Friday, September 28, 2012

The Sitbacktivist

Barbara: I am not proud of the following story. We can’t be proud of everything we do (or don’t do, as this case may be), right? But herein lies my truth, which I will share with you, and for which I promise to try and spin a happy ending.

Yesterday I was describing my dear friend Charlotte’s turmoil to my husband—she is embroiled in a bit of a messy mess right now, she is in fact embroiled in more than a few messy messes right now, and NOT because of her doing, but because of her caring. Darling Charlotte is committed to righting the wrongs of this world.  She is the best, most dedicated activist I know. She is that person who doesn’t look away from the most terrible injustices in our world. She fights to stop the wrong, or to change it. She rallies, she marches, she emails, she calls, she petitions, she endorses, she gets frustrated, she gets discouraged, she gets sad, she rails, and then she picks herself up and begins again. She also supports and comforts and loves. Deeply.

And because she faces injustice head-on, injustice always seems to land on her doorway clutching a gunnysack over its shoulder and asking if it can crash on her couch.

Phil shook his head in support of Charlotte’s challenges and then asked if I was ever tempted to fight the good fight with her. I had to answer the truth, which is this: as much as I hate injustices in this world, as much as they make me angry and frustrated, as much as I want the world to change and develop its consciousness and compassion, as much as I see the HUGE necessity for this, I am more comfortable dealing one-on-one, being the quiet supporter, the shoulder, the injustice-whisperer and not its warrior. Partly because I am scared of being ill-informed and taking the wrong stance (not Charlotte’s problem, btw; she is an encyclopedia of pertinent information), partly because it takes too much time (I’m sorry, I said I wasn’t proud of this!), partly because I am not a warrior by nature. I’m just more comfortable dealing with fallout than dealing with weaponry.

Without missing a beat, I told my husband, “I’m not an activist, I’m a sitbacktivist.” It’s not the same, I know, but it feels like I’m still doing something. It’s why I love the blog so much. Here I get to sit back and share the experiences of the world with all of you without doing any homework or picking up any tools or getting any blood on me. I am here for you … but I’m here for you, not, like, over at your house with signs and petitions and stuff.

I always used to think that one day I might be a real activist, maybe join a noble cause and get my hands all dirty. It was an ideal. But, aside from confronting bad teachers for my kids and donating money and that kind of thing, I will have to face the fact that I did not grow up to be that woman.

The happy ending? Well, Charlotte does make the world a better place. She has done so all her life and she will continue to do so, one signature, letter and law at a time. Thanks god for people like her! Me? I know I’ve done a share of good in my own small way. I know that I will always try and spread some love, that I do give a damn, and that even the minor efforts of a caring sitbacktivist can change the world a little bit at a time.

Deb: This is a tough subject to judge. To me it’s like the Oscars. Can’t judge art. Nor do I think we can judge the good deeds and charity work we do, whether it is close or far from home, or close or far from your heart. We all have gifts and if we are lucky enough to know what they are, hopefully we are benevolent enough to share them.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

There You Go!!!

Write the first sentence that comes to mind. Cartoon version welcome!

Deb: Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

Barbara: "Consuela displays perfect style in this synchronized dive, but nerves seem to have thrown Suzette completely off form. This team has worked so hard and they're going to be very disappointed with their score."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Spring In Fall

Deb: It’s almost October and spring is in my heart. If you are a regular reader, you know that our spring, our actual May of spring, was decimated by the sudden loss of a dear and darling friend. His death coloured our summer with reconnection. We picked up the phone, messaged on FB, and emailed friends whom we love and adore but don’t see  often. And we did the same for those friends whose frequency of visits we thrive on. We couldn’t get enough of seeing those we loved or were just starting to love. It wasn’t just our thrust of motion that put this connection into place. It was all around us, with everyone we knew, the need to see someone and make a memory.

This September my parents celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Within days of that, the boy turned 22, and my Mum-in-law had her birthday with us.  And bless their beaks, it sure kicked off a period of celebration. In the past little while as summer has turned to fall, we have celebrated love and marriage, the coming of a baby, and many many friends’ milestone birthdays. And the interesting thing, the part of all this that made the difference in me, is the fact that they were piled up! Literally. Calendar-wise. Celebration on top of each celebration. These events consumed days and nights and allowed only an hour or so between each celebration. It was like I was being brainwashed in the ways of celebration. There was a “Celebrate good times, come on!” cult that I was slowly and unwittingly becoming a part of.

I looked at my schedule, jam-packed with happy events and panicked around just how the hell I was going to keep all the cards, gifts, donations, dates and addresses straight. I am the type of person who loves an orderly day. I love order and I love to achieve it and laud it. But I am also fine if it dissolves into a pinch of chaos. Maybe ... organized chaos. But this celebralooza was jammed into every day and night for weeks! Seriously, weeks. So I dutifully went through the cards and celebratory offerings and lined them up on the stair-landing in neat piles, whisking each away to its appropriate event. 

This subway sandwich of celebration has been like a sweet dream. The kind of sweet dreams you had as a child. You would wake up having dreamed about the candy tree in your back yard. Candy tree. In your backyard. You ate it and did not get sick at all. These dreams are the very definition of what you first thought the word dream meant.

This recent period in my life has felt like a very real dream. The kind of dream you wake up from not believing it was a dream at all. It’s as if life is circling me and daring to show itself. And all the faces at each event are 500watt bulbs with wine in their hands. Smiling like they can’t help it. And they can’t.  A baby is coming, a son is 22, a friend is turning 60 and the vibe is exactly the same. Friends, family, strangers. Each party was as if it was everyone’s very first party. Everyone was living unashamedly.

And it makes me feel like the earth is waking up and starting again. And yet the leaves are falling and the earth is sleeping for a while. 

Just what I needed to remind me.

Barbara: Oh, I love this, Deb. I love the celebration in it, the appreciation. I love that you finally get a season of joyous occasions and that they are all so lovely and wonderful and fulfilling. It’s funny when life offers up a veritable smorgasbord of events for us to feast on. I’ve had periods of my life like that. I was telling you earlier about getting jobs all in a row: the whole “it rains/it pours” scenario. But I think, after so much tragic and awful rain, you deserve the warm sun and the new buds of discovery. Soak it up, my darling friend. Spring into it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Five Crazy Things: Childhood Books

Barbara: Last week when I asked about the 5 indelible books of your life, I hadn’t really delineated between childhood and adulthood and, while many of you included childhood books on your lists (and were welcome and encouraged to!), some of you asked (nay, begged!) that we add another Five Crazy Things solely dedicated to childhood books (and, yes, also cartoons, I saw that appeal and it is in the queue!). So we’re going to try this again, shall we? What 5 childhood books made an indelible impact in your life?

1. A Time for Liza. I don’t know who wrote it, and I can’t find it anywhere anymore, but I do remember reading this book over and over and over. It was about a little girl who tried to make herself useful but ended up spoiling everything. Really she just wanted some attention. For someone who never re-reads books anymore (I wish I did, but there’s always a new one out there, seducing me). This is from early childhood.
2. Another book from early childhood (I was maybe 4) that I can remember reading over and over but whose important details I have completely forgotten: it was a picture book about a squirrel setting up house in a dollhouse. How I loved the whole “nesting” theme and the sweetness of the Victorian dollhouse (which I coveted).
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I read this book when I was 13. After I finished it, I wrote my own first “novel”, a 60pg homage. I will never forget sitting at my little portable typewriter, radio on (Seasons in the Sun and Cat’s in the Cradle playing on repeat), and channeling the story of a turn-of-the-(last)century, poverty-stricken family (neither of which I knew anything about) and discovering the true transcendence of the writing experience.
4. Nancy Drew mysteries. I gobbled these up in my tween years, so inspired by the scrappy dedication of our intrepid amateur sleuth, but also loving the pure storytelling of the mysteries.
5. Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It, like the Chronicles of Narnia and The 1001 Nights, opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. Anything could happen; amazing things happened! I always loved strong female leads and thrilled to adventures and challenges that seemed to defy solutions and which, inevitably, were triumphed over.


1. Along with Nancy Drew I was a huge fan of Trixie Beldon, Donna Parker, and the Hardy Boys.
2. Go Dog Go was huge for me. I don’t know why but I wanted to join them for that party in the tree! “Hello.” “Hello.” “Do you like my hat?” “I do. I like that party hat.” “Good bye.” “Good bye.”
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for me too! I did not sit down and write a novel though (wow, Barb!), but I loved the relationship between the father and daughter. Love the movie too.
4. It wasn’t a book but in many ways, Mad Magazine shaped and influenced me more than I can say. It was my bible.
5. I know it will sound odd but the Dick and Jane series really captivated me. I loved their perfect little orderly life and I loved the illustrations.

