The Hard Part is Getting Back Up

In today’s weight class, we worked in sixty second segments. Doesn’t that sound easy? We interspersed dumb bell routines with some other activities, like using a stepper, a stationary bike with a fan, a ski thingy, and also Jacob’s Ladder, which sounds like something you’d climb to get to heaven but is really more fitting for a Catholic Purgatory experience. Lots of climbing, but you’re going nowhere except down. Because you can’t climb fast enough to make it to the top. And if you go too fast, then you feel very out of control and have to drift downward, hopelessly defeated, and climb off.

A minute seems like such a short period of time, but the whole hour has a ‘go, go go!’ thing happening, including the sit-ups portion. Getting up from the floor is the hardest part for me. I’m supposed to use my core, but that bitch hardly ever shows up. Sometimes I feel like I’ve joined an S&M club, but I’m only involved with the M portion. When Tracy (who is lovely, and nothing like Aunt Lydia from a Handmaid’s Tale) (there is no gun to my back as I write this) tells us to pull in our belly buttons, tighten our stomach muscles and stop using our glutes, I experience a moment of confusion. And bitterness, because my belly button and that whole general area has been letting me down for years.

And then I find out that overusing your glutes can cause problems for your bladder. (Tracy is concerned about the whole body, not just the biceps. In my mind, that was the only muscle that mattered.) Truthfully, it’s my bladder that does a lot of the whining during class. “Why am I involved? Isn’t it enough that you drank tequila on the weekend? One shot? Yeah, right.” It’s not just my brain that likes to complain. My organs are about to form a union, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

I would love to have a gym butler  at every class, fetching my water and helping me up off the floor. Also, a reporter of some kind asking tough questions. “Is your heart rate supposed to be that high? Do you always slow down when Tracy’s back is turned? Is that sweat on your shirt or did you spill your water again?” The reporter could never quote me because my language is boringly composed of sharp cries and this kind of thing:

Dear Jesus, when will it be over?
I just hammered my thigh with a dumbbell!
Oh, God. Did she say we’re doing Moby? NO! The hour is up! Right? (like there’s some kind of complaint department. I guess filling Tracy in could be the reporter’s job. There’d be a lot to say, because my organs are growing very vocal.)

The crazy thing is, for the first half hour, I feel really strong and determined, and I get some pretty wild ideas. Like, maybe I’ll head to the bar after class and start a fight. Or rescue somebody from a dark alleyway. (I’m really good with cats.) And then I watch a movie like GI Jane and find out that Demi Moore did six hours of workout a day just to prep. Well, hell, no. I guess my hour workout isn’t so bad after all. I think I’ll settle for getting stronger, feeling fitter, being happier and possibly someday winning an arm wrestling contest with a child. It’s good to have goals.

Since You’ve Been Gone

Dear Clarence,

It’s a year today since you moved out of this life and into the next. I remember your calmness when you left the world. The way your eyes twinkled at the end. Your words were full of love, and we surrounded you with everything we had, holding onto you until the last moment. Until we had to let you go. We had talked about what might lie on the other side of death, and what you might find there. Your last words were, ‘I hope I get to go for a swim.’ I sure hope you did, honey.

In case you don’t know, here’s what’s happened since you’ve been gone. I stumbled my way through spring and went into the summer full tilt, handling my emotions by never pausing for a moment. Like a shark that has to keep swimming, I felt as though something terrible would happen if I stood still for even a moment. I got a little bit kooky about it, and you’ll be glad to know that the neighbors intervened in the kindest way. One day, I’d been working in the garden for twelve hours, when they suggested I take a break and head inside. I’m pretty sure that right then, I needed to be told what to do. The yard definitely benefited from my ongoing mania. I’ve been renovating, too, and joined a weight class, which you would love. And the new ER you worked so hard for is finally finished. I hear that it’s lovely.

Every first thing we do without you is hard. The kids coming home in the summer, all the birthdays, including yours. My first time in the canoe without you paddling behind me. First Halloween. First Christmas. And now, a whole new year in which you never lived for even a day. Do you know how strange that is? Things are happening around the planet, and it’s all a little scarier without your calm perspective.

I didn’t understand that I would have to be brave. I believed that the need for it would be over once your suffering had ended. But when you died, it felt like parts of my body had been cut away and the pain was going to kill me. It didn’t, and that was hard, too. Because then I had to learn how to live without you. Which sounds like a line from a cheesy love song, but is actually true.

I didn’t really understand the forever-ness of it. Like, maybe you’d pop your head around the corner and say, ‘Just kidding. I’m still here!’ But that happens only in my dreams. Every day, those of us left behind arm ourselves with pep talks, with friends, and with plans for a future that does not include you. Every now and then, a wave of grief comes out of nowhere and knocks me off my feet. But grief has to win sometimes, because that’s part of this journey that has no map.

We’re celebrating you today in Banff, Clarence. We’re going to illegally scatter a tiny bit of your ashes somewhere near the hotsprings, one of your favourite places, and then read a poem by Leonard Cohen. It’s beautiful, so I’m going to print it out here. It’s called Dimensions of Love.

Sometimes I hear you stop abruptly
and change your direction
and start towards me
I hear it as a kind of rustling
My heart leaps up to greet you
to greet you in the air
to take you back home
to resume our long life together
Then I remember
the uncrossable dimensions of love
and I prepare myself
for the consequence of memory
and longing
but memory with its list of years
turns gracefully aside
and longing kneels down
like a calf
in the straw of amazement
and for the moment that it takes
to keep your death alive
we are refreshed
in each other’s timeless company

It’s from his latest poetry collection, The Flame, which I am in love with. Reading poetry helps.

After that, we’ll go for a swim in the hot springs. I’m going to imagine that somewhere across a thin divide, so very close to us, you’ll be having your own swim. You’ll be right beside me like you used to be, and even though I won’t see you, perhaps I’ll feel you there. And that will be its own kind of joy. Those moments when we celebrate you hold me together. So in future blogs, I still might make fun of your wardrobe like I used to. I might talk about the crazy things you did while you were here. And when I write those things, I’ll be telling you and everyone else another thing that’s true. I’m not ready to let you go.

Dear Lois (A Community Choir Lament)

I have failed you. Today at choir, I tried to do exactly what you do every Saturday. Sing enthusiastically, learn the part, and then record it for altos who like to practice during the week. I didn’t get the job done.

In my defense, which is a poor one, I have a bad cold and I’m not handling it well. I haven’t been sick since the fall of 2017 and frankly, I’m as whiny as a man with a cold. Yet staying home and watching TV is boring, so today, I decided to show up for choir practice. I had promised to do this for you, after all. And now, in my highest  operatic alto voice, here is my litany of THINGS THAT WENT WRONG.

First, a hissy shout out to the composers of the Mamma Mia music book (Don’t worry…it’s not Abba’s fault) who charge a fortune for their score and then leave parts out. That’s right, non musical people. A professional score, missing whole bars and measures of music, is what we’re dealing with here. The musical debuted in 1999, for heaven’s sake. Isn’t twenty years time enough to fix all the mistakes? Then there’s the barely legible font, obviously created by a joker with great eyesight.

I know my fellow choir members don’t like it when I use the word ‘dunderhead.’ But for those who talk when we’re supposed to be singing, or repeatedly find themselves singing the wrong song, it works. Today, I fit the description so well, I should inscribe it on a hat. A warm one, because I live in the north.

Because of the cold, my head is stuffed with cotton and my lungs are making strange wheezing sounds, like a badly tuned organ. My choir binder is neat and organized, because I thought it was complete. But we got handed a bunch of new music for the bowing part at the end (seriously, the bows take that long? It’s like 100 pages.) The altos were practicing in another room, under the tutelage of Courtney, our local librarian. Instead of beating us about the head with her book, she kept apologizing, as if the person who messed up the score for the musical wasn’t to blame for our current struggles.

Fuzzy headed, couldn’t find the right page, and it was way too warm inside the school. I was really feeling the lyrics to that song, ‘It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.’ (not part of Mamma Mia, sadly.) I’d walked to choir, and had layered my Lulu Lemon tights beneath my jeans. Courtney, who’d taken us page by page through the music, says, “Are We Ready?” At this point, I’m trying to undress, crouching with one foot out of my jeans and one in, and hopping around like an uncoordinated frog. “Wait,” I called out. “I haven’t got my pants off yet.” I swear the whole alto section gave a massive sigh in complete unison which sounded lovely and would have been perfect if it was part of the score.

I kept dropping my pencil, losing my highlighter, needing a Kleenex, trying not to cough, ( I think I left a lung on the floor somewhere) and trying to record with the new app I downloaded, like you asked me to, Lois. Yes, I have a cell phone. I have apps. But I couldn’t figure out how to re-record, or even start afresh, and then I dropped more things and I guess I should apologize to Beth and Susan who sat beside me. I should probably move through life wearing a sign that says, ‘Sorry for being so annoying all the time.’ I could colour coordinate it with my dunderhead hat.

Anyway. I did not record the parts, Lois, and for that, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

ps. Don’t worry about the missing bars from Mamma Mia. I’m sure they’ll show up by the time you get home.

Happy Birthday, Weirdo

I have finally resigned myself, after many years, to a certain aspect of my character. I come from a time when name calling was taken for granted, and can finally accept the fact that I’m a weirdo.  I was thinking about this today because it’s my birthday. I’m not going to put any numbers down since I write young adult fiction and don’t want to lose my street cred as a really hip person. Too late, you say? No one says hip anymore? Oh, well.

Four days ago I was flying to San Diego with my daughter Michelle when I had the Weirdo revelation. I was about to board the plane when the steward asked if I was okay sitting in an exit row. I barely stopped myself from answering with this bare faced lie: ‘I’m a paramedic and can handle any situation.’ Why would I do this? Because I wanted to make myself sound better than I am. I’m short, too talkative and can come off as scatterbrained. While it’s true that I am occasionally bewildered by life, in an emergency I’m extremely cool headed. But no one who looks at me ever seems to believe this.

Michelle and I were among the first people to board. Since I knew we weren’t taking off for a while, and I hate sitting, I decided to just stand in front of my seat. I begged the pardon of the woman on my left, but tapped the young man to my right on the shoulder. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ I immediately said. ‘I touched you without asking. But it’s okay. I’m a mother.’ He gave me a look that was impossible to read. We never said a word to each other after that, but it’s when I realized that the aforementioned label fit. It’s true that I love talking to strangers, and also true that it bugs my kids. They feel its unsafe, while I feel like it’s my job to connect with all kindred spirits all around me.

I guess I’ve always been a bit weird. I was described this way by others as a kid, but almost everyone had some kind of unpleasant handle back then, and mine wasn’t such a bad one. The more I think about it, the more I realize how true it is. I talk to myself a lot, and when my husband was alive, he’d pop his head in the room and I’d have to give him a look. ‘Oh,’ he’d say when he realized what I was doing. ‘Carry on.’

When something exciting happens on TV, I will address the actors. When I’m writing and one of my characters takes me by surprise, I’ll actually shout aloud. ‘You weren’t supposed to kiss her yet!’ Or, ‘You killed him! I can’t believe it!’ (As if I’m some stranger reading the words instead of the actual author.) As I walk around my home, I will have little arguments with myself. ‘Should I go for a walk?’ (I ask this out loud.) ‘Should I vacuum?’ This is why people have pets…so they can pretend there is someone actually listening to them. I don’t care how it looks, either. Maybe its the writer in me, but I have a vast interior life that is quite entertaining to me, and I don’t mind addressing that life out loud.

I also talk at a pretty good volume to my dead husband, which is okay since I’ve been told almost everyone does it. I just hope he can hear me. Lately, I’ve been telling him how right he was about practically everything. It’s sad that someone has to die to win the argument, but its true. You won, honey. I hope you know it and get a fist bump from someone up there with you.

Anyway, the older I get, the more comfortable I am just being myself. I don’t care what strangers think of me (obviously) and my friends and family formed their opinions years ago, and likely won’t be changing them. If this is the title I carry with me until the day I die, I’m okay with it. So happy birthday, weirdo. It’s going to be a great one. (Self pep talk–also out loud!)

The Handmaid’s Gymnasium

handmaid's tale   As I left my weight class this morning, I realized that Charles Atlas was right. Nobody wants to have sand kicked in their face at the beach. There’s something about feeling stronger that’s so empowering, like maybe I can wade into a fight and help someone weaker than me. Which, unless they’re a child, is a stretch.

While I’m working out, I’m like all the other gym class submissives. Our bondage mistress, Aunt Tracy, carefully disguises her leathers and whip with gym clothes and a water bottle, but we’re not fooled. And yet, when I finish my morning workout, I swagger out of the gym feeling extremely proud. Unless its leg day. Then I’m humbled and hobbled, and feel a bit more like…a handmaiden. The Margaret Atwood kind.

We do this routine called ‘Moby’ where the name Sally gets thrown around a lot. Not quite sure of the spelling, but it really should have Dick after it, because that’s the kind of move it is. There’s not many lyrics, its mostly a dark rhythm that doesn’t sound too horrific, unless you’ve spent time with Sally in the past. She’s the one in the song ordering us to move up and down in squats and lunges, or while messing around with kettle bells heavy enough to take our heads off. At least four times in the song, we hold our positions, because those segments are thrown in for extra torture. We hold. We hold. And we hold. I’ve heard some cursing, (okay, it’s me) and more than a few prayers. ‘Oh God, let it be over, my thighs are about to explode.’

I find myself praying for an open wound or some heart palpitations, so I can leave. What is this feeling? Oh, right. I’m a gym handmaiden. Nothing sexual, of course, unless you count almost impaling myself on the end of my dumbbell. Aunt Tracy is not meanspirited. She is like Wonder woman, and has a vision for us all that some (me) are having trouble grasping. Really? I ask. This is possible? And worse, am I growing used to the pain? Am I liking it?

I accidentally attended a class on New Year’s Eve where the whole hour was just that damned Sally and her up and down Moby Dick moves. ‘This is helping me,’ I reminded myself grimly as I clung to my ring, or my kettle bell, trying to remember everything the commander…I mean, Tracy…had said. Tighten stomach, tuck in butt, don’t jut your neck, shoulders down. ‘Yes, mistress,’ we reply as she strolls past, whip water bottle in hand. She’s always smiling, calling out pleasant comments like, ‘Are we having fun yet?’ Well, of course we’re not.

But having said that, by the time I’d finished my 8th class, I’d gone down a whole pants size, and when not hobbling around after a leg workout, I feel kind of amazing. I do believe my robe is looser, and the white hat can’t hide my cheerfulness once I’ve managed to escape  leave class. Anyway, all is well with the occasionally foulmouthed sisterhood of the loosening pants. And while you won’t find me entering any weight lifting contests, snow shoveling is a lot easier now. In northern Canada, that’s a plus. So, in case you’re wondering, will I go back to having my ass handed to me in weight class? You bet.  Besides, I paid upfront, and I kind of like it. Oh, mistress Tracy. You win again.

Peace on Earth – The Dance Off

I have a new idea for the world. I believe that ninety-five percent of us want peace on earth, and though Donald Trump will not like what I’m about to say, I’m pretty sure Justin Trudeau will be on board. (Please do not message me with your opinion about our Prime Minster. Not the point, here.)

A war mongering five percent long to win battles and turn problems into wars. Does religion create strife? Maybe, but perhaps those who fight over it would use any excuse to exert their power.  What if, instead of using armies and tanks and bombs, every country, indeed, every child, had the opportunity to learn some new debating skills. I’m talking about art, people. Singing, dancing, painting, poetry. People facing off in epic battles shown live around the planet. To children heading to school, parents would lovingly say, ‘Study hard. You might be Prime Minster one day and you’ll need those recorder lessons.’

I would love to see Kim Jong-un learn a Korean ballet dance in hopes of winning the favor of the world. A panel of artistic judges would decide the merit of his case based on his performance. We’d probably excuse the Russian judge from partaking because of past Olympic problems. Other than that, everyone would weigh in. It would be reality TV at its best. All of us on the edge of our seats wondering if North Korea’s leader would have to step down. It wouldn’t necessarily be about style as much as heart. Just how much does he care? Is he fit enough to continue his dictatorship? If not, the panel of judges would proceed with a country wide vote. Hopefully they’d pick someone with acting chops, or epic slam poetry skills. Now that’s a leader worth voting for.

School yard fights would be more embarrassing but would result in less visits to the principal’s office. Two junior high boys standing in the playground battling it out to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You,’ will be too mortified to care who won. In fact, they may decide to shake hands and forego the singing all together.

And Donald Trump…what talent would he employ? With blustering over confidence, he’d turn some past tweets into a musical mashup, using Stompin’ Tom Connor’s ‘The Good Ol’ Hockey Game.’

‘Our southern border’s insecure but I’m the guy for them,
Negative polls are all fake news, a witch hunt, CNN!
I won the popular vote if you deduct illegal ones
And my IQ’s the highest, and let’s not blame the guns.’

Oh, the good old hockey game…well. You get the point. This would be a tough one for the judges. Not many people around the world actually like Donald Trump, but he’d have to be evaluated fairly on his artistic performance. I just want one of the judges to shake his head and say, ‘Sad!’

Performance art would be allowed, but not the Hitler kind with all that yelling and fist raising. Angry diatribes in front of the judges would need to involve Opera. I can’t picture it any other way.  For smaller disputes, break dancing could be considered, along with slam poetry. Put some heart into it and you may win. Perhaps you’d get to be leader for a year. Then the people would reevaluate, and you’d be back to the drawing board, wondering what skill you could bring to the next competition.

It’s time for world leaders and anyone with an axe to grind to channel their inner artist. Tired of our immigration policy? Paint about it! Show us your passion. We need a break from all the haters out there, and I could use something new for my walls. Of course, if you’re in Flin Flon, we’d hang your art in the Orange Toad coffee shop first.

I say we put my idea to a vote. Justin? What do you think? Are you and Andrew Scheer ready to lip sync to Celine Dion? And Premier Pallister, if you insist on taking away our maternity ward, then I really want to see you dance. (You might protest that its not your decision. Well, it feels like it is.) Pallister seems to be a Scottish name, so perhaps you could do a little number involving kilts and crossed swords. It’s only fair. In 2019 we’ll reconsider the whole thing again. I have a feeling that Flin Flon will show up with a really big musical number and you’ll have no choice but to concede, thereby gifting us with a brand new birthing center. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and you’d better start practicing now.

I Can’t Help Myself

This blog post will come as no surprise to my family, and certainly not to my children. It turns out that I’m an impulsive person, and have the tiniest bit of OCD. Unfortunately, its not the kind that ensures a clean house or a job well done. It’s the type that fixates on something until it swirls around in my head and drives me crazy. On the plus side, I may have been granted a small glimpse into the world of serial killers.

Except I don’t kill people. I over empathize. I used to think this was a good thing, but apparently, its not. If I’m walking down the street and I see someone who looks really glum, I send a little prayer their way. But I want to do more than that. I long to hustle over to this complete stranger and ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ I also feel bad if babies are crying in their strollers and moms and dads are too busy with their phones to notice. (This is hardly anyone, so these people stand out.) ‘I’ll hold your baby for you,’ is what I want to say. What I have actually said. Only a few times, but the response has never been good.

Here’s a better example. During our choir production, many of us had chairs on the stage for those times when our guest soloist would take over, or when other members would step forward and burst into song. (For those not from here, it was a lovely concert.) Instead of fully immersing myself in the moment, all I could think about was the people whose risers were too narrow for chairs. They looked so uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot while the rest of us sat like lumps. One of the standing women is in her eighties, and though she’s very fit for her age, I’m sure she would have liked a rest. I suggested they sit on the risers, which they did for the first half, and then they must have made a group decision because they all stood for the second half. It was like they were naughty school children undergoing punishment. Or, as one audience member said to me later, like they were going to perform their own piece but never got around to it.

I really dislike this about myself. Why can’t I mind my own business? I know that most of us are haunted by the terrible things going on in the world. But when I see toddlers with their scarves, hats and coats still on during an hour long indoor shopping trip, and the parent’s coats are off, I really, really want to say something. Maybe its the ex-teacher in me. The whole crowd control, let’s coordinate so everyone’s comfortable but mostly so I feel okay, thing.

I really dislike bossy people. Nothing gets my back up like being told what to do, unless that person is in charge of me, like Tracy at the gym, or Crystal at choir, or the minister at church. When he says ‘please stand,’ I don’t think, ‘No thank you, I’d rather not.’ I stand with everyone else. It’s those times when someone like me tries to tell me what to do. ‘You’re not the boss of me,’ I think to myself. So why do I have to be the boss of other peoples feelings and situations? I don’t picture myself walking a mile in someone’s shoes. I’d rather take their shoes away and give them a pair of comfy slippers. Whether they want that or not, of course.

It’s time to end my neurotic behavior. From now on, I’m going to ignore everyone else and just go about my business. If you’re on fire, I’ll probably help you. I’ll still pray for people, because that is in my DNA. But I’m going to loosen up a little, let the world slide by and do its own thing. I don’t have to get involved in every single thing happening. Right? Unless you need help. Or look sad, or even bothered by someone. Me? It’s me bothering you? Oh. I feel so bad about that. Let me help you.