Wednesday, August 29, 2012

you're a centipede crawling down my spine

Pro-D today.  The teachers' union and the administrators' union have been battling all year for control of professional development, and the administrators won.  Now instead of teambuilding we get sessions on professional relationships, which means nothing except that we have swapped ping pong tournaments for scavenger hunts.

For some reason when we have these kinds of events I always end up partnered with ND, the Physical Education bwana: competitive, enthusiastic, and excited beyond all reason.  All over the Island I spot my colleagues hiding in coffee shops, shopping in the market, and some even sneaking pints of beer.  But I'm chained to Superman and he wants to win.  He wants to win badly enough that he is willing to dumpster dive, harass strangers, and steal car fresheners out of unlocked vehicles.  He talks incessantly.  I wonder if he talks this much during sex.  I ask him and he laughs, but I am not kidding, and then he starts talking again.

I buy a coffee and ask for my change in fucking Canadian dimes minted in the 80s.  The coffee barista seems to find my bitterness amusing and cooperates.  That's my contribution to the scavenger hunt.  I hand over the dimes and ND hugs me exuberantly as if I have done something miraculous.  He finds the other eleven items on our list, and gets bonus points for trading our paper clip for a paper flower, and the flower for a Bay bag fragrant with garbage, and the bag for a beer banner big enough to "cover the entire West wall of the garage!".  He figures he's one trade away from the million dollar lottery home.  I buy another coffee and make sure to sit far away from him on the bus ride home.


Friday, August 24, 2012

The Female of the Species

I am reading another Shriver, which could become an addiction like Murakami and Irving (Cannot stand it that there is another Irving book out there that I do not have.  What's it called?  In One Person?  Something like that.  I stopped truly enjoying John Irving shortly after he became famous enough to fire his editor, which says a lot, but I cannot shake the addiction in spite of not getting as high as I used to).  Shriver is a new addiction (thank you N) and I am not yet sure if it will stick-- but there are signs.  Positive signs, yes.

There is a lot of focus here on the aging process experienced by women, the way women change or do not change, as genetics allow.  And it all makes a person my age look in the mirror a little skeptically.  Has my jawline changed?  Have my gums receeded?  Are my eyes more hooded?  It's difficult to answer these questions if you didn't spend enough time in the mirror in your twenties to remember what you looked like then; there must be physical changes but I am not sure what they are.  I can feel the changes in my heart, and in my head, but that is not apparent to the camera so who cares.

When I was too young to understand it, I read a book called The Women's Room (I think.  Cannot remember the author) in which a woman was unable to look at herself in the mirror properly.  Unable, that is, to take in the whole picture at once.  She could see her mouth, assess the mouth, check the lipstick, make sure there is nothing in the teeth.  Or she could see the eyes.  Mascara is not clumping, circles not too dark.  Or whatever.  One piece at a time, but never a whole picture of herself, never a cohesive image of the parts creating a whole person.

I was too young to understand that book in its entirety when I read it -- but that description stood out and stayed with me because it was how I saw myself then, and how I still see myself now, when I try to assess who other people meet.  I see myself as a collection of tiny pieces, but I do not know what those pieces are when connected.  And that is why I do not recognize myself in photographs or in stories other people tell.  I can find my eye, I can pick out my laugh in a noisebox, but I do not know myself in three dimensions.  I do not know what you see at all, and that is a strange thing to say to oneself, so perhaps I should not.

Shriver's voice is penetrating, such that I feel compelled to listen carefully.  Compelled to check the words of which I am not certain, compelled to reread that which was murky upon first read.  I am no longer a voyeur; I am a student, trying eagerly to learn.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

the heat is on

Yesterday two installers and an electrician spent the day in my garage and in my yard installing the new heat pump, furnace, and air conditioning unit.  We have been having a heat wave - which considerately ended the day before the air conditioner arrived so that the contractors would not be hot while they were working.

Air conditioning makes Shawn very happy because he is always too hot.  We have had an AC unit in our bedroom window for a long time making it more comfortable to sleep, but it  will be nice to get rid of that eyesore and be able to see out our window again.  

Most of all, however, I am pleased that I will no longer need to worry about the old furnace exploding.  Although we'd had it checked recently, I could never stop myself from being concerned when it made sounds as though we were keeping a small dinosaur in the garage.  

The electrician did not approve of the various work that has been done in our electrical panel over the years.  Prior to our move-in, I suspect the previous owner considered himself a bit of  a handy-man and did a bit of wiring on his own that wasn't quite up to code.  After we bought the house and decided to gut the kitchen, we hired an electrician to add extra under-counter lights, and he (apparently) added to the chaos in the electrical panel.

The electrician said that the panel would be inspected upon completion of his work to ensure it met with building code, and so he was required by law to fix the previous mistakes as well as making sure his own work was legal.  This was a nuisance for him, I'm sure, but it pleases me enormously that now that he has finished, my coffee pot no longer trips a breaker in the kitchen when I use it at the same time as the toaster.

After working all day outside, one of the installers came inside to put in a new thermostat, because my old one allegedly is incompatible.  The new thermostat looks like a tiny tv set and is more intelligent than many people I know.  It's rather intimidating.  Strangely enough, when the installer left, he took my old thermostat with him before I realised what he was doing.  Not that it matters, especially, but I am very curious as to why he took my old thermostat.  Does he collect thermostats?  Is he going to sell it on eBay?  Will he send it to a charity organization that collects thermostats for thermostat-less people?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Usually in the summer I like to spend my days laying tile.  Living in an older house that needs a lot of work, this has become tradition by now.  But I was worried this year that I had run out of things to tile.  Not so.  I found a couple of things to work on.

The first was J's bathroom.  Last summer we tore out her old bathtub and the tile work that surrounded it because the tiles were growing mould in the grout lines.  Maybe this happens anyway when you live in an old house, but it happens faster when you have a teenage girl who likes long hot showers.  We replaced her bathtub with one of those one-piece things so that no water could gather in any grout lines, and I was sort of sad not to have any tiling to do.  But in the end I found that I could finish the tub nicely by adding just one row of tiles around the edges to create a smooth line.  Hooray for tiles.

After that I repainted the bathroom ceiling, and frankly it doesn't look too good.  I used a paint that was too old, I think, and it didn't cover as nicely as I hoped it would.  A second go-over will fix that.  It's on my list.

Then I decided to paint the downstairs part of the house, leading to the upstairs bedrooms, which was a big job because we have very high ceilings that required borrowing a ladder from my father in law.  It is a nice ladder, very versatile as it can fold and unfold in different ways to allow different ways of climbing.  It can be an A-frame or a straight ladder as needed.  The only thing that troubled me a little bit was that when I folded it as an A-frame the instructions told me to climb ONLY both sides of the ladder.  It was a little confusing but in the end I decided that it was a positive sign indicating that I should proceed.  (Those little yellow stickers at the top both say to climb that side.)

The house started out a pale (dingy) shade of blue, aptly described I think by N as "corpse blue".  Shawn and I debated what colour to paint.  We wanted something warm but not overpowering because it is a large area.  I picked something I thought was nice but Shawn declared the colour looked too much like "skin" which was bizarre.  We finally found another colour that we both liked, although it is undoubtedly the colour of someone's skin somewhere, but neither of ours.  (It shows up strangely in the photograph... but the colour at the top of the stairs is a much more accurate representation of the new colour than the peculiar colour at the bottom.)

I made Shawn replace all the old ugly light switches and plug covers, which were 80's style off-white that someone had considerately painted over with pale blue.  He also replaced the doorbell which was quite an adventure that resulted in us having to choose between "ding" or "dong" because it refused to say both.  (We went with dong.)

The painting is mostly done but I have reached a stumbling block and am awaiting artistic guidance.  There is another area downstairs that could go the same colour I've painted the other part or could do something different, and I haven't decided yet.  I like the idea of lots of colours but I recognize that my love of colour can be expressed in ways that are artistic and focused, or, left to my own devices, can become cluttered and chaotic.

Finished with painting for the time being, I decided I needed tile baseboards in the kitchen.  There was a lot of leftover tile from when we tiled the kitchen floor, and I thought tile baseboards would be more interesting than wood.  Waterproof too.  And I love tiling.

This project required me to operate the tile saw which was extremely noisy and dusty.  Across the street, some contractors were working on a neighbour's driveway, and I pretended I was a contractor too with my measuring tape tucked in my belt, a pencil behind my ear, ear protection to stop me from being deafened by the saw...  I should have been a contractor instead of a teacher.  Of course it took me all day to complete this job so I'd probably be fired for being slow, but I would enjoy it while it lasted.

Now I need to grout the kitchen tile baseboards.  And make a decision and finish painting.

Summer is ending too quickly and I wish I had more time to play.  This afternoon some contractors are coming over to install our new furnace and heat pump.  I think I may put on my contractor outfit and see if I can blend in with them and help.  Maye they won't notice that I'm an intruder.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

“Whenever she felt like crying, she would instead become angry—at someone else or at herself—which meant that it was rare for her to shed tears.” (Murakami, IQ1984)

I gave my copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin to my mother to take home with her when they left.  While reading it there were several times I thought of her, of what it is like to try to raise a child who was a sociopath.  It isn't that my sister was a murderous sociopath like the character in the book, but there were still similarities.  It is an odd thing to recognize that my sister was a sociopath -- and the fact that I loved her.

Sociopathology is potentially isolating but it does not guarantee isolation.  In fact there were times my sister was rather the life of the party, more outgoing and socially adept than I.  Times that she was easier to relate to, I'm certain, and times that she shone.

But to try and parent a child who is a sociopath is...  I was going to say unimaginable.  But it is not unimaginable, not for me, because I was there.  I remember it.  It was impossible, but not unimaginable.  I do not need to imagine the heartache of being afraid of your own child.  I do not need to imagine what it is like to sleep in fear for your safety, or your child's safety.

She was not always a sociopath, though she was always ill.  But something, many things perhaps, made that illness worse instead of better.  I do not blame my parents, because I believe they were trying with all the tools and resources available to them.  And because if they were to blame then we all were to blame, everyone that failed to help effectively.  Social workers, teachers, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, friends, family, clergy, administrators.  We all then are to blame.  We all made our efforts, some more lovingly than others, some with more education, some with more heart.  Some with more consistency.  But we all got tired of being unsuccessful.  Most of all, I imagine, my sister got tired of being unsuccessful.

I do not blame my sister, though I was angry with her so often.  Angry with her for what seemed like deliberate self-sabotage throughout her life, for what my mother called her "bloody-mindedness", her insistence on seeing life so bleakly, so cynically, so darkly all the time.  I do not blame anybody anymore.

It is a relief now, at this stage of life, to be done with blame, to simply remember what happened as neutrally as possible.  There is regret, much regret, and there is sorrow and there is emptiness.  There is sadness, an aching sense of loss... I miss my sister.  I regret the damage that has been done to various relationships in my family as a result of this shared and hoarded pain.  But I am not angry with anyone now, not even myself.


Monday, August 06, 2012

this is a long distance call

My next door neighbours irritate me.  It's not that they do anything particularly awful, but I resent their existence when I am outside and trying to pretend that I do not have neighbours. Because my yard is large this is an easy thing to pretend if the neighbours will cooperate by being quiet.  However, they are not usually quiet in the mornings which is when I most like to be outside.  They bicker incessantly.  The mother has an incredibly shrill voice that makes me want to cross through the fence and tap on her kitchen window and tell her that the reason no one in her family listens to her when she tells them to eat the cereal in the containers first is that her voice is is too high.  If she could drop it an octave I am certain her entire life would change.  I would also like to have a conversation about whether they really need a cuckoo clock.


Shawn and I went road biking yesterday afternoon.  It was 34 degrees Celcius, which although unpleasantly hot when standing still did not feel particulary hot when cycling.

There are some sports that my body likes, that feel natural, and others that do not.  My body likes jogging for example, but does not like sprinting.  My body likes road biking but does not like mountain biking.  My body likes lying in the sun in a bathing suit on the dock of a boat drinking tequila, but yet it does not like swimming in cold water.

But although I like road biking I have been resisting clipless pedals for a long time.  I fear being unable to get my foot off the pedal quickly enough to catch myself if something happens.  I envision myself stuck fast to the bike as it crashes to the asphalt.

I finally let Shawn swap out my regular pedals for clipless ones this week, and practiced on the trainer clipping in and out as fast as possible.  I also practiced tapping around the house in my bike shoes that sound like tap shoes, and I got my first bruise in the living room when my foot slipped off the pedal and the chain ring gouged my calf muscle.  I include, for your entertainment, an unflattering photograph of my bruisy chicken leg.  (The bruise shows disappointingly poorly on my cheap camera.)

When we cycled yesterday, I managed not to sustain any further injuries, and I did find that there was some benefit, speedwise, to being able to both pull and push simultaneously.  I did feel ridiculous in the tap shoes, but it was worth it.  I hope there will be no more injuries to document, but I am not really one of the most coordinated people around.  So there will probably be more.


Saturday, August 04, 2012

i'm not a part of this

My parents have left, and they've taken J with them; she will spend two weeks with them on the Winter Prairies being chased by mosquitoes and being spoiled.  She lived the first 11 years of her life on Prairies.  She was there long enough to remember, and has been back to visit enough for the memories to remain somewhat intact.  But I wonder if she remembers the same way I do, for her memories must be of other things, of school yards or of skate ponds or of her mother passed out on a dusty piece of furniture with the tv blaring in the background.  I don't know.

I remember Ralph Klein when I think of the Winter Prairies.  Although he likely hasn't got long for this world, his ridiculous self-satisfied smile is part of my history.  And the King Eddy, and St. Louis Hotel.  The university, with its neverending construction, and Electric Avenue, 17th Avenue, the C-Train.  Place Concord towering over the Bow River and giving the arrogant impression that nothing could ever, would ever, block my view of the river.  The Warehouse, the Republik, the Ship & Anchor.  Kat.  Yvette.  Paul, Dana, Julie, Tony.  Peter.  Jason, Jeff, and Dave.  Kristin and Dan and Brent.  Colleen and Mum and Dad.  And Jaimie.  And Shawn.  All these people I loved and hated and and struggled with, and away from.  All of us all tangled up together and trying to breathe.  And then I think J's memories are probably, though with a different cast of characters, just exactly like mine.


Friday, August 03, 2012

There are many advantages to living in a home that is brand new and has never been lived in by anyone else.  In our second city on the Winter Prairies we had such a home and I enjoyed the bathtub in particular, knowing that no one else had ever read a book there, in my tub.  I loved the windows and doors that did not stick, and I loved the clean white ceilings, free from water stains.  But there are disadvantages to new houses as well.  That house was endlessly beige, inoffensive and completely devoid of personality.  Something about beige is paralysing to me; I never painted it, and I love painting.  In fact I never even got around to hanging up any paintings or anything.  I was frozen by the beige.  We lived very lightly in that home, which turned out well for us because when it was time to move, the house sold quickly.  Beige sells.

The house we live in now is not new.  It is about thirty years old, a bit younger than I am but the right age to have several similar touches that I remember from the house I grew up in.  A sunshine ceiling in the kitchen, for example, and brass door handles and light fixtures.

There are significant disadvantages to our choice of living in this older home.  The nicotine stains on the ceiling, I have since painted over, were repellant.  The carpets, which I plan to replace one day, are unpleasant.  The pale blue walls, which I am still working on, are awful.  The kitchen, upon arrival, was filled with nicotine-stained oak and cigarette burned arborite.  We have gutted the entire thing and had it redone.  The roof needed replacing, which cost a small fortune.  The hot water tank rusted through and required replacement as well.  There is aesthetic work to be done, and there are practical considerations.

The time has come that the furnace is on its way out.  In the winter months when it starts to get cooler, the furnace awakens very moodily-creakily and then begins to roar.  Roar is not an exaggeration.  It sounds as though we have a dinosaur living in our garage.  It works, but it's not happy about it.  We have decided to replace the furnace with a heat pump system, allowing for central air conditioning at the same time.  (It should arrive just as summer is ending because we are not so clever with the timing.)  Along with the new heating/cooling system, it has come time to replace the leaky windows that leave the house cold in the winter and steaming in the summer.  Do you know what it costs to replace the windows in a house?

When I add up all these expenses, I wonder why we chose to buy a house, particularly an old house, instead of buying something new or even renting a cute apartment.

But then I go outside in the yard, the gigantic yard that is 5 times the size of yards on new lots, and I remember what I was thinking.  Privacy, quiet, solitude, peace.  Distance from our neighbours, a green and quiet space to be alone in.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Bonjour Mlle Cone

The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently displaying works collected by Etta and Claribel Cone.  These include Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso.  My parents are visiting, and so we decided to spend an afternoon at the gallery.

I was reminded of a news story about five years ago in which a French woman was tried in court for kissing a painting in an art gallery, accidentally smearing it with her lipstick.  It is the height of impulsivity, damaging a 2 million dollar painting like that, and I related to her exuberance and lack of forethought.  I could picture myself doing something exactly this ridiculous.  Especially after spending the day at the art gallery.

There are plenty of stonefaced security guards working in the Vancouver Art Gallery to ensure no one kisses their paintings, or takes photographs of them (why?) so I was unable to keep a record of what moved me most, and as soon as I stepped outside the walls of the gallery all the paintings and artists blurred together into one.  So I don't really know what I loved the most anymore.  I loved it all.  (I did pay particular attention Gauguin because he came highly recommended by Susan.)

I did find a photograph online of a little sketch I saw in the gallery that made me laugh.  This is a somewhat unfamous Picasso self-portrait drawn on a scrap of brown paper: