There are some great things about having a mid-life crisis. But as with any shitty gift from the Universe, the benefits are not immediately apparent. I go through the same process before I get it. Which looks like this:
1. Freak out because some part of my life sucks and I can’t take it anymore.
2. Wallow around Whole Foods until I see an eye-catching poster for a self-help guru, healer or workshop.
3. Make a list of things that make my life suck.
4. Fix those things. (more…)
Just at the moment, the walls of my crisis viper pit started closing in. Just when I had resigned myself to a life of wallowing in mucky bad choices I’ve made, a little crack of light appears.
I enrolled in a watercolor class.
First attempt at a self-portrait. So keep your shitty comments to yourself
It occurred to me that the only difference between a wealthy, successful person and me is that she would probably take this gift of free time to take a watercolor class instead of binge watching Frankie and Grace (which I’d already finished).
There’s a certain freedom in taking these classes in my mid 40’s. I no longer feel pressure to make a career of it. In my 20’s, if I invested in a yoga program, it was to pay my way to travel the world, by offering yoga retreats to wealthy unemployed women. If I took a cooking class, it had to be the first step to opening a restaurant. Now all I want is to get out of the house.
“Wow,” says Alice when I tell her why I can’t meet for our Wednesday coffee date. “You’re so brave.”
Alice says this only because she doesn’t follow the news and also because she knows I have zero artistic talent.
Is it a Canadian thing not to try anything we aren’t already good at?
It used to be my thing until I just impulsively signed up.
In the first class, I’m totally blown away by how loud and limiting my creative process is.
As soon as I walk in the room, I can tell everyone is better and more experienced at painting than me. For starters, it’s obvious no one else had purchased their paint set from the dollar store. My stomach squeezes a little.
Done with ZERO drinks. Can’t you tell?
The voice in my head says, “You’re going to suck.”
My asshole voice is super pleased when people pull out their paintings – most of which are already half finished and awesome.
Then I remember seeing an ad at Whole Foods for a painting class called, “Anyone Can Be A Great Artist If They’ve Had Enough To Drink.”
At the very top of the supplies list was:
One bottle of wine – or 1 pre-rolled joint – whatever works for you. Wine quiets that asshole voice, the editor that bungs up any creativity that wants to come out. Every time someone stops painting to criticize their work, the teacher pours them a glass of wine or offers a lighter and tells them to keep going.
I remember thinking I should sign up, but I wasn’t ready to dedicate my life to becoming a professional artist.
I start to sketch out what I want to paint. I’ve got a thing for abstract designs of nature. Like Emily Carr, because any moron should be able to paint like that on her first try. I look around the room and notice most of the excellent artists use a picture or photograph as a guide. But since this is my first time, I decide to enter at pro level and freestyle.
When I write, I also start off by comparing myself to Margaret Atwood or David Sedaris and immediately start freaking out because my writing totally sucks compared to theirs and now I’m going to die a miserable failure. And then, if I can pick myself up from that, I attempt a project that will cause me the maximum amount of stress possible – like deciding to write, act in and produce an hour-long one-woman show.
And when I can’t manage that, I toss myself back in the viper pit and wallow.
Sitting in this painting studio, brush in hand, I can see this whole pattern laid out in front of me.
This is why I’m here – to break free from that shitty cycle – without the aid of medication (although, don’t think I wasn’t tempted to smoke a joint right then and there.)
I tune out everyone around me. Stop looking across the table at the woman feigning humility as she adds finishing touches to her beautifully executed “Still Life in a Zen Garden.”
Instead, I just let myself breathe. Feel the bench beneath me. My feet on the floor. Then I pick up a brush and begin, first with the light colors, then carefully layering the darker details.
Every time, I tell myself that it’s not going well. Every time I make a mistake, I tell that asshole voice, “It’s just an experiment. I just want to see what happens – so fuck off.”
Then, I hear a voice that isn’t my regular asshole voice say, “Whatever wants to happen will happen.” Because no one can totally control the paint. It goes where it wants to – especially if you add too much water. But you just have to go with it. Watercolor paint demands that you follow and make the best of it.
It was supposed to be the sun, but I have no idea what happened
Whatever wants to happen will happen. That’s the great take away. That’s the new metaphor I’ve been searching for. The one that erases my compulsion to foresee the next five steps before I even take one. The one that makes sure I don’t try anything unless success is assured. The one that equates success with perfection and so keeps me safe in bed, popping Ativan, like Melania Trump (probably).
Anyhow, none of that prevents my painting from seriously sucking. Even now when I look at it, I have no idea what I was trying to do. But I don’t even care. And I’m still going to go back next week.
Modern Parenting Manual – unless you’re a Tiger Mom
You know the worst thing about being a modern woman? I’ve been trained to appreciate the potential value in everything. Like a cubist, I contemplate each situation from every angle, which makes reality seem fucked up, much like one of those paintings. It also makes it difficult to take a hard line on anything. A lack of black and white reasoning makes parenting very challenging.
