Saturday, September 15, 2007

stories of loss

i don't know if it's true, and i probably will never undertake the research to prove or disprove it, but it feels like i've had more than my share of loss over my lifetime. and i'm not talking about keys, because i know i would probably win that contest for sure, but about things that are less tangible: friends. beliefs. convictions. loved ones.

last week, i sustained another huge loss. however, the background story is important in understanding this loss, and not many people know it. but when i wake up in the morning and think of this person and the people who are mourning her, i am always taken back to a time eight and a half years ago when we first met. so if you're able, come along for the ride.

late february, 1999: i am in delhi, india, with sweat running down the back of my legs, and tears running down my cheeks in dusty rivulets. i am living with an old anglo-indian woman in a tiny asbestos-tiled room off of her living room, which has been arranged for me by a kind woman at the centre for kids with autism, where i am volunteering. an excitable newscaster on tv is delivering the news in hindi, which sounds as though it is a made-up language. i can hardly believe that a language that sounds so little like english is understood by everyone but me.

i know that this is where i want to be, where i have chosen to come and volunteer, where i must be for at least six months (or else i will lose face in front of my family and friends! and what about the expensive indian visa and plane ticket and immunizations?) but i feel so isolated, so singular, so different and alone. each day i awaken, plug in the heating coil to place in my bucket of water for my bath, nod and smile at the young servant girl (who makes me very nervous with her toothy grin and quick, erratic movement in the kitchen) while i guiltily eat my breakfast of sliced bananas topped with curd and the big-crystalled sugar that i've come to like so much. when i am dressed and armed with my extra stick of deodorant (which i will need later in the day, when the temperature soars to 48 degrees), i negotiate my way through throngs of cows, street sweepers, vegetable vendors, begging children, and professionally-dressed indians to flag down an autorickshaw driver, who inevitably charges me triple the amount i should pay, laughs at me, or takes me the scenic route to the centre. often, he does all three.

i am the only non-indian in the place i volunteer, which is what attracted me in the first place. i didn't want a 'sanitized' experience...i wanted the real thing. i wanted it to be hard and challenging and different than anything i could experience in canada. i wanted to know what it felt like to be the only one who is something - foreign, white, not brown, canadian, etc. now that i am here, i am desperate to see another white face, to hear canadian english spoken, to have something in common. to not be so white and so different. the shame i feel as a result is thick, hot, and oppressive, much like the incessant heat.

everyone speaks english, so language is not at all a problem. further, the women with whom i work are really great - half of them are christian, and the other half hindus - and because the centre is small, they are quite close-knit. they welcome me, and in the beginning, defer to me as 'the expert' on kids with autism. i realize (more quickly than they do) that this is absolutely not true; that in fact they have more expertise on autism than i ever will.

sometimes, in between supervising the kids' playtimes, lunches, and completing observation reports as they are being tutored by the centre's staff, i excuse myself and go to a hot, dusty, empty room and cry. i haven't had a hug in what feels like weeks, and although everyone is kind, and inquisitive, and caring...there is still a division. i am 'other.' even though there is no language barrier, there is definitely a communication barrier. it is not entirely safe for us to tease and make jokes with each other, because we haven't sussed out who we're dealing with. i feel inadequate, like i'm a huge disappointment, because i don't have the knowledge and experience they expected of me. i am the furthest i can possibly be from all the people who love me, and my schedule is such that the 11.5 hour time difference makes it hard to connect by the phone, and the frequent electrical blackouts and the lack of internet cafes and their distance from 'home' means that my email use is limited. never mind the prohibitive expense of international communication, the fact that my landlord doesn't have outgoing long-distance (this is very common in india - in fact, you usually have to go to an 'STD/ISD' booth, and no, don't be funny, you don't need a condom to use them) or an internet connection, and the fact that i am so overwhelmed by the sheer number of human and animal bodies that i would rather sit in my sticky, hot room and hope that my parents and best friends have suddenly become able to read my mind from halfway across the world...

so i am laying under a mosquito net in my room, trying to cry as quietly as i can, with rivers of salt coursing down various parts of my body. it is not hard to feel those feelings again, today, as i write this...and i want to remember them, to honour them, to validate them. (i have a different perspective now on those first few weeks in india, both because i survived it, and because i think it was an instructive experience on what newcomers to our country must feel like. it was a lesson in compassion that i wanted, and needed, to learn, and i am grateful for that.)

* i will continue this post soon, starting from march of 1999. it's interesting how this is taking shape...i really didn't think i had so much to say. but i am going with it. so stay tuned!

