It’s not that complicated at all, actually.
I could guess with a 97% accuracy rate that the woman who was openly sobbing behind me in the dark theatre midway through It’s Complicated was/is clearly heartbroken. Probably teetering on a divorce, or longing for yesteryear and the ex that used to be the oh! But she was crying so hard (the kind where you can’t catch your breath without a gasp, like you’ve dove into a pool, skimmed the bottom and can’t make it to the surface fast enough). I was worried about her vulnerable state until I realized that we all came to see the movie for the same reason. To feel. Whatever the feeling might be, this is our universal connectedness.
I realized that the Sobbing Woman may have come to the movie seeking hope. Maybe she came to let herself cry in an acceptable place (even though she was crying in unacceptable parts of the movie). We are conditioned to pull ourselves together and be pillars of the Earth, but perhaps Sobbing Woman has it right. Just cry your bloody eyes out so hard that eating popcorn feels like you’re swallowing gravel.
Yesterday, musician Staci Frenes posted this statement on Facebook: “Frost said poems start with a lump in the throat. I think songs do to—the ones worth writing, anyway.”
And bless the musicians that make the music allows us to feel and wallow in a swamp of satisfyingly depressing lyrics, guaranteed to pull out every tear. And it’s so much easier to cry digitally now. Before, like in the 80s, you had to rewind that stupid Wham! song and put your tears on hold as you fidgeted with the cassette player that would always rewind too far into the last song. And that last song would be an uppity Bananarama tune, which would totally kill the sad buzz.
When you think about it though, Frost and Frenes are both bang-on. The best memories of your life? I bet they induce a lump in your throat. Poems, songs, pancake batter—they all need lumps to be memorable. When I look back at 2009, it’s the lumps that dictate the best stories for me. And by best, I mean the moments that truly engaged my senses. The sensations, feelings, tastes, sounds and sights of 2009 that I remember with the most clarity are largely the lump-makers. Not because of sadness, but because they slammed my senses in an electrical way that can’t be rewired. And here they are, in no particular order:
The Best Feeling of 2009
When you meet a chimp for the first time, they are skeptical. It’s not like picking up a Cabbage Patch Kid. The chimps are sizing you up, and they have to warm to you before they reach a tentative hand in your direction. Even with the lure of warm milk and honey, whole bananas and strawberry yogurt—there’s a courting process to endure. Mikai was already latched to Chantal like Velcro, and the morning Chantal said I could go wake Mikai up, I was unsure if she would allow me to hold her. I folded the blanket back from her cage and as the sunlight filtered in, Mikai stirred. Her bright eyes opened, and as I unlocked the cage, she stood and reached for me. Her arms were outstretched and she pulled herself close to me, her arms tight around my neck. She yawned and inspected me (mostly my nostrils). When I smiled she ran her finger along my teeth and sighed. I had been accepted. I smoothed her upright hair and tugged her tiny t-shirt down as the mornings were so cold below the equator. Mikai shivered a little and snuggled in closer. I stood there, stunned. I was in the Congo and holding an orphaned chimpanzee in my arms. Her diaper was full and wet and running down my clean t-shirt but I couldn’t care less. It was the best feeling of 2009, and possibly my life.
Best Sensation of 2009
I had always wondered about reflexology and thought the concept of all the body’s organs being mapped out on the bottom of our feet intriguing. And so, I wandered along Dundas west, to Chinatown, sucking on a taro root bubble tea (because they’re good for the senses too). A client of mine had recommended a nameless place that was close to a bakery and a dim sum place. Which describes about three full blocks of Dundas west. I was to look for flourescent green footprints on the stairs, on the south side, east of Spadina. I found it almost immediately and bounded up the footprinted stairs. I was served boiling hot tea that tasted like hamster shavings and told to place my feet in the wooden barrel with floating rose petals. I soaked, unaware of the pulverization that awaited me. Lisa had fingers like knives that perforated my bladder and gonads. But, despite the bouts of sheer agony, an overwhelming feeling of euphoria came with each pressure point. I let my copy of Toronto Life slide to the floor and examined the reflexology map on the wall. She pinpointed my sinuses and I could actually feel a nasal drip. When she touched on my right hip via my foot, I went to the moon. My bladder hot-spot made me think that I needed to schedule a tuck, the very next day. And then I fell asleep. I could feel Lisa’s hands and pressure points, but I was knocked out in a very bizarre reflexology coma. She shook me at the end of the treatment and asked if I had trouble sleeping. No, apparently I didn’t. Or maybe I wasn’t really sleeping when I thought I was. I walked out with new feet. They hummed and vibrated and my calves felt oxygenated. Definitely the best sensation of 2009.
Best Feeling of Elation of 2009
I’ve run seven or nine half-marathons. Maybe more. I lost track. I run six days a week, even when the cold threatens to crack my femurs, and the rain feels like needles against my exposed skin. I run against the wind chill that bites at my face, when there are heat advisories in effect, when there are smog alerts and when I have a head full of leftover champagne still bubbling inside. Like the Melissa Etheridge song (I Run For Life)—“I run for hope, I run to feel, I run for the truth, for all that is real.” (And also to keep myself from getting fat from my late-night steak and eggs habit.) Regardless of how many races I’ve run, I can easily intimidate myself into thinking that I will cramp up and collapse after the first mile. I register for a half-marathon and fret from that moment until the race is over. This year I entered the Run For Water in Abbotsford, BC, just to see if I could still wing it. I do have intentions of running a full marathon (maybe that Great Wall of China one), and I have to periodically confirm that I still have the guts, gumption and cartilage to pull off 13 miles.
It was the hottest May 31st that Abbotsford had ever seen. I was saturated by the third mile, my iPod earphones were squeaking in my ears that were full of sweat. My shorts were already chafing my low back and I wondered why the hell I had subjected myself to such torture, again. The route was scenic, but I had chills and probably should have been hooked up to an intravenous, but I carried on, buoyed by the likes of Pink, Jann Arden, Carole Pope, Anne Murray, The Killers and even Willie Nelson.
Elation comes in the last mile, when sweat is stinging your eyes like lemon juice and your lungs feel like they’re bleeding. When the heat off the pavement makes you want to throw up and your muscles are so spent they cramp as soon as you stop the running motion. I reminded myself not to be so selfish, because I was running in support of a project that would provide clean drinking water to a village in Ethiopia. Surely I could run 13 miles for such a noble cause. I had just dumped 10 gallons of clean drinking water over my head—and there were humans who had never seen or tasted something so simple as clean water.
Elation. Finishing the race in 1:45:47. About 10 minutes off my personal best, set when I was much more svelte and regimented, but it wasn’t a race. It was for a greater cause than a personal best.
Greatest Heartbreaks of 2009
I watched a chimp die in the Congo. Ikia became the victim of a corrupt government that sloppily handled the extreme emergency of her situation. Officials hesitated on signing release documents and let critical decisions wait until Monday morning in hopes of finishing early on a Friday. Ikia arrived at the Lumbumbashi Airport, already in dire condition, dehydrated and malnourished, with no fight left in her. Poached from the wild jungles of Kalemi, she was sold for $200 US. She died less than 12 hours later at the J.A.C.K. sanctuary, unresponsive to the medical care she was given.
When I returned from the Congo, I was faced with an even greater heartbreak. Mila, my darling lab retriever was rapidly declining in health. She had been diagnosed with a cancer so invasive that it had enveloped her organs to the extent that surgery couldn’t be performed. Thoughts of lying with Mila in the grass, her stomach shaved and full of staples, still makes me ache. She was disoriented from painkillers, panting and anxious. The dog that I knew and loved, so full of life and puppy-like ways, was dying. I stroked her velvety ears and hoped she would just go quietly in her sleep.
I had already flown back to Toronto and learned through an email that Mila had to be put down. She had stopped eating. I had tears running down my neck. I still do when I think of her. But she comes to visit me in my dreams, and that reassures me that she is in a better place, full of ocean waves, pig’s ears and fat squirrels to chase.
Best Sounds of 2009
It will come as no surprise when I say Jann Arden’s Free was my repeat CD of 2009. When I moved back to Toronto, feeling like I was all bones, sinew and raw nerves, her songs did for me what It’s Complicated did for the Sobbing Woman. I was feeling so much that I actually ran my Riverdale route one day with my earphones in and didn’t realize until I stopped running that I hadn’t turned my iPod on. That’s when you know your head is busy with white noise.
Sass Jordan released Dusk ‘til Dawn and “Awake” became my national anthem for October. And I’ll plug Carole Pope here too, even though Transcend was released in 2007, because her CD found a lot of airtime in 2009 too. “Edible Flower” is seductive, dangerous and makes me want to smoke cigarettes in bed.
The other best sound? The ferocious thunderstorms in Uganda that shook all of Entebbe in a frightening way. Lightning split Lake Victoria in such violent spikes in January. The thunder that followed made me feel like I was six all over again. But I had three dogs to shiver with—all of them piled on my single bed under the mosquito net.
The Best Things I Ate/Drank in 2009
Frog legs. Meatloaf sandwiches at Ted’s BBQ in Nashville. Heidi’s old-fashioned whiskey potion with Maker’s Mark, muddled cherries, oranges and brown sugar. Dolfin pink peppercorn dark chocolate. Le Gourmand chocolate chip walnut cookies every Saturday morning, chips still melted and gooey as I walk to the spa. Body Blitz Vitamin D shakes with banana and a bang of nutmeg. Bacon and cheese pancakes in Amsterdam after a month in the Congo. Moules Frites at Spinnakers. Lamb burgers with Roquefort at the Rectory on Toronto Island. My mom’s Chex Mix. Ted Reader’s pulled pork and slaw cones. Mill Street Coffee Porter. You know this list has no end, so I’ll stop here.
There are a lot of best feelings for 2009. And I didn’t even get to the books that moved me (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — Jonathan Foer, Still Alice— Lisa Genova, Holding Still For As Long As Possible—Zoe Whittall, The Glass Castle—Jeannette Walls, Then We Came to the End—Joshua Ferris). Or the movies (The Strength of Water, Hannah Free, Snowcake, 500 Days of Summer).
As 2010 opens before us like a broad wingspan, the best we can do is feel. Every day, feel something. Expose your senses to something wonderful. “Let life happen to you. Life is in the right, always.” –Rilke
To read Ikia’s story–https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/lessons-in-dying/
Review of Jann Arden’s Free—https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2009/09/30/jann-arden-attacks-the-architecture-of-the-human-heart/