Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Ability to Walk: never take it for granted

Shirt: Nick & Mo; Hair band and barrette: Stylize (It was a dirty hair day, so I just pulled it back.)
My local corner store is only two blocks away. After my injury, it took me well over a year to be able to walk there and back. Now, I can do it without much thought, even on a really bad day.

On this day, I went there to buy noodles so I could make a nice little soup with ginger, peas, broccoli, garlic, tofu, and a miso base. (Yes, I'm vegetarian, except for seafood. Maybe I'll write about that some day.)

The man who runs the corner store knows all about my back and asked me how I'm doing. Such neighbourly interactions cannot occur if you can't even leave your home because you're flat on your back in pain.

I saw that the blossoms were just about to burst out on the trees. The buds on the lilacs are tiny but on their way. Such wonders cannot be beheld up close if you're stuck inside, unable to walk for all the pain.

The moral of this little tale is: Never take the ability to walk for granted. Never take the little things for granted.  Remember your good fortune, in these small wonders.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marriage Equality: my personal story

Me, at about 23, when I was with my first love. The skirt is thrift. No, I hadn't dyed my hair. It looks like that in the sun.
I have never been married but I have once been engaged – to a woman.

Long before gay marriage was legal in Canada, I was engaged to a woman. She and I were deeply in love. We shared a home, had two dogs and a cat, even had a foster daughter for a while. We worked on our degrees together, scraped for money together, and shared dreams for our future together.

In the end, we didn’t get married. If I had to explain why, I’d say that the short answer is that we were too young. But our engagement was serious enough that I bought bridal magazines and looked seriously at wedding dresses. (I believe I favoured a gown with a sweetheart neckline and puffed sleeves. Thank God I didn’t get one, eh?) She was my first love.

The current American Supreme Court deliberations about marriage equality are, therefore, very personal to me. I am, unequivocally in support of marriage equality, as a human being who has always cared deeply about human rights, and as a bisexual woman who could just as easily have ended up with a woman as with a man.

I have always known that I was attracted to women. In fact, my attraction to men has been the less certain one over the years, though Beau is in no danger of losing me to a woman. The idea that two women (or two men) could fall in love always made sense to me and I knew that this was a possibility for me long before I’d ever heard the word “lesbian,” let alone words like “queer” or “bisexual.” Soon, I met adults who were indeed in love with people of their own sex, confirming my belief that it was natural.

Me, at eight. Shirt, invariably thrift. Yes, I've always loved cats. Yes, I really was a hippie kid.
I grew up in a very liberal, hippie-ish environment and my first conscious memory of knowing a gay couple is from 1979, when I was eight years old. That summer, there was a Quaker summer camp in a nearby town known for its huge population of hippies who had moved there as draft dodgers during the Vietnam War. Quakers have always been known for their liberal views and their strong belief in social justice and the equality of all human beings. It makes sense, then, that an openly gay couple not only attended the camp that summer, but played a major role in its activities and organization.

What did I think of them? One of the men in the couple was a flamboyant and theatrical man who taught us really fun cooperative games. I thought he was one of the funniest, most entertaining people I’d ever met. Therefore, I thought gay couples were just fine. I was eight. This is the kind of criteria eight year olds have for making such decisions. Maybe we should all take a cue from eight year olds.

Soon after that, a couple I’d known for a long time divorced and the woman entered a lesbian relationship. Last I heard, they were still together. 
My first real crush. I took this photo in the school washroom when I was fourteen and she was fifteen.
Gay people and gay couples were soon peppered throughout my world (and probably had been all along when I’d been too young to know it). They might have been slightly exotic to me but I certainly saw no reason why they should not be together. That made no sense.

As I entered puberty, I had crushes on both male and female celebrities: Matt Dylan and Kristy McNichol, Blair Warner on The Facts of Life (no, not Jo, unlike every other queer woman I know), that guy who played Danny on Fame. As I got a little bit older, I had crushes on some of the women whom I knew were lesbians.

I went to a small, alternative high school, peopled with  hippies’ children, punk kids, gifted kid, and other kids who felt like misfits in regular schools… including queer kids. This was the first time I met people my own age who were “out.” Being gay or bi was just normal (though having the courage to be open about it, to oneself and others, was exceptional and laudable).
My first boyfriend at about the age he was when we dated. Yes, boyfriend. He was and is male.

So was gender non-conformism. I had two major crushes in high school, one on a girl and one on a boy. The boy looked a lot like a girl. In fact, I had fallen for him before I’d figured out whether he was a boy or a girl. His androgyny was fascinating to me. He was my first boyfriend and is a friend to this day (as is the first girl I liked). His mother and I are in regular contact.

I finally officially came out of the closet one year after graduating from high school, when I was eighteen. (As a very feminine woman, I did have struggles fitting in in the lesbian community but that’s a story for another post.) 
As someone who has always been very political, it was only natural for me to become a gay rights activist. I did it the way I knew how: with my writing. I wrote for several gay newspapers and magazines while I put myself through school, studying Communications, Creative Writing, English, and Gender Studies.

Me, around my nineteenth birthday. This was my brief and half-hearted attempt to "look like a lesbian." Note the thrifted pants and belt. My hair was already growing long again and I'm wearing some kind of rose-bud earrings.
I was also very “out” as a lesbian (not feeling bisexual until my mid-twenties). To me, being out was and is a very important political gesture. I am a femme so can pass as straight but refuse to do so. (I came out to Beau on our very first date. If he was homophobic, there would be no second date so it’s something I needed to know right away.) It’s important for people to realize that they do know queer people; it’s harder for them to hate us then. 

I went to all the rallies, and the marches, and the social events. I wore first the pink triangle and then, when that fell out of vogue, the rainbow colours. I had a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed, “Everyone thinks I’m straight.” I like to think that I was on the forefront of an important civil rights movement (though I know it was the generation before me that fought the even harder battles on this front). I like to think I paved the way for the queer kids of today.

Yet gay marriage was barely on my radar. First of all, I just never believed that I would live to see the day when gay marriage was legal. It was like fighting for the moon. We’d never get it so we should fight instead for things we might actually be able to attain: hospital visitation rights (remember that AIDS was still a death sentence), workplace recognition of partnerships, tenancy rights, visibility.

One of the many marches I attended. This was the Dyke March and you can see that we're not there for the fun of it, not in this weather. I really believed these marches and rallies mattered and made a difference. Did they?
But I think I also didn’t think much about gay marriage because marriage itself had never meant much to me. In my liberal environment, I felt like real commitment was in one’s heart and getting a legal document to validate that commitment was hopelessly old-fashioned and “straight,” not heterosexually straight, but “square,” mainstream, dull.

And, of course, my parents’ hippie generation doesn’t have a very good record where marriage is concerned. By the time I was twenty, my mother had been married three times, my father had been married once but was on a lifelong failed search for his true love (a search in which he is still engaged in his 70s), my first step-father had been married and divorced four times, and my second step-father had been married twice. How on earth could I take legal marriage seriously?

I'm about 21 here (on the right) with some pals after a Gay Pride Parade.
This skepticism about legal marriage was only bolstered by the fact that I could not legally marry a woman. I didn’t even have to ask myself if I would ever choose to get that government sanctioned piece of paper because I couldn’t get it. 

When I realized that I was also attracted to men, I knew that I would never marry a man if I could not legally marry a woman. That, to me, would be like being of mixed race during the times of segregation and choosing to sit at the front of the bus because I could pass for white. It was morally repugnant to me. 

So, again, I didn’t really have to think about my own personal feelings about marriage. I couldn’t do it and that was that.

Then, like some kind of miracle or dream, gay marriage became legal in Canada. We had marriage equality!

Suddenly, marriage was a real option for me. For the first time, I had to ask myself if I would ever want to get that little piece of paper that says the government recognized my love for another person. I doubted I would. A deep and firm lifetime commitment in my heart? Yes. A wedding? Yes. A wedding before the eyes of God and my community? Yes. A beautiful gown? Well, obviously

But that little legal document? I doubted it.

Me and Beau, a few months after we met. I hope and even plan to spend my life with Beau but will we ever marry? That's a personal choice that everyone should have the right to make! (Note that the blanket is a dead ringer for the fabric of my shirt when I was eight.)
I decided that, if I were ever lucky enough to find love again, and that little legal document was necessary for my lover to feel truly committed, then, yes, I’d get married. Otherwise, no, I wouldn’t.
It just didn’t mean anything to me. I had trouble understanding why it meant so much to others. But I have a thousand times more trouble understanding why preventing marriage equality means so much to some heterosexual people. Why on earth do they care so much? What possible harm can gay marriage cause anyone?

And it is because marriage does mean so much to others, including those who oppose marriage equality, that I am absolutely, 100% in favour of gay marriage. I might never choose to get legally married but I will fight for my right to make that choice for myself. Whether or not one gets married should always be a personal choice, not some favour denied or granted by the government or moral conservatives.

And so, this is my long-winded, personal story of why I support marriage equality and am closely watching the Supreme Court deliberations in the States. Because marriage should always be a personal story, not a political one, and I am thrilled that my country has come to the same conclusion. I hope the United States follow.

(Update: Beau and I did get married, on October 11th, last year.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Walking Where Once I Ran... but at least I can walk

Coat: vintage; Shirt and jeans: Reitmans; Boots: thrift; Glasses: Polo Ralph Lauren
I didn't plan to take any photos for Sublime Mercies on this trip to the park. I hadn't dressed up at all and didn't think my outfit was even a little bit photo-worthy. But Beau said I simply had to do a post on one his favourite looks for me: Everyday Charlotte.

Now I'm kind of glad he insisted, not because I like my outfit (I don't), but because of the topic it inspired.

This park is quite near my home. Before my back injury, I used to jog to it, jog around it several times, jog from it to my local gym, work out, and jog home. On my "non-exercise" days, I would sometimes walk to it, walk around it, and walk home.

I thought of it as my park.

Now, I'm lucky to get a ride there and not be in too much pain after walking around it once. In theory, I can walk to it and around it from my home. I know this because I did it once last year but mostly that ability is a mere theory.

So going here is a bittersweet experience now. I still love the park in every season, but it is flush with memories of my days as an extremely fit, able-bodied, pain-free person. It is flush with the memories of the joy exercise brought me. I loved being fit. I did not take it for granted.

But it was a beautiful spring day and, bittersweet or not, I wanted to go to my park.

Even Houdini, the lazy local cat took the time to walk down his stairs to come say hello as we left my place.

That had to be a good sign, right?

These are the kinds of views that make my city so spectacular. This park is not in a wealthy or remote part of town. It's smack in the middle of what, for many years, was one of the poorest parts of the city. The beauty here is not restricted to those with money.

On my jogs, I used to pause right here at this spot as the trees beautifully frame the mountains. It seems art directed. I expect that the city's landscapers kind of do art direct this view. 

It hurts, though, to be reminded of what my body once could do, and the vastly different circumstances under which I used to look at this view.

Still, when I see a photo like this one of me walking, I am thrilled to see how far I've come. I look like I'm completely able-bodied here! 

I remember a friend bringing me here in the first year of my injury and, even with a cane, I could barely make it from the car to a bench.

I have come a long way. I wonder how much further I'll go.

And I'm trying my best to appreciate the beauty of my world even as I'm in pain. There is the bitter side, yes, and I'd be a fool to deny it, but there's the sweet side too. 

I mean, look at this tableau, with this root, sticking out of the ground like the Ogopogo. Whenever I look at this marshy part of the park, I imagine this is what it looks like in spots down south in the States. There are even red-winged blackbirds here!

I have every inch of the park memorized from my old jogging days. I know exactly where the muddy patches begin and end and how to circumvent them. Still, I wore my real muddy weather boots, synthetic and cheap, so I wouldn't have to worry about sullying them in the muck.

That's me walking again. It's a lovely site. It took me nine months to be able to walk a block (with my cane) so, yeah, it's pretty great to see myself really walking. I know I'll never be a jogger again. I've accepted that, but I have to walk. I just have to! And I can -- some.

Once upon a time this was an old mining quarry. When it was no longer used, some bright chap or chappette thought to fill it with water and turn it into a little lake. That's a model sail boat, not a real one, just to give you some perspective.

Occasionally it freezes over in the winter and city workers come and chop holes in the ice for the over wintering ducks. We have a lot of over wintering birds here. It's just not cold enough for them to bother migrating.

Hat: Jaxon; Shoes: Ecco; Glasses: Geek Eyewear; Jeans and sweater: thrift. Yes, Beau is thinking of expanding his wardrobe, but this single father of two is still getting used to spending money on himself.
Let's be honest, some things are actually better since my injury. I met Beau after I became crippled and I still can't get over how lucky I am that he found me. 

Would I rather be pain free and have Beau? Obviously. But that doesn't stop me from being grateful that I have him.

This park is dog heaven. One whole side of the lake is set aside as an off-leash zone. One kind of expects to come home with muddy paw or nose prints somewhere on one's person when one goes here.

Check out the poodle's inside out ear, and the happy greying dog, not really exercising, but remembering exercise -- kind of like me!
For many blocks around the park, you can see dogs straining on their leashes as they realize where they're going. And, for many of those same blocks, you can see exhausted, wet dogs heading home, happy and ready for a nap.

I really can't speak highly enough of the city's landscapers. They manage to make things look wild and random when, in fact, they are anything but. Canada in general has far more parks than I found when living in the States but my city is especially famous for its natural beauty. 

I didn't really know I was a nature girl until I lived in Queens and found myself starving for the site of a blade of grass or a tree. The local schoolyard was paved! Paved! Who does that?

Am I the only one who finds this tree a little... suggestive?

So naturally I had to pose with it.

Tee hee. Blush.
Beau had to pose with an equally suggestive tree. I shall let these juxtaposed images speak for themselves. 

Beau loves my glasses and wishes I'd wear them more. He says they're sexy. Since I wanted to really see the views, he got his wish. "Everyday Charlotte" indeed.

I used to call this spot The Cathedral because it is surrounded by trees that tilt inward, giving it a cathedral-like feel. Again, some little city elf has planted flowers in unexpected places.

Just what is the name of this bug? Do you know? Nature is fascinating.
If you know how to look, there is sublime beauty everywhere, from the micro...

... to the macro...

... to Beau ...

White gold and diamond ring: Birks; Coloured ring: who knows?
...who holds my hand when I'm in pain and when I'm well...

... and when the view is so spectacular, it takes our breath away.