16 March 2012
For this, one of the last posts, if not the last, I was going to write about some deep and meaningful (at least to me) topic that would recap the year. One viewer had asked a while back if I thought that this experience “made me a man or more of a man.” I could have written a long treatise on this. She had some very interesting thoughts herself on the topic, a subject that apparently has long interested her. What stands out in my memory is a quote that she attributed to Steve Martin, "A real man is someone who can take care of someone other than himself." Something with which I would entirely agree.
More than this year of building, hunting and, well, surfing, I felt most like a man the year before I came up, when I spent 5 months acting as my autistic older brother’s live-in caregiver. This year on-island has changed my perspective on a great many things but only reinforced my beliefs with regard to family. I want to be around for them when they need me. How I will make that work and still live here remains to be seen.
I also turned 40 this past week. By just about any metric I should be a man by now. You’d think at least by straight up chronological measure. Not too many generations ago, when life expectancy didn’t top half a century, I would now be at the tail end of my life instead of just mid-way (knock on wood).
Among others, I got a call on my birthday from my ex-fiancé. Six years ago we’d been engaged, owned a home together, and she’d supported my decision when I decided to make a 90 (180?)-degree turn in my career and become a freelance writer. She was, and still is, an amazing woman and I was lucky to be with someone like that. Now she’s a partner in an international firm, a homeowner in a city that a recent Economist survey found to be the most expensive to live in North America (yes, Vancouver is more expensive that New York), and happily with someone. I, by comparison am living in an off-grid cabin that I don’t own at the end of the road on a remote and rainy island. Beyond writing, there are no real career prospects for me here and I could count the number of single women I know here on one hand and still have fingers left over. Among the friends who called or wrote, many of whom have multiple kids/ homes/diversified portfolios etc., most expected me to be having a hard time with 40, just as some of them have.
So why am I so damn happy? I’d like to lay it down to some kind of Zen thing, having disavowed myself of this material world etc. but I think that I’m still just thankful for being here and having been able to do this.
If nothing else my appreciation for the simple (some would say even basic) things has grown exponentially. I was listening to some NPR This American Life podcasts as I cleaned up the cabin after the weekend party and two episodes struck me in particular. One was about Chinese factory workers, whose entire lives were consumed with assembling consumer electronics, like iPads. That’s all they would do all day (one dropped dead after working a 34-hour shift). There were those who’d lost the use of their hands from the repetitive motion or exposure to chemicals containing neurotoxins. Suicide was so common that the company affixed nets around the dormitories. Another episode was about the plight of an aging mother of an autistic man. She was desperate to set up some sort of social network for her son in the city before she passed away. Her idea was to assemble a loose community of people who would look out for him after she was gone.
Which made me think of here. There’s no one I know grinding away in a job that they loathe or that’s literally killing them, just to make ends meet. Or if there are, at least they have a life outside of work. And people here naturally look out for one another. Just by being here we’re luckier than, I’m guessing, 80% of the world’s population. Hell, just by being in Canada we’re winning. As a woman I once interviewed said, “We won the lottery when we were born in Canada.” This coming from someone so debilitated by MS that she was confined to a wheelchair and looked forward to loss of basic motor functions. And she wasn’t referring to our universal healthcare system either. After her decline she still managed to travel regularly to places where turning the tap and being able to drink the water would have been something to marvel at. She’s managed get out to over 60 countries since being diagnosed including such travel as trekking through the Himalayas in an improvised basket on the back of a Sherpa. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, appreciation lies in each of our minds.
Like I said, I wasn’t going to go off on some long, abstract diatribe (too late?). I was just going to recount my afternoon, because it was just a nice slice of Tow Town, ending up with another truck dead by the side of the road (this time with a cracked radiator and shot alternator). But perhaps I’ll have to save it for the book. Not much of a teaser but there it is. Thanks for having read this far and for following along in general.
Have a great one and talk again soon.