I’m not a perfectionist. At least, I never thought I was. I never cared if there was a drip in the paint on my motorcycle, or the seam wasn’t straight on my costume, or my desk was messy, or my bed wasn’t made. I’m more concerned with doing a safe pole invert and being able to say I did it, than making it look pretty. I have an affinity for symmetry, but that’s mathematical, right?

I’m beginning to realize that it’s an altogether different story when it comes to behavior.  Observations have piled up over the years from people who care about me, and I’ve begun to takes those to heart and make my own observations. The conclusion? I have impossibly high expectations for myself, and to some extent for the people I encounter.

This reality surfaced on its own for me today when I realized how hopeless I felt about one of the projects I’m working on. It feels impossibly complex, so many moving parts, so many unknowns, so many actors, no one person in charge, not even a solid deadline. We’re working hard at it, pinning down as many details and assignments as we can. But something will get missed. And knowing that defeats me. I have another project I’m working on that is nearing completion. Everyone else will consider it a success and a significant accomplishment. But there will be things that aren’t quite right, tweaks that have to be made, user experiences that aren’t quite ideal. To me, that means I failed. It makes job satisfaction feel far out of reach. Break something, and let me fix it. That is an easy, clear expectation.  I know what the standard is. That I can accomplishment. There I can succeed.

I had the same problem when I started college. If there was an A to be had, I was failing if I didn’t get it. I’ve managed to somehow overturn that thinking. I’m still getting As so far, but I feel like I’ve succeeded if I’ve learned something, rather than if I’ve gotten an A. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. I haven’t had much chance to analyze it yet. I do know that if I can sort out my expectations for myself, it can only bode well for the people who have to deal with me having expectations for them.

(Breathe in) I am (breathe out) enough. Repeat. Thanks Joanne. I’ll believe it some day.


The light

Scrolling through social media today, I saw a quote from Rumi: “A wound is a place where the light enters you.” It stuck with me all day, because I couldn’t shake the notion that it meant something different to me than it probably does to the person who posted it and to most who encounter it. In the realm of spirituality and, I suspect, in the minds of those I most often see quoting Rumi, light has some particular qualities. It has a connotation of warmth, life, healing. But when I saw “light” in the context of this quote, I made an immediate connection in my mind with the phrase, “the cold light of day.” For me the light entering the wound is the bright spot in the winter sky that ought to have warmth but doesn’t, the harsh glare that bounces off the snow. It is revealing the bleak truth about the things that were easy to ignore before the wound came along and the light came in.IMG_0552


Oh, Say, Can You See?

The wisest patriot I know brought this article from the Atlantic to my attention, entitled “Why Many Americans Are Averse to Unironic Expressions of Patriotism.” Never mind the over-qualification by use of adjectives, I suspect in an attempt to not offend anyone by appearing to make too blanket of a statement. I am one of these Americans. American patriotism makes me squirm. Why?

I wasn’t born in this country. I was born an American, by way of my mother’s citizenship, but I was born in Canada. The Canada of my upbringing was a humble, mellow place that seemed to be OK with living quietly in the shadow of the big brother to the south. The backlash of Canadian patriotism that grew out of a beer commercial into a way to provide Canadians with a sense of identity separate from America happened after I left. I didn’t grow up believing that I lived in the greatest nation on earth, but rather that I lived in a great nation, and that other great nations existed. I understood that America was powerful, but I didn’t understand how powerful until I moved here as an adult. The best way I can describe my idea of patriotism to this point might be that I thought of nations like people. I thought that if a nation was going to get along in the world, it ought to be humble, aware of its faults as well as its strengths, and be willing to admit when it was wrong.

The thing that pushed me past slight embarrassment at overt displays of patriotism to downright discomfort and even fear was the huge swell of patriotic expression after September 11th. I saw those expressions so closely related to suspicion of anything or anyone foreign, and I grew mistrustful of those who made them. When I heard “God Bless America,” I heard a whispered “burn in hell anyone from anywhere else” tacked on the end. I still hear it, though I chastise myself for my own closed-minded-ness when I do.

I’m beginning to understand some things that are making me more comfortable with expressions of American patriotism. One, this is a great country, with a unique, nuanced and difficult role to play in the world, a role which I still understand very little about. Two, it might not be practical for a nation to behave like a person in quite the way that I expected in order to survive in this world, though this one I’m still not sure about either. Three, the flag-waving and jingoistic speech-making that might be used to entice the less informed to support a particular side in a debate is not patriotism, and does not make honest expressions of patriotism wrong.

So I roll my eyes less, and I look for the honest and the wise lovers of this country, past and present, to teach me what it really means to be a patriot.


Thoughts on thinking

Why don’t I feel the need to have all of my political, moral, social stances worked out and analyzed to the nth degree? I have a spouse, and one or two friends, who study and analyze these things to what I consider to be an obsessive level of detail. Am I just lazy and not wanting to think that hard? For them, it’s not only important, they actually enjoy it. For me it’s hard work, frustrating and seems somewhat pointless. I can never know every nuance of every argument. I feel like the farther I go down a particular path, the less open I will be to other points of view and avenues of thought. I also feel like learning schools of thought from books and/or lectures gives me a sterile, out-of-context set of facts about a particular philosophy.  If, instead, I learn about different beliefs from my encounters with people who hold those views, I have a context in which to comprehend it and observe empirical results of those beliefs in action.

I learn by context, by pushing buttons and breaking stuff. My brain doesn’t absorb theory. It observes patterns and uses them to make inferences. Perhaps if I learned about John Locke or Immanuel Kant as a person and what personal experiences led them to their beliefs, it would have meaning for me. But they are long dead, and I am much more interested in learning about those close to me and what makes them tick.


Stompin’ Who?

My standard pop-culture news sources, Facebook and Instagram, informed me last week that Stompin’ Tom Connors has died. Stompin’ Tom was a Canadian folk icon. I suppose most would refer to him as a country artist, but I think it would be a an insult to the man and his Canadian patriotism to lump him in with most of the formulaic drivel that shows up on stage at the Academy of Country Music Awards these days. I realized when I heard the news that I haven’t even heard a Stompin’ Tom song for probably a couple of decades. So I turned to Pandora. It actually delivered, playing Big Joe Mufferaw, the first Stompin’ Tom song I ever heard. With my headphones on, realizing I still knew most of the lyrics, I started thinking about the great folk music tradition Canada has. The closest equivalent I know of in the US is the bluegrass and mountain music of the southeast, but there is a variety and uniqueness to the Canadian tradition that is very, well, Canadian, for lack of a better word.

Folk music and CBC radio were the only acceptable non-religious, non-farm-related form of grown-up media allowed in our house. I’m calling it folk music, because I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s music by and about Canadians. In many cases it has elements of sound, whether vocal or instrumental, that are historically Canadian or pre-Canadian. The first records I remember listening to that weren’t Sunday School or kindergarten songs were by Russ Gurr and Wilf Carter. Wilf Carter became popular in the 50s and 60s and was famous for yodeling in his otherwise traditional country tunes. I think the first recorded version of “You are My Sunshine” I ever heard was his version, complete with yodeling. Russ Gurr was known as The Singing Farmer, and on the record I remember, Federal Grain Train, sang especially about Manitoba, farming, and famous Canadian tales like the story of Louis Riel.

The next record cover that sticks in my head is Stan Rogers’ Northwest Passage album. I still know every word of The Field Behind the Plow, The Idiot, Night Guard, and Lies by heart. Unlike the traditional steel guitar country leanings of the previous two, Rogers’ band had a mostly maritime sound, a huge acoustic guitar-based sound driven by fiddle and complex harmony. He sang mostly epic ballads, about every traditionally Canadian tale or problem you could think of, from the early explorers to the failure of the fishing industry, the struggles of small farmers to the oil boom.

