Postcards From Vegas

The airplane window is cool against my forehead. I know the vast expanse of black below is the desert and I wish it were light outside so I could see it. The inky void gives me the same sick, small feeling as the ocean. Little lights and street grids emerge and suburbia unfolds. Then tall buildings and flashing lights, a frenzy of color. Vegas looks just like the movies.

Photo by Dave.D Photography

The airport is a hive, even at 11 pm. It’s actually 2 am for me, and I’m resisting the urge to whine about getting into bed. I’ve never done tired well. We roll our suitcases for miles. I teeter at the top of the escalator, and then try to imagine getting on in heels after a few martinis. This feeling is to become the one I associate most with Vegas.

Nekky apologies profusely for the hotel (the Rio), insisting we got a great rate, and it’s most convenient because that’s where the conference is. It seems silly to apologize. I wasn’t even planning on going, and was happy that we found cheap airfare. The outside of the hotel makes me think of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. Inside, the lobby of the Rio smells like the air freshener they use at bus stations. Then it smells like the smoky bowling alleys my parents would drag me to when I was four. It looks like the movies here too, but not the ones with George Clooney.

The check-in line has us waiting for over an hour at 12 am, which is now my 3 am. I want to cry. A huge monitor above the reception desk loops various attractions: an art exhibit by an ‘iconic American artist’ I’ve never heard of, a topless country and western review, The Thunder from Down Under (naked Aussie men who all look identical, except one has a ponytail), and an orange-skinned pair of entertainers wearing what can only be described as ‘sexy for Jesus’ outfits. I shudder as I realize they are Donny and Marie.

The lobby is louder than the tarmac and the people at the gaming tables are expressionless and badly dressed. A dealer takes over for her colleague. She wears a sports jersey and her hair and makeup are perfect. Her smile is inviting until the table empties, and then she stares off into space. Is she thinking about her kids? The bills that need to get paid? Her boyfriend who sometimes scares her? Whatever it is, we both know it could be worse.

Our room is a corner suite with a spectacular view of the strip. There’s a Ferris wheel in the centre of everything that doesn’t seem to be moving. Later I learn that each pod is a slowly rotating bar. I know Nekky wants to go for a drink, but I can’t possibly, so I slip into my pjs.

“What’s Adam up to?” I ask.

Adam is Nekky’s old friend from the conference circuit, and he’s most of the reason why we go to these things.

“He doesn’t get in until tomorrow,” Nekky smiles. “But it’s okay babe, pace yourself.”

We lie on our bed and look at Vegas shows on Nekky’s laptop, finally deciding on Absinthe because it was most recommended by our friends, and because it was the raunchier of the circus offerings. I’m eager to see how Vegas tackles cirque burlesque. I learn that both Penn and Teller and the Chippendales have a residency in my hotel. Magic for everyone.

I fall asleep as Nekky orders tickets and makes a reservation at a steakhouse in Caesar’s Palace for after the show. Thursday night will be our date night, just the two of us in Vegas.

The sunrise wakes me up because we didn’t bother to close the curtains. Everything is pink and golden and we are surrounded by red mountains that call to me. I check the brochures to find out if I can get to them. Time and budget make this impossible.

We get dressed and I spend an hour putting on makeup. Nekky wants to take me to the Wynn, a schmancy resort, and go window shopping. He doesn’t have to be in conference mode until later in the afternoon.

“You won’t believe this place,” he says.

In the lobby of the Wynn is an indoor garden. Giant orbs of bright flowers dangle over a lush jungle. I know better than to ask if they’re real. There’s a foot path over a koi pond leading to a carousel made entirely of blossoms.

We walk into Chanel. I make eye contact with the slender shop girl and pretend that I belong there. She looks immediately at my shoes and catches my lie. Next stop, Cartier. The handsome man with the impeccable suit and white cotton glove indulges us because the store is empty. He has the good grace not to wince as I remove the gaudy pendant from my favorite thrift shop to try on a $15,000 necklace.

“I’ll just give you my card and you can get whatever you like,” Nekky says.

I laugh too loud, but the clerk doesn’t let the smile leave his warm, brown eyes. I decide he’s genuinely kind, and is therefore pretending to fit in here too.

More shops, and my sinking feeling gets deeper. Who are the people who can drop three grand on a purse and not want to throw up afterwards? Could I ever? We stroll through the gaming floor, which is prettier than the Rio, but just as stinky. The guests here are better looking, and I notice a few outfits, on actual people, that I’d love to snap photos of.

The menu posted outside the buffet makes us drool, and we’re pleasantly surprised by the price. I’m wearing a strapless denim romper that can barely contain my ass, yet the hostess turns us away because Nekky is in a tank top. She is gracious, and encourages us to visit the gift shop for a t-shirt. We drop $30 on a shirt that clings to his delicious muscles, and the lunch is still a great deal.

We eat for hours, and enjoy some of the freshest, most delicious food I’ve ever tasted. I can stay low carb (minus the bottomless glass of wine, and the essential trip to the dessert buffet), so I don’t feel disgusting once I’ve had my fill. The place is utopian; vaulted ceilings, marble everywhere, a riot of flowers cascading from the ceiling, brilliant sunshine pouring in. The wine has made me feel beautiful, and Nekky’s got this gleam in his eye that tells me we should have skipped dessert and used the extra time back at the hotel.

Outside it’s 100 degrees. I haven’t felt this hot all summer. I lie on cool white sheets and watch a home reno show while Nekky quickly changes for work. I follow him down and hit the pool, where I’m scheduled to meet Marty, a friend from college who happens to be in Vegas. I haven’t seen him in eighteen years.

Marty is quieter than I remember. He’s got less hair and a few extra pounds, but he’s still handsome. He always had this slightly impish quality that women found very endearing. It’s like no time has passed. We catch up on each other’s divorce details and parenting anecdotes over margaritas in sippy cups, our feet dangling in the pool. He’s also here for a conference, and it’s his last night. I invite him out with us later. We’re going out with Nekky’s conference crew and I warn him that I can’t predict what will happen.

A nap in the hotel room. A wardrobe change, and more makeup. I try for fake lashes, and immediately feel regret as the glue makes my left eye start to drool (which continues through the rest of the evening). We meet Marty in the lobby of the Venetian, another posh hotel. People are still smoking everywhere.

Dinner is at SushiSamba, but I’m not hungry, even for Brazillian/Japanese fusion. I get sandwiched in a booth with about twelve people. Conversation is fantastic, particularly with a young man named Brian. I love how brilliant he is, and I’m amused by his stories of hedonism, non-monogamy and circus people. Sometimes it’s better to listen quietly and let people assume what they want about me.

Finally Adam slides into our side of the booth. I haven’t even really said a proper hello yet. Adam is the funniest person I ‘ve ever met. He’s not the type to wear loud shirts or monopolize attention. His funny is the deadly kind; the outrageous by-product of a genius intellect and an attitude of zero fucks given. Adam seems subdued, but it’s early yet. We settle up the bill by throwing twelve different credit cards in the centre of the table. I wonder if the server wants to kill us.

Half our party goes home to bed, and the rest of us go off in search of adventure, Adam at the helm, and Marty happily in tow. We end up in a Rock and Roll themed bar. A middle-aged man grabs us as we saunter by. He gives us all drink coupons, and escorts us through no less than three levels of entry until we finally end up in a sparsely-populated space with a stage. A band is tuning up to play. If there are other women in the bar, I don’t see them. A guy sitting at a table in front of us looks at me the same way I eyed a pair of boots in the Alexander McQueen store earlier.

I perch on a stool right in front of the band, because I’m not willing to make my way through the bleary-eyed men at the back of the bar. Marty stays with me and an old hippie named Paul, while the others hit the bar for drinks. He’s hanging in there, Marty. I wonder what he thinks of this Vegas version of me. Does he think I live like this at home? He seems amused by our aimless wandering, and up for anything that might come at him. It’s kind of like theatre school all over again.

The drummer from the band is 25, tops. The bass player, maybe 24. The singer/guitarist looks like he’s pushing 50. This disparity makes me nervous. I don’t have a poker face. If they suck, I won’t be able to hide it.

“Hi there, who are you here with?” The singer begins his set by speaking into the mic and addressing me.

I sit up straighter on my stool. “I’m here with myself,” I volley. He glances at Marty.

