Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday June 20, 2012

Avoiding The Wellness Shed

Dear Terry,

Once again I begged off on going with my parents to their property near Fairmont.  Several years back during better times they bought a small piece of land south of Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia and they take their motorhome out there on a regular basis now.  Some good family friends bought the neighbouring plot and now they have been spending many weekends out there.

I’m genuinely happy for them that they have this place and I have been there a couple of times and it’s quite nice although the area is still in development as a recreational area for retiring and near-retired baby boomers.

My parents eventually hope to purchase a ‘park model’ which I am led to understand is basically a small, high quality portable home usually used as a cabin on a recreational property.  Having seen other more built out recreational areas like this, I’m sure it will be quite nice for them.  They have this dream that both my sister and I (and hopefully future husbands if we ever manage to marry, outlook not so good) will come and spend family vacations and weekends there.

I’ll admit that the picture that they paint of future family outings there sounds very nice and wonderful, but it has such a Stepford family vibe that seems oddly out-of-place right now.

I know my parents mean well when they invite me out there.  But even before now, it’s been none too appealing for me.  It’s too normal.

Some weeks back my parents began going on at length about their plans to start building on their property by building a small shed.  However, rather than for garden tools or maintenance this shed would instead store guests, so they would not have to sleep on the uncomfortable pullout bed in the motorhome.

In a fit of sarcasm I dubbed the new guest cabin: the ‘Wellness Shed.’  The name stuck.

This last weekend the Wellness Shed was constructed on my parents vacation property, the beginning of their vacation home dream.  My parents are especially eager for me to be the first to use the Wellness Shed.  Naturally I demurred.

by Armistead MaupinThis weekend I began (and finished) reading the novel ‘Mary Ann in Autumn’ by Armistead Maupin.  The novel is a continuation of the ‘Tales of the City’ novels, the original six of which were written in the late seventies and early eighties and are now considered to be a modern American classic.  The original books were published in serialized form in various San Francisco newspapers (newspapers did that sort of thing back then?) and I read them straight through when I was young and coming out.  The seventh book, ‘Michael Tolliver Lives’ was published in 2008, more than 20 years after the last book, ‘Sure of You’ was published.  As I explained to Peter at the time, it was like getting an eighth Harry Potter novel a decade after you’d abandoned all hope of any further publications in the series.  Mind you, a very adult Harry Potter novel, but nonetheless….

The original books were about city life and gay life during this period in San Francisco and are considered to be groundbreaking for, among other things, being some of the first fiction to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis, the transgendered, and Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre.  It also spawned a miniseries staring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis covering the first three novels.

The original series is also great for providing a glimpse into what San Francisco life is like and reading this most recent edition I find myself contemplating (at some indefinite point in the future when such things are possible) a trip to San Francisco.  Ironically, I’ve spent more time there as a minor (a trip to California with my family when I was 13) than as an adult.  My one adult trip was a weekend spent mostly on Treasure Island racing Dragonboats.

The last book, ‘Sure of You,’ ends on a rather sad note with the departure of one of the lead characters, Mary Ann Singleton, as she leaves behind her best friend Michael and her husband Brian to pursue a career in New York.  Michael is  HIV positive and this being in the early eighties, not expected to live out the decade.

The seventh book, aside from establishing Michael as one of the survivors of the early epidemic, also reunites the two characters who begin the process of healing their broken relationship from two decades past.

The eighth book, the one I read over the weekend, continues in that vein.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit drawn to the parallel of two friends separated by time and although the circumstances in our case are very different, there is no denying that a major illness that I am experiencing is a part of the reason for our separation.  I only help that we turn out as optimistically as Michael and Mary Ann do.

What does all of this have to do with the Wellness Shed?  Well, to your right, is the picture of the Wellness Shed that my Dad sent to me from his iPhone upon its completion.

The similarity struck me as uncanny, especially given that the eponymous Mary Ann is staying in the guest cabin in Michael’s backyard, that appears on the cover, while she prepares for cancer surgery.

I had heard sometime back that this book was coming out and I had intended to get it without really knowing any of the plot details or having seen the cover.  It was a blind buy based upon my love for the series and author.  I doubt I even glanced at the cover as I began reading it on my e-reader.  I actually had to double back to compare the two of them once I started making the connection.

Life imitating art?  Wouldn’t surprise me.

The coincidence and the themes of aging and coping with illness certainly struck home, even though I’m about 30 years younger than most of the characters.  I very much feel that those who struggle with mental illness and depression tend to confront the issue of aging a lot earlier than others.  God knows, I worry a lot about it, especially when in reality, I’m still relatively young.  But there have been days I have felt older than anyone.

I am just not ready for the Wellness Shed.  I’m not ready for that level of family normality, whether it’s with my biological or logical families.  I’m not ready for it whether it’s on Russian Hill in San Francisco, my parents’ property near Fairmont, or out in suburban Surrey.

Maybe, just maybe, this does portend the future though.  That I am going to get through all of this with the help of my friends and family.  Maybe I am going to get a chance to reconcile with my best friend.

Maybe I’ll be ready for the Wellness Shed soon.  Until that happens though, I think I’m going to start revisiting the Tales of the City and see where that takes me.  A good book is a good friend and I’d be neglectful if I didn’t mention how much reading has helped me during my struggle with depression.

I hope you’re well.  All of my love,

Jack

For those interested more information about the Tales of the City series and the author can be found here.

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