It’s a Mutant, Mutant World

Last weekend I got caught up watching a movie on TV. I’m fairly certain it will never end up on Netflix or Prime, because it was awful. A Mutant World had the following problems.

Bad acting
Terrible directing
Dreadful script
Unbelievable storyline
Accidentally hilarious special effects and costuming (The mutants looked like they were fleeing an off Broadway production of ‘Cats, the Musical.’ )

Here’s a plot summation. Some doomsday prepper’s dreams came true when a meteor hit the earth and made life above ground impossible. These people had formed a kind of army, and you could tell they’d always wanted to be soldiers but probably failed the psych exam. Still, they had the uniforms and matching high powered weapons. After shooting a lot of people trying to join them in their underground bunker (which looked far too sophisticated for these yokels) they locked themselves down. Ten years later, they climbed out and found mutants everywhere. Yes, those would be the escapees from the Cats musical.

The truly unbelievable part is, I sat through the whole thing. It was like watching a tone deaf singer belting out show tunes, or attending a really bad poetry slam where they acted out the verses. Every now and then I’d ask myself, why am I still watching this garbage? I laughed quite a bit…maybe that was part of the attraction. I also got angry. How dare someone make a movie this bad? For over ninety minutes, I bathed in a sea of mixed emotions, including rage.

When the movie was finally over, I congratulated myself for not breaking the television. And then, I had a revelation. In spite of its dreadfulness, the movie struck a nerve. Because, we are living in a mutant world. Never mind the tricky Corona virus. We’re not really feeling like ourselves anymore, and it’s not so much due to a sense of isolation…I think we’ve gotten used to it…but an overwhelming certainty that the world is struggling and we westerners might have to accept a new normal. Yes, some of us may have lost jobs in the past, or people we love, or struggled through illness or complicated family matters. But through it all, we relied on the rest of society to keep carrying on.

And in the back of our minds, we’re left wondering. What will the world look like when Covid 19 is over? And when will that be? How will we know when to duck, when to take aim, and when to start making plans for an alternate lifestyle? We have mutated into uncertainty, and of all the emotions, it’s one of the toughest. Especially for those of us who like routine. This Groundhog Day experience we’ve all been sharing isn’t so bad when compared to an unknowable future.

In the light of this, I’m going to make you all some promises. I won’t start carrying a gun, building a bunker, or hoarding food. I won’t start believing anything that isn’t science based (except for the whole Jesus thing, because that’s how I roll) and I will keep a stiff upper lip even if I have to get Botox to do it. (I won’t get Botox…we had that talk already.) Most of all, I will believe in you, my fellow earthlings. We can survive this. And who knows? Maybe we’re mutating into a newer, kinder, more thoughtful and environment loving version of ourselves.

John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” For now, let’s all imagine that.

Oh, The Void!

There’s something strange going on with me. It has to do with prayer, but I also have some questions for my atheist friends. Like, what are your go to phrases for hard times?
I tend to cry ‘O God,’ when things get tough. Or even, ‘Help me Jesus!’ if the situation feels dire. This can happen in a variety of situations, like with bad news or flat tires. Sometimes I verge into Handmaid’s Tale territory and say things like, ‘Praise Be!’ But I mean it in a good way because unlike them, there’s no gun to my back. So it feels very authentic. But what do non believing exclaimers shout? ‘Oh, the Void?’ Or, ‘What in hell?’ I’d really like to know.

I’ve always thought of the Almighty as a she, although, does a spirit have a sexual identity? Probably not, yet we insist on giving God a pronoun, anyway. If you’ve heard the fable about the universe being built in six days, ask yourself this. Who works that hard? Is it the guy who offers up some seed, or the woman who takes it, grows a baby and then gives birth to it? Pardon me, dear male readers, but I believe that only a woman would build a universe that quickly. The male part of the God brain might add, ‘Thank ourselves that that’s over! What do you say we take the seventh day off?’

Anyway. In 2006, I said the following prayer: ‘Dear God, please help me get off the sugar wagon. I’m seriously addicted and just can’t stop.” I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but it wasn’t this.

