I want to be a dame, damn it

I will never compete at the Olympics.

That’s a hard fact. Not that I had expected to one day find myself in a jumpsuit rocketing down a luge course or to be totally stoked after completing a double McTwist (whatever that is) on a snowboard. But I can’t even dream about it at this point. I’m still in my 40s but I might as well be 100. The Olympics are totally off the table.

I have never had the physical prowess or the discipline to be a world-class athlete. Deep down I know that. But what if I had applied myself?

I find myself asking that question a lot lately. I feel like I should have amounted to more at this point in my life. This must be why men buy sports cars and drive around with the top down. In the town I used to live in there was a guy who had to be in his 70s who would cruise around the river in a black convertible blaring old-timey music. A couple of the older ladies in the apartment I lived in “knew all about him.”

I suppose he was having a prolonged or very late mid-life crisis. I feel one coming on myself. The question is what will I do with it and will I be wise enough to come out of it? I don’t want to be a 70-year-old woman wearing a halter top and hot pants to the grocery store.

I don’t want to be a 47-year-old woman wearing a halter top and hot pants anywhere.

I’ve always secretly wanted to be able to sing. I can’t. I shouldn’t. But I do at the top of my lungs in my car. But what if mid-life fear sends me over the edge and I become a regular at karaoke bars, or worse, try to start a band?

I think this is the age where your confidence shrivels up like a petrified clementine, or you try to recapture your best years (if you peaked in high school, forget it), or, eventually, you become Dame Judi Dench—classy, funny, sure-footed, and undeniably fabulous. And if anyone does deny it, I don’t think she’d care. That’s what becoming Judi Dench is about.

It’s a scary crossroad though. You have to be made of sturdy stuff to tap into your inner  Denchness.

I’ll need to see clearly too. The key is to avoid stumbling around reaching for what is out of reach while recognizing what is within reach even if my vision isn’t what it used to be.

I have to believe some of what is still within reach is a kind of exclusive greatness.

At the Olympics they call that a personal best. Maybe it’s not too late to dream.


Why I hate camping: Part 1

I’d like to say it was a near-death experience that turned me against camping but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

I did almost suffocate due to a malfunction or user error—the jury’s out on that—in a Boler trailer, but I hated camping long before the camper was towed up our driveway and then parked temporarily in our backyard. We (my grandparents, my father, and me) travelled to the east coast and back with that overgrown chestnut behind us.

My grandmother emerging from the Boler while I try to keep my dignity armed with a hair brush.

My grandfather loved that thing. He was mesmerized by the genius of each part of the trailer doubling as something else—the kitchen table folded down to a double bed, the “couch” back and seat could be converted into bunk beds. Brilliant.

After that trip through the Maritimes, the Boler was not parked at the curb with a “Best Offer” sign attached to the door.

Instead it was moved to a sliver of dirt under some pine trees at a campground called Ponderosa (I’ll let you imagine it) in the little town of Mount Albert.

My father dropped out of the group and remained in Toronto, leaving the three of us to enjoy the relaxation of camping. I was promoted to the bottom bunk in his absence, so after a thorough check of the inside of my sleeping bag with a flashlight—always check the seams, that’s where earwigs hide—I climbed into the bottom bunk.

I was roused from sleep with a smack in the face and a mouth of vinyl as my body was thrown, then pinned against the wall.

My lips were tingling as I tried to figure out what kind of wild animal tasted like vinyl. As I started to come out of the too-much-fresh-air fog I was in it occurred to me I was being attacked by a Mount Albert thug in a faux-leather jacket. As I tried to kick my legs I realized I was trapped under the top bunk, which had swung back to its daytime resting place as the back of the “couch.”

I couldn’t move my arms, so like any sane 15-year-old girl, I started to panic and scream. My voice was virtually silenced by layers of factory-made and wildly unnatural fabrics—vinyl, foam, plastic, some kind of woven, wool-like material.

The humiliation of being suffocated by a synthetic bench while camping was too much. I tried wriggling like a claustrophobic caterpillar having second thoughts about the chrysalis phase.

I tried to rock my body against the bunk and after what seemed like 15 minutes, I managed to wake up my grandparents from their slumber on the dining room table. The bunk was lifted off me and as my grandparents stared down at me in their pajamas I yelled at the top of my lungs, “I could have died!”

I argued that the stupid trailer wasn’t safe and we should pack immediately so we could leave in the morning and go back to civilization.

