a white christmas
massages in a warm studio while the snow blows and blusters outside
walking candy cane lane with an old friend
hugging my mother again and seeing her smile
putting my feet up for three weeks and doing nothing i don’t wanna do
My emotions have swung like a pendulum this past week and a half, owing largely to the fact that I’ve been intensely in rehearsal with my actors and crew for a production that was supposed to go up tomorrow, except now the lead is sick. It’s the last of a number of dramas that unfolded this week, and I put it this way at the risk of dismissing the seriousness of the events.
In fact, I am sitting here late in the night, after cooking up a storm for the week ahead (it’s rare I feel the calling…one must seize the moment…so I cooked up a ratatouille with quinoa, and then a quinoa and bean stew…comfort food).
Anxiety has been my constant companion all week. On top of that, my meta-consciousness has been aware of the rejection I’ve experienced in the past year from a few friends who literally have found me, well, too emotional. I’ve heard it before. It pisses me off. I have to slough that off because worrying about what others think of me cannot be my burden. Yet, equally, I cannot ignore the fact that this has been held up to me like a mirror on multiple occasions in my life, mostly when life has been intense.
The fact is, I’m still grieving my father, still dealing with how to live with this new reality, and the two people who pulled away from me rather unceremoniously, and quite dramatically, are grieving the losses of their fathers. One accused me of not being there for her in 2019 when her father was dying. She was in Brazil. I did everything I could to point out I had no idea she needed me, and of course I am there for her whenever she needs. She made a point of stating that our friendship of 30 years is over and she would not read my messages to come (this is not about me, clearly; who throws a friendship like that away?). Just a couple of months prior, she asked me to pen a chapter for a book about women’s experiences during Covid that was to be published in Brazil. She translated the English to Portuguese. Instead, my ex-friend cut me off with such pomp…that one was easier to block out of my mind. Mostly. I wrote to her two more times, she ignored me and that was that. Still, it’s sad.
The other friend was deeply annoyed that I was upset she would not meet me in her back yard this summer. Instead of coming clean about her grief from the start and the need for space, she avoided and avoided and avoided me until the summer ended. Even her partner seemed sheepish about it when I saw him to pick up a music stand for the performance I would give at my father’s memorial.
My disappointment was hard to deal with. I thought I’d clear the air a month later and at least express my disappointment about not connecting. It was, I expected, going to be one of the highlights of the summer after 24 months of not seeing each other. No. She stated that I’d seem to have forgotten her father died. I hadn’t at all! I’d thought connecting might bring support to each other, and not in a macabre way but just by being together, sitting around the fire pit in her back yard, sharing some wine and a meal as we’d done for the previous few years. Nope. She further made the dig that she could not be there to support me and I should turn to my ‘therapists’ (therapists? I only have one) or some other friends. O-kay.
Now we’re in this strange vortex, together and totally apart. I grieve the loss of one friend and the *distance* with the other; we might as well call it a loss. It feels ugly.
I booked an expensive airline ticket home. Close to $2500 Canadian and then…of course…I should have known…a Covid variant. Another one. Omnicron. WTF. Jesus H. Christ, my father would have said. I screamed it in my head as I watched with disbelief how quickly Canada went into action. “It’s political,” a friend said. Definitely. Flights from 10 African countries were banned and that included my flight from Egypt with Egypt Air, which I later learned was supposedly because of the poor testing in Egypt. Meanwhile, Saudi has just opened fully to Egyptians after keeping the border locked between countries for quite awhile.
I should know better than to go cheap and I knew better. But fuck. It is what it is. I’m still trying to buy a home. Meanwhile, two-bedroom apartments in Manchester are now approaching the price of a 3-bedroom terraced house. I mean, what kind of world are we living in?
I broke my internal vow of (near) silence and started to write on Facebook. I’m not sure why. I think it is literally the isolation. I have weighed this up carefully. I withdrew from Facebook because of the judgements of my two friends (one now a ‘former’ and the other in isolation for what may be two years or longer, according to her partner who is now okay with this – obviously I am not privy to what is going on, and am trying to find my compassion; it co-exists with my anger, which is really just deep hurt, which I am trying to let go of), and the perceptions they have of my movements through life at present. Meanwhile, it should be stated: 2900 *friends* follow me on Facebook.
My real reason for withdrawing was to get a grip with my habits online and also to find better ways of connecting with myself and others…because I am craving human contact in a way that did not exist until Covid first hit and my father died, and then that nightmare of a 15-month sofa stint of teaching online to drama students ensued. Seriously, it was brutal and I have to stop fast forwarding through all of this to appreciate just how difficult the past two years have been. I was on top of my world in 2019. In 2021, I am recovering and rebuilding.
What am I writing now? And why? I ask myself this every time I sit to write publicly. The truth is: I am writing to acknowledge a simple fact: life is messy. My suffering is not abnormal. Nor is it, though it is, unique. Billions of people on this planet are entrapped and working their way out of whatever their difficult circumstances are to a meaningful freedom.
When the news hit that the world was shutting down again, temporarily, my stocks (in the form of index funds mostly) all dropped, significantly. Too bad. Apple and Vanguard were getting in an exciting run. It was fun watching them. I keep having these moments where I think: I should have locked in the growth, but I know better. Better to just look away. ETF’s have their own ways of being. I should be putting money in right now on this dip, but…I needed to sort out what to do about Canada.
First, I ranted. It was the feeling that this pandemic is going to be the defining ‘thing’ that shapes the last good 15-20 years of my life! Perish the thought. The entire concept came from one of my close friends who called the decade of the seventies her last good decade. Jesus. The language!
I had a moment this week where I rebelled against that insanity and decided I needed to dream. Whatever happened to dreams? My dreams are the way I cope with a dull and uninspiring life. Having a dream, something to work towards, is the very thing that charges me up and gives me hope. I thought a couple of weeks ago: I need to travel the world or at least to the edge of the Himalayas (Ladakh and Leh) before I am 60. The urge to travel still lights up my spirit. The free spirit wants to go.
One minute, I’m dreaming. The next minute, I’m cursing every human out there who has deliberately chosen the ‘anti-vax’ route. I had some shame when I let loose on a kind-hearted friend writing to me at present, an old friend from when we were kids, she a farmer’s girl and me the city-slicker…I told my friend immediately after I cancelled my Egypt Air flight to Canada, “I just want to beat every anti-vaxxer out there.” It did not go unnoticed that she bypassed that comment and stepped right around it. I know some of her own conflictedness around this regarding people she loves who choose not to get vaccinated. Hell, we’ve all got that problem.
The issue was how to get home to Canada, how to see my mother, how to ensure that I am not squandering my life and family connections while trying to secure my future, which looks so unbelievably bleak in some regards and okay in others. I cannot overcome the mental issues I have with my projected retirement right now, so I regularly have to remind myself: stay present, stay present, stop thinking about the future. To think about the future = anxiety. To think about the past = regret. STAY PRESENT.
Every flight was too expensive. A Mexican colleague of mine who heads home annually manages to find cheap flights, and dialled one up on KLM, but I could not. “Try multi-flights,” she said. Still no magic. I reached out finally to a local travel agent that our school has used after trolling through every carrier I would consider, and Shubo promised me he would have me by his side as he went to ‘war’ to find me what I needed. It didn’t exactly go like that. He came up with two expensive flights home, and when I suggested maybe Turkish, as per my Mexican friend’s instructions, he said, “Oh, no, no, no.” This is what all travel agents will tell you. Better to cancel and rebook with them, when in fact booking with the airlines directly is the easiest and best in most scenarios.
Back to the drawing board. I called Air Canada and after contemplating everything including my sister’s criticism for sounding the warning that it looked unlikely that I’d make it home – “I know what I’d do,” she said, along with the line I’ve heard at least three times this year: “You have lots of money.” Holy fuck. I do NOT. She owns two houses. “I am in the freaking poor-house,” I convince myself regularly, and then have to mentally dig myself out of that hole. That inner discourse has been something I’ve been working on for seven years now, since I moved to Saudi for the second time to rectify this situation.
I buy the ticket. $4000 Canadian. I cash in the other ticket via Air Canada that I had lined up, which was going to give me a little break in Toronto with two friends, and that’s that. I am heading home to Canada for the holidays, straight through Doha and TO to Edmonton and back the same way. I cry on the phone with the AC attendant who sells me the flight. I pray that Canada doesn’t institute some goddamned two-week quarantine again, because I’m never doing another one of those. And the lady on the phone – from Halifax I find out and she’s up in the middle of her night – her voice goes all soft and gushy. She expresses her relief that I can get home to my mother and her condolences over the loss of my father. She has no idea it’s been 18 months now. It doesn’t matter. It’s still a bitch. I cry. We end on that note, two humans touched by the difficulty of the encounter.
I cry because this ticket at $4k is so expensive, I know it sets me back on my quest to purchase a home. It’s stressful. My fellow psychology student friend in Toronto tells me later after I write to tell her I’m not coming: it’s due to the need for security. Bang on. She’s got that right. But an hour later, I realize I am more relieved than worried about my future. I am relieved to get home to my mother and to my sister, and to Canada, oddly, because I’m slightly at odds with my motherland. I want to ground myself outside of Saudi. I want to know if there is anything left for me to return to in Canada, specifically in Edmonton, I suppose. All the more so after this weird estrangement with the one friend who made clear: we are family, more than blood relations. Not quite.
I also need to sort out my banking and pick up a new laptop that I order the same day. I place the order for the MacBook 14″, fully loaded, so it should do me well for the next seven years. I want to write, edit film and record a new album on it. I’ve got plans. Dreams. Now I’m sitting with the financial hangover of that, too, and my money with Egypt Air is apparently likely to be tied up for six months. My god.
Come to the present moment…
I have spent time thinking this weekend, in and amongst everything else going on: I need simplicity, joy and hope. Best to let the experts worry about Covid and Omnicron. I am on a weight loss mission and this is my other main challenge at present. Learning to soothe the urge to eat myself alive in some moments is the most important thing. Turning down the voices of angst and existential despair…in my head…this is my current task.
Tonight, I put on a Christmas playlist that I found on Spotify that literally had my cats curling up in their chairs and going to sleep to it, and I cooked. Then I made a pot of roiboos and vanilla tea that I picked up at the supermarket earlier tonight. It’s been awhile since I’ve made a pot of tea. That’s the stuff of my twenties. Pots of tea take me back to days that were no less intense but so much more filled with potential.
I dug out some Christmas decorations after the nostalgia of this jazzy indie folky playlist of familiar tunes got to me. I missed my daddio. I miss the past. I want the past back. Such a childish thought. Can’t have it. So I pulled out some Christmas decorations and found a tiny little angel given to me by someone here, I think I know who…and then I hung a few streamers and turned the fairy lights on. The cats are fast asleep. It’s nearly 3 a.m. and I am oddly content.
Meanwhile, one of my actors has a cold, caught from friends he figures, and I think about the sad fact that kids can’t just share their milkshake like two did in my class last week; I admonished them for it. Today I would stand up more firmly to say, “Toss it.” Into the bin.
Life is harsh. Teetering back and forth between a responding to these difficulties with a mindset of compassion versus one of reaction is my greatest challenge. I see the yin-yang happening. I know it. This evening, I feel softer, dialled down, relieved to have delivered the good news to my mother who said she would put me to work making her mother’s cabbage roll recipe on Christmas Eve. Bring it on. Two weeks until I’m on a flight to Canada, and in the meantime I have some breathing room to finish my grades for term one and start term reports.
If non-teachers only knew the workload that teachers have. If the general public only knew the stresses we face at present with hybrid learning. I write these words and realize the merit to self-compassion in these moments. It’s a bit like seeing the truth: I am – we are – operating under a lot of pressure. It’s good to be kind. Start where you can.
set up mindful self-compassion course