Keep calm and party on

I was freaking out a little last week. By a little, of course, I mean a lot. I could list any number of possible reasons— birthday parties, Father’s Day, the 104 unread emails in my inbox—but there was an even more pressing issue on my mind: Neighbour Day.

Neighbour Day is an annual celebration of neighbourliness where Calgarians are encouraged to come out of their houses and interact with the other humans who live nearby. The city started it a few years ago to commemorate how compassionate we all were after the 2013 floods. To sweeten the deal, they waive the fee for Neighbour Day block party permits. Bring on the open alcohol!

Generally, I like to let the social aspects of life unfurl as the universe intends—or maybe I’m just lazy and I can’t be bothered to influence the cosmos—but when I heard about this block party idea, I decided to throw my disorganization tendencies to the wind. I had visions of children frolicking, adults guffawing, balloons, an ice cream truck, firefighters (for the kids, of course), a circus. I figure this all must have come about during a period of reduced cognitive function for me, though that basically describes motherhood so far so it's hard to pin point.

Despite my amateur planning skills, last year’s party was great fun. We got a decent turn out, but it was largely the core group of neighbours who already knew each other that ended up hanging out until 2am. I wanted this year to be even better, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I felt immense self-imposed pressure to have all the cards lined up in advance. While I’m okay with leaving my own social life to chance, I didn’t think that was a good strategy for a group of 40-50 near-strangers who were being asked to hang out with each other for six hours.

Then, a few weeks ago, a lesson presented itself. Some of the dads held an informal barbecue competition. There was much talk of cuts, sauces, rubs, etc. The women steered clear. I think we were all just happy to have someone else plan and execute a neighbourly get-together. But an hour before the time of judgement, we started to ask questions: Where would we meet? Were there side dishes (like, I don’t know, vegetables)? Come to think of it, were there dishes?

Blank stares.

My better half was even surprised to learn that I was planning to serve some of this carnivore’s delight to our children for dinner. I think he was surprised to learn that any of us were planning to eat it for dinner! And yet, by some miracle (a.k.a. the women), it all came together. 

I tried desperately to keep that in mind as the days leading up to the block party flew by at a remarkable pace, taking my sanity with them. Somehow, it would all work out. People would still have fun if I didn’t rent a massive bouncy castle or arrange for a visit from a food truck or the mayor, right? I didn’t even know what time to make the damn thing start, so I just told people the barbecue would start at 5pm and left the rest of the day to chance. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. 

Surprise of the century, our second annual block party was totally and absolutely amazing. All I did was get the permit, hand out flyers, and buy some burgers. I didn’t tell people what to bring. I didn’t tell them when to come. It just happened, like a beautiful, independent organism that thrives on social interaction and ridiculous amounts of food.

The kids ran around in bathing suits all day, periodically stopping to consume fruit, chips, or ice cream. They made new friends. It was awesome! It made me think there is hope for a 70’s summer after all, where we send them out the door in the morning and yell for them to come back at dinner.

On the adult side of things, we got to know neighbours we’ve lived near for eight years but have never really met. The 89-year-old lady who’s lived at the end of the block for 60 years came out with tins of cookies. The people we never, ever see come out of their houses came out of their houses. And I hardly did a thing. All that fretting for nothing. <Insert eye-roll emoji>

Thus, I have written myself a list for next year: 

  1. Book fire department earlier.
  2. Invite adjacent blocks.
  3. Encourage barbecue rivalry.
  4. Keep calm, dude. The block will party on.

Life lessons in a closet full of no


My muse has been taking a breather. It seems to know I don’t have time for nagging creative thoughts. I have work to do.

You see, I am currently balls deep in a massive household purge. I’m not talking the kind where I toss a few shirts that no longer fit my continually-morphing post-gestational body. This one is going to the very core of my existence: the past, the future, my guilt, hopes and regrets.

I’ve seen a lot written recently about why we keep what we do and the troubles we have parting with possessions from our the past. Purging is floating in the current stream of our Jungian consciousness. Even Elizabeth Gilbert is preaching the value of minimalism.

