Alone: A Love Story

Chapter 13: The Saddest Optimist

Princess Leia, engagement rings, part-time parenting and music in the MRI ...
She's wearing her Supergirl costume. Again. I let her wear it whenever she wants, what's the difference? (Ben Shannon/CBC)
Listen to the full episode27:43

A time limit on feeling sorry for myself

Sometime in the first weeks after The Bomb, I was waiting for the elevator at work and saw an ad on one of the bulletin boards. It was for a personal trainer and was targeted specifically to women. It had those little tabs at the bottom with the trainer's email address and I pulled one off and put it in my wallet for later. For six months later specifically, since that's the time limit I imposed on feeling sorry for myself.

Yes, I gave myself a time limit. And sure, maybe you could argue, six years later I haven't totally stopped feeling sorry for myself. But I have come a long way, baby.

Anyway, back then, in March 2012, I put that little ripped tab into my wallet and spent the next six months drinking and crying and behaving badly. And then one day, it was time. So I wrote her an email and I told her everything. And then we began training. She was as amazing and important as I make her out to be in this story.

Past in present

There's a little vignette in this chapter called Past in Present, which is the title of one of my favourite Feist songs. It just seemed to fit perfectly, this scene of seeing these collages that The Ex-husband had made of us when we were younger. To have our happy past displayed in front of me, there in that darkest of present moments (the first six months of our separation) was just a bit too much. When past and present collide, it's a killer of a thing, you know? I know you know.

Mother and daughter in parallel play

The vignette called When She's Here makes me so happy I cry every single time I hear it. It's the perfect example of why working with Veronica Simmonds on Alone: A Love Story is so great. She's able to ask me the right questions, or gives the right suggestions that take my writing and make it a billion times better.

Michelle relaxes in to being a part-time parent. 0:19
5-year-old Birdie builds a stool

This vignette was actually originally called When She's Gone and it was fine, but it was just me telling you how sad I was when my daughter wasn't in my apartment.

Veronica wondered if I could look at it from another way — not telling you about when she was gone, but showing you what it's like when she's here.

Birdie at every age slips tiny notes into my purse for me to find later.

Awesome, right? I turned around and just started typing immediately. And all these mini-vignettes about Birdie at different ages came pouring out of me.

And then I read it to Veronica who burst into tears here at our desks as I did it. And then I told her she was the greatest, which she is, and then we recorded this and she mixed it and it's SO good!

I have never felt luckier in my 22-year career than I do every day I work with Veronica on this. She's the radio love of my life, hands down.

She reminded me in this moment to focus on when my daughter was with me, not when she wasn't. What a gift!

In one of the little moments, I talk about how Birdie and I are walking in the park and end up being in one of my pal's videos.

That pal is Odario Williams, now the host of CBC Music After Dark, but also of the band Grand Analog.

You can see Birdie and I in this video, and I have a cast because I'd just broken my arm playing soccer the week before! That didn't stop me from dancing though. No way.

I never even wanted a ring, you know

One day in July 2012, I was on the TTC and this woman was standing in front of the seat I was in.

Her hand was gripped around the pole and it had a giant sparkling diamond engagement ring on it that was practically slicing my nose off. The first line of the vignette Rings came to me immediately in that moment:

I only ever think about them when I'm on public transit. Engagement rings.

Because it was true. Then the next line of this vignette came to me and then the next, and suddenly the whole story was crowding my head. I knew I'd forget if I didn't write it down, but of all the days, I didn't have a notebook on me! That's because I was going on a date and had my smaller dancing purse instead of my usual, bigger purse.

But you can't stop me from writing!

And so this entire vignette was actually written on the back of six receipts that I had in my wallet. At least I had a pen! The next day I transcribed it on my laptop. It makes me SO SAD that now I can't find those receipts! I save EVERYTHING, but where are they??? Heartbreaking.

Michelle never wanted a ring. 0:28

I also mention in this story that we had Princess Leia and Han Solo on our wedding cake in place of the traditional bride & groom. We did! Isn't it cute?

A pretty, sad girl

This is just me, I guess, The Saddest Optimist! A pretty, sad girl who never gives up hope.

This is how this whole chapter ends and it's also where the chapter title comes from. Many years ago, I was telling stories about endless hospital visits and other things and then I called myself The Saddest Optimist. A friend of mine said "You HAVE to put that in your book!"

Anyway, in Chapter 4: Impossible See from Season 1, I talk about being diagnosed with MS in 2008, and all the MRIs I had to have, etc. In this vignette A Pretty Sad Girl, I take you along with me in the bowels of St. Mike's, the old hospital I was born in and also go to get my MRIs in.

I also talk a lot about how I hear music in the MRI. Several years ago, I made a radio documentary about hearing music in the MRI for the show I run called Spark. For this vignette, I cribbed a bit from that script (or that script cribbed from my original Alone manuscript? Hard to say, but it's all me anyway!)

I think it's fascinating that some of us hear music in the MRI and some people just hear noise. In 2009, French musician Charlotte Gainsbourg released an entire album inspired by her experiences inside of an MRI machine. She even called the album "IRM" which is French for MRI.

When I first heard the album, I couldn't believe how it transported me back inside the machine. I love how she took the rhythm of the magnet's coils and built on it. So cool.

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