Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The annoying itch of true love

Her birthday is exactly a week after mine, and during the week between them sits Valentine's Day---a day I might have ruined for her thirty years ago, with the aftershocks of childbirth, if my father were any kind of romantic, but he's not. He's more practical than that. He's so practical, he's impractical---a problem rooted in the question: "Why have someone else do it if I can do it myself?"

Mom can think of a lot of answers, including "because you won't" and "because other people do it faster" or "because it is dangerous", but she usually just answers by growling his name. Dad's a doer, a practical man, and he knows by now that it is impractical to try to justify his ideas to her, so he just goes to the garage and gets started.

She is, by contrast, a disgruntled romantic, a quasi-religious, cigarette-smoking, big-picture pessimist so accustomed to her own morbid world-view, that she doesn't consider it depressing, after watching a black-and-white movie, to comment not on the classic charm of the old film, but rather on the probability that the actors are all dead by now. My father, of course, only watches TV when it is already on, from the doorway, so as not to be outed as a time-waster. He's got a lot to do after all.

Sometimes, I wonder how my parents stayed together, despite their love. Perhaps they've driven each other to the same insanity, and are content in
that they finally have something in common.

For their honeymoon, he drove her two provinces eastward to visit his parents. Thirty-odd years later, she's still waiting for her real honeymoon, she says, but is willing to accept a new sofa in its place. It was an ineffective bargaining chip, though, and five years since she first played it, she's still waiting for the sofa. The old brown velour sofa, still in perfectly good condition according to Dad, I suspect will soon come to a brutal end at the hands of my mother and perhaps some lighter fluid.

My father claims he'd be more than happy to get her a new one, it's just that he has no idea what she wants, and suspects that neither does she. While he has a point, my mother's interest drifts back to the Silver Screen before he can get to it, so it's moot.

He's tried buying her things before. It never works out for him. When microwaves were first on the market, he bought her one for Christmas. She plugged it in, pressed some buttons and it caught on fire. He returned it the next day. When she was pregnant with me, and at risk of miscarrying, he bought her a TV, the same one she watched until I was already living on my own. She called one day to tell me it had caught on fire, too, and, more importantly, that she could finally get a new one. For their anniversary one year, he got her a sewing machine. She hates sewing even more than she hated him that day.

Ever practical, my father
put it to good use, taught himself to sew and custom-designed coveralls to wear while working on his many projects, and a few wide-brimmed hats for good measure. Scrutinized by my mother, she concluded that not only were they ugly, but they would last forever. That's when Mom unofficially changed Dad's name to "Your Father", and resigned from trying to influence his actions any further.

I've been around for most of their marriage and during that time my father, according to my mother, has messed up quite a bit, especially on anniversaries. For her birthday this year, though, he got it right with jewelery. When I called to wish her a happy day, she specified that he'd clearly not wrapped the gift himself, and the earrings could have been a little bigger, but they're beautiful. With my mother, that's as good as getting it right.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Coyote, not cougar, thank you

Let's imagine it's your birthday - a big one, a bookend, a decade marker, a critical moment to reaffirm the continuation of your incredibly prolonged adolescence. It's a time for reflection and resistance. Maybe you're turning thirty, like I just did.

Now imagine that you've chosen to spend the celebratory weekend with a few of your closest friends, in a sweet little country house beside a creek and surrounded by fields of fluffy snow. You are fuelled by copious amounts of wine, decadent snacks and bad jokes. You are already feeling that it couldn't really get better than this, and settle in to cuddle with the mellow, squishy-faced dog in the glow of the fireplace.

The next morning, you venture out to add your tracks to the fresh snow, among the tens of coyote and rabbit trails in the forest behind the house. Then you opt, as a precautionary move, to drive into town to restock the red wine supply, and when you arrive the wine store clerk bestows an unforeseeable and extraordinary blessing upon you. On this, your thirtieth birthday, you are asked to show ID.

Still thrilled from the experience, and enjoying unseasonably agreeable winter weather, you bundle up and settle in on a small wooden deck overlooking the creek to talk the night away in the crisp, clean air. Though you didn't know it at the time, at 2:30 in the morning the sun would return to the exact same position it had at the minute of your birth. As though to make sure the moment wouldn't pass unnoticed, on cue and only a few feet away, a coyote bursts forth from the bushes and bounds past you into the dark of the trees. Holy crap. You nearly pee.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Saturn Years Itch and Uranus

On the cusp of my 30th birthday, I had my horoscope professionally interpreted for the first time, and oh boy, am I in trouble.

Apparently, every seven years, Saturn does its thing and screws with everyone's mode de vie, and once every 28-30 years, it rears it rings and essentially flips your life over-under-sideways-down, or turns a new leaf for you, or however you want to say it, as long as you say it wide-eyed and stupefied. I suppose your euphemism of choice depends on whether you're happy about the change, like I am, or not. I approach my thirtieth year, as the shadow of Saturn's celestial spatula finally moves on to hover threateningly over someone else's sign. Good luck to you, whoever you are.

It makes sense astrologically speaking, though at the time I didn't know it, that I completely overhauled my life during the last two years while Saturn came full circle for me. Not only did I switch life paths, but I covered my tracks, ran through rivers, rolled in mud, and left no breadcrumb trail and barely any survivors. I couldn't get back to where I began if I were to try, which I won't, because I am too distracted by what Uranus is doing.

The last time I was under Uranus, I dropped everything, every ball I had. After visiting New York for the first time, I sublet an apartment in Brooklyn; cheated on my live-in boyfriend with a hot Mexican salsa-dancing photographer; broke up with said boyfriend; dated an elite male model and planned to move across the continent with him to Seattle with no job, a little money and barely any sense; bought $400 jeans; hung out in Harlem with oddball Real World celebrities and developed a taste for gin and juice at weekly block parties where I was the token white girl; invited my ex-boyfriend to New York for a final good-bye; and, generally raged until my body couldn't take it anymore and I became ill with a fever of 104-and-rising. Then, at the end of it all, I witnessed the century's most televised tragedy first-hand. I called it quits, gathered my balls, and returned to Canada to rekindle with my Canadian ex on September 13, 2001.

So, you can see why I'm not especially comfortable when Uranus comes around.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Snails and puppy-dog tails

There is no easy way to turn a nice guy down, and even the nicest guys aren't necessarily so nice once man-pride sets in.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Guilty gold, and that means yours

Five years ago, I hadn't heard of Tegucigalpa and it's been at least that long since I've played a game of pool, but still I found myself there in October, teaching a group of Guatemalan Mayan men the ropes. Honestly, I wouldn't have been so confident as to teach them had I thought they'd ever played before, because I am a fraud. Knowing only the basic rules, I'm not qualified to be a teacher, but they were eager to learn and I couldn't refuse an opportunity to bond with them outside of the day's more serious agenda.

We were there together, in my most hated city, to learn about the business of gold mines in Central America, how they spray cyanide from sprinkler systems adjacent to the road into town to extract the gold, and how complicated it can be to hold Canadian companies accountable in countries suffering from rampant high-level corruption. Some rules are not meant to be broken, not by anybody, like the ones designed to protect people.

It was nice to relax and shoot some pool after a long days of speaking with locals suffering from heavy metal poisoning, human rights lawyers and doctors.

I was OK, and coming to terms with the effects of environmental ruin and disregard for quality of life, until we met a two-year-old girl with a rigid spine and underdeveloped leg muscles, incapable of walking - a typical result of heavy metal poisoning according to a volunteering Canadian doctor with us. Looking around at her home environment, its steep hills and muddy paths, I knew as well as her mother, that not even a wheelchair will help her. I cried because I was overwhelmed, and so were the Guatemalans.

The group were community representatives had travelled from various areas of the Guatemalan highlands, where the same and more Canadian goldmining companies plan to establish and expand operations. They were here to visit a Honduran community where such a mine has been operating for eight years, and see whether company promises had been kept. For them, everything is at risk, their health, homes and livelihoods. Mining companies have made them lots of promises, touting development and prosperity, but the Guatemalans wanted to see for themselves the reality of the deal on-site in Honduras. So, these few elected representatives travelled by bus from isolated mountain areas, where they live in modest homes, without regular access to phones or internet, to Tegucigalpa. They weren't impressed by what they saw, not at all, and neither was I. They are, however, the ones who'll suffer as they inevitably lose their battle against these major and powerful companies.

I am ashamed that this company is one in which all Canadians are forced to invest through the Canadian Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan, and that I didn't know that before this trip. I tried to communicate that to my Guatemalan companions, when they asked me, an unlikely ambassador, why Canadians allow things like this to happen. Ouch. Apparently, they have more faith in Canadians than I do. The days, hard questions and difficult stories to hear, left me emotionally exhausted, and by the time we shared our nightly meals of overcooked meat, beans, rice and corn tortillas, I just wanted to go to bed.

Limited by our shared vocabularies, we eventually ran out of words for each other. There was nothing more to say but, "godspeed", and we didn't know how. So, we played pool and didn't keep score, instead. We'd shared the human experience, and there were no clear winners.

For more information: