Getting A Little Creative

March has just begun, and man, it’s starting to feel a bit busy!

Last month – when I’d originally planned to release this post – the year was still fairly new, and not much was going on.

I was going to reflect on how I hadn’t been feeling particularly creative over the last year, how – despite recent changes at my place of employment – my job, and the duties it entails, have sort of remained the same.

But as I was about to type my intentions into existence … things already have started to shift. Kind of.

Before I get to that, let me back-track a bit.

Last year was supposed to be when I finally started making changes at work – even if they were temporary ones. I contacted a more senior colleague to pick her brain, and perhaps throw my name out there.

Long story short, we couldn’t align our schedules, so I didn’t get to meet with her until mid-July. (The story’s a bit complicated, but it was out of my hands, and I won’t bore you with details.) That meeting led me to dropping by other people’s offices to chat. So at least people know I’m still here.

I’m still struggling to build that bridge, so I’m in the same spot as before. I’m trying to find a way to work on my skill set in my current position, but it feels awkward and uncomfortable.

Maybe I’m suffering from a fear of change, of failure, and of imposter syndrome, so I’m sabotaging myself. Perhaps there’s a part of myself that believes – wrongly – that I’ve worked hard enough and am now entitled to things that I probably haven’t earned.

Colour me conflicted.

Outside of work, I wasn’t achieving creative fulfillment, either. I mean, I had been working on the ongoing podcast I do with my friends Renée and Kath. But it was the only outlet, and I wasn’t parlaying that into other endeavours.

I think a lot of it was probably the result of feeling drained after long days at work, which meant a lack of motivation. If I spent time away from social media, it wasn’t to work on my writing – I spent more time watching Netflix, YouTube and *cough* other sources of TV streaming.

Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with watching Netflix and YouTube as a release. But I didn’t balance it with anything else. And the time I could have spent cultivating another creative outlet, I chose to spend it watching the fruits of other people’s labours.

So this post was going to serve as a type of self-pep-talk …

Which brings me to the present.

I suppose I’ve somehow been putting this sentiment out into the universe … because while things work-wise are still the same, things outside of work are actually starting to pick up.

For starters, the podcast started its third season in January. If  you’ve been visiting regularly, you’ve come across my recent post(s) promoting the most recent episode(s).  I’m trying to do a better job of showcasing it this time around.

(If you’re on my main blog page – not the page for this entry – scroll down for the most recent episode.)

Also, one of my other friends – a very talented writer/screenwriter – approached me in February about joining a project she’s connected with. I’m at the beginning stages of this journey, which means I’m simultaneously excited, and terrified.

(That’s all I’ll say about it for now, but I’ll reveal more further down the road.)

So I’m taking teeny, tiny baby steps toward being more prolific. It won’t happen overnight – far from it. But this is a very good start.

 

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Surviving Winter with Clipped Wings

Have we approached deep winter yet? Because it sure feels like it.

As I type this, the temperature in Toronto is hovering somewhere around minus seven degrees Celsius, with a wind chill of -17 … which isn’t great, but compared to recent weeks is, sadly, not horrid.

Winters here are typically milder than other parts of the country. But it’s been a roller-coaster season (everywhere) so far. When we haven’t had cold snaps, we’ve had snow globe-type flurries to keep snowplows (and people who have driveways to shovel) occupied.

My mom’s shuttered herself in her apartment, and she’s going stir-crazy.

Know who’s really had it up to here? Commuters battling traffic and slow transit, bundled like sausage rolls, just trying to get to work on time. Don’t even start with them.

And me?

When I’m not sweating as I’m bent over in my outerwear, trying to lace up my boots, I’m slipping and stumbling along snow-covered sidewalks, the cold harsh wind trying its best to sting my legs, while gnawing at my exposed face.

Image result for why does the air hurt my face

(Dude*,  you have no idea how relatable this comic is right now — thank you.)

I’m constantly tired. Part of it’s my own doing. But I attribute the other part to the weather.

And I constantly. Feel. Dry. Everywhere.

If it’s not my lips or mouth, it’s my nose. And if it’s not any of the other holes in or on my face, it’s the skin on the rest of my body, which I constantly have to stop from picking or scratching off.

I’m using whatever lotions, balms, and homemade body butters are within reach, and am trying to drink a reasonable amount of water. But this dryness is relentless.

The only thing drier than me and my wrists (my latest fashion accessory: dermatitis bracelets) might be the Sahara Desert.

