40 Things At 40

40

One month ago, I turned 40. As the day approached, I had a lot of people saying things to me like, “Don’t worry, it’s just a number” and “At least you don’t look 40!” and “Well, don’t go telling people how old you are!” and a host of other things that made it seem like I should either try to forget my age or pretend I’m younger than I am, because who wants to be 40?

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Kindness. 2. Don’t Be Quiet. Be Kind.

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I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, telling him about a time not long ago when someone said to me, “I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”

We’ve all heard this in various forms before. I’m sure I’ve even repeated it offhand, reminding someone that it is better to be quiet than to be mean. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That’s old. And to some extent, it’s true. If you can only think of shitty things to say, then just keep your mouth shut.

But if you can only think of shitty things to say, you have a lot of work to do. Because you can always be kind. Always.

Last week, my band performed a big show here in our little town. And watching the show was a friend who I know doesn’t particularly like my singing style. It’s not her thing, and that’s fine. But she came to the show. And you know what she said afterwards? She said, “The sound was great!”

And she was right. The sound was great. And that mattered. I love her for not just keeping quiet because the music we make isn’t her jam. She found something nice to say, to show her love and support.

Because there’s always something nice to say.

Someone got a haircut, tattoo or piercing you don’t like? Don’t say it looks like ass, because that’s douchy. And it makes it all about you. Who cares if you don’t like it? Someone’s haircut, tattoo, piercing, music, painting, and general lifestyle choices have nothing to do with you and how you feel about them. So don’t make it about you.

And don’t keep your mouth shut, because you know what? That’s also douchy.

You know she wanted to get that buzz cut. You know he wanted that rising phoenix tattoo. You know she wanted that eyebrow piercing.

Try “Hey! You finally got your hair cut! Good for you!”

Try “Wow, look at the colours in that tattoo!”

Try “I’m proud of you for finally getting that piercing. You’ve been talking about it for a long time.”

Try “Are you happy? Then I’m happy for you.” And mean it.

Someone wearing something that’s not your style? Compliment the colour.

Someone making art you don’t appreciate? Commend them for being brave, and putting their art out there for the world to judge. That’s a hard thing to do.

Someone invite you for dinner but then serve something that was barely palatable? Enjoy their company, and tell them you enjoyed their company. Thank them for their effort. Be gracious. Be kind.

Being quiet isn’t kind. Being quiet is a cop-out. Being quiet speaks volumes. Being quiet is a shitty way to be with the people in your life.

Don’t be quiet. Be kind.

Kindness. 1.

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Amira has always been an early riser, and when she was first born and the weather was still nice, I used to take her out early so Stu could get a couple more hours of sleep, and I could get the hell out of the house. One of the places Amira and I used to hang out in was our local Wal-Mart.

I know. Wal-Mart. I KNOW. But these were desperate times. And they knew what they were doing when they set that place up. It’s huge, you can walk up and down a hundred aisles, stopping to look at a million things, and spend hours in there just reading the magazines. They open early. And they have a McDonald’s. So once in a while, Amira and I would head to Wal-Mart early in the morning, just to go somewhere. She’d gurgle in her car seat, I’d have a coffee, people would ooooh and aaaahh over her while I smiled my proud-mother smile (because no one wants to hear the tired-mom sigh), and drink more coffee.

So anyway, this one morning in early September, we were at Wal-Mart. It was early. Like, I was sitting in McDonald’s with a cup of coffee in my hands by 7:00am early. It was cool and crisp, and just the kind of weather I loved to dress for. But on this day, like on so many other days during this time, it was ill-fitting jeans, boots that needed a good polish and some oversized sweater that hid my breastfeeding bra stuffed with those “Why are my boobs leaking?” pads. My hair was tied back. I wasn’t wearing makeup. I loved my baby, but the truth is, I didn’t recognize my myself, or my life.

As usual, a couple of the senior citizens who also troll Wal-Mart early in the morning stopped by our table, cooed over Amira, and went on their way. Then one of the older ladies who worked at McDonalds came over.

I’d seen her there a few times. She was probably in her early sixties, she was super-quick on her feet, and she always gave me my coffee with a smile.

She came over and said, “Good morning! She looks happy today!”

I replied with my usual stock response, “She’s really good.”

And then the lady said to me, “And how are you?”

My eyes welled up with tears. I just looked at her, not really believing that she had seriously asked how I was doing. And it wasn’t just that she asked, it was the way she asked. It was both the concern and sincerity in her voice. It was her vulnerability in asking me, with as much love as she had, how was doing – a question I had been asked in passing a hundred times over the past few months, but mostly by people who just asked for the sake of politeness, even by most of my family and friends. This lady meant it.

“I’m okay,” I replied. But she had already seen my tears.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

“No, really. I’m okay. But thank you so much for asking.” I meant it. And she knew it.

The weather got colder, and Amira and I hung out at Wal-Mart less. I saw that lady a couple of times again, but we didn’t really speak, until two years later.

