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?
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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.

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The Perimenopause Diaries

shutterstock_573523534****Warning! This post contains graphic “women stuff” AKA bodily functions common to healthy women over the age of 40. If that kind of stuff squicks you out, be thankful you don’t have to go through it yourself. You can also choose not to read this, unless you want to actually learn a thing or two about the reality of peri-menopause and the female body and mind. ****

Some of you may recall The Thing I Didn’t Want To Talk About. Well, it’s high time for an update because I’ve been banging my head against the wall of my uterus since that post but I finally acquired some useful information.

To update you: After I was diagnosed as perimenopausal at the ripe old age of 42, my doctor spelled out my options. Basically, I could go on low-dose birth control pills and take iron supplements or I could tough it out. I chose the former because collapsing into a sobbing mess and then passing out from anemia in the middle of Wal-Mart was oddly unappealing to me.

I did try going off the birth control pills for a short time because they make you break out and gain weight, and that did nothing to help with my general frustration and depression, but even the slight help they offered my tortured body was better than nothing. I have been on them ever since, feeling bloated and heavy and gross, but with 10% less bleeding so…yay?

And let’s stop here to talk about bleeding. (I did warn you this would be graphic.)

I have struggled with my periods for a long time. My first one was at the age of eleven—the horror—and those pubescent periods flowed like the mighty Mississippi. Pre-tampons, I used to be forced to wear the biggest, bulkiest pads made. Try to imagine an eleven-year-old girl trying to hide a pad the size of a guinea pig during PE and dance class. It wasn’t pretty. Or fun. And it didn’t help that no one in my family talked about anything even remotely sexual, which meant I spent my youth in a constant state of shame about this most natural monthly event.

I only learned about tampons by overhearing a conversation between my girlfriend and her fantastically progressive and liberal mother. Thank you Mrs. Craig for changing my life even if you never realized you changed my life.

By the time my cycle had slowed to a somewhat normal rate in my very late teens, I faced another problem: endometriosis. The excessive bleeding had diminished, replaced by pain that would drop a T-Rex to its knees. Hooray!

There were about six or seven awesome years, after the surgery for my endometriosis, where I had no pain and a normal period. The golden age, I like to think of it. Then, perimenopause struck and we’re back to the heavy flow. Oh, but with a twist, because life is hilarious! Now, the heavy flow is no longer the Mississippi, it’s Niagra Falls. WHOOSH! Out it all comes in one massive waterfall. Bloodfall? And it happens randomly. Like, I can be almost done with a cycle, down to teeny tiny spotting, then WHOOSH…ha ha, just kidding! Oh, and periods now last anywhere from 7 to 21 days, and the time between periods is about the same, plus I get wickedly painful cramps.  I am basically a non-stop blood factory.

Result: Anemia. I eat at least one steak per week and take iron supplements every day (when I remember, I’m only human).

All the other symptoms are still going strong. The hormonal narcolepsy hits me at all kinds of inappropriate moments. It hit once as I was parking my car and getting ready for an eight hour shift at work. Thankfully I carry caffeine pills with me—life saver! I get depressed and anxious for no reason. I go through crying spells for no  reason. Then I get frustrated. Then angry. Then depressed again. Because who doesn’t enjoy changing things up now and then? I’ve gained at least ten pounds and my fitness routine is wildly erratic (more about that later). On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being “teen boy horny”, my sex drive most often hovers between 0 and 3. You can imagine how happy Hubs is about that. Yeah, no stress there. Nuh uh.

What else?

My breasts ache and are ridiculously tender and sensitive. I almost slapped myself once for brushing a nipple while dressing. Also, not conducive to marital bliss. And when I do manage to pump myself up (pun recognized but not intended) for sex, ol’ Vaggy just ain’t as limber and moist as she used to be. Yeah, maybe TMI but I want to be bare-bones honest for the folks out there going through this who are, like me, going slowly crazy because they feel so weird and alone. I feel singularly unsexy to a degree I have never known.

My brain is in a fog. Pre-perimenopause, I could hold vast quantities of information in my head all at once. These days I’m happy to remember a single, simple idea, or why I walked into a room, or to turn the hot water pump off.

Along with the iron supplements and birth control pills, my prime source of therapy and coping has been alcohol and cats. Lots of both.

I think that about covers it.

Oh wait, not quite. Let’s talk about that alone-ness. There are a handful of people with whom I feel comfortable discussing my situation. But, even then, I’m not going to call or text or Facebook message them every time I feel like running screaming off a cliff because that would be almost every other day lately. This means that even though I have a small circle of trusted friends and confidants I can vent to, there are more days I spend pushing down all the emotions into a ball of tense unhappiness than days that I don’t. And as much as my husband loves me, he’s living this too and I’m not going to dump my woes on him at the end of a long, exhausting work day.

Long story  short, my perimenopausal existence feels isolated and lonely most of the time.

Yep, that’s everything.

Back to my story…

Every now and then, life throws you the proverbial bone. In my case, it was a friend of a friend. This angel in human form is a nurse and after listening to me rant briefly about my troubles, she told me that there is a clinic at the UBC Hospital that specializes in female reproductive health and has all kinds of resources for perimenopausal and menopausal women. She sent me a link to their website so that I might find some help, since I live far from the big city and resources are scarce out here.

I saved the link and promised myself to check it out. Then, as it does, life happened, I got busy, forgot, blah blah blah.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had a really bad run. Life on Quadra Island is fabulous and you couldn’t pay me to leave this paradise but there aren’t the kind of indoor fitness options you get in a larger city, even Campbell River. Yes, there are some classes at the Quadra community center but the times never seem to work with my schedule. And the record rainfall has made walking and running a soggily unappealing choice. Time was when I would just do my own fitness routine, using the body-weight exercises I know, but my motivation level seems to have headed off to Antarctica with my sex drive, soooo… bleh.

But finally, FINALLY, the sun came out, my bleeding was down to a mere trickle, and I found the gumption to go for a long, brisk walk! I geared up, including a fresh tampon (just in case), grabbed my iPod and audiobook and headed out. It was amazing! Fresh air! Blood pumping! Good book! At last, I felt normal!

Thirty minutes into my walk, Niagra Falls x 1000 hit.

There I was, way out in the middle of nowhere, hemorrhaging like a hemophiliac in a knife fight. There was nothing I could do but thank the universe that I had worn black pants and slowly shuffle back home.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I cried my eyes out when I got there.

Is it too much to ask just to be able to go for a damned walk???

The next morning, depressed and frustrated, feeling at the end of my rope, I posted a plea on Facebook for jokes and stuff to cheer me up. Thank the universe, also, for kind friends. Today I woke up and decided I’ve had enough. I found the link for that clinic and started to research.

Here’s the good news: There may be help.

I learned that I have menorrhagia, which is a fancy medical word for “very heavy menstrual flow”. I also learned that it’s really not uncommon, much the same as my other symptoms are not uncommon, including the diminished sex drive and crazy cramps. I learned that there are non-surgical methods that have been shown to reduce menstrual flow by anywhere up to 87%! One of the simplest is a very specific use of ibuprofen, who knew? I learned how to best record my bodily activity so that I can share that with my doctor and receive the best treatment for me. I learned that I need to be consuming at least 1 to 1.5 litres of salty liquid such as vegetable juice or bouillon on days of extra blood loss.  I learned that those oral contraceptives I’m taking that make me gain weight and break out? Yeah, not very effective.

I learned that there are health professionals out there working hard to learn all they can about perimenopause and menopause and sharing that information freely with the world.

I feel just a little less lonely today.

I’m going to start keeping a perimenopause diary—I’ll share the link to the template at the end of this post—to see where I’m at, to share with my family doctor, and to try and get back to some kind of normal. Until then, I want to thank all my friends who have patiently listened to my hormonal rants—they may not be over, by the way. I want to apologize to all the pre-menopausal women whom I have terrified with my stories. It may not be that bad for you (fingers crossed). I want to encourage every woman who is peri or menopausal, or who even suspects she may be, not to settle, and to keep seeking out the physical and emotional help you need! (Feel free to contact me at kristeneperron [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to talk privately.)To the husbands and partners living through this, hang in there, but mostly make sure you offer your unconditional support—this shit is tough, yo! To the girls and young women for whom menopause is still a distant possibility, your body is nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who ever makes you feel bad for talking about “women stuff” is a jerkface meany and you have my permission to tell them so.

Thanks for listening now here are some links. Go get educated.

The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research – The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR) was founded by Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior in May 2002. The Centre studies the physical and psychological causes and effects of ovulation disturbances on women’s overall health. CeMCOR publishes scientific results and disseminates information directly to women.

The Daily Perimenopause Diary – For perimenopausal women, including women with regular cycles who have hot flushes/flashes or night sweats.

The Daily Menopause Diary – For women who have gone at least 12 months without a menstrual period.

Heavy Flow – How to determine if you have a heavy menstrual flow and what to do.

Hot flushes/flashes

Posted in Health and wellness, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

It Matters

Death's Head Moth from Silence of the Lambs

Can the past change?

Two nights ago, Hubs and I re-watched the brilliant, Oscar-winning thriller Silence of the Lambs.  The movie came out in 1991 and neither of us had watched it for at least a decade.

The movie I remembered watching in 1991 was a terrifying psycho-thriller, which I watched mostly on the edge of my seat and sometimes through the fingers covering my eyes. I remembered the savagery of serial killer Buffalo Bill, and the more refined horror Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter—a character that would become iconic and oft-copied in the years to come.  I remembered my held breath as FBI agent Clarice Starling hunted Buffalo Bill in the dark while he watched her—almost touched her—through night vision googles.  I remembered discussing Anthony Hopkins’s performance with friends and our poor imitations of that fff-fff-fff-fff-fff sound he made after telling Clarice about eating a man’s liver.  That is the movie I watched 26 years ago.

The movie I watched two nights ago was not that. The elements were there, certainly, but the past had changed. I was surprised to see that the most memorable character was not Hannibal Lecter but Clarice Starling. My shock continued as I watched a compelling recreation of a story untold numbers of competent women have lived through: trying to make it in a man’s world. Where did this story come from?

Through scene after scene I wondered why I had not remembered the countless examples of the kind of bullshit Starling had to navigate just to do her damn job. A job she was more than qualified to do, by the way. In 2017, the scene which stayed with me after the credits rolled was not Hannibal’s creepy teeth-sucking noise but a quiet conversation in a car, between Agent Starling and her boss Agent Crawford. Crawford had used Starling’s gender as an excuse to get a sheriff out of the room and she was obviously upset about what happened. Here is the exchange:

Jack Crawford: Starling, when I told that sheriff we shouldn’t talk in front of a woman, that really burned you, didn’t it? It was just smoke, Starling. I had to get rid of him.

Clarice Starling: It matters, Mr. Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.

Jack Crawford: Point taken.

This tiny moment was ground-breaking for 1991. Starling points out something many women have always known—that males take cues from their peers, and other men higher up the food chain, when it comes to behaviour and attitudes toward females—but, more importantly, Crawford doesn’t try to brush her off or get defensive. Crawford says, “Point taken”, and you get the sense in that scene that it really is, that he has been given a new perspective and respects it.

“It matters.”

Hell, that’s ground-breaking for 2017!

The movie opens with a steady-cam shot following Starling as she doggedly runs through an obstacle course and I believe that sets the theme for the entire story. From the FBI cadets who ogle her ass as they jog by, to the nerdy entomologist who hits on her as she’s trying to solve a murder, to the serial killer who demands quid pro quo before he will assist her, this is a woman running through the obstacles of an archaic social system to simply, like I said, do her damn job.

Ironic, when I think about it, that in 1991 the story of Clarice Starling, which I see so clearly now, was lost behind the showmanship of the male lead. Hopkins was amazing, no question about that, but so was the rest of the story.

Except…

And here’s where the movie changed yet again. You see, I remembered the character of Buffalo Bill as creepy, twisted, and terrifying. I remembered the Death’s Head moth he used as a symbol of transformation. I did not remember that he was transsexual, nor did I make the connection between “transformation” and “trans”.

Through the infinitely more enlightened eye of 2017, Buffalo Bill’s character was awkward and problematic. The writers tried to deal with the problem through Lecter’s explanation that his former patient only “thought” he was trans and that he likely was rejected for gender reassignment surgery. But rather than making the plot easier for me to buy into that offhand dismissal made me even more uncomfortable. Who gets to decide whether someone is really trans or just faking it? What if they’d let him have the surgery? Would he have then not felt the need to go out and murder a bunch of women to make himself a new female skin? And what does that say about transgender people?

It’s all very dicey and ugly transphobic territory once you start digging.

Sad. Sad because the writer could have easily kept in all the details that made Buffalo Bill so utterly horrifying but with a different motivation attached to his actions. They could have steered clear of the gender quagmire and still had a story every bit as nail-biting. Sad because they told an incredibly progressive story about female empowerment but chose to throw transgender people under the bus to do it.

So how do I feel about Silence of the Lambs in 2017? Conflicted.

This movie did so much so right. There’s no wonder it swept the Academy Awards, taking home wins for Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing. It pleases me that a film of this caliber featured a female protagonist who was never sexualized and who was allowed to be multi-layered. The scary parts still make me cover my eyes and hover on the edge of my seat, which is not always the case with aged thrillers. I tell myself that attitudes toward the LGBTQ community were vastly different in 1991—I know they were—but the transphobia in the story makes me cringe.

I took something else away from this movie: the past can change.

I bet that to many men out there, and to many conservative women, it feels as if there has been a sudden swell of feminism. A wave that came seemingly from out of nowhere. In practically the blink of an eye, great swathes of the female population started shouting about misogyny, #everydaysexism, the need for equity, sexual harassment, and on and on and on. The same language and behaviour that was no big deal ten years ago is now in the spotlight—and it’s not a flattering light. Women are vocal, they are frustrated, they are angry.  Where did this all “suddenly” come from?

In large part, I think we can thank the internet. Speaking for myself, it was reading the stories of other women that showed me so much of what I have experienced over the years was not fair or even normal—or at least should not be considered normal. For the first time, large numbers of women could connect with each other, instantly, and share their stories. Patterns emerged and what so many of us had all just unwittingly gone along with because “that’s just the way it is” appeared now as a problem that could, and should, be solved.

When I look back on my life, it’s a different movie in 2017. Scenes that I had brushed off as unimportant, especially when looked at collectively, reveal a re-occurring theme. And there are so very many of those scenes. Some are small, some are large, but all keep telling the same story—I was Clarice Starling, running that obstacle course, over and over again.

I had three close male friends in junior high and highschool—one of whom was my on-again-off-again boyfriend and a much bigger story—who I have always remembered fondly. But in the past few years, more and more, I am remembering the times when maybe they weren’t such good friends and, more and more, I wonder why I put up with it?

Some scenes are comical. I recall playing a new video game at one of the boys’ houses and wanting my turn at the control. Little did I know that the three boys—as a joke—gave me the wrong instructions for the game just so that my turns would end quickly and they would get to play more. Harmless fun, right? You might even be chuckling right now, I get it. Then there was the time we were all goofing around about something and two of the boys grabbed me, tackled me, and then dragged me by my feet through a bunch of bushes. When they let me go and I climbed out, covered in dirt and leaves and branches, they were doubled over, laughing so hard they could barely breathe. Ha ha ha! Such pranksters. And then there was the time we went to their friend Mike’s house for lunch. Nothing unusual led up to the moment. We were all eating sandwiches or whatever, complaining about school, talking about teenager stuff, being kids. For a reason I can’t remember (or maybe there wasn’t a reason), one of the boys grabbed a knife out of the drawer and started heading toward me. Very funny. I laughed because these were my friends and they were being silly. But then another “friend” grabbed a knife, and I was backing away and trying to be cool and not scared at all. And then the four of them were chasing me through the house and no one was laughing.

No, the worst did not happen. It didn’t go that far. I don’t recall exactly how it ended but I know that at some point someone realized we had to get back to school and the “game” ended. Ha ha ha. Funny, right? But when I look back at that scene in the movie now, I wasn’t having fun. I was scared. I was confused—weren’t these boys my friends? I was mad at myself for not keeping my cool. I considered myself one of the guys and that was a guy kind of horseplay, so why did it feel so real and so legitimately threatening?

What you need to know is that I have a long list of scenes that were one thing in the past and have changed to something else in 2017. Or, rather, I have changed. I will no longer see four boys with knives chasing a girl around a house as fun or as play. I no longer need to subject myself to threats and bullying for the “privilege” of being one of the guys.

What you need to know is that I have given you just the smallest sample of scenes from one woman’s life. And guess what? At some point, some woman will read about my scenes and start looking back on the movie of her life and seeing her own scenes in a new light too. This, my friends, is how we got to here.

This sudden wave of feminism is more like a Tsunami. It starts deep and far off shore. As it travels through the ocean, it’s barely detectable on the surface—a slight change of current, a slight rise in the level of the water. It’s only when all that force finally hits the shore that you can see the real size and scope of the wave—but, make no mistake, it has been there all along.

You may feel as if this wave of female anger and frustration has appeared out of thin air but, make no mistake, it has been there all along.

My feelings about the past are no different than my feelings about Silence of the Lambs: conflicted.

I can’t ignore everything that was brilliant and good but I’m never again going to feel comfortable with what was wrong.

What I know is that we need to fix the script. We need to make a better movie.

It matters.

Posted in Entertainment, Life, News and politics, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

I’m Okay? You’re Okay?

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Adam Dreece discovers I have been a little cranky lately.

“Is everything okay with you?”

My dear friend Pat asked this of me on Sunday evening. As well as being one of my best friends in the universe, he is also a regular Coconut Chronicles reader and he noted that lately my posts have been on the negative side. Unusual, he thought, since there I was raving to him about how beautiful my new living quarters are and how happy I am that fate connected Fred and me with our fabulous Friendlord Kate.  Not to mention the joy of my quirky kittens and steadily growing Warpworld readership, and Fred’s crazy-successful new business.  For the first time in long time, life seems to have dropped heaps of good fortune in my lap.

But he was right, my latest posts have been more than a little cranky and/or gloomy, and it made me pause to reflect.

Yes, I still have stress, most of which I prefer not to discuss publicly, some of which anyone who follows me on Facebook is already sick of. Crazy menopause hormones anyone? And I still get sideswiped by grief now and then.  Overall, however, things in my personal life are on a ridiculous upswing.

So why, when everything is mostly good, do I feel compelled to write about the bad?

Short answer: lots of reasons but mostly politics.

Now, while this is not a feel-good blog or a self-help manual, it is a chronicle (hence the title) of my interior and exterior life, told in random brain droppings that fall like coconuts from my…errrr…metaphorical palm tree (did that work?), and when future me reads over my 2017 posts I want her to remember how I woke up every day and thanked the universe for my good fortune.

As it happens, today is the perfect day to drop a coconut of positivity on your head because I am sitting on a BC Ferry, heading back to that little slice of island paradise, to reunite with people and pets that I love, AFTER a weekend of joy and camaraderie. Whew. Happiness overload!

I’ve written many times about my friend Sandra Wickham and about the Creative Ink Festival but this year there were some added components.

  • Sandra invited me to room with her for the weekend. (Sorry about the 6:30am wake-up!)
  • My 15-year-old niece Abby attended the festival.
  • My sisters April and LeAnna and brother Glen  joined me at the festival Saturday night…the first time I and all my half-siblings have been in the same place together!

Roomies

Sandra AKA Ninja Mama and I are lucky if we see each other once a year, usually at her festival, and usually in brief snippets of time because she has a million things to do and her stress level is at “OMG!!! IT’S HAPPENING!!”  Luckily, we have one of those weird and rare friendships that cares not about time and distance. I suspect we could go without seeing each other for decades and then pick up right where we left off, laughing at each other and ourselves, venting about stuff that’s stressing us out, and just being in the moment with each other.

If you have one of these friendships, make sure to thank the universe and never ever take it for granted.

This year Sandra asked if I’d like to be her roomie for the festival—with a warning that her room would be festival HQ and, thus, not always a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the event. I said YES, YES, YES without a second thought.  (Okay, maybe a teeny second thought when Sandra explained we would likely host some folks in our room Saturday night after the day’s programming was over—I am generally not a fan of loud, crowded, hot, room parties).

We didn’t get much sleep all weekend but it was a small sacrifice. Lying in our beds, in the dark, trying to stop giggling; Sandra marveling at my “must be ready four hours early” morning routine; our almost-creepy similarities right down to the brand of facial wipes we travel with and the fact that we both have to completely unpack and “settle in” as soon as we check in; the Saturday night gathering that turned out to be a LOT of fun and not hot and crowded at all; the frank discussions about personal stuff we don’t share with many other people; the laughs and laughs and laughs…every minute made an already amazing event a thousand times more memorable.

