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

Posted in Friends, General, Life | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Beautiful, Treacherous, Complicated Art of Communication

shutterstock_624875702

“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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Health and wellness, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Entertainment, Friends, Indie publishing, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Girl Gone Wild

Humpback whale breaching

On Tuesday morning, I climbed aboard a big, yellow zodiac and headed out to watch whales and play tourist for a day with my dear friend Liz and her family from Arizona—son Jeff, and teen granddaughters Katelyn and Lauren.  Despite the wind, which made for some thrilling, bumpy and wet passages, the day could not have been more perfect.  Nature pulled out all the stops: jumping humpback whales, a herd of young elk sunbathing up Ramsay Arm, a docile male grizzly munching on grass, even a black bear feasting on oysters at the water’s edge.

Cut off from cell phones and internet, surrounded by towering green mountains, with blue water below and blue sky above, it is impossible to believe that life is anything but simple and full of wonder.  It is as if the wildlands of the west coast are a separate dimension, a safe haven from the worries and stress of civilization. Not a permanent solution, by any means, but temporary immunization against the chaos of our daily lives, without question.

Each time I venture out onto the waters of British Columbia, I am cleansed. My head clears, my shoulders release from their permanent squeeze, my heart makes room for an abundance of gratitude and humility. I am small in the face of mighty nature; I am only one more animal passing through. I find that knowledge reassuring.

Life has made me weary lately. Not a state I am used to dwelling in. More specifically, hate and fear and outrage and ignorance and expectations and narrow-mindedness and my own multitude of shortcomings have made me weary.

I spend a lot of time online. Sometimes for business and marketing purposes (gotta earn a living), sometimes for entertainment (there are some amazing stories out there), sometimes for education and research, sometimes to communicate with friends and tribe members, and sometimes because I just find myself sucked into the internet vortex (I am only human).

Every day, I watch a group of people who butcher and obscure language and meaning to serve their goals. With each new mutation of what used to be a common language, the fear builds. We blew right past “alternative facts” with barely a bump or rattle. How did we not stop right there. Stop the car. Get out. Demand an end to that nonsense. No, we drove by, rubbernecking like we were watching an accident in the other lane. Well, better them than me. And on we go.

Language is important. Language has meaning. Sometimes too much meaning.

On the other side of the online highway, I watch another group of people constantly tearing apart everything in their path, dissecting and debating and breaking off into ever smaller and smaller and more contentious groups. This movie was a triumph for feminism! Or was it? Out come the scalpels and tweezers. But! But…it got something important really right! But, no, it didn’t get everything right. Let us carve open your moment of victory and joy; let us show you why the things you value are wrong and dangerous and worthless.  The car slows and eventually stops while we all discuss whether this car is the right kind of car and if this journey is the right kind of journey. We sit on the side of the road, terrified to speak, desperately wishing for some kind of forward motion.

Too much momentum, too much inertia. Back and forth. It exhausts me.

And when you turn on the car radio, the choice is static or outrage. So you look at the map and realize you’re getting nowhere.  You check the GPS and it only says “Follow your dreams!” What dreams can you have any more? What dreams can survive on this highway?

At night, I wake to a different scenario. Night is the place where I analyze my mistakes and failures. I watch the movie of my life and note all the plot holes. “You had a chance to fix that right in the opening act, why didn’t you?” I never have answers. The solutions seem so clear with each screening of My Life So Far. Coward…my brain whispers. Coward, coward, coward. You always took the easy path, didn’t you?

When the self-loathing gets to be too much, I take a melatonin and wait for the voices to shut up.

You’re still running away, coward, I hear as I fall into a restless sleep.

I know the voices are right. I know I have demons to face. I know I have strayed far from the path and I’m not the person I want to be. But I wake up in the morning and climb back into the car to navigate the highway and it’s all I can do to plaster a smile on my face and keep fighting the good fight—for logic, for kindness.

But out on the boat, on the ocean that moves beneath me with strangely predictable chaos, I am free. The spray of cold salt water on my face wakes me up from all of it, brings me back to a place where choices are easy and reality bends for no one. The path is simple: avoid the rocks, avoid the whirlpools and waves, watch out for deadheads, and obey the rules of the water. There’s no alternative anything out here, no time for endless debates on minutiae, no place for outrage. The ocean doesn’t care. There are right choices and wrong choices on the water and the latter holds a shocking number of ways to end you.

When it’s time to travel, the boat goes into motion toward a clear destination. The wind in my face assures me everything is going to be fine. When we slow and stop, it is to avoid a hazard or to enjoy beauty.  And what beauty. What heart-stopping, humbling beauty.

Grizzly bear in tall grass

Grizzly enjoying grass

From the boat, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, I see a big, male grizzly. He is unfazed by our arrival. An apex predator, he knows his place. He chews on tall, green grass and basks in the warm afternoon sun. I envy him.

The trip ends back on our dock, with smiles and hugs and laughter. We have been awed.

I sleep soundly that night. The sting of a mild burn on my face is a constant reminder of the wind and the sun.  This bliss won’t last forever. Soon enough I’ll be back on the highway and wide awake at 3am. But for now, for the next little while, the wilderness has cleared enough room for me to dream again.

The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way. ~ Cheryl Strayed, Wild

 

 

Posted in Animals, Computers and Internet, Friends, Nature & Environment, Ocean | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

20 Questions

question-mark-background-vector

  1. Does everyone have a secret?
  2. Why does cheese taste better when it’s grated?
  3. If memory is imperfect and we see the world subjectively, is every person on the planet living a different reality?
  4. When my cats and I talk to each other, what do they think I am saying?
  5. What would the world look like if everyone had the wisdom of old age by the time they were ten years old?
  6. If there were real superheroes in the world, would we love or fear them?
  7. Are abusive men actually afraid of women?
  8. Why did the birds practically ignore our feeder all winter, when you would think they would really need an easy source of food, but now, when food is abundant, they are all over it?
  9. Does the environment we are raised in permanently alter our brain so that those who grow up close to the ocean will always love the ocean and those who grew up on the prairies will always love wide open spaces and big skies, etc?
  10. Why do I paint myself into corners?
  11. How can I so easily, and fiercely, advocate for others and not for myself?
  12. Why do people act against their own best interests?
  13. Would dogs be more popular if they purred?
  14. Why does looking at certain things (barnacles, for example) make me itchy and uncomfortable?
  15. Is it just me or do other people also have just a the teeniest desire for an actual, global apocalyptic-ish event just to wipe the slate clean and start over again even though they know it would be awful and full of suffering and death?
  16. Even if some people refuse to accept that man-made climate change is real, why would anyone not want to move towards clean, renewable energy?
  17. If an actual deity came to earth today and announced its presence and performed all kinds of amazing miracles, would believers give up their current faith and believe the “real” god or just find reasons to dismiss that god and keep on believing in whatever they believe in? Or, in the case of atheists, what they don’t believe in.
  18. Why do crinkle cut french fries taste better than regular french fries?
  19. Why did we start saying “hacks” in place of “tips”?
  20. If humans could choose the length of their lives, how long, on average, would we choose to live?
Posted in Entertainment, General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I Want It All!

Kris on beach

Something pretty great happened last week. Great, unexpected, awe-inducing, and more words that describe an event so completely out of left field that almost a week later I am still shaking my head and asking myself, “Really? Did that happen?”

I will tell you about the thing that happened later. A few people reading this already know about the thing that happened but, shhhhhh! No spoilers! We’ll get to the thing that happened but first I want to talk about greed.

Greed.

Let that word sit in your brain for a second. What images and feelings does it conjure up? Do you imagine a king on a pile of money? A Wall Street banker in a suit that is worth more than you make in a month? A model in a gold-encrusted penthouse in New York City?

Do you see yourself? Can you imagine yourself as greedy?

I couldn’t. Until it happened.

When I see wealthy people acting like greedy jerks—and, yes, #notallwealthypeople—of course I am disgusted but my disgust is tempered by understanding. It is easier than you think to become a greedy jerk.

That’s not true. It is easier than you think to become greedy—jerkiness is a separate animal.

Greed is not just about money. We can be greedy with affection, opportunity, knowledge, time and much more. You need only watch toddlers surrounded by toys, fighting over that one toy that they both MUST have, to know that greed is hardwired into our brains—we are greedy long before we even know what money is. And if we feel we’ve worked for something, that we’ve earned it, that we deserve it, then greed can dig in its heels and refuse to share our toy with the other kids, no matter how many toys we own.

Most of us learn about money management from our parents—whether they try to teach us or not. My parents grew up in poverty and worked hard to escape. Luckily, they existed in a golden age of prosperity, a magical bubble when lack of education was not an obstacle to a good job and the cost of living had not yet zoomed past the average income.  They were good savers with a goal: buckle down and acquire wealth.

And then my dad’s younger brother died.

My dad used to tell me the story of how, walking out of his brother’s funeral, he turned to my mom and said, “If we want to go on a vacation, we’re going on a vacation.” That event changed everything for my parents.  While they never wasted money or were frivolous with their spending, they also did not deny themselves the pleasures of a family trip to Disneyland, a new car now and then, some of the “trinkets” Mom adored, or home renovations.  Mom, in particular, was a stickler for the “new”. Her daughters would never wear secondhand clothing!

I grew up not in wealth, per se, but in prosperity. My “normal” was that you buy new clothes when you want, go on vacations when you want, buy toys when you want, and eat as much food as you want. I was never included in discussions of money or finances. I was not required to do chores or given an allowance. I did, at least, understand that a good job and hard work was a necessity but I left home at the age of 18 with virtually no money management skills.

I am lousy with money. With the exception of a brief period between the time I left my first husband and the year I started making really good money as a stunt person, I have always been bad at saving and delayed gratification. So when I did start making oodles of money, I was a prime target for greed.

You know how you hear about lottery winners who are broke within a year? Crazy, right? I used to think that too but now I know better.

Managing money, budgeting, financial planning and discipline, these are all skills that, for most of us, must be learned and practiced. Think of it this way: If you have no knowledge of canning, drying or preserving food, not to mention the tools for those tasks, what would you do if someone dropped off dump truck load of fruit and vegetables on your doorstep? You’d eat some, put some in your fridge, and give the rest away. Some of it might even go rotten but what are you supposed to do about that? The person who understands how to preserve large quantities of food, however, they would get to work making sure such a bounty lasted them for years to come. Money is no different. If you don’t know how to preserve it, if you lack those tools, you will waste it.

I was 28 when I had my breakout year in stunts. Almost overnight I went from making just above poverty level income to six figures. Then I met Fred, who was much more established than me in the business, and thus made even more money. Eventually I moved in with him and rented out my little condo. For the first time since leaving home at the age of 18, I had more money than I needed.

If you had told 18-year-old me, the young woman who often had to raid her spare change jar to make rent, that one day I would be frivolous with my money, she would have told you to get stuffed. But there I was with my dump truck load of fruits and vegetables and not a can or jar in sight.

I wasn’t greedy in the sense that I refused to share my money. Quite the opposite. I loved buying things for people, treating people for dinner, surprising Fred with a night in a luxury hotel room, etc. It brought me so much joy to finally be able to buy my family nice Christmas and birthday presents.  I loved giving to charities, sponsoring friends for fundraising events without a second thought, hiring local business people for housecleaning, lawn maintenance, and other chores we could afford to not do ourselves.  Where greed kicked in—and greed is insidious this way—is that I started to believe the money would never end, I started to believe I deserved what I had, and I started to want…more. Like the Queen song I had once belted out at the top of my lungs, I wanted it all, and I wanted it now!  I was drunk on money.

The hangover was a killer.

Greed is also infectious. I worked with a small group of people who made as much, or far more, money as I did. Stunt people are by nature a bit arrogant. You have to have some degree of that quality to do a job with a 100% injury rate and where the possibility of death is omnipresent. Stunt people also tend to be highly competitive. Combine those qualities and you end up with a group of people not only pushing each other in training but also playing a game of one-upmanship with grown-up toys.  And when you’re a newcomer trying to fit in, you jump right into the game with both feet.

There was one exchange that has stuck with me across the years. Two of the most A of the A level stunt people told a story of how they had stopped for dinner while on the road. The restaurant was mediocre and the wine list was dismal (by their standards). They ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon because that was closest thing to decent champagne on offer. It was also the most expensive bottle on the menu. The waiter responded enthusiastically. He asked them what they were celebrating. One of the pair responded, “Because we’re thirsty.” And when they told this story we all laughed—silly waiter.

I laughed because I was desperate to fit in. I laughed because the way they told the story was funny. But when I look back I see clearly how this was one big step down the path of greed for me. I’ve been that waiter. I’ve been the person who can barely make rent for her shitty apartment that she shares with two other roommates while some entitled, wealthy prick makes a snarky, derisive joke at her expense.

Greed re-shaped my “normal”. I started to believe that poor people in North America, for the most part, just weren’t trying hard enough. I started to turn a blind eye to the role luck and timing had played in my life and the privileges I had enjoyed as a middle class, able bodied, heterosexual, English speaking, white person. Most of all, I lost touch with the person who had been that waiter.

It all went away, of course. If you’ve been reading these Coconut Chronicles for any length of time you know that life in the post-stunt world, has been a series of ups and downs. I’d like to tell you my experience made me better with money. It didn’t. Well, maybe somewhat better but I think I will always carry a little piece of my parents and their belief that life is too short to deprive yourself of pleasure with me until the day I die, especially since neither my mother nor my sister lived past the age of 57. And I still like treating the people I love and supporting other artists and charities, even when I know I can’t afford it—that may be the one aspect of my former glory days that I can’t let go of. But I did shake the greed.

Oh, man, it feels good to be free from that.

Greed is insidious, infectious and cancerous—it eats away at you from the inside. I can say, with complete honesty, that no part of me feels I “deserve” any material thing any longer. I see money for what it is: stress relief. That’s it, pure and simple. If you can afford to pay your bills, buy food, pay for necessary medicine, keep a roof over your head, and access reliable transportation to get you where you need to go, then most of life’s biggest concerns are covered.

I need very little to be happy these days.

Which is why the thing that happened on Thursday still has me in a state of shock.

My crazy, wonderful, loving, goofball of a husband surprised me with a new SUV.

Kristene with her new SUV

Surprise!

We’ve been a one vehicle household for years, until I took over my dad’s 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue when he died. The Olds is sure nothing fancy but I loved having my own wheels again and I loved that each time I sat in that car I thought about my dad. At no point did I feel like I needed a better car, or a new car. As long as the Olds was running, I was happy.

Intrigue.jpg

It’s kind of cute! (And it’s for sale)

I know why Fred bought me this new SUV. I know how happy it makes him to treat his wife after years of financial uncertainty and I adore him for it. The SUV is red (he held out for a red one because he knew that’s my fave vehicle colour)and shiny and full of bells and whistles. Every time I get in, I feel like I’m borrowing someone else’s nice new car. It doesn’t feel real. I think it’s going to be a while before it sinks in that it is mine.

This is the second new vehicle I have ever owned and the difference between the two experiences is stark. When I bought my new truck, I wanted to show it off to everyone, I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I had money and could afford a new vehicle. This time, I feel almost a bit embarrassed, a bit guilty, like this is more than I need or deserve. Surely there are many, many more people who deserve this car more than I do. What I want to shout from the rooftops is that I love my husband for even wanting to do this for me. The SUV is nice but it’s his love that is valuable—priceless—to me.

What I am also feeling is vigilant. I don’t want to take this for granted. I don’t want to ever be that person again, the one who laughs when the fortunate mistreat the people they see as beneath them, the one who thinks she’s special because she has a shiny red truck, the one who complains about people on welfare abusing the system and wasting her precious tax dollars. I do not want to be greedy. Not today. Not ever.

I love my husband. Not because he bought me an SUV but because he is the kind of man who wants more than anything to see his wife happy.  I love my husband because after almost 19 years together he can still surprise me.

I do still want it all.

Friends, family, love and fulfillment, I want them all and I want them for all of us.

Posted in Health and wellness, Life, Love, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment