Tuesday, 3 April 2012

About Me, Part 51: I'll Chase The Blues Away

I had been back at work for two weeks when it dawned on me. I needed a change the career area of my life. A fresh, new direction. During the spring of 2008, recently broken up, I felt like I was floundering in deep water and in need of a life raft. I realized how much the media and communications issues about my work were what interested me the; I found that the depth of understanding about media and technology were lacking. Then, I remembered that I had once done a major in Communication Studies. It was time to do another graduate degree, this time in the communications field. My growing interest in popular culture seemed to point that way as well. Being on a service desk had burned me out, largely because I was trying to take care of others, but I felt that a big change was in order. So, I began looking into applying to the Simon Fraser University communications graduate program.

Work on this got me believing in a future again. Many people recently broken, divorced or widowed do something new in their lives. Now was my chance.


In the aftermath of my ended relationship, I did a lot of therapeutic work. I continued to see my therapist on a weekly, then bi-weekly, basis. I also read books on partners and allies of abuse survivors, Buddhist twelve step programs and, newly, on codependence. I always had a sense of myself as being eager to please, but I often, in desperation, put myself last in situations and was usually focused on not making others upset by submerging my own needs. I had been raised to do this, I had done throughout my life, in an out of relationships, and at work. It needed to change. I went to my first CODA (Co-Dependents Anonymous) meeting on the west side in May. I already knew about the twelve steps from my ex's NA work. Now, here was something I could work on. I found the principles very basic and practical: "To thine own self, be true".

My ex continued to call me, and at increasingly strange hours of the day and night. Then, came emails. Blaming, then apologizing. "I love yous" which were then taken back. I felt that I could ill afford, financially and emotionally, to get back together. I also felt that, while there might have been desperation on her side, that the commitment was not there; we had split up during the most crucial test of the relationship. The relationship itself had had a lot of flip-flopping. I just wanted to be left alone to think and get myself together. 

Near the end of April, my ex, her mother and a friend of her mother's came by the house to get the last of her furniture. I helped them take it down to Value Village. Then, my ex and I went for a coffee at a small coffeehouse near Kingsway. The conversation went from me being blamed to having subtle hints about getting back together. It was no longer what I wanted. I was exhausted. My ex gave me a lift home.  A few weeks later, I had coffee with the mutual friend that had introduced us. By that point, I was trapped in my head trying to get away from my hurt. I do not remember making a great deal of sense, but I think I was beginning to repeat myself; I was no longer interested.


The third Friday of April, I had the host of Sweet & Hot on my program. We played the usual format we played when we co-hosted, early rhythm and blues from the 40s and 50s. Outside, it was snowing: an unwelcome sight on a spring night. Towards the end of the show, he mentioned that he would be dj'ing a swing dance on the east side, in fact, at the Grandview Legion mere blocks from my house. I thought that it would be interesting to go, particularly since there was a drop-in lesson before the dance. My guest put me on the guest list for the lesson and dance.

The next evening, I got dressed up in the best suit that I could find and headed out. When I got to the Legion and headed up the stairs, I was met by the organizer of the event who immediately struck as very kind-hearted and generous. I told him that I was on the guest and was welcomed in. The class itself was simple and fun; I learned a few steps which I practiced over and over again. Then came the dance.

I had expected a room full of seniors who could remember the big band era, dancing gingerly around the auditorium floor. Instead, a flood of twenty and thirty somethings filled the floor and the tables around it. Most were dancing expertly to the vintage music my dj friend was playing. There were couples dancing the lindy hop, individuals doing Charleston and other solo jazz steps, there were line dances (the shim sham, I later learned) and ring dances (the Big Apple). It was a scene from a 30s film or a zany Warner Brothers cartoon. I was blown away. How could this have been happening mere blocks from me without knowing it? My ex and I had often talked of taking a dance class together. I had often admired swing dancing, even seeing old films as a child. Now, here was my chance. I suddenly felt good about being alive again. For the next few years, swing dancing at the Grandview Legion on Saturday nights would become a second home.


I named my new cat Tatum, after the jazz pianist Art Tatum. I once knew someone at Concordia University who had a cat named Mingus. Given that Tatum was a tuxedo cat, I felt that he looked elegant enough to be a piano player. Cat rhythms struck me as being very jazzy. As he had been picked up in Prince George as a stray, no one at the SPCA knew what his original name had been. The called him Apple Pie. I christened him Tatum. Tatum was breaking into his new home very well. But, of course, he had a personality. He could be very needy, and it sometimes irritated me, but I came to see both the cat and myself as having been shipwrecked and in need of a stable home base.

He would watch at the back window while I gardened in the yard. The yard had more than enough activity in it, with the birds, squirrels and neighbourhood cats: no lack of entertainment. By June, he was thoroughly housebroken. One Sunday afternoon, a noise at the door caught his attention. A short while later, I opened the door and a card with some lavender taped to the envelope fell in. It was a greeting card with a long letter in it from my ex. It was a last attempt to get us back together. By then, I was already heading down a different road.


I was at the Car Free Day festival when I passed a booth with information about a new urban garden being set up several blocks south of me. They were in need of volunteers to get started. I had gardened at home for a couple of years. But, here was a chance to get involved in starting a garden from scratch. I decided that I wanted to help create the garden, literally from the ground up, so I signed up.

A couple of weeks later, I went to a meeting at the proposed garden site. It turned out that there would be a lot of logistics and paperwork involved in getting set up. The first several meetings were about getting insured and the finances together. Funding was coming from a well-known international organization involved in funding community agricultural projects. By the beginning of summer, we started to build the plots, plank by plank, bolt by bolt, stake by stake. Then, came filling each nine by four foot plot with a compost mixture from the city. Planting began late that year, but the yields were okay. The last stake was driven into the ground with a photo being taken of us, last golden spike style. Yet, another place that I could call home.


Summer was very warm that year. Inside the Legion on a Saturday night, it was sweltering. But, the music was hot, too. I clung to each new move, wanting to be better and better and what looked like such a liberating dance. I was struck by the energy of it all, the aesthetics as well as the soul of it. It had given me a new lease on life and, in the summer of 2008, I gave swing dancing my all.

I had begun to take lessons at the dance studio at Maison de la Francophonie, near my old neighbourhood on the west side. The beginner's class gave me a good ground o work. By the end of it, I could do a complete section with a partner. Leading proved to be a real task as it normally is. But, in my case, something was askew. I really admired the grace of the follows and longed to learn what they had learned the way that they had learned it. It had not yet occurred to me why I felt that.

One thing I really liked about the swing dance community was the fusion of vintage music fans and dancers: very cerebral folks alongside very physical folks. I found the combination electric. My own musical tastes began to shift over to older music than I had been used to. I began to collect swing era music.

The music that I played on my show began to move backwards towards the earlier material that I had co-hosted with. My own style of presentation, the previous year's fedora and argyle vests and more hats all the time, became that of a jazz hepcat or a 50s era beatnik. Suddenly the very air swing, rhythm and blues, early rock and roll. All of it was one big tonic.


July 20, 2008. Originally the wedding date. My landladies had invited me to the folk festival with them. I went, but I was in such shock that the day had arrived and life was so different, that I began to disassociate from myself. The whole day at Jericho Park, I felt as if I were hovering legless over the ground. I was not myself that day as extreme grief kept me numb, the tears always on the verge of coming, but never able to.

And then, the day had ended. A major hurdle had been passed on the road back to myself. The work that I was doing in CODA was very useful by this time. My journaling kept my thoughts clear; I knew how to recognize when my thinking fell back into dwelling on how to keep others from getting upset, how I could fix others. My eyes were opening in new ways. Relationships had not saved me from myself. I began to come home to myself in new ways and old, unfinished business began to rise up from within.


The first ever bi community cabaret was being planned for Cafe Rhizome on the Friday evening before BC Day weekend and the Pride Parade and Festival. I was asked to resurrect my "Miss Penny" routine for the show. Begrudgingly, I agreed. One of our friends flew back from London, Ontario to co-MC the cabaret alongside his former Queer FM co-host. It was a mini-reunion of sorts. During my act, I felt very awkward and mechanical, the wig not feeling natural enough. I had outgrown costumes. What I really wanted was female clothing, regular women's clothing. For a few weeks afterwards, one of my bi friends and I went window shopping for clothing ideas. Then, a few weeks after that, my feelings went underground again.


In early September, while my workplace was preparing for a major renovation, I flew back to Montreal. This had been the year that my folks were to have flown out for the wedding. Instead, I went back to my hometown alone. 

It was unseasonably hot for most of the week, upper 30s Celsius. While I stayed with my folks, I was badgered about why my relationship had not worked out. I did not feel ready to talk about it, but eventually got pressured into talking about some the issues that had led to it. I left my own gender issues out. I felt relief when they finally left me alone.

I spent some time roaming around as I used to when I was younger, through downtown and my old music and book haunts, McGill campus, the Plateau neighbourhood, NDG, Westmount. I had lunch at a diner on Grand and Somerled before visiting one of my uncles (my mother's youngest brother) who lived in an apartment across the street. The neighbourhood had a lot of old buildings and the original Reitman's factory with its neon was a block west of there. I noticed and valued these things now. The 30s and 40s vibe had followed me back home.

One of my cousins and his girlfriend took me out to lunch for my thirty-eighth birthday. My cousin had been out in Vancouver briefly a month earlier. We went to Dunn's deli downtown and talked about our respective careers: they were school teachers. Afterwards, I met up with another relative who took me to see another cousin with her newborn daughter.

My father, stepmother and I went to Jean Talon market for a seafood and chips dinner and to a neighbourhood Chinese buffet on the night of my thirty-eighth birthday. The next night, my father's side of the family took me out for another birthday dinner at a Greek restaurant. I told everyone about my plans to go back to school. I felt very hopeful about the next stage of my life.

I went bowling with my father, his uncles and his father at a nearby bowling alley. It was stressful as my father kept being overbearing in showing me how to bowl. One of his uncles even said that I was being "overcoached".

One of my bi friends had relocated to Montreal through his aircraft maintenance job. We attempted to meet up the day before I left, but wound up just missing each other. I sat in Cafe Santropol waiting. Meanwhile, my friend, not familiar with the restaurant's hidden facade, walked right past it. When I got back to my neighbourhood metro stop, my father was there waiting, worried as my friend had called him repeatedly wanting to know where I was. Comical, but irritating at the same time.

The next afternoon, after watching Dr. Strangelove on TV, we left for the airport, stopping off at a Tim Horton's on the way for a bite. I slept much of the way back. Landing was smooth. I settled back into my normal routine within days. My new normal routine.


While in Montreal, I had arranged to get my undergraduate transcripts sent to me for my SFU application. I had already received the ones from UBC. I soon began to assemble my application package. This involved some sample academic writing. As I could not find any, I needed to write two sample from scratch. I got busy researching. Meanwhile, I arranged an appointment to meet with the graduate program coordinator. My summer had been one of healing. But, fall would bring a much needed boost forward.

To be continued ...

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