Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fifteen minutes of…

My friend Lee McKenzie is all heart. Not only does she write award-winning romance novels, she passed along the info about this research:
Taiwanese scientists studied more than 400,000 people for 13 years and their conclusion, published in The Lancet recently, is that 15 minutes will get you more than famous.
It'll get you an extra three years.
That's right. Just moving briskly for 15 minutes a day can extend your life by three years and even cut your risk of the big C.

So how about it? Isn't this is the perfect time of year to get in some practice?

I'll meet you on the sidewalk.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Endings

When I was a little girl, departures made me so sad that I used to hide to avoid saying goodbye to guests.

I don’t hole up in the closet any more, nor cry (much), but still poignancy floods my chest whenever anything ends. On Friday, it was my job with Statistics Canada for the census.

Five or six days a week for three and a half months, I packed a lunch, put on grown-up clothes (no sweatpants, not even once!) and went to the office where I worked with, at peak season, more than 30 others.

It was a temporary job – we all knew that going in – and I suppose that made it easier at the end. Also, we’ve been bidding adieu to colleagues for weeks as the work tapered off and a mom went back to her kids; a student headed for Europe before term starts; someone else landed a more permanent gig…

Then a few of us were asked to stay for another five days. At the end of that, we were offered more work with the clear understanding that it was strictly one shift at a time, and that turned into another pay period. When it became obvious that the possibility of on-call four-hour stints was going to turn into another full week with some bonus hours tacked on, I wrote, “Welcome to the Hotel California” on the white board by the door.

Most of my coworkers were a generation too young to get the reference, but it made two of us laugh, so it was worth it.

And then on Friday evening there were just half a dozen of us entering the final data for Vancouver Island, packing up the last few thousand questionnaires, and sweeping the stray elastic bands and paper clips into boxes. Six of us logged off the computers for good and walked out of the building into brilliant evening sunlight that offered no cover, nowhere to hide.

I had to suck it up and say goodbye like an adult.

I’m going to miss my daily rides and walks to the heart of the old town. I will miss all the gardens I walked through on my lunch breaks. I’ll miss the colours of swarming tourists and hanging flower baskets.

I meant it when I told my colleagues that I’d love to hear from them any time; I meant it when I wished them all the best.

And I mean it: I will miss them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Endings

When I was a little girl, departures made me so sad that I used to hide to avoid saying goodbye to guests.
I don’t hole up in the closet any more, nor cry (much), but still poignancy floods my chest whenever anything ends. On Friday, it was my job with Statistics Canada for the census.
Five or six days a week for three and a half months, I packed a lunch, put on grown-up clothes (no sweatpants, not even once!) and went to the office where I worked with, at peak season, more than 30 others.
It was a temporary job – we all knew that going in – and I suppose that made it easier at the end. Also, we’ve been bidding adieu to colleagues for weeks as the work tapered off and a mom went back to her kids; a student headed for Europe before term starts; someone else landed a more permanent gig….
Then a few of us were asked to stay for another five days. At the end of that, we were offered more work with the clear understanding that it was strictly one shift at a time, and that turned into another pay period. When it became obvious that the possibility of on-call four-hour stints was going to turn into another full week with some bonus hours tacked on, I wrote, “Welcome to the Hotel California” on the white board by the door.
Most of my coworkers were a generation too young to get the reference, but it made two of us laugh, so it was worth it.
And then on Friday evening there were just half a dozen of us entering the final data for Vancouver Island, packing up the last few thousand questionnaires, and sweeping the stray elastic bands and paper clips into boxes. Six of us logged off the computers for good and walked out of the building into brilliant evening sunlight that offered no cover, nowhere to hide.
I had to suck it up and say goodbye like an adult.
I’m going to miss my daily rides and walks to the heart of the old town. I will miss all the gardens I walked through on my lunch breaks. I’ll miss the colours of swarming tourists and hanging flower baskets.
I meant it when I told my colleagues that I’d love to hear from them any time; I meant it when I wished them all the best.
And I mean it: I will miss them.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Interstitial adventure

Saturday, 7 pm:
I drafted a post this morning and when I came to revise it just now, it was gone. It shouldn't have had any delusions that it was ready for the big world; a first draft is a gawky thing and rightfully unconfident. Nonetheless, this one has flown into the Maw of the Blogosphere.

I'm still intrigued by the idea that sparked it, and I've retrieved the shreds of morning pages from the recycling bin, so I hope to reconstruct the essay more tidily than I've reassembled the paper. Maybe I'll tackle it tomorrow. But not tonight.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Touchstones

I wrote this essay nine years ago, but it remains so true to my experience. Or my experience stays true to it….
I was at a 60th-anniversary party yesterday afternoon with all the usual suspects. There was a new baby, a new fiancé, old men and middle-aged ladies (whose ranks now include me, which just feels weird). There were print dresses and, of course, there were lemon squares.


