Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A little Christmas message two years out of date in the summer time

The Christmas greeting is a bit late this year. Well there has been much to do and much to think about. Isn't there always.
The last two years, I haven't spent Christmas with my family. That's to say that we haven't all been together in the UK, getting in each other's faces and pretending we don't care. Or wearing a tea-cosy and wading through our emotions as we try to recount how to get to know each other again. That's what I do. Time, distance and finances have once again proved to great a barrier for me. So this year, I miss my friend Sam and my families in London, Ottawa and Bristol. Indeed I have missed and am missing my families in Montreal and Vancouver. I am in Vancouver. (For those of you who didn't know.)

This next bit surrounds an adventure I had by bike and sheer will, starting from Vancouver at noon on Boxing Day. I headed out to Horseshoe bay, caught a ferry to Gibson's on the sunshine coast and in the dark, rode two hours to Sechelt on the sunshine coast. I pitched my tent in a field, had some dinner and went to sleep....

I woke up in a tent. I fell asleep in a tent before I woke up in a tent. I woke up in a tent in almost complete darkness. I got up to pee (the third time that night) and I can tell you that at 3 degrees in my underwear and a t-shirt, it was goddam cold. I got up to pee, but I was awoken twenty minutes before by the howling of coyotes, loud and long into the night. It might have been a dog, but I heard other dogs barking against the howling. After about two minutes of this I began to seriously believe that my tent was going to surrounded by coyotes seriously soon. I began to have images of me stabbing and killing coyotes as they lunged at my tent or me, and I wondered how do I kill a coyote. I have never done it before. It's not like stepping on a worm or telling a car driver to piss off, this is an ugly dog shaped thing with teeth and malice. While all these images of violence and fear were flashing through my head, I discovered that I still needed to pee, rather urgently. Crap, crap, crap. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Okay, okay. I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go pee now. This is me getting out of the tent aggressively and powerfully in my jockey shorts and tee-shirt that says 'More Cowbells'.
Watch out.
There was no one out there. No coyotes. No people. No cars. No bears (phew). I could still hear the coyotes. Whatever. There are probably more afraid of you than you are of them. Blah, blah, blah.
A thought struck me about territory. Aha. That's what I'll do. Judging a 20 yard radius, I peed in certain locations around my campsite. I shivered my way back to my tent. By the time I got back into my sleeping bag, I felt frozen. I wondered about that theory about staying warm by removing clothes and getting naked into the sleeping bag, which was roughly what I had been doing before. This is clearly bunk. I put on my long underwear, my flannel shirt, my cycling tights, my hoodie and my hat. I was still cold, but sod it, I am tired and the coyotes can smell my pee and bugger off. I did actually fall asleep, I don't recall when exactly, but at 6:30am I woke up and looked at the illuminated dial on my watch and saw the time. I fell back asleep. But briefly.
Kally, come here. No here. Kally! Kally! Kaaalleeee! No. Here. Kalleeee! Come Here. Kalleee c'mere! Kallee! KALLY! COME HERE!
Yah, that doesn't bother me. Yah, I can totally sleep through someone disciplining their dog outside my tent at 7am. Uh-huh. Get out of bed Vaughan. No.
Get out of bed. No, I wanna sleep.
You can't sleep. But I want to.
You can't.
Shut up.
(in a sing-song, gloating voice) You can't sleep.
Okay. God I have to pee. Christ, not you as well. How many Vaughans are there? Jesus!
There's just one and it's you Vaughan and you are alone in a tent mentally ranting to yourself.
I lay there for another ten minutes and ranted some more. I did get up and squared my things away and surveyed the day and the rain which had begun falling at about five, to replace the blissfull silence left by the wearied coyotes.
I can deal with rain. I'm okay man. I know what rain is. I live on the west coast for God's sake.
I put up the tarp my friend Daragh had loaned me and sat under it and made a breakfast of ramen noodles with tomato soup and left-over turkey which Siobhan had given me on Boxing Day morning at around 2 am. Thank you Siobhan. It may not sound good here, but when I was cold and tired, damp and slightly annoyed by my bout with non-existent coyotes, it was soooo goooooood. Tea in the morning?
Tea can go hang. I'm going to have soup and turkey. I sat under the tarp, outside my tent and ate in silence. I cooked in silence, I ate in silence. I slept (if I can call it sleeping) in somewhat silence. It was amazing actually. It was empowering. Not eating soup and turkey in the damp pitter-patter of the rain. But observing the simple things around me. There's not a lot to take up space in my mind when I'm camping. At home, I'm surrounded by things that need straightening, bills that need to be paid, cards that need to be sent, careers that need to be furthered, people who need to be called. Whatever it is, it's all there. Outside a tent with a bicycle, panniers, clothes, food, there's not much I can do to address the mental ranting, so I don't think about it. I concentrate on things I can actually do. Make breakfast. Eat.
I placed the small camping stove on the ground and watched with satisfaction as the three partitions of the burner slowly lit up. With my last remaining water, I made the soup. The only sound was from the propane being released through the burner. I watched and I listened and I idly wondered if my brother's house had burned down. Just one of those things that pops into my head when everything else is said and done. Not because I had left the stove on or not unplugged the fan or the toaster. I recalled that everything had been moved away from the radiators. I had not done anything to facilitate such a prospect, but the thought trundled across my brain, like an ant carrying a piece of wood roughly the length of its own body, slowly and wearily across a footprint.

After much deliberation, I decided to head home. I was deliberating because of the time factor, the lack of people factor and the rain and cold factor. Most of all though, I discovered that I didn't neet to be out here deliberating. I could be back in Vancouver deliberating where there's heat and less effort. The trip was more of an adventure and I wondered whether I would like to be in a tent, possibly quite tired and possibly quite wet at the end of the day. The answer was no. I was happy to turn back. I was happy to take the time to stop and take pictures along the snowy road. I was happy to make a decision and feel good about it. Someone once said something to me when I was in Germany and I was thinking about coming home, but I didn't want to give up...She asked me why what other people thought of me, mattered to me so much. It was a good question. It took about five years, but I got the answer. It doesn't matter. I'm going back.

The ride back to Gibson's was comparatively relaxing. It was daylight. I knew the road. I had the whole day. The hills were pretty tough I tell you. HOLY CATS!
I stopped at a bike shop in Gibsons and talked to the kindly proprietor. I bought some more water and cycled down the hill and it began to dawn on me why it didn't look familiar. It wasn't. I turned around and cycled up the hill. Oops. That was dumb. Yes, these panniers are heavy. Yes I saw you shovelling your driveway a moment ago, when I thought I knew where I was going. It is now abundantly clear that I didn't know where I was going and that's why I feel foolish and have begun talking to myself to prove it. Oh, these panniers are heavy. Who cares. Who cares. I don't care. If anyone cares, it's not me. I don't care.

Okay, we're on the right road now. It's snowing. Oh, it's a bit slippery. Wow that's a big truck. Goddam that was close. That's a big hill. There are people at the bus stop, you're going past them at the same pace it takes to walk. Just smile and say hi and try not to talk to yourself too much. I am in the mountains and my God it's beautiful.
It's amazing. Take some pictures. Okay, that's a steep hill. Taking pictures versus getting down the hill before the snow sticks to the ground. Uhh. Bye.

I got to the bottom of the hill in time to see the ferry exit the harbour and head out to sea. I was in time. I was in time to spend some time. I parked my bike, took out my portable stove and made some Tetley tea. I went inside the waiting room area, took off my waterproofs and placed them on the radiator and ate Cocoa Camino chocolate. I ate Jelly Belly Christmas present Jelly beans from Montreal. I listened to other people complain about the two hours we had to wait for the next ferry. I barely noticed the time go by. I was happy to sit down again. I was happy to do nothing. I was happy to have no deadlines to meet.

I did arrive in Vancouver some hours later replete with fatigue and extreme hunger. I inhaled a large bowl of granola and sat down to assess my state of mind, but I was too tired...So I put on a movie I had seen many times before and made up my bed and passed out and woke up at midnight. I wasn't in a tent. I wasn't cold. There were no coyotes. I peed in the bathroom wearing underwear and a tee-shirt. I came back to bed and turned on the TV, set it to the fireplace channel which broadcasts a fire burning in a fireplace over and over again. I peeled oranges and decided that I wasn't going to sleep. I listened to the silence. There were no deadlines to meet.

Three days after Christmas 2007 in Jen and Noel's flat with the sounds of Sigur Ros and the help of a gray laptop, I write to you. To all of you who know me. I write to you all because you are all my family, some by blood, some by choice, some by both. It is a seasoned greeting. Seasoned by your influence, seasoned by your support, seasoned by your love, seasoned by your friendship. I always try to iterate how affected I am by your friendships. Know that across the distance and time that separate us, you are always in my heart.

Lots of love,
December 28th 2007.

Inner Yoda

My inner yoda sez to me "Look after yourself and lead by example." and then he stumbles off and has a slice of pizza.
Inner Yoda looks like me except that he has elvish ears and a beard and sticks out his lips and waggles them like a fish. He sleeps evenly and snores a little. He is wide awake long before I am drinking tea and snorting at the rubbish articles in the morning paper. He opens the fridge and pulls food out at random and leaves a mess, after he has finished eating his strange concoctions. He giggles throughout the day. He pats me on the back for having a shower and shaving. He pulls me aside and whispers words of support when I go for exams or job interviews. He goes shopping with me and shouts out the prices of items he finds too expensive, at the grocery store. He sits on the back of my bike and gives me pep talks on how to deal with people's behaviour and personal struggles. He massages my arms when my tendonitis is acting up. He reminds me that I am grouchy when I have to work, and says that I prefer a good snooze to anything approaching decision-making. He makes me chuckle about my eccentricities. He goes to sleep at least an hour before I do. He brings me peace through meditation and shows me how to listen to my heart.

For the truth lies in each of us. Our task is to recognize our truth.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Family’s Bananas

In those days the family I knew best were: myself, my older brother and younger sister, my mom and my aunt Dorothy. My parents separated when I was young, leaving my father stranded in Ottawa. Summers, winter holidays, Thanksgiving, Easter break, were all spent in West Chester PA with my aunt and uncle when he was still alive. The pilgrimage to Cape May was made every June for as long as I can remember. My aunt Dorothy who was somewhat older than my great-aunt and had been going there every summer since she was a child.

Aunt Dorothy was my mom’s half-sister, that’s why she was so old. She used to ride horses and teach as well as being an accomplished sculptor. I only ever knew her as old and wrinkly with bowed legs. My brother and I joked that you could open an umbrella underneath her without touching either knee. My mom was always careful to encourage us to be nice to Dorothy, because she was so old. That’s just the way of things: parents teach kids to be nice to old people.

My aunt sat huddled in the passenger seat of the 1977 Chevy Nova, partly because her back was stooped, but mostly because my mom had piled everything under and around her. There she was: old and fussy, but barely able to see over the dashboard. My mom sat in the middle. It was one of those bench seats that you find in old cars. One of her feet was on Dorothy’s side of the floor and another one a little too close to the foot that was on the gas pedal. My brother had just got his license and was driving. I was about thirteen. My younger sister and I were stuffed into the back seat, surrounded by garbage bags filled with who knows what --- towels, flippers, sandals, flip-flops, a mask and snorkel, probably a plastic shovel as well --- packing is my mother’s specialty.

I don’t know if you know the summers in Pennsylvania, but they’re hot. A dry hot. The kind of hot that burns your fingers when you put your hand on the car door handle. You can’t wait to start driving so that some air, hot or cold, will start moving through the car. In that car on that hot, hot day, with my grumpy sister and my mother a bit nervous of my young brother’s driving, my aunt regaled us with a some of her senility which proved to be the antidote for all the forces against us.

The car was so full of junk, you could barely roll down the window for fear of ‘luggage’ falling out. One of my legs was trapped between the seat and a garbage bag, the other was at another location which momentarily escapes my memory. Grahnia my sister was sleeping. Only visible through the bags because of her long curly black hair and the occasional light-hearted snore. Most of us were asleep. Due to the unfortunate packing job that so often paralysed my mother’s organisational skills, some of the stuffing began to leak out. To clarify, I think that my mother had brought plates and cups with us, because we were renting a three-bedroom apartment for our three week stay.

Sometimes the stuffing was towels or newspaper that my mom had wrapped around the dishes. On this occasion, she used packing kernels: those little Styrofoam shapes that act as a cushion for valuables when shipped in boxes. Through a hole in the box and on a cushion of air, some of the packing kernels start floating around the inside of the car. I woke up to find my brother laughing as these Styrofoam shapes started getting caught on faster currents of air and whipped themselves out the window.

My brother’s laugh is very contagious. It starts as little giggles, and then he gets redder and redder until he makes a sound like he’s constipated and explodes in a paroxysm of tears and gusts of ha aah ha haha aaaaaaaahaahhhhhhhhh, followed by some high-pitched wheezing, repeated by the constipation sound and more hahhahahahaha. By this time, I found the cause of this uncontrollable force of noise. Dorothy had started to nibble on some of the floating pieces of Styrofoam, thinking (God knows what) that they were a free treat that had finally come her way. I could just imagine her pleased that little nibbles were now able to be plucked from the air, instead of having to open up a packet of food. My mother turned to her to make some concerned and helpful comment, as she would to a child, when my aunt blurted out “It tastes just like jam.” There was nothing to be done after that. There was no reason that could be applied to the situation. My mother, against all her maternal instincts to protect, roared with laughter. My brother in such a fit, his spasms of laughter making me laugh in my silent uncontrollable giggles, did his best to keep control of the car. I think we even woke up Grahnia. That was the first time I saw my mother laugh so openly, honestly and loudly. It was enough to wake us up from the tired heat and hot metal and remind us of what the situation really was, a family trip of young and old, and of how we were all slightly bonkers, just like everyone else. On our way to the beach.

As I sit and write this, tears of laughter come to my eyes again, though at the time being squashed against the seat, surrounded by plastic bags and cookie crumbs, it was the funniest thing in the world. I don’t know if Dorothy knew that her behaviour was the source of such merriment. She might have guessed that her actions were questionable in retrospect. Honestly, who knows what happened in her head. She was a direct person, kindly in some ways and partially bananas. Which we all had a fondness for.

The Secret Banana War
We used to stay at her home in Pennsylvania. An apartment in a vast community of old, decrepit, dying people. Pleasantly situated in the countryside, surrounded by forests and farmland. Her apartment was on the second floor of a small two-storey building. My mother did all the food shopping. She used to buy tons of vitamins, sometimes from hippies who lived in buses and owned health-food stores. And with every shopping purchase, she bought bananas. My sister, ate little else in those days: cheese, bread, plain pizza, egg milkshakes and bananas. Dorothy ate bananas too. So in order to keep some bananas for my sister’s queer diet, my mother hid the bananas. As it turned out, Dorothy did too. My mother once commented, in a state of incredulity, that she had found nine banana peels secreted in Dorothy’s room. I guess Dorothy was just fending for herself in the secret banana war.