Thursday, February 18, 2016

The deer at the side of the road

I saw the first deer on my Monday morning drive to work, in late March. Even though the days had started to lengthen, that winter was so bitter and relentless, the windchill was still intense, and everything lay frozen under feet of crusted snow. The exhaust fog was thick, and the traffic made it seem like the cars were huddling together for warmth. We were going slow, maybe it was icy. It was always icy, that winter.

It had been almost three months since Derek died.

She was laying on the small slope coming up out of the ditch, in front of a small group of poplars. This was in a small industrial section along my route, in between a factory where nothing is made but there's always work being done, and a strip mall where I could pick up an extra coffee. Which Monday morning seemed to warrant.

She was laying, it seemed, in a small impression in the snow. I cannot possibly have seen her for more than a second or two, and yet I am convinced of all the following details. Or rather, I am convinced seeing her caused the following images to flash distinctly through my mind. Her image is frozen somewhere inside me.

She was panting. Her fur was dull, I could see it like grey straw. I could feel it brittle and dusty under my fingers. I could see the underside of her flank where it pressed into the snow. I had the sensation of crushing ice in my teeth, the way it squeezes before it shatters. Her lashes were lowered over milky, panicked eyes. She was tired, and injured. She didn't want to be laying there, with the cars so close the buildings so close everything. so. close.

I thought of my mother-in-law. I thought of how loss cuts you down wherever you were standing, and that is where you sink into grief. She is such a private person, and I mean really, who wants to be broken in plain sight? Who wants to lay vulnerable where everyone can see? Who wants any of this, for fuck's sake? This isn't about want.

This is about animal need. Our animal need to hide. Run and find safety. I thought of that coiled body laying perfectly still with unbearable tension, only spending the barest shreds of energy to breathe, to keep only warm enough, still wasting heat somehow, drips of melting snow under her fluttering ribs, but still her fur so dry and crackling. I thought of her longing for cover, for trees, anything.

I thought of how grieving is like barely surviving is like simultaneously being pushed down into utter weakness by circumstances we can't control and being the strongest we will ever be again (until the next time we are stronger than we will ever be again, because what is life but an endless series of tragedies?) This is just another central ambivalence of the human condition, and isn't it natural that we're all just coiled. so. tight.

We're all soft and brittle. We bump around each other, and sometimes we shatter and sometimes we collapse.

I cannot even fully describe why this image of this deer so perfectly encapsulated my thoughts and feelings about Derek's family, and my mother-in-law in particular. Words are not enough, and the picture of it, frozen in memory with unbelievable clarity, is more than everything. I wish I could just project the vision of it, and leave words in the ditch. I cannot fully explain why I know this deer was sacred, how I know this moment was holy, how I'm certain that spot on that hill is a shrine.

I know this image is what I hold in my soul, what I carry in my hands, when I am approaching the grieving. And let me tell you, I am approaching the grieving, we are all approaching the grieving a lot. Disturbing frequency. We probably don't even know.

I think about being uncoiled, I carry the intention of unfolding softness to meet their brittle. I think about being quiet, I carry the intention of letting whatever sounds they want to make or have be the only sound. I think about the desire to hide being unmet wherever loss cut them down, and I carry the intention of letting them hide a little while in some limited human way, in me. If they want. I think of walking with them when they're able to walk. I think about how the woods are safety and danger all in one, but it's better than the side of the road. I carry the intention of walking into the woods. But I'll stay at the side of the road. Too. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mama Bean misses that goofy giraffe

When a young person dies, it is a theft
of the time they will not now live
of the family they leave
on earth or in ether
of the potential not realized
of all the love they had yet to give
and receive

When a young person dies, there is little comfort
in pain defered
in suffering and disease avoided
and there it is
the selfishness
we would have them live it all
if it meant they could live

When a young person dies, we are weighed down
by sorrow, yes
and new questions
of what is right
and what is enough
what could possibly be
for their legacy

When a young person dies, all that love
not lived
comes to us
the living
and we must spend it


Friday, October 25, 2013

Mama Bean was driven to poetry (!)

On this windy morning
this Arctic wind
pierces your breath
drives out any thought
but the next immediate task
get inside! then fold
face the very centre of
what's real
(the need for warmth)
while anything else
you thought real
is blown away

On this grey morning
when the sky pulls down
like a helmet
leaving a band of pale light
just an inch over the horizon
life condensed again
just a ribbon
clinging to the road and trees
over there a patch of
vaguely brighter haze
where the sun
may be rising
but why would it

On this morning which,
in short
(too late, too late)
insists on being melancholy

give in

let yourself fold down
like a helmet
against the wind
and give in to
that broken place

or if you must unfold
look up at that grey
look! it is empty
and waiting
to be painted
with your memories
or your dreams about

but curling inside
one could simply
carry that grey sky
like a swath of cotton
and mist
carry it pressed to the wound

the wind has polished you
cleaned the surface
who would know
what you painted
and held
(so tight)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mama Bean is pretty pleased with her garden this year