WW III is coming

...or at least it sounds like it from below us. although we no longer have to put up with the antics of the slug, we have new housemates who are gamers. and not just gamers, but avid gamers. like gaming-in-any-spare-moment gamers, which roughly translates to about eight hours a day, usually from about 3 pm to midnight. and they often play different games, too (in the same room). one on the computer, one on the xbox 360, both with their volume cranked to levels that make our floors shake and sends our cat to hide in the drawer that houses our skivvies. yup, it's that bad.

of course, their games of choice are RP (role-play) games where they, inevitably, have to blow things up, fly airplanes, and use most of their vast arsenal of weapons (which we guess ranges from handguns to uzis to cannons) to save the world. typically, their virtual survival is punctuated by screaming, yelling, howling, cheering, and sometimes, top-volume expletives that would make ozzy osborne blush.

we can't figure out which is worse - the slug, or the gamers. the slug is definitely winning in grossness, but general annoyance? it's a toss-up.

i'm too old for this shit.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Childhood Cancer Awareness

as some of you may know, over the past year, i have connected with a number of families with an unsettling common denominator: their kids have cancer. from neuroblastoma to leukemia, from hepatoblastoma to wilm's tumours...their families call their sons and daughters 'warriors,' and i have to agree. these kids are stronger than i think i ever could be.

lots of people think i'm a total nut for reading through these blogs; for developing relationships with families i may never meet in person, for caring about kids who are really, really sick (some of whom are terminal), and for 'subjecting' myself to 'unnecessary' sadness. but i can't explain it - that it's not just about grief and loss and hopelessness. that stories of beauty, strength, and resilience; of community, belonging, grace, joy, and simple pleasures abound. there are lessons to be learned, and i feel compelled to soak them in.

mine wasn't an intentional foray into pediatric connections to and losses from cancers have been related to adults in my life. i don't remember exactly how it happened, but i stumbled onto one blog, which linked me to another, and to another. i am showing this video this month because it is pediatric cancer month, and because some of the kids i follow are featured in this video. is just one of the little ways i can help to raise awareness of cancer - which affects people of all ages, all socioeconomic brackets, all races, religions, and ethnicities, and all abilities. i can assure you, however, that regardless of whether i 'know' them or not, all of the kids in this video have lessons in acceptance, in faith, in playfulness and bravery, to share with each of us. take a few minutes to school yerselves!

Friday, September 07, 2007

so i'm irregular

not in that way, mind you. i'm all good on that front (or should it be 'behind'?)

so, i've been MIA for a couple months now, and let's just say i've been processing. lots has gone on. you know, like the fact that i've gotten married (in nova scotia), eaten copious amounts of seafood, made all kinds of beautiful and artistic temperature charts, gone on a group honeymoon with some of our single friends (in cape breton & PEI), seen my first six moose (all on one day, off the cabot trail!!), flipped through bazillions of sperm donor profiles (yay canam cryo!), started on fertility drugs (serophene - which, as the drug companies predicted, does make me headachy, clumsy, sweaty, psycho and bloated), started singing in the choir again, and most recently, began year 2 of 4 years of school for midwifery. yesterday, i attended my first pharmacology class, headed by the creepy prof who hits incessantly on midwifery students (we had him last year for anatomy, too). he even has a facebook group dedicated to his lech-like ways. if i figure out how not to get arrested, i'll try to find a way to link all of you to his site.

but really, this summer has seemed a blur. there have been gowns, feuds, make-ups (and make-up - i actually wore make-up!!), there have been hairdos and rainstorms and lobster-gorging, there have been copious amounts of tears shed - some happy, but many borne of frustration, anger, hurt, and grief - and i'm just talking about the wedding here!! - but i can't forget the moments of bliss, as there have been those, too. it has all felt a little...busy. i'll get back to you once i've processed how i'm feeling. it's coming.

i feel like now, it's time for reflection, only there IS no time for's time, instead, for cleaning my disastrous house. and doing laundry, cuddling the cat, freezing batches of soups and stews for the stressful winter months, scrimping together the cash to buy $2000 of textbooks (seriously.) and of course, memorizing drug cards for the 'midwifery pharmacopoeia' (that's fancy for 'drugs that midwives can prescribe,' but our prof says the former and therefore i shall, too), paired with figuring out how i can appeal canada student loans' decision to give me $148 for the whole year...yay for the canadian government. they allow us to get married, now, but then they make it as difficult as possible for us to create a life together.

i have to say, though, i think her cuteness will get us through it. :)
so, yeah. i will be back. but as aforementioned...irregularly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

i told ya once, i told ya twice, and i re-told ya again

okay so here's the thing - i'm a word junkie. in fact, i consume words like...well, like i consume chips when i'm PMSing: desperately, obsessively, and without pause.

now there's a lovely visual to put out into the blogosphere.

in any case, there is a word that has stumped me for years. years, i tell you! and it is this one: reiteration.

here's why i don't get it. 'iteration' means repetition - for example, i am now iterating why the english language is so ridiculous, and was obviously created by some white dude with a goal to make it the most difficult language to learn for non-native speakers. 'reiteration' means to repeat over and over again - basically, to re-repeat. what the fuckity-fuck - is this not overly redundant?

(heh heh)

anyway. seriously. i'm glad english is my first language, only because i didn't have to learn it, word by word, counterintuitive sentence by confusing sentence, irregular verb by stinkin' verb.

okay children, all together now:
i iterate
you iterate
he iterates
she repeatedly iterates (a.k.a. reiterates...)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

an untrendy trend

so, i'm pretty sure i'm 'off' sleep. or i need to re-master my sleeping skills. we just got a new bed, and it's pretty sweet, so it's not that. i'm out of ideas about the how and the why of it, but i am stark raving tired.

tonight, after doing a couple hours of editing for this summer contract i've scored, i initiated my usual nighttime routine: brush teeth, wash face, down three shots of rum, feed cat, drink water, feed fish, kiss cat (x 143), read library book, kiss soft forehead of my sleeping know, the usual...yet for the umpteenth night in a row, the sweet unconsciousness of sleep evades me. reluctantly, i have to admit there might be a no-sleeping trend in my midst.

my mind is catapulting around, and i can hear the blood rushing through my arteries at a very lively, awake pace. bah. i tried a few of the tricks that often work: picturing slumbering babies, counting to 30 in as many languages as i can (about five), practicing choir music in my head to the rhythm of my heart...and none are working. my body is aching to rest but my mind has other plans. so, i am going to try a virtual headstand to empty out some of the stuff rattling around up there. i'm warning you, it's pretty random. you might need to be sleep-deprived yourself for it to make sense.

one of the things i've been pondering lately relates to intentionality - that is, our intentions with others, as well as our intentions with ourselves. in speaking with a number of people about this, it is interesting to realize how differently we all see intention. what is particularly mind-boggling to a control-freak such as myself is that sometimes, what we mean can be entirely irrelevant to how it is experienced by someone else.

okay so check out this conflict-resolution scene: one person feels hurt by someone else, and attempts to share how they are feeling. in response, the hurter says to the hurtee, 'that is not what i meant at all' or, even better, 'i didn't mean to.' (there are extra annoyance-points to be awarded if this is followed by, in a petulant voice, 'you know that i would never hurt you on purpose!'). now, as far as i'm concerned (especially when i'm the person who is feeling all ouchie inside), how it was intended is kinda extraneous. my response would probably be something like, 'okay, that's nice, but here's the thing: hurt is how i'm feeling right now.' (it is important to note that at this point, the four year old inside of me is also screaming, 'you're not the boss of how i get to feel!!')

i don't know if there's something iffy about my my orientation in the world...but i walk around feeling pretty positive about the human race - particularly those members with whom i associate regularly. i try to surround myself with good people - the kind who are generous and caring and kind. a heterogeneous bunch, who screw up fairly regularly (so i don't feel so alone), and who are down-to-earth and fun. the kind of people - and this is key - who don't go around hurting others on purpose. so frankly, hearing the words 'i didn't mean/intend to hurt you' from any of these people is redundant. see, the thing is, that's why they're in my life in the first place - cuz they don't walk around hurting people on purpose. so being told that again doesn't for a moment take away the lump in my throat, the wetness on my cheeks, or the ache in my heart.

there's something else, though, that kinda begs to accompany my above paragraph. i strongly believe that we - all of us - need to understand that what we put out in the world, regardless of how we intend it, is up for intepretation. we don't get to be the bosses of other people's experiences...once the words have left our mouths, once the action has been initiated, it's kind of out of our hands. cuz we are all - inherently, beautifully, epically - flawed. and we will hurt other people in our quest to exist, possibly on a daily basis. do we mean to? hopefully not. will we anyway? you betcha.

now, i never want to be that gal who criticizes something and then offers no ideas on how to approach it differently. so, other than what has already been suggested, i have thought about an appendage to the reflexive response of 'i didn't mean to hurt you', and it goes something like this: but i can see how you'd feel that way. wow. immediately, it feels like you're listening. we both know you didn't mean to, but you did. i can see how you'd feel that. hallelujah! and no apology is necessary (cuz don't get me started on apologies. that's another night, another headstand).