I fully acknowledge (and can appreciate) that there are folks who love — and live for — winter. Ice-skating, playing hockey, skiing, snowboarding, jogging in the mornings or evenings – any activity that invigorates them, gets that brisk Arctic air into their lungs.

I … am not one of those people.

I simply do not care that I’m Canadian and should be used to it. Every winter that passes, is one more that saps my energy. I’m. Spent.

If it were up to me, my apartment would be a blanket/duvet tunnel, leading into a blanket/duvet cave, from which I wouldn’t emerge until the end of March.

For the past couple of years, I did have one (not cheap) coping mechanism.

For at least the first two months of winter, I’d pull on two (or five) layers of clothes and do my best to soldier through the crisp cold weather, doing my best to manoeuvre around coughs, runny noses, seasonal affective disorder and the lack of vitamin D.

But I’d make sure that at some point – in February or March, when I’d had enough – I’d book a trip, board a flight and get my backside to a warmer country. My brain would get a bit of a rest, my skin would clear up, and I’d have a good mood that would carry me for a few weeks.

This year, there’s no winter break travel money. So the warmest I’m going to be is under the covers or standing next to the baseboard heaters in my apartment.

Yes, I realize that having the money to travel is a privilege in itself. But as a personal philosophy, I never put myself into debt for the sake of travel (or anything, period). If I can’t afford to pay for it, I start saving.

So unless I suddenly trip over $3000, I need to find a bunch of ways to cope until the weather gets warmer.

Perhaps this is the winter I find solace in the art gallery or the museum … or in a lot of movie theatres … because at the rate I’m going, I’m going to be a wreck by April.

So readers who live in cold countries: if you’re not the outdoorsy type, what do you do to cope with winter? How do you keep from not going stir-crazy?

And for those whose moisturized skin is defying the cold: what are your secret (paraben-free) weapons?

Let me know in the comments!

 

*Comic is from DepressedAlien.com.

D and The Bakery

Ever had an interaction with someone that left you second-guessing the message they were sending you, and wondering if you read them correctly?

Let me tell you a story.

I live ’round the corner from what’s considered a well-to-do neighbourhood in mid-town Toronto.

Every week, I walk 15 minutes to the grocery store. The street it’s on is lined with all sorts of small shops and restaurants, and just down the street from the grocery store is this one bakery.

I have a sweet tooth, and for months, I’d been tempted to go in on a number of occasions. A friend of mine had been telling me that their cookies and breads were delicious. But I never really went in there. For whatever reason, I got this impression that I wouldn’t be welcome.

Yes, I was thinking this (in 2015).

One afternoon last summer, I needed a pie or small cake to bring to a friend’s potluck. I took a chance and went to The Bakery.

I walked in, approached the glass case and scanned the various baked goods on display. About a minute later, a salesclerk – maybe in her late teens or early 20s – asked if she could help, and I explained what I was looking for.

She said she’d find out and asked me to wait. A couple of minutes later, another woman – I’m guessing she was either the owner or manager (I’ll just say manager) – emerged from the back room.

“Hi there, did you need something?” she said (or something to that effect). She was professional, but I didn’t find her overly warm. Whatever. It’s a business.

We had an exchange, and I chose a lemon-cranberry loaf. As she returned to the back room, she turned up the music and disappeared.

The gesture was pretty innocuous. But for some reason, I got a really strange vibe from that. I shook it off.

The next time I went to The Bakery, it was with the friend who’d been raving about it. We each bought two cookies, dealing only with the cashier.

The following week (now hooked on the sugary treats), I dropped in after grocery shopping, bought some chocolate chip cookies and left. Again, no problem.

A week or two later, I was back, ready to treat myself again.

I scanned the cookies behind the glass and mentioned to the salesclerk that there didn’t seem to be any chocolate chip cookies currently stocked.

While deciding on other options, the manager appeared.

(It’s been a few months, so the following conversation isn’t precise, but here’s the gist:)

“Can I help?” she said, standing just behind her cashier.

“Oh, just looking at your cookies,” I replied. “I hear you’re out of the chocolate chip ones, which are my favourite.”

“They’re pretty popular,” she said.

She waited a beat, then added, “I can give you our recipe, so you can make them whenever you want.”

Sweet. Right?

“Ummm … ” I said, just as a little bell went off in my mind. “… No, thanks, that’s okay.” I quickly selected a couple of cookies, paid for them and promptly left.

Oh, she was just trying to be nice, you’re probably thinking. You were probably overreacting.

Maybe.

But here’s what I was thought at that precise moment:

(1) This was my fourth visit to the bakery. Ever.