I know it is a typical activity for Spring, but this year feels a bit more intense, as though people are starting to realize that, deep down, what we own defines who we are. Stripping down the layers of our belongings carves away at our misconceptions. It forces us to be harsh about our truth. Am I the kind of person who can throw out a gift someone gave me twenty years ago? What about last week? If I say yes, does that make me unsentimental, insensitive and ungrateful or will they understand the gift’s exit from my household is not an indiction of my respect for their friendship?

I have been feeling lately that our belongings are smothering me. We live in a decent sized house and, upon first glance, you might not think it’s filled to the brim with crap. As with many things in life, I learned to hide it well. Cupboards help. Storage rooms, too. But deep down, I know it’s all there, hiding like a stowaway hoping to never be seen.

It’s as though the possessions themselves don’t want to be tossed. I find this to be especially true of dolls and stuffed animals. Even as a 39-year-old woman, I feel heartless putting a collection of fabric, stuffing and googly eyes into the trash. I have always had this problem, which is probably why my childhood dolls—one of whom looks like Chucky’s bride—are still kicking around.

As I muddle through this process, I admit I grow weary from the constant stream of decisions. Last week’s challenge was cookbooks, which are akin to religious teachings. Today, I found the box where I kept all our (ahem, MY) wedding plans and ideas, including about 30 extra invitations. I can understand keeping one, but 30? I have also found floppy disks and cassette tapes from when work involved microphones and interviews, quilting projects I started five years ago (i.e., before children), and of course, clothes that defy fashionistic sense.

Strangely, some of the hardest items to part with have been work clothes. If I were to hazard a guess why, it would be because I hate shopping for them. I love the look of beautiful clothing, just not on me. This is not meant to be self-deprecating. I just have always felt awkward and uncomfortable in nice clothes. I am also notoriously bad at coordinating shoes and accessories and my inexperience shines through with every shift of my belt.

I remember once as a kid deciding to surprise my mother by showing up at church despite the fact she had clearly given me a get-out-of-Jesus pass that day. Unsure what to wear, I turned to the only outfit I knew: my school uniform. I can still remember the look of horror as she caught sight of me marching towards God with my green and yellow tie fashioned around my neck in a bow. I may have even had my button-down shirt tied like a crop top at the waist. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I became a journalist, a profession that punishes people for wearing skirts by sending them on assignment to a wind farm. For many years, I escaped dress pants and heels by claiming it was better for business. But for a short time after journalism, I worked where women wear stockings. I ended up having to keep a steady supply in my desk. Without fail, no matter how expensive they were, I would have a run from heel to knee before the mid-morning coffee break. If I took them off, then my panty line would show. I struggled for nine months to understand how people get anything done when they’re worried about visible underwear or breaking an ankle walking down the hall. I stocked it up to experience, of which I had very little.

But here I am, however many years later, staring professional-looking dresses and packs of nylons in the face. For some strange reason, I’m having trouble letting them go. I can’t see myself working a fancy-clothing-office-job anytime soon yet half the allotted space for my newly decimated wardrobe holds clothing more suited for board meetings than flying food.

I even have one jacket that reminds me of Austin Powers. Why on earth would I keep something that makes me want to yell, “Who does Number Two work for,” every time I see it?

A friend wisely pointed out that if I ever do go back to an office job, all these clothes will be horribly out of style (if they weren’t to begin with). Wide-legged trousers, sweater vests, pouffy-sleeved things that pointed out my failings in femininity. Perhaps I view tossing them as evidence of poor decision-making in my past or as a sad commentary on the potential of my current aspirations. What do I say to the world about my perceived future if all I keep are ripped jeans and hoodies I bought at the grocery store?

As you can see, this process is taking me beyond reason and material goods. It must be that struggling to say goodbye to nylons and velour blazers is training for the greater challenge that will come when I get to the basement. That is where I’ll find photographs from when photographs were physical objects, souvenirs from when adventures were taken, and the trunk that holds every last remaining element of my childhood. If I’m this philosophical about clothing, imagine how I’ll be when I start reading my report cards. Maybe I’ll discover the meaning of life in the midst of all that musty paper. Either that, or a lonely stuffed animal who needs a good hug.