Beat swords into plowshares.

It is 7:33 am, and I have already been awake for over three hours today. I have watched the street come awake, starting with the ubiquitous F150s and Sierra’s roaming around this ag-based city; quiet emergency vehicles seemingly headed nowhere. I watched the convenience store across the way open, wondering why they are there for 6 am when they don’t actually bake their pastries and open at seven. I have watched the gentle January sunrise etch into the sky, the muted colors feeling like a gentle nod to my dramatically frayed psyche. During this awakening, I have sat on my phone trying to slow my brain and emotions down, while my physical body adjusts to the discomfort of being awake. My hands are shaky and clammy; eyes bleary, the headache’s march resonating in the distance. Why do I want to share all this gloriousness with you, you ask? Because the impetus for this post has to do with a trait I struggle with often. 

You see, I am working so hard right now on being open and soft and gentle, because my best friend, my step-son, is kneeling against the opposite couch, his back turned – our eyes not having met today. Studious avoidance on both our parts. This is because last night was a step-parents (and maybe parents, but not being one, I won’t weigh in) nightmare. Our reversion to regular schedule is going as planned – terribly. I feel like the ‘non-holiday schedule’ is where parents thrive; I don’t. I find his schedule hard and overwhelming, but: my issue, no one else’s. I’ve edited what I am about to say next five or six times now because while details are important, this is my kid and the appleof the love-of-my-life’s eye, right? Suffice to say, the importance of schedules, exactness, consistency and all the other OCD joys that make my life comprehensive to me have to kind of fly out the window for this kid. I will say if only my last ex could see me now; I am doing the doggy paddle in rapids, but my head is still above water (for the most part). So, skipping over the details of the disjointed reality of being elated and yet beyond frustrated to interact with someone, I’ll get to my issue: I can’t NOT, not talk about ‘The Big Stuff’. When it starts to happen, when I see or feel disrespect, or someone isn’t trying, a lack of consideration, and hear untruths, I shut off.  And then it’s done. I don’t know how to come back, be here, connect, or even be normal for Christ’s sake. I want to be. I do; there is just something that closes so tight, I can’t budge it.  

When I try and come at it clearly, I can literally see the road this started on. I can see my natural ineptitudes as a step-parent poking out from behind the rocks. I am a hyper-focused individual. So-much-so I have misled friends (thinking my interest romantic) but it is probably how duderonomy and I became friends in the first place. So, an ingrained worry wiggles out – if I am hyper-focused, but he’s not … then am I not worth it? 

I am someone that would rather do every mundane task neededin the whole week so that we have time together, than burden the you with the tasks; when I visit my mum, I mow the lawn and am fawned over and thanked and my heart soars. I am ridiculous to see out in the world, practically tripping over myself to be extraordinarily kind to strangers. But gratitude and parenthood are interesting mates. I just googled ‘sarcastic quotes about parenthood and gratitude’, and while 223,000 is a surprisingly low number it is big enough to have made me close the tab. Because even I know that while maybe … thankless? There is an encyclopedia of things that inspire gratitude in being a part of a child’s life. Tragically, I have only just found my footing at the prow of my self-worth ship, masterfully emerging – only minorly ruffled – through the mist that we can sardonically use as the metaphor for my twenties and early thirties. So, step/parenting flaw numero dos. Having feelings. Just kidding, but not and for those that know, well, you know and for those of you that don’t I’m not trying to exclude you it is just LITERALLY not something you can know til you know. I thought you could; I tried to get my best friend who was a single mother (now happily married) to explain, my sister who is a step-parent operating within a unique blended family dynamic to Venn diagram for me, the previous mothers I have dated or been friends with, yup tried flushing it out with them too. They told me, but you just can’t know. It is the unmarked door between adult and adult-with-a-human-responsibility-but-you-aren’t-babysitting-anymore-and-they-just-somehow-constantly-and-honestly-matter-more. They don’t tell you to get a safety deposit box for the feelings unrelated to what’s behind the unmarked door. Bank ‘em but keep the good ones out for everyday usenewbie: exuberance, creativity, love, selfless pride, the desire to pass stuff on. BUT the reality is, the word ‘Alexithymia‘ exists for a reason and I’m pretty sure it came from a new parent who had to put their other million emotions in a prehistoric safety deposit box because you just can’t define them or share them with a child. 

As a child, the expectations my parents had of me seemed normal and incredibly easy to reach. Then there were a few … disruptive years of which I have only a foggy awareness. And even when things were desperate, I still convinced myself it seemed easy to play out each day. As an adult, looking back and having the fortune of rehashing with an honest older sibling, what comes into focus is the astronomical expectations in our family that are still so unrealized by my remaining parent. Expectations not only of my character and actions but of the readiness for big conversations. If I messed up, there was going to be A CONVERSATION. I was spanked once, grounded once, but have had probably a million awkward, terrible and extremely uncomfortable conversations with both of my parents (good ones too). I am proud of the person it has shaped, but I can also recognize that it was maybe a bit much. So, in this house for a million reasons, we do it differently. Trajectories, consistencies, and conversations have been preestablished, grooved and set. Being aware of this when you have the “So, step-parenting, you ready?” talk is one thing, but another when you get lost in your semi-unguided and attempted ‘laid-back’ self-written-how-to-family-how-to-guide. All I know is to sit down, have hard conversations and make him work through this with us; all the while my heart is screaming “Go get his stuffy, scoop him up and swing him around!!!!!!”. 

Alas, there is hurdle number three, clocking in at an unmeasurable height: my zero tolerance for bullshit, lazinessand disrespect. Even when these perceived traits are being viewed from a peak I hate standing on, because usually the view is exaggerated, distorted and potentially wrong; and this has cost me a lot.  

Naming three terrible traits has been exhausting, so I’ll be gentle with myself and acknowledge one I am so proud of: my ability to go from a low, more base perspective and settle into a growing moment. I’m still trying to figure out how Aisha smooths all that shit out so flawlessly, but she’s been a breakwallthis morning like she has been the multiple times duderonomy and I have done this dance. She smooths out every.single.ruffle.pain.itch.remark.cuteye.want.word.selfishneed 
and instead proffers hugs, laughs, breakfast, time, her ear for me her grouchy person who can’t seem to stop PROCESSING today. I spent some time being pretty mind-huffy with her this morning. Though less than usual because today I wanted to be gentle. But my rough gentle is not very gentle; Jo, in this quadrant, is the huffing bull. So, I finally found the love I try and hold as my beacon and offered it to her. Told her that no matter what my face is doing, I support her one hundred percent. That her decision is my decision, even if I don’t agree. Because there are a lot of people privileged to be a part of duderroo’s life, who have way more weight than I do. And she considers my feelings and needs, probably before her own. I’m here because I just happened to fall completely and irrevocably in love with his mother. He’s an amazing ‘perk’ (please withhold feelings here about how I am referring to him. I will discuss ideologies I have been influenced by re: step-parenting and you’ll see what I mean. This perk was at the forefront of the ‘should we do this’ conversation we had the moment we realized we were completely fires-ablazin-smitten with each other, he is one of the reasons I even opened my heart again, he is what gets me up a lot of the time, and is the greatest joy I’ll know). But his life is for Aisha, his father and the added adults they have mutually decided together to bring into his life, to influence and mold. I’m here for her. 

 

Through this journey, I must work past these moments. I have to sit here and write and spend six hours getting through this. Which is why I guess my love so subtly suggested this in the first place. 

I don’t know what 3 pm looks like today, or this evening. But it is one of two weekday nights we get, which is why I really want to get over the terrible-trait-trifecta  my T³ – I have exposed here. That is why, as vague as it is, the heading for this is, “Beat swords into plowshares”. It means that we must turn to peaceful pursuits and away from war. I am a pacifist. I hate violence in almost all forms, but the emotional war me and myself wage inside me daily affect things too precious nowadays to not tryand quiet us. I know my bff will come home, without the baggage, will have found peace in his heart for both his and my mistakes. I know he will probably be gentle and boyish if not exhausted from catching maybe three and a half hours of sleep. I know I will want to hug him and blissfully ignore the wall that seems to be building. Because I think that’s how parents do it. So long as he doesn’t pack my bricks with the mud of his own hurt while I’m blundering along and gives me time to get my shit together before he is aware that he is affected by my T³. Because I would rather do him the courtesy of being a bigger person, of waiting until he is old enough to have a BIG CONVERSATION about my really convoluted, black and white brain. 

And on that note, I think I’ve hit a high note of gratitude. For those who love me. For me, and the gentleness I’ve found for myself.

“whatever you do be gentle with yourself.

you don’t just live in this world

or your home

or your skin.

you also live in someone’s eyes.” 

 Sanober Khan

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Sitting here listening to The National’s “I Need My Girl” I slow-fast adjust to that amazing calm that develops when you drown life out. Our evening is coming to a close. Aisha is putting finishing touches on her cookies. The duderonomy is upstairs; it’s been a good day. After-school went without a hitch, we had a walk with one of my favorite puppies. I had a nap with that puppy – a stolen forty minutes which is probably why I quickly offered to take both the dog and duderroo for a walk after school. I’m glad because it was great. Cold, and filled with the true joy only brought on by adult-walking-with-animal-and-child. Pulled one way, needing to go back a little bit the other way. Regardless, it was great and so was after. 

Now I sit here and it’s different. Our new lamps are on (thanks mum!), they supply relief, a light, soft orange against the glare of the computer. My aim was to sit and finish my other piece for AQFTO. In it, I was going to tell you I found a bit of luck. And, hopefully, I really have! Fingers crossed, but I also explained that I’m superstitious, so you don’t get to know anything about it until it is finalized. I’ve learned my lessons about counting ducks and all that. But, my “luck” means I have sat here all day attached to my computer, the sun moving through the room, the dog from couch to couch, snoring and whimpering; I barely saw Aisha and she was one room over. 

I want to work from home. I do, and I am finding it incredibly rewarding. Scary and I would like the paycheques to be a little closer together. But we’re fed, clothed and housed so I am truly trying to make this work. If job three clicks (find out Monday or Tuesday), then I think we’re good. And I can stop worrying about change, about what’s next. I think we are all ready for that. 

I wish some of you knew me better, or actually, I wish I had people around that had been around for a while because I am so proud of how far I have come. Sometimes, I barely recognize myself – especially when I am sitting here in my soft living room, worried a child will wake up afraid for no reason, again;worried my partner will fall asleep at her table but amazed she keeps going, and that I am connected to this. This is mine.  

I like how this life is looking. Albeit crazy, it is built on trust and a unique blend of confidence and faith, but I think we can do it. 

So, what’s on my mind tonight, aside from the potential of abject failure and a destitute life? Well, my sudden inability to think about anything to say to you. We’re launching. Soon. I keep forgetting the date because I’m so nervous. I’ve spent my day thinking as someone else in my new mystery job, and the minute I click back in, this is all I think about. It’s not pressure but a cool sense of commitment. I just am all of a sudden worried it won’t be enough. 

But I’ve conquered that feeling before.

Tomorrow is a P.A day and duderonomy and I have plans to do a bit of a date day. He knows we’re hitting up a Little, Cheeky, something where kids-go-nuts-indoors but I’m thinking we’ll add in a treat of some kind. Maybe go in search of a gluten-free doughnut. Though, my luck I’d probably end up owning a tavern in Kenora instead. 

Tomorrow night, my love and I head into the sunset (true story) for a quick evening in Stratford before a day spent celebrating and supporting women at a Women’s March in K/W. Then home to crash. And lament not having time to taste any pleasures at the new and old restaurants this time around. But soon, when the sea softens her waves a little and our boat can come ashore. 

