Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Empty Room

Barbara: It’s not an “empty nest”. That’s a stupid innocuous metaphor that makes it all sound so mild and ordinary. So whatevs. I mean, come on! Birds have at least one empty nest a season; they’re used to it. It’s in their blood to nudge their fledglings out and at ‘em. But for me, for ME, it’s an empty empty EMPTY ROOM.

Or it will be next week.

As I write this, I am in full prep-mode for moving our youngest to her university town for her first year of school. As you read this, however, I will be in the middle of actually doing it. I figured that since I would have my hands full and maybe not great access to the internet, I should write and post this now. The thing is as I write this, I’m trying to stay in denial. I know this. My daughter knows it. It’s the only way I can cope. I am keeping myself busy, distracted, trying to avoid the conscious acknowledgement of the future “empty room”. But as I write this, the emotional truth is rising up, hitting me square in the chest.
Michele at 6. I could say something cheesy about the plane and "flying away", but I won't...
I am very very very very very close with both my daughters. We talk about everything, share most things, ask for advice, offer it up, and love each other in great big obvious swaths of colour. My older daughter—as much as she would have loved to study elsewhere—really only had one choice of schools for her major and that was here. My younger’s choice of schools was also obvious, but it meant she would have to leave home to attend it. So at 17, she’s packing her stuff and moving out. She is ready, “chomping at the bit” even. She loves us and loves home and all that, but she can’t wait to taste her true independence.
Because this one just makes us all laugh...
Just because...

Because when you start with one cute kid shot, it's hard to stop...

And because you've already seen her all grown up...
And I’m not saying we’re attached at the hip or anything—she is very independent already, hanging with friends and working hard first at school, then at her part-time jobs (yes, two of them)—but we talk A LOT. Ours are chat sessions that last hours as we catch up and discuss and analyze and pull out our imaginary crystal balls to predict the future. I love these sessions. I hardly know what I will do without them. I don’t care that I will have more time to write, to work and to think. I will miss these talks with ever fibre of my being.

I know fundamentally all will be well and good; I will get to reconnect with my husband, myself, my cleaner house; I’ll get used to it; it will be the new normal; there are phone calls and texting and skype. Blah blah blah.

But the truth is it is a heartbreaking and difficult transition, this one. My baby is leaving and her room will never be the same. Sure, it might be a lot cleaner. Sure, I might have greater access to my towels, my bathroom, my kitchen counter, my clothes. But that soon-to-be clutter-free, laundry-less bedroom across for my own will now loom like a portal­­––maybe to an old life, maybe to the new one––and it’s now-open door will be a daily reminder of who is gone.

This might all be overly dramatic or emotional or just plain wrong, but I’m telling you: this is exactly how it feels on this day. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Deb: Not too dramatic at all in my opinion, for you know I have been there and you know the whole sad wrenching tale. Thought I would die the day the boy left. I felt so empty I could not fathom how I was able to stand up with nothing inside to hold me together.
I will tell you though from my vantage point three years post leaving: it does get better. It becomes normal, it becomes just your life. As quickly as the hands-on Mum in grade school grade school was forced to become the hands-off Mum in high school, you will adapt.

But yeah, the room.

Fortunately the boy’s room is on the other side of our home so I don’t have to pass by it every day as you do. But it brings to mind one of the best parenting choices I ever made. When Luke was growing up we never ever fought about the state of chaos that was his room. Our only rule was: tidy it on Thursday nights for the cleaning lady coming. He did, and it never became an issue. I never wanted to rant about pop cans and dirty underwear on the floor and I didn’t. I knew that all too soon, it would be as neat as a pin and as empty as my heart.

Cut to three years later ... It’s a great place to keep the iron and ironing board.

But wow, do I ever look forward to that visiting carpet of dirty underwear when it appears, however brief. 

Monday, August 29, 2011


Deb: We have a number of people in our life who struggle with their mental health. They have their individual journeys that may or may not include drugs, treatment, electroshock therapy, depression, elation, personality disorder, panic, fear, shame, self-loathing, hope, prayer, bargaining, thoughts of suicide, attempts at suicide, suicide.

A few months ago, our good friend Barb took her own life after years of anguish and despair. A few years ago, my young cousin killed himself at the tender and promising age of 16. He went fishing, as was his passion, and hung himself from a tree with his fishing line. Fishing was his greatest passion and yet his pain was so enormous that he ended his life while doing one of the only things he loved. For him and the way his brain was wired, this moment of fishing was not good enough to keep him here.  And the worst thing is, he couldn’t help feeling this way. Heartbreaking.

Their deaths reminded me that although I have had a firsthand glimpse into the world of mental issues, I am miles from fully understanding it. But I also realized that I do not need to fully understand it to feel empathy. We do not have to grasp the exact biology at work inside the body of a person dying of cancer to understand that they are dying. But we can and do empathize with them. Why is it not the same for mental illness? Why do we still think that mental illness is some sort of ruse?

With both these deaths­­––my cousin and my friend––I heard the same things over and over. “Why did he have to go and do that?” “How could he do that to his Mother?” “Didn’t he think of the person who would find him?” And: “What’s she got to be depressed about, she’s got a beautiful home and a husband who loves her?” “She should just get out and take a class or take up a hobby?” “She says she can’t get out of bed. I told her to force herself!’ This is, believe me, just a small sample of the shocking things I have heard.

I am not saying that these comments aren’t sometimes well-meaning, but they are given as a result of ignorance. Suffering from debilitating depression is a far cry from being depressed, as most of you know. I thank God I do not suffer any of these things, but I had a microscopic glimpse into depression, panic and anxiety during menopause and I for one gained a new respect for those who struggle fiercely every single day.

I heard a comment recently that left me stunned. “With all the innocent babies dying in the world, I think it’s disgusting when people expect sympathy for depression.” Wow. That statement made me so sad. It was so off-base and so without empathy. I couldn’t kneejerk as I usually would have as it was not the time or the place. But I did speak to the gentleman quietly at the end of the event and said that I know him to be a compassionate person and that I was certain he would feel differently if he learned something about depression and about mental health in general. I am happy to say that he was more than open to my plea.

Mental illness is a jail sentence. Your prison is your body, the jailer, your mind. Some people are lucky and find the treatment that works for them. Others search all their lives to no avail.

All their lives! Can you imagine?

I have one friend who wakes up each day and for a tiny teasing second, she thinks maybe, just maybe, it is going to be a good day. Then it hits her in the gut, and she claws her way through her bedclothes just to put her feet on the floor.

Empathy. It’s in all of us.

Barbara: Deb, this is such a difficult subject and I’m so glad you brought it up. Obviously, we can’t do it full justice in such a short post, but I definitely need guidance in this arena and this is as good a place as any to share our experiences and maybe find some common ground.

I am an empathetic person. Very very empathetic. Sometimes to my detriment. But so am I hard-wired to want and try to “make it better”. This often means offering advice or what I think of as possible solutions to emotional conundrums—whether people want it or not. The truth is—and you, Deb, have opened my eyes to this perhaps more than anyone—I don’t at all know what to do or say to someone struggling with serious mental illness.

I too have known people who have taken their own lives. It is devastating and confusing and heartbreaking for all involved. “If only we’d known…” But then what? If someone who struggles with mental illness can’t be cheered or can’t cheer themselves out of it, is there any form of helping hand we could have offered?

Deb has often reminded me that the best form of help is in the listening. As hard as it is to resist offering advice, it might be best not to. Often this kind of depression is relentlessly cyclical: good days followed by bleak pleas of “Why me? Why this? Why now?”. Possibly the only consistently successful offering in these dark times is the simple assurance that “it will be okay.” Because, like so many modern philosophers are saying, “In this moment, you are okay, and so shall you be okay in each moment that follows”.

And that, in a nutshell, is how even the most optimistic of us survives the ride.

Friday, August 26, 2011

He Wants To Do My Tree

Barbara: The other day I was tending my garden and I happened to notice a few city workers out front planting a tree on a neighbour’s property. I don’t know about you guys, but in Toronto we have a tree-planting program whereby any homeowner can ask the city to plant a tree on what is considered the “city property” part of your yard, and they will plant it for free. It’s a great incentive to keep propagating a healthy, vibrant tree population.

So, anyway, I see these guys out front and I want to ask them about the aging (and possibly dying) maple at the base of my property (is it at risk of dying soon? will it keel over? will it drop branches on our neighbour’s car? etc). 

I tentatively approach the first guy to walk past my driveway without his hands full of vegetation. I know he could easily tell me to wait my turn, or call the office, or just f*ck off (he’s with the city, remember), but he doesn’t. He follows me to the tree, listens politely to my concerns, expresses his moderate opinion and makes me feel better. But here’s the thing: he spends the entire conversation trying not to stare over my shoulder at the copper beech tree that takes up much of my backyard.

I begin to feel like that woman who’s in the middle of a conversation with a guy when he suddenly sees the most beautiful girl of his dreams. It is love blooming before my eyes. And who can blame him: that tree is one helluva sexy, sultry, and exotic species.

And can I also add how cute he is? Cute in that way that some people are when you can see in their adult faces and demeanours the kids, the babies, they once were.

