Light, loss & living for others

At the time of first trying to express my grief and gratitude–the news about Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing was very recent. Three weeks have since passed since the staggering loss. His celebration of life service was held on Saturday, October 14.  While sitting in the church, hearing about his life, attempting to comprehend the moment, working steadily through a box of tissues–I marveled at how his absence was a deeply felt presence in the packed room. 

There has been rumors and revelations–and while there should be appropriate and respectful channels to discuss and dissect the circumstances surrounding his death, but I won’t do that here.  Existence is a complex experience. We navigate through frameworks of social constructs, we play roles, we love and are loved, we lose and recover, we try and fail until the clock stops ticking–and we then become constellations in the vast atmosphere that is the human condition. 

I tried to capture a singular moment that reflected my memory of Christopher. Words failed as I reeled at the magnitude of the loss.  The tragedy is layer upon layer of agony and anguish for all who were impacted by his life and his loss– his family, his wife, his children, the community, the university–and on and on and on. My heart goes out to those hurting most–and I extend my loving thoughts outwards. 

….

The flags were flying at half-mast on and while I logically understood the reason, my mind revolted against the truth. I half-expect to see him somewhere on campus. However, that towering figure, that booming voice, that presence is gone—and that reality is simply too painful to bear.
To me, Christopher Seguin was like a classic movie star come to life in the modern age: strapping, stylish and smart—a gentleman and an adventurer—like Cary Grant from somewhere between The Philadelphia Story and Gunga Din.

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We met through the Kamloops Film Festival. He became a mentor, ally and friend.

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During a period of professional adjustment—when I was feeling rather lost in the world—Christopher offered direction.  He regaled me with a self deprecating tale about himself as a young, idealistic man writing a piece that he felt so proud of—only for it to never see the light of day.

This conversation took place during a quick walk around campus.  He stopped where we had started, about to set off in another direction.  “The writing is good”—he said, smiling, assuring. As he walked away, his coat collar popped against the crisp autumn weather, he tossed a final sentence over his shoulder “…but it could be better.”
Ah, that was a cool moment.
He wasn’t one to soften blows, he told you how it was. At the same time, he showed vulnerability while sharing stories of his own personal growth. He offered insights and advice, but tasked you with reaching higher levels of personal achievement. It’s good–but it could always be better.

In the first days of shock and sadness, while trying to occupy my unraveling thoughts–I thought a lot about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–and tried to remember the DABDA scale from long-ago Psychology classes.

Denial:  “In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis or situation is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.”

Yes, the false, preferable reality seems reasonable to me.

As Joan Didion noted in her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking“, “I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed what had happened remained reversible.”

In grief, we are at war with ourselves, rallying against reason, and struggling to reconcile the loss. My mind wanders back and forth between fact and fantasy—I strive to create a world in which Christopher could overcome death. He had plans, goals and value

This. Cannot. Be. It.

And yet, it is. Waves of anguish crashing repeatedly, threatening to overwhelm you as you try to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Wrestling with memory and circumstance, burdened by the weight of  heartbreak, the clashing of absence and presence.

You were just here.

What is one to do when great lights are snuffed out? In that darkness you begin to realize how much these people were quiet architects to our growth and successes. There lies a portion of Christopher’s memory—his legacy resides in those he insisted do better.

As Margaret Atwood once said:

I hope that Christopher becomes more than that. I hope that he carries on in spirit through acts of service. As we move forward into the wilderness of grief and loss, I hope we carry along his memory. He was someone who urged us to excel beyond our wildest expectations–and to encourage others to do the same.  Instead of envisioning a great light dimming into darkness—imagine it fracturing into a million pieces—so that we could find it everywhere. As we move forward, may we absorb even a fraction of that energy, warmth and light.

 

 

Pretty Woman & the Full Jackie O

I see ankle boots are a bit of a thing for fall. Frankly, I’m not thrilled. Aren’t they always in fashion?  I remember feeling vaguely unsatisfied with the boot styles last year as well. Every time the summer light starts to fade and the crispness of fall sets in, I venture out into the world to look for a classic knee high black boot to wear with oh, I don’t know, everything.  Either I can’t find what I’m looking for, can afford what I’m finding, or–it just doesn’t look as you imagine it. When I saw it on Jackie Kennedy, it looked a bit sleeker–a bit slimmer.

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When I go for the full Jackie O, I always feel more like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.  The great gaping divide between how you want to look,  what you think you look like, and how you actually look can be quite alarming when that little Bermuda Triangle of expectation and reality collide.

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First of all. Why is the average changing room so drab? Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t look good in florescent lighting, so what hope is there for the average woman? Down to the socks and underwear–confronting our figures in a cramped, shadowy spaces bathed in unflattering light? The sounds of chatter, babies crying, toddlers sprinting through the racks, some upbeat non-descript pop song playing just a little too loudly in the background.  Cowering in the changing room at war with the fabric, the buttons, the zipper at it’s height of resistance.  Wedged into a dress/bathing suit/jeans–whatever it is that makes you feel like fat Elvis trying to fit into a little girl’s dress.

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Customer service is a dying art, and odds are, no one is coming to check on you. Put your own clothes back on and venture out into the store–avoiding the pictures of the models looking far better than you in the very clothes that you were wearing. Either buy nothing or something that you don’t really love. It can feel very, very grim.

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Shopping for a specific item can be such an annoyance. Like when you get a job at a place with a very specific dress code? Everyone must wear khaki pants! What better way to spend time and money: on clothes you hate as .for a job you need but possibly don’t want. Of course, khaki pants aren’t really a thing and now you have to roam from store to store searching for some vague equivalent. Worse yet, shopping for bigger clothes after a weight gain. Although, you didn’t really know that you gained weight, because you haven’t been paying attention. You head off to the change room with a size 8 and then require a 10, 12, 14. A most deliciously heinous feeling, trying to wedge one’s cheese filled sausage legs into fabric tubes, coming to quite the realization in a very public arena. Fuck it– I’ll have better luck with sizes at the food court, just going to wear ponchos and yoga pants for the rest of my life.

Image result for girl in a poncho vintageThough I love fashion, glamour, style, and elegance–shopping is not my favorite task. For that reason, I made an excellent personal shopper and was successful in retail.  I really tried to help a sister out–finding an outfit for a wedding, funeral, job interview, date, holiday, party, event with a lot of love, good humor and the occasional hug. Tears were a regular occurrence, as were self-deprecating remarks that usually start with “I hate my…” and end with “thighs, arms, belly, etc, etc, etc”. The key is to keep customers in the change room–bring them outfits that suit their body type and explain all the ways to mix and match. Make it fun, keep it light, and when necessary, a  generous dose of tough love.  Pull yourself together, god damn it–Leave your emotions at the door–and just find some fucking pants. 

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When I encouraged body confidence to others,  I avoided taking in my own reflection in the many mirrors around the store. The agony of a conflicted figure, feeling physically inconsistent with not only your sense of style, but your mental self image. Who is the real me? What do I really look like? How am I perceived by the outside world?  If the reflection is to your dissatisfaction, what is the option? Continue on with the self loathing or shift e gears? Along the way to weight loss, the thought of giving up will enter your mind a million times. If discouraged, frustrated, or exhausted-when you can’t do another stupid squat or count another calorie you need to reconnect with your “why”. Health and mental wellbeing is a noble motivation–but sometimes it’s not an accessible visual like: “Audrey Hepburn in a summer dress. Audrey Hepburn in a summer dress. Audrey. Hepburn. in. a. summer. dress”.

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A year since I began the Herbal One program, I’ve lost 42 pounds and 52 inches. It’s been a time of enormous change, growth and grief. My three weekly visits with Beth and Elisha have whittled down to one, but the beat goes on. I know now that it’s an on-going, never ending process.  Like Sisyphus, the rock and that hill.  Keep pushing–forever and ever.

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Poking around Winners on Labour Day morning, picking up a few pieces to update the professional wardrobe. After three years of working with children in a preschool and gymnastics club, it’s been a lot of stretchy pants and loose layers.  With a new job ahead of me, it’s time for a few fresh touches to the ole closet. I haven’t really had any kind of post-weight loss Pretty Woman shopping montage moments. Mostly I’m shopping in my own closet, wearing items that have been collecting dust on the lowest shelf. Now, that they all fit, I’m really getting a sense of just how long it’s been since I wore them–one pair of jeans that had a whiskering effect  made it very clear that it was not to be matched with this year’s ankle boots.

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Interestingly enough, despite all the life-changing results- I still head straight to the plus sizes in the store. It’s like driving to your old house after you move across town. Taking clothes that are way too big to the change room or dismissing something as too small and it fitting perfectly.  Or the irrational fear of gaining aaaaall the weight back after eating too much bread or skipping exercise for one day.  Ultimately, it’s my brain catching up with my body amid breaking long standing habits, exorcising past pains, and discovering whiskered jeans buried deep in the closet.  I wonder if I would suit ankle boots after all? An option worth exploring I suppose–important to question everything.  It’s the eternal adjustment to the reflection’s metamorphic alteration. Forever seeking the perfect fit, when expectation and reality reconcile with one another once more.

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Images Courtesy of Google etc.

 

 

 

Wait-Loss Wonderland.

The weight loss journey is one seriously rocky road, like wandering though a twisted fairy tale, a calorie-conscious Wonderland with all kinds of detours, obstacles, distractions, forks in the roads and the occasional rabbit hole.

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It’s easy to lose track of your starting point, how far you’ve come, or how much you’ve changed from that day you took that first step in that direction.

Image result for Alice in Wonderland Quotes Tumblr where you started

Ten months spent in this weight-loss Wonderland has been a deeply transformative time. Not just of my appearance, or my dress size, but as layers of myself have diminished-now forty pounds and 42.5 inches, I have suffered, struggled—and travelled through my memory—and ran the entire gamut of emotions.  Memories of food; of overindulgences.  I am a certifiable comfort eater. I am my own Italian grandmother serving up heaping portions of creamy, saucy, gooey, salty goodness. Eat! Eat!  It’s the cure for all things: anxiety, boredom, depression, loneliness. It’s not as though gaining weight was a deliberate, conscious act. It just becomes a reality that feels unchangeable.  In my office, there’s a giant glass picture frame with a wedding photo of Buster Keaton, (random I know but the image amuses me). It sits on my desk, and I could see my reflection in it—so I covered it up with papers.

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In retrospect, that action strikes me as sad.  In order to not see myself–and face some hard facts, I refused to see something that brings me joy. Then again, denial, like loose fabric and stretchy pants are necessary accessories of avoidance.  Of course, the cruel irony of this vicious cycle is: feeling unhappy with yourself + self medicating and overindulging + feeling unhappy with yourself + self medicating and overindulging =not living your life out loud like you’d really like to. Knowing that you are on the verge of a great depression; or deep in that chasm with no way to get out—knowing, in an abstract sense, that a healthier lifestyle would be a benefit—but not knowing how to break that cycle—because frankly, you won’t see results on day one, two or three. It becomes quite the waiting game. You simply have to trust that each day, you are a little bit more different than the day before.

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Even after change has become to take shape, sometimes you need reminders. Those Facebook memories that pop up on the ole newsfeed are effective tools, and can be occasionally mortifying—or inspiring, depending on your mood. There was a photo of me in Mexico that really stands out in my mind—I’m rather stylish in the group shot—beachy hair, my smile dressed in red lipstick, a purple silk scarf draped over my shoulders, all tucked into a chunky belt—but oooh, that belt was not the only bit of chunky in that snap shot. It was staggering to see. I showed it to my mother, who was quick to insist that I not feel bad about it; I assured her that I didn’t look at the picture with sadness—I was celebrating New Year’s Eve with some marvellous people in Mexico, and have zero regrets about aaaaaall those guac and chips and margaritas. It was more about realizing how far I had come, when I had kind of lost sight of where I was on the long road to fitness. That was then. This is now. I can’t cripple myself with regret for not starting sooner—or for having a problem at all. Regret, sadly does not burn calories, and is therefore pretty damn useless.

