Reverb10 – Day 8 – Beautifully Different

December 8 – Beautifully Different.

Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

(Author: Karen Walrond)

My first response to this prompt was to be sardonic.  (“I’m a rugged, Indoorsy person.  I scale Laundry Mountain in my Fleecy Activewear…“)

When I was in Grade 11, my drama teacher asked us to come up with short sketch that displayed the essence of who we were. I got sardonic then, too. My sketch sold Arwen Perfume… the essence of Arwen being peppermint, musk, and ambergris: toothpaste, deer hormones, and whale barf. I don’t remember how far I pushed it, because I may have been a cynic but I was also a wuss.

Later, when I was in my twenties, my roommate and I had an ad, featuring Northern Exposure’s Chris-in-the-Morning (John Corbett), hanging inside our medicine cabinet.  Although we both had wee crushes on Corbett, I think my/our real love of the ad was its bizarre ad copy:

“It’s the defiance that defines. For individuals, it always starts at the GAP.”

Funniest. Ad Campaign. Ever.

What we couldn’t figure out was whether the GAP was *trying* for irony, or whether this pitch to defiant individuality bought at their store was, in some way, earnest.

Yet our mockery was ironic, because clearly there WAS a uniform for subcultures, and it was purchased. Here was mine: Black everything! Army surplus parade boots for the poor, Doc Martens for the slightly less poor! Silver jewelry! Smokes! Done. It arose out of necessity, but became a uniform. Which made the ad’s irony, if intentional, also deeply  cynical.

In the end, there’s no person who’s not coding something. You cannot step away from projecting an image, even if it’s comfort above style, and there’s nothing, really, new out there. Difference is situational. Sometimes an illusion, to comfort ourselves.


To be beautifully different I would rather be uncommonly gorgeous than uncommonly prone to crapping my pants. I’d rather be Kafka-creative buggy than to be committed for thinking the CIA is bugging my phone. So there’s a relative value to difference, and those values are in part societal, which to me suggests conformity. An agreed upon goal. So it’s not really different at all, is it?

So how am I differently beautiful?

Fucked if I know. It’s a question at the intersection of Social Critique St. and Insecurity Ave.

There’s an important question in self there – who am I, where am I going, what do I like about me? But there’s society there – who should I be, where should I be going, what will other people like about me?

I know I’m different in that I research the living shit out of systems until I have the whole big structure down pat and then forget all the details.  I’m different in that I think a lot about things like societal codes. I’m different in that I’m contradictory: I prefer to get just the facts and  ignore any other philosopher’s synthesis, but once I’ve come up with a synthesis, am happy to forget the facts. I like my own unabashed big picture. This makes me too ignorant to argue but too informed to float through while taking-for-granted.

Are these things beautiful?

They don’t appear to hurt anyone and they keep me busy.

I’m different in that I’m balanced on a sharp point between rationalism and mysticism. With my woo-woo (tribe/friends/society) I’m the skeptic and with my skeptical (tribe/friends/society) I’m the flake.

I’m different in that I’m plus sized and an adrenaline/exercise junkie. Before I was plus sized, this trait wasn’t a “difference”, and now it is. So it’s only vs. societal expectation.

I’m different in that I’d prefer to skip the small talk and go straight to The Big Things, including all those things other people don’t like to talk about. Sex, religion, politics, death? I’m in like Flynn.

Am I otherwise very different? I’m don’t know. Are these differences beautiful? What does that mean? That I appreciate me for them? That others appreciate me for them?

Whichever, these are the only differences I really notice, and they’re the things that give me resistance and occasional discomfort because I’m swimming upstream.  They make me different. Sometimes, they make me interesting, to me.

Other than that, you’d have to ask around.

Reverb10 – Day 7 – Community

December 7 – Community Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

(laughing maniacally) OH REVERB. Say it ain’t so. (haha hahahaha ha ha – urk…)

So, Marcus: community? You were saying?

Actually, other than little internal Marcus and his impossible dreams, this question really isn’t so bad.

In 2011, I mainly would like to join the community of the non-iron-deficient! That’s probably the most key. I was formally diagnosed as having iron deficiency anemia just Friday – and the doc said it is quite serious – which helps explain things like fatigue, breathlessness, cold feet, and possibly  mood issues.

Hopefully a corollary: in 2011, I would like to be less scattered, so that I can be more intentional in community. Right now my weeks flow by interrupt driven. People tell me – we should get together! – and then I find a place in my schedule and then we do. Or, we set up a recurring thing. That’s good.

But mainly, if someone doesn’t say that, I don’t see them.

Squeaky wheels.

I would like in 2011 to actually notice, intend, and execute intention.

Reverb10 – Day 6 – Makin’ It

December 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

A Making Skipping Song

Make your mark, mark your place.
Meet your maker, mark its face.
Make a mess, it’s fun to do;
Make a spy and he’ll mark you.

Blend the makeup ’round your eyes,
Make-up all your failed tries,
When you argue, make amends,
Or you’ll be making all new friends.

Making out with all the boys,
Making trouble, making noise.
A sandwich made with stale bread,
Will make your lunch a thing of dread.

With all the making everyday,
You need new space to put away,
the bits and bobs that you have gushed;
So cut it out. We’re getting crushed.

Reverb10 – Day 5 – Let Go

December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

This one is easy to touch, because it was so much of my year, but it’s only easy to touch in the same way an elephant would be if standing in your kitchen. Easy to touch, too big to encompass. Every time it moves, something else is shaken up.

Ever read the book (or see the movie) About a Boy by Nick Hornby? Little dorky Marcus lives with his idealistic single mom, and their vulnerability, her fear, scares him. Marcus is earnest, embarrassingly visible, and a little weird. He says, about reaching out for a friend:

“Suddenly I realized – two people isn’t enough. You need backup. If you’re only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number. You need three at least.”  

I identified crashingly hard with Marcus when I first read that book – from his vulnerability to his humiliating honesty – and it only got worse when I watched the pale little actor with the Spock eyebrows in the movie. Marcus’s happy ending is Christmas dinner with an oddball collection of exes and friends. They only find each other with liberal amounts of trying hard and extending benefit of the doubt.  In my simplest and most childlike of emotional spaces, that was my vision of security. And “try-hard, benefit-of-doubt” was my known path to getting there.

I saw this prompt last night, and have been writing about it ever since. As I said, it’s been the centre of my year. But it’s too big and unwieldy to communicate in a blog post; too many tendrils extended in too many directions. The writing has been good. I’ve been pulling patterns together.

Suffice it to say that I’m helping my internal Marcus loosen his death grip on the idea of safety through continuity and generous communication.

Instead, I am trying to learn the wisdom that life, at its most wonderful, is change.

Reverb10 – Day 4 – Wonder

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Ah. Earlier tonight I caught a burn while cooking – pies at our house tonight, both turkey pot and pecan pie! – and a week or so ago I gave myself such a serious burn as to darken it brown. John is convinced I burn &/or cut myself a lot in the kitchen and I usually disagree, and then we mock each other, as is only right.  But two burns in a week puts me on the losing side of the argument.

So when I read this, my first answer was “Burn myself, to wonder if John has been right all along, the bastard.”

This year I did a lot of wondering, but not in the “cultivating a sense of wonder” sort of way. I did a lot of wondering if the future made sense. I wondered if I could cope and contribute. I played the game of  wondering what if. I wondered where I should fit; where I should be.

All these wonders, I’m giving up for Lent, ignoring that it’s neither Lent nor am I Christian. (Catholic? I wonder if only Catholics celebrate Lent?)

Oh right: there’s another way I wonder, almost constantly. Tell truth, I try to discourage TOO much wondering, because I can go from sating my curiosity about how societies structure public and private domains to the mating habits of sea slugs in one straight orgy of wondering, and then the kids ask me where I’ve been for the week.

As to the other wonder, the one that I think we’re supposed to cultivate – like a child marvels at the Disneyland parade with a baffled shut-up-and-awe – well, I don’t know that I’m terribly good at making the emotion happen on command. I don’t know that I could be. It’s in perception.

For example, I’ve had moments of intense wonder and marvel looking at grass and thinking, shit, the entire universe of elements and energies has crashed together to make this tiny sun-eating earth-moving life that’s vacuuming molecules from around it and doing complex chemistry in order to build itself higher. And it is the most beautiful emerald green in the sun, and it smells good. That moment was WONDERFUL. But that moment was authentic and a surprise; reaching for it feels sort of like sad nostalgia. I end up feeling sort of dirty.

The only go-back-repeatedly wonder I’ve had are my kids; but even still, it’s in a moment of seeing, and I can’t force it. I can’t say “time for wonder, now, aren’t they amazing?”

I think you just have to wait and be open and be looking, and then some days the wonder is there around a corner to punch you in the face.

Reverb #10 – Day 3 – Moment

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

A summer evening, late enough to be dark. My front door clicked closed against the familiarity of my living room. I was dressed and ready, but it was late and I was tired. I could still change my mind.

I took a few steps down the stairs and stood, uncommitted, and tilted my head to see the sky. At the zenith, a few brave stars escaped from the orange smear of sodium lights and the full-moon glare of the car dealership three kilometers east. They winked at me.

The night exhaled and blew sweet on my cheek, lifting and twining my hair from my face, carrying the soft laughter of a party blocks away. I walked out to the sidewalk, pulling away from the gravity of sleep, dragging my feet away from the heavy singularity that was waking up to another same tomorrow.

By the corner, I’d reached escape velocity. I smiled the secret smile I’d worn a lot at fifteen, when I would go out at night to smoke cigarettes and read sonnets in the park. It was mood lifted by the giddy floating feeling of having slipped anchor. Leaves rustled shadows and light around my shoulders as I walked, a giggling conversation of wood creaks and branch whispers. I agreed with the trees.

I didn’t agree as much with the Skytrain, blue-grey florescent lights painting everyone dead, but I slipped in my headphones and leaned against the window and my fingers dance-drummed on my skirt. The embroidery thread in my clothing danced my fingers back; a braille of bumps and lines under my fingertips, muttering along to the music.

Only leaving the train did the small constriction rise to my throat. News at Eleven: bumbling mother-of-two caught dancing with glossy twenty-somethings. “We never saw it coming,” says a neighbour, “She wears Mom-jeans.”

The constriction grew tighter as I fumbled through the door, paying a bemused ticket taker my $5- fee.  No one was there. It was already twenty after eleven, and no one was there. Except J., setting up to spin. He saw me, gave me a hug that smelled of shampoo. We made small talk and the constriction in my throat grew tighter and bewildered me. I went to find a beer, wander around the space, and look at things carefully.

A giant Humbold squid, made of paper mache and filled with twinkle lights, hovered in the darkness of a room closed behind glass. Beside the bar, a floating forest of jellyfish, made of light and vellum, ran sparkle tentacles down to our knees; I pushed through, leaving a stirring wake that flashed and winked.

The room J. was setting up in suddenly squirted music, and I drained my beer and decided I’d had enough.

It was time to dance or leave.

I would dance.

There is no detail to dance that I can record, only liquid leaving, music filling each fibre and thought, taking over pulse and breath. Eventually, my shoes came off and lay in the corner, one forlornly tipped into another. After that, the twenty-somethings came. I mostly ignored them, except to notice that they all dressed like suburban moms and dads, whereas my clothing looked like the year 2000 and dressed for dancing.

I got another drink. So did everyone else. A glossy twenty something in the line told me a joke and put his arm comfortably on my shoulder, to commiserate on the manners of people cutting in line. We laughed. I went back to dance.

Eventually, the people who dance like cocaine found me and I them, as happens, and dance became a conversation of arms and knees and back-bones sliding and wooo-girl. The boy in feathers and the girl in braids.

Electric, ecstatic, alive.

Hours later, my hips turned back to glass and my feet to pumpkins, and I stumbled out to find a cab to take me home. Bemused ticket taker stood outside, smoking. “You had fun?” he said.

I gave him my secret smile. “I sure as hell did.”

Reverb10: Writing


Prompt: What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

I’ll tell ya, this prompt somewhat vexed me. Even as someone who is focusing on writing.

There are lots of things that don’t contribute to my writing, routine things  – like balancing my budget, or having a bath, or coping with my arguing children. And that’s okay.

What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your life and can you eliminate it? There’s a question. ‘Cuz even for Little Obsessed Me, writing is not my totality.

But. That doesn’t mean that while I’m writing I don’t have distractions. I suffer the common complaint of easy Internet distraction.

I should totally get on that. *snork*

What’s a WAY MORE INTERESTING writing problem is one just started this November.

One of the really helpful notes I got was that, especially during stress moments, I don’t ground my character in space. I write talking heads yammering at each another. Totally true.

Makes sense. When *I’m* in conflict, the stove could spontaneously combust and I might not notice. And when I’m reading about characters in conflict, I utterly skip all the boring (ahem) drapes-and-carpet descriptors.

My favorite authors write detail sparingly but to good effect during conflict. So I wandered into bravely imagining whatever I can.

Only now, I’m writing really… very… slowly. I’m writing new scenes – and when I flip into visual imagining, I get lost in there. When I’m done I have to re-write the whole bloody thing, because it’s not my protagonist’s voice, but my own. Plus, I have to start deleting.

I’m finding this highly amusing right now, but it will get old fast if I can’t pick up the pace.

Signin’ up for Reverb 10


Via Cheesefairy and Schmutzie, I came across Reverb 10: a series of prompts that to frame the year past and envision the year to come. This lines up nicely with some other homework I’m doing for Mama Renew, where we’re encouraged to stop for long enough to see where we are. The buzz of the daily grind can fill our ears and mean we forget to think.


December 1 – One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?


2010 – Healing.

I entered 2010 thirty sorts of fucked up: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Having landed where we are, after a bunch of difficult years, I fell to pieces in the space and the quiet and the pause in the stress.

I was loaded with anxiety, randomly floating, attaching to the most hard to prove whisper of doubt. (youleftthe stove on). Anxiety is an acid that corrodes at your substance. I was loaded with fear and shame, randomly floating, attaching to any strong opinion I’d ever had. (you claimed it was the bestband evar). Shame is a lock on your ability to communicate.

Over the year, I’ve been working on putting my pieces back together.

I’m not sure whether the work I’ve been doing has really helped, or just kept me busy so that I’ve healed with time. But I’m back to having hope and days worth waking up for.

I’ve also finally gotten my butt to the doctor for good ole fashioned physical healing. I learned my chronic Achilles tendon injury is easily dealt with: it’s my Achilles bursa, and if troubled, a smear of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cuts that shit out. That’s an easy fix. I learned I don’t have asthma but I do have low iron, and that’s an easy fix. I learned that indeed, migraines can present mainly as pressure around the eyes, and that there are fixes for that too.

So. Healing. Bravo, 2010. Thank you.

2011 – Curiouser

I am supposed to be writing my (3 month) intentions for life in Mama Renew. And I will. But one of the things that I’ve learned in healing is that you don’t push too fast or you undo the healing. Everything must be gently done, placed like  fresh-weak steps after the fever breaks. You laugh when you wobble and need to sit again. You go with what comes.

So 2011 is me going gently to the future. We’re in a pretty good place right now. So. I want to put down the immunity fight, the striving out, the exhausting war of direction. Instead I want to step into the year curiously, cautiously, opening all the lids and peeking around every corner. Finding my life in the little spaces.


This month in carbon footprint

I got my driver’s licence ten days ago. (Licence is the Cdn spelling for the noun: you are licensed and get a licence. I only recently had this beaten into my thick noggin, so I’m practicing.)

It was a huge surprise. Last February, I tested, but my anxiety was so intense I had a panic attack and the tester gently suggested I practice more before retrying; this test, my main goal was to manage my anxiety. It wasn’t driving that was the problem: it was being *watched* like that.

Anyway, I did a bunch of things to help myself, including driving with my mom (thanks, Mom!), and on the morning of the test, writing a few pages from the perspective of a confident/professional driver. This pre-loading exercise I got from reading a book – “Blink“, I think – containing studies that showed people did better on tests if they wrote first from the perspective of a Professor. Implicit association has also shown people do worse on tests if they’re reminded of their gender or ethnicity and the stereotypes go against them: I have a feeling this is why as a nerdly young woman I chose to identify as one of the guys. Because otherwise, I had a shit-ton of bullshit between me and a good result.

Anyway, I didn’t think I’d passed because he didn’t take me out on the highway, but I didn’t really care because I’d been cool-headed. But I passed, and with flying colours, too: only I STILL didn’t believe him when he said so, because I’d talked myself out of believing it possible. So when I came in after the test and John signaled “How’d you do?”, I shrugged, because I was pretty sure some mistake had been made and he’d say, “Oh, well. No, you didn’t really pass.”


Since then, a couple of things. 1) We’ve had John’s step-mom’s car while she’s in Mexico. 2) I got a cold. 3) Tate got a cold. 4) It’s very cold.

So I’ve been driving. Driving lots. Picking up the kids in the car. Running out to pick up groceries or a winter coat. Dashing off an errand in the two hours before the kids are off school.

I’ve learned something: it was probably wise that I didn’t get my licence before this. WHOO BOY it’s easy to just rely on a vehicle! So much faster! So much more lazy. I’m sort of looking forward to the car going away again, or else this could get to be an addiction; I haven’t been feeling one hundred percent, so I forgive some of my laziness, but it’s still pretty intense.

