Things I wish someone would have told 22-year-old-me

To my younger self,

I know that things may seem difficult, or frustrating, now. You may be impatient for your “life” to begin; you may feel cheated or betrayed by things that have happened, sorrows you have suffered. You think that you know what is important to you, and even what will make you happy. You look at people around you that seem to have everything, and you wish that you could have what they have. You know you are smart, talented, hard-working, and that you have “everything going for you”, even if you know that part is just on paper. You are right about the last part. But let me explain to you what I have learned about the rest.

1.  You live your life in the journey. Don’t roll your eyes at me. I am you: older, wiser, a better golfer, and by the way, better looking and funnier, too, so cut me some slack and listen for a bit. Patience will be one of the hardest won rewards you will earn. But you will find it, bit by miniscule painful bit. Remember when you thought you would absolutely die waiting for Christmas morning to come, or the spring thaw so you could finally get out and throw a softball with Ange? You learned to solder through those interminable waits, didn`t you? Granted, some are more heart-wrenching, and anxiety-filled, and lonely, but with the right frame of mind, you can get through other periods of waiting, too. Waiting for your first love; waiting for your first big tournament win; waiting for news on a health condition, or a case that you ran, or for a particularly savage winter to finally end. And while you wait, as many wise people have said, your life is lived, and your stories are made.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If you spend your entire life waiting, you are wasting those years, sometimes staring intently in the wrong direction. But if you know in your heart that something is worth waiting for, then wait. It may be that what you find is different than what you thought you were looking for, but the process will bear fruit.

2. Everything happens for a reason. This doesn’t mean that you are “destined” to experience or accomplish certain things. But everything that happens to you is a lesson that will serve you well later. You won`t know it at the time, and it will hurt like hell, to lose your first boyfriend, or lose a spot on the provincial team to someone four years younger than you, or find that your best friend has been telling tales told to her in confidence.

Honestly, I don’t know if these lessons only become important if certain things happen later on in your life. But I know that they are important, and that they start to make a strange sort of sense after awhile. If you have a good sense of humour (you do), you will even learn to laugh about it. People will think you’re nuts, but that’s ok. They’re likely the ones missing the boat anyway.

3. You feel things extremely deeply. This is a blessing and a curse. Life from the lens of your psyche is truly a rollercoaster. You will have choices, from time to time, to get off the rollercoaster and board a more gentle, civilized ride. I don’t know what the right decision will be for you. But for me, it was to accept the rollercoaster and learn to deal with the lows. Because the highs make it somehow worth it. And you are a creative soul, and even the lows bear their own bitter fruit.

4. You think that you know what is important to you. You might be right. But I am pretty sure you are wrong, and were wrong for a couple of decades, at least. This isn’t your fault. You are responding to your environment in the best way you know how. Remember, I know you very well. I know that when you face a difficult decision, you almost literally wage a battle inside you between reason and emotion, logic and instinct. I know every decision you have ever made, and I have lived the consequences of them. So believe me when I say: trust your instincts. Always. Even when they don`t make sense. Trust what they are telling you about you, and what is important to you. It may save you from trying to please everyone before taking care of yourself. It may seem crazy, but if your heart keeps telling you to do it, carpe diem and do it. Because if you don’t, you’ll come back around the circle again and face it again later, and the decision may be that much more difficult to make.

5. You think that you know what will make you happy. I guess you know this already, on some level. But you are prone to making decisions that will make you feel secure, and loved, and wanted, and envied, and important. Do these things make you happy, or do they just fill a void? What makes you happy? What do you do when you have complete freedom to choose what to do with your day? Use that as a guide. Hint: it involves being outside, and being around people, and the sun. Always the sun.

6. The people around you that seem to have everything, don’t. I’m not saying that there aren’t things to strive for, but you will never know the burdens that others carry. You might be able to catch a glimpse of them at times, but you do not know what demons they battle. It may be mental illness, or low self-esteem, or a history of abuse, or they may be surrounded by emotional vampires. Try not to wish that you are someone else, because that is a luxury you will never be afforded. Turn your face to the sun each day and soak up whatever happiness is available to you, that day, period.

7. If it feels wrong, don’t do it. Really. It’s actually that simple.

8. You learn from mistakes. Always. That means that you will make mistakes, because you don’t believe it until you see it. But you already know this. Remember this when you start beating yourself up for a big mistake. It’s your way, and you always learn from it, so accept it and enjoy the ride.

9. Don’t do what other expect of you, or make decision to please others. This works for some people, at least on a superficial level. It will not work for you. Why? You know why. Because you are a free spirit and you need to float on the wind, and dance in the rain, and laugh in the face of adversity. This is what makes you feel alive. Try to remember this and be mindful of it every single day.

10. Money doesn’t matter. Don’t stop reading here. This is important. You’re happy right? You sometimes barely have enough money to buy a coffee on the way to class, and you have to save up for that skirt you saw in Club Monaco last week. You have been taught that money is important and that you should feel anxious if you don’t have enough. That is total bullshit. Don’t buy into it. If you want money, go out and earn some. But don’t let it run your life.

11. Don’t burn bridges. Unless you really know that you don’t ever want to travel that bridge again. Then blow that shit up.

12. When you have repetitive bad dreams, it is because you are not listening to the universe. What is bothering you? What conflict or difficulty are you avoiding? Deal with it, and the dreams will go away.

13. Sleep. Sleep at night, nap in the day. I know that you love your bed, the silky, cool, clean feel of the covers as you slide in on a lazy afternoon with the sun shining in the window. You are happy there. To hell with the rest of the world; sleep is therapy for you. So use it.

14. You have a kind, loving, generous heart. You got this from your mom. Don’t roll your eyes at me. You know that your mom always acts from her heart and would do anything for you. You have this in you, too, and it is one of your strengths. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is a sign of weakness, because they are wrong. It will gather wonderful people around you, and it will help you identify who is not worthy of your limitless ability to love. Don’t hide it behind a facade.

15. Swing on the swings, dance in the rain, say things that might get you into trouble. Make choices just because they feel right. That is where the living begins, and that is where the greatest stories are made. And you always will love a great story. And with any luck, some day you will write it as well.

 

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The Universe is Yelling at me

Sometimes this is a good thing.  We as humans have been taught to ignore our instincts, to devalue them, to look down our noses at people who do follow their instincts. And I honestly don`t know what force is at work. But I do know that I now stop and listen when the universe yells. Because it has not steered me wrong yet. Whereas my overdeveloped primate brain has steered me wrong. PLENTY.

Married two lawyers. That was not instinct, I can tell you that. Stupid brain.

Stayed in a career I hated for almost twenty years. That was definitely not instinct. All other animals know to run and not look back when their instincts tell them to flee.

And you know what? I`m pretty sure the universe has never yelled at anyone:

HEY!  HEYYYY!!!! You are enjoying your life TOOOO much. Go get a job that takes over your life, makes you feel important, stresses you out, and makes you stay in it because you are afraid to go back to not being important. YOU NEED TO BE IMPORTANT!

No. The universe is not interested in any of that. What it does seem to be interested in, is:

1. self-awareness

2. playtime

3. naptime

4. meeting and learning from new people

5. pushing past your comfort zone.

6. doing the things you dreamed of as a child.

 

Problem with that is, I always wanted to be a cowgirl. Who knows, maybe it will be fun.

Inner Good Girl, GET THEE BEHIND ME!

Each time I think that I can’t handle any more instability, every time I think I have thrown off the last shackle of convention, I see myself in the mirror, and I say:

REALLY? I have that much further to go?

Today (again), I was ready to give up. I’m broke. I mean really broke. Borrowing money from random people broke. I didn’t make my mortgage payment. Well, except that I did. GODDAMMIT I CAN’T EVEN DO THAT RIGHT! My bank account balance is -$927.41, so I suppose that means that my mortgage payment went through, even though I only have a $500 overdraft. I thought that was going to be “the moment.” The moment when I said, I can’t take this anymore, I’m going to be responsible and get a real job, and just be a miserable zombie in a suit like everyone else in this fucked up world.

But my mortgage is paid (sort of. I can`t wait to see what kind of nasty “service charge” they try to throw at me this time. But what are they going to do? Change my bank balance to -$1927.41?). See? I’m still thinking like a sheep. I was aghast at the idea that I was going to be one of THOSE people who were (gasp) in arrears on their mortgage.  Which means, I suppose, that I’m not really one of those people. Yet. I have always paid my bills – mostly on time. I have a decent credit rating (but not for long).  I care about my credit rating.  God, do I have a long way to go.

Sooooooo….. Now what? Well, I’m going to finish my goddamned book for starters. And if I have to ask my ex-husband for some of my money that’s tied up in a piece of real estate, or if I have to go crawling to my parents who supported my brother until he was THIRTY FIVE (Yes, I was yelling just now) and ask for some money, SO WHAT? I DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT ANYMORE. I JUST HAVE TO BE HAPPY.

So for one blessed month (more if I can rationalize it in a month) I am going to do nothing but write. And put on flowing skirts and headbands and hoop earrings and look mildly crazy but who cares – I AM A WRITER.  And if I need to dress like one to feel like one, then I will do it. If I need to eat oatmeal for breakfast and a handful of nuts for lunch because that’s what is in my cupboard, then I will (And get one of my friends to buy me a Blizzard. See? I really do have a long way to go.)

Yay me. Get thee behind me, good girl. I am exorcising you, one always-pays-her-bills, wears-event-appropriate-clothes, doesn’t-want-to-look-like-a-crazy-person nonconformist teensy step at a time. But I couldn’t put on the flowy skirt today, because it really didn’t work with the brown headband. Maybe tomorrow.

A brief flirtation with a parallel universe, where love conquers all

I don`t waste a lot of time with Could-Have-Beens, especially now, almost ten years after I left my first marriage. But music occasionally transports me back to a time when things were sweet, and right, and hopeful, and I could have never possibly imagined them going so very wrong.

So I sit here listening to my first husband`s favourite artist, James Taylor, singing alongside my favourite artists, the Dixie Chicks, and I can see the shimmer of a different reality out of the corner of my eye. One where we continued on together, living the dreams we once dreamed, and watching our children grow to be wonderful young men, together. There is beauty in that kind of simplicity.

When you are young and naive, when the whole world lies before you, it does seem sometimes that love will be enough, that it will buoy you together through all kinds of weather, through storms and droughts and long periods of conflict masquerading as stillness.

But somehow our hands, so tightly woven together, began to loosen their grip. First it was work, that took so much time and energy and spirit out of the both of us. And then it was kids, that, well, took so much time, and energy, and spirit, out of the both of us, labour of love though it was.

How did we begin to look to each other with demands and expectations, instead of love and acceptance? We both knew better, once. How did the love turn to hurt and betrayal, so much so that he has not looked at me since without a shade drawn over his eyes.

When did he begin to look at me with disdain, I wonder? Had I changed or had his expectations changed?  And for my part, how did I begin to see him as a wholly different person, one who limited and stifled my spark? When I think of us in those early years, I only remember laughter, and shared dreams, and talk of our future children’s misadventures.

But instead, I sit here itemizing the financial remains of my second failed marriage, not really wishing so much as wondering. Because I have been over it, again and again, and the outcomes remain the same. When I was small I drove my parents crazy asking, “Why?” “But why?” And now I drive myself crazy, asking, “Why?” “Just why?”

 

Elephant Enlightenment, Dysfunctional Family Style

PurpleDumbo

Elephant Enlightenment – Dysfunctional Family Style

There are certain events from my childhood that have echoed through my life with disproportionate significance. The Dumbo the Flying Elephant Debacle is one of them.  On a family visit to Disneyland when I was five years old, I had no greater wish than to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant.  But for reasons beyond my ability to comprehend, we had to wait all day before I could finally soar above Fantasyland aboard a fibreglass elephant with freakishly large ears.  To this day, I remember the sense of frustration and unfairness that overshadowed a day that should have been a highlight of my young life.  I was the precocious younger sister in a family of two children. My older brother was the perfect, quiet, sometimes sickly well-behaved child. In stark contrast I was the inquisitive, persistent, and rambunctious little girl with energy to burn.
That day at Disneyland, all the signs were there that I was not, as I have always been told, the Golden Child in my family. There was ample evidence of this that day, and over the years. But childhood in a dysfunctional family is often fraught with contradictions.  The public face of the family is there to disguise the dysfunction within, whether it be alcoholism, workaholism, or physical abuse. 
 
One of the hallmarks of the dysfunctional family is denial.  As part of the smokescreen created to hide the dysfunction within, children are often assigned specific roles in the family. For example, a child may become a scapegoat to divert attention from the behavior of an addicted parent.  Another typical role is for a talented child to be set up as an overachiever or “golden child” frequently paraded to the world as a shining example of what must obviously be a healthy, nurturing, family.  As a result, children in this type of environment often grow up to doubt their perceptions, having been told throughout their developmental years that what they were seeing was actually something quite different.
 
In my case, I believed I was the Golden Child because I was brilliant, accomplished, charming, and athletic.  I was told that my brother and I were treated the same.  I believed that the world revolved around me, because I was the golden child and therefore the world was my oyster. Except that it wasn’t.   The world revolved around my alcoholic parent first, and my brother, the first-born male, second. I actually came last. This was evident that day at Disneyland, although I didn’t realize it for years, because I was always told that the world revolved around me, and that I should be eternally grateful for my vaunted position.
Which brings us back to Dumbo the flying elephant.

So there we were at Disneyland. Early in the day I became transfixed by the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. There it sat, in all its glory, in the middle of Fantasyland, among other, far less trance-inducing attractions such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I used all of my charm and persuasive skills to convince my parents to let me ride Dumbo, or one of his eight to twelve variously coloured incarnations.  I’m sure it went something like:

MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY: Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?  Can we go on Dumbo?

Disneyland’s current promotional description of that very ride lends gravitas to the tragedy of my lengthy wait:

“Soar high in the sky on a fanciful flight above Fantasyland aboard Dumbo the Flying Elephant. . . It’s an exhilarating thrill that is sure to lift your spirit and remind you that, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible!”

(taken from: ) https://disneyland.disney.go.com/attractions/disneyland/dumbo-the-flying-elephant/


But for some reason I had to wait.  So, as the non-Golden Child, I toddled along that day to every single other attraction that anyone else in my family had the remotest interest in seeing.  And finally, after five or six bouts of tears, my mom and I finally rode Dumbo the flying elephant.  It was the purple one. It was the highlight of my young life.  My dad and brother didn’t bother to ride it. They thought it was too lame.  This was another lesson that I learned early in life: other people have the right to make you feel like what you want either doesn’t matter, or at the very least is stupid, girly, and not worthy of their time. 

I would like to be able to say that I saw all of this for what it was, and valiantly rose above the limitations of my dysfunctional family.  But alas, I did not.  I spent many years over-achieving and considering anything less than perfection to be a failure, and believing that all of my accolades made me the Golden Child worthy of praise and unconditional love. But after decades of watching my brother get preferential treatment on everything from deciding what restaurant to go to, to financial support, my brainwashed mind finally saw that (gasp) the world is not a meritocracy. And my family certainly wasn’t either.

