In Laurie Anderson's film Heart of a Dog, she recounts an episode from her childhood she'd told people about a number of times. While retelling it one day, unsettling details she'd forgotten came rushing back. In concluding the piece, she says:
...and that's what I think is the creepiest thing about stories. You try to get to the point you're making, usually about yourself or something you learned, and you get your story and you hold on to it and every time you tell it, you forget it...more.
When I first started writing, it was an exercise in trying to find a way to describe the time when I was 5 years old that my parents gave me away for a year (Strangers With Chips).
Those events cast an occasionally overwhelming shadow over me but I managed to stay ahead of it. When I did talk and later wrote about it, my shorthand became effective to the point where I edited a fair bit of detail and emotion from the story. By the time my father passed away in August this year, it was no longer foremost in my thoughts.
At the reception following the funeral, I managed a few perfunctory chats and sandwiches before trading the hubbub of the church basement for the less populated parking lot. One and then another of my brothers joined me and we chatted a while before I decided I should go back inside.
Before I could leave the lot, an aunt appeared. She had a woman with her who I didn't recognize. My aunt told me Linda had been looking for me. I gave Linda the least confused smile I could as I struggled to place her. She looked small, unwell, and definitely on the verge of something.
As my brain went to work trying to figure out who this was, she choked out that she hoped I could forgive her for all the pain she'd caused me. Please forgive me. I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry.
Linda. Linda. Lin-da. And then it hit me. This shadow was one of the people my parents had given me to, only now, she was standing in mine.
What's the etiquette for responding to a request for forgiveness that's 45 years in the making? From someone who's tracked mud through your brain and left without cleaning up? As she stood there swaying, fighting back tears, I told her it was fine, everything was fine, it couldn't have been too bad since I was still here. She continued to whisper "I'm sorry".
I'm not sure which of us stepped closer first but somehow our exchange led to a hug and for me, an exit strategy. I gave her what I think was a reassuring smile and continued to nod and smile as I turned and walked away.
It probably shouldn't have been such a revelation to me that this story wasn't mine alone but the whole encounter surprised me. I hope she found in it the peace she was looking for.
Now I'm left to wonder - am I going to have to run into her ex-husband at some point and go through a version of this with him? While that may never happen, if it does, it will likely be just after I've forgotten...more.
Last night, I went to see Jane Lynch perform at our local theatre in her show "See Jane Sing". It was definitely a fun evening and made even better for Jane bringing her pal Kate Flannery (Meredith from the US version of The Office) along for the ride. They played off each other beautifully and the jazz quintet backing them up did a great job too.
I went with my friend Jane who also enjoyed it. While I was able to mostly focus on the show, I remained on alert as well. I've often said that in an emergency, I can pretty much be counted on to simply walk away or step over you and pretend I don't know you. As it happens, that's an idle threat on my part. Thankfully, nothing happened that tested me for a third time.
My event going history can be interesting, depending on what interests you. If medical emergencies are your thing, this might be just what you've been waiting for.
Last week, I was very excited to go see John Grant in concert with Villagers opening up. It was a stellar show at a good, smallish venue and friend Jane, her husband and a friend of his were all on hand. After a stunning set by Villagers, Jane's husband and friend decided they wanted to be closer to the stage for the main course. It was blisteringly hot in the club so she and I stayed more toward the back. We got to chat for a minute with Conor O'Brien of Villagers after their set and he was lovely and charming.
Both acts sounded as good or better than their recordings which is always exciting. As anyone who loves live music knows, there's magic that can't always be captured by a recording.
Mr. Grant started with several songs from his new album all of which translated beautifully and kept the crowd enthralled. Midway through, he sang one of my favourites "Queen of Denmark" and all was really right with the world. Just as he was finishing that song and ahead of another of my favourite songs "GMF" (I'd already bought the GMF t-shirt!), it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jane step to the side and I thought she must be vying for a better view. The lurch forward following that side step signalled something was wrong. She fell into the guy standing in front of us and hit the deck! She'd fainted and hit the floor pretty hard but somehow didn't hit her head. Somebody helped me get her upright and as I was trying to walk her out, she slumped again. I managed to half drag and carry her out of the throng toward the back where there were paramedics.
We got her out into the air and after sitting for a short time and getting checked over, she was much better. The paramedic didn't want her standing back in the heat however as she was the fourth person to have fainted that night (how hot was it?!). The chair was moved to just outside the (open) venue doors so we could finish watching the show. I stayed with her while her husband and his friend remained blissfully unaware from their prime positions stage-side.
