Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Margaret Dumont and the Magic Handkerchief

So it's been snowing on and off the last few weeks and today I was sitting in the little cafe at the back of the General Store staring out the window at The World's Smallest Art Gallery. Basically it's someone's beatup, old station wagon and every month in the summertime there is a different art installation in the car. You can get in and sit behind the wheel and read about the artist and what the installation means or ponder what you think it might mean. You can wander around the car and you can peek through the windows. Sometimes the installation extends to the outside of the car. It's a pretty cool idea started by some artistic folk who refer to themselves as The Village Idiots. I love that that's their moniker. It makes me feel like I actually belong here. It makes me feel not so weird at times. Or at least that my weirdness is no weirder than that which could perhaps be exhibited by any other person wandering around my village.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the due date of my first pregnancy. Weird to think I could have had a 10-year old running around by now if I hadn't miscarried. I try to picture him/her. I love and mourn the idea simultaneously, but I know this year, for the first time in a decade, this anniversary doesn't feel so sorrow-filled. I am finally carrying a baby again this anniversary and I am almost at 17 weeks. In a week or two or three, I will feel the "quickening". My midwife says I might think it's gas. My mum says it'll feel like a bird. Lesley, one of my best girlfriends ever, says, "it's like a butterfly's wings floating across your tummy". In four or five weeks, I will be SURE it's a kick happening and it won't remain as subtle. I cannot wait for this kind of daily reassurance. I know I will breathe a little easier and feel like this is actually happening to me and that's it's for real this time.

I was pondering all this in the cafe as the snow was falling and when I glanced outside, sipping my chai latte, I wished I'd brought my camera 'cause I suddenly wanted to take a photo of this statue which stands almost right beside The World's Smallest Art Gallery. The statue is commonly referred to as "the Tall Guy" around town. The name of the sculpture is actually It's a Question of Who's in Charge. See, the Tall Guy is slightly bent over as though he has a calcium deficiency and he points down and he's pretty tall so if you were to stand below him, right below that pointing finger, you'd feel for sure like he was the one in charge. No question. The thing is, I've passed this sculpture a gazillion times already. But the reason I wanted to take a picture of it today was 'cause there was a pile of snow piled on his back and neck as he was stooping over to point downwards. And it made me want to get a broom and sweep off that mound of snow that was burdening him. I imagined, as I sat there sipping, the act of brushing the broom across his shoulders and that somehow this small gesture would allow him to un-hunch his shoulders, stretch and stand up straight. Yeah. I'm about to turn 42 in a month or so and I still have these weird, little fantasies/visions/thoughts. Somedays I feel like such a freak, but it makes me laugh too hard to honestly ever worry about it.

I was such a bizarre kid. I was an oddball. Mainly due to an unorthodox sense of humour even from a very young age. The kind of humour not everyone "gets" and sometimes the kind of humour that isn't even funny and is just plain weird, but is, let me tell you, pretty goddamn hilarious to me. It's not malicious or cruel or anything, or even sarcastic-trying-to-be-witty. It's just 'weird'. I'm the looney lass who laughs out loud at a part of the movie that no one else finds funny. Yeah, THAT girl. The kind that drives people who paid good money for popcorn and soda crazy.

My mum is my best straight man. My twin sister always tries to not react, but can't help eventually losing it and giggling at me. My mum, though: she is the Margaret Dumont to my Groucho Marx. I can say (have said) the craziest shit right to her face and she's all, "that's nice, dear." And it's not that she hasn't heard me, you understand — just that her replies to my increasing wackiness over the years are simply her way of being hilarious back. She secretly loves being my straight man, all stoic when the crazy one-liners let fly from my lips. It's why we get along so damn well. Right now I'm reading A Complicated Kindness and man, do Nomi and Trudie ever remind me of me and my mum. Of course, Tash reminds me of me, too. So does Ray, really. But Nomi most of all. Trudie is how I like to imagine myself as a mum to the possible Nomi I may be currently carrying in my womb. I hope to fuck I'm not carrying The Mouth. Boy would that be ironic. A kid whose mum was so wacko, the only way to be rebel was to become some ultra-conservative religious zealot. I best watch myself and tone it down for the first while to ward such a frightening possibility off. I am loving this book, though. It wasn't until I got to page 103 that I realized Nomi had already been compared to Holden Caulfield on the inside of the front cover by the New Brunswick Reader instead of just inside my wiggy head. I giggled and whispered, "no shit" to myself. I was in the bathtub, the place where I always inevitably start talking to myself aloud. I love how my voice echoes over the water.

Anyhow, I started thinking about my baby sitting in the cafe. Is it wrong to hope your kid turns out to be a geeky nerd? To relish the idea? It's not that I'll be hugely disappointed if she or he is "normal" (by whatever societal stereotypical standards continue or are in place by then) or even "popular" or what have you. Just I've always had a soft spot for the goofy types. They remind me so much of myself when I was that age. They remind me so much of myself right NOW at 41. I am drawn to corny jokes, bad puns, braces, thick glasses. I never had braces or thick glasses, but I sincerely didn't need them to be as nerdy as I recall being (and, let's be frank, continue to be).

A few years back, when I actually watched television, there was this commercial I loved. My ex and I used to mute all the ads like they were a plague to be perpetually shunned. But I'd always unmute this particular one. It was actually a commercial against advertising that targeted kids and it featured all these kids being true to themselves: being what they wanted to be, doing what they wanted to do without worrying about peer pressure and stuff. One kid boards a bus with his tuba. Another kid tapdances up a storm. But there was this one boy who gets shown a number of times. He is an aspiring magician. In one scene he saws his little sister in half and near the end of this commercial, he pushes his thick glasses further up his nose before pulling out this magic handkerchief and giving it an honest-to-god flourish. I would wait with baited breath for this, my favourite moment, and release an audible sigh, beaming the happiest of smiles. My ex knew that I absolutely ADORED this kid for no good reason he could understand and he'd always tease me by calling this kid "dork" or "loser" or something every time the commercial came on. I knew he was just trying to make me laugh or react, but I also know he could never understand why my heart was always fit-to-burst whenever I saw that kid wave that hanky around. This little magician was definitely the type of kid that would have been pounced upon on his walk home; the kind who'd have his lunch money stolen from him. Maybe that's why he wanted to perform magic so bad: to make any potential (or very real) bullies disappear. Or maybe just make himself invisible...

The thing is, I kinda went out of my way to befriend every kid in school whether their parents had a pool or just a clothesline and dogshit in their backyard. I didn't exactly have the apparent talent or capacity for differentiation. Yes, I recognized there were cliques, but I didn't ascribe to any of them. It was like Groucho Marx refusing to belong to any club who would have him as a member; only kinda more like the opposite. I decided to convince myself I belonged to every group in some tiny way. I think this was one of the major inspirations for me to develop my predilection for acting and its chameleon-like nature. I don't mean being fairweather or fake. I just mean, I could blend easily with kids of all shapes, sizes and situations and always felt comfortable alongside any defined "clique" or non-clique. The kids who were "dorky" liked me, but they still couldn't understand why exactly I would befriend the guy who bullied them. For instance, there was one guy in grade 8 when I was in grade 7. We were in a split grade together and nobody talked to him and it was widely known that he had been caught carrying a knife to school and shit. Everyone was scared of him and when we'd have group activities, people didn't want him in their group. I remember one day we were all tie-dying tshirts as a school project in the courtyard and we had different buckets of various coloured dyes and were wrapping about a million rubber bands around random spots on the white tshirts we'd brought to school and stirring them in these pots and I remember him being off to the side, alone, trying to act too cool for words and there was something about that kid. I used to always go up to him and say, "hey" and he always looked shocked that I wasn't terrified to speak to him, like he wanted to come across all tough and shit. But then he'd just say, "hey" back and we'd talk about regular stuff. One thing I couldn't stand when I was growing up was watching someone be alienated or left out.

I think the best thing was that I kinda knew how dorky I was, but here was the clincher: I still didn't care and to this day it still doesn't bother me. I think it's one of the best feelings in the world. And I hope if my kid is dorky, or even if she or he is "cool" (however society will define that by the time he or she hits gradeschool), that she or he will be smarter than to be wooed into some exclusionary kind of clique or try to fit in and become like some unoriginal sheep in a massive flock. I pray all my children will be always true to the individuals they are. I dream of them protecting everyone around them from alienation, humiliation and loneliness, whether bullies or bullied. I dream they will be protected in turn.

And I hope when they turn 42, they can still get melancholy picturing leaves falling in the Autumn as though they're tears the trees are crying or that they will sing Happy Birthday out loud in some over-the-top way to their coworkers or that they will wear curlers in their hair at the Tim Horton's drive-thru on the way to work in the morning to give the ladies behind the counter a laugh. Well, maybe only if they're female. Okay, male, female, whatever. Really what I mean is that I hope they never lose their imagination, their fascination with the world around them, their celebration of individuality or their capacity not to let the opinions of others wear them down, inhibit or intimidate them from being true to themselves to the best of their abilities. And to always have the ability to laugh at themselves, without the inclination to laugh at the expense of others.

I hope they never lose touch with the innocence of being a child.

Hear that, baby? You can be wacko just like you're mummy if you want to be, flourishing your hanky all around the town, or you can take after your Wee Irish Nana and become my Margaret Dumont, rolling your exquisite eyes at my kooky behaviour with a cardboard expression. Either way, you'll always be the apple of my eye.

Music: You're Innocent When You Dream, Tom Waits

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