so, I got a new tattoo

Grief is a funny thing. Not like a haha funny thing but a funny thing in that it manifests itself in the same ways in varying degrees in all of us regardless of what we are grieving - major life changes, loss of a loved one, unfulfilled wishes and dreams - and when we are living in our own heads it may be challenging to see that someone's hurtful words or actions are nothing more than their means of coping with grief. Likewise, we all want and need different kinds of support - some of us will become meek, some of us will be mean, some of us will need to be carried, some of us will build a wall, some of us will retreat, some of us will make ourselves a burden... and the ensuing drama will play itself out as unpredictably as Alberta weather.

I'm pragmatic by nature - my tendency is to say, let's slow down, weigh our options and examine all the possible outcomes then determine how we feel about them so that when the time comes to act (or react) we aren't caught with our (emotional) pants down. Trying to make major life decisions while in a deep state of shock can be detrimental, and while I don't consider myself the voice of reason, I like to think I am at least a reasonable voice.

Hot on the heels of some pretty amazing adventures while travelling over the past two weeks, I was hit with two people very close to me caught in massive, life-altering crises, one on either side of the Atlantic, both with very different circumstances but both deeply tied to grief. One I was unable to be physically or emotionally present for and the other I was unable to be physically or emotionally absent for, and neither was interested in pragmatism. I was left not knowing how to support either of these individuals adequately or appropriately.

None of this hurt me, per se - I understand that people lash out when emotions are high and intend nothing personal. Often we are too deep within our own turmoil to be aware of how actions and words might come across to others. I know, because I have been there, both asking and offering forgiveness for things I have said or done in times of crisis. So while I wasn't hurt by the rejection, this whole Nanny McPhee need-me-but-don't-want-me, want-me-but-don't-need-me conundrum left me feeling awkward and displaced. My solution was to absent myself from one situation and start moving towards being present for the other, because it was the only way I could feel if not effectual then at least productive.

Like Nanny McPhee I fled the scene, and as I was wandering the streets towards the train headed for the airport all I kept thinking was, dammit, I wish I had my bike.


I got a new tattoo while in Thailand with my husband last month (May 2018.)

It sort of reads like a personal resume. We will start from the bottom and work our way up.

The symbol on my wrist - the one I get asked most about - represents a weather vane. I chose this instead of a compass or map because my love of travel usually takes me wherever the wind blows.

If you look closely you can (almost) see my anniversary on the tail (01/01), a pair of dots that represent me being one of three, with the other two dots representing my two sisters and my two BFFs. Each direction is one of the children's initials - W, K, M, and S - and eventually I hope to complete a "bracelet" around my wrist with the names or initials of my niece(s) and nephew(s) and (one day if I am lucky) some grandchildren, too. I got this symbol my wrist because a) it is most easily visible there and b) I can bring it closest to my heart.


Figure 4 is a sewing machine. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love vintage patterns?)

I started sewing when I was very young - by the age of 8 or 9 I had begun to sew entire wardrobes for my Barbies and babies out of old sheets and rags. When I was 10, my stepmom helped me sew my own Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which I would later gift to a little girl in the hospital who had been accidentally shot in the eye with a pellet gun by her brother. No one had come to visit her on Christmas Day, and since I had gotten a real Cabbage Patch I felt like she should have the one I made. Ironically, I was in the hospital after getting a sewing needle surgically removed from under my kneecap.

Over the years I continued to sew - I moved from doll clothing to modifying my own clothing, to following patterns, and from there to designing and pattern-making for myself. At one time, I fancied I might go to school to be a fashion designer, but I just wanted to create not compete. My projects evolved from grad gowns to wedding gowns, then to crib sets and quilts and baby clothes, then dog clothes and (of course!) a rather epic run of Halloween costumes, if I do say so myself. This was the 20s-inspired dress I sewed for my vow renewal in 2015.

Recently, my youngest daughter has started letting me design and sew a few pieces for her. This pleases me greatly. I doubt I am done sewing anytime soon.

Figure 3 is a typewriter. I happen to own 2 manual typewriters. The first one is a post-WWII antique Continental gifted to me by a beloved friend who purchased it in Germany. I was told that it was manufactured at a time when orthography reform was affecting keyboard layouts in typewriter design, and the placement of the ß was undetermined.

The other is a French-English typewriter, gifted to me by a friend of my son's last Christmas. While I do most of my writing on a keyboard with a computer screen, the typewriter was not only more aesthetically pleasing by more indicative of when I first fell in love with writing, which was right around the time we were asked to write 5- and 10-page instead of 1 page stories and reports.

Most of my published writing at this time is personal, political or professional. There's my blogging - my own, as well as a guest- and ghost-writing for other blogs. I've had a handful of poems, letters, and essays published in various school anthologies and several letters to the editor published in local papers over the years. I get excited to do research papers and have been asked to submit some of them for publication before, but I always manage to miss the deadlines. I journal on pretty much a daily basis. I also play grotesque amounts of Scrabble and collect dictionaries and thesauruses. In the next 2 years or so I hope to add authoring one fiction and one non-fiction book thematically linked to the degree I have been working on to my list of writing accomplishments.

Figure 2, the camera, isn't a depiction of my very first camera. My very first was actually a Kodak Instamatic X-15, a gift I received from my father 4 days after my 8th birthday.

No, this tattoo is of my first SLR - a Pentax K1000 wearing a 50mm f1.4. This kit was used by pretty much every student required to learn how to operate a manual film camera from 1976 to the end of the 1990s because it was a) cheap and b) practically indestructible - you could use a 1981 K1000 in 1997 and see no meaningful difference in design or functionality.

someone else drew this sweet ass K1000

While I had always enjoyed photography and owned some kind of camera, acquiring the Pentax K1000 allowed me to start mastering the craft and eventually lead me to my current career. I think the significance of its inclusion is obvious enough that I need not waste a tonne of words waxing poetic about my love of photography.

Figure 1 is obviously a bike, and I've had a few questions why this and not my camera sits in the top spot. I got my first bike when I was about 7. I remember it well - it was an orange bike with long, tall "chopper" handlebars, black grips and a black banana seat that comfortably fit two. Coaster brakes, no gears. It was a gift from a family friend who worked for the city's trash collection - he had pulled it out of the dump, cleaned it up, given it a good oiling, and from the moment I could ride, it felt like freedom.

I have countless memories of travelling somewhere in the saddle of a bike - they whir and click through a projector wheel in my mind, bringing me both great pleasure and great pain. Repeatedly wearing the toes out of my brown Mary Jane shoes by dragging my toes on the asphalt instead of backpedaling.  Riding down the hill at the playground. Racing to the store to buy Pepsi for the two young wheelchair-stricken men with muscular dystrophy that my mother was a employed as caregiver to back then. I couldn't possibly have known their days were numbered - I guess I imagined their eyeglasses would always have bubbles of sticky syrup needing to be cleaned from the lenses, and urine bottles - dangerously full - needing to be taken to the toilet.

As I grew older, the bike became more and more functional. It was my primary source of transportation to and from school and eventually to and from work, starting as far back as my first babysitting gigs. Later, when I couldn't afford to buy a bus pass or put gas in the car, the bike became a reliable fall-back. One of my first purchases upon learning I was pregnant with my first child was a bike seat and infant helmet, which sat in a closet waiting long before he was born. As the years moved on, I carted all of the kids around with any number of baby seats, tag-alongs and trailers. I even bought an adult trailer so I could share the sheer joy of bike transportation with my handicapped sister.

I remember, too, some sad and scary times - two of my bikes being stolen, riding home after a bad date and wishing I could erase it, being yelled at to get off the road, being forced into the gravel or snowbank, and having things thrown at me by angry truck drivers who I would pass a block later because they were stuck in traffic and I was not. I remember knowing that if I did not get on my bike and go to work, I would be sleeping in the street because rent was not going to pay itself. I remember the feeling of going over my handlebars or having the tires go out from under me and being winded, scraped, bruised, and scarred, and knowing I had to get back up and keep going because kids needed to be picked up from daycare, fed, put to bed.

For 12 years now I have worked at the University, and my primary source of transportation, year round, is my bike. Come rain, shine, snow or sleet, I am out there pedalling my ass to work. My initial snarky reply to why I ride a bike instead of driving is because I refuse to pay for parking (which indeed factors in) and there are obvious health benefits, but the truth is I ride because I love it. I need it. It is meditation, where pedalling churns my anxiety and frustration into sprints of clarity and joy. Riding my bike is a metaphor for my need to keep moving in order to stay balanced.


While I was unsure if my decision to leave early would be misinterpreted as rash, I did know that creating space for all of us - physical and emotional - felt right. I felt guilty to stay, guilty to leave, torn between self-preservation and self-respect, feeling both cornered and stranded. Knowing that it would not have mattered which side of the ocean I was on how utterly useless I would remain, I felt like the only way I could find equilibrium amidst the turmoil was to be in motion. It makes perfect sense to me that right then, every fibre in me just wanted to be on a &#$&^#$% bike.

I expect it will be several weeks (or perhaps months) before grief will finish taking its toll on either individual, and I imagine once the dust settles I will need to ask forgiveness of one while granting it to the other. In the meantime, you will find me keeping it all in balance from the saddle of my bike.



Unless otherwise noted, writing and watermarked images on this blog are copyrighted to Hope Walls.