Living on the Edge: Day Eighty-Four

Ella knows I don’t like heights. Okay, saying don’t like is understating it. I HATE heights. And that’s why she keeps doing arranging them for me. My different today was the EdgeWalk on the CN tower. There I’d been strapped into a harness, wearing an almost identical orange jumpsuit from the indoor parachuting place, 116 storeys above the ground. Just typing that made my legs shake and my stomach flip.

Please don’t get me wrong. They prepared us really well. Nobody had gotten hurt—or died—doing this. Still, I wish I’d grabbed a parachute when we drove into the parking lot of the Niagara Skydiving Centre. Wait . . . didn’t people jump from things like this wearing parachutes? Funny, I didn’t get a parachute from there but it seemed like I was wearing the same ugly orange jumpsuit.

Ella had always seemed so fearless in taking part in the differents. Today even she seemed nervous. She was trying to put on a brave face, but when Ella stops talking you know there’s something going on. Our group included two kids who had to be at least thirteen—because you had to be that old to do it—and a woman celebrating her 81st birthday who had been given it by her family. My goodness, did her family not like her? Did they want to give her a heart attack? Of course, she didn’t seem worried at all. She was the most relaxed person in our group.

After going through the process of signing up, we were escorted to an area where we were all asked to change into those ugly jumpsuits and take off all our jewelry and anything that could fall off or get caught on something. Then the EdgeWalk staff reviewed the procedures and showed us a short video to ensure we had all the information required to be safe. One guy asked multiple questions about each step of each procedure, wanting to know more details about how it all worked. He was obviously uneasy about the whole experience. We even completed a breathalyzer to make sure none of us were under the influence of alcohol. I got the need for everybody to be sober. I also understood why somebody would want to drink before doing this. We were about to walk 116 stories above the ground!

I’d like to tell you that when my turn came that I bravely walked out. Instead I was led—almost numb—up an elevator and through a narrow corridor. I was then hitched by a series of intricate belts and clamps to the harness safety mechanism that follows you around as you walk on the 5 feet-wide ledge encircling the outside of the top of the CN Tower. Five feet wide—who couldn’t balance themselves on a 5 feet-wide surface I kept saying in my head? I said it over and over, trying to convince myself.

As I took my first tentative step out onto the platform 1168 feet in the air, I thought that I was going to pass out, held in place by my harness but unconscious. I took the next step and the next, trying not to look up or down or over—but those were my only choices unless I closed my eyes and that certainly wasn’t going to make this safer!

Okay, I’d like to tell you that I overcame my fears, rose above it and started to enjoy every single second of it. I try not to lie. I did it. Forty minutes long and I did start to look out—not down, but out—and I saw the city spreading out before me. There was the lake, the islands in the distance, the Billy Bishop Airport looking like a model with tiny planes landing. OMG—there were planes flying by that were lower than me! I was higher than airplanes!

At one point there was a roar and I startled before realizing that down below me there were 50,000 Lego-sized fans cheering because the Blue Jays had just scored a run. Go Jays Go, but please no more runs until I get off the Edge.

Then, at the end, knowing I only had a few more feet to go I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. I looked out over Lake Ontario. It was breathtaking how the sun reflected and sparked off the water. It was beautiful. I was seeing the world from an angle I’d never had experienced. And I was seeing it through eyes that had always been too afraid to look at some things. I took the last few steps and climbed back in through the corridor. I had done it. I was safe. And then my legs just started to shake so badly that I almost couldn’t walk.

Shout Hurray! Day Seventy-Six

When is a streetcar ride not just a streetcar ride? When Ella arranges it. The ride started okay, block-by-block nothing except watching out the window and wondering what Ella had in mind. I figured the ride was the way to get to the different. Instead it was where the different was going to take place. Ella leaned over the back of the seat in front of me, looked me in the eyes and asked: “Are you happy?” I mumbled something like ‘sure’ and then she asked, much, much louder. “Well, are you happy?” she repeated impatiently.

I thought about it for a moment, thinking this was a serious question. It had really been a pretty amazing summer, so I answered: “Yeah. Yeah, I am. I’m happy”. Then, she said, “Then you really ought to show it.”

My brain suddenly connected the dots. My heart jumped into my throat. OMG! Memories of my childhood came flooding back. Singing songs in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and 2, birthdays with clowns and party games and sitting around the campfire with Mom and Dad singing songs into the night.

That’s when Ella told me the different. I was to break into song on a streetcar filled with strangers, in the middle of the summer with the windows wide open. Ella reminded me that I’d already sung in public at the karaoke club and then she dared me.

I looked sheepishly around the streetcar. We were about half way downtown, less than two minutes until we got to the end of the line. It was now or never. I started singing—not too loud but loud enough for the people right around me to hear. People looked around, wondering where the singing was coming from. Ella and I clapped our hands the right spot. As I kept singing, repeating the verse, the man across the aisle and his daughter—who was about 5—clapped with us. Then she started singing along. Ella joined in. Two children and their mother starting singing and then there was a deep baritone voice as I realized that the driver had joined in and was singing through his microphone.

One by one more voices joined until it seemed like everybody had joined in. People who had looked bored, or angry, suddenly seemed happy. All around us there were cameras being pulled out and pictures taken. Finally, the streetcar came to a stop and everybody cheered. What a wonderful different. And really, I was happy.

Two blocks remained until our stop. There was no quitting now. As the bus carried us through the next two intersections, people on the street stopped to stare as a bus full of strangers sang out loud and laughed together…

“If you’re happy and you know it, shout hurray”.

As the streetcar pulled up to our stop and strangers yelled “Hurray”, Ella and I jumped out into the oppressive heat of the summer and started our day, with smiles etched in our faces.

—jpxd

Day Seventy-Two: Crickets…

Why is 6 so afraid of 7?
Because 7 8 9!

Some months have 30 days. Some have 31 days. How many have 28 days?
They all do!

A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant says “I’m sorry but we only allow each passenger two carrions.”

Today’s different was Amateur Comedy Night and it was a 100% total disaster. Nobody, absolutely nobody, found my jokes funny. The room was simply dead silent. Not a chuckle. Not a smile. Not even an eye roll. As I squirmed on the stage, knees knocking and dying inside, all I could think about was magically disappearing through a hole in the floor.

Yep, it was painful. Root canal painful. But what made it worse was this different was not a surprise. Ella understood my discomfort for new things, so she told me that morning what we’d be doing that night. I had time to prepare. Time to research and write jokes. Time to practice my stage presence and delivery. Yet even with the ten hours she gave me to get it together, this different was an epic fail.

After my brutal performance, Ella gave me an A for preparation, effort and resilience. But no A for sense of humour. More “needs improvement” or a D. I felt horrible. Like any best friend, Ella comforted me. She told me she thought I was funny. She told me my dad and brother thought so too. And deep in my heart, I knew that I was. I had cracked up a whole room in the past. Just not tonight. Not for this different. I moped around for a bit but then stopped. I was not letting one bad experience define me. I was better than that. I got an A for resilience! I just needed to let go and move on.

Which reminded me of something Mom always told me. If plan A fails, don’t forget there are 25 letters left. So I’m going to try this again. New audience, new jokes. Here you go blog readers, here’s a couple exclusives for you:

H.O.M.E.W.O.R.K = Half Of My Energy Wasted On Random Knowledge

Knock! Knock!
Who’s there?
Ho-Ho
Ho-Ho Who?
You know, your Santa impression could use a little work.

What do you call someone that doesn’t fart in public?
A private tutor.

Ha! Ha! LOL! Bet you laughed this time!

