Waste not, want more

No variations on a theme.

The Spark of Passion Smells like Death

As a glamour-puss in training, I was using my vacation day to vacuum my home and contemplate life when a series of thoughts about recent writing, shelved writing, teenage writing, books that fascinate me, what I want to do with my blog, my future, and my life culminated in a realization: I am dedicatedly fascinated by death. In particular, how people process the deaths of loved ones, stars, arch enemies, and world villains.

My teen writing was filled with death, but I thought that was an age-related affliction. In those days, I just loved to read fictional tales of teens with cancer or kids who lost parents. Later Stephen King gripped me for a good couple of years before I turned my eye to more literary sources.  My new favourites became books where well-developed characters deal with a death or the dark aspects of their relationship with someone now dead.

On the other hand, adding to the list of things I’ve always attributed to “being Portuguese”, I grew up in a home where death was perhaps the most normal of conversations, perfectly child appropriate and fun for the whole family. There was talk of who died, why they died, the extent to which that person’s death was a tristiza (sad event) or a desgraça (tragedy) or não foi uma surpresa (not a surprise). Likewise, talking about somebody’s illness, diminishing health, or imminent demise was never seen as disrespectful or downright offensive. Like taboo-free gossip. But there’s an up side. I adapted well to the notion that my parents would die, my friends would die, and that I would probably die, too, maybe even sooner than one would assume. AND, I can talk pretty comfortably about death.

Finally, I have never had a particularly dramatic response to a death – one that lasted a culturally appropriate amount of time and is followed by normalcy. For me, initial shock has been followed only by moments of missing someone, or noting their absence. These moments rise and fall as everything else in our life does. My lack of reaction has, in some ways, been of some concern to me. Is my otherwise sensitive heart cold to death? Do I see death as good? Do I just not care enough about those that have died? Sure, there’s no normal grief, but there is healthy grief.

And now my mind is awash with ways I can attack death or show death some love. It’s a marketer’s dream!


August 2, 2012 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Death, Portuguese-ness?, Self-reflection, Writing | , , | 6 Comments


Now that I’ve expressed my extreme hesitation in posting this teen diatribe on mortality, I feel better about posting it. It’s funny how that works. I don’t take much stock in what I said below, but it expresses the sadness I felt at the time in the way that I knew to address it: anger and morbidity.

So, my dad’s got a cane now. Next it’ll be a walker, then a wheelchair. His walk is now much more laboured. He lifts his leg a foot in the air to take a step. Two weeks ago I would have just thought I was imagining things. This is going to be quick. Yes.

Funny, when I was five and my brother graduated I found out that the guys dance with their mothers, girls with their fathers. Then I figured out that my dad would be sixty-three when I graduated. I figured my dad would either be dead or decrepid by my graduation. Now, I was only five but when I have insight, I have insight. I hope my brother’s a good dancer.

Post-script: Dad and I couldn’t dance at graduation, but he was most certainly there. I later learned that he was impressed at my lack of embarassment when I wheeled him out for the grand march. I never minded sticking out a little and he always liked a good ride.

February 2, 2012 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Doing it the hard way, Writing | 9 Comments

Sigh-ns of Life

I did not think it was going to take me two weeks to revisit the world of writing here. I had initial envisaged a 3-part tribute to  my dad whose birthday would have been this last week. One of the intended posts – a publishing of something I’d written in the midst of processing the news of my dad’s illness and the throes of being 16, a heady combination. I’d decided against that post anyway because though I can forgive myself my perspective and attitudy writings at that time, that doesn’t mean I feel it would be appropriate to share them. Too many people in my family would not appreciate that if they knew and I think I’m okay with that.

My two other mid-thought posts have not manifested either though and for only practical reasons like working much too long hours, being away, and being sick. Thankfully, despite all this and today’s exhaustion, I’m in good spirits and hope to re-emerge into the world in short order. In case I don’t however, because I’m dying to communicate but incapable of sitting here much longer, I decided to provide random poetry that happens to be typed up on my computer. It’s random in that I’m just going to pick something that I find in short order. Lucky you!


