Shipwrecked and Alone

I advised my wife also to dress herself in sailor’s clothes, as more convenient for swimming should she be thrown into the water.

She objected greatly at first, but eventually I convinced her of the means of safety the dress would prove in case of accident, and she retired from the cabin to make the change.

When she reappeared, looking very embarrassed, I could not help paying her a compliment, for the middy’s dress became her admirably.

Swiss Family Robinson

It’s been almost 60 days now since my Academy shut down.

A shipwreck metaphor, maybe, works best here, even if I feel confident we’ll leave the island eventually. First, battening the hatches against the rising storm – sanitizer, degrees of separation. Then the storm. Trim the sails. Steer through the waves. Communicate. Then, the exit: take what you can, see you all on the shore. Rowing. Swimming. Government applications. Washing up on the beach and lying in the sun, squinting into distance learning homework. I organized some closets.

Then taking stock of provisions, or retirement funds…this is where I think the yeast comes in. It’s too easy a metaphor, really – will we rise again? Our grandparents made bread,  kneading, strong arm muscles working the dough, so it must be in us? Although the no-knead option is pretty great. I had yeast. But I’ve embraced the sheer unmitigated pleasure of figuring out which singular store has the best physical distancing measures and the best chance of stocking lactose-free milk. It’s an achievable task, but it has the quality of a fairy tale. Complete these three tasks and you will live happily ever after.

The next step should be creating the treehouse, if my foggy memories of Robinson Crusoe – or was it Swiss Family Robinson? – are going to be my guide. I unequivocally know what I wanted to do with the gift of time – write, and spend time with my children. These are extremely achievable, although somewhat mutually exclusive. And yet, I’ve wasted so much of it. Two months, two days ago, a week off would have looked like luxury.  I have made fun of horror movie characters who walk into the dark basements, and still I’ve watched Tiger King (why?) and clicked on links like “Older Workers Lose Hope,” or read just one more screen of Tweets before I am supposed to sleep.

Then of course, sleep doesn’t come, the alarm sounds but there’s no real start to the day, Zoom meetings loom large but play out small and the rhythm of school homework is weak, the scent of the ocean air as you walk inland.

Right now I am writing this blog post in order to train myself to start the day right, but also to learn how to write all over again, without coffee shops or regular paycheques, while also answering questions about where the jam went, whether the coffee is brewed, and marvelling at the achievement of another level on Prodigy.

This essay says it better.

But the task, I think, may be the same.

 

#OkBoomer + The Rise of Skywalker anticipation

The generational warfare is strong this week as the NY Times points out the #OkBoomer trend.

Thanks, New York Times, but the Boomer/Y showdown is really about to play out this December through the mythology of our time, as The Rise Of Skywalker hits movie theatres. Let’s pause to consider the oeuvre to date.

First you have Anakin, the boomer. Midichlorian origin story worthy of an LSD trip (or a parent “lost in the war”), he attaches himself to a hippy Jedi movement. However, due to his codependent relationship and the influence of an Evil Old White Guy he ends up murdering children.

anakin-palp

It’s into this that Generation X launched itself in its self-contained trilogy. Princess Leia’s spunky stand-up-for-herself-while-still-needing-rescue self, Luke’s whiny ass bored-on-Tatooine self, the Generation Jones Han Solo staying bemused at it all, fight together for the Rebellion and wins!

It’s 1989 and the Berlin Wall is coming DOWN! Peace ahoy!

throne room

Except, of course, no, the spectre of Palpatine, the ghost of Anakin (hippy – evil – dying turns to good) and the nouveau evil of emo Kylo Ren and his alt-right sidekick merely reboot the Empire into the First Order. They probably used Facebook ads to do it:

first-order

But no worries, here come the heroes of the Resistance, who may be fighting evil but also are doing it for their friends. Welcome, diverse and mysterious Gen Y!

resistance

But what is Gen X doing? Slogging away at their rat-race jobs that have never panned out as they hoped, playing with their favourite tech:

han

screwing up their children while single parenting and juggling their career while having to deal with all kinds of mansplaining in conference rooms,

leia

 

and of course, running away to meditate ironically on how crappy life was on some  island about to vanish into the rising seas.

luke

Ultimately, Generation X may have provided the iPhones and the Internet, or as I’ve commented before, a whole bunch of narrative, but the upcoming fight will be Kylo Ren and Rey against the Palpatine/Anakin post-war, white male dominant culture.

From Generation X to yours, May The Force Be With You.

 

We Need To Talk About Ben

She opens his backpack with a frisson of shame. She’s been a diplomatic spy, a princess, and now a general, but going through her own child’s belongings feels scummy, a low blow.

She’d brought him into the world with high expectations, at a time that the world felt on the cusp of better things. Breastfeeding, teething, toddling. Sure, she’d missed first steps for conferences, booked 3 shifts of nannies for interstellar trips to negotiate peace. Or plan for war. But just as planet after planet chose its own economic interests over allegiance to ideals, so too had her ability to really tune in to Ben’s world. It was clear now, how her questions – how was school? Did you eat lunch? Would you like to invite any friends over? – had been insufficient.

Of course she wasn’t the only parent in the mix, only the most judged. Ben’s father had been less connected when Ben was a baby, willing to take him but never having to be asked to give him over, each session of daddy-care coming with a series of inexplicable laundry – diaper on backwards, giving in to the ‘more more’ for 5 entire bananas within an hour – and the weight of being the one who has to find all the answers. She already was the go-to person for an entire galaxy of would-be heroes, and so perhaps it was inevitable that once the scoundrel wore off it was the added questions that made the relationship sag. He headed out for a contract and never really came back, the stretches between FaceTime sessions getting longer and longer until she realized she didn’t know which planet he was circling and didn’t actually care.

But that had made for a resurgence of fatherhood, when he did return to find a child that walked, talked, could learn to shoot and reenact the Kessel Run. This was the golden era of daddy-worship, when she had been only an impediment to Ben’s ability to joyfully jump off the couch pantless, and every arrival of her now-ex sparked the same light in her son’s eyes as fireworks. She truly delighted in that bond, her own relationship with her deceased biological father mired in toxic memory, and told herself that Ben would circle back.

But he didn’t, he spiralled down, and by the time he was in middle school she knew that his hollow one-word answers to her questions were masking – well, everything. But by then the habit of quick connection, the pause before eating, the brief interlude at bedtime, had also become a slick surface over which her concern could only skate.

So now she is picking at the crumbs of his day, peering into the recesses of his pencil case. A small dark crystal, a crumpled phone number. Knowing she’s now committed, she opens his notebook and find exactly what she had feared: blueprints, plans to turn loathing into empire. Not self-loathing, a thing she would know how to address, but screeds on everyone in his way: women, peacemakers, diplomats. She recognizes herself in it but knows that he would be furious to have her think it was merely her against whom he rebels. The rebel’s rebel a dictator.

He reminds her of her father, who reminds her everything she has been fighting to commit to history.

The help then needs to come from the world of men and so she calls her brother. Hi, how are you. Sorry I haven’t been in touch. Look, Ben needs a – a break from things here. Oh? Oh great. When can we – okay, I’ll let you know when we’ve booked our trip. Thank you. Thank you.

Honey badger

A couple of weeks ago I went down one of those YouTube rabbit holes and ended up delighting in the exploits of Stoffle the Honey Badger (as well as other related honey badger content):

I’m now trying to write a honey badger into a reverse portal story which takes place largely in Toronto…if only honey badgers were native here. Although I am starting to wonder if trash pandas are cribbing their playbook.

Stoffle’s attempts to get out of his cage came to mind this weekend. There’s a house for sale on our street which is about twice the size of our current bungalow. Real estate is a perennial Toronto obsession, but I also come by it via family tree as my mum’s time as a real estate agent took place in my formative years. So I’m the nosy neighbour that goes to most open houses in the neighbourhood.

The house as listed is…a little crazy. It looks like it was beautifully kept, but it also looks renovated room-by-room over the last 40 years, so that each era is represented. There are a whole bunch of different tiles, flooring options, wall coverings, windows, lighting…you get the idea. As a result, it’s a bit of a steal.

