Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday August 1st, Evening

I am sitting on a train headed back to Montreal after having spent the weekend in Ontario for my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary party. Mom, dad, siblings and spouses, nieces, aunts, uncles, and cousins were all in attendance. It was nice. My family has its quirks like any other, but nothing dreadful. Nothing like in movies set at Thanksgiving dinner tables. No sniping, histrionics, or passive-aggression. We laugh a lot. I like my people. I am lucky.

Still, spending time with them requires fine-tuning. Necessary adjustments to attitudes and behaviors when we discover, once again, that we don’t completely understand one another. To get along and head off frustration, I mute certain parts of myself and amplify others. This isn’t as bad as it may sound. Most people do this every day when they go to work, or to cocktail parties, or whatever. I manage easily enough by agreeing to be the goof that they have always known, and accept the ribbings as they come. It’s as familiar as mom’s oatmeal-raisin cookies.

The party was at my sister’s on Saturday afternoon. The rest of the time I was at my parents’ house, where we engaged in a lot of the usual. We showed each other silly things on the Internet that make us laugh. My parents argued over the crossword puzzle and gossiped about the neighbors. I told them that I am doing well at work and that I am generally fine. Dad tried to teach me how to change a bicycle tire, and I pretended to listen. Mom flitted about, offering soup, tea, and lemon squares. And because we had a whole day before my train left this evening, we visited vineyards around Wellington-on-the-Lake. Dad and I quaffed samples and bought bottles, while mom perused maps and collected tourist pamphlets.

The time leading up to my departure was one of mixed feelings, as it often is. On the one hand, it’s a relief knowing that I will soon sleep in my own bed. That I will be back among my friends. That dinner can take place after 6:30 pm.

On the other hand, my parents are comforting. They care like no one else. And they are getting older.

Mom drove me to the station this time. It’s a half-hour drive from their house, and dad opted to stay behind. As we pulled out of the driveway and dad stood waving, I remembered that I meant to have a photo taken with them. I don’t have any recent pictures of us together. A shot of us that afternoon at one of the wineries would have been perfect, but I forgot my camera and now the moment is gone.

“Don’t worry, Kim,” said mom, “There are lots of other vineyards for us to visit. Next time.”

As the train moves through darkened landscapes, my mind wanders to work, to upcoming evenings out, to the contents of my fridge. I am settling back into my life. But still, in this space between places, I feel a gentle tug back.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Life Imitating Art


Co-Worker X [10:36 AM]:
I'm going to get a coffee - interested?

Me [10:36 AM]:
Normally I'd say yes, but I've got a cup here on my desk. Thanks for asking though.

Co-Worker X [10:41 AM]:
I can't stand the minutiae of my daily life

Me [10:41 AM]:
I hear dat.

Me [10:42 AM]:
Want to vent a bit while getting coffee?

Me [10:42 AM]:
I can bring my cup and you can buy yours.

Co-Worker X [10:42 AM]:

[We leave our desks and go downstairs to the cafe, chat a bit about the challenge of finding fulfillment between 9 and 5. We part with Co-Worker X saying something along the lines of our conversations being nothing short of uplifting. The online chat resumes.]

Me [10:53 AM]:
Yeah, sorry for not being a ray of sunshine.

Co-Worker X [10:54 AM]:
Hey It's not as though I had any light to shine either...

Me [10:54 AM]:
That is true too.

Co-Worker X [10:54 AM]:
Maybe W. had the right idea

Co-Worker X [10:55 AM]:
Then again no property to worry about, no kids, partner?

Me [10:55 AM]:
Yeah, she had the right idea. As did A. It's just harder to ... yeah, exactly.

Co-Worker X [10:55 AM]:
I wish my spouse made lots of money...

Me [10:56 AM]:
I wish my cat would get off her ass and get a job.

Co-Worker X [10:56 AM]:
I don't expect to get any pity from you.

Me [10:56 AM]:
Oh, I pity you all the time.

Co-Worker X [10:56 AM]:
I knew something like that was coming back at me.