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In the mix of dealing with health improvements, my issues with anxiety are the whack-a-moles that I must endlessly smash with my big mallet. Anxiety is the internal Debbie Downer that leeches joy and distracts from motivation.  That bitch needs to get up and go. But, if she won’t leave, and she sticks with you like a bad tattoo you got in your teen years, how does one redesign it in order to deal it on the daily?   In my case, how does one apply self-comfort without stuffing one’s face? Cups of tea, a cozy blanket, my husband Benjamin, our dog Bluebear, a good book, writing, curling up on the couch, a hot bath, a long walk, a visit with a friend. Chatting with Beth and Elisha at Herbal One, laughing through squats and plies at Barre Kamloops.

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Living life in bite sized increments,  mindful of the moment. By all means plan for the future, but focus on today. Especially in regards to health and weight-loss. So. Many. Times. I would eat as if I were being shipped off to the electric chair at dawn. Tomorrow I’ll be better; I’ll start fresh on Monday.  Excuses start to fly like baseballs at the batting cages. Monday is the worst day of the week, why make that the day to start anything? I’ll start on Tuesday…Wednesday… Thursday… ah, it’s the weekend, best treat myself…to bigger pants. You won’t see change in one day—so what’s one more day of not seeking change? There in lies the need for that mindfulness. You may not see rippling abs on the first day you decide to make a change, so you have to find the ant-sized successes in the daily choices that benefit your long term goal.

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My relationship with food is much friendlier.  I spend more time in the kitchen than ever before–prepping, planning and preparing. The other night Benjamin and I were lying in bed discussing all these delicious meal ideas like two children whispering secrets in the dark. Sunday’s are my food prep days, and there is nothing more satisfying than looking into a perfectly stocked fridge filled with washed and chopped produce and ready to go meals. Take that Monday! If the opportunity arises for a true indulgence, I don’t shy away from it; last night for example—live music, three glasses of pinot noir and two kinds of fondue at the Commodore (swiss cheese and dark chocolate). Do I have a wine/cheese/chocolate hangover today? Hell yes, I do. Do I have regrets? Not at all. I completed a 10-day cleanse, treated myself to a mani/pedi, and enjoyed a very special date night with my sweetheart; I savoured, celebrated and absorbed every bite and every sip.  (We also shared a salad, just for good measure).

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This time has been one of great reflection; recollections of all the injuries, accidents, disappointments, heartbreaks, disasters, losses, betrayals. How I’ve been hurt and hurt others. How I have failed myself and failed others.  Taking responsibility, accepting my actions, forgiving myself, letting go.  Letting go is not my strong suit. I’ve been carrying around past agonies in my heart for so long, punishing myself for my mistakes, torturing myself for every misstep I have ever taken.  I’m still carrying around some of those things in my emotional gunny sack—but I’m learning to leave things behind as I walk along that road. Seeing myself as different people. The fretful child I once was, that 14-year-old girl, that 22-year-old, that 30-year-old—on and on, I can only see them as separate from my present-day self.  Sure, our past selves are a part of the patchwork quilt that is your collective existence, but it’s not the definition of your entire life.  Still, I have to love her—apologize to her for the things that broke her, how I didn’t know how to help her, take care of her. I was weak and imperfect and riddled with flaws. I could have done better for so long, but I didn’t. I can’t punish myself any longer for something that is gone; I can’t change the tides that threatened to drown me. All I can do is today. Breathe. Release. Laugh. Love. Stretch. Forgive. Connect. Be Patient. Cry whenever necessary. Eat fondue occasionally. Be grateful for every mistake and heart break, just don’t let it weigh you down.

Image result for vintage alice in wonderland quotesImages Courtesy of the Fine People Behind the Internet…

Junk, Trunk & the Salty Seductress.

The prospect of a post weight-loss shopping trip can be a real thrill. Less intimidated by the reflection in the changing room mirror, approaching fashion with a newfound freedom. A colorful and energetic montage of the new you twirling around in a multitude of stylish garments–celebrating your hard work with a whole new wardrobe.

For me,  the main shopping agenda was new bras. Having lost thirty pounds and as many inches, my strapless bras were starting to slide down my torso like a firefighter rushing down the fire hall pole.  At the best of times, bra shopping has always been an unfortunate enterprise. A real emotional hot zone.  The advertisement in lingerie stores always slays me. After seeing Miranda Kerr in underwear, it makes seeing yourself in underwear a bit of an underwhelming, or even traumatizing experience.

Beth from Herbal One nods sympathetically when I reference my dwindling breasts. “After all, it’s fatty tissue” she reasons. Uh…yea, so is my ass, why the discrimination? As far as the weight loss goes, if my upper half is like a sprightly speed walker, my lower half is like an elderly and arthritic Tai Chi enthusiast. After two weeks of work on a local film set, my pedometer tallied up some rather impressive numbers. 15 hour days on one’s feet really adds up, especially, if you are utterly shameless and casually march and lunge on the spot.  The shoot ended and I returned to Herbal One victorious…and five pounds lighter. After walking the equivalent of 15-25 kilometres per day, I was certain that the effort would be reflected in my measurements, which they did—with the ever-loving exception of my pear-shaped essence. That didn’t budge an inch.  Meanwhile, it’s RIP C-cup. Who needs a full bust anyway? I can just go back to wearing an undershirt like when I was 9.

My body is changing, my health is improving, and I have generally gained control over the task at hand. My thighs, on the other hand, are like that dude at the party who refuses to call it a night–strumming a guitar poorly, talking loudly; unintentionally intervening on a romantic liaison with that dreamy poet you’ve been flirting with all night. Still there in the morning, drinking your coffee, taking up space and frankly, just rubbing you the wrong way. Go make yourself useful thighs, find out where my boobs scuttled off to.  What does a girl have to do to ditch a little of that junk in the trunk?

I signed up for an Herbal One summer challenge and a month of Barre classes–which offers a mix of ballet, yoga and Pilates. It’s the perfect exercise for me, and a fabulous compliment to my Herbal One Program. It’s a full body workout, the music is upbeat, the staff are friendly, and the other attendees are lovely. Sure, the classes can be quite challenging, and it does bring up such questions as: “Has anyone ever barfed in a Barre class? Just right here on the carpet? And then died from lack of core strength or a vicious butt cramp?”  It’s like thinking you might die, but in the most elegant way possible. When that last plie while standing on one’s tip toes makes you feel the burn like nothing else; or when you aren’t quite grasping the movements and feel like a water buffalo with a charley horse trying to give birth in a swamp…

…you just have breathe, and focus on a visual, chant a little inspirational mantra.  Mine is “Audrey Hepburn in a summer dress…Audrey Hepburn in a summer dress. Audrey. Hepburn. in. a. summer. dress“.

You may want to give up, just a little, or a lot. Tempting isn’t it? Go home, sit on the couch and get your sloth on. Let motivation drift, routines fade, lose track of progress. After all. Isn’t this all so hard? Wasn’t it easier when you filled out the stretchy pants and a proper lady bra? Don’t you miss the sweet, savory and cheeky treats? Temptation is such a salty seductress.  Here’s one: don’t you ever get sick of wishing things were different from the sidelines? Wanting to change, and not knowing where to begin? Or falling back into bad habits, and giving up at the first sign of struggle, failure or defeat?  Or, what if you just kept quietly pushing onward.  It’s about applying that same rationale towards food control to exercise. Commitment and consistency is key, sacrifice and just a smidgen of suffering is required if you want to see results. Ultimately, you have to like what you do, or it won’t really stick for the long haul. Frankly, after living with my thighs rubbing up on each other like a couple of horny teenagers—since, like the day I learned to walk—I need to get in there with some loving, yet brute force.

Between the Herbal One challenge and the Barre Kamloops class, I dropped five inches in one month–and yes, even off the junk in the trunk. For me, finding happy places to focus on my health has been as essential as the little black dress; having friendships steeped in that healthy lifestyle. To be surrounded by support and humor as you lose weight means gaining something far greater in return.

Images & GIF’s Courtesy of the Wide World Web etc.

 

 

Off the Wagon.

Whenever I feel discouraged in regards to weight loss, I just think about Oprah.  She has money, power, influence, accolades, luxury, celebrity; she can do anything, go anywhere– and do so like a boss. She has such a magic touch that there is an actual phenomenon known as “The Oprah Effect”.  All the while, she struggles to maintain a consistent weight.  This is a woman with access to trainers, chefs and all the support in the world–and it’s still the hardest thing ever. Why? Because food is delicious and gaining a whole mess of weight is quite possibly the easiest thing a person could ever do. Being Oprah, she turned her own weight-loss journey into another gold mine, chronicling all the ups and downs with Chef Rosie, and her trainer Bob. Although, it goes back further than that–to the late 80’s, when Oprah lost sixty-odd pounds, and then pulled it out onstage in a little wagon.

It’s a great visual. Grotesque, but great. Eventually that Radio Flyer’s worth of weight made it’s way back onto Winfrey’s waist line. Those pounds have been lost and found more times than anyone could count. Although, it was pretty well documented, I’m sure someone else could do that math.

Perhaps it means that you never really complete the mission. The finish line is like a mirage in the desert, or a horizon that ceases to come closer as you approach it. It’s a never ending quest to lose, and then maintain this new found physique. As I considered blogging about my own weight-loss journey, I thought of Oprah Winfrey and the fat wagon. Firstly, that it would be a fun name for a funk band, and secondly, that it was nerve-wracking enough to privately make these kind of changes, much less to shout your intentions from the roof top; inviting everyone to watch you fumble through. I didn’t want to ride in on my high horse and trumpet about my great successes…then fall off, and get trampled by said horse.

Six months into my weight loss program with Herbal One, and I’ve lost over twenty pounds and just under twenty inches.  By all rights, there should have been far more extensive changes by this point. I have the support, I have a plan, the supplements, the groundwork was laid for me to whittle down. It’s just me in my own way.  When I think about my weight-loss, I imagine water lapping along the shoreline. It goes in a little bit, and out a little bit, repeat, repeat, again, again. I could really use a low tide one of these days. It’s an arduous undertaking. Many, many changes must be made. I remember sitting down for my first meeting with owner Beth McBride and nodding profusely.  “NONE OF THIS WILL BE A PROBLEM”–I say, smugly, like a total idiot. Like any addict, I can stop anytime I want. By all means, make all the changes all at once.

I started the program after a lengthy road trip through Washington and Oregon and went to Las Vegas a week later. From there, more events, shows, mini-breaks and random outings.  So many opportunities to eat and drink.  Three weeks in New Zealand for Christmas. Sure, there was swimming and walking, but there was also so. much. cheese. Cold Ciders, gin and fresh lime, champagne, lemony French onion dip with salty potato chips. My in-laws are all foodies, and all make gorgeous, fresh meals. Of course, being on holiday, one eats 8-12 times a day, in between glasses of bubbles and the beach.

Drinking everything but water, nibbles around every corner, something decadent or deep fried around midnight.  Holiday is Latin for “seeking the next meal”. Pop into the cute café for a latte, stop at that sweet shop for an ice cream cone. Wander through a marketplace and eat all the samples. The montage that plays in my head of eating a variety of delectable goodies in a variety of foreign places makes me stare out the window wistfully.

New Zealand was a happy, relaxing time with family and friends. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to lose the shoes, send for our dog Bluebear and shack up in a little Kiwi Bungalow by the beach with Ben. In all honesty, returning home was a little challenging. I came back to some challenges that unfolded and worsened over time. I began to sink deeper and deeper into a rather serious depression. Ever the cheerleader, Beth says: “Weight-loss is something YOU can control!”. Let this be the thing that grounds you, gives you purpose. Which is a truly fabulous, remarkable idea–and it’s the truth. But, for anyone who has dealt with depression, it’s a bit like sinking in quicksand and lacking the wherewithal to stop it. Mix in crippling anxiety, and you’re sinking, too stressed to make a rational decision to better your situation. Quite the bloody predicament isn’t it?

My weight–that had crept up a wee bit while in New Zealand– was like an unmanned car with a brick on the accelerator. I was not in control. I was not happy. I also didn’t know how to stop this car or turn it around. How can we want these changes for ourselves and let precious days pass by wishing those things were for us but lamenting that they aren’t.

As Oprah would say–the ‘Ah-ha Moment’ that set me back on the path of better health was two-fold. The cancer diagnosis of a really good friend–which rattled me to the very core, was deeply influential in waking up from my deep dark doldrums. Also, sitting in the Herbal One office, like a sad sack, whining about how I keep setting health goals and not achieving them. This is my vicious cycle: I keep saying–oh this event/show/performance is coming up, what better reason to lose those pesky pounds? And then…the only thing I actually exercise is procrastination. Tomorrow I will exercise. Tomorrow I will eat better. Tomorrow I will drink less. Who am I? Scarlett O’Hara?

A month before another big event, I express disappointment that I hadn’t met my mark. Beth, in this cool, casual manner, says: “Well, there’s always next year”. Not sure if she was genuine, or if it was a sneaky parental tactic, some reverse psychology. Regardless, you could practically hear The Eye of the Tiger pumping through my veins. Next year? NEXT YEAR?? Who has that kind of time?

I let go of the shame, the regret, the ‘what if’s’ and made the resolution to start over. I got a fresh new food journal. I reassessed my habits and weaknesses. Started visiting Beth and Elisha at Herbal One more. Making teeny tiny changes. Living my life in 24-hour increments. More sleep. More water. I’ve taken to weighing myself every morning and tracking the patterns on a Pin-up Girl calendar that hangs in the bathroom.

I try to not let that number ruin my day, it is simply a matter of that number helping guide my decisions for the day.  It’s effective, and it’s now part of the routine. From the day I started that practice, I have seen significant changes. Leading up to the next event, I felt that there was a difference. Not just to my figure, but to my mindset.  I’m not really to roll out any ole wagon of fat–and I’m still living day to day, but the last month has been truly empowering. Revolutionary even. I’m active, I’m hydrated, I’m happier. I’ve even started running.  I had lost weight leading up to the Kamloops Film Festival, and continued to lose weight during the ten days.

How you ask??

  • A Bold Lip Color. Wearing chic red lipstick made me far more reluctant to nibble.
  • Eating beforehand is essential. (Who knew?)
  • Limit hard alcohol. I really enjoy a drunken grilled cheese, so I needed to maintain some level of sobriety to reduce my odds of losing my willpower.
  • I really enjoyed  Pinot Noir. Was like classy, buzz inducing velvet, and was better than anything morsel out there. Makes a great accessory, keeps your hand occupied.
  • A snugly fitted dress is key. It’s really easy to keep things loose and layered, and not notice any difference as you quietly consume a boatload of calories. I felt a nicely cinched waist kept me in check. 1) I didn’t want to be uncomfortable and 2) I wanted to wear this dress again.
  • Tell someone! I had so much support from committee friends, and that made life all the easier.
  • This is kind of a cheeky tip, but during the film festival, I packed a bottle of water and a Tupperware container of plain popcorn. On the day I watched all four movies, I brought along a small amount of dried cherries and dark chocolate as well.
  • Of course, the support from Beth and Elisha at Herbal One. I truly could not do any of this without them

By the Sunday, I was the lightest I’ve been on the program…and then gave in to post-festival laziness and ate some take-out Chinese food that my husband ordered and bloated like a MSG infused puffer fish. Damn you Chicken Chow Mein!!  Make a delicious, salty, buttery, soyasaucey mistake?  I hope you savored every bite, cause now you’ve got more work to do. Take a breath. Be kind to yourself, prepare some hot water and lemon, walk a little longer, run a little farther. Be like Oprah, and try again.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

Images Courtesy of Jen Randall Dustin &the fine folks behind the internet.

 

 

 

Thick & Thin

Saturday afternoon of a long weekend.  This time off was so necessary. After a hectic, stressful, busy, emotionally challenging week I am feeling a bit like a filthy t-shirt you wear for the entirety of a four-day music festival.  I’ve seen all kinds of shit.  It was like crawling through the desert on one’s belly, the oasis always beyond one’s reach.  Then you find out that the desert is filled with landmines and the oasis is just a mirage.  Still, as all things must pass, the stress did recede like the ocean after an angry storm, and all was calm once more.  This weekend is the Richard Gere to my Debra Winger.

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To take my Officer and a Gentleman metaphor one step further…this week has been the Louis Gossett Jr to my Richard Gere, forever riding my ass and testing me to the brink of sanity.

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It’s like…”Thanks a lot universe, what did I ever do to you?”

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Leading up to the long weekend, Benjamin and I were making a lot of plans.  ‘Let’s go on a mini break’, “Let’s go to the lake’, “Let’s see people’. And now, past lunchtime on Saturday it’s like…. ‘Let’s never leave the couch ever again”.

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After the longest winter ever, the long work hours and Netflix on the couch I’m feeling…like I could use a little bit of a detox.  But then I hear about no bread, dairy, alcohol or caffeine, and I feel instantly bored.  As for activity, I love to be tricked into exercising.  I love my yoga, and a good long walk, but anything with a higher intensity level is too much to bear.  My favorite thing to do when I have free-time is research and write blogs.   I spend an inordinate amount on time on the computer, social media updates and promoting different events.  Endlessly searching Google images for the right picture to capture my particular vision.  It’s satisfying mentally, but it’s no cardio, and does absolutely nothing for my core.  I think about exercise more than I actually exercise. I think about it as I’m drifting off to sleep.  I’ll get up an hour early and exercise.  That’s what I’ll do.  And then the morning comes and I hit the snooze harder than I would hit the gym.  I should really make time, take up jogging, do it everyday.  Then again, nobody looks happy whilst running.  In reality, I’d only run if I was being chased.

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I mean, I walk briskly from the parking lot to the office, I move around a lot of work and I go to yoga class a few times a month.  But that’s hardly a calorie burner.  My friend invited me over and over to come to kick-boxing. The timing was difficult, but then I finally made it and it was awesome.  I resolved to buy a punch card, go all the time, be fitter, be better, perfect my round-house kick.  And then I took on additional projects and have never been available since.  Free time is feeling scarce, and I do need to maintain my creative life.  Thought admittedly, the writing doesn’t take nearly as long as searching for pictures.  Example, I’ve spent fifteen minutes searching “Baby Got Back”.  But aren’t you glad I did?

rvCPm_TAF7UlYou have to credit Sir Mix-a-Lot for being a true feminist, a pioneer for positive body image.

  • “I’m tired of magazines/Sayin’ flat butts are the thing”
  • “I ain’t talkin’ bout Playboy/Cause silicone parts are made for toys”
  • “So Cosmo says you’re fat/Well I ain’t down with that!”
  • Yeah, baby … when it comes to females, Cosmo ain’t got nothin’ to do with my selection. 36-24-36? Ha ha, only if she’s 5’3″.
  • So your girlfriend rolls a Honda/Playin’ workout tapes by Fonda/But Fonda ain’t got a motor in the back of her Honda

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Sir Mix-a-Lot is a true poet.  And he’s right about Jane Fonda.  She doesn’t have much going on in the Honda of her Fonda.  Led to believe that Mix-a-Lot ran a support group for big-bootied ladies,  I dialed 1-900-MIXALOT, to talk about my body issues.  When he said, “To the beanpole dames in the magazines/You ain’t it, Miss Thing!”, I really felt a kinship.  I felt empowered. I was trying to do as Sir Mix-a-Lot says, and “kick them nasty thoughts”, but I think I’ve misunderstood what he meant by ‘nasty’.  Unfortunately, the representative was rather crude, kept referring to his anaconda, and ‘doubling up on my juicy double’…whatever that means I am still trying to figure out.  I’m pretty sure it was Drake; he is long, strong and is always down get the friction on.

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Really, if you look at the lyrics with a critical eye, the rapper is still telling you to get a sweat on.  After all, he likes to keep [his] women like Flo Jo.

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Goodness me, Flo Jo was a fit lady, known as the fastest woman in the world. Wonder what her secret was, besides God-given talent and speed? The fastest woman in the world also had the longest nails in the world.  Pretty difficult to tuck into recreational snacking with those Freddy Kruger fingers at the helm.

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It’s a balancing act trying to please this body-conscious performer.  According to the Gospel to Sir Mix-a-Lot: “You can do side bends or sit-ups/ But please don’t lose that butt”.  He also heeds a warning: some brothers will play that “hard” role, and try to tell you that the butt ain’t gold.  Don’t worry, remember your affirmations ladies, your butt is plenty gold.  When non-big butt enthusiasts “toss it and leave it”, you can count on Sir Mix to “pull up quick to retrieve it”.  That’s comforting.  But it’s a lot of pressure to live up to.  Imagine deliberately trying to have a fat ass?

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The likes of Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss were an anomaly in a world that once leaned towards the full female figure.  Certain retro advertisements were certainly geared towards curvaceousness as sexy, and skinny as lacking.

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Of course, for every Sir-Mix certified ad encouraging curves, there’s evil advertising that says…”you’re fat, stop that”. Loving this ad below, the clever ad execs behind this gem offered a pearl of a tagline for this product. Shape. “Stop eating”.  Subtle.

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Thank God that Warner’s has a Body-Do, because I’m apparently a ‘body-don’t”.   The pear shape is here to stay,  I had a big butt when I was a new born baby.  That’s just nature.  Good thing there are so many wonderful products out there to accommodate your full figure.

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Why must generous portions of lady curves have to be reduced to words like chubby? Where is Sir Mix-a-Lot when we need him more than ever?

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Easy on the sugar indeed. She’s so hungry and acidic from all the eggs and grapefruit that she’s seconds away from ramming that spoon us that smug bastard’s nose, in the same way ancient Egyptians yank out the brain for mummification.    Reduce this motherfucker.  Then she could enjoy a large cinnamon bun, sickeningly sweet tea and smoke a cigarette with sticky cream-cheese icing fingers while her husband quietly bleeds to death on the carpet.  This is why we need carbs people.

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I’m 32 now, skin elasticity is as fleeting as fertility and youth.  How can I have my cake and burn it off too? As always, I turn to Victoria Beckham for advice.  She is a busy mother-of-four, a designer, entrepreneur world traveler, and she is fit as fuck.  How does she do it?

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Naturally.  Take the fun of work and then add more work.  I would literally die if I tried to attempt this.  There is almost no space between the treadmill and the wall.  Isaac Hayes died on a treadmill and he was probably in suitable footwear. Me + typing + treadmill x those epic heels=suicide bomber’s certainty of personal injury.

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Bully for you Mrs Beckham.  Is that why you’re lying on the ground? I could wear stilettos all day too if all I had to do was laze about on my back kicking my legs in the air.  I will just need a pillow, my phone and somebody’s WiFi password…and David Beckham to pop in and bask in the glory of my beauty.  I don’t know, I have a difficult time prescribing to celebrity doctrines.  Sure, they put in the work to maintain their pristine figures, but if I had a team of people behind me I could make a hobo red carpet ready.   But wait–there are people far busier than you that look better than you, also without the luxury of extra help.

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I’d love to see this gal post this on the local Mom Swap Facebook page, and then read the 350 comments over a glass of wine.  This mother of three has a better body than me. What’s my excuse? Meh, I’m not too fussed really.  It’s not as important as everything else.  I mean, if I could naturally look like Audrey Hepburn, that would be ideal.

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Since I don’t have a dancer’s body, I can’t help but want to find the balance between happy to improve but happy to love myself regardless of my physical imperfections.

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Still, I catch the occasional glimpse in the mirror that makes me wonder whether some crazy-long Flo Jo nails would be a good idea.  Or maybe I should worry less about exercise and just take up smoking.

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Then again, you wouldn’t like me when I am hungry. It’s like those Snickers ads, only I don’t turn into a hilarious caricature, but a snarling werewolf.

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Hungry + angry =Hangry.  That’s my personal danger zone.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry.  It’s like drowning and having no air to breathe.

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This isn’t sounding good.  I don’t want to not eat, all my favorite things involve sitting and a committed exercise regime is not suiting my current schedule.  This is a slippery slope between having a muffin top and being the mom from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

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My brother Mark and I got talking about that film on our morning hike. It’s too sad to ever watch again,  but it still resonates as a genuine fear.  How does that happen…you are born, you are a child–learn behaviors and eating habits, you grow up, and eventually become so obese that it’s easier to burn the house down than to remove your dead body through the front door.  Of course, there is a long road between thick and thin and back again.  You are usually just going along in your life, not necessarily seeing the changes in yourself until you catch a reflection.

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These photographs are a few years old now, but a terrific example of body shaming.  Jennifer Love-Hewitt is a happy and well-fed gal and the internet had a field day, hammering her for being “fat”.  For the rest of us, with bodies just like that, it sends a clear message that this is an unacceptable joke-worthy body type.

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If she’s happy, and her lover is happy, she is healthy, and her clothes fit, then what’s the trouble?  She’s on holiday, she’s relaxed. Does every day need to be met by a date with the treadmill?  Ugh, the idea of exercise…how exhausting.  The idea of fitting it into jam packed days is even more exhausting.  I wish I could adopt a fictional Gilmore Girls-esque all you can eat, movies and junk food couch potato lifestyle, and still maintain a spectacular physique.

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I flip through a magazine, read the weight-loss success stories and for a fleeting moment, wish I were just like the models in the magazine.  But then again, who would want to work that hard? Until the day comes that I shake from me the excuses and muster up the commitment to truly trim down, I’ll be happy as Love-Hewitt, splashing in the water, not for a second wishing I were any different.  What can I say? I like big butts and cannot lie.

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Images Courtesy of Google

Rock n’ Roll Rabbit Holes

In the summer before I started university, before the Twin Towers fell in New York City, I slept in a room on Vancouver Island.  I shared it with my older brother’s ex-girlfriend (whom I referred to as my sister-in-law regardless of their romantic stare of affairs).  Her son, my nephew, was quite young and slept in a large enclosure around the corner with colorful sarongs tacked up in the doorway.  Above my sister-in-law’s bed was an enormous black-and-white poster of Kurt Cobain.  It was not uncommon to have a restless sleep, and to remedy the sleeplessness by staring up at the poster and wonder about this famous stranger.

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Now, this is going to come as a real shock, but if I were a Nirvana album I would be MTV Unplugged in New York.  I don’t rock hard in the slightest.  Maybe if you play something from Kylie Minogue’s Fever, I might let my hair down a little.  As would a middle-aged men’s choir after happy hour on Fire Island but it’s one of the most important albums of anyone’s generation, so who can blames them? This album was scientifically engineered to make even the dead dance.  It’s actually the same science behind Minogue’s eternal youth, and legs that I personally would participate in a Hunger Games style death-match to earn such tasty gams.

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My older brother was a music aficionado and was my source of knowledge before the internet existed.  The very first time I heard “Landslide”, was as a Smashing Pumpkins cover on a bootleg cassette tape.  He listened to a variety of genres, listened to a lot of hip hop and rap, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Blind Melon what have you. In the pre-grunge era, he was really into hair bands: Twisted Sister, Cinderella, Poison, Motley Crue.  He had a picture of Dee Snider on his wall that scared the hell out of me. Some of his musical choices made me feel like a forty-year old-square who said things like “This isn’t music, this is noise”.  I’d never admit it, I’d always attempt to play the part.  Thinking back, I was such a nerdy kid, I really wasn’t fooling anyone.  Anthony was a very popular guy, athletic, cool, fun; all the things I was not.  I could make him laugh, and a well-crafted wise crack was my currency.  He introduced me to Tori Amos, and I used to do an impression of her that made him bust a gut.  True, he was my brother, but he was also ‘Anthony Price’, and that meant something in our next of the woods.  Besides, I can’t be that much of a loser if I’m making the cool guy chuckle.

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We lived in a trailer, and our rooms were across a slight hallway.  Almost every night I would cross the hall, tap on the door lightly, and sit on the bed for a chat.  He regaled stories about parties, people, sport field trips, his new girlfriend (there was a real female fan base and the phone was always ringing).  He talked about the places he was going, what his future was going to look like.  We would always listen to music.  He had a pretty expansive audio tape collection.  He was always buying new music, and always had something new to show me.  I wanted desperately to impress him, so when he said things I didn’t really understand–which was often, I would try my best to just nod with the right kind of serious expression.  Perhaps in between watching black and white movies, playing with Barbie dolls for about a year too long, and listening to the Righteous Brothers, I was clocking long hours on the wild side of life.

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He played a wonderful game that went like this:

“Like this band?”

“Totally…love them”. (nodding seriously)

“It’s Bon Jovi”

“Oh yeah, I celebrate their entire catalogue”

“It’s not Bon Jovi”

“Haha, I know…I was just kidding”.

“It’s Guns and Roses”

“I knew that”.

“It’s not…it’s actually Whitesnake”.

And let’s be honest, I listened to tapes I pilfered from my parent’s collection: Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand and Belinda Carlisle.  I got a record player in my early teens and usurped my parent’s albums for my own use.  Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Blondie, ABBA, Billie Holiday–that was how I rolled.  There was a Bee Gee’s record I found when I was 13, and it rocked my world.  I was so out of touch, that even the most overplayed tracks slipped past my social-consciousness.  Around the time Ace of Base arrived on the scene with “The Sign”, I went on a school trip.  I was perfectly terrified that the excursion would be an alienating day, but I got by with my good-humor and over-compensating compliments.  All the cool girls were rocking out to that song pretty hard, singing acapella versions of the track.  I just kept a smile frozen on my face, trying to earn my keep.  That these girls were even tolerating my presence was a total coup. I was on social tenterhooks, I couldn’t afford to not know who Ace of Base was…or admit that I would have preferred ABBA anyway.

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I finally heard it…about six months later.  I saw the Queen Bee shortly afterwards and made the fatal mistake of mentioning that I had only recently heard and enjoyed a song that was now long dead to her.

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I remember the first time I met my now best friend–she was performing in school talent show.  I asked Evelyn what song she was doing.  She said “About a Girl” and I huffed sarcastically: “That’s specific”.  It shames me to admit just how long it took me to realize that it was an actual song title.  Not to compare Ace of Base to Nirvana–but suffice to say, I did not have my finger on the modern-day music pulse, other than what my brother had shown me.  Evelyn and her brother Rory were smart, funny, and musically talented,  both had a vast knowledge of punk and indie music. Their dad had a Master’s, was in a band, they didn’t have cable, they just sat around reading books at night.  They were this impossibly cool family that were the Royal Tenenbaums to my Eli Cash.

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Evelyn actually listened to Nirvana, as opposed to me only hearing of him only because I read about it him my mother’s People magazineI had heard the Weird Al Yankovic version of Smells like Teen Spirit, before I heard the original.  The prime of our high-school friendship was following Cobain’s death. After all, we were only twelve and thirteen years when Cobain died.  But he was very much alive in our world,despite the shotgun blast. Evelyn was Cobain obsessed; now recalls him as “her partner in teenage angst”, that he was “mysterious, talented, sexy, dysfunctional…and his music was really good…dark and awesome and grungy”.  Evelyn’s love for Nirvana and Kurt Cobain was something I personally did not understand.  I got that there was a mystique, but it wasn’t my kind of cologne if you know what I mean.  I faulted my own uncool DNA.  You know who did really rock my world? Courtney Love.  She was the coolest woman ever.  The baby doll dresses, barrettes dangling in messy locks, red lipstick and a mohair cardis, mixed with army boots–so effing cool.  Anthony bought me a copy of Live Through This and it was a revelation.  This was my kind of rock and roll.

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Anthony was seeing this girl, Jenne, who in my mind,  was just as-or if not cooler than Courtney  Love.  I remember seeing her sitting on the steps of the community hall, during an all ages show: short blonde hair tucked behind eyes, smoking a cigarette in a white tank top with a black bra.  I could never pull that look off.   This girl eventually became the sister-in-law I shared a room with.  She loved Kurt and Courtney in equal measure.  In that same town Love was there with Kevin Bacon and Charlize Theron filming a movie.  I met Love at a Blockbuster video store, she was in the independent film section, and was extremely rude when I approached her.  (I wouldn’t have it any other way).  I waited outside smoking a cigarette, hoping to score an autograph to give to Jenne.  Standing next to her as she scribbled on the back of the receipt, I thought about Kurt.  This was Kurt Cobain’s widow–this woman revolutionized by teen years.  I read about her in magazines, I knew things about her life.  I vividly remember how only a month before Cobain died, his “accidental overdose” in Rome and this shot in People magazine.

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On April 8, 1994, I was washing dishes during a commercial break on Oprah, when the news broke. Kurt Cobain found dead by shotgun in his Seattle home.  Obviously, it was a dominating news-story.  Suicide, drugs, celebrity, what a perfectly scandalous cocktail.  A large crowd had gathered to commemorate Cobain; Courtney Love read his suicide note aloud, (and allegedly gave his possessions away to strangers, who I imagine made a killing on e-Bay years later).  The news cameras were like flies to excrement, leaching every last ounce of marrow from the bone.  I vividly remember a young girl being interviewed; she had never heard of Nirvana or of Cobain, but that news of his death was deeply moving.  Her mother had driven her to the site, so they could drink in the mutual sorrow, though it wasn’t really their loss to share.  That is a metaphor for the six-o’clock news.  I couldn’t get enough of it. Even my mother was fascinated, more-so in a cautionary tale, tsk tsk, ‘this is the trouble with drugs’ kind of way.  Since I had first heard the parable of poor Elvis Presley, I’ve always had a morbid fascination about celebrity deaths.  Cobain’s suicide happened on an auspicious age, 27, and it drew a lot of focus on the artists that died before him at the same age.

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The first noted club member was Alexandre Levy,  Brazilian composer responsible for bringing a Latin flavor to classical music. He died mysteriously in 1892.  Ragtime musician Louis Chauvin died from syphilis in 1908. Chauvin was a ragtime musician from Missouri who made a name for himself in the early jazz haunts of St. Louis and Chicago. My personal favorite of “The 27 Club: The Early Years” was blues player Robert Johnson, who died in 1938. As the legend goes, Johnson met the devil at the crossroads one night and traded his soul to be a better blues player. His death still remains a mystery, many claim that he was poisoned by a revenge seeking, cuckolded husband, while others insist that the devil was making good on a hellish deal.  There’s Jimi, Joplin, Jim and Brian Jones, who drowned in his own pool in 1969.

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The autopsy report decreed “death by misadventure”, and  Jones was buried twelve feet deep in the ground (to prevent grave robbing) in a coffin that was paid for by Bob Dylan.  His death was a precursor for many tragedies to come.

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Jimi Hendrix dedicated a song to Jones on American television, and Jim Morrison of The Doors published a poem entitled “Ode to L.A. While Thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased”.  Both men would be dead within two years time.  Hendrix in September 1970, and Morrison in July of 1971.  Janis Joplin died only sixteen days after Hendrix.

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Yikes. Talk about a rule of threes.  All at 27.  That must have blown some minds. Though as far as a stigma, or pop-culture curiosity, it wasn’t really a phenomenon, it was more of a side note or point of reference until Cobain turned the lights out. Between Morrison and Cobain there were seventeen lesser known additions to the 27 Club. A member of The Grateful Dead, Inner Circle, The Stooges, The Gits–murder, car accidents, overdoses, suicides, diabetes, you name it.  There are ten additions between Cobain, and the next major player Amy Winehouse, also pronounced “death by misadventure”. She feared 27 as being a rock and roll expiration date.  Of course, while these deaths are accidental, they are not accidents.  Many of these people had participated in the unraveling in their own lives. Winehouse being a classic example. One does not go from this…

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…to this, over night.

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By the end, WInehouse didn’t know the words to the songs that made her famous–and she helped write many of them.  She was such a horror-show, and her antics overshadowed her unbelievable talent and once great stage presence.  Don’t get me wrong, Winehouse is actually my 27-club favorite, her death was very emotional for me.  It’s troubling to me that the very things that makes one great, is quite possibly the same thing that destroys them–it’s a kind of Ouroboros, that snake eating it’s tail, representing an eternal cycle of rebirth.  I hate to take Egyptian symbolism and bend it to my own will, but I’m going to do it anyway–it is an eternal cycle–talented individuals with this undefinable x-factor, that are plucked from obscurity and thrust into fame with the pressures, expectations–artistic promises made on your behalf by someone who cares only for the all-mighty dollar.  For someone with mental illness, propensity for addiction, or crippling self-doubt the limelight would be like an itchy wool sweater to skin that had only known silk.  Of course, narcotics and booze and excess have always been part in parcel of the rock and roll culture, but imagine the era when doctors recommended smoking and really strong pharmaceuticals were best washed down with a stiff drink. Sounds fun doesn’t it?  Of course, that’s like the first bit of Requiem for a Dream before the amputations and double ended dildos, before addiction begins to erode reason, rationale, relationships and brain cells.  I mean, it isn’t as if God Almighty is sitting up on his judgment cloud, striking down talented, healthy musicians at 27 just for shits-and-gigs, these artists were ceasing to function (it was maybe a bit personal with Jim Morrison because of all the whispers that he looked like a ‘Fat Jesus” ).

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Around my 32nd birthday, I made a discovery about my age that gets very little press. After watching Dreamgirls over Christmas holiday, I did a little post-film trivia recon.  I knew that the Broadway musical and subsequent film was based on The Supremes, but little else. The musical has a much better ending for all parties, Effie White gets her moment on the stage at the end.  Florence Ballard, the woman on whom White was based, had a short and tragic run.

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Born eighth of thirteen children in Detroit Michigan, Ballard was due for some hard living.  Financial constraints forced the family to move all over town.  Her father, who taught her about music,  died when she was sixteen. She had met Mary Wilson and Diane–not yet Diana Ross while still in high-school   She was lead vocalist in The Primettes, the first incarnation of The Supremes.  They auditioned for Berry Gordy, who told them to finish high-school first.  The others graduated, Ballard did not.  As their group crept towards fame, Ballard was brutally raped at knife-point in an empty parking lot.  In the aftermath, Ballard retreated inward, not leaving her house for a considerable time which worried her band-mates.  Ballard shared about the incident, and then never spoke about it again.  Obviously, it caused major psychological damage, and from the time on was distrustful, negative, and bitter (Um, who can blame her?).  She eventually returned to the group, personally selected the name “The Supremes” off of a list and signed a record contract with Motown Records. Between 1963-1967, “Ballard contributed vocals to ten number-one pop hits and 16 top forty hit singles”.

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For those who’ve seen Dreamgirls, Effie White is a big girl with a big personality and an even bigger voice.  She also has a large ego, which prevents her from being a team player; which ultimately gets her kicked out of the band. Having always been the lead, she struggles to cope with playing second fiddle to beautiful Deena Jones.  As in the movie, Ballard had a better voice than Ross, but Ross was deemed more attractive.  Ross was being groomed as the star and Ballard drank excessively, gain weight, fighting with Gordy and Ross, and missing rehearsals and recording sessions.  Ballard once had a sore throat and asked Ross to sing her signature song; People.  After that night she never took the lead on the vocals again. The decline was becoming much steeper.  Ballard was disillusioned; their success only exacerbated her misery.  She lamented in an interview the loss of intimacy between the women now that they stayed in separate hotel rooms.  She suggested that it was a mistake for Gordy to highlight Diana Ross over the others, and resented that their romantic relationship,which skewed opportunities within the group.    In 1967, Ballard took a leave of absence, understanding it to be temporary.  Gordy renamed the group The Supremes with Diana Ross.  Shortly after her 24th birthday Ballard reported to work intoxicated–which was not uncommon.  Gordy sent her home, immediately terminating her position.  She was replaced by Cindy Birdsong, who had covered before in Ballard’s absence.  Ballard was released from her contract, was offered a one-time payment of $139,804.94, and was told she could not use “The Supremes” brand, a name that she had approved, to promote solo work.

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From there: spousal abuse, divorce, debt, foreclosure, poverty, welfare, rehab, all while raising three children. She tried to fight Motown Records for additional royalties, and lost. Meanwhile Diana Ross had gone solo in 1970 and was living large in fur coats and diamonds, with many accolades and film roles at her finger tips.  Ballard performed intermittently, (she once opened for Bill Cosby), and occasionally sang with other former Supremes, once playing tambourine at Six Flags in California.  She had lost her desire to sing.  Following rehab, she attempted to stage a comeback.  Ballard performed for the first time in five years, and was in talks to write an autobiography.

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None of that was to be, the two-hundred pound, 32-year-old Florence died of a heart attack.  Diana Ross made a splashy diva entrance, skipping the long, slow-moving line, bee-lining for the front row while surrounded by four burly bodyguards. She sat with the Ballard family in the front row.  She was booed by the crowd, and even Ross’ own mother felt as though she was deeply unwelcome.

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God love Diana Ross, what a bitch move.  Making a big production of her grief.  Although, at this point Diana Ross was not just a singer, she was an Oscar nominated movie star.  She had already done Lady Sings the Blues and Mahogany.  Naturally she can’t just walk in by herself or stand in the back respectfullyIn truth, it had been nearly eight years since Ballard left the group, and Ross had been going strong after six years of solo success.  There was enough water under the bridge…but that still didn’t stop Ballard’s supporters to want to hold Ross’s head under said water.  Sheesh, That would have been a mighty tough crowd to face.  According to some sources Ross had donated $50,000 to Ballard before her death, and opened trust accounts for her daughters after her untimely demise.  Perhaps it was generosity, perhaps it was out of guilt.  It was her dream, and Ross helped blacklist her.  Ballard supports claimed that Florence had died of a broken heart.   A month or so after the funeral Ross said to People Magazine:

Did I cry? Yes, I cried. People tried to help Florence. I tried to help her. She had it all and she threw it away.  She quit The Supremes, we didn’t quit her. Don’t make too big a thing of this.  Florence was very important in my life, but I’m not dead. She did this to herself.”

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Shortly after Dreamgirls, I was listening to The Carpenters, (naturally, some things never change) it got me thinking about poor old Karen Carpenter.  During her 14-year career, she and her brother Richard recorded eleven albums, had thirty-one singles, five television specials, and a short-lived television series.

Karen_0009Carpenter lived with her mother until she was 26, dated Tony Danza and Steve Martin, and was also an accomplished drummer.

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Carpenter struggled with anorexia nervosa for years and weighed as little as eighty pounds at the height of her illness.  She spent most of 1982 undergoing treatments to gain weight (30 pounds in eight weeks).  She died at the age of 32, on the day her divorce was to be finalized. Her real-estate developer husband Thomas James Burris had failed to mention that he had a vasectomy to the family-minded Karen during their wedding vows, and their marriage crumbled almost instantly.  She collapsed in the bedroom her parents kept for her at their home; before a planned shopping trip.  Carpenter and her mother were off to buy her new clothes to accommodate the weight gain.

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 After reading all the depressing details, I couldn’t bear to listen to hear her velvety, melancholic voice. I changed the record and put on a Mamas & the Papas album…which then made me wonder about poor old Mama Cass.

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Cass Elliot died after a significant weight loss (80 pounds in eight months by fasting four days a week)…at 32 years of age. Whoa.  Scientists who discovered cures to diseases had nothing on me and my discovery.  This trifecta connection led to a long meandering jazz riff of internet research that lead me to discovery that there is a “32 Club”.  First things first–for Mama Cass it was not death by ham sandwich.  What an unfortunate urban legend to haunt your legacy.  During my research I came across the old joke “if only Mama Cass had given her ham sandwich to Karen Carpenter that they would both be alive today”.  That’s slightly clever, granted, but it’s undermining two paralleled deaths that connect to body images and societal expectations.  The circumstances surrounding her death have been made into a punchline in routines by Frank Zappa, Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, Mike Myers, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Robin Williams.  Aw, Mama Cass,  that rumor is unfortunate and unfair in the same way stripes don’t flatter certain figures.

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Mama Cass died in London, after a sold-out solo show.  She was staying on Curzon Street, in an apartment owned by singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.  The young mother had a little champagne, called fellow Mama Michelle Philips, expressed gratitude about the packed houses and loving fans, that people were accepting her solo efforts–and then went to sleep and never woke up.

Geneviève Waite, Michelle Phillips and John Phillips at Mama Cass Elliot funeral, July 31 1974

In 1978, now four years later, Keith Moon, drummer of The Who rented the flat.  The 1970’s had not gone well for Keith, who habitually flushed explosives down public toilets and trashed hotel rooms–once was about to leave one location, claimed he had forgotten something in the room, and went back to hurl a television set into the pool.  His 21st birthday was spent in a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan and cost $24,000 in damages.

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On January 4, 1970 a wildly intoxicated Moon, caught in an onslaught of over-zealous fans, struck and killed his bodyguard/driver/friend Neil Boland with his Bentley.  Close friends claimed that he was forever haunted by the incident, but it didn’t really give him a new lease on life on the straight and narrow.  I apologize to any Keith Moon fans out there, but Christ Almighty this guy sounds like he was as bad at living as he was good at drumming.  Even then, percussion was a bit of a trial for him –during an incident in 1973, after a heaping portion of tranquilizers and brandy, he passed out behind his kit during “Won’t get Fooled Again”.  Eventually Moon was carried off stage, given a shower and a shot of cortisone.

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Thirty minutes later, he was back on track….or rather slumped behind the drums with damp hair.  After passing out once more during “Magic Bus”, Pete Townsend put a call out to the audience:  “Can anyone play the drums? – I mean somebody good?”  Scot Halpin, a drummer from Iowa came up and played the rest of the show.  In 1973 Halpin was recognized by  Rolling Stone magazine’s “Pick-Up Player of the Year Award” for his historic performance.  Moon sounded like a messy, monstrous man,  inconsiderate and unprofessional.  He alone was responsible for driving The Who into mountains of debt.  After calculating all of his losses following a 1975 UK tour, he was owed a whopping £47.35. By the late seventies, The Who could nary get through a show without major incident.  He was costing a fortune, whilst making a mess of their collective success. He had caused a death, ruined personal relationships–another thing he couldn’t recover from was his 1973 divorce, where his long-suffering wife left with their daughter Amanda.  She later spoke of Moon as being incapable of parenting because he was a child himself .

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While many of you like to start your morning with toast and coffee, or maybe a fruit smoothie, for Keith Moon he liked to blend champagne, Courvoisier and amphetamines before he started any day.

“I always get up about six in the morning. I have my bangers and eggs. And I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy. Then I take a couple of downers. Then it’s about 10 and I’ll have a nice nap until five. I get up, have a couple of black beauties [also known as Black Birds or Black Bombers and are a combination of Amphetamine (Speed) and Dextroamphetamine], some brandy, a little champagne and go out on the town. Then we boogie. We’ll wrap it up about four”.

How can one live like that? Short answer? You don’t.  Come late 1978, he’s off the booze, and has been prescribed sedatives, 100 Heminevrin as means to cope with alcohol withdrawal.  He and his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax stepped out with Paul and Linda McCartney for the film preview of “The Buddy Holly Story”.

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Following the film, they returned home, where he asked for steak and eggs. She apparently declined the task, to which he uttered his last words: “If you don’t like it, you can fuck off”.  Real classy send off, Keith.

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He died in the same bed as Mama Cass, at the same age, with thirty-two pills in his system.

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Annette was heavily sedated for the funeral, and collapsed during the service. Jim Henson immortalized Moon by creating the drummer Animal. In 2012, thirty-four years after his death, some dumb-ass from The London Summer Olympics committee–contacted The Who’s manager about Moon performing at the games. In an interview Bill Curbishley said he replied: “I emailed back saying Keith now resides in Golders Green crematorium, having lived up to The Who’s anthemic line ‘I hope I die before I get old’.

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After Moon died Harry Nilsson immediately sold the house, for fear the house was truly haunted. Nilsson was no stranger to rock and roll excesses; once in a recording studio he opened his mouth to sing and blood poured out instead of lyrics.  The copious amounts of cocaine caused his throat to rupture, but Nilsson was so far-gone that he didn’t even notice.  If you were Harry, the house would be the last thing you’d worry about.  Two years after Moon’s death, another drummer met his demise.

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Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was found dead, having choked on his own vomit after consuming forty shots of vodka in twelve hours. Led Zeppelin had spent the day rehearsing, and were about kick of the first tour since 1977. The father of two was 32.  Bonham was in a bad place, thinking that his drumming abilities were sub-par, when really…in the spirit of Keith Moon and all the others who fell before him,  perhaps his addiction was getting in the way of his talent.

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Led Zeppelin, inventors and innovators of ‘cock rock’ were the kind of men you wouldn’t want to clean up after. Collectively, between cocaine, booze, tight pants, huge egos and extremely willing sexual conquests, Led Zeppelin were dangerously out of hand.  Writer Simon Hardeman examined the gritty underbelly of John Bonham.

The most unsettling member of the band itself was Bonham, whose other nickname was The Beast. The American journalist Ellen Sander describes how on the last night of Zep’s second America tour, band members, led by Bonham, ripped her clothes off, “shrieking and grabbing”. She goes on: “They were in a frenzy. I was absolutely terrified that I was going to be raped…” Zep’s former-nightclub-bouncer manager, Peter Grant, bodily pulled Bonham off her. She describes life with the band as like being inside cages at a zoo where “you get to smell the shit first-hand”.

Another terrifying Bonham incident occurred aboard the Starship, the Boeing 720 passenger aircraft that the band fitted with luxurious bedrooms for their 1973 and 1975 tours. Plant says his fondest memory of the craft is “oral sex in turbulence”, but one stewardess will have a different take. Stephen Davis describes how Bonham, after drinking a bottle of whisky, appeared in a robe, grabbed the attendant, bent her over forwards in an arm lock and announced that he was going to “have her from the rear”. He then threw open his robe. At the girl’s screams, Cole and Grant appeared and dragged him off.

Maddox said Bonham was the nicest guy in the world when sober, but a maniac when drunk. Once, in a Los Angeles bar, a woman looked at him and, apparently recognising him, smiled; he went over and punched her in the face. And in 1977 he, Cole, Grant and a former London gangster called John Bindon were arrested in San Francisco after a security man was beaten unconscious and left in a pool of blood. A $2m legal action ensued, and the night lives in Led Zep legend as “The Oakland Incident”.

And we shan’t forget the ‘mudshark’ incident, with Bonham once again at the helm. The band were fishing from their window–and had caught a mudshark–or a red snapper, depends on who you ask.  Either way, a pretty red head arrived on the scene, red snapper jokes ensued, and ultimately she was tied to the bed, and her cavities was then stuffed with bits of fish in a room filled with people.  I’ve heard this story before, and it’s rather hard to take.  Before I got the details I just thought it was your average one girl, ten guys, a motel room and a mudshark kind of situation.  The fact that it’s just bits of meat really drives me over the edge. Oh, those boys, they seem like they could gets their female fans to do just about anything–with dogs, octopuses, the mind reels.  Led Zeppelin were the Kings of excess, and were hardly gentlemen to a huge number of the female population.  They burned girls with cigarettes, cut their hair, and generally abused because they could. They were stars–Rock Gods, the rules of human decency don’t apply.  How degrading and unhygienic.  Just think of all those grandmother’s and pensioners out there with some unbelievably filthy stories.

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Phew! Let the record show that I have never spent so long researching a blog before.  And like a Led Zeppelin groupies, I could just go on all night. This entry is going to be longer than a Bonham drum solo, and some famous penises, if you ask Cynthia Plaster-Caster–a groupie who apparently never wanted to forget a phallus. She started on Jimi Hendrix…who was apparently flying at ‘half-mast’ and was not pleased with the final result.  Nonetheless, it became a fun hobby, great way to get into someone’s pants without looking slutty or over eager, just write it off as an art project, and see what you can get cooking on an extra curricular level.

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I’ve fallen down numerous rock n’ roll rabbit holes–each figure I’ve mentioned merits plenty of attention.  My intention was to spend more time with Kurt Cobain, who originally inspired the thesis of this piece. Of course, he is a part of a great cosmic web of excess, self-destruction and wasted life.  Like others before him, Cobain was someone’s husband and father.

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For Cobain, he felt the same way about music as Charlie Brown did about Christmas: things had gotten far too commercial.  Cobain’s suicide note references his lack of passion for the craft–he felt as though he needed to punch the time clock before stepping onstage.

kurt-cobain_sassy_courtney-love_magazineClearly, there are a whole host of issues at hand, addiction, crippling stomach pains, mental anguish, a tortured soul.  Why this man couldn’t just bow out of the limelight and leave the business is beyond me.  The pressures, contracts, obligations to band-members, who knows the what and the why.  A need to burn out than to fade away.   Which brings us back to April 8, 1994–twenty years ago, when I walked across the hall to my older brother’s room.  He was sitting at his desk, listening to Nirvana.  “Isn’t it weird to listen to this now?” I ask.  “It’s different…sad” he said.  We didn’t talk much, I didn’t really know what to say. Kurt Cobain didn’t belong to me.  I wondered if this was how people felt when Elvis died…he had been on his way out as well, shadow of his former self.  Yet people grieved as if he was “Love Me Tender” guy, not “Bloated, pill popping, awkward high kicks, and sequined jumpsuit” guy.  Cobain wanted to be the former, not the latter, and so he is forever 27, the tortured artist who never wanted to be a star.  When tragedy strikes, endless possibilities and speculation grows like a giant tree, each branch individual versions of what was, what could have been, what could have been different, if only.  Life ends, and the legend begins, but really it would have been nice to hear just one more song.

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Good as Gold

After a certain length of marital life, my husband realized that he didn’t know a lot about my previous life in Canada.  From high school to adulthood Benjamin had lived in Hamilton, New Zealand.  He lived with a few mates, and it had been a revolving door of a core groups of friends as tenants in a few houses over the years.  Quite simple. A to B to C.  My story is not as simple…if his life is the alphabet, mine is more like that useless font “Wingdings”, where letters are nonsensical symbols.  I’m like the Littlest Hobo, I just roamed from town to town depending on the kindest of strangers willing to throw me a bone.

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During the immigration process, we both had to list all the places we had lived in the past five to ten years. Jeepers creepers, who can recall the exact address of that place you flatted with for six months when you were 23? Not me.  I could tell you about the emotional scope, or aesthetic details, not directions from the highway. And I’d have no means to deliver a package to the new owners.  I eventually just had all my mail sent to my parents house.

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As Dr Seuss once said:Oh the places you’ll go, all the couches you’ll sleep on”.  I was always in a transition, but not so much so that I didn’t know where I was going to lay my head each night.  Maybe…if I had to venture a guess, thirteen moves in eight years?   And that was before I graduated and moved to New Zealand.  Thank God for my mother, who had kept track of my whereabouts in her address book, which she had supplied a copy of for the Immigration questionnaire.  Places I had long forgotten about, and would not have been able to provide if Immigration really needed me to swear on a bible about where I was living in any given year. I don’t remember things linearly, I’ve mentioned my tabloid calender, if you give me a pop culture reference or major event, and it’s like… ‘Ah yes, September 11…which was in 2001, and I had just come back from a summer in Vancouver Island, and just started university’.  It felt like the world was ending just as I was getting started.    That’s a pretty universal example, but generally it’s like my life story is hand written scribbles on play bills, napkins and take out menus and stashed between the pages of history.  My memories are kept in a very unorganized library; it’s not the best way to keep track of your life, but it’s just how my brain works.

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I had just read that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary. I remember seeing that in a cinema in Victoria BC, during my reading break. (Student loan dollars hard at work).  This movie was devastating to me.  It’s achingly vulnerable piece about how even our worst experiences make us the people we are, and how those collections of memories shape our existence.

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I was twisted with anxiety  at the thought of those memories getting sucked up into some cosmic vacuum.

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Ten years ago, my 22nd year, was a time of great tempestuousness. I reckon it was the hardest year of my life.  I faced the darkest side of another person, and in turn everything I knew about myself was stripped away like one’s road-rashed skin after a high speed motorcycle crash.  I had gone to Victoria to visit some friends, and fell in love with the city.  How I felt in the city.  The newness of it all.  The distance from the scene of so much unhappiness.  I knew that I had to come back to live. I finished my semester, unloaded a vast amount of my possessions and went back to Vancouver Island for the second time in my life, this time with intention to make a new life there.  Which I did, for a time, but I eventually returned to my English degree, moving on to a Theatre Major, keeping me in school for three more years before finally graduating.

vintage_blonde_educated_lady_round_sticker-rf99db5468d634b4a8dec1d623d059fc6_v9waf_8byvr_512Which brings up another question from my husband–how did you make your money when you were in university? How else? Student loans and waitress tips.  I came into a bit of money a couple of times, but eventually it depletes like snow in the hot sun.  If I had a time machine that would be my first stop would be to take Thirties Alicia to Twenties Alicia, get her a gym membership and dance lessons, and pay for my education through the majesty of exotic dance.

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Student loans certainly seemed like a good idea at the time.  As a young, creative, self absorbed drifter who happened to fit in well with academia, eight years of school and part time work dominated the scope of my twenties.  A savings account was a mythological concept.  There was enough for all the essentials: tuition, cigarettes, wine, travel, clothing, weird thrift store knickknacks, kitschy coffee mugs and dusty records.   When I graduated, my traveling nest egg had come from winning a rather sizable scholarship before I graduated.  I waitressed at a Mexican bistro all summer and lived at a former professor’s house until I left the country. It was all about jumping to the next lily-pad and trying not to drown.

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Having to pay back my student loans was like imagining your own demise, it was too far away to fathom. Now, whenever I have any kind of a Stevie Nicks-Landslide-climb a mountain and turn around moment, I can look at all my wonderful choices, all those times that I should have been prepared but wasn’t, the times I should have listened but didn’t, and all those times I could have been a much, much better friend and couldn’t.  I could have been more financially responsible,and better organized in general.  But you know…I was busy, distracted, learning, growing up.  Who can keep track of time and money?

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I could pay my student loans back by writing a book about all the people I’ve lived with.  I once wrote a collection of short stories for a creative writing course about the most memorable people and places.  I got an A…why not a book deal and movie options? When recently organizing my office I came across the papers and was amazed at the dire conditions I have lived in for the sake of little or no rent.  I could write a Twilight length trilogy that would be a mash up Fifty Shades of Grey,  Girl Interrupted, The Complete Works of Shakespeare and all ten seasons of Friends.  

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Real quick–has anyone seen Jennifer Aniston lately? We just watched We’re the Millers, and bless her soul, her face just doesn’t look authentic.  It’s distracting.  It makes me feel sad.  As Benjamin would say, Jennifer Aniston is “tidy”.  Yes, she is fit and fabulous, and Lord knows she’s doing a hell of a lot better than me.

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Nonetheless, when the magazines crow over Aniston and Cameron Diaz, and all the other face-freezers… that ‘they’ve stopped time, can you believe it?” Of course I believe it, they’ve got a chef and personal trainer.  It’s not inconceivable that the better paid stars have NASA-grade accessibility to the best equipment to fight ole Father Time–anti-gravity chambers, access to experimental European dolphin semen serum, that is injected directly between the eyes causing you to live forever. Over time body parts are slowly replaced with plastics and by the year 2065 they’ll be robots that run on Vodka and Botox.  Sadly, science still can’t make your hands look young for Madonna is going to have to wear those little fingerless gloves until the end of time.  When anyone moons over Aniston in that film I feel a bit like Mugatu in Zoolander. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

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In the film version of my Couch Surfing trilogy, naturally Natalie Portman will fall at my feet to play me.  I guess I do look a lot like her, some say you can’t tell us apart. (Just to help you out, I’m the one in the white).

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Where am I going with this you ask? My youngest brother has moved to Australia, and conditions have proven challenging for him.  It’s a scary and frustrating time, and to me, I’m feeling very bothered about the situation.  Yesterday afternoon, I went into a yoga class and my mind wandered over to my twenties, my choices, and how I had come to make rational responsible decisions in my thirties.  I can’t tell anyone how to live their lives, convince them to approach things differently.  But if I could it would be this:

Hang in there. Have faith. Try again.Don’t give up. Fight Harder. Have fun.Do your research.  Be mindful. Be grateful.  Know you are loved.

Even though I was an occasional arsonist of my own life and have now rebuilt a sturdy foundation over once smoldering ashes, my advice is meaningless to someone who still needs to learn those life changing lessons.  As I imagine a parent would, I can’t help but worry…and wish I could do it for them.  But then one loses the all mighty life experience, the reward for all that fucking-up–becoming a true grown up. A graduate of ‘the school of hard knocks’

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When I left for Victoria, I stood on that ferry watching the mainland drift away from me, convinced that this was the beginning of a successful new chapter.  I had some good friends, all I needed was a job and a room to rent.  After the first few days, when the party died down and everyone else settled back into their studies and jobs, it was time to face the business of employment.  Ugh.  Which brings up one of my greatest ever pet peeves.  Handing out resumes is like those scenes in American high school movies. The new kid standing in the cafeteria, tray in hand not knowing where to sit.  Smiling and standing at an unnatural state of straightness.  Nodding enthusiastically.  Feigning interest.  After a generous portion of pavement pounding, I stopped into Lulu Lemon, and the salesclerk was about as kind at the shop girls in Pretty Woman. 

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The job application required details about my education, experience, history—which is another pet peeve of mine…”but all of this information is on the resume I just handed to you”.  Why am I transcribing all that information onto the page with the too short lines, eventually requiring you to scribble in the margins, when it is clearly laid out of the resume”?.  What a waste of time and ink.  If you want to get down to the personal deets–what was the last book you read, what’s your favorite color, how many dates do you got out on before putting out, then sure, let’s explore the psyche on a deep and meaning level before we book an interview.  At the Lulu Lemon, the question that stopped me cold.  “What style of yoga do you practice/prefer”? Um…something told me that the VHS copy of “A.M Yoga with Rodney Yee” that I used intermittently, would not satisfying the requirements of the tall, thin spandex clad.

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Utterly defeated–feeling like no job on earth belongs to me.  In reality, I’d only applied to thirty places…just that day.  There are so many variables to applying for jobs in a time sensitive situation.  These things take time.  I don’t even think I had a cell phone, so I would have to get home to listen to the answering machine to see there was any need for my services.  I had been there less than a week, and there was a terribly fearful creeping over me that I had made a mistake.  It always feels like a mistake when you first get somewhere.  You don’t have a place to live, no job–if you don’t know anyone it’s lonely, if you know people they are busy.  But it’s the desire to make it work that pushes you forward; something brought me here, exactly what lesson am I being taught?  That afternoon, I only made it as far as the pub.  I snagged a small table on the patio that overlooked a popular shopping area.  All these smiling tourists, shopping bags in hands, strolling by.  I ordered a beer, and exhaled deeply before I took my first sip. Putting it down on the coaster, distracted by the passing people, I mislaid it, causing my full glass to tip and pour all over my lap–a cool pair of khaki capris, now soaked in ale.  I sat in stunned silence as the beer slipped through my thighs, creating a lawn chair crotch puddle.  A waitress came over with a towel, and drew as much attention as I got liquid into the material.  I had to pass the packed patio to slink off to the bathroom to push my pelvis as close to the hand dryer as possible.

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I came back to the table, mostly to grab my manila envelope, and get the bill, but the waitress had mercifully followed me with a fresh drink.  Something to kill the time while my knickers dried, I guess.    The couple next to me gently cracked a joke about my predicament. They invited me over to the table, and asked for my story. I opened up about my frustrating day, my crisis of faith.  The couple was from Los Angeles, nearing retirement age.  He gave me his card: “Jack Gold”–he was a judge, with a much fancier title that I can’t remember –‘Super Judge’ or something.    They shared their story–which I can’t quite remember, but ultimately, this man was someone who climbed his way to the top.  In his mind, anyone could reach those heights, if they worked hard enough, believed enough, weren’t afraid to get your nails dirty scraping your way to a higher plain.  He had offered his services, to call that private line if there was anything I ever needed.

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Of course, I never called the private line.  Luckily I never needed to call in a favor with Jack Gold: Super Judge.  He provided everything I needed right in that moment.  I like to think that it’s some kind of cosmic force, like God speaking through a total stranger; telling you that even though you’re unemployed in a strange city and it looks like you’ve just pissed in your khakis, that everything is going to be okay.  Pants dry, wounds heal, embarrassment fades and failure becomes our best teacher.  Support systems also appear out of nowhere, take a half empty glass and make it brim–and that is worth is weight in gold.

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All Images Courtesy of Google

Paint Me Paltrow.

"Pin Up Picks Pen Up"

I wish I had Gwyneth Paltrow‘s problems. I wish I had her money.  I wish I had her wardrobe.  I wish I had her legs.

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I wish I could make huffy remarks like: “When you go to Paris and your concierge sends you to some restaurant because they get a kickback, it’s like, ‘No. Where should I really be? Where is the great bar with organic wine?”…oh yeah, and you have to say it with a straight face.  And, furthermore, Paltrow complains about poor concierge recommendations, like “Where do I get a bikini wax in Paris?”  You just hear her fury loud and clear.  My god, this is a woman with her finger on the pulse.  She is touching on some serious issues that today’s woman really struggle with–being in a foreign country and having no one to tend to your solid gold snatch.

What’s embarrassing, is that…

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White Girl Wasted

Following the 18th annual Kamloops Film Festival, my immune system crashed like they thought the internet would following Y2K.  Sick over Spring Break. That’s like getting a giant school project assigned at the last minute when your plan was to sleep in, watch day-time television, ride bicycles, and lounge lazily in the sun. This is like the time I pinched a nerve in my neck when I was eight, and had to spend an entire weekend looking over my shoulder to stare out the window.

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I knew this sickness was coming, I could feel it’s shadow creeping over my sinuses.  I was working hard to prevent it’s viral blossoming–wheatgrass, acidophilus, as much rest as possible, but with the festival came late night after late night.  I’m no spring chicken, you know.  I need my eight hours.  I was dodging this plague like a fugitive from the law.  By closing night, fueled by gin and tonics (with plenty of lemon and lime, just for that hit of Vitamin C), I took that dance-floor like a death row inmate takes his final meal.

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As a rule, I don’t generally take dance-floors by storm anymore.  But back in the mid 2000’s…well let me tell you, I could bust a move to Destiny’s Child with the best of them, party until four am, and be at work the next morning like it was no big deal.  We celebrated opening night by following Oil Sand Karaoke–a fascinating mash-up about a Karaoke contest and the Albertan oil sands…with a Karaoke party of our own. Ignited by the spirited renditions of Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, Stevie Nicks, Tom Jones and Reba McIntyre…the sound-technician says right before midnight: “We’ve got two more minutes…do we have time for some Journey?”  Be still my heart. There’s always time for Don’t Stop Believing.  It was the perfect way to end that portion of the night.  Afterwards, a select few hit the town and continued with the cocktails. I’m like Romy and Michelle on the dance-floor filled with festival guests and curling enthusiasts from Kamloops’ simultaneous event,  The Brier Cup. My friend Mallory and I were in the somewhere in between denial and acceptance of looming early work days as the clock ticked well into the morning.  When the company, the music, and the vibe is this good, you’ve just got to cut loose like nothing will ever be that good again.

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Heading home at a late night hour, listening to the cab driver talk about the Film Festival and the Briar Cup, and all the folks he’s had in his backseat that night.  He drops a term that I need him to back track on.    According to Urban Dictionary, “White Girl Wasted” is more a cocaine related verb as in: “With this pile of cocaine, I’m going to get ‘White Girl Wasted'”.  The cab driver was meaning it more like teenage girl on prom night.  Healthy portions of giddy and sloppy, with just a dash of hysteria.  Not me, of course, I am the Audrey Hepburn of intoxication.

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Oddly enough he was referring to himself, and how he likes to party.  Apparently ‘white girl wasted’ is where it is at, it’s the crown jewel of good times, the Paris Hilton of partying.  The imitation that came from the non-white, non-intoxicated (I hope), non-woman was giggle inducing.  “Haha, WGW”, I chortle, attempting to make some kind of catch phrase and hip gang sign, but most likely looking like I had cerebral palsy.  “Er, what does that stand for?”, the cabbie asks.  “Uh…White Girl Wasted?” I respond.  Holy shit…did I just hallucinate that entire conversation? What was in those G&T’s? “Oh, heh, heh, yeah, right…WGW”, he chuckles, pulling into the driveway.   The trouble with me is that I’m too sophisticated, fabulous and complex that even the most perceptive cab drivers don’t understand me.

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If I’ve learned anything from Journey, it’s that for a smile you can share the night, that some will win, some will lose, that some were born, simply to sing the blue.  Still, no matter what happens, don’t stop believing and hold on to that feeling.  It’s a nice, uptempo reminder that better days are right round the corner.  When the long days of winter grind you down, the lack of light calcifies over the bright light inside of you, it’s nice to be reminded that you can actually be a whole whack of fun.  Sassy, wisecracking, fearless, flirtatious, adventurous are just some of the personality traits I can offer.  I am trying to clutch on to these feelings as this sickness colonizes my body.  Alas, never one to be totally bored during an illness, I make a point to surround myself with warm blankets, hot cups of honey laden tea, expensive orange juice, boxes of tissue, a stylish pashmina draped round my throat and of course, “cinema comfort food “. Well worn personal film favorites, that sometimes just play in the background as you snooze, doze, or just pant feverishly like a dog after running on a hot day.

