Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – I

Part I

Our story begins, long ago, on a train platform. It is dark and chilly, because it is just before dawn, on a fall morning in 1998. This train station is in eastern Germany, and there are three people there waiting for a train to take them to Prague. 

Two of those people are me and the good friend I was travelling with.

Ye olden fashions of the 90’s.

The other person was an American guy. I’ll call him Joe. Joe asked us if he was on the correct platform to catch the train to Prague. In my memory, he is wearing a cowboy hat, but it’s possible this is a mental embellishment. Once we realized we were heading in the same direction, we fell in together as young travellers so often do, and my friend and I joined forces with him and eventually the group of friends he was heading to meet. Adventures ensued, but those are not what this story is about.

Train rides give you long, meandering hours to talk with people, and as we rattled along on that post-communist beast that lurched from side to side, we three talked of many things. Where we were from, who we were, where we were going. We were all from North America, we spoke the same language, and we were the same age. We had common ground, and later, we also had red wine, so the conversation flowed.

As the day went on, I began to understand though, that our world view was worlds apart. He mentioned in passing that he was Christian, which meant that he went to church, asked himself what Jesus would do, and would not say “Goddamnit” in polite company. He was, overall, what many would call a “good kid.” He was friendly and open in that American way that other nationalities mock, but are secretly jealous of. He’d probably been raised by good people in a middle-class American household. Like so many the world over, perhaps like all of us, he’d been raised with Christian beliefs and had never been taught to question those beliefs. They just were.

For me, religion was undefined, I had attended church as a dutiful child but stopped going many years before.  I did say Goddamnit and Jesus Christ and worse. I, too, was a good kid, struggling to be better. But I’d also grown up in Toronto, and as anyone who’s spent any time here knows, Toronto is a liberal place. It’s a city where the cultures of the world live side by side and try to get along. A city where we are free to vote as we like, dress as we like, and marry whom we like. It’s a city that is covered in rainbows just now to celebrate Pride Month.

Rainbows fly to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto

In the course of this hours-long meandering chat, James said something that disturbed me and has stuck with me for all of these many years.

He told us that he didn’t know anyone who was gay. I remember smiling and saying that most likely, he just didn’t know that someone in his circle was gay yet. He insisted that this was so, and then added that, in any case, if one of his friends or family came out to him, he would have to stop speaking to him. Forever. My friend and I were incredulous. What do you mean, even if it was your best friend, or your brother, you would stop speaking to him, really never talk to him again? 

Yes, he said simply, without a trace of remorse. He explained that according to his faith, homosexuality is “wrong” and everyone knows that. So it was a given in his world, if someone came out, they would be shunned and that would be it.

Jesus Christ and Goddammit I thought to myself.

We spent some time talking in circles, my friend and I trying to convince our new buddy that his views were intolerant and bigoted. She and I fancied ourselves as open-minded arty types, so very liberal, yes? CERTAINLY we could talk him round to our way of thinking with a few incisive arguments.

In the Toronto world we lived in, any declared religion was viewed with skepticism at best. In our circle of friends and acquaintances, poeple were freely experimenting with sexuality – some were coming out, some were not. Some were on the fence and others were refusing labels altogether. In other words, there was a great spectrum of behaviour around sex and attraction that was deemed normal. While definitely not perfect, Toronto was a safe space for many to be authentic and live without fear of being victimized.

Ultimately, we couldn’t convince Joe. Some things are so deeply engrained, that it takes more than a couple of hours of idle chit-chat to chisel them away.

The train pulled into Prague. And when we parted, we were friendly, but not friends.

This conversation happened over 20 years ago, but it has stuck, because that was one of the first times that I remember meeting someone who so openly expressed homophobia and defended his position.

I thought that the world has moved on since then. But has it?

Stay tuned for Part II


Rainbow Brite

Spring in Toronto this year has been a bit dull and cool and rainy.

The other day, to combat the weather, I opened up a pack of vibrant pastels that had been lying around forever, and my Lark spent the day drawing rainbows. All the rainbows.

If it’s a little overcast where you are or in your mind, I hope you enjoy these.

We did this together. She told me, “Mum, I’m a better artist than you are.” Agreed, babe.
“A Portal to Roatan.” If only.

I love when a child tries something new and then runs with it. She is now in love with pastels. I’m in love with what she’s done.

Not so thrilled about pastel on the couch, the dining table, coffee table and bedsheets, but I’ll live!

Earth Day

Happy belated birthday, Earth!

Recently, I had the privilege of snorkelling in the aquamarine waters of Roatán, a small island off the coast of Honduras. My family and I went on a day trip to a very small cay, off the southeast coast of the island. We found a pristine reef with gem-coloured schooling fish, lurking sharks, and healthy, large coral formations.

Paradise Lost

Like so many tropical islands world-wide, tourism is the major industry in Roatán. While being a boon to the local economy, tourists in large numbers obviously also have a negative effect on the environment.

It’s the double-edged sword of travel: accepting that you have both a positive and negative impact on the place you are visiting.

Roatán is a beautiful, lush island, where the people are friendly and the beaches are stunning. However, garbage disposal is becoming more of an issue as the island gains popularity as a destination. And, like everywhere world-wide, plastic ocean debris is a huge issue. There is nothing more heart-rending than diving a reef system only to find plastic bags and other garbage cluttering up the coral, as this poses a giant threat to many marine species.

In places like Roatán, the locals are working hard to prevent the plastic from taking over. There is a twice-annual coastal cleanup, and the island has recently taken the initiative of instituting a partial ban on plastic straws and bags, which, by some estimates, make up very large amounts of the world’s plastic debris.

There’s no doubt about it, our Earth is under duress. Last month, young people world-wide took to the streets to call for political action on climate change. As we are all aware, sweeping reforms are imperative at this point.

Our snorkelling excursion was an unforgettable highlight of our holiday, for me and the 10 members of my family who were with me.

I hope my 10-year-old son never forgets what that day was like. To speed across turquoise seas to a magical, castaway island, to drop into those waters in the middle of nowhere, and to see perfect reef, still untouched by bleaching. Sharing that experience with him was special and wondrous and also bitter, because I fear that our future world is in danger of losing our reefs forever.

On Monday April 22nd, Earth Day, I spent time at the park with my little Lark. We enjoyed some spring sunshine together and looked in dismay round the playground, at the detritus of winter, left strewn everywhere. Coffee cups, butts, and random pieces of plastic.

We spent about 15 minutes picking up garbage and disposing of it in the bin. She came up with the idea of collecting the more interesting bits to create a piece of artwork. Together, we did this at home:

Found plastic collage.
Everything you see here was in our local playground.

Yes, I know that picking up a few pieces of rubbish isn’t a game-changer. And eventually, our found art will make its way into the garbage and to landfill.

Sometimes, in the face of a crisis this large, it’s hard to know what to do, how to act, how to create change.

Here are 3 small moves I’m starting with:

  1. Today I became a monthly donor at the Coral Reef Alliance. I care so deeply about this cause and the amazing work they do.
  2. I’m making a pact with myself to reduce the amount I drive.
  3. I’m taking full advantage of a neighbourhood initiative, Roncy Reduces, that has enlisted local businesses to allow customers to BYO containers, cups, etc. Even our local ice cream shop is on board, with bring your own bowl!

How do you try your best to be environmentally friendly? I’m genuinely curious, please share!

Tales of an Innkeeper

Last year, whilst floundering in the wake of a giant home-reno project that had gone completely off the rails – if you’ll excuse my mixed metaphors – I made the decision to Airbnb the new guest space in our basement.

Like so many home-owners world-wide, I wanted to tap into the lucrative short-term rental market and try to recoup some of the mountains of money that had disappeared into thin air, along with our contractor and his promises.

Overall, the Airbnb thing has been a success. I put up my listing one evening last July, and woke, with glee, to see three new bookings pop up in the morning.

It’s easy to manage the bookings and communication with guests, which only totals about 10 or 20 minutes of my time a day. I also do the cleaning and turnover myself, although, six months in, I’m already tiring of the endless changing of linens.

Early on, though, I learned that you can’t be squeamish if you want to be an innkeeper. You have to steel yourself for what you might find when you open the door to your space after a guest has stayed.

The absolute majority of my guests have left the place tidy and undamaged. The exception was one couple who ripped a folding table from where it was mounted on the wall, and another guest, I’m not sure who, who managed to pull all the towel rails and hooks loose, almost as though he was using them to rappel across the bathroom floor.

It is disheartening to discover things that are gross, like nail-clippings in the sink and excessive amounts of hair, of both the head and body variety, but those things I can mostly handle, even if I feel rather like a forensic scientist trying to piece together what happened at the scene of the crime. That is, if a forensic detective quickly vacuumed up all the DNA samples, saying Ew, ew, ew, to herself, rather than collecting them for further study.

A neighbourhood friend, who has also entered the Airbnb biz, shared with me recently that she opened the door of her rented apartment to discover empty booze bottles, strewn condom wrappers, and one sordid black stocking draped across the bed. It doesn’t take a forensic scientist to figure out what happened there.

It’s one thing to suspect that guests are having a raunchy weekend in your house, it’s another thing to know it with absolute certainty. I refer you to my above comment about squeamishness. You have to be okay with the fact that guests may be doing that in your house, and yeah, potentially that as well.

I’ve yet to find sexy stockings lurking about the place, but here are some of the items that guests have left behind: 1 pair of men’s pants, 1 set of daggy women’s PJs, 1 pair of men’s undies, 5 lemons, 1 anti-depressant pill, a packet of cookies and several cans of beer. I kept the cookies. Okay, and the beer, too.

At this point, I’ve accepted, with equanimity I hope, that there are certain mysteries that will never be solved to my satisfaction. My secret emergency stash of Chicago Mix vanished, never to be seen – or heard from, obviously – again. Who was responsible for that?? I have my suspicions, but without hard evidence, I can’t point the finger in the form of a negative review. I can give them only four stars instead of a glowing five.

This is not an admission of guilt, though.

The Halfway Mark

In November, we lost my grandmother.

I say lost as though she were an umbrella, temporarily misplaced, when we know that I employ this euphemism to avoid saying that she died. It’s an inescapable fact: she is now dead.

For all the members of my family, this seemed – and still seems – a most impossible thing. She was woven into the fabric of my existence and into the very concept of who I consider myself to be. We thought she would endure forever, being at the time of her death, a venerable 103 years of age.

More than a century ago, when the 1900’s were still young, she was born into a world without televisions or computers or space travel.

In my mind, she was an English woman of a certain age. That is to say, cheerful, brave, and eminently no-nonsense. Those who have had a beloved British granny know, after those ladies survived the war, nothing could faze them.

Even before my birth, she was already a widow. Whatever sadness she felt at my grandfather’s death, I never knew, because her mantra was Keep Calm and Carry On, far before that was the irritating meme it is today.

She took up art in her retirement, and created, knowing that her works would never be masterpieces or bring fame, but painting for the love of it. She lived alone for many decades, in her house of watercolours and comfy chairs and tea and toast.

She took pleasure in her quiet routines: morning stretches, gardening and a cryptic crossword. She was deeply connected to her children and grand-children and would always ring us up to come help with some task or another.

A few days before this lovely lady died, I turned 43. I am now, obviously and impossibly, a grown-up. I am middle-aged. Which I guess means, that I’m in the middle. My life is, most likely, at the halfway mark, although likelihoods and I don’t always see eye-to-eye.

What if I should live to be 103? That means I have SIXTY more years of living to do.

Aging isn’t easy, that I know. I look in the mirror and spot yet another crease in my face or grey hair sprouting. I look tired, mostly, even when I’m not. There are times that I feel that I have yet to do or accomplish anything of any great merit. Oh, especially when social media shows me how fucking awesome everyone else’s existence is. #soblessed !

Although not likely, I’ve got a possible six whole decades to live. Decades to see my children grow, and not just survive, but thrive. Decades to see unlikely-but-not-impossible grand-children to arrive. Again, to likelihoods I thumb my nose with a hearty, “Screw you!”

I’m taking my next page from my grandmother’s book. I’ll create for the sake of the act, love my family members well, and take solace in the quiet daily routines that bring me the most happiness.

There is still time yet for all of my lofty goals and grand ambitions. My glass is half full, full of myriad, swirling possibilities.

As to my grandmother, I know her spirit roams a sunny meadow, an easel at her side, in the bright company of all those she loved who passed before her. Be at rest, sweet lady.

This is not a portrait. She didn’t like this painting much. In fact, it hung on the landing of her basement stairs. I have always loved it.

In memory of: Clarice Elizabeth Dalzell Spencer née Kenworthy. 1915-2018