Co-Worker X [10:56 AM]:

Co-Worker X [10:56 AM]:
The sun is coming out.... ! NOT!

Co-Worker X [10:57 AM]:
What... what's that I just read on your lips! Did you call me fat AGAIN!

Me [10:58 AM]:
I thought I was whispering.

Co-Worker X [10:58 AM]:
As with all disabilities my weight has given me a hightened sense of hearing... remember that.

Me [10:59 AM]:
Oh X. You cut a fine figure, your dream job is just around the corner, and soon all your financial troubles will disappear when you win the lottery!

Me [10:59 AM]:

Me [11:00 AM]:
Life is awesome!

Me [11:00 AM]:

Co-Worker X [11:01 AM]:
I feel empty.

Me [11:01 AM]:
This is making me think of Beckett.

Co-Worker X [11:01 AM]:
BTW - Happy is not a good fit for you.

Me [11:01 AM]:
Wasn't there a Beckett play called "Happy Times" or something? I'm going to look this up.

Co-Worker X [11:02 AM]:
Alright... I better go before I sinch this noose around my neck.

Co-Worker X [11:02 AM]:

Co-Worker X [11:02 AM]:
I can't even spell... and I make a living writing.

Me [11:03 AM]:
"Happy Days" -- that's it.

Me [11:03 AM]:
"Faithfully adhering to Beckett's minimalist original, a black parody of love, marriage, and our search for meaning in an unfathomable universe, the piece consists of but two pathetic characters."

Me [11:04 AM]:
"One, wife Winnie, spends the duration of the drama half-buried in a pile of dirt; in true Beckett fashion, her predicament is never explained. The other character, husband Willie, is almost never seen. Dublin stage and screen veteran Rosaleen Linehan, in the lead, is exceptional as the trapped woman clinging to the empty, arbitrary routines and rituals of life, ever hopeful that 'this is going to be a happy day.' "

Co-Worker X [11:04 AM]:
"....the piece consists of but two pathetic characters." Eerie, eh?

Me [11:04 AM]:

Co-Worker X [11:05 AM]:
OMG... stop sending me this stuff.

Later that day ...

Co-Worker X [2:39 PM]

GAWD... this SPEC document is killing me!

Me [2:40 PM]:
Do you feel like you're half-buried in a pile of dirt?

Co-Worker X [2:40 PM]:
I actually started incorporating some technical diagrams to better understand it - BIG MISTAKE.

Me [2:40 PM]:
Do you find yourself clinging to the empty, arbitrary routines and rituals of life, ever hopeful that 'this is going to be a happy day'?

Co-Worker X [2:41 PM]:

To compound matters I open a dialogue with you ... another BIG MISTAKE.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In Every Life a Little Rain, Etc.

I haven’t written in a while.


I have been going to work and going to yoga and buying groceries and crashing terrasses.

I have been staying home and doing laundry and cleaning surfaces and maintaining right angles.

I have been eating packaged food.

I have been staying up late.

I have been sleeping in my clothes.

And television too. There’s been a lot of that. Bad but good.
(Did you know that Jeff Goldblum is on Law and Order now?)

I have been sad.

Midsummer approaches and I am trying to stay buoyant in deep-sea diving boots.

I’ll write again soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dominique Day Weekend

Flowers on the balcony.

Rhubarb schnapps brewing.

And a niece born today.

Life’s good.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Colour Your World

Bluegrass White
Laurel Mist

Willow Branch
Water Sprout

Palm Breeze
Pine Scent

I am trying to pick a grey-green for the spare bedroom. I am overwhelmed by choice.

Cascading Water
Lily Pond

Moss Mist
Turtle Dove
Spring Hill
Minnesota Pines

I am impressed by the names, in a way. I imagine the effort that went into them was absurd and heroic.

Pastel Sage
Mountain Haze

White Mantle

I suppose some clever geek could have devised an automatic name generator and simply churned them out. (Such a thing exists. I just asked it to randomly generate five names and I got: Boston Denim, Cloudy Winter, Cobalt Earth, Mountain Strawberry, and Riviera Rose. Who knows what they look like? Do strawberries even grow on mountains? What kind of person chooses Cloudy Winter?)

I prefer to picture liberal arts schlubs sitting around a table piled high with paint samples. Bandying about Victorian Spice and Creamy Persimmon and Peppermint Orange and Heritage Marshmallow.

It could be fun.

Hemlock Bud
Morning Blend

Or soul-sucking.

Mystical Sea

Or both.

Celery Ice

Part of my job involves naming things. But instead of colour, I work in staid software. Recently I collaborated on an application to allow customers to return products through a Web shop interface.

Me: What’s this … Customer Wish? What does that have to do with returns?

Product Manager: This is where the customer tells the vendor what they want.

Me: What do you mean?

PM: Like a replacement product, or a credit or refund.

Me: Well then. No. Customer Wish won't do. Sounds like the Amazon wish list. Besides, Customer Wish is too flimsy. Wishing is something you do on a star. Or blowing out candles. Returning a product and asking for your money back is too straightforward for that.

PM: Ok, how about Wished Processing?

Me: No. No wishing!

In the end I signed off on Requested Action, squelching whimsy in favour of something colder and
more transactional.

Brown Ice
Frosty Beige
Frozen Concrete

Taupe Torpor

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vera Diggins, 1919-2010

My last surviving grandparent, Vera Diggins, passed away late last night at age 90.

She was, quite simply, a remarkably kind and decent human being. During my whole life I don't think I ever heard her speak ill of anyone.

My grandparents raised three children and were married 60 years until my grandfather passed away in 2002.

If the definition of a life well lived is to consistently do right by those you love, then I'd have to say that hers was a life very well lived.

Love you, grandma. Rest in peace.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Hopeless Romantic

[This entry was inspired by my awesome blogger penpal Amanda. See the post that started it all here.]

I have never considered myself a romantic. Romance. I’m not even sure what the term means. When I hear it, the first things that pop to mind are clichés: heart-shaped boxes of chocolate; clasped hands and deep, meaningful gazes across candlelit tables at restaurants shot in soft focus featuring burgundy velour and dark wood paneling; long walks on the beach at sunset; pina coladas; getting caught in the rain.

None of these things are inherently bad. I like chocolate, especially the salty kind. I suppose, given the right context and circumstances, clasping hands with my … my lover (another troubling term) and staring deep into his eyes could make sense (although preferably not in a place with décor reminiscent of a fancy steakhouse, I remain firm on that point). If I were in the vicinity of a body of water and the sun started sinking into it and if I were with a guy, I wouldn’t be all like “Whoa, we’d better take shelter somewhere until the last vestiges of pink and orange have been blotted out by darkness.” No. No way. And pina coladas are delicious. And getting caught in a summer rain shower could be fun if you’re not on your way to a job interview, or halfway home from the market lugging five bags of groceries.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that lately I’ve been asked whether I consider myself a romantic, and to what extent romance is important to me.

How romantic are you?
1. I love lots of romance, it is a necessity for me to feel loved
2. I am romantic, but do not require it
3. I am occasionally romantic
4. I don't consider myself a romantic person
5. _________________________________

Every time I’m hit with this question, I cringe. True, option #4 corresponds with my opening statement, but it still seems wrong for me. I imagine it is the choice a robot would make, or a fish. I don’t like #3 because it sounds too much like option #4, but with brief, lucid flashes of sweet thoughtfulness emerging from an otherwise cold, limp norm. Option #2 has a hint of resignation about it. Option #1 sounds too demanding. My tendency is to go for #5 and try to unpack as much as I can in 200 characters or less.

The other day I was discussing my romantic misgivings with a male friend who is like a brother to me. Part of what makes him like kin is that we can only discuss matters of the heart via electronic communication even though we could just as easily do so face-to-face. After angsting about all of the above and then some, he replied:

Marvin says:
Do you like flowers?

Kim says:
Oh yes! I like those.

Marvin says:
Then you are romantic. Have you ever given someone flowers?

Kim says:
Well, yes. Although we were kind of fighting at the time.

Marvin says:
If the flowers were to make up for something, then you lose points.
In any case, I pity the fool who tries to romance you.

Granted, that last comment is in keeping with the often savage tone of our banter. But it still made me question myself. Am I really that emotionally stunted? Cold? Empty? Brutal?

I would like to think that I am none of those things. I mean, I’ve been brought to tears by TV commercials, never mind full-blown narratives with actual character development to further lure me in and crush me. I am consistently undone by Elbow’s rendition of The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I once moved to Australia to be with a guy I’d known for a week. It didn’t work out, but there were no hard feelings in the end. As with most men I’ve been involved with, we were two good people who weren’t so good together. And yes, I have a little cache of mushy fantasies that I never tell anyone about. They’re all swimming around my head as I write this, but don’t ask me to articulate them.

I’m convinced my upbringing has something to do with my ambivalence towards romance. As any armchair psychologist will tell you, our blueprint for relating to others comes from our parents. And mine never really exhibited what might be commonly considered romantic behavior. Not in front of us kids anyway. As mentioned in an earlier post, candlelight didn’t figure prominently in our household. I have no memories of them slow dancing in the living room after dinner to the strains of “Three Times a Lady”. I don’t recall my father ever bringing my mother flowers, although one year for Valentine’s Day he did buy her hubcaps.

This year they will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. And from what I can tell, they are happy. There is love between them; love and a bunch of other stuff that accumulates after four decades of togetherness. My friend Kurt refers to his parents as The Bickersons, and I’ve started doing the same with mine. They drive each other nuts, but at least some of the squabbling is comedic. My father is the instigator, and my mother’s role is to react. It’s this tendency towards needling that has influenced how I behave with those I like, as well as those I love. In the monkey-see-monkey-do fashion of children, I have learned that ribbing and zinging are signs of affection.

This hasn’t always served me well. People don’t always get my jokes. Admittedly, a fair number of my attempts at humor fall flat. For example, an ex of mine had interesting hands. They were kind of meaty and I liked them. He once showed me a shot of himself taken in an exotic locale, shortly after emerging from a long session in a hot tub. He was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and his hands appeared swollen and red, dangling as though photo-shopped from a different body. I took all this in, laughed and said something like “Look at you: Fat Hands McGhee!”

I was only teasing. His last name isn’t McGhee, and his hands aren’t really fat. But he was so hurt, because as a child he’d battled weight issues and there I was, apparently suggesting some kind of residual chubbiness. Not at all my intention. I was eventually able to convince him of this, but there are few things as unromantic as vigorous backpedaling after a joke gone wrong. (Interestingly, he later started referring to himself as Fat Hands McGhee, and took to enthusiastically slamming tabletops as the signature move for his adopted moniker.)

Yet humor isn’t in and of itself anti-romantic. Laughing together can be sexy. I guess humor becomes problematic when used as a shield against vulnerability. And maybe that’s what gets me about romance: being vulnerable. When you get past all the prepackaged Hallmark sap and Hollywood cheese that I find so easy to mock, romantic gestures, be they grand or small, are always about pinning your heart to your sleeve. We’ve all been on the giving or receiving end of a failed romantic offering, and it can hurt like blazes.

There is more to a relationship than romance, of course. If someone offered me the choice of writing me a poem, or helping me to paint my apartment, I’d be shoving a paintbrush into his hands faster than he could say, “Roses are red, violets are blue.” Mutual respect, trust, friendship, loyalty, teamwork, shared vision and goals and whole lot of other stuff are, as far as I’m concerned, necessary components for a lasting relationship.

But … all right, yes … romance can make it all that much sweeter. And yes, I’ll admit it: I do like flowers and holding hands and thoughtful gestures both grand and small.

Just don’t tell anyone, okay?

Image source