Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Work in Progress

I was looking over my manuscript, Notes from the Bottom of the Box, wondering what excerpt to print this week when I came across the two paragraphs reprinted below. The full essay was written when I was working as a BodyMind therapist at a detox centre but I found it quite apropos to my current incarnation as a retail clerk.

For the most part, my retail customers are great. I love the camaraderie, the shared humour, and the satisfaction of helping clients find a quality item they both need and want. That said, there are times when certain customers irritate me beyond my capacity to be even semi-tolerant. I have a variety of ways of dealing with the latter including venting to my colleagues (when in search of a requested piece in the back room) and transforming into an oh-so-neutral and coolly polite clerk. When I am feeling good, however—when I am at peace within myself—my tactics change: I centre myself and remember two things. One, that this annoying adult was once a baby—a tiny innocent soul who was partly molded into who he or she is today by events beyond their control; and two, that I have no idea what demons are affecting his or her life. Maybe this person’s loved one has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease, they got fired or perhaps dropped by their supposed soul mate. Haven’t we all had to do business when we’d rather yell obscenities from the top of a roof? Haven’t we all, consciously or not, transferred frustration onto the nearest person: sales clerk, the driver in front of us; our children?

I have learned, and continue to learn, that judging someone’s behaviour and then reacting to it in a negative manner is seldom uplifting for either party. While it may give momentary satisfaction, the long-term effects only produce a chronic social disgruntlement at best, and alienation, depression and violence, at worst. It doesnt mean that I am a star pupil of these lessons except to say that I am discovering that life is, indeed, a work in progress. We can only keep coming back to centre—however long it takes—back to a place where we know we are all in this together.

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

In the memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the author, Azar Nafisi, recalls words spoken in defense of a literary professor who chose to speak up for a man on trial for treason in 1980s Iran. In the political climate of the time, both treason and this act of defense had potentially lethal consequences. 

Analyzing the professor’s action, Nafisi wrote:

“Such an act … can only be accomplished by someone who is engrossed in literature, has learned that every individual has different dimensions to his personality … if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them” (2004, p. 118).
After reading this passage, I found myself thinking not of literature but of my work as a BodyMind therapist. Similar to someone “engrossed in literature”, my training and practice supports me in understanding the concept that we have different personality dimensions, or parts, within us.  For example, most of us have a part that wants to go to work because it pays for our lifestyle and another part that hates going because it interferes with that same way of being. Facilitating an awareness of our multi-dimensional selves helps prevent me from judging myself and others harshly. That said, my practice is a work in progress and has its challenges around judgment and perception, as the following story will tell.

I was working as a practitioner in a detox centre: BodyMind therapy, energy work, reflexology—whatever was needed to help relieve physical and/or emotional pain. A new intake, Tom, came to see me. Tom had been physically abusive to his partner, Lilly. I knew this because Lilly, a past client of mine, had confided in me during our sessions. I met Tom for the first time a few days after Lilly died from complications of congenital heart disease. Tom was a mess. He was not only detoxing from heroin and crack but was visibly upset about his girlfriend’s death. He loved her, he said, cared for her, was devoted to her. It was hard for me to listen. In fact, it was hard not to hate him. To hear his “lies” asserting themselves against the delight that was Lilly disturbed me on a deep level. He was the antithesis of all the beauty and laughter she characterized—the na├»ve frivolity she embodied and the lightness she passed on to those with whom she shared time. Here he was trying to sell me on his heroic qualities when I, in my place of judgment, knew the truth… or did I? 

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, November 22, 2016

The Bottom of the Box

Excerpt from Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.
Imagine yourself stranded on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic. The isle is isolated; the chance of rescue, slim. You are not alone. Others share this space, each of whom has been shipwrecked upon its shores, each in their own time and each for reasons sometimes too obscure to understand. There is a hierarchy among those who live here, one of privilege and connections. For those in the upper echelons life is good, princely in fact. But for those in the bottom rungs of this closed-off society, there exists but a certain drudgery hidden behind ten-minute coffee breaks and bagged lunches with Jerry Springer. Some find their way off the island, mostly the young, but many don’t. They stay for reasons more obscure than how they got there in the first place, and then, at some point, the reasons no longer matter—it just is.
The life of a Big Box employee.
It is one I envisioned before entering this most inglorious profession and, unfortunately, the one I lived for the first few weeks of becoming a Big Box cashier. Taken out of financial desperation, I fell into a black hole as I took the circumstances—finding my middle-aged self on the bottom rung of the North American career food chain—to be more about me than a misguided perception of self value. But like most of life’s dark moments, this twist of fate proved to be a most fortuitous turn of events. Realizing I couldn’t remain in a downward trend where bemoaning my existence was the norm, I slowly but surely turned it around: I began writing about it. I uncovered its gifts. And despite the fact I stayed in the Box for over three years, I found myself climbing out of the metaphorical box in which I had lived most my life.
You can find these blog posts at The Interdependent Life (May 2012 – July 2015).
Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman was inspired by my sojourn as a Big Box cashier. It is a collection of stories from that time as well as other phases in my life where I abandoned my true identity for a work persona that I took as my own. In looking back, each phase was a gift; each moment of darkness a new discovery: a pathway towards who I am today and always was.
Hoping you are enjoying these excerpts. See you next week.

If you like this blog, please like me on my Modern-Day Renaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Police Station

Early on in my relationship with Max, my partner in the climbing business, we travelled to South America. It was part reconnaissance for a guiding trip he would do in the spring and part vacation for us, the plan was for a bit of climbing, a bit of paragliding, some exploring and lots of relaxing spread out over six weeks.

Accompanying us was our trusty sidekick, Dustin. A tall, quirky smiling, towheaded, six year old, Dustin was not only our son but the door-opener to many adventures. If there is one thing we learned during our travels in the south, is that South Americans love kids. This tale is a prelude to how he metaphorically brought a Peruvian police chief to his knees.

We had just spent the night, with several hundred others, sitting next to the bomb disposal team's headquarters on the upper floors of the Lima airport. The Shining Path was active and no one in their right mind left the airport after dark. That didn’t stop us from trying but, well, tease that I am, you’ll have to wait until my book comes out to read that story.  Regardless, after a long night of rich, dark coffee—the bomb disposal team was located right next door to the all-night expresso bar—we headed out.

Excerpt from The Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman

We entered the airport’s main foyer and quickly learned the meaning of insanity: taxi drivers, tour guides, hotel owners, shoe shiners, drink sellers, food venders, money changers and thieves all vying for our sleep-deprived attention. We didn’t lose our luggage in that mess; we lost our airline tickets.

The plan was not to be in Lima for long, but when flying AeroPeru, the cheapest airline at the time, we were required to stop there between all destinations: Miami, Lima, La Paz, Lima, Rio, Lima, Miami. Without tickets, however, we were going nowhere. The airlines were no help. You must make a police report, they said. In daylight we easily secured a taxi and drove through the war-torn-looking suburbs—scrappy lots with scores of barefoot boys playing soccer, potholed roads, scrub, half-dead bushes and run-down tenements all draped in la garua, the dreary fog typical for autumnal Lima. After depositing our packs in what was normally a five-star hotel in Miraflores— we got it for ten dollars a night—we wound our way to the police station.

The station was a stone and brick edifice, heavily guarded by semi-automatic machine guns. We headed up the entrance stairs and found our way barred, once again. Although Max’s Spanish was almost understandable, la policia refused to even look at us, let alone listen, just locked their gleaming weapons in front of their chests and made motions to clear the way. We left the front doors and approached some cops loitering nearby. They shrugged at Max’s pigeon Latin and said, Aquino. We shrugged back, and they shrugged again, Aquino, aquino. Finally, after multiple exchanges of international indifference, one cop felt compassion and beckoned us over. Very carefully he pronounced the word we had been hearing over and over, esquina, and pointed to the corner. And there, sitting in a little kiosk at the corner of the street was a tiny woman with a big grin on her face. Dollars, she smiled. Fifteen dollars later we entered the station.

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, November 8, 2016

Rafting Adventures

Back in the 90s, my then partner, Max, and I sold our climbing shop and moved out to the Chilliwack River Valley. It was the perfect location for both our guiding company and burgeoning paragliding business. The location was chosen for its graceful cedars and towering firs, its fine proximity to the landing site for paragliding flights off Elk Mountain, and its more than fine distance from the ‘Wack town centre (otherwise known as Chilliwack). Although a lot has changed, in those years the town was mostly known for its military base, a high prevalence of spousal abuse, and the predominance of cows. A lovely city, it was.

The following excerpt is taken from our rafting … ahhhh, that is, Canadian Tire rubber boat adventure down the Chilliwack River. Our plan was to put in not far from the Ford Mountain Correctional Institute (prison camp) and exit just before the Tamihi rapids, also known as practice ground for the Olympic team. The river run has a tale of its own, but here in the preamble to that story is yet another tale worth telling.