I would also like to be able to say that I took this realization with great grace and aplomb, and carried on with head held high and self-esteem intact.  But that isn’t how these things tend to work.  Instead, I spent a number of years in crisis, taking responsibility for everyone else’s shortcomings, trying to fix everything around me, and wondering why I felt so empty even though I was clearly so very capable and successful. But self-esteem is often one of the first casualties of the dysfunctional family.  To the girl who is taught that she only has value if she is beautiful and brilliant and accomplished (even though she is still after all, just a girl), every failure is a near-fatal blow to the self-esteem.
But I did eventually ride the purple Dumbo with my mom, who has always done her utmost to be there for me, even though she knew that she could only do so much within the confines of her own invisible shackles. And I finally figured things out for myself, because that is what I do. Because, despite my dysfunctional upbringing, or maybe because of it, I am extremely independent, and capable, and resilient as all get out.  

Maybe I will even get a tattoo someday:  a purple flying elephant to remind me that, when the wait is over and I finally board that whimsical purple pachyderm, in the immortal words of the Disney promotional team:

“It’s an exhilarating thrill that is sure to lift your spirit and remind you that, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible!”

Happily is enough; Let’s leave Ever After to the fairy tales

boys at beach

 

Just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant to be, or even that it was never yours. It just wasn’t meant to be yours forever.

I said this to my son the other night after we finished watching the final episode of How I Met Your Mother.  And the funny thing is, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something I even knew to be true until I said it.

How I Met Your Mother is a show that my younger son and I have shared since we both came to it belatedly about three years ago.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it basically ended like this. Ted spent 9 seasons looking for “the one.” He finally found her, but the universe only loaned her to him for about ten years before she became ill and died. Which, after an appropriate period of mourning and living and raising his children had elapsed, allowed him to see that his old friend Robyn was perhaps the other “one.”  And life went on.

With any luck, my children are learning things it took me four decades to only begin to understand. And somehow, I am beginning to believe that will make it worth the cost of the journey for me, which has been dear.  And for that I am beginning to feel grateful, because I often fear that my mistakes and shortcomings will scar my children as they have me.

It is difficult to give things up: loves, careers, homes; dreams, security, forevers.  Our world often lulls us into believing that we can have some things forever: your one true love, your health, an intact relationship with members of your family. And maybe some forevers are real. Like a mother’s love for her children, or one’s love of books, or the first taste of ice cream each spring.

I grew up believing in fairy tales and forevers and happy endings.  And I can’t really blame anyone for brainwashing me into it: that is just what I wanted to believe in; maybe I needed to.  But the seemingly innocuous dream of happily-ever-after is a dangerous illusion for the dreamer that puts her heart and soul into everything she does.  Because sometimes a person focuses so much on the destination that she forgets to enjoy the journey. And if that destination dematerializes in a puff of smoke, it can take a long time to rebuild the rainbow and a new pot of gold worthy of chasing.

My children are not only my greatest joy and accomplishment; they are also two of my greatest teachers. Somehow my choices and the universe’s sense of humour have managed to teach them, and through them, me, a number of valuable lessons. For example:

  • When you give something a funny name, it takes away its power. Just don’t tell the principal that we have dubbed the official school sanctioned portion of the Grade 8 graduation ceremonies StalinGrad, because I will deny it.
  • A genuine apology can sometimes take all the pain away
  • having your mom home when you get home from school is more important than having two parents that make a shitload of money (having one that makes a shitload of money doesn’t hurt, however)
  • A day without cookies is a day wasted
  • A job that makes your mom bitchy and irritable and always too busy for anything is not a job worth having
  • hugs can cure almost anything
  • If I’m yelling at them to pick up all their crap for the 2000th consecutive day, and I add “And pick up that blood!”, they know that I’m not actually angry, I’m just doing my Mom Thing
  • All they need to do to get Dairy Queen on any given day is to ask their mom if she wants to go to Dairy Queen (I don’t think I’ve ever said no. Why would I?)
  • They understand, perhaps better than I do just yet, that marriages sometimes end even if you don’t want them to
  • They know that Moms will always be there for you, even if you’re forty and suddenly need her to drop everything and come to live with you for a month
  • They understand that what they are taught in school is probably important and is probably right, but that they have a role to play in deciding whether what they are being taught has any relevance to their lives, and what to do with that
  • They know that they are the most important thing in their parents’ lives, but that both of their parents still have lives outside of them.

