Drive Part 2

The holiday season always makes me a bit more reflective.  Maybe it’s because a new year is upon us and I think that most of us would agree that 2016 has been one big (your choice of expletive language).  But even amongst those moments of disbelief that so many things could go wrong in one year, there were also sparks of utter joy.  My general approach to life is to try to see the good.  The more cynical individuals will argue that it might rob me of a certain depth to not wallow in that pity.  Sorry, but being smart and miserable are not one and the same.  I would argue that you’re missing out too.  Life can be one long dinner party with excellent conversation if you choose to be a good guest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every single blessing I have.  But that’s not to say that Andrew and I don’t work hard for every single thing we have.  There I said it, I work.  That word is probably the only word I have trouble saying with any semblance of confidence when trying to define where I stand in this world.  It was much easier when I was working towards a degree.  It was even simple when I was weeks away from defending a 200-page document that encompassed much of what I cared about for a few years.  But then, you reach a point when you can no longer define yourself so easily within a society that values certain markers of success.

A few weeks ago I heard Andrew tell our son C not to worry too much about “stuff” and to think more about who he is because that’s something that no one can take away from him.  Those words hit me hard because of the simple truth in it.  Is that what we all are building ourselves for?  It’s true, no one can take away my years of education and doctoral degree.  I know, that those “things” don’t go away even if you haven’t found a place for yourself with the credentials you’ve earned.  As a feminist I should be even more critical since I can see through everything that devalues what I do each and every day and the care I give someone else.  Like my mother said, maybe T was meant to grow up with me for a few years.  The bond I have with my son that I’ve forged by being there for him, day in and day out, is also not something that you can rob from me by placing me inside a box, or perhaps more appropriately, within the home.

I think this struggle with ourselves is just how driven, competitive women are built.  It is part of our muscle and sinew to want to be better, the best, to always want more.  The trouble is that sometimes these inner workings can make you a shadow of a person.  Empty people are not present because they’re already 10 years ahead of themselves.  Sometimes it it much healthier to practice some self-acceptance and to offer ourselves the kindness we try to offer others.  Thinking that “it is written” is not defeatist or lazy.  In some ways it allows you to take things in stride.

I know that there are so many women who are working through defining where they want to sit amongst this brave new world that allows us to have whatever we want.  Some of us have made choices but somehow placing the career ahead of so many other possibilities is sometimes seen to be more noble than being “good” in other, smaller, ways.  Smaller, not small.  Being a good mother is the hardest job I’ve ever done and trust me, I once worked in a restaurant hauling dishes up flights of stairs.  I am no princess.  The truth of the matter is that family members may believe that there are a million and one things that you should be doing.  Others worry that “women like you” will be destitute in the case of a divorce.  To these people I respectfully, and with the utmost care tell them to take their need to judge everyone out on some adult coloring books.  Also, newsflash is that many of us would probably marry again, or maybe, just maybe get back to our careers?

At the end of the day, if I know that I’m still trying to find my place in the world, I’m good with that.  Try is the operative word.  Believe it or not, most of us still wake up each morning hustling to reach larger goals.  And to the backseat drivers offering their pert opinions and concern, kindly get out of my car.

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So you go

In my mind Before Sunset is the most romantic movie ever made because you know, that’s what I would want in an encounter, to talk talk talk talk talk.  Seriously though, what is left unsaid, especially when the situation is complicated, is absolutely delicious.  It’s even better than acting on it because there is a tension.  A tension because you feel something and can either stack it up to a thing of your past or firmly place it in your future, fully aware of the damage that it will cause.  There’s the scale right?  To judge if it’s worth it?

I think different people will measure the stakes differently.  It’s clear that Jesse and Celine try very hard to be realistic and careful but they cannot help themselves.  I mean they couldn’t help themselves the first time.  You only get off a train with a perfect stranger if you’re up for those games.  And those are the best, most exhilarating games that you remember much later on when you have the “good” life.  Who doesn’t love the beginning when you don’t know someone very well but just know how much you like them?  Before Sunset is the best of the trilogy because those fantasies are more grounded.  At this point they’ve had some lovers and are more self-aware so they feel like they can be as objective about the dilemma as possible.  And so they go.

While I say it’s the best though, it’s certainly not the most real.  If you want honesty, as raw as it comes, then watch Before Midnight to see what true intimacy means.  Building a life with someone always results in scars and resentments right up there with the love.  It’s just the way it is.  So when you’ve been married and have had two kids, talk talk talk talking can be dangerous territory because you may not want it all to be said.  But I’m an optimist and like to think that they re-group and try again, precisely because of those moments by the Seine, when they were brave enough to say what they felt and not what they should have.  You do not bulldoze over your life for just anyone.

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Drive

This past summer I was on one of those giant floating swans and actually grazed someone else’s bird.  At that exact moment my husband, mother-in-law, mother, father-in-law, quite literally, everyone and their mother, chuckled.  It was also the point when I rolled my eyes, waved my hands in the air and communicated “whatever.”  Spatial challenges have never been my forte.

