Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Queue



Last week I experienced a small slice of supermarket rage. For the full story, go to The Interdependent Life, but in short, I traded curses with a man who  was being rude and insensitive to a bakery clerk. For some—important people with important things to do—it seems to be a challenge to not only understand the nature of time but that retail clerks are people, too. 

That said, retail has its humorous moments.  Check out this excerpt from the chapter, “The Big Box Era” in Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman. 

[W]e have an unspoken rule at work that there should never be more than two people in a queue. Our retail outlet is not alone. Service is everything, retailers say, no one should wait. Let me amend that: the customer can wait (and wait, and wait again) for service on the floor, but waiting to pay is strictly verboten. Lineups at the cash have become so denigrated that waiting for longer than a minute is considered not only outrageous but cause for complaint. This superior service, however, has been disastrous for human communication. Shortened lineups and the presumed need to hurry out of the store to conduct far more important, if not crucial activities, make interaction with fellow line-bearing beings near impossible. We are so used to being herded along ├╝ber fast that if we are not served within seconds of arriving in a lineup our senses go on alert for a quicker checkout or a call for “all available cashiers to the front!”

From my perch at the head of the line I am a magnet for the time-deprived customer’s hyper-alert eyes. Like lionesses crouched for the kill, their bodies appear frozen, a rigid preparedness that bespeaks of inborn tension waiting to be sprung: the sprinter at the blocks, the diver on the board. The only movement is their irises, oscillating at alarming speeds as they scan the floor impatiently, anticipating the moment to spring. With this strain, impossible to contain, false-starts become rampant as the person jerks this way then that as potential openings tease their senses—the adjoining line moving faster, a potential relief-clerk on the horizon—only to have their hopes betrayed.  Heavy sighs follow these disappointments, deepening their sense of loss, until slowly and definitely surly, they arrive at my till with eyes hardened by all they’ve endured. It’s not easy being a consumer.

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!
If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stillness




An excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.

The other day I was holding stillness with a horse, a rescue horse with a difficult past. Although the mare now lives in a safe and nurturing environment, she still seems unsure of whether to come or to go—life feels uncertain. I stood with her while she pawed the ground and shifted her shoulders. She had little trust in me. Three times, however, in my short stay and grounded state, I saw the fear ease in her eyes. Three times, if only for a moment, she let go of her defenses and found relief. It was beautiful to witness: a moment in which she trusted herself enough to listen deeply—a skill lost through the carelessness of others—to quiet her defenses and come to know I was safe.

Funny, or rather tragic, actually, how easy it is to be grounded—to hold stillness in a deeply rooted place—with anyone, it seems, but family.

My father is a relatively able and energetic nonagenarian. Although he’s been widowed three times, overcome two surgeries in his late eighties and has severe hearing loss, he joins an exercise class most mornings and rides a stationary bike twice a day. His humour still bubbles with insider jokes and his memory is, at times, better than mine. The Viking blood runs true within his veins. Sometimes, however, his mind fails to keep up with his active body.

We drove to his accountant today to deliver some tax papers. The accountant works in a town about
an hour’s drive east. As the appointment was just before lunch I made the ultimate sacrifice. I said:
"let’s go to lunch while there, we’ll go to your favourite restaurant, the IHOP." Now you have to know, I detest the IHOP. No, that is not quite right, I don’t hate it, I am just suspicious of any restaurant that coats everything on the menu with a healthy dose of sugar and a sauce that may actually glow in the dark. The bill of fare, let alone the restrooms, makes my skin crawl. But he likes it, especially the waffles coated with something akin to strawberries and whip cream. He agreed to go.

With his walker carefully tucked away in the corner, the waitress asked for our order. "Nothing," he said. "What?" I almost yelled, every cell screaming: you are the only reason we are here, don’t tell me you’re not hungry now! "I am confused," I said, irritation just below the surface, "you wanted to come here." I was so caught up in my own knee jerk reactions that I couldn’t read his own confusion. Thankfully, the waitress could. The IHOP is a favourite of the aged, at least in this town, she’d seen this before. "No hurry," she said, "it’s okay, I’ll be back."

Alone again, I looked at my father. I wanted so much to be mad at him, tell him that I was only doing this for him. That I would rather be anywhere but there. Instead, I looked into his eyes. It was then when I saw it. For a brief moment in time, I was sitting beside a small boy, alone and confused in a bewildering environment. His own robust self shrunken in big people’s clothes, trying to make himself invisible in a world that seemed too big, too unknown; too scary.

I wish I could say that I immediately comforted him or made him feel safe but my own fears were still too big; my own needs to unwieldy to be packed into a box of empathy. "You wanted to come here, didn’t you? You like it here. And its lunch time." He just looked at me. "I can’t hear a thing," he said.

The waitress came back and I made a decision. I ordered his favourite meal and sat quiet while he slowly came back to himself. While he ate his meal, with the appreciation I was used to, he said with not a little shame: "I got confused, it’s so busy in here." "It’s okay," I replied, "it is noisy here."

The other day I was holding stillness with a horse, 
a rescue horse with a difficult past.

This is not the first time this has happened with my father, nor will it be the last. Each time, my dad's unexpected vulnerability incites some anachronistic fear within me, a childhood hangover that refuses to acknowledge reality. But each time it happens, a part of me grows older, perhaps even wiser. I see it is time to not only let go of my own defences but time that I give my own fears and uncertainties some well-needed safety. Maybe then, just maybe, I can hold stillness within myself and, in that space, do the same for him.

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!
If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Power and Control


I worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the late 90s. Over the course of seven years, I worked at four different agencies and six more on contract with the regional health board doing energy work and reflexology for those with or at risk of misusing substances. It was an incredible learning experience. My original intent was to supplement my psychology degree with practical knowledge but it soon transformed into a powerful catalyst for my own healing and self-awareness. Healing, however, doesn’t always come in pretty packages and the desire to do good doesn't always translate into good deeds.

The following is an excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.

There is a certain element that thrives in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, almost as if it is an entity of its own. Mythological and timeless as the gods themselves, it lures the unsuspecting and then traps, as Hephaestus once netted Aphrodite and Ares. The element is power and control.

Does it affect everyone? Some would say yes, but I feel it affects mostly those who had no agency or sense of control as a child, those who were lost in the confusion of abuse or neglect and, as adults, have yet to come to terms with it. They yearn to be seen, to be heard, and to make sense of that which has none. For some this need for influence is fairly benign, but for others it becomes a drug: a need to control, to power over.

I yearned for this sense of control when I first started working in the DTES. I didn’t know it at the time; it was coloured over by a need to help, to understand, to be a good person. And yes, I was a “good” person, but in that goodness, I disempowered and hurt not only others but myself.

Stay tuned for more weekly excerpts from Notes from the Bottom of the Box. If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!

If you like my writing, check out my other blog, The Interdependent Life.