“Oh yeah?” he sneers, “Cause I was gonna say, that guy is much better looking than the ones you’re usually with.”

The drunk guy at the table guffaws. Paul the hippie shakes his head, and Marty’s eyebrows shoot up. My face is like stone. I don’t blink, despite the hot sensation that is creeping up my neck.

“That’s an old joke. Sometimes it’s funny,” the singer says, and then launches the band into their first song.

I’ve been on stage most of my life. In no universe would I begin a performance by insulting my audience.

The band is decent, though there’s no way I’m enjoying them now. Every time I glance in the direction of drunk table guy, he’s staring at me like he’s had a stroke. Finally, Nekky and Adam return with drinks. I try not to chug mine, eager to get the hell out of there. I tell Adam about what has happened with the band. Adam glances at the singer, then he wanders off.

Moments later he returns with a giant Connect Four game; the one that stacks coins in a vertical grid until you complete a matching row. It’s nearly as tall as he is, like the rolling black boards of my elementary school days. He parks it before me and as all of our party watches, slack-jawed, he begins to try to get the pieces out of the grid. Everyone knows you pull the lever at the bottom, and they all drop out, but Adam is meticulous. He makes a silent show of painstakingly sliding each and every piece out of the top of the game, and drops it on the floor with a tremendous clatter. Soon the rest of my company is in on the action, and I’m laughing so hard, my fake lashes come loose. The band leader looks like he wants to punch someone. I’m willing to bet I’ll be first.

After the song ends, he says, “Yeah, go ahead everyone. There’s lots of games here, just make yourselves at home and pull one up to play. We don’t mind a bit.” His smile stops at his lips.

We meet a couple who are about to stage a fake wedding to fool their work friends into thinking they got married in Vegas. At first, we agree it might be fun to get in on their farce when she asks me to be her maid of honour, but then I learn (from the woman, who can barely make consonant sounds at this point) that they are an actual couple, who have both left marriages and children to be together. She really, truly wants to get married. He doesn’t.

“I can’t take part of your sham marriage, because it’s kind of cruel. Also, you both deserve to have a real one,” I say. I blow them kisses as we leave the bar. For a second, I think the woman might leave with us.

Adam takes us to a casino called Ellis Island. This place falls several Michelin stars below the Rio, where we are staying. I try to pretend I’m not scared, but I refuse to hike across the gaming floor to the bathrooms without an escort. This is where people who actually live in Vegas hang out, and this crowd isn’t like the one at the Venetian. A woman in stained velour pajamas with a full set of rollers in her hair stares blankly at a slot machine as a cigarette dangles from her lip, begging to be ashed. There might actually be a full set of teeth between the four guys at a gaming table to my right.

We’re here for karaoke. The bar is rammed, and I flip through the massive binder of selections. I must choose my song carefully on this strange turf. As the next singer takes to the stage, I realize many of the patrons are regulars, and actual singers. Really good singers. I play it safe and choose Nancy Sinatra. It will be two hours before it’s my turn to get on stage.

Just before I go up, a beautiful full-figured girl in a summer dress takes her turn.

“I came here to Vegas to chase down the man that I love and bring him home. He ended up choosing the other girl.”

She’s not that drunk, but her emotion gets in the way of her Mariah Carey ballad. It’s a shit-show of confused octaves and poorly-planned high notes, but the crowd is endlessly supportive.

I follow her act, and dedicate my song, ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’, to her. What I lack in vocal range, I make up for in choreography. In my mind, I’m in the Clooney version of Vegas, but we’ve traveled back in time to the sixties and George loves the way I pedal out the Mashed Potato in my white go-go boots. Sad girl and I hug it out afterward. None of my friends take the stage, but we stay long enough to close the bar.

I’m too wired to sleep until the sun starts to rise. My hotel room wind-down is the final three episodes of the series we’ve been watching. Nekky is kind enough to close the curtains before leaving for the conference in the morning. Four hours of sleep is all I manage before my body says it’s time to get up and face Vegas again.

To Be Continued…

Total Eclipse

I’m having one of those forget-to-pack-your-underwear, take-the-wrong-keys, leave-your-cell-phone-at-a-coffee-shop kind of weeks.

I suppose it’s okay, because all of the heavy-duty brain power was required on Monday and Tuesday. What’s not okay is how badly I want to be my kids, with nothing to really do but try to fill the hours between waking up and hitting the pillow once again. I would trade a kidney for the opportunity to be bored.

But how marvellous to have so many interesting, rewarding things to fill my time! Great causes, important stories, beautiful connections. All of the work I do, paid and unpaid is meaningful and rewarding. I may not be rich, but I feel full. Of light. Of love. Of purpose.

I stepped out of a coffee shop as the sky was the deep lavender of twilight. The moon was the dantiest crescent; the celestial equivalent of a raised pinky finger. The night creepers were singing and the air smelled like the summers I remembered from my childhood. I paused, hand on minivan, and just breathed it all in.

I’m pretty sure that breath was what made me realize my phone was still on the vinyl bench inside. The shop, not my van.

So, take a moment friend. Breathe in the air. Dance in the warm rain. Listen to the crickets. Put your feet up. Summer is winding down, but there’s still time for a sticky chin and the smell of camp fire in your hair.

Summer of Love

I guess it would be nice to let you know next time before I vanish. Okay, how about this? What if I promise to post once a week? If we set up some expectations, and deadlines, I think I can commit. Wednesdays are a great day. What if I promise to post on Wednesdays? Will that make everything okay between us again?

It’s not an excuse, but I’ve been busy. Travel, breaking up with my toxic landlady, moving, housewarming, teaching, finishing a novel, fundraising, hosting family, trying to enjoy hanging with my kids over the summer. You’ve been busy too. There’s no hard feelings here. In fact, why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to in the comments?

Meanwhile, here’s my summer thus far, in photos:


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May Rambling

The blossoms and bulbs in my garden insist that Spring is here, but the temperature has yet to get on board with this plan. I’m itching to get out there to weed and tidy up, but at the moment I’ve got a giant, gauze-wrapped foot preventing me from doing more things than I care to think about. My days in this idyllic country setting are numbered, and I’m watching Mother Nature weave her magic through a dirty bedroom window. At least she’s kind enough to send rain all week so I don’t feel trapped.

We’re moving in June. Staying here in the Niagara region, heading closer to the school. We’ve traded this huge, rambling old home with it’s eighties country decor and massive yard for a brand new build in a subdivision. The new house is very clean. It has beautiful fixtures and simple, neutral colors. There’s space enough for all of us, and the yard is an easy-to-maintain postage stamp. No pool here, but a community pool a short walk away, with a huge playground and soccer field. Best of all, a distant relationship with the property management company that is leasing the place. If my current landlord/tenant situation wasn’t so toxic, we would have stayed here indefinitely. I’ve never lived in a brand new home. The gleaming kitchen on the open concept first floor has me giddy.

Meanwhile, I’m dipping my toes into the waters of packing and purging. The healthy toes, that is. I’ve just had bunion surgery on my left foot, and let’s face it, I’m a baby when it comes to physical pain. I’m healing well, but I’m slowed by this process at a time when all I want to do is exert control over my environment. We need to get organized, but I’m operating at 3/4 speed. I keep telling myself that it’s for the best. That maybe I’d burn out and feel even more stressed if I could take on everything I want to tackle right now. I feel like an easier, more relaxed version of myself.

None of my pants fit over my bandaged foot, so I’m forced to wear skirts and dresses, which leaves me feeling softer, more maternal, like the magnolia blossoms unfurling in the front yard. Little details make a world of difference sometimes.

My week-long writing retreat happened, thanks to the wonderful support I received from friends and family. I chose Stratford, off season. Initially, I wanted a cottage in the middle of nowhere but I thought that might be too isolated and too lonely. Next time, that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’d never gone somewhere by myself to write. I spent so much time drowning in self-doubt and wading through feelings of futility, that it was all-too-tempting to go for a walk or visit a cafe to try to distract myself. Despite this, I was able to make a mountain of notes and structure the huge rewrites I knew the novel needed to take it to the next level. I came home with a composition book full of directions and dozens of index cards with scene outlines and character sketches. Three days before the trip was over, I sat down to write and this felt like magic. My goal was to have another draft written, but I think that would have required a miracle, even with laser focus. Next time, I’ll do the homework first and save the time away for writing. I’d like to do this every year, possibly twice a year. Beyond the actual writing, the time to myself was a soul balm. I learned a lot about what I want, what I need, and what feels good. What amazed me the most is how I never felt homesick. I was able to miss my family, yet completely enjoy my time alone.

When this round of rewrites is complete, I’m sending the manuscript off to an editor. Then, I’ll start querying agents and see where that goes. I’m realizing that I can’t rush this process, no matter how much I’d like to. Things like foot surgery, moving, making money, and life demand my attention first. Fortunately, I love my work and the things that prevent writing are mostly pleasurable. If you asked me what I do for a living, I’d say ‘strive for balance’.

Is it selfish to devote time and energy to a creative pursuit that may never yield a profit? Is it wrong for a mother to allow that time to come between her and her children? Am I grossly self-indulgent for leaving my family for a week to dally with my novel? Should I look for a conventional job with benefits instead of structuring my work life around my writing?

What if I’m doing this wrong?

Reflections on Risk-Taking and Creativity

March madness is upon us in the form of the best snowstorm I’ve seen in ages. Last night we sent the kids to their nearby grandparents house, and they kept our mini-van complete with snow tires. We’ve got the Honda Civic with nearly bald tires, and so we are marooned. Not a single snow plow in sight, and it’s still coming down. Our home isn’t such a terrible place to be stuck. The fire is crackling. We took a break from work to start Season Two of The Expanse. The kettle is on and homemade, dairy-free strawberry ice cream is waiting for dessert. Then I have to get back to work, but in the meanwhile, I’m thinking about risk-taking and creativity.

I’m in a weird space this week. Everything feels like a dream I’m floating through, like a vacation. Free of the long to-do lists (because I didn’t make any) and without the feeling that there isn’t enough time in the day. We aren’t going anywhere special, but March Break and the total lack of morning crazy to get the school bus seems like just enough of a holiday.

On Monday I started sending out the almost-final draft of my manuscript for beta reading. This is a crazy time in my writerly life. I have some pretty awesome betas, a good representation of the type of reader I hope to attract. There’s something both exciting and terrifying about knowing that people, especially strangers, are reading your words and giving feedback. It’s the risk you have to take as a creator; you make something for the world to consume, and then you sit back and see how well they digest it.

I took another risk when I launched my crowdfunding campaign. It was a wise move, deciding to ignore that voice that told me I was self-indulgent. My campaign goal was met, thanks to many lovely contributors. I’ve booked a little getaway for the second week of April to complete the last draft of my novel and research publishing options. Do I self-publish and invest in a proper marketing campaign? Do I query agents and see if the traditional publishing world wants me? Are there indie publishers who might take a chance on my book and help me with marketing? The questions are endless.

The scariest part of creative work is letting other people see what you’ve sunk your soul into. My first book was immensely fun to write. It was non-fiction, and in many ways, easier. This one, this novel was different. It was scary, and thrilling and I went to that deep place in my imagination where I used to live as a little girl. There’s way more of me in this book than the other. I’ve experienced more self-doubt and self-loathing with this project than with any creative experience thus far. What if it’s no good? What if I’m too old? What if nobody ever reads it? I have to wade through that self-deprecating static almost every day, because I know once I’ve cut my teeth on this novel business, I can move on to write the thousands of other stories in my head. And most importantly, I can say that I did it.

Don’t be so precious about it. I keep telling myself this. It’s only the first one, and it’s bound to teach you so many things. If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it.

I think of all the writers I’ve beta-read for. Writers who feel the exact same way I do about their books, and some who are beyond this newbie writer anxiety. Sometimes these books are wonderful. Sometimes I’m not even sure how to wrap my feedback in a positive spin. If the thing you created was rubbish, would you want to know? I would. I’d like to think my skin is tough enough that I could just move on to the next story.

So for the next couple of weeks I’ll wait. I’ll work on other things, like my businesses that I’ve neglected trying to prepare this next draft. There’s plenty to keep busy with while the betas work on their feedback. I’ll probably never hear from some of them at all, because that’s another risk you have to take.

It’s torture, but I love it.