This is a short one folks. I have been writing since 9 am this morning. I want to go and wrap my arms around Aisha and fall into bed. 

So, sleep tight. And may the bed bugs seriously not ever bite you. Cause that is a terrible wish that should never have been said.  

Jo.

January 24th, 2019

What. A. Morning. Guys, I am not kidding. We launched last night, so sleeping was weird. The morning jaunt to school was beautiful; a sweet moment when duderroo almost fell asleep against me during our goodbye hug. I was then offered a senior’s discount while shopping – because I’m cute, not sixty, and arrived home to share this incredulous story with Aisha and she was sitting quietly on the couch.

I often return home to find her sitting there. It’s one of my favorite things about us both working from home; her face, soft as she flicks through her phone, her legs curled under her and the morning light filling the window she sits in front of, embracing her in a golden glow. Sometimes I just look, taking her in; other days I come blowing in with a crazy story or something cool to report from the CBC. Sometimes she has an earful for me, and we’ll sit and talk about everything. Today was different. Her feet were planted on the floor, and my ‘offer’ held no ensuing jokes. Her eyes were different. She had finally got the call.

It’s a funny thing, being a young couple that lives with chronic pain in their life, especially when it’s the not-yet-thirty half that’s hurt. I mean, to be fair, anyone with a physical “thing” understands what I mean because it’s just a constant reality for you, but practically invisible to others. Our early relationship was very physical: dancing, walks, gym buddies and active sex. Now, we’re couch buddies, have to consider if a walk is too long, and well….

Things have completely changed in relation to our physical relationship because of Aisha’s back. So, not only is this news great for her, it’s a big question mark for the three of us as a family on what ‘next’ looks like and I think we’re all filled with as much hope as we are fear.

I am high-vibration-(not, but totally) freaking-out because this is finally happening and all I can think of is: duderroo is already having some trouble and well, surgery even with the best outcome is mentally and emotionally draining for everyone involved; we aren’t as financially or physically prepared as we had hoped; my dad randomly ended up paralyzed so, that’s something my brain wants to ‘try on Aisha’ now, because that is so, so helpful. I’m a little overwhelmed. So, I reached out to my mum, sister, and sister-like-long-time friend with the deadpan, “So. Aisha is having surgery on Monday” text. My sister was great, relaxed and positive which is what I needed. My mum all of a sudden has a close friend willing to talk to Aisha about the surgery. Which is amazing BUT, pre-op is tomorrow, and we have a life to organize, so a long-distance call to Carol is a little out of reach at the moment (but anytime over the last eight months would have been cool). Mum and I are so similar, “Oh! What? You’re freaking out? Here, let me provide you with a plethora of options and we’ll talk over the details now, yeah?” So, I know, albeit late, it was with great intention. But then, and this is honestly (not to be rude) why I don’t share my news with friends anymore. Picture this, me sitting here the perfect picture of calm while my brain is alternating between imagining me building a frigging electric track for Aisha to move around the house in, and building a bionic suit, so that I just become her body – because my brain loves the worst-case scenarios so paralysis is the obvious choice – and my friend’s text finally comes in, “Oh no! What for?”

….

Well, out of the blue Aisha’s decided she’d like to look like a fox, and complete reconstructive surgery is Monday.

Guys. If you don’t have time to check in when someone sends you big news – please do not respond.

I know that this is no big deal. That Aisha walks dogs, plays with duderonomy, everything that people without chronic pain do. The thing is, she has two scales she has to check in with multiple times a day that we, non-pain people, don’t have: how is my pain and how is my panic. Because you see, constant pain isn’t just about having a sore appendage that is irksome. I have that kind of pain – I bummed my shoulder. I think about it maybe eight times a month and forget about it the rest of the time. Aisha wakes up every day and if she is at a 9/10 on the pain scale, but it is normal pain, her panic is 0 and she seems normal. A new 2/10 pain in her ankle but related to her back because she can feel it searing down her leg, causes a 10/10 panic and we are then dealing with emotions and resulting exhaustion from having no bloody clue what we are doing. This surgery is hopefully going to reduce a lot of this daily stuff. The doctor’s hope that her microdiscectomy will at least conquer the pain and loss of feeling she sometimes has from her hips down. The lower back pain will probably never go away.

Random tie in here, but I was watching an incredible TED Talk video this morning about ‘sex for money’ and how society and law-makers influence these policies (read: lives). How does this tie in? Well, we have minority populations across this world governed by laws, or directives, created by people who cannot (this is a ranty one – I recognize all the efforts and successes of minorities to penetrate governing bodies and make change) empathize with any minority population. We are well versed with my ‘minority’ report, but Aisha’s is much more insidious. We have no physical walk-through of this process. We just found out today where she has to go tomorrow, and then tomorrow where she’ll be Monday; she has not met the man who is going to shave away at her spine. She can’t get ODSP to cover these next few weeks, because she makes “too much money”. She is self-employed. Thankfully we have someone available for duderroo, but to be honest, all of that holds almost as much stress as the surgery. For me: will someone be there to meet her? She has to go alone tomorrow, so will someone make sure she is calm enough to remember to ask for the stuff that helps her with the anesthetic? She gets really sick without it. Will someone make sure she is ok? Just, ok?

We have created a world where almost everyone is between a rock and a hard place. Sex workers cannot direct their livelihood because, well, the rest of us just don’t want that kind of non-conforming behavior in our neighborhoods. We criminalize the people that turn to this ancient industry because our economy doesn’t provide job options, education access, or affordable housing, but the people who continually search out the service are…not…criminalized. I am not going to get into making sure everything here is continentally correct. The point is – it would be hard to legitimize sex-work because we’d have to acknowledge it and change a lot about how we interact with our world. It would be hard to make our health system seem like a holistic caring system because a lot would have to be done, and a lot of it for the sake of doing the right thing, meaning low ROI.

My dad’s paralysis came on one morning during a family trip to Nova Scotia. To this day I will never know the extent of rallying, organizing and everything else needed to get him from Digby to Halifax (232km) and then from Halifax to Stratford General Hospital, Stratford, On (1929km). All this kid remembers is it seemed effortless – I think it took maybe three days to get home with all of this going on. My mum did not have to worry about accommodations, about a helicopter, a ramp, a home-installed elevator, a handicap van or a rehabilitation bed, waiting, at Parkwood Hospital. The town of Stratford was behind my mum, and the entire power of the hospital got my dad home. My partner has to drive into Hamilton, alone, in the snow.

I don’t have anyone to help me make sure tomorrow works for everyone (duderroo drop off and gentle morning, so his day is successful, Aisha navigating a hospital alone, me sitting here alone, stranded while waiting for her to come back but unable to check in). I don’t have a system I can call because we don’t have a foundation. It is 100%, 50% our fault. But hey-zeus if I could have figured it out for before now, I would have. There is someone who, I know if I had just a little more time, I could and would call and my heart is already thanking her. But it’s not just having someone I trust to get duderonomy to school. It’s having someone I can call and say, “we’re going in, can I drop duderroo off at 6 am tomorrow,” knowing they hear, “I am so scared right now and don’t know what to do” and having them reply, “I can hold your walls up Jo. I’ve got you, go”. That takes time, especially for me. So, I am not throwing judgment right now or casting accusatory glares at anyone. I am accepting my share.

I am spinning, and in rereading what I have so far, I apologize. Juno Mac’s TED Talks requires its own article. And I hope I come back to it. She does an incredible job of presenting factual and impactful legal information, with energy that felt like if she had more than seventeen minutes, we would have been blasted with a force of socio-economic insight that would be world-changing.

I am spinning because while I know day surgeries are ‘a dime a dozen’ these days, they don’t all have my ‘heart’ laying on their table. A friend posted a meme yesterday, something about how grandma made it through a war. The punchline was her produce was locally sourced, labor was around the corner; she had a community. We do too and I know that. I have people texting me or wanting to chat on the phone and while it may not be the exact/complete picture I want, I have something. Just, not an ‘in an emergency’ something. The regular check-in texts make me feel very detached when I can’t catch your ‘baby shark’ drama.

I want to go back to my comment about checking in. When I interact with people, I take steps to prepare myself for an investment of time, whether it be five, ten or sixty minutes. So, when someone sends me any information my usual response is, “and how does that make you feel,” because I don’t think they’d be messaging me if they didn’t have a feeling. If I don’t have the time, I think about how it would make me feel and I respond appropriately with, “oh s*#t, that is scary – can I call you later to see how you are doing,” because we all have stuff going on and rarely have the time for someone else’s stuff. I’m not preaching. I am sharing this with you because it has given me the space to be a better friend, partner, and person in general. I will not be doing any check-ins this weekend because Aisha will be my focus. But I will also not reach out, because this is bigger for me than it is ‘for you.’ My dad was a physical guy – big voice (singing), arms splayed wide, big smile, a skier, boater, runner, biker, and taught me to do these things and then I woke up one day and it was completely different. I am sitting here watching my love, her high grey and red socks, black tights with a white splatter pattern and a maroon, grey, teal, and mustard yellow shirt and my heart and throat are doing funky things. Because I love her, and no matter what Tuesday looks like, I will only love her more.

I know conversations about ability are uncomfortable. I also recognize the levels of emotion people feel during these conversations are also uncomfortable. I love getting into uncomfortable topics, which is why I started my morning watching a video on the ethics and politics of sex-work. I had to become comfortable with physical disabilities, their total realities: the leg bag, diapers, transportation swings, really tall toilets, at a time when my body was the most alien thing to me.

I am tired now. We’ve just told duderroo the news and things feel calmer again. Thanks for being there, eh? I feel like I’ve gained the perspective I needed, and I hope it wasn’t too painful for you.

Thanks,

Jo

If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it.

Erada

So, this blog post is going to be a little bit different. Usually I try and sit down on one of our super comfy ikea couches, get my laptop into that perfect “I’m going to get inspired and write” position, have a few sips of my coffee, and away I go.

Today though, is different. It’s 7:45am, I have just had a very pleasant conversation about the confusion of OHIP not updating my address (or family doctor… or phone number…) with a lovely nurse practitioner at a mini-hospital, a 45 minute drive from home. Jo and the brotato chip weren’t able to come with me today, which led to a few tears and panicked feelings as I left the house this morning at 6:40. The roads in our city were fine- the roads in Hamilton, however, were not and I didn’t want to be stuck on a highway, running late to an appointment I heard about yesterday.

So- how did we get here? We alluded to chatting about chronic pain (mine specifically) in our introductory post, but had to leave you guessing a little bit. But, after the phone call I received yesterday, I suppose now is the time.

In October 2017 I was running a restaurant kitchen on my own, working 50+ hours per week, with support from my mother and business partner as the “front of house” authority. Most of the prep work was being done, by me, alone in the restaurant between 8:30-11:30 each morning. I loved this time. It was quiet, I just got to cook (which is why I wanted to open a restaurant in the first place), I had my local grocery store memorized, and things were going pretty well. I wouldn’t say we were “busy” or “successful”, but people loved my food and we had a small group of regulars that I looked forward to seeing each week (Jo included!).

I still don’t know what “happened”. I don’t know if it was the hours I was working, how physical the work was, maybe it happened during sex? Maybe I just twisted the wrong way grabbing something from the fridge? Whatever it was, it hit me hard, and it hit me fast. I woke up one morning that October, and all of a sudden I could barely move. My lower back felt like there was a constant dagger buried into it, and someone (I’m pretty sure it was the devil himself, honestly) would come and just twist it around a bit when they felt like it. My left leg was constantly on fire with the fury of a million suns, and if it wasn’t – it was numb.

I tried to work through it. I took a lot of Tylenol, used some Rub A535, got a couple of massages, saw a chiropractor. I tried to work the same hours I had been, because who else would? My mother could run the restaurant by herself, but things were starting to get busy and the prep work wasn’t something she had been prepared to tackle solo. It was my restaurant. They were my recipes. All of the chefs I have had the pleasure of knowing have been the hardest working, dedicated, most under rated people I’ve met. My best friend at the time, K, was working almost 70 hour weeks – and running himself ragged – but there was something glamorous to me about pushing through. That being said, my main culinary mentor, who owns an incredibly successful BBQ restaurant in our region, has also always been one of those “work-til-you-drop” people, and ended up having a heart attack in 2015 due to stress. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for punishment, I guess. I guess us culinary folk all kind of are.

It was hard. It was painful. I would come home from work and not be able to sit down because I’d been standing all day and sitting just hurt too much. I started having a(n even more) difficult time sleeping, my panic got much worse very quickly, and I spent most of my time drinking to be able to relax enough to, well, relax. I didn’t really feel like there was any other option, and then the worst happened.

2017, from what I remember, was a decent year for a winter in Canada. It wasn’t cold, we had more rain than snow, but we got a BIG dump, early in the season. Jo was working their old sales job, and my mother and I decided we didn’t want to dig the restaurant out, and most places in the area were either closed, or business was dismal. So we sat down, went over the pros and cons, and decided on two words: snow day.

Now. Why on earth would someone who is already in a load of pain, decide it would be a stellar idea to try and dig their little red sports car out of the foot and a half of snow in the driveway? Who knows. I sure don’t.

But I did it.

And I fell. On my ass. And slid down the driveway.

Everything that occurred after that point is blurry, fuzzy and just altogether a little f’ed up. I don’t remember much, but I do remember that that wasn’t the only time I fell that year (down the stairs, on the sidewalk, in my kitchen… I’m really f’ing clumsy, ok?!). I also remember that it became very clear, startlingly quickly, that I wasn’t going to be able to do much, let alone run a restaurant, for much longer.

(I also have to mention that closing my business was not my first choice. I have a universal/energetic theory about why I hurt myself – seemingly without cause – that I will get to by the end of this post, because I do honestly believe it holds weight. BUT, moving on.)

I saw my family doctor in late 2017/early 2018 and was told that herniated discs are pretty common and that it would clear up on its own in 6 weeks if I took it easy and essentially stayed on my back for a month and a half. Granted – I didn’t do that. I owned a business. So I bought a back brace (that I tried but failed miserably at remembering to wear), started doing some stretching semi regularly, and even changed the hours at the restaurant to give myself some time to rest, without shutting everything down entirely in the process. It was supposed to clear up “on its own” in 6 weeks. I could get through 6 weeks.

But 6 turned into 12. Strings of weeks turned into months of maybe-opening-maybe-not, people stopped coming to the restaurant because they didn’t know whether or not we would be there. Today, the day I’m writing this, marks a year and a half long battle with my body just not doing what it used to, and almost a year since I made the decision to close the restaurant for good.

I saw a wonderful doctor through the ISAEC program, who recommended me for surgery, saw a great surgeon that is pretty confident that this micro discectomy is going to make me feel better, and after almost a year of waiting, I got a call yesterday.

See, the thing about surgery here in Ontario is that you know it’s coming. You’re on a list, you “should get a call within the year”, and you know, at some point- you gotta go under the knife. This, thankfully, gives you some time to talk with your family, plan for the day, settle your nerves, get everybody on board.

The other cool thing about surgery in Ontario is that they have this option that, if you choose, they can call you in the night before and boom– you’re having that surgery that wasn’t supposed to happen until next year!- but you’re having it tomorrow so let’s get you in to see all these doctors and specialists and hospital admins and X-ray techs….

So. Today is Friday. It is now 9:00am and I have seen 2 nurses, an anesthesiologist, had my blood taken, had an ECG, and am now sitting in a completely different waiting room, patiently listening for my name, to get a chest X-ray. Monday morning, I will be walking into a different hospital, getting shot up with a bunch of stuff to knock me out, getting a breathing tube (oh god), getting my spine sliced open and then hopefully coming out feeling at the least a little bit better than I did when I went in.

If I’m going to be honest, my main concern isn’t (and hasn’t ever been) the surgery itself. Jo’s father was paralyzed, as I’m sure they will get into eventually (if not sooner, being triggered by this medical adventure we are about to embark on). THAT is my main concern. Your spine is tricky. Everything kind of works from that little line of nerves that travels the whole length of it. One slip; my legs, arms, body could no longer be under my control. The other concern is obviously not waking up, making my family worry. There’s so much on the line for such a “simple, routine” operation. But it’s happening.

To quickly jump back to my comment about my energetic reasoning for getting hurt: I believe we know what we honestly, truly want – even if that is subconscious. I was not happy with the way my restaurant was going. I worked a lot, I felt really tired all the time, I felt like nothing I was doing was helping to make us more money, I was losing time with my son, and it blew my relationship with my mother to smithereens. I wanted out; but consciously, didn’t feel like I could, honourably, surrender.

I was the one running the kitchen. So if I wasn’t able to- we couldn’t be open. Easy way out, right?

Don’t get me wrong- this wasn’t ideal. Lots of debt, even more stress, a lot of pain, grief, hurt. I felt it all. I filed for bankruptcy. I begged and pleaded for my landlord to let me out of the remaining 2 years of my lease (which, bless him, he did) and then literally loaded out almost everything I’d loaded in – with Jo’s help, of course – locked the door, and walked away from what I had thought was going to be my “thing”. And, strangely enough, my back slowly started improving (in fractions).

The universe will let you know when you’re ready to move forward. Things have improved, my life has improved since closing my business, but my back has become a constant 9/10 on the pain scale. I am a high-functioning person with chronic pain, and that was something I thought I would have to be for a long time, if not the rest of my life. But a simple phone call can flip the whole world, twice over, right in front of your eyes. This is the universe telling me I’m ready to not be hurt anymore. Im ready to move forward and go back to doing the things I love; like yoga, running and tossing my kid around. I had to wait a year and a half, but if my theory stands, I did this to myself anyway – and am so much happier for it now.

I’m terrified. My anesthesiologist told me today that I am going to wake up to a breathing tube sticking out of me, and I’ll have to be conscious and responsive for them to remove it. My surgery has been rescheduled twice, in the day since it’s been booked, and I haven’t met my surgeon yet. I’m scared. I’m anxious. I’m nervous. But I have a great support system to help me, I know I’ll be well taken care of, and I know that the people that love me now will still love me if I’m a different person at the end of it all.

Obviously, whatever happens, I’m still going to be me. But hopefully, by Monday evening, I’ll just be the same old me; minus a herniated disc.

(At least being couch bound means I’ll have lots of time to write!)

“Don’t do what you want. Do what you don’t want. Do what you’re trained not to want. Do the things that scare you the most.” – Chuck Palahniuk

A trouble shared is a trouble halved.

I have just turned away from a super early morning of sitting on my couch, drinking coffee and researching/playing Knives Out (a mobile platform game). I am not a gamer per se, though I wish I were. I love completely losing myself in First Person Shooter and RPG games; challenging myself to get into the top ten a few times before (maybe) tiring of it. ‘Knives Out’ is different because I have struggled over two years to become a solid player. 

Until lately, that is.

I used to be shocked and angered that someone would find me within seconds of landing on the game field; it meant I spent more time staring at my slow-motion death, than playing. I would spend countless minutes in the pre-game arena, trying to get used to controls, following peoplehoping to find a trick or secret, and they’d just end up running against a wall. This felt so futile, that I just stopped landing in big cities and trying to keep up with people obviously more skilled than I was. Which meant I started making it five, ten, fifteen minutes into the game, finding the gear, making it to the airdrop; if I died, I wasn’t so angry at myself. I started playing solo, asking Aisha to play so I could get further, with someone I could rely on. Can you see the comparison coming? 

At 35, almost 36, I have only just realized that I’ve played this game of life like I’ve played Knives Out these past two years. 

I have spent a lot of time being shocked and angered at my moments. I do not look back with regret, sadness or any negativity – but things that have happenehave molded me and if you’re reading this, you should know about them. So, here goes:

One of my first conscious memories or feelings is of being absolutely terrified for my mother’s safety. I was somehow completely convinced that if she were alone, out, she (not my sister, aunts, grandmother – no one else) would be hurt. This is the first time I became aware that my emotions can easily get way out of my control, and that that isn’t comfortable for people – but I could not give that fear up. 

My interest in sexual attraction came late. I remember early on in grade six, but in the half near my birthday, my friends asked me who my crush was, and I admitted I didn’t have a crush on a boy. Well, imagine the confusion I couldn’t begin to process over losing all my female friends that I loved so completely, fiercely – just because I didn’t have a crush on a boy. 

I tried dating some really nice guys to avoid experiencing that again, (I can’t thank you enough nice guys, for real. I hope you know who you are) and I did really like them. But I also figured out that I needed to start pleasing people socially because shit was about to get real. And I’m pretty sure I figured that out before I knew I was gay. 

Making new friends was hard, but I did it. People more like me; sensitive, artistic … delayed? I don’t want to be rude or judge because I love them and was them, but we were the kids that were still playing innocently at 12, 13, 14  not really experimenting or pushing boundaries. Our parents loved us, and our friends, because we were wholesome. 

At sweet sixteen, my father became a quadriplegic who still had feeling sensations. This happened on a family vacation  it was terrifying, and unfortunately, one of those situations that starts out bad but ends up getting convoluted with other bad stuff and gets way worse. How could me and my wholesome teenage friends work through that, amidst all our hormones and angst and navigation of grade ten. 

So, I lost those friends too, made new ones but ultimately, I was very lost in high school. 

University was actually a saving grace. I excelled and was genuinely able to have an amazing post-secondary school experience; met some amazing and some not so amazing women; lived with my cool older sister in a Super Cool Toronto Apartment. Toronto was also good to me, gave me a fledgling gay community (still didn’t know how to interact with them, but hey, I had them) and the opportunity to find out a lot about myself. 

I want to suggest something before I go ahead: I honestly don’t think anyone in my life knew how desperate I felt. How uncomfortable I was in my own skin. I had been popular with women up until this point, pretty much falling into serial short-term-monogamy. My mum and sister were around, and we traveled and have pictures; I had friends and have amazing stories about what I did with those friends. But those friends aren’t in my life now, they haven’t been for a while, and I think my ability to isolate myself so often attests to the fact that I haven’t really invested in the people meant for me. 

My dad died when I was twenty-one, and I ended up weighing 285lbs.

But then … something happened. I simultaneously made a big decision to move to Nova Scotia, and to go with a girl. Not just a girl, but in all honesty, I don’t want to talk about people I can’t consult with first about including (in detail) here. While the resulting storyline has brought me to Aisha and this life I love, I believe my one regret is not having gone on that adventure alone. 

We moved back here only a ‘season’ after, and I went back to school at twenty-eight. I met some amazing people, I learned about wine and viticulture and how to dazzle people outside of the wine industry with our knowledge and Je ne sais quoi; but it exacerbated my natural tendency to become aggressive when subconsciously unhappy, my depression, my problem drinking and my ability to make profoundly bad decisions.

Those decisions, in short look like this: proposing to ‘the girl’, then breaking off the engagement but quickly falling into the arms of a married train-wreck, who ultimately left her life to be with me, but also tried to keep her life the same. 
(NOTE: I proposed to this ‘train wreck’ because I had truly loved her and thought we could do it. I still think her positivity and brightness is needed in this world, just not in mine)

Friends, this was the kind of crazy I needed to get my head out of my ass. I lost/left my industry in a comet-like blaze, moving through five jobs in four years, losing friends and becoming wholly unsatisfied with my life. And I lost everything, including my gallbladder. 

Why did I let it get this far? Why didn’t I prioritize myself sooner, go backpacking, take some me time? Well, I would have, except I seem to have a severe type of FOMO.  

Remember way back, near the beginning of this article and I confessed to having developed a habit of socially pleasing people? That is my ‘FOMO’. When I am in my worst state, I am so afraid of missing something – especially the bad things, that I can’t and won’t do anything for myself. How could I possibly go focus on me, when you have shit going on? And the worse you are – the more I want to be involved. 

So, I allowed myself to stay in a three-year relationship where I was placed below the ex who threatened, stalked, hit and terrorized me but was continued to be hailed the fallen hero; and yet I was ‘welcomed’ into spaces I did not belong in. To be fair, I deserved this landslide. I had done a terrible thing, and it wasn’t the first time. But I also watched people do a lot worse, be worse people and receive less criticism and bad karma than me. I know why – it is literally the classic lesbian Pulp Fiction storyline. It didn’t matter that he was a he (and fifty?), and I was me (early thirties); or that she had been my teacher and was never to blame. I’m the butch!

I ended up shocked and angered, yet again, that people were catching me out faster for doing bad things and punishing me for it, but the other players were able to get away with worsebehavior. Why can’t I get away with it? 

The best I can figure is because I am the person who has known my whole life that it is my responsibility to be more responsible. Because I am the person that confuses and embarrasses you on the street, (usually resulting in fear because my gender isn’t identifiable) I am the butch who steals good house-wives away in the night; I lure teenage girls into the woods too, you know. 

I didn’t tell you she was my teacher to get additional pity, because I felt like a stud dating the hot prof. I’ve told you that, because even though this contested dynamic is usually identified as an unbalanced power dynamic and prone to bad influence, I did not feel manipulated. Confused? Yes. Overwhelmed and scared? Definitely. But the post-breakup scene, is the result of our socio-economic power dynamic. She is (professionally) thriving, I am (professionally) spinning. 

And yet, it was this situation that finally forced me to change my M.O. So the fact that I am obsessed with a game that has a 0 to 10 intensity potential, and I choose to play at a 10 but my aim has been to stay undetected seems ironic, no? 

I play Knives Out differently now. I take aim more confidently, and I don’t pick every target. I am comfortable waiting in an empty, kind of scary space, knowing that I’m not necessarily the prey; if I end up getting picked off, I smile at the skill of the other player. 

In life, I thankfully started working on changing this M.O almost three years ago. I am doing well divesting myself of these terrible habits. I am getting healthy. I have stopped putting myself in the way of people that are working on a level that I am not on, I have stopped trying to be good at things I am obviously not good at and working off rules that aren’t very clear to me. 

How? I had to let go of the constant reflection and what-ifs. I spent my whole college career missing and resenting leaving Nova Scotia. I spent my entire time working for a corporate company I had a world of opportunity with, constantly comparing them to the industry I had happily left and had grown to resent. 

I used to go into a situation with the best of intentions, hoping to share and learn and grow but somehow only ended up showing the worst sides of myself, and then getting furious with the people that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see me. 

So, where does this leave us? Well, I personally have a whole new appreciation for Knives Out. But in all seriousness, it helps me be mindful of the effort it may take some people to achieve what seems easy to me. It makes me try and be patient towards situations that seem like one thing – but usually, end up being something else. It also allows me the space to become keenly aware of where I do need to grow. It may have taken a lot, but it is a worthwhile lesson.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

― Mother Teresa

We do belong to each other. I don’t know who my tribe is yet and I’ve made a lot of mistakes trying to find them; I hope some of the people who are semi-connected now, stay connected. But I know that somewhere there is a tribe for me and my family. But we all drift. I hope you haven’t drifted too far, in this life. I hope you feel connected and have ties to what formed you. I am so grateful for the growth I have achieved, for what I have yet to achieve and for the few people that were there. 

But I wish I hadn’t had to feel so alone to do it. And hopefully, maybe, in sharing with you, you won’t feel as alone either. 

Love,

Jo

Mover, Shaker… Cookie Baker?

Have you ever read a story that seems so out-of-this-world that, even when faced with a barely legible claim of being “based on a true story”, doesn’t seem like it would ever be possible? Like a now-famous celebrity that had just happened to be at the right place at the right time, or a professional athlete that just happened to have their best game yet — the day a professional team scout was there to see it. 

These events are all obviously unlikely (and incredibly lucky), but still believable, right? What about when everything continues to line up for those people afterwards – what if that professional athlete won the lottery a week later? What if that celebrity got their first acting gig AND a major modelling contract in the same month? Would it still be believable? These are the lives we write books about, the people we pay craploads of money to watch movies about — are we envious? Or are we just trying to see what it would be like, without all the inevitable hardships and bullshit, without having to commit?

My history, my life, is one of those stories that when people hear it, even in snippets, are quick to jump to the idea of an autobiography.

I’m serious.

This conversation usually goes something like this; I give a brief overview of something to do with my life experience, the person stares at me in disbelief — “that really happened to you? you should write a book!” — and I respond, happily, with a reply I’ve slowly adopted from my mother over the years:

“… but no one would believe it.”

It got to the point where my best friend and I had planned an entire cast of celebrities to play out the most insane events of my time on this planet so far. 

Melissa McCarthy was going to play me, by the way.

Alas, I was never one of the lucky ones to get discovered flaunting my little 12 year old body to “Ain’t No Other Man” on stage in a small Ontario town (even though I won); I wasn’t blessed in being born with wealthy parents that could give me gold-clad diapers and a life worthy of Bill Gates — though I’ve been incredibly blessed in other ways and recognize that deeply and truthfully. 

I was just a really sensitive, emotional and intuitive kid born into a world that was becoming convoluted, confusing and hard at an alarming rate. I stick to the theory that I just didn’t know how to keep up and hold onto my softness, but for a child to have to deal with a feeling that is impossible for them to understand — I think the proper description for what eventually happened was nothing short of “implosion”. I was just really messed up and, in turn, have had some pretty messed up experiences since (more on those later). 

So — I’ve come a long way since then. I’m a month shy of 26, I’ve been a student, business owner, mother, partner, daughter, sister. I’ve been an addict, and not; I’ve been healthy, and not. I’ve done some really stupid things, and some not so much — and I’ve been through a lot to get here. I’m excited to look back, get a little nostalgic, and share some mental photographs of what I’ve learned over the (VERY) short time I’ve been alive, with you. Jo is always reminding me that I have important things to say, and I’m starting to realize that even if my story isn’t “believable” — it’s still worth being told (and is pretty entertaining at times, if I’m to be so bold).

I’m grateful to you, our readers, for committing to coming on this ride with us. I think we each have amazing things to offer, both independently and as a unit. My hope for this blog is that we can meet and connect with some incredible people, while keeping away from the haterzz, as well as share our stories and experiences so as to maybe help you — and if it doesn’t “help”, even if it makes you think about things a little bit differently, I’m happy with that too.

So, are you ready to explore our universe? Buckle up, put your helmets on…

Houston, we are All Queer for Takeoff.

When you lose your ego, you win. It really is that simple.

― Shannon L. Alder

Would you know what I meant if I said I have memories that float behind my eyes; watery pictures of moments and people that stop the present, replaying themselves slowly, like looking out a window in a car, half your mind on the music, the other half on the scenery? With the dawning of 2019, there is one constant memory that does this slow-roll behind my eyes: me, standing in my public-school playground in utter disbelief and amazement that my friends and I had just realized we would be thirty-four in 2017. It was raining, and we were by the back fence. The details of this make me laugh: why thirty-four? What was it about 2017 that made us pick that long off date? Who were those friends, anyway, that stopped at 2017!? 

Sitting here writing this article with a years-gone-by nostalgia curdling my insides, I am forced to reflect on the passing year: family, friends, community, what impelled us to start a blog and, of course, this memory. The one certainty for me is the need to find and give life to my voice. My wife, Aisha, read my horoscope from Naimonu James (naimonujames.com) a few days into the new year and, well, talk about a sign: 

“wander within and within and within. It takes hard work and commitment to go your own way, conditioning tells us it is far too dangerous…but you are too precious to miss out on learning yourself, dear Taurus…the more you create supportive spaces, the more faith in humanity and goodness you can collect to you.”

So, I have committed to stitching together these feelings and the words that constantly swirl in my brain, because I need you – a community – to reinstate my faith in humanity and goodness. I will make sure I lay my thoughts down, like a patchwork pathway, so we can come to a gentle space together. And hopefully, it is worth it.  

In the quiet, before Aisha comes home, I will share a secret before I introduce myself properly: I hope we are incredibly successful. I hope this blog is where we, as two incredible individuals, can thrive and grow and take up space we cannot seem to find room for IRL. It would make me laugh if, in 2029, I was modeling for ‘Haute Butch’ or sitting with Ivan Coyote to discuss our recent article, or maybe, just maybe, I’m invited to be the guest speaker at ‘Butch Voices’.  

I am a thirty-five-year-old Taurus, which means thirty-six is imminent. I am in-love, partnered up and in it for the long haul. My love, Aisha, has a beautiful boy I am lucky to be best friends with and the two of them are pretty much my entire world.  I am a gender non-conforming (GNC) person who has identified with Butch Lesbian for most of my life. I am the younger sibling to my sister who has been the most incredible, long-term support/intuitively understanding person I have had the privilege of knowing. My parents were a typical early-nineteen-seventies couple: my father was a doctor and my mother his nurse and secretary. I lived a comfortable life in a small town and, looking back, would say that it was happy, healthy and pretty ok. If I’m completely honest with you though, this is where a constant character flaw first appears; I am a hopeless romantic, idealist and generally do not acknowledge how bad shit can get. But I think this trait allows me to tell a good story while actually talking about some heavy stuff. 

I have stumbled upon a term I’ve been working around in my layered brain, moving into my mouth, and seeing if it fits: multipotentialite (credit: Emilie Wapnick).  I haven’t found a calling, which is evident from the atlas that is my career and educational pathway. I have a degree in Sociology and Sexual Diversity Studies from the University of Toronto, I am a certified Winery and Viticulture Technician; I have worked in warehousing for plumbing wholesale supplies, in bookstores, restaurants, and at a dry cleaner. My final attempt (for now) to achieve the picture of ultimate success – [redacted] – the stress became so intense I was ill for weeks on end. The resulting lawsuit, loss of industry and friends seems to be the fire this lil’ ol’ Pheonix needed. Oh, and I’m not allowed to talk about it. 

And I am so fucking happy for it. I am sure I will address the pile I just left you with, but in all honesty, I do not want this space to be about anger. I have worked for fifteen years to divest myself of the anger naturally boiling inside me. I want this space to be about the pilot light for anger; the hurt and sadness, the misunderstanding and confusion of being anyone – but specifically a gay, GNC, female-bodied, person in this world. Hopefully, what I need to talk about resonates with you, whoever you are. I hope Aisha helps me figure out how to interact with you on a blog space because I want to know you and hear what you think about. 

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.” – Stendhal

Thanks so much,
Jo