Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday morning

one of the most marvelous contradictions in life is the constitive contradiction of saturday morning. lying in bed, mo still asleep, and early, i think of all the things i will do. this morning's list included:
  • yard work: cleaning up roofing nails, mowing the lawn, weeding, putting in a few more annuals, replacing my mysteriously dying basil, cutting suckers, rescuing the mock orange, tidying up the raised bed and, most satisfying of all, yanking caragana
  • shopping: the farmers market, the italian centre, the greek market, antonio's
  • baking: muffins, granola, flatbread
  • riding: a longish bike ride through the river valley parks.
lying in bed i had only to decide what to do first.

i don't know exactly what happened to all those grand schemes of mine, only now it's quarter to one and i'm lying on the front porch day bed, reading and daydreaming, waiting for a yoga class at 2.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Suffused with calm

i am still thinking about shawna lemay's reading at factory west on tuesday. her husband robert lemay is an artist who's recently been studying and painting still lifes. shawna read a marvelous essay from her forthcoming book calm things (palimpsest press). the piece was about many things: art, generosity, giving/gifts/giftedness, robins and crows, fragility, permanence, and that astonishing, agonizing shuttle between them called creation.

it was the kind of essay that keeps resonating for a long time, and one of the things it made me think is how wonderful it would be to live with a still life artist. the most commonplace things would be imbued with possibility -- the supermarket, for instance. you might wonder, as you heft the lemon, what it would look like with sunlight falling on it just so. you might rethink your aversion to eggplant dishes once you see them as gorgeous aubergine. who cares if you can't eat a dozen granny smith apples: their green against your dark brown table makes you swoon.

and yes, i think, it's better to live with a still life artist than to be one. free from the responsibility of decision, composition, execution, you would just get to revel in possibility. the banana, spotted and browned, might not be compost, but a study in degeneration. the unwashed cup, the china pot, the milk jug on the counter are all redolent with painterly possibility. and who would iron after you've seen RL's drapery?

it may be too late for me to procure an artist-husband; ron the skylights guy is looking pretty permanent at this point. (you'd think that might be a vocation with poetic possibility, but i'm here to tell you there is more mud than sky in roofing.) there must be a way to live like this -- what emily dickinson calls "dwell in possibility" -- without the man. i'm going to start by lying on the day bed on this perfect first day of summer, reading rebecca solnit and listening to the birds torment the black cat by my side.

Today's gruesome find

you can buy caskets at costco.

of course i'm not kidding. you can't make this stuff up. and, really, why not take the empowered-consumer movement to the next level? 'cause after you consume that flat of beef and the barrel of cashews, you just might need to think about "the next level." before you get too excited, though, read the fine print, where you'll discover that costco online offers standard or expedited shipping but, unfortunately, they "cannot hold onto any orders for future delivery." so keep that 1-800 number right next to your deathbed.

i'm all for DIY, but there are some things -- say, embalming human bodies -- that i think should be left to the professionals. are you with me on this?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The other queers

pride week sort of sneaked up on me this year. mo and i went to the march yesterday and planned to go to the dance (or at least a pre-party) last night. when 7 and then 8 PM rolled around, though, we didn't really feel like going out again. we didn't have very good excuses: i wanted to try a new noodle recipe, mo didn't want to drive all the way to the city's southeast, i can't really dance on my knee and wouldn't want to be tempted, and anyway greece and russia were playing each other in the UEFA tournament .... and so we made the decision to stay in fairly easily.

we did, however, get up this morning and head off to the "mayor's pride brunch for camp fyrefly." we hadn't been planning to go, but we ran into michael phair in churchill square yesterday and he had two extra tickets, so i put on a dress and heels, mo grabbed a commuter mug of coffee, and we got to the crowne plaza by 11. walking into the room, i had to wonder: when did we become these queers? -- the ones who skip the party but make the fundraising breakfast, the ones on friendly terms with the mayor and MLAs, the ones who make small talk with strangers over waffles and eggs? and as for the small talk: there's the obligatory wink to partying like only queers can, as in "yes, 11 does feel early after last night..." but for the most part the chat was solidly un-queer middle-class stuff: how we feel about vancouver or toronto and where we've all traveled recently.

