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.

West Side Garden Story

I was hacking my way through the jungle of my perennial garden when I saw a horrifying thing. On the path below me,  a horde of ants was attacking a worm, rolling it over and over, and biting it as it wriggled frantically. I ran for the garden hose to gently wash the ants away and found myself singing along with a song from the musical, West Side Story. The New York 1960’s gang, the Jets, were attacking a lone Shark who’d wandered through their territory.

Was it my imagination that the ants were snapping their fingers? Do they even have fingers? Probably not, but there was some serious dancing going on, especially when I turned on the hose. The worm (ahem, the Shark) managed to escape down a crack in the dirt, and the disappointed Jets headed for home, once they’d dried off.

Next, I shoveled up their ant hill. The little buggers had been stealing the dirt from between my bricks, and I was tired of fighting them. Crossing the road, my wheelbarrow loaded with an entire ant kingdom, I realized I was the bad guy. Like the aliens in War of the Worlds and Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, I’d brought the dystopian reality of a world gone bad into the ant’s lives. I pictured them wringing their hands (do they have hands?) and weeping about the loss of their home. Honestly, gardening is difficult enough without all this guilt.

What with the singing and gang warfare, it’s hard to know where to start. The clover in the grass is a pain, but there’s a monster sized version lurking in the taller shrubs that’s so much worse.  I think my perennials are in partnership with many of the weeds, hiding them beneath their broad leaves. Tiny dandelion plants, little bits of chickweed. It’s like Romeo and Juliet out there. (The old version of West Side Story.) When I pull a weed up, the perennials seem to cry out in despair. I’m sure I heard one quoting Shakespeare.

“I defy you, stars!”

There might have been a song in there, too.  It’s our Community Choir’s set designer, Ken Pawlachuk’s, fault. He brought the lovely pier from the Mamma Mia musical into my front yard and now, everyone’s a diva. Even the hostas, and they’re usually so sensible.

So, if you see me at the store laughing maniacally in true bad guy style, realize that I’ve just decimated a whole village of ants and uprooted a few hundred weeds. They’re all busy singing ‘One More Day’ (from Les Miserable) while I’m trying to harden my heart. Sure, I’m not using pesticides anymore, but I’m still spraying the weeds with vinegar, baking soda and salt. I’m dousing them with boiling water. It’s just a different kind of torture. But that’s the way we are, us villains. It’s all about our tidy yards and the money we shelled out during the frenzy of spring plant buying.

‘It’s for your own good!’ I shout at the perennials. ‘Stop singing!’ I holler at the weeds. They barely listen anymore.
One more day, indeed. (Here’s the video, a human version. The plants haven’t quite nailed it yet.)

ASMR – It’s Weirder than I Thought

I woke up at two the other night and felt wide awake. To get sleepy, I turned to YouTube for a quick relaxation session. I like watching two things: a nice massage or a gentle hair brushing experience. I wrote a blog about the hairbrushing thing called, ‘Let Me Help You With That Kink.’ That’s how I felt in the beginning when scrolling through YouTube in search of something that would quiet my mind. Just a little kinky.

But now I’ve been introduced to a whole new level of strange. I clicked on what I thought was my video and the usual ASMR sign came up. But this time, there was no hairbrush or masseuse waiting for me. Instead, a gold sprayed mannequin head came into view, along with a woman holding a pair of Q tips. To my surprise and discomfort, she proceeded to insert the swabs in the ears of the mannequin. In, out, in out. Like some kind of ear masturbation. I exited out of that one and lo and behold, another mannequin appeared, wearing a set of headphones. A woman stroked the headphones over and over again and I found myself wondering how anyone on earth would find this relaxing. It was just so weird.

It turns out that the world of ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a wide one, and what makes me feel like falling asleep just doesn’t do it for some people. There’s one where someone gets an eye exam. There’s different videos of people whispering. Some people tap on wood, or books, or balls. (The bouncing kind.) People hum, they whistle, or smoke in their cars.Maybe the last is meant for people who’ve quit and miss it. Truly, there’s something for everyone.

It’s left me wondering. If my videos relax me because it feels like someone is brushing my hair or giving me a massage, how did these other scenarios originate? What are people doing with mannequins, anyway? And who decided gold was the colour for the head, and that Q tips would be a hit? Who enjoys seeing headphones get a good rubdown? I wonder how the videographers figure these things out. Do they have a team? Are they taking requests? I have no idea. But to explain how people feel diving into the deep end of weird videos, I’ll quote the lyrics from Lady Gaga’s moving duet with Bradley Cooper in ‘A Star is Born.’

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

Yes, we are, people. We’re waaaaaaay far from the shallows. But whatever makes you sleep at night, whatever has your body falling into a deep state of relaxation, remember this. Never put anything in your ear that’s small than your elbow. Now you stay safe. Good night. And here’s a little something for your resting pleasure.

Snack Time in the Apocalypse

My daughter, Hilary, is my alpha reader when I’m writing a novel. I recently sent her the first three chapters of my latest work in progress, and after all the required ego building; ‘Yes, nice, very good. I like the character and story,’ she proceeded to put me in my place.

“Mom, what’s with all the eating?”

I’m wondering how she can see through the phone to the coconut muffin I’m holding, but I hide it behind my back anyway. “Not you, mom. The girl in your story! She’s always cooking. It slows down the action. Remember that she’s terrified and alone.”

My first instinct was to feel defensive. “That’s why she eating so much. She needs provisions to help her handle the horror of her situation. You can stress eat in the apocalypse, you know.” Silence on the phone.

When I go to a movie where the characters are constantly running and hiding, all I can think is, when are they going to have a meal? Or go to the bathroom? I find it hard not to worry about their wellbeing. Never mind that the enemy soldier, alien or dinosaur may be closing in. When’s lunch?

I have five sisters and one brother and I swear I’m the only one who thinks this way. The sisters are like corset wearing Southerners from the 1800’s, who never have appetites. “I think I’m off my food right now,” they’ll say thoughtfully, pushing their half full plates away. I stare at them in bewilderment. I’ve never pushed a plate away in my life. And my brother seems to burn 1000 calories an hour, but not me, so that’s why I have to exercise so religiously. (Okay, maybe I’m not that diligent, but I try.) My inner tube threatens to become an outer tire, and I’m certainly not going to miss a meal or a snack on it’s behalf.

Do you ever wonder why those characters in movies or novels who never eat, sleep or go to the bathroom don’t discuss it with the other people on the run? “Oops, I just crapped myself. I should have hid out in that gas station bathroom.”

Dear reader, you’ve read my potty stories about the long road north. There is no bush, ditch or vacant lot that won’t do in a pinch. So I really don’t understand these characters. I see my daughter’s point of view that you can’t break the tension with mundane things, but let’s have some believability. Science fiction shows are particularly bad for this. A character goes days before finding a tiny, foil wrapped piece of thousand year old dried meat, makes a face eating it, then is back on the run. Really?

Okay, yes, perhaps my girl is cooking too much. But like me, she has food insecurity. Not the kind that actually exists in the world where real people starve every day, but the kind that’s in your head. My phone tells me its been two hours since breakfast. Time for a snack. Then its lunch. Then its snack time. Then it’s supper. I’m trying very hard not to snack after that because of my inner tube, but I always feel like it. I don’t care if my pants/corset are too tight. Thanks to Tracy’s weight class (the suffering! the joy!) they’re not.

If you have a book you’ve always wanted to write and it’s going to be action packed, let your characters have a moment or two. A bathroom break. A sandwich. Even a bag of chips snatched from a vendor as they whip by, two steps ahead of a giant robot. From all parts of the theater, people like me will exhale in relief, finally able to enjoy the rest of the movie.

If I was a character in a movie, caught by the enemy and facing a death squad, I know what my last words would be. Instead of requesting a cigarette, I’d say, ‘Do you have any bananas?’ And people like me watching the movie would mutter, ‘Good choice.’ People asking about the movie later might say, ‘Was it sad?’
“Yes, but they let her have a banana.’
‘Oh. Thank goodness.’

