Saturday, December 31, 2011

vanity, thy name is woman

The first thing that bothers me about this quote is that I want to argue about vanity as it pertains to womanhood.  The second is that it is a misquote.  (In fact Shakespeare wrote, Frailty, thy name is woman, which is also insulting but for completely different reasons.)

My mother impressed upon me from a very young age that vanity was not only an undesirable quality, but a loathsome one.  A woman could be smart or beautiful, but probably not both, and smart women did not waste their time trying to be beautiful.  Vanity was repellent.  I grew up thinking any efforts directed toward improving appearance were signs of weakness.  I locked the bathroom door when I was brushing my hair so no one would see me being vain.  Of course my mother did not mean we should not care at all, should not make an effort to take care of ourselves and enjoy our femininity.  She meant we should not become self-absorbed, should not pour our money into the cosmetics industry rather than having bank accounts.  She was teaching me feminism, I think now, though at the time I experienced it as shame.

So I grew up eschewing pretty clothes and make up and dresses and anything remotely frilly or fussy because I was afraid it would give me appearance of having tried to look pretty.  (It wasn't your fault if you just happened to be pretty; it was the trying that was the shame.)  To this day I still cannot comfortably apply make up in a public mirror.

It is only recently, at the ridiculous age of thirty-seven, that I have begun to shake off my fear of vanity.  I have begun to shop differently, with intent to find clothing that is for flattering rather than for hiding.  I have been developing a fascination with shoes.  I've been letting J paint my fingernails.  I have been wearing eyeshadow.

I asked myself what this was about.  Was I finally falling into the shameful spiral of vanity my mother warned me about?  Was I become self-obsessed and shallow?  Maybe.  Or maybe it just means that it took me thirty-seven years to think I deserved pretty shoes.

Firmly I believe that at my age I should be taking responsibility for my own choices, weaknesses, and strengths.  And so I'm not blaming this one on Mum.  I'm just saying it's interesting the way things can be misconstrued, the way I took her affirmative message and made it something to have internal fights about.  It makes me want to examine, more closely, the things I say to J, and to watch what she does with them.


We went to CC's house this morning, J and I, for a visit.  CC, in spite of having told me yesterday she would expect me at 10:00, had completely forgotten I was coming over and was in her pajamas when I arrived.  Her husband answered the door after the third round of knocking, laughing and telling us he was afraid it was the landlord at the door looking for the rent cheque. Their house was, as always, like something out of one of those reality shows where families have to intervene to convince hoarders to clear out some space in which to live.

When we leave their house, J always asks me questions about their world.  Why are they so messy?  Why are they afraid of their landlord?  Why so many things.  And I try to answer objectively, without imposing any value judgment on the response.  They are very different from me and Shawn.  They value different things.  They make different choices, they want different things.  They find their happiness in different ways.  Different, not wrong.

But in these exchanges I see a million openings where I could squeeze in a little brainwashing, push a few of my values upon her.  Over and over I fight the impulse.

Then I ask myself if that's right.  I'm teaching her, I hope, to be openminded and accept people as they are.  To understand that there are a million different ways to live life happily and as long as we aren't hurting others, it's okay to be different.  Then I wonder if I'm missing opportunities to teach her other things I believe in.  But it's triage, I guess.  I teach her the most important things first.


Friday, December 30, 2011

they build buildings so tall these days

I always underestimate how long it will take to complete a do-it-yourself type of project.  J's bathroom has been halfway finished since summer when we finally pulled out her old cracked bathtub and replaced it with a shiny new white one.  Since then, I've meant to tile around the edges of the new tub to cover the seam, find some way to finish the seam between the edge of the tub and floor (which currently shows a half inch gap of plywood), find some other way to finish the edge between the stucco part of the ceiling and the smooth part of the ceiling (also currently a gap that shows insulation peeking out from the attic above), and to repaint the walls, window sill, and ceiling.  The bathroom, in its current condition, is completely useable but rather unattractive.

She has been gone for the past nine days, visiting my parents in Winter Prairieland, and I am due to pick her up at the airport in three hours.  During this time, in addition to drinking a lot wine, I had imagined myself completing all these tasks with time to spare.  Cheerfully.

With only three hours left before J's return it is appearing increasingly unlikely the bathroom will be done by the time she gets here.  I did manage to paint the walls, and buy a new shower rod and curtain which is currently lying on the floor looking excited about being hung.  I might put it up.

I also didn't come close to drinking as much wine as I would have liked.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

i hate winnipeg

Last night I finished reading Self, by Yann Martel, which is about the only worthwhile thing I have accomplished during my vacation from work apart from contemplating repainting J's bathroom.  (Not actually doing it, but thinking about it is exhausting.)

I'm confused by the book and have read a few reviews, which sometimes helps me figure out what I think.  Sometimes when I am too stupid to come up with my own opinion or interpretation, reading someone else's gives me a place to start.  It seems the reviewers are a little confused too, and Martel himself, allegedly, says the book is terrible.  I didn't really find it terrible, but I was definitely perplexed.

What did resonate enormously was his descriptions of the prairies, the prairies where I lived for thirty three years and where I still feel the strongest feelings when I visit.  There's a vastness you cannot experience anywhere else, I suspect, to the same degree you can on the open Canadian prairies where the sky is so big and the horizon is so flat you can actually see the curve of the earth that proves the world is round.  I always used to imagine if I took too deep a breath, took in too much of the sky, I might slip off the earth and get sucked up into that great big sky, and go hurtling into outer space.  I think Martel captured that feeling better than I do and I can forgive him for observing similar things because he gives me a sense of companionship in the ache the prairies cause in my chest.  (And I forgive the Weakerthans for One Great City!.)  I am going to start Beatrice & Virgil tonight to demonstrate my good faith.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Here comes the neighbourhood

Blegh, I drank too much last night.  It's very juvenile of me to drink too much as though I am still 22, but I find myself more comfortable chatting with the family (and the extended family) when I have had three glasses of wine.  We ended up walking home from the inlaws' place since neither of us was in any condition to drive.  J is away for the holidays with my parents this year, which has made it too easy to overindulge in her absense with no one for whom to set a good example.

My stuffing was good, my devilled eggs were good.  My gravy was weird.  That is, it tasted fine but it looked peculiar, an odd colour that I had not anticipated.  I was expecting the standard dark brown gravy, and mine was very light coloured, almost yellow.  It was mostly made of chicken stock which is why.  But what makes gravy normally look so much darker?  It really did look strange.

It was a nice visit with Shawn's family, and his crazy step-Auntie sat beside me and whispered rude comments about her sisters (who weren't there) and made racist remarks about Asians.  I had had enough wine to find this hilarious instead of infuriating, and was happy enough to laugh out loud at her instead of waiting until we home.  She seemed to take this as encouragement, so it all worked out fine.  When I told her I was partly Egyptian, she said, Oh that's why you have that hole in your nose.


Are you familiar with eBay?  If you hated shopping as much as I do, you would be.  I like eBay.  It means I can shop for things without having to go into malls, and I hate malls.  And rather like a friend who really gets you, sometimes eBay makes friendly suggestions based on, presumably, your past purchases or searches.  It's a well meaning friend, and sometimes it really has the right idea even though it doesn't totally understand that size does matter.  So it was with some consternation that I viewed eBay's most recent recommendation for me:

I can't fathom what made eBay think that this was the kind of thing I'd really go for.  Maybe eBay just has a sense of humour and wanted to make me laugh.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lisa is busy nerding

I've decided to make more of an effort this year to participate in the Christmas dinner preparations.  When we lived close to my parents and did Christmas with them, we, my sister and I, would each choose a side dish to bring.  I always brought the mashed potatoes.  Because they're easy to make.

Now we live close to the inlaws instead, and Shawn's Dad likes to make everything.  Or so he says.  They always ask us to bring wine, which is even easier than potatoes.  But this year I feel compelled to try a little harder.  I'm making stuffing, which I have actually never done before.  And I'm making gravy.  And devilled eggs, an appetizer.  I don't really have any concept of how much food to make (there are fourteen of us altogether, I think) having never cooked for such a large group.  But I'm going to try and figure it out.  Because I feel tired of being lazy. Wish me luck.


I'm trying to get my mojo back where it comes to running because I have had quite a bout with laziness there, too.  I blame the Drama production, which saps me of energy so that at the end of the day I just want to laze on the couch and watch vapid television programs.  This has been going on for several weeks.  But now it's vacation time, which means I'm getting enough sleep, and not feeling anxious.  So I've been running a lot in the last four days.  Four consecutive days of running an hour each day, which has left me sore and tired, but feeling much, much better.  More clear-headed.

I've been hanging out in the sauna too, which is one of my favourite places in the world.  I really enjoy being in there.  And I like sending text messages from inside the sauna to Shawn to tell him that I'm naked.  Except yesterday afternoon I was one button-push away from sending that message to my mother-in-law by mistake.  So glad I caught it in time.

I am completely inept with text messaging.  I always forget to look and see where I am sending my message because for some reason I expect my phone to know who with whom I mean to communicate.  And most of the time I only text Shawn so I always expect it to go directly to him.  Once I asked someone (not Shawn) if he had remembered to make an appointment to have my dogs' anal glands expressed.  And another time I accused someone else (not Shawn) of having stolen money off my bedside table.

The reason I nearly sent my mother-in-law a text message to tell her I was naked in the sauna was that I had texted her the day before to ask if I could drop Shawn's Christmas present off at their house because he is terribly good at spoiling surprises and I wanted to surprise him.  The text messenger just assumes I'm sending my message to whomever I spoke with last.  (I got Shawn a surround sound system for the television; I hope I got the right thing because I actually know nothing about things like this.)


Friday, December 16, 2011

I've got nothing to do today but smile.

There's an autistic boy in my Drama 9 class this semester.  The autistic spectrum disorders interest me, in particular, because they create such quirkiness, a quirkiness that I often find delightful rather than alienating.  B is a savant, or what was once called "idiot savant", the type of autism that comes with gifts.  He has a math gift and a brain calendar such that you can tell him the date of your birth, for example, and he can tell you what day of the week on which you were born.  He can do this trick with dates in the infinite future too.  But he has disabilities as well, mainly the lack of social connection with his peers.  They find him amusing, interesting, likeable even.  But not relatable.  He's so very different.

He chooses to sit right beside me at the start of every class when they gather in a circle for instructions.  Maybe he likes me.  Maybe it's safer near the teacher.  I'm not sure.  But he sits there every day, always on my right side, and as he pulls his chair up close to me he always says, "Hello Ms. P.  Don't touch me, don't touch me, don't touch me, don't touch me."  Always four times.  I've never touched him.

I asked him the other day why he always tells me not to touch him.  He told me that touches feel like electric shocks on his skin.  I keep thinking about that, how that kind of overstimulation he described is probably what other less verbal autistic children experience when they are overwhelmed by light, or noise, or other stimuli in their environments.  Like being shocked with every touch.

Last year another autistic boy came to me for counselling.  He told me he had a recurring headache.  I asked him what the headache felt like.  He said it felt like disappointment.

Does it seem odd, I wonder, that I find these verbal autistic kids so very relatable?  That oversensitivity, I get it.  It's not my sensory reality, but it's my emotional reality.  I get the prickle of electricity when I see a facial expression change in a specific way.  I get zapped in those moments of awkward silence that briefly crest in noisy conversations.  And sometimes when things get bigger than that I feel completely electrocuted.

And I've had a headache that feels like disappointment.


I called social services today.  A girl told me her father beats her.  He punches her with closed fists.  She crumples on the floor gasping for air and he kicks her while she chokes for breath.  She is a tiny, hundred pound girl.  By law I must call protective services when children tell me these things.  But my heart struggled with it.  Not because I have any doubt that she needs protection, but I am breaking her trust in telling someone what she told me.  And I greatly fear that the social workers will aggravate rather than alleviate an already terrible situation.  My distrust of social services comes from my negative experiences when trying to access help for my niece back when her mother was still alive.  (I called because I was concerned that my sister was passing out while smoking in bed, with J in the bed.  They told me they could do nothing until the danger was more immediate.  I sarcastically asked if that meant I could not call until the bed was actually on fire, and the social worker said - without a hint of humour - that yes, that was the appropriate time to call.)  I hope this girl is safe over the holidays.


It's the holidays now.  My show closed last night to a huge happy audience that laughed at everything.  Parents brought me homemade Christmas treats and said nice things to me.  The kids gave me flowers.  It was the way closing night is supposed to look and nearly never does.  It would be a good way to finish my career in theatre this way.  I am ready to move up into the counselling office, but I'd like to look back on these years as having finished strong.

And for some reason I have been showered with gifts this Christmas.  Not the case every year.  I'm not sure if I have more thoughtful kids this year, wealthier kids this year, or if, perhaps, I have just been more likeable this year.  But I have more chocolate and cookies and treats than I can believe.  I will be twenty pounds heavier by the end of the holidays.

Tonight I had homemade Nuts & Bolts, homemade chocolate toffees, and red wine for dinner.  Danger.