A Series of Unfortunate Events

Beware of overconfidence. It can turn around and bite you in the derriere, or at the very least, leave you feeling betrayed by yourself. Here’s a small example. I am an excellent parallel parker. My mother taught me, as well as my driver’s ed teacher, and I got pretty good at it.

I’ve learned to be patient, and not pressure myself just because cars are waiting behind me on the street. I use my mom’s technique and can squeeze into the smallest spaces. I’ve been bragging about it for a few years. My daughter and I had to exchange vehicles for a week so she could haul some furniture. Our cars seem similar, but that doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to parking. My first attempt with hers put me up on the curb. My second left me a couple feet away from it with my car angled strangely. I felt shaken by this. What was happening? It turns out I was only good at parking MY car.

I tell you this as a lead up to my first unfortunate event. It started small, with my favourite backpack breaking just as I entered the Winnipeg airport. No big deal…I anchored it to my suitcase with a strap and was on my way. My next unfortunate event was a bigger deal. I was heading to Surrey for an International Writer’s Conference and my plane was due to leave at 11:50. My sister Linda watched me having a leisurely breakfast…it was just after nine…and said, “Why aren’t we driving to the airport! You’re going to be late!”

“I’ve already checked in. I’ll get there an hour ahead and be fine. I’ve never missed a flight in my life, so chill.” In this way I was reminding her that while she’s still older, she’s not the boss of me anymore. I got to the airport 70 minutes before my flight time, and went to print my luggage tag.

‘You cannot check in for this flight,’ was the message on the machine they make you use because they prefer to hire less people and have lots of cash left over for their shareholders. The same reasoning applies to the tiny seats all regular folks are obliged to sit in. It’s today’s version of traveling steerage at the bottom of the ship. Anyway.

I headed up to the counter and was told that my flight was leaving in a few minutes and I had missed my chance. I pulled up my phone to show the man behind the desk that he was wrong, and I could prove it. I showed him the flight on my phone, and he said, “Yes. Like it says, your flight leaves at 10:40.” My first words to him?

“Oh no! My sister was right!” I said, and continued babbling hysterically. “Now my children will lose faith in my ability to run my own life!” I had been proud of how I’d been doing without my husband, who always took charge of our travel itinerary. It was true that he’d missed a few flights himself, but in that moment it didn’t matter much.

We exchanged looks, him absolutely certain I was going to cry and me also certain I was going to cry. I fought the tears to make it easier on both of us. My daughter, Hilary, would soon be waiting for me at the Vancouver airport. I sent her a quick text telling her to head to the hotel without me.

The ticket agent found me a new flight, though it cost me some more money, but he didn’t charge me for my suitcase. He also told me to lie to everyone and blame Air Canada, which I thought was very noble. “This happens all the time,” he said.

“Not to me,” I replied.

“It has now. But it won’t again.”

He’s right. What a life lesson. Somehow I’d convinced myself of the wrong time, and my sister, whom I’d correctly informed a few months before, had stored the info in the reptilian part of her big sister brain. Linda was right. Apparently, she’s still the boss of me after all.

But then he said this. “I guess the Force just wasn’t with you today.”

“What?” I asked this very loudly. “The Force is always with me! Don’t mistake stupidity for not having the Force! Sheesh!” His hands went up defensively, and then he gave me a better seat for free. Anyway.

All went well after that, until day one of the conference when I had to pitch my novel to an agent. Now full of self doubt, (I can’t park, I can’t get to the airport on time) I didn’t know what to do. Ordinarily, I wing my pitch, outlining the theme and storyline plus giving a short bio. This time I headed straight for the bar, ordered a shot of tequila and wrote the whole thing out. I felt a little better as I marched into my appointment. The first thing I said was, ‘I’ve had a shot of tequila and written my pitch out. Can I just read it?’ She said yes, not changing expressions. These agents have to be fearless…they never know what kind of kook will be standing in front of them, begging for a chance. In the end, she decided to take a look at my novel, upping my chances of representation from zero to 1%. Filled with joy (but not self confidence) I hastened to give my daughter the good news.

