Dynamo

It’s a funny thing, love

Hi my mommy!

How you doing, Ma? Today is the 6th anniversary since you died in your sleep. Your death ripped a hole so big in my heart I didn’t understand how to keep on living. For a long time, I couldn’t. I was stuck in my grief, a zombie going through the motions. I was so angry at how you died, and so very ashamed at how I had been a selfish daughter. I couldn’t forgive, and I most certainly could not heal. I blocked all of it out, all of it, for years, paying a steep price: I didn’t know then that you can’t chose to only blot out the painful emotions. Denying myself the bad stuff meant also shutting off access to the good stuff. To love. To joy. To gratitude. #noneofthecolors

3 years ago, I began to un-thaw. I wrote this. It was the first time I allowed myself to really remember you. 2 years ago, I began wearing your ring, as a talisman, to keep you close and keep me grounded. 6 months ago, I fixed the watch you gave me, and since then I’ve worn it every single day. I stopped wearing any other bracelets because they can’t compare to my watch despite its scratch marks and slight tarnish. These two pieces of jewelry form my armor against the world. Tony Stark has his electromagnetic reactor. Batman has his batsuit. Vanilla has a ring and a watch. Same.

3 years ago, the moments where I experienced joy and love so deep I couldn’t block out the feels, started to multiply. It started with Qc cousin #2’s wedding. Continued with Dynamo’s wedding. Solidified with the return of Allie to Montreal. I really wish you could have met Allie, Ma. She knows how to love, that one. Patiently, so very patiently, she has let me grow comfortable with her endless generous love – for the longest time I didn’t feel worthy of it, because I was unable to reciprocate as selflessly, and that seemed unfair to her. As my world wobbled this past year, she was always there, a pillar of peace and quiet acceptance. (P.s. she just had a little baby boy and he is SO CUTE #auntievanillaisready #boyisgonnalearn). But that’s the funny thing about love, Ma. The more I accept it in my life, in it’s various forms, the more I open myself up to it, the more I find myself stumbling on incredible examples of it. I might not have been able to see many of the colors this year, but even when the sun stopped shining and I wasn’t sure I could make it to the next day, there were people around me to catch me and stop me from falling deeper and deeper into darkness. Coworkers. Friends at the gym. Family. Strangers.

Here I am now, once again able to see the colors. You know what the best part is? Every time I experience a moment of love or kindness, I am reminded of you. That’s what you were to me, my mommy – kindness and love personified. When you died, my capacity to see kindness and love was suspended. But somehow, with time and with the best friends and family in the world, I see them again, and that allows me to carry you in my heart after a long absence.

I’ve missed you.

I woke up on Monday, and felt an overwhelming urge to visit my Ma. I love the Mount-Royal Cemetery. I find it spectacularly beautiful. And rather than photograph it in black and white, I chose to photograph it with all of the colors. Because there is something so very fitting about the contrast of vivid blue skies and luscious green leaves that are so very alive, with the tombstones that bear silent testimony that loved ones lived and died. This birdhouse in particular seemed perfectly poignant. Why shouldn’t the birds that watch over our deceased be a little more comfortable and cozy?

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Phase 7 feels like a reawakening

Friday evening, I landed in Montreal at 6pm. By 7pm, I was home. I weighed myself, and realized that my diet in Paris had been a tad too decadent, and there was no way I would fit into the dress I’d intended to wear to Dynamo’s sister’s (#family) wedding the next day, Saturday evening. Time for some impromptu shopping.

25 minutes, 1 store, 2nd dress I tried on, $100CAD (aka monopoly money), I was done. In bed by 9:45pm.

Y’all, the jet lag this time was no joke. I woke up at 10am on Saturday feeling concussed. I dragged myself to the nearest coffee shop by 11am, determined to pass the time vertically until my 2pm hair appointment. Not because I wanted to be vertical, but because I was pretty sure that sleeping 15 hours was not gonna help me recover from jet lag, nor was I certain I would be able to wake up again. My brain felt like it was cotton candy. I drank two lattes, and pinched myself to stay awake.

And I read.

