Mid Point

It’s been a series of small snaps in the last few weeks. The frustration and expense of trying to print my school readings. I know, I know. There are apps to annotate things, but I like paper and notes in the margins and highlighting and underlining. I’m working, but it’s only a month and everyone at the office tells me it will be ok and my contract will get extended (they think). Forgive me, but things being ok hasn’t been my experience of 2020.

Way back when, when I used to snowshoe at boarding school, we did a last race of the season which was 40Km. A snowshoe team, a really good one, moves about 3.5 Km across fields. You can pick up some speed on flat roadways, but it turns out it’s harder to snowshoe on roads. Any way you cut it, with lunch breaks and rest stops, you are starting at 7 am and finishing at 7 or 8 at night. You start in the dark, you end in the dark.

If you were the team captain, if you were an Old Girl*, you knew the route and you could estimate, more or less, how much was left. I am not the sort of person who relaxes into things (I know this surprises you), so I was happier when I figured out how much time was left.

Where am I going with this? Well, I guess it’s that if you were going to lose it, if you were going to decide that you could not walk another step, you did that when you were both the furthest from home and when it was about the middle of the race.

Perhaps this is the middle. I hope this is the middle. It’s 6 months and I don’t know if I have much more than another 6 months of this in me.

** This term has a particular meaning in the boarding school world. Mostly, in this context, it means someone who has been at the school for a few years.

Posted in Pandemic | 1 Comment

Random Distribution

I got official notice from my employer that they are hiring me back as of Monday. It’s still dicey – the work I’m doing only goes until December; which means that I could be unemployed again and will not have worked long enough to qualify for Employment Insurance. If I refused to take the work, I would have no longer qualified for Employment Insurance. I had to take the job.


I have a job again. I have managed to weather being ghosted and dumped and 14 weeks of unemployment. When my employer reneged on their promise of a top-up, I was able to find a part-time gig. I’ve kept on paying my mortgage. I’m not hugely in debt.

When I posted my better news on Facebook someone suggested there was no doubt I’d be ok, because I was brilliant.

You know what? There was doubt. There was a lot of doubt. There was doubt when I applied for my 60th job, 3 weeks ago. There was doubt when I realized that my employer may have promised me a top-up, but they weren’t going to deliver, and raising a fuss would likely make them get rid of me permanently. (Let us not forget, I would up laid off 72 hours after I told them that I was not able to fly with my MS). There was doubt when my GP prescribed me Ativan. There was doubt when I got up and wrote “learn python, read another chapter of Foucault, walk dog, weed garden” on my to-do list, knowing that I needed routine for sanity, but also knowing that none of it made any god damn difference. There was doubt morning, noon, and night. I lived with the taste of doubt and worry and fear.

The job arrived randomly. It was nothing I did or did not do. I didn’t apply for it, I didn’t network. It was not hustling from sales guys in the Edmonton office. A client I’d never heard of from another province needed my skills and I showed up in an internal resume search. Random.

The Gentleman Caller was a random match on a dating app. In a city of 1 million people, we know no one in common. I’d never have met him on my own. I liked his smile, he thought my description of myself as a “high-energy particle” was funny. Random swiping.

I know this – I know this in my bones; it is not the best things that arrive randomly. It is not the worst things that arrive randomly. It is all things. Random. There is no fault. There is no trick. There’s just dice. It’s not even the right roll of the dice. You just keep rolling the dice for long enough. Sooner or later, you’ll get a better roll. That’s how random works.

Posted in Adult Dating, Evil Corporations, Pandemic | 2 Comments

Back To . . . .

The good thing about the pandemic is that I can take 2 courses this semester. Most of my courses are ‘asynchronous’, meaning that I have about an hour of remote learning that is time dependent, then the rest is done on my own time. While I’ll miss seeing my classmates, and my instructors, and anything other than my house, if I can keep this pace up over the year, I’ll have shaved a year off my education.

It’s weird to go back to school while unemployed. I applied for my 60th job a few weeks ago, and while I do believe that some of this is a numbers game, and while I keep reminding myself that the extension of my part time U of A gig means that I’m ok until the end of December, I’m still unemployed. It is not showing signs of getting better.