I developed allergies and began breaking out in hives. Massive things, with maybe 400 smaller ones on the bottom of each foot. Seriously itchy situation. It started with kiwis, then apples, then every kind of fish. No one could help me. Not my doctor, or an allergy specialist, or anyone. At last, I spoke to the family guru, my cousin Susanne. She listened carefully before speaking these dire words.

‘You should give up sugar and wheat. Maybe oatmeal, too. You’ve messed up your digestion and it needs to heal. It’s just for a while.’ (She was wrong about the last part.) But I followed her advice and a week later, lost all my allergies. The brain fog I’d been carrying for many years left me. I didn’t even know I had it until it cleared up. I also got back a decent iron and B12 count, which had mysteriously gone missing.

Some people think that God watches from afar and doesn’t interfere with us. Or that there’s no one there…hence, the void. But that has not been my experience.  ‘Asked and answered,’ I pictured the Creator saying about my sugar addiction prayer. ‘Job done!’ (She high fives an angel.) It makes me wonder. Should we be careful what we pray for?

My daughter Mari has been living with me during the pandemic. I do the cooking and always end up making too much food. Not enough for leftovers, though. There’s no reason to put a cup of rice, or oven fries, or homemade soup, or chili or, you name it, in the fridge. And I can’t throw it away. That’s a waste.

So I eat it. Or I encourage Mari to eat it. And we’ve both been feeling the effects of those large meals. (I blame Clarence. His family’s motto was ‘Eat Big.’) So I prayed about it. And then one day I was out in my car listening to a broadcast about shortages in the supply chain for groceries and I pictured God thinking, “How about a temporary loss of food? That should stop her overeating.”

No, I thought. That wouldn’t happen. Humans make their own problems, and I am not the center of the universe. I brushed the worry aside, but just in case, began planning for a foodless pandemic. Storming with my fogless brain, I threw a survival idea at Mari.

“Those large birds perching in our trees aren’t very smart. If we’re desperate, I could catch one in a pillow case, smash its head against the cement driveway, pluck out all the feathers and cook it for dinner. Yeah?” She looked at me the way kids do when their parents are going around the bend.

So I pushed away the thought of no food and hedged my bets by adding prayer addendums, like, “Regarding my prayer about portion control, don’t do anything that affects anyone but me, God. And one more thing. I don’t want to end up shipwrecked or left on an island somewhere. I don’t really care  that much about overeating.” Man, the paranoia can really set in.

It’s this pandemic. I have too much time on my hands and I’m missing my friends. It’s leaving me a bit…well. Like how I sound here. Anyway, if more bad things happen, just know that my prayers are becoming very specific. And yet. Perhaps they should be vetted by a lawyer. Or by my minister, Steve. Or Father Paul. Just someone else. However it goes down, I think I’d rather shout ‘No funny stuff!’ than not believe in a Creator. But that’s me. If you disagree, comfort yourself with this. You may be an atheist shouting into the void, but at you’ll least you won’t have to give up sugar.

A Hundred Years of Solitude

I have a confession to make. I have never been able to get through the novel lending this blog post its title. I pride myself on loving literary books—I’ve read War and Peace—it’s hard!
But Gabriel Garcia Marquez did not find a reader in me. Ironically, when I was trying to get through it a third time, I told my daughter, who confessed to struggling with Love in the Time of Cholera, written by the same guy. At least she finished it.

But I still have to thank the late Mr. Marquez for his inspiring titles. They’re so timely since the Pandemic has me feeling torn between two opposing poles. Let’s just label this feeling as bipolar.

On the north side, there’s the decent, almost zen kind of solitude where all is well. For example: In that space, I give myself a pep talk every night before sleep, some part of which involves dreaming up ideas for a great breakfast. I have to face it; food is always on my mind. And it encourages me to organize my time properly. Like this:

I can’t exercise. I haven’t eaten breakfast yet.
Never mind writing, it’s time for lunch.

And so on. I also have to schedule snacks, which I do even if I’m not hungry. I know. That’s so bad. (A south pole feeling.) Pre-pandemic I used to blame my busier schedule. Now I treat the constant eating as my true purpose for living.

On good days, I pull back the covers and make the executive decision to ‘air out my bed.’ This breaks a major rule for success which says that if you don’t make your bed every day, you’re failing at life. I can’t remember who said it. Some old soldier. And then, after giving the covers a gentle pat, I turn to the mirror, smile at myself and say, ‘It’s going to be  great day!’

