“You should see the lake today Kate.”

I learned today that people can still give you good advice, even when they’re not here anymore.

Dad would regularly phone me as he made his way into the city, and give me status reports on the lake. On calm days, blustery days, windy days, sparkling clear days. The breakers, how incredible the waves were, how tumultuous or still it was.

“You should see the lake today Kate.”

I was a little sad and lost today. There are too few green things near me, and sometimes I forget what they’re meant to remind me of.

So I went to see the lake.

And now I am not so sad and lost.

You’re right dad, I should see the lake today. Thank you.

TheLake

3, 3, 9

Yesterday I sold my motorcycle. Today I was finally able to delete my last voicemail from my dad. The two are not separate.

I have always known I wanted to get my motorcycle license. At some point, it was going to happen. In old family movies, there is one scene of a very itty bitty me after I’d been hoisted up and allowed to sit on a cousin’s bike. I am grinning with my whole itty bitty body.

2015-04-27_1936-2

When I lived in Indonesia, I was giddy when I got to rent small displacement bikes and zip around the islands. It was the fulfillment of some very deep-seated very long embedded dreams. I’d be sat on the bikes, finally doing the driving, and still grinning with my whole body.

As I closed in on 30, I suddenly realized I had the time and means to make this happen for myself — to get my motorcycle license. I even had a parking spot, sitting there, just waiting for two wheels to occupy it.

So I got rolling. I signed up for lessons, still not sure exactly what my plan was (would I buy a bike? what would I use it for? would I ride alone, or find others to ride with?). But I started down the path figuring I’d figure it out as I went.

Then my dad, who I also adored with my whole being, suddenly had serious health problems. As I was taking my motorcycle training, he was being admitted to hospital. As I was shopping for my first bike, his was worse and worse news (though always delivered as if it were not). When I narrowed in on a particular bike, he had me tack up a picture of it up in his hospital room. When I came to visit, we would talk about how it was going. It was the thing to talk about that wasn’t the big scary thing in front of us. A redirection technique at which my dad was a master.

In my last voicemail from him, the one I’ve been resaving for 4 years, he is phoning me to celebrate the removal of his chest tube. He is proudly telling me how he got to help remove it himself, and how it means that he will be out of there in 24-30 hours (“Colour me excited”). He said he was just happy about it, and wanted to share that with me. Then he goes on to ask how it is going with shopping for my motorcycle, and hoping it’s going well, whether I’m just scoping out or if I’m buying. Then he signs off and hangs up.

Every time I listen to his message, I think of when we spoke when he first woke up from hip surgery. How he said that day, when he woke up, it was the greatest day of his life. All his Christmases and birthdays all rolled together — he was awake and alive. He’d been afraid before surgery, and all he’d wanted was to open his eyes again when it was over.

In this voicemail, I can hear his love and I can hear so much pure true dad. The happy, kind, generous and excited teddy bear of a dad. The one who calls to share his happy and excitement, and also to ask after yours with genuine interest, curiousity and support. In the years since he’s been gone, I have learned how unusual this made him, how little most of us do this for each other.

If I listen closely though, I can also hear that his voice is not right. Everything he says is cheery and full of relief and promise. But there are sounds on this call that belie that everything is not going to be okay. He clears his throat strangely, and there is a gurgling sound in it. When he hangs up, it takes a long time. He has some difficulty getting the handset into the cradle. The phone clunks around on the base for a while before the line goes quiet.

He called me and left that message on May 7th 2011. He died suddenly a couple of weeks later on May 26th.

I have not been able to handle this. I have missed him too much, and it has hurt too badly. The other day, my husband told me that after my brother called to tell me my dad had passed, I made a sound that my husband didn’t know how to describe. Then he realized that it was the sound he thought of when he’d watch The Princess Bride. The sound of ultimate suffering. The pain of your soul being wrenched apart. He said he still thinks of and remembers that sound when I am in pain now.

