Happy Birthday to Me

If you’ve ever received a birthday wish from me I bet I added in the line “Today you should celebrate yourself!”

I believe most of us adults are prone to play down how we should act on the day.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I will heed my own advice.

Why not celebrate turning 59? Why not celebrate me?

Why not, indeed?

OK, I can see why my friends smirk when I write it in their birthday cards. It’s tough to celebrate yourself.

But I’ll give it a try.

This past year has had some drastic ups and downs. And to be honest, most of the “ups” were just that I survived the big “downs”.

The joy of being an optimistic person is that my glass is always more than half full so I tend to have a good cry when things go bad, then carry on. And when I say carry on, I don’t mean put on a stoic face and just move forward. I mean get up off the ground, search out where happiness is and claim it.

So with that in mind,  I’ve been thinking about what I loved most about the past year.

There is no question that my time with the kids rates as number one!

And the last couple of hours have been the best reminder of what makes me truly happy. I’ve tried to write this blog and been constantly waylaid by texting with my best girlfriend. She’s away right now but we keep chatting. Time with her makes everything better and I’m blessed to have her in my life! Then another friend called and 30 minutes slipped away. He makes me laugh. Back to writing and my brother phones me! Of course I have time to talk… you’re my brother! And even now the birthday messages are starting to come in. Hell, I think I’ll cheat and open up the cards I’ve gotten! Why wait until tomorrow?

Then it dawns on me. Someone once told me this weird saying.

Tomorrow I am going to celebrate the person I think my true friends think I am.

And that’s going to make for a very good day.

 

 

The Karmapa Effect

The last 12 days have been a blur of joy and frenzy. This is what happens when His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, visits Vancouver.

Just this morning I was at Thrangu Monastery and there was a line of people waiting to receive a blessing from His Holiness. The look of blissful anticipation and some nervousness was overflowing in each of their faces.

None of us can really conceive his reach, his impact or his power. But as one person so perfectly said to me, “He is a king.” And I agree, there is no better way to describe His Holiness.

The media has done a good job on who the Karmapa is and his future role in the Tibetan Buddhist world. I especially like the CBC interview. (Link to interview) It covers so many aspects of who this man is and what he means to my religion.

In short, The 17th Karmapa will most likely be the person taking over when the 14th Dalai Lama leaves us.

Karmapa is the leader of the Karma Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism. This is the lineage I follow and His Holiness has a special place in my heart.

During this visit I have seen him seven times.

I hope you can imagine the shock of waiting for his arrival at the Chan Centre on Thursday night and seeing my image appear on the large screen as they ran a video of the Official Welcoming Ceremony at Thrangu Monastery.

The pageantry was over the top and so appropriate for the arrival in Vancouver.

It was at the teaching at Palpung Phende Kunkyab temple that the opportunity arose to speak with His Holiness in private. It was only for a few moments but he answered a looming question and gave me hope for the future. I had been wrestling with a health issue for five months and never thought I would be able to seek such advice and compassion. It was beyond any sane expectation.

A dear sweet man made the moment happen. The next day I caught up with him and thanked him for the kindness in pushing the meeting forward. He was the reason I got my blessing.

Bob made it happen

I also got the chance to reconnect with Khempo Choephel. He was translating for His Holiness and went above and beyond to make my blessing with Karmapa complete.

Yes, seven times I saw His Holiness and still it’s not enough. Part of me wanted to see him just one more time.  I’m guessing that feeling will never go away.

I wish someone had taken a picture as I spoke with him even though the moment could never be captured as well as it has been imprinted on my heart. I only have to look inside myself to be reminded of Karmapa’s prediction and blessing.

I believe His Holiness would agree.

 

13 Reasons Why

When my friend told me to watch the new Netflix hit 13 Reasons Why I asked him for one reason why I should. He told me it was the best thing he’d ever watched. When a 16 year old says that you need to listen.