I fear I've been remiss in my garden posts this year :( It's been a good year, the whole process is starting to feel more natural, more fitted into our family culture. I don't overthink or overplan or overworry as much, I mean, I think all gardeners do these things, but I hope my concerns are less n00by now... I must say, however, that the magic of growing still touches me daily. My yard doesn't look exactly as I'd like, I can never do all the chores (and weeding) that I need, but every day I see the beauty I helped coach into the world. And every day it surprises me - by having its own mind of growth, by being more beautiful than I imagined, by asserting its otherness, by forcing me to breath in that I am not in control. Breath in, breath out, look what magic happens all by itself... [The picture is of my fairy garden, the perfect white flowers are on the Scottish moss.]
I planted the cucumbers on the south end of the beds this year, learning from last year's north end/shaded by potato plants disaster. The vines did much better, though the dilapidated chicken wire trellis is not sturdy enough for cukes as it was for peas. I may source a cheap futon frame on kijiji and build another trellis like the north bed's for cukes next year. Although in principle I'd like to rotate the crop into a different location next year, the south end is the best place for them. I will have to amend the soil to replace what they took out.
A forgotten carrot from last year sprouted (well ahead of when I even seeded carrots this year, which goes to show how early I probably can seed in the future) and flowered this year. There are eight or nine 'blossoms' which are large discs of hundreds of tiny flowers. Carrots and baby's breath are related. Each tiny flower will become a seed. I won't have to buy as much seed next year. And I will leave one carrot from each of the types we grew this year to seed out next year. And that makes me very happy :) [The types we grew this year are a few purple haze, a few sweetness III, a package of red atomic, and a package of atlas. The red atomic seeds only came up sparsely. Considering how well everything else came up, I'm attributing this to the quality of the seed, and won't be buying from that company next year.]
There are eight different kinds of foliage in this bed this year, it's like a green rainbow. I am terrible at spacing rows. In fact, there were two rows of soy that should have also been in this bed (where? where did I think it would fit??) but the rabbits ate every sprout down to the dirt. The kale grew ridiculously well. Unlike every other brassica I've tried to grow, it had no bugs. Papa Bean asked to grow it this year. Then he made kale chips. Then he declared they 'still taste like vegetable' Then I blended and froze half the harvest. Maybe I'll make some more chips for myself and the kids. I may grow it ornamental-style next year. It's a very pretty plant.
French fingerling potatoes. We have repurposed the recycling boxes for potato growing, now that we have a big autobin for our cardboard, etc. What I hate about root crops, and potatoes in particular, is that I have no real idea how well the harvest is going. The plants are large and healthy, they flower like crazy, but there could be no potatoes under there. I fear we have not hilled/mounded/added dirt enough :( This is one crop I consistently fail at, I may just give up next year. It's not like potatoes are expensive.
I often feel like I have my yard/garden, and it occupies this slice of my mental pie over here, tucked away. And then I have my tomatoes, and they are like my children, and they take up the rest of the pie. I don't weed, I don't monitor, I may not even look at my whole garden every day, but I visit my tomatoes two or three times a day. I talk to them. I check their blossoms. I pinch off extra leaves. It's amazing, really, that I haven't created some sort of chart for them. I know I'm getting the hang of this gardening thing because my neighbour, who has gardened for decades, who got us hooked up with the community plot when we first started, who grows copious amounts of food for fun, asked me what magic love songs I sing to my tomatoes :D So I know I'm doing something right...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mama Bean is doing push ups

About a week ago, I volunteered to be in a group for our local CBC morning show, trying out a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercise program touted in the NYT as The Scientific 7-Minute Workout. Our "Fit in 7" group agreed to do the program daily for two weeks and report back. The first day, we visited a trainer to teach us the steps. Papa Bean and I had tried it a couple days before to get a feel for it, so I knew the steps, knew they were simple but *NOT* easy - but being the first day and being a wee bit competitive, I pushed pretty hard in the studio. Enough that I sort of growled at the very nice reporter covering our progress (sorry Trevor!), and promptly felt like vomiting afterward. The nausea lasted the morning. The soreness set in while I was working that evening. It made me realize how much I use my calves, lower back, and obliques to do my job, when my body twinged every ten seconds with every patient lol.

This initial taste confirmed the reasons why I thought this would be a good program for me to try. The program is very simple - you can tell what the exercise is from a picture, more or less. They don't require buying extra equipment - a chair, something to step on, comfy clothes... The difficulty of the steps is self-inflicted; it's as hard as you push yourself. And it is a complete body work-out; every muscle is used, especially trunk/core muscles that almost anyone would benefit from strengthening (to save our lower backs from compensating for weakened cores.) And it's scientifically-backed, which means I should see measurable benefits relatively quickly.

These are the 12 exercises: jumping jacks, wall sit, push ups, crunches, step ups, squats, tricep dips, plank, high knees, lunges, push up rotations, and side planks. The second day, PB and I did it together and counted the countable ones, to compare after the two weeks. Surprisingly, I was kind of on par with him on most things except the upper body things - I did 11 modified push ups (from my knees) to 15 of his full push ups (from his toes) and 9 modified tricep dips (with knees bent/feet flat) to 23 (sigh) of his full dips (legs straight/toes up). After that, my knees were stiff/swollen and my lats/rotator cuff/obliques were tender/achy. I slept like the dead. By morning, everything was stiff and my left SI (my weak point) was pinching. I self-adjusted the SI and stretched and felt fine in a couple hours.

I have the benefit, I suppose, of having learned about exercise physiology through my career and fitness-oriented colleagues, but I haven't lived it out practically with this intensity before. It helps that I know my musculo-skeletal anatomy. I can self-examine and stretch or adjust whatever might be ailing from whatever exercise I do (same thing happened when I was doing the Couch to 5K program.) I know to ice my knees, I know to hydrate. Although I feel like a fitness n00b, in terms of actual fitness level, I'm glad I had the background knowledge to support my efforts and success.

Most of the time, I do the workout at home. We tried it last night outside, on the soft grass in the fresh air, but it wasn't actually that great :( We spent our 10 second rest times rushing to the next spot (to the vestibule for step ups, to the garden box for tricep dips, to the grass for crunches) and the grass was itchy on hands and slippery for feet (my plank ended abruptly.) I also did it once at my gym, but I didn't enjoy really givin' her around other people - I felt embarrassed. I think the ability to do it at home in private is the best part, in a way. I can breathe like a dying horse and roll around in exhausted agony, and flop/jiggle without shame - and burn and sweat and feel stronger for it.

I have felt stronger every day - that kind of immediacy with results is exactly what this easily discouraged, chronically overweight lady needs. I don't get sore (DOMS) as much, nor am I as stiff. I sleep like the dead every night and wake up feeling more rested. I'm in a better mood. I can do 15 push ups (vs 11) and 15 tricep dips (vs 9), my two weakest exercises. After only seven days!

When the CBC show posted about this segment on their facebook page, there was this weird pushback in the comments: "it's not really a 7 minute workout, you're not being journalistically ethical" "it's not as efficient as my workout" "a healthy lifestyle is a bigger priority than potential strain/injury" "my current workout is enough." There is nothing more discouraging to the person trying something new for their fitness than to have an experienced, already fit person tell them, "No, that's not enough/won't work/isn't perfect." Really? Do you workout perfectly every time?! Don't. be. that. person.

Just because some research (quite a bit of research) has detailed the benefits of this style of exercise, doesn't mean that your workout is scientifically invalidated - that's a logical fallacy. If what you're doing works for you, then great, keep doing it. If what you're doing isn't working, or you have Exercise Ennui and like bright shiny things, or you're doing nothing and want to start something, science has found a lot of good reasons why this could be good for you. And if you are starting from nothing or almost nothing, then this workout for 7 minutes is more than enough. (After all, my professional knowledge was a considerable asset to my ability to keep up with this; I might have injured myself or given up without it.)

Here's the thing: you don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. Obviously an overall healthy lifestyle should be the ultimate goal; maybe, for us n00bs, this workout is a nice, simple first step towards that ultimate goal. Starting with 7 minutes a day, and seeing the immediate improvements and benefits I've logged has boosted my confidence - now I'm motivated to make even more positive health changes and not feel hopeless about it.

I'll be back in another week with the Final Count (lol) but I think I'll be incorporating this into my life on the regular. (It should be noted, ideally there'd be rest days, but I think for two weeks, doing it daily won't be the end of the world.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mama Bean went to Target

As I was driving into the parking lot, Death Cab's I'll Follow You Into the Dark (Cowtown represent!) was playing on my iPod, and so that was stuck in my head as I perused the aisles. Which is fitting because the last time I visited Target with any kind of regularity was when I lived in the US, during which that song was featured heavily in several of my favourite, sad-sack, college-life-is-hard (what the fuck did I know?) playlists. It was a good throwback moment.

To be honest, the last time I was in a Target was on our August trip to my alma mater, both kids in tow, buying 'hotel dinners' - things that can be eaten direct from the back or box, in a semblance of healthfulness, for less money than a restaurant. Sprout was 18 months on that trip. The difference between then and now in her behaviour (mental and emotional faculties) is astounding to me. We took a baby on that trip - she is not a baby now. The difference in Bean is beyond mind-blowing; he's like a fully formed human compared to the 100% Id-based toddler last summer. Well, that may be overstating it. He's down to, like, 65% Id tops now; he's got that Super-ego operating at minimum 10%, which is just what we need for potty training. Let's be honest, as an adult, I probably operate at 10% sometimes (often), too... (and that trip alone would disabuse me of the notion that anything about college life was hard /sigh. Youth is wasted on the yada yada yada...)

Which is to say, Target, and stores like Target, what I call I-didn't-know-I-wanted-that-but-now-I-need-it stores, are best enjoyed sans children. I spent over an hour in there today. It. was. glorious. There was nothing surprising, it was exactly as I remembered it. Prettier and better quality things than Wal-mart, or the Zellers it replaced for that matter, with commensurately higher prices, but not department store level prices. Target-level prices. Groceries are about Safeway-priced, but it's Archer Farms, so who cares? Archer Farms is the shizzle. I don't go to Target for groceries. I go for bowls to replace the pasta bowls we keep chipping/breaking, lamps that fit the aesthetic and small surface area of my bedside table, birthday presents that are light enough to mail to nephews and nieces, books 25% off the cover price, divided storage boxes in a gorgeous cranberry red that'd be perfect for holding my kids' thousands of socks (Why does every other member of my household have more socks than I've had in my entire life?) I go for the things I didn't know I wanted, but now I completely and utterly need. 

Full disclosure: it was the same story when I went to our new IKEA store the first time. What can I say? My love language is CONSUMERISM ;)

But can we talk about how useless melamine dishes are? They aren't microwave safe. Cute, brightly coloured children's dishes that I can't put in the microwave are functionally useless to me. I don't care if they're only  $1.49!

And next time I won't wear a bright red sweater. Two employees asked if I worked there. Um, no? But I kind of wish I did?

When can I go back? :D

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mama Bean is exhausted by seven different technologies

Mary: I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work so I called him at home and then he e-mailed me to my Blackberry and so I texted to his cell and then he e-mailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control. And I miss the days when you had one phone number and one answering machine and that one answering machine has one cassette tape and that one cassette tape either had a message from a guy or it didn't. And now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It's exhausting.
(The movie trailer is tangential. I do feel Drew Barrymore was under-utilized in that movie, but then again, I hated her character. I do like that quote, though. I haven't been in the dating arena for a decade, but that quote still applies to my life. To wit: the rest of this entry.)

I have spent the past few months preoccupied with failing friendship. I've even written about it already. And yet, I can't seem to stop thinking, in the back of my mind, about these friendships I just can't seem to get the swing of. I can't get it together! Where in my schedule does the Magic of Fellowship happen? How do I effectively use the communication tools available to me? Is there a way to balance my preferred habitat (Teh Interwebz) with my very real need to have a very real life? Why is social media determined to so abundantly demonstrate, with seven different technologies, that the people I want to like me, don't? How do I redirect my efforts - how do I stop investing in toxic people - without feeling bad, guilty, like I've failed, like I should have tried harder or done more? Why can't I stop feeling so fucking angry? What is this "thicker skin" I've been told since childhood to acquire and how exactly do I procure it?

Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point

How do I reconcile my online and offline worlds? Or how do I reconcile the authenticity of friendship I desire with the limitations of whatever media I have to communicate that desire? Because it's not about where the friendship takes place anymore (in flesh or in the ether or in both). We don't do that anymore, though I do still relish the safety of Internet anonymity as much as the next Troll (lol). I have all the skills to build lovely, authentic relationships purely online, so it's not about the medium (sorry Marshall), it has to be about the people... right?

When I want a phone call, an email forward leaves me cold. When I want a email, every facebook like is an irritation. When I want facebook banter, mindless re-tweeting feels inconsiderate. When I want to be the special snowflake in your life that you are to me, and who can explain why you are, the heart has its reasons - when I'm trying for something Real, the meaningless chatter of thumbs ups and lols makes my stomach sink.

Sometimes, I try to comfort myself that the clickety clatter of social media interaction, as meager as it may feel, is still better than nothing at all. Better than being phased out entirely, fluidly (am I over-romanticizing this?) the way friendships ended in the Olden Days. It's got to be better than that era when we just wistfully turned the pages of our yearbooks, right? But maybe not. It is a little pinprick each time - as social media brings into my consciousness, repeatedly, these faces for whom I mean little when they mean a lot to me. 

Fuck it. I probably just need to leave the internet for awhile. It's only gotten worse since I got a smart phone - I thought it was going to keep me more connected. Turns out it just makes me feel more alone. Thank you for engaging in my pity parade today, please don't indulge me. There is no meat to this threat, trust. I couldn't quit the Internet on my best day, and these days are far from that < insert appropriate sardonic emoticon > < i guess >