To be clear, we are not moving. I cannot handle a move right now, and:

  • We have all the space we need, even if it’s not always the kind of space we want (no walk-in closet is my number one complaint), and it is much kinder to the Earth to keep it where it’s at.
  • Our house is sort of at the nadir of our home maintenance in that we moved in 14 years ago, and have been raising young children since, so in the natural life cycle of homes we will start fixing everything we’ve broken/scratched/scuffed…any day now.
  • I’d rather travel and spend money on education in various forms (from the boys’ upcoming tertiary education to my own interests) than increase our house debt.

But…like the honey badger working his way out of the cement enclosure only to go break into his keeper’s home, I can’t stop planning the possibilities in this other house. In some ways I gave that house more rent in my head this week than my own home.

Dissatisfaction is part of the human experience, and is what keeps us learning and growing and helping other people. And gratitude for what we have is what keeps us grounded. I feel like midlife is so much about living in the space in between.

And being crafty, with sharp claws, and ready to stand up to a pride of lionesses.

 

Deconstruction

Carl and I are at the Georgian Bay Hotel celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary (!!) and departing for the Scandinave Spa in about 45 minutes. I’m lying in a king sized bed in a suite that seems huge, and he’s on the balcony meditating.

Things have changed for me. Last night, we were weighing our dinner options, with a really nice looking restaurant on the premises and no children to consider…and we ordered in pizza. That was just fine with me. I’ve been privileged to eat really good food in my life, most of it professionally when I was at More and Canadian Living, but some of it before my budget included childcare. But lately, I find my tastes are gradually shifting towards what I am starting to think of as my tea and toast future. It’s not exactly boring, it’s more that the ordinary things are increasingly extraordinary to me. Yeast. Gluten. The way some peaches taste like sun should.

Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open yesterday, we learned, waiting for that pizza to come to the room. I loved watching the highlights, the power in her and Serena Williams’ bodies, the naked language of victory and defeat. Game, set, match. I watched a few outlets’ responses – the jerseys from other teams, politicians, movers and shakers.

I spent the trip up here enjoying counting Tim Hortons, watching the trees get bigger, seeing the Blue Mountains — Carl, B.C.-born, just laughs — appear on the route from Wasaga Beach to Collingwood.

My own book is breathing well; I wrote 400 words in 40 minutes yesterday, without needing a long entry into finding where I’d been the day before. I find the deeper I go into my own places, the less noise I can tolerate. But here I am posting.

Byte sized #10 – author love

“I will never enjoy simplicity again; it will never be good enough for me. I require so many more ingredients; I require so much more technique. I need to be danced for and entertained. I have made the region of my delight a tiny head of a pin. Did anyone tell me that it would be this exhausting to get older?” – an older piece at Saveur.com that I just discovered. Taffy Brodesser-Akner is one of those writers where I always will click on the link and have never yet been disappointed. I love her profiles but I also love when she gets personal.

(I am exhausted being older but something, somewhere underneath, is making me a little younger. I may just be coming out of the U-curve, (The Guardian) or it may be something else.)

I can’t believe it took so long, but thanks to Noah’s grade 8 curriculum I finally read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Amazon.ca link) and it made me cry for its unflinching, writing-so-direct-it-stabs-you content, but also because books have power, books have power.

“But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt . . . the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. “ (The New Yorker) Kristen Roupenian has a book coming out this week, you may have heard.

Okay, I think I’ll have to start using my Goodreads account. 🙂

I actually got quite hot under the collar this week over this Instant Pot article (article on capitalism? On feminism? On home economics?)..not because it’s a bit meandering or because I’m an Instant Pot fanatic, but because Someone on the Internet complained that it didn’t acknowledge that men cook too. In any case, I love my Instant Pot and just made these Gigante beans for dinner today.

 

 

 

So how’s the midlife crisis going?

This week Brené Brown’s The Midlife Unravelling has been hitting my feeds, and it’s well worth a read. I’ve been thinking lately that my crisis isn’t actually over and it was both validating and annoying to read something that made me realize…it never actually will be.

With this understood, I can get on with the job of living. From my front lines:

Physical Goals: I should be able to start running again this month, but I am taking it slowly. I’m using elliptical machines right now and I find I get to a point where the spot in my leg that actually broke hurts, somewhere between 25 and 30 minutes. So I stop.

This new method of respecting pain sits uncomfortably with me, because in the past I’ve had two modes: The “I’m too wounded/fat/stupid/uncoordinated/hurt” to do this mode, and the “to hell with it” mode where I would just push through any, you know, feelings until my body gave out and then rue it the next day. Finding the middle spot has been hard.

However, in doing a lot of upper-body work, I pulled a muscle, and that actually stopped me from doing some martial arts this week. My concern wasn’t so much the injury, but not doing both certain leg and certain arm things. I tell myself it’s because I’m staff and I have to present a higher standard of participation, but it was also just not wanting to look stupid.

I have found a new yoga class and it’s very different from gym yoga. Each class focuses on one sequence of moves, going deeper into them — not like yin yoga, but really working to perfect the understanding of that particular hatha cycle. I like it a lot.

Food-wise I’ve been eating medium-well; lots of veggies and generally whole foods, but also some snacking on Girl Guide cookies at night and a samosa/sweet onion roll addiction are not helping as I discovered Canbe Foods, which I have been driving past for about 10 years. Our farm share starts in two weeks. I keep not blogging so I hesitate to promise but I hope to post how that’s going.

I pretty much have had to give up alcohol, even beer and cider. For years I have pondered the mystery that I don’t get hangovers and tried to be careful not to drink too much because there were no natural consequences. Well, ha, ha, ha, now if I have even one drink my sleep is disrupted and I find that I am actually a Cranky Person the following day. This has led me to trying out Kombucha as something to have on the patio at the end of a hot day.

Family: I continue to enjoy the golden age of parenting when my kids are both old enough to amuse themselves a lot of the time and young enough to still want to be amused by their parents. (Although Noah is aging out of this rapidly.) I got to take a leadership course with Noah over the last 10 weeks and watching him participate and seeing different hints of the man he’s becoming was…amazing. I also hang out with Liam in the schoolyard each morning (no rush for the GO Train) and as one sample, he started talking to me about his take on Arthurian legend, in a fake Scottish accent no less, and it was…pretty glorious.

I can’t say that I’m engaged with work for fewer hours, but the geography changes things so much. I’m more present.

I gave up my gym membership (well I actually still have to do the paperwork, oops) and we got a family membership to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. We’re there a lot all together and that’s…amazing.

Mentally,  one thing about leaping into supporting a martial arts organization as a career that I really hadn’t thought through what it’s like to work with a team that includes many late teens and early 20-somethings. I always joked that my career aged backwards like Merlin (note Arthurian reference): Seniors’ site, magazine for women at midlife, magazine for women, education-focused arts institution. But right now I find that my colleagues have aged backwards as well.

I have very few Gen X-Millennial conflicts to report; martial arts seems to bridge the gap. I do find myself reflecting more on the time in my 20s when it seemed like everyone I knew online was moving to Silicon Valley and sharing apartments and working weird new Internet jobs. I find my 20-something colleagues have the same sense of, well, chosen family that you might find historically documented in Microserfs, but they also seem more connected to their actual families than I remember feeling. But I was mostly getting married, so I was a bit off the usual track there.

I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to, but I have been writing more than I had in the previous oh, 5 years, so that’s a bonus.

Luke Skywalker, losing his religion

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

-R.E.M.

I did manage to get Darth Boot (my ‘walking’ cast I’m not allow to walk in yet) into a movie theatre to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I think it will surprise no one that it’s the one holiday event I absolutely could not bear to miss. I’m going to have to see the movie again to decide what I Really Think about it but what stands out to me right now is Luke Skywalker, man.

Spoilers ahead, of course

This piece about Depressed Asshole Luke appeared on my Facebook feed is a great take on it. In summary: Luke as a character is kind of astonishing because in the middle of the epic Star Wars universe, he’s allowed to have what is a very non-epic reaction to loss and screw ups. And in this writer’s view, “The failure crushes what’s left of him and then Luke Skywalker surrenders to depression and fucks off forever, just like you or I would.”

But as I’m in the middle of a midlife crisis involving a career switch, I have a different view from basically the same road. I suspect this line is generational. So I’ll just put it out there: Luke is maybe one of the most Gen-X characters ever.

From his whiny unwillingness to invest in Leia and Ben’s Rebellion until his own family is killed, to his commitment to his absent father’s essential goodness with a little soupçon of “but I can do it better,” Luke definitely had that vibe. He didn’t take Yoda too seriously. He created his own little rebel family, and found his own sister to boot. Then he signed up for Jedi Master and set to work building his career.

And then, of course, the corporate world goes to shit. Turns out senior management i.e. the Jedi Order was a bunch of idiots. Who does Ben Solo take for a mentor? The self-obsessed, culture-defining, Boomeresque Darth Vader. Luke is essentially middle management, trying to create balance in the force, caught between the colossal screw up of the generation before him and the untrained, kind of whiny generation after him. (Kylo Ren, Millennial Sith.)  And what does Luke have to pass on to Ren? That the Jedi represent a string of failure and bad choices. He’s invested everything, including his own failure, in a religion and organization that…means nothing.

All that work to get to the top and it turns out the top is really just about eating the young. The only way to win is not to play.

Yoda confirms this, with the kind of smarmy self-assurance only those already dead, or those who actually got union-powered pensions, can deliver. Or as my favourite Despair.com would say:

mistakesdemotivator

(I might point out that Luke’s retirement plan involves milking creatures and fishing on a remote and stony island. This is pretty much the backup plan I have repeated to myself at stressful career moments, although mine is more like “cash out my real estate and run away to Thailand.”)

So how does Luke resolve this?

Well we all see myths through our personal lenses but I’m going to say…he realizes it’s all narrative. Luke becomes the hero the Resistance needs – but through the power of story alone. It’s not the Jedi religion or whoever owns the best blasters who saves the day but one guy, meditating on a rock, who understands that the human story is both ethereal and powerful — and creates one for others.

The Boomers thought that they would change the world, but instead they drove it into the ground. The Millennials are probably going to save it. But it’s the detached and ironic Gen-X who keep the tradition and tell you what it all means. (At least according to Vanity Fair which, what-ever.) It’s just a laser sword, dude. All right, fine, at least think about where you’re pointing it.

I have a feeling that the next film will deliver on Rose Tico’s promise that “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” Which is all well and good, if you love the right things.

A few other notes:

  • Love that it’s midlife battle-axe women who come up with all the plans, even if theirs suck just as much as the men’s.
  • I wasn’t blogging when I saw Justice League but one day I might have to write about the use of “Everybody Knows” in both Pump up the Volume and JL.
  • Miss you, Carrie Fisher.

Mini-review: Ricki and the Flash

ricki-and-the-flash-reviewSo say Joanna from Kramer vs. Kramer didn’t actually come back and fight for custody of her child and win because she was the mom and instead she moved to California and became an 80s rocker chick and then came back home once she got kind of old, and smoked pot with Dustin Hoffman while spewing great Diablo Cody dialogue…but it all rang hollow because no one really bothered to flesh out any emotions other than guilt sucks, following your dreams is great, but it sucks when your kids suffer, but they’ll be all right because a strong black woman (see: nuanced discussion) will stepparent them.

Then you’d have a movie where all the parts are kind of fun and worth seeing if you don’t actually think too hard, but at the end you really actually do feel like you just spent a wedding with your narcissistic boomer mother and you’re left with that sort of fuck it, family’s family, but it’s hell feeling.

That’s pretty much what Ricki and the Flash is like. If you want to laugh a lot and contemplate whether Rick Springfield is hot and be prepared to feel just a little bit disturbed, I say it’s worth the price of popcorn. And I mean, Diablo Cody.