My go-to cold and flu list is as follows:

  • Waitress
  • Annie Hall
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  • Amelie
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Before Sunrise/Before Sunset
  • Julie and Julia
  • Dreamgirls
  • Out of Africa
  • A Star is Born (1976)

Give me cheese, give me music, give me a happy ending, give me a sad ending, but no guns or car chases please.  This time, having just come off of the film festival track, (seven films in ten days) I opted to curl up with CBC 2 and a good book.  When the illness refused to budge, I went to the place that I dread most.  The walk-in clinic.  A most vile place.  A line up begins more than an hour before the clinic opens, and once inside, it is a cluster of coughing, sneezing, wheezing, hacking patients, noisy children squawking over 100 Huntley Street on the TV in the counter.  Horoscope disclaimer on the other telly: “not meant to replace intelligent decision making”.  The receptionists are unhurried, sipping Diet Coke at 9:15am, eating cookies and wiping their hands on their zip up hoodies.  This place is enough to make you sick.  When I return for my appointment later in the afternoon, I come prepared for a wait.  Wearing sunglasses and a large coral scarf, I brought an enormous juice, cough lozenges, tissues and a well-loved copy of “Eat, Pray, Love”.

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I hate to admit how much that story has influenced my life.  A copy of the book was given to me before Oprah got her hands on it, right when my fiance and I were dismantling our relationship and upcoming wedding.  That book tapped into a very primal urge. I too have a wandering soul, and hunger for self reflection; this need to move forward, this desire to look back.  In devouring of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, and through writing of my own, I made the decision to travel.  During that time overseas, I read and reread the book, underlining passages, and drawing conclusions about my own life through her experience.  Having read Eat, Pray, Love a number of times at different advents of my life, I saw it from a number of perspectives.  This past week has been the perfect time to re-re-re-read the primary source.  Now much closer to the age that Gilbert was when the book started, I see new similarities in our personalities, namely the deathly fear of motherhood equaling the death of adventure. But the true lesson of EPL is that despite the travel theme, that the answers have been inside of you all along, it’s all very Wizard of Oz.  If only at the end of a personal disaster you gain a greater sense of self…well, that’s better than nothing I guess.  A book deal to pay for the trip would also be an acceptable consolation prize.

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Like Gilbert, I met my husband on my journey of self-discovery and followed it with a years-long struggle with immigration.  She wrote a sequel called Committed, about how immigration issues forced their hands in marriage.  I read the book before we arrived in Canada and it was scarier than a Stephen King novel.  The longer the waiting process, the more limitations placed on you, all that effing paperwork….unraveling patience of a wandering soul.   What a way to take the edge of a happy ending Liz Gilbert. They traveled extensively while awaiting word from Immigration, we waited in Canada, unable to leave the country until the verdict was given.  And then when we were given the green light, the finances simply weren’t there to get back out on the road.   What I would give for the time and resources to travel the world and report back in colorful prose to the masses. I could eat all the pasta in Rome, detox in India and peruse Balinese marketplaces with Javier Bardem, and live to tell about it.  I would accept a pay cheque for that.

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For all intents and purposes, the film festival was like a little holiday: a whirlwind of parties, engrossing films, interesting guests, endless conversations about how we each relate to the stories of others.  One of those nights I heard someone ask aloud “How many times do we live?’–perhaps on the last night, when hipsters in nerdy sweaters were rolling on what looked like some rather exceptional Ecstacy.  One girl rubbed her lips on my cheek, knocking out my vintage earring breathing “Life. Is. Endless” all over my skin.  “Mmmm”, fastening the earring clasp I respond like I’ve a bad taste in my mouth but don’t want to offend the hopeful chef wearing an apron and a heart on their sleeve.  This is not the time to talk about the end of things.  Of course there’s only one physical life of indeterminate years, but to the film lover, you can have a thousand lives.  You can also get glimpses into the future, into the past, over the fence, into other eras, relationships and continents.  If a story is told convincingly, you can escape your body completely and experience this whole other life, gain a whole new perspective on our very existence.

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Following Oil Sands Karaoke film was Sex After Kids, with special guest Paul Amos.  The movie got huge laughs, and was a festival favorite.  In the Q&A that followed, Amos talked about the grassroots project–the film was financed by donations, scenes were filmed in everyone’s homes, actors used their own children, and shared their own experiences of life after baby. As a childless woman in her early to mid 30’s this movie was more slightly horrifying than humorous. Faithful readers know that pregnancy and motherhood is a sticky, oft-discussed subject within the walls of this blog.  To me Sex After Kids did for parenthood, what Before Midnight did for marriage; it’s well written reflection of this particular chapter in the human experience.  A transformation that one can not anticipated until this little bundle of joy lands in your lap.

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As I was heading to the lobby I saw a heavily-pregnant woman, rubbing her belly and frowning in thought.  I fought the urge to approach her and ask “Are you like totally freaking out right now? I’m freaking out and I don’t have a seven pound fetus pushing on my bladder right now.”  They should show that movie to teenagers in sex education.  Not so funny now is it?  I’ve traveled with my husband and his sister as ‘Team Childless’, and we’d laugh merrily at all the things we would never do as parents.  If this movie taught me anything, it is that children bend your tree branches until they snap like twigs.

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The closing night film That Burning Feeling had a similar thread of a fresh, modern, urban–a very funny, heartfelt comedy about promiscuity, sexually transmitted infections and the deliberate humanizing of our night stands.  Director Jason James was a delight as our final guest of the season.

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Le Weekend was a British comedy about a marriage in it’s thirtieth year; a weekend in Paris, where they honeymooned three decades prior.  The husband is struggling with forced retirement, a restless wife and is confronted by the wild successes of a former schoolmate–the deliciously smug Jeff Goldblum.    The Past (another film set in my beloved Paris) was infidelity, divorce, secrets, lies, a suicide attempt and a coma…which culminated in a rather unsatisfying ending.  What does it even mean? Did she squeeze his hand, what does it mean that he stayed in the hospital room? Is he choosing his new life? I’m not sure I get it…I’m not sure I care. Finding Vivien Maier was so interesting it needs a blog all it’s own.  Gloria was an excellent film, and we followed the viewing with a coffee shop discussion, which was jammed packed with guests.  Gloria was…a rather erotic film.  Surprisingly so.  Like…full frontal.  Audible passionate kissing noise, which had the same allure of an obnoxious date masticating with his mouth open. Lengthy scenes of intimacy which is a kin to walking in on your grandparents making love.   Talk about fifty shades of grey. Still, you had to love this smartly dressed “woman of a certain age” (mid-fifties divorcee), singing along to the radio, who gets her hands on some marijuana and a much older lover.  Her heart gets broken, and she takes that pain to the dance floor–girlfriend doesn’t even need a plane ticket.

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The Broken Circle Breakdown came early in the film line up, but I felt it necessary to mention it last as this piece will overshadows the rest of the list.  This film was magnificent.  There was not a dry eye in the house at film’s end.

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The story seamlessly shifts back and forth between a new love, marriage, parenthood, illness, loss, despair and the deterioration of a once great love…all amid a gorgeous musical collaboration.

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As the social media maven of the film festival, I had come to know all the movies well, occasionally stumbling upon some major spoilers. Spoilers don’t bother me too much, I like to be prepared.  I often check in with IMDb for content details, especially in regards to potentially violent films.  This was born after I was Rob Roy’d, thinking this was a Robin Hood-eque Liam Neeson vehicle, and suddenly Jessica Lange is getting raped on the kitchen table by Tim Roth and is then sobbing and bathing herself in the river in the aftermath.  I’ve also been Sean Penned, and it’s not something I recommend.  It’s not like me to like surprises.  I’m what you call “cinema sensitive”, I absorb the suffering like a sponge.

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I stumbled upon the mother-load of spoilers for The Broken Circle Breakdown, and went to the cinema armed with knowledge, and a shitload of tissues. Actually it was a wad of toilet paper that I wrapped like a thick bandage around my hand before stuffing the whole lot in my purse.  I did leave a no-spoilers warning on the Facebook page, gently suggesting that you bring something other than your sleeve for this event.  No matter.  By the end of this heart-wrenching feature about the deterioration of a once happy life, complimented by goose-bump inducting blue grass performances.  There’s something about crying in public that makes me feel terribly vulnerable…as it’s never as simple and elegant as a single glistening tear rolling down your cheek.

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…this was more like…funeral crying.  Snotty sobs, gasping for air, lips sputtering.  It’s something I prefer not to do publicly, which is quite difficult as I cry about as often as a new-born baby.  It’s not an attractive look in the slightest.  The toilet paper reserves were dwindling as the movie was jam-packed with emotional land-mines.  I had get creative by folding the sopping wad like origami, as if to make it like new.  Eventually I just sobbed into my scarf.  It reminded me of this time the airport–on my way to New York, a trip once slated celebrate my upcoming wedding with my maid of honor. Standing outside of the departure gate, in what turned out to be one of the last times I spoke to my fiance:  “I just keep thinking that you’ll change your mind”…I whispered, eyes cast on the ground, a volcano threatening to burst.  He smoothed the hair off of my face, smiled tenderly and said “…I won’t”.  I made it to the plane in the same way you drive all the way home, and realize you don’t actually remember driving.  Once in my seat, I was more unglued than Blanche Dubois in “Streetcar Named Desire”.

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Sunglasses firmly in place.  Airport napkins balled in a tight fist.  Planes are not a recommended place for a potential nervous breakdown.  There is little to do, and nowhere to go.  Sitting frozen. Staring out the windowThere’s something about sobbing in a airplane washroom that just takes depression to another level.  There’s also your neighbour to consider: the  poor woman next to me, was settled into a good book and blissfully unaware.  This a perfect metaphor for that inescapable sensation of grief–the crushing weight–the Alice in Wonderland outgrowing the Rabbit house.  Nowhere to hide from the hurt.  From this moment forward nothing will ever be the same.  This new reality is so much bigger than your earthly body that it threatens to burst right through your skin; an explosion of teeth, bones and tears and all that pain you felt would fill the room like a noxious gas.  Instead you calmly make paper cranes out of cocktail napkins as your broken heart seeps out of your eyes and nose.
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Viewing The Broken Circle Breakdown in the cinema was a transformative experience, one I would be reluctant to repeat.  Still, it was my favorite movie in the festival.  It did an agonizingly convincing job detailing how the clashing of ideals and the testing of faith can turn the tide.  How marriage vows– promises you made when life was good and love was easy can be irreparably broken by exterior forces.  That sickness ruins, that love is not a cure.  When the film ended, the credits were rolling and I was still sobbing as others were reaching for their coats.  The storyline jumped to the beginning, middle and end so fluidly, tattooed songbird Elise unravels, as pragmatic Didier tries and fails to save his wife and child.  It’s nearly too much to bear. Though I knew the twist in the ending, I was properly devastated nonetheless.  Everyone mingled in lobby afterwards, puffy eyed and sniffling.  Catharsis at it’s finest.  It certainly garnered a very large glass of wine in a dark bar afterwards, where stories were shared, and new levels of understanding occurred.  This is the power of cinema, the shared experience of a story;  how it reminds us of our own battles, fears, desires, and memories that shape us as unique individuals.  All is not lost, as the light dims on another day…  the band plays on regardless, even if the song no longer means the same thing.

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All Images Courtesy of Google