Kale Phone

Kale Phone

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Closer I Am To Fine

While I was in Ontario helping her with her bunion, my mother gave me a small notebook I’d kept in 1999. I’d decorated the front cover with a yellow sun, outlined in red, blue and then a final line of yellow. On the back, I’d drawn a child-sized hand, red with disproportionate fingers, outlined in flowy lines of yellow, blue and red. It seems I was into primary colours. Inside the notebook were pages of graph paper.


 “June, 1999,” I’d written on the first page. I’d drawn five-pointed starts in each corner. All the words and the stars were in pencil.
“Erica Schmidt, I wrote in perfect cursive writing, with unenclosed smiley faces on either side. Then I quoted Jewel, from the song, Hands, still in perfect penmanship:

“If I could tell the world just one thing, it would be, that we’re all OK.”

The whole thing is amazingly embarrassing, but what the hell.
“I’m okay too,” wrote Erica in 1999. I was at the end of ninth grade, and thirteen years old.  Maybe I was on the verge of hating myself, as some thirteen year olds are.

“This is my feel better book.” More unenclosed smiley faces on either side. “My Sunshine Book.”
Squint and you might see.
In the Sunshine Book, in my perfect penmanship, I’d penciled stories and quotes from lofty and inspirational sources such as, “Chicken Soup from the Teenage Soul,” “Anne of Green Gables,” Dr. Seuss and “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.” Back then there was no such thing as LOL, so whenever I found something amusing, I would write, “teeheehee” or “heeheehee” surrounded by countourless happy faces.  The teeheehess and heeheehees are everywhere.

In addition to a list called, "On Guys," there is a section of hilarious jokes, pick-up lines, and the playlist from a carefully selected mixed tape. “My Tape,” it was called, “Songs that were written for and about me” “My Tape” included hits from 1999 and before. The Googoo Dolls, Frosh, Sarah MacLachlan, The Dawson’s Creek soundtrack, Grease, and my Women and Songs CD. Next to each song I articulated some astute memories and/or insight.
Examples:

Closer to Fine, by the Indigo Girls – "I love it. After all, the best thing anyone could do for me is to help me take my life less seriously. It’s only life after all. Contourless happy face."

Foolish Games-by Jewel- "happy face – I can’t say I’ve ever really had anyone who could have played these sorts of foolish games with me… oh well. Heeheehee."
I Don’t Want to Wait, by Paula Cole – (from the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack. Choosing between Dawson and Pacey paralleled my real-life crush choices. It was between the swim team hotties Alex Crampton and Michael Brown. I switched back and forth every year. In grade nine, I think I was back onto Alex. He looked more like Dawson. So maybe I was more a Dawson Girl.) – "reminds me of Dawson's Creek. (drawn heart.) Silly show but I love it, it’s great. Teeheehee. Plus, I guess maybe it should make me happier before my “life’s over” (hehe) and live in the present moment because it’s called a present for a reason (teehee)."
Dawson and Pacey, Such lookers
Angel, by Sarah MacLachlan-"this is the best song in the world and it’s gonna be played at my funeral or maybe at my wedding or maybe both – or maybe I’ll become an immortal old maid."

Whatever happens, please don’t play, “Angel” at my funeral. I’m not sure how I pictured it at my wedding. Well, becoming an immortal old maid is not a bad option. I was surprised that Alanis Morrisette didn’t make it on the list, but I suppose she was more grade six.

In grade eight, for public speaking, I wrote a speech called, “An Ode to Appearances.” The ode made it into the Sunshine Book. Probably I didn’t really know what an ode was. Seemingly cutting edge, the speech was about beautifying methods such as wrinkle cream, liposuction and plastic surgery.

“All around the world, women aren’t satisfied with their appearances. They feel that their noses are too big, their bottoms jiggle when they walk and their ears stick out too much.”
I wonder what my delivery was like. I remember people laughing quite a lot, and my grade eight teacher Mr. Dutton peering at me in shocked confusion. The speech is not all that well researched, but perhaps I talked so fast that nobody noticed. And I banked on shock value by using words such as “breast implant” “bottom lifters,” “jiggle,” “cellulite” and “padded brassieres.” For undereye puffiness, instead of some expensive procedure, I recommended hemorrhoid cream. I describe liposuction as “when they open your face, stick the tweezers in and pull out all the fat.” According to the ode, during a facelift they “stick the knife in and kind of rearrange things under there.” Pretty much the premise of the whole thing is that all the beautifying methods are too expensive. The speech came in second, behind Clare Banerd, who performed a charismatic and highly detailed discourse on jelly bellies.

My childhood heroine, Anne of Green Gables used to speak of something called “High Ideals of Earthly Bliss.” Likely the most simultaneously adorable and embarrassing section of the Sunshine Book is a list named after Anne’s ideals.
Some High Ideals of Earthly Bliss (heeheehee)

1.        Get flowers from a boy. (illustrated by stick figures of a boy and a gift, and a tulip.

2.       Get a teddy bear or stuffed animal from a boy. (teehee again) Countourless happy face, more stick figures, a teddy bear.

3.       To go on a picnic with a boy. (teeheehee) More stick figures! A picnic basket.

4.       To have (a) best friend(s) someone who I can have fun with and giggle with who knows me really really well and still loves me even if they don’t have to. Illustrated by two happy faces. These ones are outlined.

