The Song That Taught Me All About Empathy …

I am a word girl. I love words and their power. Their beauty. Their significance. Their singular ability to express emotions, feelings, fears and delights. To me, words are like individual sparkling jewels, which, when strung together can create the most dazzling bracelet.  But there are words that cause even me great consternation. And “empathy” is one of them. 

So I checked in with the always erudite dictionary.com:

Empathy: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Also: The imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself.

Sure. Thanks.

I asked my friends to weigh in.

“Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”  Yes, it is always a good idea to walk a mile in another persons’ boots. To try to understand their motives and reactions and decisions. A good idea but not always the easiest task.

My pal E has decided she would like to have an affair. Her hubby doesn’t do it for her (or to her) anymore and, even though she has no inclination to leave the marriage, she does long to set a fire or two between the sheets. She asks me to understand. To acknowledge. To give her my green light. To empathize with her plight.

Well okay, yeah, I get it. Middle-aged sex can get ho-hum, hum-drum and let’s face it, infrequent. Who wouldn’t want to reignite the passions of youth?

But can I empathize with E? Can I identify with her pain and then psychologically understand it as if it was my own?

Nope. I can sympathize with her and I can even attempt to comprehend but I cannot walk that mile in her shoes because they do not fit me. I cannot make those shoes fit me. Far too painful.

Another friend offers that empathy is “Knowing that even when you’re struggling, you can still spare a second to recognize when another person is in need of the same help you could’ve used.”

That is really lovely. And we should all aspire to such altruism. But is it empathy?

I return to dear old E. I know she is struggling. If her hubby would just show up in the boudoir with a little more enthusiasm she would most likely never contemplate adultery. I too have been in relationships where the desire for carnal acquaintance was painfully lopsided. And again I say, I sympathize with her plight. But do I empathize?

“Empathy is meeting everything and everyone with love!”

I love this concept of “meeting everyone with love” (and will probably write a blog about it one day) because it speaks to non-judgementalism, sensitivity and compassion. I also believe we can be non-judgmental, sensitive and compassionate and still not have a flipping clue what someone else is enduring. We can sympathize. We just can’t empathize.

“Listening with your soul, not just your ears.”

Yes. Beautiful and poetic. And this also goes to the above: listening without judgment. Without advice or discrimination or guile. Listening ONLY to hear, absorb and then love. No matter what you actually THINK.

Fuck, that is hard to do.

“Understanding, feeling and even absorbing others’ challenges and sharing them so their burden is not as heavy.”

Another resounding YES!

But absorbing someone else’s challenge? Sucking it out of them so that they are lighter and YOU are now weighted with the pain? Also really fucking hard. I recall many years ago I told a “secret” to a trusted friend. This secret had been damn near killing me and the act of unburdening it to her lifted its weight considerably. I was SO grateful for her empathy.

She, in turn, immediately told her husband. She had promised me it was ours and ours alone but she immediately told her husband.

I don’t blame her. The matrimonial bond is and should be sacred. But THIS is exactly why empathy is so hard. Empathy demands that we place someone else’s needs/feelings/pain ABOVE our own. And that is damn hard work because we are most definitely hardwired to avoid pain.

What we are “wired” to do is solve problems. And as it turns out, empathy has absolutely nothing to do with solving problems.

I took a life-coaching course several years ago (wellcoaches.com) and “empathy” was one of the first BIG concepts we discussed. Because you cannot coach without it. You can advise and counsel and bully and even inspire but you cannot coach.

One of my coach-buddies was a yoga instructor from the west coast. He was fit and buff and entirely Birkenstock. He had to practice coaching on me and I had to come up with a “problem” that was realistic and coachable.

“I want to lose 10 lbs.” I said. (It was true.)

We spent an hour going up and down the hows, whys, whens and whatevers of me losing 10 lbs and not being able to do it. I could feel his frustration growing and I chose to feed it with even more obstinance (apparently I am good at that). He finally just lost it completely and bellowed, “Vickie, for God’s sake just eat less and work out more! This is NOT rocket science!”

But it was. And is. Coaching is rocket science. Because it is not enough to TELL your client what to do. It is your job as a coach to empathize with WHY your client hasn’t already done it. You know, without you. It is your job to crawl inside your client’s guts and get so entrenched in their muck and slime, to become so intimate with their failure and frustration, to know their fear and their hope with such intimacy you can now plan that elusive roadmap to salvation. WITH them.

“Understanding and relating to another’s struggle through experience, or similar experience. Sympathy is rooted in compassion, albeit without experiential knowledge; empathy is rooted in the compassion driven by bonding with another because you have traveled a similar path.”

And that, dear reader, is the golden ticket. If we have never felt despair we cannot empathize with despair. If we have never been melancholy we cannot empathize with melancholy. If we have never known abject wretchedness, we cannot empathize with abject wretchedness.

I learned empathy via music.

You see, a long time ago I left my husband for another man. And of course, this other man had a wife. And soon thereafter, I heard a song by Lara Fabian called “Broken Vow.” And when I heard the lyrics of that song I wept and wept and could not stop weeping. Not because of the painful mess I had created but because it was HER voice singing that song. Not Lara’s. My lover’s wife’s.

Tell me her name
I want to know
The way she looks
And where you go
I need to see her face
I need to understand
Why you and I came to an end

Tell me again
I want to hear
Who broke my faith in all these years
Who lays with you at night
When I’m here all alone
Remembering when I was your own

That was the absolute moment I knew I understood empathy.

I knew I was feeling empathy.

I knew I was living empathy.

Because that song was not about me. Trust me, there were, at that time, a lot of songs about me and I listened to them all interminably. Sniveling, pouting and feeling sorry for myself.

But “Broken Vow” was about HER. Not even about her. It WAS her. Her pain. Her rejection. Her voice. And I heard it loud and clear.

In all the years since, I have never removed that song from my library. When it comes up on shuffle, I crank it loud and absorb every word. It used to torture me relentlessly. No more. Now it makes me wistful. A little sad. But also somehow grateful. Because I now know that I do know empathy.  And not only do I know it, I can sing along with it.