things are equally disorienting at the other end of the age spectrum. no doubt about it: camp fyrefly is amazing. in its third year, this four-day experience for queer youth from across canada is something i can't even imagine having experienced when i was in high school. these young people actively celebrate their differences (from each other, from their families, from all the other people/posers/losers at their high schools) and, once the camp is done, support each other through the year. when i think back to high school, i remember feeling unrelievedly miserable, lonely and isolated because i was desperately uncool, being too brainy, too brawny, and insufficiently feminine. i bought something resembling respect through establishing a cottage industry of fake IDs and porn, and i defended my reputation with fist fights and blackmail. god, though, wouldn't it have been easier to go to gay camp? the idea of having your freak cherished is -- well, i don't know what to think of it, really. it sounds like a disney movie with a helping of self-esteem on the side. and can you imagine what it would mean, on any given day of high school, to get a text from outside? your cell phone'd be a frickin' genie.

mo and i were struck, yesterday, by the number of young people at pride. at first i wondered whether it was just me: when i was 18, everybody over 35 fell into the undifferentiated category of "old." am i living the obverse of this, where anybody short of graduate school is "young"? but i don't think so. the concept of "youth" seems to be a significant twenty-first-century phenomenon. stretching from 16 to 25, in most usages, "youth" refers to that no-longer-a-kid-but-not-yet-comfortable-being-an-adult stage of life. it's probably a consequence of minivan parenting (or whatever they're calling it these days), and i'm sure it has to do with post-secondary tuition rising so ferociously that students have to live at home to go to school.

sometimes i balk at the new youth concept. my first objection: youth runs to 25? i was finished my doctoral coursework by 25! by 25, mo had been living on her own for a decade! also aggravating: when you're involved with the arts, it's clear that "youth" is a magic word, an open sesame that other terms -- say, "mid-career," "experimental" or, the real death knell for funding, "feminist" -- can never even approach. finally, like a typical old fart, i find myself thinking, oh fer chrissakes get over yourself and get a real job.

at the same time, i understand the need for such a term. whatever i might think about recent socioeconomic shifts and their causes, i know from my experience in undergraduate classrooms that your typical student doesn't see herself as an adult. she doesn't want to call her classmates "men" and "women"; they're "guys," if not "kids." part of this is simply germane to university education, of course: part of our role, as i see it, is to bring students through this transition and to model them as adults for each other. but what i fail to take seriously is that it is a transition, and a big one. if you don't see yourself as a grown-up, you're not going to magically change just because i see you that way.

at this morning's brunch, one of the fyrefly youth leaders spoke briefly. she looked about 17 -- young -- and she referred to herself as a "youth." i wouldn't have pegged her as queer if i'd run into her at a bus stop, which is a whole other puzzle to me about kids (sorry, youth) these days. she said to a room of 250 mostly middle-aged queers, "you know what pisses me off? people always ask us youth what we want to do when we grow up. well, i want to do things now. i am doing things now! part of being a good leader is learning how to lead yourself. we at camp fyrefly are building a better world for ourselves and for each other -- and for you, too. and if the world we build threatens to backslide, well, that's just too bad, 'cause we won't let it!"

and then, as if that weren't enough of a high, they did the 50/50 draw and my girlfriend won $400. right there at the front of a crowne plaza ballroom, she hugged michael phair and winked at laurie blakeman. i think the mayor waved a little, and i know fern snart gave her the nod. then mo came back to the table where our new friends congratulated her and we all made jokes about how she could fill the car for a week on that money.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

New blog!

as some of you know, i've been interested in edmonton for a while. as cities go, this one is significantly under-studied and under-written. it doesn't challenge itself as much as it could, and it doesn't inspire anywhere near enough confidence or enthusiasm.

amy fung, the blogger behind prairie artsters, and i aim to change all of that. amy's had a blog for a while, but now it's going to be more of a joint thing.

check it out:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The National Pest

so while i was busy wallowing in the misery of being me, injured, the phone rang. it was the edmonton journal, with a special offer: we can get the national post for just $5.99.

"but i hate the national post," i said.

"may i ask why?," asked the silky-sounding voice from manitoba.

"sure," i said. remember, i'm feeling miserable. not that it's her fault. i'm a grown-up and a well-tutored liberal. i know it's inappropriate to take out your personal misery on other people, particularly telemarketers, who no doubt deserve better jobs, and who are not only disinterested in your personal opinions but also, and more to the point, working for a commission that means the most reasonable course of action is to politely decline and let her get on with her quota of calls. but i am feeling sorry for myself and it turns out misery does love company. also: the national post? give me a fucking break. i subscribed at first -- it had, regrettably, some of the best writers bailing out of the consolidating media monopoly of the 1990s -- but i canceled my subscription with an angry letter to the editor over some particularly misogynist coverage. then i laminated the front page and posted it on my office door, with invitations to passersby who might like to augment my annotations of the newspaper's shortcomings.

i give the voice the short version. "i find the national post a mouthpiece of conservative ideology so nauseating that it makes me actively want to throw up when i read it with my breakfast."

i thought that would be the end of it. but the voice didn't miss a beat. "surely you'd agree, heather, that the national post covers international events that are soon to be national and local news. think of the collapse of the government in pakistan, and the recent cases of pediatric avian flu."

is she for real? "the newspaper might cover these events, but that doesn't mean it isn't conservative."

"we believe the national post has the best international coverage of any canadian newspaper."

"and do you think of that as a competitive category?" i'm reminding even myself of a dissertating friend who invited jehovah's witnesses into her apartment -- repeatedly.

"best of all, heather, it's only $5.99."

"look, here's the thing. if i don't want what you're offering, it's not a bargain. unless, of course, i've misunderstood. perhaps you can clarify. are you going to pay me $5.99 to take your crappy newspaper?"

so now there are two of us hoping i'm not a permanent shut-in.

Poor poor pitiful me

is there a worse feeling in all the world than self-pity?

it's corrosive and induces misery. it close worlds down, eviscerating all that's good and emphasizing everything bad. it distorts narratives so that every little event in the past leads directly to the grim present you should have seen coming. it makes you use phrases like "in all the world."

i've been treating my knee as per last week's diagnosis, as a sprain, but it's not getting better. in fact, it's getting worse. so today i saw a sports medicine doctor, and he was able to narrow the diagnosis a little more. it's almost certainly not ACL. it's almost certainly a meniscal injury. specifically, the meniscus has a tear. or a bruise. or a snag, or a lesion. we'll know more in a few weeks, hopefully. but maybe not. a meniscal bruise or lesion can take months to settle. a meniscal tear can be repaired surgically, except when it can't.

meanwhile, it just hurts. it hurts when i walk and it hurts when i sit. it wakes me at night. it's worse when i use it, for instance walking to the bathroom. it hurts to drive. i find it takes a lot of energy to manage the pain. i can feel the rest of my body starting to adapt. my hips are out of whack and my lower back aches. so i go to yoga, try to modify the poses, but bearing weight of any kind only makes my knee hurt more. the new idea is to give it a good rest -- "but keep it moving." whatever that means.

if i were a better person, i would greet my knee injury with zen equanimity. more, i would take it as a gift: the gift of time, an opportunity for contemplation. i would see the big picture.

as it turns out, however, i am not that person. i do not see the forest, i see the trees. i see the centimetre i took off my waist coming right back on and bringing its fat friends, too. i see the end of soccer. the end of running. immobility. long periods of sedentary depression punctuated by jags of sharp self-pity. old age. death.

what would i think about, if i were a better person? first of all, i'd differentiate injury from illness. from there i'd extrapolate, drawing distinctions between a temporary setback and permanently curtailing my lifestyle. i'd reflect on my great good luck to be middle-class and university-affiliated, with access to orthopedic surgeons. i'd wonder how many homeless people suffer joint ailments: probably a lot, when you think about it, yet such injuries probably never even surface as significant, given all the other pressing concerns faced by homeless people. is there anything more fortunate than to suffer a torn meniscus?

it's not like i didn't try to be that person. i sat on the stairs to SUB and rallied. i tried to reframe all of this positively. won't i love the river valley even more when i get back to it? isn't it great that my ACL is well? isn't anthroscopic surgery marvelous? i wonder what lessons are in store for me: will i learn something karmic or character-building from this?

and then a bird shat on my head.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Age-related wear

that's the actual phrase my physiotherapist used today to describe the decripit state of my left knee. she hastened to add, "i'm not saying you're old..." and then kind of trailed off.

i've been thinking about that phrase, "age-related wear." like so many things, knees degenerate with use. when i think of how much use a knee gets in the course of a day, let alone a week, month, year, or lifetime, i'm reminded of the sighs and groans of that perpetual-motion furniture-testing machine at ikea. hearing suffers from age-related wear, too. i pepper my conversations more and more with "sorry?" and "huh?" and "i can't hear you when you walk away from me." think about skin. arteries. memory. cars. politics. jokes.

does anything get better with age? well, judgment can. bank balances. wine, for a deceptive while, until it turns to vinegar. other than that ...?

it may be the case, as mo says, that i've been spending a bit too much time with aunty jo lately, but i resent the hype. "40 is the new 30," they say. well, it's not. 40 is 40, and as far as i can tell, it's the point at which your "age-related wear" starts coming home to roost.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The old folks' home

i don't know about you, but when i was a kid we were schlepped around to do good deeds. of all the good deeds we were required to do -- bottle drives, dance-a-thons, selling chocolates, and grapefruits, and emergency blankets, and magazine subscriptions, and low-interest credit cards (okay, i made that one up) -- of all these good deeds, none was more hideous than christmas concerts at the old folks' home. our gangly grade 7 band would set up in the common room, and all the old folks would be wheeled in by dour aides to have a listen. we trudged through the theme from star wars and meandered around the theme from M*A*S*H, then wowed the crowd with our grade 7 version of "slide and the family bone," featuring anne yakimishyn on the trombone.

after that, and worst of all, we were set loose to visit with the old folks. even at 13, my skin crawled and my nostrils recoiled at the institutional feel of the place, the geriatric horror show. i grew up without extended family. my grandparents all lived in nova scotia; the relatives of my grandmother's who did live in alberta we generally saw in a massive undifferentiated clump of overweight middle-age. to my lazy eye, all of the women looked the same: curly-haired weebles with flaccid jowls and a serious smoking habit. even so, by comparison with the people at the old folks' home, my grandmother's siblings were youthful: stout, to be sure, yet mobile and sound of mind and hearing. nothing in my life had prepared me for the old man drooling on his pyjamas, or the cheerful and wholly mad little old lady bent double like a shrimp, scuttling back and forth to the cookies table. to me, the old folks' home was like a zoo: the specimens of old age had nothing to do with the species that inhabited my grade 7 biosphere.

of course, i am older now and see things differently. i have a higher capacity for horror, a capacity developed in part by trying to imagine what this event was like from the perspective of the "old folks" themselves. even within the highly uncompetitive category of grade 7 bands, ours was bad, a consequence of the fact that mr flewelyn, the band teacher, used to spend most of his time smoking pot in the instrument storage room with the grade 9s. our grade 8 band wasn't much better, even though the program was taken over by the energetic jody missal, who favoured lime green flares and sported an afro. by that time, the band was a microcosm of junior high, with the stoners (percussion) against the keeners and brains (trumpets and sax) against the popular girls with rainbow jeans who all played the flute. i played the clarinet because i hadn't yet developed the eating disorder prerequisite to being a flautist and i wasn't fast enough to grab a sax. tragically for me, chris hamer, whom we all hated, played the clarinet as well, thus sealing my junior high school doom.

anyway, my working image of an old folks' home has been not unlike that of junior high: a vague smell of boiled meat with a tang of urine, forced cheerfulness, grim efficiency, vacant stares, sphincter-tightening fear over my social vulnerability, and edmonton-in-december static cling.

i think that's not your view, at least based on your answers to my little poll of last week. i know now why you are all my friends (even if we haven't met): you are models of optimism and generosity. you are genial, forward-thinking people who expect the best from others. you do not worry about being entombed with scrapbookers; you put your best foot forward, facing the future with pluck.

to remind you of what you said:

1. you're in your mid-80s in a seniors' building. whom do you most want to live with?
  • feminists: 6
  • left-wing activists: 2
  • whoever!: 5
  • unitarians: 3

2. in your mid-80s, which do you most hope (plan) to be?

  • feminist: 3
  • left-wing activist: 3
  • myself: 5
  • unitarian: 3
leaving aside the intriguing fact that more people want to live with feminists than to be feminists (a new variation on women's work?), the honest trade you're willing to make between being "yourselves" and living with "whoever" stuns me. it's so genuine, so fair-minded, so ... canadian. am i really the only person who worries about ending up in the middle seat on the airbus of old age?

a confession: i voted to live with unitarians, though not to be one. why? i like the idea of living with people who don't judge. why don't i want to be one? i can't imagine myself without my highly opinionated, judgmental disdain. my only hope is that, as elaine says, scrapbooking is on its way out as a trend.

or that i get to live with you-all.

Friday, June 6, 2008


when i think about the university's gems, i think of the glenn sather sports medicine clinic. the people there -- physicians, surgeons, physiotherapists, students, technicians, massage therapists, and clerks -- are all so very, very good that i feel lucky just to walk through the doors. even limping through the doors, i feel like i'm entering the hallowed place where knowledge, experience, discipline and hard work synthesize to make everything better. and honestly, i thought that even before nancy declared my ACL whole, even before she called ian in to concur, even before i got the x-ray ruling out other serious injuries, even before she signed the alberta health care forms with the diagnosis "left knee sprain."

when i die, i'm leaving all my money to the gssmc. so there.

and i'm probably not going back to nikki's shop. eh, anyone can make a mistake. but why settle for the mazda 6 when you could have the audi r8?