A little kindness goes a long way. I just hope the Rotten Tomatoes critics like my idea.

Lessons From the Business Side of the Road

In light of my recent eight hour drive home, I’m revisiting the subject of peeing outdoors. I must write this because if I don’t, I’ll start discussing the relaxed standards of widowhood. It’s like living in a frat house with a population of one. It turns out that my husband was the prissy half of our duo, (he had one sibling, I had six…it makes a difference.) Between the hours of midnight and eight, our bedroom sounds like a herd of trumpet swans have moved in. There’s no one home but me, so who cares, right? But I’ve been told that the topic of farting is not fit for public consumption, so that’ll be enough of that.

Instead, let me regale you with my latest grievance. It says somewhere in the Talmud (I’m not Jewish…sorry for the cultural appropriation) that there’s a men’s morning prayer with the following words:

“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman.”  

I say Amen and high five every man on the planet for being on the winning side of that prayer, solely because of the act of peeing. Men get to stand up for it. You can drive by at 110 klicks an hour and feel certain that the guy standing outside his car is just kicking the tires. But nobody buys it when you’re squatting with your pants down. And there are not enough bathrooms between Flin Flon and Winnipeg to avoid this situation, so the whole time I’m driving, I’m keeping an eye out for lonely roads exiting the main highway.

This is a bad idea for several reasons.

A. Serial killers lurking nearby
B. Bears

It’s still spring and every bear in Manitoba was traveling the number six highway on Friday. I’d pull over on a lonely stretch of road, not a car in sight, and barely (pun intended) get down to business when an actual bear would lumber into view. I broke speed records getting back into my car. So I entered one of those abandoned logging roads, first making sure there wasn’t a clown-faced axe-wielding murderer hiding nearby. In spite of the all clear, there were still several problems with the area.

First, it was disgusting. People, this is not your personal dump for your child’s diapers, your fast food containers and the last thousand water bottles you drank from and then abandoned. There was barely room to move, the place was so littered. And, there was a bear. A black one, smallish, but even so. I had already assumed the position, feeling grateful for the stretchiness of my Lulu Lemon pants and trying not to pee on my shoes. I thought I was going to faint, but fortunately I skedaddled instead.

In spite of the cold, it’s actually easier peeing out of doors in the winter. The bears are sleeping and the snow means no splashing, which is a plus. Men probably splash too, but I doubt they care because of the distance thing. I can’t explain it properly because I’m not good at geometry, or finding pi or longitude. Maybe its physics. I don’t know.

I started wondering about the plan for women. Like, what’s with all the squatting, dear Creator? But then, the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. Childbirth, gardening, picking up tiny toys like Lego pieces. There are many reasons for the act of squatting. With it comes a certain sense of resignation, of patience, and a calm acceptance of what is, at least in the moment. Squatting makes a person feel vulnerable, and maybe that’s why women are so open with their feelings, comparatively speaking.

That which doesn’t kill you (the bear, the axe wielding murderer) makes you stronger, according to Nietzsche.  At least in the thigh area. So I’m doing a 180 on my whining and will consider the squatting position a gift. I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama squats. I’ve seen him do it in a magazine photo. Maybe he’s practicing yoga, or praying. Perhaps he’s getting in touch with his feminine side and allowing himself to be vulnerable. Whichever it is, I choose to believe that for those few moments of getting down to business, I’m also exercising and meditating.

It feels appropriate to end this blog post with the almost prayerful lyrics of Canadian female icon, Shania Twain:

Oh, oh, oh, I want to be free, yeah, 
to feel the way I feel,

Man! 
I feel like a woman!

Me too, Shania.

Mamma Mia!

The musical is over. The props are put away, the actors returning to their regular lives. Teachers, students, miners, nurses, retired people and at least one writer will take a deep breath and enjoy the peace, quiet, and extra time on their hands. And yet.

I grew accustomed to the daily cries of the Greek Chorus, ie: the Flin Flon Community Choir, sequestered behind the scenery with the band. We were our own little family back there. ‘What’s happening now?’ we’d ask anyone with a view of the floor. Fortunately, there was lots of singing backstage so we didn’t have too much time on our hands to think about it. I missed being out in the hall with the actors, but we definitely paid better attention to our fearless conductor, Crystal Kolt.

As we sang our hearts out night after night, I realized that the music in Mamma Mia is perfect for every occasion. Feeling betrayed? Try the theme song.

 ‘I was cheated by you and I think you know when, so I made up my mind it must come to an end. Look at me now, will I ever learn, I don’t know how, but I suddenly lose control, there’s a fire within my soul.

These words are applicable to many situations. Got teenagers? A broken down clothes dryer? It’s handy having a theme song you can direct at the recalcitrant child or household appliance, especially when you enjoy singing and need to let off a little steam.

I wouldn’t mind if my friends met me on the street singing, ‘Chiquitita, tell me what’s wrong…how it hurts to see you crying, how it hurts to see you sad.’ We all need sympathy from time to time, and it’s such a tender song. Who wouldn’t feel understood with these lyrics? In fact, there were many cathartic moments happening backstage during the whole of the musical. It was like a therapy session. But free.

Then, there’s many people’s favorite song, Dancing Queen.

‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life!’  

Well, maybe you can’t dance or jive, but when you listen to Donna’s friends and all the back up singers belting this one out, you’ll feel like you can. This song epitomizes those moments when life can’t get any better. It’s a high five from the universe, the whole world dancing, singing, and pointing at you in a ‘you can do it’ vote of confidence. You find yourself squaring your shoulders and thinking, ‘Dammit, I think I can!’

Then, there’s the cast. Janelle Haucault is our choreographer, ( and that’s forever, Janelle. Don’t try to get out of it.) Unless you’ve been to a Flin Flon musical production, you’ll never see anything like our own Mamma Mia cast and their wild dance moves. After each energetic number, they’d drag themselves to their changing stations, stunned into silence by their extreme effort and looking like nothing more than colorfully dressed, sweaty zombies who got bit at studio 54 in 1979 and haven’t summoned the energy or brains to go home. Every year, the whole singing, dancing cast always seems to lose weight. It’s almost become an audition promise. Like some kind of fitness class from hell…(but not like our class, Tracy. We love our classes with you. 🙂 And yet somehow they gather the energy for the next number, and the next.

We, the choir, are squirming in the dark, frantically looking at our scores, the words written in some kind of comic sans, our book lights trying to sort out the music as we belt out what we hope is the right part. We’re like miners of a different sort seeking the notes and script and praying we strike it rich so we don’t have to see Crystal’s shoulders slump in defeat when we blow it.

Meanwhile, the band is playing like their assess are on fire. The drums, guitars, pianos and tambourines just don’t stop. Nothing short of amazing, and all this perfection for free. That’s right, non-Flinonians. Except for a few, everyone sings, dances, cartwheels and pours their heart and soul out for the sheer fun of it.

And it is fun. We’ve had twenty plus years of performing, and it never gets old. As Sophie sings, ‘It’s the name of the game. Do you feel it the way I do?’  Yes, Sophie. In fact, we all get that crazy high that comes from joining our voices with a bunch of others and letting it rip. Do things go wrong? Occasionally. I never noticed a single mistake with the cast, but I remember singing out too early on one part and then saying, ‘Well, shit. I blew that one,’ before remembering the microphones hovering over our heads. Thankfully, I don’t have a voice that carries.  Which is nothing to be proud of but helps in moments like these.

When the finale comes and the crowd surges to its feet to join us in singing Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen and Waterloo, there are no doubters in the room. There are no left or right wing nuts, no grudge holders, no sad people. The place rocks and every voice is raised in the kind of harmony that always comes with the celebration of music, art, and most importantly, community. It’s like a magical kind of glue, so that no matter what worries are trying to crowd our spirits, we all have this singing and dancing time together, and in those moments, joy takes over. Of course, the same thing can happen at a Bomber game, too. But that’s a whole other blog. See you in the fall, choristers. Now everyone get some rest.

FB_IMG_1557763546764