One of the side effects of my depression has been an inability to concentrate. Brutal. For months, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch Netflix. I could only handle about 10 minutes at a time of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee or else RuPaul’s Drag Race (don’t ask – I hate reality TV. But those girls are just so shady and so funny and so real, you know? #goals). Movies? Forget about it. Poor DD. We used to go to movies on a bi-weekly basis. I think I’ve seen a total of 2 with her in 2018, the most recent one for her bday at the start of the month. Well. At the airport on the way to Paris, I spotted a new book by my favorite author, Susanna Kearsley (she’s Canadian, weeee). Figuring this was a good omen for the trip, I bought it. It was a good omen… but I didn’t read it while in Paris. Too busy seeing all the colors, which was most lovely and deserving of my full attention. But to come home and realize that those colors translated into a concrete improvement? The ability to read 30-40 pages in one sitting, despite a brain that desperately wanted a nap? SO EXCITING!!!!

I celebrated by getting myself a third latte and going to get my hair done for the wedding. Y’all. I’ve never done that. Never had hair long enough that I could do it, and never had an occasion where that seemed worthwhile. Some people do it for their annual Christmas party, but I’ve always been too much of a lazy tomboy to bother. Still, I knew what was expected of me for this wedding (Arab weddings are fancy, y’all).

After getting my hair teased and curled and pinned, no choice! Had to stay vertical up until the wedding time. So I went for a walk to buy some lacy undergarments (I do love me some lingerie!) and makeup. I then came home and, like Cher’s character in Moonstruck, reveled in the gradual and luxurious process of getting ready. I did my nails, slowly, while sipping on mimosas. I played classical music, loudly, on all the speakers in my home. I read some more. I did my make up bit by bit. With nice long rests in between each step, and a lot of boozy hydration. I was alone, and I really enjoyed my gradual transformation into a duchess for a day.

This past year stripped me of the energy or the resolve to take care of my appearance. As long as my body stayed relatively ok, I just couldn’t be bothered to try. Hair in a knot on the top of my head, no makeup, clothes that were clean and that were flattering, purchased back when I took pleasure in my appearance or could enter a store without anxiety or dread. With an overwhelming list of things draining me of my energy, I cut corners where I could, and that meant dispensing myself with the obligation to spend anything more than the bare minimum time required to shower on my appearance.

So, I’d forgotten. I forgotten that I quite enjoy feeling pretty. That I can feel pretty. That I like feeling pretty. That I like spending time on myself in order to feel pretty.

Remembering that was very satisfying.

And if I am gonna spend a few hours getting all glammed up… you know I am gonna knock it out of the park. #perfectionismevenwhendressingup

I’m loving these concrete indicators that I am doing better.

#allthecolors

#ifinishedthebookyesterdaymorning

#itwasakickasswedding


For a recap of this recent battle with depression, I have created a new page under the section Vulnerability – check it out: The Great Depression of 2017-2018.

Fairytale weddings require leprechauns

It was Allie‘s wedding this weekend. She looked like a princess, got married in a castle in Vieux-Québec, her knight in shining armor looked dashing in his blue suit and spiffy bow tie, and it went off without a hitch.

Except.

Remember Brown Socks and Tinker Bell? Here they are, still happily married and adorable 2 years on.

Since Dynamo couldn’t make it to the wedding because of Mini-Boom’s late arrival 6 days ago, Brown Socks and Tinker Bell took it upon themselves to keep Dynamo informed of all of the proceedings. Which is why I got periodic texts from Dynamo throughout the day, including edifying ones such as:

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Brown Socks deserves to spend a few hours in a special area of hell. We all know that one should NEVER photograph a woman eating. Especially a woman scarfing down delicious poutine at midnight after a long day of wedding festivities.

My friends, y’all. Can’t take them anywhere in public.


Allie has asked me to house sit her condo during her 2 week honeymoon. (Incidentally, she still doesn’t know where her honeymoon will be. Her hubby William – so named because he is British, he is her Prince Charming, he has a similar hair sitch to Prince William, and theirs is a fairytale marriage with a happily ever after – has not told her, only instructing her to pack clothes for a warm climate & her hiking boots. She will find out their destination upon arriving at the airport… assuming it is a direct flight. I find this so romantic, and indicative of the levels of trust between Allie and her hubby. Allie, to put it mildly, is a bit of a control freak. Yet she completely trusts that William will plan an idyllic honeymoon. Le cuteness-overload!) I’m under strict orders to not kill her 2 plants and cat during their 2 week absence. Never let it be said that I back down from a challenge, no matter how formidable it may be!

Her maid of honor, upon hearing of this arrangement, commented, “You know what Vanilla? It might do you some good to take care of a living creature.”

Allie’s friends, y’all. Can’t take them anywhere in public.


Some weddings are boring. Some weddings are lame. Some weddings train-wrecks where you wonder if the couple will make it to their first wedding anniversary.

And then there was Allie & William’s wedding.

It was a celebration of the beginning of their Happily Ever After. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, least of all Allie’s and William’s, that theirs will be a marriage that lasts until death does them part. Their bond is almost palpable. They bring out the best in one another. While neither is blind to the other’s faults, they chose to celebrate each other’s constant work at becoming all they can be, and in doing so, they are a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a wondrous thing to observe.

A perfect day. Everything went off without a hitch, every guest from the wee babies to the great-grandparents was on their best behavior. There were many tears throughout the day, but only of joy. My cheeks still hurt from smiling so much.


Not gonna lie, I really enjoyed dressing up. Baby pink is not my go-to color, but the makeup artist and hairdresser were brilliant in giving me that slight edge that made the look me, without ruining the romantic, soft, elegant vibe Allie worked so hard to create. I felt like a million bucks. More importantly? I felt like I belonged in this fairytale.

Once upon a time, I would have felt that the happiness Allie has found was not something I could aspire to. Her unshakeable belief in the worthiness and goodness of all the people she loves would have felt like a burden, something I was unworthy of. Without doubt, I fall short of her vision of me, but rather than feel shame, I want to knuckle-down and work on becoming the good person she believes me to be. And in doing so, it no longer feels quite impossible that one day, I will experience a fairytale of my own.

That Allie. What a force of nature.

Mini-Boom

That moment when your bestie becomes a father.

That’s right. Mrs. Dynamite gave birth yesterday to Mini-Boom. A healthy baby, miniature and perfect. Mommy, Daddy and baby were all happy and exhausted when I left them yesterday.

As I gently touched my Muslim godson (yes, I am Auntie Vanilla, his non-Muslim godmother), I whispered my prayers for him,

Mini-boom, you are gonna grow up to be as smart as your daddy and as funny as your mommy. You will perpetuate their legacy of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity. You will appreciate the satisfaction of a hard day’s work, and not be afraid to stand by your moral convictions. You will be open-minded. And you will be brave. I don’t want you have an easy life. I want you to have a full life, which means you will be faced with difficult moments and you will navigate them with honor and integrity. You will have dreams, and you will follow them.

I love you. You are my Bingi, my darling. We are family. You don’t know this yet, but you have a huge family, blood related and not, who will take a bullet for you, face down the monsters under your bed and in the real world. You are loved, you will always be loved, and you, in turn, will love wisely and truly.

And then Dynamo showed me the video of Mini-Boom’s birth, the moment Mrs. Dynamite first heard her son’s cries, and I cried. To be accurate, I should describe my crying as sniveling and hiccuped sobbing, an overwhelming rush of emotion I’ve never felt before, wonderment, joy and awe. For once, for once, Dynamo did not make fun of me – he deemed that to be an appropriate reaction to something that far transcends the limits of words and language.

Mabrook!

My Muslim-Catholic-Orthodox Easter

Faith and religion are thorny issues. Deeply personal ones too, except when they become the cause of so much world conflict and hatred.

Funny joke:

Easter wasn’t celebrated in the USA this year because Jesus, with his Middle Eastern background, got stopped at the border.

Ha. Ha.

Sigh.


I was baptized Russian Orthodox Christian. However, due to my mother’s poor health, she was unable to make the weekly treck downtown to the 2 Russian Orthodox Churches in Montreal. She firmly believed that any religious upbringing was better than none, so she brought me to the Catholic parish close to our home. I attended that church from the age of 8 to 22, and integrated myself into that community, singing in various choirs, meeting my high school best friend, experiencing my first adolescent crush, doing volunteer work – some of my happiest memories from my youth are from that parish. My mother also enrolled me in an all-girls school run by Catholic nuns, because she admired the nuns’ mission to educate strong-minded, independent feminist girls. She was not alone: my fellow students were Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Catholic, and avowed atheists. We studied all the major religions on the world: the nuns explained that while they were true to their faith, they weren’t in a position to pass judgment on the other religions. Moreover, if we were to be true citizens of the world, capable of empathy, tolerance and good manners, we needed to understand the broad tenets of each faith, as well as the socio-geo-political implications of each religion.

The consequence of this upbringing is that I identified primarily as Catholic, when young. However, my mother made sure I understood the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, and I’ve continued to attend Orthodox liturgies regularly but infrequently (2-3x a year). It is difficult to dissociate cultural heritage from the religious one. Part of my identity is Russian. The older I get, the more I appreciate my Russian roots and relate to the Orthodox dogma. Yet when I go to the Russian Orthodox churches, I am overwhelmed by my feeling of exclusion from that community. I don’t speak the language, I am SO Western, I don’t belong. The usual struggles of any 2nd generation immigrant.

I feel like a fish out of blessed water. I do not belong anywhere.


I was ex-communicated for having pre-marital sex with my then-boyfriend at the age of 23. It makes me laugh, now, except not really. It remains one of the most upsetting things to have ever happened to me.

I’ve struggled to reconcile the requirements of my faith with my reality as a young adult living in a secular society. Now that I am less young, I struggle even more. As y’all know, reading this blog, I aim to live a life of integrity, vulnerability, joy and self-realization. That’s HARD. I am also aware that while those are good goals, some of the behaviours that allow me to achieve them are not compatible with the requirements of my religion. I have no idea how to reconcile my identity and my faith.

Enter Dynamo. If I as a haphazardly-practicing Christian find navigating a secular world difficult, Muslims have got it a bazillion times worse. Dynamo has successfully built a life for himself that works, that is fully integrated in this secular, frequently intolerant of Muslims, world, yet allows him to practice his faith (e.g. Ramadan, Halal food, no alcohol). I consider him my role model, especially since we inhabit a similar social & professional world; it isn’t easy for him. We have talked of our struggles often over the years, the compromises we are comfortable making, as well as some of the similarities and differences in our religious dogmas. But the differences don’t matter, nor do our failings – we share this struggle, and encourage each other to be our best selves. As Dynamo told me 2 months ago:

Happiness is a choice, and is contingent on the alignment of the values you hold dear and your own behaviour.(…) Have your values changed? Because your quest for happiness has not, so make sure your behaviour is reflective of that. I don’t think it is.

My (Christian) values. Not his Muslim ones, although there is a significant overlap. And unlike that Orthodox priest that ex-communicated me, Dynamo does not judge me. He gently reminds me to reconsider that which matters to me. My Muslim friend wants with all his heart that his Christian friend finds happiness, peace and salvation.


After months away from any church, of any denomination, I spent Easter weekend (this year, Orthodox and Catholic Easter coincided) with my Catholic godmother and her family. We went to church a lot. The responses, the exclamations, the prayers of my youth were instinctive. I found myself weeping a lot – a mixture of grief, repentance, and happiness. I’m no closer to aligning my behaviour with my values, but it’s clear to me that this is a struggle I wish to continue engaging in. I cannot, despite my best efforts, break away from my faith.


How wonderful is it that my Orthodox faith is sustained by the love of my Muslim friend?

#HappyEaster

#IslamophobiaFTW

A valuable lesson

Back in Feb, I was having coffee with Dynamo, and I brought him up to speed concerning my trainwreck dating life.

I’d recently experienced a few moments with Beaut that had led me to believe that perhaps, maybe, with caution, we could sustain a friendship. Dynamo listened to me in silence, and then gravely spoke:

So this is what you are gonna do. You are going to unfriend him from social media, block him, and never talk to him again. He lied to you. He has lied to others. He has repeatedly shown that he will hurt you as a side-effect to him getting something he wants. He can have all the good quantities you describe, all that is true. You have forgiven him, bc you should not hold hatred in your heart. But he is not a good friend. And so he deserves nothing from you. No time, no energy, no space in your life. That isn’t being a drama queen, that is choosing to control the levels of drama and happiness in your life. To chose happiness you MUST not choose drama.

I mourned the end of a chapter in my life that, while tumultuous, had triggered so much personal growth and discovery for me. I was a better person because of Beaut – how sad that I couldn’t benefit from all the advantages he’d generated with him as a part of my life. But Dynamo is wise, and has built a life for himself that I respect and admire. If he tells me something, it’s worth considering.

I followed Dynamo’s orders and blocked Beaut. My stress levels improved almost immediately, and have continued to steadily improve ever since. I’m free.

Dynamo wasn’t done. He had lots to say about my recent string of dates, including Hickster, Eurodude, Older Guy.

I think it is time you question what you want in your life. If you want happiness, why are you accepting guys that won’t bring you happiness in your life? Happiness is a choice, and is contingent on the alignment of the values you hold dear and your own behaviour. The Vanilla I met in 2009 would not have accepted these guys in her life, bc they do not align with her values.

Have your values changed? Because your quest for happiness has not, so make sure your behaviour is reflective of that. I don’t think it is.

Ouch. From my best friend. Hearing that suuuuuuuuuucked. He was right. I’d been settling for dead-end, fun, convenient dating scenarios, with no long-term potential, and usually a whole lot of drama, that inevitably distracted me from my goals of well-being and joy.

A few weeks later, cue my almost burnout and a need for an immediate vacation, and off I went to Paris/Dubai.

I have often stated that the Universe is a bit of a dick, with a fucked-up sense of humour. Well, not this time: the timing of this life lesson was just perfect. If I step back and look at the theme of this trip, it is that of Love and Friendship: both new (FroMan, Energizer and Sunshiney), old (BlondEyes) and dear (BossMan and IronSweetie). There was no drama. There was no insecurity. There was overwhelming happiness and connection and joy. Why? Because of the ppl in my life, willing and capable of sharing themselves beautifully with me, and I with them.

This trip spoiled me. I don’t wanna settle for any less happiness with my friends and dating life than what I experienced in Dubai. Frankly, I don’t think I can settle again: anything less will be too little, when compared to the joy I felt during those 8 days.

Dynamo, as always, was right.


Recap of this trip – Dubai:

My Arab & Muslim family

When I told BossMan and IronSweetie (Dynamo‘s brother & sis-in-law) I was coming to Dubai, they insisted I stay with them.

“Vanilla, of COURSE you will stay with us, you are family. Don’t insult us by staying anywhere else.”

You are family. Strong words. I wondered if perhaps the phrasing was slightly hyperbolic and dramatic, as is sometimes the case when dealing with Arabs, and especially with BossMan (#dramaqueen).


Dynamo’s wedding last year.

IronSweetie took me under her wing: teaching me how to dance & introducing me to her family. Showering me with love, despite us only having met twice, briefly. I was Dynamo’s friend, I had been a friend of BossMan prior to his move to Dubai; that was all she needed to know, to befriend me.

Dynamo insisted I participate in the wedding pictures, adjusting his bowtie. After the first dance, when the dance floor opened up to family and close friends, I hung back, until BossMan yelled at me to join them, because I belonged.


I cannot dissociate my mother’s sudden death with Dynamo’s incredible care of me. Which is perfect, really: my mother was Love. It is fitting that her death triggered one of the most perfect demonstrations of Love I’ve experienced.

Dynamo had to leave for a month-long business trip; he almost missed his flight, taking care of me in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. He was distraught that he’d miss her funeral. I tried to explain that he had misunderstood: his presence at her funeral, while lovely, was irrelevant. In the Russian Orthodox faith, a person’s soul stays on Earth for 3 days after their death – on the third day, it departs to (hopefully) heaven. Therefore, my mother had seen his kindness and help towards me and my father. She knew we were loved, and that would free her soul to continue on its journey. He had done more good than he could know – he had helped my mother.

2 days later, at the wake at the funeral parlour, I was surprised to see Dynamo’s sister arrive, alone. I’d met her a handful of times, over the years, but we were not particularly close. She bore a beautiful bouquet of flowers, with a card. She met my family, paid her respects, and stayed 30-45 minutes making perfect small talk and giving her support.

“Our thoughts & prayers are with your family. May God help you within hard and good times. God bless her.”

I assumed Dynamo had sent his sister to represent his family, since he was out-of-town and BossMan had moved to Dubai. I was wrong. She volunteered. Those beautiful – perfect – words were her own. I carry that card with me always, to this day.  (Yes, it is water-stained from my tears.)

Dynamo’s family is devoutly Muslim. My family, especially my parents, is devoutly Russian Orthodox. Dynamo’s sister found the perfect words to bridge the (irrelevant?) gap in our faiths. In the Russian Orthodox faith, we believe that praying for the forgiveness of sins of the departed matters, and contributes to their salvation – our human understanding of time is inevitably too narrow when compared to the Eternal. Similarly, I believe that the prayers of my Muslim darlings for my mother’s soul have contributed to her salvation. That they would care about her salvation, and pray for her, fills me with endless gratitude and love.


BossMan and IronSweetie hosted me in Dubai, treating me always, showering me with generosity and time, despite it being a busy work week for them. We traded stories, shared moments of vulnerability. They showed me their world. I spent time with each one individually and together and met some of their friends. They were the best possible ambassadors for Dubai – answering all my questions and explaining cultural differences.

Their love was so strong. I resisted at first: I felt unworthy of such generosity and kindness. But Love, when untainted by other human failings, is too strong to resist. With every day I spent with them, I grew to understand and accept that I am family. They are family.

This may have always been the case. But this trip finally made me understand.

I love them so.

May God bless the Dynamite family.


Recap of this trip so far: