Canada
4 min

Negotiating the past, present & future

Old lessons give way to pressing realities

HISTORIC REMAINS. Abi and Megan pose atop the old wall that surrounds the Italian city of Lucca. Credit: Megan Richards

Sitting in Lucca — a small medieval town in Tuscany, near enough to the Ligurian Sea to be appealing and far enough away to not benefit in the slightest from a cool breeze — I am thankful for the air conditioning, wide open social schedule (since we know no one here) and the time it allows me to reflect on the past month and look forward to those that remain ahead

Past
When I was in my early 20s my mother taught me two financial lessons she thought were her duty to impart and invaluable in learning how to develop a healthy relationship to money. I suppose they would have been if one was a lottery winner or was on the run from the law. But for anyone with any sense of fiscal responsibility or the desire to one day be able to buy a house, car or sign a cell phone contract, they were poisonous. Fifteen years later they continue to bite me in the ass no matter how hard I’ve tried to vanquish them from every level of my consciousness.

Lesson One: Money does you no good when you’re dead. Or, more to the point, spend it all now while you have a chance and to hell with it.

Lesson Two: If you don’t have the money to pay the bill, there’s no sense in opening it.

That last one is my personal “favourite” and, judging from the looks of amazement on the faces of those I’ve told, the favourite of many.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Blaming bad behaviour on your parents is something you can only marginally get away with until you’re 25. But lately I have wished she could have at least given me a chance in the fight against financial ruin.

For the past eight months we have lived on a meager freelance income and it has been my responsibility to manage the money. Make decisions that are best for us and ensure we have what we need to pay our bills, eat, travel and put a roof over our heads.

Managing money with a little wiggle room is challenging enough. But managing money when there’s none sends me into a tailspin-type panic. I have a complete breakdown in my ability to communicate, keeping financial details to myself. And, despite the slippery slope, I encourage the procurement of fancy candy and extravagant footwear. Perhaps the lessons I should learn from my mother are that following her lessons will have me declaring bankruptcy at 67 and battling a gambling problem.

Present
Don’t be alarmed, but I have brain tumour. Some days, when I am feeling cheeky, I like to drop the fact like a small bomb into conversation since it’s nothing to be particularly worried about. It lives, quite comfortably on my pituitary gland and I, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, can manage it with medication. That is of course provided I actually take said medication.

I am what the medical people like to call “noncompliant.” I routinely go off my meds, choosing to “go it alone,” save the cash and deal with the pesky side effects of leaving it to it’s own devices — most significantly elevated hormone levels comparable to those of a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy. Or craziness.

There is a romance around crazy that despite our disdain for individuals who talk too loudly to themselves on public transit we all buy into. In order to be a prolific artist one should have the madness. A good writer has a little of the madness. And the only way to be immortalized in the global cannon of cultural production is to have a bit of the madness.

I’m here to tell you that the road to sound, awe-inspiring art is not paved with crazy, but with commitment as so many of my gifted friends can attest to. Wearing mismatched clothing does not mean they’re crazy. It’s called creative.

The real-life impact of my noncompliance is that I am impossible to be around. In the course of an hour I can cry, laugh, fight and collapse. And I am not committed to any one thing but am constantly fraught with indecision, irrational logic and can’t see the forest for the tress. Match that with candy and shoes and take pity on my poor wife.

Eventually, after much badgering and begging from the woman who has had to live with me, I called a dear friend and asked her to pick up my eight pills for $86 dollars and send them to Berlin. In another week or so I should be levelheaded and able to clearly reflect on how not taking my medication makes me crazy, and not in a good way.

Future
After our time in Lucca, and one day in Milan, my wife and I will head to the sleepy German town of Konstanz to spend time with a friend who is expecting her second child at the beginning of September. Her husband, talented jeweller Peter Schmidt, will be away in the United States. Due to the enormous size of her abdomen, her already live toddler and the four storeys she must walk up to simply reach her front door, we’re there not only to hang out and swim from Germany to Switzerland and back again in the Rhine (my wife’s driving force), but to help.

And as much as I am happy to do it — looking forward to it in fact — I also can’t help but think it’s my chance to pay into the universe what I would have been paying had we been at home these past few months.

My cousin (and also my friend) just had a little baby girl. By the time we get home Audrey Grace will be almost five months old.

There are many things that we have already missed this year (a friend’s 40th birthday, our “boys” wedding, our couple bbf’s big move, a dear friend’s departure from the city, my mother’s 70th birthday party) but the arrival of the new Slone I am surprisingly sad to have missed. I have known the cousin/friend since she was a child, since I was a child and since we were children together. And now, despite what we might have thought at 12, 22, or 32, she has one of her own.

I’m looking forward to meeting her and telling her all about her mom. Boring her with story after story about her great-grandparents. And knowing her since she was a child. Past, present and future.