my mother

A little Russian with your chanting?

My grandmother wanted a hymn, the Song of Simeon the God-Bearer, to be sung at her burial by an all-male choir. When she told my uncle of this wish a few years back, he pointed out that in the Russian Orthodox Christian tradition, we do not sing hymns next to the casket, something my grandmother was well aware of. That ended the conversation.

Until, last week, when my uncle saw that she put the request in her will. #LOL

If that isn’t the perfect example of a pragmatic Russian Baboushka, I dunno what is.

But wait, you say. Isn’t that a rather risky request? It can’t be that easy to find an all-male choir that is available on short-notice to sing a hymn they may or may not know on a Tuesday mid-afternoon at a funeral. What about the cost? What if it just can’t be done. What a burden to impose on her children, the risk an unfulfilled request. How could she?!

Because she was Russian. Music is in our blood. All it takes at any Russian gathering is a few shots of vodka and copious amounts of wine, and heyooooo the singing starts. And that’s exactly what happened here. The night before the funeral, my father and my uncle and their cousin practiced the hymn a handful of times. No sweat.

It was a beautiful moment, the next day, at the funeral.

My father (left), my uncle (right), their cousin (middle). It’s a 4 part melody, so they adlibbed and improvised à trois. #nailedit.


My grandmother died on June 30th, 2018. She was 97.

It’s rather incredible, when you think about it. She was born 4 years after the Russian revolution, part of the massive exodus of Russians who fled and found security in France. She lived through WWII in Occupied France. She met my grandfather in Paris right after the war. The first time he saw her at a party, he told his cousin, “that’s the woman I am going to marry” and a few weeks later, he did. They had 3 boys together in 4 years, and in 1952, moved to North America, first to Long Island, NY and then after my grandfather retired, back to Ottawa, Canada.

  • She lived through the Kennedy years, and his assassination;
  • She lived through MLK; she saw the civil rights movement live;
  • She was in the USA when birth control was approved and feminism was born;
  • She lived through the Vietnam war, and the social turmoil it caused;
  • She was in the States when NASA put a man on the moon.
  • She was in Canada during the years when the first Trudeau was in power;
  • She maintained correspondence with her family in Russia throughout the Cold War;
  • She lived and visited Europe before it was the EU;
  • She lived most of her life in a world where internet did not yet exist – she wrote hand-written letters her whole life;
  • She never owned a cell-phone;
  • She never drove a car;
  • She could knit the most fantastic intricate outfits, masterpieces really;
  • Her husband was a proto-deacon, and her son, my father, became a priest, but her knowledge of liturgy and canon law was extensive without being academic;
  • She buried her brother, sister-in-law, husband and two of her daughters-in-law;
  • She met her great-grandchildren.

That’s a life.


I love this video so much. I’ve watched it possibly a hundred times. I’m so happy my uncle’s wife recognized the value of those moments and filmed them with her ipad.

Is it perfect? No.

Are they the best vocalists out there? No.

Is it sleek and professional and high def? No.

But is it it’s own form of beautiful and good? Yes. I posted it on my personal Facebook page. 89 likes. 5 shares. 1.4K views. 44 comments. People responded to this video. Friends and coworkers that are not of Russian descent, have never met my family, have no personal bias whatsoever that could cause them to react more favorably than warranted, wrote to me to say how lovely they found it.

It made me realize. Sometimes, I take certain aspects of my family and myself for granted. It is not everyone that can whip up on such short notice a nice rendition of a hymn to be performed publicly. This capacity to be the music is a talent and should be appreciated, even if the only form of expression it ever takes is in songs sung at family gatherings. It is not the size and scope of its impact that determines it’s goodness. It is that it is.

This made me question how I view myself. I often believe that because my blog has not achieved success or widespread readership, my writing is nothing special. But that is not true – I have a voice, and my voice does matter; it is better that I speak it than I remain silent. I definitely believe that because my dancing is not as good as so many others that I see around me and on the web, that it is worthless. But that is also not true. When I dance, truly, for myself, I radiate joy, and joy makes the world a happier place. It doesn’t matter that the rays of my joy only impact my partner at the moment and whoever happens to notice us on the dancefloor. What matters is that there was a moment of joy.

Joy is a form of beauty.

And beauty can save the world.

I think it is time I start searching for the little beauties in this world, in myself and those around me.


I wonder if my grandmother realized what the legacy of her will would be. #wisdom

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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?

All of the colors in Paris

Sunday. Landed in Paris, took a quick nap, then off I went for a little bit of solo-sightseeing. Y’all. There are SO many tourists in Paris during the summer months. No, I do not think of myself as a tourist. I am an invited guest. A wannabe Frenchie. Obvi.

ANYHOW.

I stopped by la Sainte Chapelle for the first time since 2012 to stare at the beautiful stained glass windows. Then I skipped over a few blocks to attend Mass at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. An organ. A skilled choir. Pomp and circumstance. Mozart! A very French archbishop cracking very French jokes that only a small percentage of attendees understood, because Mass at Notre-Dame is packed with hundreds of Christian tourists from every corner of the earth. During Mass, Notre-Dame is no longer a historical monument, but a living breathing space where people find solace from their grief and pray for salvation. There is something very humbling about uttering the same prayers that have been said by thousands of people for the past 7 centuries. The current emotions mingle with those that fill the walls of that sacred place.

Sunday night, as is my habit, I went to the Louvre. The contrast of the modern art (pyramids) and the old grandeur is magical, preventing the Louvre from merely being a fancy building that hosts a vast quantity of antiques. It is anchored in our current day world.

That statue reminds me that this used to be a real palace with carriages and horses stomping their hooves impatiently amongst the bustling activity.

In case you are wondering, all the pics in this post were taken with my iPhone 8. And other than this pic and the next pic below, all pics in this post were taken solely by me. ICB helped me get the right composition for this one. Filters applied by me.

Usually, the passage way to the courtyard is deserted. On Sunday, there was a very talented cellist playing Bach’s cello suites. I stopped to listen for 15 minutes. The cello was my mother’s favorite instrument: my father’s wedding present to her was a cello + music lessons, which she never got to take advantage of because of her health that began to fail almost immediately after their marriage. It took her years to sell the cello. She liked looking at it, she said. What a mama. A mama that never got to see the Louvre. Who never got to see much, yet who gave me everything so that I could live my best life. Since her death, I’ve been sent to Paris 9 times for work. I felt so much joy and sorrow, standing in that courtyard, listening to that music, my heart tried to break through my body. Instead, I cried.

That is me, on the left, hiding behind the column. I didn’t want to distract the cellist with my tears. I was unaware that I was in ICB’s line of vision.

I’ve been listening to Elgar’s Enigma Variations on repeat this trip since Sunday night. #perfect #mood.


Monday, I stopped by the Jardins des Tuileries before (8:30pm) and after supper (10:00pm).

Unfortunately this pic doesn’t capture the brilliant blue skies, which I could barely see because of the bright sun.

Jardins des Tuileries is an oasis in the middle of Paris. Joggers at all hours, families with preschoolers, tourists, people taking naps in the lawn chairs around the fountain, business people taking a break for icecream, students reading books in the shade. These gardens are where Parisians find shelter from the hustle of the city. I’ve never seen it so quiet and peaceful as it was on Monday at 10:00pm.

That sky tho. NO FILTER. Let me write that one more time. NO. FILTER.

No filter AND so peaceful a pelican came and hung out with me.

Laters, dude. Also, would y’all LOOK at that sky.

As the pelican took flight to new discoveries, I decided it was time to lead ICB through Paris, to discover the Eiffel Tower. With the beautiful weather, and vivid skies, there would be many opportunities for spectacular pictures.


Spectacular doesn’t begin to cover it. It is a 40 minute walk from the Jardins des Tuileries to the Place Trocadero, according to Google. It took us over 2 hours because we kept stopping to take pictures. The number of times I heard ICB triumphantly exclaim, “That’s it! I am never taking a picture ever again in my life. Would you look at this shot? It is PERFECTION.”

That is Paris for ya. Perfection in beauty.

Oh hey, guess what. Yup. NO FILTER. Can you imagine walking by views like this daily?

As we walked, I talked. I told ICB of how Paris saved me following my mother’s death, when I was badly stuck in my grief. Of how I feel like I am coming home, every time I come to Paris. How I feel like I belong here, like a missing part of my identity is found as I walk through its streets.  How in Paris, I feel fully alive, being surrounded by such beauty encourages me to strive to find my own – because there is nothing more beautiful than being fully myself.

Paris is a CROWDED city. And yet, the power of it’s beauty is so strong that you just have to look around to see moments of peace and serenity.

We finally made it to Place Trocadero. We spent almost an hour there, in silence, soaking up the atmosphere. Sitting on the steps of the Place, listening to the talented street musicians sing pop songs in French accents, children laughing, adolescents flirting in the background. We ate box of macarons. ICB took 200 pictures of the Eiffel Tower, from every possible angle. As I sat back and watched him work, I felt deep contentment. Here I was, 24 hours from my birthday, seeing and feeling colors. All of the colors. What’s more, I’ve been feeling colors, intermittently but with increasing frequency, since beginning May. I am getting better. One year, day for day from the start of this vicious episode of depression, I am on my way to remission. I survived. Normally I feel depression strips me of so much of my life, time just slips through my helpless fingers, month after month, year after year. But as I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle on Tuesday night, I felt gratitude. As Rainbow once told me, surviving deep pain and suffering opens us up to the capacity to see “all of the colors, so very brightly. It can be overwhelming sometimes, and tiring. But I wouldn’t trade the beauty that I can now see for anything.”

My depressions might steal from me the ability to see colors for long stretches of time… But my depressions make me kinder, more compassionate, and much more willing to take risks and live during those brief moments when my shadow is sleeping. Here I was in Paris, working at my dream job, accompanied by a guy I barely knew. Despite a bumpy start, we were having a total blast. I was enjoying every single moment without trying to determine anything about the future or what this means for “us” – who cares, really? This trip was a trip of memories and happiness, time well spent. I was taking the lessons I’d learned in Toulouse last year, and applying them in the best possible way.

I sat on those steps, under a sparkling Eiffel Tower, and cried tears of happiness and gratitude.


Yesterday was my birthday.

ICB surprised me with this present.

Vanilla, I know you slide into a world of no color, of black and white and grey. I know you find it hard, that it makes you suffer. Paris is your happy place, where you feel alive and see clearly. I want you to have this, so when things are not going well, you can look at it and remember those colors that you can and sometimes do see. I want you to remember the colors. I want you to see them.

Kindness, y’all. Wrecks me everytime.

There have been a lot of tears on this trip. For the first time in a long long time, these were the best kind of tears.

All of the colors.

All of them.


Previous Paris posts:

More than a watch

Back when I still worked at a Big 4, I wanted a watch. Classic, timeless, elegant, that I could wear in the day time, or at a swanky 5à7-8-9-way-too-late-for-a-weekday, at drinks at a pub or even at a wedding. Not a statement watch, but something graceful. That criteria effectively ruled out 99% of all watches, which typically have thick bands/straps. I searched high and low, but nothing was quite right. For months, I kept an eye out. It bugged me. A watch is the new status symbol: it serves no practical purpose, now that cells are omnipresent. But pulling out one’s smartphone at a meeting, during a conversation or a party is so much less well mannered or elegant than glancing at one’s watch. I craved that elegance.

Christmas 2011. I’d just successfully passed the UFE, the last step of my 5 year journey to obtaining my professional designation. My mama was proud. I was exhausted.  That was the first year I hadn’t had the time to decorate their Christmas tree for them – too busy at work. I was ashamed at not having taken the time to make my parents a priority. My mama’s health was on a sharp downward spiral. We’d started having the conversations about her life expectancy, which was under 5 years. Christmas day, we delayed opening presents till almost noon, to give her time to sleep – she’d only fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning, because of a massive flare-up of her painful symptoms. We opened the presents in the family room, I remember her sitting on the couch in her fluffy cyan blue bathrobe*. She looked so cuddly, I wanted to squeeze her to bits except I couldn’t because it would hurt her. My heart ached. My heart ached even more when I saw her Christmas present for me: a beautiful watch. Perfect. If I could have conceived of a watch that was exactly what I wanted, it would be the watch she gave me. She’d hunted for months to find it, bad health and all. It immediately became an extension of my body, the first thing I would put on every morning when I woke up, and the last thing I removed at night.

Summer 2012. The battery died a few days after her funeral. I took it off, and stored it in my jewelry box.

February 2017. I was going through a pretty intense wave of missing her (Letter from my Mama and Memory box). Since I find the tangible reminders of her so helpful, I dug out my watch and put it in my purse to have the battery changed. For ONE YEAR I carried around that watch in my purse, because I couldn’t bring myself to hand it over to a stranger, lest they lose or damage it. Instead, I would slip my hand into my purse and touch my watch for strength.

This week, I was walking through a shopping mall in downtown mall, near my gym, distracted by work and life, when I spotted a boutique jewelry shop. Two middle-aged Arab men were at the counter, with a teenage girl helping out. A family business. It was the angle of one of the men’s head’s that caught my eye: his body language was one of careful concentration. The whole energy of that place reminded me of Dynamo and the love that I always feel from his family. On impulse I went in, and asked for them to replace my battery. My hand shook as I handed them my watch. I watched nervously as they did the simple repair, and then they cleaned my watch for me, just because.

I couldn’t explain why I was crying. But they looked at me with kind eyes, and reminded me that even a $5 watch was priceless if it was a gift of love.

And that is how, on February 8, 2018, a nothing special day, I wore my mother’s watch for the first time since Summer 2012.

#loveandgrief

Alphonse keeping track of time, making sure I get stuff done at work.


*Her cuddly cyan blue bathrobe:

My father lived for 3 months in their home, constantly surrounded by all the reminders of her. Her slippers. Her coats hanging on the coat-rack in the entry. Her towels in the bathroom. He wasn’t ready to change anything. Then, after 3 months, he agreed it was time, and it would help if we sorted through her clothes, and removed them from the house. My uncle and aunt came down from Quebec city to help with that god-awful task.

I insisted on keeping her blue bathrobe. My aunt offered to wash it for me. I agreed, for hygiene purposes, but it made me so sad. Her smell would be gone.

I use it as a blanket now, whenever I am sick. Wrapping myself in it, with Mimi overseeing the cuddles, is the closest thing to having my Mama take care of me.

The Imitation Game

After class on Monday, Teacher explained that the key to improving in kuduro was to never miss a class, “It’s like math class in university, you know? Miss one class, and you show up at the next one, and you’ve completely lost, with no fucking clue what’s going on.” Everyone agreed, missing math class was the worst. I stayed quiet: I knew that saying “yeah no, I actually have no idea what you’re talking about” wouldn’t go over well, perceived as being attention-seeking, or showing off.

But it’s true, tho. I actually have no idea.

All through Cégep and University, for all non-calculus math classes and all accounting classes that did not have “participation” marks or group projects, I didn’t bother attending class unless I found the teacher inspiring. For the most part, I found my teachers insipid and incompetent, my classmates annoying and frighteningly stupid and the whole experience a waste of my time and a trial to my patience. So I’d buy the textbooks, skip class, and teach myself the content of the syllabus, sometimes more if the topic was interesting. I’d attend the review class before each midterm/final and write the exams. Twice that I can remember, I was approached by teachers, so offended by my behavior that they promised me they would personally see to it that I failed. I’d laugh at them, “You can try. You won’t succeed, sir.” I graduated University with a 4.13 GPA (between A=4.0 and A+ = 4.3). I never got below an A- in my undergrad, and I challenged myself to never finish out of the top 3 in any acco class, and top 5 in any business class. I won an award at graduation for the best GPA in accounting.

I always knew my transcript was a thing of beauty. But it is only this week, after Teacher’s comment, that I realized just how unusual my story was. Sad, too.

When I was very young, my parents had me tested for autism, because I had some odd quirks. Refusing to speak when spoken too, easily overwhelmed, bigger meltdowns than typical toddler tantrums. Ultimately, I was deemed to not be autistic. The doctor concluded I refused to speak when spoken to whenever I felt the person speaking to me was not saying anything worth responding to. Ask me what sound a cow made? Silence. Ask me if I was hungry? I’d answer. This was back before the notion of the spectrum or Asperger’s was a thing.

