Just like many of you here today, I could stand up here for the next five to ten hours and recite countless tales of my dad and our shared existence. However, I know my dad — and I know he would be be quite displeased if he had to sit through anything even close to the length of the first half of the musical Les Mis, so I will save you the trouble on his behalf.
As I began to plan this little speech, I knew there were three different routes I could take. I could tell you about how my dad taught everything I know in subjects ranging from hockey, classical music, and poetry to how to properly care for his car when I borrowed it. I could tell you about how he transformed me into the person I am today with his seemingly endless stream of support, warmth and love. Or, I could tell you about how he tolerated me when I decided to bug him for my own enjoyment. For the purpose of today, I think the best story comes from the last category.
My dad and I have a long history of bothering each other for fun. My poor mother who had to put up with us on family outings can attest to this. Though I fully admit to initiating most of our duels, my dad was a force the be reckoned with. He really, really loved to annoy me right back.
This is where I introduce you to this fellow: the wizard bear. This little toy encompasses the impish spirit of my dad: his ridiculousness, his offbeat humour, and his ability to concoct and carry out elaborate plans like a true mastermind.
It all began about five years ago when I was in high school. For some unknown reason, my dad liked to drive around town with stuffed animals strapped into the back of his car. They would be lovingly buckled into the middle seat, often with a towel to keep them warm and comfortable. The blue bear, which is also here today, was his most beloved passenger; however, he liked to include other animals every now and then to spice things up. Blue Bear often got lonely, he told me.
One day, I noticed the wizard bear strapped into the back seat beside old Blue Bear. Almost immediately, I told my father he should remove it. “That bear is evil,” I warned him. “It was the bad guy in all my games when I was little. It will be bad luck.”
He laughed at my explanation, but agreed to take it out. It was gone the next day. Truthfully, I wasn’t actually superstitious about the bear — I just wanted to reduce the number of animals I would be driving around when I borrowed the car.
The next few days proceeded normally and life continued as usual. Little did I know, an epic battle was about to begin. About a week later, I entered my room to find the wizard bear nestled into my bed. I knew my father was up to his usual tricks and quickly retaliated — I hid it in his bed.
The next morning the wizard bear was waiting for me on my school bag, so that afternoon I hid it in his briefcase.
A few days later, the wizard bear appeared in my dresser drawer. In return, I stuffed it into his closet behind some of his clothes.
This game continued for quite some time. It became a contest of cleverness and deviousness—we tried to best each other with each hiding spot. It became an unwritten rule that the wizard bear always had to be pointing in a menacing manner. Like this.
There was a point where the wizard bear disappeared for a few weeks after I had made one of my moves. I thought he had given up; perhaps he had grown tired of our childish fun. However, I realize now that he was drawing me into a false sense of security. Indeed, he had far more planned for that wizard bear and me.
One day when I was working a weekend shift at the donut shop near our house, I saw someone walking around in the drive-thru area. My coworkers and I went over to the window to investigate, and there was my dad: running around and waving that accursed bear in his hand. He later told me that one of our customers yelled profanities at him for blocking the lane.
Another morning I woke up to a strange thudding noise; lo and behold, my dad was in the backyard repeatedly tossing the wizard bear at my window.
My dad also made sure the wizard bear was present for ALL of my important milestones these past five years. It showed up to my last game of U18 soccer, sitting on the bleachers beside my parents. It made an appearance at my high school convocation — my dad sweetly told me that he wanted to take a photo with me, only to hold up the wizard bear beside my head as my mom took the photo. That picture is included in our slideshow, and you can clearly make out the horror on my face as I realized what he was doing.
And of course, the wizard bear was present for my big move to university — I discovered it lovingly packed into my suitcase on my very first day in res.
The bear was there for some not so positive milestones as well. Some of you may know that I had a little accident with our Dodge Caravan in my senior year of high school. I added a nice decorative indent to the right rear bumper. Yes, dad made sure the wizard bear participated in that event as well. A month or so after the accident, I came home to see the wizard bear sitting on the back of the van with a sticky note that said “Beth did this.”
University was a relatively quiet time for the wizard bear. The bear itself did not move around very much; however, my dad worked hard to remind me of its presence. He would sign his texts “Wiz Bear”, though he often spelled it without vowels. For some reason, he used to believe that everyone shortened their texts by leaving out vowels…but I digress.
About a year ago, I graduated from Guelph. I came home for the summer, with the wizard bear in my possession. My first instinct was to immediately hide the bear to reignite our war, but I knew I had to aim higher. My old man had definitely outdone me over the years, and I knew I could do better. Convocation grew closer, and I realized I had the perfect opportunity for revenge — I would photobomb my dad with the wizard bear, just as he had done to me at my high school graduation.
My mom told me that my dad searched for the bear in the days leading up to the ceremony. I have no doubt in my mind that he was planning his own scheme, though it was clear he had forgotten that I was in control of the bear. The day came. My mom hid the bear for me while I accepted my degree, and quickly handed it off to me after we filed outside.
I sweetly said to my dad, “Fahj, we need to take a picture together.”
And bam. Photobombed, or wizard-bombed, or photobeared, or what-have-you. The poor man never saw it coming. We have photographic evidence of my success also included in our slideshow. It took him a few shots to notice the bear, but his reaction is one of my favourite photos.
Wizard bear never made another notable appearance after that. I like to think that I was the ultimate victor of our lengthy battle, but the fact that I discovered this bear hidden under his pile of hats suggests otherwise. He didn’t intend to give up or roll over; I cannot even begin to imagine what he had in store for me. And this is something I will never know.
As I look at this bear now, I no longer see the sinister villain that had acted as the antagonist in all my childhood games — I see my dad. I see his childish side and his absolute ridiculousness. I see his perseverance and his wit. But most of all, I see his love - his love for me and for our relationship. I have no doubt in my mind that, given the chance, he would have brought this bear to my next graduation, to my wedding, and even to the birth of my future children. And I am filled with this incredible sadness knowing that my dad and his damned bear won’t be there to harass me as I move forward from this point.
But we must be forward, because if there’s anything my dad taught me it’s this: time is fleeting. He wrote me a poem on this topic in early 2012, and I would like to share it with you in closing. Now that you have all learned about the wizard bear, its legacy and the ridiculousness of Ian Jolley, I would like to leave you with an entirely different version of my dad. He was, after all, an amazingly complex individual. And I loved him for it.
This piece is entitled “Lost Time”
the seconds go by,
water through fingers,
impossible to catch
and hold and hold
the universe was born in
less than a microsecond
so they say
but what are we left?
mere minutes, specks
on earth and rock
each moment becomes
This piece is a response to a thread on Reddit’s r/writingprompts. The prompt was “Your character lives out the lyrics to your favourite song.” I chose Ghosting by Mother Mother.
This is also an exercise in forced free-writing, as I did not let myself go back and change anything as I wrote (the exception being obvious spelling/grammar mistakes). It’s interesting to see the way my writing evolves from one simple idea into full-blown erraticism. However, I believe such literary chaos fits nicely with Mother Mother’s musical style.
Either way, my brain enjoyed this exercise. I hope you do, too.
The bed looks untouched; you will have no idea I spent the last week tossing within it. The rooms are tidied, though I left the dust that lined the window frames and furniture. In the fridge is a bowl of spoiled fruit. I open the fridge several times debating whether I should throw it out; I want to throw it out, but I won’t. This is supposed to be an empty house.
I don’t know where I’ll go from here. When I told you I was leaving, you didn’t believe me. You knew little of the life I left behind—you always wanted to know, but I refused to tell you—but you were sure that I had nothing to go back to. In your anger, you told me that I had nothing, was nothing, without you. Though the words you spoke would seem harsh and cruel to an untrained ear, I knew better. You were scared of me leaving; you were scared of me. You had always been scared of me.
I had arrived into your life in such a vapid way. We frequented the same coffee shop. I would sit at the table in the corner, holding my cup in my hands—I didn’t put it down on the table; it was a strange habit you noticed almost instantly. You never stayed long, though I felt your eyes linger on me each time you stood in line. I saw you become more and more entranced with the thought of me. Each day, your eyes fixed on me for one moment longer.
Eventually, I stopped going to that coffee shop. I was tired of being scrutinized; my arms were tired of lifting that cup. I don’t remember much of that time. I was displaced. That winter was cold.
In the springtime, I returned to that coffee shop. I went in the evening to ensure we wouldn’t meet again. For weeks I watched the world go by from the corner. I was content. That spring was warm.
One day, you appeared again. I could feel you before I saw you: your curious, enraptured gaze. While you waited in line, I planned my escape; as I stood up, you were in front of me. I dropped my cup on the table.
You apologized for startling me, and offered to buy me another drink. I tried to refuse, but you insisted. You said it was important that you speak with me.
And we spoke. We spoke for the rest of that evening. We spoke for many more evenings. We spoke for months. You shared your reasons for your fascination; you said I looked identical to someone who had frequented your dreams since childhood. I told you that you were crazy. You laughed. It was a perfect laugh. We spoke of many things afterward. I’m not exactly sure when we came to love each other.
After a year of speaking, you invited me to live with you. You said you dreamed of me so often now, it was as if I was already there.
But within months of living together, we stopped speaking. It just happened naturally. We ran out of things to say. You still loved me and continued to dream. I became a spectre that wandered around, unfinished and unfulfilled. I told you I was leaving. You said cruel things; you were scared.
I open and close the fridge one more time; the fruit stays, I tell myself. I walk along your lonely hallways once again, inspecting each corner. I am removing any trace that I have been there. When I left after our argument, I removed all my belongings. Now I am removing evidence that I stayed here while you were away on business. This winter is cold; I have nowhere else to go. You’re coming home today.
I spent many of these past nights wrapped in your sheets, trying to devise a way to stay with you. We could speak of mundane things: the weather, the neighbours, or our meals. I could lay beside you at night and hold you while you retreat to those visions of me you believe are real. I could become those dreams rather than the waking nightmare that I’ve become. I could stop scaring you.
As I come to the end of the hallway, I stop to open the closet. There, folded neat and tidy, is that sheet I wrapped myself in. I put it away last night after realizing one important truth: you would never see me for what I really am, let alone love me. When you stared at me in that coffee shop, you were staring right through me. You only saw a reflection of an old dream.
I’m out of hiding now. You know I’m just a poltergeist, a trickster, who took that form. You realized it the day I left you, though I think you knew it all along. I think that’s what scared you. I wasn’t that person, yet you couldn’t bear to let either of us go. And truthfully, I enjoyed scaring you too. Our life together was an eternal Halloween; I was a creaking in your stairwell, a constant reminder that dreams do not belong in reality.
You don’t need me to remind you of that fact, anymore. You don’t need my tricks, or my ghosting. I close the closet slowly, taking a deep breath. I take in the house, and our life together, one last time. It smells of death: that of our love, your idealism, and me. I rush to the front door, gagging, and pull it open. I use my key to lock the door and toss it into the bushes.
Once again, I am displaced—a ghost out of its grave.
"You are a shell of the person you once were; why are you letting this year defeat you so easily? Obviously everything you are must be some kind of lie if it vanishes at the first sign of adversity. Dumb-ass. Weakling. Failure. Loser."
a self-reflection (courtesy of that monthly emotional aggrandizement)
I don your influence as one might
a beloved piece of clothing.
The fit is so evident,
she noted to me: you are covered in it,
you are entwined.
Belief comes slowly—
I have only just
gotten used to bareness—
but the sting in my cheeks,
they hold happiness
And I feel so light, yet rooted;
a strange combination of peace and complacency
for the now
and excitement and longing
for the future.
There is something so beautiful about finding
clarity in contradictions and
desire in dissonance;
such is deconstructed to the ability
to dine with discomfort
with a fullness in the belly
And the cloth fitting tightly.
noun, plural discontantslanguorthies.
1. a lethal combination of discontentment, restlessness, oppressive stillness, and apathy.
2. a feeling that accompanies the act of staring blankly at a ceiling while lying down.
3. a word that describes that feeling that is hard to describe otherwise.
"she suffered from such discontantslanguorthy that she felt it necessary to create a word to embody the extent of her bizarre emotionality."
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Excerpts from the travel journal (1 - Ireland)
It seems fitting to transcribe some of these scribbles, since I referenced a “dear reader” several times in my entries. Even at that time, I wrote the journal to be read (despite some of the horribly personal things included).
(2012). How can one sum up something as incredible as travel in a few sentences? It is not possible for there is too much to describe, to delight in. In less than a third of a day, we were in a whole new, strange exciting place. What’s more, we were surrounded by thousands of individual lives on unique routes that suddenly passed our own.
…As we travelled about the streets, we became familiar with them — I am incredibly proud of this fact as Catherine and I are notorious for our awful sense of direction. However, as we learned to masterfully manoeuvre the streets, the weather brought its own challenges. Sunshine one moment, threatening grey clouds the next — it was without any sort of discernible pattern. You can tell the locals have mastered the sudden shifts, though. Within moments of rain, unseen rain gear appears and/or the citizens of Dublin duck into nearby doorways to wait. They know that their patience will pay off when the weather shifts once again.
(2012). Quick to wake with an 8am alarm, we checked out of the hostel and headed for our train to Galway at the Houston Station…
…We passed by vast green fields (has a field ever been such a colour?), small stone farms, and lounging cows.
…For the evening, we sampled a taste of Irish theatre — a production called “The Mai.” It was advertised as “a play about love — the kind that chews you up and spits you out,” detailing the misadventures of four generations of women in the affairs of the heart. It was so incredibly frustrating to see Mai long for something that so clearly ceased to exist (his love), yet it was incredibly understandable in its own right. I’ll admit, I felt my eyes droop and lost some parts of the first act to fatigue, but the final message resounded quite strongly. Love is a messy affair no matter what continent you are on, and it is only as destructive as we let it be.
(2012). The Cliffs of Moher. I don’t think I could come up with a single word — or several for that matter — that accurately describe the feeling of walking atop those cliffs. Spanning 8km, lining the ocean with green and stone, the cliffs are simply breathtaking. Our guide warned us about going beyond the walkway, but Marie led us bravely beyond them and I am so glad she did. To think I could have missed that experience produces a heavy feeling in my chest — what other life-changing experiences have I missed out on because of my “goody-goody” disposition? Perhaps saying the cliffs were life-changing is a bit of an exaggeration, but I still cannot stress enough the feeling of being on top of, what felt like, the entire world. The cool breeze, the soft ground, the adrenalin of perilous waters waiting to swallow you up if you move only two meters to your right. I think it is best to say that the cliffs reminded me of what I have already figured out about life — something that is easy to forget in the buzz of everyday life. And that, dear reader, is something I like to call “the big picture.” It’s hard to think of small things when standing atop such tall cliffs, you see.
(2012). The fact that the tall-ship festival was going on was a stroke of luck for us, really - it gave us something to do before taking the last bus to airport. There was a lot of luck associated with tonight, actually. For instance, we happened to stumble upon a tour that interested us, which happened to take us along a route that brought us back to Marie. Indeed, serendipity is more magical than the sight of the towering masts cutting the light of the setting sun over the River Liffy (though the latter must be considered a close second).
Imagine this — huge ships lining the shore as far as you can see, people brushing past each other excitedly as they sport novelty sailor hats, foods of the world, music, dance, and beer. If you can do that, you have a good idea of our evening. We explored a Mexican ship (with the careful hands of the young crew guiding us down steep steps in such a lovely old-fashioned way), we danced behind a carnival parade, and watched the sun set over the river. As night time fell, we parted ways with Marie at last, with a firm hug and exchange of well-wishes. Who knows if we will ever meet again?
..It is now beyond the day marked for this entry, and the smell of the airport McDonalds is overpowering. Now, we try to sleep until 4:30am, here on these food court benches.
Here’s to travel!
100 word challenge(s)
How can one sum the entirety of their existence’s wisdom into a few brief words, especially when teetering on the cusp of nothingness? See, I already wasted twenty-three words mulling over the unfairness of being confined a word limit as I contemplate my hypothetical death. I believe it is fitting, however, as I’d likely be complaining of the unfairness of death itself. And so, in the remaining limit my message is this: you cannot begin to understand the effect you had on my life. Thank you for being there. I will miss you. Send my love and regards to humankind.
…the violent storm was…
She said she lived her life in pathetic fallacy. She believed her emotions were so sacred that nature itself bent its spine and stretched its arms to fit her. When we were separated, I used the weather to visit her. The violent storm was her anger at having been mislead; the overcast was her contemplative walk to work; the wind was the intensity of her voice; the sunlight falling through the sieve of clouds was her insatiable determination to live each day better than the last. Indeed, the most accurate forecast was her response to the text “how are you?”
It seemed impossible to her that such implicit happiness could re-emerge so casually. With countless reflective walks and bus rides to her name, she had already accepted that extensive rehabilitation would be necessary to mend what had been broken in her life—there is an inherent weakness that follows years of disuse and neglect. However, in the quiet moments of that morning, the shrinking of muscles and the decay of precious tissue went unnoticed. In unusually warm arms there is proliferation; in the grasping of a willing hand, there is the strength to walk without a wobble.