Monday, December 02, 2019

My Dad - Roger Gagnon

This was originally posted on May 11, 2011.

My dad passed away on the 11th month on the 22nd day at the young age of 66.

I'm still in shock as I post this in loving memory of a truly wonderful man.

Today is my dad's birthday - (well it is in Canada) I'm a day ahead in New Zealand. He was born on May 11th. I thought I'd celebrate his birthday by writing some of the things I love so much about him.

My dad and I have a unique father-daughter relationship. He wasn't around much when I was growing up but I adored him nonetheless. My dad was a kind, happy, quiet guy who was a bit of a drifter. He used to just "turn up" at our house unexpectedly once or twice a year.

When I would come home from school and see his truck parked in the driveway, my heart would race. It was the best feeling on earth - even better than Christmas! I'd barrel through the door and there he'd be, sitting in the kitchen having a coffee with my Mom with a great big smile on his face, "surprise honey!" Those are my favorite words. I'd perch myself on his lap and that's where I'd stay hugging him until he was off again... even when I got too big to sit on his lap, I did it anyway. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I didn't know what it was like to have a dad who stayed longer than a few hours a couple of times a year so it was no big deal to me. I absolutely loved that man. He was my hero. I was so proud to show him off.  I'd invite all of my friends over just so I could prove that I had the coolest dad on earth - and they all agreed.

In summertime, he would buy a big box of popcicles for me to share with my friends.  He'd take us to the beach in the back of his pick up truck (when you did that sort of stuff and it wasn't illegal).  He taught me to drive that truck when I was 15 on a country road.  When I was little, he let me sit on his lap and steer. He was so much fun.

I loved the fact that my dad had a great big heart. He never said a bad thing about anyone.  He was a hard worker.  He was always helping others, building decks, fixing their roof, fixing horse floats... he was called Roger the 'Tin Man' because he was a craftsman with aluminium siding.  He often worked for his friends for a case of beer. 

Everyone loved him. Anyone who knows my dad would describe him as "a really great guy". You just can't fault him for anything.

He loved my mother, even though they couldn't be together, he always made that clear to me. I knew that he adored me beyond words. He was and is incredibly proud of his only daughter.

My mom and dad met in the early 70's. They met while my mom was racing Austin Minis. My dad described my mom as "extraordinary", there just wasn't another woman on this planet like my mother. She was beautiful but didn't know it, she could fix a car better than most men and she would do anything for anyone and she loved her kids. My dad admired her for her strength and her heart. He was 8 years her junior, only 19 when they met and he was prepared to take on her 4 kids. It wasn't easy, I give my dad a lot of credit for trying.

My parents both tell me that I was conceived from pure love. I like that. I was a love child. It's very fitting. My dad chose my name as I was his first child (and only daughter). I looked a lot like him and as the years go on, I am more and more like him too. It proves the theory of nature vs. nurture. I am my father's daughter.  

My mom and dad split up when I was 3 and he came and went in and out of my life ever since. But despite the fact that I rarely saw him, you couldn't fault him for being who he was. He wasn't a bad man or an absentee father (though he never did pay child support, he didn't believe in it) and it upset my mother.  In fact, when I was older, my dad told me that the reason he stayed away was because he genuinely believed I was better off without seeing him much.  Confrontation made my dad really uncomfortable and my mother was a confrontational, acusatory person when she was hurting.  That's why they just couldn't make it work.  Love wasn't enough.

Having a dad like mine was kinda like living with a time traveller - just like the movie. He would just turn up and then he'd be off again. I learned to love not knowing when I'd see him next. Every time I saw him though, he was so full of love. How could I get upset with that?  I understood him. This was who he was, love it or leave it.  I didn't always love it but I accepted it.

I still only see my dad once every year or two (now that I'm the drifter). Our relationship is strong but to most people probably very odd because we don't ring up to talk to each other. I wish I could say I call him once a month - but I don't. He rarely calls me - rarely has.  When we did spend time together,  we would sit listening to his old vinyls, crying as the words spoke the things our hearts needed to say.  He's not one to send birthday cards or Christmas presents. We have one of those telepathic relationships - I love him and he loves me.

Our bond is unconditional and pretty rare.  It's simple, it's a beautiful thing.

Sometimes he would just call me out of the blue saying, "Hi Honey, I was just thinking of you and I didn't want a perfectly good thought to go to waste."

I'm thinking of you Dad. I think about you and send love out to you every single day. I know you feel it because I feel you doing the very same thing. 

We're two peas in a pod. Happy Birthday Dad! I adore you and I always will.

*** 2019 - In recent years my dad and I started talking more frequently and he even learned the basic art of texting (his spelling was atrocious which is why he hated writing). This was the last text conversation we had...

