Monthly Archives: February 2014

You’re Wearing Those Pants?

This morning my husband wandered out of the bedroom wearing a pair of jeans that were so short, he looked like he was pulling them up to wade through water. When I pointed this out, he went and changed. This signifies his easy going nature rather than any agreement on his part. We’ve had similar conversations over the years. His swaggering self confidence contrasts starkly with my hand wringing plea for a middle ground in the wardrobe department. His tastes have always been quirky.

I was never attracted to guys who were perfectly put together. The kind who can’t pass a mirror without checking themselves out. No one can grow up in Flin Flon and appreciate that type of male unless he’s shirtless, holding a wrench and dancing provocatively on a stage. We northerners like our men to have a certain disdain for the perfect outfit. However.

Some of the conversations we’ve had are enough to make me feel slightly wistful. I can imagine the GQ guy’s kind of closet. Shirts hanging neatly, immaculately ironed and placed slightly apart. Shoes stowed away, underwear folded. That man could nag me about my own drawers and I’d only be grateful. Really.

Some years ago, Clarence bought a set of vintage burgundy curling sweaters. He wore each in turn, having heard Oprah’s friend, Peter Walsh, say that a garment unworn is one that should be given away. When I questioned the suitability of wearing the sweaters for work, he looked at me like a little boy who’s been given the best. gift. ever!

“These are the Flin Flon Bomber colours! (Insert the word ‘duh’ here, unvoiced but expressed in other ways.) “They’re vintage sweaters! I bought three so that someday our daughters can wear them to my funeral.” With a shake of his head he managed to convey his disbelief at my shortsightedness and lack of taste.

I had no comeback. Aside from a comment shouted from another room, (No way, dad, we’re not wearing those sweaters EVER!) there was really nothing anyone could add that would make a difference. And so his love of vintage clothing and unusual combinations continued.

When another MLA at the Legislature said, “Wow. I didn’t know you could wear all those plaids at the same time,” my husband bragged about it to me. He is not unaware of my opinion regarding his wardrobe and is always looking for opportunities to lobby for it.

Sadly, I’m not above whispering lies to complete strangers. “He’s in a play and there was no time to change.” Stuff like that. Clarence is temporarily over his love for Hawaiian shirts, replacing them with a series of strange hats. A few are fairly cool looking, but some have me walking slightly ahead of or behind him, like an embarrassed teenager. Especially the one that looks like it should be accompanied by yodeling and the clicking of heels. His ‘I’m an extra in the Sound of Music’ look. Sigh.

It’s a good thing he’s such a keeper. The fact is, I value humour and kindness over clothing choice, which means we’ll be together until one of us departs this life. When that day comes, there will be copious weeping, the tearing of clothing, (his) and a tabloid worthy profusion of vintage sweaters and Hawaiian shirts. If they’re not worn by family and friends, chances are they’ll at least be for sale.

Winning at The Olympics of Life

Just like the winter games taking place in Sochi, the imaginary ‘Olympics of Life’ would host an ongoing series of events. Some would have clear, well defined and easily judged values. Like, who makes the most money? Who has traveled the furthest? Worst criminal ever would be less definable, though not as hard as, say, picking the most altruistic human alive. Then you’re getting into categories that, much like pairs dance, are influenced by opinion rather than fact.

It’s the same when we judge ourselves. Our own ideas regarding our virtues and faults may be coloured by wishful thinking. “I’m a ten out of ten,” we might think when considering our own characteristics of friendliness and good humour. And we believe it to be so, mentally hanging the gold medal around our own necks while being careful not to check with the judges, i.e., friends and family, for their opinions.

I try not to worry about things like that, but instead, focus on the tasks in which I truly excel. Like reading. If there was an Olympics for readers, I would be a contender. For one thing, I train hard for it every single day. I read as if I were being paid a fortune to do so. When I see others sitting glumly on the bus, bookless, not a magazine in hand, I can’t comprehend their motivation. Why stare into space when you can gaze into the soul of the universe? Everything you ever need to know about life can be found in a book or great magazine article.

Do you need to be more compassionate? Read a book. Do you have an ungrateful heart? Crack open “Twelve Years a Slave”  and you’ll never complain again. Cormac McCarthy’s, “The Road,” with its bleak and despairing future, actually made me feel less stressed about the environment. Reading chips away at our faults,  breaking off little pieces of pettiness and intolerance. This honing of our character leaves us stronger and much less certain about the rightness of our own opinions. Which is a very good thing. A ‘peace on earth’ thing. Children and adults become more empathetic when reading. It’s impossible to have an ‘us against them’ mentality when a book opens the door to a new world, inviting us in and introducing us to the lives of others. We learn how to live when we read a book. We become a better version of ourselves.

A handy portal to an expanded universe, plus the new and improved you, sits waiting  at the library. Your life guru, the local librarian, can be your guide to Everything you need to know about Anything. You might seek adventure in a travel book, learn to cook great meals, meet a kindred spirit through a biography or pick up a ‘how to’ manual which will enable you to survive the zombie apocalypse. It’s all there. And its free.

Every day I go for the gold, sharing our Canadian athlete’s desire to ‘Own the Podium.’ “But the training involved!” you might be thinking. “I don’t have time!” You make the time. Carry your book, or kobo, with you always. Read in lineups at the bank, in bathrooms (including your home,) in bed at night, and whenever you have the luxury of eating a meal alone. Take note of the time you waste on things like facebook, or computer games. I say this even as I prepare to do an online crossword puzzle. But still. Take up this reading challenge and enter the race to win it. You’ll be a better person for it, and just think how in shape your mind will be!  You might win that most coveted prize ever. Old age and a brain that still works. Now that’s golden.

 

Neil Young and me on a Saturday Morning

Neil Young sat beside me last Saturday during choir practice. Metaphorically, of course. But it felt real. We were learning his song, ‘After the Gold Rush.’ The harmony was lovely and haunting, bringing me close to tears.

The music feels like a dirge with its plaintive talk of drugs and mother nature. And yet. As we moved through the piece I began to feel like my eighteen year old self en route to the best party ever. As if on cue, this memory came flashing back.

My friend Jude and I were driving around in her boyfriend’s car. A 1958 Pontiac, or something like it. Turquoise and cream, large and comfortable and, in 1971, already vintage. Jude slapped in an eight track tape and the song soared through the late summer air. Joy wrapped itself around us in the easy way it does when you’re young and living in the moment. The music sealed the memory so it could be unwrapped all those years later during choir.

More than any other sensory experience, music brings us back to ourselves. “There you are,” some part of our brain joyfully acknowledges. “Where’ve you been?”
We can go missing from our own lives and not even notice. We grow up, we learn, and we move forward, determined to be the best version of ourselves. To show the child within us that we did good. That we’re so much better than we were.

But by trying to forget the parts we find wanting, we miss the opportunity to heal some old hurts.
The music of our youth strips away the inconsequential, leaving us  feeling vulnerable and genuine. A door opens to the past, allowing us to address it in a positive way.

There’s pain in the mix of those childhood and teenage years. All the unkind things we thought about ourselves. We didn’t like our noses. Our big feet. We were too short. Too tall. It was the gap in our teeth. Hair that never looked right. Klutzy, uncool, shy, geeky.  There are a thousand things we found wrong with ourselves, thoughts sometimes unintentionally confirmed by the people who loved us.

The small potatoes of the past loom large. But that doesn’t mean they deserve the reserved seating you’ve given them in your memory bank. Transform those moments with great songs from your past and everything is put into perspective. 

I sing the words, “All in a dream, all in a dream, the loading had begun. Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun,” and I’m not with my choir anymore. I’m in the car with my friend, Jude, cruising down the highway, singing at the top of my lungs. And Neil Young is right beside me. The artist and his audience, binding each other’s wounds. “We’re mourning,” he says. “And we’re celebrating. Let’s sing.” And we do.

Safe, on the Other Side of Sixty

In 1979 I was standing on a mountain in the Himalayas. My face hadn’t seen water in four days and my 25th birthday loomed over me like a serial killer. The thing I’d been dreading all year had arrived. It was finally time for me to grow up. I made a few promises to myself back then, which I’ve kept. For example, to stop going for gold in the drinking Olympics.

Thirty-five years later my 60th birthday stands before me like a brick wall. I have no way to interpret the number that so thoroughly blocks my view of the future. I know I’m being silly. My husband is already sixty-one, my older sister the same. They haven’t spontaneously combusted or dropped dead of old age. What exactly is my problem with this birthday?

For one, I’ve begun second guessing myself. In the last few months I’ve started worrying about middle aged/ old people things like slipping and falling on icy roads. The roots of my hair seem, overnight, dramatically grayer. My face insists on keeping my chest company on its journey south. But still, all that has been going on for awhile. Why am I so bummed out?

If I compared my life span to a hike in the Himalayas, then I reached the summit at the age of fifty. So ten years ago, I was on top of the world. There was none of the uncertainty of my present age. Now that I’ve begun the descent, though, I’m remembering that climbing uphill is actually easier than going down. A steady descent is very hard on the knees. Two hundred and fifty miles of traveling the highs and lows of the Himalayas taught me that much. Perhaps that’s the problem. I fear the hardship of the journey on the way down.

I have a disposition that is inclined to rebellion. I’m easy going, but I don’t like to be told what to do. Maybe that’s part of the problem. None of us gets a say in our future. We can’t press the pause button, turn to Father Time and tell him, No Thanks. I’ll be leaving the station now and going my own way. You go on without me. Everything I need is right here, right now.

Facing the number sixty has made me feel helpless. Why can’t everything and everyone just stay put? Why can’t the earth keep renewing itself, the water flowing clean and uninterrupted to the ocean. The air crisp and undamaged by industry and frequent flyers.

Why can’t everyone on the planet just get along?  Turning sixty is stripping away all of  my illusions. I’m not really in charge of anything. I have no say over the car that is rounding the bend toward me, or the Tsunami of events waiting to surprise me. Would it be easier, then, to check out early? Stop writing, or running my business? Quit my marriage, say adios to my kids.

I can’t do that. For one thing, I want to see how things work out for all of us. And the parts I don’t get to see, my children and friends will witness for me. I guess that’s one of the reasons we’re here on Earth. To observe the wonderful, the ridiculous and the heartbreaking events that make up a life. What we do with those observations, how much we decide to take part, well. That’s up to each of us. That’s the real power of living.

And in the aha moment reached this very second, I’ve realized what my sixtieth birthday is really telling me. I must continue growing up, and upward. Every day brings new lessons, and it won’t be over until God reaches out and gives me the golden hand shake. That part, I’m looking forward to. “Good job! (God might say) Please head directly toward the light. And no worries, Judy, cause its all downhill from there.”