Friday, August 26, 2011

Public Mourning Public Ignorance

" I do not believe that sheere suffering teaches. 
 If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers.
 To suffering must be added mourning,
 understanding, patience, love, openness
 and the willingness to remain vulnerable."
~Joseph Addison~

Tomorrow we say good-bye to Jack Layton, who, until a short time ago was the elected leader of our country's official federal opposition. 

As you may or may not know, I'm kind of a pro when it comes to saying good-bye, especially, the formality of it all, arranging and staging funerals.  I am not a wedding/funeral junkie, but I recognize the great importance of ritual. We often tisk at over-done anything (weddings, showers,
birthday parties).  We scoff at show and pomp, but do we consider the important communal aspect of ritual?

One local GTA columnist wrote about what she (ignorantly) understands to be inappropriate mourning; "What once would have been deemed Mawkish is now considered to be perfectly appropriate" (Christie Blatchford, National Post, August 22, 2011).

The columnist scoffs at Layton's last letter to his fellow Canadian citizens as a piece of political propaganda, and at Layton for a being, "a 24/7 politician who was always on".  Clearly she thinks quite highly of herself sniffing out this more than obvious truth. Layton was a 24/7 politician who was always on. Better than some of the Conservative Cabinet Ministers who were more often "turned on" and breached security I would say.  Seriously Ms. Blatchford, do you think we need your column in a second-rate "national" news rag to point out that someone else likely helped Jack Layton write the letter? A letter which would inevitably hit the press like the historical piece of news that it in fact is?

Regardless of how orange your political stripes are, you would have had to be a cave dwelling gnome not to have known who Jack Layton was, or how important his leadership was changing the political landscape of this country. His letter read, "We can restore our good name in the world,", and yes Ms. Blatchford, as a nation we have lost that. Apathy is not globally respected. Well, not outside the padded leather walls of the old boys club where they masturbate over stock portfolios padded by dirty employment and environmental practice.

I could go on about this poorly thought-out rant by a writer who is reminiscing about her journalistic hey-day. This piece doesn't deserve any more dissection. What the column did for me was to help me realize the importance of public ritual.

Fear, anger, joy and even grief become energized and eventually dispelled much more easily when they are shared. As an individual we grieve and mourn. As a group we grieve and mourn together. Together -that's key here. As Canadians we have lost our good name in the world as we leave other nations to hang out in the wind when they need human rights advocates and collaborate to save our planet.  Through this public display of grief and mourning, we, as a nation,have shown our true colours. We will mourn together, and hopefully, celebrate that ethical piece of our identity that has been swathed by apathy.

It only takes one bad apple to make the rest of the bunch seem perfectly ripe and delicious. Thank you Christie for sharing your ignorance so we could disrobe from our  national shame that is called apathy and celebrate the gifts that have been given by a much more wise and compassionate leader.

Monday, August 15, 2011


This is a quick post - not in the general sarcastic spirit of On The Cork, but most sincere.

My friend died yesterday. He was an MMA trainer, and one of the few "good guys". We went to school together for 9 years, and shared many moments together as most kids do.

He lived his dream, married his best friend, and died all too young at 37. This is why we should never hold back saying, " I love you". Say it every day, as often as you can.

You were a bright light Shawn Tompkins, and you will be missed.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Romance Novels: Relationship Manure

" Love is like a friendship caught on fire.
In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce,
but still on ly light and flickering.
As love  grows older, our hearts mature
and our love becomes as coals, deep burning and unquenchable
~Bruce Lee~
Two of my very best friends on the planet love to sneak in  time with re-runs of Little House on the Prairie.  Every woman I know cherishes her girlfriends, going to the spa, and cries in the bathtub. Despite being educated, well-travelled, and independent, we are women.

Being gentle, sympathetic, and loving being snuggled up with our head resting on our man's chest are not weaknesses. Read on dear reader, for what I have to say may surprise you, what with my reputation as the Colonel Ball Breaker in the battle of the sexes.

Last month I had an epiphany at Wal-You-Know-What. After dropping off my kiddo at ball practice I had to run an errand for more junk to clean my little home with. Dish soap in hand, I was standing, trance-like at the romance novel rack.  "How pathetic am I?", I thought to myself as I took note of my very matronly denim capris, cotton t-shirt and hair clipped up off of my neck. "Have I really been reduced to this frumpy house-cleaning mom standing at the romance novel rack?".  That wasn't the epiphany. I'm a pretty happy frumpy house cleaning mom after my professional 9-5 gig. 

The epiphany came as I stood there scanning the titles and cover shots of beautiful men and women holding one another in passionate embraces.  Two other women joined me. Both wearing denim capris and cotton tops, both with their hair clipped up off of their necks, and both clinging to bottles of dish soap.  We all wore glasses, and we were all about the same age. I was the only one not sporting a diamond and wedding band. Harlequin had us by our proverbial balls.

Until a few years ago, I had only ever ventured into the land of romance novels as a curious teenager, intrigued by heaving bosomed heroines being rescued by rippling-biceped  heroes.  At that point, I was all intellect and proud of it. No way was I, an honour student, student reporter, peer counsellor and die hard human rights advocate going to be so weak as to actually feel better because I had a man in my life. Boys were up there with experimenting with new eyeshadow colour and thong underwear.

It was my dear friend Jan who reintroduced me to the genre years later. I was (am) a very serious professional, who read non-fiction, highly intellectual books and articles about very important things.  I did not, repeat, NOT have time for poorly written, formula romance novels about women and men who live happily ever after. I mean come on.  If I were ever to snag my rippling-biceped hero, surely he would want his intellectual equal. I could not be caught with this drivel littering my coffee table.

Passages like the following used to make me roll my eyes and close the book; "Despite her reservations about falling for such an obvious bachelor, her breath caught in her throat as soon as she saw him standing there, soaking wet, on the other side of her screen door, " and, " Dammit! He knew that she was stubborn, but he couldn't resist being away from her for another moment let alone another night. He swallowed his pride, as he pulled into the parking spot just outside her door.  He was going to do whatever it took to make sure she knew she was the only woman that he loved."

What plays out in these romance novels, as most of us are aware, is that there are a couple of people who meet, and against all odds live happily ever after in our imaginations after we close the back cover and snuggle into our pillows for the night.

So, you might ask what on earth could be beneficial reading such unabashed smut? First of all, you get both perspectives - male and female - without the flavour of bias you get in conversation with friends.  Besides recounting our daily who, what, where, when and why, girls often spend a lot of their time involved in discussion about women not understanding men and men not understanding women. Or, more accurately, about men being insensitive and not being emotionally available.  Men would be wise to flip through some of these little gems to glean insight into the female psyche.

There's a lot of skepticism and even cynicism out there about the value of relationships.  Who needs a man in their life/ or a woman in their life when they are strong, independent and capable all on their very own?  Isn't monogamy and marriage an outdated necessity now?  If these things are true, why do 99% of all single people I know wish that they could find exactly the right partner? Like it or not, everyone wants to be desired, and someone else's number one.

Where can we find better, more affirming myths to encourage our dream of finding and making it work with Mr/Mrs Right?

Besides the obvious part of the formula where two people meet and get together against all odds, each person has an internal conflict happening as well. For example, a determined woman to be successful on her own does not want to ask for help.  The man may not want to get involved helping the woman because he can't bear disappointing someone else again. Despite their fears, and individual journey, the two overcome their internal conflicts because the power of love is greater than all of that ego stuff.

We read about women who are insecure about their appearance, of getting hurt (again), who have children they want to protect, and feel misunderstood. We read about men who are insecure about their sexual prowess, of getting hurt (again), who have children they want to protect, and want only to please and not disappoint their woman. We're all a bit insecure. We've all been hurt. Trust is painfully hard when you've been betrayed.  Reading about other people who have the same warts and still make it work just makes us feel good.

Besides that, love is supposed to be patient and kind. Romance novels give us great examples of patience, kindness, and the value of letting off steam with friends while cultivating this patience and kindness.  It's ok to be gentle ladies, and desire having someone to talk to and rest your head against after a hard day. It doesn't make you less strong, less intelligent, or less independent. It just makes you human.

I like to believe that a man's idea of romance and lasting love is as simple as the, "Bring Beer and Show Up Naked" myth but I'm not that much of a ball breaker. Not quite. I do think that it would benefit all men to pick up a few romance novels. Go ahead guys - I dare you.


Friday, July 29, 2011

You Don't Say?

“Count no woman wise, until thou
 hast received a letter from her hand;
but love none thou hast not seen
face to face, for she who is
 not foolish on paper is worth knowing”

~Frank Gelett Burgess~

I love writing. Even more than writing, I love receiving written notes. There's nothing better than opening the mailbox to find a letter handwritten from my Newfie friend Jan.  When you're in love, there's nothing better than a card or note from that special someone pouring out their heart to you.  When you're in a slump, it's such a pick me up to get a crazy "thinking of you" card from your wackiest and most faithful of pals.

Too often we don't thank our friends enough, or people in our circle of acquaintance who go out of their way to make life more civilized. I'm trying to get better at that.  I have yet to write a very important thank you to my gal-pal Vicki who helped me move some large items in the dark of night thanks to her hubby's truck that was borrowed under the strict condition that it would not be used to move anything. Thank you Vicki. Hallmark thank you smut to be mailed .....soon?

Have you ever written a "love letter", or more accurately, a letter to your lover? That's a serious sitting down to write something really important. These are the letters of the wishes of our heart. Have you ever felt like you need to clarify something you said, or explain the essence of your very self? Has it ever been something that you just so badly want someone else to understand that when you read the sentiment back to yourself,  you hit the delete button, or scribble out the words, or just shred the paper, because you  can't put yourself out there? I mean, we've all heard the quotes about love and madness.

I've done that a few times - crumpling the paper, or hitting the delete button.  Just today in fact. I began an email, typed it all up, got to the part that I really, really needed to say, froze completely, and deleted the whole darn thing.

Years ago I (likely in an inebriated state) I wrote a veritable tome to someone who turned out not to be the love of my life.  One of my best friends read it and in the most gentle way possible said, "McDish are you nuts?! If you send that I'll kill you".  So I didn't.  That may have been the only wise thing she's said since I met her almost ten years ago. That, and, "Get your purse and run!"...but that's another story.

About a month ago I came across the very  letter my friend told me to toss. I had written it  in one of my many notebooks, and I was so relieved that I took her advice.  I would never want that letter in anyone else's  hands but my own now. Reading it over, I realized how much I've matured, and how much more I like "me" now.
Everything I said in that letter shouldn't have needed to be said.  In intimate relationships, the really important stuff should just flow.  We should just know what someone else wants or needs. Or should we?  I really don't know. By this stage in life, we've all been knocked around a bit, and have a few battle scars to prove it. Making yourself emotionally vulnerable is a huge risk.

Two of my older and much wiser friends have given me two good pieces of advice;
1)     A relationship only changes when a woman decides it needs to be changed.
2)     Men  really  just want to please us, they just don't know how.

It's the repetition of the same issues that wear a relationship down.  When needs are expressed and ignored, communication just seems redundant. It's not quite as simple as wining and dining us and buying sparkly jewelry.  Wouldn't that be simple. When I talk to my friends (both male and female) in their time of relationship frustration and need, the same themes repeat themselves: time, communication, respect. 

How do we negotiate our time? How do we communicate, at what frequency, about what???  Respect is the biggie...respect me enough to spend time with me, respect me enough to communicate openly and honestly, respect me enough to make me feel welcome without ghosts of relationships past hanging around like bad art. That fine balance of defining your space, both domestically and socially, individually and  as a couple, lies in navigating the elements of what the other partner values the most.

So, today I deleted a great pouring out of my heart. Older and wiser? Older and cynical? Maybe just older.

I wonder though, what would happen if we all chose to strip ego-bare, and vulnerable in our most intimate relationships? Would we all soften up and evolve into more authentic relationships? What would you say?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meet Clint

"The only difference between
a cult and religion
is the amount of real estate they own"
~Frank Zappa~

Meet Clint, your friendly neighbourhood devout Christian, marijuana addicted, real estate agent....

The house was tidy.  Thank goodness. Some home owners didn't take enough care preparing their homes for sale, which made his job much more difficult. Clint looked at his watch impulsively as he rushed to open the patio doors, reaching into his left pocket for his lighter.  From his right pocket he drew a very small joint, almost finished, but enough to get him through this showing.

In the three o'clock shadow of the October sun, he lit his smoke and inhaled deeply, checking hurriedly over his shoulder.  Yes, the fence was high enough, surely any nosey neighbours  in this little bedroom town would think he was just smoking a a cigarette.

It had been over two weeks since he closed a sale.  He needed this .  The church was expecting his annual donation for their Thanksgiving food drive.  How could he, as one of the elders, let the congregation down?

Checking his watch again, Clint took a long, last drag of his cigarette, madly waving the smoke away from his head as if swatting at flies.

His addiction sated for the moment, Clint relaxed into his new state of mind. "Gosh those chrysanthemums are wild colours," he thought to himself, "God is good man. God is good."

Satisfied that the breeze had made it's baptismal offering by blowing away the smell of his inhaled afternoon delight, Clint sauntered back into the kitchen, opened the fridge and stared blankly at the contents.  The fridge stared back.

"Ah, thank-you Jesus - they have cake," Clint thought as he reached into the back of the fridge and pulled out, what was a  a less than a fresh dessert leftover.  He peeled back the plastic wrap which clung to a top layer of the cake, picked up the entire piece, and shoved it into his mouth all at once, "Mmm...." He crumpled up the plastic wrap and pressed it down on the empty plate, shoving it all back behind bottles of who knows what.  Clint hung onto the door and continued to stare into the refrigerator.

Basking in the richness of the cake, Clint was alarmed by a sudden loud knock at the door, followed a few seconds later by another.

His watch said 3:45pm. "Cheese and Rice!", he was running late.  They were supposed to be here half an hour ago, they being one Livinia Stone and her daughter Bridgette, prospective buyers.  Clint scrambled to collect himself, checked his lapels for any lingering aroma and flung the front door open with a wide grin on his face.

"Mrs. Stone? " he asked.

"Ms.", Livinia replied as she stopped into the foyer, "This is my daughter Bridgette," she purred as she smiled up into Clint's cloudy eyes.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Keep Summer Simple Silly

And there's that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
Most mysterious calling harbour
So far but yet so near
I can see the day when my hair's full gray
And I finally disappear.

~Jimmy Buffett~

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, summer was really simple.  Days ran into weeks, running barefoot between the beach and the water sprinkler in the yard. My wardrobe consisted of a bathing suit and baby doll jammies and Noxema  for the occasional sunburn.  Footwear? Simple; Flip flops and my Bionic-Woman running shoes. I can't recall whether I wore socks between June and September at all. I remember being dumped in a tub to scrub up with Ivory soap and drifting off to sleep with that smell on my clean, sun kissed skin.

I grew up in a small town, and had all of the freedom afforded of such an environment. Your conscience wasn't imposed, it was bred into you like your hair colour and your heart beat. If you weren't blood-related to someone in the little town, they surely knew your dad or grandpa.  Nobody but nobody would hesitate to let them know of any indiscretion you might hope to conceal.

I remember one summer day, my cousin and I thought that we should hold what I like to refer to now as, "Hallowe'en" in July. We scratched out a couple of Hallowe'en masks from the upstairs storage closet, grabbed two grocery bags, and were out the door. We only made it to three houses. Behind door number three was an old lady who hated Hallowe'en so much in October that she gave out pennies and peanuts instead of yummy-sugary treats. She sat us down in her kitchen while she called my mother. That was the abrupt end of what could have been a terrific summer tradition.  Mom let us eat the two cookies that the other nice old ladies dropped in our July trick-or-treat bags, after we went back and apologized for being so bold, of course.

Besides the Hallowe'en in July cookies, food was simple. Mom would dish up cereal or eggs with toast "fingers" most mornings, and we would be out the door as fast as our barefoot legs would carry us.  Kool Aid  could have sold stock in our town, and we routinely melted chocolate covered graham wafers in the sun on the sidewalk. We ate them when the chocolate was soft and melted, shaking away the ants and sidewalk debris the best we could. Do you remember the Tupperware iced pop molds? Mmm, there was a recipe that used Jello and Kool Aid, and I loved it!

At some point during our daily adventures,we made our way through the back yards of grandparents, aunts and uncles. That's where we would snack. Maybe we were hungry, maybe we were just kids looking for a bit of mischief, but our snacks were pilfered from neighbourhood gardens. Tomatoes were always best from my grandma's garden patch behind the woodworking shop. My aunt's carrots were the very best, but she'd get upset when we ran the garden hose out to rinse off the crunchy yummies. She used to yell out the window to, "Shut that hose OFF!".

Raspberries and pears. Mmmmm!!!  They were kinda fun to get. My neighbour Pete was old. Like antique-old, born in the 1800's old. But he was nice. He was like a big kid  and when we wanted pears or raspberries, he used to just smile at us as we made our way through his weedy berry bushes and dodged bees to get the pears.

Lunch. I don't remember many lunches. I'm sure we had them, likely sandwiches and mac and cheese. Lunch would be around the time that Mr. Dressup came on, followed by the, "News at Noon". At 1pm, most of the ladies in town would be transfixed by Days of Our Lives, and as long as we didn't interrupt, we were free to play in the yard, down the street, or at the beach. That's also when we did a lot of chocolate wafer melting on the sidewalk and sucking the nectar out of pink clover.

At the end of the day, everyone sat down for dinner with their family. When I grew up, I thought my mother was the BEST cook in the whole world. Summer menus were different than winter menus. During the winter  it was usually some kind of roasted meat, potatoes and veggies from a can. I think this was the quintessential rural Canadian meal. Summer was different. Potatoes and meat were cooked in the back yard on the big brick BBQ, and mom had lots of cold, fresh salads ready. Food was simple and delicious.  Dessert was often whatever fruit was in season with vanilla ice cream or cake.

Corn on the cob.  Grilled chicken, steak, fish, and sausage from the butcher shop. Fresh strawberries, , lettuce, peppers and green onions from the garden and cucumber picked fresh and tossed in some vinegar with salt and pepper. We had pies made with peaches, elderberries, currants, apples and cherries from our yard or our neighbour's.

We had such an abundance of fresh food that we spent hours and hours in August putting up tomatoes, beets, chili sauce, jams, peaches, pears, corn, beans.....and in the winter we would eat them, and would remember the work we put into preserving our food.

Summer was simple. Simple because we were kids. So this summer, the best gift I can give my kid is to keep it simple. Simple, fresh food, lots of time outside in the pool and beside the lake. Simple dinners. Simple ball games. Simple late nights watching the thunderstorms roll in. Simple, simple, simple.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chicks Shouldn't BBQ

"A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald,
but if he has fire, women like him."
~Mae West~
Women love looking after their man. You can tell how great a man is to his partner by how well he's taken care of. When my friends and I are in relationship bliss with our significant others, we cook for them, buy them little gifties, let them have all the man-cave time they want and think it's cute, sexy even. When a man looks after his woman, she gives it back in multiples. Pun absolutely intended.

Cooking becomes more than making sure he eats, it's a pleasure watching him enjoy his food. His nodding off while lounging at home in the evening is so sweet. Watching him help your kiddo with their homework or going outside to play catch melts your heart. When a man is gentle with his woman, everything is bliss.

...and then there's reality...

I think that's why we have raw meat and flames.   When a man's manliness gets in the way of relating - he doesn't listen, he's insensitive or his head is generally hidden up his butt, there's always the BBQ. You know what I'm talking about when I say "man-dumb" don't you ladies? I mean MAN DUMB. As in, you could tell him in eight bazillion ways about how you feel and he still wouldn't get it and doesn't seem to care to get it- that's MAN DUMB. Not complimenting you in your new outfit that was clearly bought for a special night out with him - MAN DUMB. Pointing out how you could have done everything better - cut your hair, baked cookies, spoken to your boss - and then get defensive saying he's just trying to help - that's MAN DUMB.

We don't want you to fix things boys, we want you to wrap your big strapping arms around us and say it's ok. We want you, as well groomed and smelling pretty as you may be, to be our Manosaurusrex. Anything else at the pinnacle of girl-crisis is MAN-DUMB.  We have our girlfriends for strategy. That's who we commune with in the war-room of life. We need you for moral support and unconditional adoration.

I once had a man tell me that he adored me. Only now do I realize how very sweet that was. At the time I thought it was MAN DUMB for not saying I love you. I get it now. Very sweet.  I also had a man call me a bleeping c word. I think secretly he was really in love with me too. How could he not be, what with all of my feminine charm and grace?

So, meat and flames....what gives? Well, I think when the battle of the sexes has reached a long, cool, stalemate, the last bastion of hope is the grill. There's something very sexy, primitive even about a man feeding a woman. It's like he went out and slayed the beast and is protecting his woman.  Sorta. Maybe that's just when we're delusional post-period, or when we're absolutely desperate to justify spending time with someone who seems like an an alien from another planet? Someone who apparently either can't hear, read non-verbal cues, or appreciate that he's in a relationship with a woman, not his mother?

It doesn't matter how MAN DUMB your man has been.  If you see him out there, grilling, over a red-hot flame - you can't help but be turned on a little bit. I mean, can you?  Just think of it, Mr. Sexy-I've-worked-hard-all-day-but-I'm-still-takin'-care-of-my-baby.....give him a break ladies.

So, Chicks Shouldn't BBQ. We should meditate on the meat, er, I mean testosterone standing out there on the deck, and smile knowing what we get for dessert. After all ladies, we all know that summer is the best time for shakin' up the bacon that the Manosaurusrex brought home.

Have BBQ - auditioning for guest chefs...