His brief summary sold me, “A girl makes 13 tapes and sends them to the people that are responsible for her suicide.”

A few days later, a friend and extensive reader said, “The Netflix show is really good, but the book was better.”

Nothing more was required; I sat down for a 13 hour binge.

As I watched the closing credits I sent my friends each a thank you note. They were right.

13 Reasons Why has restored my faith that people can make shows that matter. This Is Us, the NBC show that debuted this year, gave me hope that we would go back to making shows that didn’t rely on fluff. 13 Reasons Why crossed the finish line.

The story covers many topics as it delves into why Hannah would make the ultimate decision. Bullying, rape, the social media frenzy, neglect, words left unspoken. I think most people can see a glimmer of themselves in one of the 13 scenarios. It’s hard to watch. Yes, devastating in places, but I have recommended it to everyone I know.

What shocked me were the media reports about the Vancouver School Board coming out with a warning about the series. The airwaves were filled with experts talking about how the show glamorized suicide. I yelled at the radio, “Have you even watched it?” I could tell most of them hadn’t. I read the VSB message to parents; it said the show should be a part of a conversation. Talk to the young people around you. Watch the show together. Talk about the Reasons Why.

The show reminded me what is was like to be 16 years old again. Did my parents know anything I was doing? The big difference between then and now, when I was young we had no social media. There was everything else, but we had no way to flame the fire into an unstoppable frenzy.

Thank God. I may not have survived.

Here are 13 reasons why I want you to watch…

1.  The writing is perfect.

2.  The actors become the characters. You will never forget them.

3.  The simple devise to indicate the flashbacks is clever and pure genius.

4.  This is happening with teenagers right now.

5.  The violence is not gratuitous.

6.  You can watch the series and then read the book.

7.  You can read the book and then watch the series.

8.  My young friend will know his opinion matters and I’ve told everyone.

9.  The soundtrack is brilliant.

10.  The characters are diverse without trumpeting the fact.

11.  You never know what will change someone’s mind.

12.  Because kids are dying and we can do something about it.

13.  Stop reading this blog, go watch the show, then talk to someone.

It Was Funny

It made her laugh.

The only good thing about the lead up to today’s colonoscopy was that it made a good story to tell my dear client that had just been put into a care home.

Anne has Alzheimer’s and I’ve worked with her for ten years.  I’ve seen the steady decline. But I’ve also seen that our shared strange sense of humour has remained. We laugh at the same things and most of the time they’re ridiculous.

Settling someone into a care home can be difficult. But it’s the best decision for Anne’s well-being and I wanted to help with the transition. Dementia and change don’t mix well. It causes confusion to run rampant.

So I sat with Anne in her new little room, held her hand, and hugged her close when she cried.

Through the tears she’d ask me what she was doing here. I told her about her mild heart attack and the care she needed. When she asked if I could stay with her for dinner, I told her I wasn’t able to because I was going to have a colonoscopy the next day.

“What’s that?”

I laughed and said, “They stick a camera up your bum!”

This made Anne giggle. “That’s ridiculous!”

I would stand up, bend over, point to my bum, and we would laugh even harder.

Laughing opened the door to better things to chat about.

But in less than ten minutes she would start to cry and ask what she was doing in this strange room.

I would repeat my same answers. We would both end up laughing.

The cycle happened again and again.

My only concern was to make my voice sound like this was the first time I was answering the question. I would keep at it as long as it made Anne laugh.

Anne’s son was in and out of the room trying to organize things and get the move sorted.

An hour into my visit he had had enough, “Are you telling Mom that stupid story again?”

#1 Yes I am.

#2 It is a stupid story.

#3 It makes her laugh.

#4 I will tell it for as long as it’s needed.

No doubt the look I gave him conveyed all this information.

I’ve been asked if it takes a great deal of patience to do this for someone with dementia. That’s never been an issue for me. No patience is required when you get to tell a joke that makes someone laugh.

It all comes down to intent.

