty safe bet.


While I Was Out…

These days are feeling a little surreal. Life is hectic, but the home front is peaceful, and I have felt for almost a week now that I am not in my body, but am watching myself move through the world from a far off location. Like a dream. This is very standard fare for November.

I don’t go out the way I used to. I have two friends with two brand new babies, and I’ve been afraid to see them because I keep feeling sniffly, and I live with a three year old who has a wet nagging cough that hasn’t gone away. Do I stay away indefinitely, or do I get a surgical mask? I just don’t know the protocol and I’m feeling neglectful.

I have an appointment with a therapist on Wednesday. I want to talk about anxiety, and trust, and grief, and I suppose about patterns. Patterns of thought, patterns of behaviour, patterns of life. I want to be stronger, better, more assured about my abilities to receive love.

Giving love is easy, for a Schnoo like me. What seems to be incredibly difficult is accepting the idea that someone could love me enough to always want to stick by me, watch me grow old and wrinkly, and say goodbye to this lifetime by my side. That’s hard. So hard in fact, that merely typing this is making me choke up. Why? For the most part, I think I have fairly good self-esteem. I’ve done a lot of things with my short time on this planet. I live well, and with a kind heart, and I love people, genuinely. Why is it so hard sometimes to believe that I am loveable?

Long bike rides in the waning sunlight of crisp autumn afternoons buoy me up like nobody’s business.

My partners are working crazy hours to get over the hump of some back-logged inventory that needs to move in time for the holiday season. I’m on domestic duty which is kind of awesome. I’m working from home and swapping out loads of laundry between emails and assignments. I’m planning meals and e-marketing schedules, and organizing crafts and data bases. Tonight I think we’ll bake cupcakes, make a pizza and then the little monkeys will splash in the tub. I will use that time to write some copy for a sponsorship proposal. Yeah for the modern woman. What I am learning is that the girls exist most peacefully if they are occupied with something that involves spending time with one or all of the adults until they are asleep. TV or movies don’t really cut it either. It needs to be an activity, or a task. They have a real interest in helping in the kitchen, so I’ve been trying to pare down our food prep and assign each of them things to help with. They really love this. It’s so cute. Last night the six-year-old set the table without even being asked.

Yesterday, she spontaneously told me I was her family.

I have a family. Just like that. No more lonely brunches, yearning for little hands to reach for bits of food from my plate. No more enviously watching sleepy couples bow their heads together over coffee and commiserate about the night before.

The other night, I forgot to pick up one item on the grocery list, and made a joke about getting fired. Our six-year-old looked up, startled and said “Why would you get fired? We love you!” I explained my joke and she reiterated, with a worried little frown “We would never fire you. We love you.”

I’m not getting fired. They love me. They aren’t going anywhere, and they want me to stay. In fact, I may even be in line for a promotion.

After oh so many years of loss, lies, break ups, divorce, death, and heartache, it’s really hard to come to work each day and not expect a pink slip.

Am I sounding like a broken record?

Morning Pages

Picture 2

I’m trying to post something here every day, but sometimes when I wake up in the morning, my head is so full of cobwebs, I have nothing really to say.

This morning, we’re listening to music that is slightly too loud for my morning ears, our three year old is laying on the sofa looking up adoringly at her daddy who is trying to get her dressed, our six year old is very slowly eating her cereal, my girlfriend is unloading the dishwasher, and all five of us are drinking kale smoothies.

“K for kale.”

The little one has been home from school for three days now, if we include today, due to a runny nose and a nagging, liquidy cough. Despite these symptoms, she seems her usual self – just as much energy, and I learned yesterday that if you don’t want to be bombarded in the shower, you must lock the door. I didn’t even have a lock on my bathroom door at The Fortress.

Our older one is looking forward to a big event at school tonight that involves the children exploring a magically transformed classroom in the dark, on their own. It’s supposed to be quite magical, but I have to miss this because I have a meeting this evening.

It’s slightly overcast, but I can see lots of blue sky, and I’m wondering if I should ride my bike today. I’m also trying to decide if this is physically possible because my boyfriend switched up my workout yesterday, and I can barely move. I think I’ll decide to push myself anyway. I have no clothing that fits me anymore.

Sometimes I sit here and marvel at how much everything in my universe has changed.

I went from being a lonely, single girl who took the occasional solace in her dog, to a girl who is constantly surrounded by people who love her, who no longer sees her dog because of the petty nature of his other owner, who is in the best shape she’s ever been in, and who is watching every single thing she’s ever wanted fall into place.

I miss my dog. I miss living close to the park and the trees, particularly because I know how much the girls would love that, sometimes I miss my things, and every once in a while I’m aware that I need a quiet place to retreat to. I imagine we all do. Our current home has no walls. The rooms are divided with a series of sliding glass doors, and you can hear everything around you. When I’m not at home, I hear everything around me in a different way. This dam-bursting amount of change, and joy, and love has me casting a critical eye at all of the things that are wrong in my own head, that have been preventing me from feeling such joy all along.

This weekend will be about family. (I’m looking at my girlfriend right now who is talking to our six year old from the fridge. Her hair is all tied up and she is wearing a fitted oatmeal sweater. She looks so gorgeous and delicate this morning. I love how fairy-like she is.) Last weekend, we hit the dollar store and bought a whole bunch of craft stuff and spent the day working on home made decorations for the Christmas tree. I’d love to do more of the same. We were hoping to get in a visit with my friend Ming and her new baby, but I think with a sick little one, and the rest of us exposed to those germs we’ll have to forego that.

Tonight we’re cooking dinner for two of my friends who have been so generous lending their talents to my cabaret company. They will get to meet the girls for the first time, and I’m always delighted by this because they are so utterly charming with new people.

Sunday I’m hoping to connect with my aunt who I haven’t seen in a while, and Sunday evening we’re descending en mass to the Muslim equivalent of a baptism or baby naming ceremony. Oh yes. There’s the element to our relationship that I haven’t shared yet. It’s going to be a big one, I think. A whole new world to discover and negotiate my way through. I’m looking forward to this. I love ceremony and religion.

The sun has gently pushed aside some cloud cover, and is streaming over my shoulder to illuminate my hair in a fiery halo. Our littlest one has been released from her first time-out of the day, my girlfriend is finished packing up lunch (which is supposed to be my job), my boyfriend is hard at work, and I’m off to fold some laundry and send our six year old off to school.

See how normal life can be? We’re not so different, you and I.

From our three year old: “Daddy, can you put rock and roll on?”

No More Clamato Before Bed

Picture 1

Last night I had a dream about a baby. A fat-cheeked, red-headed baby girl that was mine. Except I wasn’t convinced that she was real. I kept seeing her when I was alone, but she was never around when I was with other people. I held her, smelled her sweet, sweaty neck, kissed her, sang to her, and decided in my dream that I had completely lost my mind and made her up.

I was in the mall near the house I grew up in with my friend Kathryn, and we were shopping for baby things, and I was nervous because I realized that I would soon have to tell her that there wasn’t a baby to meet, and that she’d come all the way to Hamilton to learn that I’d lied to everyone. Then my cell phone rang, and it was my mother calling to see when I’d be home because the baby was getting hungry.

This dream continued through the course of two alarms going off in my real world.

Presently, at my house, we are working together to concoct the stories we will tell the rest of the world about our relationship and connection to one another. Various facets of our life will hear various elements of our reality. Each story is crafted to allow for the most inclusion and involvement in each other’s communities, and to protect the children as best we can.

I know I’m idealistic, but it’s so frustrating to think of all the kids I’ve known over the course of my life in two-parent households that were so, so lacking in even the very basic things that humans require. I had a little girlfriend when I was nine who used to come to school reeking of her parent’s chain smoking, always with matted hair and a Kool-aid mustache, wearing the same clothes every day until the teacher had to send her home to change. It’s maddening to think that someone might raise an alarm because our household has three loving parents who would do anything for these girls growing up here.

This is our reality – we cannot be exactly as we are anywhere we’d like to go. I, who always like a good fight, must realize this more than anyone. There are compromises to be made for the sake of protecting ourselves and our home. It’s just such a shame after spending 33 years not fully realizing myself that I can’t always shout it to the world.

Silly prideful lion.