I couldn’t stand between them anymore. I call him out on his flagrant attraction and then offer to introduce them. He doesn't need to be asked twice. He approaches like one mesmerized. He covets and reveres. He admires and fawns. He very carefully and respectfully touches, pointing out her singularities, her idiosyncrasies, her sensitive spots.

Then he starts to describe what he wants to do to her. He knows what she needs, what she wants. She needs pruning, suckering and cording. But he will be gentle, discreet. He has the skills, he assures me, to treat her right. He will use only the most dexterous moves, only the best paraphernalia.

He hardly looks at me as he tries to convince me, telling her as much as me (maybe more than), just how much she will thrive and flourish under his attentions. It is, without doubt, the most tender and honest seduction I’ve ever been third-wheel to.

He actually says it in so many words: he really really wants to do her. Later when he meets my husband, he tells him the same thing. Oh, and also that he wants to film it. Um, okay, more on that later.

Hey, this is our tree’s best suitor ever. Will we give him her hand?

How can we not? Just don’t ask me to watch.

Deb: Besides the fact that I adored this beautifully written tale of a romantic tryst, I could not help thinking that this was probably the gorgeous Barbara’s first time being a third wheel. I am sure you have never felt the sting of someone looking over your shoulder at another. Take it from me, for I have been the tree and I have been the shrub. I have also been the lovely perennial you buy in the spring, forget to plant and are forced to use as mulch come the fall. Do not cry for me though as I have been the tree many times in my life and with this husband of mine, I am always made to feel like the tallest leafiest tree in the forest. But trust me. dear readers, this tree of Barb’s is something to behold. Robin Hood would worship at her trunk. I have never seen her like. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Canada's Loss

We lost one of our great political figures this week. Canada’s loss. Toronto’s loss.

Jack Layton was the leader of the N.D.P. (New Democratic Party) and for the first time in the party’s history, he was the official leader of the opposition. His death at 61 leaves a huge gap in our governing body. But it is the loss of the human being that is the real blow. Jack fought all his life for the underdog, the voice not heard, the discarded, the despised, and the forgotten. He brought balls and character to a very bland political landscape, which is the current state of Canadian politics.

Jack was a huge supporter of the arts in every form and came out to show that support time and time again. We have read and heard so many people say that even if you did not agree with his politics you had to love Jack. He was a “money where the mouth” is guy at a time when so many are “foot where the mouth is” guys. The following is a letter that he crafted with his wife Olivia Chow and his closest party confidants two days before his death. We have taken the liberty of editing the letter to give you a taste of Jack Layton.

Dear Friends,
Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.
Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.
A few additional thoughts:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better…. I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

Consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,
Jack Layton

One of our favourite comments among the thousands these last few days appeared in the editorial in the Globe and Mail. It said, “He ennobled politics”. Yes. He did.

The following is an endearingly personal clip from the endearingly funny Rick Mercer Report. Enjoy. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Secret Love Chore

Barbara: When I say “secret”, the irony here is that I mean it’s a secret from ME. Yes, it’s true, we can and do (all the time) keep secrets from ourselves.

Here’s mine: I believe with every fiber of my being that I hate gardening. In the warm weather months, I dread it with a passion. But then when the season absolutely obligates me to don the garden booties and latex gloves (no comment), I find myself on bended knee professing my undying love to the back-breaking, shoulder-numbing but sensually beautiful and Zen-like peacefulness that is gardening.

One of the reasons we bought our home (besides the virtual steal of a price and its proximity to our daughters’ schools) was for its larger than average garden and its stunning 400-year-old copper beach. 

But when we celebrated the prospect of our new large garden, it was because we imagined days spent lounging in its splendour, maybe reading, maybe hosting intimate gatherings over rosé and antipasto. We didn’t picture hours spent mowing, edging, trimming, and seeding (Phil’s jobs), or composting and mulching 6 cubic yards of shit (actual shit, mind you, and btw, our shared job), or weeding, deadheading, planting and transplanting, and pest and pestilence surveying (my jobs). You see, there is no lounging with book or libation without plenty of—it sounds so benign, doesn’t it?––gardening.

But here’s the gist. I grumble and groan, I procrastinate (like, really a lot), I even whine, and then eventually I get to it. In the fourteen years I’ve gardened here and the five years I gardened at our other home (which is where I cut my teeth), I’ve never missed a season. And, if you want to do the math, yes, that 19 years with at least seven major gardening “events” throughout each season (by that I mean things like spring cleanup and prep, summer weeding sessions (I’m not a “weed once a week” type), fall bulb-planting and bed cleanup, etc), it works out to a minimum total of 133 times in my life where I have worked myself into a froth of foreboding only to find myself in a lovely, wonderful meditative trance as I prune and weed, dig and shovel, pat and tweak. It seems that no matter how many times I think I loathe it, I discover and rediscover how much I actually love it. Oh! and it loves me back.

My garden is lush and green and happy. Unlike my attempts at indoor gardening—which invariably ends with rotting leaves, dying stems, and non-existent flowers––outdoor gardening fairly swoons at my attentions.

My garden doesn’t care that I have spent more hours begrudging it than appreciating it. It just grows along with or without me, and then radiates beauty and peace and acceptance when I finally show up to pay my respects.

Deb: Barb has the most beautiful garden. She designed it like a pro and it looks lush and wonderful. I know Barb very very well so I was shocked when I read this. To look at her garden you would never know she didn’t adore gardening.

I am afraid that I will do little to make this post interesting by giving a different point of view. I too hate it. Or at least I hate the big jobs. The spring/fall cleanup and mulch, the backbreaking planting. But what I do love is the maintenance, and I have found the key that works for me. I simply don’t make it an event like “oh I have to find a day this week to weed and deadhead.” Instead, I come out in the garden almost every day, even for fifteen minutes and I do these things in a leisurely manner. Wow, has it made a difference in my gardening life. I find that this way, it is never daunting.

In fact, it is a philosophy I try to adapt to everything in my life. To borrow a concept from one of my fave authors, Anne Lamott, I just try to take it “Bird by Bird”. I don’t let it get too big and then I can’t be overwhelmed by it. I am just an amateur gardener, but each year I learn more and I glory in my successes and take my failures on the chin. I take photos of everything so I can review what worked and what didn’t, and I borrow ideas from my friends’ gardens. My indoor gardening has come a long way too. I stopped being afraid of killing plants and started just giving them a little lovin’. They used to have a Wanted poster of me in plant stores. I was a leafy serial killer. But I continue to grow with my garden and, as a result, it cuts me some slack. Now if I could just get the dogs to stop peeing on my impatiens.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ebb and Flow –– A Summ’a Holiday Tale

(for your listening pleasure while you read...)

Deb: We just returned from a weeklong holiday with friends. We rented a beautiful beach house and spent a glorious week with Sandy and Greg, two longtime friends whom we see fairly often but have not holidayed with in years. Isn’t it funny when you reach a certain age and “long time friends” replaces “old friends”? I chuckled to myself when I caught myself typing it. These long time friends called us out of the blue with this cottage suggestion, assuming I think that we would not be free, which is usually the case. The fact that we were was in itself a good omen. Riffing off Friday’s blog-post about walking through an open door, we walked through that open door without hesitation and were rewarded tenfold for doing so.
Four ebbin' friends
Even good friends, dear friends, fun friends, can be tough to live with. But this holiday was chilly goodness from the get-go. Easy peasy lemon squeezie into a martini.
Colin and Deb 4-ever!!!!
I marveled as, day after day, we just ebbed and flowed with the tide. Everyone did exactly what they wanted when they wanted, and we all came together as naturally as the sunrise. The same sunrise that none of us saw, by the by. At this point I might moan and shake my head at the regret of that, but it was never my intention to see a sunrise, nor do I think it was anyone else's. For any one of you who might be inclined to ask why we didn’t see a sunrise, my answer would be: “Didn’t want to. Too damn early.” If the sunrise gets its shit together for the 9am slot, I’m in. 

But we did see plenty of sunsets, which we celebrated with Cocktails. Cocktails were held strictly at 5pm, except on those occasions when they were funned over by accident. When this happened someone would invariably start to whine, reminding us to stay within the parameters of the previously established cocktail timeframe.
We did make ourselves some delicious simple summer meals and ate as the sun was sinking  (for a fab fun fact on the sinking sun click the youtube link below). We played games at night and, one by one, we disappeared from the day as easily as we had arrived. All different timing, depending on the night and the pepe.

Dishes got washed, meals got cooked, tables got set, wine got poured, and it all worked seamlessly without so much as a rumble. Relaxed, simple, and easy was the order of the day. Someone flowed in, someone flowed out. And the wine joined in with the flowing.
Loving and relaxed
As I lounged with my book, I would think “it would be great to hear some tunes” and before I finished the thought, on came tunes. Or I would bring out chips in a bowl, just as someone else was opening dip. Oh, and in case this affects your holiday plans, there are no chips and dip left in the whole of Huron county.

Any time of the day you could find us sitting together in silence or sitting together laughing our asses off. Isn’t it heaven on a stick when you are so comfortable with people that you can sit in silence?
Morning walk after a storm
Halfway through the week––during kite day, I believe––we employed the notion of the beach cocktail or “pre”-cocktail cocktail. This came in the form of a cold dry rose or a cold beer. Come on! Holiday!!!
Let's go fly a kite
I'm doing it I'm doing it!!!
It was one glorious week that we are hell-bent on repeating. Nothing to do, nothing to distract. The howling thunderstorm replaced the solicitor, and the seagull screech, the hammering of a street reno.

The waves lulled us to sleep and woke us up.

Summ’atime. Go with the flow baby, go with the flow.

Summ'a girl with wine
Barbara: Sigh. I know I’ve had my own holidays, and will continue to do so obviously, but there is something so viscerally lovely about hearing someone else’s holiday experience (well, maybe it requires a Deb-level description, sigh, oh sigh, so good). But still. I love it. 

It’s like watching movies with gorgeous homes and wishing you could live there. (The beach house in Something’s Gotta Give? Oh yeah, baby.) They call it “real estate porn” and I get it. Makes me hot. So, in that vein, I think this kind of post should be called “holiday porn”. Give it to me and give it to me good.

Thanks, Deb, for sharing your most intimate experience ;) 
(and, btw, thanks Deb for this fascinating––and funny––video!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer Flu And Blog Cramps

Barbara: I was doing so well. I felt awesome. The summer has been divine; hot, sunny, carefree. I was getting lots of writing done. My time has been both frivolously and well spent. And then it hit me: achy, crampy joints and muscles, sore tired eyes, heavy chest and itchy throat. What was this, I asked myself??? How was it possible to be so healthy and upright one minute and then positively legs-cut-out-from-under-you flatlined the next?

I crawled into bed—oh the muscle/joint aches were the worst—and succumbed to sleep. But then I woke and discovered I … couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t read, not even your wonderful blog posts, couldn’t (oh the frustration) write, couldn’t enjoy a lunch of Vietnamese noodle soup with my hubby (I love Pho Tai, it must be the best, cheapest comfort food known to man, but what, oh, what was this flu-ridden lack of enthusiasm?!)

24-hours later, the achy joints finally abandoned me (I guess they couldn’t take all the whining), but the fatigue and discomfort linger on. I can’t sleep for all the hacking. It’s a fucking cold, people! Why do I feel so helpless? But it’s also summer and who wants to be forced inside on a summer’s day when there are so very few of them? (and no, neither walks in the sun or half-hearted workouts have managed to “sweat it out” of me.)

And then there was this: this blog, with its funny, sweet little face that I just wanted to pinch and pat. 
Remember this?
And even so my daughter and I decide we’re going to play with it a bit, just check out some options (you know girls and their makeovers), and all of a sudden “apply” gets hit and we have crap on the screen and we can’t get the old face back, try as we (she) might. Our lovely readers have already mocked and kindly advised me in the comments’ section, bless their hearts (that’s for you, Karen), but there you have it: blog re-boot by fire. Thank god Deb was sweetly gracious about the whole thing and tagged along on the now-necessary task of a complete overhaul. (is it just me or is Blogger offering fewer template options??? And some really weird neither-here-nor-there colours…)

Just so you know, there have been a few issues working out the width of the new columns so they fit into all browser pages, so please let us know if it’s getting cut off on one side or the other.

Anyway, big thanks to Stefanie for her patient re-tooling and mocking up of the new masthead. Deb and I just love it. Hopefully you do too!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prelude to EBB and FLOW

Seven days
As many sunsets
Laughs a plenty
Quiet quiets.
Cacophony of cocktails
One sand village
8 outdoor showers
Tons of chips
No tension
One ukulele
Much harmony
Forgotten lyrics
Four books read
6 tubes of suntan oil
One tiny watercolour
More chips
One flea market
One kite day
Five games
One musical night
One satisfied but reluctant departure.

***Blog to follow on Friday.****

Friday, August 12, 2011

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way (a best friend might be involved)

Deb and Barb Have A Three-Way With Cheryl

The Open Door Policy

Our lovely Cheryl
Cheryl: Thanks to Barb and Deb for asking me out to play. Any qualms I may ever have had about blogdom have been put aside by my stroked ego. Suddenly baring my soul to masses of unknown and possibly scary strangers (I still harbour boogeyman trepidation) lost its power when two actual writers whom I respect thought enough of me to invite me aboard their baby.

Which brings me to my theme: walking through the open door. 

I’ve come to believe that, whenever what we’re “supposed” to do is as clear as mud, all we need do is wait to see what the universe offers up. All the planning, capitulation, and manipulation with which I’ve ever forced my will has brought me … I start to say “aggravation”, but will go the high road and use “hard-learned lessons”.  But when I centre myself and look for the opportunities that present themselves, having faith that they will serve my greater good, perhaps not comfort but good, I can at this point in my life go with the flow. There was a time––a long time––when, if a plan had been made, even just a thought had been thought, come hell or high water I would make sure that it came to fruition. It never occurred to me that, just maybe, what I perceived as an unwelcome interruption or a dastardly detour might offer a happier road, a new insight, some growth, a new friend even.

Twenty-four years ago I fell in love with a man. I had always been peeking around emotional corners to find the someone whom I would recognize emotionally and spiritually as THE ONE and there he was. My One and Only. I recognized him in the deepest part of me. But there were hurdles to overcome. Scary hurdles. Hurdles that stoked my deepest fears.

The universe had gone to great lengths to get our paths to cross. A series of “coincidences” had contrived to open a door to this new relationship. Would I let my fear walk me away from that door?.......

When I was in Grade Six I had the scariest teacher in the school––old Mrs. Wheeler (originally Miss Pea, but Mr. Wheeler scooped up that cranky gal late in life). I was a shy and timid child, but one day I found myself standing up in front of the whole class telling Mrs. Wheeler that I thought she was being unfair to another student. I peed my pants as I was saying it but say it I did. Courage at its … wettest.

Anyway, that same courage is often necessary to walk through open doors. I didn’t want, at the end of my days, to wonder what might have been if I’d walked through that open door to my soulmate. So I summed up that pee-as-you-go courage and walked through the door of opportunity to what, yes, would be some rough times but would end up being the wondrous and definitely meant-to-be marriage we have today and for which I’m so grateful.  

I find the open door policy works for issues far less significant than finding my life partner too. I find those open doors in the daily crossing of paths, in the snatches of conversation that stick with and inspire me, in the page a book opens to. Every day, everywhere. Although admittedly mixing metaphors, this poem I’ve kept since my teen years and which I had read at our wedding puts it well:


Ahead of me,
branching from the path,
a new one begins,
slender thread climbing steep
to curve off
among trees.
Everything in me
cautions: keep straight
to the well-worn trail
which can’t lead you
too far wrong.
But I find myself
shedding all doubts
in the way my back bends
to take the rough tilt
of the hill, by the way
my muscles strain
near the top – all of me
so eager
for what lies beyond.
––Raymond Souster

Deb: I have seen that peeing courage in Cheryl many times as she is always one to stand up for the downtrodden. Hopefully she pees in her mind now, not in her pants. Cheryl and I have grown together in friendship since we were eighteen and in theatre school. Outside of our children and husbands, we have been each other's rock, sounding board, sister, advisor and loving friend.

There was a time, only once, years ago where we had a falling out. As I look back on that time, I see how complicated and painful it was for both of us. I see the worst parts of my younger self, the scared and insecure part and the memory of that time shames me. I thought our friendship was done. Both of us did, and during those dark days of our crisis, I was lost and so was Cheryl. But we could not find our way back to each other. We were young so we did not have the tools that experience brings to communicate and work through it all like we do now. (Points for aging!) We were far too young to know that there were much worse things to come in our young lives and that looking back, this would seem like a blip on the radar screen. 

But at the time, it seemed like the worse thing that would ever happen to us. What could be worse than this? Then suddenly,  Cheryl lost her dear darling grandfather, her Gaggy, whom I also knew and loved.

It was a horrible loss to everyone but Gaggy gave us a gorgeous gift with his heartbreaking departure. He brought us back together. He brought us back without fanfare, or drama. Cheryl simply picked up the phone and called me, her voice wrenching out through tears.  "Gaggy's gone."  And we were one again.

I stood by her during that time and not a word of our falling out was uttered. We simply went back to doing what we do best. Loving and caring for each other. The day before Gaggy died I was weeping by myself in my tiny bachelor apartment thinking  "I cannot believe our friendship is over". I needn't have worried. The universe had other plans. Sometimes the universe is very smart.

Barbara: Wow, Deb, what a stunning story of the power of a friendship that was meant to be (the “friend for life” in that old saying: a friend for a reason, a season, or for life). And wow, Cheryl. First of all, just how beautifully expressed is this? And secondly, you’ve put into words (utterly gorgeous words) my own sense of purposeful wandering. I too am a go-getter, a make-things-happen-as-much-as-you-can type of person. But life keeps insisting that it has other plans for me—good plans, better ones.

I had a horrible, terrible emotional, not quite a “breakdown” but something akin to that, something that felt as close to a breakdown as I would let myself get, back in my mid/late-30s. It had everything to do with feeling frustrated and creatively thwarted. And you know what happened? Someone made me pick up The Artist’s Way (which, if you don’t know it, is a guide to unleashing your blocked creative juices) and I started writing again. Didn’t even know I wanted/needed to write again. And then a few years later, someone called me in for a meeting and asked me if I could be on the lookout for film scripts for them, which prompted me to question why, as an actor, I’d never tried to write a screenplay before, which prompted me to begin writing them. And then last year, a collaborator and friend basically told Deb and I to write a blog, it was the way to go. And you know what? It has all been, ALL of it, the scary, unknown, wonderful way to go.

Writing has, if not literally saved my life, certainly made it more wondrous and amazing than anything I anticipated before my crisis. As have all the other paths, aimed for and stumbled upon, that have veered me this way and that. You, Cheryl, and the lovely poem you’ve included here just perfectly capture how brave you have to be to choose life’s off-roading journeys—and how thrilling it is when you do.

Cheryl MacInnis is an actor living in Toronto with her husband and daughter, three dogs and a cat. She is co-creator and partner in Scene and Heard, Inc., a company specializing in communication and presentation coaching utilizing the actors’ training techniques as applied to the demands of the professional business arena. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

“Like No Time Has Passed”

Barbara: Is that a midlife thing? Running into old acquaintances or meeting up with old friends and standing back and marveling that “it’s as if no time has passed at all”? Or do we all find ourselves doing that?

Well, I can say this for myself: I hear these words coming out of my mouth a lot more now than when I was in my twenties!

But it also really feels like it could be part of the whole space/time continuum thing, you know? That no time has passed. That we’re living everything simultaneously.

Just this weekend, dear college friends who we haven’t seen in at least a decade decided to heed the call of friendship and drive 4 hours so we four could catch up. It was long overdue. No one felt guilty about it, but we all knew it was time to turn back some time.

 We hadn’t been together for more than five minutes before each of us broke into huge grins and announced that, you guessed it, “no time had passed”. We were chatting and laughing and reminiscing and cracking jokes (well, the guys were … as you know, I’m no quipster). And even though of course we looked different, we didn’t look at all different, you know what I mean? Like it was the same gang as 25 years ago, with the same attitudes, wearing the same clothes (I mean, that was the 80s, but I don’t remember any of us rocking shoulder pads or Flock of Seagulls hairdos back then), even looking the same age. It was as if those rose-coloured glasses you always hear about had just popped on and all we could see was our mutual––youthful––love and affection.
Okay, Dave probably had more hair back then. And Phil too. Come to think of it, I probably did too...
Of course, after so much actual time having passed (after all, there are grown children to prove it), there was a lotta catching up to do. Some of it was the “laundry list” of “we lived there then there then here”, and some of it was the major brush strokes, “I did this then that and a little of the other”, and there was definitely some “this was a dark time” and “that was life-changing”. But there was just so much just … hanging out, being silly and laughing like we always did, like it was a Saturday night during the college years, us mawing down at the local Chinese restaurant and scrounging our pennies together to see if we could afford a beer to wash it down.

Thanks, my dear friends Dave and Nancy, for taking the time to visit and for reminding me that as fast as time seems to fly, it can also stand still and marvel.

Deb: This is splendid, Barb, really. What a great and rewarding experience that must have been for you guys. I have a dear friend. Let’s just call her Carol Ann, for that is her name. She and I were friends as little girls and then remained friends through high school and then lost touch. There was never a falling out or even a lack of interest. We just fell away from each other. Over these last ten years, through a series of circumstances and mutual friends, we came together again. And the time I spend with her online and face to face is so special, so connected, that I shake my head with wonder that it wasn’t always thus.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Actor For Hire ... Whatever

My head shot. Just in case.
Deb: Within two weeks, my series Little Mosque ended its six-year run, my new series Single White Spenny did not get picked up, and my year-long voice campaign for Winners ended.

Those wacky threes.

So here I am again. Actor for hire. Looking for work. Putting myself out there. I couldn’t help but reflect on the differences between my out of work 27-year-old self and my out of work 57-year-old self.

27 (through tears): Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. I’ll never work again, nobody likes me. I’m too short. I hate this business. How did SHE get a show? Idiots! I can’t go out there, I’m the world’s worst auditioner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

57 (sitting in yard with a good book): Oh yeah, guess this means I’ll have to get a job. I think I’ll go to a beach house for a week first. Yeah it can wait. Something will come along I’m sure. Whatever. I’ll think about that tomorrow. Yeah tomorrow. Or maybe next week, yeah next week. You know what, I think I’ll deal with it in the fall. After Labour Day. Oh look, a hummingbird!

I truly believe everything happens for a reason. Well not the liver spot that has appeared on my jawline. That is just unexplained bullshit. But things have always come to me when I needed them and I have to believe it will be the same this time. In the meantime I will continue to work with Colin, Barb, and Sheila who are my collaborators and come up with ideas. And I will continue to write. So, hell, what’s wrong with this picture?


One thing has not changed however. I am in fact the world’s worst audtioner. I believe I have mentioned this before. But I am going to adopt a new attitude about it. I will try and conquer it once again. I will try to show a modicum of talent when I audition. I will not let it shorten my life when I know I have to go in and read for something. I will make choices. I will be bold. Every fiber of my being will scream, “CHOOSE ME!”

Until then, I am chillin’ at a beautiful beach house not giving a tinker’s cuss.

Barbara: Once again, as serendipity will have it, I am in the same boat as my buddy, Deb. Every single project that was an absolute guaranteed “go” has now either self-combusted or been put on one of those vague start-date schedules that sound good in theory because they’re not a definite no. (“Yeah, I have these projects in development, and they’re like super-awesome and stuff, and everybody is really super-psyched about them, and they’ll probably go in like the next like two months or something. Or years, you know, whatever.”) It’s like being a really talented lottery picker. You’ve got great numbers, but the chances of them hitting are maybe to none.

But, like you, I’m more chill this year than I’ve ever been. I do believe that when you forget where your priorities are, life will step in and remind you. And sometimes your priorities need to be a good book, a good friend, and a good glass of wine (and a beach house if you can get it)!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Anal With A Side Of Barb

 (to “Barb” something: a verb meaning to over-complicate, muddle, or confuse a thing; a noun indicating the over-complicated, muddled, or confused result.)

I’m not anal about everything—my house is clean but not sterile (the same can be said for my kids, my car, and my purse)—but there are some things that trigger instant anality within me, and they all involve organizational skills that in turn trigger a frenzy of irrational Barbings.

Filing and spring-cleaning are two examples that come to mind. The blog is another. Just ask Deb: I am anal about fonts, spacing, ellipses, em-dashes, lower and upper case, timing, and postings. But I’ve also Barbed it so much as to make the postings and pages a mess of embedded rules and regulations. The thought of changing our blog, as much as I would love to try a refreshed look, sends my anal anxieties swirling into virtual orbit. 

But the real test to my anal/Barbing is coming up. My darling hubby has a milestone birthday this year. I won’t reveal it in case he cherishes his privacy (okay, it rhymes with the Shmig Shmive Shmoh), but suffice to say, I got a lotta plannin’ to do.

We can’t have a huge, open-door party as I don’t have the space. But he has lots of family and friends who want to honour him, so I have to finesse a guest list. Not so hard––anal-brain loves making the lists … but did I FORGET SOMEBODY??? Barb-brain devises a series of odd charts and counter charts … and somehow leaves people off one or the other.

I saved my own ass by deciding not to throw a surprise party (my husband says it’s okay, he knows he’s turning 50.) (OOPS, shit!) Anyway, the real truth is my Barb brain would have combusted under the onus of adding “surprise” to the mix. Anal-brain hates that I went the “easy” route on that one; Barb-brain sends me kisses every morning.

When it comes to keeping track of the guest-list, anal-brain copied a friend’s e-vite formula and was able to send out a summons. But this required reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading the copy, never feeling I got it just right. Barb-brain had to pull me away from the computer because anal-brain was weeping and braying that I screwed the whole thing up and that a drugged monkey would’ve done a nicer job!

Barb-brain checks the rsvp list every five minutes, anal-brain makes copious calculations based on Barbed math. The result: I literally have no idea how many people are coming.

And the worst part is: I have to look and sound like a seriously cool cuke or none of this will be fun for anybody. It is SO NOT PRETTY!

Okay, thanks for the shoulder. I’m good now. Just had to vent a bit. Real Barb is back and she is neither anal nor muddled. Just a little spent. Phew.

Deb: I love the Barbing it, the whole concept. It personalizes something we all do to some degree. The thing I love the most when Barb “Barb’s it”, is that it is always with the best intentions. She is on the job trying to solve the problem, trying to find the path of least resistance. The thing is ... she doesn’t. She Barb’s it. And it has given us more laughs over the years than I can say.

Barb: Well, if we are supposed to bring ice cream to the dinner party tonight, why don’t we take a cooler full of ice and I will pick it up on the way to your house and then you can take it from there when I go home to change and bring it to the dinner?

Deb: Or I could just leave a few minutes early and buy the ice cream on my way over.

Barb: I just Barbed it, didn’t I?

Deb: Yes. Yes you did.