Not Writer’s Block

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

Lately I’ve been frustrated with myself.  I’ve wanted to write during these past few months.  I’ve especially wanted to fill you all in on my mom’s cancer journey, but sitting down to actually do it has been damn near impossible.

For a long time, I thought what I had was a case of writer’s block. After all, what is a writer who doesn’t write? Someone who is clearly “blocked” by something, right? 

But, here’s the thing…once I start writing, words come out.  I never waste any time staring at a blank screen.  It’s just that I so rarely even see the cursor awaiting input.  I can’t ever make the time.

A few days ago, I finally got sick of my own bullshit, and opened a blank document.  I started typing away with a new determination.  (The end result was my most recent post about finding grey hair.

However, what initially emerged doesn’t look like what I posted.  Instead, it was 600 words of self-indulgent navel-gazing.  It was a lot of blather about something that happened a few years ago.  (I guess I still had something I needed to purge.) Blah blah blah.  Whine whine whine. Definitely more appropriate for a diary than online.  

It felt good to write, but I wound up scrapping it. Still, the act of writing got me somewhere.  It helped me realize that what I’m experiencing isn’t writer’s block.  At least not in the traditional sense.  It’s something else.

As I wrote, the source of the problem dawned on me all at once, finally revealing itself;  this is depression. I am actually depressed. 

Oh.  

Well, shit.  

A resounding bell of recognition clanged through my head.  It all made sense…the weight gain and lack of motivation.  Those general feelings of “meh” and “blah” that I find myself succumbing to more often.  

This new knowledge was a relief.  Thinking that “something” is wrong with you, but not knowing what is frustrating!  Now that I know, I have a better path forward.  

The past year and a half changed everything.  I’ve never really been all that depressed, but I’m not surprised that this part of me was amplified.  

You see, depression isn’t always big, earth-shattering sadness.  Sometimes it manifests as a lack of interest and motivation…just like mine!  You can find a list of common symptoms of depression HERE..  Please talk to a health professional if you recognize these symptoms in yourself.

Please do not worry about me. I can promise that I am addressing this.  I am speaking to a therapist.  I am forcing myself to do things which will ultimately bring me joy. (Like writing more!)

Onwards and upwards,

Jennnq

**NOTE:  My mom had breast removal surgery (mastectomy) on Wednesday.  At that time, things looked very good and not inflamed.  They also removed a few lymph nodes, which the surgeon said looked ok.  (She is awaiting further results from pathology.)  She has been healing very well, and is far more active and capable at this stage than I would have anticipated.

The results from pathology will dictate the course of the radiation treatment to come.   I will share more details shortly. She is doing well, and the chemo has done a good job, judging from the results so far. 

Tinsel in My Hair

While fixing my hair in the mirror, something caught my eye.  I could swear I saw a sparkle as I pushed my bangs into place.. Nah, I’m probably imagining it.  In fact, it’s probably just these old highlights.  Time to get my hair fixed up again anyway, and…WAIT!  Right there!  I’d really seen it this time.  Like a strand of tinsel hiding in the dark brown.  

I leaned toward the mirror and practiced deep breaths while I tracked down the offending hair.  I slowly and methodically peeled away the other strands until I held it, alone between my fingertips.  

Not brown.  Not an old highlight either.  This mutant colour went all the way down to the scalp.

I pulled sharply and brought the hair in front of my face.  Are you freakin’ kidding me? Surely this was not anything that belonged on my head.  

What I held before me was silvery-white. Not grey.  Shimmering and white. 

“JASON!“ I yelled, as I bolted downstairs and threw it onto his Ipad screen, forcing him to see it too.  “LOOK!  That came from ME!”   

Jason shrugged and said something very annoying, like, “well, that’s life,” clearly not understanding the harrowing gravitas of this moment..  You see, I simply cannot go grey.  This had to be a mistake.  I am NOT going grey.

I forced him to examine my glorious scalp of heretofore young, lustrous and healthy hair.  Do you know what he did?  He found another one and pulled it out!  The bastard!  He put it next to its sister and I stared at them both dumbly.  These strands looked thick, resilient and strong, but they were undoubtedly….white.

I demanded to know if there were any more.  I begged Jason, in a slightly frantic tone, to tell me the truth.

Jason, not being a stupid man, sensed the effect this was having on my now hazardous mood and elected for the peaceful route. He lied to me. 

And of course, I bought it.. Ha. I’m not actually going grey.  Just a couple of weird hairs.  And we pulled them out anyway.  I mean, I’m not even 40, there’s no way!  

The relief lasted until the next day, when I spoke to a girlfriend with an honest streak.  “Oh, you’ve got greys,” she said, as she indulged me, by also examining my scalp, “I can see a bunch.”

At first, I was upset.  I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone else.  However, I found myself intrigued enough by this new thing that it just kept popping into my mind and out of my mouth. I told some of my friends, but almost every time I had the conversation, something funny would happen.  The friend in question would lower their voice and say, actually, I’ve found a few myself…  

Excuse me?  My friends.  My young and sexy friends are going grey? Impossible.

I called my parents and told my mother over the phone “Oooh, you’ve got your father’s genetics.” she said, quickly absolving herself of any blame in this tragedy.  She did have a point.  I’m not sure the woman has a strand of grey yet.  My father, on the other hand, is plenty grey, but I swear his started later.  He offered his encouragement and declared that I should “wear it with pride.”  

Proud or not, I did some quick googling.  There is evidence to suggest that some grey can be caused by stress (hellooooo pandemic years), and because of that, some people think it can be reversed.