And as for that colonoscopy? Three years ago the same procedure left me buckled over in pain and rushed to the ER. (It made a very good story for a blog) This time the doctor and staff were more than ready to make sure things went smoothly. I was nervous as hell, but hoped for the best.

Three hours later I was back at home feeling more blessed than I’ve been in a long time.

Then the sun came out and I got in my daily 10k walk.

Life really is good.

my walk today was filled with happy and a few flowers

 

 

 

Glass Half Full

Really… 2016 is the worst year ever? Really?

It’s not only the media spouting the mantra but most everyone I chat with.

This leads me to think I either have a very sheltered life, or I’m a little bit too “glass half full.”

I’m just not buying into the 2016 negative hype.

My life isn’t perfect, but I do have the tendency of looking at the bright side.  Or maybe when you’re like me and battle with depression, you appreciate the good days. When you’re often at the bottom of a hole you can enjoy the smallest bit on sunlight that shines down. It’s all in the perspective.

A few times this year, when a tweet has appeared about another celebrity death, I’ve said, “Oh no, how sad!” Then I’ve read the onslaught of condolences and memories. I’m a quasi fan-girl and know how the frenzy can get out of hand. But quickly my interest dies. I’m old and people are passing. It’s just a fact.

Good people die every year.

I do hope 2016 will be a wake-up call to the horrors of drug abuse.

If you’ve been devastated by a hero’s passing in 2016, I highly recommend you look through your movie and music collection and write a letter to all the people you love. Thank them for the joy they’ve given you. Tell them what their music has meant to you. Explain how a movie changed your life.

Let 2016 be the time when you started a share your thoughts with people before they die.

Then do the same thing for all the people around you that you love and cherish.

Start today. Start in 2016.

And yes, I know about 2016 and the whole Trump, Aleppo, pipelines… everything we’ve been shocked about this year. But they will all be here in 2017. 2016 is not to blame.

As for my view on 2016…

Two of my favourite clients died this year. I miss them dearly. But I find comfort knowing I was part of the team that made their last month’s endurable and even enjoyable.

I will remember 2016 as the year I became better at helping people when they needed me most.

Another client was rushed to the hospital today. She may not survive. It’s not 2016’s fault. Her time is approaching. 2016 has been the best year for all the hours we’ve spent laughing together.

2016 was the year I was diagnosed with cancer. But then again, 2016 was also the year I beat cancer.

2016 was the year I finally realized I’ll never be considered part of my Dad’s second family. Luckily, 2016 was the year I reconnected with my little brother and had the joy of spending Christmas with him and his family.

Give 2016 a break.

It’s not the year, it’s only a state of mind.

 

Life is short

Do you have one of those special friends?

No matter how long you’ve been apart, once you reconnect the rapport takes minutes to revive. Year’s slip away. Conversations continue without hesitation. There’s an agreement we don’t need to explain.

The phenomenon is close to magic and maybe even a little bit spooky. In my world it’s a belief in past lives and karmic connections. Others might think there’s just an underlying bond.

However you define it, if you experience this, don’t take it for granted.

Cherish each time it happens.

That’s how I felt when I saw Pete last week. Even though it had been 6 years since our last coffee chat, we fell into our relaxed patter. A comfortable ease.

OK, it’s a little freaky how alike we are. I won’t list the attributes, but trust me; it’s weird in a very cool way. I will admit Pete is probably the better writer, and for sure the better coach if you want help to run a marathon.

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In complete agreement on how to spend the day.

Over the last few days I’ve asked people if they have this type of friend. The answer’s usually yes.  And when they start to talk about it I swear their whole being changes. Their voice softens, a smile appears and then I hear the stories.

It’s tougher when you’re the opposite sex. People’s assumptions of “dating” are boring and a waste of time. That path is well tread and there’s no need to retrace the steps.

Could it be that I’m now old enough to appreciate the joy of a really good friend? Or maybe I’m just tired of the crap that can fill a day. I’ve been edging towards a purge of relationships that don’t bring happiness.

Being around Pete reminds me this is a wise pursuit.

These days I often repeat the mantra “Life is good.”

Pete is always quick to add “Life is short.”

He’s right.

Speak Up

I will never fully recover from being sexually abused and that’s OK.

It’s given me empathy.

I’m not bitter or mad, but after November 8th I’m afraid.

Allowing Trump to exist says we are abandoning all those that need our help. Collectively they’ve been thrown under the bus.

It seems America has said they will no longer stand up, step up and speak up for those in need.

So now it comes back to us. You and me.

Here’s why I know this.

When I told my mother that my step-father had been sexually abusing me for three years she said not to worry, she would make sure I was never alone with him again. Unfortunately this is a typical reaction of not confronting the abuser but sidestepping the problem. Other family members viewed my allegations as trumped up lies and innuendo. They bought his deceit and claims of innocence. He lied well. Everyone wanted to believe him. If we could just all get along everything would be OK.

In the end I was abandoned.

The bully won. The sexual abuser won. The con man won.

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my step father

Is this starting to sound familiar?

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the other guy

Now think about some fifteen year old gay kid living in South Dakota. Or the young Muslim from Chicago. Or that disabled child in Indianapolis.

All they’re seeing is that a bully will now be running the show and making up rules that can hurt them. He will have that power and people are following his lead.

The masses believe his lies about being great again. Fear is not great.

So now it’s our turn to step up. It’s our obligation.

You see, my fifteen year old self became convinced I was wrong to tell the truth. I was worthless. The people in charge didn’t care. During those dark days I thought no one cared.

It doesn’t have to be this way… If someone speaks up things can change.

Years later, my 20 year old self was having an after work beer with some office mates. These friends knew my story. Our boss started to tell us what he would do if he ever met my step-father. He was from Glasgow and only someone with that accent could describe a grisly death in such a comical way.

We all laughed and my heart was mended.

Finally someone was saying “I will stand up for you.”

It’s what every child needs.

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A Funny Moment

It’s the little moments. The time when something makes you smile, or laugh. Jasper Fforde’s workshop at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference was all about humour in writing. Over breakfast the next day, we chatted about how you can write about the most horrific event and still make the audience smile.

Writing humour wasn’t on my mind as I assisted with the Diana Gabaldon book signing later that day. Everyone was already smiling! My job was to help people by taking their picture with Diana. Capture the moment so they could hold it forever. This was fun!

No one was expecting a medical emergency.

As we were wrapping up one of the fans collapsed. Since I was the closest, my emergency/first aid training took over and I stepped in.

There’s no need to tell you the scary and grisly medical details of what happened over the next precious minutes as we waited for the paramedics to arrive. It’s one of the most intimate times you will ever spend with someone. The surrounding world disappears; it’s just you and them.

I start talking. I pray my voice will keep them with us. I pray that what I say and how I sound can focus their thoughts and keep them here.

Last time I was in this position the man later told me he zeroed in on that sound and it made him calm, gave him a beacon to hold on to.

When everything is going wrong calmness can help. A place far away from the fear of what is going on all around you.

I hoped the same would happen on that floor where just minutes before a crowd had been waiting for Diana to sign their books.

As the worst of the symptoms subsided and the wait for medical help dragged on I could see she was starting to become aware of what had happened.

I leaned in a little more and said, “I don’t know about you, but I hope one of the paramedics looks like Jamie.”  Jamie Fraser is the hero of Diana Gabaldon’s books and a stunning Scot.  The smallest smile appeared, just a faint movement of her lip. In the midst of the mayhem she heard my joke and reacted. In that second I knew she would be OK, I knew we would get through this mess.

The paramedics and firemen arrived and to be honest, I can’t tell you what they looked like. My relief that the professionals had swept in to save the day was too overwhelming.

People came to the conference to attend dozens of workshops and hone their craft.

My experience was different but in some respects the same.

We are people connecting with people.

Great writing has the ability to make that happen. Words can perform miracles.

A writer can conjure up a feeling that supersedes everything else.

Diana Gabaldon created Jamie Fraser and he can make someone smile in the most horrendous circumstances.

Jasper Fforde reminded us that during those darkest moments it’s OK to say something funny.

And sometimes that is the best medicine.

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Spending time with the amazing Diana Gabaldon

 

Take A Stand

I’ve never been a Miley Cyrus fan. I don’t like the sound of her voice. I’ve always dissed her and her public image. It was fun and became a joke with my friends.

Miley’s news this week made my decision take a serious turn. She appears in Woody Allen’s next film and has said, “Until I know someone and I know their story, I never really judge anyone. That’s kind of how I went into it. From the way I saw him with his family, I never saw him be anything but an incredible person and a really great dad.”

This is where I take my stand and draw the line.

Anyone that appears in a Woody Allen movie is dead to me. I make sure I never do anything that will support their career. End of. They are dead.

I’ve written about this before…  http://triciabarker.com/believe-me/  Woody Allen has been accused of child molestation. His daughter still proclaims he did it, Allen denies it all.

My only question for Miley would be, “If you had a young daughter would you allow her to spend the night alone with Woody Allen?”

If the answer is yes, you’re either lying or a fool.

I was sad when Justin Timberlake also decided to join in, then Kate Winslet. Damn. I like her movies, I like his music. Now they are dead to me.

And I’m pissed that Miley is appearing on one of my favourite shows, The Voice. I fast forward through all her segments and pray she doesn’t come back next season.

Yes, this might sound ridiculous. But it’s the only thing I know how to do.

I accused my step-father of sexually abusing me. I said it because he was sexually abusing me.

At the time no one believed me. That didn’t make him less guilty. It only meant he was able to convince everyone that he was innocent and I was lying.

Since then I’ve vowed to stand by children and take their side.

And before you get upset and talk about false accusations: I will admit that can happen. But I will always opt to believe and protect the child. Always.

Miley and Justin and Kate won’t care about my stand.

I only do it for my twelve year old self that should never have been left alone with a monster.

 

 

 

Leo and the Hole

The US election has made me long for the good old days of the “West Wing.” It’s still my favourite show and once a year I binge watch the first four seasons. Those are the episodes written by Aaron Sorkin.

This week a post on my Facebook feed had the famous Leo quote.

Link to the video

I’ve kept a copy of those words in my wallet for years. They’re with me all the time. Aaron Sorkin is probably the only writer that could make you believe the White House Chief of Staff could be this type of man. Substance, integrity, and honour.

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole.  The walls are so steep he can’t get out.  A doctor passes by and the guy yells up, “Hey, can you help me out?”  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts out, “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?”  The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a friend walks by.  “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” and the friend jumps in the hole.  Our guy says, “Are you stupid, now we’re both down here.”  The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

Reading this again got me thinking. But first I’ll give you a little background. Leo is a recovering alcoholic and Josh, the guy he’s talking to, has just discovered he’s suffering. Leo vows to be there for Josh, to help him out. Leo has his back.

You see, I’ve been fat, homeless, sexually abused, fired. My heart has been crushed and now I’ve battled cancer. Bla bla bla… none of that matters.

Honestly.   NONE.  OF.  THAT.  MATTERS.

Well, not unless I gained some empathy and maybe a bit of motivation.

Even better, if you come out the other side of crap, get a hold of yourself, make sure you’re OK, then jump back into that hole to see if you can show someone else the way out.

Don’t be righteous, don’t preach, don’t preen and for god’s sake don’t answer an unasked question.

And if the only way you can help is to support the people that are helping others, that’s a good thing.

Most people have a story that will break your heart.

Don’t we all want to know someone who knows the way out of the hole?

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