It brought me so much joy when I'd get a random text from him telling me how much he loved me, how proud he was of me, that a day didn't go by that he didnt think about me and he felt my love for him in his heart every day too.

You have no idea how much comfort that brings me.  I could never convince him to learn to Skype.  I wish I'd known more of his friends who could've done that for him.  I missed his voice and his face.

He's been gone a week and I've been utterly helpless, stuck in Australia until I return home to New Zealand to make arrangements to get home to take care of my dad's finsl wishes.

It is not going to be easy but I know he's going to be there to give me strength through his ever present, never changing love. I'm going to need it.  ***

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Peanut Butter and Jam on Toast = FREEDOM


I’m passionate

I give more than I take

I’m honest

I can't stand liars

I’m not common

I hate being ignored

I’m authentic

I can feel others emotions with my heart

I’m eating peanut butter and jam on toast, still my favourite at 44 years old, in my lovely quiet home which costs me $400/week plus expenses.  I'm feeling all nostalgic and romantic so I'll tell you a story.

I would’ve never thought I could afford living like this on my own.  I just rent.  I gave up trying to save for a deposit to own a house a long time ago.  I'm content with renting.  I don't have kids.  I'm not married.  What do I need to own a house for?  I like the fact that I can move anytime I want and if something happens, I can call the landlord to fix it.

When I was in my early 20's, I sacrificed my freedom, my happiness, my independence and ruined good relationships which might have actually lasted.  I jumped into living together too fast because I thought I needed someone to live with in order to live somewhere nice.  It never occurred to me to get a flatmate.  It was easy to find a guy who wanted to live together, we became an instant "couple". It seemed practical but I hadn't considered what I'd be giving up to get into this instant committed contract.  I was so young and naive.  I thought that's what people did.

My aunt once asked me when I told her about a young man I met who wanted me to move to Oklahoma to live with him, "He might want that but what do you want?"  The truth was, I had no idea. I loved the adventure and I was never afraid of trying something new.  He said he loved me but I wasn't sure I loved him, I thought I'd figure it out after I moved in.  This is never a good start to any relationship.

My relationships failed, not because I wasn't meeting nice guys.  I believe they failed because the energy I was putting into the relationship was a bit of curiosity, boredom, excitement,  desperation and fear of being alone.  The relationships weren't based on unconditional love.  They moved too fast.  The "love" was imbalanced, either I loved them too much or they loved me too much.  But either way, it wasn't actually love at all.  It became dependency.  They were afraid of losing me or I was afraid of losing them. Dependent love is a trap and it eventually fades, fear takes over and someone starts panicking because they are about to lose the security they have grown accustomed to in the relationship.

I hated that feeling so much, I stopped living with anyone.  It was a paradox, I ran from love in fear of losing it.  Eventually, by the time I reached my early 30's, I became emotionally unavailable to anyone.

I needed to know what it feels like to be 100% alone in this world.  It took me a long time to figure it out.

***I want to make note here that I am writing this from the perspective of a childless, unmarried, middle aged woman who still can't grasp that she's in her mid 40's.***

The message I am sharing is that we are all capable of looking after ourselves.  There are so many ways to survive and thrive when you are willing to think and search for opportunities.  You don't have to live like me, renting a house alone. House sitting is a great way to see the world. Tiny homes on wheels or  on a small lot. Live-in care giving. Renting a room in another person's home, feeling good knowing you are helping them pay off debt.  (It's healthy to think about helping others and not just ourselves.)

These are all options I’ve considered or tried in the past and would explore if I had to in the future. Would it be easy to let go of my favourite “things”? Nope, not at all. I cry every time I lose a sofa I really like (my solution - I stopped buying sofas). I would probably even store a few precious things until I was ready to let them go.  That’s okay.  I purposely try to never buy anything I don't need and I up-cycle furniture buying things second hand or free and giving it new life with some paint.  So there's truly nothing of value in my house, apart from the love I gave it.  I have nothing that I don't really enjoy looking at or using.  My house is lovely, it's exactly how I like it.  It's not cluttered and the things I have match together perfectly.  I can achieve this anywhere with any unwanted furniture.  It's all about my style and nothing at all to do with the stuff I own.

Would I have to figure out what I’d do with my dog? Yep. It would be really hard if I had to give him up and I'd do my best to keep him. But if I couldn’t, then I would give him to someone who would absolutely adore him (which wouldn't be hard because everyone loves him and I have a list of people who want him).  I would cry for days about it, but I know I’d get over it and so would he. I love him and I just want him to be happy, even if it's not with me.  That's unconditional true love.

The aim is to be FREE.  Nothing is forever.  Don’t become attached to your things or to your surroundings or to the people in your life.  People change.  Pets die.  Jobs get made redundant.  I'm being practical, not fatalistic.  You can get cancer or have an accident.  Anything can happen unexpectedly.  It's important that we can let go of everything in order to adapt to changes quickly.  I'm somewhat of an expert on this, I speak from experience.

You can live a life of freedom and not necessarily lose your connection to the people, places and things you love (well maybe children... because children are officially an 18 year commitment... but after that please let your children be free too.  You aren't doing them any favours by teaching them to remain dependent.)

"Things" tend to accumulate no matter where you go. In fact, by remaining in the same place, around the same people, doing the same things you are actually denying yourself (and others... especially your adult children) the opportunity to connect to even more amazing people, places and things. Get it? We are only limited by what we don’t allow ourselves to experience.

I'm not saying relationships are bad and that you should stay single and never live with a partner.  No, that's not what I'm implying.  I'm simply speaking for myself, saying that until I learnt to be alone, I was truly unable to enter into a healthy relationship where I wasn't DEPENDING on the other person.  It wasn't something I was taught as a child.  My parents separated when I was a toddler.  I never saw how a healthy relationship worked.  My mother was an alcoholic so I raised myself and I left home when I was 16 years old.  I lived alone most of my childhood.  So to me, love was something I latched onto and smothered the crap out of because I was so afraid it would leave.

Now that I'm in my mid-40's I am waiting for the right partner, so we both enter into a relationship for all the right reasons, interdependently.  I've done the dependent thing and I've done the independent thing.  Now it's time to meet in the middle.  I'm ready, if and when it comes.

My point is that we all need to feel we can make it on our own first.  I think we owe that to ourselves, because otherwise we live fearfully, afraid of life alone.  All we have in this world is ourselves. If we give up our personal freedom to make other people happy or to live life on other people’s terms or to live in constant fear of the future and dying… well then we’ve missed the entire point of living.

Life is about enjoying, being totally present and trying different things so you can truly say you experienced everything life offered you.  Whether it's with the person you love the most in this world or on your own in the comfort of your own space... 100% enjoying the moment for what it is... now.

I still love peanut butter and jam on toast. I have eaten it in just about every country I have travelled to. It tastes different everywhere. The bread is different, the butter is different (sometimes I sacrificed butter to just have straight peanut butter on toast).  The peanut butter and jam is ALWAYS different.

When I was younger, I ate it for the sake of eating it.  It made me happy but it never satisfied my cravings.  I didn't think about what I was eating or the quality of the product I was blindly consuming.  When I wanted a snack, I made toast and I could eat half a loaf of bread!

As I've gotten older, my choice of peanut butter and jam has changed.  I will not lower my standards. Nowadays, I like healthy bread - sour dough or a brown bread with nuts and seeds. I don't like the toast thick. I only eat real peanut butter these days, freshly made if possible, chunky is best. I aim to eat homemade jams, with less sugar.  REAL and HEALTHY is what I'm aiming for.

It's so important to not compare one thing to the next, especially when you're young and trying to figure out what you like.  Learn to enjoy each one as though they are your favourite snack in the world, different but delicious.  Each time you taste something new, you are fine-tuning your perfect combo.   It's perfectly okay to like variety, in fact it's wise to try different things.  Not all of us are born knowing exactly what we like.  We might have been eating the cheap, processed "fake" peanut butter and jam on white bread.  It can take a half a lifetime to realize that sweet things rot our teeth and processed "fake" things have no nutritional value whatsoever.  When you explore and try other ways of enjoying the thing you love the most, you may just discover that the healthy version is really the best.

I know what I like and how I like it now.  I won't just have any old PB&J anymore.  It has to match my taste and measure up to my standards.  And I don't need to eat it often, just when I feel nostalgic and romantic.

When the right partner comes along, it won't be a difficult decison to want to share space again.  The aim is to just be happy whatever you choose together, and keep your heart open to the perfect love combo for you.

*** True love is Freedom ***

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Why I Stopped Writing

I used to get writer's block all the time.  It's normal to go through periods where you can't write, right?

It's been three consistent years of chronic writer's block now and I'm getting antsy.  I can't even bring myself to write in my journals... even if I desperately WANT to... I can't do it for some bizarre reason.

This isn't like me.  I joined an online Creative Writing Course offered through the University of Ohio thinking that might help "force" the pen to paper.  Nope.  I failed.  I didn't submit a thing.

So what is going on?  It's not like I don't have things to write about.  I get inspired to write all the time.  There's just something blocking me from doing it.  I tell myself that I don't have the time.  The inspiration hits me in the most inconvenient moments when I won't be in front of my computer until many hours later and I'll be too tired to write.

Elizabeth Gilbert explained writing in a way that made so much sense to me.  I am pretty sure she heard it from someone else... so this will be extremely paraphrased... but it goes like this:

"Being inspired to write hits you often at the most unexpected moment.  It's like a train coming in the distance.  You hear it approaching but you might be standing in a field, miles from home without a pen and paper.  So you run as fast as you can before that train passes so you do not miss this moment of inspiration.  If you're lucky, you get there before it's gone because once it's gone, you miss it.  And in some cases, if you get there just in the nick of time, you might be able to catch the back of the train and pull the words onto paper backward."

Something like that.  You get the gist of it.

I've missed so many trains it's not even funny.  I've stopped bothering to run for them. 

So why am I not writing?  I have been reflecting on that question a lot.  It comes down to a lot of things.  Burnout.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Low self-worth.  Mid-life crisis.  Loneliness.  Fear (of failure, of success).  Laziness.  Overwhelm.

I asked another writer friend of mine if this happens to him.  His response was:

"Yes, absolutely, so often.  But I never fight those moments, I just ride them through and try to get myself excited again about whatever it is I need to be creative about... in as organic a way as possible.  Usually by relaxing, breathing, going back to the original source (music, places, thoughts) and letting whatever comes, come... and not fighting it.  Anxiety over those times doesn't work.  Breathing does, for me."

It happened when I returned from Africa in 2014.  I was supposed to finish my book.  I have an editor and everything. We'd have regular meetings to discuss the project and he advised me to stop blogging and just write for the book.  It made sense.  I write on here and it goes out to you instantly, there's no sales in that.  So I was supposed to stop blogging altogether and even DELETE MY BLOG!  Omg.

The purpose of writing the book was so that hopefully when it's a best seller and I'm on Oprah's book list, it will be made into a screenplay and then movie.  Yay!  Then I never have to worry about fundraising again and I can just go and live my purpose, helping my friends in Africa, rescuing children and animals and build my sustainable retreat so people can come and reconnect with themselves through nature.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

The longer I waited to write the story, things began to unravel and the plot changed and twisted.  The story was becoming something very different from the one I was preparing to write.  Some of the information was too hard for me to comprehend.  Lies, scandal, exploitation.  This wasn't what I signed up for.  My own story had enough of that.  This book is too heavy, even for me... the strongest girl in the world.

It's fear that holds me back.  Am I REALLY strong enough to tell this story?  Is my writing good enough?  Can I handle the critics and the backlash when I tell the truth?  Do I really want to relive the pain and the hurt?  Do I write this story as an autobiography which seems so egotistical or do I make it into fiction so I can change the characters so no one is 100% sure who I'm talking about (apart from the person I'm referencing - IF they even read it which they probably won't)?

And voila.  Too many questions causes too much hesitation.  As time goes by, I watch that train disappear through the mountains.

There's no question that the moment I sit down as I am right now, to blog about something as random as writer's block, the words flow.  I don't have to overthink, the words come from somewhere outside of me.

At times I've considered just getting a ghost writer to help me.  I think my emotions are too involved in my story.  My feelings might be preventing me from writing objectively.  Then there's the self-doubt, "Who do you think you are?  Why on earth would anyone care about what you have to say?"  

Self-doubt is the biggest bitch I know.  This is how we communicate:

"I'm not disciplined enough."  Shut the fuck up.  I'm the most disciplined person I know.

"My family will disown me."  Who the fuck cares?  They never call you and they'll probably never even read it.

"The story is too hard to tell."  You lived through it so it can't be that bad.  And there will be people who will be comforted knowing that someone else went through the same shit they are currently dealing with.

"I never know where to start."  This one stumps me too.  You have been writing for over 30 years... there's a lot of material.  Where the fuck do you start?  STUMPED.  For once we agree on something.

And that's the answer.  I don't know where to start.  I've tried and tried.  The story is so big.  My editor said I have about 5 or 6 books that need to come out.  WHERE DO I START!

I seem to start in one story and then I move to another story.  I have all of these folders with stories but nothing flows and it's only half told.

Perfectionism is the killer of creativity and I am a FUCKING Virgo!

Sorry, I don't usually swear this much.

I love(d) blogging.   I love the instant thrill of publishing immediately.  I'm an "in the moment" kinda girl.  If I don't do something with my inspiration immediately, it goes in a folder on my computer and it sits there forever.

I can't seem to write when I feel lonely.  I feel most inspired when I am traveling, surrounded by people while I retreat into my own world as the buzz surrounds me.  Perhaps that is the answer.  My quiet house, which is perfect for writing, doesn't inspire me.  It simply makes me want to eat chocolate all day and take a nap.

On days when I have time to write, I organize my garage or I made videos like this one that I made of my dog Blue.  I'll blog about him one day soon... maybe.  ;)  Kidding.  Of course I will.  He's amazing.