swimming with retirees

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This town has small boundaries and there’s not many places to go before you’ve left entirely. The majority of the touristy things boasted about are not even in the town proper. They are somewhere else. We are the ‘access point’ for better places, like Tofino (surfing and hiking and miles of beach with nothing on the horizon – a creepy sight to most West Coasters, where our ocean vistas are normally cluttered with islands).

There is a persistent belief that Return of the Jedi had scenes filmed in Cathedral Grove, a stately grotto of fat and mossy cedars a few miles out of town – all the Ewok stuff. The most lackadaisical Googling disproves this, but many people in town still take pride in the idea that to get here, you must pass through  “Endor”.

The town motto is “Gateway to the Pacific West Coast.” Yes, even the motto acknowledges that we are just a place on the road to somewhere else. Maybe you can grab some Subway before you get to where you want to go.

I meant to write about swimming. I don’t know how that other stuff just happened. I “logged in” to my “blog”  to register my feelings about swimming, which I really enjoy, and to mention how chlorine never really washes out of the skin and it is a smell that always makes me feel marginally more safe than when I smell plain and ordinary and human. I am not a very strong swimmer but the water is such a forgiving element it is easy to believe one is naturally aquatic when surrounded by all that slightly-not-warm-enough swimmingpool blue. From 6 am until 9 am every day it is “adult swim” and there are usually only 5 or 6 people in the pool, all of them older than (what appears to be? Not good at guessing age or weight) 60, except for me. Since I go about three times a week and recognize everybody and I never see any new faces it occurs to me that I am now a regular, too. For the first while of doing any activity you aren’t aware of the dynamics and who’s who. After several months in the pool at 7:30 – 8 every odd morning I guess I am one of them.

I do 1 – 2 kms of the breaststroke, without dunking my head.

On the mornings I don’t go swimming I always get a terrible feeling on the way to class. It is a variation on the terrible feeling I’ve always had, at some point or another. It’s a mix of doom, depression, and motivation. I feel temporal and unimportant, and I feel the dirt of the grave sifting down on me in clods. I am very aware of the bones inside me, and the bones inside of everyone else, and while juggling the stresses and responsiblities and expectations of learning, I am more-than-peripherally aware of how we are all just ambitious skeletons. We will be depleted and left behind under the dirt within 100 years. I look at a dull, empty field with litter in it, or a mountain top bald with altitude, and understand that such empty vastness is going to turn out better than me, nature trumps flesh with its inevitable rock and dirt and patient timespan.

This probably sounds way more depressing than I act or even feel…I mean, despite feeling invisible grave clods landing on me I think I’m pretty fun to be around.

To me, it’s just curious. I don’t know why I don’t think about those things on the mornings I go swimming.

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cave painting days

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When did we start being so aware of generational cut-off points? These modern times, with our “Millennials” and “Baby Boomers” and “Gen X-ers.” Blaming each other for things like soaking up all the healthcare dollars, or having no wherewithal, or destroying the planetary ecosystem, or not knowing real rock ‘n’ roll when we hear it. Did people do this even 100 years ago? 5000 years ago? In cave-painting days did we bitch about people 15 years older or younger.

When did Earth life stop being such a dirty morass of people and circumstance and become so linear, so us-and-them, that we can pin our grievances to certain start dates based on our own births, like we’re not already all bones under the dirt, or will be soon…? Maybe when the life expectancy exceeded 40 years of age, and more people were suddenly available to blame.

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image credit: banksy

goodbye vancouver . (edit) and a love letter to the bicycle

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Although I left Vancouver months ago.

Like a stalker, I still scroll through its news reels. I still read its updates. I track it. I will always love it! Irrevocably so.

Because of the fact of my bicycle.

On my bicycle I covered almost every inch of that place. It was such a unique feeling, to look at a map of Vancouver and know its lines and squiggles personally. To be able to estimate off the top of my head how long it’d take to cycle to a certain destination, and make plans accordingly. To know the restaurants, bathrooms, convenience stores, hiding places, weird nooks and crannies, its libraries, its pee bushes: this information comes best with a bicycle. Not a car (too fast and impatient) or legs (too modest in range).

It seems personally offensive that the cars VS cyclist debate rages so strongly in that city. (All cities?) Bikes still mean mobility + freedom + autonomy in a way that cars have ceased to.

Because of the bicycle, I need never acquire a driver’s license! To what end?

Because of the bicycle, I knew Vancouver in a way that I never got to know my own (small) home town. At my own pace, while understanding that my own pace was fine. At 16 I was too panicky about cars to apply for my license. That conventional rite-of-passage for teenagers. I never did it, and it made me feel bad. Until I got a bike…

Which did not occur to me until 2009 (4 years after moving to Vancouver!)

Why have I been walking? I thought one day, after a 20-km round-trip across the Second Narrows bridge and back into downtown via the Lion’s Gate, tramping.

So finally it occurred to me to change my ways from steadfast pedestrian to steadfast cyclist. Covering even more ground, getting to know streets in relation to other streets, rolling past landmarks that seemed impossibly distant in my swaying, distorted outlook from the passive windows of Skytrain and buses.

Its not too-hilly a city, or too wet, or too anything. For years I rode everywhere regardless of season or weather. It was such a free feeling. Despite the fact I could only afford to live in a depressing basement suite just before East Vancouver turned into Burnaby. Vancouver is not “free” at all. But for a while you can forget this, if you are on a bicycle. It was beautiful.

the complete lack of fit people in this town

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has made it so much easier to resume * running. There’s no one to laugh and point as I sweat along the sidewalks.

Despite the fact that every footfall makes me oh-so-aware of each jiggle, each cookie-fed lump, each comical ounce, running (as an activity, a stress reliever, an act of contrition) makes me hate my life less. No pressure or anything.

*begin for the twelfth or so time

mortality blues

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For a month I’ve had a numb right armpit. For two days I’ve had intermittent shooting pains in my right arm and shoulder with occasional weakness in my writing hand. These S&S are at least “go-for-a-check-up” worthy, but it’s all sort of been happening in the middle of relocating to a new town and starting a new school and not having a doctor. Plus a conventional wish to ignore the Reaper’s sweet lullaby, basically.

Last night my hand suddenly lost strength and I dropped my novel into the bathwater, where I was floating and reading at 11pm. Live from my life, it’s Saturday night!

“Motherfucker,” I said. Because although  I am Just a Student Nurse, I know that sudden weakness + shooting pains + general malaise = probably bad.

So I drank a double whisky-lemonade and fell into bed with my sleeping mask on (this thing works wonders). I slept shallowly, right arm aching, dreaming of monsters that tunnel and creep beneath the earth’s surface.

This town does not have a walk-in clinic that is open on Sundays. Be damned if I am going to the emergency room to be counted among the sinus infected, the drunk, the generally queasy, and other time wasters. My MS/ALS/Stage IV cancer can be diagnosed tomorrow when the walk-in clinic reopens for business.

the ethical thing is rarely the juicy thing

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I won’t be writing about nursing here anymore. I have so many stories, just from clinical classes alone (the equivalent of riding baby slides at the waterpark), but I’ll zip my lip I suppose. Maybe I will write generally about school-y things, maybe not even that. Basically I now live in a tiny town, and there are enough identifying details on here to “out” affected parties, and while I love lying about shit (ie fiction writing) I am probably not good enough to consistently invent parallel realities where the innocent are protected and I don’t violate the many confidentiality thingies health care workers have to sign all the time.

Back to standard programming of existential whingeing and talking about food. Is that what I usually write about? I don’t know anymore.

moon illusions

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It happens fast. The days are already very short. Darkness is now falling when just a month ago I would have still been on the beach.

Last week’s harvest moon rose in the east, powder-white and ghostly, at the same time the sun was setting in the west. Maybe you saw this, too.

These celestial bodies rarely have the chance to look at each other head-on. It was a beautiful effect. Not for the first time I wished our sky was cluttered with a few more suns and moons. The “24-hour clock” as we know it seems so staid. Imagine a life divided into several dawns, several evenings. Imagine 3 chances to catch the sunset. The party would never stop!

Other heavenly events…
Rumour had it that the northern lights would be making an appearance this far south. My husband told me at bed time. Once my head hits the pillow is an unreliable time to try and motivate me. Once fully reclined I tend to ignore stimuli.

“The northern lights? Here? What’s your source?” I asked.

“A guy at the mill.”

R works at a mill now. Once I become a nurse, we will officially be a couple from the 1970s.

“I have always wanted to see the aurora borealis, my entire life,” I told R. “I want to name a daughter Aurora.”

“Will you set the alarm for midnight to go outside and look?” he asked.

“Fuck that,” I said, deep in pillows.

When I woke up in the prosaic morning I was filled with regret. While I could not find any news reports confirming that the sky above Port Alberni had undulated green and pink, like a celestial lava lamp, I was disheartened by my own laziness. I have wanted to see the northern lights ever since they last oozed this far south. To my knowledge, this was in my childhood:

One winter’s morning I woke up to the usual alarm clock (a whistling tea kettle and the smell of Players Unfiltered). When I plodded into the kitchen my father informed me that he had been up half the night watching the northern lights fill the sky. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, he reported happily. I would have been amazed, he bet.

“Why didn’t you wake me up,” I whined.

“It was late,” he responded. “You need your rest!”

Needed my rest! For stupid pointless school. For stupid pointless life, where nothing was ever different.

I recall that the furnace wasn’t working again, that morning. I ate breakfast in a housecoat and gumboots while my dad smoked, drank tea, and looked out the window.

Dancing lights in the sky would have gone far in helping me believe the world held some nice surprises.

Once I saw a crazy moon though. My memory is unreliable, but it seemed to fill the sky as it rose over the horizon. This was one time that I was summoned from bed. My mother woke me up, still wearing her coat. “Get your jacket on,” she said, her hands still cold from being outside. As she’d been driving home from choir practice (she played the organ at church on Sundays), she’d been amazed at the moon in the sky. “You have to see it. Let’s go,” she said.
It was only us in the car. I don’t know why she did not wake my brothers. We drove up a steep hill, the dead-end road that lead to the neighborhood’s reservoir. The moon filled half the sky, a vast cratered orb as large as a colliding world. It was no longer just the moon, a thing in the sky. It was dusty, orange-colored, and alien.

What makes this incident memorable is not so much the moon, the appearance of which must have some normal explanation and was probably not a phenomenon at all. My mother’s enthusiasm was unusual, and her desire to show me something. Normally she dismissed most things as a waste of time.

It was like this, honestly. Except larger.

What is this called? When does it happen?