(2) I’d only ever seen this woman twice. Any interaction she’s had with me (including this one) has been civil and perfunctory, but not exactly cordial.

(3) I’d been buying this bakery’s baked goods because I didn’t have time to make my own.

(4) If I had time to make cookies, know what’s a great resource for finding free cookie recipes? Google.

If I’d been visiting this place regularly and had established a friendly rapport with the staff (which I’ve done elsewhere), I’d see what she did as being a nice gesture. And it’s completely possible that what she did was, in her mind, some kind of good business/customer service move.

But I know which neighbourhood this is. And I think a handful of people will understand the distinct feeling I’m describing.

Since that visit, I still walk to the grocery store, go to the bank, occasionally stop by the butcher and the Dollarama.

Just not The Bakery.

It’s entirely possible that I mis-read what happened. And if I did read the situation correctly, I could’ve kept going there and not cared.

But I’d prefer giving my business and hard-earned money to someone who actually wants it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Why Are You So Weird?”

Several years ago (maybe five or six), I was at a downtown bar, where a work colleague (who produces music in his off-hours) was spinning vinyl and had invited a whole scad of us to come check him out.

The place was packed, and I remember flitting around, saying hi to friends, and dancing in the tiny designated dance space in this narrow establishment.

At one point, I remember spotting a work colleague who was slightly older than me – who, I suppose, I admired and respected – and went over to say hello.

I think it’d been one of those weeks where I’d been working all day, then making myself go out in the evenings … and I think it had started to take its toll, because I think he asked me how I was doing, and instead of answering with fully formed, enunciated words, stuttering babble tumbled out instead.

(Most of the time, my brain moves faster and far more eloquently than my tongue and lips do. It’s something I’ve learned to work with.)

I caught myself, and I remember stopping, closing my eyes, and beginning again – this time, in actual English.

His response?

“Why are you so weird?”

The rest of it, I really don’t remember. Just that.

Looking back on it, I can now say he was being a dick to me. Straight up.

And for what reason? Because I stuttered?

Over time, the word “weird” (in the context of human interaction) has come to be a source of irritation for me. And it’s got me thinking:

What defines “not weird”, exactly?

Who on earth gets to set the benchmark for what constitutes “normal”?

We live at a time when, thanks to social media, we can find whole communities of people with whom we share interests, opinions, insecurities, fears and so on, without having to travel very far from the comforts of our homes.

At the same time, the way we interact and communicate with each other as human beings has changed, even gotten more difficult. Just saying hi or smiling at a stranger in some places elicits a reaction which might be reserved for a dog walking around on its hind legs speaking Czech.

This type of environment might make it challenging for introverts, socially-awkward types and other labelled “misfits” to engage with people or find real-life flocks to join, if they do venture outside.

What about folks who might be dealing with mental health issues? Some of the funniest, unique, most interesting people I know, or have met, or encountered online, struggle with things such as anxiety or depression – and some of them speak about that struggle.

What about people who march to the beat of their own drummer, who just see and do things differently? Or who are just really excitable about things or life in general?

None of these aspects of people’s lives or personalities make them weird. It makes them multi-dimensional human beings. And I think all these folks deserve a modicum of understanding and open-mindedness, as opposed being held at arm’s-length because they’re rhomboid-shaped pegs that don’t fit into the round-shaped holes that are the “standard” for social behaviour.

Why should they have to fit?

The example I mentioned at the beginning sticks with me still. A little bit of it has to do with the way I was made to feel. Mostly, I was annoyed at myself for letting that question slide past me without an appropriate answer.

Because if I had the chance for a do-over, and I was once again asked, “Why are you so weird?”

My answer should have been:

“Define ‘normal’.”

**Hey kids! If you have time, head on over to my friend Renée’s blog and check out why she enjoys a good steak dinner every so often.**

 

 

 

 

The Thing With Thirty-Nine

When I was about to turn 30, I remember having this moment one day where I was thinking about it — I’m turning THIRTY! — and just freaked out, for what seemed like an hour.

It wasn’t any sort of surprise. I knew it was coming, ready or not. And yet, it was like I only realized just then that I was leaving my 20s. Forever.

I thought about the things that I had done, and the things I hadn’t. And I just felt … anxious.

And just as quickly as that panicked feeling washed over me … it subsided. And I was fine. Thirty came and went. No tears, no melancholy or feelings of regret. I stared it in the face, smiled, and carried on.

And now, here I am again.

Only this time, the number that’s zapping me with anxiety is 39.

My birthday is a little less than two weeks away, and I feel as if I’ve got this big, important paper, this test, to write, and I’ve procrastinated so much, that I’m running out of time to prepare.

I mean, it’s nuts.

I’m an adult who takes care of herself (mostly), pays her bills, and works professional in a stable job in a field that is becoming increasingly unstable. I have my health. I’ve the type of privilege that allows me to do things that I do sometimes take for granted. I have a living parent whom I love very much, and more friends than a woman could ask for.

I’ve even been trying to get myself used to the inevitable, saying, “I’m 39”, if something age-related comes up.

And yet.

A few days ago, I stumbled onto this New York Times article about single men in their 30s and 40s – bachelors, both gay and straight – who expressed their regret or yearning for companionship (marriage, even) and families.

(If you’re suddenly irked and didn’t even click on the link above, click here for some readers’ responses.)

Following that, I found myself listening to a CBC Radio documentary  about the generation of women – my generation – who are 39, or turning 39. I suggest that you listen to it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

To me, the takeaway seemed to be that there’s this sizeable cohort of women who, like me, are single, childless and a little mystified that we were apparently sold this dream of Having It All (careers, marriages and children) and we find ourselves panicked that the bill of goods and the actual end product don’t match.

One of the women interviewed, a publicist, said the one thing that (on its face), I think I’m currently identifying with. From the day she turned 39 until the day she turned 40, she said felt this ball of panic that she couldn’t get rid of; it felt as if she “couldn’t shake this feeling of time … it just keeps marching on …”

Of course, she’s alluding this societal idea that by the time women are of a certain age, they’re supposed to have hit those marriage/motherhood milestones. But I think that’s where I differ.

Trying to imagine one’s life — getting married, having kids, and so on — is, I think, a very human response. And for a relatively large number of people, that’s really important to them.

Just not every single person.

Did I think I’d be married by now? Sure. Or at least in a long-term relationship. Do I occasionally get emotional about it? Sure. But you can’t always get what you want.

Kids? Well … that was never as clear. But as I get older, and more of my friends are having children, the prospect of being responsible for another human being seems daunting (and for that moment, I relish my single status).

Are there pros and cons to singledom and married life with kids? Sure! But there are pros and cons to everything in life! It just depends on what’s important to an individual.

What about men and women for whom marriage is not an imperative in their life? Or thirty- and forty-somethings who don’t have that so-called yearning to bear and raise children? I know some. They regret nothing.

What about people who — married, single or otherwise — like their lives just as they are? Who, as time marches on, are marching in lockstep, and cherishing the lives they’re leading?

Taking marriage and kids out of the equation for a moment: I thought that by now, I’d be more sure of myself, period. That I’d know what I want out of life, and make decisions minus all the fear, insecurity and second guessing.

What I’d like is to shake off this … obsessive worry, and not spend the next year paralyzed by panic over some perceived human milestone that I didn’t hit.

And, above all, when 40 arrives and the door opens, I don’t want to shuffle through, trembling and shielding my eyes from the bright, shining lights.

I want to stand up straight, hold my head high and — with a smirk and a dash of swagger in my step — pass through the entrance.

 

Three Deaths, Two Marriages, and One Unexpected Name

While my research on Ellen has stalled once again, I’ve discovered information for other ancestors in my family tree in the meantime.

You see, unbeknownst to me, the Mormon genealogy site I’d been using to search for records had updated its Jamaican civil registration collection in August.

So when I was searching the online database a couple weeks ago, it spat out some results I wasn’t expecting.

First, I found the death certificate for a 50-year-old, married railway worker who had died of “haemorrhage and shock” after a collision between a railway engine and a truck.

I still couldn’t be completely sure, because of the man’s marital status. But his profession and the circumstances of his death were too uncanny to dismiss.

This man could most likely be my paternal grandfather.

The second death certificate I discovered was that of my mother’s paternal grandmother. I remember my mom telling me what year she thought she’d died, and the cause of death. The certificate gave a death date that was a year off, but her name, her residence, and the illness looked about right.

I could not believe my luck at what I was finding.

I’d also found two marriage certificates: one for my maternal grandfather, and the other for my paternal grandmother.

I showed my mother the online records (on her desktop computer) when I went to visit her last Wednesday, to get a second opinion. Other than the cause of death, she didn’t know much about my dad’s father. But she looked at the certificate and said she couldn’t see why it couldn’t be him. Same with my grandmother’s marriage certificate.

