Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fill 'er Up

originally posted on 365 Attempts (at Life) 

Tuesday, in the middle of the day, my phone rings.  I look at the number and my mouth goes dry.  I know who’s calling, and I don’t want to answer.  Let them reject me by voicemail, I think.  It’s a far more civilized way of doing things. 

“They” are an organization I’ve applied to for a short film project.  I’ve been working on this project for a few years now, first as a pie-in-the-sky idea, then in bursts of Ineedtomakethisnow (most of them lying in a hammock, drinking Tetrapack wine,) and finally for this program, as a script and proposal.  The program is geared towards helping young (ahem) filmmakers launch a short film, with the support of seasoned mentors and industry people.

The script is about my father, who was in a rock band in Beirut while he was growing up there in the sixties.  It’s a story that gets me right to the bone, partly because it reminds me that he, a straight laced, high tech, all-business guy whose idea of being emotionally demonstrative is writing “love, Dad” on a Christmas card, was, once upon a time, a rebel.  He snuck around behind his parents’ back, in exactly the same way I did.  He went after his dream, and then his country fell apart.  Since this happened 50 years ago in the Middle East, I envisioned the film to be animated, to avoid having to worry about things like 50 zillion dollar sets, actors, and potential political uprisings.

But when I sent my proposal to the program, it was with a spirit of downtroddenness.  I think this is the byproduct of rejection.  Any successful artist will tell you that were rejected again and again before they got anywhere.  Of course, they will tell you this while nursing a 35 dollar glass of scotch, on a book tour for their new bestseller, while their film, which opened at Cannes, is touted by the New York Times to be “the greatest thing to happen to humanity, ever.Their success seems so otherwordly I have a hard time imagining myself achieving one tenth of it.  I secretly believe they coasted out of the womb with an agent and a manager already taking their calls, and booking them on Jimmy Fallon.

Also, though I’ve been writing for a long time, aside from a home video in which I (aged 8) put my brother (aged 2) in full makeup, dressed him in one of my undershirts and a red sash, and joined him in an air guitar version rendition of Heartbreak Hotel, I’ve never conceptualized an actual movie before, and feel convinced it is a talent reserved for others.  

The phone is still ringing.  Today is the day the applicants find out if we’ve been accepted to the short film program.  I know this, and yet I didn’t bounce out of bed this morning and leap excitedly into the shower, as I used to on “answer” days.  Hope, I’m starting to feel, is for the naive.  I did not wear my lucky underpants – either pair.  I figured I’d just get home tonight and find a thin envelope in my mailbox, with a letter bearing those familiar words: so many entrieswe regret to inform youwe wish you the best of luck in future projects.  

Still, for whatever reason, I answer the phone.

“I’m calling about your entry into short film competition,” says the woman on the other end, after she introduces herself.

“Yes,” I sigh.  “I know.”

“We really loved your script,” she says, “but there were so many entries.  I regret…”

Except that’s not what she says.

She says,

“And we’re pleased to tell you you’ve been accepted into the program.”

Or something like that.  I’m not sure, because as soon as I hear it, it’s like a bucket of ice water has been tipped over my head.  I start to shake.  I struggle not to burst into tears.  When I open my mouth, the noise I make is similar to the one my miniature schnauzer Ruble emits when we pass a German Shepherd in the park.    
“Really?”  I gasp, when I can speak again.

She says, “We really liked your script.”

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation.  I only remember physically restraining myself from leaping out of my chair, from banging my fist on the window to alert passers-by - and the construction workers across the street - that SOMEBODY LIKES MY MOVIE!  NOT JUST SOMEBODY – BUT PEOPLE!!! PEOPLE WHO KNOW THINGS!!!!!

It’s a 5-minute film script.  In the grand scheme of the world, it’s really not a huge deal.  And getting accepted into the program doesn’t actually guarantee that my script will be made into a film.  It’s just a stepping stone in the right direction, towards guidance, and support, and possible funding.  But it’s validation.   It’s a yes.
And it fills me with just enough hope to keep on going.

(awesome comic by fellow 365er Anthony Imperioli, aka The Zimp, aka an old Italian lady on the internet)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]

Monday of Thanksgiving weekend, we drive up north to spend the day with Tony's family.

