September 10, 2005

Feel the Wheeze

A crusty young doctor at the local hospital diagnosed me with a chest infection today. That's kind of funny considering this morning I was lying in bed thinking that my lungs felt mouldy. The town has a massive $12 million drive going to fund a new hospital building, but I'm told that there's only one or two doctors left in the whole town. I had a surprise at the pharmacy, the first of many such unpleasant realizations in the wake of my decision to leave the government, I am sure. $62.00 for my antibiotics and inhaler because now I no longer have a drug plan.

Before going to the hospital, I dropped my garbage off at the dump. On the way there, somehow I managed to get lost, even though it's only a few country blocks away. So I ended up on an unknown road with spectacular reddish gold fields and several green trees slashed through with red branches. As I drove by this slope of gold, I found that I was surprised that I was so impressed by the view. I realized that I was waiting for the beauty of the area to become old news, since that's what usually happens to me after I move somewhere. Eventually, most neighbourhoods I know well get a little grey.

I think I get tripped up living in the country because I keep finding new variations on the same theme. I'll discover a new road, or one day a scene that I thought I knew well will have changed color, benefitted from the addition of a few hay bales, lost leaves or a tree, whatever. I expected deep down that nature would eventually disappoint me, become monotonous, but there's more television around here than anywhere I have ever lived. This morning I woke up and made myself a little breakfast of egg and tomato on toast and sat in front of the large patio door that looks on to our orchard. As I often do, I felt very alone and, perhaps inappropriate in someone so young, resigned to my solitude. Then I looked up and saw the neighbour's gray cat hunting among the trees. So I watched her for a while.

Loneliness is an interesting issue in the country, because I have no soul mate here and probably no chance at one, but never in my life has the pharmacist taken a full fifteen minutes to describe my medication to me and to learn details about me. Even though there is no one here who is dedicated to me, people give each other so much more of their attention here that it almost adds up to a partner. I had a delicious conversation with an old colleague yesterday about living in the country.

She and her partner just bought a century old schoolhouse in Prince Edward County and are saving up to move out there permanently. I think there's a mild smugness to city people who move out to the country. Hope I'm not too insufferable.

All my friends should come and visit me. I have taken to baking. Yesterday I made cheese popovers as well as pecan puffs. Come eat!

Holy Moses

I'm writing this post while sitting at a picnic table outside. The view:

This is the beauty of technology: that you can use voice activation software on a tablet computer while sitting in the middle of nowhere. My only irritation is that the technology keeps translating the sounds of the wind through leaves or of birds chirping. For your information, the rustling rushes in the pond sound like the word 'will' and leaves sound like the word 'one.' Life's a bitch, ain't it?

And now, random facts about Viv! Why? Because it's my fucking blog, wanker/oh gracious one[reader's choice], and I RULE HERE.

Three cheesy things that I love:

  • First of all, McDonald's. Every week I drive an hour south to Brampton to play music in a friend's basement. The band plays everything from Santana to classic rock and the odd original. We have two drummers, a saxophone/recorder, 3 guitarists, a bassist, and myself, the keyboardist. It's the only musical environment that I've ever worked in that is healthy. I used to play classical music with the royal conservatory of music and a more neurotic, competitive atmosphere you'll rarely find. I'm sure a lot of this is my own overly sensitive temperament. Somehow this group has a very happy and exploratory vibe, whether we are jamming on a twelve bar blues or hammering out a rock song. Every Thursday however, there's a little part of my brain that's looking forward to going through the McDonald's drive through at the end of the session. There is no greater pleasure than driving up highway ten at 80 kilometers an hour while everyone is passing you, listening to overly loud rock and roll, eyes peeled for animals on the road, chomping on a quarter pounder wit' cheese.

    [I had to come inside to finish this. Too much interference from the wildlife. The computer was spazzing. Gaaah! A biiiiiirrrd! Nooooooooo! Is that 'will'? or 'one'? or, 'in' or 'an one will an one @#^&*&@' Sobs from the Toshiba... ]

  • Music from the 1930's and '40's, usually sung by jazz musicians years later, like Sarah Vaughan or the King Cole Trio. I like the melodies, the smiling way they are sung, and the simple arrangements. But most of all I like to imagine how people felt when they were listening to this music, during the Depression and the war. These songs must've been like memories of something sweet, like sucking on candy when you couldn't afford supper to begin with. The sunny side of the street, tangerine, honeysuckle rose. Make love to me tonight, baby, "because men is scarce as nylons, and if you can't smile and say yes then please don't cry and say no."
  • And now for my piece de resistance: Keanu Reeves. Oh no, you say, can it be true? Oh but yes of course, Mr. Reeves happens to be my very favorite actor. But I think that I have already blogged about this. Sass, have I covered this ground before? Watch This Space for the startling conclusion!
I had a great job interview today with a company that specializes in teaching high school equivalency and college preparation to injured workers. Typically the students come to the program via workers' compensation, which pays for their tuition. They've lost the ability to do their jobs, most of which are in manual labour, and in the middle of life have to find a new way to feed themselves. Some are highly motivated, some believe that they're too stupid to do it, some try to take cigarette breaks every ten minutes. The teachers have a maximum of three students in a classroom and their job is to teach the students whatever they need to accomplish their goals, from accounting to writing to customer service. You get a workbook for each subject and you teach it.

I can identify with these people. For most of this year I believed that I would be unable to do anything that I had been trained to do because of my disability. I have an English Literature and Creative Writing degree and all of my work experience involves computers, specifically typing. Workers' compensation is still processing my claim [ by the way, I did those italics, like, totally just with my voice, man]. I met the manager and the regional team leader and I could tell immediately that they knew what was important in life, like food, shelter, employment that makes the employees feel useful. And get this, they made sure to tell me not to show up in a business suit. Holy Moses. "It doesn't make our students feel comfortable." It's a part time job and the pay is bad ($12.50 an hour for twenty hours a week) which means that I would make enough money for gas, my bills, food and nothing else, which is kind of perfect, because I'll still have that kick in the pants to get me to do my artwork. So here's hoping.

September 4, 2005

I'm a turkey

I'd like to write more in my blog but all I want to write about is very personal, and largely I try to use this space to communicate ideas or imaginative stuff. Less introspection. I do so much of that that I am too sick of myself to add to my stack of shameless self-expression platforms. Plus, Jesus, the work! Busy, busy.

So. I'll talk music: my friend Suzanne, who lives in Turkey for work, sent me an album by Nazan Oncel (2 dots on the o -- my tablet can't do 'em).

I can't understand a word on the jacket except "Istanbul"... so I'm guessing she's Turkish. On one track I hear words like Mandela, Shalom, Van Gogh, and Beatles. God knows how all that adds up. I hear accordion, violin, flutes, rattles, electric bass, synthesizer, electric bass, hand drumming. Sampling. Guitar. Singing and rapping. Lots of dulcimer and its fabulous bent notes. The clarinet. At times what sounds like the whole strings section.

The music suggests so much, even to my uneducated ears. Striving, melancholy. Humour, sensuality. Something dangerous, I don't know, just lots of feelings. A sense of alertness.

On the cover, her eyes are lidded, lips pinched up at the corner ('tell me something I don't know, my dear' -type expression), in traditional garb of some sort that looks Mexican but I've exactly zero knowledge of Turkey, other than social/ military so maybe it's Turkish daily wear. Red flower on her head and lots of beads and lace. A very mature, self-assured look mixed with flirtation and something demure.

The music really swings. It's hard to describe music when you've got no reference points. I own maybe three or four albums from the middle east and south east, so no comparators (is that a word?). Oh I mean the songs have recognizable patterning of verses and choruses, and they're all that standard three-four minute length. She's the melody and the rest accompany. So it's not so different.

I haven't heard music that was truly different since going to see the Michael Snow Project. I got hysterical and had to go to the bathroom to calm town. Pie plates on piano strings. It doesn't sound so wild now.

I'm disappointed at how poorly I've described this Turkish album. It's good. To me. So. Oh well, I tried!

I was going to talk about my other find, saving the best for last - Songs from the Capeman by Paul Simon - but too tired. I spent the morning painting walls, afternoon hauling tree trunks out of the forest, the evening chainsawing them into split-able pieces.

I am happy to report that I did as much today as I ever could do physically. My left wrist is very tired is all, but it made it. Everything is waking up again through the pain of these months, getting back to work.

This morning I was suspended over a stairwell by three stacked boards, reaching up on tiptoes to paint edges. I'm scared of heights and my balance is terrible at the best of times. I'd had my arms above my shoulders for a long while. Everything hurt. I was thinking about sad stuff. Then I remembered that I could, instead, have been writing a report.


August 28, 2005

Poem to a bachelor

I will wait under the hornbeam tree
in the field none can see from the road
and you will know to find me here
though this place is unknown to you.

By the field a forest grows
white with birch and dark with pine.
I will wait by the hornbeam tree
like any maid of old.

You will know this tree;
you named it for me.
It is gnarled and hard,
hard as any heart old with grief.

You will walk the unknown field,
dark with grass, light with sun.
My father will guide you
to the hornbeam tree, known as ironwood.

. I waited through my autumn days;
. my wait was vain.

. I can wait no more, love,

for winter came to the hornbeam tree
and I have cut her limbs to burn.

© 2005 lividviv
*the dots represent tab stops. Blogger wouldn't let me tab.

August 27, 2005

Chewing cud

I've collected up a few observations I've made over the half year that I've been living in the country and stuck them below. Don't get the wrong idea, I truly appreciate cities, but at the moment I am defining how I really appreciate the country because it's not the city -- so if you're a real urbanite you may be sorry to see the lack of positive commentary on cities below.

! Frequently, I have the pleasure of total fatigue, brought about by hard work. Last Wednesday I had it because I learned how to use a chainsaw and dragged or wheelbarrow-ed plenty of wood as well. By contrast, I used to return home from the embassy completely exhausted on a daily basis. But I never felt suicidal from a day of carrying wood. There is a difference between these two feelings of tiredness. I feel very clean after I've worked hard physically, and also feel just as clean and wonderful after I have worked hard on art. But in the government exhaustion was an unpleasant thing, as if snakes were eating my brain or something. I was liable to break things. I certainly wanted to hurt myself.

! It is very rare, living in the country, that I try to avoid seeing things. In the city, there are always many moments over the course of the day during which I wish that I hadn't seen something. By this I don't refer only to the types of social problems that most of us wish we didn't see and that we have a responsibility to keep seeing; I also simply mean things like gum ground into the sidewalk. More seriously, I include incidents like the following: as I was driving into downtown Toronto, a convertible cut me off quite sharply, so I had a ringside seat when its passenger deliberately flicked a still burning cigarette at the back of a shirtless man sitting on a newspaper stand.

! I am regaining my ability to tell the time by the position of the luminaries, the sun and moon.

! I am learning the names of trees, and of birds such as hawks, buzzards, ravens and cranes.

! When the moon is in the east and at least half full and when it has rained but isn't raining anymore, our pond looks mystical. Mists rise from its surface and the surrounding rushes. The apple orchard, maple tree line, distant fields and farther forest all appear as blocks or shapes of silver. And every shape, whether it is the massive forest or the oblong of the field is a slightly different silver. You know what it reminds me off? It's as if my eyes could see what film negatives must look like from very close. Tiny tiny tiny droplets of silver of varying intensities.

! I'm slowly beginning to see Toronto for what it is. I love that city but I am now very aware of how neurotic it is. The majority of the people on the street are constantly preening, adjusting clothing, arranging hair in subway windows. Most of the things that people wear are completely ridiculous and it is as if most of us go around on the street mainly worrying about keeping our clothes clean or unwrinkled. People often say they like fashion because it's fun but I think it's more important than fun. Most people seem defensive, wearing what I call a game face. It feels as if the streets are a tableau of a horrible bloodthirsty sport that is completely irrelevant. People in Toronto give off the smell of unsatisfiable desire that I don't feel from people or inside myself here. Living here I never have to participate in this race nor do I have any real fear of human predators as I do whenever I go outside in the city. Even when I feel perfectly at ease in the city I always have this awareness that someone might drive onto the sidewalk by accident and kill me or might deliberately pull a knife on me to get my money. Thus, there's a freedom to be alone here, without anyone being able to locate you, even to sleep or get completely lost in a daydream outside. When's the last time, if you are a woman, that you went into a park and no one knew you were there? I guess they call it a rat race for a reason but it's only now that I've left living in a city that I'm really able to see what I had to do in order to survive: the stamina that I had to have, the strategic thinking, the contingency planning all based on a desire for unimportant things and fear of sudden violence.

! I enjoy a sense of living close to the bone. Obviously I haven't gotten to the point where I'm struggling and I don't really want to struggle, but I already feel as if important things such as food and gas money are at the top of my list where I once used to want very badly a new pair of Kenneth Cole knee high boots. I despise retail therapy, and I think it's a very common solution for the gnawing ache that most professional people seem to suffer. I don't know a single person who shops as a sport who is happy with her life. I think that here I have had opportunities for priorities, both personal ones and priorities that I have as a citizen, to become clear. If life in the country had not been structured in such a way that I could figure out what mattered to me and to people, I would never have figured out what my life purpose and its foundation and goals are.

! People do struggle to survive around here more than they do in the city because the country version of poverty is poorer than the city one. The median income here is 20,000 Canadian dollars, well below the poverty line. Perhaps this explains why there is a slightly higher degree of cooperation around here, though still not enough for my liking. One woman told me that she can think of at least six or eight homes that she could walk into, no keys in the door and no one home, and help herself to anything in the fridge. She told me that she knew several people who would lend her their car at a moment's notice. A couple weeks ago I handed my keys to somebody who wanted to go to the beer store simply because I didn't feel like ending a conversation so that I could be the person to drive my own car.

! I really enjoy and have sought for some time this opportunity to simply deal with the people who are "here." Coping with and adapting to and challenging what is... instead of flitting from place to place and group to group, basing all decisions on "what I want" and what I "have in common" with whoever.

So I guess in general what I'm trying to say is that I feel that the country, at least around here, is more relaxed, safer, contemplative, and poorer financially and richer socially. Yeeesss and so original, Viv!!

I have been living here now since a week before the end of march. That's five months. Because I have moved several times I have developed a mental chart of the cycles that I go through when I move. When I worked for the foreign service they taught us that there were two kinds of people: there were the people who had a honeymoon period when they moved somewhere followed by a depression followed by normalcy -- and then there were the people who started out with a depression and then got to normal [I always felt sorry that those people missed the good part]. I'm a honeymoon person. When I got here in march I was very happy and then a couple months went by and I became very unhappy. So I guess now I'm in the normal phase. This is the happiest normal phase that I have had anywhere I have ever moved.

We'll see what happens over time. I'm banking on a few rough patches.

Anyway, time to go. It's smoke by the pond time.

August 22, 2005

The Hardest Tree

Within the line of maple and apple trees that exists to gather the stuff of nature into the recognizable cartography known as our farmland, and standing above a thorny mess of wild raspberries and chokecherries, stands a tree called ironwood.

It's branches remind me of the rays of the sun on icons of the sun god. From up close, they are gnarled and confused. They twist in every direction, bearing leaves only at their ends, and it seems to me that they labour long for their reward. (But then, these leaves are like the ideal of leaves; and well worth waiting for.

They are shaped like my childhood idea of a leaf, like an almond. And they are that so-green green, and pointedly-edged. They flicker in the wind between their green-green tops and lighter undersides, so that I can't tell if I am looking at green or grey.)

But from afar, the local vagaries of the branches' turning paths fade. Instead, it is clear from afar that their courses actually bear unerringly outwards and upwards. I see that for whatever tangents taken, this tree's intuition of its needed destinations in the sky feast that is photosynthesis is as breathtakingly beautiful, as pure and secure as any other feat of mathematical calculus.

The ironwood tree faces the west, its shadow falling across our backfield, which this same tree and the line of trees to which it belongs prevents people from seeing. For the same reason, onlookers are unable to see the forest beyond the field and, since the forest is in a shallow valley of the field's making, they are equally unable to see the sun setting above it the way one can while sitting below the ironwood tree.

I find myself staring at these three things: the tree, the field, the forest, in the same way humans of my ilk have always stared. On one hand, much as in the preceding paragraphs, I am trying to find the corollary to my life's permutations. The branches of the tree, fallibility, choice. On the other hand, more deeply, I am trying to understand something else. I have no idea what it is.

I am told that the ironwood tree is so named because the wood grows to such hardness that it's barely worth burning, is so hard that it can be used as the base to split softer, weaker wood. It's fitting that in nature it is the hardest tree that plots the truest course and with such meandering whimsy.

August 19, 2005

Suck my perrier

This is just a wee little post about a wee little wonderful thing I saw this evening.

My soccer buddy invited me over for a fresh grilled swordfish meal. While I shouldn't pass over the meal so quickly, because it was scrumptious (SCRUMPTIOUS!!), I really want to talk about lamb formula.

So soccer buddy keeps sheep, among which is a tiny little lamb. My friend mixed up something that looked like condensed milk and water and, with a sheepish (hee) laugh, pulled out a perrier bottle. "My lambs only drink from a perrier bottle." He funnelled the stuff into the bottle, squeezed a plastic nipple on it, and we went out to the pasture.

"Yell hello," he says to me. So I yell. And sheep perk up their heads, as my voice echoes across the valley.

But I don't have that familiar, that-human-who-feeds-me voice. My friend calls again, "Hallo!!" The baaa-ing begins.

We squeeze through the gate into the dewy pasture, and a little lamb, about a foot tall, runs gawkily up to us.

You know what? He let me feed her. This bold little white sheep with a brown patch.

She literally sucked that bottle dry in a minute flat. Frankly, he did most of the work because my perrier-formula-bottle-holding technique is a bit novice. He even got her to bend down onto her knees a bit while she drank.

Have you ever see a scampy little lamb in action? I wish I'd got out the camera, but it lives on my car seat.

Man. This is the kind of great stuff I get to experience now, post-city. I also had a long conversation with a guy today about place. Neither of us spent our childhoods in one place only, and consequently we don't have much of a sense of roots anywhere. But it is very interesting, albeit slightly false, to actively choose to put roots down. It's so conscious an experience.

I'm betting there'll be lots more on this theme.

August 18, 2005

The conveyor belt stops for no man

Tonight, on the way to Soccer Round Two, my soccer buddy and I got to talking about relationships. We're both single, both very emotional people who love relationships of all types, and we're both lucky people in many ways, but unlucky in Love. He's had a bunch of unhappy ones, I've had a few unhappy ones. Hell, the best relationship I ever had was a fling with a guy who barbequed us food while I lounged around in a hammock. When he wasn't giving me the facts of life from the perspective of someone 20 years older than I, it was great. Lots of sex and food, hammocks and scotch.

Years later, I'm 29 going on 30 this winter, and it's been over 3 years since I loved anyone.

How I feel? 0bviously, lonely. When my newborn soul was passing along the conveyor belt of gifts and curses, somebody stamped "unrequited" over my heart. I've been hearing sad old songs in the back of my head all my life. A kind of "doom, doom, doom" beat clomping along behind the harmonica.

But I can't feel too bad for myself. Over the course of three decades, I've met all kinds of people, been paid (or not) to do many different things... I've traveled, made music, written stories, danced, gardened, thought... played soccer... How many things should one person get to do and feel? If I died tomorrow, my life would have been full.

l used to do this exercise that I got out of a self-help book. After drawing a large box on a page, I divided into 9 squares. Each bore a label: family, relationship, work, vocation, health, spirit, friendship, community, hobbies. The object of the exercise was to make sure each square was full, or at least not empty. I did this exercise repeatedly over the years, and sorry, but the whole box never quite got full up.

Because, you know, I'm never going to have that totally well-rounded life! Yet, my life feels wonderful. Today, I hauled deadfall wood out of our forest (my hands performed superbly, yay!) so that I can cut them (after I learn to use my neighbour's non-vibrating chainsaw) and burn them in the stove to keep me warm at night over the winter. Then, I played soccer. Then, I ate pretzels, which I dipped in organic butter churned 100 feet away.

So. Since I am so lucky, and even though I would love to have a family, how can I say that this existence isn't enough?

Hence, the conveyor belt theory. I've come to believe that wanting more than the talents, brains, and good fortune I've been dealt would be like stepping over a pot of gold to go haring after the dragon's hoard. How will I ever be serene if I keep fighting the dragon? I got some stuff, and I didn't get some other stuff. That's okay, right? Because I don't want the "lonely, unwanted" nastiness to be the truth. I don't want wistfulness to be the soundtrack of my life.

I told soccer buddy my theory. He liked it. It soothed his solitary heart, too.

So, here's to all of us, lucky here, unlucky there! What a glorious, messy pageant we play in! Maybe next year I'll be poor, maybe last year I was unhappy, maybe my hands will recover completely, maybe the watermelon will stay in its crater. Today, in my loneliness, the fifth thing I will do (after logs, soccer, butter and blog) will be to smoke a cigarette by the pond under the stars.

August 16, 2005

Heading the ball

I left the house at 5:30 Sunday night, fortified with cappuccino, clad in rumpled, paint-splattered blue jogging pants and a t-shirt, and warmed by my folks' encouragement. I drove out to Flesherton, gingerly pressing the gas pedal through my mom's soccer cleats. At 5:50, I drove into my friend's driveway and stretched out my legs and back. By 6:30, twenty people, men, women and children, were filling up with water and grinning at each other onthe soccer pitch behind our organic dairy farming hosts' house.

A half dozen kids were under twelve, one was seven, and our oldest adult was at least in his sixties... Do you remember that feeling when you were a kid of coming up against adults ? I don't remember it at all. The kids amazed me. The only one we coddled (and that was rare) was the youngest. They just held their own. Man.

We played soccer for over two hours. I took it upon myself to manage the backfield, or whatever the area in front of the goalkeeper is called. Nevertheless I got a lot of play. I even headed the ball a few times, once in the right direction. There's no greater satisfaction than doing something you're scared of, is there?

Soccer is completely new to me. Perhaps it was on my high school phys. ed. curriculum, but that was decades ago and I don't remember. Because of the fact that I had no childhood friends, I never played sports on the street. I don't have a t. v., so I've probably watched, oh, a half dozen games.

I'm playing soccer because I can't play any team sports that involve my hands. And I need to develop a social life here so that I don't freak out and pick up my watermelon again.

So I wanted to like it. Instead, I fucking loved the game. What a charge! If the crowd were different, my tune would change. But what a vibe. I'm told that sometimes, when mostly men come out, that they get their game on more, even come close to blows. But last night it was perfect: people fighting hard to win, laughing at their own defeats. No ugliness, but still intense. Everyone was totally happily in the Zone.

August 10, 2005

I've been tagged!

Sassinak tagged Othercat who tagged me.

Ten songs I am listening to right now. Difficult to do since I am a radio junkie these days.

1. Late in the evening, Paul Simon
2. Track 6 on Sheva's live album
3. Lively up yourself, Bob Marley
4. I don't know why I love you like I do (I don't know why I just do), King Cole Trio
5. Night moves, Bob Seger
6. Locked in the trunk of a car, Tragically Hip
7. Highway to Hell, AC/DC
8. That song about Birds flying at the speed of sound, Coldplay
9. Turn out the light, Nelly Furtado
10. Sarah McLaughlin's latest single, maybe called Fallen, not sure.

Dropping the Watermelon

I changed my life today. I let go of my watermelon.

Rewind - to 1989.

In order to escape a fate worse than death - staying in French immersion - I begged my father to let me apply to the local high school for the arts instead of the suburban french school I was bound for. He said ok, but that if I failed to get in, I would have to stay in French immersion. (By the way, I LOVE French. I just hated my bratty, over-privileged schoolmates.)

Years went by. I studied art, photography, music, and completed my education with a Master's in creative writing.

Then things got weird.

After moving to England, unfortunately I was unable to land a job in publishing. So, I took temp work with an engineering firm. When I eventually got back to Canada, I decided to make a go of it as an artist and writer, working part-time for the province. Before I knew it, I had started doing full-time work and my art supplies, darkroom and manuscripts were gathering dust. Hell, who was I kidding, I thought? I had no inspiration anymore and was no genius anyway.

So I took my father's advice and applied to the feds... and I got a GREAT job. I became a diplomat, ME! Little arty me! Everyone envied me... except the friends who knew me best and weren't at all surprised by the shitstorm of misery I woke up to every time I stopped admiring my red passport and license plates.

I was doing great work, though. Way more important work than the oil paintings that I slugged my way through late in the evenings whenever I had the energy. Like my dad said,
who needs more art and literature? There's already enough to last anyone a lifetime.

And then the bottom fell out. My health feel apart: my arms were so seized up from all the frantic days typing up policy and reports that I could barely push a shopping cart, or pull my bra strap up. Plus I was completely burnt out. I was so down that I didn't even know it.

I was released from my duties and went home to my parents farm in rural Ontario to spend my days doing physical therapy and trying to remember why anyone would bother living in a world where the environment was completely deteriorating, culture seemed to be of no importance to anyone, and no one cared if I ever made a painting or wrote a poem.

But I rallied! ...and I made all these grandiose decisions! I was going to live in the country and do art and finally finish that manuscript of poems and get a part time job and, well, just let go.

But predictably I kept thinking about how I was going to be leaving behind a job that everyone envied, leaving behind a salary which was probably twice what I could ever expect to make as an artist, leaving behind my dream of owning my own home, my need for security, which happens to have grown at the same rate as my health crisis.

I started to think about how if I went back to the government and really made an effort to just take it as a day job that I could still be an artist and not give up everything that makes people see me as successful and makes me a absolutely secure for the rest of my life and that allows me to work on things that I have secretly always believed are more important than the things I genuinely care about. I found out about a job doing international arts and culture work for my own department. And it seemed like such a great compromise. I figure that may be eventually I could quit my day job and make a living as an artist, once I had a big nest egg and a bit of an artistic reputation.

This is where the watermelon balloons.

In the middle of the misery before I left my job to go on disability, I read a book called SO WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE? It wasn't a book telling you how to figure that out exactly, it was instead a chronicle of interviews with different people who had changed their lives and with people who had wanted to change their lives but never did.

The one thing that I kept reading over and over was that people who waited until the right time to change their lives, that is, people who expected to save up enough money to finance their pottery or chainsaw art dreams, simply never did. The people who actually achieved their dreams were the people who did it when they wanted to do it, not when the time was right or safe.

Every one of these people was carrying around a weight of anxiety that was preventing them from embracing the world and seeing people and situations clearly, that is, from a place that was right for them emotionally and spiritually. The author called it carrying around a watermelon. Just as you could never embrace someone if you were carrying around a watermelon, just so you could never pursue your dreams if you didn't let go of all of your anxiety and fear: dropping the watermelon.

I was all set to live my life with my watermelon in a basket on my back when last week I strolled into an organic food store and cafe to visit an old boyfriend and catch up. He introduced me to the owner, a man whose life, I swiftly realized, exemplified everything that I was about to turn my back on. He runs an organic food store and cafe, which is no money maker in the country, lives in a house owned by other people, and spends his time thinking about plants, food, and trying to be a better friend to the people that he cares about. He doesn't have the life that I want, but he has made his decisions according to the same principles to which I am so attracted but that I am also so afraid of.

I have always wanted to know more about what matters to me and to work on those things. I worked on international environmental issues for the federal government and I really believe that I accomplished absolutely nothing, but I was exposed on a daily basis to people who were working on local projects that were truly making a difference to their natural surroundings. And I envied them. And I wanted to do art about the environment, too. So during my disability I realized that the two things that matter to me more than anything are the environment and art. I want to live in the country and do art and learn more about the community and nature around me. This includes everything from growing my own food to composting to supporting community level projects.

While I have been on my sabbatical from work I started a series of paintings about the environment, a comic book and poetry manuscript that touches on these themes. After meeting this fellow who runs the organic store, the cold bucket of water on my face which was his example forced me to realize that going back to the government would not allow me to pursue in any serious way any of these goals.

An old boss back at the government once said to me that working as a diplomat is like being in a room of "brains on sticks," all these little brains talking to each other, working things out, not really bodies or people. Just brains and mouths.

So here's my watermelon: I'm scared of disappointing my father! He thinks there's a window between the ages of 25 and 35 within which you can succeed, that you can make that jump. He's glad that I'm a professional, a successful woman with a job that people covet and keeps me safe. And I'm also scared of people looking down on me. And thinking that I'm a fool for throwing it away. And I am afraid that no one will ever want to buy my artwork, or that it is unoriginal in every way.

Yesterday my best friend read me the riot act. She said, you are 30 years old and you have to do what you want no matter what anyone thinks.

So at four in the morning I wrote a letter to my personnel officer requesting a leave of absence, thus forfeiting any chance of getting that arts job. Later on I got a message from the department asking me to come in for a second interview. I am weak enough to be very grateful that I had already sent my letter before I got that message.

This blog entry is my way of saying thank you to Po Bronson for his wonderful book and to say thank you to Steve, who runs Fresh Organics in Flesherton, and to my best friend, all of whom gave me the courage to let go of my watermelon, and to my sister and friends for supporting me the whole way through.

August 8, 2005

Smoking reconsidered

I'm back. Typed too much and had to stop blogging for a while. Now I dictate. So, perversely, for my first entry after a health crisis I will write about why I love smoking.


No one smokes cigarettes just because of cigarettes. The cigarette is a paper tube stuffed with plants, for god's sake.

I smoked my first cigarette the first time I drank. Common story, I hear. This episode involved my best friend and her older brother. Melissa and I were thirteen years old, and after eight shots of sambuca I convinced her bro to bum me a couple.

Until my thirteenth year I had always been outspokenly against any kind of drugs, from marijuana to menstrual pain killers. During my first year of high school however I quit most of my hobbies, made my first real friend (Melissa), stopped listening to Whitney Houston in favor of Megadeth, began doing art really seriously, and was the happiest I had ever been, which isn't saying a lot. So I suppose I wanted to try things that didn't fit the younger self I was leaving behind.

I'm less sure about why I kept trying it. No one likes smoking at first; it ain't easy on the tongue. It takes several cigarettes, even dozens, to develop the taste. All I can figure is that it's like when you're really little, trying to like beer or whiskey, because you know that other people like it and you want to know why they like it. To a kid, the idea of acquired tastes can be irresistible. Also, c'mon, grossing yourself out is fun.

I don't buy that young people are so impressionable that they smoke only because they think it makes them look a certain way or because people that they look up to do it. I think a lot of the time people do bad things because they're curious to understand the attraction it has for other people, and they ignore the risks they are assuming, since, well, risking your life is also fun. (There's a reason why gambling is such a problem.)