If the stars align, we’ll get to do it all again—without the stress of event management—in August for When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta. But no matter what happens from this point on, I return home with precious friend-time that is worth more to me than any book sales or five star reviews.

To my favourite Ninja Mama: *MWAH*! Thanks a gazillion!

Sandra and Kristene 2017 artsy

What’s not to love about Sandra Wickham???

The Next Generation

I can still recall, vividly, how it felt to be 15 years old, in love with the written word, and wishing that maybe, possibly, somehow, someday, I might be a famous published author.  (And a famous actress, famous dancer, famous singer, and an astronaut…but those jobs required talents I sadly do not possess).

There was no internet waaaaaaay back then, no writing festivals or conventions in my neck of the woods, no means for me to connect with professional writers other than fan letters, (which I would have been too shy to send, anyway). My friends weren’t into writing and my family knew nothing about the craft or the business, though they tried to be supportive in their own way. My goal felt impossible, my passion isolating, my skills trapped behind an invisible barrier preventing them from growing.

So when I learned that my young niece Abby was serious about writing—completing one NaNoWriMo, almost finishing another, and also participating in the NaNo spring camp—I knew I wanted to help give her some of the opportunities I’d missed at her age. After the 2016 Creative Ink Festival, I knew what I had to do! Between me, my sister LeAnna, and Abby’s mom (and my other sister) April, we arranged to get her from Kelowna to Burnaby for the festival weekend.

I wasn’t sure how Abby was going to feel about hanging out with a bunch of adult nerds for three days but I did know that there was no other writing event where she would be as welcomed and safe.

I needn’t have worried. Abby fit right in, soaking up the panels and presentations, taking copious notes, asking intelligent questions, and endearing herself to everyone. More than once I witnessed an author or publisher offer her one of their books—she went home with a bag full!

Because of geography, I haven’t spent much time with my biological family and even less with my nieces. Since I was also busy volunteering and presenting at the festival, I knew I wasn’t going to have a ton of extra time to spend with my niece but I knew the time we’d have together would be within the writing/nerd tribe—quality is more important than quantity, after all.  Every time I slipped into a convention room to take photos and spotted that little face in the audience, a burst of happiness exploded in my chest. Whether or not Abby ever decides to write professionally, at least she had the opportunity to experience what it’s like, to gather valuable insight from authors and publishers and editors, and to feel part of the community I love so much. For one moment in time we shared each other’s worlds…and what creative and fun worlds they are!

To Abby: thanks for letting me share this weekend with you and never stop being your weird, wonderful and talented self!

Me and Abby CIF

Nerdism, it’s genetic! Me and my awesome niece Abby.

A Long Time Coming

I was 25 when I connected with my biological mother for the first time. I’d never been one of those adoptees who obsess about their “real” parents but I was curious enough to sign up on the passive registry. It was fun to see the first photos of someone who actually looks like me (ah, that’s where my big, goofy grin comes from!) and a wonderful surprise to learn that I had three half siblings—two sisters, LeAnna and April, and a brother, Glen.

My siblings and I communicated for several years via letters and then email. There was some talk of meeting up now and then but, in all honestly, I was the one that held off on that. I enjoyed our written exchanges but, when I had signed up for the registry, in-person meeting was never in my plans. First, I’d heard too many horror stories about these kinds of “reunions”. Second, I still felt a bit like it would hurt my adoptive family and their feelings had to come first. Third, I thought one big heaping of family drama was enough, no need to court any more than necessary. Fourth, for all intents and purposes, we were a bunch of strangers who just happened to share DNA. Fifth, emotionally, it was scary.

Eventually, all those reasons lost their importance and one-by-one I connected, in person, with my shared-mother sisters and brother. And…it was awesome! The moment of awkwardness actually passes pretty quickly and then you just get on with the business of getting to know each other and becoming friends. And family.

We all share some similarities. Just like regular sisters and brothers. And we’re all different in other ways. Just like regular sisters and brothers. Genetics is definitely a factor—turns out clumsiness runs in the family—but our different childhoods makes for interesting conversation.

When I lost my sister Kelly, my bio-siblings were right there to support me. LeAnna and Glen even made a trip to the island for the memorial. LeAnna, ever the organizing whiz, actually helped me plan some of the event and made sure I had “emergency wine” for my speech, which turned out to be very much needed.