As my siblings and I got older and learned to use our own voices, we became enamoured with the Rankin Family, probably thanks to CBC. I think we felt some kindred with these five siblings (though they actually came from a family of 12). The Rankins have a very traditional ceilihd base, even occasionally singing in Gaelic, but managed to translate their sound in some cases to a pop-friendly format powerful enough to hit the Top 40 while I was in junior high. The high, clear maritime-Irish-accented vocals, combined with a fiddle that mourns and dances by turns, are the very definition of the term emotional roller coaster. I can barely listen to Fare Thee Well Love without crying, and singing some of those harmonies, especially on the line “in pauper’s glory my time I’ll bide” with my sisters, or even just with the recording, guarantees that my voice will break.

Before now, if you had asked me about the music I listened to growing up, I would have emphasized the hymns, Sunday School songs and contemporary Christian music, and how we weren’t allowed to listen to the music our friends listened to. I suppose it’s a little sad that it took the death of a legend for me to sit down and thoroughly appreciate the rich musical heritage I was fortunate to experience. If you’re interested, here’s a YouTube tour down my memory lane.

Wilf Carter – You Are My Sunshine

Russ Gurr – The Hurleyville Taxi

Stompin’ Tom Connors – Big Joe Mufferaw

Stan Rogers – The Idiot

The Rankins – Fare Thee Well Love

Others I didn’t mention, but that fit into the story:

Loreena McKennit – The Bonny Swans

Great Big Sea – Excursion ‘Round the Bay


Dream on

Last Monday night I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep. I was supposed to give a big presentation at work the next day, and it is not unusual for me to play through in my head all the morbid fantasies of what could go wrong in such a situation. But I went right to sleep – and I slept well. I rarely have dreams that I remember, and when I do, they are the disturbing stressful kind, where I spent the first few awake minutes afterwards still trying to hide the body or mend the relationship before I realize it was just a dream. But I woke up Tuesday morning remembering a dream that had none of those negative emotions or after-effects. All I remember from the dream is a sense of a person, a personality, and an image. The person is my mother. My mother has been dead for nearly thirteen years. The personality is something like me now, someone who has suddenly discovered herself and is learning to love herself, and take charge of her life. The image is a tattoo, an intricate, mostly geometric design, symmetrical on multiple axes, the kind of art my mother would have doodled while talking on the phone. I remember my mother as a woman characterized by worry and regret, resigned to her fate and fantasizing about what she wished her life had been. The woman in my dream, with that doodle on her bicep and a sense of satisfaction and determination about her is someone I like to think my mother could have become, given the opportunity, and maybe to some extent did start toward before she died. I keep remembering this dream. I can’t think of quite the right word to describe how it makes me feel. It has bits of satisfaction, joy, happiness, camaraderie, relief, and I seem to have lost the sense of resentment I felt toward her. She was just a person, with a lot of the same genes and brains and emotions and personality flaws as me. It is highly unlikely that, had she lived, she would have become the person in my dream, but the idea that the potential was there has had a significant impact on me.



I stopped at the stop sign and waited for the pair of headlights that was coming down the block toward me. After about two seconds, I regretted stopping.  The car was moving very slowly, and its orange left turn signal predicted its turn in the direction I was headed. I tapped my boot on the pavement with growing impatience. This did not bode well for the commute ahead. A slow chilly ride was not what I’d had in mind when I hauled my ass out of bed that morning. I kicked the bike into gear and followed the ambling sedan down the street. After we crossed the bridge, I grinned as the driver signaled a right turn into another part of the subdivision. I was home free. I slowed at the intersection with the main road. No headlights showed in either direction, so I hit the throttle.  Four shifts in quick succession and I glanced back down into the subdivision and saw the offending sedan parallel to me on the side street below. I looked up at the moon nearly obscured by the smoky haze, then back down at the road.