A cast-off piece of maltreated gold has no idea of its continual worth and influence

People have tried to change it, fix it, break it, but it stubbornly, successfully stood strong


If, in despair, it buried itself within the rocks of once boiling lava…


It would be difficult for those who still looked on it amorously –despite the wrinkles of a grinding life-

To forgive escape


Gold’s brilliance endures many eruptions.


* Portuguese for the respectful form of “you” – I know there’s a term but it’s not coming

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Mr. Lonely, Portuguese-ness?, Wild Animals, Writing | 5 Comments

Breaking up with Studenthood – Politely

Dear Studenthood,

We’ve had a long run, Studenthood. There were those early, confident years where I basked in your educational sunshine. I’d never known a more comforting embrace than yours. Math races, Canada’s capitals, weather patterns, silent reading, story time, poster contests, school plays, and in-class performances – I could not get enough. You fostered long-lasting friendships, too. Sports day was always awkward but we powered through. The next day we were thick as thieves, seeking scholastic achievement again. Those were the glory days, SH; the spring of our relationship.

Things got a little tougher in high school. Do you remember, SH? The jerks were a little scarier and a lot bigger. They’d throw pennies occasionally. But even they couldn’t take the shine off of many classroom moments. There was poetry and science, the intricacy of the atom and the shameful history of Catholicism. As long as we avoided the topic of physics, there remained much love between us. You showed me greater freedom and student service. You gave me my weekends to do as I pleased. You respected my autonomy. The dog days of summer could be hard, but it was a great time.

Come to think of it, we’ve had a good run, you and me. As summer turned to fall and I began my university life, we remained close. I was poorer and had to work much harder, but I still loved you then. You woke my passion for knowledge; you inspired me. You drew connections in the world I had no idea existed. I added a degree thinking I could not get enough of you. But our energies waned. You grew demanding. I grew depressed and lazy. We couldn’t be everything to each other; it wasn’t sustainable. We closed out just shy of the Dean’s list. I was angry then. And exhausted. We barely said goodbye. I fled the country soon after knowing it would be years before I saw you again, if at all. I never thanked you.

For a few years I didn’t give you much thought. It was like a long, still winter without your glow. Then, one day, I took a test – a “likes” test of all things. You were drawing me back but I didn’t know it at the time. I accepted the challenge, studied and wrote yet another test. I remembered the comfort of tests. Just me, the stress, and the page. Writing. Insular. I applied for school, unsure whether you’d be there to pick up the pieces. It was months before I knew if we’d meet again. I didn’t know if I would take up the call. Should I work? Live life? Let you go? But when the call came I couldn’t let it be. The opportunity, and the risk of regret, seemed too great. I accepted.

We had found a new spring. I was passionate again, excited, electrified by the privilege of your educational embrace. The material, the ideas and the understanding all seemed to fit. But self-doubt crept in far too quickly. I couldn’t trust you as before. Am I good enough? Can I do this? How on earth will I survive once it’s time to let you go? And that’s the perennial problem between you and me: Studenthood, you are my comfort zone, my four-month cycle of self-loathing. You make room for my linearity but also my quest for change. You’ve become my crutch, SH. I am deathly afraid to leave you behind. It can’t be healthy, this fear, this sense that I am a square peg in an ever-narrowing round hole. I used to think I could do, now I’m not so sure. You have me convinced that I can only survive in your arms. I think about making organic baby food more often than not now. The blossoms are wilting before they bloom.

It’s not right, SH, and I must move on. I’m not sure where I’ll turn in times to come. I may look for you again in that space between life and dreams, but I need time. So I say goodbye to your flexible schedules, your always predictable cycle of stress, your grades, your affirmation and your rejection. I will draw a wage, I will get two weeks of vacation, I will learn on the job. I will do. Wish me luck, Studenthood. It’s for the best.

Gratefully Yours,


January 7, 2012 Posted by | Books, Childhood Complaints, Photography, Self-reflection, Writing | , , | 10 Comments

3 Memorable Bike Crashes I Could do Without

I have never been a physical activity hero. In fact I’m the kid who wheezed around the school field every day in P.E. for all of elementary school. Mercifully there was a little less wheezing in high school. Unfortunately, there were other more painful sources of embarrassment.

Cycling, however, has always been a relative strength of mine. This may well be because cycling doesn’t take much coordination and because when I was five and learning to ride my bike I didn’t yet think I was an exercise-leper. I just had to learn like everybody else and I worked at it. And learn and work I did. I’ll never forget my red and white banana seat, my dad steadying me and feeling the wind through my hair (back in ye olde time before helmets were de rigueur).

Not surprisingly, I’ve been in a few scrapes in my time. Thankfully, to date, none of them have involved cars (knock on wood, pay homage to the universe). From about 5 to 10 I’m fairly sure I walked home once a year wailing all the way from the end of the back alley having scraped all my knees and elbows on the gravel. But there have been three particularly inglorious incidents.

Episode #1: Dogmeat

It was a fine fall evening. I was headed home from my friend’s house. She was seeing me off, waving, as her excited dogs dashed and pranced around her. The wind was once again blowing through my hair as dusk hinted at its arrival. The evening was always my favourite time to ride. I felt grown up, free and fast riding along the relatively deserted roads. Despite the increased traffic, I still love those late rides. As I said, there was waving, wind blowing and prancing. For some reason known only to canines, my friends’ dogs became very interested in me, my bike or something across the street. I tried to brake or swerve, but it all happened too fast. I struck the shelti right in the ribs. She skittered off looking at me like I had some sort of attitude problem, as light on her feet as always. Meanwhile I had gone ass over sissy brakes, but forgotten (somehow) to let go of my bike. I landed face down on the pavement with a fine set of handlebars cushioning the blow right across my thighs. In retrospect it’s better that my thighs were cushioned than my face or my shins, but I didn’t appreciate that at the time. I can’t remember if I told my friend her dog was stupid and got all huffy, but I know I wanted to.

Episode #2: Hayfever

Once again, I was at a friend’s house. It was a glorious summer day – August 22nd to be exact. We were playing in the field beside her house playing the game we’d recently invented. In the game, we imagined we were rent-a-cops on bikes. We would ride through the streets in her neighbourhood noting infractions to one another and taking our bikes to “the shop”. I’m not sure what we were doing in the grassy field, but I am sure it was riveting. We were about to set off to patrol the area. I was straddling my bike, not yet standing on the pedals. I couldn’t get my front tire to straighten out in the long grass. I lost my balance somehow (being me) and my bike tire, doing what bike tires like to do, rolled to the right. I fell with my bike. You may be wondering why I haven’t gotten back to tales of neighbourhood intrigue given that I fell off my bike from a standing position. It’s a fair question. The story is worthy because somehow – heaven help me – I broke my freaking arm in this fall. In two places actually, almost clean through. My arm looked like someone had taken the letter “s” and pulled on each end, but only a little. I passed out. I woke up and screamed bloody murder. I wore a cast for 13 weeks. It’s a wonder I’m not a hall-of-famer.

Episode #3: Superpavement

Just a few days ago (you knew where this was going), I was racing myself home, trying to beat my previous times. I was going about 20km/hr. It was definitely time to ease up on my racing goal, as I was about 100 metres from my front door, but hindsight is always 20/20. In yet another glorious cycling move, my tire got caught on the outside lip of the path I had been using. In that inexplicable way that one can do the same thing right 99 times out of 100, but be guaranteed to do it wrong every now and again, instead of just steering into the grass, or braking for that matter, I kept trying to get back on top. And boy, did I. My bike told me where to go and I flew like superman, arm extended, wind rippling. Too bad that instead of gliding through the air I was skidding along the pavement, helmet bouncing (yup, finally integrated the helmet). After what felt like an hour, my body stopped. My superman arm was exploding with pain. Kind people stopped to help and thankfully I was so very close to home. My shoulder on the other hand is pretty sure that superman sucks and I should never extend my arm again. Hopefully it’s wrong.

Just picture more pavement below.

* This may in fact be the crudest chop job of all time. With no photo editing software I had to get creative (i.e. even uglier than a purposefully ugly superimposed head should be).

October 19, 2011 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Cycling, Doing it the hard way | , , , | 4 Comments

Anything I set my mind to – Part 2

Silly me. My last post, Anything I set my mind to – Part 1, was so titled because I had a clear, sequel type idea that I wanted to explore in a follow up post aptly entitled Part 2. In a twist of “see, I told you I was a scatterbrain,” I have absolutely no idea what that brilliant thought (aren’t all forgotten thoughts brilliant?) was.

I do know this. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I wanted to do other things too, some that involved writing, but I always wanted to be a “writer”. And to me that meant something relatively specific. I wanted to write a novel, and sell it, and people would read it, and at least a few people I’d never met would like it. Ideally that would happen more than once. A repeat cycle. The problem? Never really thought I could do it. Never willing to take the risk. Always wanted someone else to discover me, like some model standing in line at the grocery store. I also didn’t want anyone to be right about how dreams and artsy fartsiness don’t pay the bills.

It’s funny. Instead, I did what I thought at the time was the practical variation of writer: Communication Studies. To an awful lot of people that would be pretty darn hillarious. I’m all for the liberal arts degree, and verbally smack people who talk about it as a go-nowhere, employment killer. But it’s not nursing; it doesn’t set you down in some obvious “practical” positions. Socrates and Marshall McLuhan (the medium is the message guy) do not a clear path make.

Aspiring writers are not a vanishing breed in the blogosphere so I don’t want to dwell on this self-imposed barrier. I consider myself relatively aware of my weaknesses and very practical. These two traits can be healthy but are difficult to reconcile. I truly believe that we all have things to contribute. But there are so many good stories out there, vast experiences and important memories. Isn’t it a little self-indulgent to think that I could make a contribution to that discourse? I’ve met me.

Thankfully, never doesn’t last forever. But I can see how never really believing – the art of the possible or whatever – can definitely slow these things down.

I’m maxed out on self-indulgence for now. Saying goodbye to my brilliant thought.

October 14, 2011 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Doing it the hard way, Self-reflection | , , | 4 Comments

Anything I set my mind to – Part 1

I’ve always felt conflicted about that child-encouraging adage: “you can do anything you set your mind to [doing].”

At the risk of sounding like Ms. Negative, can you really?

On the one hand, I think that the support and faith that this phrase reflects is fantastic. I certainly wish someone had taken me aside and told me this when I was 5, 8, 10, 12, 16, 22 – repeatedly. [This is a rare case of me not blaming my parents. This was so far outside their cultural experience, I could not expect it. But if someone had taken it upon themselves to let me know, I would have been quite pleased.] I truly believe that being told this has empowered people around me, given them confidence and drive to pursue difficult, mysterious, and seemingly out of reach things, and find success in that pursuit. If we set a goal, pursue it doggedly, take initiative, share our passions, there is a great deal we can accomplish.

On the other hand, I think that treating “you can do anything” like dogma can get us into some disconcerting thought patterns. Some people face extraordinary barriers and some do not. Many who do have barriers overcome them fantastically. They contribute to their community and the world in ways we would have never imagined. But some don’t. Maybe I’m being too black and white about this but, isn’t there an implication that if we believe anyone can do anything they set their mind to, and they don’t achieve that goal, that their failure is somehow their fault? That if that person had just tried harder, they too could have been a star on the path of their choosing? In revering those who can, are we shaming those that can’t or don’t?

To give a concrete example, I was talking with a colleague of mine about people with disabilities who have to advocate for themselves for the accommodations they require to succeed academically. Some are able to do so and in the best case scenario, are accommodated accordingly. One can easily recognize their ability to overcome adversity. In some cases, others who were not in a position to so advocate, struggle more to do so, or give up on accommodation entirely, are not given the opportunity or are seen as having failed in some way. We may think that they don’t have the valiant spirit necessary to succeed.

Is it helpful to tell a person with severe depression that they’ll feel better if they make it their goal to do so when just getting out of bed may be a daily struggle that person faces? Can we help but wonder if another person in a similar situation was able to do it, why can’t they?

I  suppose it’s complicated. I suppose the real message is that we should set our sights high. I suppose we should similarly be able to accept when we fail, or at least forgive rather than blame ourselves. As humans, we have limitations. Where do they fit in?

October 11, 2011 Posted by | Bad TV References, Childhood Complaints, Doing it the hard way | , , , | 6 Comments

I Prefer My “Maiden” Name and You Can Too (or Not).

I cannot express how excited I am. I am ridiculous.The wheels are in motion for me to return to the surname I enjoyed for more than a quarter century. And no. I have no confessions of relationship drama or emotional turmoil, which makes this much more fun. So why is this coming to a head now?

I’m quasi close to graduation and even closer to actually getting my degree (not online, you’ll be saddened to know). In a field where people actually do hang their piece of paper on the wall, I’d like to awkwardly change my name back only once. Now seems like a good time. But the other, maybe more important reason, is that some 4+ years ago there was an agreement between me and hypothetical people. “Good. So we’ll go with the name change. But you can change your name in five years, if you want.” I sent an ashamed email to a friend I knew would sympathize/scold me and thereafter, for practical purposes, owned the name change whole heartedly.

I had completely new documents and a corresponding new personality (I kid) within a month. I’ve been uncomfortable about this deal ever since. Not in a dramatic, “what have I done” sort of way. In more of a genuinely confused, send my mom a card with the wrong last name on it kind of way. Seriously. Cause if my name’s different, then my mom’s must be too, right? The point being, I have not embraced (or understood) with whole heart this new me.

This of course, is indicative of the negotiations and starting positions. I never thought I was going to change my name. Hypothetical people never thought they would have a partner who didn’t. What were a lover of tradition and a lover of her name and its meaning to do? As I understand it, some level of standoff is not uncommon. A friend I know characterizes it this way: her otherwise progressive and awesome partner turns into a neanderthal about 10 seconds into a discussion of why a woman needn’t change her name. Thankfully, I haven’t witnessed any cave-burning or club weilding.

It hasn’t escaped me that my name is my father’s. I get that that raises its own issues about patriarchy. But that doesn’t change that I feel more connected to his (my) last name than any other. I was also named in the traditional Portuguese manner, which means that my mom’s name also made the cut: Rose [Mother’s hard to pronounce maiden name] [Father’s Surname]. While my mom’s team doesn’t get listed in the phone book, it is still in there, which I’ve always liked.

Just to be clear, I’m not invested in how other people deal with this issue. In an ideal world, I suppose, I would prefer that there was at least a conversation, that people didn’t just assume that in the straight marriage scene every woman should and would change her name. There are those who keep, those who take, those who long to take because they hate that freaking name, those who keep and then take, those with different work and personal names, hyphenators, combinators and those who challenge marriage as a patriarchal institution and reject the whole deal. In classic liberal wishy-washy fashion – I dig. Name yourself as you will.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Doing it the hard way, Hypotheticals, Portuguese-ness? | , , | 11 Comments

Words (and other things resembling words) that warm my cockles: #8

(As a lover of words, phrases, lyrics, plays on words and so on, and someone seeking ways to better celebrate the little things, I’ve decided to develop a series dedicated especially to these linguistic trinkets.)

It’s been some time since I’ve done a Words that Warm post, 10 months in fact. In part, I was boring myself; in part, I had run out of words that I felt like celebrating. Don’t feel sad for me or hate my bad attitude (well you can, if you want). I didn’t want to dig for others. I wanted it to be a sort of organic exercise, rather than one focused on producing.

Today, I felt like celebrating a particular word. So here I am again:


I can’t hear this word without thinking that I don’t use it, think about it, or appreciate it often enough. The “g” isn’t the tenderest letter in the English language but I find the word pretty and dig its one syllable confidence. I love that it can connote physical, spiritual, or personal grace. While physical grace is not something I’ve ever been able to muster, I can appreciate it’s beauty in dance, movement, or manner of being.

As for spiritual grace, I can’t claim to be an authority on its more religious elements by any stretch, and it has meanings in numerous religions. However, back when I was a non-consenting party to Catholicism, one of my favourite themes was grace – as I understood it. In my tiny head, grace went beyond the idea of salvation. It was that bit of God-joy you could see reflected in someone’s small act of kindness, biblical or otherwise. I always found that a magical moment in church: when someone, a priest generally since mass was never a town hall meeting, spoke about kindness.

Today, for me, a person who demonstrates grace is able to voice their point of view while respecting the experiences and perspectives of others. They can call into question an idea without calling out a person. They exude poise without making a heroic effort to maintain their composure. Their ego doesn’t get in the way, which is part of why I think truly graceful people have the power to lead change.

There’s silent grace too of course, which is often harder to identify. Protagonists often have grace to share. Perhaps I would think many people exhibited it if I could see them the way I see a character in a novel.

I value this personal grace immensely. But maybe I’m giving grace far too much credit. Do muscles or a microphone give grace the boot more often than I’d like to think?

September 26, 2011 Posted by | Childhood Complaints, Words that warm | , | 4 Comments

Warning! Lecture Zone: Generalize at your own risk

There is one blanket statement that I can accept: “Blanket statements are the devil.”

The Dictionary of Rose, 30th ed., 2011 defines blanket statement as “a jerk-bum method of communicating that involves stereotyping to the nth degree and lumping the worst of anything in with the best and the averagest anythings.”

Clear? Probably not. What I am getting at is our willingness, me included, to say things that we don’t really mean. I’m talking about things beyond light-hearted exaggeration and sarcasm (though maybe we – yes, as a people – are far too willing to be insincere and coy rather than directly saying how we feel about something or someone). Call me some sort of accuracy fascist, or hater of artistic license, but I think casual society (how’s that for a phrase?) and the language pendulum have gone too far.  It’s just too cool to slam, disavow, and point out the worst. Criticism has its place but we should also be capable of giving positive feedback, and recognizing strengths, beauty and wonder.

Aside: I have been known to be hyper-critical in my day and I will acknowledge this. I can definitely overdo it, and focus more on the negative than the positive, though I’m learning I cannot hold a candle to some.

But my point is not our willingness to criticize. My real issue is one specific symptom of this critical culture: the earlier mentioned blanket statement. To achieve the desired effect of our statement, do we really need to say or imply that all X are/do/have Y? Really? How has language arrived at this place? Has it always been this way?

Essentially, I think we’re (often) too happy to make these all or nothing statements without acknowledging exceptions. Granted, you cannot follow every sentence with “well, not everybody.” But is there any reason we can’t use words like “sometimes” or “on Tuesdays” or “I feel like”? Heaven forbid we occasionally go so far as to say, “maybe I’m wrong but…” or “ it seems, in some cases”!

I could get over it. Just words, right? Sticks and stones and all that. However, I think carelessness with language has real harms. It stifles debate (because if you’re wasting time responding to garbage, you don’t get to make a real point) and contributes to the type of hyperbolic non-conversation that has been so damaging for example in recent American political debate. On a touchy feely level, it also just hurts sometimes or at the very least it annoys me – always (oops, there I go). Observe the table:

Statement Accuracy Level harm-unfairness-annoyance
Wool is itchy Not true The wool industry suffers from your negligent statement and what about lovely merino?
Women love shoes and shopping Not true If I don’t love shoes and shopping, I’m not a “real” woman
Canada is cold in winter Mostly true, but not everywhere, all the time When you travel to Antarctica in January people might say at least it’s not Canada
Lawyers have to work long hours to succeed Not true If you can’t work 80 hours a week due to life, family obligations or a disability, you  can’t be a lawyer. Too bad!
Mr. T is a useless teacher Not true Useless is pretty strong and I learned things from Mr. T
Canadian water is pristine Potable in most places, but not everywhere It ignores that numerous small communities and First Nations are often exposed to e.coli and other issues
Middle-aged white guys are all bad Not true We’d all be missing out on the lovely middle-aged white guys out there

While my examples aren’t serious, I am. Really, horrendously, embarrassingly serious. I cannot think of a time when a generalization has done any good. Let’s get comfortable with uncertainty and subtlety. Everything has a context and maybe we should be spending a little more time giving context to what we say. Maybe people are also more likely not to misconstrue our statements if we explain what we mean more fully. Or maybe not. See how I did that?

PS: I’m very interested in being/willing to be called out on this. Please.

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Bad TV References, Brackets, Childhood Complaints, Irritated, News, Wild Animals | | 4 Comments