Scene change

Sometimes you need a change of scenery in order to realize just how badly you needed a change of scenery.

Do you know what I mean? It’s, like, how do you properly see your own life where you’re stuck inside of it?

In theatre, the act of dismantling one set and erecting another is called a scene change. My life is not a play — though granted, there’s been some drama of late — but I theorized that a scene change of the physical kind — moving around the proverbial furniture, or hell, setting fire to the furniture — might help me change the scene mentally.

So I got out. Of my life. I hit the road, Jack. Vamoosed. Skeedaddled. Shoved off. Blew this joint. High-tailed it. Scrammed (scrum?). On a veeeery cheap ticket. Just for a few days. To write. To rest. To read. To visit a friend who makes me feel good about myself. To feel warm (I swear I’ve got perma-goosebumps in this g-d part of the world). To have some fun for freakin’ for once! To let go. To get away, yes. But also, to return: to my real self, to some wonky, promising, lovely if temporary version of a happy place.

This is my friend Shaun (pictured here with Olley, at a waterfall off the beaten path somewhere along the Hana highway). Shaun is a gifted professional woodworker, a lifelong surfer, and a magical person with a wicked sense of humour. Shaun lives among the bamboo, banana, banyan and octopus trees near Haiku, Hawaii. She and her son Lundie have designed and built their own home, top to bottom, outside and in, and I marvel at their industry, skills, and hospitality. The place is still under construction, for god’s sakes, but Laverne and I were still welcome, and they even put up with my black dress nonsense (post-shower, in a nightgown: “Hey, where’s the dress?”). I slept on the floor of Shaun’s doorless shop, between the table saw and the workbench. Apart from the mongoose/cockroach incidents, and the three-day stomach bug complete with fever and digestive pandemonium, it could not have been more perfect.

When does Maui NOT help, you say. When is a tropical island NOT perfect. Point taken. But maybe my scene change could have been anywhere. Anywhere warm and sunny, anywhere NOT here. Because it was about the company I kept. The sea, the sand, the frogs and green sea turtles, even the mongoose and toe-stubbing were bonuses. But this was all about undoing and redoing, good company, healing. A scene change. And while I haven’t erected anything just yet (there’s rather a dearth of erections in my world at this particular juncture, ha!!), I’m certainly in the process of dismantling, and that feels excellent.

Shaun’s words to live by are simple: “Is it right, or is it wrong?” It’s how she makes sense of the world, how she determines the best course of action, how she assesses the behaviour and words of others.

I’ve been trying this. It actually works.

Shaun’s a damn good hiker. No fancy gear, just “slippers” (that’s Maui-speak for flip-flops). Laverne and I could barely keep up, tripping on roots, shrieking in the deep pools, slipping and skidding on slimy rocks.

And did I mention she’s been surfing since she was a child? Best. Teacher. Ever. Paddled my ass off (not literally; too bad). Stood up for the first time at Ho’okipa Beach on my massive beginner 9-foot board (while gracious photog Lundie documented all the fails, bails, and boob explosions). Took a beating (physical, egotistical). Wiped out, wiped out more. Laughed. Paddled more. Bobbed around in the sea amid rainbows and 200-pound turtles, the salt water chafing my throat, the waves crashing over my head, the coral tickling my feet, thinking, is there anything else but today? How can I not live with all my might?

Laverne watched patiently from the shore.

Mad love and cheating

I miss my wedding ring. I miss it a lot.

I always thought it was the best ring that could ever possibly be. Platinum with stunning inset diamond visible from the sides of the band, understated, timeless, simple, classy. It never caught on sweaters, and it had this reassuring heaviness about it. It was my engagement ring and wedding band all in one, because I couldn’t imagine wanting a second one.

Whenever I took a flight, I’d play this little ring game if I got a window seat, catching a sunbeam in the diamond so brilliant flecks would ricochet all over the cabin walls. I’d wiggle my fingers, transfixed by this sparkling dance. A bit of fun. A metaphor for what love can do, its ability to shine into us, transform and illuminate us, compel us to spray the world with beauty and light.

Here’s a picture from the day I got engaged in London. It was taken on September 7, 2002,  shortly after 5pm, at an ice cream shop by Tower Bridge. I wasn’t grinning ear-to-ear because of the ice cream - though we did indulge after the big ask - and not even because of the gorgeous bit of jewelley I’d acquired. I was smiling because I had found someone I wanted to love all my life, someone who, as luck would have it, wanted to love me all my life, too. He’d chosen the ring himself, and he loved it, as object, as symbol; later, he told me he’d once had breakfast with the ring before presenting it to me. I will cherish that image always.

There were a few occasions, in the dozen or so years I wore that ring, that I’d forget to put it on in the morning (I’ve never been one to sleep with jewellery on). Whenever I went out ringless, I’d get this unsettling naked, vulnerable feeling, even before I knew what was wrong. It was as though I was a bit unfinished, somehow, not in the eyes of those around me, but inside myself, privately. My right fingers would subconsciously wander over to the ring finger on my left hand, to the bit of skin near the knuckle where that weight and light and meaning always resided, feeling the absence of something important. And as soon as I go home, I’d put the ring back on, and the feeling would wash away.

Slipping that ring off for good, post-marital implosion, is possibly the loneliest thing I have ever done. This object you’ve worn as a symbol for the ultimate human connection, the vows and dreams and memories and promises, has been reduced to dick all. All the meaning has been stripped away, and with it, a huge chunk of your identity. Something has been taken for good. And, even more cruel, the nicest piece of jewellery you own is not something you can wear anymore, not occasionally, not ever. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so unfinished, so undone.

The ring now lives in a little bag in a drawer, catching no light, illuminating nothing, waiting for – what? For someone to melt it down and make it into something else? For me to chuck it in the river? For the chance to get lost in a crack or black hole without regret? I think of it in that drawer, and sometimes, I long to crawl in there, too. Darkness could be nice.

But darkness is not the way forward. Darkness is not progress. I’m not saying I subscribe with ease to this idea, at present, but if I tell myself often enough that light is what must be, then surely I’ll begin to adjust, embrace to the new reality and let go – of that stunning, light-spraying band of metal-and-stone, and all that it stands for.

To ease this transition, I cheated. “Cheating” is what people like to say whenever they see me doing something they consider to be counter to the Frock Around The Clock rules, my self-imposed commandments, if you will. I’ve been spotted in running gear and accused (but had just done a run - not cheating). Some think it’s cheating to wear Laverne with jeans (not cheating - Laverne is still on). Some come up to me and check what I’m wearing, then say something like, “Oh, good, you DO have the dress on, you’re not cheating.” Ha! I think it’s rather cute that people are monitoring my movements (and wardrobe). But I guess that’s my own doing.

Anyway, THIS was a proper cheat. A blatant, premeditated, “1st-degree” cheat. Laverne turned a blind eye, but I know, and I won’t keep it a secret, I won’t lie. I went against my rules for my One-Dress-One-Year-Unshopping experiment and I bought something. Something material, fashiony, unnecessary, and frivolous: a cute little ring made by Mad Love. It cost me all of $15. It’s a plastic red rose on an adjustable brass band that might well turn my finger green, pretty much the furthest thing possible from its timeless, elegant platinum-and-diamond predecessor. My red rose will not catch light through airplane windows, and it has no reassuring heaviness to it; in fact it weighs about as much as a stale fart.

Is succumbing to the red rose ring failure? On one level, yes. On another, no. I see it as a compassionate concession, a coping mechanism for events unrelated to this project that I’d have never anticipated. Having a little something hugging that naked ring finger, easing ever so slightly my undone, lonely, wherefore-art-thou feelings has given me some comfort, even further strengthened my will to carry on with Laverne until the end of the year. You can call it “cheating” if you want. Myself, I have decided to focus on progress, not perfection.

Masturdating on NYE

Who knew going out for dinner by yourself had a name?

It’s called masturdating. And that’s what I did on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the end of my year with Laverne.

The black dress and I went for dinner at Rge Rd, a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try since it opened four years ago. I’ve heard only good things, so I booked myself in for the eight o’clock seating on Dec. 31. Set menu, five courses.

My table wasn’t quite ready when I arrived, so I sat at the bar, where Denise fixed me a “Hendrick’s reverse” (a gin martini with a twist of lemon peel that tasted delicious; had I not been driving, I’d have ordered a few more). Thanks for the celebratory drinkie from afar, Jennifer CK.

It was very much a date-night type of scene. All the other diners in my seating area were in pairs (15 couples, varying ages, all straight). Some acted like old friends, gabbing and laughing, some held hands and stared into each other’s eyes, some sampled bites from each other’s plates, some sat silently, looking bored with one another. 

I was curious about how these couples would react to someone eating alone on a special occasion. Would they think I was weird? Would they pity me? Assume I’d been stood up? Ask me to join their table?

None of the above, at least not overtly. At one point, I made eye contact with a silver-haired man with a warm face. We were seated directly in one another’s line of vision while his wife was in the washroom, so it was kind of hard to ignore each other. He smiled, cocked his head. I assumed he thought me a wee bit sad, sat there solo with my fork and spoon and phone. When his wife returned, they murmured to themselves, then came over to say hello. Lee and Susan. As it turned out, Susan knew all about Laverne, reads the newspaper, and used to be next-door neighbours with my editor. Small town, Edmonton.

Otherwise, people didn’t care much. And why should they? If I saw a woman eating alone, I’d just assume she WANTED to eat alone, or that maybe she was travelling or reviewing the restaurant. I clocked a few furtive glances as I sipped my martini and tucked into my first course, a creamy clam tart with gruyère and oxalis, but otherwise I felt pleasantly ignored.

Below, course four: wood-fired lobster thermidor with mushrooms, sunchokes, hollandaise and cast-iron paella rice. Mmmmmm.

The dessert, a melty chocolatey brownie of some sort with sour cherry sauce and graham wafer crumbly bits, was fantastic, so fantastic I forgot to even get a photo of it. I did get a shot of the post-dessert nibbles, which unfortunately I had little room for. Managed to cram in one white chocolate truffle, accidentally dusting the Laverne Bosom Zone with an embarrassing amount of icing sugar. Took home the strawberry jelly cube, chocolate-dipped marshmallow, and chocolate nutty thing for my little boy.

All in all, a beautiful evening out. As I’ve learned over the course of this one-dress-one-year project, people are mostly concerned with themselves. They generally don’t care about what you are wearing, nor do they care about why you’re alone in a restaurant. We are all absorbed in our own worlds, our own tragedies. And that’s comforting. I like getting dressed up for a night out, so I think I’ll go out for dinner on my own more often in 2016. It feels goooooood to masturdate. :)