Reversed!  Ok, the evidence for that is shaky, but here’s what I’ve managed to gather: If you are stressed, you need to relax. (Deep stuff.)  You also need to eat plants.  Lots of plants.  (You think that’s enough plants?  No.  Not enough. More! Go crazy with them.)  Because some raw food vegans swear their diets have reversed grey.  However, even  if you stuff yourself on exotic fruits and cruciferous veggies, you still just might be doomed to snow on the roof.

Hmm…Can I get an estimate on how long this all-salad approach will take?  

This whole thing is weird.  Up until now, I hadn’t even considered the prospect of grey hair.  I wasn’t expecting it to show up for a few decades yet. I’ve always said that if I did go grey, I would just dye my hair anyway. That I didn’t want grey hair.  That I would never “embrace it.”

But when I first saw it, it was beautiful. It didn’t strike me as ugly at all.  When I spotted it, it shone silvery whilte.  It looked like it belonged to a unicorn or something. Like…kinda pretty.

Honestly, I’m probably going to keep dying my hair.  Not to hide the new “sparkles,” but because I still think lime green, blue, magenta and purple are more fun colours than anything I can grow naturally.  

Still, I might just let my silvers show through.  Once I earn a few more of them.  They’re not so bad.

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”

The title is only partially appropriate, as it is hardly ok to compare one’s mother to Lady Macbeth.  (Sorry, mom!)

Still, there is a spot (two, actually) which must come out.  On that front, we have good news!

My mom has now had two doses of chemotherapy.  (She had the most recent one on Friday.)  Shortly before her last chemo, she mentioned that the lump that initially made her worry is now almost undetectable.  She said that if she didn’t know it was there, she wouldn’t be able to find it.

A few days later, her oncologist verified that she’s right!  The lump is indeed getting smaller!  This is very good news, and a sign that the chemo is doing its job.

It will be important to remember this triumph if the most recent administration of chemotherapy brings about any ill effects. The chemotherapy doesn’t seem to have much of an impact the day of the procedure, but a couple of days later the tiredness begins.  

To move to the topic of cancer in general, one thing that I am consistently seeing in my reading is that sugar and simple carbohydrates are bad news.  

Oh sure, different dieticians, nutritionists and doctors might champion some specific/unique foods or practices, but pretty much everyone agrees about the sugar! From what I have read, cancer just looooves sugar.

I need to specify here that I am talking about simple carbs and not demonizing carbohydrates in general, which are essential to your body and brain. (You’ll never make me give up my lentils, beans and fancy rice!)  The not-so-great stuff is the junk that your body breaks down quickly; the white-flour, white-sugar crap that we all love to snack on.  

I have a sweet tooth myself, so this is a real bummer.  However, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that if you’re worried about cancer, you should look at your sugar intake. (Hey, aren’t you already sweet enough? 😉  )

Mom seems to be handling this whole thing remarkably well.  I was afraid initially that she would make everything worse on herself with stress and worry, as that would be easy to do!  Instead, she has been doing a commendable job of focusing on the things that she loves and that are important to her.  She spends a lot of time in nature.  

In fact, I was lucky enough to share a hike and a fire with my mom and dad last Saturday. I can assure you, my mom has been the opposite of anxious, depressed or self-pitying over this.  It’s almost as if she is committed to refusing to allow cancer to bring her down.  

You can see it in her insistence on wearing hoop earrings and red lipstick to chemotherapy sessions.  It’s there, in her eyes and in her smile, 

Onwards and upwards,

Jennnq

The Cancer Plan

I haven’t cried yet.  It’s a thought I’d been having occasionally over the past couple of weeks.  Of course I knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew that it was only a matter of time.

A couple of days ago, that time was up.  I don’t know what it was exactly, but once I started I couldn’t stop.  I cried while my mother talked to me on the phone (she sounded tired!).  I cried when a friend sent me a kind message.  I cried to myself on my lunch break as I sat at my desk.  Great fat tears rolled down my nose.  I made ugly sobbing noises.  

But mostly, I just knew that the dam had broken, and now I would be crying off and on about my mom’s cancer.

Hopefully not too often.  Hopefully not in front of my mom.  But that lump in my throat is still there, and I am afraid that I will hear a pretty song, or a sappy commercial and just shatter into tiny pieces.

The Cancer Plan

I’m going to divide the rest of this post under a couple of headings.  I couldn’t find a very cohesive flow, I’m afraid!  Guess I’m feeling a little disjointed myself.

Some further scans have come back, and they actually turned up a second lump in the same breast. As well, the cancer seems to be affecting six lymph nodes, rather than two. The plan remains largely unchanged. The cancer-killing starts with 18 weeks of chemo.  My precious mother has to undergo 18 weeks, consisting of 6 rounds of intense chemotherapy.  She had the first already.  They have also given her a port to simplify the administration of the chemo drugs. For the record, a port is like a way more badass piercing than any of the ones I ever got. (Think your mom is punk? Mine has a subdermal implant!) She says she’s fine, and I know it’s necessary, I just don’t like the thought of mom having to undergo any kind of surgery at all. (Silver lining: increased “borg queen” vibes.)  

After the chemo, there will be more surgery, including the mastectomy of one breast, and possibly the removal of some lymph nodes.

They might need to do radiation after that.  It depends on how things go.

It’s the very epitome of “Thanks…I hate it.”  Yes, chemotherapy saves lives.  Yes, this is the approved medical route, but these drugs are no joke, and this is a long-ass road ahead.  

I find it hard to deal with the fact that Mom was fine up until the time she found the lump.  Living her life with no idea that this was brewing, and no outward sign of sickness. Cancer can quietly creep along as you lead a full and healthy-seeming life.  

Treating it is so harsh.  It really turns a person’s life upside down. I can’t wait until she’s well again.  (Uh-oh, here comes that lump in my throat again.)

Mom is Still Mom

My mom is an active lady, who routinely makes me wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life.  I am constantly in awe, because the woman just gets things done.  If there is a problem, mom addresses the problem and moves on.  She doesn’t need to meditate or sing a song about it (or write a blog post) she just gets it done.

I’m happy to report that mom is still my mom.  She is constantly off to do something, like taking her fancy car out, or taking the dog in the woods with my dad, or working on some other project.  She did have a couple of more “blah” days after the chemo (more than understandable!) but she is back to being almost as active as before.  (The challenge may be in actually getting her to relax!)

Cancer and Diet?

I find myself wondering about cancer and diet a lot.  Here’s the truth; I don’t understand! Firstly, I wonder about the overall effect of someone’s diet on their likelihood of getting cancer, and what diet can do to prevent it.  Secondly, I have questions about what a person should eat once they have cancer.  

Of course, the hippie in me wants to find some sort of “miracle” fruit or nutritional supplement that knocks out cancer, (so I can give a giant bowl of it to my mom) but so far, I haven’t figured anything out. 

Normally, I would think that a sick person needs lots of healthy foods.  To me, that means plant-based fare with a balanced selection of healthy proteins. Maybe some green juices and smoothies to really amp up the vitamins and minerals coming into the body.

By that logic, I should be at mom’s right now, throwing spinach into a blender.

The only problem with that is, cancer cells are hungry, fast-growing cells.  So, aren’t all of those great nutrients also feeding the cancer?  Would something like a green juice actually help the cancer grow?  Is it better to eat Burger King?  I honestly don’t know!  What does someone who has cancer eat to minimize cancer and maximize their health? (If anyone has an answer, I’d be more than happy to hear it!)

Onwards and upwards,

Jennnq

Three Bald Women

Back in March of 2020, I started working from home. You all know the story of the pandemic, so I’m not going to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that my hair was not exactly my top concern.  I decided to let it grow.

Me in Feb. of 2020

As it progressed, I had it dyed and trimmed periodically, seeing my stylist as the pandemic safety protocols allowed. Eventually it was past my ears. Then it became jaw length. Finally the day came when I was able to put it up.  (I had to buy myself elastics and a brush and everything!)    


Since I have enough hair, I have become a fan of ponytails, headbands and, my personal favorite; adorable wee little space buns. It’s been a big change for me. Up until recently, I’ve pretty much always had short hair.

My sister, on the other hand, has had long, beautiful,  dark red hair for a long time. It is very feminine, it suits her well, and I haven’t seen Alli truly chop her hair short in maybe…ever? I mean, would ya just look at that hair?

Alli is the fiery redhead. I’m the space cadet in any colour of the rainbow!


Hair can be a powerful signifier for who we are as a person.  How we choose to wear our hair can be deeply linked to our perception of ourselves.  


Which is why it can suck so much when cancer patients lose their hair. 

 The doctors told mom that she would most-likely lose hers. She didn’t relish the idea of experiencing her hair falling out, so she decided to go ahead and just shave it. She decided that she wanted to lose her hair on her own terms.

So, the three of us went to our favourite salon to see longtime family friend and hairstylist Trish Molloy to have her shave mom’s head. Trish also dyed, cut and styled mom’s new wig.

All the same, we know that bald is not a look my mom would have gone for ordinarily. My sister and I were afraid she’d find it hard. Seeing herself bald might come as a shock. Maybe make her feel more like a “cancer patient.”

Well screw that. More like, “Cancer patient, but make it fashion!” We decided not to let her do it alone. (What, you think I’d let her have all of those “Borg queen” vibes herself?)

Mom, who looks pretty great to me!

 

Alli, who kept a little hair, but lost a lot!
Won’t be needing those scrunchies for a while!


When she looks in the mirror, she might be reminded of the disease.  But she can also be reminded of this moment; and that she’s not alone.

All of us with hair! (That’s mom with her new wig!)
Three bald ladies and the infamous Trish!

(To me, we either look very punk rock, or like a modern version of Macbeth’s 3 witches.)

Mom had her first round of chemo Friday.  One round down, five more to go!

Onwards and upwards!

-Jennnq

We’re a Cancer Family Now

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

My mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She starts chemotherapy tomorrow.

I don’t have a great way to introduce this topic to my blog, but I think that now is the time to do it.  I think I need to talk about it.  Plus and I want to document this journey.

Ironic, since I don’t even like typing the phrase “my mom’s cancer.” It feels so foreign. It’s like it must be someone else’s story.  Unreal.  But it’s not.  It’s right here, with us every second. We are a “cancer family” now, as uncomfortable as that is.

My mom’s cancer is stage 2, with a grade of 3.  She has been told that it is an “aggressive” cancer, so her medical team is starting treatment right away.  She will have a port installed in early May.

The news came as a shock.  I think we are a pretty healthy family.  My mother is an active woman in her early 60’s, with a fantastic history of fitness and perseverance.  (She actually became more athletic after 50.) She’s an internationally-ranked powerlifter with more gym buddies than I have by far.

Now that one of us is actually sick, and it feels as though all of our lives have stopped. 

I have noticed that if you get cancer, everyone has suggestions for supplements, foods, books and special potions to try. We are all guilty of this.  I suppose we are searching for every weapon we’ve got. My sister suggested the CBD oil.  I suggested getting into a meditation practice and that she try juicing again. (Ha!  She’s none-too-interested in drinking green stuff!)  My Dad advocates her taking more time to relax and sleep. One of her close friends is insisting she eat 2 cups of blueberries a day. 

Basically, we’re all going to drive her nuts by checking in on her constantly.  It’s well-meaning, but I am sure it is challenging to make sense of it all.  (For instance, I found one book on cancer that recommends against fasting, and another that says that patients who are undergoing chemo should try to fast.)

Although it is up to my mom to choose what she will and won’t incorporate into her life, the good vibes and the well-wishes do matter.  Everyone rallying around her matters. Talking to people who have had cancer and conquered it…all of it matters.  It matters to us, but most of all, it matters to my mom.  (We have already had so many people reach out to us. I know my whole family is grateful!)

As of right now, my mother is not “sick.”  For now, the treatments are still in the future.  During the past few days, my mom could be found pumping iron at the gym, home with her dogs and my dad, or cruising around in her fuschia-pink Challenger. (No joke.)

She’s planning to shave her head and get ahead of the hair loss.  (She’s been told that with the medication they’re putting her on, it’s all but guaranteed.)  The head-shaving is going ahead on Saturday.  I’m not worried about how it will look.  Personally, I think women with shaved heads can look totally badass, and that this is a chance to experiment with her style.  I also know, however, that this look is fully outside of my mom’s comfort zone.

But you know what? At least she can rest assured that she will never be going through this alone.

I’ll try to be back to post updates on a regular basis.  

Much love,

Jennnq

A Tentative Beginning: Resolutions, Night Owlism and Recovery

I was driving the other day when my offspring, now nearly an adult, asked a very interesting question.  

“Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions, mom?”

I responded by explaining…yes and no.  (Poor kid.) I said that I don’t necessarily believe that new Year’s resolutions will stick, and I said that I think that for most people they are doomed to failure.  

I’m not trying to be negative here.  I think that’s the case for a few reasons.  Firstly, people are usually pretty vague.  “I want to lose weight” doesn’t mean much in the real world, so it’s hard to turn that into a daily, actionable goal.  (Deciding to log your food, or taking part in a regular exercise program/class is probably far more beneficial.) You need to have specific, actionable goals.  Daydreams will not cut it. 

So I explained the necessity of definable goals.

I also noted the other problem I see, and that is that people love to dive in headfirst.  They decide that they are going to go from relatively sedentary to running a 5k a day overnight.  Intense efforts out of nowhere are a huge shock to the body, and you could be paving the way to injury, exhaustion or frustration. Plus getting hurt will build a negative association with exercise.  Too much too soon is generally not helpful in the long run.

I told him that I have goals, but that I always have goals, and for me, New Year’s is a time just to reaffirm those goals.  My current big ones?

  • Gently increase the exercise my foot can handle/strength in my ankle while maintaining my strength training efforts.
  • Be less negative toward myself by assessing and noticing my internal monologue
  • Get some actual focussed writing done by improving how I budget my time

Speaking of productivity, I think those who know me well know that there is a real push-pull that goes on within me at all times; I have my kooky off the wall, late-night-party side, and my I-want-to-be-productive, let’s-have-smoothies-after-we-hit-the-gym health-nut side.  

Trying to balance them is rough.  Like with the whole getting up early thing.  I find maintaining a good sleep/morning routine really, truly, insanely hard.  This can be disheartening, as a lot of the people I look to as productivity gurus seem to be regularly rising to take on the world at 5AM.

Meanwhile, it seems I’m more likely to experience 5AM from the other side!  Over Christmas I had some time off.  Since I had the freedom, I decided to take the pressure off myself and just go to bed whenever I was tired.  Result?  A couple of nights I stayed up until 4AM, but most of the time I started feeling the pressure to sleep between 1:30 and 2AM.

1:30 and 2AM! Routinely.  Happy to get ready for bed around 1:30.  No wonder I have trouble fitting with the 9-5 business world.    

Clearly, I am a night person.  When well-slept I have no trouble staying awake and social until 2AM.  I have even been known to enjoy the occasional 10:30PM trip to the gym on a weekend. I can do stuff, like cleaning, or making candles at 11PM and still be genuinely productive.  Morning larks don’t want to be doing housework at midnight.  That’s perfectly fine for me.

The downsides of this tendency are obvious and many.  Am still half- asleep at 11:30AM.  My brain box doesn’t feel fully functional until noon or so.  Morning exercise makes schedule-sense but is very difficult for me to carry out in practice.  Being forced to get up early for school or work is slightly tortuous.  Coffee required.

I don’t have a solution to this quandary now, as I face down the new year. The best I can say is that I will probably stop trying to force 5AM on myself.  7AM is the time I need to regularly get up,and I will do my damndest now to enforce at least THAT semi-productive/responsible schedule.  

(I recently learned about the concept of “sleep pressure,” and from what I can tell, I don’t typically feel much of it unless I’m very very physically tired or it’s very late. Sleep science is interesting!)

On a totally different topic, I am very pleased to say that my foot/ankle is getting better!  I know I mentioned that I’m experiencing an issue, and the problem seems to be extensor tendonitis. I am only now getting back to being able to walk for 20 minutes.  (Finally up to 20 minutes, yay!)  I’m working with a physiotherapist and he has been extremely helpful and given me a way to progress. I’m SO HAPPY to see a way out of this thing.

Wishing you all continued health, happiness and truly restful sleeps, 

Jennnq

Things About This Year That Weren’t Garbage

I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to celebrate Christmas early this year.  You want two whole months of homey good vibes?  After the year this planet has had? Go right ahead.  Sing all 13 syllables of a proper “Gloooooooooria” at full belt as you trim your tree, and keep sipping eggnog until 2021 is well and truly in.

I’m cool with that.  We all need comfort.  We also all need to show ourselves that little bit of seasonal hope.  This year will eventually end!  Maybe next year will be better!

I don’t remember another time in my life when I heard so many people saying to each other “stay safe.”  Heck, those are just normal parting words now!  So yeah, I’m on board for optimism.  That’s why even though it’s only November, I want to go ahead and highlight some of the actual non-sucky things about this year.  

Look, I know I’m on dangerous ground here.  In 2020 it is a little uncouth to say, “Wow, I’ve had such a great year!  It’s not my goal to gloat, and I feel the stress too.  That said, no matter what happens, I still believe in the power of gratitude.

Here are some things about #thisyear that weren’t utter garbage:

  • We had a huge snowstorm in January to kick off this crazy year.  The most snow I’ve ever seen in my life.  Huge snow walls all over the city.  It was both insane and awesome.  (I mean that  it literally filled me with awe.)  Somehow, we dug out from it.  It was a state of emergency that had nothing to do with Covid.  I’m grateful I have my partner, and I am grateful we were able to shovel so much snow together.
  • When this whole Covid thing started, I was lucky as heck to have the flexibility to begin working from home.  It’s a huge change, but I’m so thankful I was able to do this.  I recognize that many were not so lucky.
  • Tulips!  I don’t know much about gardening, but this year I grew tulips, and I am IN LOVE WITH THEM.  I planted a bunch more in September for next spring.  I will be so excited to finally see them!
  • I found myself better able to cope than anticipated.  I am an already-anxious person, and yes, this year has been hard, but because I have already met anxiety and depression before (hey guys, what’s up?), I already had some things in my toolbelt to deal with the new normal.  Journaling, exercise, talking to people I trust when I need to, meditation, singing, hot baths with cups of tea…I have a few ways to deal with the suck, and I never have to feel completely lost and alone.  
  • I got more into essential oils. Hooray for hippie-dippie bullshit!  Don’t worry, I haven’t fully gone off the deep end.  I don’t believe that essential oils cure illnesses, or that they can magically protect against covid or anything like that.  But I do think they smell nice.  I have accumulated a little shelf of witchy vials. I love making my office smell like limes.  Or peppermint.  Or vanilla. Delightful! 
  • I taught myself to jump rope.  I know I already mentioned this.  I am still not great at it, but I can at least do it now.  Learning something new has been great for my self-esteem.  I started in May, I think.  I’m still working on stamina! (Although right now I seem to have an ankle issue and I need to take a little break.  Not for long, I hope!)
  • I got a promotion.  It is not a stretch to say that my life has not gone as I imagined!  I have a very serious-type grownup job.  When I initially took this job, I thought I was a “square peg in a round hole” and that the whole thing was incredibly temporary.  Instead, here I am, 3.5 years later and I am feeling like an appreciated part of the team.  Not only that, but my creative perspective is valued and respected, and I am trusted to advise my coworkers.  (Are you kidding me??  How cool is that!) 
  • I got to know my bowflex.  It’s been sitting in the basement, but because of the lockdown I wound up putting in the time to learn the machine.  It’s not bad at all.  You really can do a lot with it.
  • I spent time hiking and exploring this summer.  I got a family pass for the botanical garden too! It’s been beautiful and inspiring.  It has lifted my soul.  I want to hike more.  I am still not running, so this is a decent alternative. (Plus there’s journaling.  I have discovered that for me, all hiking requires adequate snacks and journaling.)
  • I grew my hair.  That’s been happening since March, so it’s finally noticeably different to people who haven’t seen me in a while.  As an adult, I have pretty much always had short hair.  From age 16 onward.  Well, a lot changed with the lockdown, and I thought it might be a nice time to switch up my appearance too.  I can actually put it in a ponytail now.  I can’t remember the last time that happened. 

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  • Someone very close to me began taking more serious steps in their transition process.  People becoming more fully themselves is a beautiful thing to witness!
  • Trivia.  In the past few months, some of my University pals and I have been getting together for a weekly online meeting/Trivia night.  This has led to me talking to people I haven’t really hung out with in twenty years.  It’s fun to have a weekly meeting of friends.  I miss being social, so this has helped me.  At first I was awkward, but I really, really look forward to Sunday night trivia now.  
  • Forgiveness.  I have been working hard to let a lot of personal baggage go.  I have been nerdy and awkward in the past.  So what?  Sometimes I ramble, and get excited and say the wrong thing.  Who cares?  Sometimes bad things happen and I gain a little weight in response.  Whatever, it just makes me that much more voluptuous. I am not perfect, but I don’t need to rehash the past, or rethink every moment I’ve ever screwed up. 
    • The truth is, everyone sometimes says something stupid, or does something embarrassing, or feels insecure.
    • ADDITIONALLY, everyone has flaws, and no one except me is placing all of these standards on my body.  Really, having a bigger butt now that there’s a global pandemic seems like a pathetic concern.  I’m fine.  This is minor.
  • An improved relationship with my sister.  Maybe it’s how crazy the year has been.  Maybe it’s age.  I just find I can relate to her more.  (Also, she has a great sense of humour, and this big laugh that makes people turn their heads in public.)
  • Deeper thoughts about music.  My obsession with music has only grown over the years.  (I almost wish I had done music school, but would that have ruined it for me? I don’t know!)  However, it is only recently that I have been thinking about: 1) the subjective nature of the concept of “good” singing and, 2) the racism/classism inherent in what is meant by “music theory.”
    • With regards to “good” singing, there truly is no measure that applies to all singers in all scenarios.  You can’t evaluate a yodeller based on an opera singer. Just because I, or anyone else has an opinion on which styles we like better, is it ever right to judge one as “superior” to the other? On what criteria?
    • In addition to that, I have been able to seperate myself from my singing even more.  What I mean is, I have increased my understanding of the fact that I can mess up and still be a “good” singer (Whatever the heck that means).  People who are regarded as “great” singers still practice, mess up, have bad days and hit sour notes. That is normal.  In fact, sometimes it takes hitting a few stinky notes to improve.  If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying anything new!  
    • When someone talks about “music theory,” they are really talking about a very white and mostly 18th century European standard.  Even if someone in North America studies in music school, chances are that they won’t learn a lot about non-European standards of music.  I think this limited view is gradually changing, but we have traditionally evaluated and thought about music according to a very strict set of rules.  These rules aren’t “bad” but they aren’t the only ones, and when we talk about “Music Theory” we should either be more specific or more inclusive.  My mind was kind of blown by THIS VIDEO  
    • All of THAT said, I am keen to learn some more about music theory.  Honestly, sometimes music is still like mystifying wizard-stuff to me, and I think it’s time I taught myself all of that theory stuff that seemed so terrifying back when I was a teenager.
  • A greater understanding of my own perfectionist tendencies.  That shit will hold you back.  It is so much better to produce something imperfect than nothing at all.  
  • Renewed interest in the occult.  Well…ok…that’s never really changed!  But I find myself having more little rituals here and there, doing lots of reading and listening to podcasts like “Occult Confessions.”  I don’t have a coven or group anymore, and that was initially hard to deal with, but I am still finding magick in the everyday. Lemme read your cards sometime. 😉
  • Jason and I are more solid than ever.  Actually, I think I need to work on being a little more loving to him.  He is kind and understanding.  He makes me laugh.  Our late-night chats about everything are the backbone of our relationship.  We bicker, but we are faster to get over it now.  After 10+ years, I still want to grab his face and kiss it. Not half-bad!

So there you go, something personal but feel-good for these dark times.  

Stay safe,

Jennnq   

Fitness, 6 Months In

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been working from home for almost 6 months.

A lot can change in that much time, and it has.  I guess I don’t say much about my personal life  lately, because everything I have going on just feels so small to write about in comparison to the worldwide craziness happening.   

It all has me very much on edge. Since March, my sleep has probably been my biggest physical daily obstacle. It’s so much harder to do things when you’re tired, I hate it, and that’s bound to happen when you just plain don’t sleep enough. The more my brain starts to turn things over, the more sleep and I become distant strangers.  I feel like this is slowly improving.  

I’ve gained 15lbs.  I’m not particularly mad at myself.  I don’t hate how I look.  It’s just that everything in my life changed, and my body did too.  It’s logical.  No more walking from car to work and back again.  No more taking the stairs at work.  All of these little daily movements are gone, and weight is, of course, a bit of a math problem; less movement equals fewer calories burned and therefore more fat to hang around my hips and butt. 

Like I said, I don’t hate it.  It’s different but not awful.  I’m still curvy, there’s just more of it.  However, I have also noticed that I was feeling less comfortable overall in my body.  I was generally less energised and was feeling kinda frumpy.  I knew that I definitely needed more exercise to conquer that ‘blah’ feeling.  (And maybe something to kick my butt!) No one wants to feel hefty and out of whack, no matter how confident they are.

So I downloaded the Bodbot app.  Couldn’t hurt, right? You guys.  This thing is genius!

I’m not going to turn this post into an ad for Bodbot, but I am positively thrilled at the outcome so far:

  1. The weight gain has stalled.  I haven’t gained more weight in the past few weeks.  
  2. My measurements are changing. I’m not seeing a big scale drop but I’ve lost about an inch off of my waist.  I even think I’m seeing some arm definition. Yay!
  3. I feel better generally.  My body feels more alive. I like feeling good!
  4. My back feels better.  This is huge for me.  I have gained some flexibility in my spine, I don’t hurt in the mornings anymore, and I don’t feel nearly as achy.
  5. I learned how to jump rope. 

The whole concept of Bodbot has me pretty excited!  It’s an absolutely brilliant use of “adaptive technology.”  It takes any chance of bias right out of picking your workout. 🙂 Basically, the AI learns from you and is able to target your weak spots.  You do fitness tests before you start, put in your goals and Bodbot can fully plan your personalized workouts.  It takes into account the equipment you have available. The AI creates workouts catered to your exact needs, and it doesn’t care which exercises you’re stellar at.  In fact, you’re way more likely to get the stuff you suck at.  

Because that’s the stuff you need to work on! The challenging exercises are where the growth is.  Bodbot makes you focus on the niggling small stuff to become more balanced and foundationally stronger. (Example: Bodbot likes to get me to squeeze a yoga ball between my thighs and hold for 3 seconds, then release, and then repeat this squeeze another 22 times. Ow!)

Also! The jump rope thing! Holy moly!  

I was a shy kid, and from an early age I had the idea that physical activity was mostly something for other people.  I was absolutely dismal at team sports, I had little coordination, and…I sucked at jump rope.  As a kid I didn’t care enough to try to get better. 

Well, my beloved Bodbot has been asking me to do jump rope sessions.  I was initially pretty intimidated, but I’ve been making the attempt.  