While my memories from the first half of the concert are brilliant and vivid, the second half was not quite what I'd envisioned. Jane is fine now and feels terrible about having imposed but I'm just glad it wasn't more serious. I may have to follow Mr. Grant on tour to properly see the second half of the show however.
When things like this happen, it leads to a certain amount of reflection. If you're me, that reflection is directly back to another concert several years ago that I'd looked forward to for a long time. Bjork was midway through a stellar set on a warm summer night on Toronto Island. I felt the show was pretty magical, that is, until my friend Lorena fainted. The second half of that show was spent making sure she was okay and tamping down the urge to dump her body into the water and go back to the show. I'm still waiting for a make up date with Bjork. And Lorena? Where have you been? I haven't heard from you in ages!
To be clear, none of these situations involved copious amounts of alcohol, sometimes things just happen. The take away (but not so far as to a hospital) from a night of fun with me is that if anyone is going down, it's more likely to be you than me! My role is simply to help and to leave with half a dream fulfilled. Apparently, it's what I do.
I learned something new this holiday season, no mean feat as I very inactively lounged around in (I don't have to work and you can't make me get dressed) pyjamas for the better part of two weeks.
A while back, I'd watched and enjoyed the Beekman Boys television series chronicling their efforts at transforming themselves from city to country mice and their farm into a successful business.
One of the products they produce intrigued me - Blaak cheese, a blend of raw goat and cow milk which is aged in a vegetable based ash. Not wanting to forgo my pyjamas and travel all the way to Sharon Springs to buy some, I used the magic power of the internet to order some up. I also bought some Balsamic, Elderberry and Fig Drizzle for the cheese and got them to throw in a couple of coffee / tea mugs. My credit card barely balked at the thought of international shipping costs.
As I waited patiently for my gifts to arrive, I continued to lounge my way through a fairly crippling ice storm and 27 hours without power (we were lucky). This happens to be the same amount of time it takes for the charm of ordering pizza in the dark to be lost.
On Christmas Eve, my bounty arrived by courier and while everything was very well packed and wrapped, one of the mugs was broken. Their customer service was amazing and they let me know they'd ship a replacement mug "Priority" with no questions asked. Also amazing? Blaak cheese and the drizzle! Thanks Beekmans!
A couple of days ago, I received a call from the courier company telling me that all cheese imported to Canada has to be inspected by Customs and they'd requested the shipment I was about to receive be provided for review. The representative explained that in releasing the package to Customs for inspection, I would then received the package and a bill equal to 246% of the cost of the cheese as a duty import charge. Who knew the Canadian cheese people had such a powerful lobby group?!
Her "uh oh" when I said the cheese had already been delivered, devoured and delicious told me someone was in trouble. She agreed it was their error and she would contact Customs to explain what had happened. She warned me I might still get a bill from them for the full duty amount.
We chatted briefly about the Beekman Boys as she remembered them fondly from their season of The Amazing Race and we chuckled about the fact that while ignorance of the laws of your own country is no defence, when you're stupid and hungry, strange things can happen.
Yesterday, my replacement mug arrived and the box was fairly covered in Customs inspection tape. The outside label mentioned the cheese and the inside duplicate bill showed the previous purchase so this may be what piqued their interest in the contents of the already delivered package.
If a bill shows up, I guess I'll have to pay it but the next time I get a hankering for Blaak cheese, it may just be cheaper to pull up stakes and move to America. Is there room for one more on the farm Josh and Brent?
Christmas is all about competition! Whoever disagrees just doesn't understand my rules.
It's hard to say which piques my interest more - the frenzied price slashing between retailers, the people who demand attention with their elaborate light displays (I prefer a half assed effort), my own best and worst Christmas card judging event (poorly attended by all but by me) or, the contest to determine which sibling's gift to my parents will trump all others in the family canon. Okay, it's that last one.
Through some longstanding failing, I continue to feel I must seek approval. It's this defect that allows me to spend 8 or 9 bucks on a card as long as it gets the animosity rolling in the ranks. It's usually an easy win with everyone getting to hear my mother repeat over and over who gave her the "most beautiful card" but on occasion, there can be added jeopardy.
If one of my n'er do well brothers awakens from a stupor long enough to remember it's the holidays, things get more complicated. This doesn't happen often but that's not to say I haven't been blindsided on occasion.
Once, after everyone had ponied up with cards and gifts, we were blown out of the water by my brother's genius move of crudely cutting a poem (about mothers) out of the newspaper, putting it in an envelope and easily sailing to a first place showing. That was talked about for years and I'm nearly over it (I'm still not over it).
The threat this year comes from another brother who has managed after 40 years of saucing himself beyond the pale, to find his way out of the darkness of alcoholism. We're very happy for his success because hitting rock bottom one more time would have left a wound too deep to recover from.
The news ticker tells me that his evil plan for this year includes sending a box of chocolates along with a card proclaiming that these parents of ours are in fact the best parents ever! Clearly, he's still not thinking straight but this move will have definite, immediate and major impact. Him sending anything, including a box of dirt, would probably have the same import.
It's my definite view that the only thing my parents need, is to be institutionalized, but just the same, I've sent them a large poinsettia to start and I'm currently narrowing the field on my final strike. The flowers are a hit (I didn't know poinsettias came that big!) but I'm worried when those chocolates and that card arrive, my efforts will be for naught and he will have won.
Since it is the season for giving, I'm arguing with myself about whether to give up my whiny dynamic "...but I've been here all along and he's so, so…prodigal!" or not. It may be the best gift I give myself to just concede and let the glow of my neighbour's 10,000 watt light display keep me warm.
Who knew Christmas warfare could be such a tiring affair? We all do. I'm sure of it.
Every time I get a sandwich at the deli in the food court at work, after wrapping it, they stick those little party toothpicks through it and I think: silly, what do they need those for? They're stylish enough if you want to strike a pose with one in your teeth, sure, but otherwise?
After getting a breakfast sandwich this morning, I started back toward the office and tripped! This sent my sandwich sliding several feet ahead. As I sheepishly scooped it up, I was delighted to see it was intact.
My longstanding instinct when anyone asks how my mother is, is to say "crazy". It's always been tough discerning antics from bonafide symptoms with that one. I could say that anyone who's taken the time to have (and more or less raise) 9 children might be expected to be a little off her game but she did follow the rules printed in the manual: be fruitful and multiply.
Mother has always had an interesting approach. She once came home dismayed over the cost of replacing the side view mirror on her car without expressing any concern over who or what she'd sideswiped to lose the thing. When I was a smoker, she'd cough at the mere sight of a pack of matches to register disapproval.
Her most recent habit is to call my sister hinting that if she was going to the store, but only if she was going!, she needs milk, or bread, or something. My sister dutifully drops what she's doing and shows up with the requested item to be greeted with "I guess you never thought to bring dessert". With a nun in the family, there must be paperwork she can start to put my sister on the road to sainthood.
It's never easy to tell which mother you'll get. One day it's "I had such a good sleep" and another it's "I had a vision last night" and then you have to settle in. Unsettling.
I pay little attention to the higher power my mother's always inciting but knowing she'd most likely be impressed with a call from Rome, I did just that to say hi and let her know I was at that moment looking up at the Papal apartment from St. Peter's Square. She was truly amazed, with how clear the phone connection was.
For lasting impact, I bought her some jewellery in the Eternal City thinking this might hold some higher stead. I could almost hear her pride-sinning to her friends "My son bought it for me in Rome!". Instead, she promptly lost the necklace and said "You can get me another one".
I wrote a travelogue of my recent vacation and emailed it to my sisters. One of them printed it off and gave a copy to my mother. Now this impressed her! She even wrote me an old tyme letter to tell me: "We were amazed, it is so well done. Isn't it wonderful what people can do if given half a chance?"
There's no telling what's going on in that mind from minute to minute but I suppose I should just thank her for the 'half a chance'.
Snow flurries this morning remind me of the only positive thing I can think of about winter - fewer shirts to iron! Sweaters do all the heavy lifting! Maybe they'd be willing to take in the patio furniture?
A while back, I had the opportunity to shift focus and start work in a new area. This meant I got to keep all my old material and fling it at a somewhat interested new audience.
I now sit across from and in front of a couple of cheeky and charming British women both of whom have accents I could and do listen to all day.
Not long after I pulled up stakes and joined this group, another of my team members remarked to the British contingent while I was away:
"Isn't it a coincidence that all the Brits ended up sitting near each other?" to which the question was raised "Who do you mean?" "Well, you two and Dale. You all ended up sitting together!" "Dale's not British." "Oh? I thought he was because of his accent."
My voice, if you've heard it, does not sound like I was raised in the United Kingdom. This is largely because, I wasn't. My voice has a simple east coast Canadian trying not to sound too much like the trash I came from tone to it.
I'm not sure what we can learn from my co-worker's aural error other than to put some stock in the fact that perhaps regular ear cleaning can help you understand the world around you.
In the meantime, I remain pleased to sit near good folk who have an excellent and intriguing command of the language, who still laugh at my tired old jokes and who are as charming as fuck.