CLEARING MY BRAIN IN A COFFEE SHOP
Start the day restless. Call a friend. Re-set the brain. Calm down. Run an errand. Decide: lunch or no? Settle on coffee, though there’s a machine at home. You’ve had your one shot of espresso for today. But…today is the last day of the autumn break.
Pull in to the chicest indie coffee house in the center of the new part of the city, order a double espresso and…voila. Look at that cup – heavy. Look at that coffee. Crema. Smooth. Black gold. Thick. Tart. Just the way you like it. Sit at the back of the room on the only sofa in the place. The corner is yours. Spread out. Think. What’s next?
Time slips like the gears on an old bike. But that’s when you’re not paying attention to upkeep. It’s been well over a year since I posted anything of significance here. I’m back and my ambitions are multiple.
- Maintain my anonymity. I like it. I’ve become more centred in this. It’s like erasing the past, but then again…it had to be done. You learn: people are not all stable. You learn: writing is a dangerous business. Some would love to take one down for having a thought that differs from them. Well, I’ll be damned. I’m tired of it. Anonymity gives me the space to think.
- Re-shape my career. Now, that one’s harder. Do I want to be a writer or a therapist? How about both? Eat Pray Love – my mantra. Fuck, it’s cliché but true. Elizabeth (‘Liz’) Gilbert – writer – is a goddess.
It’s taken awhile to understand where I’m going with my ambition with Compassionate Mess. I’m parked in the middle of a desert, or, well, no, I’m not.
I’m sitting here drinking my heavy little shot of coffee in a tiny slice of urban coastal beauty on the Persian Gulf coast. But there’s no one here. In essence, I live alone, most of the time. This isn’t the way to be. But call a friend and I’m reminded: I have a lot to be grateful for. Things could be worse. I have friends battling serious medical shit that leaves me helpless. I express my love, show up, offer my support but I am helpless – except to be present, and this much I am determined to be. Still, I’m three thousand miles away.
GRIEVING EXPAT, RECOVERING
I am healthy, headed back to the gym, still grieving over the death of my father who died suddenly at the start of the first Covid lockdown, and I’m possibly stuck in some state of complex grief as I fear the loss of my mother (my sister is feeling it, too), but Megan Devine of Refuge in Grief reassures me and every other grieving human out there – most grief advice is rubbish and there are no rules. No rules at all. Thank god for that. You grieve for as long as you love, and in all the ways that don’t look pretty in the public eye. So what. I know how to take care of myself: I’ve enlisted the help I need and work online with a grief therapist who rocks. I’m a fan of therapy. I want to be a therapist.
INVESTIGATING DREAMS, LIFE AND CAREER OPTIONS
Too, I am investigating my options regarding the fulfilment of my dreams – re. house, home, career pathways, etc…looking forward to a return to the UK since I’ve decided that I do not like the snowy cold winters or the conservative attitudes in the part of Canada where I grew up – far too many in the prairie provinces are grossly emboldened by the Trump mania that took over America and the world for four excruciatingly long years. I’m not returning to that.
I want to return to the UK where nationalism has a different flavor, tinged also with a British politeness and brashness that finds its middle ground in propriety, values of acceptance and creative ingenuity. Plus, trendy shit happens in England and I like the rolling, green hills, sea and rain. It beats months of slush and sub-zero temps.
But I am a third-culture adult (I refuse to call myself a triangle, which is a term someone invented to describe expat migrants who have been irreversibly altered by their movements between nations over time). My heart will always be planted in this place, too – the Magic Kingdom, as I call it: Saudi Arabia. What to do?
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE AN EXPAT MIGRANT AT MIDLIFE – 25 YEARS IN
It’s strange being a migrant. It’s strange to want to go forward and back. Forward to the UK, back to Canada. Forward in time to a healed state of mind and new home and career. Back to the arms of my buddy, my father, who knew we had a limited amount of time to talk to one another.
We all leave our homes with ambitions to travel, live it up and retire rich. I failed to understand the risks I read about before I excitedly left my country: diplomats with souped up credentials and life experience find themselves stranded in an expat hell I’ll call ‘expatmania’ because they can’t get back to their nation. It takes at least as long to adjust to the culture shock of ‘returning’ as it did to make peace with ‘going’. Add to that the strain of finding work. You forget that people rise in organizations vertically. But then I never subscribed to limits. We’ll find out.
THE EXISTENTIAL PAIN OF LOSING A PARENT WHILE ABROAD: COMPLEX GRIEF AND THE RELIEF OF HAVING AN EXPAT FAMILY TO LEAN ON UNTIL YOU CAN GET HOME TO THE MOTHERLAND FOR A FUNERAL
This adds to my restlessness. I don’t speak to my father, by the way – in the spiritual realm. It makes me bawl my eyes out. I can’t. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But we’ll see. I just hold his wisdom in my heart, and now look…even writing this much makes me cry. Dear Dad…how will I find my new balance? You knew this day would come. “We’re all gonna die,” he said. Damn. Fuck. Shit shit shit.
When my father died, I literally lost my mind. I don’t know for how long, but friends and colleagues stood by me, talked me through it, walked with me, sat with me, fed me far too much, left me alone and came back thank god, and eventually I was able to function again. Those were the days we were teaching online – hateful but a relief.
Then this past summer – the memorial. The funeral. The reunion of unlikely characters in my father’s shop where he died. I hated how I looked (at my heaviest again – I’d regained the 55 lbs I lost prior to my dad’s death while working out three times a day, six days a week. Midlife had caught up to me, and I wasn’t having any of this: aging, illness, hospitalization, amputation, blindness, organs rusting, dying or death as a result of Type II Diabetes. No way.
I reversed my diabetes in 18 months and then literally stopped caring about my health the day my sister called to say through tears that told me everything. “Dad’s gone.” I stopped caring about everything: my ambitions, my father’s pride in my journey forward and achievement of becoming non-diabetic and losing the equivalent of an oversized suitcase on my body, and my feelings. I stopped paying attention. I went into a long, low mood and it lasted until the memorial.
THE GRIEF OF MEMORIALIZING YOUR FATHER AND MOVING YOUR MOTHER OUT OF HER DREAM HOME
At the memorial, there I was – alienated without my close friends. My mother wanted only those who knew my dad and my sister backed up her on this. I wasn’t up for the fight. Nor would I disrespect my mother and defy her wishes. Maybe I should have.
Funeral battles are as real as the wedding battles. It was a cold day, a short afternoon memorial, and there was none of the laughter you find at a long boozy wake, dammit. Due to other squabbles we’d had about how to manage the event, we didn’t have a guestbook on hand. It was an afterthought. So no one had left their messages of condolences but a few who penned them on the index cards intended for that. I knew we should have had someone guide people. That’s what you get when you hold a memorial in a workshop. But…it was my dad’s workshop, where he died. The small things temporarily wrecked us, but I loved that we were there to honor my dad and everyone did. This offered some solace.
I came out of the experience slightly traumatized but had no choice but to ground myself fast to work with a friend and a team of professional movers to move my mother off the land she and my father bought and build a homestead on. My home for 17 summers and our family homestead of memories was gone in weeks as we handed over the keys to the son of a family friend who bought it.
The remaining days in Canada were spent with my mom and sister – bless us all – sorting out the new house that doesn’t feel like a home to any of us. What’s a girl to do? Gone: the tractor, my dad’s pickup, the welder, the boots, the mud, the view, the sunsets, the Canada Geese and mallards on the pond, the cattails, the remnants of my childhood in the same poplar trees I played in when I was ten, the sound of the frogs mating in the spring – at least I heard them when I arrived in May. It was wild and made me smile in the night.
FAST FORWARD TO THE AWAKENINGS OF MIDLIFE: A HINT OF FREEDOM
Midlife is fraught with all kinds of landmines. There are people who handle it with far more grace than I, but I will say this: I am tired of hiding my pain, and tired of pretending that grief is something you tuck away after a year.
Then we have Covid-19. Fuckity fuck fuck. That just added 18 months of misery to all of us, and while this country I live in currently has got its shit together and is managing this close to perfectly in my opinion (I’m not a parent with a small child at home, suffering through virtual learning still, mind you – I know it’s shit), I watch Canada and the UK yin-yang politically, and all I can do is sit back and breathe. I’m here. I’m safe. My father told me before he died – it was one of his last wishes – that I stay here, don’t go anywhere and just ride out my days (years!) until I retire. Ummm. I’m not sure about that. But for now, it’s a safe place to be.
I go to the gym and think of my father, with trepidation, then bawl my eyes out when I put music on that is the only way to get through the long workouts that got me to the point of being non-diabetic. My father’s wisdom was simple. It’s the same wisdom of a Saudi friend who tells me: we all need to work; do your job, go home, live your life, enjoy. Mmmmm hmmmm.
The creative in me sparks off the solitude in my life, like a ball bounces off a wall. When I can put myself together (shower and put my facial mask on) to go out and find a cafe, something glues together for me. The pieces of me that are shattered and floating in this psychic headspace of mine come together. I feel almost whole again. I feel good again. Even if it’s just for a few hours, part of a day, until the sun goes down, and then I become restless again…
I swore I would write this year. No matter what. The difference is that I have pulled completely back from Facebook (my personal account), thanks to a few signs that I am spilling my guts there to an audience that gives little back, and my words are being sucked into the vortex that is the Facebook wall, mashed together with endless advertisements and news tidbits, none of which are important or relevant, though I suppose they track the movements of life as I try to be ‘authentic’.
I decided after a few shitty encounters with people that I am not prepared to talk about that I am going to turn my attention to the writerly callings within, and use the rage that I feel to give back to ME. I made a pinky promise with myself this past week, while luxuriating in the airport after heading to a mountain resort where the Hamadryas baboons run freely like lunatics, copulating and feeding off the handouts that people feed them from car windows – pray that your door is locked – I saw one juvenile hanging off the handle hoping to break in – that I would pen a page daily, at the least.
The perfectionist in me wants to perfect this and shape the purpose of this writing endeavour of mine. I would like to pen a book, see? I would like to live out the adventured last days of my life (and there are many still to live, I believe) penning a LOT of books, telling stories, musing and peeling back the layers of my life and the lives of others to find the epiphanies that make breathe easier and help one sigh with relief, knowing that life does give at least as much back as it taketh.
The creative in me needs to track my movements and journal/blog my way through this life I’m living. Anything could happen and I could be gone in a day. No one should assume ‘they’ have an indefinite amount of time to play around with ‘their’ life. I’m not sure my restlessness will ever go away, and why should it? But one thing is for sure:
Aside from finding a damn fine cafe (Mlin), restlessness met with gratitude and mindfulness and a titch of self-compassion and self-honest is one way through a complex moment. Three women in abayas with full facial veils on sit behind me in the other corner at the back of this cafe. I hear iced lattes being prepared. The jazzy notes waft through the air and suddenly I am transported back to my life many years ago, decades ago in a moment when a cafe opened up in my old hometown. Cafe La Gare. It had a stand-up Italian bar table, long and rounded at both ends, designed to get people talking. My fantasy is that my words will some day get people talking, and we’ll sit in circles laughing, crying, coming through the waves of life with the comforting assurance that – hey – it’s all good. Everything is as it should be. We are alive. We are together in this – whatever this is. And this is living.