Peace Is On The Rise

It has been a crazy few weeks, to say the least. On the evening of March 10th, I found out that my grandfather was in the hospital dying. The dreaded ‘c’ word– cancer– had overtaken his body, spreading from his prostate into his lymph nodes and– tragically– his brain. Mere hours after he had been admitted into the hospital, long before Marty and I were even able to get to Calgary, he was gone. A tumor– covering close to 20% of his brain like snaking, suffocating ivy– is what officially took him away from this earth.

This is a photo my grandpa took of himself for a camera course shortly before he passed away. Spooky, no?

At least it was quick. At least he was surrounded by family when it happened. At least there was no pain.

Grandpa smoking beside the first of his many children

I spent over two weeks at my grandma’s house, first helping out with the funeral plans and later watching over my grandma and aunts like a regular Florence Nightingale. I designated myself Queen of My Grandma’s Kitchen, and for weeks I prepared my extended family nurturing soups and nourishing bowls of morning oatmeal. I’ve never cooked so much food in my life! True to my Almost Vegan self, I roasted several organic chickens for a crowd and even ventured to make my grandma’s dogs raw dog food. (A word to the wise: using a food processor to blend hamburger meat and LIVER is not for the faint of heart, and especially not for the Almost Vegan Faint Of Heart.) Heh. During that two week span, I transformed from somebody who was secretly wary (and even a bit petrified) of my grandpa to an open-hearted goddess of love and understanding for that particular branch of my family tree. I am back at the lake now, safe and sound, but I am definitely a woman changed.

Newsflash: My Grandpa was good looking! Consider me shocked.

My metamorphosis started with a dream.

In the wee morning hours of March 12th, I bolted awake in bed, finding myself reciting the final words of the Lord’s Prayer. Out loud. In the dark! Only moments before, while I was still asleep, I had seen a circle of women holding hands and chanting the Our Father together. When it came time for the final verse, they summoned me over. “You have to say this part”, they said, but I was warm and cozy underneath my blankets. (Besides– godless heathen alert!– I wasn’t certain I would even remember the final words to the Lord’s Prayer. Yes, I had been raised ultra-Catholic, but it had been well over 10 years since I had recited any officially-sanctioned prayers.)

This photo pretty much sums up everything I thought I knew about my grandpa: cowboy hat, crucifix, enthusiastic fist pump, and the Lord Our Shepherd in the background. 🙂

There was no way I was going to say anything for the women in my dream. Sorry, ladies: No late night Lord’s Prayer for this sinner.

“You have to say this part!”, they demanded again, this time more urgently. “Now!” So I woke up and whispered, For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Now and forever, Amen. I scanned the bed in embarrassment to see if Marty had heard me, but luckily he was still fast asleep beside me. Then, knowing how uncommon it was to find myself roused from my slumber by a prayer, I quickly checked my alarm clock for the time. It was 2:52 am.

This photo ALSO sums up everything I thought I knew about my grandpa. His own caption for the pic is "Me reading bible". Yep. Reading the bible... on the deck... practically nekkid. Oh, Grandpa! 🙂

I found out from my mother, mere hours later, that my grandpa had passed away during the night. Do you want to hazard a guess re: the exact time of his death? Uh-huh. It was even adjusted across time zones– 3:52 am Mountain Standard Time, or 2:52 am Pacific Standard Time. Leave it to my grandpa to beckon me back onto the Catholic Path with his last earthly breath… (I called it Grandpa Shaktipat, a decidedly un-Catholic way of understanding what had happened to me and what it all meant.)

Grandma and Grandpa. My mom looks EXACTLY like my grandma in these shots!

It sounds cheesy. It seems cliche. But after that dream, my heart opened up like a flower in full bloom. I reconnected with my family members (dozens and dozens of them) and finally felt the peace associated with not judging them or trying to distance myself from them. I was awash with grace. I cared for my family members, both in the physical sense– making sure that the legendary family home was clean and that healthy food was always on the table– and in the emotional sense, too. Most of the tears I cried in Calgary boiled over not in sadness over my Grandpa’s absence, but in love and compassion for my Grandma, who had been with my Grandpa since she was only 15 years old. Her heart had been broken, and my own heart broke in empathy for her.

Only the best photo in the history of the universe! Can you believe that this is my grandma and grandpa? He was 17 in this picture; she was 15.

A year later, in Golden BC

Terrible circumstances are what brought Marty and I over to Calgary, but the tragedy of losing my Grandpa– the undisputed, often terrifying head of our family’s household; the God-fearing, Bible-loving Catholic with a big heart and a short temper; the usually-shirtless man with a permanent suntan and a generous gut– enabled us to form actual friendships with my Grandma, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and even my own sisters and parents again. My heart still aches for my Grandma, but for the first time in my life, I am phoning her regularly and enjoying our conversations together. We’re friends now! The two weeks I spent with her have literally changed me. Yes, I’m still the pro-choice, feminist, gay-marriage-supporting black sheep in the family, but the grace of god and my Grandpa’s spirit helped me to realize that so much more connects me to my family than sets me apart.

Grandma and Grandpa at their 25th wedding anniversary, unveiling the now-legendary pic of my mom and her infinite number of siblings. (My sisters and I have tried duplicating this pose in many of our own pics.)

RIP Grandpa: October 20, 1937 to March 12, 2012

Totally unrelated to this post: Apparently WP is blocking some people from commenting on this and other posts. If you have been trying to comment but find yourself facing the stone-cold wall of WP disapproval, please e-mail me at:

dana (DOT) zonapellucida (AT) gmail (DOT) com

and I’ll see what I can do. Thanks!

Honorary Keepers of the Lighthouse!

Being married to an artist definitely has its perks. For me, one of the greatest parts of being the Less Creative Other Half to a Creative Genius is getting to accompany my beau on some stellar “art research” excursions. We’ve been invited to experience the inner workings of a chocolate factory before, got to hang out at a micro-brewery when Marty’s custom-designed beer bottles were being filled, and most recently, we were whisked away to a nearby island to be Unofficial Keepers of the Race Rocks Lighthouse for 24 hours! It’s a tough job, but somebody has to be a tag-along bride! 😉

Race Rocks: Our new home away from home!

Race Rocks Lighthouse is one of the two oldest lighthouses on Canada’s west coast, and it can only be accessed by boat. (Fisgard is the other oldest lighthouse, and both have been in operation since 1860.) Marty and I had been by Race Rocks Lighthouse before (en route to see the Super Pod of orca whales, natch!), but we never imagined we would ever get to set foot on the sacred island, let alone spend a night at the Lighthouse Keeper’s house! (As Honorary Lighthouse Keepers, even!!) So what if the beacon itself has been automated for decades? Allow me to take a single night’s worth of credit for keeping the passing ships safe… 😉

Don't worry, ships passing in the night-- you're in great (albeit inexperienced) hands!

How on earth did this happen? How did the chance to hang out at Race Rocks Lighthouse fall into our laps?

I’m glad you asked! Last autumn, Marty was asked to donate an item to a charity’s fundraising auction here in Victoria. He generously donated a custom painting of the winner’s choice, and we were thrilled to bits when the auction winner requested a piece of the Race Rocks Lighthouse! Even better was the fact that the winner had actual, physical ties to Race Rocks and could arrange for us to spend an evening there, for “research purposes” obviously. Hanging out at the Race Rocks Lighthouse is not an opportunity that comes along very often or to very many people at all, so you can bet that I dubbed myself Marty’s “Art Manager” ASAP and insisted that I accompany him to the remote island when the invitation was extended. 🙂

I'm the manager. I go everywhere Marty goes.

Getting ready for our journey, I fretted about what to pack and how to prepare. What, exactly, does one wear to be a Lighthouse Keeper? How much food does one pack, especially if there’s a chance of being stranded on the island? Should I bring my own toilet paper? (Was there even a primitive toilet there?) Would I need a book to read? Would I get any sleep at all? (Race Rocks is home to a substantial bunch of migrating sea lions during many seasons of the year and is a notoriously loud and stinky place while they are there. Thankfully, the sea lions weren’t basking on the surrounding rocks during our visit, so we didn’t need to use our ear plugs or hold our noses for 24 repulsive hours!)

We were told by the auction winner to “bring a sleeping bag and food” with us– in addition to our signed waivers, of course– but I had no idea what to expect from the accommodations. Would we be roughing it on a rustic wooden pallet on the floor? Would we be crammed into a storage closet-sized ‘room’? Would there be heat? Could we cook? Call me naive, but I’d never been an Honorary Lighthouse Keeper before and had no idea what awaited me. (For the record: I resisted the urge to prepare all of the remaining food items we had in our fridge and pantry for a 24-hour stay, and instead packed enough food to last us 2 days, just in case. The weather forecast looked promising for a timely exit from the island, so my OCD kitchen tendencies were kept in check.)

On Wednesday afternoon, we met the official Lighthouse Keeper at the docks of Pearson College with our overstuffed (and impressively heavy) expedition backpacks on hand. We were wearing our most rugged hiking clothes, vintage PFD jackets (on loan from the college), and we had warm and dry clothing reserves waiting in our sacks, just in case our very small and otherwise exposed transportation boat left us soaked and freezing before we even pulled up to the jetty at Race Rocks. Luckily, the sail there was dry and mostly warm, if bumpy and a little nerve-wracking. (Did I mention I don’t know how to swim? Heh.) First hurdle: cleared!

On our way!

Our first surprise was encountered right at the jetty, where we were supposed to dock and make our way onto the island. Blocking our only pathway to the island was a moulting (read: cranky!) female elephant seal, who snorted, hissed, and generally threatened to bite us when we made even the slightest move towards her.

Race Rocks is a protected ecological reserve site, so one of the first and most important rules for guests is to not disturb the animals, at any cost to themselves. (In realistic terms, this means that regular visitors to the island have to stand back and witness the normal life cycles of resident animals, including mating, birth, death, abandonment, starvation, disease, stand-offs, etc.) This female seal showed no intention of moving off the jetty, and there was obviously no way for us to move her ourselves, so we ended up having to creep around her while grasping to the outside of the protective handrails on the jetty. Welcome to Race Rocks!

I was terrified as I scaled the very outer edge of the jetty, knowing that a sharp drop into still-tumultuous waters awaited me if that female seal lunged in my direction. (The group consensus, made before we exited the boat, was that it would be better to let go of the rail and fall into the water rather than risk being bitten by a moulting seal– if it came to that, which hopefully it wouldn’t. For the record: this is much easier said and done by people who know how to swim. Luckily, I scrambled past the seal without being bitten or plunging myself into the icy waters. Welcome to Race Rocks, indeed!)

Once we were safely past the Unofficial Race Rocks Guardian, we met our next animal friend around the corner– a gigantic male elephant seal named Misery who had taken up residence mere feet from the door of the Lighthouse Keeper’s house.

Meet Misery. (We are smiling in this pic but we are secretly afraid of waking the beast).

This particular Misery does not enjoy company (as evidenced by his continued maiming and killing of rival males and young seal pups), so we tiptoed gingerly past him while he slept, sending furtive prayers to the universe to keep him snoring until we were safely inside. Thankfully, the universe obliged. (I don’t know if I could have handled two seal antagonists within mere minutes of arriving at Race Rocks, especially one of the 1000+ lb, Alpha Male variety.)

But the lighthouse! Oh, the lighthouse!

Race Rocks Lighthouse by day

I was blown away by the actual light tower! A giddy grin affixed itself to my face and refused to budge or wane for the next 24+ hours. I was overcome by all sorts of romantic notions about lighthouses and spent most of the time on the island either admiring the light tower, photographing the light tower, thinking about the light tower, climbing the 98+ stairs to the top of the light tower, or enjoying the spectacular views from atop the light tower. Marty and I took occasional breaks inside to make tea or grab snacks, but the majority of our time was spent outside appreciating the magnificence of Race Rocks Lighthouse!

Race Rocks Lighthouse by night

The weather was perfect for the outing– not raining, not too windy, and we visited there the night before the Full Moon, too. We stayed up as late as possible, watching the sunset first and then witnessing the moonlight playing on the light tower several hours after our camera decided it could no longer capture the magnificence of the setting digitally. (The brightness of the full moon enabled us to keep a sharp watch on Misery, too. God knows we wouldn’t want to accidentally trip over him while we were skipping around like fools on the island! Antagonizing a male elephant seal in the dark would have been a definite– and probably fatal– Race Rocks FAIL.)

What did I tell you, fools? I OWN THIS ISLAND!

After what felt like a very short sleep, we crawled out of bed in time to catch the sunrise. (Would we have missed our only sunrise at Race Rocks Lighthouse? Never!!)

Breathtaking!

(In total, we snapped over 1150 photos in less than 24 hours on the island! Our first sweep helped us whittle this down to 500. It was nearly impossible to “just” pick 20 or so for this post.)

If this is what it’s like to be a “starving artist”, sign me up please! 😉

Final notes and details: The Lighthouse Keeper’s residence at Race Rocks is actually pretty classy and modern. (The Lighthouse Keeper offered us freshly baked cookies right out of the oven, which came in stark contrast to my idea of the house as a tiny, uber-drafty campsite.) There is no flushing toilet on site, but there is a primitive, indoor-outhouse-type toilet that more than suffices, especially when I was bracing myself for a day of peeing on rocks. There’s electricity, heat, a fully-equipped kitchen, and even wireless internet access there! (I decided not to bring our laptop with us, though. Contrary to popular belief, I can last for a day without checking my e-mail.)

Fortunately, the moulting female seal left the jetty during the night, so we didn’t have to deal with her menacing presence on the way back to the boat. Our return trip was delayed by a few hours due to wind and sketchy water conditions, but we had more than enough food to tie us over and the delay just meant more opportunities to take excessive amounts of photos! 🙂

What do you think, dear readers?

Was that an adventure or what?

Was the story worth the wait?

PS: A big thank you to everyone who visited Lake Superior Spirit on Thursday when I had the honour of guest posting in Kathy’s absence! Apologies for being a shoddy guest and not telling you I was even there until after the fact. What can I say? I was lighthouse keeping! (Please feel free to check out Kathy’s blog when you get the chance. She is one of my favourite stops each morning, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to guest post there.)

Would You Rather…

If offered the choice, dear readers, would you rather:

1. Work out in your living room, at your own leisure, in whatever clothes you feel like wearing (even if they are technically your pyjamas), using a comprehensive (and challenging!) set of workout DVDs, with all of the equipment that you could possibly need (yoga mats, cork yoga blocks, resistance tubing, hand weights of every conceivable size, a pull-up bar, special rotating push-up hand things that let you attempt a push-up without straining your extremely sensitive forearms, and even special fingerless gloves to help you avoid getting callouses), a big screen TV, a woodstove if you’re too cold, a fan if you’re too warm, your special filtered water in unlimited supplies, and your pumping workout mix blaring from the stereo

-OR-

2. Work out in a badly outdated gym, which costs you decent money to attend, which has all of one elliptical machine (which sounds tired and creaky and like it belongs in a museum for Industrial Age relics), which plays the Grease soundtrack on full blast over the loud speakers, which has terribly faded posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger pinned up on every wall (which seem unintentionally ironic and sad now that you know how far Arnie has fallen– even though you never understood his appeal, anyway), which is situated a full 9km (5.6 miles) away from your cozy cabin along winding country roads populated mostly with speeding pickup trucks, and which you must ride your bike to and from every time the urge to sweat hits, probably in the rain because this is the Pacific Northwest in the wintertime, in your makeshift “cycling” clothes (which are actually a pair of long johns, pink sneakers, and your regular rain coat), and all of this because you don’t drive.

Yes.

I chose the gym membership, too.

Listen up: There have been years and years of feeling like I “should” do yoga and that I “should” enjoy it. After all, I eat like a hippie, wash like a savage, and pray like a godless heathen– I am the perfect candidate for blissing out on the yoga mat with ye olde Home Workout Tape.

But I can’t do it!

What can I say? I love working out at the gym. I love sweating all over, out of glands I didn’t even know I had, until I can actually feel salt granules scratching my forehead. I secretly love not having a natural breeze come along to blow all of my sweaty, post-workout evidence away. I love marveling at the nasty Rorschach-like pattern of sweat imprinted on my workout clothes at the end of a strenuous cardio session. I love running and jumping and kicking and punching. I love loud dance music– music that I never listen to except inside a gym. I love aerobics classes. I love ridiculous choreography and cheesy moves like “L-Steps” and “Grapevines”. I love elliptical machines and 30-minute time limits. Why? Who knows why.

I just do.

This year, instead of resisting my Inner Ass Kicker and telling it to “shush up and try yoga again”, I decided to just bite the bullet and get me a rural gym membership. The gym is located on the upper floor of a “mall” (read: spooky ghost town building) at a junction on the highway to Victoria. I went for the first time yesterday, riding my bike in the light rain and decked out in my un-hip long johns. I don’t have a front fender on my bicycle, so as I rode up and down those crazy country hills, bits of mud and rock splattered all over my clothes and face. I could feel grit in my teeth. It was awesome, but only because I knew I was heading to The Gym and not just to Tony Horton on my living room DVD player. (A pox on P90X!)

This was practically how dirty I was at the end of my ride, except I was wearing pink sneakers and long johns in place of Marty's gorgeous legs and pro cycling shoes.

A more accurate representation of my shoes after the ride, but you'll still have to mentally substitute awkward, waffle-patterned long johns in place of the mud-soaked denim

I made it to the gym in about 20 minutes and carefully changed out of my now-soaking-wet cycling clothes into my soon-to-be-soaking-wet gym clothes. I tested out the World’s Oldest Elliptical Machine for thirty minutes, not wanting to push myself too hard, knowing that a mostly uphill cycling trek still awaited me. I survived, even though every stride on that retro machine felt like it was taking me one step further back through time. At the end of it all, I got back into my wet, gritty cycling clothes and huffed and puffed for 9km home. Pretty epic for my first workout in over a month.

It was so worth it, though– tattered Schwarzenegger posters and all. My body loves moving (ahem, once I commit to getting off my lazy ass), and it responds really well to cardio-type exercise. It does not enjoy working out in my living room, and it is not particularly receptive to yoga just yet, but that’s okay. I’m not going to fight it this year. I’m just going to get my body back into gear, vintage-style. Perhaps I should invest in a sweatband, so I can blend in with the 1970s/1980s vibe at my new-to-me gym. No thong-style bodysuits over spandex leggings, though. What say you?

Crisis of Confidence

Typical Cancer-- hermiting myself away

I have been suffering through my Annual Existential Crisis for the past week or so.

At times, I feel completely consumed by feelings of confusion, panic, and helplessness. Who am I? Why am I here [i.e. on earth in general, not at the awesome lakeside cabin in particular, which I love]? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Why don’t I have more direction and drive? On those brooding, sulking, heavy days, I read through other people’s blogs and make the mistake of clicking “notify me of follow-up comments” when I respond to their posts. Then I feel washed in despair, bitterness, and that most ugly of emotions– jealousy– when my inbox is flooded with comments for other people’s posts, other people’s writing, other people’s experiences.  Other people have everything figured out, I whine to my bruised, tender spirit as I pillage through the contents of my inbox indiscriminately. Savagely. DELETE, DELETE, I DON’T CARE, DELETE!!!! Everyone else has tapped into life’s most abundant of arteries and are basking in the warmth of that rich, warm flow. [Insert sad and/or pitiful emoticon here.]

The next day (or sometimes even within an hour), I sneer at myself for being so shallow. Silly girl, I seethe to my paper-thin heart– the soul that feels like it has been burnt to ash and might blow clear away from me in the most gentle of breezes– Life does not boil down to stats, subscribers, or blogging at all. Get over yourself and focus on what truly matters.

Which is?, I wonder. What truly matters? What matters most to me?

Unfortunately, because I am mired in my Annual Existential Crisis, this brings me right back to questions of Who am I? and Why am I here? Back come those brooding, sulking, heavy days– days when even the most meaningless of circumstances render me utterly crestfallen. It’s a vicious, unfriendly, and exhausting cycle, but it seems to happen, well, annually now.

I believe it boils down to our crazy summers and the highly unstructured winters that follow. From April until October every year, I have a clear sense of what needs to get done and I am confident, positive, that I can do all of those things well. I am organized. I am great with people. I am approachable, genuine, and passionate about the art business that I share with my dearest partner. I am buoyed by the receptiveness of other people to our work and feel elated with the knowledge that what I do matters. People are taken care of– thrilled with their purchases. I am nurturing them, if only indirectly. Life is busy, hectic, sleepless, and often stressful, but I love what I do. Everything is great!

Then the winter months come along, those same months that I crave and yearn for from approximately April to October every year. Heh. In the summer, I say “I can’t wait to unwind!” or “We’re looking forward to some down time!” but when I finally get there, I crack into a hundred thousand little pieces and watch helplessly from beyond myself, a scattered pile of dust. In those months, the quiet months, I struggle to rebuild myself from the summer’s leftover shards of us, we, and ours. Who am I?, I demand to know. What is my purpose in life? Sometimes I even catch myself wondering what my junior high guidance counselors would think of my career path now– as though I even cared what they suggested to me when I was twelve. (For the record: I did not. I’d make a good truck driver, you say? SCREW YOU!!) Everything is external.

During the winter months– those slippery, ambiguous, crumbly months– I find myself turning outside of myself more often than usual. I search diligently for any confirmation, however slight, that who I am and what I do still matters. Am I a writer? Do people even like my writing? Like an oft-beaten puppy who needs love but is afraid to go looking for it, I crave Marty’s approval and the validation of other people. I know in my head that this is not right. I have no problems spouting off self-help proverbs to remind myself that real acceptance comes from within. But. As sweet as these little cliched nuggets are– Trust in the Universe! Believe in yourself!— they do not foster or sustain that prized, blessed calm in the heart, much like a diet of candy cannot promote impeccable digestive health. There must be something else.

Sorry, Yogi Tea bag. I love your pithy wisdom but I need something more.

For now, I’m just letting myself be. I’m having long, soulful conversations with Marty and lying protected in his embrace, breathing in his reassuring scent of acceptance, love, and safety. I’m chanting and meditating on a daily basis. In an effort to take and accept myself on my own terms and on those terms alone, I’ve hidden my modest blog stats into a dark corner and feel content to leave those stupid things there– totally untouched and unmonitored for however long it takes to not care about them anymore. Then I’m laughing at myself for having the audacity to put such a high value on the virtual equivalent of a popularity contest in the first place. Honestly. Who should even care about hits, comments, subscribers, pingbacks, etc.? The aliens would find that mighty ludicrous, I’m sure. (When I first started blogging– way back in 2006!– I only wanted to be able to keep in touch with my friends from Calgary online. It didn’t matter to me if any of them actually commented or even read my posts. Also, I didn’t even understand the whole concept of “subscribing” until this past March. Yes, March 2011. Oh, youth!)

Anyway.

These beautiful runes were handmade and given to us as a wedding present

My runes and tarot cards from the Winter Solstice reading basically suggested that I try living life for the process of it instead of the outcome. Of course, my surprisingly linear, forward-facing mind reels at the thought of not having a solid Five Year Plan in place, but seeing as my Plan lately has consisted only of ?????s and ums, it’s probably for the best. 😉 Sure. I can try doing things just because and not worry about how everything will turn out. At least I’ll try. That sounds good.

The one advantage of having an Existential Crisis every year is that I know it will pass. It always does. I will stumble around in the darkness of my psyche for a week or two– confused, timid, insecure, and shy as can be– but I will emerge again, confident and kicking ass (or humble and zen-like– or all of those things!) when the time is right. I know in my heart that I’m where I am “supposed” to be in life right now, but it seems I just need to go through the process of re-affirming that belief for myself… again and again and again. I can do it.

Thanks for listening and for being here. xoxo