Monday, June 20, 2011

Author's Note

This blogella, I stress again, is a piece of fiction: blog fiction in fact.

When I first began serializing it (two installments would appear each week) at the beginning of 2011, I had a lot of people wondering if Joelly Schuster, the main character, was actually me, Robin Pascoe, the writer of books for expatriates.

She's not me although she's definitely a lot of people I have met over the years!

And I need to stress this again...I am happily married for 30 years this August. I am not divorced like the main character in this fictional piece of work as so many people seem to think!!!

For me, this was a wonderful creative experiment which I plan to continue by trying to turn it into a menopausal chick flick which expatriates--so rarely seen on the big screen--may also enjoy.

I would like to thank the readers who did read it in the original serialized version. As I would love more people to read it, I spent many many many hours (blogger.com does not have a 'reverse chronology' function!) putting this in its correct order, from beginning to end.

So enjoy. And once again, remember: this is fiction. And while it may say this is being posted by Joelly Schuster, she's not real.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Installment One

I have to begin somewhere, so why not today when I have been 53-years-old for just over twenty-four hours? Yesterday wasn’t the greatest birthday I have ever celebrated but it wasn’t the worst either. My lovely daughter took me out to a fancy restaurant because she didn’t want me to be alone.

She’s worried about her old mother in this new life which no longer includes her father since he recently ditched me, in Beijing of all places. Naturally, it was for a woman half his age and younger than our daughter.

There is a reason clich├ęs were invented. Bumper stickers too, like “Shit Happens”. They can be incredibly useful for summing up one’s life.

Maybe I could write bumper stickers instead of a taking a job as a barista at the Starbucks in the market. God knows I have served enough coffee in my life. I keep threatening to become a professional milk whipper because I’m now completely broke and it would seem, unemployable because of my age and a blank CV.

My daughter isn’t the only one fretting about what I am going to do now with the rest of my life (yes, it is the perfect title for this blog if I do say so myself). My son Brian isn’t exactly thrilled about his mother’s new and extremely reduced circumstances.

Barely out of college, the poor guy has his whole working life ahead of him (once he figures out what he wants to work at) but already he’s been offering his mother the money he has been saving up for a car. What a good son I raised. But I’ll crawl to the supermarket before I will let him give me his hard-earned money.

Brian is so angry with his father right now, but what else is new? He’s been mad at him his entire life because he was simply never there. He was always on a business trip or working late for whatever oil company was controlling our lives at the time, always too tired if he was home on a weekend to coach any of Brian’s school teams.

I suppose I’ll have to get to that story at some point in this cyber diary with its clever title chosen precisely because I haven’t got a fucking clue what to do with the rest of my sorry little life.

Jesus, am I even allowed swearing on a blog? Too damn bad if I’m not supposed to since I’ve already been at it. My son isn’t the only one with anger issues obviously or so says the shrink I lined up before I even arrived in Ottawa.

Wait, am I supposed to even say where I’m living? Is there an instruction manual anywhere other than Blogging for Dummies which I saw in the bookstore? And does there happen to be a version for menopausal idiots who can barely remember to finish a sentence?

Please leave a comment and a link, dear reader. All one of you and that does not include you, Deborah (that’s my daughter). You don’t count. It’s your fault for even talking me into this in the first place.

Installment Two

I had planned to go back and play around with those first words I wrote before posting them. A call from my worried daughter interrupted me.

I have to share it. Apparently, I will be sharing everything here, including the Oat Bran bar I ate for breakfast. I might have had a banana too. No wait, that was yesterday.

"I hope you enjoyed our night out, Mom," Deborah said, referring to my birthday dinner. "The food really was good, eh?" We both laughed. She was coaching me in Canadianisms long gone from me.

And who else better than a language instructor? In the background, I heard the sounds of the high school where she taught French and Spanish. How ironic that my daughter has ended up working at the same high school I attended, even after I was orphaned.

All right, that's another story. I already know this is going to be way too long for a blog posting. People don't have the attention span anymore to read more than 600 words, tops, at a time.

It takes me that long just to explain what I did yesterday. If I can remember.

"Yes it was a great dinner, honey. Thanks again for keeping your old mom company on her birthday."

"Mom, first of all, you are not old! And secondly, of course I wanted to help you celebrate your first birthday without...without..."

"...without your father?"

"Mom, you know what I mean. I just couldn't bear the thought of you in that tiny apartment by yourself."

Oh yes, the tiny apartment.

I'm sitting in it right now. It's a rental on the fringe of Ottawa's tony Rockcliffe Park. Might as well mention that now, too.

I'm living on the margins of the neighborhood that is home to the diplomatic corps assigned to Canada. Close by is what was once my family home too, long ago when my father was in the diplomatic service.

Viewed from my new kitchen counter (well, it's a single tile but at a stretch it could be called a counter) where I am writing from because it's the only clear space I could find to set up my lap top and also easily steal a WiFi signal from my neighbour's unsecured network, I do see it for what it really is: a flea-bitten fire trap with a good address and an even better price—cheap.

That sentence is way too long for a blog. Note to self: take deep breaths, even when writing.