Every year, we get a little closer and a little more comfortable. I used to think of them as simply “Glen, LeAnna and April” but they have become my sisters and my brother, and it gives me the warm fuzzies to know I have a family out there that loves and cares about me.

But since that first day of discovery more than twenty years ago, the four of us had never been together at the same time, in the same place…until Saturday, April 1, 2017. It was April’s birthday and, fittingly for us all, April Fool’s Day.

As mentioned, my niece was attending the Creative Ink Festival  with me. She was staying with LeAnna in Vancouver and April made the trip down in order get together with us, celebrate her birthday, and drive Abby home on Sunday. All three grabbed a room at the festival hotel. Glen was a wild card. He works in the film business now (ironic, yes?) and puts in long shifts and late hours (ah, I remember it well!). Would he be able to stay awake long enough for a full on sibling party?

Yep.

Glen, me, Leanna, April

Together at last! (L to R): Glen, Kristene, LeAnna, April

So there we all were, sisters and brother, in the same room, sharing the same big goofy grins, for the first time in history. As historical events go, I doubt this one will ever make it into the books, but it’s one I’ll treasure for the rest of my life!

To my patient and wonderful sisters and brother: sorry it took me so long! Thanks for helping me get over myself and letting me join the weirdness that is our family.

Family goofy

Can you spot the resemblance now?

The Answer

So, there you go, three unbelievably positive things in one little Coconut Chronicle. Future me, you were smiling when you wrote all of this.

I can’t guarantee the next post won’t be sad or angry or full of ranting—these are turbulent times and the falling coconuts will likely reflect that—but please know that behind the negativity is a woman who has a whole heck of a lot to be happy about.

To answer your question, Pat, not everything is okay with me but most things are pretty f**king great!

Posted in Family & Children, Life, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walking the Line

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I would be a better blogger if I had fewer friends.

Correction: I would be a more honest blogger if I had fewer diverse friends.

Since I transitioned these Coconut Chronicles from “funny travel blog” to “blog about whatever I’m thinking about at any given moment”, I’ve walked the tightrope of honesty vs friendship. A walk that became somewhat easier as I realized that you cannot control what will offend people, even people you think you know well.

I’ve offended friends with my (sparse) political posts. I offended a friend because I joked about traditional marriage (aiming the comedy at my own first marriage). I offended a Christian friend because I compared the LAX airport at 3am to hell (actually, I think I said it was far worse than hell, and I stand by that).  I’ve offended friends by mentioning them in posts and I’ve offended friends by not mentioning them in posts.  I’ve offended friends by writing too honestly about my own failings. There is one small group of friends who have stated that I may NEVER mention them in these Chronicles or our friendship will be terminated.

It used to gut me when I wrote something that hurt a friend—even if we weren’t that close. I once shut down the Chronicles for almost a year after such an incident.  I’ve learned not to take people’s reactions to my writing so personally but if a friend reaches out to say I hurt them then I consider their words and try to reply genuinely. The closer the friend, the more thought I put into my response. I may not necessarily back down from my position but I do want them to know that we can disagree and still love each other.

It would probably shock my friends who have been offended by my posts to know just how much I angst about them. I’ve deleted untold numbers of drafts because I knew that my honest opinion and experience would really hurt a friend. And, even when I’ve made my peace with possibly hurting a friend, there are still Fred’s feelings to consider. It bothers me every single time I hold back, because I strive to be a better writer and good writing comes from truth. What use am I if I’m too worried what my friends will think to tell the truth?

As a writer, at least as a blogger, I think I am damned to mediocrity.

I wish I was braver.

I tell myself it’s okay to compromise now and then, because my friends are wonderful people and have done so much for me and for Fred. But how much compromise? Where do I draw the line?

You see, I have these moments that haunt me. Real life moments where I chose not hurting or offending a friend over doing the right thing.

A few years ago, two of our dear friends took pity on our suffering through the cold Canadian winter and invited us down to spend some time at a place they were renting in California. We happily said yes and zoomed south.  The sunny sojourn was just what we needed and we were so grateful.  One of our friends even thoughtfully arranged a tennis match for me with three other women, whom I’d never met.  Of course I was determined both to play my best and be on my best behaviour—I wanted to reflect well on my generous friend.

Shortly after meeting the three women, who were all white and retired and upper middle class (at the minimum), they joked about how many Canadians were showing up at the tennis club in the winter. “We’re taking over!” I said, jokingly.

“Well, you Canadians are welcome here,” said one of the ladies. How nice! “Better than those ones.”

On the last line, she directed her glance toward the Mexican groundskeepers.

All three women laughed.

My immediate feeling: rage.

I wanted to call out their privilege and racism. I wanted to tell them about all the years I’d spent in Mexico and how amazing and kind the people were to me. I wanted to point out that while we were prancing around in tennis skirts, those men were toiling away in the sun, doing jobs those women would never lower themselves to do.  I wanted to tell them to stick their racquets up their ignorant asses and then walk away.

But then that voice in my head told me to zip it. I was here as the guest of friends and how dare I do or say anything to cause trouble for them? My friends aren’t racist and don’t think like these women, and that’s what matters. Don’t make things difficult or uncomfortable for the people you love.

And so, I gritted out a smile and carried on.

To this day, I wish I had said something. Anything. Even just, “Oh? I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and I’ve had almost all good experiences with the people.” I hate that I smiled. I hate that I betrayed good people simply to not rock the boat. I hated, and still hate, my cowardice.

I carry that memory in my head always. It may seem minor to you but to me it is a glaring failure. Every time I sit down to write a blog post and start to pull back from being honest because I’m worried about offending friends, I return to that memory and ask myself if I’m repeating the same mistake.  I ask myself how important honesty is in that particular post and whether I will regret not speaking truth down the road.

I still hold back, many times. There are stories I would like to tell you—important stories that I likely will never share because of how they would make some of my friends feel.  How they would make my husband feel.

So, these are the sometimes honest, sometimes heavily-edited, sometimes completely censored Coconut Chronicles.  And I remain a coward.

And things are about to get worse.

Generally, I confine my discussion of anything political to events and issues that either directly affect me or touch on issues about which I am passionate. I try to be objective (while acknowledging my own bias) and to keep a dialogue open between left and right and all points in between.  I believe we are all more alike than we are different and that our differences, for the most part, make us stronger.

But then along comes Trump.

Yep, here we go. Again.

I want to premise this by saying the following:

Long before he even announced an intention of running for office, Donald Trump represented everything I loathed in a human. Narcissistic, obsessed with wealth and the appearance of wealth, shallow, cruel, barely literate, misogynistic, attention-seeking, con-man… the descriptions could go on and on, none flattering. When he jumped on the bandwagon to hound President Obama for his birth certificate, he sunk to an even newer low. For five years he beat that racist conspiracy theory drum. And then, when it was proven beyond all doubt that Trump’s claims were false, he pointed to Hilary Clinton and tried to blame her. What the actual…?

There have been nine US presidents in my lifetime. I’ve liked some more than others, agreed with some more than others, but I’ve always seen them as people doing a job, and some were better at their jobs than others.  (I was too young to have an opinion on Richard Nixon, just FYI). I disliked and opposed what George W. Bush did in Iraq, and have always been clear about that, but I’ve never seen him as a “bad” person. (Can’t say the same about some of his cronies, however).

There is an important distinction between a person who is bad at their job and a person who is bad at being a human. This is the first time in my grown life that a person who I think is a genuinely bad person sits in the US president’s seat.

My opinion. My feelings. I feel strongly about a person of Trump’s character occupying that position. I feel strongly about the words he has spoken and the actions he has taken so far. I feel strongly about the kind of intolerance, fear, and hatred his campaign inspired and how it has begun to worm its way into my country.

Others feel and think differently, just as strongly. Some of those people are my friends.

So here I am on the tightrope.

Be a coward. Edit and censor myself. Keep some of my friends happy. Betray other friends.

Be brave. Speak my truth. Offend and possibly lose some of my friends. Demonstrate loyalty to other friends but possibly close the door to dialogue with more conservative friends?

Be silent. Be silly. Write about cats and cupcakes. Write about benign things, things I don’t care about?

Are my friends there to challenge and enlighten me? Are my friends there to gag and blind me?

Does anything I write here even matter?

Don’t fail.

Don’t fall.

Posted in Friends, Life, News and politics | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments