100 Words for 100 Days: The End?

I have completed my 100 words for 100 days summer ass-kicking project. Gosh, it was a much more arduous process than I expected. When I began, I figured it would be just like NaBloPoMo (crap, that’s soon, isn’t it?). I’d sit down at the same time every day, hack out something silly, and then reward myself with a glass of something.

Hubris. Of the most hubristic variety.

A glance at the blog will tell you that I gave up posting every day’s entry on the website every day. Over half of my sessions involved me curling up with a notebook I borrowed from my PH or crouching over my phone on the bus along the way home. And then there were the days I was camping or holidaying it up with friends. Somehow, I got in those 100 words before the clock struck twelve.

Though my official project is done, it may take another 100 days more for the bruises to heal. I hope it takes longer. In truth, I hope they never fade.

You see, I am kind of worried now that it’s over. Without the guilt invading my dreams, forcing me to get something, anything, down on paper before I am allowed to sleep, I am concerned I will slough it all off again.

Writing every day is tough, man. Really freaking Alberta-brutal. There were times I had to yank the words out of frozen fingers. Every rotation of the pen or push of a button on the keyboard caused me to wince. It was that painful. It was only my hatred of failure that kept me going, my knowledge that I would loathe myself even more if I didn’t haul myself to the end, filling out every numerical box on my project page.

It would be so easy to take a break right now. My lazy, unmotivated, miserable self taunts me with the notion. C’mon Kristine, relax. You’ve worked hard. You’ve earned it. Take the next night off, and then the next night, and then the next night…

That’s the thing, it is my unhappy self that keeps wanting to push me down. The side of me that is more comfortable doing nothing and feeling sorry about it. The Kristine who berates herself for not doing the laundry or waking up earlier. She likes me to keep feeling like crap. It keeps her alive.

Writing is hard. At times excruciatingly so.

Not writing is harder. Not writing stifles happy, confident Kristine, makes me forget she exists. I do believe she does. I just need to be brave enough and strong enough to battle the dragon keeping her in her tower.

This is why I signed up for a creative writing class. I don’t know if it’s going to end in anything helpful and have no expectations for myself other than to keep writing. Keep putting words down until maybe it isn’t as hard, and even if it’s always a struggle, keep doing it anyway. I know myself well enough to accept the fact I need external motivation. If I am going to continue, I can’t do it alone.

Real Life Confession #81: Some dogs make me sad

I used to work in animal welfare. I know that a large number of dogs have it much, much worse than the ones I am about to describe. To be more accurate, the above title should read some people make me sad, as it is the humans for which I feel the most sorry.

But first things first. The confession I feel I should make today is this:

I let Shiva tug on the leash.

Yep. It’s bad. For someone who has walked the amazing number of hours I have walked with my dog, you’d think I’d have the walk-nicely-by-my-side thing down. What kind of trainer do I profess myself to be? Can’t even get my dog to stop from sniffing in the bushes. Sheesh.

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This is what I imagine people are saying, anyway, when they see us stop for the 57th time while Shiva stretches to read the scent on the side of a tree. And man, is she a slow reader. Sometimes I urge her to speed it up, especially when it is freezing. Other times, she is adamant and plants her feet. She is not moving until she has investigated every last punctuation mark. I am not about to argue.

Is this bad training? According to some people, hideously so. We do have some rules while on a walk. I won’t tolerate long-term pulling, for instance. If the leash gets so taught I am almost yanked off my feet, for instance, or if she is sniffing along and then swings back around to scarf rubbish, dislocating my shoulder. These things are out of bounds. But if she is walking with a loose-ish leash five feet ahead or to the side? If she indicates with a look that she would like to check something out on the other side of the path? If she stops to breathe in the scent of a post? Well, that’s being a dog and I am on board. We are out there for her benefit. If Shiva wants to spend her time inhaling a fire hydrant, that’s a choice she can make.

And this is why I feel sad for some dogs. Dogs who are dragged away from the temptations of scent. Dogs who are told to walk on the inside of the path or the part of the sidewalk away from the delicious, earthy grass. Dogs who have learned to only walk beside their people, at the same speed of their people. Dogs for whom the daily routine is more of an obligation, or a march, than it is a time of exploration and discovery.

It makes me sad to witness this. Not just for the sake of the yearning dogs, as I say, but for the people who are missing out on a richer experience.

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The dog walk, for me, is a time of relaxation. A time when I can let go of everything and embrace the moment. I don’t always achieve this but I always feel better afterward. On our twice-daily adventures, Shiva pushes me outside myself and shows me all the little things that are far more important than work deadlines or personal slights. On a walk with my dog, I can take my time, linger over flowers, gasp at sunrises, spot constellations. While she is taking in the scent of a log, I am gazing at the simple beauty of fluttering leaves.

People who walk in straight lines with their dogs don’t appear to any of this. To them, the dog walk is a duty or a ritual, another thing on their lists they have to get done. It isn’t a source of joy. It is one more chore. Their minds are anywhere but in the moment.

This makes me sad.

So I may be a lazy handler when walking with Shiva. We would probably fail any basic obedience test. I am okay with this. Shiva gets me outside my head. It is a daily gift. We are out there for her, but I am the biggest recipient.

A story from my childhood

The first time I thought of my appearance as a matter of importance was in fourth grade. I was nine years old and sitting at my desk in Mrs. MacDonald’s classroom. She was one of those teachers fond of arranging students into groups in the belief the stronger students could help those who might be struggling. My desk was nudged into one corner of a square, next to my best friend and facing my next door neighbour. I don’t remember who took up the spot diagonal to me. I suspect he or she doesn’t recall me or the moment I am about to share either.

Matthew was his name, my next door neighbour. It was so common of a name back then I don’t see the point in changing it now. Besides, I haven’t spoken to him in over two decades. We were quasi-friends in that awkward way of preadolescent boys and girls. I’d been inside his house while visiting his older sister, played on his backyard trampoline, and made fun of him as much as he’d made fun of me. I’d had crushes on other boys in school but  never thought about him that way. He was just the kid next door who stole my answers on math tests, sometimes annoying, sometimes funny. I didn’t mind having to share my desk space with him.

On this day we were doing our usual group work. I’d probably finished early, keener that I was, or perhaps I was being kind and offering help to others. As a kid I was shy – not much has changed – and reluctant to speak up, but the presence of my best friend made me more confident than I would have been in other circles. Regardless, we were chatting about the usual kid things, the Ninja Turtles most likely, or who was faster on the monkey bars, when out of what felt like nowhere, Matthew posed a question that left me addled.

“Do you think you’re pretty?”

It wasn’t asked meanly, though right away I could tell I was being baited. With a glance to my friend, I paused, trying to think of the best way to respond that would evade a sneer. Matthew was often doing that, for a multitude of reasons. It was unpleasant and as someone who has always been afraid of confrontation, I wanted to avoid being the brunt of another cruel joke.

The thing is, I’d never thought about it before, my prettiness. It hadn’t mattered. I did well in school, adults often praised my good behaviour and polite manners. I wasn’t popular but I got on well enough with my peers. Other than Matthew, and a boy named Shane in the third grade who had thrown my touque in a pile of slush, the other kids accepted me without comment. What did appearance have to do anything? I was just a child.

All of this ran through my young brain in rapid succession. I had a feeling I knew the answer he was looking for and I was determined not to give it. I assumed I wasn’t. Pretty, that is. It was a word saved for girls named Angela and Debbie and Emily, girls with lacey dresses and knee-high socks. Girls who giggled and played jump rope and who knew how to French braid. Girls who wrote notes to boys. I didn’t do any of those things. I tried but I still didn’t know how to jump in to the rope. My mother still styled my hair for me. Pretty wasn’t for girls who wore hand-me-downs from their male cousins or who spent their time writing stories they never finished or playing Barbies with their sister several years after dolls were deemed uncool. Pretty girls didn’t gloat about being able to spell better than anyone else, they got the good parts in choir and didn’t trip when playing dodge ball. No, I wasn’t pretty. It hurt to realize this and I didn’t even know why. I was determined not to show it.

“No,” I said, scrunching my nose. “Who wants to be pretty? I’d rather be smart.”

The reply had occurred to me in a moment of brilliance. I had recalled one of my favourite lines from my favourite book, Anne of Green Gables. Gilbert had thought being smart was better and I decided I did too.

Matthew was not to be deterred. He snickered and scrunched his nose right back. The light in his eyes told me I had played it all wrong.

“That’s too bad, because you’re not smart OR pretty. You’re just ugly and dumb.”

“No uglier than you,” my friend spoke up, sticking her tongue out at him. Relieved, I followed suit. I remember wanting to punch him, wanting to say something as hurtful as what he had said to me. I couldn’t come up with anything. The truth is, I was hurt but I didn’t know why. I just knew there was something wrong with me for which I should feel ashamed.

From that moment on I knew being pretty was a necessary thing for a girl to be. Girls who weren’t pretty were second best, weren’t interesting or important. It was something one either was or wasn’t and now that I knew I wasn’t, I gave up every thought I ever had about fitting in. Instead, I worked hard at being smart in the hopes it would get me the approbation everyone craves.

I don’t blame Matthew. He was a kid as much as I was, a product of our beauty-obsessed society. He probably was repeating something he had heard and he did not know the power such words could have. If I’d been a different person, they may not have affected me so much. If others in my future hadn’t reiterated what he’d said in ways that were much more cruel, I may not have even remembered them.

Everyone has stories like this from their childhood. I don’t know why this one moment stands out for me. Perhaps because it was the first time an environment in which I had previously felt safe, became one where I would have to be on my guard. It was the start of the cynicism and fear that comes with adulthood. In some senses, this experience was too late and too soon.

Dear twenty-two year old me

You are at the precipice of a very interesting time. You feel restless and yet exhausted. You want a break but you are scared of relaxing too long for fear of losing your dreams. Unfortunately, things aren’t going to sort themselves out for quite a few years. It would help if you could actually decide what those dreams are. We both know that’s not going to happen.

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I don’t have many regrets, you’ll be happy to know. Things get a little sketchy, I’ll be honest, but you find a way to slog through and survive. In truth, I am far happier now than I was when I was you. It would cost a lot of money to convince me to do twenty-two over again. Sorry about that. In fact, the only year I would willingly experience for the second time was the one you just finished. That last year of university, no job, no responsibilities other than writing that paper on Kornilov. Sure and we still lived with our parents, that part was no bonus. It was nice having money, however, and nothing really to spend it on. I hope you savoured that year. The road ahead is a bit of a morass.

It’s not all bad. There are some things happening that will surprise you. You will start dating the man I am still with today. That was unexpected. Actually, I am reluctant to say even that much as I know the thought of such long term commitment at this point in your life terrifies you. Pretend you didn’t hear that, okay?

Hey, one day you'll live in a neighbourhood with purple houses. Could be worse, right?

Hey, one day you’ll live in a neighbourhood with purple houses. Could be worse, right?

I’m sorry your job sucks so much. It is a bit of a necessary thing, though, so you’ll just have to deal. The people are pretty awesome and will go on to help you in so many ways. Be kind, be friendly, be open, and be willing to leave your cave once in a while. Unless it is the redhead inviting you out. Feel free to avoid her as much as you want.

I have no other advice. In many ways, I am just as confused as you are. There are no answers and there is no life-affirming thing that will bring it all together. The one thing I will say is this: stop waiting. This here, right now, this awkward in between space? This is your life. Live it.

Much love – you deserve it,

Kristine

Flailing but not alone

I hope you will forgive me tonight. I am obligated to write and I have so many things swirling that need to be said, that should be said, no, screamed, so that everyone can hear and appreciate. Yet, I am too sad, too in the moment to make them clear enough for anyone to understand. Is there a point in talking to the void without expectation of being known?

It is possible, if only for its therapeutic potential.

My good friend said goodbye to a family member today. It was as hard as it would be. There is no other way to experience it but to expect the ugly and know that it is the only way. It sucks. It isn’t fair. I wish I could make it better. Nothing can make it better.

I had other things to say tonight. Words kindling beauty and promise and, hopefully, humour. There is a time for these things. It might even be now. If I were a better writer I could share them. Alas, I am flailing. I don’t have it in me to come up with anything appropriate. All I can do is look to tomorrow. It won’t be better but it might be easier.

Bathing Suits and Barbeques and Other B Things

Today was not my typical Saturday. I haven’t done any reading, nor have I  indulged in a single nap. Instead, I faced two fears and am still coherent enough to write something. I think that warrants a celebration, don’t you?

Fear number one was a task I put off for a long time. In many ways, it felt of Herculean proportions. But it had to be done for the sake of future joy. After great procrastination I forced a smile on my face and went to the mall to find a new bathing suit.

Ugh. It was every bit as awful as expected. I didn’t used to hate shopping. I also used to be thinner. There was once a time, not too many years ago, where searching for something to wear to the pool or beach was enjoyable. Back then, I expected to find something I liked, even if cost more than I wanted to pay. Back then, I was an optimistic idiot who weighed a certain amount of pounds less.

I know. It’s hypocritical of me to complain about my dissatisfaction with my body. Everyone knows how I don’t believe in dieting, how much I despise the weight loss industry, and has been annoyed with my lecturing about health at every size. But I am as susceptible to the beauty complex as much as any other woman. All my logic and well-reasoned arguments zip away when I am faced with struggling into a bathing suit that is too small, in a size that used to fit perfectly.

I tried to tell myself all of the things I would say to a friend. It is just a number, every style fits differently, it’s okay to not weigh the same at thirty-two as you did at twenty-two. They kind of worked. I was able to drag myself through the stores and I did find something that was almost comfortable. It wasn’t fun. There was no giggling with friends or posing in the mirror. Other than a panicked selfie I sent to a friend for confirmation I wasn’t going to terrify children, It was a solo experience. It was better that way.

The water slides tomorrow better be the best water slides in the world.

The second fear I faced was good old stranger danger. As if the trauma of the dressing room wasn’t horrifying enough, I then had to attend my PH’s company barbeque.* If it was a large crowd, I would have been fine. With groups of thirty or more it is easy to blend in, find a spot on the peripheral and people watch. If it was a tiny circle, I would have been fine. I can handle people I don’t know in more intimate gatherings of up to six. It’s groups between 7 and 20 that intimidate the crap out of me.

This was a group of twelve. Terrifying. My shyness kicked in right away and all I wanted to do was disappear into a corner. Unfortunately, one can’t do that in such a small crowd. People notice when certain people aren’t talking and will call them on it. And when they call them on it, the whole group usually turns to stare at said quiet people, waiting for them to stammer out an excuse of why they aren’t as verbose as everyone else. It’s a brilliant time all around.

Somehow, I made it through the pre-dinner drinks and chitchat and all the way through a somewhat awkward meal. It helped that my not-shy but introverted PH was there. At least I wasn’t anti-social all by myself.

At the end of it all, I rewarded myself with my very favourite Saturday activity. No, I don’t mean beer at the pub, although that is close. When we got home, exhausted after interacting with so many strangers, the first thing I did was go for a walk with the Sheevs. It reminded me that no matter how frightening the world can be, as long as I have a dog to walk, I can handle anything.

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*By the way, why is it spelled barbecue in the U.S. when Americans also use the abbreviation BBQ? It’s an oddity.

The Abolition of Lens

Do you know what word I dislike for no reason whatsoever? “Lens.” Not as in camera, or any other traditional and physical definition. What I hate is how it appears to be the latest insidious buzzword, thrown in to sound intellectual or modern. If it were used in moderation, that would be fine. But the metaphor has become cliché.

“But if we look at this through a different lens…”

“Let us switch our lens to that of…”

“The lens of the African pygmy tribe is a shift from…”

Or other such bile. I think I hate it even more now that I have caught myself using it in conversation. “It is helpful to look at things from a more objective lens.” Puke, vomit, gag. It is repeated so often in my current circles. I can’t stand it.

Whatever happened to the word perspective? Was it too long? Too boring?

It is possible I take it to heart. “Perspective” was the word given during my written diploma exam in twelfth grade. We were instructed to choose a piece of poetry or prose studied during our 12 years of academic history and describe, in long essay form, how this selection fit the chosen word. There was a lot of anxiety leading up to this point. The word was kept secret, for obvious reasons, and the only way to prepare was to read over the notes of every short story, novel, play, and poem I had ever read while in school. English was not my favourite subject but I was still expected to do well. I felt the pressure. I will never forget the way my breath snagged when I turned over the test paper. The year before, 1999, the word had been “resourcefulness.” I wasn’t religious even then but I prayed for anything but that.

We were given “perspective,” at once an open and terrifying word. There was nothing we couldn’t do with it, and yet nothing we could. To my consternation, I chose a short story by Margaret Laurence. I still question the impetus behind the decision. I didn’t even like the story. It was about a girl on the Canadian prairie, hanging out in the wild with her cousin. At least, I think that’s what it was about. I can’t even remember the title. For some reason, on that day, I felt it best exemplified perspective. Perhaps because it was one very different from my urban-dwelling, inhibited own.

But I digress. Perspective is indeed a broad word. It might seem a little intimidating upon closer inspection. It once made me write five or six pages about a short story I despised. I maintain it is still a better one than lens. I will be making a concerted effort to use it as much as possible until it, too, gets tired and inspires a blog post.

Are there any words that bother you? Is it absurd to be so annoyed by trendy dialogue?