Well, today I am miserable and sick. Everything is bothering me, and even the tiniest task seems insurmountable. The dogs seem to be barking incessantly at absolutely nothing. And if that’s not enough, the dirty dishes seem to be reproducing by themselves.
It is in these miserable moments that I realize how ungrateful I truly am. Thanks to many years of speeches that were drummed into my head about the need to be grateful for the goodness in my life, I only remember to thank the universe when something is noticeably good. For example, when I make it through a day without feeling an overwhelming need to pull out every hair on my head – strand by individual strand.
When I am sick, even the most simplistic of tasks becomes overwhelming; folding laundry for instance (I am not talking about the doing, or dragging the hampers up and down the stairs either). Trust me, on no occasion have I ever felt grateful to be able to fold laundry without incident. Today, it is sitting in a basket on my couch untouched. This is because I am in so much pain that it was enough to get it up the stairs from the basement, and now I am resting so that I have enough energy to fold it at a later time.
Every time I am in physical pain, I am reminded of the necessity to be grateful for all of the little things in my life that often go unnoticed and unappreciated. To this end, I would like to acknowledge them today.
I am grateful for the following:
1. Being able to fold the laundry without requiring a rest break
2. Being able to stand long enough to do the dishes without turning it into a day-long chore
3. Being able to sleep for extended periods of time without being woken up by the pain of turning over
4. Being able to swallow without injuring the back of my throat
5. Being able to listen to the dogs bark without becoming uncontrollably agitated as my head begins to pound
6. Being able to make the 30 second walk to the post box without needing to stop for a rest on the neighbour’s lawn
7. Being able to take a bath and require no recovery time afterward
8. Being able to scrub the toilet without the needing to work up the strength (usually I need to work up the desire)
9. Being able to read chick-lit without feeling like it is a gruelling chore
10. Being able to breathe without needing to continuously lubricate with cough candies
Submitted by sara on Sat, 04/18/2009 - 22:31.
The first time I heard of Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson was when a school trustee offered to come in and read it to my Communications class. I had this idea that if various people from the community came in and shared parts of their favourite books with the class, students might understand that we are a community of readers regardless of age, ancestry, gender. I was optimistic that from this experience students would come to the conclusion that they too could become readers. I must admit that the experiment ended after the one guest, and I have no idea what message my students took away from this beyond the fact that it gave them an opportunity to rest their heads on the desk without interruption. What I do know is that Monkey Beach did not capture my attention. Admittedly, it did not receive my undivided attention, but I found myself disinterested in the small parts that I managed to catch between streams of absent thoughts. It shouldn’t surprise you then that on the numerous later occasions when it was recommended to me, I never had any desire to pick it up.
Years later, Monkey Beach was suggested for our book club, and I am not proud to say that I attempted to have it buried. I was unsuccessful.
At the time I was writing my master’s thesis, a rather personal and emotional look at identity and Aboriginal education. The night that I finally pulled out Monkey Beach followed a long period of reflection upon my ancestry and the role that it had played in my schooling experiences.
For many years I was tremendously ashamed of my Aboriginal ancestry. Particularly during my school years, I attempted to keep it hidden through lies of omission and academic achievement. The rationale was that if I never revealed truly revealed myself and defied the stereotypes, I could be something much more desirable...or at the very least not Aboriginal. Prior to writing my thesis, I had always assumed that my shame had emerged from the internalization of the negative stereotypes fed to me by the media and whispered voices around me. But as I wrote, I began to consider the role of my experiences at school. There, I saw the stereotypical images of Aboriginal people labelled as savages, and I read about the important achievements and contributions of non-Aboriginal people throughout history. As a result, I concluded that school was where we learned about fictional people; people who did not really exist in my world who had experiences to which I could not relate.
But after I had finished reading Monkey Beach, I began to wonder how my life might have been different had I read that book at school instead. How might my life have been different if this book, written by an Aboriginal author, had been held up in my classroom as an example of good literature? How might my life have been different if this book that held my own memories of growing up as an Aboriginal child were read instead? How might my life have been different if I had learned in school that there were good things about being Aboriginal?
Perhaps it was just the timing (although I doubt it was something so trivial), but this book transformed my life. It transformed me. It made me realize the impact that we can have as educators. The decisions we make can impact children for the rest of their lives. And with every choice we make to include material in our classrooms, we are also sending a message with what we choose to omit.
Submitted by sara on Sat, 03/14/2009 - 16:15.
The first CD I ever owned was the soundtrack for Footloose. My cousin and uncle bought it for me as a birthday present. I remember propping it up against my new portable CD player with removable speakers that I had been carefully placed upon my bookshelf. I admit that it did look rather lonely among the stacks of cassette tapes that were piled on either side, but I felt a twinge of pride that I had entered this new era of technology. My musical tastes at the time definitely swayed toward soundtracks. I figured they were the perfect musical solution. You see, I loved movies and the soundtrack allowed me to relive the movie, while being exposed to new music; indeed the best of both worlds.
Footloose was the first movie I saw without an adult. I saw it with my friend Tanya, she was in grade six and I was in grade five, and the only thing I remember about her is that she loved horses. Her mother dropped us off at the movie theatre, and as she drove away I remember feeling so tremendously grown up. I figured that because we were there alone people would assume we had driven there ourselves, never suspecting that maybe an eleven year old only appears mature enough to drive in her own mind.
The movie opened with Kenny Loggins singing the title song and various sets of feet dancing to the music. Tanya and I thought this was hysterical and the only thing I recall about watching that movie was how much we laughed during those opening credits.
I don’t know if I still have the CD, but every so often I hear Kenny Loggins on the radio belting out Footloose, and I think of Tanya and I laughing in the theatre, and I think of that time in my life when I thought that growing up only meant fooling people into believing I was old enough to drive.
Submitted by sara on Sun, 02/22/2009 - 16:44.
I am sitting at my desk next to the window. Outside the colours of the day are slowing draining from the sky and fading into dusk. It is quiet. Not the kind of quiet that is merely an absence of noise, but the kind of quiet that has been here for awhile. Not the kind from which boredom arises, but the kind from which inspiration and ideas can emerge. A kind of comforting quiet that feels like gentle balls of cotton cradled in my ears.
I am attempting to cherish this moment of Sunday before Monday comes. Alas I think that Sunday is often overlooked as a favourite day of the week. It seems that Friday and Saturday could easily win if there was a popularity contest, and yet in our household we usually spend Friday recovering from the week and Saturday doing errands. That leaves us with Sunday, a day spent in a quiet reverie. A day spent without duty or obligation.
I look out my window once again and notice that the colour of the sky has now faded to grey with moments of light near the horizon. A reminder that this day is slowing coming to an end. But at this moment I am content, and I am grateful for another perfect Sunday.
Submitted by sara on Mon, 02/02/2009 - 00:00.
My desk is once again in a state of chaos. It is particularly sad because it is such a beautiful desk, and I am the only one who really knows this because I am the only one who saw it before it disappeared under this mountain of disarray. I have this notion that if I keep things out in a place where I can see them, I will remember to attend to them; a thank you card from my goddaughter remains open beckoning for a response, a camera to remind me to take more photos so that I can remember these days much later on, a sock waiting for its partner to emerge from the laundry. A peculiar assortment I know, and I am certain that it reveals something about me to those wishing to psychoanalyze; however I just see the disaster that it is and think, not again.
When I taught grade seven, I had a chaotic desk; one that was existed under a constant array of carefully organized piles that had been knocked over or shuffled until the notion that they were in any kind of order at all was perhaps evidence that I was more prone to denial than any sort of organization. The only time my students could actually see the desk was when I was preparing for a departure, and there was a substitute coming. They quickly learned to identify this as a cue that a few days of mayhem would follow that they happily equated with freedom. One time, while I was unexpectedly absent, a student decided it would be a nice thing to tidy the unruly disaster. When I returned, I attempted to be gracious, but it took me weeks to find where she had put everything.
And next week I am starting a new job, with a new desk, and I wonder if it will be possible to turn over a new leaf. Can I keep this new one in order? Perhaps with the years which have passed, I have miraculously achieved some special kind of maturity associated with an ability to maintain a tidy desk. Although I must admit that I am somewhat doubtful given the state of this desk in front of me. I highly suspect that if this maturity has not kicked in yet, it is unlikely it will do so in the next few days. But I will keep the hope alive…at least until Monday.
Submitted by sara on Thu, 01/29/2009 - 16:08.
There is a photograph of my brother and me at the top of Tow Hill on Haida Gwaii. We are clearly soaked from the rain, and red-faced from exertion, but we are smiling. We must have propped the camera between the trees to catch the moment on film, and it was well worth it. For me photographs are memories that have been captured on paper, and this one always brings a smile to my face, for it represents all that is good between my brother and me.
For much of our lives, our relationship has been a precarious one. I always thought that we were the same, but just expressed ourselves differently. Either way we found many ways to be angry with one another over the years as many siblings do. It wasn’t until I went away to university that many things changed for us. Perhaps the geographical distance allowed the emotional distance between us to diminish, and we began to talk and to listen. And although I had always loved my brother, I had done so blindly without question, as an obligation one feels for family members. But after I moved away, I was able appreciate him for the person he was.
I remember the day the photograph was taken. It was pouring rain, and my brother and I decided to go for a hike. We didn’t really notice the weather, and were a bit surprised that no one else was on the hill. It wasn’t until we were at the top in the small clearing that the storminess even registered. We have my mother to thank for this. When we were young, she dragged us on many a hike or bike ride, regardless of the weather. She is a firm believer in “dressing for the weather” and carrying on. I cannot count how many times I was furious with her for insisting that we go outside and get some “fresh air” in the pouring rain. And yet on that day, I was grateful for all of those times because they led up to that moment with my brother. A moment which would not have happened had we waited for a sunny day. And I was grateful for that uninterrupted moment of connection and conversation with him. Grateful I still have this photograph to remind me of it.
Submitted by sara on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 16:10.
After my great grandmother passed away, I was asked to do the end of mourning dance. I agreed because I knew it would be wrong to say no, and yet I had no idea how to do it. I had seen these dances done in the past, and they were such an important part of the grieving process for the community that I felt a tremendous weight upon me to perform it perfectly. I was terrified that I would fail. My trepidation was not something I could discuss with anyone, as many would have no idea how important this dance was, and those who did would not understand my fear of not knowing how. It would be inconceivable to them that anyone would not know how to do this dance, for it was not something that was taught, it was intuitive. Furthermore, I was afraid that to ask for help would be to admit I was somehow inauthentic. That somehow the part of me that was white, had stolen my ability to understand that which could not be explained.
When it came time to do the dance, I put on my great grandmother’s regalia and a mask carved by my father, a portrait of her face. I stood behind the dance screen hoping that somehow my intuition would kick in, that I would know how to do the dance. I thought about the fact that the most important aspect of the dance is that you were able to transform into the person who had passed away. My great grandmother was an Elder, and I did not know how to dance slowly like her. I was afraid that I would move too quickly or too lightly and thus deprive the community of their chance to say one last goodbye to her.
But when I stepped out from behind the screen, my body became heavy. It took all of my energy to move, to dance. I could barely lift my feet from the floor. The circle around the edge of the dance floor suddenly became insurmountably large, and I tired just imagining myself trying to make it around once, but I continued like I knew my great grandmother would have. As I slowly danced the circle, I saw her daughters, my great aunties, sitting on chairs in front of the screen, watching me intently. I looked at them, but did not see them through the eyes of a niece, rather through the eyes of a mother. I wept, knowing I would not see them again in this way. And as I made my way off the dance floor, I looked back one more time at all of the faces in the hall and returned once again behind the dance screen.
I would like to say that before I began dancing, I was able to trust that I would know what to do when the time came, but honestly I did not. What I do know is that I was not abandoned in my time of need. That somehow I was taken care of. Perhaps in accepting my ignorance, I was able to make space for the guidance I needed. I would like to believe that my great grandmother came to me that day. That she used that opportunity to be on earth for one more moment to say goodbye. I do not know this for certain. What I do know was that when I let go of my insecurities and my fear, I was able to do what I needed to do in a way that was respectful and right.
Submitted by sara on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 16:30.
There are some moments in our lives which stay with us much longer than others; the details of which, remain vibrant and colourful instead of fading to black and white. Sleeping behind a curtain of morning glories was one such memory for me. In the summer of 1997, I traveled to Toronto and attended my uncle’s fiftieth birthday. My cousin also joined us that weekend from Montreal. Because my uncle’s apartment was very tiny and the weather was mild, my cousin and I slept on the balcony which was partially hidden from the outside by morning glories. Morning glories that my uncle had strategically planted, so that they would climb strings he had suspended from the top of his balcony.
That night we dined on sushi. I still have a photograph of my cousin surrounded by plates of the magnificent rolls we had all made together. Then we all got dressed up and went to a club to dance the night away, literally. Although every part of the evening was perfect, the best part was waking up in the morning to the sunlight streaming through the beautiful curtain of morning glories. What I remember about that moment is that it somehow captured visually the tremendous love I have for my uncle and my cousin.
I had always felt a distance between myself and my mother’s side of the family. Perhaps it is because I was brought up so many mountains, lakes, and fields away from them. Or perhaps it was because my brother and I had the only brown faces and eyes at those family events. It was never a question of love, but feeling that I did not belong there. That somehow I had become trapped in that Sesame Street game where they sing “one of these things is not like the other…” I imagined myself up in one corner of the television screen dancing while entirely surrounded by blue-eyed dancers…of course it would be obvious that I was the one that did not belong. To be clear, I did not doubt my family’s love for me, only my ability to know where I fit in.
But at that moment in 1997, I could feel that my uncle and my cousin and I were all part of the same family. Our collective happiness was somehow able to transcend all of my insecurities. And now, I have this precious moment that I can hold onto when I miss them most.
Submitted by sara on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 00:34.
As I have said before, the force of my maternal grandmother terrified me. It was only later, long after she had passed away that I came to appreciate her strength and the life that had led her to require it. This is not to say that she was not a wonderful grandmother, only that she was not the one of storybooks, the one promised to me in the movies. I used to refer to her as my “totally hip” grandmother. She was the one who sent me earrings made of leather and protected me in that shady hotel so many years ago. But only once did I see her laugh from her belly until it ached.
We were in the city and went to a restaurant. Following the meal, I had to go to the washroom. It was located at the end of a hall. The doors to the men’s and women’s washrooms were beside each other; the men’s straight ahead, the women’s on the right, both clearly labeled with signs on the doors. When I returned to the table, my grandmother’s friend asked me where the washrooms were. I indicated that they were down the hall. When she returned she appeared to be ruffled, but laughing at the same time. It seems that she had followed my directions to a tee and went directly down the hall and into the men’s room. After she entered and began to survey her surroundings, she realized that she was in the men’s room. Before she could leave, however, the door opened and a man walked in. He immediately retreated while apologizing profusely and proceeded directly into the women’s washroom. As she relayed this story to us, my grandmother began to laugh. From deep within her belly a low rumble emerged and did not stop as we continued out of the restaurant and into the attached mall, at which time it erupted into wails of laughter which echoed down the corridors of the empty mall. One of my favourite memories of my grandmother is of her in this moment doubled over, tears streaming down her face, laughing without any inhibitions.
This moment captured all that was good about my grandmother, and as challenging as our relationship was, I try to let this moment outshine other memories I have of her that are not as happy. It is good to remember that choice is always available to us, the choice to focus on the good things instead of remaining fixated on that which may make us unhappy. I admit that I do not always exercise it, but my life is much better when I do.
Submitted by sara on Wed, 01/07/2009 - 16:16.
So last night I finished reading Marley & Me by John Grogan, and of course I cried. It was inevitable, so much so that despite my passion for reading, I found myself avoiding the book. My partner even remarked upon the fact that he had never seen me take so long to finish a book. I made up something about the fact that I simply had not had much time to read, but the truth was I was avoiding the end. I had become attached to Marley, but even more I did not want to be reminded of the mortality of my own dogs. I have two. A five and a half year-old Malti-poo and a five month old Yorkie. Kaya and Otis.
I was never really a dog person, but I came to a point in my life where everything revolved around my work. Seeking some balance, I decided to get a dog. I found Kaya in the local paper. I got her just before I made the long trek home from Vancouver to Haida Gwaii…by car. I am sure that young Kaya was not amused to be in a kennel on such a long journey at her young age. I had armed myself with Puppies for Dummies and felt it necessary to be toilet training her along the way. Poor Kaya ended up on the side of the freeway many times with huge semis rushing by, stirring dust and gravel as they went, with me shouting at her (to be heard over the semis) to pee. In retrospect, I suspect that her incessant whining was because she was lonely for her brother and sister and wanted to be cuddled instead of in the kennel on such a very long drive, extended by my frantic need to stop for pee breaks. Did I mention that we were traveling in tandem? Each pee stop involved a panicked cry over the walkie-talkie so that we would not lose our traveling companion.
Needless to say Kaya survived me, although I am not certain she wishes to survive Otis. He arrived this past October. I chose him because of his unbelievably calm temperament. When I first saw him in the store, he was sleeping on a tiny purple couch. Based on his selection, I figured he was likely in touch with his feminine side as well as being unbelievably docile. Even as I picked him up he barely opened his eyes and did not even come close to objecting as he snuggled into my lap. Knowing Kaya’s aversion to anyone or anything sharing her attention, I figured that he would be the perfect addition to our household, after all to what could she possibly object? Apparently the survival instinct is quite strong in dogs, even those young puppies who have time to perfect them. Approximately 72 hours after we brought Otis home, his inner terror emerged. Unfortunately by that time it was far too late to return him (not that it was ever really an option). We had already become too attached.
I love my dogs and appreciate them in ways I never imagined possible. They have made me a better person. Working extra long hours is no longer an option. No matter what the weather, I still have to take them outside to see the world. Best of all, on those days when I become convinced I am too cranky to be lovable, they wag their tails as I approach. I saw a bumper sticker once that said “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am” and that is truly the case. Even though my dogs are expected to live long lives, I know that the time I spend with them is short. So when they chew on my favourite books or eat the tips off my knitting needles, I try to remember how much they have given me in return. And in the end I know that I am better for loving them. I can only hope that they are better for having been loved by me.
Submitted by sara on Tue, 01/06/2009 - 21:58.