I try to mimic the narrator in the Jerry McGuire movie. I get dressed right away. Then I eat breakfast (well, of course) practice the piano, go for a long walk, and write. Sometimes I wash clothes or clean out a cupboard. This I consider a successful, northern kind of day. A north pole attitude of looking up. Then there’s the other kind.

When I’m spending time at the south pole, it’s more like Marquez’s other book, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera.’ Since I’ve never read it, I’m going to assume there was a fair amount of foreshadowing in the title. All the protagonist’s loved ones are dead. Happiness does not abound.

Now, this is not really true for me. There are plenty of alive people that I love. But it doesn’t feel like that when I’m spending time at the south pole. It feels like I’m the only person left in the world, except for maybe Donald Trump. (Yes, I’m in a horror movie.) Me and the Donald. If he uses the word ‘bigly’ to describe the scenery around the boardwalk one more time, I’m going to deck him.

In the south pole, there is never anything good to eat. My piano keys laugh at me because I play so badly. I can’t find anything to watch on cable, Prime, Netflix or Crave. There’s always a certain amount of sulking going on because I’ve just finished my latest read, and I always feel a bit lost when I’m between books. (This is a thing. Seriously.)

Happily, I usually wake the next morning and find myself once more at the north pole. Eggs for breakfast! Pancakes! (gluten free, sadly, but still!) Yogurt with multiple kinds of berries! Nothing has ever felt so exciting as deciding what to eat. It’s the same with lunch and dinner. In this mood, I feel like I’m on a cruise in my own house. It’s so much better than when I’m at the south pole, sitting on my toilet in the bathroom (purely for a change of scenery) and crying into my hands, repeating over and over again, “This too shall pass.”

Because it will. But I want you to know that if you’re feeling chicken hearted, cranky, and even, (if living with other people) murderous, you’re not alone. So brace yourselves, my people (this means my whole town, including the folks at the lake) because, when we’re all let out of solitary confinement, I’m going to hug each and every one of you. If you don’t want that, please wear a sign. Be direct. Until then, chin up, and stay north, my friends. The mood is so much better there.

(After all this writing, it has occured to me that Hugh Maclennan’s book, ‘Two Solitudes’ would have been a much better title. Oh well.)

Remember the Pandemic of 2020?

These are words that give me hope. The days will pass, we’ll enter summer and hopefully suspend a bit of social distancing. We’ll spend time in our yards and visit with neighbors. Time will go by and eventually, maybe next year, we will breath a sigh of relief that it’s over.

I know I’m not the only one counting on that. We started out so cheerfully, hunkering down in our homes after that first desperate scramble for food and toilet paper. The internet was filled with peppy slogans and cheerful, funny memes. Oh, I miss those. There’s still a few around, but there’s also a lot more of an atmosphere, circa George Orwell’s 1984.

I remember being in the Co-op one day when a woman coughed loudly. She swung around with a desperate look on her face, and cried, ‘I have allergies! It’s just an allergic cough!’ I swear, it was like a scene from Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, where once a year, someone is picked to be stoned.

My heart went out to this woman, and others felt the same. Even as we all edged further away from her, there were murmurs of, ‘It’s okay. Don’t worry.’ And I thought, is this what’s going to do us in? Turning on our friends and neighbors, watching out the window and then calling the police if people out walking look too close together?

I get it. We have to keep ourselves and others safe by keeping our distance. But one thing I’m certain of is that all those memes on Facebook hollering at us to Stay Home! aren’t going to make a difference. Because, guess what? We already know what to do. And those who aren’t going to listen won’t be swayed by your words. It’s like all those posts screaming at people to vaccinate their children. Most believe the science and the proof that vaccinations work. Those who don’t won’t believe you, either.

And it’s wearying. Concern for society can morph into a kind of social bullying. It leads to a lack of trust and to people feeling like they can’t count on others. And that’s simply not true. I know that this ‘pass it on’ mentality is natural. We’re part of the human herd. We want to fit in. But there comes a time when shouting instructions at other people via social media makes people (okay, me) want to turn it off. And frankly, I can’t do that. I need to see people’s funny pandemic memes, their family photos, their top ten albums, their quizzes, their desperate and hilarious stories about how much weight they’re gaining. That is the boat I want to be in. Those are the people I want to sit beside as we row through the choppy waters of this pandemic.

The news is serious. I have to listen to it. But, dear friend, I want to listen to you, too. So, please. Don’t let me down. Try a little tenderness. Because, I’ve realized that I’m in love with people. With every person I sit beside in church, or work beside at my gym class, or see at social events. Those I grew up with, and the ones I don’t know but admire from afar. Winston Churchill said that we create our own universe as we go along. Let’s decide right now to make ours the best one possible and create a little cheer in the midst of all this worry.  Now, while you think on that, I’d like you to take a little break. Just sit back and let me row this boat for a while. Because God knows, I could use the exercise.

And now, for your listening pleasure:



I didn’t think I’d revisit the Breakfast Club movie anytime soon, but I’m a lot more open to watching things again under the circumstances. (If you’re reading this in fifty years and no one is around, we had a Pandemic in 2020.) Anyway. I was thinking about this one part, where the kid writes the required essay, ending with, ‘In the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions, what we found is that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase and a criminal.’

Through all their shenanigans, these kids manage to see each other as whole, and to realize that names are often assigned without permission. But does knowing that change how we see ourselves? It doesn’t feel great being pushed inside a box and labeled accordingly. Nerd. Soccer mom. Smarty pants. Widow. Now the last one might have you thinking that, yes, that is a very true description of some women’s status. But I have to tell you that the first time I saw it on a government document, I felt very put out.

I looked at that piece of paper and felt truly startled. And perplexed. I thought, I’m not a widow. I’m still married. To a dead man. Yes, okay, that might make you want to apply that word. It may speak to you. But it doesn’t speak to me.

In my mind, it paints two different pictures. Jackie Onassis in a beautiful dress with a black veil over her face. And Snow White’s step mother. Neither feels remotely like me. I still feel married. And I rarely wear black, or try to feed innocent girls poison apples. I wanted to sit down and write the Canadian government a letter, but you know what bureaucracy is like. I mean, I’m not willing to go to court over this. I just think that I should get to decide when to apply that word. Maybe when I’m eighty-five. Certainly not when I still speak to the guy at all hours of the day and have to remind myself not to talk to him in the Co-op. After reading this, you’ll probably want to apply the label, ‘kooky,’ to me. That’s okay. I’m willing to wear that hat. (I know, I already do. Don’t worry…it doesn’t hurt my feelings.)

So if you think of me, feel free to use any description you like as long as it’s not widow. Just say, ‘She’s married to that dead guy, Clarence.’ That will do for now.

Feeling Lost, Please Send Directions

The movie, ‘Taken 2,’ has a scene that describes exactly how I’m feeling these days. Liam Neeson is helping his daughter escape an abduction. Pointing to the the roof, he says something like this:

‘You’re going to run for five hundred yards. Then get down to the street, head south for three blocks, turn left and go through the red door on the right. On the other side, head north and run for ten blocks….’ This continues for a while, after which the daughter nods and takes off. And I’m left thinking, well, hell.

Just another confirmation about my bad sense of direction, about never knowing north from south unless I’m at home. I’m clueless about the steps it would take to run five hundred yards. I’m easily lost, especially in a strange city. I have to keep my eyes open and repetitively say the names of streets, businesses, and even the colours of buildings. I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t get lost as much as I used to, though my friend Lynn will tell you I was late for dinner in London last fall because I couldn’t remember how to get to the restaurant and didn’t have wifi for my phone. Anyway.

Covid 19 is no different for me. This Pandemic requires a whole new set of directions. The problem is, they change every day, even since I started writing this blog. Here’s what I know so far:

1. Stay home most of the time. When out, keep my distance from others.
2. Don’t travel.
3. Stock up on medicine and food. And toilet paper.
4. Wait for more news

I have no trouble waiting. It’s my imagination that isn’t patient, and wants to create fantastic scenarios of every kind. I write young adult sci-fi and fantasy, (among other things) often specializing in dystopian futures for the planet. And now here we are, facing something big. I know it’s going to be okay. But it would nice to have a map. So far, finding my way has not been difficult. But what if the directions for survival get more complicated? What if the virus decides to get creative with the rest of nature? Will we turn on the television and hear things like this?

‘All citizens must keep sharpened sticks by the door for killing the giant mutated squirrels currently ravaging the country. Stay tuned for more news at six.’

If it becomes a thing, I’d like Justin Trudeau to get very clear about how exactly one should kill a giant squirrel. Perhaps an online demonstration would help. For the extremely paranoid, or just the imaginative, should we be exploring the bat connection? Like in Justin Cronin’s Passage trilogy, where people turn into  speedy vampires? Though if that happens, I’m sure the squirrels will suddenly find themselves on our side.

I’m pretty chipper most of the time. But I like directions for everything coming my way. Don’t give me any north, south, go five hundred yards bullshit, either. Say it straight. Be clear. And don’t mess with us on April 1st. I have to admit, the government could have a lot of fun on April Fool’s Day, but we’re all losing our sense of humour, here.

For now I’m remembering all the things I’m grateful for. We’re not at war. We’re just isolated. And I’m a Canadian. (My apologies to those who are not.)That’s a social contract I’m grateful for and never want to mess with. Whatever we think is going wrong with the country, there are so many things that are right. Let’s shut down the whining (I’m aware of the irony here) and concentrate on taking care of ourselves and each other. I’m here if you need toilet paper or apples, or strange brands of canned soup. But if you’re feeling a sudden urge to bite someone in the neck, put a sign on your door. I’ll just leave the stuff outside.

John Lennon Will See You Now

I haven’t read Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. But just seeing the title in my local library got me thinking about who I’d like to visit in the Eternal Afterward. There’s loved ones I’ll want to hug right away; my husband and parents, friends and relatives. Then there’s people I’ve always wondered about, like Joan of Arc, Einstein, and Florence Nightingale. But the non-family person I’d really love a conversation with is John Lennon.

My guess is, he’s still so popular, he needs an agent to organize his time. Possibly an angel, or some lucky deceased fan.  As I see him in my mind’s eye, he looks a bit weary. I didn’t think that was possible in heaven. But then, I’m just an ordinary person, and not famous. So what do I know. I have a hushed meeting with his agent before we begin.

“Don’t ask him any questions about the whole’ ‘the Beatles are more popular than Jesus’ thing. People think they can joke about it, and frankly, even Jesus doesn’t want to hear that one anymore. If you want to talk about their time in India, he suggests you make an appointment with George Harrison.’

I nod eagerly, just wanting all the formalities to go away so I can sit face to face with my grade school crush, John Lennon. Remember the bubble gum cards? Anyway. Is he really as sincere as he seemed on earth? Are his ideals still lofty? Does he truly believe that we here on earth can give peace a chance? I just can’t wait to find out.

Finally, we sit face to face. He’s not as relaxed as I would like, but since he probably thought heaven would be one long holiday, I can’t say I blame him. I smile and before I can stop myself, I say, ‘Help. I need somebody.” Then I grin. “It’s you.” His eyes roll so hard, I think they’re going to leave their sockets and I’m certain I just blew my meeting with J.L. But then, yaay! He smiles back.

“I’m so glad you didn’t say, ‘I’ve got a ticket to ride. That’s where I draw the line.’

‘As if,’ I reply, trying not to look guilty. (That had been my initial, ice-breaking idea.) ‘I’m more interested in your song, Imagine. How do you feel, now that you’re in heaven? Like, oh no, I never imagined I’d end up here?” I see him barely suppress a yawn and realize he’s answered this question many times.

‘It was never about heaven being real,’ he says. ‘It was always about people not making excuses to fight each other. Not using religion to divide the world.’ I almost don’t hear what he’s saying. I’m so in love with that lilting Scouse accent one finds only in Liverpool and surrounding area, that I lose track of our conversation. The agent wanders over.

‘One minute left,’ he whispers in my ear. I know my bible, so I have a ready reply. ‘A day in God’s life is like a thousand years.’ The angel agent (they had to get rid of the deceased fan…he wouldn’t let anyone else see John) replies, ‘You’re not God.” There’s barely time for me to shout, ‘All my loving!’ before I’m ushered swiftly away, still feeling a bit star struck.

Back in the warm hills around my snug hobbit hole (my current dream of a heavenly residence, as long as there are windows) I breathe the fresh air and try to decide who I’ll bother next. The possibilities are endless. Einstein? Mother Theresa? Michelangelo? I sigh at the infiniteness of it all and wonder what to do with my time, besides going on tropical vacations with my husband. (It’s a thing here.) Suddenly, a bell rings. It’s time for the millions strong choir to sing heaven’s anthem. (Also a thing.) I change into my long white robe and rush out the door, energized by a brilliant idea. If I hurry, I might secure a spot beside Aretha Franklin. But just in case, I’ll check in with her agent first.

A Wrinkle in Time

They come to everyone, eventually, those fine folds in the skin that look like a mistake the first time they show up. You find yourself peering into a mirror and thinking, what is that? I was standing in the fancy shower room of the Yak and Yeti hotel in Katmandu when I first noticed lines beside my eyes. I hadn’t heard about sun screen yet, and had just finished a three week uphill walk in the Himalayas. We’d hardly washed our faces, never mind applying any cream.  I was twenty-five years old.

I like to blame childbirth for my very first forehead wrinkle. Imagine, (if you’re not actually in labour at this moment) that you’re trying to pass a honeydew melon through your nether regions. For some, it’s thirty hours of ongoing physical stress followed by the bearing down part, which is just as earthy as it sounds. I defy anyone to walk away from that without a few lines on their forehead. Then there are the late nights with baby, and the toddler moments that don’t end until your child leaves home in the guise of a grownup.

Men who live with women have forehead lines, too. The married ones especially, whose days contain many moments of complete and utter bewilderment. ‘Why is she mad? What did I do? Is it something I said?’ There are no correct answers to these questions, and men’s forehead wrinkles deepen accordingly. Perhaps this is women’s revenge for childbirth. I don’t know. I’m merely guessing, as I always do.

Forehead wrinkles can have harsher consequences than just older looking skin. They are often the gateway to wearing bangs. Once you’ve gone in that direction, it’s very hard to go back. Growing them out is unbearable. If women had to decide between that and experiencing childbirth again, it would be a close call. My decision, back when I was younger, was an easy one. “You should have bangs,” my hair stylist said. ‘Okay,’ I replied, innocent as a child. I’ve been in bang purgatory ever since.

Things change as you age. Hairstyle options lessen, and eventually you have to decide if you’re going for the old woman from Transylvania look, or giving in to a shorter hairstyle that includes bangs. We’re all with you in that one. It takes a village to support those of us who’ve made difficult choices, and those who have no choice left because they’re ninety and its the only way to go, unless they’re related to Snow White.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our wrinkles told a story using speech bubbles that floated around our heads? They’d say things like, ‘Eye wrinkles? You like to laugh!’ You’d get lots of congratulatory looks from passersby, because laughing is always a good thing. But what about the ones that come from worry?

Many of us spend serious time imagining bad things happening to people we love. I’ve been working on this. (Thank you, Jesus, and Eckhart Tolle’s book, ‘A New Earth.’ You work beautifully together.) But in the meantime, a person of a certain age can look like they’ve been through a war.

No matter what one does, the passage of time will dragged its clawed feet across your face. Too much wine? Hello, eye bags. Excessive amounts of dark chocolate? Here’s a rash, or maybe some zits. Lack of sleep? Add ten years. Whatever it is, gravity and life will drag at your flesh until it raises a white flag. ‘Fine. Have your way with me.’
The good news is, this doesn’t usually happen until we’re older and happier. It’s true, dear people in your twenties and thirties. Those in their forties are happier than younger people, and it gets even better after that for most of us. (Google it. Science agrees!)

Perhaps its the ability to put things into perspective. Maybe its because the kids have left home and you can finally afford better quality skin care products. Whatever the cause, it’s easier to laugh about everything once you’re reached a certain age.

So take heart, young people. It gets better. Yes, the wrinkles come, but most days, you won’t care. Because your friends are going through the same thing. And for some reason, it becomes the source of a lot of laughter. And that’s a very good look on everyone. Even people with bangs.

Be Yourself!

The first time anyone said to me, ‘Just be yourself!’ I was in grade nine at Sir Maurice Roche Catholic School. The sisters who taught there were not like other nun teachers who, I’ve heard, were often strict and mean. These ladies were kind, encouraging and hip. (Do people still say hip? I really don’t care.) In our religion classes we didn’t talk much about God. Instead, we listened to the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, deciphering songs like ‘The Sounds of Silence’ or ‘I Just Gotta Get a Message to You,’ by the Bee Gees. I wasn’t much help in these instances. I’m a writer who doesn’t ever get the theme of a song or a story. I’m too literal. Remember those questions on English exams? “Compare and contrast the themes of the novel.” I’m having heart palpitations just writing this down.

Anyway. I remember having a rather confidential talk with Sister Jobin about feeling different from everyone else. I know now that every fifteen year old perceives their place in the universe in pretty much the same way I did. She gave me her time and attention and left me with these parting words: Just be yourself.

Now, I don’t know if you, dear reader, remember being that age, but the last thing you ever want to be is yourself. Yourself is the problem. Yourself, with the funny hair cut (mom, please…a better hairdresser!) Yourself with a complete inability to read the room and know who were the sheep, and who were the wolves. You found out the minute they grabbed you by the throat and wrestled you to the floor. Not literally, of course. But often, it could feel like your throat was being ripped out. It certainly left me feeling voiceless.

So, no. The last thing I wanted to be was myself. However. The great thing about growing older is that the more distance you put between the teenage you and your current self, the less you give a…let’s just use the word shit, here. I wonder how many of you actually noticed the gradual unwrapping of your true personhood. It’s like one of those reality shows where they give you a new wardrobe and a bit of plastic surgery, only you don’t even need that. You just need the perspective of time to discover who you really are in order to be yourself.

Even in your twenties, you buy into what other people think you should enjoy. Like long walks on the beach. I used to say, “Oh, I love a long walk on the beach!’ And I meant it, because I’d only gone for short walks, and I was young and spry. Now that I’m older, I like long walks on the beach as long as I’m right beside the water and the sand is hard. Otherwise, the sand makes me feel like I’m decrepit, even though I’m not.

Other illusions I used to have were the usual cheesy love song activities. Like in the Pina Colada song. ‘Do you like Pina Coladas?’ Well, yes. Doesn’t everybody? ”Getting caught in the rain?” No, not particularly. Not without an umbrella or a good raincoat. Then, I love it. Otherwise, rain, rain, go away. There’s the words, ‘I am not into health food, I am into champagne.’ Well, I love two organic eggs on a bed of kale, so that answers that. And champagne makes me fall down whenever I’m in England, so no.

Yet another part of the song says, ‘If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape, I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me and escape.’ People, if you’ve ever made love on a sandy beach, you already know the truth about that one. Because that sand gets everywhere. You find it days later in the strangest places. Clarence and I both agreed that we’d been fooled into thinking it was romantic when really, it was its own kind of awful. So, no.

I like being myself, now. And I’m at the age where I feel perfectly comfortable telling people what I like and don’t like. I’m not at the old lady stage where I’ve lost my filter and have started blurting things without thinking. (Well, only occasionally.) But for the most part, I like being me. I’m comfortable in my own company. I rarely get lonely, maybe because I’m a writer and have a whole cast of characters who keep me company all the time. And I mean ALL the time. But that’s a whole other blog.

The thing is, Sister Jobin was right. The people I know who were themselves as teenagers, like my husband, made everyone else feel comfortable. But even if I time traveled and had a quick conversation with that version of me, I know I wouldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that I was clueless about how teenagers behaved. It was my deep feelings of inadequacy that led me to those long talks with the nuns who probably worked to bury their yawns behind their weary hands. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that that is a part of the human story. At least, the story of teenagers.

Now, I am always myself. Sometimes I have to have a little self talk before I go out. I say things like, ‘Don’t be afraid to rein it in.’ Or, ‘Nobody else wants to talk about books all night. You’re not at book club.’ But these are just small courtesies. Otherwise, I’m just me.

In case you’re not convinced, and you need a better pep talk about just being yourself, here’s a little something from the movie, Just Friends.