The only record she was really skeptical about was her grandmother’s — only because she was convinced she was older when she’d died, and the age recorded was much younger.

One thing I’d noticed: the person who’d signed her death certificate, was listed as “the sister of the deceased”. But her last name …

Was she actually my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law, and it was just easier to write “sister”?

Or, was she really my great-grandmother’s sister, who’d married one of my great-grandfather’s brothers?

It even bewildered my mom a little bit. She’d never heard her grandmother talk about siblings. Or, if she did have any, my mom had never met them.

At that point, she left the room to do something, and for whatever reason, I decided to plug in one more name – that of my maternal grandfather’s father – just to see what would happen.

In less than five minutes, I was staring at his death certificate. I went to find my mom to show her what I’d found.

There was one thing about the certificate that had us positively stumped.

The family member who’d signed the death certificate was Milda, Ellen’s baby sister … the lone sibling currently still alive.

Except that the name she wrote on the certificate, ISN’T the one on the birth certificate I’d previously assumed to be hers.

Up until now, I presumed that her name was Hilda May – based on the birth certificate I’d found – and the name she’s been going by is a nickname, or some sort of amalgam of her first and middle names.

NOPE. Apparently her name’s Milda Maud. Both my aunt and her older sister have confirmed this.

Was the name assigned to my great-aunt at birth a mistake? Did she decide to change her name when she was older?

Or was there another sibling that I hadn’t accounted for?

All The Names

IMAG0665Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet, looking for something specific, only to have a bunch of objects come tumbling out (and occasionally hitting you in the face)?

I think, figuratively (or is that metaphorically?) speaking, that’s just what happened to me.

When I recently found my great-aunt Ellen’s birth date on a genealogy Web site, I ended up uncovering some things I didn’t intend to.

According to my mother, her father (the maternal grandfather I know about) was one of six children.

Weeeell … the internet showed me another story … one that included the names of two other siblings – sisters – that I’d never heard of.

Turns out my mom had never heard of them, either.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake. But the parents’ names were exactly the same. I mean, what would actually be the chances of having two families in the same village, with two sets of parents with the exact same names? It didn’t make any sense.

Not to mention, there were three other names that looked suspect. Like they could also be siblings.

Before I go further, a bit of a rewind:

A lot of the records on the Web site had scanned images of various records, such as birth certificates. The catch is, while one can search to one’s heart’s content, in order to see said scanned images to confirm hunches and suspicions, one has to create an account.

Until this point, I didn’t create an account. The terms and conditions I had to agree to, if I started creating a family tree on this site, left me uneasy.

But as I continued to revisit the site, the curiosity increasingly ate away at me like a dirty penny immersed in a glass of pop.

I had to bite the bullet. So I created an account, for the purpose of being able to fully conduct searches, and returned to those records.

One by one, I checked out the birth certificates for the kids I knew about for sure.

And then I checked the others.

Holy shit.

My grandfather was one of ELEVEN.

So what happened to the other five names? I searched the site, and couldn’t find any other information. My best guess is those unlucky souls didn’t make it out of childhood.

Perhaps they died as babies or young kids, of crib death, illness or unfortunate accidents. But that’s how secretive families (mine included) can be.

Then, things took another weird turn.

A recent Google search for the village my mom’s paternal relatives are from, coughed up a result for a reverend with a last name far removed from my own.

Seems that – with the help of his grandson – he’d done some genealogical digging on a scale much grander than my own. I’d landed on a detailed document detailing six generations of one descendant of his family.

Some of those descendants are my mother’s relatives.

A number of them have long since passed. But the ones my mom recognizes, she and her sister knew them, or were cared for by them, perhaps in the summers between school.

So. I’m having a bit of trouble fully processing the information.

I suppose this type of thing happens is unavoidable when digging into one’s family history.

But so many names at once?!

For now, I’m putting these discoveries aside and will try focusing on two searches:

(1) What happened to my great-aunt

and, if I’m successful

(2) Trying to find out about my long-dead paternal grandfather, a rolling-stone railway worker, about whom tiny specks of information were divulged to me while preparing for my father’s funeral in February.

If my mother’s family was secretive, my dad’s people sounded like Fort Knox.

I hope that vise-like grip will loosen when I go to visit some cousins and uncles for several days, later this week. One of them is throwing a 21st birthday party for his step-daughter. And, from the sounds of the equipment, planning and logistics required, and the party itself, it’s going to be a Big Deal. (If someone doesn’t fire off fireworks, I’ll be surprised.)

Wish me luck.