5.       To have a normal degree of photogenicness. (teehee)

Illustration: contourless happy face not Ugly happy face. (2015: I used to feel so self-conscious in photos and ended up look rather awkward if not terrible. I had almost forgotten about this ordeal. And now my phone is filled with a shameful amount of selfies. Teeheehee)
Very photogenic
6.       This one is surrounded by hearts: To know all the time that I am loved and to let others know all the time in little ways that they are loved by me.

7.       To love myself and not worry about what other people think.

For all the boys who were thinking of sending me flowers, or teddy bears, I'll leave you with these clever pick-up lines which conclude the Sunshine Book:
“Are you wearing Windex? I swear I can see you in my pants.”

“If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”

“They call me Milk because I do your body good.”

Teeheehee, teeheehee, teeheehee.
The End.
 
Hoping to conclude the blog's Semi-hiatus in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, feel free to send me your Internet Diagnosis of the Week.
Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor

Yours Til Ekam Inhales
Life and Death are of Supreme Importance
Slow Dance (featuring some memories of 1999)
 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Lying Down Club

As I compose compelling skin care copy, the blog is supposed to be on hiatus. Despite this, I am inspired to write a response to Angela Jamison’s lovely and recent post called “Rest.” Among writers and bloggers, Angela is one of my favourites. Her masterfully selected words stick with you for a long time.

“Rest.” by Angela Jamison is the perfect complement to “How to Wake Up to Yoga,” and “How to Get Up for Yoga Again.”  (Forgive me if I sound like a bottle of re-hydrating anti-age serum. The syntax has permeated my cells.)
Angela Jamison
Ashtanga Yoga, Ann Arbor
Says Angela,

“Waking up, check. Around here, we like intensity, sharp focus, and fire. Life on the razor’s edge is sweet and clear. But if you only practice getting up strong, and do not practice going to bed soft, then imbalances can form in the nervous system over the long term. Some of the first indicators of lack of deep rest may be: fuzzy mind, emotional unavailability or reactivity, and susceptibility to illness. In this light, deep rest enables creativity, meaningful relationships, and vibrancy.

Conscious relaxation shows in a person’s bodily tissues, in the personality, and in how she relates with time and with the earth. It is the foundation of Jedi mind training.”

I’ve never had too much trouble waking up early. From the age of seven, the hands of my Mickey Mouse watch directed an extensive routine that involved walking the dog, practicing the violin and writing eloquent letters to my grandparents in Manitoba. These letters came out every single day. With my smelly Mr. Sketch markers, I lovingly decorated the envelopes. Over the years, the morning routine evolved and devolved to encompass grueling swim team workouts, and icy runs with ankle and wrist weights.  

As for sleeping, typically I am not terrible. Early into my Ashtanga days, I stopped consuming caffeine around noon, if not much earlier. Like clockwork, a chai at 12:30 results in mild reverberations extending past midnight. If someone needed a sleep coach, stopping caffeine at lunchtime would be my first piece of advice. Alcohol at any time, and Netflix past 8 p.m., these are also risky gambles. Maybe it is worth it sometimes, especially during family visits. You’ll have to figure this out for yourself.

Many Ashtangis go through a stage of being obsessed with food. Little to no dinner seems to be a trend, the ostensible key to a light and energized practice. I’ve tried this a few times, in Mysore and at Vipassana. Most often it ends with me sitting in the dark, quite hungry.  My body has pretty clear needs, and pretty clear signals. This, I have come to appreciate. Keeps the Divorce Diet in check. The Vipassana People eventually took pity on me. By Day 3, they permitted evening peanut butter sandwiches. By Day 7, they granted me a dinner tray with my name on it, plus after hours fridge access. Everyone is different.

Let’s talk about imbalances in the nervous system. During my seven and a half years of unfailingly waking up for yoga, utter exhaustion definitely came up. In January of 2013, I started a job speaking French to (mostly) three, four and five year olds at a Montessori School. It entailed that I rush out of the house to catch the bus at 7:30 a.m. One hour commute, followed by 8 to 9 hours uttering futile sentences to erratic tiny humans. Before embarking on this high-intensity process, I considered it essential that I crank myself through second series, which meant waking up at 4 or 4:30 a.m. It never occurred to me that maybe I could take it down a notch, in the service of early childhood education. Oh no. Didn’t want to “lose” my practice. Within three months, my coping skills had deteriorated to verge on clinical insanity. My body developed an awkward series of involuntary twitches, replicating a bus driver in anticipation of a head-on collision. My mind became flooded with traumatic memories from the eighth grade. Each night I would wail to the Boatman about some traumatic 12-year-old injustice. Particularly raw was the time everyone on the swim team was invited to Kayla Clark’s fourteenth birthday party. Everyone except for me. After five months at the Montessori School, the left bottom half of my body went out of commission. I cut my practice down to fifteen minutes. The twitches and traumatic memories dwindled almost immediately.

Rest is important. I often wonder to what extent hauling dogged ass at non-negotiable hours in the morning has impeded my long-term healing. So many of my Ashtanga years were spent in a state of mild to severe emotional catastrophe, not to mention unambiguous joint pain. To the emotional catastrophe, my fellow practitioners and various teachers would reply, “Oh, the practice is bringing stuff up. You’re getting into the good stuff. It’s working.” They made it sound as though clarity and peace were just around the corner. Although it was pleasant to believe that my suffering stemmed from an important and profound spiritual cause, I now believe that a component of my spiritually “good stuff” was nothing but simple, inconsolable fatigue.

An essential, and often neglected ingredient: Take Rest Posture. Lying Down Club. Sharath insists that it isn’t savasana. Call it what you like, it has never been my specialty. Too hungry, too horny, too caffeinated, whatever the reason, my lying down efforts joined the miserably pathetic four years ago when I moved to Halifax. Ten seconds, ten breaths. I became terrified of lying down. Sometimes a song would help, as long as pressing play didn’t coincide with examining the interwebs and all that Wifi and cellular data had to offer.

Mr. Iyengar recommended that for every 30 minutes of asana, the yoga practitioner should take five minutes of rest. In Mysore, after approximately thirty seconds, Sharath would send us on our way. “Thank you very much. Take rest at home.”  The committed amongst us wouldn’t stop for a coconut. The rest of us would, and maybe that was that.  

Lie down, take rest. Practice dying. Such a difficult posture. Most of the other asanas, I’ve traded in for this. Give the earth your cells. I got this phrase from a contact improv teacher in Halifax. I went to her class the day I decided to leave. In the end, you can’t keep anything.

I lie down to practice dying, and give my cells to the earth. It feels like everything’s unravelling.

Here are some things I think about when I’m trying to relax:

-Metta: "May all be safe, may all be happy, may all be healthy, may all live with ease."

Funnily enough, I learned this from an elephant journal article. While you’re thinking it, you can pay attention to how your heart feels. I used to do this in front of the yoga shala in Mysore, as I waited for the gates to open.

-Another phrase:

"I’m sorry, I forgive you, I love you, I thank you."

I learned this from Simon, my ex-ex-boyfriend who jumped off a building in January. Simon said that you’re supposed to repeat this phrase, both to your ego, and to the world.  The practice cured Simon in three and a half days. It will take me longer than this.

-The Buddha’s last words to Ananda, who served by the Buddha’s side for fifty years or more. As the Buddha lay dying, he said this to Ananda. It makes me wish my name was Ananda:

“Ananda,” said the Buddha,
“Everything breaks down.
Tread the path with care.
Nothing is certain.
Trust yourself.”

Big love to Angela Jamison. Deep rest for all.

The End.

By Angela at AY:A2

Rest.
How to Wake Up for Yoga
How to Get Up for Yoga Again

Baby Jedi

Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor

Not Enough Time
The Benefits of an Ashtanga Yoga Practice, Part Two
Simon
Brand New Mysore Clubs
I read "Choose Yourself" by James Altucher and my oxytocin levels increased immediately.
Yours Til Ekam Inhales
 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Soothing Face Creams, Mushrooms, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Hiatus, Sex Pamphlet, Anemone, New Interview, Baby, Bunion, (Epi)Dermis

Friends and Fans!

Someone is paying money to do things. The things are:

-Translating relatively riveting sentences about soothing face creams. I am learning all about free radicals, atopic dermatitis and Vitamin A.

Translating relatively riveting sentences about electrostatics, mushrooms, photosynthesis and rocks.

So the blog will be taking a short hiatus.

As long as I don't give myself carpal tunnel syndrome, when I return, you can look forward to:

-A Pamphlet about how even if within the first five minutes of meeting you, I tell you all about my orgasms, threesomes and rolled up duvets, we probably still shouldn't have sex. It is hard to get out of the sexual realm. One way is to write letters. Or spend a week with your mother. Or have an elaborate discussion about people's Ocean Invertebrate Personalities. I did that yesterday on the bus. Just as I predicted, the guy beside me felt like he was very much a Brooding Anemone, but his score made him a Royal Starfish. This happens more often than you might think. The guy was a psychology student and so it was nice of him to give my quiz a chance.
Brooding Anemone. I've had a thing for you since childhood.
Ocean Invertebrate Personality Quiz

-An Asking People About Your Lives Segment with Shelley Fillipoff. Shelley was my beloved grade six French immersion teacher. On November 28,  2013, her beautiful daughter Emma mysteriously disappeared. I had the privilege of carrying out a heartwrenching and truly riveting interview with Shelley last Wednesday. I can't wait to put it all together.

In the meantime, you can watch the haunting Fifth Estate episode about the search for Emma Fillipoff. There were a few fact problems that Shelley wanted to clarify, but it is still worth the watch. Please note that contrary to what it says in the video, Emma and Shelley were not at all estranged during the year before Emma went missing.  The details regarding Emma's parents' divorce were also somewhat misleading.
Emma Fillipoff
Watch the Fifth Estate: Finding Emma
(It's also on Youtube)


Help Find Emma Fillipoff on Facebook
 
Anyways, do check all this out for yourself. Thanks for your help and loyalty.

In Other News:

Baby

In case you were wondering, Matt Wiviott's partner who happens to be my dearest friend gave birth on Thursday. The baby is quite adorable from what I can see on Facebook.

Bunion

My mother's bunion turned out fine.

Epidermis and Dermis, A Draft

Epidermis:

The skin’s surface layer no longer regenerates as quickly. As it thickens, our complexion becomes dull.

Dermis:

Our fibroblasts, which produce our dermal fibers begin to weaken. The dermis’s elastin and collagen levels decrease, resulting in a slight loss of firmness.

The End.

