Thursday, July 31, 2008

Becoming Anya...

I blogged about the transformation I have entered beginning with my last birthday and my adoption of a new first name. It's been an interesting month as I move into Anya. I realize that it's an unfolding rather than a single moment. I can't just leap into Anya, I must open into her.

I am in the process of creating a naming ceremony for when the time feels right to officially move into the full embodiment of Anya. I have also ordered a new name badge at work and my manager is planning to support the changeover with a parallel celebration at the bookstore on the day I do the ceremony. I feel much love and support of this new phase of my life, the emergence of this new being.

It seems wonderfully serendipitous that I have gravitated towards the birthing process in recent years, even entertaining the idea of becoming a midwife or doula. What I'm realizing is the first birth I must facilitate is my own. Becoming Anya feels like birthing myself, my true self. And so, there are some labor pains, some growing pains and a whole lot of being with who is right now, as I make my way down the birth canal of life.

I feel Anya linger in my awareness. I see what she looks like. I feel how she is different from anyone I've ever been before. And yet, not different. It is a creation anew but also a coming home. There is this sense of knowing that Anya has always been.

I spoke to my father about my name change. He supports the idea. As he said, "You're an adult. It's your life. You can do whatever you like." I still have not spoken with my mother about it. We'll see what happens there.

As I reflect on the versions of myself I've already been, the names I've held, the personas I've created over the years, I see their purpose in the great unfolding of who I really am. I see their roles in getting me to where I am now. Like vehicles to get from one point to another, they have given me transport through this life. And I am grateful for everything I learned under their banners.

Now, as I move into Anya, I find a grounding taking place. I feel my roots become firmer. I find my foundation of support become more solid. And I feel my desire to move out into the world gaining momentum. Anya is a traveler. I can feel an energy building, a desire to leave this city of my birth. I find myself dreaming of foreign lands, possibilities not yet even conceived, horizons waiting to be explored. And I am filled with wonder.

tall penguin

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who's abandoning who?

I hear the phrase, "I have abandonment issues" quite often from different people and spent a long time using this phrase myself. Abandonment is one of those universally human issues. At some time or another we've all been abandoned by someone. A parent or both parents. A lover. A spouse. A friend. An employer. A community. But I've come to realize over the past year that the person who has abandoned me the most consistently has been me. Yup, me.

Every time I ignored my gut feeling on something, I abandoned myself. Every time I lived someone else's dream, I abandoned myself. Every time I substituted someone else's judgment for my own, I abandoned myself. Every time I refused love, help and kindness, I abandoned myself. Every instant I spent suppressing my needs, every time I stuffed down my emotions, every breath I withheld, I abandoned myself. That's a whole lot of abandonment issues right there. And all self-inflicted.

After going through a major grieving process beginning around this time last summer, I settled into the stark reality of seeing my own responsibility to stick with myself, to support myself, to not leave myself when the going gets tough. I had spent so long shutting down, self-medicating, distracting myself, getting sick, staying sick, blaming, hiding, contemplating suicide and otherwise self-loathing that I'd forgotten that the only one that can really take care of me, is me. That the only one who can really love me, is me. That the only person that can consistently be there for me, is me. What I'd been looking to others for for so long, I began to find within my own soul.

So, I no longer say I have abandonment issues. I am learning to be the greatest influence in my own life and to take responsibility for supporting myself come what may. It is the scariest and most liberating thing I've ever done.

tall penguin

Monday, July 28, 2008

Into every life...

So I wrote this in my journal a few days ago, in a coffee shop, while waiting. I think it shows the process of coming to the last post I wrote and the clarifying that took place in those waiting moments. It's been a different journey this week, in that I haven't shared much of the process with you all as I was going through it. So much has happened in my universe this past few weeks. There are some things kept closest to my heart that words won't ever suffice to express.

July 23, 2008

I am a swirling ball of confusion. And yet there is this incredibly strong still point at my core. A quiet voice that says, "It's okay. Everything's going to be okay." I feel this voice getting stronger every day. It is the voice of God. The God I prayed to as a child for protection and comfort. It is only now that I am quiet enough to hear its response and to realize it's always been there. I am that. I am that.

It is raining today. Raining on me. Raining through me. Raining for me.

People come and go on the other side of the window. Where have they come from? Where are they going? So many stories. Stories within stories. Never-ending tapestries woven by memories long forgotten. Not knowing who we are, not knowing how we came to be here, we trudge along, one foot in front of the other, to an unknown future.

It can all change in an instant. A drop of rain, a kiss, a slight touch--and we are forever changed. Transferred into that which we have longed to be our whole life; that quiet call from within our heart that has echoed through each breath. That voice that gently taps us on the shoulder and says, "Come".

And without quite knowing how or why, we take a step, then the next, then the next, trusting that the bridge will be there.

The road to nowhere is the road to everywhere. It is the path to everyone we've ever been, everyone we will become. We are that.

Vibrations of the universe. We tap our feet to an unknown rhythm. Beating to the drum of our heart, we begin to sway. We begin to breathe in all that is and marvel at our own beingness. We don't know quite when it happened but we know we have arrived. We know we are finally here, in this body, in this life. And we breathe. In and out. In and out. In and out.

The clouds are dark. They signal that which is to come. And we wonder if we are prepared for the storm. We always wonder if we are prepared. We are afraid that we don't have what it takes to be with all that is. But the voice, it knows. It whispers up through our in-breath and says, "Yes. You have all you need. Yes. You are all you need."