I had difficulty integrating in social settings (e.g. kindergarten woes). In Grade 5 I transferred from a French immersion elementary school to a local French school next to my house. Despite excellent marks at the previous school, I could barely string together a sentence in French. My new school had a very homogeneous population, all Québécois families, except for 2 anglophone families (including mine). Because of my mother’s intense tutoring, I immediately started scoring the top marks in all the tests and homework. The kids resented me – the anglo new kid that couldn’t speak French to save her life, being the top student. A rumor started: I must be cheating. The rumor spread like wildfire, such that the younger siblings of the kids in my class would point at me in the schoolyard during recess, “tiens, c’est la tricheuse” (“hey, there goes the cheat”). Coupled with the fact that I busted my knee and was in and out of the hospital for all of Grade 5-6 and STILL getting top marks… the rumors persisted. I didn’t have enough command of the French language to defend myself, nor did I understand how bullying worked. It was so unfair. I was busting my ASS at home to get those grades, under Sergeant Mama, and these punks were claiming I was trying to get something for nothing, just because I was different and didn’t fit in?!

As I grew older, my mother set out to train me, explain me the rules, so I could mimic socially acceptable behavior: someone smiling without showing teeth = polite not genuine smile, probably pissed off. Don’t ask personal questions, it’s perceived as invasive not friendly. Touching people is not affectionate, it is considered a lack of boundaries. Interrupting is not a sign of interest, it is considered rude. Speaking too rapidly or in too loud a voice is not seen as being animated or interested, it is deemed aggressive. Smile when you say thank you or people will think you are insincere – it doesn’t matter if you don’t mean it, they expect you to smile, so smile. All the lessons and rules I needed to learn to not ruffle feathers, my mother drilled into me. I became rather good at pretending to be normal, so much so I had to convince a doctor that I really do have moderate ADD and a perpetual shadow. It’s not flawless, I often make small slip-ups and frequently get the feedback that I am phony/aloof and my favorite: a “bit of a bitch”.

Pretending to be normal, however, comes at a cost. It implies that parts of me deserve to be hidden, are shameful. Fertile ground for my shadow. After my 2014 depression, I reorganized my life such that I didn’t have to pretend so much. As a consultant, my success had depended on my clients liking me. By moving into industry, all I need is for my coworkers to tolerate me and deliver on my projects. I can be more myself, quirks and all. Still, my inability to sit in a room of people that cannot keep up with my brain – I find it physically painful, my blood pressure rises from the strain of holding my tongue and not lashing out in frustration at their uncomprehending questions, off-topic reasoning, I just want them to understand for all our sakes – is starting to limit my career growth, just like it has limited my social life, and my ability to make friends at school. I might not actually be arrogant, but I definitely come across as displaying, an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions”. I know this, I can see people withdraw and judge me with contempt, but I don’t know anymore how to address this. I’ve reached the limit of my social (un)savviness.

Here’s the thing. I’m mad. I am so fucking mad at all the people who judge me for being different. For being quirky. For being arrogant. I am DONE with having to hide who I am, change who I am, so I don’t ruffle feathers. Heaven forbid who I am generates a sense of insecurity or takes people aback. I’ve spent 34 years accepting people that cannot keep up with my brain through no fault of their own AND trying to mold myself according to arbitrary social norms. I am not normal. I am close to normal, but I am not. I am smart and I am poor at matching my outputs to social inputs, through no fault of my own. WHY IS THAT SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO ACCEPT.

Just like in university, I’ve decided to pay the price by isolating myself, to spare myself from the masses of judgmental assholes. If that means taking a hit in my career or socially, so be it. It’s either that or a hit to my mental health.

I’m done. I’m tired. The cost of appearing normal is not worth the benefit.

I am nowhere near as smart or awkward as Alan Turing. But boy oh boy can I relate to this sequence. Thank goodness for the few people in the world that can see past quirks and differences to a person’s real merit.

Getting steamrolled by a musical train

My mother loved her classical music (exhibit A and B). For years, she tried to convince me to attend Montreal’s prestigious international music competition with her. It’s a pretty phenomenal concept: an annual competition, cycling through piano, violin and voice. There are several rounds, but the finals are 2 nights of full concertos for ridiculously cheap prices – with musicians that have the potential to be the next great soloists. I attended the piano competition with her in 2008, and the violin one in 2007. After that I grew too busy with work (exhibit C and D), and couldn’t make the time to maintain this activity with my mother. As with many things I shared with my mom, I’ve yet to face my shame and grief by attending this competition. Maybe next year.