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Selfie with Corn, in Perth Ontario
Mother's Bunion
Asking Matt Wiviott About His Life
Yours Til Ekam Inhales

 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Mother's Bunion

I wondered if maybe I should end my whole blog with me on Simon’s roof with the daisies. Now I am in Perth, Ontario. The clouds in the sky seem close to the ground. My mother is waiting to get her bunion chopped off her left foot. I am not certain that chopping is the right word.  If it were my foot, I would not get it done, though if you’ve seen my feet, you might conclude that I am not the best judge of feet. As she prepared for having a foot cast, my mother was even more hyperactive and erratic than usual. One minute she is boiling the corn for dinner and before I know it she is out in the garden, planting a periwinkle.

This morning after I finished yoga, there was wild rice boiling on the stove and my mother was throwing in a load of laundry. Moments later she is up in her bedroom doing yoga. My parents aren’t together, but they both do yoga. If I was their teacher, I would tell them both to soften their breaths. Their exhales sound heavy and strained, as though they have grief around their hearts. Probably they do have grief around their hearts. Who doesn’t.

My mother turns on the French radio to help accentuate her yoga practice. I can still hear her heavy exhale. I walk past her bedroom. Now yoga is over, but the radio still plays. In the bathroom, my mother is frantically brushing her teeth. It is exactly the sound of enamel wearing down. My mother walks out of the bathroom. She is dressed in jeans and a t. shirt. Her socks are white with hot pink toes and heels. She folds forward in one more yoga pose and lets out one more grief-filled exhale.  

Pre-surgery, my mother is forbidden to drink coffee. She feels this is entirely unmanageable. We agree that half an inch is okay. I consume several inches. These days I wake up to a black wall. Coffee is the only way forwards.  
Other things on my mother’s list: plant a peony, run the dogs, don’t burn the rice.

She takes the dogs out for a run behind Perth’s Nursing home near a place called The Garden for the Blind. There the flowers are supposed to smell particularly good. As you pass by certain areas, a voice talks to you about plants. I stay at home and eat granola. Despite my several inches of coffee, I still leave the rice on for too long. It sticks to the pot and smells a bit burnt.
There is no time for the peony. Guiding the two dogs on leashes, I walk my mother halfway to the hospital. Her bunion doesn’t make her limp, but she says it’s impossible to buy shoes.

“This’ll just be an experiment on how I deal with pain.” I am curious to see how the morphine goes.
At noon I drive down to the hospital. To save on parking, I try to find a space on the street I grew up on. Mary Street. My grandmother’s name is also Mary. The only spot is between two cars. I have always been terrible at parallel parking and so instead I drive around some more. I end up parking in front of the funeral home beside my old high school.  

The surgeries are backed up. Two different knees need scoping. Plus the surgeon will have to have lunch at some point. I love how the O.R. is labelled “Operating Theatre.” Very reassuring. Outside a man is sitting and flipping around on his I-pad. The surgeon comes out to show him a picture of his wife’s esophagus. I guess she choked on a fish bone.  The fishbone wasn’t there anymore but it left a little scar. Where is the fishbone now?

I ask the surgeon with the esophagus photo if I could go see my mother. He says he will ask the nurses.

“It’s the nurses who run the show,” says the man with the I-pad. He’s a retired doctor.
“I love doctors,” I tell him. “And nurses. I used to want to be a nurse, but my fine motor skills are not that good.”

“Really?” he asks. He sounds surprised, as though I look like I radiate intricate agility. But I don't. When I lived with the Boatman sometimes, somehow, I would get peanut butter on the walls. Left over from breakfast or washing dishes or who knows. Back when I used to consider becoming a nurse, we used to joke about me being in the operating room. “Who got the peanut butter on the heart?” the Boatman would say.
“But I used to be quite good at bowel routines,” I tell the retired doctor. This is true. I was excellent.

I can hear my mother’s voice from behind the double doors.
“Can I just talk to my daughter?” she asks, almost shouting. I open the double doors. My mother is wearing a blue hospital gown and puffy blue hat. In permanent marker, someone has drawn an arrow pointing to her left foot. That’s a good idea. Remembering your left and right is tricky.
At this point the bunion will probably not be chopped off until three or four p.m.  I receive orders to go home, and turn the air conditioner on for the dog.

“You know how to do that, right?” asks my mother. My mother looks a little bit like Jane Fonda. Tiny, blonde, feisty. She is chatting with all the other patients who are for their turn in the theatre. She’s the only one who’s upright.
“It’s a party in here,” she says. I tell her I know how to turn on the air conditioning, and that the hats a very nice. On my way out, I see a woman with a walker. Her spine is curved permanently forward, so that she stands in an upside down L shape. When I get home, I eat a small handful of burnt crunchy wild rice.

At 3:30 p.m., the chopping is all done. I ring the buzzer to the operating suite. The doors click before they open, both at once. It feels a bit like the Wizard of Oz. For a brief moment, it occurs to me that they might have messed up, and my mother will meet me with only one foot. Well, I have friends with less that two feet. Everything turned out fine. My mother looks fine, but her eyes are a bit puffy.  Her foot is vaguely wrapped in what looks like a white version of one of those fluffy blue hats.

"Hi," says my mother, and hops into the wheelchair.
 "Bye Leslie," she calls out to the nurse. 
"It's Wendy," says the nurse. "You'll have fun tonight."
"Wendy," says my mother. "Hahaha."

We go to the drugstore to get Tylenol threes. My mother is enamoured with all of the vitamins. Centrum for Women 50+ is on sale. She puts a box in her lap. Then she asks me to wheel her around the shelf where there are laxatives, and birthday cards. I take my blood pressure. It is within the optimal range.  The drugs are ready, and we wheel to the car. I put the free parking token into the wrong slot. Instead of forking over the four dollars, my mother recommends I return to the pharmacist for another token.

"Four dollars is half a bottle of wine," she says. Apparently, wine is cheap in Perth Ontario. 

"Way to go," says the pharmacist when I ask for another token. As I fumble with the slots, my mother and I laugh and laugh.

I turn onto Drummond Street. My mother raves about the general anaesthetic. Despite her disdain for excessive alcohol and all things marijuana, it seems she is a fan of medically induced comas. 

"Oh Erica, it's beautiful," she says. "If that's what death is like, I'm all set."


The End.

Now my mother is in bed. With her foot elevated, she chats relentlessly on the phone. The small black dog is curled up in her nook beside the fire place. The big white dog is sprawled across the bathroom floor, next to the toilet.
Small Black Dog


Large White Dog
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Thursday, 9 July 2015

What a Beautiful Face

Three scars on my body are from dead people. The first one is on my left cheek, the cheek on my face, just outside my first dimple. The scar beside the dimple is a small thin line. It’s from D’Arcy. We were three and four years old, and my mother had let us play with adult sewing scissors. I had the yellow ones, and his were orange. I really wanted the orange scissors. When D’Arcy said no, I snipped the air in front of my face. D’Arcy took his orange scissors and snipped the skin on my face. The doctors taped it together. My mother once said that D’Arcy was a strange child, perhaps because he was a test tube baby. But I started the fight. In his early twenties, D’Arcy died suddenly and mysteriously in his sleep, lying in his girlfriend’s arms. They think he choked.

My second scar blends in almost perfectly with my forehead wrinkles. It’s above my left eyebrow. The dent runs seamlessly into my lines of premature ageing. This scar is from Yarrow Viets’s s goggles. A swimming collision. My fault. I was always so focussed and obsessive that I did a terrible job looking in front of me. We were doing a bunch of 300’s when we crashed. I remember Yarrow covering her eye and weeping so delicately. I have never been a delicate weeper. Yarrow Viets was very beautiful. For the rest of practice, she rested. I plowed through, logging in 5000 or 6000 meters. When I got home, my mother pointed out that my forehead was cracked open. This time, the doctors closed up the wreckage with glue. On June 18, Yarrow Viets died of stage 4 colon cancer.  She had young twin boys and hundreds of friends. It was unbelievably sad.

My last scar is from Simon. A vague, faded red blob on my left thigh. All of my dead people scars are on the left.  This one happened on a Saturday morning. My friends Bobbi and Fern were going to pick me up and drive me to an A.A. meeting. Fern says that all the addictions are kind of the same, and so you can go to A.A. even if you just only have an eating disorder. Well, I love A.A. meetings. And I have put in sincere time trying to be an alcoholic, with minimal success. So I was getting ready. I had just poured boiling water into the French press when someone unlocked my door. It was Simon. Without thinking, I pushed down the plunger. The spout was open and coffee spilled all over my left thigh. Simon gave me ice. He asked if he could come to the A.A. meeting. I said yes, but I was terrified he would say something obnoxious and embarrassing. He did say something, though it wasn’t obnoxious. It made me kind of proud.

“Hi, my name is Simon.”

“Hi Simon.”

Simon was nine hours sober. He told us a story about him and his pop. They’d been going through rough times, not really communicating. Then a couple of days earlier, they’d had a moment.

“We were together, and my pop said something touching. And I knew that I loved him. And I felt at peace. Or close to peace.  And… I’m just glad I was sober.” With that, Simon started sobbing. He went up to the front of the room and took a beginner’s A.A. chip. At the end of the meeting, there was coffee and doughnuts. Everyone went to shake Simon’s hand. His was the share of the meeting. Simon basked in the doughnuts and the handshakes, until Bobbi cut in. “Good share. Let’s go,” said Bobbi, always down to business. For months, Simon said this over and over again. “Good share. Let’s go.”

The burn on my leg looked horrible and purple. I was afraid it would lead to blood poisoning, and that this would lead to amputation. Bobbi and Fern dropped us off at my shitty downtown apartment on Overdale Street. Simon and I fucked on my disgusting futon, on my disgusting floor. It felt like the start of something redeeming.

That afternoon, Simon brought aloe vera to the swimming pool where I was a lifeguard. That evening, he got drunk again. Everyone knows that Simon jumped off his apartment building on January 4th. Since he was a child, he always wanted to know what it was like to throw himself in the air from way up high. For three to seventeen seconds, I guess he got to know. His building is so high.  I brought daisies to the rooftop last Sunday. It was Simon’s 36th birthday, so wet and dreary and cold. I couldn’t look over the edge.

Good share. Let’s go.

I once helped get Simon a job, working with a man with cerebral palsy at a day centre. The man’s name is Antoine. (I changed it for the blog) It is nice when men with disabilities get to have male caregivers. So many caregivers are female and they’re lovely, but when you’ve been surrounded by women for much of your life, maybe you appreciate a change. Simon didn’t view Antoine as someone he had to take care of. He wanted to be his friend.