The first time I took a  jump rope outside I was absolute garbage.  Tripping on the rope.  Thwacking myself in the back of the head with it.  I marveled that so many small children can master this with ease. I didn’t sweat it though.  I just decided that I would keep trying. I could probably get a little better through repeated exposures.  I couldn’t get much worse!

It was an ideal personal challenge.  No pressure.  A defined goal.   The stakes were low.  I wasn’t going to be mad at myself for failure. 

The second time, I managed to get the rope around a couple of times in a row.  By the fourth or fifth session I realized that I was able to string more of my jumps together.  I was better able to establish a rhythm!  In fact, the only thing holding me back now is my stamina.  I can actually jump rope!  It’s still really hard, but I can!

I’m thrilled with that.  I’ll take the progress. It’s damn satisfying to teach yourself something new. 

Speaking of something new, for me at least…my hair’s getting longer.  I can actually put it half-up now!  Hair growing is very slow-going, but this is the longest I can remember it being in years.  I’ve pretty much always had short hair as an adult.  20 years at least. I’m enjoying the new length so far, and I’ll keep growing it as long as that continues to be the case.

 Even if that means I have to wear a headband while I’m skipping. 🙂

Stay safe,

Jennnq

On Singing

I used to harmonize to the vacuum cleaner and the dishwasher as a child.  I was a devoted hairbrush singer.  If only I hadn’t been quite so shy!

I have always been deeply in love with music in general and singing in particular. I remember being young and harmonizing to the noises around me.  For fun, I would sing a third over the vacuum cleaner, or a fifth over the dishwasher.  My mother tells me that I was often humming away to myself as a child.

As I got a little older, I happily explored everything in my parents’ music collection.  I played every one of their CD’s.  I listened to all of their records.  From Mariah Carey to Frank Zappa to Tchaikovsky to the Grease soundtrack, I ate it up.  I also went through all of my mother’s cassette tapes, and basically took possession of the one Motown cassette she owned.  It was this amazing sampling of 60’s hits. I had no idea what an education I was giving myself at the time.  All I knew was that the tape was amazing.  So much so that I wore it out!  I played it over and over.  I especially focussed on “Baby Love” and “Please Mister Postman,” rewinding again and again so that I could practice singing them (complete with choreography, of course) into my hairbrush.

When I was around age 10, I pushed my parents to let me audition for a fancy local children’s choir.  Thinking back now, I was in such a beautiful, innocent stage in my relationship with singing.  I wanted to sing because I wanted to sing.  There was no baggage and no other agenda.  Singing was just a super-fun thing to do.   

That said, I had seen the ad for the choir in the paper, and I was absolutely insistent.  Honestly, I don’t remember the audition itself. What I do recall is later receiving a letter at our house, indicating that yes, I had made it into the choir.  I was thrilled!  My mother, as she later admitted, was breathing a sigh of relief. She’d had no idea how this audition was going to go (I had no training), and she was nervous about having to console me when I didn’t make it.

I joined the fancy choir, which is the first time I learned the basics of what I’ll call “proper” singing.  I call it that because this was absolutely the traditional “stand-up-straight-and-sing” approach to singing.  We did all kinds of warmups and breathing exercises.  We sang in four part harmony.  We were expected to sit up very straight at the edge of our seats and to open our mouths wide when we sang.  It was honestly a very rigorous and work-focussed choir.  I learned about reading music, I learned how to hold my own in a group, I learned how to focus on a conductor, breath support, enunciation and much more.  It was an amazingly good foundational experience.

Which is not to say that it was fun.  I honestly don’t recall making a single friend in that choir.  My mom dropped me off, we worked our little asses off for a couple of hours, she picked me up, and once in a while we held impeccable concerts.  There was no social aspect to this weekly gathering.  None. There were no games.  There were no icebreakers, and very few breaks.  I barely knew the kids around me.  Since I was pretty shy and there were so few chances to interact, that didn’t change!  

In retrospect, I do wish that the choir hadn’t been quite so strict.  (Singing, after all, doesn’t have to be a mere mechanical act.  It tends to sound better with a little emotion!)  Still, I am grateful.  That choir gave me the basics and taught me to work hard.  Can’t fault ‘em for that!

While I was singing with that group, I convinced my parents to sign me up for voice lessons. 

By fancy children’s choir standards, I was way-late.  I began at 13, while a lot of those kids had started music lessons while they were still in OshKosh.  Still, I was hungry to learn.  My parents found me a teacher within walking distance, and every Saturday I would make the short trek to her house.  

My teacher was this striking woman with a dramatic appearance and a full, operatic voice.  Initially, I was in awe.  This fabulous lady, with dark hair and flashing eyes, both intimidated and amazed me.  She was honestly the type of woman you might picture when you think of the word “diva,” in the traditional sense.  When she sang, she was powerful.  Her entire presence commanded a room.  I was nearly silent during our first lessons.  She’d play piano, and I would mumble out some notes.  This is partly because I was nervous, and partly because I had a fairly small voice. 

My teacher was at least more fun than the choir!  She had a sense of humour, and I have to say that she was always encouraging, even though at the beginning she had to coax the notes out of me. We also sang in a really similar range, which made it pretty easy for her to help me pick songs.  I believe that her encouragement was key to my vocal development and to me eventually “finding” my voice.  (I remember her having me sing while lying down to work on proper breath support.  Try it!  It’s challenging.) She also got me competing in a local music festival, which was good for giving my singing an overall goal.  

