It’s Just the Flu

Doctor wearing a surgical maskJan 2, 2007, somewhere in Oregon, I noticed my throat was sore. Probably just a cold, no big deal, I thought. This is where the narrator of my life should have said, “But it was not just a cold and it was, in fact, a very big deal.”

That sore throat was the beginning of the worst flu I have ever experienced. I spent the night in a roadside motel in Twenty-nine Palms, California, alternating between lying naked on the tiled shower floor to try and cool down, and putting on every layer of clothing I could find and shivering feverishly under the covers. Today I looked up my blog post from that time and it included the following description:

Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke with the horrible realization that there were approximately 27 hedge hogs dancing the Macarena in my stomach and someone had turned the thermostat down to Antarctic-Degrees-Celsius. On top of that, someone was pouring hot, liquid lead down my ear canals; another someone had set fire to my eyeballs and was inflating them with a tire pump. Meanwhile, Mike Tyson was busy perfecting his right and left hooks on my kidneys. I was in the grips of a monster flu and my sole consolation was that we were in a motel room and not camping on some deserted stretch of nowhere.

Ugh. Yes, I remember it well.

The next day, we arrived at the home of our dear friend Liz, and Fred ran interference to protect our host from the plague. I slept for 24 hours solid. What followed was weeks of misery. When the globs of grossness I was hacking up started coming out bloody, I gave in and went to a doctor (always a scary prospect for a Canadian in the USA). The prescribed medicine helped, but for months afterward—months!—I remained constantly tired and lethargic. I fell into a funk and would later discover that I was one of the lucky few for whom the flu increases the risk of depression. Hooray. I’d never experienced actual, clinical depression before that time but ever since that flu it rears its morbid head when it is least appreciated.

What I had was “just the flu” and it was fucking awful. I suffered for months and the time I should have been spending hiking and fishing and enjoying the Baja countryside and my friends, was spent sick, in pain, or battling depression. And I was lucky.

Let me repeat that: I was lucky.

I was lucky because I was on vacation at the time and had the luxury of a nice place to recover, a husband and friends to take care of me, and I was otherwise young and fit, which made recovery easier. I didn’t miss any work. I didn’t have kids or family members to look after. I was able to afford the prescription medicine that eased my symptoms. But, most importantly, it was just the flu. Yes, the flu kills many people every year—mostly those who are very young, very old, or who are already vulnerable—but for someone like me the virus would be a minor annoyance and the after effects (with the exception of the depression) would vanish soon enough.

I was lucky because it was “just the flu” and I didn’t have to reasonably worry that anyone I’d come into contact with, including our lovely host, could end up dead.

There is a “but”, though.

But…that “just the flu” didn’t have to happen.

Why did I get that flu? Because I’d attended a small house party on New Year’s Eve, with some good friends, and one of their friends chose to come even though she knew she was sick. I didn’t know she was sick. Not when we hugged at midnight, not when we were playing hilarious party games like “pass the orange from neck to neck”, not when we laughed and ate and drank so dangerously close to each other.

All that needed to happen for me to avoid months of misery, and depression that will follow me for the rest of my life, was for a sick person to choose to stay home and avoid infecting others.

Of course I was angry when I found out the cause but I couldn’t stay mad for long. We’ve all been there, right? We feel a little “under the weather” but we don’t want to miss a good time, so we go out anyway. We go to work sick, even we when can afford not to. We shop sick, we go to school sick, we exercise sick. As long as we can, we do. Not because we’re selfish monsters and we want everyone else to be sick, but because we’ve been bottle fed on the idea that illness equals weakness. Because it’s “just a cold” or it’s “just a flu”. We have put a sadly low price on our health and the health of others—and now we’re paying a much higher price for that attitude.

I’ve noticed a steady decrease on social media of the “just a flu” comments around Covid 19. In part, because the virus has shown us how much more pernicious and dangerous it is compared to the usual seasonal flu, in part because I’ve been ruthlessly unfriending people who refuse to accept basic science, and in part because the new hip topic is masks. To wear or not to wear?

The fact is simple: masks help stop the spread of Covid 19 and almost everyone can wear one with no side effects whatsoever. However, once more, waves of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and junk science are creating another infodemic.

You may be on the fence. After all, it was confusing that in the beginning we were told that masks were not necessary and yet now we’re being told the opposite, right? Or maybe you do know that masks help protect others buuuuuut it feels weird to wear one and you don’t want to be looked at or laughed at while you grocery shop. Or maybe you’re looking around where you are and there are no cases so you feel safe, and, sure, you know there are no cases because everyone took the appropriate steps early on but that’s all behind us. (It’s not, but we’ll put that aside for a moment). If so, I ask you to consider my story of “just the flu”.

How would you feel if you were sick for months and you found out it was because someone chose to be around you when they knew they were sick and probably contagious? What would you think about that person while you missed work or couldn’t care for your family or perhaps missed out on an important life event all because they didn’t take one simple step to protect you? What would you think about that person if your illness put you in the hospital or left you with debilitating side effects for life? What would you think about that person if you caught their illness and didn’t develop symptoms but unknowingly passed it on to someone you loved? What if that person you loved died from it? All because one person chose not to take the smallest, simplest action to protect you.

What if you were the person who made that choice?

I wear a mask in every indoor public place, and in every public place where I know I can’t safely distance. I wear a mask because it’s easy, it’s safe, and it works. I wear a mask because screw the social norms that have devalued our health and wellness for generations. I wear a mask because even if Covid 19 was “just the flu” (it’s not, to be clear) I don’t want to be the asshole that puts someone else through what I went through in 2007. I wear a mask because some slight social discomfort is worth more than finding out one day that I was responsible for someone’s preventable death. I wear a mask because the more people who do it, the easier it will be for people who aren’t as socially daring as I am. I wear a mask because I want this to end and I want to hug my friends and family and go to New Year’s Eve parties and play silly games and laugh and kiss and dance, and the sooner we all work together to stop the spread, the sooner that can happen.

Covid 19 is not just the flu. A bad flu is fucking awful; Covid 19, unchecked, is mass graves, economic collapse, people you love suffering and/or dying alone, supply chains breaking down, every existing social ill exploding exponentially, hospitals overwhelmed and health care workers in constant danger, borders between friendly nations closed indefinitely.

I am willing to bet everything I own that, even though the stakes were low, if the person who infected me at that party in 2007 could go back in time and choose to stay home to avoid passing their illness to others, they would.

So.

Now the stakes are high.

The choice is yours and it’s a simple one.

Wear a mask.

Please.

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The Letting Go

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I’m grieving. Again. Not for the dead but for the loss of the living.

Fred says I should get over it, ignore it, not talk about it. There’s a logic in that, I guess. But I keep coming back to this:

“Horseface”

“Dog”

“Crazed, crying lowlife”

“Big, fat pig”

“Grab them by the pussy”

“Bimbo”

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

And the list is so sadly, enragingly, exhaustingly long. Worse, it’s only one list of many. This one is about women. There are more lists—about Black people, about Mexicans, about the enemy of the week, about Muslims, about the disabled, and on and on.

Those are just the childish insults. The evil is the actions.

I think, If someone called me a crazed, lying, horsefaced pig, what would you do? Would you laugh? Would you defend me? Would you cheer them on and vote them in as the leader of a country?  

A petty, personal line of thought, sure, but how else can I make you see the harm without showing you my wounds? The words may have been directed at a specific individual but, collectively, they apply to all women, they apply to me. I know, without a breath of hesitation, he would say those words to me. You may not care about some stranger far away but you care about me, your friend, don’t you?

Don’t you?

I grieve because the choice is the answer: No, I don’t. 

I can show you facts and you can show me facts and we can argue and debate but I can’t make you care.

I’ve made my peace with the inevitable divide. I know the side I choose to stand on. If this was 1965, I’d be one of the unarmed people marching, not one of the people with billy clubs and tear gas. Even so, there’s an ache in my stomach when I think of the friends I have lost and will continue to lose.

The right thing is seldom the easy thing.

I’m staring out my window at a postcard: majestic mountains topped with snow, clouds so puffy white you want to hug them, a rugged island of dark green forest and steel grey rock, the mighty Pacific Ocean swirling around it all, and, in the foreground, a Canadian flag flapping in the breeze. The symbol of a country built on theft, on murder, on abuse, on the twin devils of colonization and patriarchy. A sordid past with which we have never reconciled.

The divide exists and, as long as we keep pretending our systems aren’t deeply flawed and riddled with inequality and bias, it will widen and grow. I will grieve more losses—good people lost in bad systems, lost to fear, lost to lies and propaganda.

I will let them go.

I will love them and I will let them go.

And I will mourn.

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Dancing in the Dirt That Feeds Us

raised bed garden with young plantsRain is coming soon. I’m in the garden, rushing to fertilize, seed, re-pot, plant and organize before Saturday, when the skies will darken and burst. My six broccoli starts are getting “leggy”–a term I’d only associated with a particular brand of female until three years ago–and I need to get them in the soil before they collapse. Like everything else, I am struck by the thin line between thriving and failing when it comes to these tiny, green lives in my care.

Careful to lift from my legs and not strain my half-century-old back, I heft a bag of potting soil from the ground and carry it inside the rough cedar perimeter fence of the garden, to where six large pots sit waiting. Amanda Palmer speaks to me of art and asking and vulnerability from the speaker I’ve hung on the fence, a gentle voice keeping me company in an acre of alone. Her voice is as lush and soothing as the trees and the hum of passing bees around me. The cats come and go, as cats do—chasing moths, sunning in the grass, stalking each other for sport—and I wonder if they think we created this garden for their entertainment. Perhaps we did.

Somewhere, in an ICU, in a hospital, in a country near or far away, someone takes their last drowning breath and crosses that fine line forever. The people who love them cannot hold their hand or stroke their forehead or plant a kiss on their cheek.

I had to put on my sun hat and I’m wiping sweat from my brow with dirty garden gloves. The large section of turf that has been rototilled has finally dried and I’ll have to hurry and clear as many of the rocks and clumps of sod as I can before the impending storm turns it all to a heavy mud soup. Potatoes wait inside the shed/greenhouse that my husband lovingly constructed for me this spring. I’d always scorned the idea of planting potatoes—why go to all that work when potatoes are cheap and plentiful in the store? Now, those little tubers and their spiky sprouts speak of pragmatism and planning. I’ve seen the photos of vegetables rotting in farmers’ fields. I know the fine line includes trucks, airplanes, ships, farmers. Potatoes are nutritious and keep well in Canadian winters, a smart gardener would learn how to grow them. Soon.

Each broccoli start is planted deep into the loamy, rich potting soil and I place the pots strategically for maximum sun. I’ve never tried growing broccoli in pots before but the rest of the raised beds are full and I’m maximizing every inch of space I can. This garden won’t be enough to sustain us on its own, but it will supplement what we can buy and it will taste better and last longer in the fridge. Less waste. Money is part of the fine line too.

Amanda Palmer talks about letting fans draw on her naked body and the exhilaration and trust of crowd surfing.

Somewhere, men in vests and boots carry flags and guns up the stone steps of Very Important Buildings. They yell about freedom and rights. Women carry signs with swastikas and demand haircuts and lattes. Somewhere, a government official asks for calm and patience and peace. Somewhere, cooped up too long with an anger we allowed, a husband beats his wife until she crosses the fine line.

One of the everbearing strawberry plants has produced a cluster of small, green fruit. Time to fertilize. I am amazed at the amount of knowledge I have accumulated in just three years. It reminds me of when I was learning to fish—what lure, what depth, what speed to reel, where to find the fish. It’s detective work. I like solving nature’s puzzles. In the garden, I need to know when and were to plant, when to fertilize, how to attract the helpful bugs and keep away the destructive ones, how to get the most bounty out of a plant, how to save the dying. After I Google which combination of fertilizer to use for strawberries (10-10-10 will work), I head to the shed, where the fertilizers are stored. I catch my reflection in the glass.

Under my goofy sun hat, my fine hair sticks out at all angles. Brown smudges my face where I wiped away the sweat. My wire rimmed glasses could have belonged to my gram. A white tank top declares DREAM! in cursive swoops—it’s riddled with holes. My cut off shorts fit more snuggly than usual thanks to too much baking and two months without spin class or running. The “quarantine fifteen” my brother’s girlfriend Dianna joked once.  My green rubber boots, full of sweat, complete the look. I despair.

When did I get so old and…frumpy? When did I stop dying my hair shocking colours and dancing until the sun came up? When did I start learning how to grow potatoes? When did I decide I didn’t need a career of my own? Why did I surrender my independence so willingly? When did I become irrelevant? When did I give up on all my big dreams and ambitions? Who is this woman who spends her days gardening and cleaning and cooking and helping her husband with bookkeeping and talking to cats and learning how to grow fucking potatoes? Why have I never crowd-surfed or let strangers write on my naked body?

Why have I been unable to write even a single short story for months?

Somewhere, a scientist slowly, painstakingly, methodically, works to solve one of nature’s puzzles. Somewhere, a toddler presses their sticky hand to the glass of a nursing home window and their grandfather smiles for the first time in a week. Somewhere, a doctor with eyes full of empathy, wearing a pair of shoes that are actually little works of art, stands behind a microphone and tells people to be calm, be kind, be safe, and most of those people listen and hundreds, possibly thousands, stay on the living side of the fine line because of this.

I look at my reflection and see myself through the eyes of the ones I’ve loved who’ve crossed over that line. They’re laughing because this was all a big practical joke, in the end. The artsy, selfish, overly-dramatic, foolhardy weirdo raised by kind, ordinary people, became a kind, ordinary person…and liked it. My grief, which has become a manageable, quiet background breeze, returns as a thunderstorm. My gut tightens and I sob, for my dad, my mom, my sister. I cry as I mix fertilizer, as I carefully feed the new life that will one day feed us. I cry as I scoop up my cat Serenity and she, as always, wraps her paws around my neck and licks. I cry and laugh as I waltz with my cat, spinning and twirling in rubber boots and baggy shorts, across the patch of dry dirt that will someday bear potatoes.

I cry as Amanda strums her ukulele and sings:

And in my mind
I imagine so many things
Things that aren’t really happening
And when they put me in the ground
I’ll start pounding the lid
Saying I haven’t finished yet
I still have a tattoo to get
That says I’m living in the moment
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could win this, win this fight
But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it’s funniest of all
To think I’ll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be

Somewhere, a middle-aged woman dances in the dirt that will feed her and understands that the future has always been fragile and grieves for everything and everyone that has crossed over that fine line. And though she is not who she thought she would be, she likes who she has become.

*Lyrics from “In My Mind” by Amanda Palmer
Posted in Grief and Mourning, Health and wellness | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

One Door Closes

1st Coconut Chronicle

“We pulled our rig (a U-Haul with all our worldly possessions and 25 foot Mako) out of our driveway in Port Coquitlam on a typically grey, cold, damp B.C. morning. Pat & Joyce rose early to see us off. With a pounding head and a heavy heart I watched our little cul-de-sac, and Pat waving goodbye, grow small and disappear. This was it; years of dreaming and planning and now we would really be on our way.”

~ May 17, 2003, Kristene Perron’s journal

Fifteen years ago Hubs and I walked away from everything—job, friends, family, house, security. It’s easy to look back and see all the mistakes we made. We would return a year later, broke, jobless, homeless, and directionless. Mistakes seem to be our forte. But something happened in that first chaotic year that changed me forever: I re-discovered my love of writing. And here we are.

I’d planned on closing out the Coconut Chronicles permanently on May 17th, the day we left Canada fifteen years ago, for the symmetry and symbolism. That was my plan. I am good at mistakes and bad at plans. The problem was that I couldn’t decide how to end this…this…whatever this is. Iterations of this final Chronicle have been funny, melancholy, bitter, literary (too literary), sentimental, absurd, etc, etc. In the end, it was a quote from Harvey, uttered by a writer friend at the Creative Ink Festival last weekend, that cast the final vote.

“In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

I have tried, for fifteen years, to be oh so smart in these Chronicles. I will never run out of subjects I want to talk about but it’s time to channel my ideas and opinions into my work. It’s time to close this door and I want to do so by being oh so pleasant. Why? Because you did me the honour of reading and responding to my words all these years. Because you spoke honestly and respectfully in your public comments and private messages about my words. Because, whether you knew it or not, you helped me hone my craft and develop my voice. Because life is hard and unforgiving and the least I can do is act with grace and kindness.

My next plan is to slowly step away from much of my online life—not forever, but for now. I have spent three years struggling through grief and depression (and menopause hell), desperately hoping and searching and waiting for the old “spark” to return. Well, the old spark is dead. Losing my dad and my sister and moving away from my wonderful Nelson community and friends killed that spark. I can say that now. But a spark is not a singular phenomenon. I feel a new spark flickering and I’m going to fuel the hell out of that tiny flame and see if I can’t start a proper bonfire.

To everyone who has read The Coconut Chronicles over the years, thank you. There is no greater gift to a writer than an engaged reader and you have been that and so much more. Thank you to everyone who ever took a leap and contacted me privately to share a piece of your secret world, your fears, your hopes, your dreams—you are courageous and beautiful and I hope I was worthy of your trust. Thank you to the critics who challenged me and kept me honest. In a world that grows ever more divisive, it is heartening to know we can still respectfully disagree. Thank you to those who let me know when I offended or hurt them. Words are powerful tools (weapons) and writers must learn to wield them responsibly. Thank you, thank you, thank you all for showing up and reminding me that community matters and we are not alone.

I will check in here for a short while to respond to any comments that may come in but that’s it.

And now I have to pack up my rig and drive away.

Fifteen years. It’s been one hell of a ride.

The End

Posted in Family & Children, Friends, Grief and Mourning, Health and wellness, Love, News and politics, On Scribbling, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Broken

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Packing up has begun over here at the Coconut Chronicles. Slowly, I am organizing posts and putting them into boxes. I seal them with tape and mark in black felt pen “Bahamas”, “Florida”, “Ucluelet”, “Baja”, and so on. There are other categories: “Posts that unintentionally hurt a friend”, “Posts that inspired someone to take a risk”, “Posts that were too personal and made my husband uncomfortable”, “Posts that were heavily edited so I/we wouldn’t lose my/our job”.

Sorting through all this, my emotions waver between “I’m so glad I kept a record of that time in my life” and “Oh man, why did I write about that?”

Through all my posts, one fact comes through clearly to me: I need to write.

You see, I don’t just remember the time and place and events of each post, I remember how I felt as I wrote. I remember how compelled I was to write down my thoughts, how I agonized (in the best possible way) over which words to use, over metaphors and analogies, over which parts of the story to put in and which to leave out. Even the most amateur posts I’ve written I tackled as if I might be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for my work.  I remember this and my heart shrinks and withers in my chest. Why? Because that part of me is broken.

I still write and I will keep writing because…I don’t know why. Because that’s what I’m good at? Because writing is what I know? Because without writing I don’t know who I am?

You may think I’m wallowing or being melodramatic to say that I have not been the same since my sister and my dad died but that is the bitter truth. That burning drive I woke up with every day to write, write, WRITE has not returned since I lost my family. My grief has changed, lessened, become manageable. Time is doing its work in that department. I rarely cry these days, at least about the loss, and for the most part life goes on. Except for one of the most important parts: the writing part.

I keep faking it. That is to say that I do what I know I’m supposed to do but everything behind my actions has changed. All the writer problems I never used to worry about have arrived like a gang of party-crashing hoodlums. I procrastinate. I find myself staring blankly at the screen for minutes at a time, waiting for my brain to wake up. And when my brain doesn’t wake up I scroll through Facebook or Twitter or distract myself with articles or clean up files on my computer. On the worst days, I give in to the malaise and read a book or watch Netflix instead of tackling the manuscript that needs me. I doubt myself and my talent. I question why I ever thought I was any good at this. I’ve become a cliché.

For a while, these Chronicles were my refuge. At least in this space I could find the energy to translate thoughts and feelings into words, but once I realized my thoughts and feelings were now mostly made of anger and outrage I started avoiding the Chronicles too. It has been a month since my last post. I keep telling myself that I want to write a few uplifting posts to close out this blog but then…meh. Why?

The bare bones truth is that I’m clinging to self-discipline. My only hope is that by doing what I know I should be doing eventually I will come back to “normal”. That’s all I’ve got, the routine and the little voice in my head that yells at me to keep my ass in the chair and push through this.

Some days I don’t know if that will be enough.

There’s another voice that yells at me. It tells me that it’s been two years and I’m a weak, sniveling baby for not getting my shit together yet.

Some days that voice wins and I go do laundry and eat ice cream and hate myself a little.

So here we are folks, with me wishing I could close out the 15th and final year of the Coconut Chronicles with some dazzling words of wisdom and inspiration, and failing spectacularly. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Jeebus, just say goodbye and get it over with already”, you’re not alone.

Like I said, I’m faking it.

Pouring out my heart here is part of the routine. Here I am, naked, showing you all the worst parts of myself. Not because I want to but because maybe if I do what I’ve always done then memory will take the wheel.

If I’ve learned one thing being married to a real life MacGyver, it is that there’s a way to fix just about anything, no matter how broken it appears.

Posted in Friends, Grief and Mourning, Life, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Choose

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I’ve been thinking about last words, about what I’d like to pass on in my final few Coconut Chronicles. I don’t know if it matters. It’s likely, in the long run, it won’t make any difference to anyone but me. But it does matter to me, how I end.

The theme that keeps pushing itself into my brain is “choices”. Not all choices are equal but it’s difficult to know which choices matter most.

We operate under the assumption that we’ll know when there’s an important choice to be made. We imagine those moments as dramatic as someone pressing a gun to our head and demanding we choose A or B. In that scenario, with death as the ultimate price, we imagine we will dig deep and find the courage to make the right choice no matter the cost. But the truth is that gun-to-the-head decisions are rare. The choices that matter are often so small we hardly think about them until long after the moment has passed.

More than two years after her death, memories of my sister surface at the strangest times. We had an odd and often tense relationship in our adult lives. Our eventual friendship was hard won and came about mostly because I learned to get over myself and love Kelly for who she was and not who I wanted her to be. Because of this, the majority of my happy memories of time with Kelly take place before she left home, when I was eleven, with only a handful occurring in adulthood, after I was in my late thirties and beyond.

One of those later-in-life happy memories happens to be one of those almost-too-small-to-notice choices. I was staying with friends in Surrey while Fred was working on Godzilla. Kelly was in Burnaby for work as well. A rare occasion for us to be so close geographically. Our cousin had offered Kelly  free passes to an annual culinary event in town, “EAT! Vancouver”. Kelly asked if I’d like to go with her.

It would have been easy to say no. I’d have to take the bus, and then the Skytrain, to meet her, and that would be a hassle. I was busy working on one of the Warpworld manuscripts and should have been using my time to finish that. And Fred and I didn’t have money to blow on frivolous stuff like a food festival. And what’s the big deal, after all? It was just a food festival, if I chose to say no there would be other events for us to attend together in the future.

I said yes.

There was a time I would have found an excuse to say no or I would have said yes but with a caveat, like I had to leave early or something. But this time I chose to say yes. No caveats, no excuses.

Kelly and I took the Skytrain downtown so we wouldn’t have to drive and could, thus, each have some drinks. From the minute we connected, it felt like an adventure. We were doing something new together!  We wandered through the many stalls, sampled all kinds of food, sampled a few adult beverages, bought the odd goodie, and just laughed and talked and had the kind of good time all sisters should have.

Kelly and Kim

Cousin Kim (L) and Kelly (R) at the EAT! Vancouver festival

 

It was the smallest choice, saying yes, but the memory of that night is one that I hold closest and dearest now that Kelly is gone.  One fun night, just the two of us being friends and sisters. If I had said no—an easy thing to do—I would have missed out on that memory. If I had chosen to say no, I would have had to carry the regret of not having even one memory of my sister and me as adults doing something fun together, just the two of us.

Big changes, big decisions, don’t usually happen in one fell swoop, they happen in a thousand tiny yes’s and no’s.  Look back at the path of your life, and consider all the seemingly unimportant decisions that brought you to where you are now. This, I think, is part of what makes most black and white judgments so fallible. Our lives are not a single sentence, they are epic sagas made up of millions of words, every word a choice.

If there is a lesson I have picked up in my brief time on this rock, it is that there are really no small choices. Every day, everything I say and do puts me closer to the person I want to be or pulls me further away. I am changing by degrees. Knowing this, the question becomes: Who is the person I want to be?

Letting go of this space is part of that question, another choice made. I may not know exactly who I want to be, yet, but I know who I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be the person who clings to “comfortable”, who falls back on habit, who chooses the same well-worn path when there are other paths to discover.  I don’t want to be the person who keeps saying no when there are good reasons to say yes.  I don’t want to be a person who waits for the gun to the head to make the tough choices.

What are the choices you need to make? Who is the person you want to be?

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The Time Has Come…

Lately this space has not been a welcoming one for me. I used to love my Chronicles. I loved them while Fred and I were traveling and this was a place to record our adventures. I loved them when we were lost and struggling and this was a place to share my fears and uncertainties. I loved them when my writing career began to blossom and this place was where I connected with friends and peers about my work. I loved them when I was grieving and this place was a repository for my sorrow.

Now?

This place is a minefield. The gumballs rolling around in my cranium are filled with rage and frustration but to let them spill is to crush friendships and to infect this space with negativity.

And yet…

Anything else, in this space, this place where my deepest thoughts are allowed to roam free, would feel dishonest.

So I’ve tiptoed. I’ve placed a gumball here and there, hidden the angriest bits with pieces of pretty language. Even then, I can sense the rising tension.

I walked away from this place once before. Calmed down. Reassessed. Revamped. Returned. I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.

I think I’ve outgrown this place. I’m ready to move on to something new. I’m not sure what that will be yet, though I have some ideas. What I do know is that when the thing that used to bring you joy starts to make your muscles tense just thinking about it, then the time has come to say goodbye.

I’ll probably post a few more times before “the end”. I don’t like loose threads. There are still some words to say, and people and places to remember. May 2018 will be the 15th anniversary of my humble Coconut Chronicles. I’m proud of that. The average blog has a lifespan of about 4 months before it’s abandoned. And while this wasn’t always a “blog”, I’ve been sharing my thoughts with an audience since Fred and I arrived in the Bahamas in 2003.

So, don’t wave goodbye just yet but know that I’m starting to pack up, with the ghost of my dear, cranky old Emily to help.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Beautiful, Treacherous, Complicated Art of Communication

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“Kris, tell your dad it’s dinner.”

I can’t count how many times in my childhood I played messenger for my mom while she gave my dad the silent treatment. That phrase is too sterile in my opinion. “Silent treatment”, it sounds like a type of therapy. “Give him the silent treatment and if his cough isn’t better in a week come back to see me.” It should be called silent punishment or silent torture, something that more closely resembles the damage it does. Silence can be as much of a weapon as a fist, as aggressive as shouting.

In my family, I learned all the worst ways to communicate. The more difficult the emotion, the worse we communicated. It is a legacy I have yet to fully outgrow. The irony of being a wordsmith who struggles to communicate effectively with the people she loves most does not escape me.

Lately, the topic of communication has circled in my brain like a curious and hungry shark. Once more we find ourselves in a place where politics are impossible to avoid, aided by the ease of public discourse the internet provides. Masks of civility have been ripped away—not necessarily a bad thing in some instances—and conversations become battlegrounds with a single syllable. The question I keep coming back to is: Can peace and good ethics exist in the same space?

I make no secret that I am, by most people’s standards, a liberal. Moderate, not extreme, to be clear.

What liberal means to me (small “l” liberal, for my Canadian friends) is that I believe we’re all in this together. I believe humans need to balance the logistics of running a prosperous society with compassion for the members of that society. I believe in equality and equity regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. I believe—no, I know—that we are all flawed to some degree and that means it is important to put into place systems to prevent our worst instincts from doing too much damage. I believe that we must be good stewards of the planet that sustains us, even if that means some kind of sacrifices in the present to benefit those that come after us. I believe our problems are often complex and demand thoughtful, intelligent solutions and a willingness to put aside our own biases and prejudices.

I do not consider myself an extremist, about anything. So it has surprised and saddened me this past year to have been called “liberal” as an epithet by people I know and care about.

This is the slippery nature of language and communication. What liberal means to me, as it regards my political leanings, is not what it means to others. Dictionary definitions don’t apply. This is language in motion, linguistic anarchy.

I could say the same of many current hot-button words, feminism being the one that comes most readily to mind.

How can we hope to reach consensus on big issues if we can’t even agree on the meaning of a single word? Or, more accurately, if we can’t separate the word from our feelings about it?

I recently re-watched the brilliant film “Arrival” (based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang) and was awed by how well it captured the dangers and pitfalls of communication.  For those who have not seen it (you really should see it, twice), the central figure of the story is Louise Banks, a renowned linguist, who has been recruited into a team of specialists after alien ships land on earth. As teams across the globe scramble to decipher the alien’s intentions, international tensions flare and global war seems imminent. Without spoiling the film, it is Banks’s determination to fully understand the alien language and to communicate on their level that makes all the difference.

The film is not only filled with insights about language and communications—the stories we believe we are being told and the stories we are actually being told—its structure is also such that the second viewing tells a completely different story. A good reminder of how a few key facts can change everything we think we know.

But there was one passage in the movie, a few lines quoted from a book written the main character, that stuck with me and have echoed loudly as politics invade my personal life.

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.

Right now, the divide between “our story” and “their story” grows wider every day. Weapons have been drawn. And I find myself at war…with myself.

I am not without my opinions but I have always tried to keep an open mind, to encourage conversation, to recognize the complexity of social issues, to see things from all sides and strive for common ground. Lately, that’s changed. I still believe all those actions are important but much of what I’ve witnessed since January is beyond common ground. I can’t be neutral in the face of white supremacy, I can’t encourage conversation with people who are filled with blind hate and rage because men love other men or women love other women, I can’t stand quietly by when sound science is denied or when women’s bodies are treated like property.

I don’t want to simply jump into a shouting match that goes nowhere but neither do I want to stay silent in the face of cruelty.

Remember my mom’s silent treatments? Do you know what they accomplished? Nothing.

My mother never learned to come out and state her needs clearly and so her needs were never met. By not speaking, all she did was let anger fester and infect everyone around her.

Silence is not inaction. Silence is not a lack of communication. Silence is a statement: “I refuse to engage”. Silence is a weapon too.

It feels dangerous to me, an act of rebellion merely to speak up and say “You are wrong.” I’ve already lost friends in this conflict, I’m sure I’ll lose more before it’s over. I’ve given myself permission to be okay with that.

Will I change the world? Unlikely. But I will change myself and that’s worth something.

Dr. Louise Banks: “If you could see your whole life from the start to finish, would you change things?”

Ian Donnelly: “Maybe I’d say what I feel more often.”

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The Peri-Menopause Diaries II – Does this bulky uterus make me look fat?

Beat up uterus

Previously on I Hate My Uterus, Why Is It Doing This To Me…

From the number of private messages and emails I received after my last peri-menopause post, it looks like I am not alone in the struggle. Some folks shared their personal experiences and others thanked me for tackling such a personal topic and asked me to keep sharing. So, here I go again, with the usual caveat, of course, that this post will contain graphic women-stuff and if you’re squicked out by that then the time to turn back is now.

Still here? Good. Let’s talk about my lady parts! Yay!

When I last left you, I had come to the end of my peri-menopausal rope and had decided it was time to go to the doctor and seek a solution. And guess what? The doc agreed that I was not just being a hysterical female or that I was a hypochondriac (this is an actual problem with women and health care). He gave me a referral to the local gynecologist and off I went.

But before I tell you about my gyno visit, I want to stop a moment and talk about that whole “hypochondriac” thing because it’s important. If you are female, and you experience pain or fatigue, especially menstrual pain there is a much higher likelihood that your symptoms will be minimized or dismissed by your medical practioners. I’ve read horror stories of women whose genuine problems were dismissed as a case of over exaggeration only to discover much later that they were dealing with cancer or any number of life threatening illnesses. There’s a reason so many women are turning to unproven and sometimes ridiculous or dangerous alternative cures and “wellness” techniques (please don’t put jade eggs up your vagina, no matter what Gwyenth Paltrow tells you), it’s because we’re not taken seriously.

I’m here to tell all the women reading this that if you have a medical problem, if you are experiencing severe pain, fatigue or depression, you deserve real medical solutions. Please don’t let anyone brush off your concerns for your health. Keep demanding answers until you get them, even if you have to keep changing doctors. And where menopause and peri-menopause is concerned, yes, it’s natural but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer needlessly. Leprosy is “natural” but your doctor wouldn’t simply pat you on the head and say, “Some people just lose body parts, it’s part of the natural cycle” if you had it.

/rant

Back to the gyno doc.

Dr. A has a shabby little office in the heart of the city. I can’t say I was feeling overly confident as I sat in the waiting room, flipping through Facebook on my phone to distract from the cries of pain and distress in the next room. Eventually I was led in and Dr. A and I had a long discussion about the state of my health. He read off a list of symptoms and I answered yes to almost all of them (no hot flashes…yet). Then, inevitably, he wanted to examine me and take a biopsy of the offending sexual organs, so off went the pants and on went the flimsy piece of modesty paper.

The exam revealed that I probably had at least one fibroid (common) and that I had adenomyosis aka “bulky uterus” (also common). Chances were that both the fibroid and my endometriosis were behind the excessive, Niagra Falls, bleeding.  Dr. A gave me two options: an endometrial ablation or a hormone-releasing IUD (Mirena Coil), but recommended the former. He discussed the pros and cons of each and sent me home with an armload of pamphlets and a prescription for Fibristal, which would stop the bleeding NOW and also shrink any fibroids that might be lurking in there. He also sent me for blood tests and an ultrasound to rule out cancer.

I headed home, excited about the possibility of regaining control over my rebellious uterus, and hit the Google to research which of these two options I should choose.

Ladies, if you feel like you need a heavy dose of frustration and fear, I highly recommend reading through any women’s health forum about gynecological devices and procedures. Over and over again I read that the Mirena was the best/worst thing that had ever happened to these women, ditto for the ablation. There was no shortage of horror stories, either, about all that had gone wrong. Talking to real women I know didn’t help either—some had great success with the IUD/ablation, others had more of those horror stories.

In the end, I decided on the ablation because I know that hormones have a way of messing me up physically and emotionally (birth control pills were awful) and I’ve had a standard IUD and though it did its job it also caused severe cramping during my period.

So what is an endometrial ablation, you ask?

Quick women’s physiology refresher:

Every month, a woman’s body gets ready to have a future college-tuition-needing human. To prepare for that possible human, the uterus lines itself with a soft, comfy, squishy layer of tissue, known as the endometrium. Meanwhile, the ovaries are busy growing an egg. When it’s ready, the egg hops into the uterus and nestles in to the endometrium to wait for her gentleman callers. When said egg discovers that no one has swiped right on her Tinder profile, she declares, “Egg out!”, drops a tiny mic, and heads out of the uterus, taking the endometrium with her in true diva fashion.* This is a period or menstrual cycle (for those of you who don’t know or who are lucky enough to not have one).

Is that too much science for you?

Sometimes things go awry with the endometrium. Sometimes the tissue that is supposed to line your uterus instead grows in other weird places. This is endometriosis and it is super, super, duper painful. It is also one of the causes of the aforementioned “bulky uterus”, when endometrial tissue grows into the muscle of the uterus.

Anyhoo, there are other causes of bulky uteri, but that’s a common one. An endometrial ablation is when a doctor goes in and burns off the endometrial lining. As the lining heals, it scars, which means no egg attachment, and no (or significantly diminished) blood build up, which means very small or no periods.  A kind of female scorched earth policy, if you will.

There are different ways to burn off the lining, in my case, a type of balloon would be inserted into the uterus and pumped full of water hot enough to do the job. Naturally, this is done under general anesthetic, but it’s a quick procedure and a simple day surgery.

I’ll spare you the details of my ultrasound, which involved me trying desperately not to wet myself as the tech pushed the little ultrasound torture wand on my bladder over and over again. I’ll just say that it confirmed I had a fibroid but its size and location did not preclude the ablation. And my blood tests came back clear, except for my iron levels which had been dropping faster than Trump’s approval rating.

While I waited for my surgery date to arrive, I enjoyed being period free thanks to the Fibristal. This proved less joyous when my two weeks of free samples ran out and I discovered my extended medical insurance doesn’t cover that drug…which is $200 for a two week supply! Thanks, Obama.

On June 28th, I checked in at the local hospital for the ablation. And here I should mention that I am a huge chicken when it comes to getting my blood taken (it doesn’t help that my low iron levels make me feel like fainting when any kind of blood is removed from my body) and a massive, nuclear chicken when it comes to getting IV’s put in. Dr. A made a note that I could have some Ativan to calm me down and I asked the nurse if they had some freezing gel that I could put on my hand.  They did! I apologized for being such a wuss and she assured me that they would far prefer I tell them and take the appropriate measures rather than have me freaking out when the time for the hand-stabbing arrived.

And here let me take another quick moment to talk about self-care. No one likes to feel weak or wussy. Society drills into us that if we ask for any kind of special considerations at any time then we are special snowflakes and whiners. You know what? Fuck that. I suffered through stressful airplane travel for well over a decade because of this logic—Fred can attest to all the times he held my sweaty hands on take-off, landing, and through turbulence. My fear stemmed from a traumatic experience and there was simply no wishing it away. Now? I pop an Ativan and enjoy the ride. In fact, the ride has been so stress free that I find I can now often fly drug-free.

So when I get my blood taken, I ask to lie down. Awesome. No stress, no fear. When I have to get an IV I ask for Ativan and freezing gel. Awesome. No stress, no fear. Don’t let people make you feel small or weak for taking steps to minimize fear and anxiety. Be your own advocate. You are worth it!

/rant #2

The ablation went smoothly. The whole thing takes about 15-20 minutes, though I did not come fully out of the anesthetic for several hours. This always happens to me. I think partly because I’m really susceptible to general anesthetic and partly because I will always take advantage of a guilt-free nap under heated blankets.

That was a week ago. I am still recovering and will be for at least another week. But I am mobile and able to do most daily stuff except vacuuming, heavy lifting and stretching, and sex. As you can imagine, Fred is really bummed out that the house isn’t getting vacuumed.

I was warned to be prepared for heavy cramping and bleeding at first—“the worst period ever” according to the anesthesiologist—but so far I’ve only experience mild spotting and a few medium-painful days.

Will it work? I don’t know. But, even if the ablation buys me a year or two of small or no periods then it will be worth it. I will still have to deal with the wild hormone swings, I assume, and there’s still the matter of the low sex drive to address, but at least if I’m no longer merely a blood factory I can get back to my fitness routine and get out of that rut where I am so frustrated and sad that I want to punch sea otters in the face.

As always, I find myself learning valuable lessons late in the game. I should have sought help a long time ago. No one is ever going to care about my physical and mental well-being as much as me, so it’s my job to demand proper care. I also think that going in for surgery made my husband realize that this was a real medical issue and not some flaky “woman thing”. I’m not sure he’ll ever really “get” it, our bodies are just that different, but me taking action and seeking help went a long way to demonstrating the seriousness of my situation. There’s a wide gulf between “I feel crappy and you should understand!” and “I feel crappy and I am going to find out why and see if there is a solution”. As women, we owe it to ourselves and the people who love us to take that step and to search for solutions.

I waited too long to ask for the help I needed. I hope you won’t.

I will probably share another update down the road. Until then, me and my new, svelte uterus will be doing our best to make things work between us. Because there is no me in uterus.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

*The egg actually breaks apart but I write fiction and, thus, took a little creative license.

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Will You Be My Ronnie Freeman?

What’s worse than not achieving your goals? Watching other people attain them, exceed them, blow past you on the freeway of success.

Or not.

The single biggest driving force behind my writing has been my competitive nature. Actually, that has been the driving force behind just about everything I do since the days when Ronnie Freeman and I raced, neck-and-neck, to be the first ones to memorize all the way up to the 12 times tables. (We tied, by the way, igniting a silent feud that would last until the final day of elementary school).

To be clear, when I compete in writing, it’s not against any specific person or persons, it’s against myself. And, yes, I know how cheesy that sounds but that doesn’t make it any less true. When I set a writing goal, I will break my neck trying to achieve it. It took five years, and a load of stories, between the moment I decided I would win the Surrey International Writers Conference writing contest and the day I walked up to collect my prize from Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte. But I never took my eyes off that goal.

I believed that nothing could ever feel as good as that kind of hard-won success.

And then everything changed.

Overnight.

Literally.

Not long after I’d been roped into volunteering for the Kootenay Literary Competition, I started taking the lead. I’m an organizer and a dreamer, and in this little homegrown writing contest I saw big potential. With a small, dedicated group of volunteers, we put together a fun and friendly awards ceremony that turned out to be a standing room only event. I had my moment in the spotlight to ham it up, as usual, but passed most of the rest of the evening in the back of the room listening to our key note speaker and watching the winners collect their prizes and read from their work. That’s when it happened.

Kristene Perron hosts the 2012 Kootenay Literary Competition

Hosting the Kootenay Literary Competition in Nelson, BC, 2012. Photo: The Nelson Star

As each contestant accepted their award, I watched their beaming faces and felt…happy. Really happy. At least as happy as I had felt collecting my own awards, maybe happier. I hadn’t won anything but it felt amazing to make this happen for other writers. Maybe they would go on to write professionally, maybe this would be the peak of their literary journey, but no matter what happened, for one night, these writers enjoyed some of that all-too-scarce recognition and praise for their work and I was lucky enough to share that with them. This was a new kind of success, the kind that lasted long after the cheque had been cashed and the certificate had been filed away in a box of memories.

Without that night, I think my decision to indie publish would have been a lot more difficult and a lot less rewarding. In fact, I think everything about my writing life would have been “less”.

One of the hardest parts of choosing the indie author life was the acknowledgement that I would have to walk away (at least in the short term) from a long list of dream goals. The choice was not an easy one—though I know it was the best choice for me—and I think part of me will always mourn for what could have been. My goals have changed, by necessity, and indie life holds plenty of challenges for my competitive side, but it still pinches, just a tiny bit to watch other authors achieve the old goals I had to leave behind.

Most authors battle imposter syndrome in some form and I’m no exception. Honestly, it will always sting for a nanosecond when I read about authors winning awards that I can’t begin to hope to win as an indie, or heading off on book tours, or getting picked to speak at big events, or receiving glowing reviews from notable publications, or hobnobbing with other big name authors. Of course it will. Luckily, though, that feeling passes faster than a blink and, in the case of authors I know, is replaced by something incredible: joy.

I’m writing this because one of my author friends shared some good news today (which I will also share far and wide when the green light is given) and it struck me how genuinely happy I was for him. It struck me how happy I am for all my author friends whenever they share good news, something I wouldn’t have believed at the beginning of my journey.

It’s easy to be envious—not just for writers, either. It’s easy to let despair and jealousy take over when you see someone get something you wish you had or, worse, something you feel you deserve. What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that someone will always get something you wish you had or think you deserve. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, someone else will always be more successful. Someone will always get a bigger, more prestigious award. Someone will always get a better review. Someone will always sell more books or make more money. Someone will always have more readers and fans. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive, the trick is knowing when the game can’t be won.

I’ve also learned that for every up there is frequently a down. Today this author is winning an award but tomorrow their publisher could decide their sales aren’t strong enough and cancel a planned novel or series. There are no guarantees in this business. Appearances can be deceiving too. The author you think is basking in the glow of the spotlight could actually be battling anxiety or depression, believing they are a fraud and dreading the day the rest of the world figures it out. You can never know what demons someone else is wrestling.

I’m so grateful to the universe for giving me that night of epiphany because what came afterward was friends. I have met some extremely talented people along the writing path, who I am lucky enough to call my friends. Every time something good happens for an author friend of mine, it’s as if I’m right back at that awards ceremony, cheering and clapping from the back, feeling nothing but happiness. I celebrate my friends’ success because, weirdly, it feels like my success too. It feels like we’re all in this together and when one of us wins, we all win.

When I dig back into my memory, I see two things clearly. One:  as competitive as Ronnie Freeman and I were in the classroom, we were also good friends and neighbours. Two:  Ronnie Freeman helped make me who I am. I learned my time tables at lightning speed, and much more, because someone smart and competitive pushed me to be better. I need other people out there pushing hard to succeed. I need that motivation and inspiration.

I need my Ronnie Freemans and, I hope, they need me.

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