Yesterday in New York, Times Square was plugged with tourists and locals eager to put their bad memories of 2009 through the shredder at the third annual “Good Riddance Day.” There was a $250 windfall to the person with the most creative item to be shredded. Twelve-year-old Alissa Yankelevits of Los Angeles shredded the memory of her school counsellor who was featured on America’s Most Wanted and pocketed the prize money.
It will come as no surprise that I’m not the shredder-type. Those who have followed my blog have read uncensored excerpts from my pathetic teenage diary entries. Facebook friends have seen an array of very poor haircut and colour decisions, all proudly displayed in albums of self-mockery. I have all my love letters, valentines, syrupy hand-printed song lyrics and haikus since Robert LeBovic swept me off my Sperry Topsider-feet in grade seven.
For those who have seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the idea of housekeeping love-gone-sour memories for Clementine (Kate Winslet), was the perfect solution for erasing any glimmer of Joel (Jim Carrey). Clementine hired a New York firm, Lacuna Inc., to remove all memories of Jim and their relationship from her brain. When Joel learned what Clementine had done, he decided that this would be his salvation too. Until he realized in his unconscious state, that he wanted to hold on to the memories of her after all.
(Though the concept of “targeted memory erasure” in the film is fictitious, scientists have recently successfully erased selective memories in lab mice.)
I don’t want to shred any bit of my life. Even the sloppy barstool kisses, heartache, dying dogs, crappy haircuts and appalling fashions of yesteryear. And on the verge of 2010, another year becomes condensed into the film footage of my life’s pivotal memories.
They say those who fail to plan, plan to fail. (Who said that anyway? Do we even know what that person’s plans were?) Well, I never planned on being in Jinja, Uganda for New Year’s 2009, sipping Amarula under a mosquito net. And I didn’t exactly plan on spending a month in the Congo with chimps swinging around my neck, but that happened too. I also wrote a book in 29 days, but that wasn’t planned either. I went to a one-day workshop with my writerly friend Johanne on “How To Write a Book in 40 Days,” and decided to test-drive the instructor’s theory. It wasn’t a plan, it was a challenge, and I started it that very night with no outline, no character sketches and absolutely no plot. And it worked—even faster than the bargained 40 days!
I didn’t plan on being back in Toronto, or quitting the best job that I ever had. But I have given up the notion of climbing the corporate ladder. Most people have an extensible ladder. Mine seems to be collapsible. Just when I am about to take firm hold of the top step, the ladder is collapsed again. I laugh to think that I continue to make less and less money each year, despite being in the same career. Every move, I take another pay cut, but you know what? My contentedness meter seems to compensate. I spend more time volunteering than actually working, but regardless of my income, I still find myself in remarkable places, and in a niche that makes me feel alive and inspired.
But sometimes we need to hear someone else say the things we are thinking, out loud. Spoken words gain weight. A few weeks ago I was walking up to my friend Blaise’s coffee shop at Yonge and Eglinton. I poked in and out of shops along the way and bought some enormous blackberries just because I love that we can buy Peruvian fruit in December. I ate them with gloved hands because of the biting cold and stopped in my tracks. There was a clapboard sign advertising a Psychic with an open palm and a crystal ball. I had to do it. There was no plan for that either.
I knocked on the dodgy door and stared into the house off Yonge with carpeted steps the colour of oatmeal. A woman appeared with a long braid, a gold ring on every finger, and a mystical look. I asked her how much it would cost to have my palm read. She informed me that I needed my Tarot cards and crystal ball done too—otherwise I wouldn’t know my lucky number or colour.
“How much for all that?”
“For you? Today? Right now? Eighty.”
I scrunched up my nose and asked how much for just the palm.
“You can’t do just the palm. But for you? Today? All three for forty dollars.”
I went for it.
That very morning I had seen my dermatologist who kindly told me, that as long as I continued to massage, I would always itch. Somehow I had become allergic to my profession, intolerant due to overexposure to massage oil . It now makes me feel like I am full of poison ivy. Part of me wondered if the psychic lady would know what was next for me.
I pulled off my winter layers and joined her at the kitchen table with her stack of cards and crystal ball. She asked me to make a fist and hold it tight, then release. She examined my palms and asked why I didn’t have a dog, because I loved dogs. She asked me why I was no longer painting, because I loved that too. (Had she been talking to my mother?) “All your talent is in your hands. You work with them a lot. And you write, don’t you? You will soon be doing this more.”
She told me to close my eyes and ask a question. I didn’t know if the question was supposed to be out repeated out loud or not, so I asked her, hoping it wouldn’t interfere with my crystal ball or karma. “Yes, ask it out loud.” Then I was to wish for something, but not say it out loud. Lastly, I could ask her anything I wanted. “Everyone asks about Love, honey, you can too.”
With a furrowed brow, she told me that I would win a prize, not of monetary value, but of something related to my writing. I would travel overseas. I would go to Montreal. I would have another short trip. I would win a small amount of money (I checked a lotto ticket my client tipped me with after my visit with her and won $20).
“I see you in your current career for maybe six more months, but no longer.” And I’m supposed to surround myself with red. When I pressed her for more information on my career direction she asked if I would like her to meditate for me that night.
“For $40 I will meditate for you each night of this week. You will sleep better.” I informed her that I slept like a dead pig and she sighed. “You need this. Let me meditate for you. You worry a lot.” When I refused, the marketer in her overpowered the mystical and her earlier friendliness turned curt.
But I left with a busy head. There’s a sanctuary in Montreal for HIV-positive chimpanzees. I thought of overseas locations. Why didn’t she see Africa? Why in the world did she see one to two children in my future? I actually asked her for clarification to make sure they weren’t dogs. “No children. And you won’t marry. You’re very independent. VERY independent. But, your soul mate is in your world right now. You have met. It will unfold.”
At Christmas my aunt Jackie started reading me too, while we ate pistachios and thumbprint shortbread. She saw me with a copper-skinned woman who I knew from another life. Somebody with zest who sees the texture in everything. She saw me painting again too. But I needed to surround myself with royal blue. And this copper-skinned woman had a pet elephant in her previous life. Jackie was surprised that she kept seeing elephants, which led me to believe that 2010 will find me at the elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
A month ago a massage client told me my answers were in Peru and Guatemala. I was thinking more along the lines of Portugal and Venezuela, maybe Zambia, but– I would certainly be willing to go in search of these answers.
What I do know for sure is that all our memories and changing directions are vital shape-shifters to our very being. And when I remember 2009, Mila will be there wagging her tail. I will see fragile Ikia, the chimp we couldn’t save due to governmental red tape in the Congo. It will be the uncertainty of another move across the country and readjusting to a new skin. I’ll revisit a random road trip to Nashville, time in the mountains with my sister, a lapsed love, a new army of friends and the familiarity of change.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” –Anatole France
I’m excited for 2010. I hope you are exactly where you want to be—or on your journey there.
Trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f34oYgz6bGs&feature=related
The Elephant sanctuary: http://www.elephants.com/
For Mila, The Very Best Dog in the World post: https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/for-mila-the-very-best-dog-in-the-world/