I also loved:

Watership Down and Alice in Wonderland and The Crysalids were huge for me, but they were not childhood. I read them and The Hobbit as a teen. But all of them stayed with me. I named my first dog Fiver after the little hero rabbit in Watership Down.

And anything anywhere with Arthur Rackham illustrations in it. I still pour over my Fairies and Giants books and of course T’was the Night before Christmas.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Secret Revelations

Barbara: A friend posted a question on Facebook the other day that got me thinking. And thinking. And thinking. So much so that I thought it would make an excellent topic for conversation here today.

The question was: have you ever revealed something important to someone only to regret your honesty afterward?

My short answer was: Yes.

Yes, I have over my many years felt the need to share a secret, a discovery, a heart-wrenching truth only to immediately regret it because the response was so … unsatisfying. Painful or disrespectful or just plain “not enough”. I’ve also shared secrets that I later regretted because while the conversation itself may have been satisfying enough, the relationship didn’t stand the test of time, and I was left with that forlorn feeling in the wake of the break, like they’d run off with my baby blanket or something.


But. The real truth is that, in the big picture that is my life and my life’s journey, I don’t regret it. Why? Well, because what I needed to learn, what I need to remind myself of on a regular basis, is the healing benefit (for me, mind you, maybe this won’t apply to everyone) of speaking of my most painful experiences so I can, at some point soon, let it go. Let go of the anger, the hurt, the fear, the sadness. I always picture the words coming out of my mouth as small buoyant balloons, lifting the dead weight of my pain, making it lighter, sometimes even floating it away. There is something about the process of revelation that shines a light on my pain, whether it is to myself or to the greater world or to both. Those few times that I experienced that flinching regret after a bad conversation (they didn’t get it, they made light of it, they glossed over it), I found that the horrible sense of betrayal faded much more quickly than I could ever have imagined in the moment. And why? Because I finally realized that my journey to recovery, my journey, period, is in my own discovery, my own growth, my own acceptance of my own truth. And part of that journey is finding THE RIGHT PEOPLE with whom to share my secrets. And part of that journey is “testing” many different people. And part of that journey is realizing that there is not one person with whom I share all my secrets, but different people who are perfect for different kinds of secrets. And, of course, there is also the seeing and accepting that some people are not good for any secrets. Not my problem, but theirs.

At this point in my life, every one of my secrets has found a safe and blessed harbour in at least one very important other heart. But I had to learn how to share. And I had to learn with whom to share. These lessons all required trial and error. It’s as simple as that. We can’t find our diamonds without a lot of mining. Not every effort is going to pay off in the way we want it to. Not every person is going to be perfect for us in every situation.

But it is worth every effort, every heartbreak, every pulled emotional muscle to do this work. It has made me more honest with myself and with others, it has made me braver, more resilient. It has made me a better person in every way. There were some bitter pills in the past, but in the end, they were good medicine for my emotional health.

Still, it does require going on a journey out into the world. With any luck, with lots of honesty, vulnerability and grace, you will find your fellow journeymen.

Deb: A tough subject for me, Barbara. I would love to say I have no regrets in this area, but I do. You see, the problem with me is, I love a good story. I love hearing one and I adore telling one. Sometimes a secret is just too too interesting not to tell. A good friend of mine always says, “A secret is something you tell, one person at a time”.  But I have told tales out of school. I have huge regrets over them and try to heal them bit by bit. But I have also been successful at keeping huge secrets and been so proud of myself, only to have resentment laid at my feet by friends for not divulging. My thing that I try really really hard to do, is to not tell other people’s secrets. I share good stories, but I try not to tell what I think someone else would not want told. I do this with mixed results, I am ashamed to say. But as always, I try. Always try. Sometimes it is best to simply not have the information. Good topic. I think I might have to add to the Dancing at the Shame Prom!

Barbara: Yes, Dancing at the Shame Prom! Here’s a link to this wonderful and fascinating book that our friends Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter edited: it is a series of personal essays about its writers' most shameful experiences. I just got my copy and we will follow up here when we’re done reading. PS I hope you guys know I was talking about revealing my own secrets, heartaches, and troubles to people!