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Sunday, July 26, 2009

whistling past the graveyard

Her Father was not very impressed with my decision to allow our daughter to watch the dreaded Michael Jackson video, dismissing my argument that she had chosen to watch even though she had been warned against it. He was especially not impressed two weeks ago when She Who Does Not Obey requested that we take a different route to soccer.

Unfortunately, the most direct route goes right past a graveyard.

The zombies had been beaten back, but were regrouping and making yet another assault.

We recommended that she close her eyes until we were past and afterwards attempted a rerouting but found it impractical. This became particularly clear when we drove down to our cabin the following weekend and she discovered two cemeteries on our route, one of which is right at the beginning of the dirt road leading to the cabin itself.

I had long ceased to see these cemeteries, but they lunged right out at her at every turn.

I tried to think of things she could do to make her feel safe again so I thought back to my own first defenses.

My first memorable childhood monsters were formed through an act of willfulness as well. We were at a screening of The Jungle Book and my big sister warned me not to watch the trailers at the beginning. I ignored her of course, my curiosity piqued beyond any sense of self preservation.

I have no idea what the movies were called, but one was about man with no face, or more acurately a man with the shape of a face but no eyes or orifices to speak of. I can still see scenes from it in my mind to this day.

The other movie was about trees that for some inexplicable reason turned into monsters as soon as it got dark.

There was no possible way to avoid trees no matter how circuitous a route I planned, so I remember many times going home in the dark, walking a tightrope at the farthest edge of the sidewalk, trying to stay out of the reach of the saplings on the neighbourhood lawns. If our neighbours had sprung for more imposing trees, who knows how I would have ever gotten home.

But at night in bed, I built my defenses based on what I had seen in the trailer. A man had been badly hurt by the trees and I noticed that he was bleeding out of the right side of his mouth, a large white bandage wrapped around his stomach.

Therefore as long as I slept on my stomach with the right side of my face touching my pillow, I would obviously be safe.

I also pulled the blanket tight up under my chin to protect against the vampires I noted in a coming attraction poster in the theatre lobby on the way out (didn't I mention already that I am a wuss?). The faceless men, monster trees, and vampires could never get past my defenses, perhaps meeting each other below my window and warning latecomers off with a defeated shake of the head.

How I thought these things would keep me safe, I don't know, but I believed in them so strongly that I was able to go to sleep at night despite all the monsters lying in wait for me. I believed in them because I needed to believe in them.

It occurs to me now that most of the defenses against the dark arts are just as ridiculous. Were my little rituals really any different from garlic, crosses, holy water? Circles in the sand. Salt at the door.

The common thread with all these protections is belief. If we can convince ourselves that a blanket tucked under the chin will keep us safe, then we are safe.

For every imaginary monster that preys on our minds, we create the corresponding silver bullet.
But since the only way to defeat zombies in the movies involves a lot of head bashing and decapitation, I found myself at a loss to find a talisman that would work for She Who Does Not Obey. She is not very handy with a baseball bat, she can't always be on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and there will always be another graveyard to pass.

So I have tried to arm her now with the most powerful weapon I could find - a true story.

But the truth is a slow acting agent when dealing with creatures of imagination; we need practice to make it strong enough to fight the monsters on their own ground.

The other day as we drove to the cabin I told SWDNO about how I had fought off a terrible fear of my own and how I did it with a simple little chant, "Planes like turbulence." It was a comforting tidbit I had found on a fear of flying website and I latched on to it like a cricket bat at a zombie banquet. The fear didn't vanish overnight (more like over several years), but every time we hit turbulence, I'd close my eyes and repeat those words to myself until I finally started to believe them.

Maybe it would work for her too. All she had to do was say these words to herself as we passed the cemetery, "There's no such thing as zombies. There's no such thing as zombies."

I wasn't sure if she had tried it when we passed the first one, but by the time we got to the second one, she cried out, "It's working already!"

She is obviously a much quicker study than her mother.

So now we can drive past graveyards again, but the zombie alert status is still in flux. At least it hasn't returned to critical levels. For now, we will keep surrounding ourselves with circles made of words that will someday be true.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


While I was tweaking my last post for publication the other day I had a sudden crisis of conscience. I knew She Who Does Not Obey was embarrassed about her zombiephobia and didn't want anyone to know about it. She wouldn't even let me tell her camp counselor to take the proper precautions, i.e. locate the nearest weapons cache and practice bashing heads with them.

Although I am maintaining a secret identity, so that I might fight internet crime more effectively, the only readers I have know who I am (that is as far as I know - does anyone know how to install a site meter?).

Ny niece Drama Queen knows I have a blog and I knew she had probably read at least one post. SWDNO was going to hear about it if I didn't tell her first.

As good as the story was, it was not a story wholly my own. I had only partial ownership.

And if that wasn't enough, I also knew what it was like to be the subject of someone else's tale.

My father was a newspaper columnist who wrote about the outdoors, but from time to time, he peopled his column with characters who he claimed to be his actual family. We shared the same names and birth order, but there were times when we found it difficult to recognize ourselves.

Once we hit puberty, it became especially embarrassing to face our friends the morning after the column appeared. My sister TR gained the horrifying (to her) nickname of "Nature Girl" after one such column declared her absolute devotion to the great outdoors, although my father was apparently the only one who had observed said devotion.

Our avatars were often called upon to express a childlike wonder at some aspect of nature according to the demands of the topic of the day. I expect we actually did say such things once upon a time, but as teenagers we would rather eat dirt than make such uncool utterings.

As for me, it seemed that he saw me as a pig-tailed innocent and not the badass teen I truly was. But since my badassery consisted solely of watching my friends smoke, and watching my friends drink, and learning to identify the sickly sweet scent of a joint without ever trying one myself, he probably had me down better than I was willing to admit at the time.

However, to my dying day I will always deny ever having said "The plot thickens."

A girl has to maintain some dignity, after all.

But whether I agreed or disagreed with how I was portrayed, my father was a writer and his topic was his life. My four siblings and I were inextricably part of his life and so many of his experiences of the outdoors. There was no way for him to take us out of his writing without leaving out something that he felt was important and true.

He had his share of hunting and fishing trips with the boys, but I think that he spent far more time taking his children out into the wilds of Newfoundland and sharing his love of this wonderful island with us. We spent most of our summers travelling around the island, first sleeping in a tent when our baby snowsuits served as sleeping bags, then later in a trailer that somehow managed to sleep seven.

When I was ten or so, my parents sold our trailer and built a cabin just a short 20 minute drive from our home, but to this day it still feels like you are as far removed from the city as anyone could wish. We spent all our summers there from that point on, my father loved it so. And despite our adolescent posing to the contrary, we loved it too. We still love it and still share it.

Given all of that, I can see no way for him to remove us from his story when he took such trouble to make us a part of it.

But he must have made some decisions about what he would and wouldn't write, some boundaries he wouldn't cross.

While I was writing my zombie post, I felt like I was dangerously close to a boundary I shouldn't cross at least not without a letter of transit.

This was brought home to me quite obviously while I was editing my work. She was hanging off of me, clambering over the couch I was on, sitting on my shoulders as I typed. She could hardly fail to catch the occasional word on my screen.

It was then that I confessed all, allowing her to read selected passages, but not all - there being certain details of zombie behaviour I wished to convey to you but not share with her. When fighting off the undead, discretion can be the better part of valour.

In the end, I got her blessing, her desire to be an internet celebrity outweighing her self-consciousness I guess.

So I expect you will see She Who Does Not Obey appearing on these pages for some time to come, but I will try to weigh my need to tell a tale against her need to protect her own story as she sees fit.

She is so much a part of me, that I'm afraid I cannot tell you about me without telling you about her. It's the price you pay for proximity.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

i blame michael jackson

Last night, She Who Does Not Obey told me she couldn’t go to sleep because she was afraid of zombies. (Freakin' zombies!)

In the end it turned out she could. It was later than I had been hoping for but that is often the case for many non-zombie related reasons I shall not go into at this time.

She had hinted at a zombie-phobia before, but it had never really caused a problem.

Then, this morning, she was shuffling slowly along, getting ready for summer camp, when a horrified cry rang out from the bathroom. I raced to her side, after putting the last few items into her lunchbag, picking up a dirty sock, and hiding the toast scraps from the rampaging black labs.

It was a Catastrophe of Monumental Proportions!

She had accidentally scraped something off her teeth with her fingers right after wiping herself but before washing her hands!

She was unclear as to where the something went after she got it off her teeth. She had immediately washed her hands and then brushed her teeth, but she had still PUT HER FINGERS IN HER MOUTH WITHOUT WASHING HER HANDS AND DIDN’T KNOW WHERE THE SOMETHING WENT. She may have swallowed it!

I told her that this was okay and that a one-time failure in the bathroom hygiene department wasn’t going to make her sick/kill her/turn her into a zombie (I don't believe I actually mentioned zombies at this point). But she refused to listen to my logic and positively refused to shuffle along any further.

Then she suddenly developed a bad belly as she is wont to do. So I called her bluff and called Grandma to look after her (Grandma, alas, was not available). She positively refused to go to Grandma's anyway.

Then she finally revealed to me that the problem was actually three-pronged.

First it was the NOT WASHING HER HANDS thing.

Then it was her Slight Belly Ache.

Third and most important of all was the T-Word!
(which is our current code for the Michael Jackson Thriller video)

Curse you Michael Jackson!

It’s all his fault really.

If only SWDNO's dance school had not presciently decided to do a medley of MJ songs at the year-end recital, including Thriller and zombie dancers who recreated moves from the video. Then Drama Queen (SWDNO's 11-year-old cousin) wouldn't have seen it and been intrigued, prompting me to tell her about the video.

Drama Queen wanted to watch the video but she didn’t want to watch it alone - she tried once but couldn't make it all the way through. Her 8-year-old brother Destructo and SWDNO were curious as well and refused to leave the room for the viewing.

It was then I lost my mind, thinking it would be okay because I remembered the video as being really funny. I had completely forgotten about how it’s really not so funny until the zombies start to dance. Plus I forgot that 8-year olds have a very underdeveloped sense of black humour at least where horror movies are concerned.

SWDNO claimed it was okay and I thought I had dodged a bullet. In any case, I didn’t hear any more about it until last week when Michael Jackson decided to up and die on me. His sense of black humour was apparently quite developed.

When that happened, it seemed to have unleashed a zombie horde into the world at large. She could not go to camp because she was afraid of the them.

I told her zombies don’t exist, but she wasn’t buying it.

I told her zombies don’t exist, but if they did exist they only come out at night, but she insisted they come out in the day. I felt bad about that because that is in fact a lie – zombies do not have a problem with daylight.

(She is now very suspicious about the nocturnal habits of werewolves as well)

I told her that zombies are very stupid and slow and that if the idiots in Shaun of the Dead can defeat them, anyone can. I did not mention that the majority of the cast of Shaun of the Dead end up dead or zombies or dead zombies.

I described the scene where Shaun and his friend Ed go through Shaun's record collection and have oodles of time to debate the merits of various albums before deciding which ones to throw at the advancing zombies. She thought that was funny.

After she had determined that there were still things to laugh at in this zombie-plagued world, I was finally able to convince her to go down the stairs, put on her sandals, pick up her cricket bat and start beating her way to the car.

I was 45-minutes late for work.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

zombies on the brain

I have never been a fan of horror movies because basically I am a big wimp.

The horrific images stay with me far too long, lurking in dark corners, creeping down shadowy halls with quiet creaks that almost sound like footsteps, as I try to steel my way to bed at night.

But ever since I saw An American Werewolf in London over 20 years ago, I have made an exception for those horror movies that also make me laugh.

The movie is about a young man backpacking through Europe who gets attacked by a werewolf. I saw it when I was a young woman backpacking through Europe while staying at a youth hostel in Switzerland, the audience all young people backpacking through Europe. We laughed at the references that hit home for us, visiting strange taverns, speaking with odd locals. We laughed as the hostel staff rewound the video tape and added their own Moondance to the sounds of Van Morrison (this movie has a kickass moon soundtrack).

But there are also horribly bloody scenes and scares and frights that are (mostly) leavened with a dark sense of humour that made them bearable to me. Making this the first horror movie I actually enjoyed.

However, I'm sure none of us in the audience that night were too keen to go exploring the moors on foggy nights any time soon.

Since that night, I have found myself venturing off the main road and onto the foggy moors of horror movies, looking for the ones that provided that loopy mix of comedy and horror. But those kind of movies are few and far between.

I found one last night in Shaun of the Dead.

I have stayed away from zombie movies even when I knew they had a sense of humour. The Evil Dead movies in particular have attracted but repelled me as well. The scenes of zombies pounding at windows, trapping their would-be victims in the false safety of their homes, falling on the unlucky ones and the gore that follows. Too intense for me, too unrelenting and hopeless for the desperate souls trying to survive their night of terror.

But I made an exception for Shaun of the Dead because I heard it was so funny. And it is.

Shaun and his friends are leading a zombie existence even before the terror descends, and it is hard to figure out at first when the real zombies have actually shown up. The movie shows us that the drudgery of every day life often causes people to move through their lives with the same sort of lost zombie shuffle, but at least with less bloody show.

The crisis forces Shaun to shake off his inaction and turns him into a cricketbat-wielding action hero, albeit one who chooses rather inopportune moments to finally address the factors that are holding him back from a fuller life, e.g. it is inadvisable to confront your boyhood pal about his juvenile ways while dozens of zombies are advancing upon you. The zombies may be slow, but they have no patience and will not wait for you to obtain closure.

Ironically, what makes the movie so funny is that it can also be very scary. Its climactic moments have just the kind of scenes that I find so hard to put out of my mind, but with a delicious black-humoured spin that makes me laugh and breaks my heart all at once.

Like all zombie movies, too many people you care about fall along the way, often because they are too busy arguing about the stuff that they are normally too afraid to confront, e.g. it is inadvisable to defend your prior questionable behaviour while standing in front of window being pressed upon by relentless zombies.

Zombies eat that stuff up.

Afterwards, even though the crisis ends with some survivors and the movie ends on a laugh, I found myself with a sense of unease. Her Father turned to me and told me it was time for bed, yet I did not feel like I wanted to go to bed.

I thought of staying downstairs and watching tv for a while afterwards but then looked suspiciously at the basement windows, one cracked, the other with the exterior pane broken out by rampaging black labs - how long could they withstand a zombie attack?

I went to bed instead, trying to read the zombies out of my head, but they wouldn't go. Too fond of brains.

So instead I told Her Father that we needed to press forward in our plans to beef up our zombie defenses, er, I mean, replace our old windows and siding.

And maybe purchase some cricket bats.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


When I was a child, my family had a tradition.

On the first day of every month, we each had to say the word "rabbit" as soon as we awoke and realized the date.

"Rabbit!" mommy no plot would call out and five little no plots eagerly sang out "Rabbit" in reply.

To me, it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but as I got out into the world and learned its many ways and customs, I found that the no plots were the only family I could find who indulged in this behaviour.

And everyone I told about it thought it a little on the strange side. No one had ever heard of such a thing.

I began to think my father had invented this tradition, along with tales of the Headless Axeman of Middle Three Island Pond and various other stories of questionable provenance.

In time, I learned to live with the family eccentricity and even embraced the tradition. I felt that more people should celebrate all things Leporidae on a monthly basis.

I cried "Rabbit!" to all my friends as each first day came and they replied in kind, but only when I insisted.

The Rabbit Revolution made little headway. It failed to spread with the alacrity I had envisioned.

Then one day, I met with resistance. My friend who didn't know... refused to say the R-word or any of its many synonyms, despite my repeated attempts to recruit her into the movement. As time passed and my frustration with her position grew, I stooped to trickery, asking leading questions whose answers naturally led down a rabbit hole and posting bunny display pictures on my msn to pry that word past her lips.

To my knowledge, she has not let the rabbit out of the hat on the first day of any month for the past 20 years.

Some years ago, I read an item in a university newspaper in which a folklore professor spoke of the practice as a means of bringing luck, but it had become very obscure.

Then I discovered one first day that one of my favourite bloggers, jonny b of private secret diary fame, was a fellow Leperidoptrist. But I could not be sure he was passing this tradition on to his child or if he would have enough children to ensure its survival (sadly the Toddler (aka Servalan) is an only child.)

In desperation, I fixed on a new plan - I myself would have to marry and produce offspring so that Leperidoptry would not die with me. New generations would keep this tradition alive.

Fortunately, my husband has been true to his wedding vows and can always be counted on to give the correct response to my cry.

But lately, She Who Does Not Obey has been forming her own resistance movement. My rabbity cries are more often met with silence and rebellion.

This morning, I said "Rabbit." She needed a bit of prompting but finally said "Ra-" raising my hopes skyward.

Then she smirked and followed with a "-bish" of defiance.


Alas, I am too old to produce more obedient children so I fear this tradition is doomed to extinction.