Sunday, March 30, 2008

lights out

On the train home I overheard a conversation between two guys, early thirties, one heavy, hair matted down with sweat at the front like a little boy coming in for a drink after playing outside. The other, thin, pale and powder dry, had a hint of a British accent. They both wore suits stuffed under their coats, which reminded me of when my mother used to make me wear a snow suit to school over my clothes.

These two guys, they talked about their office jobs in a generic sort of way, but somehow you still knew what they were saying. Their words were so benign, but maybe that was part of the trouble. It was something like, "Yeah, these guys just keep putting shit into these files and then they pick them up, make their presentation and never touch them again". Whatever they said, it made just enough sense to start that dull ache in the pit of my stomach, and like drips of water, all of that joined up with the threads that had meanered their way through my fresh new job this week, and suddenly there was a current.

Its just so damn depressing to see the truth so clear and up close. It takes you out of the moment. Makes it hard to go along with things when you see we are just animals doing odd little things; copies of a copy of a copy of a copy. It's a mess. A sad performance.

I don't know, but I can tell you that it is something about this life I find incredibly lonely and hard to take. It makes that little black fleck seem like the only sensible thing in the universe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

black hole

You probably see it as a small black fleck
In a sea of swirling color;
Flashing lights,
Your name in lights,
Memories to be made,
If you see it at all.
I do.
It's all I can think about,
That little black fleck.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

messy writing

By the time I ever get up the inspiration to write, I've been sitting on my couch in the living room, curtains drawn, watching mindless television and drinking cups of instant coffee for so long I'm restless and I need to get up and do something before I feel like a complete failure. A sloth.

'Go to the gym, you lazy ass', I tell myself. 'Are you even gonna leave the house today?'

The phone rings periodically and car horns beep on the street below, which irritates me more, furthering the sense of urgency. It's as if people are waiting outside for me. Life beckons and staying in to write is a waste of time.

"You're not even going to take a shower? Your hair is in knots. Filthy knots', I continue. I can be mean.

'Your a mess. The apartments a mess. Do something!'

All of this usually coincides with a moment of inspiration.

It's always a dirty back room deal, my writing.

If nothing else is on the schedule, if no one else wants me, only then do I have permission, if you can even call it that. It's uncomfortable. It's crack filler.

Like today, a few sentences in.

'You should clear off the coffee table.'

It's a modern dark brown table where I do almost everything. Sitting on the couch, I eat there in front of the television, especially for breakfast, and so I am in the habit of leaving a black placemat for my coffee cup and dishes on the table so I don't scratch the surface. But this morning, as I look up from the screen, I notice how dirty the placemat looks.

'It always does', I add. Sometimes I hate myself.

However, in all fairness to the part of me I hate, the placement does show up everything. I wash it, I shake it out over the sink when there are crumbs, and yet, like a black car, even a speck of dust is annoying.

I take it away, shake it off and put it back on top of the fridge with the others. No more. I will risk a scratched table. While over there, I clear the dishes from the counter into the sink and fill it with soap and hot water to soak. I go through the pile of mail on the counter, determined suddenly to put everything away. There I come across a T4 slip. I go to the closet and pull out the other tax documents. I decide I need to organize this stuff right now, knowing that if I do it, I'll feel better.

But first I should at least brush my hair and put it in a ponytail so I don't feel so grungy and uncomfortable. In fact, maybe I should just shower now, but then I want to go for a run in a little while, so it would be a waste.

'Of what? Water?'

Well yes, in fact it is a waste of water. It is also drying to the skin if I shower twice in one morning, and bad for my hair.

I pull my hair back and return to the kitchen where I come across a long hand-written letter I got from my father before I went away, which reminded me of one my mother wrote me many years ago, when I was in my late teens; pages of lined paper folded into thirds and stuffed into a small envelope.

Is it me? Do I have some flaw that brings pleading letters out of people? Forces threm to desperate measures?

My father's letter was long and very neatly written. My mother's too, as I recall. It's funny, no matter how hard I try I can't write neatly. Almost no one can read my writing.

My father always wants something from me. The letter was just another angle in. It is always the same. He wants to erase history and create storybook endings. He wants to eradicate his guilt. I suppose one of these days I could let him have that. It's probably time.

I stopped cleaning the kitchen, sat down at the computer and logged into my email to reply to my father.

Dear Dad:

I came back from Cuba last week and started my job and with the long weekend I finally have a few minutes to write you. So far things are going well. I had a two-day general orientation and then I spent a couple of days getting familiar with the project I will be working on. It seems like it is going to be interesting and probably a pretty busy place to work. So far so good.

It was nice to get a letter from you. It arrived right before I went away. Nice card too. Loved the photograph on the front.

It sounds like turning 60 is a good time of life for you. It seems like its all coming together. I hope you will be able to continue on with that and fully enjoy how far you have come for many many years.

In your letter you said you hope I don't feel that you are indifferent with me and with what I am doing. I can assure you I have never felt that way. While there have been problems and differences of opinion between us, I have always felt you were proud of me and interested in what I was doing. I appreciate that.

I think that the hardest thing in the world is to live in the moment and not focus on the past or the future. Just as difficult I think is to be true to who you are. I think the best thing a parent can do is set an example. You are doing that by taking this trip you are going on in May, enjoying life in the moment, and contributing to the world through your charitable work. I think your kids will learn a lot from what you are doing, each in our own way.

I look forward to hearing about your trip. Be well.

Love Rachel

It felt a little like sandpaper writing that, and although I didn't tell him everything he wanted to hear, I didn't ignore him, which is what I would have done in the past, inadvertently taking all of the guilt for myself.

What he wanted me to say is that yes, I think we should get to know each other, spend time together, make our relationship into the father-daughter relationship we have probably both wished we had, but I didn't say those things.

And after I sent the email to him, I stayed seated and I wrote this out. I needed to write, more than I needed to clean. Turns out I did both. Also turns out the two are really not that different.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

my own space

The first week on the job is going pretty well. I think the work is interesting already. I have my own office. It's small but it has everything it needs: desk, file cabinet, a wicker chair for patients or guests, and a beautiful abstract painting on the wall. It's hard getting used to a new space. I did what I could to make it my own. Re-arranged the thumb tacks on my bulletin board by color, organized the office supplies and familiarized myself with the files. I am still waiting for the computer guy to hook me up; hopefully tomorrow.

It's nice being in a large teaching hospital with good coffee shops and stores. I bumped into a girl I went to nursing school with and hadn't seen for 8 years. She's been working in the same unit since we graduated. Of course she's had two kids since then. Who hasn't?

Oh yeah. Me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

conversations with my mother

My parents are leaving for New Zealand tomorrow. My mother called me tonight to say goodbye. We pretty much had the same conversation tonight as we had three nights ago.

"I'm still trying to figure out what to wear on the airplane."

"Are you kidding me? This is not a difficult decision to make. Did we not just discuss this? I said wear your lulu's and your zip-up with a tank top underneath in case you get a hotflash."

"Ok, but then I thought maybe I should wear that black criss-cross v-neck. You know the one you gave me?"


"You know. It's criss-cross."


"Black with a v-neck in the front and the back?"


The conversation continued on like that until my mother changed the subject to something even more delightful.

"What are you doing tonight?"

"Nothing. I think I'll hang out here tonight. I was out late last night."

"Oh Rachel. I just wish you had something to do—someone to do something with. I just wish you could meet someone."

"Ok mom, this conversation can not keep going on repeat. Surely you must see that it doesn't bring anything good into the mix. I went out last night. I go out all the time. Nothing was going on tonight. That's all. Sure it would be nice to meet someone, but this conversation will only serve to annoy me."

"Oh I know", she laughs. "I just want you to be happy."