One of the only photographs I have of me on my bike was taken by my dad. I made my very first ride on my very first bike a trip to visit him in Oakville, shortly after he was out of hospital. He insisted on taking a photo of me. It is one of my favourites. I am smiling at my dad, and he is showing me he is proud of me.

CatNBike2

My plan had been to learn on my bike by driving out to visit my dad. I thought it was perfect. It would be a nice ride along the Lakeshore, and I could go out and see him more often. He wouldn’t need to pick me up from the train. I’d go out on Sunday mornings, and when we’d get together for work, and we’d have coffee (mine black, his mostly milk) and we’d watch the boats.

And then within weeks, he was dead.

And everything broke. And everything changed.

And I broke too. And I had this bike. And I didn’t have him on the other end anymore. What I did have was this new sense of death. Death right up close. Death up so close it smothers you. It turns off all the lights in the world and drains all the oxygen out of the air.

But I don’t like to give in, and I don’t like to give up. And if I just sold this bike, if I did what I wanted to do and laid down and died myself, that dream and whoever I was along with it, might go and always be gone, and I might never find it again. And what would dad do. What would it mean about life before and after. What if everything really was just gone and there was no colour and no dreams and no point and no life. But what if the only way out was through.

So I dug in – hard, blindly and unrooted. I decided I would finish this, I would get my full license. I’d zip my broken heart up and put on my helmet and jacket and I would do this thing — for the little (and medium, and full-sized) me who’d always wanted to, and because it was what I had started, a piece of the path that had just been blown apart. A road connecting before and after.

I’d passed my first test with flying colours, and my instructors suggested I’d be good as an instructor. I turned visits to my dad into much further and chillier early morning visits to my aunt’s farm. I’d arrive shivering (and a little purple) but triumphant, and re-anchoring to family I had drifted away from. I practiced, and took lessons, and got good. My bike and I appeared on the cover of the riding school pamphlet.

I got better, I learned how to handle a big unwieldy bike with skill and confidence, and I remained broken.

I kept practicing. And I took my second and final test. I passed it only 2 points shy of perfect. When I found out in the parking lot afterwards, I nearly sobbed with relief and pride and accomplishment and loss. When I got home, I let that sob out.

After that, I had some moments of pure bliss while riding. Riding in the early morning, through thick sweet meadow air just north of the city, coming across a pheasant, watching the sunrise, riding a motorcycle on open quiet long roads. It is heaven on earth. I felt absolute and total joy and comfort and ease.

And when it was time, on a cold Easter weekend, for my brother and sister and me to scatter a small box of my dad’s ashes, I rode my bike back out to Oakville to do it.

And back home, year over year, every time I picked up voicemails, I would resave my last message from my dad. Usually, I would skip it. 3, 3, 9. (Fast forward, fast forward, resave.) Very very rarely, I would listen to it. But mostly, I just kept resaving it. 3, 3, 9 and go on about my day. I’d notice I wasn’t ready to delete it, but not know why or when that could change. After a couple of close calls where I’d delete a run of spam messages and nearly hit 3, 3, 7, I saved a copy to a backed-up drive. As the years passed, I was able to delete his entry from my cell phone, my home phone, my address book, but I couldn’t delete that voicemail.

3, 3, 9.

The relief and joy of riding began to diminish, and as a couple more years went by, I noticed just how hard it was to get from the thick of downtown Toronto out to the fields and birds and soft and quiet. How I was trading 2 hours of cold and busy and angry drivers to get out to those fields and that peace. And how maybe it wasn’t balancing out.

Where was the line between the pain and the pleasure? What had I set out to do? Did I have any further to go, or had I arrived there while I wasn’t looking?

Yesterday, I sold my bike. One day, maybe I will buy another one. Maybe for now, I’ll rent. Maybe I will do some more off-road riding — starting and ending in the woods. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll enjoy all the future possibilities all that pain paved for me. Maybe I don’t need to rush. Maybe I’m not sure what happens next. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I go.

But yesterday, I let go of that bike, and today I was finally able to let go of that voicemail. This bike that I had this troubled relationship with, these big ups and big downs, I let it carry some of the pain of these past few years. The struggle. The struggle when the struggle was too tough to really make any sense. The freezing cold mornings to avoid the traffic. The desperate slogs out of the city to find somewhere there was oxygen in the air. What it felt like to try and figure out a way forward into a future you couldn’t imagine, and didn’t want.

I let them go just before the calendar ticks over to another year without my dad here, another year of never hearing a new voicemail, never hearing his voice say any more words. Every year, inching forward. Every year, figuring out how to breathe, what to hold on to, and which things it’s time to let go.

I think dad would understand, and I think he’d still be proud.

Christoph Niemann & Emotional Plants

I’ve been following The Art Assignment. If you haven’t taken a peek, pull your paints out and get on over there. In particular get on over there if you’re the sort of someone who loved making tempera and potato stamp masterpieces as a kid, then snagged a run of Cs in art class and thought “well… fuckit”.

Potato_heart_mutation

The show has grown from a great little sparkle of an idea just finding its sealegs, to a fully-kitted ahoy matey ship, ably captained by Sarah Urist Green. (I’m working on a tugboat game. Apologies for over-nauticalization.)

And then, in December, they blew my mind grapes – *sqwuh-pow* – because Christoph Niemann presented an assignment: Emotional Furniture. See Christoph Niemann’s “Illustrated Talk with Maurice Sendak“, and then anything else he’s done.

Quick version: Christoph’s assignment asks you to use only furniture and (unaltered) photography to evoke three emotions:  Envy |  Confidence |  Melancholy.

I decided to try it, but I let this assignment roll around my brain noggin for awhile, and it rolled over from many a week’s to-do list to the next week’s to-do list.

I could see it cresting on yet another roll over to yet another week, when I had the idea to try and use bathroom “furniture” (why yes, I was having a bath at the time). And then… I decided to use houseplants instead. As the ficus is the sink of the bedroom. Or, rather, as the bathroom needed a clean – there may have been a sparkly bath bomb involved – and I do love my plants. (And if I love them, perhaps there are other emotions germinating in there.)

I figured it was keeping with the spirit of The Art Assignment to tweak the original mission and make it my own, so, apologies to Christoph Niemann, here’s my first go at composing Emotional Plants. And following the Jack White no Pro Tools ethos, the constraints are what made it incredibly fun and satisfying to do. These fellas may be on to something.

Envy

envy-2Confidence
confidence

 

Melancholymelancholy

A +1 error

I have learnt, over the past decade, to be… judicious… in what sort of pretty inspirational type messages to share with my husbean.

Because he is a beautiful soul, attached to a relentlessly analytical mind, encased in a web of straightforwardness.

Yesterday, for instance, without thinking much about it, I mentioned to him how I enjoy the whole package of the idea “Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight” (nice poster here).

He thought about it for a moment. Then he went a bit quiet. I figured he was mulling it over and enjoying it.

Then he said: “….I think it’s a plus one problem.”

Me: “Come again?”

Him: “A classic plus one problem. If you assume you were standing to begin with, then you’d only need to get up 7 times. It’s a plus one problem.”

Me: “It’s not a… the math isn’t the… let the poetry breathe baby. Just let it breathe.”

You should see him when he’s working on one hand clapping.

:::

ETA: Another friend just pointed out “It’s not a ‘plus one problem’ it’s an ‘edges versus nodes counting problem’. Tell him that.”

I am only friends with romantics. 🙂

The Ghosts in the Machine

Thanks to Rob, itinerant linker and all-around thinking man’s vagabond, I’ve been reading Patrick Rhone’s Enough site.

This morning, I landed on page 4 and The Value of Email. It’s a thoughtful pondering on the place of email and email archives, guest written by Mike Rohde.

I have another point in favour of keeping your email archives. Archives that go back years and years. It’s not a super cuddly “up” sort of point, but here it is…

Death.

(It keeps coming back to death. Oh mortality, you attention-hogging cad.)

I’ve written before about the strange glitchy comfort that technology provided on the night of my dad’s death. When he had “logged off”, but his GChat had not. His status simply lapsed to “Away”, which was at once poetic, accurate, and unnerving.  Though first, it stayed as “Busy”, which, if consultants did sailor-style tattoos, was a status my dad should really have had inked in a heart on his bicep.dadchat

But beyond a lingering presence on a chat list, what I have are emails. Hundreds of them. Thousands? A sloppy filter I set up says I have 1,659 emails from my dad. In one account.

What a strange artifact of the mundane minutia of a relationship. What it’s really like to be friends with someone. Not a perfectly composed photo, but hundreds and hundreds of tiny exchanges. Give and take and send and receive, over and over and over.

That may be the strange niche of email archives. Because we dash off emails all day every day, they seem less precious to us than letters. But the snapshots they retain of a relationship are so much more deliciously everyday. In a letter, we tend to be our best selves. A little more scripted, a little more careful, a little better framed. They’re composed. Gmail may still use a big “Compose” button to start a new email, but that’s not often what we’re doing. We’re jotting and answering and pinging. “How’re you?” “Good, you?” “Good.” Emails are sometimes elegant and articulate, but often not. They’re many thin threads of caring and checking and supporting that tie you together.

I have not yet gone back through my emails from my dad. I’m not even sure how I would do that. It is the same daunting challenge of going though any archive, but at computer, not human, scale storage. I think I have kept them though not because I plan to go and meticulously reread them. Certainly not all, but perhaps not even any. I think they are there to thumb a finger across. It’s not an Ansel Adams compendium. It’s a flipbook of dad. It’s a million little gestures of kindness and humour and questions and answers and plans and dates. It’s friendship in funny little sketches. Archived.

It’s not a pretty whole but, as a whole, it’s awfully pretty.

3863276467_5752c3c43b_z

“How can we ___ while we also ___”

My dear old dad would have been 63 today. I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about that yesterday, so I took the long road around the landmines and set my brain to work on my taxes.

But the best laid plans something something kaboom, because my dad and I worked together. So my filing boxes have lots of little dad-isms lurking in them.

Including, apparently, this elephant:

BryanElephant2

Which dad drew while we were hanging out together during some after-conference dad’n’daughter time.

He thought it was a terrible drawing, while I thought was both fantastic and adorable, and I cajoled him into letting me keep it.

And on the reverse side, some actual work material (not that the elephant doesn’t look like a hard worker):

BryanElephantA good old Dad fill-in-the-blank to get you thinking. Letting ideas be in tension, and finding the balance. Looking the complexity of a situation straight in the ol’ eyebulbs, and figuring out how to deal with it.

On a day when I miss my dad especially, while remembering him with huge love… yup, it fits.

 

Your dream is not a hoax

My bro-in-law sent me the HUVr clip this morning.

“Lie” alarms went off in my brain, but I chose to hit snooze until the end of the video.

Why? Because I would like us to build some of the things we dream about. I would like for that to be true. For the same reason as everyone believes hoaxes — I want it to be real. I want people to be out there building transporters and hovercrafts and holodecks and sharks with frickin laser…wait, scratch that last one.

I also want the world to be just slightly different than it is. Hovering, sure — that gets at our deepest dreams of flight and fun. But what if mankind’s contributions to the world were more fantastical, less destructive? What if we built hoverboards instead of cars? What if applied science was applied to joy? How amazing, let’s do it!

I also want the world to be less of a sneering snidey place. I don’t want celebrities to cash in on being idols (Tony Hawk) and guides (Christopher Lloyd) — to gain people’s confidence only to trick them. That’s why these are the celebrities in the video. They are there because we trust them. You have to have trust before trust can be betrayed.

Pranks that prey on people’s dreams are gross. Sad in your job? Did this give you a blip of happiness? Haha, gotcha! There is nothing beautiful and fantastical out there, and people should laugh at you for believing there might have been. Gullible. Sucker.

It’s mean-spirited and it eats away at hope, trust and empathy.

It makes all of us jaded and wary, and it makes people feel silly for still having dreams. Which do we want (and need) more of: building dreams, or tearing them down?

I guess I’ll just have to get to work on building my own hoverboard. I promise, if I do, I’ll let you ride on it.

 

A Good Marriage: Using your words (and obscene hand gestures)

Not to use swears, but I am pretty darned good at just telling the husband what I need — and expecting him to do the same. I mean, fuck, games are for good times with buddies and bourbon sours, words are for gettin’ it done.

I like to be super specific. A la:

* “Could I have a hug?”
* “I could really use a cup of tea if you have a minute.”
* And, of course, one of my many obscene hand gestures. Those are his least favourite, in that he’s a fan of what they represent, but he finds them “not classy” or something. He’s my delicate little flower.

When it comes to gift-giving though, sometimes I outdo myself with my specificity (though I guess the hand gestures leave little to the imagination…):

From: Me <me@me.com>
To: Him <him@him.com>
Date: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 9:49 AM
Subject: Haaaaapppy
Valentine's Day to meeeeee Happy Valentine's Day toooooo meeee Happy Valentine's Day, dear Chaaaayyyyydaaaay Happy Valentine's day toooooooooooooo meeeeeeeee!: http://www.lush.ca/Love-Locket/05066,en_CA,pd.html#start=7

But you can buy the movie for $5

I was thinking today about some of the people who are gone, and some of what they said about being gone, before they left.

Went looking for footage of David Rakoff, wondering if he could still dance with no feeling in one of his arms, whose death preceded that of the rest of his body.

I found this:

npr

Thoughts on loss and death, stock parts in everyone’s humanity, are stuck in a traffic jam at the border.

Geddy Lee: Unwitting patron saint of airport joy

Just returned from spending 2 weeks in the Ecuadorian jungle with my excellent baby sister.

And oh, there are stories. Great stories. Because everybody likes snakes, right? Okay fine. But everybody loves baby monkeys. Including snakes, who like them… AS LUNCH! Har har har! Food chain humour. No? Moving on…

It’s possible that a trip which starts poorly can end well. But it is so much more enjoyable to me – as I am old and boring – when you have a trip which starts well and then continues to go well and then ends well. Like, say, how enjoyable it is to begin your trip at the airport with an auspicious sign.

Or auspicious individual.

Like Geddy. Fucking. Lee.*

Lemme a’splain.

I am at the airport at the ridiculously early appointed hour. The plane I’m catching is probably still on the ground in Atlanta, the baggage loaders taking a coffee break because why not, they have plenty of time. But when that plane arrives in Toronto I will be ready for it.

I pass without incident through US border control. For the first time in a long while, they don’t ask why my husband is not traveling with me. Which is good, because each time they ask, my knee-jerk cheekiness worsens. (“Guys, we have a situation. There is a fully-grown married woman travelling without her husband here. I know. I tried asking her but she just said something about it not being 1938 and then she showed me a permission slip he signed.”)

Then on past border control to baggage drop. I never ever travel with checked luggage, ever. But the little most excellent sister is working her butt off in the jungle without peanut butter and maple syrup and this cannot go on. So I am bringing a bag full of provisions. And pants. I wait behind the guy in front of me, who was just redirected to this conveyor, seems a little lost, and has quite a few bags to put on the belt. No worries. I’m in no rush.

I’m in no rush. But (you had to see this coming), HE SURE IS. The realization process in my brain goes something like this:

“Man I hate airports, they didn’t used to suck like this, it used to be an adventure and it was special not hostile okay, remember, I love my sister I love my sister do do do that guy has pretty distinctive hair I wonder if WHOOOOOLLY FUCK THAT IS GEDDY LEE IS IT GEDDY LEE I THINK IT’S GEDDY LEE YES IT IS MOST DEFINITELY GEDDY LEE GEDDY LEE GEDDY LEE”

Hubby and I will sometimes talk about celebrity culture. It’s a big old messy mixed bag. For the most part, I’m not into it. But I have tried to empathize with what motivates people to stand across the street from a hotel all day during TIFF to try and catch 10 seconds of sightline to someone who once pretended to be someone else while someone recorded it. And I circle back to the people who create things and think thoughts and say words I respect. The John Hodgmans and Joss Whedons. It’s a short list, but it’s there in my brain. A little list of people I would like to thank for being in the world and, by doing what they do the way they do it, making it more awesomer for all of us.