Lets just say it took a few tries to get my learner’s permit but I do like to boast that I got my permanent driver’s license (highway test and all) with one try.  You know why?  Because I was finally old enough to ignore that nagging feeling and the naggy people.  Plus, if you actually look at the bigger picture, if I had not grown up in a large urban centre where you can take the subway or cabs everywhere, maybe I would have built up my skills over time.  Because it’s just like how they frame studying for tests in school, it’s a muscle and you need to practice everyday, especially when there’s memorization involved.  Makes sense, non?

But you know what happens when you move to a new country with no extended family to rely on in the area?  Your husband leaves town for a conference and you drive your son back and forth to preschool in torrential downpours.  I believe they call them Nor-easters.  You drive in these conditions after a 3 year hiatus from operating any form of motorized vehicle and one week of practice.  I am an excellent driver.  Who knew!  You know what else you do?  You meet your husband’s colleague’s wife for coffee and then a few days later ask her to put her name and contact information on your records at daycare.  Basically, she became the person they would call under excruciating circumstances if they could not reach either of us.  But she gets it.  As someone who’s American but just moved here from Edinburgh, she knows that you don’t need to be tight before you’re someone’s emergency person because well, there’s no one else.  Plus we want to be friends with them, they’re cool.

I wish these circumstances would happen more often.  When someone would figuratively pick me up and throw me off the dock.  I would imagine myself in a lake in Muskoka, having a ball, and learning to swim.  But see, it would be under my terms to stay in the water.  After you get a taste of this freedom, trust, you never get out.

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Public

Can a private person be active on various forms of social media?  There must be some disconnect in keeping your personal life under wraps and putting it on display right?  I think the line is fine and depends on where you want to set it.

As someone who writes on a blog three days a week about her everyday life and aspects of her past you must wonder how I even define myself as being private.  Well, I very much am.  I can count on one hand the number of people who I am truly myself around.  Let me list them now: my husband, my mother, my son and my best friend K.  Four.  Four people whom I trust enough to reveal it all.

I write about all this stuff because it’s my way of learning.  I document this not necessarily as a reference to mediate on later, I just think better with words.  And the fact of the matter is that I think ALL the time so it’s nice to let some of it go, you know?  I figure for all of the use that particularities can encourage, like respect and empathy, some of the universalities are sometimes good.  We’ve all probably had the guy issues, blown off commitments, been a flake or broken people’s hearts.  So it’s nice to know that it’s part of the narrative of life.  That we’re all fumbling around a little and that frailty is allowed.

Plus, what you see here is a fraction of what’s actually going on and a sliver of what I want you to see.  And whatever you read from it, be it neurosis, confidence, frustration, acceptance, all of those interpretations are perfectly acceptable.  It’s meant to be read anyways, it’s public.

And that’s where there’s trouble.  As someone who’s very much part of my history and obviously my present Andrew appears now and again in my writing.  It doesn’t always make him comfortable because he’s so private.  He’s hard to decipher but it’s intentional and I agree that it’s effective.  If you show people all of your cards, you make yourself vulnerable to their critiques and ridicule.  The difference between us is that I just assume that the feedback from the peanut gallery is just a part of developing as an individual.  If you didn’t have that reflection, how could you possibly define who exactly you are?  To know who you don’t want to be?  Plus some critiques are meant to be dismissed.  They make it too easy.

I think it’s common for anger to be defined as an undesirable trait.  In some ways I do agree.  People with higher emotional intelligence see the manipulative aspects of tantrums and how useless they are.  Most of the time they just produce tears and people thinking that you’re kind of a loser.  But I think that human emotions are far too complex to create such stark contrasts, like how the words neurotic and aware have different connotations but similar motivations.  Don’t these people just want to see and question?  Some just manage it better and they get placed behind the “fun” line on the spectrum.  So management.  Management and mystery.

I’ve always preferred to try to problem solve independently.  It’s a force of habit.  For all that you have to say about only children you have to admit that our hands don’t always need to be held.  If that makes us distant, well so be it.  At least we don’t advertise every paper cut.  Most of us just put our heads down and get shit done.

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Do us part

It’s not particularly novel or cutting-edge to depict the dangers of marriage in popular culture.  It’s actually a service to society that the prevalence of domestic violence is brought to light.  Sadly they have a lot of material to work from.  To honor the release of the film Gone Girl, which I hope is infinitely better than the novel, I am going to feature two thrillers that are working within this genre.

There is a spoiler so skip over the next paragraph if you want to wait.  Actually, the whole post is a spoiler.  Stop here please if you want to wait.  Seriously.

I’ll get to the critique right off the bat.  The sad reality is that bullies on the playground sometimes grow up to be weak men who push around their wives.  But as soon as a writer creates a character like Amy who pushes back, she is of course absolutely crazy.  I’m not denying that she is, just that real-life women who are trying to leave emotionally and verbally abusive relationships are not one or the other, a weakling or a psychopath.  Adultery and never growing up are forms of emotional abuse in my books, Amy just goes way out of line for her just desserts.  The useful lesson from Gillian Flynn’s best-seller is to bring attention to the fact that women are not the only victims.  There is a reason why it’s called “spousal” abuse.

Another fighter is Christine in SJ Watson’s “Before I go to sleep.”  I read this book when we first moved to Massachusetts, in an empty condo with a sleeping child and my husband at work.  It scared the living daylights out of me to say the least.  Silence is not your best friend in these situations.  Christine is desperately trying to piece together her life after a horrific accident where she suffered severe memory loss.  Each morning she wakes up and cannot reclaim her short-term memory.  This results in her husband being a stranger and her telling herself that she is in love with him.  I’m not going to give much else away because it’s just too good to spoil.  Lets just say that something is not quite right and you too will be as desperate as her to figure out the “truth”.

Both novels also address the power of memory and how it’s very much shaped by context.  If you lost all those fragments tomorrow and had to rely on other people telling you the significance, just imagine how meaningless it would become.  It also reminds us how much we mediate on what we remember and change it.  There is no absolute truth and that’s what creates such a chasm between Amy, Christine and their sleaze bags husbands.  I think this is a great lesson here on how unhappy you can become if you put so much weight on making memories and capturing the happiness.  Sure, joy is meaningless when it’s not shared but being able to live for yourself would also make your life more sane and manageable.  Amy’s problem is that she is clueless to her own flaws.  Nick not remembering some random outing does not a thoughtless bastard make.  Probably gives some perspective to our own idiosyncrasies non?  To try to see the forest for the trees?

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Bestie

For someone who says that she relates much better to women, I was one of those girls who ditched all their friends for her boyfriend.  Truth be told I’m surprised that it’s not more common.  First loves are all-consuming and I was lucky enough to gain a best friend in the process.  I ended up marrying him too.  When we spend time together we just have that kind of rapport.  We problem-solve, fight and enjoy life’s pleasures first and foremost as individuals choosing to be together.  As best buds.

It was only as I matured that I learnt the distinction between my partner and my friends.  They are different and serve distinct purposes.  The reality of it is that my husband is the person I trust the most and go to first.  No one will ever take that position, no matter the amount of love and affection I have for them.  But with a friend, the relationship is lighter though no less significant.  It’s nice to have a breather from your legally-binding teammate.

What I can say about my best friend K is that she is the very best of people.  She is considerate, generous, fun and above all very well-raised.  We work because we have the same expectations for what our friendship will entail.  Currently we are living on separate coasts but even when we were in the same city we were not in each other’s faces.  What I like about K is that she is low-maintenance.  There are no hurt feelings about not having Skype dates or questions about what we mean to each other.  The simple answer is that we love each other, are in each other’s lives but don’t need constant updates.  Nothing changes.

If I had to name what I admire about her, it is her loyalty.  K was there for me through some tough times in undergrad and beyond and she is there for me still.  That’s why she was my maid of honor and my son’s godmother.  She is so very honourable.  I can’t even list all the ways that she has been such a good friend.  I just hope that I can be the same and repay half of what she has given so unconditionally.

So if you find your bestie consider yourself lucky, because not everyone gets that privilege.

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Dear John

Amidst all of the celebrities having their nude images leaked I said to Andrew, “how many times have we done long distance and there is not a single naked photo of me?”  Where are all the photographs of all the male celebrities without their clothes on?  Trust me, they exist but would never cause such a stir so what’s the point of releasing them?  Do not even get me started on that.

Andrew and I have been in a long distance relationship so many times that I’ve lost count.  And it will happen again.  He is in a field where you go on sabbatical every six years.  If I’m not in the position to leave my job for months at a time he will be living elsewhere on his own.  Plus, after a certain age you can’t pull your kids out of educational institutions to enroll them in international schools abroad.  So there you go.

But I feel like we’ve almost mastered it.  I spoke too soon when upon returning from my year in Thailand I said that we would never be apart again.  We’re sticking to those promises as best we can because I am currently living with him in the States where his tenure-track position is located.  Not that I would have it any other way.  There are few things better than adventure.  But soon enough I will have my own obligations and be fully to committed to my career.  I’m confident that it won’t break us though and here’s why.  The secret is to live your life and have faith in each other.  The days pass and then bam, you’re together again.

The fine print is that there has to be a time-limit.  If there is no end-point in sight you do run the risk of wanting someone else.  I’ve never been particularly good at long distance and the only person I would work at it for is Andrew.  I have no desire to wait by the phone.  So eventually this may wear on you and begin to fragment what you have together.  Here’s the reality, short and sweet.  Eventually you may get tired of waiting full stop, especially when someone could be there in your everyday.  Because the best part of the distance is that it makes your relationship have urgency.  The catch-up after a lengthy time apart is always passionate and exciting.  But there is also something to be said for waking up next to each other and being able to speak to someone about your context and them actually getting it.  Of course there are exceptions but overall one of you may have to make the move to make the relationship sustainable for the long run.  Sunday brunches every weekend never gets old but jealously sure does.

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