I don’t care if you like my tattoo

Photo by David Boté Estrada

Photo by David Boté Estrada

When I was young I would wait until it was unavoidable to admit my dad was dead. I wouldn’t correct the plural on “parents” but if someone asked directly about my father, well, I wasn’t about to lie, evade, or reenact the Monty Python parrot sketch.

I didn’t avoid talking about it to avoid my own pain. I was 10 months old, not yet a sentient being, when he died, so I felt an absence more than a loss. My reticence was to avoid the discomfort of others. When a child tells you her dad is dead, if you’re like most people I encountered you react as if you have just killed him yourself. My protestations that it was ok, I was too young to remember him, you haven’t picked the scab off a wound, didn’t erase the regret from faces. At a certain point I’d worry that protesting how little talking about it bothered me would make me seem freakishly cold.

In general us WASPy type people don’t like talking about death and aren’t good at it. About a decade ago I lived in Mexico for a couple of years and admired their openness and playful sense of the macabre, but whatever lessons I learned were mostly as an outsider who wished my own culture had less of the “do not disturb” attitude of talking about death.

Dealing with a loss that has rocked my foundations over the last few years has meant being more open about my brother’s death. Also? I’m an adult, and death is far less rare among acquaintances than it seemed as a fatherless child, and I buy into the philosophy that we’re all adults and we can handle a little discomfort in the service of showing our humanity to each other.

I still wondered how I would answer the first time someone asked me about my tattoo. I’d meant to get it in a place only I could see, but an aversion to pain and desire to be able to easily see it myself means it’s exposed when my ankle is. If only we lived in Victorian times I wouldn’t have had the fear of many awkward conversations to come.

I can’t remember who asked about it first, just that it was someone I didn’t know well. But I remember it being a lot easier than expected to say a simple: “It’s a memorial to my brother who loved robots.” I didn’t feel awkward, I felt relief. Since then, I answer with as much or as little detail as the situation warrants. Closer friends (and complete strangers on the internet) get the “everything’s better with robots” story.

It turns out I don’t mind being asked about the tattoo because I like being able to share in a very small way who Steve was and what he meant to me. If people regret asking, they generally don’t show it and honestly? I generally don’t care. We’re adults. Discomfort is not the worst thing we face.

Some people have made comments before asking – my realtor laughing at it, people expressing their distaste for tattoos in general. I learned that I don’t want them to feel badly, any more than people should have felt badly for talking about fathers in front of Little Diane.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care. I hadn’t considered before getting mine how personal and meaningful many tattoos are to their bearers. I hadn’t considered how welcome the question “what does it mean?” might be to someone who was showing their heart on their skin, even if they originally meant it to be on hidden skin. The tattoo is for me. It’s part of me. And I appreciate people who let me share myself with them, awkward bits and all.


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A not-a-bucket of colour-blind monkeys


I chose early on not to mark the anniversary of my brother’s death. I instead wanted to have my private little ritual on a day celebrating his life: his birthday on April 8. It’s a ritual that involves cake and not much else.

I’m not big on ritual. I am big on cake.

I want to remember how lucky I was to have him in my life more than how hard it was to lose the person who knew me longest and understood me best. But I guess it’s time to admit that in my efforts to not mark the anniversary of his death, I have accidentally created a ritual around not marking it.

The impending dread seeps into my subconscious weeks before I realize it’s coming up, and the eventual connection between feelings and calendar makes me want to look purposefully, positively at the future. I want to make myself dwell on the opportunity to shape my life instead of on difficult memories. So today marks three years of post-Steve me, and the third anniversary of me posting about my not-a-bucket list.

The list exists only in my head and is subject to change on a whim. This new habit of regular re-examination helped me realize that what was important to me when I bought my last condo – a Vancouver address, a second bedroom – was no longer important to me. And what is important – a connection to nature, a room with a view, a sense of community – could be a couple of painful real estate transactions away. Now I’m happily exploring my new home of Port Moody and sampling the trails, arts classes, theatre, kayaking and ice cream in the neighbourhood.

I thought it would be harder to give up Vancouver, but living in a smaller community has been a good way to focus and spur myself to get more involved in finding activities to join and places to explore. Living so close to the trails around Burrard Inlet gives me that instant connection to nature I crave, and living in Suter Brook Village gives me that instant access to urban life to escape from nature. Living across the street from a great grocery store has been a good way to be motivated to bring lunch to work regularly (let’s not talk about the Cobbs Bread, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt and liquor store next to it). Living in a building with access to a well-appointed gym is a good way to avoid the gym … but to have good intentions of making it more of a habit. Oh and I really like my condo too.

When I wanted to paint the new place, I didn’t have faith in my ability to pick shades that wouldn’t look like a colour-blind monkey helped me, so I got a colour consultation from a paint company. I knew I wanted blue for the long unbroken wall in the living room, but what shade? What neutral would complement it? I showed the interior designer the 539 blue paint samples I’d collected, a blue rug, and a painting with blues in it. I told her I wanted the bedroom to be a green that would complement the blue. She wandered off to do her colour whispering with her swatch book and came back with the pronouncement: “I tried to find a way to bring a blue into the colour scheme but it wouldn’t work.”

She also advised me not to paint the bedroom green but to leave it white so it wouldn’t look smaller. But … it’s tiny. The condo sells itself as loft-style, so the bedroom is a small room carved off from the one giant room of the living room/kitchen. The bedroom couldn’t possibly look smaller because of paint. It could only look smaller if it entered a black hole.

The illusion of spaciousness wasn’t my goal. My goal was a shade of green to complement the frigging blue I asked her to help me select. My goal was to feel cozy in my bedroom, to feel good in my home, to feel it was mine, to feel the colours reflect my taste.

And of course there was only one way to do that. I took the sheet she gave me with the colours she’d selected – lovely shades of grey and greenish-white – and threw them out. I promptly selected my own blue and green, and I love the new paint job.

It’s my home. My life. And the lesson of death is that life is short. So I’ll keep trying to be more the person I want to be, and less the person who cares if others think I’m a colour-blind monkey.

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100 days of nothing


I think of my recent move from Vancouver to a smaller but — in my eyes — better condo in Port Moody as an upgrade. Space conscious people would not agree. The me of six years ago, determined to have a Vancouver address and extra bedroom, would not agree. But the move has been invigorating for a few reasons, including the dramatic purge required in the downsizing.

It was difficult intellectually, emotionally, physically. I had to consider my criteria for chucking, donating, or keeping. I had to part with sentimental items — after taking a picture — and then sometimes snatch them back from the donation pile when I realized I couldn’t give them up. And I had to cart carload after carload to recycling or Value Village.

The purge was also hugely liberating. Getting rid of stuff I hadn’t used or seen in years felt good. The physical weight of all this stuff turned into a feeling of lightness when it was gone. I am the sum of my experiences, not of my belongings.

So when my friend Lisa sent me a link to a woman who resolved to buy nothing after the death of her father and resulting disposal of his estate, we started talking about doing a no buy challenge of our own. Our motivations and situations are slightly different, so our personal rules for the challenge are slightly different. Here’s mine:

As of September 1, for 100 days I resolve not to accumulate more stuff or contribute to the accumulation of stuff in the world. If I absolutely need or want something I will buy it second hand.

Before you worry I’ll come over to borrow a cup of sugar … and flour … and eggs … and maybe steak and milk and fruit … daily … there are exceptions. Food, toiletries, other consumables, gifts and experiences are on my exception list.

I’m never going to be a true minimalist. No one who owns a Sodastream and an entire cupboard of tea can claim to be making that attempt. But the older I get the more dismayed I am at rampant materialism, and the more I value experience over things.

Given that perspective, and given that I don’t like shopping anyway, my initial naive thought was that this 100 days would be easy for me. But a day in, I think I’m going to be surprised by how much of a challenge this challenge is. I’m used to buying what I want, and quickly, painlessly. Now I vow to consider those wants very carefully and take the time to sift through second hand sites and stores if I intend to buy.

Or wait for 100 days. But I’m hoping the challenge will open my eyes to the possibility of living a lighter life without feeling a heavy sacrifice. Bring it on.

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