Two of the three members of Rush are on that list.

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson just seem like decent talented hardworking dudes. And I respect that Neil Peart prefers not to interact with his fans. That’s not confusing and it doesn’t offend me in the least. It’s why he’s not on the list, even as I take up drums. You just keep doing what you’re doing buddy.

But, along with the little short list, it is in my brain that in It Might Get Loud, Alex Lifeson did say that if a fan “wants an autograph or a hug or something” that that is a-okay. I feel like he’s authorized my request for hug when I see him on the street. Maybe just a high-five. Whatever he’s feeling like. I’m flexible.

Geddy also said he was fine with being approached by fans. But that he’d had to reconcile himself to the idea. That it was a choice to let it bother him or not, and that he’s fine with it now. “No big deal” I believe he said.

And yet.

I stand in line behind him as he loads his luggage onto the conveyor belt. And even though he’s on that very short list of people I’d assumed if I ever encountered I would definitely say “hey, just wanted to say that I think you’re fantastic”, it doesn’t… seem right.

Because it’s an airport. Because airports, even to the famous and accomplished, are just that side of hostile to humanity. Because no one wants to linger in security. Because he’s just trying to live his life. Because maybe someone saying “hey, you’re fantastic” is always welcome (especially somewhere hostile to humanity). But just as possible, he’d rather just get through here as quickly as he can. Just like the rest of us. His magical bass playing hands might not be human, but the rest of him is.

And, unless I’m wrong (which happens), I think he has that look. That slightly closed look of someone who is used to being approached, and is just sort of hoping that they aren’t going to be approached right now. Not unfriendly. Not mean. Just a bit heads down. An unspoken body language request to let him just be a dude on his way to a plane.

I end up with plenty of time to second-guess my decision to just enjoy the encounter as one-sided and let him be. We’re moving in the same clump, and I end up behind him twice more.

I am waved over for the hand wiping test thing they do now. I believe it is to test for explosives, so I’m not going to think too hard about what ensures I’m “randomly” selected every time. Geddy is not selected, but the woman administering my test says something totally unintelligible to him about how it is random and he can keep moving. He does not hear her, and steps in to have it repeated. I take the liberty of explaining that it’s random, and she said he can keep going. And so I have spoken to Geddy Lee. To explain that the hand wiping explosive testing I’m currently being subjected to by airport security doesn’t apply to him. Just how you imagined that conversation would go.

Then I go over to the plebian line for security screening, only to be redirected to the Nexus line, where I wait behind Geddy Fucking Lee. Again. I wait to put my shoes in a bucket behind Geddy Fucking Lee’s shoes. And then I pass through to reassemble myself behind Geddy Fucking Lee.

And then off he goes. Whisked through a “this secret part of the airport probably sucks considerably less” super sekkrit door.

I am not alone in recognizing him. Or, it seems, in deciding not to say anything about it (oh Canadians you adorable bastards). As soon as Geddy is out of sight, the security agent turns to the guy beside her and Rush gushes: “Do you know a band called Rush?” Him: “Huh?” Her: “RUSH! That was Geddy Lee!!”

The guy beside her did not know Rush, but, as so often happens among teh ladies, our mutual love of Rush brought us together (boom stereotypes, boom). My contained enthusiasm and surprise and happiness finally bubbles out and I gush that I know a band called Rush, and how seeing Geddy Lee just made my whole day. Her: “Mine too!”

A little bit of humanity in pre-flight. It’s not the same as getting to tell Geddy Lee he’s fantastic, but I’ll take it. Maybe next time…

*Apologies to Mr. Lee, but I am physically incapable of referring to him any way other than “Geddy Fucking Lee”. Because he is Geddy. Fucking. Lee.