Go home to your families

I was sitting at Starbucks, trying to answer some emails from my family (they get short shift) when Owen texted me.


I have listened to the Vinyl Cafe for oh, at least 20 years. Long before the age of podcasts or that kind of thing. I started listening to Stuart when you had to turn on the radio. Which was not hard because I grew up in a house that listened to CBC. Even so, noon on Sunday’s.

Some people probably started listened for the music. I can’t lie – I hated the music at first. Well, not hated, but it was so annoying that there was music because what I really wanted were the stories. The stories of Dave and Morley, Sam, Stephanie. Arthur the dog and Galloway the cat. Stories of being human.

It’s hard to do this well. Get it wrong it’s craven cynicism or it’s maudlin or grotesque. Stuart never got it wrong. Somehow he held us up as we are. The stories that were the best of us. The most human of us. The ways we are funny, silly, odd and so very, very human.

For those of you who have been around for years, you might remember December of 2009. I didn’t know it then, but that was when I came back to life. That was when I realized it was somehow going to be ok. I wrote Stuart that year and told him about this, about his concert and why I was there in 2009 and why I wasn’t in 2007. He wrote me back, a very kind email saying thank you. I think he knew about sadness and grief.

Stuart McLean died today. There will be no more Dave and Morley. I won’t get to laugh at Mary Turlington. No more Wong’s Scottish meat pies. Stephanie and Sam will maybe age, but there won’t be anyone to tell me about it.


I am thinking of this – of how his family became sort of my family. Of how he brought music into my house. So many of the bands I now love I heard from him.

Stuart ended his concerts the same way all the time. I know this because I went to many.

Go home to your families.

And he was part of mine.

So long for now.

Thanks Stuart.

Posted in Grief | 2 Comments

Your Opinion

It’s human to judge. We do it all the time. We take an incomplete set of facts and we make up our mind. Being gloriously human, we then legitimize our judgments by calling them opinions, values or common sense. Don’t tell me you never judge. You are trying to tell me that you are not human.

The challenge in judging, in opinions, is that they separate us from each other. This is a particular issue where the judging and opinions were unsolicited. It’s profound presumption that your opinion so valuable and so correct that the other must listen to it. That moves it from separation into downright rudeness.

My SIL, a kind and loving woman, sent Owen and I a long email imploring us to stay married. She was worried about my financial future, convinced that all the people my age are single for a reason and the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. She remains sure that marriage is not there to make you happy, so she thinks we should give up on romance and be a platonic couple. All of what she said, it was based on her mental framework. She told me far more about why she had stayed married than she told me about what I should do with my life. It was opinion, not fact.

The trick to mitigating the separation and the presumption of offering an opinion seems to lay in understanding your framework, your biases, your thought patterns and your triggers and then asking the other person if they want your opinion. When they ask, it means taking yourself out of the situation as much as you can and simply offering thougths.

I made my decision carefully. There were people I spoke to, we worked through the impacts of their decision together. I wanted their opinion because I knew they were aware of their mental frameworks, their biases. I listened carefully to what they said. In the end there was one opinion that mattered – mine. I needed to be ok with my decision. I needed to know it was carefully made, that it was done as kindly as possible and it was the best possible outcome.

As for the rest? I suppose if you are someone I care about, I’ll politely tell you that I’m good about asking for advice and assistance when I need it. If I haven’t asked you can rest assured I’m comfortable with my choice. If I don’t know you and I haven’t asked? I’m still going to be polite, but I’m going to tell you in no uncertain terms that I’m not interested in your opinion and to please keep it to yourself.

Which should explain to my charming commentator, who has been rather aggressive with the opinions about my divorce, why I blocked you from commenting. If you aren’t polite enough to realize that your opinions weren’t asked for, then I don’t feel like I need to read them.

Posted in Divorce | 8 Comments

Scared Off

I went on a date the other night. He was a nice guy. (It’s not going anywhere, but it was a fun night).  He commented that I probably “intimidated the hell out of a lot of men”. Which is true. They look at my education, my ambition, my drive, my paycheque and my competence and they . . . well, they run away. I get first dates and not second dates.

Yesterday, on an online dating site, a guy messaged me. I wasn’t interested (I require you to wear a shirt and be able to spell). I responded with my very standard “thanks for your message. I’m afraid I’m not interested, best of luck in your search.” I was told I wasi looked at my profile again and not a very attractive lady” (yes. sic.)

Today I posted a photo of my new cordless drill on facebook. This is the first tool I’ve bought for myself. I’m excited. I drill pilot holes and knows the difference in screw types. I’m all grown up now. My cousin came along to tell me that I had bought the wrong drill.  I cannot for the life of me find the instruction to not use my drill if you have testicles, but apparently, only a girl buys a black and decker drill.

Hilary Clinton. There’s one thing that never quite made sense to me – why was she so hated?  All those investigations, all that scrutiny, and yep, a few hinky things. But Donald Trump?  You cannot tell me that you think Hilary Clinton was more crooked or more incompetent than Donald Trump. I will not believe you.

There’s one thing that never quite made sense to me – why did you American’s hate her so much?  All those investigations, all that scrutiny, and yep, a few hinky things. But Donald Trump?  You cannot tell me that you think Hilary Clinton was more crooked or more incompetent than Donald Trump. I will not believe you.

I think it was a smoke screen. I think a bunch of people – men and women – they couldn’t stand the fact that Hilary thought she was capable of becoming president. They couldn’t stand the fact that she didn’t simper or giggle or make herself small. She stood on her qualifications and her skills and she told us she’d worked hard and she was capable. So you said she was crooked or dishonest and you leapt into bed with a misogynistic, bigoted homophobe because at least he wasn’t an ambitious woman. When the rest of the world tried to tell you what you were doing, you told us to shut up because we didn’t understand.

Except we did. We saw what was happening.

I think of Hilary and I don’t feel sick in my stomach. I get that hard to breathe because I’m panicking feeling. That’s what the world does to ambitious and capable women. It destroys them for having the gall to believe in themselves.

Posted in Feminism | 4 Comments

Dance in the Rain

My mother was many things. It’s no lie to say that she hated me. She hated how I threatened her, how she could not control me, she lived in fear that I would eclipse her. But she loved me too. In her own way, she gave me what she could. She taught me class, dignity. With the worst of circumstances, she made me the capable and competent and loving person I am now.

I don’t miss her during the divorce. She would have made things worse. I know this in my bones. This much heartache and worry and woe would have been food to her narcissism. She would dive in and she would make it so very much worse. I know that my mother was never going to be the mum that would tell me to come home, that would tell me she loved me no matter what. There was always going to be some poison in her kiss.

My mother had 2 magnets on her fridge when she died and I brought them home with me. Magnets, if I may digress for a moment, are deeply personal. They are inexpensive, but we buy them for a reason. To remind us. Because they make us smile. Because they speak about who we want to be. We expose our underbelly in magnets.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. I think was maybe a reminder that her life was hard and learning to dance in the rain was essential.

Mr. Spit is moving out the end of February. I have slept next to him, drank coffee next to him, cooked him dinner for a significant portion of the last 16 years. However much this was my choice, it is hard. Sad. Lonely. My family isn’t much. Small. Sparse. My friends are diving in – checking on me, offering to come and stay and take care of me when I switch drugs. I call them and tell them I’m not sure I can do “this”, and they tell me I will be fine, I am already fine. They tell me they believe in me.

I was at the hardware store buying some parts to fix my screen door. I am casually looking to replace some drapes when I came upon one of those wall stickers – telling me to learn to dance in the rain.

So I bought it.

I don’t know where I will put it. It’s not really my kind of thing. But it connected me with my roots, made me feel a bit less alone.

And reminded me of what my friends are telling me – I already know how to dance in the rain.

Posted in The language of families | 2 Comments

Wrestling and Mud

My father in law used to tell me to never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.

A high school friend posted that meme today. So I asked, were they not entitled to find love because he was disabled or because she was fat?

And the friend was horrified that she would “give off that vibe.”  I can understand that sometimes we need someone to come along and explain that meme only works because we think the disabled and the fat are not worth dating. That meme doesn’t work if it’s two “pretty” people kissing.

That’s not the pig. Pointing that out is not the mud or the wrestle. All of that happens after the premise of the humour is pointed out to you.

I’ve been there.My first instinct is not to say “thank you so much for furnishing me an opportunity for personal growth.” I’m probably no different than anyone else. My first instinct is to tell you I didn’t mean it that way. To tell you that there is something wrong with you.  See, you get a choice. When someone walks you through the problem, you have two options. You can listen. You can learn. Or you can argue.

That’s the wrestle. You get a choice. When someone walks you through the humour and says it is offensive, you have two options. You can listen. You can learn. Or you can keep arguing. I don’t wrestle with you. In this case, I pointed out that the meme was offensive. Posting it was the tacit acceptance that fat and disabled people don’t deserve love.

Someone (many someone’s actually) said that I shouldn’t have said anything. That offense is in the eye of the beholder, that you can’t call someone a bigot if you don’t know them.

That’s, well, it’s bullshit. Bigotry is bigotry. Choosing not to see it is not my problem. That’s not my wrestle and not my mud. Staying silent when I see it is my problem. When I stay silent, I get down in the mud with you. I become the pig.

I’ve kept my mouth shut about Trump on this blog. On facebook, for the most part. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Trump got elected for a whole bunch of reasons. One of them is that we don’t like calling people bigots. We don’t like calling out racism, misogyny. We think it’s “mean” or “rude” or “insulting”. Sometimes we say that pointing out bigotry is arguing with a pig. Watching how the discussion on facebook went, I can see why.

So we stay silent. And when someone says “that’s just your opinion” we don’t stick to our guns. We don’t point out how the humour works and re-emphaszie that if you think that the disabled or the fat shouldn’t be able to find a date if you can’t, then you are a bigot. That’s a statement of fact, not an insult. I’m not wrestling and I’m not debating, I’m pointing out a fact.

I’m only getting muddy when I say nothing.

Posted in Learning Life | 3 Comments

Thin Strand

I’ve often thought that there is a cord that wraps through our lives. It carries our family memories, our passions, who we were, the worries we carry our entire lives. It wraps around us; our relationships they become strands within it. I think of my triumphs and my sadness, of all things that have given me strength to go forward and the things that have held me back. That’s the cord, filled with strands.

There was a strand of unhappy in my cord. A thin one, ever present. It just never really went away. In the happiest of times it was there, a mild shadow. Ignored, brushed aside. A thing I looked at in the middle of the night, sometimes. It grew denser and blacker and stronger in the hard times.

The thing about the cord of our lives and the way it wraps around our relationships is that you can’t cut a strand. You cut the cord. So I ignored the strand. It was not all bad. It was often good. Just never free of the strand. 16 years. The strand just robs and robs and robs.

This week I cut the cord. We cut the cord. Mr. Spit and I are divorcing.

It’s sad. We are tired. It hurts. There’s a terrible cost, it’s an awful thing to cause someone hurt for your happiness. If I still believe in sin, surely this must be a sin. So too is it a sin to ignore unhappy. There are no rewards for it.

I balanced on a knife-edge trying to find my way around it for 16 years. I finally realized, that’s the thing about cords. You can cut them, splice them, stretch them and change them. You can swap out strands. Our son will hold us together. He has been in my life for all my life. I’ve no intention of writing him out of memory. I love him too much for that.

Mr. Spit will no longer be my husband. We will, I hope, I think, I pray, return to what we began with – a friendship.

Posted in Learning Life, Marriage, Mr. Spit | 6 Comments

Bidding Prayer

Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are for ever one.

I still listen to the Festival of Lessons and Carols at Christmas. My faith is dubious (although I went to Midnight Mass this year – see note about unhappiness and confusion.)

I found myself thinking of what it was to be without child or parent this Christmas. In some ways my mother is with me. She is with me when I sent my eldest nephew a crystal wine decanter upon hearing of his engagement. She was with me when I put spatula’s, tea towels and underwear in my stocking.

My son is ever with me. Crazy, perhaps, but there you have it. He lives in the space between my heart and my lungs and is with me in every way that matters.

It was not a happy Christmas. I have found myself a sort of lost for the last 3 months. I don’t have a particular explanation. I should be happy. I’ve no real reason to be unhappy. Yet here I am. Deeply unhappy. Muddling through as best I can. I hope it will pass. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to say that on Christmas Eve, I lowered myself on creaky knees and found myself praying that it would.

I do not know what I believe. That’s nothing new. In some ways, unhappiness is not much new either. A friend of mine both aptly and eloquently pointed out that I have experienced enough grief for a lifetime. It feels a bit melodramatic, but it is, I suppose, true.

I find myself going back to the things I knew. They change. I do not know them the same way. I do not believe what I once did. I suppose I am telling myself that this is alright. The bidding prayer used to connect me to what was- to my mother and my son. I know now that they are never gone from me.

The world, the bidding prayer tells me, is separated into shores. Not disconnected really. The ocean connects us all.

Not such a bad learning in the middle of unhappiness.

Posted in Advent Reflections | 2 Comments

Back When

I stood in line at the drug store, buying nylons and mascara. There was sugar free liquorice and I almost bought some. For just a second my mum wasn’t dead, she was alive and talking to me and sugar free liquorice went into her stocking.

I called my godmother – to get her new address for her Christmas card, to see how she was doing, to arrange to stop in for coffee after Christmas.

In some places, when I call, I am still Cheryl-Nancy. I phone and they say “Cheryl-Nancy!”. Like all children, I hated that name when I was younger. I hated how prissy it sounded. It reflected someone who just wasn’t me. At the ripe old age of 38 – nowhere near a child, it reminds me of my roots.

They are complicated roots. Gnarled, twisted. Some of the trees they grew were dark and twisted. And some of them weren’t. Some of those roots grew into amazing things. This morning was one of those mornings. You know, the kind where nothing goes right. You wake up late, can’t find things, need to change your purse and your boots fit funny and your tights have a hole in them.

I was running around the house this morning, running through work stuff, school stuff, Christmas stuff (the gifts are bought. The decorating and the groceries – not so much). I walked back into the bathroom and there was a whiff of my perfume. For a moment, I thought of my mum rampaging through the house, trying to get out the door. For a moment I thought of being a small child, of where I came from.

Back when I was still Cheryl-Nancy.


Posted in Advent Reflections | Leave a comment

Fierceness Written Within

They didn’t know where it came from – this calm fierceness.

All they saw was the woman who got up, dumped out last night’s scotch, made coffee, ate her cereal out of a plastic bowl. Went back out to face another day of grad school. They hated her for it, some of them.

Sitting on my bed in the morning, legs dangling over the side, staring into a coffee cup, she remembered.

Horrible sounds that came from a broken heart. The moment her eyes could not cry any more, but grief still remained. Sitting on the kitchen floor, unable to move, for most of day. The moment she could not make a cake because she could read the directions but something was so broken she couldn’t comprehend.

And this? This with longer days and work and deadlines? I went and found this two years after those terrible moments. I found a software implementation project and I worked and I worked and I worked. I worked until my broken heart knit back together, until comprehension returned. Until I could find my way back to the light.

They only see her.

They do not see you, my little boy. With my red hair and your father’s hazel eyes. Our freckles. They do not know about you. When they ask if this is hard, if I have cried, what shall I tell them? That 9 years ago today I held you for half an hour and I sang you a lullaby and you gasped for breath in my arms and you died.

My heart lives in 2 places. The best of me, my single greatest and most profound achievement never opened his eyes. But I call you Gabriel and you are our baby.

Sometimes, with some of them, I held out my hands. I told them that a very long time ago I did a hard thing, and that hard things change you. Scar tissue is stronger than skin. These terrible things, these hard things, they make you. Maybe, if they were very lucky, this would be their hard thing and they would find light on the other side.

Some day, when it is hard for everyone around them, they will be calm and they will be fierce. It will be built on love and pain and sorrow and a short moment of exquisite joy. And nothing will frighten them anymore.

They will understand -the broken and the fierce- it comes from what lives in the space between our heart and our lungs. We hold it there because it is what we love and how we breathe.

What lives in that space is the most amazing light and wonder you could ever hope to see in a dark place. It defines us.

And you define me.

Even still.

Happy Birthday little boy,


Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

Posted in Gabriel | 5 Comments

Tea Towels and Wooden Spoons

I see her around. Well, not really because she is dead, her ashes put in to the ground by my own hands.

Except that I see her. In a well dressed woman of a certain age. A tone of voice. A whiff of perfume. A turn of phrase.

Sometimes the turn of phrase comes out of my own mouth.

I see her absence too. When I walk down Whyte Avenue at Christmas and think of the shopping trips she took with my Godmother. As I cook food for a colleague whose mother is dying. When I survey worn and stained tea towels and battered wooden spoons. Too many years with no stockings.

The galaxy of small things I don’t think about until I do. The unexpected moment which catches you.

I came from something.

Not always something good, loving or even healthy. But something. I had roots. I had tea towels and wooden spoons and some idea of how to behave in public. It is Thursday. 2 years ago tomorrow I sat with her while she died. On Saturday am I held her hand for the last time.

I carry things forward. I pass on things, share care and concern. I make a friend, whose mother is dying, meals. Send thank you cards, still dress appropriately. In many ways, she is no more dead than she was in all of those years that she wouldn’t talk to me. Except when the last of the coffee mugs that she bought me broke, I lost the ability to breathe.

I can go buy more tea towels, wooden spoons. I can order them from amazon and never leave my house. A coffee mug is just a piece of ceramics.

Imbued by love. Tradition. The sense of how things should be. My mother wasn’t very good at it, but at least some of the time, she tried.

And I miss that. I miss her. I miss roots.

Posted in The language of families | Leave a comment