"I'm happy mom", I tell her like I always do, only this time I believe it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

playa blanca

I am back in the country; back to the worst winter in 15 years. Just in time for a spring forward time change. Early for the second year in a row and with all of this snow I find the light confusing. But good.

Tropical thunderstorms in Cuba and more snow in Toronto threatened to keep me there, but the plane took off. I never would have guessed I would find a week in a tropical paradise more than enough, but it was. I didn't want to be there for another night, if you can believe it. I mean seriously, take a look at the photo. That was my week.

White flour sand, the clearest cleanest most turquoise water I have ever seen, and warm too, especially when the tide was low. If it was just that I would be crazy to be so ready to face the relentless winter, but there is always more.

The food was terrible. I mean terrible. I sort of knew that going in, however I was still surprised. I mean even the fruit was bad...or canned. Even worse. If you like gristly mystery meat paired with brussel sprouts in a milky fluid, you would have been in heaven. So I became a vegetarian for the week.

Then there were the other guests. They were either young Quebecois couples with their children, elderly British couples baking themselves to a deep orangey-red, girls each sporting almost identical tattoos across their lower backs and their boyfriends in tank tops. There is something so unappealing about men in tank tops. Lana and I just didn't really find a place there. I think we were the only single people there, unless you count the gay couple or the group of ladies who harassed them. One night in the cigar lounge they got pulled over to a table by these women in their late 30's/40's. I watched them reluctantly drag their chairs over. Minutes later I heard one of them squeal,

"Gay guys make the BEST friends!!!"

"And like they are SO good looking”, another added. “I'm always like, that is SUCH a waste!!!"

I was so embarrassed for them. All I could do was shake my head.

I should have known I was in the wrong place the first time we went to eat and most of the people seemed to have no problem with the food.

The beach won me over, but after the first few breathtaking views coming up over the mangroves I just wanted it without all of the rest. In addition to the people and the food, along the path to the beach, there was a strong stench of shit in the air, which I also could have done without.

I left the resort only once, and it was by catamaran to a coral reef to snorkel. It was beautiful and peaceful and I could have done it every day.

There was nowhere else to go. Havana was hundreds of miles away unfortunately.

I sat in the shade on the beach, read constantly, wrote nothing, smoked some cohibas, did not overeat [or should I say COULD NOT], deliberately did not get a burn [or consequently much of a tan], and all of that left me recharged and offset some of the stuff that annoyed me, like watching people eating bad food, waving around pesos like they were big spenders to get special treatment at the buffet or the bar, and listening to parents bargain with there children.

"Madison, can Mommy put your sunscreen on?"


"Come on Maddy, please can Mommy put your sunscreen on?"


"Ok, then can Daddy put Madison's sunscreen on?"


If it is not an option, do not ask a two year old permission. Do not spend 30 minutes reasoning with them.

They say no. That's what two year olds do.

I have never seen such an incredible beach and I have never relaxed this much in my life. Lana and I wanted the same things out of the week and so it was ok that I went to bed by 10 pm every night. I could not keep my eyes open. I woke naturally to the sounds of birds between 6 and 7 every morning. I ate pretty healthy [i.e., didn't eat much], drank cappuccinos and rum, played tennis, read, napped, swam, read, napped, swam, and then started all over again. I did what I wanted to do.

But overall, something about the circumstance in that place didn't sit right with me. Beyond the bad food and the smell of sewage, something was off.

Maybe it was that the people who live there can never leave, despite all the potential—so much life— bubbling under the surface. It was palpable, and so fully enjoying this incredibly contrived paradise didn't resonate with me for long. All of the rest and relaxation could only mask that hollow feeling, almost a metallic taste in my mouth. When it was time to come home, I was ready. Rested and relaxed without a doubt, but ready.

back inaction

I'm back, and I still have some time off, but I can't seem to come up with much to say.

I think I am stuck in reverse. Instead of putting it out there or writing ferociously in my notebooks, I am reading and watching and listening. I am taking it all in. Filling up the tank or something like that, and I am relishing every minute of it.