In my case, up to the point that I actually started smoking I had never noticed smokers or admired their aesthetic to the point of imitation. Certainly no one of any influence in my life was a smoker, either. I think image and the rest might have played in why I stuck with smoking, though, who knows.

Anyway, after I got hooked, I smoked a fair bit for a few years and finally settled into a habit of about a quarter or half a pack a day. Not a great deal, but I was definitely addicted. Over the sixteen years that I have been smoking I have quit for as much as two years once, eight months another time, another year or two here and there. Why try to quit? I wanted my grandchildren (if I ever had any offspring, that is) to have a grandparent, I was worried about my health, I smelled, stairs were tough.

The point is that I had shitloads of opportunity to be a card carrying nonsmoker. Like many (most?) smokers, I can kick the habit if I want to.

We know the usual suspects to explain away cigarette smoking: stress, relaxation, peer pressure to be thin. The physical addiction. All of these reasons put the smoker him/herself at the center of persecuting influences.

But I think that sometimes people choose their bad habits pretty carefully. Smoking is so useful. Isn't that crazy? An American Music Club song says, "Bad habits make our decisions for us." And it's true. Up to a point. Look, if you're a smoker, even if you're in the middle of a breakup you can take the time to pull out a pack of cigarettes and light a cigarette and take a long drag before you defend yourself. Can you imagine any other delaying tactic working? If you need a break from a boring party, you just say you need to go for a smoke.

Smoking lets you get out of anything, gives you time to think, lets you stop in the middle of the street just to gather your thoughts. Without the cigarette it would be called loitering. People would look at you funny.

Smoking saves you. Breaks up your day into manageable chunks. Otherwise there'd be no reason not to keep working at your desk all day long, you know? Or maybe that's just me.

Smoking also gets you into things, keeps you involved somehow. I've talked to countless strangers outside, after lighters were borrowed or a cigarette bummed, or just to share the nice five minutes together. I'm serious, total strangers on the street. "Nice night, eh?" "Would you look at that moon." It's absolutely amazing how much ground you can cover in 5 minutes, or 10, it you light another one. Smokers are allowed to talk to each other without any other prop but a cigarette, and they're allowed precious time to think during a conversation under the excuse of taking a drag. I have met a lot of interesting people smoking, and I have enjoyed many contemplative smokes watching the world rush by. And I've come to find that often the people who like to go out the most and experience culture (outside of the T.V.) are or were smokers, although that's less and less true, what with high quit rates. (I could take this as an opportunity to rave about how fucked it is that you have to be a smoker to have a good time in this world, but whatever.)

Smoking gets me outside. It's hard for people to get why you'd put on your parka to go outside every couple of hours in the middle of winter. But I like it. I love to get outside, but when I'm not smoking I feel I don't have a good reason to. I know it's senseless, but there you have it.

More sinister, being a smoker means that you have failed. People think you're slowly committing suicide, you loser.

Which opinion can be a relief, frankly. One of the things that I hate the most about social interaction is the initial evaluation stage in any encounter. You have to go for months or years with a lot of people before they just decide that you're OK. And I can't tell you how fucking patronizing it is to meet somebody, anybody, anywhere, and know that they are sitting there evaluating you trying to decide whether you're worth talking to. And I happen to have some things about me that I can drop to make people respect me, hobbies, work I've done.

But it's so bogus. If I quit a job or I quit doing a certain hobby does that instantly lower my ranking? I just don't want people to do that evaluation thing to me. A lot of the time I'd just like people to know that I'm a smoker because then they will write me out of the game entirely.

I also think there's something sort of freakish about people who are on the up and up, super healthy gene bunnies, the right accessories, whatever. I work in the kind of industry that makes other people think you have quote-unquote "made it" but as a smoker I automatically get kicked out of that category. Instead, I'm a real person to other people. Because I "can't quit smoking."

Hell, a lifetime free of vice unnerves me. I think knowing you do something dumb keeps you humble. Keeps mortality close.

Smoking is a reminder that you can die. Plus it tastes seriously good.

Sometimes, when things are bad, having a smoke's been the only time I really breathed in a day. Even doing meditation and yoga you don't get that same lusty inhale.

Anyway, none of this adds up to a defense of smoking in the face of its super-villain killing powers, but it fleshes out the excuses a bit. That was my hope in writing this entry.

So l have stopped trying to quit and now I smoke one or two nights a week. Can I just emphasize my weekly anticipation with a knee-slap, wow.