i watched the clock turn to midnight last night after everyone was asleep and i petted the cat and i thought, there it is.

12:00am, January 24th.

Lordy, lordy, look who’s forty.

forty is the number that has no clear connection to the girl who never quite wanted to grow up and become a woman. yet still, here we are. i have become. i am.

forty was the last age visible from youth, the last outpost of relevancy, of recognizability. Beyond Here There Be Dragons. had you asked me when i was seventeen, the year my mother turned forty, i’d likely have dismissed the whole vulgar contingency with a wave of my hand. forty? ha. i don’t care if i live that long.

youth is stupid. or at least brutally myopic. and we are not so linear as we look, at seventeen.

youth is harder than middle-age. the old people have apparently been hoarding this little secret, keeping it all to themselves. you wake up, and you’re forty, and you still feel not so different from twenty-two except you have some sense of where your life is going and how to get there and you actually think you can do it and you’ve finally learned to maybe value what you think and it is forty years in the desert gone and you are free.

i want to stand on hilltops or fall to my knees and thank unearned fortune and whatever blind luck got thrown in the bag that i have landed here, safe thus far.

i took photos of my hands, turning forty years old.

they are dry, in this January light. they are rough and practical and need their cuticles attended to, and the years are starting to show up and dance and sing show tunes all over them. i see my skeleton clear and clawed, beneath the skin. i see my mother’s hands, and those of my daughter.

the old guitar callouses are almost gone, now: my thirties ate them. they brought a fleshy puff above the ring finger on the left hand, instead. it came with pregnancy. it does not seem to plan to leave.

the rings under the fleshy puff – the engagement ring, the wedding and anniversary bands – belonged to one of my grandmothers. i have worn them twelve years now. next week, i will bring them home to the house she lived in as a newlywed. i will paint walls that once were hers with these hands and i will smile at the dust that somehow binds us there, together.

the bracelet on my wrist is new, yet a relic. my other grandmother’s button collection: two tins of bright plastic buttons, saved nearly twenty-four years. we found them this past spring when my grandfather died. my cousin had a set strung for each of the daughters and granddaughters, and mine are red, my favourite colour. they jingle. they bring me joy.

these hands have touched skin and keyboards and the walls inside my head. mostly gently. not always gently. they’ve wiped asses and washed dishes and typed poetry and dried tears and sketched out rooms and worlds and the words “i love you” on the backs of tiny children trying to sleep. they’ve done cartwheels, even last summer.

you cannot see those things, but they are there, as much a part of them as bones.

we are paper-thin, my friends. we slide and float, finding our way. we gather dust. it makes us richer, thicker. we get crumpled. we roll. we leave ourselves behind all over the place. we accumulate and shed and we begin to belong to all the bounty we carry along with us.

maybe someday my hands will turn eighty years old. maybe tomorrow they will be dust. if i knew, would it make a difference in what i do with them today?

i think maybe i’d still be here in the middle of my birthday, struggling to spit out words, to mark something i can barely name.

forty is a gift.

it feels wrong and indecorous, to get to think about aging. and cake.

i am distracted with thoughts of Susan.

our friendship fits the analogy. paper-thin, yet rich.  i only met her once.

last spring, she took me to the Library of Congress, a pilgrimage. the charming old tour guide straight from Central Casting asked the group of seniors and high school students and…well…us…if anyone was, oh, twenty-eight. and he looked straight at us most gentlemanly-like, and the both of us tittered like a bad episode of The Golden Girls, and i said no, thirty-nine. and she said, no, thirty-seven.

today i am forty. and she is in hospice far away.

it is not right, and it is not fair, and i do not understand and i have lived long enough to know i never will.

there are a thousand people out there sending love. her oldest and dearest friend Marty shares her with us, posting high school pictures and wedding pictures: fleshing out the story of Susan before she was Whymommy. and my heart says rage, rage, but Susan is doing that just beautifully herself, with grace and courage and all i seem to be able to do is sit here and stare at my hands and wish they were holding hers and yet they cannot and it is not my place and all this roils around in the sidecar of my brain and what keeps clunking out is this one small thought.

we are not so linear as we look.

and so i hold Susan in my hands, with hope and love. i hold all the generosity and dignity and kindness she has brought into my life, all the dust of words and friendship that has rubbed between us these five years. all that crumpling and bounty in the small of this dry hand, between one grandmother’s rings and one grandmother’s buttons.

and i think how blessed and grateful a thing, to be forty today.

seven years ago tonight i landed – in the middle of a snowstorm – back in PEI.

for good, it seems, or for the long run, though i could not have predicted that, back then. back then, i wasn’t used to staying in the same country more than a few months. i own condiments now far longer than i used to own furniture.

(should you ever doubt that time marches on with merciless mundanity, check your condiments. if you have none older than your children, you are truly living carpe diem.)

our last apartment in Korea had a chilly tile and concrete hallway that opened to the winter air: no security door in that building. it was 5am and dark and cold and the trusty little 1993 Kia Pride that had cost $300 was just about to be given up for scrap and it groaned and shook as Dave pumped the gas. i had three suitcases: five years of a life stuffed down to so damn little.

it never seems possible that you can be leaving a place forever. i remember staring wide-eyed out the window at the waking city: the shuttered shops with their tin grates, the pots of drying red peppers by the roadside. the hustle of the bus station even before dawn; the pungent smells of kimchi and deng jang paste and bad imported coffee. all so present and familiar, then. now, a dream half-remembered.

i landed here at midnight more than thirty hours later, in a snowstorm. home. i was coming home. my mother met me at the airport, even though it was late and the roads were slippy, as we Islanders say. she gathered me in her arms like a child.

i was laughing, beyond tired, beyond happy. i was twelve weeks pregnant with Finn. i’d slid his ultrasound picture between the pages of my passport; shown it to the flight attendants between Tokyo and Toronto. i slipped it out to show my mother at the airport: her first sight of her first grandchild. i breathed deep, relieved. safe. and i stared wide-eyed at my sleeping hometown as the cab drove us home in the snowy dark, my heart all hopeful in my throat.

everywhere is a dream half-remembered, when you are not there.

i wrote once about what seven years can mean, how our cells regenerate and leave us utterly new. except the cells of the children we carry, who remain, somehow.

sometimes it feels as if nothing of that girl who stepped off a plane that night seven years ago could be left within this body. i am more tired now, more cynical, more lumpy and stretched, as if i were silly putty and time were like gravity.

but i know her.

i know her soft little camel cloche hat, bought to look like a grownup coming home: it still sits in my closet, seldom worn since that first winter.

i know the child she carries…or i know him as well as anyone. he is an enigma still, seven years later, and it has been long enough for me to know he always will be. i know he will die, in her arms, in mine, a few months after she steps off the airplane. i know that he will be the dividing line between she and i; that the shocking ephemerality of his small face will take worlds with it that she will never see again.

but. when i think of her stepping off that plane onto the tarmac seven years ago, i no longer want to shout at her to turn around, to run like hell. i wince, but i do not flail.

i know the smile on her face, the one that looks forward expectantly in spite of whatever else came before. i feel it rising again to my own.

it scares me, this relentless hope. but there is no other direction.

next week i turn forty. i shake my head at the number, not in denial or even disbelief…just…surprise. that it can be. everything surprises me these days. these seven years most of all.

in fifteen days, we move. this house that we brought our babies home to, all but the one, will be in the past. and a piece of my own past, in its strange way, will be our present. our future.

the move itself – the chaos, the packing – have me properly panicked.

the transition, though? it is already in motion. i am watching wide-eyed through the window, trying to carve on my brain the sight of Posey clumping up the stairs here, the sound of Oscar leaning back on his stool in the yellow kitchen and drumming with hands.

soon, it will be a dream, half-remembered.

they say, wryly, that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. so it is with a second shot at homecoming.

i know it can all go to hell, in a second. and still. i gather myself, the old little cloche hat in a box, and go. like stepping off a plane into another January night; my heart all hopeful in my throat.

wish us luck. (and send moving tips, if you have any. we’ve never moved with condiments, let alone children).



when i first knew Dave, he was a cocky 22 year old with a scruffy black notebook always in hand. i asked him once – because my own writing was then so closeted i turned pink anytime i cracked the spine on my journal – what he wanted to write for.

did he have an end in mind? a great novel? an opus? a garret to freeze in?

i think he laughed. and paused. and then he said, i want to be interviewed by Peter Gzowski.

if you lived in Canada through the 80s and 90s, maybe you know what that means. Gzowski was the lion of CBC morning radio. me, i barely came out of my self-imposed radio-free cloister in time for the end of the man’s career; i passed much of my misspent youth under the impression that radio was merely a commercial haven for swaggering DJs, Rick Astley, and my mother’s beloved Saturday Night Hoedown. but my liberal arts education eventually bequeathed me the CBC at the height of Gzowski’s reign. he accompanied a whole generation of us X-ers into the mornings of our adulthoods, with his courteous curiosity and his capacity to make everyday corners of our huge, vanilla country seem absolutely riveting. he did it not in soundbites but in long, drawn-out conversations that always always made me wish i were the third cup of coffee at that table for two voices.

so when Dave said Gzowski, i understood. Gzowski was not about fame, per se, or writing as discipline and craft and greatness. Gzowski, as a definition of success, was about access; the honour of sitting at the table where the big story was being told.

Dave was an early adopter of the 21st century outlook on creative expression. art, like technology, is not an end in itself; it is simply what it affords us. it is – or can be, if one is lucky – a seat at the table.

in the old model, singular greatness was supposed to be both its own reward. it was also supposed to launch one to fame and fortune, but it was vulgar to consider those goals. success was entirely a vertical game.

Gzowski was my first introduction to the idea that it might be more horizontal, more about voice and access and participation in a conversation than some mysterious process of coming to exist on whole new planes of merit and grandeur.

Peter Gzowski died almost ten years ago, on my thirtieth birthday.

yesterday, a couple of weeks before my fortieth (mercy), i got closer to Dave’s old dream than i’d have imagined possible, back then. i was on the CBC’s The Sunday Edition. national radio. a seat at the big table.

i’ll never meet Gzowski, but an hour in the CBC studio talking to Ira Basen, with his convivial, intelligent questions? hearing myself on national radio talking about momblogging and monetization?

i was honoured. and flattered. as The Pogues taught me long ago, when you live with someone years on end, you kinda end up taking their dreams as your own. being on The Sunday Edition is my idea of doing Dave proud. and myself.

and it was as cool as i’d have thought it would be. almost.

it is almost impossible – as almost anybody in momblogging will tell you – to talk about momblogging without treading on toes. we’re the Fight Club whose fights and divisions and hurt feelings stem almost entirely from breaching the unwritten rule of not talking about Fight Club. we are a community that hasn’t really been a single community for years, like most in social media. but we still get lumped together  – even by many of us, me included – under the convenient if always controversial and slightly pejorative handle of mommybloggers, and we bristle and feel misunderstood and wonder what the hell we have in common.

even in polite Canada.

the documentary explored The Great Monetization Divide of Mommyblogging. i liked it. my sense was that Ira tried hard to treat both sides of the monetization conversation respectfully.

my voice ended up on the non-monetization side of fence: a partial truth, but you dance in a two-sided polka and you end up in pants or a dress, i suppose. narrative conventions dictate that there BE two sides, given equal air.

i see it more like this: i haven’t monetized this blog, but i do get to speak at conferences, and the blog has gotten me paid work in other venues. i see myself as a part of the networks and economy that make monetization possible.

i said that, but not all of it made it to air. that’s okay. it’s not the CBC’s job to represent me to the world.

that’s MY job.

for me, social media has been about taking the Gzowski model and truly, uh, horizontalizing it: giving regular people platforms on which to publicly tell their own stories and host their own conversations about their riveting corners of otherwise seemingly vanilla worlds.

these platforms are built of people. networked audiences, in peer-to-peer relationships.

social media also has vertical channels, avenues by which ordinary folk can sometimes find seats at tables that were once closed. this too is a sort of democratizing force, compared to the old models of how people got their voices “discovered.” these vertical channels of brand and big media are also increasingly the business engine by which social media sustains itself.

most of us whose audience aspires beyond an intimate network of friends are invested in both the vertical and the horizontal. but that’s what’s getting lost in the increased polarization between monetized and non-monetized camps.

i hear the critique on both sides; personal bloggers are indulgent crap. monetized bloggers are sell-outs. you can be a friend, but my peers are professionals, now. we’re splitting ourselves down the middle based on horizontal or vertical aspirations. and i’m tired of feeling like i’m caught in a bad divorce.

truth is, you can’t have social media without the peer-to-peer connections. then it’s just media, my friends. and there are never going to be jobs for all of us in a traditional media economy. i think we’re stuck with each other, building horizontally as we build vertically, unless we want the whole shebang we’ve built on these peer-to-peer connections to come crumbling down.

a non-monetized blogger benefits from the profile gained by vertical national exposure. people with entirely vertical aspirations need  build enough horizontal peer-to-peer buzz and profile that they begin to stand out to those peering in from the vertical towers. BECAUSE WE’RE IN THE SAME REPUTATION ECONOMY. that’s what social media IS.

the divide between monetized and non-monetized? i think it’s a fake one, a trap we’re party to constructing and leaping into.

remember Jon Stewart in 2004, shrieking at that little Crossfire turd in the bowtie and his so-called liberal foil? YOU’RE HURTING AMERICA! ?? yeh. remember that?

we don’t have to play along with the theatre that divides us by pretending we have nothing in common. a whole lot of us have both horizontal AND vertical aspirations.

but maybe we don’t know how to talk about it. maybe we don’t hear about it on the radio, or even see much of it on Twitter. we start thinking about social media as us and them.

so the CBC documentary? great for me, so long as all those of us who heard it didn’t walk away even more convinced that the polarization is natural and inevitable and hopeless. and moreso, so long as, if we did, we don’t just leave the conversation there.

because the beauty of social media is that sure, an industry giant can explore us and reflect us back to ourselves. but our platforms let us pull up to the table and join the conversation: our critical reflection comes as part of the deal.

social media gives us access: lets us all talk to Gzowski, in the figurative sense. i don’t want to sell that short.

can we talk about Fight Club? or blogging? or whatever the hell we ought to call it, from here on in? tell me what YOU want from social media, for 2012. tell me what YOU’RE invested in, out here.

can we split this conversation beyond the two camps, once and for all?


so 2011, you’ve been a good year.

a very good year, really.

if i were a Sinatra, ripe with mellifluous tones and suave Rat Pack suits, this would be the “very good year” of song and story. screw seventeen. high school graduation and cheap alcool are only so much to croon about; thirty-nine was actually interesting.

(i’m no Sinatra, of course. 2011 was kind of extraordinary, by my standards, but learning how to sing isn’t on my list of achievements for the year. maybe later.)

still, a lot of what i might have hoped for if i’d actually had my act together enough to articulate specific hopes for the year IS on that list. i’m kinda blinky-eyed in the face of this unaccustomed reversal of fortune.

generally, my standards for a good year are pretty simple: have i been fed and clothed and sheltered? have i learned? have i had my family and/or friends around me?

Boney M is one of my Christmas playlist standards: has been since childhood. one year, in college, my poor roommate misheard the lyrics to Feliz Navidad . the rest of us caught her at the residence floor Christmas party bopping around in reindeer antlers singing – at the top of her lungs – “at least no one died.”

yeh, that. i wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, indeed. at least no one died.

clearly, that roommate wasn’t a whole lotta help with Spanish homework. but when the rest of us recovered from spitting up our eggnog, we adopted the line. it’s been with me ever since, lo these twenty-odd holiday seasons, as i’ve looked back on the old years trailing out behind. a good year? any year i could answer “at least no one died,” i figured i had it okay.

this year, i lost one of my tall trees in my grandfather’s passing. the song stuck in my throat the first time i lifted my voice; i caught myself. then i thought, no. he was 91. i am nearly 40. i had the strange, stark privilege of being with him as he went. and hell, he thought the song was funny as hell. so i sang it loud and with joy this last month, my eyes just a little bit crinkled and wet.

it was a damn good year, like none i’ve ever really known. shit worked this year: all the long seasons of quiet hoping and trying suddenly seemed to reap positive reinforcement all at once. federal funding for my research, Voice of the Year at BlogHer, a local literary award, published in Salon. i even cracked the Babble list. i went to cool conferences and started a new blog and discovered that i can be a social media researcher and a writer and a professional educator, maybe all in one. maybe.

or at least i can try. i can see my way clear to try.

because there was still a lot of shit in 2011 that didn’t work: submissions rejected, inquiries ignored. hopes dashed. but for the first time in my life, those did not shame me, or scare me off. i just picked up the hopes, looked around for lessons, and kept going. it felt…good. real. par for the course.

the kids are healthy: cleared of asthma and the serious kind of heart murmur, respectively. we haven’t been to the ER with them once all year. they like their teachers. they mostly like each other.

and we do too, their father and i, even ten years and a half-finished documentation project into things. he still makes me feel less lonely, just by being in the world.

and we just bought the house my grandmother lived in when she married. her Art Deco wedding china is going home, people. and so am i.

2011, i’m dazzled and grateful and a little wary, because clearly the other shoe is about to drop and chances are good it’s made of cement.

everybody else seems happy to kick you to the curb, 2011. me, i think you’re the purdiest thing i can remember.

and yet all this positivity scares the shit outta me.

i’m a late bloomer in terms of this whole concept of “things going well.” yeh, i’ve had luck in the course of my days on this earth, but my particular talents and circumstances have never especially organized themselves into a coherent pattern that looks like what our culture likes to think of as an upswing, before.

my career arc has been…diverse. my choices haven’t emphasized stability or growth. and the blessings and joys of my parenthood have been punctuated by all that slipped through my fingers.

so this whole “things are going my way” rag? is highly unfamiliar.

it stands to reason, then, that – just as things really begin to look as if i’m gathering steam in my fortieth year, hitting my stride – that the world will end.

2012 is End Times, apparently. so sayeth the ancient Mayans. and their Wikipedia entry. goody.

and i figure i kinda win either way. maybe my luck holds and the coming year is happy and glorious and fulfilling and full of opportunity. in which case my unfamiliar streak of success becomes a little more familiar, and i slowly train myself to stop expecting an abyss to open up at any moment.

or, you know, an abyss opens up. and then i have the surprisingly satisfying comfort of being right, which is almost as nice as achieving cool things you set your mind to. maybe not quite. and annihilation would kinda take all the fun out of “at least no one died,” probably forever.

so i’ll keep working on positive thinking. and perhaps…as i look ahead to 2012, i need to very literally take a page from the late great Woody Guthrie, who had some lean years and some lucky ones himself. his New Year’s Resolutions for 1942  were posted today on Boing Boing.

i’m thinking #3 – Wash Teeth If Any – is the attitude i need to bring with me into the new year, whatever it may bring.

don’t let yer head get big, there, Bonnie lass. just brush. don’t fret about tomorrow, neither, and the possible impending end of The Long Count according to Mesoamerica. just brush what you got. don’t even count them chickens or assume there’ll be teeth tomorrow: live for today.

Wash Teeth If Any.

Love Everybody.

Wake Up and Fight.

thanks 2011, for being so good to me. for giving me the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be where the grass is green for a bit. i’m grateful. i’m hopeful for the coming year.

i’m not gonna forget the abyss is there, always there. i’m just not going to assume i’m falling when i might, maybe be flying.

either way, i’ll have washed teeth, i promise.

Happy New Year, my friends. i know 2012 owes some of you some serious makeup kisses after what 2011 wreaked. i hope it puts out. i hope we all find each other a year from now, non-annihilated and with shining smiles, singing “at least no one died.”



see, it can be hard work being a believer in our house. questions, questions all the time. but you gotta give the kid credit for trying.

if you celebrate tonight, Merry Christmas. if you don’t, but you hear some reindeer tonight who might be looking for food, send ’em our way. Oscar’s got ’em covered.

last week, in the midst of going on about class and education on the theoryblog, i waded blindly into a Twitter fracas about privilege.

i was befuddled. i’ve noticed lately that people seem to reaaaaally dislike the idea of privilege. as in, violently resent it. and possibly want to throw tomatoes at it. (not to mention the people using it. ahem. *waves brightly*).

during that Twitter conversation it also became evident to me – for about the sixth time, but i am the sort who needs to learn things a few times before i can retain them (unless they are related to calculus in which case you can spare your breath entirely) – that while i happen to find privilege a really useful concept, i do a shitty job explaining it. and also – maybe more importantly – explaining why i find it a useful concept.

after the conversation fizzled to a close and i – and probably everyone involved – had a mild headache, i sat down to look at the comments that had trickled in from my theoryblog post. my comments get emailed to me with the post title in the email header position.

i caught sight of them and i began to laugh, and laugh, and also maybe snort a little bit.

because if you want to talk privilege, the title of my post was dripping with it. Exhibit A: All I Want for Christmas Is a Nice Fresh Myth. yep. and with a particularly insidious version, no less, perhaps the most dangerous one of all to bring up in polite company: Christmas privilege.

get the tomatoes and the rotten candy canes, friends. i’m going there.

see this pile of cuteness above? this is Christmas privilege at work.

it is also my daughter adjusting her, erm, pants in the middle of stage. right before her black velour snowman hat fell down over her face halfway through a song. this little spectacle was one of the sweetest, loveliest stage shows i’ve had the pleasure of giggling through, proudly.

yep, proudly. yep, it’s still privilege. the two can co-exist.

please be clear, dear readers: this is not the Fox News annual War on Christmas (except that the Fox News annual War on Christmas IS actually Christmas privilege being whipped up into a defensive frenzy, but i digress.) i like Christmas. i like my children. i like my children in cute Christmas stage shows singing carols. look at those elves! that little Santa in the back! the angels on the wall! the kid looking for his parents! the one tying his shoe! they’re like Dr. Suess’ Whos, these tiny, funny, adorable people.

so why would i call it privilege if i don’t hate it?

because it is. the corollary between naming something privilege and shaming it – or being seen to shame it by those named – isn’t a necessary one.

but calling other people out on anything is usually a great way to shut down a conversation. so i’m calling mySELF out.

my name is Bonnie, and i have Christmas privilege. it’s unearned, and mostly invisible to me unless i look really hard.

but here’s how i can recognize it:
1. i know all the words to all the Christmas carols i hear on endless public repeat throughout November and December.

2. when i see ads with people in reindeer sweaters hanging stockings, i am equal parts non-plussed and reminded of my dear Drunkle Bill.

3. i get all blurry and misty-eyed about the idea of keeping Christmas in my heart the whole year through (even if i tend to forget by February).

4. i think The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is the pinnacle of animation as an art.

5. if i am at a Christmas-themed event, i don’t need to worry that my presence may make others feel self-conscious or defensive.

6. when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me, i don’t wonder if they walked away kicking themselves for forgetting. again.

7. when our kids’ public school advertises its Spectacle de Noel i don’t think “i guess i should speak up and maybe explain OUR holiday to my children’s classmates too”. nope. i think “yay! real carols instead of stupid Silver Bells!”

