Thursday, 29 November 2012

Sweet Caroline

This was from my helium balloon karaoke 30th birthday party.  You can't miss my grand entrance in the second verse.  The night was filled with fun, friends, and great memories. Thank you to everyone who came.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

True Story.

ID Cards, Photo Albums, and Games


Just after my father's funeral, a small group of us went out to dinner.  When we got to the restaurant, my mom and my sister walked in first, a close friend and I next, and the rest of the group came in behind us.

There was a sign posted indicating that seniors are entitled to a discount, so Marlene pointed it out to mom. "Mom, get your senior's card out."

Flustered while hurriedly sifting through her purse, she responded, "I don't have it!  You have it.  You took it last time..."

"No, I didn't!" Marlene interrupted, but you could tell she wasn't certain by how she reached for her purse.

"Oh..." my mom smiled. She had found it. She pulled it out, and handed it to Marlene who offered it to the host who politely declined to view it.  "You will just need to show it to your server.  Come with me.  I will show you to your table."

Marlene nodded in acknowledgement, slid the card into her back pocket, and followed the host.  My friend and I trailed just behind.  I looked at my friend, pointed to Marlene's pocket, and said, "Remember that. That will be important."

Marlene and my mom were seated opposite each other at one end of table, and my friend and I were seated at the other.  Fast-forward to the middle of dinner..  

"You have it!"  "No, you have it!"  They pointed and yelled at each other so loudly that we could hear them from our side of the table ... over all of the people between us ... over all of the noise in the crowded restaurant.  They were each completely convinced that the other was wrong, yet both were searching their purses.

My friend whispered to me, "Are you going to.."  I waived him off.  "No, no.  Not just yet.  Five more minutes. Let's see if they can sort this out."

***

As far back as I could remember, my dad kept all of his private documents in his favourite leather briefcase. It had a combination lock on it.  We all knew the code, but it was his personal briefcase, so we never touched it.  He would smile when he would say, "These are my very important documents."

***

I moved out way back when.  I couldn't be there.  It was hard for me.  When I left, I told my dad I had to do it.  I told him that I wished I could help him, that I knew he was getting older, that I knew he needed me, but that I had to do it from a distance.  I had to take care of myself first. I knew that then. And .. I did what I had to do.  I needed space; a place for myself that could remain untouched by everyone around me.  I just felt like I was constantly following up on everyone else, making sure everything was in order, and I wanted to stop.  So I left.  I visited occasionally, but I admittedly disappeared for months at a time.  

It was shortly after I left that my mom and dad's wedding album disappeared.  I would come over, and Marlene would blame my mom, my mom would blame my Marlene, and my dad just sat back, only to occasionally intervene to quiet them.  It was never a particularly pressing issue.  Neither of them could wholeheartedly confirm that they were not the culprit, but they each still blamed the other.  All they knew for certain was that the album was not to be found, and each considered the other responsible. 

***

As the executor, after my father passed away, I had to go through all of his final expenses, and close up his accounts, etc...  To do this, I needed his personal documents, so, naturally, I looked to his briefcase.

I set it down in front of me, and paused.  I looked at it.  I teared up just touching it.  My dad wasn't secretive about its contents.  He was just protective of it.  It was one spot that remained untouched by the chaos that surrounded it all of these years.  "He needed that," I thought, "if I were anything like him."  I thought about all of the times I had popped it open in the past.  It was as a young child.  I found his old university report cards.  I found some letters from family.  He had certificates and awards.  He had cards.  It was all entertaining stuff to read.

I loved my dad, and I loved to learn about who he was.  After age six or seven, I was past the briefcase. I was on to listening to stories he told me about his life.  I got older, and I moved on to interrogating him about it.  I got even older, and he began sharing the inspiration to the wise words he'd spoken to me all me life.  We talked about his youth, his family, his education, his romances, his social life, his travels, and what he wanted me to take from all of it.

I rested my hands over the lock, and turned each piece to fit the correct sequence, and popped open his briefcase for the first time in about twenty years.  What I found, to my surprise, sitting well-kept, and safely preserved inside was the missing wedding photo album.  

I was taken aback.  All these years, he watched them bicker when he knew.  "Oh, dad."  I found the documents that I needed.  "When I thought it was over, and you were gone, I was wrong.  You saved me this."

***

(...back to the dinner)   I continued to eat my dinner while I listened to the sound of their voices escalate, and when I decided it was time, I walked over.

Standing by the end of their table, I asked calmly, "When do you each last remember seeing it?"

I realized that I didn't know why I was asking.  They never appreciated it when I lectured them.  I pulled it out of Marlene's pocket (it was sticking out), put it on the table, and smiled.  I walked back to my seat, and they went on as if nothing had happened.

It's who they are.  It's who people are: they vary. They are not all like me.  I can't expect them to be.  I was never good at that.  My dad knew it, and lived with it, carving out a space that no one touched, not because they couldn't, but because they all loved him enough to know what it meant to him.  I think it's my time to do the same.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Between a rock and a hard place

On my drive in to work this morning, I thought about my father.  I thought about how I had to explain to my mother that we had to agree to the DNR.  I thought about how I had to organize the funeral.  I thought about all of the final decisions that I had to make.  I thought about all of the hard conversations I had to have.  I remembered it.  I didn't hesitate.  I looked at each situation, made a decision, closed my eyes, inhaled, and ...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Telephone and Urban Legends

I first began participating in public speaking competitions when I was in the fourth grade.  It was a surprise to everyone - my peers and teachers, alike - that I would be able to do it.  I was shy and introverted, but I was very well-received by my peers and they consistently unanimously voted me in to represent them at the annual Legion public speaking competitions.

In the eighth grade, I delivered a speech that was more like a 5-minute comedy act about dating.  I discussed what it meant to date at the age of 13: what it felt like to have a crush, to ask the object of your interest out on a date, the awkward talk with the parents for permission and dealing with rumours about your crush.

Oh, what I would do for a copy of that speech.  Actually, if I tried, I could probably recount most of it. I do remember incorporating a bit about the 'telephone' game.  It was about rumours, how quickly they spread and how they mutate. My more liberal elementary school administrators appreciated my candour.  The Legion did not.

It was what happened after the competition that remains most memorable.  One of the judges stopped to hand me a ribbon for my participation and pose with with.  She plastered on a tightly held smile, and with her gaze on the cameras, she leaned in close to me and condescendingly whispered Watch out for those rumours!  The smile was wiped off my face.  All I could think was that I was just telling the truth the of matter.  Why is that an issue?

So the other day, when a true story in which I played one of the main characters came back around to me as a rumour:
(1) two years after the fact;
(2) from the most unexpected source;
(3) through what had to have been at least 20 "telephones"; and
(4) grossly inaccurately to the point where my character had been morphed into an unrecognizable form, namely a young male (which happens to be fortunate because it could then never actually be tied to me),

it was the recollection of reciting my speech on dating that came to mind. It didn't matter how old I was when I wrote it.  It didn't matter what the story was.  It was the idea that with each transmission, the story underwent a transformation.  It was understanding that no one cared for the truth, even though that was what they claimed they were interested in. It was that I knew all of that even as a naive 13-year-old. Experience has only ever reconfirmed this for me.

How does a story change over time?  In what ways and why?  It isn't always unguided.  Some transformations are the crafty handiwork of unconscionable people.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Soul-Searching

I am finished with the task of searching for myself.  I no longer investigate the question of who I am, and what my purpose is.  I am quite pleased with the evolution over time of the one, and the wondrous arbitrariness of the other.

"Soul-searching" was never a journey upon which I ever meant to embark.  Quite the opposite, in actuality. It was early in my life that I considered it a fruitless pursuit.  My reasoning as a child was simple: you cannot search for who you are.  You can only develop a greater sense of self-awareness by living, and reflecting on what you've done.  This cannot be done by standing still.  To stop would be to do nothing; to learn nothing about myself; to stop growing. 

It was then frightening that I would wind up unwittingly "searching for my soul" in my early 20's, and more so that I couldn't stop.  I jumped almost mindlessly from one job to the next ("almost" because there were always technically solid grounds for my decisions, but "mindlessly" because they were never based on criteria that contributed to my happiness).  My consolation was always that I was at least "doing" things: pushing personal boundaries,  meeting a lot of people, and learning new hard skills.  But was I learning about myself?  Did I discover anything I didn't already know?  Did I grow?

I grew, in the broadest sense of the term, as inevitably as our forward passage through time (or apparent forward passage through time in everyday experience. Whatever.)  Overall, it wasn't exactly the "soul-searching journey" that I criticized as a child, but there is no denying ... that in spite of all of the activity, as regards a formulation of an answer to the question of who I am, all I was really doing was standing still.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Evolution ... Devolution

The other day, as I sat perfectly still while getting railroaded, I wondered to myself, "How did I get here where clearly incompetent people can take credit for my work?"  I felt defeated.  In the course of the last 11 years, I went from being admitted to Trinity College on a scholarship, mobilizing 30,000 people in leagues and events and running world renowned programs to developing and launching pittily little events under the portfolio of someone who has no idea of the value of my contributions.  What happened to my career?

I feel like Finn on Glee: someone who was always told he would do great things, but whose confidence was lost in the rush to find out what they were.

I was told every day of my life that I was "meant to do great things".  Oh, I am still told this to this day.  It actually stings a little.  I can't figure out what those things are.  But this is said to me in such good spirit, I can never reproach a person for it.  And why would I?  I don't disagree.  I still think it's true.

In the distant past, I tried to deal with it by seeing my ventures as biding time: getting ready to pounce, dipping my feet in different waters only to accumulate an evermore rich history of experience.

In the more recent past, I tried to accept that maybe this is my life - that I'm a drifter, a tumbleweed - but this analogy fails to account for one very important quality I have: my commitment to delivering my best and my desire for recognition of my contributions.  These are my constants.

I don't think that the "great things" I will do in this lifetime will come from sitting still. I also don't think I will ever have some grand epiphany about what I am meant to do or to be.  I aim to excel in all that I do. I just need to keep doing that ... and walk away when I don't.
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