The week before Stu, Amira and I moved to Costa Rica, I went back to that Wal-Mart. I stood in line at McDonalds until this lady was standing in front of me asking, “What can I get for your, Dear?”

I told her that I didn’t want to buy anything. I reminded her of our conversation that morning, two years before. She didn’t remember, but I’ll never forget it. I told her what her sincerity had meant to me, and that I hadn’t forgotten it. I told her we were moving next week, and I probably wouldn’t ever see her again, but I wanted her to know that I so appreciated her generosity and concern for me on that day two years before.

I haven’t seen her since we moved. But I still remember her kindness.

Salt Water

I have a routine I follow with some fair regularity, and it includes going to the gym a few mornings a week. But a couple of weeks ago, I was really having a week. And on my way to the gym on Thursday morning, I stopped at Playa Cochles.

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When I pulled my bike over, I thought I’d just stop for a moment, take a breath, and keep going. But that first breath of fresh beach air felt so good that I took another, and then another. Then I got off my bike, locked it to a tree, and sat down on the beach, just a few feet from the water’s edge.

I’ve wanted to do this so many times before – I ride back and forth by this beach ten times a week. But stopping always felt so…indulgent. I mean, I have a plan. I’m going to the gym. I can’t just not go to the gym and to go the beach instead.

It’s ridiculous. I know. But that’s how I felt. Until that morning a couple of weeks ago.

I sat there on that beach without one iota of guilt in my bones about skipping the gym to just sit there.

That was unusual. And amazing. And freeing.

I sat on that empty beach just enjoying the sound of the ocean for about 25 minutes before it felt like the sun was burning right through me.

So I went for a swim.

There is something about being in the ocean when you’re not having a good day that just makes it a good day. I once read that there isn’t any problem that salt water can’t fix: sweat, tears or the ocean. And that is the damn truth if I ever heard it.

I was gifted with all three that morning.

And it was so healing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Someone Else Says It Better

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Original Artwork by Allie Brosh

I remember coming across this blog post by the insanely talented writer and artist Allie Brosh when it was first published. Everyone was all, “Allie’s back!” and I was all, “Who’s Allie?” So I started reading, and I couldn’t stop. Plus, she draws, which I can’t do for beans, so I was doubly impressed.

Allie has since had one book published, but I just found out that while her second book was to be published this month, it has been postponed indefinitely. She hasn’t posted a new blog post – or even a new tweet – in years. She kind of disappeared. I hope that she didn’t disappear into the fog of depression again. I hope that wherever she is, she’s happy and snarky and loving it.

I read “Depression Part Two” before I read “Adventures in Depression” (which could have been titled “Depression Part One” if she had known at the time there would be a Part Two.) And while the latter is exceedingly good, the former is really the best explanation of depression I’ve ever read ever ever.

I was talking to a sister-cousin-friend today, trying to explain just this very thing. And then I remembered what Allie wrote. So now sister-cousin-friend can simply read this and know what I was trying to say.

Don’t Tolerate, Celebrate.

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I grew up in a diverse city, and a lot of the kids I went to school with were either immigrants or first-generation Canadians. It was a pretty mixed bag – my group of friends growing up looked like a mini United Nations. My best friends came from Greece, Egypt, China, India, Jamaica, Japan and Iran.

Given the diversity of the population, there was a lot of talk in school about tolerance. Tolerating other cultures. Tolerating other religions. Tolerating people who didn’t look like you or eat the same food or who had a different accent. And this always rubbed me the wrong way. I never really gave it a lot of thought, but I always hated that word, and hated having those conversations. Not because they were boring. But because they felt…useless. Uninspiring. “Yes! Let’s tolerate each other!” Like, really. Is that the best we could do?

In my first week of university, I went to a mandatory frosh event that included the usual talk on diversity and inclusiveness. Except that the rad chick who gave this talk totally changed the game for me. She said, “I’m sick of hearing people talk about tolerance. I don’t want tolerance. I want celebration.”

She nailed it. Why have we been teaching tolerance all these years, when we could have been teaching celebration? What do we tolerate? Bank lineups. Traffic jams. Slow internet connections. These are things to be tolerated. Why are we lumping the humans we share the planet with into the same category as traffic jams? Why are we teaching kids that we need to put up with people who are different than us the same way we put up with long checkout lines? How do we teach kids about love, justice, inclusion and equity when the foundation for the lesson is tolerance?

What if we celebrated those who are different, instead of simply tolerating them? What if we looked at someone who doesn’t look like we look, eat like we eat, pray like we pray, or love like we love, and we got excited about it, instead of putting up with it? What if instead of enduring it, we engaged with it?

To me, tolerance looks something like this:

“Huh. So this is your holiday? Fine. Whatever. What are you eating? That’s weird. Never seen that before. It smells kinda funky. But fine. You can eat what you want, I guess. I don’t know anything about why you wear those clothes, or eat that food, or celebrate that holiday, or love that person, but fine. I guess it’s your right. I’ll be over here. Let me know when it’s over.”

To me, celebration looks something like this:

“Wow! So amazing! Show me! Teach me! I want to know all about this! How did it start? Where did it come from? What does it mean to you? Can I do it to? What does it taste like? Can I try it? Those clothes are so interesting – is there any cultural significance to that? How can I participate? I’d love to try something new. I’d love to learn something new.”

Tolerating people is really setting the bar so low, humans. We can do so much better. We can love so much better.

Michael Franti, Part: The First

I have a lot to say about what Michael Franti has been up to in recent years, and one day I will. But for now, I want to take it way back.

So it’s my second first date with Stu, (weird, right? But true. Second first date.) We’re at his place. And he’s telling me about this artist he really digs named Michael Franti, and puts this song on first.

“Love, why did you have to go away?” Those are the first words I ever heard Michael say.

They hit me hard. I was hooked from the start.

To this day, this song makes me want to cry, because it’s pretty much how I feel about the world almost all the time.

And even if his musical path has gone in a direction I may find hard to follow, I’ll never forget how much he inspired me as an artist. How much fun I had at the 15 or so Michael Franti and Spearhead shows I’ve been to. And I’ll never forget sharing our wedding day with him.

And this is is where it started.

 

 

 

 

19 Things

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1. I support the rights of gay people to live without persecution, with all the same rights and freedoms as everybody else.

2. I support the rights of women to make their own choices with their bodies.

3. I believe in government-funded healthcare and education.

4. I support Black Lives Matter, and I tried to join the NAACP.

5. I believe that the entire criminal justice system in the United States needs a complete overhaul.

6. I think I will break if I see one more video of a black man being shot in the street.

7. I don’t like to eat animals, because I think it is mean to the animals, and that matters to me.

8. I am against routine infant male circumcision.

9. I support the right of the Palestinian people to live with dignity and humanity.

10. I support the right of Israeli’s to live in peace and security.

11. I believe there is no place for religion in the school system.

12. I think it is utterly shameful that in Ontario, public money is used to fund Catholic schools.

13. I think most of the news media is entertainment, not journalism.

14. I think that large-scale animal agriculture is the biggest threat to our planet.

15. I cry when I think about Syria.

16. I cried when it was over for Bernie Sanders.

17. I believe that if everyone doesn’t have them, they’re not rights, they’re privileges.

18. I believe that injustice will never be abolished until those who are served by it are outraged by it*.

19. I believe we’re all just walking each other home*.

 

*With special thanks to Plato and Ram Das for being more eloquent than I could ever be.

A Visit

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photo credit: Rob Greenbon

I had a visit from my grandparents last night. I used to call them dreams. But a few years ago, I had an eye-opening — a heart-opening — conversation with my amazing cousin Farhan, and he introduced me to the idea that these were not just dreams, but visits.

Now, my belief in a world beyond our own heartbreaking reality is equal parts shaky, desperate, deep and nonexistent. But I have to say, something about what Farhan said really stayed with me. Because it felt true. It hadn’t felt like a dream. It felt like a visit. And so it was.

Visits from my grandparents aren’t new. The first one was a couple of months after my great-grandmother died. She and I were pretty close, and she passed away one night in her sleep. As far as little old ladies dying, hers was kind of ideal. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t immobile. She was just old. And done. But still, I was heartbroken.

A couple of months after she passed away, I had a dream that she was sitting on a couch across the room, with her two daughter-in-laws beside her. I missed her, and I started crying. I asked her, “Where did you go?” And she responded, “I’m right here.”

I had this dream 21 years ago, but it’s as clear as day. Not a dream. A visit.

My grandparents visited me several times after Amira was born. In one of them, I asked my grandfather what he was doing there. He looked down at Amira in the stroller I was pushing and said, “I just came to see her.” He always wanted lots of little girls in the family. There’s no doubt in my mind that he came to see her.

And last night’s visit was similar. My grandfather, my grandmother and my great-grandmother were there. The little old ladies were sitting together and talking talking talking like they did every day. My grandfather was off to the side, and when he noticed me, he said, “We came to visit.”

 

All those things I could have said.

I had a great hoop practice today, and then sat down at my computer to write about something interesting and fun. Something that would capture your attention and keep it. Something that might make you laugh or make you cry. Something that would make you say, “Damn! Someone else needs to see this.” and share it. Something that would prompt you to send me a note telling me that you enjoyed it or appreciated it. Something really good.

But I made the mistake of checking the news first. And I saw another video of a black man being shot dead in the street by the police in the United States. And that was followed by another story of bombing in Syria. And that was followed by another story of migrants dying at sea. And that was followed by another story of a black man being shot dead in the streets by the police in the United States. And that was followed by a hundred comments from people who said he probably did something, said something, in some way provoked the shooting. Saying that he deserved what he got.

And then anything I wanted to say that was funny or smart or interesting, anything I could say that could touch or move you, was gone. Because I see all this stuff and I know that it’s there and then all I can say is, “Fuck. Everything is broken. It’s just all broken and it’s never going to get fixed.”

It’s not eloquent. It’s not even interesting. But I kept my commitment to myself. Even when everything else is broken.