That night would be a celebration. There was a banquet with the theme, ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ and apparently everyone would be wearing costumes. I’d brought the one I’d used for the Rocky Horror Picture show, thinking I could make up a suitable story about my character. In the end, I looked like a vampy hooker having her own dark and stormy night, because less than a quarter of attendees dressed up. The ones that did were wearing raincoats, or carrying lanterns. There was the odd cute mask, and some cool vintage costumes as well as one woman who dressed like a crow. It was very Moira, ‘The Crows Have Eyes,’ from Schitt’s Creek. My daughter wore a cape and mask, and there was I, looking like someone who couldn’t charge much for her services. Ironically, this was the outfit that spawned my last blog, ‘If Bras Could Talk.’

We were not staying at the host hotel and I couldn’t change my outfit, so I just barrelled through dinner and the cocktail party that followed. Fortunately, writers are a quirky lot and I can’t help feeling at home with them. Agents are basically the same. Many of them are writers or deal with them every day.

The last unfortunate event ( at least I hope so, I’m still on the road) meant missing all of Sunday’s events because I’d booked my leaving flight too early. So consider me humbled and feeling like I’m thirteen years old again. But since I write young adult fiction, that might not a bad thing.

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If Bras Could Talk

I was trying to pick an outfit for an evening out when I overheard a conversation not meant for my ears. Before I tell you what was said, I need to revisit my past relationship with undergarments.

There was the time I purchased my first bra from the Blue and White store in Flin Flon. I was twelve, maybe thirteen. I’m unsure because I usually repress this memory. The saleswoman who had handed me a size 30 A had to be called back so I could ask for a smaller size. Do you remember what it felt like to be that age, how you already thought the whole world was watching you? ‘Nobody cares,’ my mother would say, which might have been true. But it wasn’t the caring I was worried about. It was the laughing. The saleswoman hollered across the store, ‘Judy Hanson needs a 28AA!’ As I tried to crawl inside the wall and disappear forever, I pictured the conversation this little cotton bra was having, one cup to another.

“Easy gig, right? Not much heavy lifting, ha ha. Let’s just sit back and relax!” When you’re a kid, even your clothes make fun of you. But I never expected that to continue into adulthood.

Today I was wracking my brain (which should be left alone, it’s suffered enough over the years) about what to wear for a Johnny’s Social Club event, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ I dressed up the last time and it made the evening that much more fun. Fortunately, my youngest had left a bag of cast off clothing behind, and she has a strong preference for black. Sure enough, there in the bag was a garment that could have looked cool if I was young enough, but now would appear kind of silly and therefore perfect for the evening.

I tried the outfit on and realized I needed to wear that bra. The kind that sits in the bottom of the drawer because it’s not your friend. The two of you never talk. It’s not comfortable and you can’t forgive it for the money you spent on its behalf. With a heavy sigh, you pull it out into the light.

Mine was bought in the kind of shop where the saleswomen follow you inside the tiny change room. I felt like an inadequate thirteen year old all over again, even though the sales person herself was barely in her twenties. She handed me her version of the perfect bra and I just knew it wasn’t going to be comfortable. However, like Fantine in Les Miserable, I dreamed a dream. Hope was high and life worth living, so this time would be different and that lovely piece of lingerie would fit and make me feel good. It’s only when I returned home that I realized I’d purchased another expensive mistake. There should be a bureau one can turn to regarding buyer’s remorse, or some kind of bra complaint department.

In the meantime, this bra had to step up and be worn. I managed to wrestle the thing in place and that was when it started talking. The cups totally ignored me in favour of a team meeting. I’m not sure where the other speakers came from, but there were quite a few. One appeared to be the leader.