When I think back to the times in my life where I have been unmoored, unsure, this isn’t the first. In all those cases, I did not know how it would end until it did end. In many cases, there was nothing I could do to make it end, until that time had come.

I’m back to school. I’ve bought a single text book and a bunch of video games. I’ll apply for more jobs this week.

Sometimes the chief virtue of this sort of situation is that I know I will survive it. I have no other choice really.

Posted in Pandemic | Leave a comment

I Still Haven’t

Last year on September 12, I wrote the first post about Andy and brain cancer. At that point, we didn’t know if it was brain cancer. We certainly didn’t know that he would be dead in May. Christie called me in Costco, and Andy and his death and me trying to convince the universe he wasn’t a good pick, they are all tied up in an inability to buy the right sized furnace filter.

Lost vision at the start of September. Diagnosis on October 17. Montana for the end of Chemo in December. Montana to have Andy committed to a psych ward in March. Covid. Andy died on May 8th. Not Montana for that, since the border was closed.

I know the timeline, mostly because I lived it. I can point to the kilometers on my car; when people ask if I went to concerts last year – Cancer ate most things for me last year.

I had bought more furnace filters during the Costco trip when Christie called me. I wasn’t sure if they were the right size, and they weren’t. I’ve tried to fix it twice since then. Both times I got the size wrong. I was in Costco a few weeks ago and I remembered the need as I was leaving. I’m not sure that Mr. Ice Cream understood how exhausting the furnace filter problem is; it’s not quite obvious how much is caught up in those furnace filters.

All of that became a bit clearer, at least to me, this afternoon. A work colleague, one I quite like has been diagnosed with cancer. Now, it’s very different. His chances are really quite good. But for a moment, as I struggled to catch my breath, I remembered. It really hasn’t been all that long.

It seems like I’ve been trying to solve the furnace filter problem for months. Maybe years. It’s not. Less than 8 months.

Posted in Learning Life | Leave a comment

Women Like Me

Today is Rainbow Baby Day. Now, perhaps if I had a baby that lived after Gabriel I might be more of a fan, although I don’t think so.

(This is a good time for an aside. I think for some people the idea of Rainbow Baby day is a comfort. If so, I’m glad. You aren’t wrong. I’m not right. This probably isn’t the post for you. Go have a coffee or a tea and come back another day).

I notice this year’s meme has some mention of the women (and why is it always women?) who had to go find silver linings in other clouds or clouds that didn’t bring us joy or some such crap.

In the days after Gabe died, and then as another 4 babies died, I didn’t want the promise of a rainbow. I wanted to see someone like me. I wanted to see a woman who didn’t ever have another baby and I wanted to know if she was ok. If she was happy.

If she lived a life out of the shadow of someone else’s rainbow if she went and found her own damn sunbeam.

There were women – Loribeth chief among them – who did.

Women who taught me that it’s not either or. There’s a sunbeam if you go and find it. There’s also shadow. Ever aware that we so very nearly lived another life, we turn our faces toward the sun, and we still see the shadow. We remember the rain.

So no, it’s not a rainbow. It’s not sunshine and unicorns and pots of gold. It’s hard and sad and joyous. It’s not the reflected glory of a slightly different life without someone you wanted. It’s a radically different life on an entirely different path.

It’s still a good life. I suppose it’s a sign of the times, but twice on twitter in the last week, I have wished someone luck as they started IVF. I have gently told them that I hoped it worked and I would be delighted to knit for a baby. I’ve also said that if if it didn’t work, that it was ok to not have a baby. Not what you planned, but there was room for a good and wonderful life.

So, if you are me, like I was 10 years ago, don’t settle for the silver lining in everyone else’s cloud.

Go find your own sunbeam.

It’s there.

It’s worth it.

Posted in Baby Loss, Life After Children | 2 Comments

speak gently

The anxiety started about a week ago. It was a bit unsurprising. When I was laid off, I was reasonably convinced I would start September with a job. That gave me the summer off, which I had savings for, and then job in the fall. For this to work, I needed to have a job in hand by the middle of August.

It has not worked this way. It turns out that the universe did not get my message. My employer had promised me a top-up to my EI benefits, and while that has never materialized, a part-time position at the university that will stretch until the end of December will allow me to continue to function until December without the top-up from my employer. I’ll keep applying for jobs.

I passed an imaginary deadline and started to panic. I managed, bit by bit. A dose of Ativan, distraction, exercise. The days continued and so did the anxiety.

And finally one morning, reassurance. To myself. I lay in bed and reminded myself of all of the times that I have fixed things, figured things out. All of the things in the universe that have tried to break me, tried to kill me.

I told myself that it was ok to be tired. It was ok to be scared. It was ok to be terrified. It was ok to be overwhelmed. I didn’t have to fix everything. I just had to survive long enough to eventually be able to fix things.

It’s better with that.

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Pandemic | 3 Comments

Not Me

I’ve been on a few dates with a guy. We’ll call him Mr. Ice Cream. (Yes, dating during a pandemic is weird.)

He was at my house last night, eating dinner. In the corner of my dining room is a shelf. Gabriel’s picture, a stuffed animal, and the urn of Gabriel’s ashes. Mr. Ice Cream had been looking around at photos, as one is wont to do. I watched his eyes track to Gabe.

He asked if it was a baby photo of me.

13 years on I have a series of polite and smooth answers, at least most of the time. I have learned, where polite and smooth answers will not work, to divert and distract. To answer one question with another, avoiding bringing the terrible and tragic into the pleasant and the mundane.

I do not know what to call that full and terrible moment between the question and the answer.

If Mr. Ice Cream sticks around long enough, I will tell him about the baby, about how I am a sort of mother, if not exactly. I will tell him that I stare off into the stars sometimes and I am sad.

But for now?

No, I said. That’s not me. But if you look at the photo of my dad over there in that other corner, you can see how much I look like my parents.

Posted in Adult Dating, Baby Loss, Pandemic | 4 Comments

Thank you for your Patience

One of the things that happened earlier in July was that the university hired me as part of a team that provides remote teaching support to instructors for the fall (My university is doing very little in the way of in-person classes.) I got a random email and realized that I had been “hired”. It took the person running it and I about 3 conversations and 2 days to realize that he had never managed a project and I had, so I introduced him to the concept of a project co-ordinator. He’s thrilled, he gets someone who keeps things organized and working and my ‘rather wounded by being dumped and then laid off in 36 hours’ self-esteem gets a boost.

I’m meant to work about 12 hours a week doing this. It’s enough to supplement my EI and while it puts me a very tiny amount over the allowable earnings, it’s not enough to cause mass consternation. It means that I haven’t had to dip into my savings yet, which is lovely. (The job market continues to be slow. While my employer is looking for work, I’m not sure that there is any to be had). That’s the useful backstory I needed to give you.

It’s been a bit of a scramble, figuring out an approach on the fly, organizing 13 people. The last few weeks have been more than 12 hours of work a week and I’m fine with that. There are still a few things outstanding. At the end of yesterday, as I sent out an update email, I was about to start apologizing (profusely) for not having something done.

Then I remembered something I had read. Something about giving away power and taking too much on. About not apologizing when you don’t mean it.

I’ve put in something like 20 hours this week and while that task needed to get done, it was nowhere near critical. I did the tasks that were critical, the tasks that keep things moving, that were going to make the project work. I used a certain amount of judgment and I acknowledged that as someone who has managed far larger and far more complex projects, this particular task could slide.

I didn’t apologize. I simply thanked my colleagues for their patience while I worked through a pile of things.

I got a note back that said “no worries.”

I cannot describe how much “thanks for being patient” made me feel. I wasn’t a screw up or a failure. I was a busy person, trying her best.

So amazing.

Posted in Feats of Wonder | 2 Comments

The Smell of Memory

I don’t know what it is for you. For me, the smell of truck exhaust brings me back to a horse stable. Summer is the smell of rain, but also the smell of hot rubber and newly mown grass. Discordant perhaps, but since they are individual connections, does it really matter to anyone that diesel exhaust brings me back to horse stables?

Moving away from smell, there are moments in my current routine when I go back to other parts of my life. Sunny days when I work on my back deck at the work I am doing for the U or at learning python or stats, or just the process of applying for jobs, when I think back to other summers.

In the summer before I went in to grade 6 we lived in an apartment on the top floor of a building and it was hotter than hades. I took to staying up half the night and sleeping on the balcony in a lounge chair. I would wake up to the blazing heat and the sounds of construction from the freeway below me.

I think the summer I was 15 I watched a family friend’s daughter. I remember days at the outside pool where I was there in a sort of overwatch way, but really I did little to earn my paycheque. I could swear that was the summer I read both Fear of Flying and Gone with the Wind – I remember sunburn and shimmering chlorine and trying to understand exactly what Erica Jong was trying to get across.

Perhaps what comes to mind most, and why those memories are so old is that they were the last times I had hours and days and weeks of empty time, with virtually no one and nothing to fill it.

Pacing is a challenge. There is so little concrete in my life right now. I have two meetings a week for the University (both on Wednesday) and then there is a sense that I could vanish from this world until the following Wednesday and no one would notice. My brain lies to me and tells me I am alone, I spend a certain amount of time reminding myself that friends do reach out and I do see people and my vanishing would be noticed.

I am working on connecting with the mundane. The satisfaction of a list of things checked off. The taste of a coffee and a cooky at 3 pm. The delight of clean sheets. The smell of the air after rain. That moment when I am sitting in my office at home working on something and I can sense, by a brightening in the room, that the sun is starting to peek out of the clouds. I am working at grounding myself, connecting myself to what is – not what could be or what was or what might be.

I’m not good at it. I suppose the nice thing about remembering a summer when I was 12 and a summer when I was 15 is that if I stop and think, I can imagine all the things I didn’t know and wasn’t good at those years.

Maybe, it occurs to me that 30 years from now I will think back to this summer. It’s an interesting thought.

Posted in Pandemic | 2 Comments

In Our Hands

This year I could not get out to the garden where we spread my mum’s ashes for Mother’s day. At the end of June, when we would normally go out for her birthday, I was incapacitated. Limited in my ability to walk from sciatica and plantar fasciitis, limited in my ability to think, to plan, to move from one moment to the next. My mother’s birthday passed. It is past the middle of July and I have not made it out to the garden. The irises, which were the reason we spread her ashes where we did, are long past bloom. Like so many things this year, I was not there when I ought to have been.

“Covid”, we murmur. Half apologetically, with a sense of frustration. Sometimes it is probably more of a yell, strangled behind the weight of fear and worry and exhaustion from planning trips from our homes which are more tactical strikes instead of runs to the grocery store for milk and dish soap.

And still, my mother is with me. I made pastry this morning for a quiche later in the day. A meal to thank a friend who will clamber up on a ladder with $20 worth of supplies and fix what is only occasionally and in very particular circumstances, a leak in my house. I stared at my hands, freckled from all the sun I have gotten. I started at the blunt fingers and too short nails. I stared at the ring I bought myself when Owen left. I stared at an area of new pink skin, left behind when I scratched a mosquito bite one too many times.

I see my mother in my writing. Not what I write here, but in the loops of my cursive/non cursive blend. I see it in my compulsive lists and scrawled notes. I see the work of her hands still in parts of my gardens. The plants are new, changed, transformed, but I can stand to left and down from the rhubarb and hear her jokes about putting rhubarb and strawberry plants and calling it the pie patch.

I see her in what she was not, what I am not. In the pie plate filled with a light and flaky pastry. My mother’s pastry landed heavy, sodden. It sat uncomfortably in the middle of your being. I see it in my attempts to be kind, to be gracious and the careful thought about where and when and why I fail at this. I see it in my honesty about my current fragility.

I don’t know if I will get to the botanical garden, sit on her bench and tell her what has happened. I don’t know if I will climb up the stairs to the bell in the Japanese garden, pull back the log and let it swing forward. I don’t know if I will hear the bell ring out, summoning my mother, an accoustic reminder that I marked something beyond standard holidays.

And I don’t know if it matters. Perhaps I summon her as well when I stare at marks and freckles on my hands.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment