Monday, December 30, 2019

Reviewing 2019 - mostly highs, then a walloping heartache

2019 was all-round a solid year. Notable highlights included:
  • My mother visited after a six year hiatus. Mind that it was to help open a new Save On store, but the effort and her presence was appreciated. I was on strike from going to Alberta until some immediate family visited me here. While I do not want my brother to visit and suspect my sister never will, I will now dutifully return to my hometown in the spring. I was thrilled Mom was able to take in my year-end swim meet, even if she was too tired for me to properly show her around the rest of my life in Dawson Creek.
  • SO MUCH HIKING!!! From Toad River to Mount Robson and numerous trails in between around Tumbler Ridge, I covered hundreds of kilometers this summer with an ever-changing crew of soccer team mates, friends, and coworkers. They even politely listened as I identified and rattled off random botanical facts.
  • Swimming as part of a triathlon relay team in the local race. Our entire team bested their time expectations and enjoyed the race-day atmosphere. Unfortunately I was soured against training with the summer competitive club in the future. Largely ignored during practices with no technique corrections given, I dutifully dragged my race-anxious self to the required number of meets and puked my nerves out. I’m well aware that I will never be a provincial champion, but I was still paying to be in the pool and wanted to benefits of being coached.
  • QUIT MY JOB!!! More specifically I quit a barely-qualified, disengaged supervisor who set poor time management objectives and even worse attendance expectations. I readily took a pay cut, returned to seasonal employment, and joined a high-functioning emergency response agency.
  • Many, many hours at the pool. As staff on deck as part of a fun, trusting aquatics team, and in the water training alongside my lane besties. 
Lowlight delivered early December:
  • Ending an eight-year relationship. Because kids. I would rather jump off a bridge than contribute to overpopulation. It still stung to abruptly have a treasured confidant, adventure buddy, and lover be no more.

    I had a lollipop moment after I told one of my girlfriends. She simply texted, “I got you” and again whispered it in my ear as we hugged goodbye for the night, tears streaming down my face. That simple phrase allowed me to re-focus on who I still had and wanted, needed even, to be part of my child-free life. My girlfriends, teammates, lane buddies, co-workers, yogis, dear friends near and far, and even some of my family. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Like stepping on a ground nest

I practiced saying it in my head. Then I made myself whisper the words so I could hear them beginning to take shape in my mouth. Once I could confidently utter the sentence, I progressed to rehearsing aloud. Feeling them exit between my quivering lips at conversational volume:

Dan and I have broken up.

One gut-retching, emotionally-charged, life-altering declaration.

A great match for a while, we knew our relationship was a ticking time bomb, and we were destined for failure. Most of the time we could ignore the lingering dealbreaker hanging over us. On Sunday, Dan had reached a threshold where he can no longer deny his desire.

Kids. Parenthood. He desperately wants it. I vehemently do not.

Being with Dan for eight adventure-filled years was great, nearly effortless, and deeply comfortable. I am, and for a while, will miss him. In time I will be ok again, but I need to grieve. To grieve someone who is still alive.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Wasa Effect

Image result for wasa lake
Wasa Lake is not my home.

I didn’t grow up there, but there is something deeply homey and comforting about visiting.  For as long as I can remember, my Auntie Shauna has either lived there, or is plotting to return.  Visit, and it is easy to see why.  It is where she spent her formative years, where she is from, and where she is still strongly connected to the land, lake, and the people.  Shauna’s place is one of the few structural constants I’ve had since I was old enough to know place.

We moved a few times within my hometown, Red Deer, each time seemingly marking a family milestone.  My parents separating.  My father’s death.  A Remarriage.  Another divorce.  By the latter two, I was out of the house and off to university, never to return full-time to my hometown.

I didn't develop that sense of security that I could fully unpack and feel “home” or settled.  I quickly learned that attachment to a place, especially a physical house, was futile.  Even when we were in one place for a while, our house was rarely our own.  We shared it with a courier business, and later parts of another family after my mother remarried. 

I never felt that feeling of home in a house, yet I still feel intrinsically tied to the prairies.  To a larger landscape.  I have been grappling with sense of place, and how and if one can truly belong in a greater geography.

On the grander scale, I am vehemently a proud product of the prairies even though I am not tethered to my hometown.  I have always felt at ease on, and connected to, the prairies.  My current town of Dawson Creek is embedded in such similar and familiar physical surroundings as central Alberta.