To tiger mother or not to tiger mother, this is the question.
During the summer, when my entire life revolved around the summer swim club, I spent a lot of time with bonafide Tiger Mothers. At first, we barely acknowledged one another. After all, what could I ever say to a woman, with zero facial flaws, who dresses in Gucci to watch her eight-year-old swim lengths?
While I can’t imagine what she might say to a spotty looking woman, hunched over her Starbucks cup, muttering about stupid rules that prevent her from throwing a piss-stained mattress in the alley.
Swim club Tiger Moms and I come from two different worlds, but eventually, we found the humanity in one another and built a connection. After one particularly lovely exchange, I say casually, “We should get the kids together for a playdate.” (more…)
My apologies for dropping the ball for the last three weeks.
I’ve been trying to find a job for the last month and have understandably been too depressed to write a blog post. That’s because nothing brings up the self-doubt more intensely than putting myself out there, best foot first – only to discover no one is buying what I’m selling.
I’ve applied for 22 jobs and have not been called for one. Single. Interview.
If I’d gotten any of those jobs, I would have failed, and my life would have sucked. That’s what hurts.
It kills me that I’m trying to get something I completely do not want. I don’t want a job. There. I said it. I’ve tried to succeed living a conventional life, and it has resulted in:
Two breakdowns – bad enough that when our family doctor sees me coming, he cringes just a little.
Loss of three friendly acquaintances because I made them uncomfortable. Nothing I can prove, or speak directly to – but suddenly they’re all too busy for coffee, and I don’t seem to be getting constant Facebook updates like I used to.
Which had resulted in experiments with useful self-medications – including binge watching every half-decent Netflix series, excessive dependency on gin, being an asshole to people who don’t deserve it, and nameless, faceless sex (with my husband) (more…)
Rufus is a Maltese who was supposed to belong to my daughter, but as soon as he grew to full-size and would no longer submit to dress-up or photo shoot sessions, she lost interest, and all of his care fell to me.
His eyes say “Kill me now.”
A dog is like having a new baby. We got him when he was three months old, and I had to take a week off work, mostly because once again this new baby woke me up every hour to pee, or freak out or just say hi. I also had to be at home to toilet train him because this delightful process involved getting him on a regular schedule of sleeping, feeding, walking and pooping. When he misbehaved, like when he ate my favorite pen or chewed up my $50 throw pillow, he was testing boundaries – just like any other kid. Every few months, I still have to renew the process of reminding him who’s Alpha around this house. I do this by catching him right in the act and giving him hell. When I try this with my kids– they ignore me until I completely lose it. Then they roll their eyes because – well, Mom’s acting crazy again.
Rufus makes me feel like a parenting rock star. Unless he sees a bird. Then he forgets his name, his training and how stupid I look running after him like an idiot.
Rufus never complains about how I prepare his dinner (a scoop of kibble with a little freeze dried liver sprinkled on top as a garnish), but my human kids pretty much hate everything I make them, no matter how hard I try. And they make a big-ass deal about letting me know.
“God, mom. This is disgusting.” They couldn’t care less about the waste or how much someone would appreciate what they were given “…then you should just send it to China.”
Rufus doesn’t pretend to gag at dinner time. He just shuts his fucking mouth and chews.
Rufus never talks back or screws around when it’s time for bed. He doesn’t squirm when I give him cuddles. He doesn’t throw his clothes around. Raising Rufus has been my chance to redo all those moments I totally messed up raising my human kids. Yes, it’s true. Rufus is my kid. The only one who actually listens to me. So I arrange play dates for him with other dogs he likes. I take him to doggy daycare, so he doesn’t have to spend the day alone when I go to work. I drop $70 for his shampoo and haircut. But only because the doggy spa also throws in an anal gland cleaning. Some things about my favorite child are gross, but it doesn’t diminish my love for him. Especially since he shows his appreciation by losing his shit every time I walk through the door. While my flesh and blood don’t even look up from their screens.
I can’t take her anywhere
But here in Yaletown, where some of the world’s cleanest, most pampered fur-children live – the Health Board will not allow me to bring Rufus into my favorite coffee shop. But they place zero restrictions on my other kids, even when they obviously haven’t bathed in a week. Even though they’re the destructive ones. If Rufus and I went to a restaurant, he would sit quietly on my lap, while my other kids have, from time to time, screamed their heads off, or raced around the room like wild animals. They’ve spilled hot chocolate, splattered spaghetti sauce and left smears of stickiness for the wait-staff to clean up. They’re the ones who should be tied up outside.
My devotion to this dog has not gone unnoticed by my friends. The other day, Alice and I tried to catch up over coffee. But I was distracted. Rufus was barking plaintively outside. The same mothering instinct that made me cry when the public health nurse vaccinated my babies by holding them down kicked in and I could barely hear what she was saying.
“Why don’t you apply for an emotional support dog license?”
Since I suffer from a wide-range of emotional issues including anxiety, low self-esteem, and occasional insomnia, I can register my dog and for $70 get a card which will gain Rufus admission into any public place, including grocery stores and the library – so long as he’s kept in a purse.
Now, the next time I hand over my credit card to pay for $300 worth of groceries my kids won’t eat, I can just pull Rufus out of my stylish dog-purse and stroke him until everything is right with the world again.
It’s so great to finally meet a woman who’s not crazy
Alice met her first husband in June 2006, when meeting someone on-line was still weird. She was on the site because when she turned 30, Alice’s friends told her it was time to date outside her “type”- who were genuine losers. I’m talking professional conspiracy theorists and BC ferry cafeteria workers. To break free of this cycle, she decided to cast her net wide, with just one dating rule –to say Yes to everyone who asked her out.
When she showed me this one email thread, it was clear that the man who would be her husband was different. His emails were brief, to the point, without a hint of flirtation.
On the day they were supposed to meet, Alice, couldn’t stand sitting through a forced conversation with some square, so she didn’t show up.
He called 15 minutes later.
“Are you so weak and disrespectful that you can’t even call and cancel like a decent person? Or do you just lack integrity?
Nothing turns Alice on like being called out on her shit, so they arranged to meet for a drink that night.
The conversation was stilted until she asked her killer first date question: “What are your post-apocalyptic skills?”
By his answer, it was clear this was a man who could find and defend their water and food. This was a man who would fight off zombies… and win. She was smitten.
They moved in together soon after and she entered a foreign world. He didn’t have roommates. None of his furniture came from thrift stores. And he had not one, but two complete sets of bedsheets.
He’d also graduated top of his high school class, which assured him a spot in the country’s best university. He chose his major solely based on earning potential. Got a full scholarship to a grad school in Paris. Then immediately landed a high paying job. By the time she met him, he was mortgage-free.
While Alice, on the other hand, had quit her union job to hitchhike across Canada with a guy who’d almost come fifth place in Abbotsford’s annual Elvis impersonation competition.
I’d always admired how Alice had relished in her free-spiritedness, but now she wanted what he had: security, competence, economic success. So she found a decent paying job, which required her to wear pantyhose and work in an airless cubicle.
But this was the beginning of their relationship, so her work day was peppered with cute little calls, just to check in.
His calls went something like this:
I just got a promotion and a huge pay raise. Let’s book a trip somewhere.
Alice’s went like this:
You’ll never believe it! Someone from WestJet called, and I just won a holiday for two at a resort in Cancun! All I had to do was give the guy my credit card number and some banking information…
Her boyfriend would then spend the rest of the afternoon, canceling those cards and convincing the bank to reverse charges.
The first time Alice lost her phone, it was somewhere in a field, during a terrible rain storm. Her boyfriend had a find my phone app, but he wouldn’t let her touch his phone, so he went out looking. After an hour, Alice found her phone in a pocket, at the bottom of her purse.
After a few years of trying, and failing to succeed in the 9 to 5 world, Alice was in the throes of a full-blown mid-life crisis. We could all see that she had to obey the signs or risk a nervous breakdown. But she was terrified that her soon-to-be husband would finally lose all confidence in her, so I helped her create a spreadsheet, which clearly outlined how it was more cost effective to prevent her from going crazy than to actually let her go crazy. He reviewed the numbers and agreed that she should quit her job.
Then a funny thing happened. After watching Alice land a few freelance contracts, which paid some bills, and also allowed her to go for midweek hikes and afternoon coffees with friends, he began to question his own career choices.
He wanted something new.
So Alice encouraged him to look deep for something he’d always wanted to do, but was too afraid to try.
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“We’ll be fine. Imagine your life if you were doing something that thrilled you.”
So he settled on day trading. Which is basically socially condoned gambling. He read books and followed blogs. He researched and tested systems. At night Alice said they would lie together and he would explain details of his new hobby, and she would pretend to understand what he was talking about.
Then out of the blue, Alice said he stopped talking. He slammed doors, and when they went to bed, he’d just roll over and go to sleep. Finally after two weeks of this.
“What’s going on with you?”
He didn’t talk for a while and couldn’t even look at her.
“I bet on some options and lost it all.”
“What do you mean. All?”
“Like everything. All of our savings. Everything.”
Alice told me later that she couldn’t speak.
Because inside something was welling up. Something that felt like lightness, buoyancy. Giddiness.
Do you know what this means?
“I’m no longer the screw up in this relationship. Nothing I’ve ever done or will ever do could ever be as bad as what you’ve just done.”
Now she was the rock building up a crushed ego after a devastating fall. This was Alice’s domain. For a change, he had to lean on her.
Everything changed after this…her relationship was defined now by mutual respect and admiration — which is way hotter than being called out on shit.
Then once again, she lost the iPhone she’d just bought to replace the one she’d lost the month before. Her husband started freaking:”Do you know how much those things cost…”
“More than a few hundred thousand dollars?
Then shut the hell up.”