‘Look,’ he said, (of course it was a man, smug, patronizing  and fortunately, no one I recognized) ‘we need a whole new plan here. Things have changed since the last time we left the drawer.’ Another voice pipes up, ‘You’re not kidding. We need a crane for the whole lifting and separating thing. My God, how much weight has she packed on? Does she even fit us anymore?’
‘Look, you stand over there and do the necessary, I’ll…’

‘Shut up,’ I said sternly, pushing things in place, prodding and poking and then doing that horrible reach back for the clasp, which gets no easier with age. A woman needs monkey hands for that kind of business. Or a spare person. Anyway, I finally pulled the outfit over top and this seemed to quell the voices a bit. I heard a bit of mumbling, ‘We’re never going to make it,’ but decided to ignore them.

This is what happens as we grow older. It’s not that we get smarter, or wiser. We just stop caring about critical voices, ours and those belonging to our lingerie. We’ve been to the beach and back and have the broken elastic bathing suits to prove it. There’s not much we haven’t seen, and really, we paid good money for these contraptions and need to wear them more than once, so we refuse to be shamed. I stand back from the mirror. Yes, I look a bit silly, which means I’ll fit right in. Oh, shut up.

Men in Trouble

There are a lot of men in trouble these days. Donald Trump, for anything you can think of, Boris Johnson for emulating him, and Justin Trudeau for brown-facing and enjoying the dramatic life just a little too much. There are others who’ve been caught harassing women, men, and children. Some out there are thinking, why is nobody pointing the finger at Mick Jagger? I’m sure he’s done something. Every rock and roll band from the seventies has to be guilty of SOMETHING. Anything went, back in the day, if you were rich and famous. Even if you weren’t. But nobody cared. Nowadays, men are always in trouble.

The married ones, anyway. Since my husband died, I am exercising my ‘man chastisement’ muscle on my brother in law, Bob. He’s a good sport, and since I often stay at their apartment in Winnipeg, I have plenty of opportunities.

One morning, I entered the bathroom and drew back in horror. In a small dish by the sink were two shrivelled brown things resembling:

a. Preserved and shrunken (but not by much) penises
b. Two cooked hot dogs left over from last summer.
c. Something the witch from Robin Hood, (the Kevin Costner version) would use to cast a spell.

I was informed that this hideous couple of lumps was once soap on a rope. Bob is thrifty, and also sentimentally attached to the thing. It looked like wood, he said fondly, but now the bar had shrivelled into a left over body part from Night of the Living Dead.  Bob’s defensiveness made me nostalgic for the days when my husband was in trouble.

There were the clothing offences, like his penchant for high tide pants and loud shirts. There was his sense of humour that was almost always fun until it wasn’t. Like the time he was the MC for a Chamber of Commerce dinner. The trick with Clarence, who was not generally a big drinker, was to keep him from imbibing BEFORE he had to speak. This time he decided to warm up the crowd with a story about a man who was well known for his moose calling skills. After setting up the scene nicely (a cold fall day, breath in the air, the sense of anticipation) my husband leaned into the mike and said:
“Come here, you fucking moose.”

By the stunned silence that followed, he came to understand that perhaps he’d misread the room. I can’t remember much about the rest of the evening because of my shock, but I know that a wifely smackdown took place once we got home.

It doesn’t need to be a thing of this magnitude to make wives feel irritated. Hearing from friends and strangers, I’ve realized that any of the following may get a man into trouble at home:

1. Loud throat clearing or nose blowing, especially over the phone, as well as excessive coughing. Having a cold is generally not considered an excuse.

2. Pretending to clean out the garage while basically farting around and rummaging through all the old junk lying about, then simply moving it across the room.

3. Disregarding our health advice, no matter how good it is is or how long we drone on about it.

4. Being gormless: ie: bewildered by our ongoing and ever changing expectations and their own constant failure to live up to them.

5. Walking around with stunned expressions. Not knowing they’re walking around with stunned expressions.

6. Snoring, having sleep apnea and not believing us. Telling us we snore too, which we never believe.

6. Basically, whatever gets under our skin on any particular day. They won’t know what it is until we tell them, which we don’t often do, choosing instead to make them guess. They never get it right. (Is it the socks? Wearing my underwear two days in a row?) We turn away, disgusted. Why can’t they read our minds like they’re supposed to?

Dear women of the world, (and gay men who feel the same way) I’m not defending the other team, or making excuses for the things men do that drive us crazy. I’m just saying, mine would be in a lot less trouble with me now than he used to be, if only he weren’t dead. Though now that I think about it, he’s still in trouble for that.

Me, Myself, and Canada

I woke this morning with a very high self approval rating. This is not usually the case. Ordinarily I’m castigating myself for eating late at night and then not being able to fall asleep. Or for forgetting to brush my teeth, which is rare because I’m a very strict taskmaster. I’m like my own S&M club, where I work both ends.

But this morning I looked at my tired, aging face in the mirror and said, “You’re doing okay. There is nothing you can do to reverse this morning look, unless a genie comes along at this very moment (I look up in the air at nothing) so bloody well relax already.” And for once, I listened to myself. “What wise advice,” I said aloud, being very comfortable with audible conversations between me and me.

This is the curse and pleasure of living alone. Now that my husband’s witty banter exists only in my head, I’m fielding discussions that should be internal but are more like a noisy parliament session. My political debates before the Manitoba election were fierce, rivalling Gollum in the split personality department of side taking. Now that the federal election looms, I’m back at it.

I wonder how many of us succumb to the eeny, meeny, miny mo form of decision making. My husband was a politician so I’ve seen, nay, walked through the grass on both sides of the fence. So even with the people I’d never vote for (no matter how much my contrary Gollum side likes them) I’m still able to view them as wanting the best for their country and themselves. And yet. Am I doing what I always do, voting ‘same as usual’ or will I pick the best one for the job?

Dostoyevsky said, ‘You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.’ Nelson Mandela and Churchill both said you could measure the degree of civilization in a society by how it treats its weakest members. Mahatma Ghandi said the same thing about how society treats animals. And Margaret Thatcher said ‘The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.’ Then there’s climate change, harder to ignore if you live on the East Coast.

Choosing the right politician generally comes down to addressing one’s own anxiety. Am I bothered by other people’s pain, or by the idea that my country’s debt is growing too large? Do I see immigrants as an economic boon or as people who cost the taxpayers a lot of money? Do I believe people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or is it just easier for those with stable home lives, safe upbringings and/or white privilege?

Whichever politician we pick, and however we choose to address our anxiety, we’re all in this together. As Canadians, we share a social contract that agrees on many points. There’s the unique culture we share, with each province offering it’s own flavour. We really are a people who apologize a lot ( I have a video of myself in childbirth, and mid scream, I stop to say sorry to my midwife.) We pride ourselves on being nice, and for the most part, I believe it’s true. Let’s not lose that. As part of Team Canada, I’ll stick up for you, and you stick up for me.  Okay? Now let me check in with my other half to see what she thinks.

“I concur!” she says. I love it when we’re both in agreement.

Training Day

I was wandering through the lingerie department of The Bay when I stepped into the training bra section. It’s hard to believe that a girl who’s a 28 double A needs to bother with anything besides the shirt on her back, but apparently every North American female starts sometime.

How on earth does a bra train a girl, anyway? Does it issue B.O.L.O.’s? (Be on the lookout…) Because that’s not bad advice. There’s plenty to watch out for on the journey from girl to woman. Is the training just early practice for the discomfort that comes with women’s clothing? Let’s face it. You don’t see men strapping up their chubby chests with a tight band and suffocating unbreathable material. Or waltzing down the street in heels that hurt with every step. In light of that, the training bra might be telling girls the following:

‘This is merely the first step. Sure, you feel like you’re locked in a small room until bedtime. But someday soon, you’ll graduate to more elaborate prisons, until one day you’ll don a Victoria’s Secret bra that is the comfort equivalent of a ten year stay in San Quentin. So brace yourself.

The truth is, it’s older women’s breasts that  need training. After they’ve spent enough time on the planet, they get a little jaded. Cynical. Opinionated, some might say, and positively revolutionary. There is no accounting for the direction they’ll take (though many head south for the winter) and when it comes to the steel-like frames that promise to ‘lift and separate,’ many women’s breasts raise a metaphorical middle finger, and say, ‘Fuck that.’

This is why my mother and mother in law entered their seventies like it was 1969 and they were going to burn their bras in the city square. They didn’t, of course. Instead, they discreetly tucked them away in a drawer and never looked at them again. Every day life was lived cage free, and like healthy hens, they were free range all the way.

On that celebratory note, here’s a shout out to my weight training instructor, Tracy Salamondra. Every day with her is training day, and yes, there are some benefits there for wayward, recalcitrant breasts. It’s all in the posture one gains from swinging kettle bells and thrusting those dumbbells in the air. When your shoulders are locked down properly, your breasts might sulk a bit, but eventually they settle into place. “Hmm”, I thought, the first time I noticed. “There’s something to all this suffering after all.’ And unlike a bra shaped like a medieval torture devise, her gym workout actually offers some promise. So I think I’ll stick with it and see what happens. Onward and upward, right? Girls, stop it! (I guess we’re not quite there, yet.)

My Paddle’s Keen and Bright

I might have saved someone’s life today. I’m not entirely sure, so I’ll lay it all out and let you be the judge. I was paddling my kayak and singing a song I learned a child:

My paddle’s keen and bright
Flashing with silver
Follow the wild goose flight
Dip, dip and swing

 

Dip, dip and swing her back
Flashing with silver
Swift as the wild goose flies
Dip, dip and swing
It’s a cheerful piece, and being alone on a lake is the best place to sing it. My patient husband used to allow me to go on and on with nary a complaint. Sometimes he’d join in, though it was always hard to recognize the tune as he sang it.  Now that he’s gone, I get on the lake whenever I can, because I feel very connected to him there.
Today I was paddling and singing, when mid song, I notice someone drowning. Well, something. A dragonfly was thrashing around in the water, desperately trying to fly away but not able to free itself. I paddled quickly and ran right over it in my effort to help. Then I tried again, almost falling out of my kayak in my attempts to get the bug aboard my orange paddle. It seemed even more frightened of the paddle than the water, but I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
There are many religions in the world, several believing that people can spend their next life as something else. Like an insect. In between singing, I’d been talking to my dead husband, saying, ‘Feel free to join me! Sneak away if you can!’ And then I came upon the drowning dragonfly. This was a moment I’d been waiting for, where I’d get to address my inner Kate Winslet from the Titanic movie. “I’ll never let go!” I said to the dragon fly, softly but with the right amount of drama in my voice. I meant it, too. I was willing to flip my kayak far from shore to prove it. It was a safe proposition, because I was wearing my new life vest which makes me look like a person who takes out terrorists and then goes kayaking. Anyway.
At last I got the dragon fly onto the paddle and dropped it gently on the front of my kayak where it sat, rubbing its face with its front legs, it’s small chest heaving with what I believed was relief. I felt so good. ‘I saved you,’ I said to the bug. ‘Is your name Clarence? You’d better not be a reincarnation of Hitler.’
What is it with Hitler, anyway? There are other evil people who’ve walked the earth that I could mention. I could have said Stalin. Or the Marquis de Sade, who wasn’t very nice to his house guests. But Hitler’s always the first guy that comes to mind. I really didn’t want the bug to be a bad guy, and that got me thinking.
I’m a Christian who has never believed in the concept of hell. Rather, I believe that when our energy moves on to our next lives, we develop an awareness of how we behaved while on earth. Does that mean Hitler is sorry? Is he wringing his hands and hoping people will forgive him? I guess he’ll have to run that by the people he killed. Enough of that. Let’s get back to my life saving business.
As I drew close to shore, I could see the bug reviving even more. I climbed out of my kayak and carried it over to my car. Fetching my straps from the back, I lowered the Hullavator Pro so I could load my kayak and push it up on the roof. I got the thing strapped up, secured it both back and front of my car and drove off down the road. Then I remembered the dragon fly.
I forgot to check if he’d flown away. Perhaps he was still desperately clinging to the vessel. Maybe the wind beneath his wings had dried him off. Or maybe I had killed him. Perhaps I was supposed to let things take their natural course and let him die all along? I’m a Hanson by birth. It’s my nature to get involved in things that are none of my business.
The good news is, I had a wonderful, peaceful singing afternoon on a lake as smooth as glass. The bad news is, I’m a neglectful, potentially dangerous  bug killer. If it was my husband, it’s okay. He understands my forgetful nature. If it was Hitler, who cares. Dear bug, I salute your valiant efforts to survive, even if it was all in vain. Such is life. Now here’s my song. WordPress won’t let me post it, but the link is here.

 

I’ll Give You Something to Cry About

When I was growing up, this saying was something many parents used as a child raising technique. I’ve been thinking about it a lot today, and wondering if mom and dad really understood what it meant:

‘Here is a little gift from me. It’s going to hurt enough to make you cry.’

I don’t think they got that. The point was to shut the child down, thereby making life easier for themselves. Self esteem wasn’t a thing back then. Providing food and clothes, and teaching kids manners and ethics was considered a decent parenting benchmark. But as many of us have discovered, having something to cry about comes to everyone sooner or later.

Today is my husband’s birthday, and I know that since he’s dead, time does not pass the same for him anymore.  I believe that he exists on another plane (some call it heaven) because many people have had near death experiences and discovered that our life energy does not die with our bodies. So, wherever you are, honey, I hope you’re doing something special, like a canoe trip. Me, I’d be shaping up to battle the Death Star with Han Solo at my side. But you were never into science fiction. Happy paddling. Say hello to our friend, Charlie Mott for me.

I hope my request for someone to distract  you on June 28th and July 3rd  was taken seriously. Those were the days I had garage sales for all of your dad’s stuff. Some of yours, too. I’m telling you now, in case you didn’t know. We raised over $3200 between the two sales, and the money went to some good causes. I’m sorry you didn’t get to be there because you would have been shocked by everything your dad had squeezed into those towering piles of junk. It was kind of insane.

And almost like a party. I had three different guys (looking like they were on safari and had just spotted a rare breed of rhinoceros) tell me, ‘This is a man’s garage sale!’ Family and friends helped make it happen. Their kindness gave me something to cry about.

So does your absence, which seems  more real now that time has passed. I guess I took you for granted, which is a gift no one understands until it’s gone. When you’re accustomed to having someone at your side, you slide into the comfortable certainly that they will always be there. But your spot is unfillable, and I’m learning how to deal with that.

Sometimes I get angry, and other days I walk around like I’m searching for something. ‘What am I looking for?’ I ask myself out loud. This has been a constant theme in my life. (I should just admit that I’m looking for my brain.) But now I think I’m mostly looking for you. Even though I’ll have to die to see you again. And I have people here, so that’s not currently doable.

However, when that day comes, you’d better be ready for me. I want to see a shoreline, and a canoe ready and waiting, with you at the back, and my home made Rick Hall paddle already in place. I want us to camp somewhere, and I’m taking it for granted there’ll be no mosquitoes. Maybe you could arrange for us to use that first tent we bought. Remember how small it was? We forgot to buy a fly and it collapsed in the rain. But the rest of the time it was so cozy.

Until then, have a wonderful birthday, and please hug our parents for me. I was going to post the Beatles singing the applicable song, but I think I’ll use one that you sang all the time, even though you couldn’t really sing at all. But that never stopped you, and that’s another thing I loved.