The Touchstones
2002

My younger cousin Tracey phoned recently to tell me about a plan she and five of her thirty-something single friends are hatching. It involves an RV trip to Alaska (where, apparently, men still outnumber women quite dramatically), a video camera, and lots of sociologically significant interviews in bars. As she talked I put on the kettle, took teabags from the caddy that was a gift from her grandmother when I got my first apartment, and dropped them into a pot my grandma gave me at the same time. Tracey was still talking when the tea was ready. I sat at my kitchen table and laughed helplessly at her descriptions and then dispensed advice on getting the stories – and believe me, there will be stories – published.
I picked up my cup and inhaled. The scent of orange pekoe tea winkled me back to my great-aunt Mary’s house – Tracey’s great-great aunt – sitting with half a dozen women and at least that many kids at her new round table with the fabulous black vinyl chairs that twirled.
Pink bathroom tiles, the smell of varnished wood panelling, the textured flowery fabrics of 1940s curtains, and green brocade chesterfields from the sixties. Flowered teacups, small girls carefully helping at parties, the sound of women’s laughter and the crackle of six conversations around one kitchen table.
Any of these details immediately evokes my grandmothers, second cousins, and a couple of generations of aunts. Living hours and a ferryboat ride away, still they were the solid backing to my ever-shifting world of elementary school and best friends, neighbours and new playground equipment. I spent summer weeks with them, learning the proper way to make a bed, eating Cheez-Whiz on white bread, and inventing aimless hot-afternoon games with my cousins. Throughout the year there were bridal showers and birthday teas. On the second Saturday every December for six generations (or is it seven?) the whole tribe creates the Family Party with long paper-covered tables splayed under pots of curried shrimp and lasagne, sour-cherry pie and brownies carefully crafted by the roomful of strong women.
They are almost gone now, those matriarchs, slipping away through old age or illness. Sometimes they go one by one but occasionally they leave in clusters, just like they did everything else. They went to dances together, planned weddings, had babies at the same time, played cards, and talked. Always talked.
“I saw Biddy Dennison in Ladner the other day.”
“Fran and Ruthie are going to Nova Scotia to visit Allen’s relatives this summer.”
“Barbara and Peter are getting married in May…. Yes, I know it’s very quick, but they’re determined…. Well yes, pregnant is another word for it.” With Tracey, as it turned out.
For more than 40 years, through my childhood visits, adolescent angst, youthful hubris, and adult growth, the print-dress phalanx stood behind me, supporting me with their common sense and constant interest. Now that their ranks have thinned I feel a draft at my back. I miss their lemon squares and criticism, birthday cards and timely practical gifts. I feel a little adrift without their solidarity, the certainty that no matter what happens, someone will pick up the pieces and love me until the fragments coalesce into something like Rachel once more.
New generations need them too, to provide certain (though not necessarily approving) acceptance, the continuity of old ladies and middle-aged women with lots of life experience and a tremendous willingness to share it.
My cousin Barbara is just such a woman. Now that we don’t have access to Grandma’s expanse of lawn any more, or Auntie Marg’s big house, Barb offers her condo common room for parties and wakes. Joan is a rock, always ready with a laugh for a ten-year-old’s latest exploit and unflagging enthusiasm for someone’s retirement-launching cruise. Standing and surveying the talking, hugging, laughing crowd at the last Christmas party, George’s wife Margaret said with admiration, “These women are amazing.” I stared at her for a moment. She shows up for every event with unfailing respect and interest while her beautiful small boys (born just a year apart – the mere thought exhausts me) entertain themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think she has any idea that she ranks in the top ten.
At my uncle’s funeral last weekend I noticed for the first time the new batch of print dresses. As my mother’s generation fades, getting greyer and thinner and more absent, my cousins are taking up the slack. Louise rolled her eyes sympathetically when I shared my 14-year-old stepson’s latest misadventure involving his foot, a hundred-dollar running shoe, and the wheel of a moving car. Barb listened to me fret over my demented mother-in-law. The difference is they’re not standing behind me. They’re bracing me up, but now they’re beside me, shoulder to shoulder. Daunting as it is, I suppose that means I’m one of them.
At the graveside I hugged Debbie while she restrained her sobs. I whispered into her hair, “Breathe. Makes it easier to cry.” Then it occurred to me, “And easier to laugh.”
When Doreen said pensively that she no longer puts flowers on her garden-loving mother’s grave, I thought, “There’s no need. You honour her every time you tend your own beautiful garden, and you passed the passion on to your kids.” Next time I’ll say it out loud.
I’m learning. I have very good teachers.