Tail Gates and Black Ties

My family is so cool. I like that they can do tail-gate parties and black tie events.

I especially like when they do both at the same time; witness the parking lot before Joe and Kristin’s wedding.

It’s not really about the hummus and olives and specialty beer in cans is it? It’s about bonding and hanging out and being one unit before you go into the fray to become part of a bigger unit. It’s like home-room in high school, only with better beer, and you actually want to be there.

Families are sometimes underrated.

And sometimes overrated.

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Christmas Present

It’s Christmas Day and we sit reminiscing about Christmas Past.

Once upon a time we used to drive up to the farm to cut down a tree for Christmas. As a teenager I would pile batches of friends into our station wagon and drive 3hrs north to Burks Falls. This idea of a real tree was novel to some of the friends, particularly those from southern climes.

Somehow, your perception of how big of a tree you need is different in the wilderness. One time, we had a tree that was so heavy we couldn’t get it to stand up straight without anchoring it to three corners of the room. Another year we didn’t have the means to get up to the farm, so we cut the tree from the front yard at Glenlake. You can’t really blame the neighbours if they thought we were Herdmans.

That tree too was somehow so much bigger once we got it inside and in my Christmas enthusiasm, I cut off the top instead of the bottom. Exhausted from the struggle when we discovered it was still too big we just wedged it between the floor and the ceiling. It didn’t need any container or anchoring and appeared to be growing into the second floor of the house.

And then there was the Christmas (or several) when we didn’t even have a tree and used a wooden ladder, somewhat bejeweled with decorations and stacked with presents. How do people recall this stuff? It is all so conveniently blocked out of my mind in favour of some kind of Rockwellian past.

On the 23rd I woke up four hours and two appointments late. As I dashed out the door, Mike tried to waylay me with lists of menus and plans and chores and I burst into tears cause the tree was up and the house was decorated and the tables were set and everything was underway and I hadn’t even been home in two months let alone helped out with Christmas.

Christmas is my holiday. I own it. It starts on November 1st and happens when, how and with whom I say. Santa knows this. Everyone knows this. So it was a bit of a surprise to see that it marched right on without me this year, too busy even to think of presents or over-the-top fru-fru.

On the 24th at noon we closed up the cafe and I wrapped the presents Mike had bought for the kids. Then I realized I didn’t even have a present for Mike. I ran down to Kool Stuff on King and met – aw, shoot, I asked him his name twice – a very nice guy who owns the place, full of stuff that Mike would love. I knew from recent “What would you do with a million dollars” conversations that Mike was coveting some sort of video game, possibly that requires a new system that he doesn’t have, but I could not recall the details and buddy at the store was more of a comic collector. Wouldn’t it be great if I listened better? Remembered things? Paid more attention? Planned ahead?

I gave up and got a $20 gift certificate for Kool Stuff.

They say that in a person’s life we can only manage four (4) priorities. That after that, we can’t keep to our commitments. I ticked them off on Christmas eve, shortly before the family arrived for happy hour at the cafe. In no particular order: Community-building; Teaching (Bestseller Bootcamp); Writing (aka ‘Learning things the hard way’); Heart of the Hammer Cafe; Family. Give you one guess which one has fallen off lately.

And now it’s Christmas Day and the kerfluffus is over. I’ve been in pj’s all day and finally went hunting for games in the hall dresser when what should I discover? The gifts I bought for Mike all those months ago and stashed in a drawer so he wouldn’t find them.

The Kool Stuff gift certificate is still pegged to the bulletin board at the Cafe and Mike still hasn’t seen it. The certificate itself is so cool that I suspect it will never get spent.

Loner Pie

One hot July day in 2007 I was feeling a little bit invisible, like I had no connection to anything and sort of felt like I needed people to see me. To know that I was here. I needed some way of making a scene without making a nuisance so I changed my birthday on my Facebook profile to the day in question.

Back then we were all new to FB an only had 40 or 50 friends each, you remember those days right? So of course everyone saw that it was my birthday and I got a great many well-wishes and nobody seemed to care that it wasn’t February.

Then the following February I turned 40. I didn’t feel 40 but when you’re sitting around broke and jobless you really feel like “this is not where I planned to be at 40!” I had planned to have a fabulous masquerade ball with all my favourite people at some sort of Cirque-esque venu, or to have a potlatch and give things away. But I didn’t have any things to give.

So I invited the family out to breakfast at the Grenadier restaurant in High Park and just crossed my fingers that someone was going to pay for mine. I think several someones did and now we have a new birthday spot in the family.

I remember in first year theatre at Concordia, after about one week of going home alone each night and then spending a whole weekend with nothing to do, I went back to school that Monday morning, found Barb, Isabel, Walter and Krikor sitting in the hallway, and blurted out some kind of blah-blah about not having any friends in Montreal and nothing to do and they all said “Yeah-yeah, me too!” And even though I left after one year, we all stayed friends.

And sometimes I write about things that I think are just my own weirdness, and I put it out there in the hopes that it is entertaining to people. (Actually I’m hoping for engaging, compelling and enlightening, but I’ll settle for entertaining) And then I am always surprised by how many people comment, send emails, messages or Facebook notes saying “Yeah-yeah, me too! I get it!”

How come we all get lonely if we all share the same weirdness?

Heart of the Hammer

Heart of the Hammer Cafe: Where arts and letters meet coffee and tea; where neighbours come to visit with thee!

So I am opening this cafe, mostly so I can have a nice spot to hang out in the neighbourhood and also so that our neighbourhood groups can have a place to get together with quality fare. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of enthusiasm, well-wishing, offers of help, of stuff, of skills and of expertise. I am amazed at how things are just falling into place.

It is not a new idea for me. It has been rattling around in my mind, the business model adjusted from city to city, venue to venue, so that when a few things clicked into place, I just pressed GO. And of course tapped all the people with relevant skills and experience at CSI, in the Hub and especially in the family.

Occasionally someone gets caught up in pointing out all the impossibilities. All the things one ought to do or else. This pointing out of all the pitfalls serves as a platform for I told-you-so when things go wrong. Having gotten inured to this kind of onslaught over the years, I had come to think that maybe I was Master of the Impossible. But now I have a new theory.

I learned to fly a glider before I had ever been in a commercial plane, and in fact, before I even had my drivers license, so my first time above the clouds was a surprise. In a glider, you have no motor. You fly by Visual Flight Regulations, meaning that, you always have to be able to see the ground. Meaning that you don’t fly above the clouds. But one day, I was going for a check flight with Colonel Villeneuve and the tow pilot actually pulled us up through the cloud layer, which was magical… and silent. Somehow, you expect sound from a cloud, like static or soap-bubble popping, but it was like the pause in the movie soundtrack. I held my breath. And then we popped out above it which was… awesome. I actually gasped. Blinding white sunshiny brightness. And the soundtrack resumed.

I think that once you have seen for yourself first hand that it is always, always, always for ever and no matter what a sunny day above the clouds, then it kinda doesn’t matter what goes on below the clouds. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong or how long it took to get somewhere. After that experience, you have a big picture that helps you to put things into perspective, to keep your eye on the important things. Like family and community and doing things you love to do and helping others to do things. I think that if you focus on the important things it is much easier to succeed.

But now I realize that for some people it is more important to be right than to be successful.

Falling Through the Cracks

“Aw, you fell through the stairs and got hurt and no one was there to help you?” This, from Sophie, age 2.5. It’s the third time she has recounted the story and I can see the empathy and concern on her face. She pulls my sleeve down so that she can’t see the scrapes. This time, she adds a solution, “I need to find a friend for you!”

Sometimes you just need a little bit of sympathy. I found mine. I am awed and shamed by the compassion of a two year old and her sense of responsibility towards her fellow creatures. I wonder what happens to us along the way that we should find this so amazing, that we so easily ignore the pain of those around us, turn a blind eye to someone’s suffering.

Are we perhaps competing with each other, letting others fall by the wayside because then our chances of survival or success are better? Or is there just plain too much suffering around, too much need?

What if each of us took responsibility for those in our daily trajectory, the way Philip does with Tony, making it his mission to check up on him, advocate for him and give him a voice beyond his perch on Roncesvalles. Or the way Sarah does with the new family in our neighbourhood, taking on the challenge of helping them to integrate in spite of a language barrier. Imagine if everyone had mentors, advocates or friends who looked out for them. And what about the people who look like they don’t need any help at all?

Somehow, knowing that Sophie cares makes it all ok. I feel better knowing that she is watching out for me. Later that night, she began rocking herself to sleep chanting “I’m getting scared, I’m getting scared…” (Too much Hallow’een?) So I went into her room and did a little magic dance and hurled all the scary energies way up into the ether. Then I put up a little positive energy bubble to keep them away.

She may not beleive that I can do that, but maybe knowing that I care will help her to sleep a little better.

Mi Casa Su Casa (My Coat: Your Coat)

There I was thinking about the perfect sort of wool coat that I would just love for this fall, while aware that I can’t really justify the cost or the need for yet another coat, when all of a sudden while digging for papers in the attic, I find a pristine Hudson Bay 4-point blanket coat.

Hudson Bay 4-point blanket

Hudson Bay 4-point blanket

You know the kind; off-white wool with the coloured bands.

I try it on, and voila! It fits! What kind of magical universe do we live in anyway, where you just want things and they appear?

I tell myself that this coat fetish is the result of too many years without one. I remember being 11 years old or so and delivering the Globe and Mail at 5am. I’ll admit that I was probably the worst delivery girl ever, constantly zoning out and wondering, “Did I give one to that house and they brought it in already, or did I forget it?” I hated to collect money and would usually burst into tears when I had to ask, particularly if the people didn’t have it on them since I was always behind in the collecting.

However, this is when I first met the wonders of the universe. I’d like to say that I thought of it like The Force, an energy that binds and pervades all of us, but truly, I thought it was just me. (You can’t imagine what a relief it is to read stuff like The Secret and find out that all of you can wield the force as well; whew, so I don’t have to save the universe all by myself!) Anyway, maybe it was just mind over matter, when on cold winter mornings in Guleph (Ontario) I used to head out to deliver my papers, no coat to speak of, and I’d do a little “please please please” dance to the moon and stars in the hope that they would keep me warm. It generally worked, at least long enough to get the papers sorted, stuffed and delivered.

This is my excuse when people think I have quite enough coats already. “I don’t have one for THIS occasion,” I tell them, and hope that I never have occasion to need a newspaper delivery coat again.

So I text around to find out how this coat really wound up in my attic (after test-driving it on a walking tour of the neighbourhood with my dear Stella) and find that it is yet another in my brother Andrew’s collection of ladies coats (?) that don’t fit him (??). His girlfriend assures me that he is saving it for his ebay retirement scheme and ok’d the notion of me keeping it warm till then.

What is family for but to give away each other’s clothes and fulfill all your little fashion whims?

If you can’t beat ’em…

I was regaling the nephews one evening over dinner with stories about me (naturally) when during an anecdote about fighting at school I asked them about their experiences. At seven and nine I figured they were no strangers to bullying and just plain surviving the Canadian penal, I mean, education system.

“What do you mean,” says the nine year old, “like, people hit you?”

I was stunned. Do we really live in a world where a kid in grade four has never been beaten up at school? I had always thought that if I had kids, school was one of those things that I would protect them from, conjuring up elaborate home-school schemes that would have tested the finances of a Sultan. Never did I imagine that things would improve.

I remember getting picked on for things as stupid as out-of-season clothing. I remember being the bully now and then, particularly punishing towards little TB, the sweetest guy ever by the accounts of people who knew him later. I suppose his great crime was being… content. I couldn’t stand it.

In those days it wasn’t just kids who got physical. I remember trips to the barn, following the dangling belt. I don’t remember the strapping, but I remember the use of power, being forced to walk to your punishment of your own free will, a grown-up’s assertion of who is boss.

I remember kindergarten, a harrowing walk past rabid German Shepherds and a teacher who had to show that kid who’s boss. “No you can’t go to the washroom now, it’s time for story circle.” So I sat in the circle, crossed my arms and didn’t take my eyes off of her as a great pool of pee spread outwards and the other kids fled in horror. Then I went home instead of to the washroom. Why does everybody have to show a kid who’s boss? Was there some doubt in her mind as to whether she or I was in charge? Did I really have issues with authority all those years, or did the authorities have issues?

For twenty years Mike, aka the best, has been trying to get me to cooperate.
“Why can’t you fold the sheet yourself?” I ask, bewildered. “Because I want to fold it with you,” his equally befuddled reply. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know you when you were little”, I tell him, “cause I would have beaten you up for sure.”

At the latest Hub meeting, we apparently had a breakthrough while discussing Movie Nights. A number of us, sitting in a circle talking about our latest effort to engage our neighbours, and one after another, people chimed in as to how they could contribute to spreading the word about it. Like a hacky-sack the ideas bounced from one to the next until the movie night sub-committee was ready to run with it on their own.

David Derbyshire, our veteran Hub builder pointed out our successful use of collaboration and the asset-based method in forwarding the Movie Night planning and we all congratulated ourselves. And I wondered if a couple decades of reluctant cooperation has gotten me ready for collaboration, which seems to be a lot like cooperation, but with more people.

And nobody had to show any body who’s boss, and nobody had to pee on the floor to make a point.