And so, you step out in the darkened day and let the rain wash over you. You know you won't stay wet forever. You know the sun will eventually dry your tears.

A sea of umbrellas shielding the inevitable. Why argue against what is?

This dull ache in the belly of my soul. Waiting for Godot. So much waiting. This is life. It is here. No more waiting. Create. Create. And create again.

I cannot say with any clarity what will happen next. I cannot say with any clarity that was is next will happen. I know I am here. I know I am. And that is enough.

The rain pours faster now. The time is fast approaching. Can you stand in the rain with me? Can you be with life as it is? Can you be with me as I am? Please walk with me in the rain. Hold my hand. Be with me here. Be with me now. Let us drink in this moment in all its exquisiteness, in all its delectable beauty. Let us throw caution to the wind, the wind that rustles around us. To the elements of fire and water and ether and air. Let it fill us up with all that is and all that will be. Let us flood with the fever of this moment, knowing, trusting, that it is what it is. Let us be. Let us be. Let it be.

tall penguin

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Waiting Revisited...

My recent post Tea With Waiting provoked some interesting discussion, both here and in my private life. I've spent the last week sitting with all of the input I've received as well as conversations with the man I mentioned in the post. And I realize that there's no waiting to be done, nor was I even being asked to wait. It is what it is and will be what it will be.

The angst I was feeling was my internal resistance against the idea of waiting for something I really want when so many of my past instances of waiting have lead to great disappointment. But it's okay. It's all okay. What was, was. What is, is. Sometimes you get what you want. Sometimes you don't. That's part of life. It's part of the acceptance that comes with being an adult. As one reader "ged" put it: "life just seems to work itself out if you let it". It was the "letting it" that I was struggling with.

So I invited waiting in, gave it tea, sat with the idea of it and see it now for what it is. I choose when to wait and how waiting will be for me. The reality is that everything unfolds in life in this eternal moment. There is no future to wait for. There is only now. And I'm finding that now is a pretty cool place to be.

tall penguin

Friday, July 25, 2008


So, I haven't been around much lately. Mike, one of my regular readers here, sent me an email yesterday asking if this was the reason for my absence. Hahaha. No Mike, alas, I am a real penguin, not the blow-up kind, although some days I do feel rather plastic.

Truth is, I've been keeping my schedule rather full enjoying the summer and all of its summery glory. I have been writing behind the scenes. I'm always writing. It's what I do. But I just haven't felt much inclined to post here. I can feel a post welling its way up through my subconscious though, just as I feel the winds of change shifting through my life once again. So, stay tuned. I'm sure there will be news from the tall penguin front soon enough.

tall penguin

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tea with Waiting...

I love a man who has asked me to wait. I have grown weary of waiting. I have spent my life waiting for futures that will never come. Waiting for a god to bring destruction to an “ungodly world”. Waiting for god’s paradise to erase all that ails me. Waiting for an eternal pipe-dream. So, no, I don’t like waiting anymore.

I spent years living by my mother’s motto “Wait on Jehovah (her name for god).” Waiting for abusive elders to mend their ways, watching as I and others were trampled upon under the guise of “tending the flock”. I waited in closed door chambers to have elders tell me I was finally good enough to be welcomed back into the fold after having worn a scarlet letter and been shunned for 18 months. I waited for apologies and unconditional love that never came. I waited and waited and waited. And waited some more. So, no, I don’t like waiting anymore.

I waited for four years to kiss my first boyfriend. My mother said, “No kissing until your 18th birthday.” We broke up a month before I turned 18; my lips still wonder what his lips taste like. So, no, I don’t like waiting anymore.

I waited for a love of 20 years, the truest love I’d known in my young life, to be consummated. I shed tears upon tears in a prison I never sought, trying to be the good little Christian, the chaste woman, the someone everyone looked up to. I lost years of love, years of expression, years of being in my own skin. So, no, I don’t like waiting anymore.

I love a man who has asked me to wait. I feel shackled. I feel like I want to break out of my skin every time I see him. This is not building anticipation; this is caging the phoenix who wants nothing but to rise, to spread her wings, and fly. I feel helpless. I feel broken. I feel confined.

I love this man. So, there is nothing left to do but invite the waiting in, pour it some tea and decide to be friends.

Hello that one lump or two?

tall penguin

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Gods Must Be Crazy...

You may have noticed I'm in a bit of a lull with the blog of late. And it's okay. It'll swing around when it's ready. Or not.

Funny thing, I was out with a friend today and someone walked towards me with a shirt that said, "No one cares about your blog." And I laughed. I think the gods are fuckin' with me again. Gotta love em.

tall penguin

Monday, July 14, 2008

Loves Me...Loves Me Not

I was speaking with a friend of mine whose 10 year old daughter likes a boy in her school. It's her first crush. And she asks her mom, "How do I know if a boy likes me?"

I laugh. I'm 34 and I still haven't figured out the answer to this one. She replied to her daughter, "It depends on the boy. Sometimes he'll be really attentive. Sometimes he'll bug you to no end. Sometimes he does nothing at all because he's too shy."

Great answer. I've experienced every one of those scenarios. No wonder love is so confusing for all of us; who knows what any of us are really saying at any given time? Gee-zus.

My heart goes out to every parent in the process of having these conversations with their children. Attempting to understand, much less explain, the affairs of the heart is no easy feat. Parenting is the most important job on the planet. Kudos to each one of you.

tall penguin

A Little Product Knowledge...

When it's quiet at the bookstore, we bookslaves will often seek out interesting titles and peruse their contents. We call it "product knowledge"; at least that's what we call it when the manager walks by. Tonight's book of choice was Virgin Sex for Girls located in our Parenting section (Please Note: googling the words "virgin sex girls" will get you to the book listing, but will also expose your eyes to all manner of other stuff. Consider yourself warned).

Here's a few gems that we found particularly entertaining this evening. In the section on getting ready for sex, there's a listing of what can help stimulate arousal. Sandwiched between kissing and sexual fantasy was "deep emotional connection". Awww...isn't that special?

My greatest education of the evening came in the lists of all of the phrases used to describe sex and masturbation. Now, I know I haven't had a lot of exposure to these types of things, but I've heard enough about sex over the years and figured I'd heard most of the terms used. Not so. My favorite new term for sex is now "chopping the wood". Would you care to chop wood? Let's go back to my place and chop wood.

But the best phrase I learned tonight is in reference to female masturbation...Paddling the pink canoe. LOVE IT!!! I won't be able to use this one enough. I'm going to work it into just about every conversation over the next week, just because I can. I'm curious to see the reactions. I'll keep you posted.

tall penguin

Edited to add: Check out sex-lexis for all manner of sexual terms, quotes and expressions. An endless source of new words for your daily use.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila...

I am no longer a Tequila virgin. The gals and I went out and enjoyed an evening of all things mind-altering down at a local lounge in the Greek part of town. I told the waiter my goal: to get as drunk as I could, as fast as I could. The waiter obliged my request with rounds of tequila, followed by two incredibly tasty pitchers of Sangria. A first for me also. Yum.

I danced up a little storm in my little corner of the bar (you know my style: closed eyes, drifting off into some far off penguin land). Our waiter friend comes over to me and says, "You're a Raver, aren't you?"

I laugh. "Why do you say that?" I ask.

He goes on to tell me that I dance like a Raver. I tell him that I've never been to a Rave but would be pleased to attend one if he'd be so kind as to accompany me. Smooth penguin, real smooth. So, stay tuned. The post on my first Rave is coming to a blog near you.

Now, you may recall my penchant for wallflowers. My favorite part of the night at any bar/club is seeking out the geeky hotties who are still nursing their liquid courage in the attempt to get in a few dances before closing time. I noticed two such young men around 1 a.m. and sauntered up to their table and had myself a seat. They were both clutching their Coronas like babies palm their bottles. There was a third full Corona sitting there in need of attention. They offered. I accepted. Another first for me. I don't like beer. Never have. But apparently, once you reach a certain point of inebriation, everything goes down like butta.

I come to find out that my new friends are both from Greece. One's been here 6 years. The other has just arrived and this is his first night out on the town. Lucky me. I encourage the young Adonis (did I mention he's HAWT?!) to drink up and get his fine self onto the dance-floor with my fine self. He does and we do. And. Oh. My. God. The geeks never fail to impress.

We do a little grindin', a little salsa, a little "vertical expression of a horizontal wish" and then the night came to a close. I could have ventured into another first and started up a one-night stand bedpost tally, but thought better of it. Instead I came home with my girlfriend (what's that saying...hoes before bros?), got pretty stoned and collapsed sometime after 5 a.m. Work is going to be really interesting today. Did I mention he was HAWT?! Okay, I'll stop now.

tall penguin

Friday, July 11, 2008

Emails From God...

Every morning in my inbox I receive an email from God. Okay, before you get all skeptical on me, let me explain. I've blogged before about Neale Donald Walsch. His Conversations With God series of books helped me reprogram the baggage I held around the word god when I left the Jehovah's Witnesses. It allowed me to entertain the notion of god as my higher self, that which I truly am, as Walsch states, "the grandest version of the greatest vision ever we held about who we are." While I may not agree with all of Walsch's philosophy, I can relate to the "dialogue" he has had on his life journey with the inner divine.

So, I signed up for Walsch's daily email a month ago. And I smile every time I get one. In a fun, horoscopey, mantra kinda way, they mirror my life. I thought I'd share today's as it made me do a little dance around my living room.

On this day of your life, [tall penguin], I believe God wants you to know...

.....that you have only just begun to discover your

This period of your life marks a New Beginning. You
can feel it. And you have only just begun to know the
treasure and the glory of You. And you have only just
begun to make your Real and Lasting Contribution.

So step into this day with zest and zeal! Go now and
give your gift. We're all waiting for you. And we need
the wonder of Who You Are.

You may recall these words I wrote just yesterday regarding my life and where it's going: "I think the me I am has always been there. It's just a matter of time before the butterfly finds its wings...It's in process people. I can feel it." I know rationally it's a randomly generated mass emailing, but still, I like watching art imitate my life.

tall penguin

Cadillac Girl...

My friend John calls me up just before midnight tonight. "We're in your neighborhood, driving around in my friend's '64 Caddy. We're coming to pick you up."

So I throw myself together, fly down the stairs to find a boat of a Cadillac, shiny, fire-engine red, pulling up outside my apartment. The top is down. The tunes are cranked. And I'm in the back-seat screaming and waving at passersby as we cruise through the city.

I've never seen so many people smile giddily at a car before. Just seeing it makes people happy. So, we drive around bringing joy to the downtown core before heading into Little India for some curry.

Just got in and I can't stop smiling. Who has this life? Oh wait, me. :)

tall penguin

Edited to add:

Okay, here's the beauty of a boat in all its glory.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Being Open to Being Open...

I blogged recently about Jenny Block's book Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage. I just read an article written about Block and her book in the Observer UK. Great read. Please let me know what you think of it.

Block, who, for all intents and purposes, looks like an average suburban housewife, enjoys an open marriage. She is married to a man, has a child, but also has a live-in female companion, who is also her lover. And for them, it works. And I say, cool.

No search for self would be complete without a journey into my own sexuality. As I've blogged about on occasion, the idea of being with the same sex intrigues me. I have experienced attraction to women and look forward to exploring that further. Does that mean I've changed as a person? Perhaps. Really, I think the path to self is a journey of uncovery rather than discovery. Of clearing away anything that has tarnished the reality of who you are, rather than a finding out, "gee I really like doing things this way now".

I think of the caterpillar who has the DNA for being a butterfly all set and ready to go when it enters the world. It's just a matter of a genetic switch being flipped and the butterfly emerges. But really, it was there all along. I think the me I am has always been there. It's just a matter of time before the butterfly finds its wings.

So, I play with this idea of an open relationship. It appeals to me deeply. I can see it working very well. Now, just finding someone who is as open to the idea as I am. Remember my New Years intention around calling in "The One"? It's in process people. I can feel it. ;)

tall penguin

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Power of Touch...

I had a meltdown at work yesterday. It had been building for days. I had hoped to make it through the shift to my day off today, but life doesn't always go according to plan. A combination of factors over the past week, over the past three years, over the past lifetime, culminated in my retreat to the ladies' washroom where I sat and cried for awhile. One of my managers, bless his big ole heart, came and found me. We had a chat, he gave me a hug and I cried some more. He's been there with me through all of the mess of life over the past couple of years. He was quick to remind me how far I've come, how well I'm doing and that this junk will always be with me in some form or another and that it's okay. It's all okay.

It's amazing to me the power of a hug. I could've stayed in his arms for a long time just crying it all out. I think that's the safety we all long for in this life, that safe space where someone lets you into their heart and just allows you to be who you are, where you are.

This past Spring my back went out. One of my friends came over to care for me. I remember lying on the couch, feeling this wave of pain streak through my body, both physically and emotionally. I started crying from a very deep place in my soul. It was a grief that didn't even have words. She came over, stroked the hair off my face and said, "It's okay, take as long as you need. I'm here." And she just let me cry it out. And I did. And within days, I was back on my feet again.

I have met many people of late, men in particular, who only associate touch with a sexual context. They don't have a file for what soothing, unconditional touch without sexual expectation is like. This is sad to me. We are sensory beings. Our skin is our largest sensory organ. Without touch, we can even die (think of the orphans in Romania). I've blogged before about how I have sought out sex when really I just crave touch, intimacy, connection. I think this is a common mistake, mixing up one need for another.

Remember Juan Mann and the Free Hugs Campaign? Let's hug much. And hug often.

tall penguin

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

To Chew or Not To Chew...

Do you ever have those days where even chewing seems like an effort too heavy to bear? I woke up this morning and went to the fridge seeking to quiet my tummy rumblings, only to find we're out of bread. The only thing in there is bagels---twelve-grain bagels. I turned up my nose. I'm too tired to make the effort to chew and process all that good-for-me fiber. Just the thought of having to parse out all the grainy bits, chew them diligently, and then move them along through my digestive tract is more than I can commit to today.

Now, where's that yogurt?

tall penguin

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Photographic Memory...

Seen written on a bathroom stall wall:

"Everyone has a photographic memory. Just not everyone has film."

tall penguin

The Ties That Bind...

I am in the middle of reading How To Be An Adult in Relationships by David Richo, who also wrote the last book I read, The Five Things We Cannot Change. Have you ever read a book and had your soul say a silent YES to what you're reading? Richo's books have heard many a cry from my heart. I think this is why we read, to have our hearts ignited. I know this is why I write, first to ignite my own heart and then to connect with the unknown reader whose heart sends me a silent YES to something I've written.

Richo is a psychotherapist who brings an Eastern perspective to his work. Combining Buddhist mindfulness philosophy with more traditional Western psychology, it is a beautiful blend of the yin and the yang.

This week's conversation with my mother
has lead to lengthy conversations with my brother and close friends around relationships and how our earliest models, our parents, have affected how we interact with others. Richo speaks of the five A's that a healthy childhood gives us: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and "allowing". As I read through this book, I am seeing the patterns of my childhood unfold before me and making space to create within my soul the healthy parent to my wounded child, so that I do not needily seek out a cure for my ails from someone else in relationship.

In particular, the section on acceptance gave me pause. Richo writes, "Parents can accept us only after they succeed in dismantling their original representation of us in favor of the person we are turning out to be. This means not being disappointed with us for breaking a bargain we never made." YES.

My mother still sees me through the eyes of who she wants me to be, not who I am. She wants me to uphold bargains I never made to begin with. I was five when she started the conversion process to become a Jehovah's Witness. No one asked me what I thought about it, how I felt, what I wanted. No, the contract was made and signed without my consent. And now that I'm an adult, making my own way in the universe, there is still this expectation that I will uphold that contract. And it's sad, because my mother cannot see who I am, this amazing woman I've become.