I feel so ready to give my inconditional love to someone like Antoine,” he wrote.

I just looked up these words in our old emails. In my head, I remember him saying: “I am ready to go crazy and open my heart and give Antoine all of my love.” He was so excited. Right before he got the job, he’d been kicked off welfare. Now he wouldn’t have to do so many drug studies for cash.

Together, Simon and Antoine had a wonderful blast. The teacher gave lessons on pictograms and phonograms. Simon made jokes the whole time, and Antoine burst into one fou rire after another. Fou Rire, crazy laugh. For an entire year, they worked on a text about hot dogs. I never got a chance to read it. Even after Simon left the job at the centre, he and Antoine used to go out for movies and hamburgers. Last fall they went to a safari park. There’s an amazing photo of them in the car. Simon’s feeding a camel a carrot. Antoine has this radiant and exquisite smile all over his face. One day after the movies, they went to McDonald’s. Together, they bought extra hamburgers. Simon led Antoine into the street where some kids were squeegeeing cars. Antoine gave the kids the bag of hamburgers. In this little moment, there must have been something for everyone.
*
On Sunday, June 28, I climbed the stairs of Simon’s apartment building. There were 23 floors, except the 12th floor skips to the 14th. Our world doesn’t believe in anything, and still, nobody wants to live on the 13th floor. Simon’s stairwell was grey and stark, with no windows. Like a prison cell made out of stairs. Layered in heavy clothes, Simon used to climb up and down. He wanted to get sweaty and skinny, without having to see or talk to anyone. Fair enough, I suppose.

My arms full of daisies, I climbed up. I peaked at the eighth floor, where Simon used to live.  As though gazing down the carpeted hallway would bring some sort of closure or revelation. Not really. At the top of the 23rd flight of stairs, the door was locked. It led to the pool. From there you could climb up onto the roof.  Some guy who was doing his laundry let me in.

“My ex-boyfriend jumped off this building in January.” Right away, the guy dropped his laundry hamper.

“Sorry about that,” he said. I stood on the lookout for a while, staring at Mont-Royal, the financial buildings, the wet streets. During my first year creative writing class, some girl wrote story about a woman with a dead boyfriend. It opened with the girlfriend standing in the rain carrying flowers.

"It is raining. I am wearing my shiny red dress. I am standing at your grave and watching the puddle form in front of it. My shoes are getting muddy."

Simon adored this beginning. Excellent, he called it. But my writing teacher said that its potential for narrative development was limited. “Her shoes can only get so muddy, and her dress can only get so wet.”

On top of Simon's building, there were stairs that led down from the lookout to the rest of the roof. It was covered in medium sized stones. I ducked under the yellow danger tape, and climbed down the stairs. Walking around the periphery, I remembered the rooftops in India. Under the moon or in the hot sun, I would sit there and think about the orphans. I could only stay for so long.

I had meant to throw the daisies off the building, but it was too high. Using a random cement block, I wedged them into the Northeast corner. That might have been where Simon jumped. I’m not sure. I picked one of the daisies off the bouquet, and let it go. I couldn’t see where it went. I was wearing my bright red raincoat. It was totally wet. So were my shoes and pants. I could only stay for so long. Before I left, I took another daisy. This one was for Simon’s front door. As I placed the daisy in the door frame, I listened for noises from inside his apartment. I heard nothing.

That day, I was out in the rain for so long that my teeth started to chatter and my hands went numb.

The End.






Title Inspired by all the beautiful faces, and by the Song, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." Neutral Milk Hotel. It is the new song of my life.
 
"What a beautiful dream that could flash on a screen in a blink of an eye and be gone"

Monday, 6 July 2015

Guillaume, Part Two (Asking People About Their Lives, Episode Two)

(As you know from the blogpost “Too Ugly For Prostitution,” I met Guillaume at a grown-up barbecue where there were cheese curds, mojitos, and opportunities to learn a great deal about life insurance. Guillaume is my second guest for the blog series “Asking People About Their Lives” in which I do just that.)

Guillaume (Not too ugly for prostitution)
Check out Part One: Too Ugly for Prostitution Here
 
Guillaume, Part Two
(Asking People About Their Lives, Episode Two)

Guillaume grew up in Boucherville. His parents were not that rich but not that poor either. When he was eighteen, it was somewhat of a crapshoot that Guillaume ended up with a job at a homeless shelter. He needed a summer job and out of MacDonald’s, the library and the homeless shelter, it was the homeless shelter that got back to him. They hired him as an “intervention worker.” Basically it meant that he was a “social worker with no training.” At one of his first shifts, a resident attacked a senior worker who had been working in the field for more than twenty years.  The resident was extremely drunk, and the scene was extremely violent. In the end, Guillaume’s co-worker broke his back and was never able to resume work. None of this seemed to phase Guillaume, despite being only eighteen at the time. Very quickly he became very comfortable in this milieu where drugs and violence were run of the mill. I asked him why he thought this was so natural for him.

Part of it was because he spent his adolescence “right in the middle of everything.” He was never a junkie himself, but many of his friends were. And though he feels like he was never directly involved in violence, he witnessed it happening all around him.

For most of his teenage years, Guillaume alternated between living with his friends and his parents. “I was not good at school, not good at anything.” When he was younger he was good at hockey, but he stopped that. Then he got into music. He had long hair down to his butt, and a huge beard. Before discovering the homeless shelter, Guillaume tried a whole bunch of different stuff. He built board games, worked in metal factories, and studied human sciences. Then he found the shelter where he “grew a lot very very fast. I got to know myself better in a very short time.”
Guillaume’s attitude towards serving people seems different from that of the folks I meet who have vast ambitions to change and save the world. I got the sense that a great deal of his work was simply about listening to people, and accepting them exactly as they were. He seemed really grounded.

Guillaume: "Need to be present to the idea that it can be different. People can have a very different life, and it’s their own choice. You’re not going to be there to save anyone, you’re just going to be there to be present to them for whatever it is they are going through. Starting there was a good start for me.”
Eventually, Guillaume moved to Montreal, where he got a job at the Salvation Army. There, he was in charge of a floor of 27 men who were dealing with various mental illnesses. Although he continued to maintain positive relationships with the residents, it was harder because the Salvation Army is a church, and Guillaume’s an atheist. When it came to the residents, Armée du Salut had a clear agenda. Often their philosophy conflicted with what Guillaume believed in. I asked Guillaume about the homophobia situation. 

Guillaume: "In Canada, they are going to be negative about it and they are going to try and cure you."
Erica: "Yah, but that’s super violent."

Guillaume: "I know, but (in contrast to the States) they are still accepting you to come in. It’s just that they’re going to be very severe that you don’t come around anyone else because it’s only men who are there.”
Even worse were the priests who were saying that the people who had mental illness were being conjured by demons. After three years, Guillaume could no longer watch this happen and he had to leave. For a while, he applied his intervention and people skills to being a bouncer at night clubs. This was fun, but the scene got old. When he got the chance, he went to work at a syringe exchange site. There he gave out syringes, crackpipes, lubricants and condoms to anyone who needed them: “cocaine addicts, heroine addicts, people who are mixing it up… most of them are into prostitution, male prostitution, female prostitution.” The exchange site focusses less on making people better and more on trying to help them be as safe as possible in the life they’re leading right now. If people are interested in other resources such as housing and rehab centres, the staff has that information. That said, nothing is forced on anyone. 

Guillaume frequently emphasized the simplicity and power of just being present to people. For him, the job was about “being present and open and welcoming them. Nobody welcomes them in the street.  They’re being spit on, ignored …. They’re garbage, they’re garbage in the street.” The centre is “the only place they can be welcomed, where people know their name. Hi Andrew, how are you? Who asks them how are you? It’s a strange world out there for them. It’s a very very harsh world. They’re a nuisance, they’re being thrown around, pushed around.”
We can say we have open hearts, but we all have blind spots, people we choose not to see. It is a harsh world. Guillaume met all sorts of people at the syringe exchange site. Musicians, well-known artists and hockey players, rich people, poor people.

“I’ve seen everyone from every place in the hierarchy,” he said. Some men have lost their families through breakups or accidents. They lose everything and they just can’t deal with it. More common than you might imagine is people who have accidents and become addicted to narcotics during the rehab process. Guillaume knows a man exactly his age who had an accident on a mountain when he was fifteen. Since then, he’s been on the street, in pain, and addicted. “He has no veins to inject anymore,” said Guillaume. Guillaume is very adamant that anybody could end up on the streets. It’s just a matter of circumstances. And we have no idea how brutal it can be.
Guillaume: "So what you do is you inject yourself so you don’t feel the cold anymore, you don’t feel the solitude anymore, you don’t feel...  You get addicted to being paranoid smoking crack. It’s hard to understand but people are actually looking for those sensations because when they’re being paranoid and freaking out, they’re actually not thinking about their own lives. Because their own lives are freaking painful, even more painful than anything."

***
Addiction and the recovery process make up some of my greatest fascinations. I devour any memoir about alcoholism and drug rehab, and I light up whenever I see and A.A. meeting on T.V. For a certain period of my life, I even decided I was an alcoholic just so I could attend A.A. meetings. In truth, I make a pitiful alcoholic. But so far, A.A. meetings have been one of the only places in my life where I haven’t felt compelled to talk my ass off.  I really wanted to hear what Guillaume had to say about Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous, and the various options for addictions recovery. Guillaume thinks it’s great that A.A. works for some people. Any amount of abstinence from an addiction constitutes a success, a victory. That said, Guillaume has reservations about the Christian framework that lies at the heart of A.A. philosophy. He “can’t stand the fact that they keep telling them that they’re powerless when they’re not, that they’re telling their stories over and over again. And you’re just looking at the past. You’re not looking at what you’re doing now.”

For those of you who are not A.A. junkies, the first of A.A.’s twelve steps is to “admit that you are powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable.” I would tend to agree that the lives of most alcoholics or addicts spill over into the unmanageable. And yet, I sometimes question the insistence of uttering this truth aloud day after day, even after thirty-three years of sobriety. To me, part of it says, “I’m a fuck up, I can’t make my own choices. Ever.” Of course, black and white, never-ever-do-this -again sort of thinking can be helpful for some people. One example would be Simon, my ex-boyfriend who jumped off a building this January. Would have been great if he had come to the decision to never ever drink again. Still, I think Guillaume makes a good point in acknowledging that in fact, nobody, regardless of the mess around them, is truly and entirely powerless. 
Guillaume: “They’re the experts of using those drugs, that have been selling their bodies… I’ve never done that… they’re the experts of their own world we’re there to help them to be better experts, to allow them to have a break, a pause, from whatever they’re going through.”
Although the relentless monologues of an A.A. meeting may prove to be excessive, Guilllaume absolutely recognizes the healing potential of giving a voice to your experience. This made me think of being fifteen and in the psych ward for my eating disorder. One morning a bunch of doctors came into my room. They wanted to hear all about what I’d been through. I remember sitting up in bed and realizing, “Oh, I’m allowed to talk about this now. People care about my experience, and it is beyond what I should have to go through.” It was such an immense relief that I’ve been talking about it ever since.

At the syringe exchange site, Guillaume made sure that people had the opportunity to share. And if they wanted his perspective or advice, he would give it to them. He always encouraged people to take everything they’d been through and put it towards the present moment.
He described a pep talk he gave at the centre, years ago. He remembers saying, “You’re gonna do it in the present tense, you’re not gonna do it in the future you’re not gonna do it in the past. You’re gonna use everything, but you’re gonna do it NOW.” Over a year later, some man stopped him on the street, and shook his hand.

“Do you remember me?” he asked. At first, Guillaume didn’t. He had seen so many men, so many stories. The guy who shook his hand had been through a bad divorce, and had gotten into sniffing cocaine. Guillaume hadn’t been talking to him, but he had overheard the Now talk. The next morning, as he left the shelter, he was about to sniff some cocaine he had stored in his locker. But he kept hearing Guillaume’s words.
“I got stuck with the Now,” he said. He threw the cocaine in the sewer, and hasn’t touched drugs ever since. Within a few weeks he had built up his landscaping business and when Guillaume saw him, he had five employees. 

Guillaume: “As of today, it’s one of my first and greatest achievements.”
***
Towards the end of our interview, I brought up suicide. As all of my readers can probably tell, these days, the topic has been pretty prevalent in my head, due to the fact that my ex-boyfriend Simon jumped off a building this past January. During my stints in the psych ward and day treatment program for eating disorders, a number of the teenagers I met were suicidal. At the time, the protocol for suicidal people was to put them in isolation for 72 hours. This practice continues in hospitals across North America. It only recently occurred to me what a terrible idea this is. I just feel like such a huge part of mental illness and suicide is feeling isolated and alone. How is it that we’re treating the problem with more isolation, more seclusion?

Guillaume agrees that isolation is one of the worst things you can do for people who want to kill themselves. At the syringe exchange site, many of the people who came into the centre felt suicidal. 

Guillaume: “Nobody actually wants to die, but everyone wants to stop suffering. .. a huge part of most suffering is that you’re silent and nobody is listening to you and you’re alone in your pain… Just having someone listen usually relieves part of the initial crisis, and they realize that they can come back.”
But I wonder if part of the issue is that some people really do want to die. Or at least, they want part of themselves to be dead. And maybe we need to let people be honest about this part of them.

Erica: "In high school, they present us with power points that say don’t ever do this, you will hurt those you love. What about acknowledging the part of a person who wants to die?"
Guillaume: "Nobody actually wants to die, you want to stop suffering from whatever you are suffering from. You want to stop that pain. We have to look for solutions. It’s not that in talking about it that you are going to find solutions but if you talk about what’s actually going on to the relevant people you might find that you’re not all by yourself. You might find some solutions."

I feel like for Simon, any solution would have been too little too late. The fact that he would always have to endure hard times, maybe this was unacceptable for him after a while. As though he had already put in his time with the misery. He was all done. In my speeches about Simon, I always say, “I just feel like he would have had one more good day.” I said something along these lines to Guillaume.
Erica: “There would have been at least one more thing that he would have enjoyed. He seemed to enjoy sex. Or the exchange with the cashier at the depanneur, something … But I don’t know what it was like to be Simon for that long… he was probably like shit, I’m still me and it’s still this.”

Simon is dead, and I think about him so much more than when he was alive. It’s like by jumping off the building, Simon wrote this piercing and haunting book that I’ll never get out of my head. Fucker. Since Simon was a child, he imagined throwing himself from way up high. Resources or not I suppose it was inevitable. And Simon was pretty adamantly against treatment services, or being labelled with a condition or a problem. Volatile, impulsive, filled with alcohol, Simon wanted to stay Simon, whatever that means.

G: "In public services, you are a number, and you are one out of so many. They’re overencumbered So many requests for so little support that is available. And… people are actually numbered, they’re issues. So you’re schizophrenia, and you’re neurotic and you’re this and you’re that and what I’m saying is that you’re a human being who is just as worthy as I am, who is going through different issues than I am but you’re just as good, you’re just as worthy as any human being. You’re not a case, you’re not an issue, you’re not a problem.”

Hear that, folks. Not a problem. Just as worthy as any human being.

The End.

Guillaume is currently working on broadcasting content on a website called Twitch.
You can find his stuff here.

Follow me on Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
Like My Facebook Fan Page: Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Read the Book: I Let Go

I am looking for more interview candidates, for Asking People About Their Lives. So far the process has been empowering for everyone involved. I am interested in all kinds of humans. Let me know if you would like me to ask you about your life, or to ask someone else about theirs.

Also, the call-out for the Internet Diagnosis of Every Three to Six Weeks is still on. Thanks! Strange earwax, odours and involuntary twitches are all welcome. Thanks!

 
Guillaume, Again
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