We sold our house a month and a half ago … got a good price, and a long lead time, so we’re pretty happy about that. My husband is retiring in December, and I won’t be that far behind him. And this is a fairly large property, that feels too big for he and I to care for. Well, we probably could. We just don’t care to.
Big changes in life are like earthquakes; all that was simmering below the surface is suddenly revealed in the upheaval.
The last six weeks have been traumatic. At first, the relief of selling, along with the funds that will follow, made me giddy with excitement. And then, after the thrill wore off, ugly reality set in. I’ve been a home owner for almost thirty years, and a hoarder for at least the last ten. Faced with the need to evaluate what I value, and what is valuable – two very different things – it was time to finally decide the direction my life will take for the next chapter.
I sank into a paralysis of indecision, tortured by what I would be giving up … my large back yard, and gardens; this beautiful street; the lake at the bottom of the hill. The house, I realized, had never really mattered, but being an owner of a house did. If I decided I wanted to put up shelves, paint a wall, even put a nail in a cupboard to hold my measuring spoons, those were MY decisions, and the consequences mine to answer for.
Renting will be very different. I will have to ask ‘permission’ to do so many things, including keeping a pet. I understand that. Owning property is a big deal. Making sure that property retains value is a big deal. I can’t expect to freely treat a rental unit as I would a home in which I have a financial stake.
However, losing that autonomy is also a big deal. In many ways it feels like a surrender, like going home to the parents after making a stab at liberation. I’m an independent cuss, so that doesn’t feel very good at all.
It also smacks of the other end of life, of the surrendering of independence in pursuit of once more being taken care of by others.
So I am simultaneously feeling like a young bird, leaving the nest, and an old dog, hoping its owners will still appreciate and comfort it as it ages.
For boomers, aging is a bit like puberty; we don’t know what’s next, and we’re both eagerly anticipative and terrified of what’s to come. Often simultaneously.
Thing is … part of us always knew we were gonna age, if we were lucky. But that old ‘hope I die before I get old ‘kicks in every time we try to picture what ‘old’ looks like.
If we’ve failed to plan – financially, emotionally, spiritually – for how we’ll live out our Golden Years, we’ve done ourselves an enormous disservice. But hang on … if we got the lucky genetic ticket, we may have decades to live those years!
So when the idea of retiring comes along, whether because we’re closing in on 60 or because other factors, like failing health, or a kick out the door from long time employment, play a part, it can be a bit of a shock. It doesn’t matter whether your retirement is because you want to, or have to .. it’s gonna be a ride.
What does 65 look like? What about retirement? How do these new facets of life feel? Do I have one foot on a banana peel and the other on a bar of soap?
Will I be happy and relaxed, comfortable, with plenty of time to pursue my hobbies, living the good life, traveling for pleasure, or to visit family and friends? Or will I be scrambling to make ends meet, worried I’ll outlive my money? Some will never feel secure, no matter how much money they have, while others struggle with very little in their pocketbooks, but are rich in friendship and emotional support.
One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to cultivate friendships with a diverse group of like-minded people. No matter how many friends you had at the age of 50, I can guarantee that number will have dropped considerably by the time you’re 70. But it’s not the quantity of friends you’ve got, it’s the quality. We always have to keep in mind that the excellence of our own lives is improved or damaged by the people we are surrounded by . Toxic people will suck your energy dry, and leave you unsettled and defeated. People who see possibilities, and have hopes and dreams of their own, carry you along on their energy.
As my friend Barbette Kensington says, “Aging is about how bright your light glows…. keep up the energy level; the more you do the more you can do. Watch your friends and environment; don’t let anybody or anything break your stride…“
But how do you fill the hours that used to be spent, not only at work, but getting ready for work, and winding down from work? Although we spend the majority of our working lives believing that we’re an important cog in the machine, the truth is, the hole we leave behind is quickly filled. When you step off the moving sidewalk of life, even for a few moments, it’s still moving on, just without you. And it can be mystifying to try and get back on, and scary when you don’t know what you missed while you were off the treadmill.
When I popped my head out of the gopher hole of several years of clinical depression, I was stunned at how subtly but irrevocably the world had changed while I was oblivious. It was frightening, and all I wanted to do was to crawl back into that black hole. Expect to feel that way at times. it’s a fast paced world we live in, and some days are harder to cope with than others.
Planning for a decent retirement from full time work goes way beyond financial, by the way. Even those retirees I know, that have salted away a good nest egg, have much more to deal with than just money. There may be downsizing involved, which in itself is horrifically conscious altering. There may be health issues, relationship issues, or, just to complicate matters, the health issues of those you’re in a relationship with.
Whether it’s your own physical problems, or those of a loved one, our ability to enjoy life may be hampered, and make even the most mundane things difficult.
For many, having a secondary income may be necessary to supplement pensions. The base income of most Canadians without a company pension is around $1400.00 a month. If you live in a big city, that’s just not gonna cover much more than your rent. Finding paid consulting work in your field, with the accompanying benefit of staying on top of what’s new in that playing field, may be just the ticket. But even if that’s off the table, finding a part time job of any kind, and no matter how humble, can help bridge the gap. Just having a schedule … somewhere you have to be, and where people rely on your being there, can help maintain mental and emotional health.
Volunteering may never have been something you’d thought of as ‘work,’ but it is, and it can be a lot of fun, as well as a benefit to your community. Sharing your knowledge of what you’ve learned in your field can be another way to not only keep your mind ticking over, but of giving those just starting in your turf a leg up.
My desire to be an ‘eternal student’ may be in my future, thanks to special grants and waivers given to seniors, and Ontario’s recent change to the Ontario Student Grant, which will provide free tuition for Ontario students with a family income of less than $50K a year, and increase access to interest-free and low-cost loans (read all about it at https://www.ontario.ca/page/new-ontario-student-grant)
The bottom line is – so many of us worry about getting old – but so few of us think about what we’ll do if we live. Our choice then becomes the quality of that life.
I’ve seen some who have weathered much in their lives, and are stronger for having fought and won their battles. Those are the live wires that may flirt with retiring, but somehow can’t get the hang of it. Those are the people wringing out every bit of life for as long as they can. They are the people you see on the street, and want to know, because they glow with purpose. If they are forced into retiring, it’s not long before they’ll announce that they are ‘unretiring.’ Running out the clock just doesn’t work for them .. they’re not leaving this good earth and all it has to give until they’re damn well ready to do so.
While I see others, who have ‘retired’ by retreating from life, and waiting for death, sinking deeper and deeper into the anaesthesia of pills and booze, ‘self-medicating’ the pain of their losses, kept housebound, fearful of their surroundings, and interested only in their own aches and pains, and needs and emotions. Addicted to quasi-medical shows that sensationalize the dangers of everyday life, and media that fattens its ratings by appealing to their fears of a world that feels increasingly more dangerous, they wrap themselves in cotton wool, unable to trust anyone, spiralling down into a paralyzing world hell bent on picking their corpses clean before they’ve even been buried.
It’s a lifestyle choice.
There’s always more to learn, and you owe it to yourself to do so. Dr. Christiane Northrup is spreading the message that as you get older, you do not have to conform to the cultural baggage of what that means.
“Age is just a number, and agelessness means not buying into the idea that a number determines everything from your state of health to your attractiveness to your value,” she writes in the introduction to her new book, “Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being.”
Dr. Mario Martinez, a neuropsychologist, wrote in his book “The Mind Body Code” that getting older is inevitable. It just means moving through space. Aging, on the other hand, is optional. What we’ve come to associate with the word “aging” in our culture is an inevitable decline and deterioration. What I’m talking about is reframing the experience of moving through time, so that as we do grow older we can step out of these age-based associations that can keep us in a cage. “
Me and Doctor Who, moving through time … I like that …
When we fear the future, we are running FROM life – when we anticipate what might be, we are running TOWARDS it, with our eyes and minds and hearts and arms wide open, ready to accept all that a lifetime has to offer.
Every living creature was entered into a lottery, the minute sperm and egg combined to create them.
We didn’t know it was a lottery, we didn’t know we had a ‘ticket’ – but it was, we did, and here we are, with our winning ticket in our hands.
The problem is … the prizes are not necessarily what we might have chosen or hoped to win. Some of us became animals, others, humans. Some of us were born in comfort, while others opened their newborn eyes in a war torn land.
Some were born, and perished in the same moment. Some were born with physical or mental defects that they and their families would have to deal with. There were many skin colours we could have received; some got the colours that worked well for them, within their society. Some were born with skin colours that did not guarantee a secure life.
Some received wonderful gifts – beauty, intelligence, skills that would serve them well. Others, often through no fault of their own, were born with the potential to succeed, but in surroundings that would prevent that success ever happening.
Some were born to parents who wanted them, parents that could nurture their growth. Sadly .. many more were deprived that privilege.
Some lottery wins are more prized than others. We didn’t pick our tickets; we didn’t even know we were entered. But we are, nonetheless, playing our tickets, for better or for worse.
We tell ourselves, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’
But we don’t all enter the game with the same protective equipment, or the same innate skills or abilities.
Is it fair to blame those players who still try to play – but who can’t compete through circumstances they ‘won’ in the lottery of conception?
I am not a religious woman. I see some that take great comfort in their faiths, and I am happy that it makes them happy. To gather together with others of like views and beliefs, to share song and nourishment, is the essence of community.
I also see some who insist that everyone must follow the same faiths and paths that they have chosen, even if it must be enforced by law or violence. That is an abuse of the same spirit that causes people to want to come together in joy and a common pursuit. A forced faith, brought about by societal or legal pressure, is not a true faith, and is quickly discarded when the pressure to comply is lifted.
My faith, if that is what it is, lies in gratitude. I’m thankful for so much around me, most of which is unearned except by having been born the person I am, in the society I live within. There is nothing remarkable about me. Some parts of my life have been very difficult, but, at other times, life has been very good. The me that lived through all the parts of my life is always grateful, whether it is for a little or a lot, of whatever I’ve got.
In a consumer society, all of the world’s riches are still never enough. We are constantly bombarded with urgings to buy more and more physical goods. This one is new and therefore better! This one is improved! Buy this makeup/clothing/car and you’ll be prettier/sexier/more acceptable/maybe even loved! And for heaven’s sakes – discard what once was exactly what you thought you needed to achieve happiness. Make room for more stuff that you’ll faintly resent moments after purchase. Because …
Stuff doesn’t create happiness. Happiness cannot be bought. The feelings of comfort, joy, and community rise from not just an acceptance of who and what you are, but from thankfulness for the people you’ve chosen to surround yourself with, who accept you for who and what you are, wherever you are, whatever the conditions.
We are easily distracted. Something shiny will always come along that entices us to look at what we have, and find it wanting. There is no joy or happiness in envy or greed. The need to acquire hides our truest desire – to truly see what we have, with loving and compassionate eyes, and be thankful, no matter the circumstances.
“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1803-1882, Essayist
Maybe – maybe not. I know that I need to get my butt into high gear, in order to meet the deadlines set by selling my house, and thus needing to relinquish the hoard.
I know it makes people around me happy when they see that I’ve actually accomplished stuff by the end of the day, when they can see boxes or bags tagged with instructions for what’s going where and when.
But the boxes and bags are symbols. They contain physical ‘stuff,’ and thus must be moved from one location to another. Stuff, eventually and inevitably, has no real value.
It is the people in the house who must prepare, mentally and emotionally, when a house is no longer a home.
Uncertainty and fear of the unknown roils the stomach, causes panic, and provokes knee jerk reactions to what would be a simple bit of movement or thought on another day, in another time.
Action needs a plan that encompasses many needs and wants. Action is a rational response to a situation. Reaction based on fear is rarely as productive as plotting the many steps involved in a large undertaking.
It may feel like the taking of action propels us forward into what we must next do – and in some instances, that action clears away obstacles that impede a forward movement. But many such actions also wipe away possibilities, and the inescapable realities of how others may be affected by the taking of actions.
Reaction is forced action. It mocks all needs except the primal, and demands response, retribution, visible forward propulsion, often based on no more than extreme emotion.
Theory – planning – outlining the steps. These are the blueprints of action. Action that follows theory is good action.
There are risks and costs to action…But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. John F. Kennedy – 1917-1963, 35th U.S. President
Somewhere along the line – was it in the disco 70s? The ‘Me” decade of the 80’s? The Naughty 90’s? The despair of the Noughties?
Somewhere in there, we lost our way.
In the 1950s, we were all shook up, and in the sixties, we tuned in, turned on, and changed the world. We believed in ourselves and that our actions had global impact. And we were right.
But all that action was exhausting. We couldn’t keep it up, and we were busy patting ourselves on the back for being so hip and cool and groovy. We had used our flower power to launch a civil rights movement, and to stop an unjust war! The U.S. landed a man on the moon! Now we dance!
Retribution for the changes we had wrought came swiftly. Those who hate change targeted those who encouraged change. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy – all assassinated for daring to dream of a better world.
Racism and ignorance tore the bright and shiny dreams of peace and equality of the sixties into shreds, and now, it threatens to do so again. The way forward is not paved with bullets and brutality. The raised voice and fist of dictatorship enslaves; it does not elevate a people or a culture, it tramples them into the ground.
Our years of ‘comfortable inaction’ have birthed some of the worst, most self-indulgent, and reprehensible political representatives of all time. Around the world, and at every level of government, the choices are dismal, with little to discern one corrupt, manipulative and greedy candidate from another.
Before you point the finger – know that you did this to yourselves. Know that wanting our own well-being at any cost, opting for indulgences as we decimated the middle class, slotting anyone who didn’t look or act like us into the reject pile of life … all of these ‘inactions,’ in the name of comfort, created the monsters we now see before us.
The years of focusing on what made us happy; on choosing the cheap over the well-made (and in that group, I include the ‘heroes’ we pedestaled;) the crude and ugly brutality of racism and bigotry whipped up by leaders who chose fear of others as their platforms; the laziness of passionate if largely uninformed opinion over fact and reason; the years of “too long: didn’t read” – all of those combined – have given us the governments we deserve.
We lost belief in ourselves, and demanded less of our leaders. We lost sight of the fact that every action we take has global impact. We refused responsibility. We chose comfort for ourselves over the welfare of the planet.
The actions we could have, and should have, taken in controlling our voracious greed for wealth and power, never happened.
And now we are reaping the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
Some people think of me as a happy person, who laughs long and hard, and knows how to have a good time. And that’s a large part of who I am.
But I get really, really angry at injustice .. to anyone. Especially injustice to the vulnerable, those who suffer, but are expected to keep a stiff upper lip and their mouths shut before their ‘betters.’ And that includes not only racial minorities, it includes ALL injustice .. to anyone …
I get really, really angry … and I’m allowed to express that anger. Oh sure, I’ll get a few people who tell me to lighten up, or who’ll ignore me, or who’ll snicker about my ‘rants’ … but I’m ALLOWED to get angry. I’m allowed to yell and stamp my feet, and some will agree and some will not .. but I’m allowed to show my anger.
And it doesn’t get me beaten. Or killed. Or arrested for ‘typing while black/native/female/old/young/handicapped/imprisoned/Lefty Liberal.’
My heart breaks every time I see injustice. But I feel the most pain when I see those to whom injustice is a daily reality and a life sentence, being told and shown that they not only have to take it, they have to take it with a smile.
That’s the kind of unthinking injustice that our world tolerates. And I’ll keep getting angry and ranting about it as long as I have breath in my body.
A quote from the article below: “There is a time and a space in which to be angry. There is a time and a space to be happy and joyful. Black people are fully human and we deserve the opportunity to exist in all of our emotions and feelings all the time. NO ONE gets to regulate our humanity —— not even “childhood friends.””
One of mankind’s greatest truths is one of the first things we’re told about ourselves in all of our Holy Books … if you tell us we can’t have something … we want it. We want it so badly that we’ll tear our whole world apart to get it.
We might not want it once we have it, but we want to have it anyway. Sex, riches, information .. gimme gimme!
And even with that truth and knowledge, we still love to tell people what they’re not allowed to do. Can’t do this, can’t do that .. and you most assuredly cannot touch THIS!
The whole concept of morality, prohibition, censorship and public censure is a movable feast. What is considered perverse in one time phase is the norm in another. History is littered with examples of faulty logic and twisted ideas held by the powerful or influential that managed to mould societies into ways of living that made sense only to them. They had the power, through brute strength, religious fervour, or political might, to force others to think and behave as they dictated.
Puritan men found table legs so damned sexy – getting a woody over wood, if you will – that they invented table skirts to hide those naughty legs from view. And yet – sixty percent of Puritan women were pregnant when they got married. So the skirts didn’t stop anyone from getting frisky, any more than hijabs or burkas do. No one seems to have asked just how or why the men of Victorian times found table legs to be too sexually arousing for public sight. Maybe I’m just missing something here. Or maybe my own turn-ons would be considered just as outré.
In 2001, a suicide bomber tried to blow up a plane with a bomb hidden in his shoe. He failed. But now hundreds of millions of us have had to take off our shoes before boarding a plane. The rules of aviation changed forever. Flying used to be fun and exciting. Now it’s all about terror and strip searches.
He FAILED. But we still have to take off our shoes, because …
That’s it. I’m cancelling my policy with Acme’s Monkeys Might Fly Out Of My Butt Insurance Company. It’s not as though any amount of payout would make my butt hurt less. And I have it on the best of authority .. i.e. Wayne’s World … that it’s not likely to happen. And the premiums cost far too much … I’m not prepared to trade an illusion of safety for my faith in humanity.
The rest of you can keep buying into the ‘one and done’ theory if you like, that the one crazy or pervert or fanatic is just waiting for you to slip up so that he can rob/molest/maim you, regardless of the fact that that is one possible weirdo in literally millions of perfectly sane humans.
But if it gives you comfort to believe the world is so dangerous and immoral that we must all be wrapped in cotton wool and kept away from even the whiff of danger, I’ve got to be a differ begger.
We’ve all watched as modern societal norms have squeezed the joy out of childhood, making kids exterior lives so safe that they’ve given up on being kids, and prefer to sit in darkened rooms with their parentally controlled televisions and computer games. Has that generation grown up unscathed? Why no! In fact, they are likely to be oversleeping rather than facing problems, or entering their college years so dependent on feeling safe as houses that they need trigger warnings before attempting to read a Shakespearean play. And when they graduate, they want mum to accompany them on their job interviews.
Ok, not all of them .. but in that exaggeration lies some truth; children have to experience life to survive adulthood. Constantly being sheltered from potential danger only results in a child incapable of recognizing danger when it’s actually encountered.
Take sex education, for instance. The parents screaming the loudest about not wanting their children to know the reality of modern dating are dragging their own past insecurities and fears behind them. They are living in a world where tiny baby girls wear onesies that say , in girly pink lettering, “Sorry boys. Dad says I’m not allowed to date EVER!” while little baby boys of the same age are parading around in macho t-shirts that proclaim they are ‘studs’ and ‘cougar bait.’
What part of institutionalized sexual hypocrisy do these parents not get? Explain to me why it’s cute to pretend that your little darling is too precious to be touched .. EVER … while your robust 10 month old baby boy should be perceived as too sexy for his diapers? As an adult, you think you get the joke, and it’s all good and cute. But all you’re doing is continuing to encourage a time-worn sexual fantasy no longer applicable. Sex WILL happen. It’s why you’re taking up space on this planet right now.
These parents don’t want their kids to even have a hint of what they’ll be encountering, personally and up close, as early as the fourth or fifth grade, whether the parents know or approve or don’t. They think they’re protecting their offspring; instead, they’re sending lambs in to the slaughter.
Our need to protect our children and ourselves is evolutionary. It’s how we dragged ourselves out of the sea and onto the ground, and from there, into the monkey business that eventually evolved into modern man. Now, here we are, upright, civilized for the most part, and still trying to protect our human bits from danger. We’ve just so overloaded from all the hysterical information the media broadcasts that we can no longer think through how to react to the over-reaction that seems to be expected of us.
But avoiding reality, not allowing kids to hear sanitized, but at least truthful, facts on sex from actual instructors, can lead to many worse problems, not the least of which is a fear and mistrust of their own maturing bodies. And they’ll still find out everything they did or did not want to know about sex. They’ll just google it, watch porn on the ‘net, or hear about it from some misinformed classmate.
Fear, fear, fear!!! .. of what might happen. A child might accidentally see a naughty picture .. burn all the books! There are terrorists out there and they want to get us! Quickly, take off your shoes and throw away your shampoo!
Next thing you know, we’re twisting ourselves into spirals, attempting to protect ourselves and our children from things we can neither anticipate nor prevent. And we justify blind obedience to stupid rules and present day morality because we can’t argue for why not following those rules makes more sense. Because .. what if there’s another guy with a shoe bomb? Hasn’t happened in 15 years, but then again, who expected those flying monkeys?
It’s a recipe for disaster. It didn’t work in the past, and it doesn’t work now.
But it does leave us all ripe for manipulation by those who are the real bad guys, those who capitalize on our fear for their own gain. Whether they are selling you insurance policies against flying monkeys (some conditions may apply,) selling you provisions for your bug out bag or bomb shelter, or subverting your civil rights and liberties while claiming they and they alone have the solution to your fears if you’ll just give them more power, these nasty people don’t really care about your fear as much as they do about their own profit off that fear.
They’re just as scared as you. But it’s of you realizing that what you’ve been buying hasn’t fixed anything. It’s only made it worse.
No matter how you’ve lived your life … saintly, and with a whiff of heaven in your aura, Dora, or a little naughtily, with a more checkered past than you’d care to admit … you want to be rounding third base and heading into home plate with a fine group of worthy team mates, and a cheering section that still likes you, whether because of, or despite, your resume and reputation.
I must have done something right, because I’m blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my corner. And so many of us share a musical background.
I’m writing this on Friday night, because the weekend kicks off in about an hour, with the arrival of my old friend and band mate, Sharon (Kaid) Kaczmarczyk. We go waaaay back, to the days of Lady, before Lady morphed into Performer with my addition, when she was the haughty, sexy, blonde drummer, and I was the shy and mostly innocent new ‘chick singer’ the group reluctantly admitted to their midst. Where it not for Sharon and Helen Dreyer (on keys,) both far more seasoned and experienced than I was at the time, I’d likely still be wearing my Peter Pan getaway boots with a tie-dyed tunic, and sporting a Cleo Laine ‘fro. Hey, it had worked for me in my pop/jazz quartet, Tangents! 😉
Sharon and Helen taught me how to make up, ‘zizzed’ my hair so that it stood up in a jaunty rock helmet, maintained with a zillion cans of heavy duty hair spray, and encouraged me to experience the joys of spandex, glitter, and six inch spiked heels.
Through my connections with this group, I went on to meet so very many wonderful players, and devotees of the music we created. Sure, some were jerks, but you weed out the losers, and if you’re lucky, you get to know and love a lot of funny, talented, professionals who are experiencing life slightly differently than the average citizen. Not necessarily better lives – but usually a great deal more challenging, and thus, great candidates for long, convoluted, and very interesting tales around the campfire.
So yeah .. Sharon. She didn’t know what to make of me at the beginning. I was Little Suzy Sunshine, the Pollyanna of the group, always chipper, up with the dawn, busily scouring the thrift stores for stage clothes and shoes, doing my daily 500 leg lifts, endlessly practicing scales. I was not rock n roll at all!
(before and after shots of the first Performer band shoot. At some point, our manager said, “Say, I wonder what would happen if we got the girls high enough to take off their tops?” The topless shot went on to be banned at most of the high schools we’d been booked to play.)
But at some point, I must have worn down her resistance to my infernal cheerfulness. Or maybe it was because in most hotels that had band accommodation, there was a minimum of band rooms, and with 2 guys and 3 girls in the band, we had to double up at times. Helen was a Tequila drinker; Sharon and I were fond of the cheap white wine, Colli Albani .. or as we renamed it .. New York Dog. Sharon and I teamed up in many a room to kill a litre or two of the dog, gulped down between sets and daytime drug store forays. Long days and nights on the road turned into long weeks and months of bonding.
