Sunday, November 29, 2009


I saw my father today. He's almost near retirement. He came to Canada from Italy when he was just eleven. He was bullied by the local white kids for being a Whop and when he wasn't defending himself, he was ditching school and mastering his billiards skills. At the age of thirteen, he started working in a local produce market. For the past fifty years he's been a fruit and vegetables man. He met my mother at that local produce market when he was thirteen and they've been together ever since.

My father provided us a decent home with his meager wage, while my mother stayed at home to raise my brother and I. I can't say that I ever felt our poverty. I never felt lacking due to our financial state. My folks sacrificed a lot for us and for that I am grateful.

But today, today something changed in the way I see my father. I have always looked at him as a God amongst men. He always showed complete self-confidence and held his head up high. He has always shown this amazing ability to just shrug off life and keep moving. People have always looked up to my father. Something about the way he says very little demands respect.

Over the past few years, my father's hours in the produce biz have been cut. To make ends meet, he found himself a local agency that hooks him up with seniors in the community who need landscaping chores done. He spends the summers outdoors, tending their gardens, cutting their grass and doing whatever odd jobs need doing. And he loves it.

Recently, he was asked by a friend to refinish their basement. Now, my father doesn't read manuals. He doesn't take classes. Over the years he has just had the uncanny ability to watch and learn and throw himself into a task and find a way to do what's being asked of him. He took my brother out to see the work he'd done in this basement. My brother, an engineer, was taken aback. Apparently, the work he did is beautiful. Beautiful. So, I asked my Dad about it today.

"So, I hear you did some great work over in L's basement?"

"Ya," he replied.

"You've always been good with your hands, Dad."

"I took pictures of it. I look at it and can't believe that I did all that work. It looks really great," he said, with a mix of surprise and pride. I can count on one hand the times my father has revealed a bit of himself in words, and this was one of those times.

"Well, I think you've found your true calling late in life. You should start a little business," I said.

Without a moment's hesitation he looks at me, "Maybe if I'd figured it out twenty or thirty years ago. But it's too late now. I'm too old. And too tired."

And there it was. The kind of admission that hits you like a bullet between the eyes.

There was no anger in his voice. I could've handled anger. There was no grief in his voice. I could've handled grief. No. He was just numb. It wasn't resignation. Not even acceptance. It was just a statement of fact. Numb. I don't know what to do with numb. I find it hard to respect numb. I wanted to scream for him. I wanted to cry for him. I wanted to say, "Well, maybe if you hadn't married Mom. Or had us. Or joined the stupid cult. Maybe it all could've been different for you." But I said nothing. All I could wonder is how long he's been numb. How long has this keep-it-together exterior masked this? And yet, he still seems happy, happy-numb. Like a porcelain clown with a painted-on smile.

So I carried it all home with me. The grief. The anger. Everything left unsaid. And I sat in a hot bath and smoked a cigarette, watching the tendrils of my father's might-have-been life dissipate in the air with each exhalation of smoke. I don't know what to do with numb. I can respect anything but numb. Cry. Scream. Take up drinking. Slip into a depression. Punch your fist in a wall. Fuck, have an affair. Do something that shows you're still alive. But numb? And worse still, happy-numb?

I don't know what to do with that.

tall penguin

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sometimes... is easier to find myself in the eyes of a stranger than the arms of a friend.

tall penguin

Podcast on Jehovah's Witnesses

I came across this great site today, Irreligiosophy, which recently did a podcast on Jehovah's Witnesses. It's an hour-long consideration of the movement, its history and its doctrinal bizarreness. The podcasters, Chuck and Leighton, former Mormons, who can relate to being raised with crazy beliefs, do a great job of dissecting the J-Bots, and religion in general. Definitely worth a listen.

tall penguin

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Bones of You

It's rare that a song, its lyrics and its video will all resonate with me. This one does. Thanks to S for sharing.

"When out of a doorway the tentacles stretch
Of a song that I know
And the world moves in slow-mo
Straight to my head
like the first cigarette of the day"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just a...

CLEMENTINE: Joel, I'm not a concept. I want you to just keep that in your head. Too many guys think I'm a concept or I complete them or I'm going to make them alive, but I'm just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.

JOEL: I remember that speech really well.

CLEMENTINE: I had you pegged, didn't I?

JOEL: You had the whole human race pegged.


JOEL: I still thought you were going to save me. Even after that.


~~from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, script by Charlie Kaufman

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wake Up

If the children don’t grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We’re just a million little god’s causin rain storms turnin’ every good thing to rust.

I guess we’ll just have to adjust.

~Arcade Fire, Wake Up

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What Makes You Come Alive?

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, because the world needs people who have come alive."
~~Howard Thurman


I see a light, but no fire. Is this what my life is to be like?
Better to head for the grave.
A messenger comes, the grief-courier, and the message is that the woman you love is in her house alone, and wants you to come now while it is still night.
Clouds unbroken, rain, all night, all night. I don't understand these wild impulses - what is happening to me?
A lightning flash is followed by deeper melancholy. I stumble around inside looking for the path the night wants me to take.
Light, where is the light? Light the fire, if you have desire!
Thunder, rushing wind, nothingness. Black night, black stone.
Don't let your whole life go by in the dark.
Evidently, the only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life.

~~Rabindranath Tagore

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

At the Edge...

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came
And he pushed
And they flew.
~Christopher Logue

There are moments in this life when you know that you are standing on the edge of something greater and grander than you ever imagined. And you know that soon, very soon, you are going to be pushed over that edge by some unseen hand and find the wings that you previously had hidden tucked away so tightly that you scarcely remembered they were there. And then, you will fly.

tall penguin

Monday, November 2, 2009

Late Night with Tall Penguin...

During my neighbourhood walk tonight I popped into my local drug store, which has expanded recently into more of a pharmacy/supermarket. I had wandered in to take advantage of the latest sales on necessaries. As I'm perusing the store, I head down the aisle containing feminine hygiene products and find this:

Yup, merchandised right smack in the middle of the tampons and maxi-pads are the chocolate-covered almonds and peanuts. Brilliant.

At the end of the aisle, I find one of the late-night stock clerks replenishing boxes of toothpaste.

"So," I say, "Nice marketing in the feminine hygiene aisle."

He laughs, "Hey, it wasn't my idea. Must have been Head Office."

"I'm sure it was. It's brilliant, really."

"Well, it worked," he said, looking down at my basket containing a package of the chocolate-covered almonds in question.

"Yes, it did. And I'm not even PMSing." He laughs some more.

I continue my shopping and the clerk and I meet later in the potato chip aisle, aka Mecca for the Tall Penguin. I pull two bags of Sour Cream 'n Onion off the shelf. He looks into my basket and snickers.

"A basket full of junk food, eh?" he says.

"Not so," I say, "Look again. That's a basket full of junk food and condoms. All a girl needs these days for a satisfying life." We laugh. "And hey, don't knock it," I add. "Remember, I'm helping pay your slave wages." I make my way to the checkout, leaving my newly-made friend to his job.

The cashier rings through my purchase. Somehow I've managed to spend more than I planned. But such is the rule of late-night shopping. The munchies always get the best of you.

As I'm heading out of the store, my clerk friend meets me to offer a "Sleep well." I smile. It's moments like these that make life just a little more bearable.

tall penguin

Waiting For The Night...

"I'm waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel is tranquility."

Although my brain and body crave the light of day at this time of year, my heart and soul crave the darkness of night. It's an odd thing that I've never understood. Seems counter-intuitive but there it is. I spend my days during the Winter in the deep pit of despair, squeezing every bit of energy from my body to get through work and my other daily commitments. Mostly though, I fight a battle with my mind as to why it is necessary to get out of bed at all.

But somehow, once the night falls, and everyone is tucked away in their homes for the evening, my spirit does a turn. It is as if I can lay down the battle of whether I did enough that day and just be. I feel creative and alive and semi-okay with all that is.

I just returned from a neighborhood walk. And a smoke. And I was reminded of a rather beautiful touch of grace I received while visiting a hearing specialist this past week. From our short time together he gathered enough information to deem me a "sensitive soul". The wincing into the fetal position while I was having my ears cleaned was, I'm sure, his first clue. The second being my taking meds for sleep and mood stabilization. In the course of his taking my medical history he asked if I was a smoker. I said I was, but that I only smoked occasionally, one cigarette every couple of days.

Later on in the visit, after he'd determined that my hearing issues were not physiological but, as I suspected, auditory processing issues, he says, "You got a lot of stuff going on in your head?"


"You're ADD, aren't you?"


"No worries. It's just part of how your brain works. Nothing to be done. Your brain just has a lot on the go and finds it challenging to parse out conversations sometimes."

I then told him about frequent nosebleeds and asked if the smoking could be an issue. He said that smoking does indeed dry things out but that I just needed to keep things well-hydrated and prescribed an ointment. And then, he said something really kind to me:

"Ya know, I'm not a fan of smoking, of course. But it's obvious that you're not abusing it. And I sense that it's one of the few things that gives you a bit of relaxation right now. So, don't worry too much about it."

If I wasn't still in a state of over-sensitization from the exam, I would've hugged him. I felt seen and understood. A doctor who manages to do that for a patient in less than thirty minutes is okay in my books. Better than okay.

So, I smiled as I lit up a cigarette tonight. I may not always be a smoker. But, for now, it's alright. Just like my penchant for the night is alright. And my current brush with melancholy is alright. It will all pass. Eventually, everything does.

tall penguin


No one asked her who

No one asked her how

The worse words are those left unsaid.

They slipped her a pill

A smile and a touch,

"Trust us, we've done this before."

But she hadn't done this before.

She sat in his car

And drove to a place they called home

But it was never hers

Never really hers

She was a temporary resident in his land.

She slipped into a pill

And comforted him with a smile and a touch

"Trust me, I've done this before."

She didn't say who

She didn't say how

The worse tears are those left unshed.

tall penguin


Holes dug in ignorance

Leave scars on the earth

Where there should be daisies.

tall penguin


Rung by rung

It rises.

The pulsing rhythm

Sears through each layer

Of flesh and thought.

Spiders crawl

Weaving synaptic webs

Of abandoned dreams.

Sleep brings forth

People long dead,

Faces that no eyes ever beheld.

Columns of bone

House fantasies of freedom

Movement without pain.

A dance of promise

Twirls up and out

Down and in

Around and around.


He says,

But she remembers

What he forgets.

tall penguin

Halloween...yip, yip, yip

So, Halloween was a blast. I went as Cat Woman. Well, my version of her anyhow.

But next year, I wanna go as these guys. Remember them from your Sesame Street days? Let me know if you're game for being my Yip Partner in 2010.

And just in case you've forgotten, here's one of my favorite Yip Yip clips:

tall penguin