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Shuttin' 'Er Down

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I rarely have time to post here these days. Heck, I don't have time to even think about what I would post, if I did have the time. When it does come up on my mental roulette wheel, it's a source of mild guilt. I expect I have a readership of 12 people, tops -- but how could I disappoint all of you by leaving you without updates for so long?

This month, having lost both my grandmother and mother-in-law, my readership has declined to 10. It feels wrong, somehow, to go on posting without them. Or maybe that's got nothing to do with it; maybe it's just time to sweep one thing off my plate. God knows, my life has only gotten more and more full since I started this blog in 2007. Something's got to go, so I'll be a good little Buddhist and release my attachment.

Writing used to be so central to my life -- and of course, what better subject than myself? Since moving to Cape Breton, writing has remained an important outlet, both personally and professionaly, but it has gradually moved to the periphery of my sense of identity. I still write in journals, and keep a diary, and once in a while I chip away at a play...but I am more content to define myself now in terms of my real-life communities, not my (admittedly still busy) inner world. I am part of a small, eccentric educational and artistic community, tucked away in the middle of an island with a working-class ethos and a penchant for country music. I have gaming communities, both at the table and online. And family has become the most important community of all, revolving mostly around a single, recent addition who can't read yet.

Maybe when X gets older, writing will become important again. Or maybe I'll get restless and start a blog about one of those other communities. Or maybe I'll re-open this puppy next month, but only publish haiku. Time will tell. Me, I have no idea, as always, where the muse will haul me next.

Thanks for reading.

Full of Life

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A year ago, I was in heaven and hell, trying to reconcile the astounding miracle of new life with the devastating toll of new fatherhood. That experience has flattened out, but only slightly; there are still miraculous highs and agonizing lows to having a now-one-year-old in the middle of my life.

This week, it's been heaven and hell for other reasons. Puffin's mom died last Saturday. It was partly anticipated, as she'd been coping with a lot of serious health issues for some time, but still rather sudden (heart attack). In some ways, the timing is a blessing: we just had a chance to spend time with her, and to show her X (she was there at his birth, but an even greater gift, to see him turn from a lump into a human being). But you always assume you'll have more time.

As a friend put it, "t's hard for me to imagine, as she was always so buoyant and full of life." That's very true, and it becomes even more remarkable to consider how she maintained that spark through so many physical ailments (and from the very start, as she grew up asthmatic in a world before inhalers).

But I also believe -- and she'd likely agree with me on this -- that we are all full of life, even if we don't express it through effervescence and joy. Even when we find ourselves in the midst of grief or hopelessness, there is a life force that wants to continue, to expand and connect and be given voice. Carolla did more than just live fully (though she totally did that); she reminded, and continues to remind, those who knew her of their own fullness. Even grieving her feels like it has the potential to make me a better spouse...parent...artist...human being.

On Tuesday, Puffin collected her ashes, and later commented to me that the family was busily discussing all the different places where they should be dispersed. All the places in the world she's visited? Or wanted to go? And I smiled inwardly, thinking of all the adventures she's going to make us have, getting her to her final destinations.

Also in the adventures-slash-hell category...tomorrow is our move from Glace Bay to Sydney. Moving days have traditionally been among the most stressful in my life -- probably second only to travelling days, in fact. And Puffin is still in Alberta. Wish me luck!

Closing Days

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After some eye-roll-inducing last-minute delays from the sellers, we closed the deal on our new house yesterday. The next week will be a cavalcade of tradesmen -- carpenter, locksmith, possibly but hopefully not electrician -- and then the furniture gets moved in two weeks. This prolonged style of moving is actually less stressful for me than the single-day move, since it doesn't leave us homeless for any stretch of time (the 2-3 hours between one house and the next are among the worst hours of my life).

But it does mean growing anxiety about selling our old house. We will try to be patient, to get the price we want even if it takes months on the market -- but selling a house is as new to us now as buying was three years ago. And new = scary, especially when six figures are involved.

Standing in the empty new house today, waiting for the carpenter, I tried to let the sheer possibilities wash through me. I tried to imagine all the family meals and D&D games that would take place in the dining room...all the writing that will hopefully get done in the 3rd floor office...I imagined Christmases and Halloweens and first date curfews and hangovers and empty nests. I have a very rich imagination, and I can adjust it like a garden hose to spray all over the future when I want it to.

But none of that imagining filled me with the excitement that I was hoping for. I don't know if that means the house is wrong -- I hope not, given what we just paid for it -- or if it's just a failure on my part, to truly inhabit those mental scenarios. Or maybe I'm just tired -- still exhausted from the long "vacation," and even more drained thinking about the next month or so. I have faith that, when those moments come, I will experience them fully. But here and now, I'm not in them, or really in this moment either. Here and now, I am 37 and weary.

Happy Babyversary

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This weekend, we flew back from Alberta to Cape Breton...X celebrated his first birthday...and Puffin and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.

In both cases, "celebrated" is a little strong. Obviously, X is too young to know what a birthday is, and since he (along with both of us) was still jet lagged and cranky from the trip, we didn't want to spring a lot of new surprises on him. Now that we're home, we figure normalcy and ritual is best for the boy's psyche.

As for our anniversary...well, it's a whole new ball game now, isn't it. I suppose we could have found a babysitter and treated ourselves to a quiet romantic etc. But we just got back from a two-month vacation, and we're just about to buy a new house, so we don't exactly feel like we can treat ourselves to much of anything. And romance? I'm not sure I ever knew what that was, but it sure doesn't seem to fit into the lexicon these days.

We're simply tired. The vacation was rewarding in many ways, but in the final analysis it was just exhausting. The next round of stuff -- moving and starting the new term at school -- will be equally exhausting. If we're celebrating in any way at all, it's by trying to catch our breath. But there's just not much breath left to catch.

If I had the time for self-reflection, I would review my posts and journal entries since X's birth, and probably find some reassurance in the fact that, yes, eventually, everything did get better, as everyone hastened to reassure me. He eventually started sleeping through the nights, he developed a personality, and I started my own slow attitude adjustment, coming to terms with the fact that, if I am going to do this parenthood thing right, then I have to do it all the way and pretty much all the time. It's coming. I'm coming around. But it's slow, like the changes in a one-year-old that creep up on you and then are suddenly all that matter. Oh, what's this now? He's learned how to pry the "baby-proof" covers off electrical sockets? Looks like Year Two is going to be chock full of shocks!

Family

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This week we did Calgary. Superficially, the Calgary leg of our trip observed the same formula as Lethbridge: up with the dawn, out of the house before any of our hosts awake, drive to a playground so X can wash gravel, then alternating socialization with babysitting until X (and the rest of us) goes down for the count.

But here, our hosts were not ailing geriatrics, but rather the vivacious young family of my cousin Dawne. Dawne and her four teenage daughters might not love X any more than his grandma and grampa do, but at least they have the strength to hoist him in their arms, and follow him around the floor, and mind him after bedtime now and then while we sneak off for a pint at the local pub. As a result, we are still very much full-time parents, but now it's starting to feel as if we might actually be on vacation, too.

But the family reunion doesn't stop there. Last night, we had a family gathering of unprecedented size, ostensibly in honour of X's first western tour. Altogether, we had 24 people (and one dog) from my father's side -- which I'm pretty sure is more than came to my wedding. They came from as far away as Vancouver (or, in my case, Cape Breton). I'm pleased that my son is so popular, although I wish he were old enough to remember all the attention he received.

I also partly wish that my family were closer to home, so they could play a more active role in his development -- especially considering the centrality of family in Cape Breton. My family was never particularly close when I was growing up, for geographical and interpersonal reasons, so I know that it's possibly to get along without a tight family network; never the less, I wish they were available for my son, so he can see his reflection in their faces, and know himself better as he grows.

And yet, as I sat there last night, swatting mosquitos and noshing on Alberta beef burgers with 23 of my relatives, I could only see myself reflected in a very few -- my cousin Dawne, my aunt Cathy, maybe my cousin John...and my father, with whom I once thought I had nothing in common. The rest of them -- aunts, cousins, first-cousins-once-removed -- are all nice people, but I feel a connection with very few of them, and I was hard pressed coming up with topics of conversation with them, after the initial "nice kid" talk wore thin.

Maybe that's the way of all families. Maybe it's worth putting up with the strangers in order to get time with the near-and-dear. Or maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, based on only a few hours of interaction; if I got to know the others, maybe I would start to see more and more of myself in them. Is that what families are for?

First World Anger

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Everybody gets angry. It's an instinct; our pre-sapient ancestors felt it with the same keenness, even though they had no words to describe it. It was probably a useful evolutionary trait, like fear or even greed. But in North American culture, it sometimes feels like we don't have enough to get angry about, so we embellish minor slights until they provide an outlet for our rage.

I like to think of myself as an emotionally balanced person, but I get angry all the time for no good reason. I'm not talking about screaming tantrums, although maybe the inward effects are the same. In my family, anger was most often expressed in seething frustration and acidic sarcasm; that's what I inherited, and that's what happens almost every day of my life.

Pointless case in point: ordering coffee today from a barista who either wasn't paying close attention to her job, or simply wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. I had to repeat my order three times before she figured out what to give me. When the total came to $4.20, I paid with a five dollar bill, two nickels and a dime; then I had to explain to the barista that I was owed a loonie, even though her till told her exactly that. Finally, I was handed two coffees full to the brim, so I had to pour some of them out into the trash before adding cream (clarification for non-coffee drinkers: baristas are supposed to ask you if you need room for milk or cream before topping you up).

I found these very minor inconveniences infuriating. I could conjure up a spectrum of excuses to explain my wrath (I worked in retail so I know about customer service ... I was buying coffee from an upscale shop, not a Tim Horton's ... I hadn't had any coffee yet and was therefore short-tempered...), but even as I was experiencing the emotion, a more rational part of me could see that this was not a big deal. At the worst, the barista's ignorance was slowing down my day by maybe sixty seconds. And my day was not rigorously scheduled; nobody else was expecting me to be anywhere anytime soon.

I don't think I'm alone here; I've seen plenty of other Canadians waiting in (somewhat) long line-ups in grocery stores, smoke pouring from their ears as the person ahead of them fumbles for change. Why does the prospect of a minor inconvenience fill us with rage? Do we really have nothing better to get angry about?

My greatest fear right now is that I will begin to transfer this unreasonable sense of self-righteous anger onto my child. Because now it's not just about my inconvenience; now my son's (development/safety/happiness/etc.) is on the line. I don't want to be that kind of parent, and I definitely don't want X to inherit my predlilection for first world rage. I can't expect him to grow up without any anger inside him -- he's homo sapiens, after all. But I hope that, after he emerges from the testosterone fog of adolescence, he will have found justifiable foci for his anger. Forgive the dim barista, condemn the exploitative coffee industry -- that sort of thing.

Whoop Up

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Here we are in Lethbridge, Alberta, or Fort Whoop-Up as it was once known, due to the 19th century whisky trading post that facilitated the whooping up of many local settlers.  Now, Lethbridge is mostly the domain of Mormons, Hutterites, and retirees who believe Sun TV when it tells them that Obama and the ghost of Jack Layton are sneaking into their homes at night and bombarding them with gay rays. Not a lot of whooping up, in other words.

Our little liberal nuclear family is hiding out in the basement of Puffin's parents' house. Her mom is home from the hospital and convalescing slowly. Now Puffin is mostly trying to help her parents sort out their home care situation, whilst running interference between her dad and brother -- two stubborn patriarchs who manage to disagree on everything despite running their households and lives pretty much exactly the same way. It's not a total madhouse or anything, just a minor minefield of passive-aggression. Puffin would be happy to stay out of it altogether, if she weren't concerned about her mother's health.

My role during such visits has traditionally been to keep my head down, and now I have an excellent excuse in X, who is 11 months old and requires constant attention. When Puffin arrived a few weeks ago, the house was not baby-proofed whatsoever; by the time I got here, she'd made progress, but it's still an impractical place to let a baby roam all day long. So I'm taking X out to a lot of playgrounds, where he attempts to consume a lot of gravel, or else to spray parks, where he attempts to consume a lot of water.

I was right; X has become a totally different creature since I last saw him a month ago. He is much more alert, and can understand and even communicate with us. He's not walking yet, but he crawls, cruises, and bounces with alacrity. It's no exaggeration to say he is learning new things every day. Although he is a handful and a half, his exhausting energy is tempered somewhat by his undeniable cuteness (and that's not just Dad talk; strangers in the grocery store will comment on his winning smiles). Even on days when he ends up over-tired and cranky, or days when he seems to be vying for the world record in poop production, I would still rather spend time with him than the conservative curmudgeons of Lethbridge.

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Hello Goodbye

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One last post before I fly west. I'm joining Puffin and X in Lethbridge, and we have plans to visit Calgary and Edmonton. I had also hoped to pop over to Nelson, to visit my old friend Salvatore, but Puffin's Mom is in the hospital right now, and if she doesn't recover soon, we'll probably have to rearrange our travel plans, including nixing the Nelson trip. That would suck, but the health and well-being of moms is pretty important.

This past month I've been left to my own devices, and my indolence has caught up with me in all sorts of unhealthy ways. I thought I would revel in the time alone, but all I've done is feel useless and forget everything I've started to learn about being a parent. Well, that's hyperbole; I have been productive, at least as much as usual; and I'm sure that fatherhood will come back to me quickly (or else I'll have to learn it anew anyway, since I said goodbye to a 10-month old and am going to reunite with an 11-month old. Change is the new status quo). But without the family around, everything I've done has felt particularly unimportant. I suppose that's actually a good thing, in the long run.

I can't think of much else to say that would qualify as profound, so I'll go to bed. I don't expect I'll be able to post much in July, as we'll be on the move -- or in August, for that matter, since we'll be moving. See yas on the other side!

Baby's First Brawl

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Puffin writes:

"Your son is on a tear today. He was fussy in the am but i dropped him off at J's anyway. Apparently there he got into a fight with another baby. It was mutual. J says they were rolling on the floor, tussling before she managed to separate them and make them apologize. Sheesh. When she brought X home i took him to bed but he spent an hour rolling around and chewing aggressively on books. He's finally asleep, head on my hip. Crazy baby!"

Now, pacifism is absolutely my first priority when it comes to instilling values in my little bundle of testosterone (Priority Value #2 is respect for others, which sort of underpins and reinforces PV #1. Of course, PV #3 involves an encyclopedic knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons monster stats, including combat weaknesses. X will be a complicated guy.)

But even so, I hope I'm not the only Buddhist in the batch who finds the image of two babies tussling pretty darn hilarious.

The Old Normal

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Yup, things are looking up. We finished our three-day run of A Promise to Repair -- all that stress and scheduling for three performances -- and I have no interest in post-mortems or hindsight analysis. I just wanna move on to my summer.

So far, that means rather a lot of packing. But I also did a speedy rewrite of my zombie play (Zom Rom Com), in the hopes of slipping it into Cape Stage's Halloween variety show. Which will probably mean I also have to direct it, which I don't really want to do, but which I'll do anyway, because I'd really like to see it on its feet.

Speaking of "like to see," I can't wait to see A Midsummer Night's Dream in the park this week. It's Sydney's first Shakespeare in the Park, and it features most of my theatre friends, mostly in the roles I would have cast them in, if I were directing the play. That means I get to see a play I've imagined directing, without having to lift a finger -- basically a dream come true (pun intended).

Puffin and X are doing better out west, now, so I'm not in a rush to join them. I'm probably putting a lot more emphasis on this than I ought to, but it really feels as if the next two weeks are my last, desperate gasp of child-free bachelorhood. Once I leave for the trip, and especially once we get back and move into the new house, I'm committed to the New Normal. Which just makes me want to relish the Old Normal as much as I possibly can.