I was topping the first rise and shifting into sixth when I saw a sudden chunk of tan pop up on the side of the road, illuminated by my headlight. My brain screamed “deer” as the animal moved into my lane. I shut down the throttle and veered left, hoping the mass of meat and antlers would change direction and head back to the ditch from whence it came. “No, no, no!” I could hear my own pleading voice echoing off the inside of my helmet. The deer kept coming, and I saw its shoulder in massive hairy detail as my right headlight slammed into it before I shut my eyes.

I felt my shoulder, then my helmet, hit the ground and heard the scraping inside my helmet. As soon as I realized I was alive and could move, I stood up, knowing it was pitch black and I was lying in the middle of the road during prime commuting time. A flicker of motion caught my eye and I saw the deer dash back down the ditch. I looked back down the road. My bike lay straddling the center line, headlight pointed into the oncoming lane, tail light still in my lane. As I hurried to the side of the road, I heard a motor, then saw headlights coming from town. I waved my arms frantically, but the car barely slowed and barley missed the bike. I began to feel a little pain in my shoulder and knee and thought I must have landed pretty hard. Not the knee again, I thought. I saw headlights coming the other direction and moved to the other side of the road, desperation mounting as I realized I was dressed all in black in the dark, and one of my arms was really not working. I was waving one arm, and imploring inside my helmet, “Stop! Please stop!” trying to think of a way to make myself more visible, when the pair of headlights slowed and stopped. It was a big Ford Super Duty. I hurried around to the driver’s side, flipping my helmet open as I went. I didn’t really make eye contact, just gasped out, “I hit a deer. Can you help me get my bike off the road?”

He got out of his truck and asked a few times if I was OK. I kept saying yes, I’m fine. In the glow of his headlights we looked at the bike. Then we heard the sound of a big diesel coming down the road behind his truck. He went over and waved the school bus around the bike. Then he came back and tried picking the bike up from one side. There was no way to get a good grip, so he went around to try it from the other side. “Let me help,” I said and reached both hands under the bike. I felt ends of bone grind against one another in my shoulder. “I think my collarbone’s broken,” I said. I got a grip under the seat with my left hand, and together we got the bike back to standing. We rolled it into the ditch. “Can you flip the kickstand down?” I asked. He did, but as we lowered the bike it kept sinking in the soft sand. We stood it back up. I looked around and saw a big flat rock a few feet away. I picked it up with my good hand, took it around the other side of the bike and placed it under the kickstand. He eased the bike down onto the kickstand again, and this time it stayed upright. I walked back out into the wash of headlights and picked up half of the right front faring from where it lay in the road, the pretty orange paint sparkling strangely in the halogen beams. I began to have an inkling that, though I couldn’t see much of the damage at the moment, my prized possession with its pretty orange paint job and the hours of work put in by my best friend and me, was probably destroyed. We picked up what pieces we could see and tossed them in the ditch next to the bike. As I walked back and forth across the road I could hear my own slightly panicked breathing.

When it seemed that everything was cleaned up, I asked the mystery neighbor if he could give me a ride back to the house. I opened the door to the truck and pulled off my helmet, no easy task with one hand, then climbed into the truck. He shut the door after me. I directed him the few blocks back to the house, making enough small talk along the way to figure out where he lived and where he was headed that morning. I tried to steady my breathing as the ache in my shoulder grew. I reached into my jacket and felt the abnormal lump of bone sticking out under the skin. I realized I was in more than a little mental distress when I told my chauffeur to turn left instead of right down the alley. When we reached the house, I asked his name and thanked him for the help, then punched in the garage code and went into the house. I set my helmet on the dining room table and walked upstairs. I could hear Lance getting ready in the bathroom. I pushed open the door and saw his face in the mirror looking confused, toothbrush in hand. “I hit a deer,” I said.


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