—jpxd

Ye Olde Different Sixty-Seven

I’ve thrown all sorts of balls—most recently jugging balls into the air. I once threw a tomato at a teacher for charity—I had to pay $5.00 and missed him by a mile. I’ve thrown a temper tantrum or two. And I’ve thrown a couple of dirty looks in my time. I’ve never thrown an axe—until today. The words axe and throwing don’t normally fit into the same sentence. But there I was at ‘Ye Olde Axe Throwing’ facility being instructed on the art of tossing axes.
I joked with Ella—yesterday paintball and today axe throwing so what weapon should I expect for tomorrow. She told me there was no weapon but we could expect shooting. I tried to get her to tell me what that meant. But she wouldn’t. Ella was consistent in keeping these things from me. Tomorrow I’d find out. Today I had to focus on the axe in my hand.
They weren’t your typical chopping wood type of axes. These were smaller, thinner and specifically especially designed for throwing. Okay, who would think that anybody would be designing axes to be thrown? They were black, all metal, thin and surprisingly light. Not surprisingly they were sharp to the touch.
Our instructor was a big, burly man with a thick beard and was dressed in a red flannel shirt. He was, basically, a lumberjack. Hello Paul Bunyan! That was reassuring because if anybody would know about throwing axes, it should be a lumberjack.
On the back wall were the targets—which were cross-section cuts of logs. That seemed as fitting as the instructor being a lumberjack. He showed us how it was done by tossing three axes. Each went into the target with a solid thump. He made it seem easy. It wasn’t.
My first three tosses didn’t work. The first one didn’t even come close to hitting the target but smashed against the wall. The next two wobbled and hit it sideways. Instead of a thump there was a thud followed by a clank as they hit the floor. Ella wasn’t any better with her throws. We got a few more instructions—“throw it, don’t aim it”—we were ready again.
I’d like to tell you that the next three all went straight into the target—dead centre. But I’d be lying. It wasn’t until eight shots later that I got one to stick. It was the side of the target—with the back of the axe—which was also sharp…but it stayed.
I have to admit that it did look pretty cool. And I did like the fact that there was minimal risk, no heights, no snakes, and no crowd to witness it all. I wasn’t good at it but axe throwing was actually fun.
I only have one question: what did Ella mean that tomorrow would have shooting but no weapons? Please if anybody is reading this and has any idea could you message or tweet!

Dating, on Speed

Speed dating? Really? I thought the plan was to not date anybody this summer and now I’m making up for it all at once. Although this wasn’t really dating. I was with Luke for two years ‘til he dumped me and with that now behind me, I’ve been single for less than a month. But I promised to do everything Ella had organized so, as freaked out as I felt, there was no turning back.

The bus ride downtown did not calm my nerves. Neither did the bright sign on the door of the café. “Welcome to Teen Speed Dating!” Did I mention not interested? Not looking? Happy solo? Ella was right about that. Being on my own is almost restful.

Ella and I checked in with the organizer. Macey was a cheery 20-something lady, and the only laid-back person in the café. I scanned the room. These were my potential “dates.” Everyone looked nervous. Uncertain. Even petrified, like I’m sure I did. Macey asked if anyone had speed dated before and we all looked down at our shoes or were suddenly fascinated by the pictures hanging on the wall. I instantly felt better because I was not alone in being new to this thing. Macey smiled warmly and explained how it worked. Ladies sat at tables in a row like an assembly line. Gentlemen travelled. A bell rang every five minutes. You had those five minutes to get to know the person in front of you and to see if there was chemistry. Guys rotated tables. Six “dates” in a half hour. Ella and I grabbed tables next to each other. For comfort? For safety? Probably more so that we could overhear each other. I felt like rolling my eyes and laughing, but I didn’t. I was determined to survive dating boot camp if it killed me.

Macey rang the bell and the “dating” began.

8:00pm My first date sat totally silent. Looked at the walls. Gazed at the table. Stared at his hands in his lap. Hello? He tried uttering a few words but none of them were comprehensible enough to hear or understand. It was the longest five minutes of my life. DING!

8:05pm My second date seemed less nervous. After introductions we made small talk. But it felt forced and unnatural. He was trying too hard and maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Awkward! DING!

8:10pm My third date was totally different. Nathan inundated me with millions of questions. Name? High school? Best subject? Favourite food? Summer plans? Life goals? The questions kept coming and coming, and my mouth went dry as a desert. It felt like some type of job interview or maybe a police interrogation! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be hired, arrested or asked out. DING!

8:15pm My fourth date was Suresh. We chatted easily about school, family pets and summer holidays. Just as we got into a good conversation about movies, we were sadly interrupted with a DING! I could have actually dated him.

8:20pm While I was still thinking about Suresh, Jerome slid into the seat. My fifth date complimented my hair, my top and my smile. Said I was beautiful. Said I was smart. He didn’t even know me. Creep vibes. DING!

8:25pm My last date was a sports nut still in love with his ex. Mitchell took her to baseball games. Basketball games. Hockey games. Concerts. He described all the good times that they had. I told him it sounded fun and I was sure she enjoyed it? What else could I say? Baggage. DING!

It was 8:30pm and I had survived speed dating! I was relieved and intrigued with this fascinating new experience. I’d never do it again, but it opened my eyes to seeing the different ways people do some of the most basic things in life. I looked over at Ella but she didn’t see me. She was still talking with date number six. Ella was like that. Connecting came easy; she could let her whole self out there any time. It was one of the reasons I loved her. Eventually we linked arms and walked out to the bus stop. As we laughed and shared stories of our dates, our conversation flowed freely. Easily. So naturally. Happily single BFFs.

—jpxd

Opening My Eyes

The last few differents Ella has given me have been way out of my comfort zone. I’ve felt scared, exhilarated, unsure and giddy. Yet today’s different was a whole new experience. It totally. Slowed. Me. Down. And not just physically. It actually changed the way I processed things mentally. It made me come to a dead stop and think.

Today I was blindfolded for the day. I couldn’t see anything, and had to adjust the way I did regular things. The morning started off pretty well. Brushing my teeth was easy; the challenge was getting the toothpaste on the toothbrush. I didn’t worry about what my hair looked like because I just threw it in a ponytail. Getting dressed was manageable because it was just like getting dressed in the dark. So what if pouring the milk on my cereal wasn’t totally successful… when I say not successful, I mean it was a disaster. The milk, it was everywhere.

But when Ella took me downtown, my whole perspective changed. As I walked down my street to the bus stop, I kicked over three garbage cans. When we crossed the street, I tripped on the curb and skinned my knee. When the bus pulled up, Ella had to guide me up the steps to get on and she had to help me to pay my fare. Downtown people rushed by, jostling me around left and right like a ball in a pinball machine. I felt frustrated, impatient, and dependent all day.

There are many people in the world who are visually impaired. Were these some of the things they experienced each day? What would it be like to live in their shoes?
Travelling on the bus or a plane would be difficult. Handling money would be hard. Do workplaces provide special tools for employees? Are social innovators trying to invent wearable technologies that help visually impaired people to see? How did my life become so insulated that this was all new to me? I was embarrassed I’d never considered this before. Hadn’t been more aware. Hadn’t listened more carefully. Maybe even hadn’t been more helpful when asked.

This different made me think in ways I should have been thinking before. How could I be part of creating change? What action could I take to make society more inclusive? As teenagers, we sometimes feel insignificant. Invisible. But we actually have serious power. For example, we know how to get messages out. Email. Tweeting. Blogs. We could write a politician. Start a petition. Volunteer. Join a local advocacy group. Walk in a protest march. There’s so many ways we can raise our voices and step up to make the world a more inclusive and empathetic place. We aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow. We can actually be leaders today!

—jpxd

Circus School: Juggling 101

Before I tried it, I told Ella that today’s different was totally lame. I had basically been juggling my whole life. In fact, I’d always had tons of balls in the air. School assignments. Essays. Babysitting opportunities. Tests. School sports. Studying for exams. Oliver’s cranky requests for help. Jobs around the house. So while this was a whole new type of juggling, how hard could it really be?
Juggle Ellen Page
The sign at the door of the school said “We promise with an hour of your time, three balls and our instruction, you will learn to juggle”. I rolled my eyes. Please. 15 minutes max was all that was needed for this different.
Was I ever wrong.
juggling
When the class started, the instructor explained that juggling was a fantastic way to improve reflexes, relieve stress and get exercise. Not sure standing in one place juggling was exercise but I wasn’t going to argue his point. He handed out beanbags to the class. BEANBAGS!! LOL! I hadn’t seen a beanbag since I was in Grade 3. Come on. Where were the knives? The firesticks? Bring on the real danger!
After a quick demonstration, we were taught the “cascading pattern” and sent off to practice. Right hand to left. Switch. Right hand to left. Switch. After 10 minutes, the only things cascading were my beanbags all over the floor. After 20 minutes, I started to get it. The “less thinking and more feeling” thing really worked. Maybe that customer satisfaction guarantee was true.
Harry Styles Juggling
The balls and pins came out next. They were definitely way bigger and heavier than the beanbags. I picked up the pins and took a deep breath. One. Two. Three. Pins flew everywhere! “Less thinking, more feeling” was no longer applicable. This needed a whole new level of hand-eye coordination. I gathered the pins from the floor and tried again. Another epic fail.
juggle fail
It was good to know gravity still worked and at least I didn’t hit someone this time! The third time was the charm. Only one pin fell to the floor and I had two pins left in my hands! Progress!
The hour flew by. There’s no way I would ever be signing up for a full time job in the circus. But if someone called in sick, I’d be open to a guest appearance if requested.

—jpxd