So I guess that is my personal definition: “Empathy is when you can sing someone else’s lyrics as if they are your own.”

Thank you, Lara.

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Hey Vickie, Why Don’t You Just Blog Off?

We’re all really tired. Like, bone-fatigue tired. Mental-exhaustion tired. We are tired of isolation, tired of loneliness, tired of staying home and tired of being tired. I understand that, for so many people, just finding enough juice to get through the day is a battle. Sure the days are now longer and the sun is warmer and that helps, but the truth is we are all still tired. And in Ontario (where I live), we are all still locked down. For at least another three weeks.

I’m sure that for as many of us who reside on this planet, there is an equal number of methods utilized to endure this pandemic. Some have hibernated, some have broken rules, some have offered help, some have drunk a bit too much wine (who me?) and some have used this time to get creative.

Probably the last two are, in fact, me. I have written and published a book and blogged more than ever. Apparently I just have a lot to say.

However, in recent weeks I have noticed that response to my blog (especially on Facebook) has diminished. Interest in my book has … evaporated. I was somewhat perplexed so I reached out to an elderly and wise friend and asked … “Why? I know I’m no celebrity and I know these are just my thoughts but why isn’t anyone responding anymore. They used to?”

(Yes, it was a tiny pity-party, probably fueled by too much wine.)

EWF (elderly, wise friend) responded, “We’re all tired, Vic. We’re tired of being told what to do. What not to do. What to think. How to act. Where to go and where to not go. Who to see. Who not to see. We are tired of not getting hugged and not communing with our loved ones. And we are all really damn tired of being told HOW we should feel.”

“What has that got to do with my blog?” I replied, ever the astute and clever wench that I am.

EWF laughed. Loudly.

“That’s what your blogs are about, baby,” he chuckled through the phone. “Your blogs tell us how to think. Feel. Respond. Operate. That’s exactly what you write. And it’s great … usually. And it makes us think. But we’re tired, remember? We don’t want to think anymore. Not about that stuff, anyway.”

Oh.

Good point.

I have decided to blog off for awhile. Give y’all a chance to live without my (endless) counsel.

However … (uh oh) … I will still be creating. You know, just in case you miss me.

My new Wine Soaked Ramblings podcast is now available on Anchor and Spotify or wherever you cast your pods. There are a bunch up already and a lot more (from the archives) are coming.

My book “Confessions of a Potty-Mouthed Chef: How to Cheat, Eat and Be Happy” is also being podcast – chapter by chapter. It’s a “chewy” (I’ve never done anything the simple way) memoir with easy-peasy cheating recipes. The podcast is also on Anchor and Spotify and all of the actual recipes (it’s difficult to “tell” a recipe) will be posted on my Potty-Mouthed Chef Facebook page. It’s all FREE.

https://anchor.fm/potty-mouthed-chef/episodes/Confessions-of-a-Potty-Mouthed-Chef—Prologue-e10mebk

https://www.facebook.com/pottymouthedchef

I see the light at the end of the tunnel. For a while there I couldn’t even see the tunnel so I’m hoping you are feeling the same. Wear your mask. Get a vax. Care for others. Live in gratitude.

And if you’re bored, please do join me in my new podcasting venture. I’m sure I will be back here with fresh ideas … soon enough. In the meantime, my dulcet tones await. I am a radio gal, after all …

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I’m Just One Lottery Win Away From …

How many times have you said that? To someone else or even just to yourself?

My friend B: “I’m just one lottery win away from buying my dream home on Turks & Caicos …

My friend K: “I’m just one lottery win away from buying the Corvette I’ve always wanted …

My friend G: I’m just one lottery win away from paying off my mortgage …

My friend S: “I’m just one lottery win away from buying your trailer at Hope Bay …”

I get it. We all have fantasies. We all have dreams. We all have desires, wishes and hopes. And I guess most of us buy lottery tickets.

Well … except me. I never have. I used to belong to a pool at work and all I had to do was hand over a twenty every now and then and I was good to go. (Nowhere as it turns out. We never won anything). I was also once in a lottery “duo” with that same friend B. All I had to do was hand over a twenty every now and then and she assured me we would one day be vacationing in her dream home on Turk & Caicos. Which I was welcome to purchase with her if I so desired.

I do. I desire a vacation home on Turks & Caicos. I just figure if I desire such a thing I am going to have to formulate a lottery-free plan to get it. Sure, people win big with lotteries every day. I’ve just never been the kind of girl to leave my big dreams to chance. If I REALLY want something I will wrack (wreck?) my brain with as much creative, outside-the-box thinking I can muster to get it. It doesn’t always work but I will sure-as-shootin’ try.

Case in point: I always wanted to do a Christmas album with all of my talented musical friends. I have loads of talented musical friends and I love Christmas music but I truly had no money to accomplish such a thing. Studio time costs money. Talent costs money. Pressing and releasing a record costs money. So … at first I said, “When I win the lottery I will do a Christmas album.” And then I gave my head a shake and said, “I want to do a Christmas album now so HOW can I make that happen?”

I decided to do the record for charity. Three of them, in fact. I enlisted corporate sponsors and for their (healthy) donation to the project they were allowed to choose the charity to which their donation would go. The funds for that donation would come from CD sales. They would get their name on the record cover and the money they “invested” would pay all my costs. I asked all those talented friends to work “for free” because ALL proceeds were going to worthwhile causes. And they did. “Vickie van Dyke & Friends – Simply Christmas” was born and exists to this day (at all the usual outlets) and ALL proceeds still go to charity. I never cared about MAKING money. I cared about spending money I did not have and I cared about fulfilling a creative dream.

I did not wait to win the lottery. I dreamed it, I developed it and then I did it.

DREAM IT. DEVELOP IT. DO IT.

My pal C had her own development strategy. She always wanted to have a summer home on the water. Being a big believer in those “dream boards”, she posted a photo of a waterfront cottage in front of her desk so that every day when she sat down she would be reminded of her goal. She and her hubby both worked hard and when they retired, they sold their big-city house, bought a condo and finally purchased their own piece of summer paradise.

Is it a palace, a dump or a tiny fixer-upper? I have no idea. They haven’t invited me (yet). What I do know is it is their happy place. They will most certainly make it “their own” in time and they will be – quite literally – living the dream.

My other pal H had a different kind of dream. She wanted to retire, move west, be close to family and look after her granddaughter a few times a week. Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe for some but H didn’t have much spare cash (moving is expensive), she was still grieving her husband’s death and her nerves were somewhat fragile. Did that stop her?

No. H organized every last duck one by one, step by step, dollar by dollar, and when it was all lined up thanks to her determination and exhausting effort, she landed in Winnipeg ready to start living HER dream.

DREAM IT. DEVELOP IT. DO IT.

W is not quite so motivated. W complains constantly about her life (especially during these Covid times). W is negative and needy. I mean, she was negative and needy before the pandemic hit but now she is pretty much immobilized by inertia. She blames everybody (else) for everything. Her only dream is that when she wins the lottery she is going to take a cruise around the world.

And yes, of course you can dream about that kind of stuff. But how you develop it and then do it?

Why not dream about taking a cruise to the Caribbean and then actually develop THAT dream? Maybe THAT is a more manageable dream? Why not dream about renting a cottage on a lake this summer and make THAT happen? Why not dream about being the most positive, upbeat person you have ever met and make THAT happen?

THAT won’t cost a penny and I guarantee your life will change tenfold.

We can all have dreams that are fantasies and nothing more. Yes, I concede that George Clooney is never going to invite me to Lake Como, I am not going to be the next Carole King, my book (Confessions of a Potty-Mouthed Chef: How To Cheat, Eat and Be Happy – you should read it!) is never going to made into a Netflix series and I will most likely never win the lottery.  (Sorry B, you’ll have to buy that house on Turks & Caicos without me).

But I DID dream about living on the water and now I do. I DID dream about Lake Huron sunsets and now I see them from my living room window. I DID dream about having a Golden Doodle (15 years ago, before they were the rage) and when I saw my first Sheepadoodle 5 years ago I dreamed about him too. Now I have both.

I have enjoyed ridiculous fantasies along the way (next blog?) and I have also adjusted my dreams along the way to make them more realize-able. I am actually astonished when I start listing the dreams I have dreamed that I would have never thought stood a chance of coming true … but did.

  • I wrote a cabaret-style musical 20 years ago. Five years ago, seemingly out of the blue, 6 of the most talented people I know helped me produce a fabulous little workshop production of it. (“My Romance” – available on YouTube.)
  • I left a marriage that I couldn’t figure out how to figure out a life that I could figure out … and live honestly. Hard to believe I’m a writer I know, but here we are …
  • I recorded ANOTHER album (Vickie van Dyke & Davor Jordanovski – “Under The Influence”) of jazz standards because it was on my bucket list. My mother (may she rest in peace) financed this one, and ALL proceeds continue to go to Hospice Wellington where she died.
  • I started writing this blog (almost 9 years ago) and when I started I had 7 followers. Now I am closing in on 150 (plus all my lovely Facebook friends who take the time to read and comment).

And yes. I did dream about writing a book AND publishing it and now it is out there for all the word to see.

Is it a best seller. Nope.

Was it endorsed by Elizabeth Gilbert or Glennon Doyle?

Nope.

Is it a worthwhile book and am I glad I wrote it?

Yep.

DREAM IT. DEVELOP IT. DO IT.

You really and truly DO need all three steps. Dreaming is easy. Developing takes a lot of work and creative thinking. And DOING it? Well, that’s the most difficult part.

Also the most rewarding. Because when YOU do it, YOU win. It’s not fate, it’s not chance and it’s not a fucking lottery.

It’s YOU.

Who knows? Maybe my book WILL become a Netflix series? Maybe George Clooney will produce it and star in it and then of course invite me to Lake Como? Maybe my next album of original songs will propel me into the Carole King stratosphere?  And maybe one day B and I will own a vacation home on Turks & Caicos?

I hope we do. But you know what else I hope?

I hope we earn it. I hope we DREAM IT. DEVELOP IT. AND DO IT.

Can you imagine how much more meaningful it will be?

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Is It Possible To Go Through An Entire Life Without Giving Or Receiving A Broken Heart?

This morning I put that question out to my Facebook family. I was honestly curious. You see, I had recently learned, in a conversation with my old pal B, that he had endured neither. In his almost 60 years he had never broken anyone’s heart nor did he feel his own heart had ever been shattered. Yes, he had been dumped (more than once) and sure, his actions undoubtedly led to the dissolution of a love affair or two. But he truly believed there had never, ever been a broken heart, either given or received.

“So what did you do when you got dumped?” I queried. “Were you not sad or despondent? Did you not grieve the end of the union or ponder what went wrong or even wonder if it could be salvaged?”

Ummm … no. B just got on with his life. Hung out with the guys. Approached his hobbies with full-time zeal and not an ounce of guilt that they were stealing time from his girlfriend. Maybe bought himself something new. B’s heart was fully intact and just fine, thank you, and there was still much life to be enjoyed without old whatshername.

Damn.

I bet we all wish we could have been B at some point in our lives.

My first gargantuan (and completely unexpected) heartbreak took place when I was 17. I had fallen for a much older man (22) who I had met whilst underage drinking at the local haunt, facilitated by my mature countenance and my sister’s fake ID. I was fully smitten with Mr. Dreamy and he seemed taken enough with me, in spite of the fact that I was still in highschool and still a virgin. I had lots on the go (theatre, music, I even took him to a beauty pageant where I represented my store in the Miss Savette contest!). Even though I was young, I’d like to believe he found me unique. Certainly different than the girls his own age who drank with us on occasion.

The trouble came when he realized I wasn’t quite ready to explore full carnal knowledge, nor was he ready to be the one deflowering me, especially when the girls his own age who drank with us on occasion were more than willing. . Off he went on a party weekend with his buddy and buddy’s girlfriend. When he returned buddy’s girlfriend was HIS girlfriend and buddy (who had apparently been drunk most of the time and therefore oblivious to the extra-curricular activities of his “friends”) was single again.

So was I, as it turns out. Except he didn’t tell me. He called me upon his return, all chit-chatty about his crazy week-end, and then ended the conversation with a simple, “I’ll see you at the bar.”

I did not see him. There or anywhere. Nor did he ever call me again. I endured three weeks of torturous misery, wondering what the hell had happened. Finally one of his friends coughed up the truth. And I was devastated.

I spent most of that summer wallowing. I woke up every morning hoping it was all a bad dream. I sleep-walked through my days wishing with all my might he would call. I went to bed every night believing I would never be happy again. I was crushed. Mr. Dreamy crushed me.

It would be another 30 odd years until anybody crushed me again (read my book).

You see, that’s the thing with broken hearts. When you get one and survive, you don’t want another one anytime soon so you do everything in your power to prevent a repeat. This typically means becoming the Dumper as opposed to the Dumpee. I became an expert Dumper.

My friend SB posted this on Facebook this morning: My heart has been broken and while it was awful and took years to recover, the journey to mend my heart took me places I might never have gone without the heartbreak. And for my heart to break in the first place I had to love. I wouldn’t wish that love away to avoid the pain and am forever grateful to have had the journey.

Nice, eh? Very astute and mature and even poetic.

I wish I could subscribe. But when I look back on Mr. Dreamy, I am just pissed. I am pissed that this vacuous, immature and unaccountable JERK coloured me and my life for a very long time. He could have told me the truth on that phone call. He could have let me down gently and kindly. Instead he turned me into a Dumper-Junkie for many years to come!

Okay, breathe Vickie.

At least I was available for the heartbreak, right? CL chimed in on Facebook that “unless you are emotionally crippled” hearts will break and get broken. Perhaps Mr. D was emotionally crippled? Perhaps he still is. I, at least, know I am not.

KB (my teenage guru) believes that hearts will always roll unless someone is “actively” trying to prevent it. In other words, if you’re open and vulnerable and willing, at some point you’re gonna get schmucked. MB echoes this sentiment: “I think the only way it may be possible to prevent all heartbreak is to keep your emotions under lock and key at all times and don’t get close to anyone or let them get close to you.”

Yep. That I understand. It’s the vulnerability thing. You’re either willing to get naked or you’re not. Damn the torpedoes and damn the consequences.

A lot of folks offered that heartbreak isn’t always romantic and I concede to that willingly. I have many friends who have been broken-hearted over the loss of a parent, a child, a pet, a friend … even a job. I understand that many of these heartbreaks are unavoidable or arbitrary and we must simply live through them. My question went more to the relationship side of things, where broken hearts are typically caused by choice, not chance. RS offers quite eloquently that, “If it’s a lover breaking your heart, just make sure he or she is worth the suffering.”

Amen, brother.  

I was surprised that I did not hear from a single soul who said, “I married my high school sweetheart and we’ve been blissfully happy ever since. No heartbreaks here, lady … sorry.” Not one single person. Maybe all those folks are so busy being blissfully happy with fully intact hearts they have no time (or desire) to weigh in in pithy Facebook questions?

What I did learn (and love) is that most people who have known a heartache or two have taken the lesson and left behind the anguish.

LM: I truly believe heartbreak is inevitable if you live and love.

CF: A heart wide open will take some hits … but that means it is living

BP:  It’s definitely a learning experience and has made me who I am today. I think that’s a good thing.

Yes. Every learning experience IS a good thing. And for the record, this pendulum swings both ways.

Many years after Mr. Dreamy became my worst nightmare, I found myself in the unenviable position of breaking off a 4 year relationship with a colleague. We had never been a stable union, our match was not made in heaven, I’m pretty sure we both cheated and I had met someone with whom I wanted a “real” relationship.

And so I told him the truth. I told him I had met someone with whom I wanted a real relationship and our acquaintance, both romantic and professional, was now coming to an end.

That morning, after my heartfelt confession had been rendered, I left his house and did not go home. I went straight to my parent’s home where I sat on the sofa in their den and wept buckets for two hours. My mother didn’t quite get it. “But YOU broke up with him, Vickie? Why are you so sad?” (To be truthful, they never like him or our relationship so they were not exactly crying with me).

My father explained quietly, “She just broke a heart. And often the pain of breaking a heart is worse than the pain of having yours broken.”

How right he was. Because when our heart gets broken, we don’t get a vote. Our fate is foisted upon us and we are left drowning in a puddle of our own tears, wondering what the hell happened.

But when we break a heart intentionally, we get that vote. We become judge, jury and executioner. And to watch the person you once loved shatter in front of you … well, I’m not sure which is worse.

I am sad to say I have broken a few hearts since. And my own has sustained more than its share of bruises.

And that is okay.

Because there is no amount of money on this planet that would make me want to be B.

Has he had a simpler, less volatile life? Probably. But the question begs – if you have never felt the loss of love, have you ever truly loved?

My life has been saturated with colour. Every colour of the rainbow. Every level of pain and joy. Every realization that actions have consequences, we are all each other’s keepers and it is up to us to share our hearts freely and with faith but to also hold other’s hearts in our hands with respect and honour.

I have no idea what ever happened to Mr. Dreamy. I have no idea what will happen to B. I do know that it is truly “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” (thank Alfred Lloyd Tennyson). I am grateful for ALL of the opportunities an open heart has brought to me and I am confident that, no matter what, I will survive (thank you Gloria Gaynor).

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Do You Have One Soulmate or A Dozen?

I don’t mean a dozen as in 12 different people on this planet who might potentially be your soulmate. I mean a dozen as in – it may well take 12 different people – with very different attributes – to make up that one perfect entity called “soulmate”.

We all grow up thinking that our missing puzzle piece is out there somewhere, just waiting for us to find them. And when we do, we will magically understand what all this “soulmate” fuss is about and gallop off into a fairy-tale sunset, happily ever after. We shall be complete. Completed by another human being. Just one.

Holy fuck … the pressure.

I myself waited a very long time to find that soul-dude. 48 years, I believe. On the way, I settled, I maneuvered, I complained and I made-do. I reckoned it just wasn’t going to happen for me. I saw couples all around me (and still do on social media), purporting full-on blissful soulmate-hood and lifelong gratitude that they had found “the one”.

When I finally did think I had found “the one”, it turned out that he was only “the one” for a very short period of time before he decided he was in fact not “the one” and trotted off to sew some oats and leave me wondering what the hell had happened. Because if “the one” I thought (after 48 years) was “the one” and it turned out he was not “the one” then where the heck was “the one” and how was I ever going to find him?

Turns out I didn’t.

I recall a conversation with my highschool pal T who maintained that we probably all have several soulmate options in our lifetime. Sure, his wife was his soulmate but so was his teenage girlfriend, a few lovers after that and potentially even someone yet unknown (should his marriage fail which, at last check it has not).

Wow. What a pragmatic approach, right? Not exactly Disney but I am quite sure every bit (if not more so) plausible.

Then there is M and B. They met in college, became best friends, married other people, divorced other people, married each other and are now mated soulfully. So what took them so long? Why did they have to test-drive other models before realizing the Ferrari was right in front of them all along?

I have no idea. I do love seeing them happy though.

D and W took another route. They were sweethearts at 13, had babies at 18 and got divorced at 49. Were they soulmates for those 36 years? I expect they were. But something happened that weakened that bond. That frayed that rope. That ultimately altered their soulmate connection. And they were compelled to reevaluate and move on … with new soulmates.

On the flipside of that coin, R and G fell in love at 17 and that, as they say, was that. They are still in love after 51 years of marriage and so obviously soul-mated you want their photo stamped on a Hallmark card.

So … back to me (hey, it’s my blog).

I still absolutely and whole-heartedly believe in soulmates. I just do not believe I am going to find one all stuffed handsomely into a single package. When I subscribe to the theory that such a person exists I am invariably devastatingly disappointed. When I place ALL that pressure on one man, HE invariably shrivels, balks or bolts. It just never works out.

I have decided that my soulmate is a puzzle. A puzzle with as many pieces as I need to make it work. And when I put all those pieces together they make a beautiful picture.

Piece#1 – my beloved. We cohabit, we travel, we entertain, we watch Netflix and sunsets and we raise our dogs joyfully.

Piece#2 – my dear friend J. We discuss the issues of the day and the issues of our hearts, we pick up each other’s pieces when we are shattered and we celebrate each other’s victories joyfully. Truth be told, I have several amazing girlfriends who fall into this category. And I call each and every one a soulmate. Especially as I mature and allow unnecessary “friendships” to evaporate. I just don’t have the time or energy when my “Soul Queens” are waiting.

Piece#3 – my friend C. We fell in love the moment we met. Girlfriend love that was so profound and so immediate it has flourished, floundered, weathered a hurricane and survived. Our souls are mated, this I know. Even if we do not speak for months (or years).

Piece#4 – the musical men in my life. Three in particular who I could love no more if I bore their children. There is something absolutely magical about making music with a man (or woman, for that matter) who not only sees your soul but can then translate what he sees to music.

Piece#5 – my son. I know, it’s weird to classify your offspring as “soulmate” and I was certainly no soulmate to either of my parents (as much as I loved them). But we are. Who knows … maybe in our next life he’ll be the parent and I’ll be the child?

So yes, I guess I DO need a dozen soulmates. I need every piece of that puzzle to fit perfectly. I don’t need perfect people. I need puzzle pieces that fit perfectly.

Am I sad that Prince Charming never actually showed up?

Of course I am, for fuck’s sake, I grew up on Disney movies!

Am I grateful for my puzzle pieces?

Of. Course. I. Am.

Eternally grateful.

My life would be unfinished without them. Like an incomplete puzzle, languishing for eternity on the cottage table.

My advice is this – sure, go find your soulmate. That soul may, however, exist in a few different bodies and that’s okay.

Acknowledging the soul is hugely important.

And so is finding your mate.

Or mates. However many it takes.

There are no rules. This is your life and your puzzle.

Just do it.

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Well Maybe You DO Need a Romance Checklist? Men – (and women) please do weigh in …

A few days ago I was chatting with a friend about Jordan Peterson, the Canadian celebrity psychologist/author. We were chatting specifically about Dr. Peterson’s take on romance: “Work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationships. People love attention and rewards more than anything. So, an extraordinarily positive thing that you can do for your partner is to pay attention to them throughout the day; reward them with your words or with a gesture when they’ve done something good. Be inventive. As long as you do that, you’ll see that they’ll return the rewards in kind and your romantic connection will thrive.”

Amen, sir. Amen.

It all seams pretty simple, right? Kinda like the 5 Love Languages which, when studied even briefly, make perfect (and logical) sense. So my question is – IF it is all so simple, WHY do so many couples lose the romance when they get a few years in?

I am reminded of my former beau T. Even at the beginning of our liaison, T wasn’t what I would call a “professional romancer” but as the months wore on, his efforts dwindled to virtually non-existent. Rather than get stroppy and petulant about it, I decided to take a more pragmatic approach. The one thing I knew about T is that he loved checklists. What chores do I need to accomplish this weekend? What must I pick up from the liquor store?  What needs to be purchased at Canadian Tire? T was fastidious and didn’t want to forget anything.

Except romance. He frequently (bordering on always) forgot romance. He forgot to say, “I love you” (unless I said it first). He forgot to hold my hand when we were sitting on the sofa watching a movie. He forgot to randomly (as in, for no reason) bring me flowers. He forgot to check in during the day because he either forgot or was “busy working.”

Now don’t get me wrong. T showed up on the big occasions (Christmas, birthdays and Valentine’s) with cards and gifts and some of them were quite inspired. It was the everyday romance that dwindled to the point of extinction.

So I (in my ever-astute brilliance) decided a checklist was in order. If a checklist helped with everyday life, why would it not help with romance?

  1. Please every now and then tell me you love me … like, out of the blue.
  2. Please send me a little text every day, just to let me know you’re alive.
  3. Please bring flowers (or chocolate or anything unexpected) every now and then just to let me know you care about me and like making me smile.

There were a few other simple (and inexpensive) gestures on that checklist and I thought it was all pretty straightforward and “manly”.  As in “You don’t have to read my mind about any of this stuff, honey … I’ve made it super easy!”

T blew a gasket. T told me in no uncertain terms that the reason he was NOT romantic with me was that he absolutely would NOT subscribe to some checklist! Romance should never be pressure! It should be born of free will and desire and spontaneity and passion! NO WAY was he going to be checking anything off my list anytime soon, thank you very much!

Oh.

Okay … except T, honey, you haven’t been checking anything off ANY list that I am aware of. I mean, in the romance department. We’re just living like roommates who share a bed and have sex sometimes.

That relationship did not last.

So my question is – what is better?

  1. Silent desperation and futile hope that your beloved will suddenly read your mind and sally forth with romantic gestures galore?
  2. Quiet (yet obvious) sulking that you are feeling ignored?
  3. A checklist to make everyone’s life easier?
  4. An abandonment of all thoughts and gestures romantic because, after all, we are old and those days are behind us?

I believe that since we only have one romantic connection in our life (at least that is the norm), we should WORK to make it thrive. Just as Dr. P suggests. Romance left to the fairies will probably end up residing in fairy-tale land. As in – NON-EXISTENT. I’d like to believe I have always been willing to do the work. Maybe because I am a romantic.

What about you?

Do you want to pay attention? Do you want to reward kind gestures? Do you WANT romance to thrive? And if a wee checklist helps with that, are you okay with the assistance?

Please do weigh in … truthfully. I’m all ears.

Well, that’s not exactly true either. I’m all heart … but my ears (and eyes) are wide open.

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Truth, Transparency and Cellphones

A very wise man said to me recently – “There are two secrets to a successful relationship. You have to work very hard and you have to lie very well.”

Well. Now you know.

And if you’ve read my book “Confessions of a Potty-Mouthed Chef: How to Cheat, Eat and be Happy”, you already know I am an accomplished liar. Expert. A pro. Olympic gold-medal quality.

I know. Not my greatest source of pride. Which is why when I got honest, I GOT HONEST. I mean, I tried to get honest. I tried to conduct myself with honour. I tried to make choices that did not lead to lying or keeping secrets. I tried to negate all the damage I had done with a newfound zeal for truth.

But does truth equal full disclosure? Is it a secret if we do not divulge information which might be pertinent but wasn’t asked for? Is a lack of transparency as good as a lie?

My friend L thinks so. She recently found some weird and unusual evidence that suggested her husband was perhaps hiding something. And so she naturally confronted him. His full answer was (and I quote) “I don’t know”.  L was incredulous. How could he not know? The evidence was right there. He made a few lame attempts to twist it around like a pretzel and then, after days of dialogue and pain and fear, reiterated his initial defense. “I don’t know.”

So L countered, “Can we at least try to find out? Can I look at your phone?”

His answer was a resounding NO. His phone was personal, he said. We all have a right to our privacy, he said. He would never dream to scroll through her phone, he said.

L reminded him that she never used to keep her phone locked and now that she did, he knew her passcode. Why was it that in their entire relationship HE always kept his passcode secret?

Because of privacy, he reminded her.

At least he didn’t say, “I don’t know.”

And so I put the question out to a panel of experts (Facebook). Do we have the right to keep our phones and passcodes secret from our partners? I’m no mathematician but I would say the answer NO galloped in at a resounding 85%. “Unacceptable!” someone clamoured. “What do they have to hide?” “There should be no need!” someone exclaimed. “No secrets!” someone bellowed. “It all boils down to trust!” someone argued.

But then K chimed in: “Nowadays your phone contains almost everything. It’s like a diary. So I believe it’s acceptable to keep it private.” Fair point. But K is 18 and not married. That said, S is much older than 18 and married. And she echoed that sentiment. Without permission, she said, it would be a violation of ethics to scrutinize your partner’s phone.

Which brings us back to L. Because she asked for permission. And she was denied. So does L have something to worry about?

As that wise man also said: “The only time I don’t want my wife to see my phone is when there is something on my phone I don’t want my wife to see.”

Let’s hope it’s a new diamond surprise. Unlikely, right?

According to my Facebook poll, yes, L most certainly does have something to worry about. And the concern is twofold. Number 1 – the mere fact that she feels compelled to peruse hubby’s phone indicates a bigger problem in the relationship ( a trust issue, obviously). The mere fact that she is so desperate for reassurance that she feels the need to do something she has never done before (ask to see his phone) … well, that is a rather large concern. She never needed to ask before and she never cared that his passcode was private. The Number 2 concern is that HE is apparently not able to assuage her current fears with logical and reasoned explanation and this just might indicate that her fears are grounded in some truth.

I almost thought the jury had reached a verdict.

And then, as G so eloquently stated (by the way, G is a dude) – “If the relationship dynamic is good then yes, we can all maintain an element of privacy. It’s something we all need to own. However, if the dynamic is flawed then secret passcodes will definitely cause trust issues. The bottom line is this: both parties have to decide if they can trust their own decision-making process. Obviously if they are struggling, the relationship is not on solid ground.”

Nothing is ever simple, is it?

I think I’m going to run with B. B stated that in a committed relationship, trust and transparency are paramount. She also offered that if you really want to go digging around in your partner’s phone, “let the buyer beware!” Whatever you may find is knowledge you must then find a way to live with.

I have always maintained that “I’d rather suffer with the knowing than with the wondering.”

But I also can admit that there are “things” on my phone I’d rather my partner not see. Private conversations ABOUT him (and us). Somewhat flirty texts from old flames (which make me feel good and are completely innocent but who knows how he would react?). Old emails that have nothing to do with us that I have saved, nonetheless.

I guess my conclusion is this: if there is something on your phone that might break your relationship, your relationship is already broken. If there is something (or nothing) on your phone that can solve a dilemma, then by all means share it. If you are entirely unwilling to give up your “privacy” TO YOUR SPOUSE perhaps consider becoming a monk. Or at the very least a swinging single.

And if you want a truly successful relationship, only lie when asked, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

THAT (to me) is “lying well”.

Everything else smacks of selfish dishonesty. Dishonesty designed to save your ass from accountability. Dishonesty designed to help you get away with something. Whatever that something is.

Given my history, I strongly counsel you to try anything but. Because truth (and transparency) are SO MUCH EASIER than lies.

And you will sleep so much better too.

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A Love Letter for Marlene

(aka The Way to a Woman’s Heart)

Now, why are you writing a love letter for Marlene, you might ask? Who is this Marlene, you might ponder? Why is she so deserving of her own personal sonnet, you might query? You rarely use real names, Vic, and you rarely make things blatantly obvious. So what is up?

The answer is this. I am writing a blog for Marlene because Marlene likes my singing.

Huh?

You’re writing an entire blog for some broad just because she likes your singing?

Huh?

Yes. Yes I am.

You see, I have enjoyed a vast and colourful career history, from musical theatre to road-bands, to office work to radio. The problem is the radio career is the one that stuck. The one that has been sticking for over 30 years. But I have not only made a career ON radio, sharing my dulcet tones and the smoothest grooves (or country croons). I have made a career out of supporting Canadian artists. I have made it my mission to freely, joyfully and without payola extol the talents of singers and songwriters alike. Guitar players, producers, horny guys (and gals) and piano fortes have all been heaped with praise. Showered with publicity. Glorified to the unwitting masses and even invited to my home to perform where THEY make all the money and I clean up all the mess.

I have done this out of love. Out of love for music and out of what I feel is a sacred duty in fellowship to support my fellow artists.

And therein lies the rub.

Because I have been a “radio chick” for so long, many of my fellow artists forget that I am also a … fellow artist. They forget to extol my talents. They forget to support my recording projects. They forget to invite me up to sing. Indeed, at one auspicious occasion, when I was tagged to host (not perform at) a gala, the two powerhouse female performers who were on the bill both asked, “Why are you not singing tonight, Vickie?”

The answer? I had not been asked. I had only been asked to host. The organizers had two female powerhouse performers. They didn’t need me (except to host).

Now, please don’t go thinking I’m throwing myself a personal pity party here. I learned long ago to find my self-esteem in my own soul. I no longer seek nor do I need affirmation from anyone. About anything.

And that is exactly why I am writing this love letter to Marlene. Marlene is a relatively new friend but one who has surged quite rapidly to the upper echelons of my friendship totem pole. For many reasons (geography, her open heart and mind, her positive disposition, her zest for life and love and her desire to expand her horizons) but the one that really tickles my fancy the most is this:

She likes my singing. She honestly likes my singing. She likes to hear my voice produce musical tones. She has not stuffed me into some “DJ” category or “host” category or “former singer” category or even “writer” because she has never known me in any of those roles. Marlene takes me as I come and she really, truly, honestly enjoys hearing me warble live and listening to my recordings.

As a matter of fact, this past Christmas when I took it upon my self to send her a new Christmas song every day for a month, she ultimately responded, “These are all nice, Vickie, and I appreciate you sending them but I’m just going to go listen to your Christmas album now because it is my favourite.”

She did not say this to be sweet or to butter me up or to return some imagined favour. She said it because she meant it.

And that is why Marlene gets a love letter.

I believe that no matter how we navigate this life, through career changes and  relationship upheavals and various triumphs and disappointments, we ultimately define ourselves. And we hope that the madding crowd will accept that definition and celebrate it with us. As I mentioned, I’ve done (and been) many things. Perhaps even now I consider myself more of a writer than a singer. But singing … singing is in my soul. Singing was in my mouth before I could even speak. My mother heard me hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in perfect pitch long before I spoke a word.

I would never purport to be a “great” vocalist. I am a chanteuse. A conveyer of musical emotions. A deliverer of truth via lyrics and melody. A sharer of human frailty and fear and hope and longing. And Marlene gets that. She gets me … the singer.

So thank you, my friend. This is my most heartfelt and gratitude-filled love letter to you. I haven’t written a song in years but who knows? Maybe the next one will be yours.

Oh. And before I forget …

Happy Birthday.

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The Secret to Staying Young Is …

I have a rather large birthday coming up later this month (yes, I am finally turning 40) and it’s got me to thinking. Even with the years piling up faster than snow in northern Ontario, how does a person who “feels” young actually “stay” young? I mean, I know we can’t stop the clock (or the wrinkles, gray hairs, brown spots or sagging jowls) but how do we keep a young mentality? A fresh frame of mind? A sprightly outlook?

I finally figured out the answer. In order to “stay” young you have to “DO” young.

Do.

It’s a verb. An action. A conscious decision to perform tasks typically associated with young persons. This is how we stay young.

Now I don’t mean we should go to raves, get high, sleep our way through a football team or join TikTok. Unless of course we want to. What I do mean is we should DO things associated with youth. With energy. With vitality, curiosity and maybe even a little devil-may-care!

Like get a puppy. Yes, that is exactly what I did to mark this upcoming milestone. I got a puppy. While still cherishing my senior puppy who is now older than I am (in dog years). Two puppies/same house. Tons of fun.

So why is this keeping me young?

I think as we get older we settle into “routine”. We learn to love our routine. We crave the sameness of daily life. It brings us comfort and even serenity.

When you have a puppy all routine flies out the window (much like having a baby). You get up in the middle of the night so Puppy doesn’t have an accident, you never sleep in because Puppy wants to wake up, you rush home from grocery shopping so Puppy isn’t too long in the crate and you start playing with toys again because when Puppy isn’t napping, Puppy wants to play! Preferably with you.

I am exhausted. But I do feel mentally chipper and delightfully juvenile.

I’m not saying you must get a puppy to stay young. What I am saying is it helps to DO something that gets you out of the rut you may not even know you are in.

Like what?

Take up a new hobby (figure skating, anyone?) that requires physical effort.

Read a different kind of book than the ones you typically gravitate to.

Stay up to date on what is happening in the world AND with technology. Allow your children and grandchildren to teach you so that you can communicate with them on THEIR level.

Don’t dress old. Have fun with your appearance, your clothing and your style. YOUR style. God, how I hate those articles that start with “What a woman over 50 should never wear … “

Fuck off.

I’ll wear whatever I damn well please. At whatever age.

Which brings me to appearance. Yes, physical, old-age appearance.

Before I had my child and was a glamorous, professional gal, I used to get my nails done (professionally) every two weeks. They were really quite stunning. When that child was born I cut off all my nails and learned to go au naturel. In the ensuing years I have had pedicures, manicures, shellacked nails and naked nails. But what I have learned is that EVERY time we relinquish our youth to a spa, we start sliding down a slippery slope. And it doesn’t work. Because that spa can give you pretty nails and Botox and fillers and blonde highlights and plucked hairs and a billion other fixes but I can guarantee that spa will NOT make you FEEL young.

Nope. If we want to feel young we will have to DO something. On our own. Getting “done to” is lovely and pampering and absolutely a good thing but it will never alter the inner you. And if the inner you wants to be young, the outer you is going to have to DO.

Something.

This big birthday doesn’t scare me one bit because I have been “doing” young for a very long time. Don’t get me wrong … it’s not always easy. When I drag myself out to walk 3K in a blizzard it’s not because I wanna. When I climb into my cut-off blue jeans and look in the mirror, I sometimes think “Geez, Vic, maybe it’s time for grownup pants?” When I look in my (10X magnifying) mirror and see all the things I would rather not see, I long for cosmetic intervention to match the outside with the inside.

But I now know that the only thing that will actually make me feel young is doing young. So I will keep doing. And doing. And doing. Until the next big birthday. And the one after that.

They may well bury me in these cut-off jeans. Ha!

I just made myself laugh. 

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When It Is Time To Anthropomorphize Your Emotions

Anthropomorphize: to ascribe human form or attributes to (an animal, plant, material object, etc.).

My beloved uses this term a lot when discussing biology (his field of expertise). Specifically, when I try to accredit our dog with human feelings and responses. I actually do this with all animals, birds and fish. Even some humans who don’t deserve it.

In recent years though, I have learned (thanks to author Liz Gilbert) to do it with my emotions. If you’ve read “Eat, Pray, Love,” you may remember that time in Rome when she is visited Depression and Loneliness. She artfully describes them as quite human (I believe she references Pinkerton detectives) and she proceeds to talk with them like they are very much alive and present in her Italian flat.

I love this.

I love this so much I have started doing it in my everyday life. And I have counseled my friends and family to do the same.

Take my pal P. P is nearing the finale of a long, painfully protracted divorce. The light is there, beaming at the end of the tunnel, but she is still too often plagued with anxiety. What will she do? Where will she go? Might she ever love again? These questions used to compel her to the couch for days on end.

Not anymore. These days, when Anxiety rears his most unwelcome head, she chats with him like an acquaintance she has (mostly) outgrown.

“Hello, Anxiety,” she mutters cheerfully, pouring herself a glass of wine. “I know why you’re here and I know you’re not leaving anytime soon so sure, feel free to sit on that stool in the corner. But you are not welcome in this kitchen and you are not staying overnight, got it?!”

If Anxiety refuses to listen and lurks beyond bedtime, P will try again. “Okay, buddy, this is the sofa. You wanna sleep here, this is what you get. You will not disturb me in the bedroom and you will NOT be here when I come down in the morning. Got it, Buster?!”

Typically, by the time P pulls up the comforter and turns out her light, she is giggling. Because she has taken control of Anxiety. She has read him the riot act. And she falls asleep in good faith that her sofa will be empty in the morning.

My other pal D anthropomorphizes her Melancholy. Melancholy has been a fairly constant companion to D throughout this Covid craziness. She is not afraid, she is not lonely and she is not full-on depressed. D is just cheerless. Downcast. Sad. Maybe she needs some sunshine and a big fat dose of vitamin D (named after her, of course)? Maybe she needs more hugs than have been allowed? Maybe she just needs the damn vaccine?

What D no longer wants (or needs) is for Melancholy to follow her arounds like a lost puppy. So D has given Melancholy a name – Miserable Melanie. And when D becomes cognizant that MM is shadowing her, she marches to the bathroom. She runs a glorious bubble bath, lights a candle, turns on some music and slams the door in MM’s face. “You’re not allowed in this room, kiddo!” she yells. And it works.

But sometimes only for five or ten minutes, when D realized there are tears streaming down her cheeks. MM has somehow slipped into the bathroom through the cracks. So … instead of capitulating and inviting MM into the tub, D gets out, dries herself off and flushes MM down the toilet.

Bu-bye Mel!

And yes, now D is laughing … at herself and her eradicated emotion.

See how it works?

We are neither trained nor taught how to deal with our feelings. Our thoughts. Our demons. Our sensitivities. And so they attack us willy-nilly, sometimes out of nowhere, sometimes right on schedule, and we just lie back and take it because we don’t think we have recourse. Options. A battle plan.

But we do.

Just make those damn frailties “human” and treat them like you would a living entity. Like my friend H. Whenever H wants to talk with me deeply, she prefaces the conversation with “Do you have time and space for this right now?” Sometimes I do and sometimes I do not and we are always honest with one another. So the other day, when H confessed that she was overwhelmed with waves of despair, I reminded her to put Despair in the freezer. He was trying to burn her alive with his incessant blistering and it was time to turn him into a popsicle. See ya later, pal!  And pass me the ice cream while you’re in there, buster.

H (and her Haagen Dazs) went to bed happy.

Now before you go writing this all off as simplistic and accuse me of not recognizing the vagaries of human emotion, I urge you to just try it. I’m no psychotherapist but I know what works on me. If I am swirling in a vortex, brought on by extraneous circumstances AND by own responses to them, well damnit, I can create a conduit to get myself out of that vortex. And if that conduit requires the humanization of my feelings, so be it.    

I’ve yelled at enough humans in my life to know that I am perfectly capable of yelling at my own damn emotions. Joy, Contentment, Bliss, Harmony and Gratitude – all welcome anytime. I do know that the rest of those fuckers will attempt to darken my door regularly and I can accept that. When they show up I’ll be ready … to acknowledge, converse and ultimately …

… ask them to leave.

Now … go try to pronounce anthropomorphize five times in a row.

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