so for those of you like me - does this resonate with you? or are you a person whose hurt feelings dissipate upon hearing the hurter's intention? (and if so, how do you do that?!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

only one

i found this meme over here today, and thought i'd give it a try. anything to distract me from transcribing interviews from mothers with angry daughters (my current project, for which my b is my boss).

basically, you have to respond to each question in one word. and trust me, this is quite the challenge for ms. hyphenating-everything pants. particularly because AmandaD used some of my favourite, most-often used words as her responses, and, well, you know how much i hate repetition and non-uniqueness...
  1. Where is your cell phone? table
  2. Relationship? lifelong
  3. Your hair? streaky
  4. Work? insufficient
  5. Your sister? unborn
  6. Your favourite thing? twilight
  7. Your dream last night? twisted
  8. Your favourite drink? perrier
  9. * Your dream car? subaru
  10. The room you're in? stuffy
  11. Your shoes? closeted
  12. Your fears? numerous
  13. What do you want to be in 10 years? peaceful
  14. Who did you hang out with this weekend? bedelia
  15. What are you not good at? physiology
  16. Muffin? cookie!
  17. One of your wish list items? barbeque
  18. Where you grew up? winnipeg
  19. Last thing you did? exhaled
  20. What are you wearing? deodorant
  21. What aren't you wearing? bra
  22. Your pet? purring
  23. Your computer? imperative
  24. Your life? expansive
  25. Your mood? heightened
  26. Missing? innocence
  27. What are you thinking about right now? wedding
  28. Your car? saturn
  29. Your kitchen? disgusting
  30. Your summer? packed
  31. Your favourite colour? ocean
  32. Last time you laughed? minutes
  33. Last time you cried? tuesday
  34. School? hiatus!
  35. Love? always
* i can't help it - it's true!

so, give it a go. i promise, it's not as easy as you look, capturing yourself in stark, single words for all to ponder...

not as funny as the first one, but...

...still watch-worthy.

check it out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

exploitation: verbatim

her, worriedly peering into the newly-established fish tank: "do you think there are too many bubbles for this tank? i'm worried that it's too chaotic for them in there!"

me, rolling my eyes at her neuroticism, which now, apparently, extends to our fish: "i think they're fine. if you're so worried, though, just change the bubbler thing..."

her: "well, can you help me?"

me, hobbling (as a result of a fresh football injury to my groin) to the bathroom: "help you? what do you need help with?"

her: "well, putting it in there."

me, peeing, yelling incredulously over the bathroom fan: "you don't need two people for that! you just reach in there and change the tube-y thing, i've done it about four times today alone!"

her, muffled: "i just don't want them to nibble my hand..."

me: "what? are you serious?!" (starts to giggle)

her, tersely: "shut up, b!"

me, hobbling back out to check if she's for real (and she is): "they don't even have teeth!"

her, doubtfully, eyeing 'the guys' (our fish, in plural): "how do you know that?"

me, snickering: "i'm pretty sure guppies don't have teeth..." (as i proceed to watch her haul up the bubbler thing by the tube so her hand doesn't touch the water) "oh my god, you're serious..." (dissolving into laughter that sounds strangely like a smoker's cough, complete with whistling exhalations)

her, fiercely, while nervously watching the opposite side of the tank where the fish have congregated: "shut up, b...! okay, where are the guysOHGOD!!" (jumping backwards, yelling at our yellow guppy) "a-lice!! get lost! why is she over here? she's supposed to be afraid of ME!!"

me: clutching my stomach and making squeaking sounds

her, angrily, eyes flitting at warp-speed between submerged hand and 'the guys': "shut UP, b!"

me: shaking in near-silent mirth with tears running down my cheeks

her, panicked: "why are they not staying OVER there?!"

me, gasping: " blog this!"

her: squealing as lincoln (the molly) crosses into her half of the tank

me, trying to catch my breath: "come on...are you serious here?"

her, pleadingly: "stop making fun of me and help me!"

me: doubled over again

her, desperately, doing a real hack-job of sinking a bubbling wand to the bottom while trying not to put her hands in the water: "come on! i need some help!!"

me: useless

her, on the brink of hysteria: "you think this is reaaallly funny, don't you?!" (to our blue guppy): "come ON, che, get away from here!!!"

...and on it went. ten minutes later, here i sit with a throbbing groin, rivulets of salt down my cheeks and a sore gut from laughing, when i hear:

"are you blogging in there, b?"


(quietly resentful): "smartass..."