Grandma Ryan, The Protestor

Grand Bend, Ontario
Summer, 1968

It was an has always been known as one of the tumultuous years in modern history. 1968. A time of free love, anti-war, anti-authority, land disputes, resource disputes, and political protest. Lots of political protest.

It was a hot day. The ladies of the Ryan family decided to take themselves to the beach in the nearby beach town of Grand Bend, in Ontario.

It was a time when the news not only reported the news but also shaped it. When questioning authority, and rebelling against them, had become the norm. Trust for the government was hard to come by, and it was felt on the Canadian side of the border, as the spirit of protest reverberated across the St. Clair River and Lake Huron.

They set up their day at the beach. Sun butter, chairs, and likely one of those portable foil sunners that people crazily used back in the 1960s. They sat and watched the water and all the people and families out enjoying the splendors of a hot day on Lake Huron.

All of the sudden they heard a commotion and were stirred from their pounding sun rays. They looked up, and the Ryan daughters realized they had lost someone pretty important to their group: Grandma Ryan (their mom).

After packing up and walking along the strip, they realized what the commotion was. Teenagers packed the streets, chanting, protesting. Sadly, the topic of the protest was lost in posterity, but it was nonetheless heated, and important for the time.

Still looking for Grandma Ryan, the girls walked further, noticing there were lines and lines of impassioned people.

They still couldn’t find Grandma amongst the crowd.

They walked to the front of the protest line, and finally: there she was. Holding a sign, a woman in her 70s, Grandma Ryan standing amongst the emblazoned teenagers, yelling at the top of her lungs in civil protest.

“I thought I’d throw in my support,” said Grandma, matter-of-factly, as they returned to the beach to catch up on their tans and slug back the few beers she was always known for.

I think I know where I get my fierce spirit from. (Grandma Ryan is my paternal great-grandmother)

Oh, Tamarindo! (Saturday Morning Poetry)

There’s a place on this earth that some of you know,
It was the place I knew my soul needed to go,
It’s a town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica,
A town called Tamarindo.

Each person has a unique story,
Each person a new journey sought,
To find home in the town of misfits,
Where you’re either “wanted or you’re not”.

Surfers, artists, yogis, and the lost,
Flock to the town to find their souls,
To find meaning, their place,
And to fill all their life and heart’s holes.

Sunsets, surf, long beach walks,
The feeling of “this is it” strolling hand in hand,
It feels like you’ve found a little secret,
Your own, private, secret, secluded and untouched land.

After the early sun sets,
The nights become quiet and hushed,
It’s when you start to miss home,
The heaviness makes your soul feel crushed.

Transience is normal,
Sticking around too long is contemplation,
In the place where you can feel alive and thriving,
Or feel like you’ve met your lonely condemnation.

Oh Costa Rica, the lessons you taught,
How fresh and stinging you are in my mind,
You taught me that no matter where I go,
My soul is only my own to find.

Wherever you go, there you are,
The wise Confucius once bestowed,
I’m not in Costa Rica, or where I am now,
It’s time to find a new road.

Love the Ones Your With: Support Systems & Mental Illness

Today “Miss You When Your Gone” by The Cranberries is playing through my speakers as I sit down to tackle the day’s workload, but I sit and look at Dolores O’Riordan, sweet Dolores, who we lost earlier this year from suicide.

As someone living with a mental illness diagnosis, and someone who has struggled with mental illness their whole life, it’s time I say something.

Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Dolores, and countless others that have so recently claimed their lives were all revered in some way; we all imagined they had it all. We all acted so surprised and only to have their mental illnesses revealed later, with a desire to understand what drove them to such despair and a coming-and-going campaign for mental health support. A wave of support and understanding that comes all too late.

Some think tossing up quotes of support, numbers for suicide prevention hotlines or dedications to our lost suicide celebrities on their social media is enough. For some, it may be, but my bet is that for many, it’s further more isolating. I know this because I’ve felt it.

You see, when the “mentally healthy” community passively puts up quotes and reminders to “get help” it doesn’t usually resonate with those who are struggling. It puts an unintentional divide that doesn’t always have a motivating effect during dark times.

Pride, shame, vulnerability, defeat, fatigue, broken health systems, inability to see the future ahead, and most importantly fear stands in the way of seeking help. It’s not that easy for people to see something online to take action, and the quotes and memes aren’t usually enough.

I’ve recently had a breakthrough in my mental health journey, that began with a dark day and started me towards a bright future. I look at Dolores, Kate, and Anthony, and all the actors we have lost to suicide because of their mental health diagnosis. I had no idea why these people weren’t able to overcome their demons, but I know how I’ll overcome mine.

I’ve learned that mental health support is difficult to find — getting into “the system”, the cost of private care, and the often daunting process of finding the right fit can take months, even years.

What do we do until we find the right path to health and healing? Love the ones your with.

Having a strong support system is everything. My family has stepped up in ways I have never imagined they could, or never imagined they’ve needed to. My friends have displayed unconditional love and support, giving me offers of their shoulders and their precious time, while also honoring my need for space at times. I’ve felt loved, supported, and encouraged.

This day and age we are so separated from actual physical interaction. A phone call is something you need to schedule, a text is an obligation, and the prospect of making plans (for introverts especially) is  more tedious than actually making them. We need to break this cycle and come back to each other again. As Brene Brown says in Braving the Wilderness we need to tell people we’re willing to walk in their pain with them.

I know that my recovery is all about opening myself up to people again. I’ve been so closely into myself that my mental illness has been able to develop and get out of hand at times. It’s the people around me that keep me literally sane.

I feel for those who don’t have the support system I do. It’s tragic that I know that what I have is actually quite rare.

But if you’re reading this, think of someone in your life that you may know is struggling. Don’t just send them a message with close-ended remarks. Invite them out for coffee, give them plans to look forward to, or do a nice gesture for them. Don’t allow dark thoughts, and actions, to be an option.

Passivity leads people down dark roads; taking a more active role in someone’s healing makes advancements that far outweigh the time and energy to make that effort.

It’s a tough world out there, friends, and we all need to hold on to each other a little harder sometimes, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones.

Stay loving, and be loved.

What It’s Like to be a “Recovering Academic”

I grew up in academia, first as a student, then as a professional, then again as a student, and then again as a professional as jobs, vocations, and life shifted. I thought academia was truly my niche and that I’d be in it forever.

Then I made the very conscious decision one day to leave academia entirely. That was almost two years ago.

Those two years have been a self-rehabilitation, wherein I’ve discovered I’ll always label myself a “recovering academic” because of my experiences in being in, as well as departing from the ivory tower.

Recovering Over Recovery

“Recovering” is an interesting way to pose a departure from a certain career path, because most jobs and careers don’t require rehabilitation. I use the word recovering in my departure from academia like how addicts refer to themselves when going through rehabilitation and reintegration. It’s how I also referred to myself when I departed from religion, labeling myself a “Recovering Catholic” for life.

In recovery from something, either addiction, a way of life, trauma, or a certain identity you held onto, you know that within your psyche holds the imprints of certain behaviors, ways of thinking, worldviews, choices, and habits.

Recovery isn’t instant, it’s a long-drawn-out process where you have to re-wire your thinking and change the way you react to certain stimuli and triggers. Recovery doesn’t always have a definite beginning or an end, where you’re “recovered”. Thus, in my experiences, I’m still recovering from literally growing up in academia, and integration into the world outside the gates has been a process I’ve reflected on daily since I made the decision to seek other paths.

When you’re “in” academia, you don’t just see it as a job. You become academia. Your behaviors, ways of working, methods of relating to people, and rules of engagement become imprinted into your identity as an academic. By being within the walls of the ivory tower, especially in senior or tenured positions, you’re given a certain pass to embrace the worldview, behaviors, and quirks and way of interacting with others with the generally accepted belief that in genius is insanity. I’ve seen a lot of excuses made for people’s negative and unorthodox behaviors, just because they’re “academics”. I never bought that.

I Was Where I Thought I Belonged

My whole career in academia I was tasked with bridging the gap between what the academics were doing, and the rest of the world. I saw the underbelly of academic employment within the HR department which gave me more lessons than I could count. As a community engager, my favorite part of my academic career, my job was to show what was relevant within the institution to the outside world and bring intel from the real world back through the gates.

I got myself more educated so that I could talk the talk of academics and that would give me some validation as a worthy professional by the letters following my name. I thought that would help me straddle the two worlds better. Sometimes it did, but oftentimes I found myself hiding my heart in favor of presenting only my brain.

Then Shift Happened

I was proud of my job and my institution, and the strides I’d taken to position myself as a real-world person amongst the academics with an academic mind, yet I always struggled with this. In many of my performance reviews, the issue of being “too concerned with outside the institution” became an ongoing issue. Who was I truly loyal to, and did I truly align with the values of an academic institution?

I got the chance to find out through a life-altering work-related trip to East Africa that became the defining moment where I asked myself “where do I belong”? I acted as a human and not as the academic I was supposed to, and I got myself in trouble with the ivory tower.

This moment was when I realized that the way I am experiencing the world is incongruent with my position within the academy. I found that I could no longer force myself to look at everything academically because my heart and humanity stood in the way, and I wasn’t going to squash the human in me in favor of the academic. I left the job I thought I’d have forever.

Further attempts to devote my professional work to serving the community and the academy at the same time failed miserably. I found that the academy just didn’t always work well beyond their gates, while being faced with the true and harsh reality that universities just aren’t that relevant. Most people see academic institutions as mere places within the city that they don’t understand that serves a purpose only for those who were privileged enough. Ouch. Time for a reality check.

I Ran…. FAR

I left in pursuit of a new home, new way of seeing the world, and a new career in entrepreneurship.

I then learned that you can take the girl out of academia, but you can’t necessarily take the academic out of the girl, hence why I call myself a recovering academic.

Every day in my career as an educator and writer, I look to universities, research centers, peer-reviewed journals, and academic bodies of knowledge to validate the information I take in and disseminate through my work. In my mind is engrained the idea that I can’t truly know something to be true unless some researcher within their lab, office, or home computer looked at it in a scientific and academic way and published it in a paper that will give me that proof I look for in everything.

As a recovering academic, I’m stuck in this ironic, polarized, yet whacky pattern of identity and behavior where I want to be so critical of an institution I always felt was so far away from “real life”, yet I still look to the academic way of thinking on any issue within the world external to the academy that I work on or act within.

Someday I’ll get that balance, as I find the distance from my old identity and build new relationships and discover a new career trajectory. While I’m almost certain that there isn’t a future in academia for me, I am in so many ways thankful of holding that position within the institution where I was able to walk the line between the academic world and the rest of the world. It helped me think, be critical, and ask questions. It helped me find my place in the world (for now). It helped me be more thoughtful and intentional, recognizing people’s perceptions dictate everything.

I always think about how knowledge and information effects real people and will always defend the pursuit of quality, vetted information over crap you read on the internet. I’ll always dabble in the areas of research, knowledge translation, and will be a forever advocate for the open access movement. I’ll always be a nerd, and someone who thrives on knowledge, research, data, information and the pursuit of curiosity. I just don’t need any more letters following my name to prove it.

My name is Anne-Marie Fischer Moodie, and I’m a proudly recovering academic.

 

My Lego Babies

When I was about 3, I had imaginary friends. Except unlike other children who had imaginary friends as companions, my imaginary friends lived in my tummy.
 
I’d always talk about my babies in my tummy. They were named “Crowdy” and “Chairclean”.
 
Some of my earliest memories of life were of family discussions around Crowdy and Chairclean. In my imagination, they looked like Lego people and lived beside my belly button.
 
I don’t ever recall an issue with swallowing Lego people which could be a logical explanation for their existence, but just that Crowdy (the first baby) and Chairclean (the second one) were fully manifestations of a 3-year old imagination.
 
My sisters used to ask me what my babies names were, and I’d respond “Cwowdy” and “Chaiwcwean” in my little baby voice. “Where are they?”, they’d ask, “In my tummy,” I’d say matter-0f-factly.
 
One day I must have just forgotten about the Lego babies that lived in my tummy. It’s been almost 35 years since I was mother to Crowdy and Chairclean.
 
My sister who works in hospitality said that whenever she is cleaning chairs in her job, she always thinks about “Chairclean” and will laugh out loud.
 
While I don’t think I’ll have any real babies in my “tummy” in this life, I will forever get a chuckle about the one time I thought I was bearing Lego babies when I was 3 years old.

The Day I Saw a Sea Monster

1995, Lake Champlain, Vermont
Imagine three pre-teen girls in a boat, enjoying the freedom of getting away from their families at their “boring” Vermont cottages, to be able to sit in a boat in the middle of Lake Champlain.
They were the grand-daughters of my grandmother’s cottage neighbors. After a few weeks of boredom and black and white TV, I was so relieved to have someone my age to hang out with.
I’d heard about Champ my whole life having a family cottage in Vermont.
In the previous summers, my Dad would take me out on our rowboat into the middle of the mirky, and seaweedy Lake Champlain that the cottage that had been in my family for decades had been on, and he’d tell me stories.
He’d tell me about “Cloak Island” which was an island off in the distance from our cottage, where a man had gone to look for his lost love, but disappeared, only to have his cloak left behind, giving the small island its namesake.
Then there were the stories about Champ.
I’d squirm with discomfort and fascination as he told me about the Lake Champlain Sea Monster. Apparently, Samuel de Champlain had first recorded seeing the “20-foot serpent with the horse shaped head and a body the size of a keg” upon “discovering” the lake that would later bear his name.
I’d try to forget about Champ whenever we’d go into the paddle boat, but of course, he was always top of mind.
That hot summer’s day with those two fellow- 12 year olds, we were ambitious and decided to paddle the boat as far away from the cottages as possible with our new found independence.
In the middle of the lake, we talked about what girls of that age talked about. Shaving our legs, boys, and all those awkward things in that super awkward stage of life between 12 and 13. I can remember that whole summer being just strange and transitional, like the ones you’d read about in a Wally Lamb book or see in a movie like “Now and Then”.
All of the sudden, I saw something approaching underneath us.
“No,” I whispered under my breath, “It can’t be.”
“What?” the girls innocently asked, seeing my face go white and my eyes grow wide.
The girls looked down wide-eyed and saw what I was seeing, as a large, white-ish-grey-ish-green-ish mass of sea creature swooshed under our boat. It never came up close to the surface, but the size, the color, told me all I needed to know.
“CHAAAAAAAMMMMMPPPPPP!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “The sea monster!”
The girls and I stood up and for some reason began stamping our feet on the bottom of the boat. The three of us screamed, the shrillest kind of pre-teen girl scream you could ever hear coming from a paddle boat from the otherwise tranquil Lake Champlain.
Our parents who had congregated at the shore for relaxing cottage time said all they could hear was screams as we paddled back to our cottage docks so fast we basically hydro-planed our way there.
“We saw CHAMP!” we all screamed to our parents when we arrived, tired, scared, and kind of excited too.
I don’t know what they were trying to do, whether they just wanted to calm us down, or just thought we were being silly kids, but they tried to convince us that all we had seen were snapping turtles.
I am a bit of a realist in my adult age, but no matter what new evidence comes out, or no matter how my memory fades, for life I’ll consider that day in 1995 as the day I saw a bona fide sea monster.
(Photo is from the 1970s of a photo of Champ himself.)

Only You Can Prevent Coat Closet Fires: A 1970s Vignette

Montreal, early 1970s

He was a well-put-together businessman, having achieved what he wanted in his education, career, now building a family. It was a cold, dreary Friday night in Montreal. The kind of late-winter night that puts a chill in your bones, and if you’re not diligent, the dirty, wet slush from what once was white snow will seep into your shoes and make your socks uncomfortably wet.

He wore the common attire of the early-1970s, businessman as he went about the city meeting colleagues, having dinners, and enjoying the spoils of a corporate expense account. His long light grey trench coat was similar to those of other men his age, with deep pockets, perfect for storing things like his tobacco pipe, wallet, and change. He wore those rubber shoe covers that were common for businessmen. They’d pull the thick rubber that was made to look like business loafers over their real loafers, preventing that sock soak and thinking no one was any the wiser about their rubber shoes.

As he approached the restaurant where he’d be meeting some business colleagues, he heard the squish-squish under his rubber-clad loafered feet, as the half-crunch, half slosh of the fading winter snow melted under him. He stood for a moment, breathed in the cool, late-Winter air and pulled in the sweet tobacco from the wood pipe that he loved to carry with him. He preferred cherry-flavoured tobacco, as it tasted good, and he often found people would stand in his midst to get a whiff of the sweet smoke.

Knowing his dinner party was waiting inside, he took in his last haul of cherry smoke and put out his pipe by tapping the pipe containing the lit tobacco on his rubber shoe, being sure to watch the lit cherry of the tobacco fall into the wet, slushy snow. As he watched the burning cherry fade to black slushy oblivion, he opened the door to the restaurant, tossed his pipe in the trusty deep pockets of his trench coat and hung up his coat in the communal coat closet.

Happy to see his colleagues, he sat down, greeted his friends, and settled into the menu, eager to get himself a drink after a hard day’s work. He noticed the server coming towards him and felt that familiar excitement of your first beer on a Friday night.
“Um, excuse me, sir?”, the server asked him, a bit of an unsure quiver in his voice. Getting ready to place his order for his beer, the server interrupted him, “Are you the owner of the grey trench coat in the coat closet?” A little confused, he responded, “Yeah, I guess that’s my coat, why?”

“Sir, I regret to inform you that your trench coat is on fire in the coat closet.”

He rushed to the coat closet, and saw that his actually still-lit pipe had burned a giant hole in his coat pocket, that had now been covered in water in an effort to save the restaurant from disaster. The restaurant’s coat closet reeked of burnt material and stale cherry tobacco, with the Maître D looking less than impressed as he held a pitcher of water, with the remnants of his impromptu firefighting dripping to his feet.

After that day, he was sure to carry pipe cleaners, before eventually deciding to give up the habit altogether.