Both are characterized by extremes: harsh winters, chilling winds, long winter nights, short summer nights, and wide open skies.  Those wide open skies that display winter’s misleadingly blue skies when the thermometer flirts with 40 below; the skies that build epic summer thunderstorms, then release intensely and move on; the skies that shine and support diverse primary industry - Central Alberta and northeastern BC as working landscapes rather than wilderness.

Wasa sits midway in the geographic expanse of my childhood, bookended by Red Deer and the Sunshine Coast.  It makes me deeply homesick for a place that isn’t my home.

Shauna's log cabin with the red tin roof, roomy front porch, dodgy wiring, and windows some brave Alaskan vagabond chainsawed out of solid log walls.  I can’t remember which relative pointed out the white building, the old Wild Horse Lookout, poised on the mountainside, but from the northernmost beach, I still look for it and am relieved that it’s there.  Even though I have yet to hike up to it. 

In my memory, little has changed since I was young.  Except the septic system has gotten worse. Guests now must dutifully trot down to the provincial park’s long drop toilets to poop, and sneak into the campgrounds to use the newly installed solar showers.

These minor inconveniences pale in the effort to get to Wasa.  Now I am now a 12-hour-no-stops drive away.  And it’s in the same province where I live.  It takes more planning, more time off, more money to get there. I suppose it always took effort, but as a child I was immune to the work my parents, and later only my mother, put in to going somewhere.  To leaving.

And yet, it’s always been worth it.  Even against the backdrop of family drama and veiled conversations it’s a place to exhale, recharge, and take in the interesting objects and stories from Shauna’s life of social justice, travel, and activism.  At Wasa, the furniture is worn and comfortable, and invites lingering and conversation.

Perhaps it’s the simple act of returning to somewhere cozy and familiar that I find so reassuring. Going to Wasa is revisiting an effortless and a deeply happy part of my childhood.

And I love how that feels.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Unhappy Mother's Day

These days are hard. Not because I don’t have a mother, no. My mother, Brenda, lives on healthy and well, and I am very fortunate to be her daughter.

I grew up in her single-mother household and saw her work so damn hard for us ungrateful, demanding, and selfish three kids. I didn’t know then it wasn’t normal for parents to work in excess of 12 hours a day. For weeks, then months, then years on end. How she still attended our band recitals, sports competitions, and even had time to pursue her hobby and passion, gardening, is beyond me. She must have had some arrangement with the universe’s timekeepers, because otherwise I truly do not know how she did it all.

No, today isn’t hard because I don’t have a mother. It’s hard because it also serves as an anniversary of my brother’s car accident. An alcohol-fueled accident involving just his vehicle that was in all likelihood an attempt to take his life. It’s a powerful reminder of the role and relentless grip that addiction still has on our family. We had hoped it would have ended with our late father’s passing, but addiction and mental health is a wicked beast.

Today is hard because it marks another milestone. It’s almost a month until Father’s Day, and I no longer have a father.  I have not celebrated a Father’s Day since I was 12.  More than the absence of my father, it was hard seeing my mother unsupported by an immediate partner.  Perhaps seeing this lack of close companionship in her life forced me to lean on my other communities early on in my own life.

Sports, band, part-time jobs, church all become parts of a network that made me feel safe, valued, and challenged.  Of course I felt those things at home from my mother, but it still felt somehow incomplete without a pair of parents sharing the roles and responsibilities of raising three very different kids.  I no longer say it’s a deficit or an absence I feel everyday. Rather, it creeps up at inopportune and unsuspecting moments.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

So long 33, hello 34!

Well, 33, you’ve taught me a lot. I stepped out of my comfort zone multiple times, and have been richly rewarded. I suffered defeat in the professional sphere that’s added to my uncertainty of remaining employed in the forest industry. More of that later. Or not – I’m still coming to grips with the possibility of a soft exit strategy from an industry, and ultimately an identity, that I’ve proudly worn for more than a decade.

My birthday has long marked a transition point. It’s the start of summer season, the shedding of winter’s cool and dark embrace, a return from foreign travels. From student to worker, from unemployed to frantically refilling my bank account, from office to field, as if the entire bush is open for business on May 1.

Summers have always meant work. Silviculture workers are not afforded the luxury of “summers off”, “holidays”, or “a week at the cabin”. Rather, my birthday marks the start of a condensed season of intense physical effort to collect data, wrangle contractors, and maybe even sneak in a lucrative fire deployment. I push my body and demand it relearns how to penetrate thick alder, swim through aspen and cottonwood, traverse over slash taller than me, and delicately dance with devil’s club.

And I lose. I fall. Over and over and over again. My body telling the familiar tale as bruises, cuts, and grazes cover my limbs.

This year feels different. That familiar longing has waned, my desire drained. Perhaps what was once a novel and desirable way to spend summer has now become mundane. Former excitement and anticipation have been replaced by familiarity and predictability.

Too scared to outright quit – for now – I have relished in my after-hours life: The soccer games that carry on til late. Book club gatherings that pass in what seems like minutes as we alternately howl and then cry over the events in the pages and each other’s lives. Intimate live music events that stir the soul. Intense off-mat conversations at the yoga studio. Raucous apres swim socials that shut down the restaurant.

Ultimately it’s community and rich relationships that have held me as I contemplate next steps. I don’t have an end destination in mind, but I am thrilled to share the journey with so many supporting friends, co-workers, and teammates.

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 in review

Community.  Deeper than the physical towns of Dawson Creek or Chetwynd, 2018 fostered connections and cemented sense of place.  The workplace was my first community, and point of contact in Dawson Creek.  Taking a sabbatical abruptly tore me out of that supportive environment and I was relegated to isolating online studies.  As I’ve so often done in the past for social, mental, physical, and ultimately athletic support, I leaned on my sports teams and clubs. 

Too scared and injury receptive for game play, I continued to practice with my indoor soccer team, and enthusiastically rejoined them on the outdoor pitch for the summer.  It was another hard-fought fun season with most games carrying on to Boston Pizza for “pizza and pop” where we compared bruises and recounted stellar and botched plays.  The progressive party concluded as we walked each other home. 

The beginning of 2018 presented an unusual opportunity: free lifeguard training.  I attended “tryouts” and was one of 24 accepted from 49.  It wasn’t an exploration I’d seriously considered until it was right in front of me.  Confined to studies by day, it was satisfying to physically work towards something, with what quickly became a close-knit group, in the evenings and eventual weekends.  By the end of our National Lifeguard course in May, I was one of about a dozen to successfully complete the course.  But I still wasn’t an employed lifeguard.  A wet, and then dry interview still awaited where I continued to (out)compete with my cohort for a spot on deck at the local pool.  I have savoured the new working environment – the learning curve has been steep, but I feel well supported and cared for by my fellow guards and swim club teammates.   

My sabbatical was mostly successful.  I received good grades for all the courses I was registered for, but fell short the ultimate reason for the sabbatical, my goal: completing my Registered Professional Forester designation.  Invested since 2015, it’s a goal I feel a sick, perverse even, loyalty to complete, and it’s been fraught with roadblocks, ditches, and fiery dragons.  It’s felt like each step I take forwards, my professional association is waiting in the bushes to kneecap me.  This coupled with general work dissatisfaction and career disappointment has had me deeply questioning my long-term role and plans in the natural resource sector.  Perhaps it’s the notable, uncomfortable even, lack of community at my day job that’s adding to my uncertainty.  I can’t wait to leave at the end of the day and be in familiar embrace of one of my athletic communities.   

Monday, July 23, 2018

Scared? Do it anyways.

My first swimming medal is misleading.  And I’m thrilled to have received it.  Not because I trained hard and outswam my peers (full disclosure: I was dead last), but because I was scared to race and did it anyways.

I was nervous, terrified even, of competing in a sport I haven’t been doing that long, don’t think I’m that good at, and would be subject to the judging eyes of spectators, coaches, officials, and my teammates. 

Yes, I’ve competed in various individual and team sports over the years, but the newness, my lack of confidence and overflowing self-doubt plagued me as I packed my suit, snacks, and sandals for the day: my start resembles a controlled bellyflop, my turns are a comic work-in-progress, I am an older athlete, there were few to none registered in my division. 

But I dutifully drove to the pool in a torrential rainstorm that mirrored my roiling guts.  I asked my coaches and teammates dumb, obvious (to them) questions in an attempt to still my nerves.  Yet I marshalled for my event near tears with nerves, with my swim bestie, an athlete half my age, confidently adjusting her cap beside me. 

I settled down when I stepped on to the blocks.  I’d dove off these during warmup.  I have practiced starts dozens of times in my home pool.  The familiarity was comforting.  First whistle.  Second whistle.  At the horn, we were off in to the glacial-temperature water.  And I swam hard.  Like I meant it, like I wanted it, like no one was watching. 

I touched the wall and looked up at the clock – 15 seconds behind the fastest swimmer, but TWO WHOLE SECONDS off my previous personal best time.  

Showing up, racing, and finishing was alone a feat worthy of celebration, but a personal best time - that validated receiving a medal.