Chilliwack had several of these minimum security prison camps. You saw the unfortunate inmates doing work on the logging roads, with their guards leaning on their trucks in half-hearted alertness. It felt strange encountering them on my runs. Most often I would turn back, but then again, because of my living situation, I felt a certain ease with the situation: the neighbour to the right of us had a rather alarming reputation. He was a convicted rapist who had done his time and now, suitably repentant, lived the life of a clean country boy with his rambunctious black lab. I never liked him, the man I mean. Rumours about him abounded before he moved in, making me wary even before we met. He never liked me, either. Too independent, he’d say to Max. Max and I had been having relational difficulties that summer, and more often than not were yelling at each other rather than conversing in a mannerly way. Being an observant kind of guy―I guess you get that way in prison―this neighbhour would take Max aside and give him brotherly advice. She’s too butch-like, he’d say, got to put the law down. Max listened politely but ignored him for the most part. He was all for good neighbourly relations, seeing as we ran a business out of our house. I waived the polite civility and just ignored him.

Usually after a good day of paragliding, students and friends convened back at our house for shop-talk, food and drink. On this particular day, one of the students, having just become a father, passed around a cigar as they all sat in the back of the Chevy pickup. A few hours later, an RCMP officer was at our door. A friendly enough guy, he chatted his way inside the house. He said there was a report of dope smoking here and wanted to hear what we had to say about it. Max laughed, Oh, he said, you mean the passing around of a cigar in the back of a truck? We quickly cleared up the situation and then got serious. Who reported us? Well, the cop said, your neighbor did. A little dumbfounded, we asked, You do know about him, don’t you? Oh, yes, he said, we know all about him, but there are worse in this neighbourhood. Worse? Our minds cried out. What? Terrorists? Murderers? Kidnappers? Our thoughts ran rampant, but we kept them to ourselves. The officer looked around in case there were other ears nearby…  There’s dope growers up the hill. Thank god you are on the job, Constable. The neighbor eventually committed fraud with his girlfriend accountant and ran off to the Cayman Islands.

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!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Drop-in

Not all my jobs have been in retail or administration. For seven years I worked in a variety of different locations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside including an emergency shelter, a mental health drop-in, a residential program and an outreach team for the provincial psychiatric hospital. None of the jobs were mundane or predictable, but definitely the most erratic was the drop-in position. From the open door policy to working under a manager—a five-foot-nothing-twig of a woman who tended to get involved in the physical fights between members—the job was anything but boring. Below is an excerpt from the chapter, "The Drop-in", in my book, Notes from the Bottom of the Box.

Sandy was a petite woman with wavy red hair and curves, generously outlined by snug jeans and tees. She tended towards cowboys and Harleys and managed the mental health drop-in with steel-laced eyes—eyes that pinned you against the wall letting you know she knew every lie and scam with a don’t-you-even-think-about-going-there glare. It was those eyes that once trapped me in her office. I had refused an on-call shift and although it was totally within my rights to do so, she wouldn’t let me leave until she found a replacement. I gamely stared back with false bravado, but inside I was praying for rescue. It was clear that if it came down to the line, I’d have to choose between working the shift or quitting my job. Either way, it felt like a losing proposition. 
I knew from the initial job interview—three hours of relentless interrogation—that I didn’t want the position, but for some perverse reason I said yes when it was offered. Sure, there was the empty bank account, but Sandy also had the charisma of your more popular despots, someone like George W, the kind you might share a laugh with over a beer if you lived, that is, in another country unaffected by him. She won me over.

Sandy reigned over this fairly wild drop-in of mostly dual-diagnosed men and women with a motley crew of employees that thought playing euchre was the highest form of social work. In theory, the staff’s role was multifaceted: dispense meds, arrange shelter for those who found themselves homeless, listen to stories and distribute leftover pastries from local cafes. Unofficially, and specifically due to an unlocked door in a rough part of town, we were the bouncers—our job was about keeping the violence out and the tension within to a minimum.

One day, not long after I got hired, a drop-in regular got into a fight with an old-timer. “Old-timers” was the name given to a group of men who had been grandfathered in years before, when the drop-in was for anyone who lived on the street. None of these guys were officially diagnosed with a mental illness, nor were they interested in activities, volunteer jobs or social niceties. When they were in residence, our job was solely to monitor the general mood, keep things calm and provide safety for everyone else. The sound of chairs hitting the floor brought our security duties to the forefront. ...

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-DayRenaissance Woman Facepage.  Thanks for the support!