my mother

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.

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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.

 

 

Introducing Harold

Canadian Thanksgiving. It’s the one weekend annually where my mom’s family gathers to spend time together. As we are scattered here and there (NYC, Boston, Mtl, Quebec city), most of us are working – the youngest cousin is 22, I am 33, and only 2 of our parents are retired – the logistics are tricky. Christmas? Impossible. Easter? Too short. Vacations don’t coincide, life is busy.

This year, my cousins and I decided to recreate a famous family portrait taken 21 years ago at my Baba’s:

My cousins took this project seriously. Boston cousin #1 purchased a jumper. Qc cousin #2 reached out on Fbk to all her network asking to borrow 3-5 barbies. NONE of her friends answered her plea, so she went shopping. Not to be outdone, I got myself a wig. His name is Harold, and he will be my +1 at all future family gatherings.

My father, upon meeting Harold, “You’re crazy. I mean, you’re all crazy, you Baba-offspring. I don’t mean to single YOU out as being particularly deranged. But that guy there, what’s his name.. Joe, Josef, wtv (Boston cousin #1’s fiancé)… poor guy. He has no idea what he’s getting into.” I suggested that Josef probably had scoped out the situation prior to proposing, “Nah. He has no idea what’s coming at him. I certainly didn’t.”

I think Josef is lucky to be integrating himself into this much awesome:

My family was supposed to show up anytime after noon, with the goal of sitting down to eat at 2pm. At 12:05pm, my father uttered a sad sigh.

Pa: “That’s it, nobody’s coming.”

Me: “You’re absolutely right. Nobody loves us.”

Pa: “I don’t care if they love us or not, I want to start drinking, and I can’t drink alone.”

Me: “…”

Pa: “Oh, you count as a person?! Hurrah! Go get the booze.”

He loves me, he says.

The solution to my father’s drinking problem: he will never be alone ever again. Party!

Cat therapy

Allie asked me to house-sit during her two week honeymoon with William. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, it’s been 9 days and so far both cat and plants are still alive. #overachiever

The first few times their cat clambered into my bed and snuggled in the crook of my knees, I was startled. Now, if I don’t wake up to her paws stepping over my shoulder to curl up next to my face for a 10 minute session of morning breath cuddles & purring, I am a little disappointed. Wonders’ll never cease.

Last weekend, I kept it low-key. My funk has mostly stopped sliding out of control – treading water totally beats being pulled willy-nilly by the current of my shadow – but I’m nowhere close to being fully myself. I am still exhausted by life, and after the previous week’s hectic wedding activities, I was craving the hermit life.

I don’t own a TV – I am rarely home long enough to make it worthwhile, and I definitely have the type of personality that is susceptible to binge watching shows on Netflix to the point that social and professional life are compromised. So just like I don’t bring any junk food, candy or bread into my home, no TV. 

Allie has a nice TV. 

What better way to spend my Saturday evening than with wine and some good entertainment? Allie’s cat definitely thought it was a good idea.

Scrolling through Netflix, so much appealed to me, but I kept coming back to the Sherlock (BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch aka Bae aka the only man other than Jon Stewart that I’ll ever love). My mom discovered Sherlock when it first came out in 2011: we watched the first season during my family dinners. We loved that show! We intended on watching Season 2, episode 1 together soon after my 28 bday, but she died before I could get my shit together to go visit her.

Many people encouraged me throughout Seasons 2-4 to keep watching the show. I couldn’t bring myself to. 5 years, I refused to watch that show. My godmother even offered to have sleepovers where she’d cook and coddle me and we could watch it together, just us girls. I couldn’t.

Until this weekend, buoyed by all the love from Allie’s wedding, in her condo, with her cat purring next to me. It still hurt, but I felt safe enough to try work through that painful mix of emotions.

Season 2: done. #toldyaIdbingewatch

Fall is upon us, which I always find hard, I miss her awful, but clearly the gaping wound caused by her sudden death is finally starting to heal. 

Who’d have thought a fur ball would do me so much good?!

Too late

I never understood Mother’s Day growing up. I understood Father’s Day even less. Like, why bother? Y’all are my parents every day, so why are we gonna pretend one day is more important than all the others?

I was a brat, can you tell?

I did a half-assed job celebrating Mother’s day, growing up. My mother was always slightly upset by my lack of effort. As I grew older, after I moved out and started appreciating my mother a whole lot more once I realized what a pain adulting could be, I tried to make a bigger effort.

Our last mother’s day. 2012.

2012. Mother’s day. I was swamped with work – putting in regularly 60-65-70 hour weeks, the rest of my life on standstill. Groceries? Don’t know what that is. Laundry? No time, I’ll just keep buying new clothes. I’d cancelled a few of our weekly family dinners, never having time to call and chat, bc I would leave my home at 8am and come back at midnight, 7 days a week. On Mother’s Day weekend, all I had time for was a quick brunch. I felt so guilty, such a shit daughter. My mother’s health was bad – I hated making her come downtown to meet me, instead of me taking the time to go see her.

Look how happy she was to see me – just to spend time with me. My father insisted on taking pictures of us, something he never did because my mother HATED being photographed. But this time, for some reason, she let him. It was a lovely meal – she told me not to feel guilty about my disastrous schedule and poor time management skills: she knew, without a doubt, that I was doing my best, that I loved her, and I would learn eventually to do better. I had enough going on, I should focus on the tasks at hand, instead of taking on unnecessary guilt.

What a mama.

Easter 1988 or 1989. I was almost-4 or almost-5.

I get the importance of Mother’s Day now.


My Ma:

Neighborly love in the suburbs

Yesterday afternoon, after back-to-back meetings, I checked my voicemail; I had a message from a family lawyer, who lives on the same street as my parents, asking me to call her at my earliest convenience.


I attended a French immersion school in a poor immigrant-centric area for my first 4 years of elementary, by the end of which I couldn’t string together a basic French sentence. So, in grade 5, my mom transferred me to the local school a few blocks from my house, in our very francophone suburb of Montreal. Super Québécois – we were only 4 Anglophone kids out of the 50 “graduating” students. I had a lot of catching up to do. It was also a bit of a culture shock, and my first exposure to prejudice: a homogenous population where my maternal tongue made me an outsider.

Because my mama was my mama, she encouraged/volontold me to sign up for a regional public speaking competition in the fall of Grade 5. In French. Why? Because it was important that I develop the self-assurance and confidence to speak my mind eloquently and convincingly, as a woman in a man’s world. Yes, she would talk to me like that at 11 (thirteen-minus-two) years old. I wrote a text called “Oui, c’est beau la vie“. It brought a tear to my mama’s eye – so mature, so wise, her little Bingi was so wonderful. However, her little Bingi had a brutally thick English accent –  the sounds coming out of my mouth didn’t qualify as French words. My mama reached out to a woman living at the end of the street: Mme R, a lawyer specializing in family law, who spoke beautiful French. Mme. R firmly agreed with my mother that the ability to speak my mind persuasively was a critical survival skill-set, and so she agreed to spend 2-4 hours weekly, for two months, giving me free elocution and public speaking lessons.

I quickly grew to love and admire Mme. R. I’d not been exposed to many career women: most of my friends’ moms were either housewives like my mama, or else had simple 9-5 jobs. But Mme. R was the mother of 3 little munchkins and their home radiated comforting love and happiness, just like ours did, except she had a Very Important Job and Didn’t Hide Her Intelligence, my mama said. My embarrassment about my terrible French decreased. I had something to say, and clearly Mme. R thought it was something worth saying and worth listening to (over and over and over…). Her munchkins would sit quietly during my practices and sweetly encouraged their new friend, who was doing something Worthwhile, so their mama told them.

I didn’t rank well at that public speaking contest, despite delivering my best performance. I was the only non-Francophone participating. That was my first time learning that having something worthwhile to say does not mean people will listen.


Mme. R apologized for calling me at work: that was the only contact info she could find via Google. We hadn’t spoken, other than occasionally bumping into each other on the street/grocery store, since I started high school: life happens, that way. She was pleased to see that I’d grown into a belle jeune femme, épanouie et heureuse and hoped that her internet searches were an accurate reflection of my real life.

Her reason for contacting me: she’d noticed that despite last week’s snow storm, my father’s driveway was uncleared, and the flyers were piling up on his front porch. And while she and Mr. R had tried to convince themselves that everything was ok, it had been many days since she’d seen my father around in the neighborhood.

Touched, I explained that my father had left to travel Russia exactly two weeks ago, and obviously had forgotten to consider the weather/mailman in his plans – completely like him. Her relief was profound. She offered to clamber over the snowbank, clear the flyers and reminded me that he could always count on her and Mr. R to perform such neighborly favors. I asked after her family; my mind boggled when she told me the 3 lil’ munchkins were all grown up, and she was now a grandmother! She carefully asked after my mother. 4.5 years doesn’t make the communication of Ma’s death any easier, y’all. Mme. R was dismayed – she’d assumed/hoped that my mother’s absence from the neighborhood was due to her failing health keeping her house-bound.

We didn’t say much else – the memories were too strong.

Our phone call was done in fluent French.


I’d forgotten about that brief period in my life, those hours spent in that safe bubble of comforting love and happiness. I’d forgotten about Mme. R.

I wish I could’ve found the words to thank her. Those French lessons allowed me to be admitted into the prestigious French high school which shaped my personality and taught me the problem-solving skills that make me a good accountant. My ability to speak my mind persuasively & fluently in French has influenced my career: it dictated which Big 4 I was admitted to, the client portfolio I was awarded, the mandates I worked on, the opportunities to travel to France for work, and getting hired here, at my dream job. It is what allows me to pursue my Big Dream to move to Paris within 24 months. Who I am, and what I’ve become, is welded to this language.

Thank you, Mme. R. Thank you for the gift of your time, your language and your love, twenty years ago. And thank you for the gift of your care for my father, now.

Memory box

Growing up, my mother encouraged me to keep a memory box of all cards and letters I received from friends and family, because she told me I would cherish the memories one day. Because she was my Ma, and I took her word as Law, I religiously kept all such items as a child.

I became slacker in adolescence, and to my eternal regret, I stopped when I moved out at 19. There are some cards she gave me in my twenties that I would give anything to find again, but I lost them during all my moves, and my carelessness.

Tuesday, after my bad day, when I was desperately searching for something to comfort and anchor me, I opened up the Memory Box for the first time since she died. I found so many treasures there, including her letter to me, aged thirteen-minus-two and this one:

Jan 19, 1995

Good Morning Miss Bingi,

Shake yourself awake little girl!!!

It’s a new day and how hard you work now will make all the difference in your tests today. Wake me as soon as you need quizzing. Say “Ma, I need you! It’s important, my old mom.”

Yours truly,

Sosipatra Hoggstub

P.S. Nightmares Mimi is having tonight:

  • Oh no! MacDonald’s Mimiburger
  • Oh no! MacDonald’s Mimihotdog
  • What’s next? Mimi Pizza?

(For a full introduction to Mimi, my childhood bestfriend and teddybear, read When you are having a bad day… and Where I rediscover that Mimi is fidèle.)

I have countless such handwritten notes that she’d leave on the kitchen table for me to find when I’d wake up. Some are whimsical (Sosipatra Hoggstub?! Straight outta Harry Potter, before Harry Potter even existed), some are irritated, some are forgiving, all are written with so much love. Due to her terrible health and pain conditions, she often had trouble falling asleep, sometimes only dozing off at 5am, after my father had woken to go to work. Yet, she always wanted me to wake her in case I needed extra help prepping for school.

What a mama.


Today is my father’s 67th birthday. My old man is off gallivanting in Moscow and St-Petersburg with some friends. He is enjoying his retirement, which given how hard he worked his whole life… is a very good thing.

A tribute to my old man

Happy birthday, Pops!