When I say I “found” my voice, that’s pretty much how it went. I was warming up with my voice teacher during our Saturday lesson one day, and something strange happened.  Out of seemingly nowhere, a much bigger voice erupted from me while I was singing.  For a second, my voice was big, clear and strong.  After a moment, my teacher stopped playing piano.  I stopped singing, and we both stared at each other, stunned.  She was actually wide-eyed as she asked “What was that?”  

My voice was never the same after that.  I don’t know what shifted, but after that day, it was huge.  A monster.  A thing that I could barely control and sometimes didn’t.  My singing would often leave me shaking.  It felt like a tap sometimes. I now had to spend my time learning how to control it.  Not every song should be belted, as it turns out, and that’s what seemed to happen when I didn’t rein it in.  It felt like a force that was bigger than I was. (Which makes perfect sense to me these days, as I now see that singing has always been spiritual for me!)  it was a thing that left me feeling raw and a little embarrassed afterward.  It came right from my boots.  

Maybe it was because of my teacher, but I was also taking on an operatic sound.  

The thing is, I was an insecure teenager, and I was mortified.  Of course I wanted what I didn’t have.  I wished to have a high, delicate voice.  I wanted the type of voice that would make you think “ethereal” when you heard it.  That wasn’t what I had!  I had this over-the-top, loud voice.  It commanded attention whether I wanted it to or not.  It was anything but “ethereal.”   

I felt very self-conscious about my singing sometimes.  I also had a hard time pushing myself forward for things, and asserting myself in general. (Making auditions and important conversations with the right people very hard!)  I wanted to be known for my singing, but I was pretty incapable of speaking up.  I loved singing so much, but it still left me feeling seen and vulnerable. Teenage me had a hard time with the push and pull of simultaneously wanting to be noticed and wanting to hide.

The children’s choir I was in wouldn’t let you stay past a certain age.  Once you got to be 13 or so (or if you were a boy, once your voice broke) you were out.  But, not to worry!  They had another choir for older teens.  All I had to do was audition.

Audition.  Now there’s a word that makes my palms sweat!  For me, every audition (yes, even now) is a complete crapshoot.  I find that I either wow ‘em (love when that happens!), or I wind up feeling like I want to slink out of there on my belly.  I swear, I’ve never in my life had a mediocre audition. It’s either beaming smiles or gritted teeth and “no thanks. I think we’ve seen enough.” 

Even though I had been with the super-strict fancy children’s choir for THREE WHOLE YEARS, and even though I had learned so much, (and I sat up super-straight, and I always listened, and I sang my part week after week) I still had to audition.  I was scared!

I really wish anxiety hadn’t gotten the better of me that day, but this audition I DO remember, and not for the right reasons.  It was awful.  I was awful.  I wouldn’t have been able to sing “row row row your boat” if they’d asked me.  I froze. I was horrible.  To make matters worse, for some reason they had me audition alongside another girl.  She was great.  I wished for a pit to open up beneath my feet.  The worst part?  No second chances!  I wouldn’t be moving on. Thanks for playing.  Damn.  

That one hurt.  You’d better believe I kicked myself afterwards.  Within 5 minutes of getting out of that room, I swear I could have turned around and nailed the audition, but it was too late.

The sting was lessened by the fact that at that point I was doing school choir anyway, and I still had voice lessons.  I still got to compete in the music festival.

Ok, I am gonna spill a little tea (ha ha, am I doing this right?) on this local music festival I keep referencing.  I used to sing in this yearly festival as a kid, and I am telling you, it was so flippin’ predictable, it was practically rigged.  You see, as these competitions are age-based, year after year I would find myself competing against a lot of the same soloists, and year after year I would watch the same girls win.

I know this sounds like sour grapes, but hear me out…a lot of these girls came from well-off and well-known families.  I’m not going to say that certain people always held sway over the adjudication, but I won’t believe that it never happened, either.

Yes, I saw some well-deserved wins, but I also saw girls win with mumbled-through performances, or win when they were so sick they could barely squeak out the notes, or win, as in one particularly egregious example, while chewing gum and looking bored throughout the entire performance.

I began to get the idea that even if I worked like crazy, I wasn’t exactly a favourite to win.  The effect of this was that it really helped to solidify the idea that I had  that I was some kind of underdog.  I already knew that I wasn’t a cookie-cutter pretty soprano.  Now it was becoming clear that I didn’t have the “right” family background either.  In addition to that, because I would get so nervous, I came into those competitions as a bit of a wild card; sometimes impressive, but often kinda awkward! 

 I wasn’t nearly as confident as I should have been.  The other girls weren’t always super friendly with me either, and that definitely reinforced the whole “underdog” feeling.

Anyway, I kept it up.  By the end of high school, I was in love with two things; singing and writing.  I wanted to make my life about either or both those things.  (As you can imagine, my parents were thrilled.  Not!)

I eventually went away to University, and I did not choose music.  To gloss over the rest of the story, (as this is getting to be quite long) I had a very unpleasant series of experiences with a voice teacher at the age of 18 and I quit.  I never really went back to voice lessons. 

Since then, I have had plenty of other things to occupy my time!  I’m not sad about it now, and I have never totally abandoned music.  I’ve auditioned for things of course.  I’ve jammed with bands,  joined choirs, and sung a frightful amount of karaoke since that time. (I’m actually part of an amazing local women’s choir here, and they are both work-focused AND fun…imagine that!)

Yes, I wish I had done more with it, but at least I always still have it as an outlet and hobby.  It’s nice to have as a life skill.  (A friend of mine once said: “being able to sing is like being secretly good-looking.”  I think that’s pretty spot-on!)

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, I thank you for allowing me to indulge in such reflective navel-gazing. (Whoa, it’d be weird if your navel was reflective! 🙂 )