A year ago on December 20, I discovered my life as I knew it was a lie. I ended my marriage and started to pick up the pieces to begin assembling a new life. How does one mark a milestone like that? For me, there was only one way: take a friend to Las Vegas, hock my wedding rings, and gamble whatever I got.
Las Vegas is a strange and interesting city. Beyond the Strip with its technicolour displays of excess, the town has a way of revealing to you parts of yourself that would be otherwise glossed over at home. It’s raw in a way only something built in a desert of nothing can be. So after a year of living through my own strange adventure, it made sense to close this chapter in that place.
Step One: find a pawn shop
Every city has pawn shops. They put our stories under harsh fluorescent light and strip away the memories we layer on our tokens; these places remind us that things are just things. Now, even pawn shops in Vegas have become a simulation of themselves. But all it takes to find something real is a willingness to turn away from those shiny neon distractions.
I found a pawn shop just off Fremont Street, in the decay of old Vegas. This is a condensed version of what transpired.
“I’d like to sell my wedding rings.”
“Are you sure? The most we pay is on the value of the gold and stones.”
“Yep, I’m sure. They’re not worth very much.”
a pause while the woman contemplates what to say next
“Most people can get more if they sell them privately.”
“Nothing you say will offend me. Let’s just see what they’re worth.”
the woman takes the rings and motions for me to follow; she weighs them and inspects the teeny tiny diamonds before turning to me with some reluctance
“With the amount of gold and small size of the diamonds, the best we can do is maybe… $60?”
I glance over at my friend, who shrugs
“That’s ten bucks more than I’d hoped. I’ll take it.”
the woman looks at me like she can’t believe this is what I want, so I try to reassure her
“Oh, this isn’t a bad thing. A year ago today I ended my marriage. I’m okay now. And I’m gambling the money to leave behind the bad juju.”
the woman smiles, obviously relieved, and fills out a form we take to the cashier to collect my $60
“Good luck to you.”
“Thanks.” We walk out the door and grab a drink.
Step Two: find the casino
Las Vegas is all about vibe. Superstition is everywhere, down to the guy playing the slots and the feeling of tables. No one is immune to the vibe; it clings to you like the decades of cigarette smoke not even remotely masked by the air freshener pumped in through the ventilation.
As much as it is about vibe, the city is also about history as it continuously reinvents itself. Classic casinos like Binions, The El Cortez, and The Flamingo are part of the essence of today’s Las Vegas, holding its stories in an ever-changing landscape. There’s a grit to these places, something that can’t be covered over by new carpet or fresh paint.
Walking through the lobby of The Flamingo, I knew. But not yet. Tomorrow.
Step Three: place a bet
We gamble every day of our lives. Maybe it’s not a table game or slot machine, but life is a gamble. We hedge our bets on buying a house at the right time, selling an apartment in a hot market, taking one job over the other in pursuit of career advancement, crossing the street on a red light. We trust our gut and are guided by instinct in the hopes of making the right decision. Sometimes we even weigh the odds.
The house, we know, always wins. Las Vegas is successful because of and despite this. It’s built on hope. Strangely enough, this might be one of the last vestiges of hope. And here hope is naked in all its forms, from beautiful to ugly and everything between. But however it appears, it’s honest.
The Flamingo had an open table with a dealer named Brian who explained roulette. I told him the story behind my wager and that I wanted to bet it all in one go. He nodded. I placed my bet on 20 black, the ball spun and spun before eventually dropping into a slot, and the house won.
Brian smiled and collected my chips from the table. I thanked him for helping close the door to this chapter. Goodbye, bad juju.
Step Four: walk away
That’s all there is to it. I left the table and didn’t look back. Everything I need now is in front of me.
The first year will have been the most difficult and the road ahead is far from clear. I’m not a whole person yet, but I’m living this life in honesty. That’s better than whatever comfort I thought I had in the lie.
And there’s always hope. We just need to look for it.
thanks to Erin for capturing the sale of my rings and the moment I placed the bet, and to Sandra for reminding me that my truth and this reality is always better
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.
To grow good writers, like good leaders, we have a part to play in an unspoken but necessary social contract in which it’s required of us to hold them to task and provide an environment for them to get better at what they do. And before we unpack this loaded statement, let’s take a breath together. <breathe, please>
The sentence begins with a series of assumptions (the reader is in a democratic place, has the ability and want for good writers and good leaders), and includes an agreed upon definition of ‘good’ in relation to ‘writers’ and ‘leaders’ with a not-so-thinly-veiled layer of morality. A ‘social contract’ assumes the reader is part of a type of a (likely privileged) society, participates in it, and understands the role they play. Further, there’s an assumption we want to improve: on our participation, our status, ourselves as people along that scale of ‘good’ for themselves and the world in which they belong (the immediate and greater).
A reader can infer a lot about the writer from a seemingly simple sentence presented as opinion editorial. Recently I had opportunity to briefly discuss my inherent assumption of the social contract (thank you, Christine & David), that there is one, and how I use it as a lens through which to view my participation and the engagement of others. The conversation was challenging, but not a challenge of my ideas and perspective; it required me to ask questions of myself and in doing so helped me to better see my own lens (read: bias). As a writer, my continued development requires an awareness and it’s something I struggle to remind myself of.
While it’s part of our social contract to engage with each other and our leaders (political, employment, community), it behooves us to do so constructively (another term loaded with assumption). On my new writing platform I’ve written about leading with heart (my friend Sandra Oldfield) and I subscribe to general concepts of leadership as touched on by poet and author David Whyte. A strong element of ‘good’ (assumption) leadership is the willingness to be vulnerable, allowing space for those around you to do the work they’re meant to do and, in doing this work, provide breathing room and growth opportunities for those in positions of leadership. It’s akin to geese flying south, each taking turns to lead; if one remained in the leadership space, it would be exhausted and the whole flying V would fail. Geese are emblematic of offering that space, of showing their vulnerabilities (“hey, I can’t do this alone”), of asking for help.
From small businesses to larger corporate organizations, good leadership can make or break its workplace culture and the culture within which the business operates. I have experience with all aspects along this spectrum, from great leaders in small businesses to poor leaders in larger ones and vice-versa. One common fault with poor leaders is an inability or reluctance to see success in others as their own. One universal strength in great leaders is the value they place on the successes of their team, as individuals and a larger group. Basically, good leaders give a damn about the people around them.
Part of my social contract as a writer involves engaging with my surroundings, looking for, and seeing, these differences. At present my surroundings include a still somewhat fragile and relatively new BC wine industry, growing at a fast rate. It’s an industry I love and believe in, populated largely with people who work tirelessly for something they might not realize in their lifetime. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues put forward a vision larger than themselves and strive to see it – and others – succeed. That’s leadership, from the ground up. A large part of my role is to identify those people, champion for them, and help direct a small light their way whenever I can.
This shining of light on the good in our industry comes with the equally important task of doing the same in the darker corners that we’d rather not speak of. Perhaps it’s part of that hard to define Canadianism where politeness obscures a need for frankness, but I struggle with how to mindfully engage these darker corners publicly – although I have an obligation (social contract) to do so. However, earlier this week I broke free of my reluctance and asked a difficult question in a very public forum. I didn’t expect an answer, although I do expect some attention be paid to it and will follow up.
And so, here is the start of an open correspondence with one of the new leaders in the BC wine community.
Mr. Peller, I’m a writer who pays attention to BC wine. Almost exclusively, as a matter of fact. I have been a small voiced champion of the BC wine industry for 1o years, since I moved to the Okanagan in 2007 and began to write. Like BC wine, my platform is small. And like a good amount writers I have a day job to pay the mortgage because many of those in our BC wine industry who value the contributions of people like me don’t always have the resources to support me with regularity. But here I am.
My commitment to the BC wine industry is in continuing to champion the great things being done by nice people who are good leaders, and now with equal weight I’m committed to holding to task those in positions of leadership within the BC wine community who have the resources and strength to truly lead. People like you and your organization. Your new social contract with the BC wine industry began the moment the physical contracts for your recent acquisitions were signed. Please know this, truly, deeply, and hold it with much gravity.
You are not alone. You have the strength of the BC wine community with you should you choose to engage with it, as good leaders. Your success can be found in those within the community you help to lead, and that happens when we’re united in realizing our collective success.
Before we head down the road of any five-point-plans, we need to look within ourselves to be the community team I know is there. That takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve seen it in every facet of this BC wine community. I hope you, Mr. Peller, can see it too. I hope you’re willing to be vulnerable. That’s the kind of leader that can help realize the collective success of the most awesome group of skill, talent, and dedication that is within our BC wine community.
I’ll be in touch. My people – well, I – will contact your people.
In the autumn of 2013, my website provider and business neighbour inquired if I might be open to taking on a new writing assignment. His client – a private motorsport club trying to build in the south Okanagan – had need for a series of online articles to help attract new members and position themselves in the market. Oh, and Jacques Villeneuve would be involved and my neighbour knew I liked cars. Was I interested? After a three second delay, I said yes.
Almost four years, 94 website articles, and hundreds of international media placements later, the idea that was Area 27 is now a 4.83km asphalted racetrack. Acres of unproductive cornfield (often left fallow) have been contoured and carved into challenging elevation changes with 16 corners and more than one blind apex. It might be the only racetrack where drivers look to the horizon and a mountain to help pick their line through a turn, and it’s certainly the only one I saw be paved over the course of six ridiculously hot desert summer days.
Writing is an interesting vocation in the days of digital media and insta-sharing. Words have always held weight and they still do. Yet with an increased number of platforms to write comes an increased number of writers attempting to stake a claim on one of those platforms, resulting in a dilution of quality. Finding a channel through which to tell a story might be easier now but it’s more difficult to share that story in a way that matters. This wasn’t part of the request, but it was my task with Area 27.
We decided to add personality to an unknown quantity. Who joins a membership-based motorsport club that is yet to be built? Through a series of member profiles, we got our answers: Asgar Virji, the low-key and quick-to-smile president of Weissach Motors; Daryl Carter, founding member and now semi-retired business coach who lives quietly in Penticton with his collection of vintage American muscle cars; Robert Sinneave, founding member who modifies exotic performance cars, operates an antiques business (although he does more buying than selling), and adopts rescue horses on his Kelowna ranch; Tracy Banner, early Area 27 member and tea blender who has a love for a certain 1991 MR2; Christian Chia, who changed the new car dealership model with Open Road Auto Group (he’s founder and CEO) and happens to love to race competitively.
There are literally hundreds more unique stories of people who, for a variety of reasons, decided to take a risk and put their money where their hearts were. In taking a risk on the track they took a risk on those involved – me included. In the last four years I have met so many people who trusted me to share their story well. Once this group gets talking about why they wanted to be involved, there’s no stopping them. I’m grateful for their trust.
We shared these and other stories on the website, building a library of information and becoming the primary location for all things Area 27. It established personality for the club. Next, we moved on to the grassroots platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to spread the news. These channels provide writers with easier access to sharing stories and yet all these voices create noise, so the challenge remains: how to make people give a damn and want to read your story. It’s not rocket science, but I can’t disclose all of my secrets here. Sorry. Let’s just say we did it and it worked.
Was it an easy road? No. Did we always agree? Goodness, no. There are dozens of things I would have done differently along the way, but although I’m the one telling the story it’s not my story.
Today, Area 27 has a significant presence in the motorsport world and a substantial measure of awareness in its community. It’s just enough to pique the curiosity of most and call to action those who are avid motorsport enthusiasts. For a private motorsport club, that’s a fine balance to hold. With limited membership numbers almost reached (capacity is 300), I’m satisfied with the presence I helped to build for Area 27.
After almost four years of collecting and sharing these stories, it’s time for me to close the door and make space for others. It’s been an interesting road and one I am grateful to have had opportunity to be on. To those who helped make this possible, I thank you. Each of you knows who you are.
Farewell, Area 27. Enjoy your life on track. I might be departing from behind the scenes but I know we’ll cross paths again.
(photos taken by me, while under contract with Area 27)