My grandmother was the undisputed family health and safety expert. She could predict death, loss of limbs or other disastrous outcomes in any given scenario from swimming immediately after lunch (cramps and drowning) to neglecting to eat fruit (horrible bowel ailments).

Yet, I had almost died under that bunk and she couldn’t see the risk. She told me to settle down, stop being so dramatic, and go back to sleep as she climbed back onto her dining room table/bed.

And that’s what camping does to people. It turns them reckless and wild.

Putting the fun in funeral

I’ve started thinking about my funeral. I’m not at the point where I’m thinking about it in a morbid kind of way but more as an event-planning exercise.

I have to confess, I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a tragically ironic post. You know the kind where I talk about my funeral, insist I’m healthy and have decades of duck-feeding time ahead of me, and then die 10 minutes later.

If that does happen and you end up at my funeral, don’t talk about this post. I’m not a huge fan of irony.

And now I’ve just doubled the irony quotient. So don’t talk about how I didn’t want you to talk about this post.

I think it’s important to get things squared away at this stage in my life because you never know what might happen. Any number of things could wipe me out; I’m not going to name any possibilities—see the irony factor above.

But if I expire unexpectedly and I haven’t written down my wishes, the next thing I know I could be facing eternity wearing those flamingo slippers I thought were soooo hilarious, because my family thinks that’s what I would have wanted.

You hear that phrase a lot at funerals: “That’s what she would have wanted.” It’s usually said by a kindly aunt who is positive the deceased would have wanted her hair done up in a proper beehive and a shrine to apple-pie candles placed near the coffin. “She just loved that band the B-52s and we used to get her those scented candles for Christmas every year, she adored them.”

Meanwhile, her friends are walking past the casket thinking, “Did the mortuary-makeup artist get here in a time machine? And what’s that smell? It smells like my grandmother’s apron after it caught fire that time.”

I want to avoid that.

If you Google fun funerals one of the first images that comes up is a casket carried by clowns. Is that actually fun?

There are all kinds of themed funerals including Star Wars where Storm Troopers march behind the casket. Dessert is a theme too. A sign reading “Life is short, eat dessert first” encourages the grieving to munch on an RIP gravestone-shaped sugar cookie.

An Ohio man in his 80s named Bill Standley wanted to be buried on his Harley-Davidson, so his over-size plexiglass coffin was hitched to a truck with Standley perched atop his beloved hog so he could have one last ride as the procession went to the cemetery (watch a clip HERE).

Of course Pinterest is all over the do-it-yourself funeral crafts, like memorial photo necklaces and tips on how to make memory jars surrounded by twinkly lights and rocks with inspirational sayings on them.

In case there’s any confusion, I don’t want any of this. I don’t know exactly what I want, but I do know this: no plodding and dull farewell full of organ music. And no sing-song-rhymey-Hallmark-card poetry.

There will be a dress code too. No black, grey, navy or brown. Surely it’s not too much to ask people to wear something festive even if it’s February. I don’t want some kind of tracksuit affair but maybe the men could leave their suit jackets in the car. They usually look like awkward children wearing suit jackets their parents figured they would grow into and I feel sorry for them. Middle-aged men may grow bigger but their arms don’t get any longer.

A summer funeral has loads of possibilities, there could be a waterslide and old-timey fair games like the one where you throw a plastic ball into the goldfish bowl and win the goldfish.

I have a real fondness for Nerf guns but haven’t quite figured out how to include them. Feel free to leave a note if you have any ideas.

For the anti-social funeral planner who wants to kill people with boredom, 30 minutes of interpretive dance is a great idea. I considered this briefly.

Music is the trickiest part. No surprise, Pinterest can help with that too. Someone posted a list of the 40 saddest songs with Adele’s “Someone Like You” in the top spot. I don’t want sad. I want Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” I’m just not sure exactly when, and Kermit the Frog’s version of “Rainbow Connection” is about as sincere as I want to go.

Maybe it’s vain but I want people to remember my funeral. I want people to talk about the three-tier cake and the chocolate fountain in the car on the way home. I want someone to find a stray Nerf bullet in her purse a day later.

I want people to arrive at my farewell party somber and devastated, of course, but leave uplifted with a fresh scone smothered in clotted cream and strawberry jam wrapped in a floral napkin.

Maybe this is all just desperation coming from an only child with no children of her own hoping to leave a small mark on the world.

But a post-mortem legacy is harder to come by than finger sandwiches and tea served in pretty china teacups.

We’re all going to kick off sooner or later and there will be plenty of bad days before then, so why plan one? Bring on the New Orleans jazz band and a tray of Cosmopolitans!