Beyond being a powerful drummer and vocalist, Sharon was also a terrific songwriter. I’d know – I vocalised and demoed a lot of her songs. “Blue Eyed Boys,” “Show Me,” “Girls on Top” .. it was the 80’s and the messages were short, sweet and to the point.
While a lot of our Toronto contemporaries were getting media exposure and getting signed to record deals, Performer spent far too much time out of town, and as far out of town and up north as you could go. Kirkland Lake, Kap,Timmins, Chapleau, Thunder Bay … for months at a time we’d be enduring Northern tours that would have crushed the spirits of younger bands. On one famous “Moose Tour,” we narrowly escaped death by Bull Moose three times in three weeks. Bullwinkle was not our friend.
But we were young, enthusiastic, hardy, and possessed – thankfully! – of a good sense of humour. Even our road crew knew enough to temper their grumblings with a heavy dose of levity.
Now, here’s the thing about just about every single female musician I’ve ever known in the last fifty years … none of us ever thought of ourselves as much more than pretty ok looking, and marginally talented. Which is odd, because of nearly every male musician I’ve met in those same five decades, the reverse is true. The guys would generally overestimate their own attractiveness, and were convinced that they were natural born leaders and stars, possessed of legendary talent and ability.
And they had the groupies to prove it. While most female musicians had an entirely different crop of stalkers and weirdos to ward off.
Helen, Sharon and I spent months at a time on the road with nary a beau in sight. It’s an odd thing, being desired while on stage, but being either ignored or feared as being untouchable, off stage. Road time is tough enough; filling the hours between waking up and playing, while living on very little money and with few resources, is challenging. Moreover, it was lonely. And rockers are generally pretty sexualized people – seems to go with the territory – so it wasn’t the best place to be companionless. That’s why you’d see so many hook-ups within bands and crews … a lot of times it was just proximity, a release from the coming down after whipping up the audience, and ourselves in the process. We’d have much preferred to be on home turf, where our own, pre-qualified letches lurked, but when in Collingwood …
Sharon had it worse than Helen or I. Blonde, statuesque, with laser focused blue eyes that could burn a hole into a wannabe suitor at 20 paces, she worked her Amazonic magic from atop a drum riser. On stage or off, she had presence. Although single and looking, few males could see through her powerful appearance to the warm, caring woman within.
And those that did have the guts to approach her tended to either be fuelled by liquid courage, or to be in possession of egos far larger than the sum of their intelligence … I’ll never forgot one road trip that had left us exhausted and fit for nothing more than 48 hours in our own beds. At a truck stop, at about 4 a.m., and about two hours out of Toronto, the band, running on depleted adrenaline and road coffee, and still dressed in our spandex, glitter, and rock and roll hair we’d rocked hours before, ran into another band also heading home from a gig. The male lead singer of the other band went into full peacock mode and approached Sharon. “Hey, blonde,” he said, “You need a lift?”
Sharon kept her cool, but the rest of us were falling about at the very idea that this fellow could actually think that his mere presence (and perhaps the promise of candy,) would lure a blonde rock goddess into his stinky van in the wee hours. Never happen. Trust me. We weren’t that lonely.
But we did live in rarefied air. The images we presented of ourselves took time, money, and considerable energy. Women in rock, especially in the eighties, were expected to look a certain way, and to emphasize their sexuality. When you’re getting up on stage in front of live audiences, night after night, you can never let the mask slip. Your attention is on taking whatever raw material you’ve been given, and shaping it into something worthy of posters and album covers.
Guys in rock, on the other hand, usually had it easier .. and damned if they didn’t often look better in makeup than the women did! Depending on the musical genre they represented, they could get away with a lot less primping. And people rarely commented on them wearing the same outfit, night after night.
Despite our constant vigilance, and belief that we had to keep fine tuning how we looked, Sharon and I were both good eaters and reluctant dieters. Nothing made us happier than a Sunday night on the road that featured an all you can eat pasta buffet! We’d get out the fat pants and have at ‘er. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet!”
If only we were as fat today as we thought we were then! We were so very hard on ourselves, firm in our beliefs that it was only by reaching an elusive physical perfection that we could catch life’s brass ring. But sometimes, the ring is elusive, and the grasp just a trick of fate.
Just as the band entity “Lady” had morphed into “Performer”, Performer eventually fell victim to road fatigue and cynicism. A reformed quartet, of Shawn O’Shea, Al Corbeil, Sharon and myself had a brief stint as Foreign Affairs, before taking one last kick at the can, showcasing at the El Mocambo as Ice Age, with the late, and very much missed, Phil Parmentier on bass.
Thirty five years later, Sharon and I remain good friends. We still giggle like teenagers, rejoice at each other’s good news, and mourn each other’s losses. The base of friendship that was formed in proximity and happenstance has widened to include a deep love and commitment to each other that I can’t see ever ending while we can still draw breath. Perhaps for even longer than that.
Addendum: On Saturday we were invited to a BBQ hosted by yet another long-time friend and his family, and attended by still more of our musical comrades-in-arms. Some of us have known each for nearly fifty years. We marveled at how we’ve navigated our lives and careers, celebrated our successes, and commiserated on our war wounds. Pictures of past glories were produced and admired, greeted with gusts of laughter at how dated our band pics, head shots, and press clippings seem today. We’re older and wiser, and there might be a little more of us to love than there was in our heyday, but damn! We’ve made it this far and haven’t lost our sense of humour or our commitment to creating and enjoying music. I’d call that a legacy worth celebrating.
(first published in bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/roxanne-tellier-musical-friends-are-making-me-happy/)
I already had a column drafted and ready for editing this morning, but my muse took a hard left turn and demanded a re-write.
I wanted to talk about how important it is to be true to yourself; in your own life, in the way you present to your loved ones, and the realities of pursuing the path by which you pay your bills. But all of that sounds rather pretentious, in the face of current events.
What I came to realize is that the only reason that old, white women like me can spend any time at all dreaming of improving themselves and their surroundings – never mind assuming that anyone else would be interested in reading those thoughts – is that we have ‘privilege.’
I know that’s a dirty word to many. “If I’m so privileged, why can’t I get a decent job? Why do I struggle just to make ends meet? Tell ME about privilege, when I grew up poor, with an abusive family, and no chance at a decent education!?”
And all of that is valid. You probably DID and ARE getting a raw deal on some aspects of your life. We live in troubled times of massive fiscal inequality. That you were able to fight your way through the obstacles, and are currently reading this on your cellphone/laptop/desktop/magic mirror, shows that you drew on all of your resources, and triumphed.
But what you didn’t do, if you were born white, was wake up every day, look into the mirror, and see visible proof that you were a minority, with all of the attendant prejudices that an accident of birth conferred upon you.
Just by being born white, in Canada or the U.S., you won a lottery you never knew you’d entered. If you were also born male, able-bodied, straight, and into a family that was financially stable, you lucked into a super bonus. Something you had no say in, no choice, granted certain privileges on you from the day you entered this world.
Not all privilege is exactly the same. Where we are in terms of ‘class,’ as an economic indicator, also affects what we can expect to access in higher education, and with whom we can expect to interact. One kind of privilege doesn’t add or subtract from another – being discriminated against for having non-white skin doesn’t negate being discriminated against for being female, or non-straight, old, or disabled … all of these factors have bearing, and cannot be minimalized.
But if you woke up this morning, and a white face looked back at you from the mirror, you faced one less challenge than those who saw a face of another colour in their reflection. As rich and famous as Oprah Winfrey is, she still encounters those who think her unworthy of holding corporate power, and is not immune from discrimination in a luxury Zurich handbag store.
And you can just get off your high horse of pretending that systemic racism is only a problem in the U.S. Yes, their problem is more visible, and more violent, and yes, the spectacle of an openly racist presidential candidate whipping up the basest of armed citizens, potentially leading to Civil War II, is horrific.
But Canada’s treatment of First Nations people is despicable. Denying that it isn’t our own flavour of racism doesn’t address the very real injustices perpetrated against the people who were here before us.
Consider this commonplace incident that occurred yesterday, in Calgary. RCMP, making an arrest, entered a home on the Siksika First Nation around 6 a.m. The RCMP are alleged to have battered an Alberta First Nation man, hauling him naked from his home and bringing him to a detachment before realizing he needed an ambulance.
“Christian Duck Chief, 23, is recovering from a broken eye socket, fractured cheek bone, fracture to the back of his head and a broken nose.
Duck Chief and his wife say they were sleeping in their home on the Siksika First Nation southeast of Calgary Friday when RCMP from the Gleichen detachment entered their home around 6 a.m. to arrest him.
They acknowledge Duck Chief struggled at first, saying he was on his stomach when woken and didn’t know it was police. But they allege an RCMP officer hit him at least 20 times after he stopped struggling and shouted that he wasn’t resisting, even as he lay handcuffed on the floor.
Duck Chief — who has been charged in connection with the incident — and his lawyer said the force used by the officer was excessive.
(The couple) suspect the arrest occurred either because a friend had visited them the night before in a stolen vehicle or that RCMP wrongly believed Duck Chief was still under a bail condition that he not be in the home with his wife.
Duck Chief said he struggled at first because he thought someone had broken into their home and was attacking them, and initially bit the officer’s finger. He has been charged in connection to the incident.” (cbc.ca)
That scenario is almost as Kafkaesque as the spectacle of Philando Castile’s girlfriend talking calmly and calling the officer ‘Sir’, as he forced her out of the car and onto her knees after he shot her boyfriend dead in front of her and her four-year-old daughter during a routine traffic stop.
Do either of those scenarios, of the First Nations man in Alberta, or the man in Minnesota who died from a broken taillight, strike you as something that would happen to a white citizen? That this would be the subject of a discussion heavily loaded with justifications to decide if the victims deserved what happened to them? No. Privilege.
The people of colour in the U.S., and the First Nations people in Canada, are both being told that their very real fear of the police and authorities must be addressed in calm, respectful, and reverent tones. While those who beat and kill them are not held to anywhere near the same standards.
The us-against-them-against-who now? arguments that broke out last week over the actions of BLM-TO (Black Lives Matter – Toronto) at the Pride parade exemplifies how divided even minorities have become, and how quick we are to pick a side. As emotions subside, speakers from both the BLM community and the LGBTQ community have moved to a middle ground of understanding. There have been talks, apologies, and re-commitments to values.
Except for white people. White people are still using real and imagined information about the actions of two beleaguered minorities, adding in the public attitudes on policing, finally declaring one side or the other a villain. It’s not even their battle! But that’s how privilege works … you still expect to not only have a right to an opinion on something you have not personally experienced, you believe your opinion should be heard and agreed upon.
Earlier this week, the executives in charge of Toronto’s CNE events made a disastrous faux pas, and announced that disabled patrons would no longer receive complimentary entry, citing a need for ‘equality.’
The CNE has posted the policy change on its website, saying it strives to respect “the dignity and independence of all of our guests, including those with disabilities.” Caregivers can still get in free.
Am I reading that right? The disabled will pay, but their (presumably non-disabled) caretakers will get in free? What an odd definition of equality!
Their publicity department insisted, self-righteously, that their decision was solely based on allowing all fair-goers equal entry, despite the reality of the thousands of free passes that are given to city councillors, employees of other attractions, anyone famous enough to be recognized at the Gates, and, ultimately, their own friends.
While the City weaseled out of the fight by fobbing off critique while they ‘discussed’ the situation, it fell to disability advocate and former Lieutenant Governor David Onley to lead a charge of harsh criticism, which forced the CNE to reverse their decision. They caved, as bullies will, when their petty actions are shown to be discriminatory, and potentially illegal. Public opinion, bolstered by social media, brought too much negative attention to the parsimony.
“The CNE had argued it simply wanted to treat people with disabilities the same as everyone else. But Onley said the decision was purely economic and if the CNE was truly concerned with equality, it should look at the number of people with disabilities it employs — a figure general manager Virginia Ludy didn’t know when asked on Wednesday.
Onley also said some 1.8 million Ontarians have some kind of disability and, of those, more than 400,000 live on Ontario Disability Support Program payments. That amounts to about $14,000 a year plus medical benefits, “meaning that you live in a state of virtual poverty … it’s not a good state,” Onley said.“
Privilege puts money above compassion and empathy. It bandies the word ‘equality’ about, while ignoring the reality of those who are physically or economically challenged.
Nothing is too low for those who use blunt force to achieve their ends. Look to the actions of Canada Post CEO, Deepak Chopra, who has forced his will upon postal workers by refusing to continue talks. He’ll lock out the workers, and impose a stoppage of mail, eventually forcing the workers to take whatever he’ll decide to give them.
Some of the issues? Equal pay. In 2016, the same 2016 that Trudeau used as a banner and a reason to have a gender-even counsel, we’re dithering on whether men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. But for Canada Post, apparently equal pay is just not ‘this year’ enough.
“”Our rural and suburban mail carrier unit, which is predominately made up of women, get paid 28 per cent less than their predominantly male counterparts in the urban operations unit for doing the exact same work.””
Pensions are also on the table. “a two-tier pension system might become the reality for postal workers. Canada Post wants the union to accept a defined contribution plan for new employees. “The proposed change would alter the plan such that the contributions made by each worker would be set, but there would be no guarantee of the benefits they would receive in retirement,” wrote rabble labour reporter Teuila Fautai”
No guarantees in retirement. Well … isn’t that comforting. Tell me how this can be justified by CEOs and government officials whose handsome pensions are locked down and guaranteed, ensuring they’ll live out their golden years in comfort.
It’s all around you, and tied up in bows that dissolve in your hands, leaving those of visible and invisible minorities with nothing but slime to show for the strident claims of equality and justice for all. Those with privilege point to laws and regulations designed to create a level playing field, and dismiss the cries of those who note that those fields are often studded with landmines, and protected from access by the high cost of pursuing justice in the courts.
No one is saying that it’s a crime to be straight, white, middle-class, able-bodied or male. There’s no need to don hair shirts or self-flagellate for the circumstances of your birth, no need to feel guilty for enjoying those privileges. In fact … please DO enjoy them! They are your birthright!
What those who have been denied access to the same privileges simply ask for is an acknowledgment of those differences. They ask that we be aware of how much more difficult it can be to compete in a world where others will never comprehend what it’s like to have to work twice as hard, just to be considered almost equal to a peer who has never known the same adversities or discriminations.
Until then, it seems we’ll live in a world where ‘tolerance’ is defined as not immediately killing those who don’t look like you.
(first published July 10/16 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/roxanne-tellier-privilege-is-such-a-lonely-word/)