I am still struggling with this whole enjoy-the-moment thing.  But I am getting better at it.  And it seems that the better I get, the smarter my children become.  So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

 

 

 

 

The Soundtrack to New Beginnings

Music serves as an important emotional backdrop for beginnings and endings, and everything in between. And with music, as with life, we sometimes don’t understand what we are hearing until much, much later.  Now, I’m one of those people who often doesn’t listen to lyrics; although if they are great lyrics, I generally do. You know, anything by The Tragically Hip, Led Zeppelin, some of the semi-lucid ravings of Kurt Cobain.  Let’s face it though, most of the lyrics out there aren’t great lyrics.  And much like many of the mundane lyrics we hear day in and day out, the days pass, often with little of importance being said by or to us; sometimes things of importance are said but are not heard. And that is the way of things I suppose.

I think many of us have a soundtrack to our lives. For some it is quite conscious; mixed tapes in the eighties, CD’s burned off Napster in the late 90’s, and now playlists.  For others it emerges by accident, or at least by serendipity.  You know what I’m talking about: you hop in the car to take off for a road trip just to exorcise a bad week or month or year from your memory, and the radio is playing Martina McBride’s This One’s For the Girls.  Followed by Knee Deep by the Zac Brown Band. Followed by Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing by Chris Isaak (on a different station, obviously). I don`t know if the universe was trying to tell me or if I was determined to tell the universe I was embarking on one hell of a road trip, but that sendoff certainly didn`t hurt.

For people like me who are always seeing meaning and pattern and connection in the events of their lives, these moments are pivotal, defining even.  I know that there are dozens of “logical” explanations for how signs or symbols appear or happen or become noticeable only at certain times in our lives.  But I don`t think why it happens is nearly as important as the fact that it happened, and how it makes us feel. Does it matter that the song Red Red Wine makes me think of dancing in a bar in Banff when I was nineteen, rather than anything that actually has to do with that song, or its lyrics? Of course not.  What matters is that it makes me feel like a carefree college student that just wants to dance, instead of whatever haggard, beleaguered, or defeated version of myself I am wrestling with on any given day.

For six months now, my IPhone has been defaulting to play the songs on it in alphabetical order, and the song that queues up, repeatedly, is Accusations by the Skydiggers. Luckily, I didn’t get sick of it the first 400 times I listened to it on a cassette tape many years ago, which usually is a guarantee that I never will. And my kids don’t mind it either, which is saying something.

It has started to make me laugh now, when I plug in my IPhone,  or my bluetooth in my car just syncs up and starts playing it before I have a chance to decide on a musical theme for the moment.  Because regardless of what it`s about (I still don`t quite know), I know this:

  • it reminds me of a simpler time
  • it is upbeat and catchy, easily singable, and it makes my heart sing and my soul dance each time I hear it
  • it reminds me that no matter what is going on in my life, I can always make a new decision and start afresh (See my earlier post: Taking the Long Way Around)
  • It reminds me that people are going to think what they are going to think,  lie if they want to lie, and do what they need to do so they can sleep at night. And that is the way of things, I suppose.
  • it reminds me that no matter what else happens, there is still that little girl inside me with the mischievous glint in her eye and crooked smile. She is a fireball, she is courageous and full of joy, and when she comes out to play, there will be a story or six to tell.  I am Tara Ewashy and I can do whatever the hell I want. Because I`ve done it before and I shall do it again. Just watch me.

 

 

Accusations all around, you didn’t know this is nothing new

Accusations up and down you, now you don’t know what to do

Accusations confound you Graham says we need some proof

Accusations surround you why don’t you try the truth

Everybody wants to shake you up to put you down

Everybody wants to wrap you up and tie you down

 

Conversations well spoken you know this is nothing new

Conversations, promises broken, now I don’t know what to do

Everybody wants to build you up to pull you down

Everybody wants to tie you up and tie you down

Not me, not me, no,  not me

 

Accusations all around you

Accusations all around you

Accusations all around you