We stop on the way to pick up Mama Greek.  I am bearing a pie – not one of the two pies I’d spent the previous day baking, but a store bought one I’d picked up in case the baking went wrong.  As we walk in the door, Mama Greek’s gaze travels from the pie box to my (relatively) flat stomach, and I see disappointment flash across her face.  Back at the car, we have our usual argument.   

“Why you sit there?”  MG asks, when I climb into the back seat.

“Because,” I say, “you should sit in the front.”
Her eyes widen. “No!” she cries.  “Why?  You sit in front with your husband.”
“No,” I say, “you sit in front with your son.”
This is the carbon copy of the argument we have every single time we go anywhere, and yet Mama Greek won't let a trip begin without it.  Finally, as usual, she relinquishes, pretends to swat me with her handbag, maneuvers into the front seat, and starts chattering to Tony in Greek.  Usually, this means I will close the door and gratefully dive into the latest happenings on Facebook.

But not today.
The day before, Mama Greek had attended a birthday party for her great-nephew.  Now, from the front seat, she launches into a play-by-play, with the accuracy of a sports announcer and the enthusiasm of a Justin Bieber fan.
“And son of Katerina – remember Katerina? -  sooo cute!  Big brown eyes, one year old!  He sit with me… he look at me… oh!  And then Yianni say to his Papou, ‘Papou, I want to dance!’  And Nicholas – remember Nicholas?   He get wet!  And he say, “Ma, I’m wet!”  And his mother say…” 
This goes on until well past St. Jerome. 
 I am a terrible actor. I cannot pretend to care about something when I don't to save my life, or even yours.  So my fake delight about the comings and goings of every single one of the 15 babies at the birthday party, when I’m sitting in the back seat having period cramps, is strained.  But it’s a Catch 22.  If I were to say, “Mama Greek, I don’t want to know about the kids at the birthday party because I’m not pregnant and I don’t know why and if you say another word about it I’m going to throw this pie out the window and then jump after it,” things will get much, much worse. 
Thankfully, the baby talk dies down. MG switches to Greek chit-chat with Tony, who turns up a Led Zeppelin song on the radio, in a silent gesture towards cheering me up.
                     Funny Farewell Ecard: When Led Zeppelin is playing, you shut the fuck up.
 Then, mingled in the final strains of Good Times, Bad Times, I hear Mama Greek throw out an English word.  That word is “pregnant.” 
“Ma,” Tony says, raising his voice, but it’s too late.  I know.  Someone in the family is knocked up, and Tony is telling his mother to put a cork in it on all things baby, child and bun-in-oven-related.  She tries to wrestle a question in, but he, with the ease and skill of years of practice, shuts it down.  There is blessed silence.
I look out the window at the 1970s macramé of orange, brown and red trees, and I think about Papa Greek.  This is the first time we’ve gone up north since he died, something he always loved doing and looked forward to.  In the back seat, with my shitty pie and my relatively flat stomach, I suddenly miss him so much, I can hardly breathe. 


On the way home, too stuffed to argue, I allow Mama Greek to sit in the back.  Over lunch, I was filled in on the new Pregnant: another cousin’s girlfriend, who wasn’t there today.  I like her a lot, and maybe because she’s not someone I’m close to, the news is a bit easier to take.  But still, it sits on me like a stone, along with 12 pounds of turkey, taramosalata and full fat yogurt.
As Mama Greek’s snores begin to reverberate through the car, and I wonder to Tony why this whole trying to get pregnant deal has been so much harder for me than it has been for him.
“Is it because it’s my body?”  I ask.  “Or is it because I’m just more dramatic and negative than you are about this particular subject?”
 “I don’t know,” Tony says, carefully.  “But whatever it is, it’s probably something that you should pay attention to.” 
 Normally, this kind of remark would make me slump into a good, old-fashioned mope, but today, for some reason, I ponder his words.  I think about all the Pregnants I know, and all the people with kids, and I find myself in my usual go-to place: that these people know something that I don’t, that they’re are doing something that I am not, and that there must be something more I could do.
A light goes on. 
With blame comes control.
I’m a self-blamer.  To the core.  You name something, and in my mind, it’s my fault: my sore throat, the provincial election results, global warming.  I’m working on it, slowly but surely, but in the car that day, I see the other side of it.  I can't blame myself for something if I don't believe I actually have control over that thing.
When you have control over something, and that thing doesn’t work out, it's usually because of something you didn’t do right.  So, when it comes to getting knocked up, if I’m not doing something right (not that, gutter-minds - I’m pretty sure I have that part figured out,) then it makes sense that I would feel horrible every time someone else gets the results I want, and that I'm not getting.  After which I silently punch myself in the face, over and over again.  Which feels totally awesome, by the way.
But the truth is, I am doing everything within my control.  Acupuncture.  Fertility testing.  Not drinking.  (Very much.)  Even thinking positively, although in this moment, I realize that I’ve even been beating up on myself for not thinking positively enough. 
If someone I loved got sick, or was hit by a bus, or got struck by lightening, would I say, “You know, Fred, there are probably a few things you could have done to prevent that.  Here’s an Excel spreadsheet I’ve made listing some changes you might consider”?  No.  So why do I keep saying it to myself?
The realization hits me like a blast of air.  I sit up, take a deep breath, and look out the window.  The colours on the trees seem brighter, sharper, more there than they were before.  I am so struck that I consider getting a tattoo on my forearm, or at least buy one of those wall decals, in a good font, that reads:

Mama Greek snores louder.  I take Tony’s hand, and turn up the radio.  And I feel, truly and deeply, for the first time in a long time, how little power I have over anything, anywhere, at any time. 
And I am thankful. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Blob

Originally published on 365 Attempts [at life] - the new blog project I'm a part of. You should go check it out!

I’ve been afraid to write about this for a long time.

First of all, I work freelance.  Essentially, this means I’m always looking for a new job.   I know that someone might read what I’m about to write and not want to hire me, especially as what I’m about to write does not put me in the best light.  

But I also know – or learned, after some Googling – that this is one of those things that people really don’t talk about.  And I like talking about the things that people don’t talk about.  Because whenever I admit that my life is not shiny and wrinkle-free, I feel better, and I suspect you might too.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why you’re here.  Either that or you like looking at pictures of old Greek ladies.


    just in case              

So, here we go:

Two years ago, The Swedes came to visit.

The Swedes are my Canadian friend – lets call her Ella – and her Swedish husband – lets call him Sven.  No, Ivar.  Ingvar?  Yes, I am looking through the Ikea catalogue. Anyway, Ella and Ingvar live in Stockholm, and during the 2010 Christmas holidays, they, and their 6-month old son Nils, came to stay with Tony and I. We were pretty nervous, as we’d never had a baby in our house before.  Also, one of our favourite parts of the Christmas holidays is sleeping in, and as far as we’d heard, this is not an activity at which babies excel.

But Nils was sleep trained.  This meant he went to bed from 7:30pm until 7:30am, while the rest of us stayed up and talked and ate cake.  More importantly, he was the coolest baby I’d ever met.  By the time we woke up, his parents would be in the kitchen, preparing bagels, and Nils would be chilling on the kitchen floor like a tiny Buddha, while  Ruble stood guard.  And before you say it, yes, I know not all babies are like that.  But I never thought any of them could be like that. 

me with baby, pre-2010

That might be when it began.

I used to shudder at the idea of parenthood. But at some point over the last 2 years, I couldn’t tell you when, Tony and I went from being mystified at why anyone would trade in their sleep, their freedom and their sanity for a small person running around their house, screaming and breaking things… to “trying.”  We started “trying.”  God, I hate that term.  There is nothing less romantic or erotic than getting busy with the end goal of producing something that wears poopy diapers. But the more our friends had kids, the more we saw how much joy and wonder came with the deal, and love – lots and lots and lots of love.  And we wanted it for ourselves.  We watched in awe as a friend was patient and even encouraging with his screaming, wailing 5-year old, pretty much the opposite of how our parents were with either of us.  We turned into swooning teenagers when, for whatever reason, as soon as most of our friends’ children could speak, they asked for Tony.  And we still talk about meeting Tony’s cousin’s daughter, Alexa, when she was a few days old.  Her father handed her over, and she stared at us with such wide-open purity that we felt like she’d landed on our souls.   

We drank the baby Kool-aid.  We smoked the parental crack.

I also spent most of my life believing that if you’re trying to get a bun in the oven, you just ditch the birth control and 9 months later, a baby shows up.  It starts in high school, where they get you believing you can get pregnant by holding hands.  I think you get where I’m going with this.  Also, “trying” is really, well, trying.  Anyone who thinks it’s “the fun part” has never had to turn it into work – relentless, scheduled, no-matter-how-tired-you-are, get-up-at-5:30am-before-you-go-to-work, work, which is then charted on graph according to basal body temperature. 

So.  Still trying.  Not achieving.  And meanwhile, the entire world has gotten pregnant.  My childhood friends. Our upstairs neighbour.  Every single woman at the Jean Talon Market.  Yes, I’m in my mid 30s, so you might tell me that this is the sort of thing I should have expected.  But I didn’t expect it.  And I never imagined, in my wildest nightmares, that I would then become the type of person who, upon receiving an email from a friend I’ve known since we were 12, announcing that she’s expecting, would not call her bursting with congratulations, but rather would shut my laptop and crumple into a heap of jealousy and self-pity.  It’s infuriating.  Why can’t I just be happy that a dear friend has been given the gift of life?  We haven’t been trying for that long – some people go at it for 5 years, or longer.  Some people never get a kid.  

But none of that helps. Someone gets pregnant, and I turn into a human fire hydrant, as if there are only a finite amount of children in this world, and someone may have just horned in on my lot. 


Ella the Canadian Swede had always been open with me about how difficult it was to get pregnant the first time, and how horrible she felt when someone showed her an ultrasound or, worse, got their kid to ask if she was knocked up.  She and Ingvar were coming to visit in September, along with Nils and Nils’ 1-year old baby brother.  I couldn’t wait to see them - to have their wise, calm energy around for a few days, to be comforted by Ella’s words, and to meet the new Swede.  Then, in August, Ella wrote me an email.  

“I need to tell you something,” she said, “and I know this is going to be hard.”

Yup. A third little Swede is on its way.

Ella is one of my favourite people on earth, and still I crumpled.  My oldest friend, Michelle, who went through 3 years of “trying” and 7 unsuccessful rounds of IUI, recently described the feeling perfectly: a huge, heavy sadness, of seeing someone else get this huge thing that you want.  It almost takes your breath away.  And then, you feel like an asshole.

I was terrified at how I’d feel seeing Ella’s swollen belly.  I was sure I’d have to run into another room every five minutes to get a hold of myself.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to put on a convincing happy face, and that she’d see right through me, and then our friendship would be over and I’d feel even more rotten but it SERVED HER RIGHT FOR GOING AND GETTING PREGNANT, AGAIN.

And now, I didn’t even have her to talk about it with.

The day of their visit came.  The taxi pulled up in front of our house, and I opened the door, my stomach in my throat.  Ella greeted me on the doorstep, and handed me a small, warm blob.

“Could you hold this?” she asked, and rushed back to of a pile of luggage the size of a small house.  

The blob examined my face carefully.  He looked down at Ruble.  Then he smiled, revealing 4 teeth.   

 This is not The Blob, but it is, according to Google, the cutest baby in the world. For the record, The Blob is cuter.

Like the Grinch, my heart grew two sizes.  The darkness was gone.  I was won over.
In the end, their visit was far too short.  I loved getting home from work and having Nils, now 2 years old, yell “Nata!” when I walked in the door.  I loved that The Blob took over as the new king of the kitchen floor, greeting us with his little James Brown shrieks.  And I loved having our friends around, staying up late talking about life, and eating cake.  Most of the time I forgot that Ella was pregnant, and when I remembered, I was truly, genuinely happy for her.  Sure, the sadness was still there, but not in a bowling-ball-in-the-stomach kind of way.  I don’t know why, or how any of this works.  But that’s what happened.  

Ella told me about a woman she’d met who’d had 3 miscarriages.  She told me about another woman who was 38 years old, had polycystic ovarian syndrome (“We’re talking baseball-sized cysts!”,) and who’d had unprotected sex once and was due in 2 weeks.  In other words, she reminded me of how very much all of this baby stuff comes down to luck.  For a week after they left, I stopped obsessing.  I stopped panicking.  I felt lighter than I had in a long time. 

Then, I got an email from an old friend.  “Good News!” the subject line read.

I wish I could tell you that I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and gave her a cheerful, heartfelt, congratulatory phone call.

But then what would I have to write about?