There is barely room for all my unopened moving boxes. I'm now a warehouse for the memories (too many to keep track of) of a peripatetic life. Some of them have been taped shut for years!

I see a huge bonfire in my future.

None of the furniture or art work accumulated throughout a lifetime of foreign travel came with me when I ran away from China. Only my clothes and cherished photo albums of the children as babies.

I never wanted to end up like the old widows of the British Raj, living in damp cottages in the UK, surrounding by too many relics of a life that no longer exists.

Installment Three

I had barely managed to comfort my daughter on the phone (stop worrying about me! No wait, someone should worry about me!) when she asked: "Did you start writing the blog yet?”

She has a quaint idea that I can become a menopausal Tina Fey. LOL. Did I get that right or is it just too pathetic?

"As a matter of fact, I've been fiddling with some words..."

"Blog postings don't need to be literate, Mom," she interrupted me. "Have you even read any blogs? It's all about creating a platform and getting people to follow you."

I had sighed at that bloody word again. Platform. Could I just jump off one and be done with it all?

And it's not as if I want to write anything else. I'm not even a writer! This blog is just a stop-gap measure to help me unload. That's what blogs seem to be anyway: writing feelings out loud.

Mind you, most bloggers should keep their feelings to themselves.

Too old geezer sounding? Okay, I will add myself to that list of people who should really, for everyone's sake, shut the fuck up. Please. (Hurray, a chance to sound politely Canadian!)

According to my new psychiatrist, I'm in transition. I can't start a new life without venting about the old one. That's what a transition year is all about says my medical oracle.

And here I thought it was just a get-out-of-jail-free card to do whatever the hell I want.

Unfortunately, I don't think the good head doctor has a clue about my life despite the books and articles I presented him with at our first meeting. How could he understand what it's like to not only leave a husband, but an entire way of living?

Here I now am, isolated, in a city with long and brutal winters which even the Russians consider a hardship posting for their diplomats.

So, back to what I started out to say. See? This menopause thing means never remembering anything, even when it's written down!

Allow me to introduce myself in a slightly more coherent way.

My name is Joelly Schuster. For almost three decades I lived overseas as an expatriate wife. We moved every three years for my husband's job in the oil industry.

The constant international relocations came to me naturally, though.

I grew up moving around the world. My late father represented Canada abroad before he and my mother were tragically killed in a car accident when I was attending high school, here, in Ottawa. I lived in five countries before I even got that far. I was actually born in Manila because my father was posted there at the time.

When my marriage was recently torn apart by a young gold-digger, I took the decision to come 'home' wherever the hell that's supposed to be in the world. Since I went to high school here, I chose Ottawa.

I'm learning very quickly why expats are positively phobic about the idea of repatriation. And most of my friends have done it with money!

They should try it broke and broken.

Installment Four

Today was my shrink day.

For the thousandth time since I returned to Canada, I blessed a health care system that pays for my psychiatrist.

He insists I call him Larry instead of Dr. Wright (which I thought had to be a fake name when I first met him.)

Dr. Call-Me-Larry is not quite half my age but looks young enough to be a potential son-in-law. I mentioned Deborah to him almost before I had introduced myself.

Of course, I tried to be subtle about my matchmaking. I gave him this long song and dance about my daughter being a 'third culture kid' because she grew up all over the world.

TCKs, as they are known in the shorthand of the globally mobile (it has no cute translation from blogspeak), often have trouble sustaining long term relationships. I figured that would interest him as a psychiatrist.

I only managed to open a can of worms.

"You also grew up moving around, Joelly. Do you think that fact impacted on your relationship?”

No doctor, it was That Bastard Martin, my soon-to-be-ex-husband for whom I can assign a blog monniker, TBM, who impacted on my failed marriage!

I didn't say that out loud.

"Guess what I'm called?" I asked him. "I'm an ATCK--an adult third culture kid. Then there are TCAs, third culture adults..."

"I'm already aware of all those terms, Joelly. I actually read all those materials you gave me explaining the particularities of your global life."

Pregnant pause, the first part being a physical impossibility.

"So, how do you feel about the idea that moving around may have contributed to the breakdown of your marriage?"

"How do I feel? Or what do I think?" The wheels on the bus were going round and round. "You have asked me two questions."

"I think someone is trying to dodge both."

"Fair enough." I love that line. It shuts down any conversation.

His clock ticked on while we stared at each other. Bloody hell, how does this work? Why can't he just give me the anti-depressants I asked for at our first appointment?

"I think I feel depressed."

We stared at each other.

"I feel like a fish out of water here," I continued. "I feel restless and overcome with inertia at the same time. Weird, eh?"

"Go on."

If I only had the words. I only have this nagging feeling that the interesting part of my life--the travel, the conversations, the ability to indulge my cultural curiosity--is over.

I couldn't bring myself to say any of this without sounding like I was crazy.

Then it hit me: if I was going to get any drugs out of this guy, I had to behave like I have a mental health challenge. How easy is that? These days, every behavior is initialized, labeled a syndrome, and medicated.

"Sometimes I wonder if I maybe I shouldn't just vanish."

