ESSAY: love, loss, and a slow cooker

Today I bought a slow cooker. This might not seem like a noteworthy event without context, so I’ll rephrase: today I faced a situation I’ve been avoiding for months, and I bought a slow cooker.

In December 2017 I learned the coupled life I was living wasn’t what I thought it was nor had it been for several years. With that new awareness starkly in front of me, I ended my marriage. It was a gut-wrenching and impossibly difficult time. Six months later it still can be, but I no longer throw up every day.

The following four weeks were a of whirlwind activity. I shoved my emotions as far down as possible, because I had to proceed with the business of detangling almost twenty years of cohabitation. What was once a life became a list of assets and liabilities awaiting division.

I hired a handy friend to help with unfinished renovation projects. I painted almost every room. I decluttered, depersonalized, and staged a blank slate with potential for new families or an easy turnkey for empty nesters starting to downsize. With lipstick on the pig we listed and sold the house in under a week.

For 38 long days I shared a living space in a home that was no longer a home. Despite the house sale closing in early March I secured my own place for February, because I could feel every buried emotion begin to leak through dam I had built.

Sitting in a rented one-bedroom apartment, surrounded by boxes and without much furniture, I felt ashamed. Weeks of self-doubt came pouring out, the weight of what transpired draping over me like a wet woolen blanket, smothering, robbing the air of oxygen.

I felt like a cliché. How could s/he not have known? When you’re in it, you don’t.

When faced with irreconcilable pictures of my life – the truth I thought I was living versus the reality – it was impossible not to question myself. I’m a smart person, and as a writer I’m somewhat observant. How could I have been that stupid? Enter the shame. Crippling, spiraling.

My retreat was all-encompassing as I navigated the new waters of insecurity in a life where nothing was familiar but my cat (Tippy rocks). I grabbed hold of a few close friends who became life rafts. I drowned, often, each time sputtering to the surface only to be pulled back under. I was unable to shake what was weighing me down: uncertainty of self, of my decisions, and of who I was when not in relation to another.

In May I was sidelined by emergency surgery and spent 12 days in hospital. For a few of those days the situation was dire. I had a lot of time to think about who I am, without the recent scarring and weight caused by the actions of another. When I pulled through I felt…lighter. And more myself.

I am my best self after emerging from the darkest places, buoyed by those I love and who love me. I’m my parents’ daughter: resilient, trusting, caring. I deserve to have my heart held with the same, and through all of this I emerged with my values intact.

There is no shame for me to carry after the end of my marriage. That weight is not mine. 

Today I bought a new slow cooker, one that holds 6 quarts and has a timer. It’s Sunday, so there’s no real chance of running into one I have no appetite to see. But for the first time I had clarity of mind and strength of self to talk about what happened without feeling ashamed or any of the self-doubting emotions that buried me for so long.

When I saw a familiar face and was asked how I was doing, I spoke. Easily. Then I took the opportunity to set straight a few things. Like how I was the one who discovered a betrayal and had the strength to say “Do you have something to tell me?”. And I had the courage to hold to my values and make the difficult decisions. It was a relief to tell my story and bring light to the truth. Sharing this here is an example of that relief.

All of those messy emotions remain part of me as I work through them, but perspective is a wonderful thing that’s easily brought about through confronting one’s own mortality. So I shrug off (as best I can) that which isn’t mine to carry.

These last few months have taken more energy than usual and I’m not feeling particularly driven to create. I’ve committed to writing for the usual suspects (like my next article with Culinaire Magazine), but am not taking new assignments for a while. I’ll pop up on Longhand when inspired but largely remain focused on finding my place in my own story. The old and the new.

Plus, now I have a slow cooker large enough to make dinner for my friends to thank them for being most excellent life rafts.

~ Jeannette

 

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new writing: risk, safety, and longhand

We need to take more risks. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the plain truth. As the social media microscope is trained on us without reprieve, having space to take risks is increasingly rare and while we’re busy being safe we neglect opportunities – however brief – to step where it’s not expected of us; someone is always watching and a video of a misstep can go viral before we know it. So, it’s easier to be busy being safe.

Safe is absolute garbage. It’s an illusion we afford ourselves from a place of inert reluctance, lulling us into complacency while assuring us it’s okay to be there because everyone else is. Through the constant bombardment of a hyper-realized ‘normalcy’ created through social media platforms (i.e. Best Day Ever! posts), safe is the mainstream we feed ourselves when some small part of us wants to rage against the machine.

We’re discouraged from taking risks by using scary labels. What was once considered a midlife crisis might now be generational disengagement and part of the social culture, painted for us too large to find a way around or through but small enough for us to take away a measure of guilt for being part of the problem. The message is that it’s better to be safe than speak out for fear of saying the wrong thing and bearing the brunt of commentary backlash. Everyone knows that what happens on the internet lives forever.

This autumn I took a risk and launched Longhand, a digital platform on which to write about things I love and in a manner that best fits my voice. Longhand is not monetized, won’t be a place for harsh criticism, and will be as transparent as I can make it. Do I risk coming across as a cheerleader? Sure. I can’t put mind to that if I want to focus on what’s important to me: growing a platform that supports those who are trying to put their best foot forward. This is who I am.

Where does that leave this site? Well, it’s changing. There will be more opinion-editorial here, and also (I hope – again, taking a risk) critical content on writing and the industry/industries I’m affiliated with. Complacency does us a disservice. Even the smallest step moves us forward.

I like being safe. I have a mortgage to pay and would like, one day, to take a vacation somewhere warm where I can lie on a beach with a cocktail in hand. I also have a responsibility to the larger narrative in which risk plays a part, and I need to take those steps – even the smallest of steps – to help us move forward. So despite a craving for safety, I’ll push myself to take those risks. That beach might have to wait a little while longer.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Longhand. There’s risk there, too, only it has better camouflage.

op ed: please stop mansplaining to me

The term to mansplain is described as a verb “(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Merriam-Webster has mansplain listed as one of the words they’re “watching”, indicating its current use is changing. Ultimately, the action behind it has been part of our landscape for years and continues to be something we encounter with enough regularity to justify creating a verb. Sad, but true.

I have been mansplained to more times than I can count. In my mid-to-late twenties I worked in automotive repair. For clarity, my job required technicians explain to me what was wrong with a car so I could estimate the repair and translate it to the customer: I literally had men explaining things to me daily, some with respect for my existing knowledge and others not so much. Customers mansplained their own car repair to me, others were angry I knew more about their car than they might. Some women found it difficult to understand I had knowledge of cars because they didn’t. It was a mixed bag of sexism, ageism, and education.

For the past ten years I’ve worked as a copywriter for businesses in wine and written tourism / lifestyle articles about wine, with a focus on British Columbia. I continue to have a lot to learn about the subject. My experience includes copywriting (bottle labels, websites, newsletters, technical sheets), winery business operations (tasting room, office administration & finance), production (harvest and cellar work), and consumer/tourism article writing for print and online. I have a broad understanding of new world wine businesses, specifically in this province. I know enough to ask informed questions and make fair observations based on my current knowledge.

Yesterday a peer mansplained something to me on a social media platform and in doing so appears to have missed the point of my message.

At first I asked myself if I saw this as mansplaining because of a project I’m working on, and perhaps my lens was a little more focused in that direction. I looked at the exchange of comments, their nature and flavour, and tried to get a read on who was engaging and how. Nope: this was mansplaining.

I commented that an international brand demonstrated a better understanding of my need to engage with them than some local businesses, and over a period of time. The larger message was about how an industry communicates and perhaps our local BC wine community had some growing to do.

Did I know, as a professional writer, that the company I queried is larger than many locally? Yes. Was I aware that the company likely has a larger team to respond more quickly and professionally, better than some locally? Of course. Am I comparing the experience directly? No.

I posted my comment to illustrate a point: the growing BC wine industry which I support wholeheartedly and often without financial compensation can do itself a disservice by not engaging with those who advocate for it. Yet somehow despite my years of working in and for this industry, a fellow had to mansplain about it to me.

To use a colloquialism: I just can’t even.

I know there are women in my network who have experienced and continue to experience mansplaining, sidelining, and other actions (or inactions). I’m here to support you. I have your back. We need to be there for each other. If you need to, please connect with me or someone else in your circle who will remind you of your value contribution.

For the record: I know Bollinger is a large organization and probably has “way more people doing admin so they can respond and tackle these types of things” than many of the BC wineries I query regularly. I stand behind my statement that “I’m still waiting to be added to some BC winery email lists despite making several requests, some for years”. At least four of these are BC wineries with larger operations. Some make 60,000 cases of wine per year and others produce hundreds of thousands.

BC wineries: please add me to your media email list, because I’m tired of asking and one day I might stop.