There is this quote Richo includes from D. W. Winnicott:

"It is a joy to be hidden but a disaster not to be found."

Did you ever play hide and seek as a child? Remember how exciting it was to go off to your hiding place, sure that it was the best one and that no one would ever think to find you there. But, all the while, you were brimming with butterflies at the thought of being found. I recall one night playing hide and seek with some friends. I had hidden so well that eventually everyone gave up on finding me and went on to another game. I was heartbroken.

I have emerged from the hiding places of my childhood to become a vibrant, spiritual, amazing woman. And here, I have a mother, who wants nothing more than to push me back into hiding until I emerge the person she would have me be. And it breaks my heart. It hurts me that she cannot see me as I am, that she cannot see that her job as a parent is, and always has been, to love and accept her children as they are, without her overlaid agenda.

I think sometimes that even if she could hear why I left the J.W.'s, like really hear what I know about their history, what I've learned about the secret workings of the group and how it has affected me and my life, she would honor who I am. And then, if she sincerely decided from that awareness to continue on as a J.W. I could respect that. I could respect that that is her life path, her individual journey. I think we could both be free then. Free to continue on in our lives without an agenda for the other.

For now though, I fill up my own heart with love and acceptance and the attention that child so deeply deserves. It is a difficult thing to learn to parent yourself. I guess I'm growing up.

tall penguin

Carried by the Beloved...

I awoke today to a fire in my belly and a song in my heart. I feel the flame of possibility being fanned in the deepest parts of my soul. I sense a longing to speak my truth, to open fully to all that is, to say "Yes, I've arrived. I'm here. I'm present." I hear this song on repeat echoing through every cell, every organ, every secret place within me. It's beat is getting louder, stronger, more constant.

I feel myself being carried by an unseen momentum, to a destiny I cannot yet fully see. I see an unfolding of every lesson I've ever learned, a puzzle of pieces that were once fragmented coming together to create the whole. I cannot make out the full picture, but I see the outline. I see that all the pieces are there and will fit just so in the flow of time.

I see my past stretch out into my future and rest in the now. I see all that was becoming all that is, and all that will be. I see threads of people, places and things being woven into a great tapestry. I see community and connectedness and healing. I see wholeness.

I see.

tall penguin

Laugh Lines...

From PostSecret:


tall penguin

Friday, July 4, 2008

To Lead a Normal Life...

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~~Robert Frost, from "The Road Less Traveled"

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have had a “normal” life. To have grown up with parents who weren’t involved in a cult. To have had birthdays and Christmas and Halloween like other kids. To have not had to stand out in the hallway during the playing of O’Canada every morning at school. To have gone to school dances and prom and kissed boys and dated and explored masturbation and sex during the normal stages of development. To have not had to “prayerfully consider” every minute detail of my life; my choice of entertainment, clothing, grooming, friends, life course. To have learned to trust in my own abilities rather than cult dictates. I wonder what it would have been like to grow up thinking I was worth something just as I am.

I wonder what it would have been like to go to University out of High School, to have continued on with my peers into higher education. I wonder what it would have been like to have actually let people into my life, people of all backgrounds, without seeing them as a mortal threat to my faith. I wonder what it would have been like to be close with my extended family, to attend family celebrations, rather than being the outsider, keeping myself “separate from the world”.

I wonder what it would have been like to get married because of love, not because of a deep desire for sex and connection, having been denied them for so long for religious reasons. I wonder what it would have been like to be taught how to think instead of what to think. To have learned basic life skills like logic and decision-making, rather than faith and wishful thinking. I wonder what it would have been like to have a heart full of joyful childhood memories, rather than a smattering of bittersweet wounds.

I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with a mother who mirrored for me what a strong woman was all about. Who I could emulate from a place of respect. A woman who could best show me who I was and how to move in the world. I wonder what my life would be like if my earliest memories were not of despair and grief and suicide. I wonder what my life would look like if things had progressed in chronological order, if I’d had the normal stages of development at the normal times in my life. If my growth hadn’t been stunted by depression and illness and cult indoctrination. I wonder who I’d be now. I wonder if I’d like that woman. And I wonder if she’d like me.

tall penguin

What do I make of this?

So, I spoke with my mother yesterday. Pleasant enough conversation. She seems to be coming out of her shell and socializing a great deal with other members of her Jehovah's Witness congregation. I'm happy for her. This has been long in coming and it shows a level of maturation that is promising.

Once in a while my mother will tell me about some of those in the jw community, people that will no longer speak to me, but apparently miss me. She said, "There's one person who asks about you all the time. Do you want to know who it is?"

I said, "Sure. Tell me."

She told me who it was. A wonderful older West Indian woman who I became close to over my years in that congregation. I would spend time before every meeting holding her hand and talking about life. She was a solid, loving soul.

My mother continues, "Every few weeks, she comes up to me and says, 'How's my girl?'"

I'm smiling on the other end of the phone. For many reasons. I love this woman. She was an important part of my community at the time. And I smile because she doesn't give a damn about proper jw protocol which implies that she shouldn't even inquire about me, the evil heretic. And I smile because my mother feels compelled to tell me these things. I'm trying not to judge her motives but I do wonder why she shares this stuff with me.

And then, there's this, which makes my eyebrow of suspicion raise a little higher. To give you the backstory, three years ago when I was "fading" from the jw meetings (meaning attending more sporadically and attempting to fade into the woodwork and disappear from the elder's radar, which didn't work by the way), one of the congregation elders was "disfellowshipped" (excommunicated) and subsequently shunned. I didn't know the reason. I had hoped it was for apostasy, because then he'd never go back. Well, it must have been for something else because my mother informed me yesterday that this elder was "reinstated", meaning he jumped through the necessary hoops of "repentance" required in order to be welcomed back into the folds of the jw world.

Now, I have to ponder my mother's motives on this. To know my mother is to realize she's a woman who does things with a very deliberate intent. If she gave me this information, there's an underlying reason for it. And it's unlikely to be a guileless one.

So, here's the questions running through my tall penguin brain. Does my mother think that this will be me one day? Does she hold out hope that I will "come to my senses", return to the flock and mend my ways? Does she even have any clue as to why I left? Does she not realize that I've researched her cult, know its history, as well as the history of religion and the bible in general and no longer believe in its veracity? Why does she think I formally left the jw's? Does she think I just wanted to live a sinful life, that I no longer could conform to her god's requirements? Or does she think I was just "stumbled from the faith" (the catch-all phrase jw's use to explain away just about every occurrence of one leaving the's their way of saying that the person was so deeply offended by the actions of others that they couldn't get over themselves...basically, it's a judgment that you're an immature child that doesn't understand the nature of god and his master plan, because even the shit that happens in the cult happens for a divine reason). But I digress.

It's been almost three years since I submitted my formal letter to the jw organization cutting my formal ties with it. And it seems that my mother hasn't the foggiest idea why I left, nor an appreciation for the fact that I'm never going back. Sometimes I just want to shake her and tell her straight out what I know about her beloved cult and its history; and make it very clear to her that I left for reasons of principle and that I will never be returning. Then I think, why bother? She's not going to hear anything I say. She can only see life through the lens of her beliefs. And so, I breathe a little sigh, lick my wounds and move on. What else can I do?

tall penguin

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Walken Theatre

My friend and fellow blogger Leeman does a pretty awesome Christopher Walken impression. As I've blogged before, it's Leeman's Walken-esque readings of The Secret that have gotten me through the low spots in many a bookstore workday.

Well, he's taking his talents to youtube, whence all good talent comes. Here's his performance of a tale of passion ala Walken. Love you Leeman!!!

tall penguin


As I'm sure you can tell, I've been rummaging through the Rubbermaid Archives today. And all I can say is WOW...I'm really glad I kept this stuff. There was some reticence when the box first arrived, the fear that its contents would take me back to times in my life that were better left unrecalled. But they happened, and they're part of who I am, and I'm happy about that. The gal reflected in the contents of that plastic box are someone I'm pretty proud of. I am in awe of her. I'm so glad she's here today with all of you to tell her story.

tall penguin

A Girl I Once Knew...

Another find from the Rubbermaid Archives. I wrote this when I was 16. Won a few awards for this one too and it got published in the local newspaper.

A Girl I Once Knew

A young, flawless face shines in the light of the sun, beaming with happiness. It is the face of a young girl as she plays in the sand at the beach. All her thoughts and energies are focussed on the sand which she carefully molds into the castle of her dreams. As the waves wash away the debris on the shore, the girl's sacred innocence delivers her from the cares and worries of the adult world that surrounds her and now engulfs me.

I was once a child like this, carefree and innocent. Yet now, these childish attributes are replaced with adult worries and responsibilities. All the childhood games I used to play, with all my childhood friends have been exchanged for piles of work with no time to play, nor friends to play with. The seemingly endless days of sheer fun I enjoyed when I was young are now short periods of endless frustration and turmoil. When I was a child, there was time for everything I ever wanted to do. Now, I don't even have enough time to do the things that everyone else wants me to do, let alone time for myself. As a child I dreamed, as every child does, of being an adult. Yet now, the reality of adulthood seems to be more of a nightmare.

Just recently, I realized how good it is to be a child. I sat with two younger children and we played a game together. As we played, I noticed that I was almost immediately accepted into their childish clan without any judgement or silly adult initiation ritual. I was accepted as ME. It was such an overwhelmingly great feeling to be accepted without having to prove myself first. These wonderful qualities found in children often make me wonder if I am really more mature than they are. I yearn for these qualities, yet grieve, for I know that they were partially lost after childhood left me.

I will continue to look upon the children around me so that I may catch a glimpse of a girl I once knew, in their eyes. Perhaps by doing this, the child within me will live on.

tall penguin

Take That Ministry of Education!!!

I have to laugh at this piece I wrote when I was 17, in response to a gov't review of Grade 12 English students, back in 1992. We were asked to compose a piece of writing so the gov't could see how well students were performing. The assignment was: "Explain an issue or problem related to the environment. The issue or problem may be local, national, or global. After you have explained the issue or problem, describe the action that is being taken to deal with it to someone who may be uninformed or not very well informed about the problem."

They asked for it. And yes, this is actually what I submitted.


Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my concern over the disgusting misuse of paper and other resources in this provincial writing review. Paper, a product of the endangered tree, is being wasted in vast amounts for this review. As I understand it, at least 150,000 students are taking part in this review, where each student receives about 100 sheets of paper, if not more, to complete the review. Also, the writing folder which each student receives, has a glossy finish on it, making it impossible to recycle. Considering that it takes 17 trees to make one ton of paper, it is safe to say that a substantial amount of forest is needed to produce enough paper to meet the needs of the students taking part in this review. Also, consider the energy used to produce this paper as well as the water systems that are polluted through waste products of the wood pulp bleaching process.

In addition, there will be great amounts of energy used when your computer systems work overtime to compile and interpret the data recorded on the computer cards during the review. This energy comes from a virtually non-renewable source and is thus being misused.

Perhaps, if you really wanted to know how well Grade 12 students are writing and how effective the program is, members of your Ministry could actually be sent in to a sampling of Ontario schools and see education in action. A forced, extremely monitored and limiting writing assignment is NOT a good representation of a student's writing. If you could see us in the process of writing, writing what we like to write, you would get a clearer view of our abilities. In this way, you might get a more accurate assessment of Grade 12 students' writing abilities as well as preserve natural resources, which may not even exist for future students if the present trends continue.

After all, your theme for this review is "The Environment", so you should be setting the example in being environmentally friendly.

Student 104

"Justa fine. Justa fine."

I came across this piece today in the Rubbermaid Archives. It was written after the difficult events of November 1991. I was 17 when I wrote it and won a number of awards for it in my High School and in a city-wide writing contest. It still moves me.

"Justa fine. Justa fine."

I remember visiting my grandparents often. I loved them as any grandchild would. But our relationship was a bit different from those of other grandparents and their grandchildren. Both of my grandparents spoke Italian. Communication in English was difficult for them. Yet through the years, we learned to communicate in a different language. My grandfather mastered this well. His every action displayed kindness to me.

Each time I visited him and my grandmother, I would immediately go and greet them with kisses on both cheeks as is the Italian custom. When I greeted my grandfather I would say, “How are you today, Papanonna?”

He would blush beneath the glow of his olive skin and say, “Justa fine. Justa fine.”

He almost always said short phrases twice. That was his way of reassuring you of something. And you know, as far back as I can remember, he was always “Justa fine.” I admired that.

Usually on my visits with my grandparents, we would sit around the kitchen table and my father would talk with my grandmother while my grandfather, my mother, my brother and I just sat in silence. My grandfather didn’t say much. He only spoke when what he had to say was important enough to be heard. And when he spoke, I listened. For even though the language was foreign to me, the expression was not. His expression of every word gave me the ability to understand how he felt about what he was saying. To me, that was far more important than what he actually said. Everything he spoke, he spoke with conviction. I admired that.

My grandparents were generous people when it came to us grandchildren. Twice a year we would receive a gift of cash to do with as we pleased. Each time my fold of bills was handed to me there was this deep down greedy feeling that made me want to snatch the money and run. But deeper down was the feeling that they might need that money more than I. So I always refused to take it. But my grandfather would always shove the money in my hand saying, “No. You take. You take.” And so, I took.

My grandfather was a hard-working man. Even after his retirement, he worked hard every day. In the winter, he would be up early to see if any snow had fallen and if there was any in sight, he went out to shovel it. In the summer, he took pride in his lawn. He must’ve moved that lawn at least three times a week and watered it for hours on end. It paid off though, for he always had the greenest lawn on the street.

He also had a garden which he and my grandmother tended from sun-up ‘til sun-down of every available day. It was a beautiful garden with vegetables galore and numerous fruit trees as well as grape vines and flowers. It was a cornucopia of life—of all sorts, including those wretched little garden-loving furballs, better known as squirrels. My grandfather and these squirrels did not get along. Every time I visited my grandparents, my grandfather had another squirrel story to tell. Unfortunately, as you already know, I don’t understand Italian. But I could tell by the look on his face as he spoke, that the squirrels were giving him trouble. The half-bitten pears and peaches strewn about on the ground attested to that. I could also tell by the way he told us the story that his revenge on these bushy-tailed garden-wreckers was impending.

The next time I visited my grandparents, I headed straight for the backyard knowing they would be there working hard, harvesting their crops. I opened the gate and let myself in. I stopped. I broke into laughter. In one of the peach trees was a four-foot stuffed camel doll strung up in the branches. Right away I knew why: squirrels. My grandfather looked at me and snickered, half out of humor and half out of frustration. As my father came into the backyard, my grandfather started recounting the story of the camel to him.

At every break in his story, I interrupted and begged my father to translate the tale for me. I knew it involved squirrels and a camel but the rest of the details were a little fuzzy. After being ignored for the first ten interruptions, my father finally told me what happened. My grandfather, at wits’ end with these savage beasts, got this stuffed plush camel. To this day, I still don’t know from where. Anyways, he strung it up in the peach tree to scare away the furry vermin. Unfortunately, as my grandfather said, it was as if the squirrels were sitting there watching him put the camel in the tree and laughing at him; for the next day, there were chewed up peaches all over the backyard. I laughed. My grandfather laughed too. And so, he continued to toil in his garden that summer with peaches lost but a good story and a few laughs gained.

Every time I left my grandparents’ home I would kiss them on both cheeks as I did when I first arrived. They would always follow us out to the car and stand in the middle of the driveway or in the front doorway to see us off. As we rolled down the drive, my grandfather’s hand would rise high in the air to bid us goodbye. And knowing I would see him again I just casually smiled as we drove away.


As I stood beside my grandfather’s coffin, I remembered all these things. Things I would never forget. And looking upon his face, I saw a faint smile and light blush which reassured me he was “Justa fine.” And so, shutting my eyes, I whispered to him a soft goodbye and saw him extend his hand into the air and wave to me as he always did when we parted. And deep in my heart, I waved too.

tall penguin

The Saga Continues...

You will recall the Bible Re-shelving incident that took place at the bookstore I work at. Well, last night I was graced with an in-person apology from the students who pulled the prank. Mr. Phaedron Rising and his partner-in-crime stopped by the store.

"Tall Penguin?" he asked.

"Yup, that's me," cluing in immediately to who he was.

He offered his sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused. As I told him, I owe him my thanks. Without this whole incident, I wouldn't have met many of you fine people here on my blog. I can't even enumerate the amazing things that have unfolded as a result of this Saturday afternoon prank.

This all makes me think that even the unexpected crazy bits of our life can change our lives for the better. And also reminds me that we never know how our actions will affect another. Much like the butterfly effect, each interaction we have with others can alter the trajectory of their life course. For better or for worse, we are all connected.

tall penguin

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cheezy Memories...

My brother brings out a plate of cheese for us to munch on as we chat about life.

"I have some really great cheese memories, you know," I say to him.

He smiles, "Cheese memories? You have cheese memories?"

Yes, I have cheese memories. Doesn't everyone?

My earliest cheese memory is when I was about 5 or 6. My mother was going through the conversion process with an older Jehovah's Witness couple. After every Bible study session, the older woman would bring out apple pie and a plate of cheddar cheese. I wasn't that interested in the apple pie but inevitably finished every slice of cheese on the plate and affectionately became known as "the mouse".

My mother made us Kraft Dinner regularly. That atomic orange, zesty cheese still reminds me of home. And then there was celery sticks with Cheez Whiz. Yet another ungodly version of cheese burned into my memory.

I remember the day Havarti entered my life. I was invited over to Sandra's house. Sandra was a Christadelphian, a religious sect quite similar to Jehovah's Witnesses, so I would often hang out with her during school celebrations that went against our shared beliefs. This particular day was my first time being at Sandra's place for lunch. Her mom made us grilled cheese, but with Havarti! Oh my. I was forever changed. Havarti has since become my preferred grilled cheese of choice, along with a little avocado and jalapeno pepper. Yumminess.

And then, of course, no discussion of cheese memories would be complete without the play of my Italian heritage. My paternal grandparents had us over every week for dinner, and there I was exposed to all manner of cheezy goodness. Scamorza, Provolone, Parmagianno, Romano, Caciocavallo, Ricotta, Bocconcini; they dance like sugar plum fairies across the tapestry of my childhood. I remember great big balls of cheese hanging in my grandparents cold room and my grandfather cutting one down for a meal and then placing it on the dinner table along with a knife and we just dug in whenever we wanted a slice. I like this way of eating. I wish we could eat like this all the time. Communal, simple, whole food eating.

The strangest cheese I've ever encountered? There is an Italian cheese called Casu Marzu, meaning "rotten cheese", so named because it is fermented by live insect larvae. Yes, that's right. There are live little maggots swimming in the cheese. Needless to say, I didn't try this one. But I watched as my grandfather savored every last bit of it, wormies and all.

My current cheese obsession is Brie. I first encountered it at a little French bistro a few years back, on a baguette with ham and dijon alongside. I like to eat it straight up, although my cousin does this amazing baked Brie with maple syrup and almond slices that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

I pity those who are lactose intolerant. How can one possibly live a balanced existence without cheese?

tall penguin

The Fear of Falling...

I have never liked ice skating. Something about being tall and strapping on footwear that makes me taller still, and then trying to stay upright on a slippery surface, makes me cringe. You know what it is about skating that I hate? Falling. When you're this tall, it's a long way down. And once you're down, it's hard to get up again. So, when I skate, I lock up all the muscles up the back of my body to keep from falling. And it shows. I look like a penguin on ice, slowly trudging along, one deliberate movement after another.

This is a metaphor for my life. I am afraid to fall. Having fallen so many times and picked myself up again and again, you'd think I'd be used to it. But you never get used to it. And the larger I allow my dreams to become, the more I grow to reach them and the inevitable fear surfaces: If I fall, it's gonna be a long way down.

I find myself at a crossroads in my life (geez, how many of these are there gonna be?). I have laid before me many options for the next phase of my life. Each would take me in a very different direction. And I can feel my body entering lock down mode, going into its protective shell, bracing for the impact of change. As I reach for my dreams, the fear of falling is ever-present. I am skating on the ice of life. And I don't know what to do next.

tall penguin

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Proud Mr. Rhino...

So, Mr. Rhino returned from the Antarctic in time to attend his first Gay Pride Parade here in Toronto. I had to work that day (somebody's gotta pay the rent) so Mr. Rhino hung out with my roomie and, pardon the pun, had a gay ole time.

Mr. Rhino started out the day with a hearty breakfast.

Then, got into the Pride spirit.

Here Mr. Rhino is in the middle of the parade, enjoying the sights.

And this is Mr. Rhino's first gay kiss. He won't tell me the details on this new friend. Apparently what happens at Pride stays at Pride.

And here Mr. Rhino is making friends with the local police. Glad to see he didn't get into any trouble.

Mr. Rhino is still recuperating from the weekend's festivities. His social life is beginning to rival mine.

tall penguin