That was ambiguous enough to intimate I may be contemplating suicide. (Maybe I really could be a writer.) The truth is that I really do feel like running away.

But how do you run away from yourself?

"Joelly, I think you would benefit from _____," he said, reaching for his prescription pad.

Mission accomplished.

Installment Five

My mother-in-law, Edna, called me early this morning to see how I was holding up.

She's my ex-mother-in-law now I guess. Or mother of my ex? Is there a correct protocol for what I should call her now? Diplomats can retire (or in my family, they die) but their kids can never be former diplomatic children.

Edna lives up to her old-fashioned name. She believes marriage is supposed to be for life. Her language, though, is straight out of the 'hood (even if that neighbourhood is middle class Montreal.)

"Have you heard lately from that son-of-a-bitch offspring of mine?"

You have to love a woman who takes a daughter-in-law's side in her own son's divorce. We've been close since the day we met. Closer, if that was possible, once the children came along. Edna understood how alone in the world I felt, without a mother of my own to help me. It didn't matter to her that I had always had a house full of servants.

"Darling girl," she had said to me on her first visit to the Middle East when Deborah was born.

"Your army of maids, cooks, drivers, laundresses, and butlers may all be lovely and efficient people. But they are not Deborah's parents. That's a job for you and Martin. Don't let the staff become my granddaughter's handmaidens."

Great advice which her son, of course, ignored.

"You have a maid," TBM had said. "Why do I need to learn how to change a diaper?"

(Re-thinking my Internet handle for him, his mother really should have first dibs on his acronym and I do so like SOB.)

Oh, such fond memories of that SOB, TBM. Perfect.

"I don't expect to hear from him until I get the final divorce papers to sign Edna." I never could bring myself to tell her about his infidelity.

"Is he living with that baby now?"

I forgot what a sharp old bird she is, despite being 85.

"How do you know about the baby hussy Edna?"

OMG, I never expected to say that out loud.

"How do you think?" Of course! Deborah had just spent time with her grandmother.

"Joelly, I need you to be honest with an old woman. Is he at least looking after you financially?"

"Deborah told you about my pathetic digs, right?"

"Well, she might have mentioned something."

I could hear her breathing as she contemplated how to broach the subject of money. Edna was a very wealthy widow. Her generosity with my children knew no bounds and her gifts over the years to me were always lavish.

But I would never ask her for anything and certainly not now.

"Check your bank account when you have a minute."

"Edna..."

"Save your bullshit about pride, Joelly," she said, in her take-no-prisoners voice. "My shame in my son trumps your pride."

My eyes welled up. "And book yourself into a day spa," she added, before ringing off.

I sobbed for hours over the life that SOB had gone and ruined.

Installment Six

No pity party today.

I staked out a Starbucks, a few chain coffee houses, and some intimate, independent ones while I was at it. Empty-handed, I walked out of all of them with neither coffee nor employment forms.

I simply must get over myself and grow up.

And sooner rather than later. Edna's deposit in my bank account was lovely (that she has even figured out on-line banking at her age is beyond my comprehension), but hell will have to freeze over before I accept her largesse again.

I keep forgetting hell actually does freeze over here. It's called winter.

I need to find a coffee house and it must be within walking distance of the tiny apartment. I don’t care if I am watching my pennies. I'm avoiding buses as long as I can.

My aversion to public transit dates back a long way. There was an iron clad 'no B & B' rule during my marriage with TBM. That meant, no playing bridge and no taking buses.

Don't get me wrong, please. I am a bus hugger. I just took enough of them when I was a kid, living in strange countries with even stranger local conveyances and a seatmate that could be a goat. Once, I sat beside a motorcycle.

I am not making that up, either. (Although I just realized I could say anything here. Okay, I'm really a tall, young, and beautiful babe. Forget what I said about being a menopausal woman. I've already forgotten.)

As for bridge, I watched my mother play enough of it to last a lifetime. She hated it too, but back in her day, she had no choice in the matter.

She was always perky though, probably thanks to the assistance of her chain-smoking, and drinking gin and tonics throughout the play. I wondered if she played wearing gloves.

If that truck hadn't killed her and Dad on Highway 401 outside of Toronto, the cigarettes and booze would surely have done her in prematurely. I still miss her, even though I barely knew her.

I skulked home after my coffee shop recon. Before I could spiral into the despair my cousin Julie called. She made me feel better almost immediately as she always does.

Brief explanation: I lived with Julie and her family after my parents were killed. A year older than me, we were in the same grade, thanks to all the achievement-driven international schools I had attended which pushed my grade level up by one.

Her parents, my beloved aunt and uncle (both gone now too), became my legal guardians; her younger siblings became more than first cousins to me as I was an only child.

"How did the coffee shop job hunting go?" Julie had asked me.

She managed to refrain from reminding me again that I happen to have a college degree in international development I could probably put to good use, even if it is over 30 years old.

The first time she brought up the idea of my working in foreign aid, I pointed out my degree is older than the people interviewing me.

"It went."

"Message received, loud and clear. How about we meet tomorrow at two o'clock? We'll discuss your future. Over coffee."

Can you hear a smirk on the phone?