But it’s fun, that’s for sure. Freeing, also.

Other things: I made a deal with myself last month to go see the doctor and bring up all the things I’d not bothered to. Turns out what I thought was maybe an ulcer or something is a cartilage inflammation on my ribcage. Turns out that it’s quite possible that springtime migraines are caused by pressure changes from stormy to clear. Turns out I have very low iron stores, which might be what’s made me think my exercise asthma has gotten out of control (although I’m getting lung function testing, to be sure.) In fact, what I’ve learned is that Dr. Google and I make for poor diagnosticians.

So I’m seeing a surgeon on December 16th to deal with m’ bosoms, which are definitely stressing m’ribs. Dunno if they’ll say yes or not, but if you could keep your fingers crossed for me, my tinfoil man triathlons would get a lot easier if I were of a reasonable chest size, and I wouldn’t have to go through the torn-muscle of three years ago again, and it sounds like other discomfort might ease. And I would like all that.

Also, fingers crossed on the low iron being my exercise breathiness. I’m really not into the idea of constant medication for asthma. I think my problems with iron actually are stemming from my problems digesting the wide world of soy oil and lecithin, so finding a non-lecithin bound iron supplement might be all I need.

Dia de los Muertos

Thanksgiving is often hosted by Yaya. Numerous Burtons cluster around her big dining room table to eat at least TWO Brussels sprouts along with a groaning board of other delicious food.

My mom, who also likes to host, thought our family should celebrate an autumnal tradition that wouldn’t conflict with Burton Thanksgiving. With two of our loved ones having Mexican ancestry, she suggested we could celebrate the Day of the Dead. It made sense to me. My sister and I, in separate but compatible ways, find meaning and connection in the cycles of life and death; all of us have lost people we want to remember. I think other traditions might feel awkward, an odd fit – but this holiday is an acknowledgment of values we share; and as the winter comes and the light fades, it feels right to think of those who are gone.

This year, the first weekend of November didn’t work for us, so we celebrated today. It was a success. I already look forward to next year.

Like any feast tradition, the food is on centre stage. Mom made tortilla soup that I would have eaten until my face exploded if we hadn’t run out. There was chicken in a zesty broth with !avocado! and !tortilla chips! added at the end – ain’t nothing bad with that combo.

She also made her to-die-for chicken molé, which is one of those dishes that is indescribably its own. Molé performs a marriage of tastes that combine into something completely other: sesame, ancho and poblano chilies, chocolate, tortilla, tomato, and a whole host of other ingredients entwine and roast together and come out dancing.

I made my first Pan de Muerto, which I have been calling “Dead Bread” – because it rhymes, and because my ability to speak with anything approaching a good accent is a dismal humiliation and an insult to Spanish.  I can hear it perfectly in my head, and then I ask my face to say it, and I sound like I’ve gone to the dentist and my tongue is swollen. It was good, although my skull and bones were amusing and the center of the bread was still undercooked. Next year, I will make the bread a little flatter and add a bit more anise.

We decorated sugar skulls that my mom made, and even the young ‘uns learned they’re not really for eating, even if they’re made of sugar. This is tons of fun, and I think the results are pretty awesome – all of us got into it.

Sugar Skulls

I read the creative non-fiction I wrote recently about those people (and traditions) I’ve lost, and showed some of the genealogy I’ve been doing.

We played charades and a hilarious game my sister and W- called “Ainsley Harriet” – don’t ask me why! Ainsley Harriet starts out, in the first round, like the old TV show Password or the board game Taboo: in one minute you have to get your partner to guess as many words or phrases or sentences written on slips of paper from a hat by saying anything BUT what’s written there.  So if the word is “Ghost”, you might say “Spectre. … Movie with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldburg playing her dead husband.  Says ‘OoooOOOoooOOO'” – etc.

The second round uses all the same slips of paper, but now you have to use only three words to describe what’s on the paper. Again, as many as you can get through in a minute.  The third round is done with charades. The forth, you do charades using only your head, eyes, and neck.

Watching my mother perform “London Bridge is Falling Down” by drawing an arc with her eyes and then nodding her head hard  – hilarious.

John pretty much rocks charades, by the way.

We had flan, bone-shaped meringue, and churros for dessert, which goes to show how much my mother really gives ‘er when there’s a party on the line. So yum.

It was a new tradition of our family, but it was a tradition I very much felt at home in. A celebration of those who’ve come before.



My mom serving flan