(note to culture: Silver Bells and Santa and reindeer? still Christmas, people, just secular Christmas. secular Christmas is not actually any more inclusive than religious Christmas. you want a real holiday concert? you need to find ways to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and solstice and preferably all kinds of traditions that may not even include a December shindig in the mix.)

i don’t need we haven’t quite come to terms, at this juncture, with either secularism or pluralism in our culture. we try. it’s messy. understanding how privilege works actually makes it a whole lot less fraught, though. seriously.

the problem with conversations about privilege is that they tend to be dead serious. and they make people feel attacked. they criticize world views that many of us have held and cherished as normal for most of our lives.

privilege is, at its core, about the critical societal mass needed to hold the belief that any particular position is normal.

it’s about being dominant, or in the dominant cultural group, in a particular arena.

so, yes, Virginia, i have Christmas privilege. i’m in the dominant group. most of the people i know celebrate: where i am, it’s still the norm. and most of the people i know who DON’T celebrate it are still really very gracious about the whole Santa-down-the-throat quality of this time of year. even when i title December posts that are entirely unrelated to anybody’s holidays this time of year with kitschy Christmas-themed titles that allude to Chipmunks’ songs.

here’s where it gets touchy. do i need to be ashamed of my Christmas privilege?

in my opinion, no. it doesn’t make me responsible for every Clark Griswold atrocity that kneecaps the power grid this time of year, nor for the small but real feelings of alienation and second-class-citizenship that kids whose traditions don’t include Christmas may feel when every second adult they see during December assaults them with the shrill commercialism of “so what is Santa bringing YOU?”

i can watch my privilege, though. i can learn to see it, and to consider the ways in which it both includes and excludes other people. and i can try to focus on changing my practices to be more inclusive where i can. i can learn more about other people’s traditions, even if acknowledging that i don’t know makes me kinda uncomfortable.

we aren’t ever going to get beyond the nasty feelings that the idea of privilege brings up unless those of us who are dominant – in ANY arena – figure out how to work through our discomfort with talking about difference and dominance.

(dominance, to be clear, doesn’t mean you have it easy. it just means you can take certain forms of belonging for granted that others may not.  just like owning your privilege doesn’t mean you suddenly morph into some charmed creature who’s had everything handed to her. or him. it just means you know where your path has been smoothed by factors outside your control. knowing what those things ARE? tends to make living in a pluralistic diverse society a whole lot easier.)

most of us have privilege in some places and not others. i’m white. i’m taken up as straight. i speak the dominant language of my culture, and i speak it in ways that mark me as educated and middle-class. all these things mean that i am more likely to be advantaged – seen as neutral, normal, trustworthy, whatever – in a random encounter over someone who does not code the same types of cultural belonging. now, i’m also female, which isn’t necessarily the same advantage, particularly at a table of power if i am looking to speak. privilege is not a monolith. it’s a complex collection of unearned attributes that make certain situations easier because you fit the norm of the people you are likely to encounter.

if someone is white and poor and male and Christian and queer, or female and well-educated and wealthy and Hindu, or aboriginal and disabled and a successful small business owner, they’ll experience a different mix of dominance and non-dominance. even wealthy, able-bodied straight white males who celebrate Christmas have all kinds of personal obstacles in their lives. but they don’t face the same structural, societal assumptions and perceptions that, say, poor, disabled, gay, black female Jews might.

here’s the other touchy point. people with privilege – even LOTS of privilege – aren’t any worse or better than other people. neither do people with a particular form of privilege owe something to those without. Except – again, in my opinion – the decency of simply acknowledging and owning their privilege, doing the work so they can see it. if i can see how the way i walk through the world makes, say, participating in Christmas concerts easier for me than it is for you, then we may be able to come to a common understanding of how we can work together to create a concert that includes what both of us value, without feelings of marginalization or defensiveness.

so my kids’ decked-out celebration of Christmas privilege was not inherently bad. or something to mock, destroy, or ban.

but it isn’t neutral. it’s a choice among available choices in a diverse and pluralistic society. you see that elf above? the adorable one in the middle holding Santa’s hand?

i’m thinking next year maybe i’ll see if he’s interested in finding out more about Hanukkah from his Jewish first cousins. and maybe teaching his class something, or doing a little song.

making room for more than Christmas doesn’t take away from Christmas.

Christmas, at its core, is about the ultimate symbolic gift: the gift of a child to an undeserving people. while i may personally struggle with the idea of a God who gives his son as a sacrificial lamb, i do know that this time of year perhaps more than any other, i feel kinda like an undeserving people, blessed with the gift of two sweet small children, over-sugared and dressed in funny hats though they may be.

they are an unearned privilege, like so many of my blessings. it doesn’t mean i don’t work hard, to parent them or to provide for them or to succeed on a variety of fronts. but nothing i do makes me particularly worthy of the gift that they are: they simply ARE.

so it is with privilege, of all kinds. i try to see it because when i do, i am more grateful, less resentful of all the things i do not have or cannot change.

thus endeth my soapbox.

what say you? what do you think of concerts and Christmas privilege and the whole idea in general? feel free to toss all rotten tomatoes in my Christmas stocking. Happy Holidays, friends.


“There is no escape. You can’t be a vagabond and an artist and still be a solid citizen,
a wholesome, upstanding man.
You say yes to the sunlight and pure fantasies,
so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea
Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain,

the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death.
Say yes to everything, shirk nothing.
Don’t try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen.”

-Hermann Hesse

i told myself i never wanted to be a solid citizen.

maybe everybody does that, when they are seventeen or twenty-three: or did, at least, before our culture started rolling out young Alex P. Keatons raised on the Disney Channel, with life goals and imaginations vanilla-bland and based on the accruement of millions. maybe it’s easier to idealize artistry when one is young: at that age the filth and the nausea belong to the most interesting people, none of them yet worn frayed and incoherent by decades of abuse.

the young make good outlaws: they can sleep it off.

but for every outlaw heart there is always a before.

that year i was eleven and twelve and we moved to the neighbourhood of solid citizens where all the girls i went to school with lived, i wanted to be a solid citizen too. i had the manners, the grades; my mother saved up for suede moon boots for the first day of school. i studied my role, went onstage everyday bewildered but keen. i relegated my dolls and my poems to the back of the closet, secret shames. i stumbled down the byzantine corridors of seventh-grade cabals, learning how power is played. i was a victim, then a mean girl: those seemed to be the parts available to solid citizens.

i liked myself in neither.

by the time a few years passed, i had found another compass. i had friends, some very dear, but my real world lived in books, in Elsewhere, in the mythology i made of Bowie and Iggy Pop and Dylan and all those models of debauched exceptionality.

i left home at seventeen, and it was easy to make myself one of Hesse’s vagabonds. i had no other life to step ready-made inside. i went hither and yon, tried everything once. saying yes to everything was my way of trying to find a door that would open and admit me.

yet i have never really believed that any doors would, not the doors of solid citizenry, of stable lives and sky’s the limit.

it is okay. i am good at being an outsider. i no longer like to remember that i was not born this way, blowing smoke from the womb.


but there is this house.

it’s low, cottage-shaped, shingled green, sage green. with yellow shutters. when i dream it reverts to the yellow paint and burgundy trim of my childhood.

it was the last house we trick or treated at this Hallowe’en. we approached the grand arch of the porch, kangaroo and dragon in tow, and i saw the sign on the lawn and one of those little swooning sighs escaped me, soft as dough, guileless.

my grandmother lived here, you know.

Dave glanced across the street. of course. across the street is the house my grandmother was born in, the other yellow house, the family home, the one i have dragged him by a hundred times since we first moved back here. nearly seven years. seven? can it be?

when we moved here, i thought i was bringing him to my hometown.

but it is this corner that is my hometown, really: the last trace of roots that go beyond me into the earth and history of the city. every summer and after-school, i walked these leafy sidewalks to my Nannie’s, to the old yellow house she’d been born in. this was the place that stayed the same: the family home, no matter where we lived. i know the way the light falls at this corner, every season and every time of day.

on this corner, my grandmother lived in three separate houses over a nearly ninety-year span.

my great-grandfather built here in 1901, already a rotund middle-aged businessman on his second marriage. the neighbours across the street – who were then the only neighbours – gave the happy couple a vase that had, so the story went, been given them on their own wedding some decades before. one hundred and ten years later, that vase lives beside my bed.

the neighbours’ son, a little older than my grandmother, built a house kitty-corner to his parents that was the mirror-image of my grandmothers. then he built an Arts & Crafts-style cottage next door to his parents. then they died, presumably, and he moved back to the home he’d grown up in.

so when my grandmother married in 1938, well into her 30s, she left her family home and she and husband moved across the street, renting the cottage from the neighbours’ son.

The Bungalow, they called it. my grandmother had a piano, there.

it is a pretty house, modest from the street and quaint. it looks like no other house in this city. a story and a half, with a concrete basement painted fifties rust-red. hardwood and all the horizontal lines of the Craftsman cottages.

my grandmother’s friends Doris and Mabel lived in The Bungalow when i was a kid. the neighbourhood was all old ladies in those days, the men vanished or barely visible: a land of milk and cookies. i pretty much had the run of the corner. Doris and Mabel had me over sometimes, when it was after-school and my grandmother had appointments she couldn’t take me to. they had a goldfish pond in the backyard.

Doris and my grandmother lived, respectively, in various houses clustered around that corner for nearly ninety years: i have a photo of the two of them, four years old, at a tea party the year Anne of Green Gables was published. the photo sits near the vase upstairs. i have been carting around the last remnants of this neighbourhood all my vagabond years.

here, on this corner, i do not need to be an outsider. on this corner, i am nine decades of a family history. it is whittled down, now, to my mother and i, my children, a few photo albums and a Freemason’s kid leather apron and a family Bible. in the context of this corner, all my baggage? just belonging.

i have flown around the world three times. there is no other corner of the world to which i have claim or pedigree.

the corner is my before. but it has been out of reach for nearly twenty years.

it was Dave’s idea, not mine. we should see it, he said. just a viewing. ha.

it is different than i remembered in my mind’s eye: same bones, but opened up, brightened. it had me at hello.

we can’t, i thought. but it appears we have.

we bought it this afternoon.

it doesn’t make me a solid citizen, no. i hope not. but the idea of going home to that corner maybe slides me a little closer to that balance between Hesse’s “laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death” than i ever expected to be again.

we closed on the house we currently live in the day that Finn was born: it has been a good home, but tinged always with that apprehension, that accident of circumstance, that wound. if we can all four of us move safely into the new place in February? grace, says me. new beginnings. full circle homeward.

(our friend is buying it. Finn’s trees will be with someone we love. that makes my heart quiet.)

this is our new home: the new crib. The Bungalow, where my grandmother lived. part of me still doesn’t believe it. but i am saying yes.



the day started innocently enough.

a few minutes before seven, in the warm bed. oblivion. then a small beaming face barreling in from the darkness, arms laden with stuffed animals. behind him, the pitter patter of smaller feet, a smaller face, a smaller armload of companions. a bed party.

presents opened. a giant coffee mug with skull and crossbones: pirate pottery for a full-grown birthday boy. i smiled blearily at the man floundering under the loud and cheerful tornado of our children.

happy birthday, you.

then, the first mistake. i got out of bed.

i went downstairs to make him coffee for his new mug. a man who roasts his own coffee and gets a giant coffee mug specially selected by his offspring as his main birthday present should have coffee on the morning of his birthday. especially in November, on the first day of snow.

i pulled the grinder forward from its nest at the back of the counter. i cleaned the French press, placed it on an angle at the ready. then i remembered the bacon.

for me, remembering the bacon is always a mistake.

(the last time i cooked bacon, i was about eleven. it was Mother’s Day and i was up early looking to make my mama some breakfast in bed. i remembered some bacon at the back of the fridge: i may have nibbled some slightly raw strips while i cooked. then when i traipsed triumphally to my mother’s bedside, plate in hand, she looked at me in surprise and asked, where’d you buy the bacon? turned out she’d last bought bacon at Christmas. EW.  i’d remembered a relic. so yeh, bacon. bad luck.)

oh hindsight.

morning light was just beginning to brighten the windows, and i turned from the counter, feeling ridiculously pleased with myself for being all morning-person-like, up making bacon and coffee. i grabbed a frying pan from the rack overhead, turned on the burner, opened the fridge. i was admiring the smooth arc of my own movements when i noted a still smoother arc out the corner of my eye. cat. leaping onto the counter.

where the glass French press sat perched precariously against the…



the French press made its own rather elegant arc as it sailed towards the floor. my body moved instinctively in towards it, then out again as the SMASH shot shards into the air and sent the cat sailing off the counter in a yowling arc far more impressive than any of the others.

and there i stood, in slippers, in a pile of glass, when Dave came downstairs.

happy birthday, i squeaked to the coffee-lover as i swept up the remains of his coffee press.

now, it may be the maturity that comes with birthdays, or it may just be the way he was brought up, but Dave was unfazed. he cocked his head, taking in the situation. then, like Winston Churchill’s proverbial optimist, seeing opportunity in every difficulty, he dug through the cupboard to find a funky dripper doodad he’d bought and forgotten to try. hey look! he said, enthusiastically. this part even works on thermoses!

by the time i had the floor safe and the bacon successfully burnt – mistake #3 – there was coffee in the carafe AND in the thermos. then he then went to the store and bought himself the biggest Bodum i have ever laid eyes on.

i decided at this point to cut my losses and forget about trying to bake him a cake. rather, i went downtown to the tiny little German cafe where i told sympathetic German baker my story about the coffee and the French press and the bacon and he took pity upon me and sold me an entire fresh German vanilla roll, made mostly of whipping cream.

and i thought, this is perfect.

in contrast to other years, especially, absolutely perfect.

so there. happy birthday, Dave. you’re a fine example of how to handle the smaller tragedies of life. next year, for your birthday, i may skip the bacon, but i’ll see if i can’t break something else that you’ve been hankering to replace.

i hope it’s not your funky pirate mug.


Oh how I wish I were a trinity, so if I lost a part of me, I’d still have two of the same to live
But nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we’re universal
To let this love survive would be the greatest gift that we could give.

– The Indigo Girls

the seasons of endings always make things feel so fragile.

separation. leaving. d-d-divorce: the word that only gets easy to use when it’s over. these all come as a surprise, every time, even when maybe they shouldn’t. when you are outside the circle of two, there are always permutations of possibility, of choice, beyond your capacity or your point of view. i try not to assume i know what people will do. i have been wrong before.

this past week or two, though, there have been five announcements. FIVE. five separate endings. friends and acquaintances, each with their own stories, who came to the end of their own particular ropes of embeddedness, at least in the incarnations they knew them.

my heart swelled up like a balloon. for each heart involved, but for hearts in general. so many broken dreams. by the fourth, i was gasping. with the fifth, i felt the wind blow through everything.

Dave looked at me and said, eyebrow raised, anything you want to tell me?

because that’s the problem with endings. they remind you that the structures which hold you are not pre-ordained.

(okay, maybe yours are. i won’t argue.)

a friend says, it’s over, and – if you are me, at least – you nod and your forehead wrinkles and you try to smooth it out and look really calm and unshocked and like you totally have the shoulders to take this whole conversation and the horse it rode in on.

and you do. it is their tragedy or release. or both.

but in that one first moment, you are always faking it. the human brain is just plain surprised by the math. even when you stand outside the circle, One becomes Two is monumental logic.

(even if it IS you, in my experience, it comes as a surprise. oh, you say, shaking with shock or relief or betrayal or just the surreality of that impossible absence, the empty place where the other was.)

when there’s something in the water and relationships are crashing like flies, people don’t much like that reminder about their own velvet bonds. one of the cruelest things about going through a divorce or separation is the way people pull back, as if you’ve gotten cooties. they don’t want to tread, true. but they also don’t want you to be catching.

and the truth of it is, you ARE.

because like living things, relationships die. and they die like dominoes, one-two-three. Domino Theory works far more potently behind the closed doors of everyday houses than it ever did in geopolitics. the abrupt turns in others’ maps have a profound weight, a shock, like a seismic event.

i remember the first time. i was still in college, slogging through those first years of my so-called adulthood, my hands out and groping blind for some shape of a life that might await me. first love. then first relationship. not precisely with the same person. i was late coming to it all and i dove in headfirst and found myself floundering, gulping, aghast and naked. you cannot stand so easily when you have given a part of yourself away, i learned.

and then a bunch of friends split up all at once and you find yourself in a bus with a Walkman and The Waterboys, weeping aloud at the writing on the wall.

it happened again when i was twenty-eight. i had been around a block or two and thought i knew better than to build my nest on the structures of other people’s stability. then friends split and a mentor left her long-time husband and my knees went weak because in the holes they left behind i recognized my own unhappiness, and an abyss.

my marriage was over within the year.

it’s not that simple, of course.

my marriage ended in the damp, cool dining room of a cheap Bangkok hotel, over white triangles of toast served with jam and canned whipping cream.

as with a long illness, this death had been coming. the year before, looking into the abyss had horrified me. but i kept peeking, worrying at the scab that tried to grow over the view. i had no map, no model for what i was looking for. i knew i loved him, though too much like a brother. i knew i felt smaller and smaller the longer we stumbled along. i knew i felt contempt settling into the cracks between us and the idea of living like that for another fifty or so years made the panic rise up in my chest.

thus i had accepted the end of my marriage, even come to believe in its necessity. i had just not known how to perform the execution. i kept waiting for an accident. death by toast with canned petroleum product eventually sufficed. it was polite and sad and bewildering, when it came.

the death of a fragile thing is always sad, even when it unburdens you.

most of us in this culture no longer have maps for marriage and relationships. the old maps were that you got what you got and you sucked it up and made the best of it. it is better now, of course: most of us have more agency than our great-grandmothers in this regard. but a very different responsibility.

it is one thing to hold out resilience and endurance as the only choices, and to call them happiness. it is another to dangle fairy tales and infinite possibility. make your own way, we are told. and we do, the hordes of us, cobbling together our lives from hope and scraps and whatever lessons we’ve been handed. but it is hard to make maps as you go, especially ones that have no culturally-imposed limits. the road to happiness and love can be as broad and as deep as your imagination. this is a gift, people, and a curse.

it is a curse because our loves are always fragile things, vulnerable to the possibility of more. it is a gift because the possibility of more is mostly real.
i am less afraid of the dominoes these days. not because i am smug and sure that we will never be among them…i gave up on betting in those stakes a long time ago. i don’t believe in happily ever after.


my map is a wrinkled thing, now, scribbled in the margins, torn in a few places. i keep revising it as i go. it got easier to use when i stopped thinking it had to look pretty.

somewhere in the early days, when Dave & i were first together and it was heady and beautiful and oh-so-not-where-i’d-imagined-myself, i sat one day and looked around and tried to take stock of what it was that was working, finally, that was different from everywhere i’d been before.

i said it aloud to him and he laughed at me, because it was not the most romantic statement ever made:

i feel like i’m not looking over the back fence anymore.

there it was. and still is. such was my luck. i like to think i’d have found that place in life, on my own – and with age, i am slowly coming to it in multiple arenas – but he was a gift, indubitably. a messy gift, currently sporting a moustache.

thus on my map, “happy” is a messy country, populated with more resilience and endurance than i’d ever imagined it would need. and love is no longer a destination. it’s the luggage.

fragile, yes. but there is life after happily ever after, even after the dominoes topple. there is more, always more. just in case, in this season of endings, it helps to hear.

what does your map look like? what shapes it? how have these seasons of others’ endings – if they’ve come – impacted you?


domestic scene: evening. Oscar, pretending to be a busker.

actually, he says he wants to be a bucker. my mind runs through a stream of adolescent obscenities before the waving guitar gives him away. ah. bussss-ker, i intone. not, uh, never mind.

he is shirtless with his tiny guitar in the kitchen, one knee up on a stool, case spread out on the floor. give me money, he says sweetly, and i explain you can’t ask for money, honey, if you want to be a busker. you have to pretend you don’t care about the money. you ask, what would you like to hear?

he catches on quick, this child.

what would you like to hear, Mom? i know, um…Take Me Home Country Roads. would you like to hear THAT?

lovely, i say, trying to swallow a laugh. clearly we need to have a talk about giving people options. and he launches in a cacophony of chordless strumming and mostly-tuneless caterwauling, but i will say, damn, that kid knows ALL the words.

Josephine drops change she’s ferreted from the couch cushions into his guitar case like she hangs out in subway stations, or something. she shimmies around the kitchen with her arms flailing like a chicken. their heads bop. i shake my tailfeathers to the racket. somewhere above the clouds, John Denver smiles on us, his fingers in his ears.

these are the moments i feel like a good parent.

they’re ephemeral, fleeting. i want to tape ’em to the refrigerator, like the kids’ drawings, all colour and joy.

then girl child howls because she cannot wear the shorts she’s picked out, even though it’s November. the umbrage of a thwarted three-year-old needs its own Bible chapter and verse. i sigh, pry plaid from kicking legs.

i ought to have put the summer clothes away by now.

it is my job, i say to her, to make sure you are warm enough. it SNOWED yesterday, child. it’s cold. wear pants.

boy child loses two coats in two days at school, because it gets warm in the afternoons and he sheds it during recess. i tense up and i hear my voice stop just short of shaming but i want him to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, to value what he’s given, to be appreciative.

it is my job, i say to him, to teach you to be responsible.

(i glare sidelong at his father, who still trails lost items out behind him like Hansel & Gretel. sometimes. Dave blushes appropriately.)

they wake at 5:40ish two days in a row. Daylight Savings Time: a cruel joke perpetrated on parents by society.

Dave got up the first morning. my turn. it is my job, i mutter to myself through the bleary ire of hibernation interrupted, to get out of bed in the middle of the night without eating anyone alive. ahem.

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that you’re the parent.

that voice, the deadly serious one, saying if you don’t finish your brussels sprouts there will be no Hallowe’en candy!? yeh, that’s you. or at least, it’s Dave. and it’s me.

(and unless you’re a complete ass, then you too are stuck eating all your brussels sprouts, to set a good example. which is okay, because you’ve kind of learned to like brussels sprouts. and lost your taste for Hallowe’en candy. but those facts in themselves are A Trip, identity-wise.)

i school us all, keep things in line: myself most particularly. it’s not the disciplining the children i find challenging. it’s the disciplining myself.

i am my own private despot, repressing imagination and creative expression for the good of the system, the schedule. sometimes, it gets us to work on time. sometimes, it just gets us all worn out, staring at each other over hurt feelings and frustrations. Dave and i catch each other’s eye, vaguely bewildered, as if wondering when the real grown ups will come.

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that they ain’t coming. it’s all down to you, baby.

sometimes i hear my voice go UP in the act of shutting down the latest exercise in Dawdling or Not Listening and in the back of my brain i see Ally Sheedy, on break from shaking dandruff onto her doodled page. the black shag hair, black kohl eyes.

When you grow up, your heart dies, she says. and Anthony Michael Hall chirps out, My God. Are we gonna be like our parents?

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that sometimes the answer is Yes. because that’s the job. not just the moments you tape to the fridge, but the ones you’d happily shove under the fridge to mingle with the dust bunnies.

see, it’s true, really. you can’t care about the money much if you’re going to be a busker.

part of what we sign on for is teaching them how to function in the world, however we understand it. and modelling at least some of that for them, ourselves. which is the part that’s hardest. i don’t believe the system. i still think Judd Nelson is the smartest person in The Breakfast Club.

i still think it’s cool my kid wants to be a busker.

but if they don’t learn the rest of it, then it’s not much of a choice. not being able to function within the system is as much a cage the system itself.

i want them to understand enough of both sides to be able to choose, at least sometimes.

i want to foster enough agility of mind that they can think their ways around the binary and hopefully find paths i’ve never thought of.

i want them to be resilient and able to get out of bed and do what needs to be done, no matter which paths they take.

and so i stand there in front of them, those two small open faces, and i try. and mostly i fail to hit the mark, and i wish too many moments lost to the chasm under the fridge.

and that‘s the thing that sucks about parenthood. see, when you get old, your heart doesn’t necessarily die. but sometimes they’ll think it has, and yours will break but buck up and you will say, NO. you really do need to eat vegetable matter or sleep more than seven hours or not run across the street even though you think i’m horrible for saying so. i know. i get it. i own it. and then you smile at them and say, so can you play Take Me Home, Country Roads?

maybe, if you’re wild, you teach ’em to shake dandruff like a snow globe all over their kindergarten art.

or maybe you don’t. but you think about it.
(erm, tell me you think about it? even occasionally?)



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