I have trouble, usually, appreciating a new piece of music on the first listen. I need to listen to it over and over again, in order to be able to relax into it. Then one day, out of nowhere, usually when I am half listening while doing the dishes or folding laundry, it will suddenly slice through my brain and my heart and I will get it. I grew up listening to Brahm’s 2nd piano concerto in the car, all the time. I’ll never forget the day when I suddenly heard it for real, for the first time. We were patiently waiting to turn left at the red light intersection near our home. I remember the warmth of the sun through the car window on my arm, my mother driving in the front seat, how her sunglasses rested on her cheeks, the wind blowing through her rolled down window, the feel of car seat material against my thighs. A moment of wonderment, as I listened, truly listened, to that music for the first time. I was 9-10 years old, and it remains one of my most vivid memories, almost 25 years on.

At the 2007 violin competition, I discovered Prokofiev’s first violin concerto, which remains one of my favorite pieces ever: technically astounding, frothy and light, with an undercurrent of emotion to give you some feels. I was happily surprised at my ability to relax into the unknown and appreciate this new discovery. I patted myself on the back, chit-chatted with my Ma during intermission, listened an underwhelming Beethoven violin concerto, felt a little tired during the 2nd intermission and wondered how I’d survive a 3rd concerto, especially since it was another new discovery for me: Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto.

From the very first sequence of notes, I sat, stunned. I listened as my life and my reality, in musical form, were played to me by strangers, written by a man long deceased from a land I’ve never visited, living in circumstances I’ll never know (Stalin’s reign of terror). I felt completely understood, emotions I’d never been capable of naming, perfectly expressed. I was exposed, vulnerable and raw, my persona and defenses stripped away by the truth of the music. It felt like I got hit by a train. That hangover lasted for days.

I didn’t know, in 2007, that my shadow wasn’t an occasional visitor, but my lifelong companion and nemesis. So I was confused why I could relate so strongly to Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto, which is written from a place of pain, torment and anguish. I didn’t know, then.

10 years have lapsed, and I’ve yet to discover another musical piece that more completely gets all of me. It is me.


I wrote Rough Patch because writing is how I try work through things. Each post is true but cannot capture the whole truth: 750-1000 static words, a snap shot of a given moment in time. Family and friends reached out to me in a state of considerable alarm, which made me feel guilty – I voice my problems because voicing them helps me nullify my shadow’s attempt to foster corrosive shame, but in doing so I dim others’ happiness. Reassuring them about something that I cannot reassure myself about adds to the exhaustion of life.

I lost 4lbs from last week’s 6 hour cry fest. It took me 2.5 days to rehydrate adequately, and rebalance my electrolytes. No, I have not been spending every day crying, since. I even had a few moments of laughter this week. Am I still exhausted, and in that danger zone btn a funk and something much worse? Yes. Am I trying to take care of myself? Yes. I religiously go to the gym every Saturday, because seeing my #squaD is as good for the soul as the endorphins are for my brain. This week I treated myself to a bonus workout on Thursday, totally worth it, except now I have to catch up some stuff this weekend. I try eat fruits and veggies most days. My roommate took care of the fridge. I sleep a lot. I try answer most texts within 48hours so that I don’t feel a pit of guilt for being a bad friend.

This is depression. Some days it is really bad and messy. Some days I look mostly normal. All days feel like Shostakovich’s 1st violin concerto.

How you doing? Oh, just like Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto

“So, how’ve you been doing? Whatcha been up to? What’s going on in your life lately? Anything? Nothing?!”

I hate those questions. They suck. They are only ok to answer if you have something to boast about, when your life is all gold stars, rainbows and unicorns. My first half of 2017? I LOVED talking about my life. I visited 5 different cities, and went on the most transformative trip of my life (Dubai). Work was exciting, dating was ok, dancing was incredible, I was happy. Then my shadow woke up from its nap, and the 2nd half of 2017 sucked, despite some pretty sweet moments:

“Everytime I wanna know what is going on in your life, I just read your blog.”

Ok, so then why are you asking me what I’ve been up to? I have not been up to much, although the above list of blog posts proves that I witnessed a fair bit of other people’s lives. If you read my blog then you should be aware I’m struggling with depression these past few month. Yes, still – that is what depression does, it robs one of one’s capacity to live for months, if not years. Reminding me that I am still stuck in this garbage zombie state isn’t doing me any favors. At best, I feel equally irritated and anxious about my inability to prove that I am living life in a manner worth living, in accordance to wtv standards of the person I am talking to. At worst, I feel shame, and my shadow goes off on a rant about how much of a fucked up train-wreck I am, still with nothing to show for all my talent, intelligence and privileged opportunities I’ve been given, just a disappointment to everyone, really. It is taking most of my energy to survive, and still be a semi-useful employee, worth employing. Just because I blog about my struggles doesn’t mean that I want to talk about them all the time. I am a depressive – I fucking hate vulnerability. Talking about my depression, unexpectedly, face to face, with acquaintances or not close friends? Ummm, no. And if y’all don’t read my blog… then I am just as unlikely to say “Oh hey nothing really has been going on, just fighting my way through my latest bout of depression. How about you? Still happy as fuck? That’s nice.”

“So, how you doing? Whatcha been up to? Work, work, just work? Anything else? Dating?”

Look, bro, I know at this point you are just fishing for a topic for conversation to make this less awkward, but I am not gonna make this any less awkward. YES. WORK. THAT IS ALL. THIS IS AWKWARD BECAUSE PERSONAL QUESTIONS ARE IMPERTINENT. Didn’t you ever read Miss Manners??


How’ve I been doing? Ok-ish. Work has been nuts – I am on my 3rd consecutive week of 65-70 hours. It feels nice to be given a challenge, and to feel myself stepping up. Just in time, too – my funk noticeably affected my performance at work from July-September. I really don’t have much time for anything else. I’ve been trying to stay semi-constant at the gym, my happiest of happy places, and manage to squeeze in 6-8 hours of dancing a week, down from 15+ in Sept-Oct. Work, with its series of definite goals (Nov 25, Dec 22, Jan 23) gives me structure. Every day is a new day, must continue moving forward, one step in front of the other, no time to think or feel too much.

Except that of course, I do. Feel.

While working yesterday, I put on some classical music (latest coup de coeur: Max Bruch’s violin concerto no.1). Youtube is a wonderful concept, really. One beautiful piece after another, old favorites, reliable staples. And then… familiar notes, forgotten from my youth. I stopped working, and listened from beginning to end.

To try limit my mother’s “favorite” piano concertos to less than all of them would be hard, but without doubt one of the top contenders would be Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. Rachmaninoff wrote it after a serious, almost career-ending depression that lasted 3 years. Friends and family urged him to seek professional help, which he did reluctantly. His therapist, an esteemed expert at the time, used hypnosis on Rachmaninoff with success. The result, a few months later, was the 2nd piano concerto. Rachmaninoff dedicated it to his therapist, and credited the man with saving his career and life. My mother always felt that the origins of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto could be heard in the score. A tormented first movement, an awakening of hope in the 2nd, and a verve, readiness and capacity for life in the 3rd.

An awakening of hope, she thought. “It sounds like a blind man seeing his first sunrise on a new day”, she would say. Then why does it make me weep with sorrow? Every time.

How’ve I been doing? I’ve been doing as good as the 2nd movement of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. In theory, I am headed towards a happier ending, but right now there is more sadness than joy.


It doesn’t help that this weekend was a true fall weekend. Cold, rainy, grey, with winds that cut to your bones. Bright leaves falling, turning into damp rotten mush on the sidewalks. Just as in years past, as the leaves fall, grief bubbles up, and I miss my Ma terribly. I suppose it is only fitting that I listen to Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto on loop. Memories of sitting in the passenger’s seat of the car, listening as it played on the drive home from the Pointe-Claire library (her favorite place ever – her body prevented her from physical travel, so she found solace for her mind by reading everything. No joke, she never borrowed less than 5 books at a time, every week). Of sitting parked in the driveway of our home, till the concerto finished. Of her sigh of contentment. Of the click-clack of her canes on the pavement, as she climbed slowly up the front steps of our home, while I carried her books for her.

I’ve not been back to Pointe-Claire library since her death 5 years go. A place I spent thousands of hours in, growing up.

“So, how’ve you been doing? Whatcha been up to? What’s going on in your life lately? Anything? Nothing?!”

Oh, nothing much, just the usual weeping whenever I hear a piece of music I strongly associate with my mother. That’s all.


Here is a recording of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto. Although Arthur Rubinstein is primarily known for his Chopin, he does a brilliant job. Jack the volume up, make sure you have surround sound, and enjoy.