rants/raves

On therapy.

I’ve been to see a therapist two different times. That is: I’ve been multiple times, at two different points in my life. The first time, I went following the divorce of my mom and stepdad when I was 18 or 19 years old. My mother encouraged me to go, just to talk to someone who was impartial and unrelated to me or to the situation. I remember very clearly driving out to the doctor’s office, which was in a beautiful old house, and waiting for my turn. It was all warm wood and earthy tones. I could see the backyard and a garden through the window. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t upset.

It turned out the doctor had double-booked or something, and I couldn’t get in to see them that day. I had to reschedule for a week or so later. I cried the whole way home. I couldn’t stop. I cried and I cried and I couldn’t even say why. I hadn’t realized how much I had been preparing to release in that office or how much I had been holding onto. It was like trying to replace the lid on a pressure cooker mid-boil.

Eventually, I did see the doctor a couple of times. After the second or third session they told me there was no need to continue making appointments – that I seemed really well adjusted and healthy – but I was welcomed to give a shout anytime I felt like I needed another visit. I never did, but I definitely would have and it was so nice to know that I could have.

The second time I saw a therapist, I was a bit older. I wanted to check-in with a professional about some patterns I was noticing in my own emotional development: relationship stuff, nothing too dramatic or devastating. Similar to my first experience, I didn’t go because I was cracking up or in the throes of depression, I went seeking a non-partisan conversation with someone who might be able to offer the kind of challenging insight my friends and family were likely too kind to speak. I wanted to be able to say things that were mean or stupid or embarrassing without repercussion or backlash. I also wanted to establish a relationship with a therapist and bring them up to speed on my state of mental health so that if things ever did go sideways I wouldn’t be faced with the daunting task of searching for a therapist and starting from square one before we could begin to tackle the issue at hand.

I really, really think this last piece is key for a couple of reasons: first, because the relationship between a therapist and a patient/client/whatever is not a given. Considering how much time people spend finding the right hairdresser or yoga studio or go-to local pub, imagine the difference a compatible therapist can make. Waiting until the wheels fall off and you’re in a state of emotional emergency is not the ideal time to be trying therapists on for size. We would all be much more likely to call a professional and set-up an appointment if we already knew them and had faith they were going to be able to respond to our crisis in way that worked for us; if they weren’t a total stranger.

And that leads to my second reason for pre-emptively finding a compatible therapist: it takes a long time, sometimes several visits, to unravel your personal history and establish potential triggers or emotional challenges. You can’t walk into someone’s office on Day One and assume to treat an issue-in-progress without consideration of potentially pre-existing conditions. Going through a divorce or a break-up? Let’s talk about your relationship with your father. Oh, there’s a stepfather as well? Hmmm, better make another appointment for next Wednesday. In fact, how about we go ahead and block you in for every Wednesday until, let’s say, Thanksgiving? Laying the groundwork, establishing a rapport and keeping a therapist up to date on your mental health puts both of you in a position to recognize red flags and address them in a timely and appropriate fashion.

I know I’m not the first to say this, but I’ll add my voice to the choir in asserting that we need to treat mental health the same way we treat physical health: they are one and the same. And let me be clear: when I say we, I don’t only mean we, the patient. I mean we, the society. It needs to be more accessible, financially and otherwise, to everyone. How often do we go to the dentist for a check-up? Once every year or two, and we feel guilty if we haven’t. It’s all about what’s stigmatized and what isn’t: there’s a certain shame in not looking after your teeth and, yet, I can’t find a single example of someone whose toothache was so debilitating they resorted to suicide.

And so, to link this post to current events and the news of his passing, may Robin Williams REST in PEACE, and may his struggle with mental wellness be as loud and inspirational as the incredible body of creative work he left behind. 

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Happy (?) Birthday

This is not a particularly happy birthday. I have friends who are very sad. Moncton just suffered an unbelievable 30 hour stand-off with a selfish asshole who felt he needed to kill people in order to make a statement. And then there’s the rest of the world. As the sun goes down on the first day of this new year, I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that I am fortunate and have everything to celebrate (including a delicious bottle of wine, of which I’ve already drunk too much) with the heart-wrenching truth of millions of my neighbours.

And so I reflect on the past year and it becomes quickly, glaringly obvious that the only pure and guilt-free source of happiness as a privileged Canadian in 2014 is that which springs from connections and relationships with other people and/or the natural world (bonus points when the two exist simultaneously). I am not grateful for the things I have, although I do appreciate them and recognize that I often take many of them for granted. I cannot celebrate my accomplishments because they are relative and so shallow in comparison to scores of others. I recognize that my health is minimally reflective of things within my control and, in large part, due to luck and circumstance and a thousand other things I will never understand because, well, science. Even art – music, creative expression – is somewhat of a luxury and not entirely justifiable as something to celebrate when pain and turmoil whip and whirl all around us: just this past weekend, Jian Ghomeshi (who, incidentally, shares a birthday with me) took a moment before Toronto’s illustrious Luminato Festival to dedicate the show to three fallen RCMP officers and their families in Moncton, presumably because he felt uncomfortable engaging in frivolous merry-making when fellow citizens were reeling from fresh and immediate tragedy. But there is always someone reeling.

Regardless of the fatal flaws of our society and the doomsday prophecies we can’t seem to shake, I suppose I feel warranted in celebrating my teeny, tiny 37 years on Planet Earth because I know I have woven this life within a complex and beautiful network of incredible people who make the world a better place every single day. It’s not to say that they wouldn’t be doing that were I not here, but I do believe that our friendships and family ties have filled this place with more love, more laughter and more peace, and helped tip the scales a little bit more in favour of general goodness. So that’s it, then. That’s what Happy Birthday means to me today, this year. It’s hearing from friends and family, being reminded of things worth celebrating and finding myself humbled by the scope of human emotion. It’s receiving a message from someone I love, respect and admire, and realizing with enormous gratitude that the feeling is mutual. It’s recognizing that I’m touching the lives of people who will, in turn, go on to touch other lives, and so on and so forth; the ripple effect of which I am so thankfully a part.

And so this birthday is not necessarily a happy one, at least not when posted up against such blissfully ignorant heavy-hitters as my 12th birthday co-ed surprise party in Marney’s backyard or my 30th birthday white-water paddling trip on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park. But it is a beautiful and honest, if slightly solemn, birthday, and one I hope never to forget.

 

 

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The thing about crack…

I don’t know a whole lot about crack. For example, I don’t even know if crack and crack cocaine and cocaine are three different drugs, or a combination of two drugs, or what they do to a person, exactly. Regardless of what I don’t know about the drug(s), however, there are a few things I’m pretty sure I do know.

At the top of the list is the fact that I don’t think it makes people misogynistic. The way Rob Ford talks about women – his wife, his colleagues, his opponents – is hateful. It is not flippant or rude or off-side. It is full of hate. And yet, women will vote for him. They will accept the substance abuse as an excuse and they will vote for him, either because they are uninformed or because they have a vested financial interest in seeing him remain in power. This is incredible to me. The City of Toronto fired 3 firefighters over sexist tweets and Facebook posts last year and, yet, the man at the helm has spewn and propagated far worse to a much wider audience without consequence. Women of Toronto: If anyone, let alone a leader in your community, said this or this about you, your sister, your daughter, your mother or your best friend, would you honestly just laugh it off? Worse yet, would you reward him with an understanding shake of the head and all the power he could ever hope to hold? Rob Ford’s vile and sometimes criminal mistreatment of women has not been brought on by his addiction. It has simply been illuminated.

I also highly doubt that crack suddenly makes people homophobic. Based on Rob Ford’s consistency with respect to his boycott of the Pride parade in Toronto, I don’t believe that drugs are to blame for his homophobic remarks and slurs. I have a hard time imagining that he could emerge from rehab suddenly prepared to embrace the LGBT population of Toronto, figuratively speaking (and much less literally). While I also have a hard time imagining he will get support at the polls from many constituents in this particular demographic, a vote for Rob Ford is a vote for bigotry and it’s wild to me that this is even a debate in 2014. Some might remember when Isaiah Washington was fired from the popular TV show Grey’s Anatomy for making a homophobic slur on set, directed at a fellow cast member, in 2006. Just last night he made a brief return to the show. It took one homophobic slur to get him fired and seven years for him to be welcomed back. Based on the Rob Ford model, I guess it must have taken him that long to get all the drugs out of his system so he could get back to normal and stop being such a homophobe.

Crack doesn’t make people racist, either. LA Clippers owner-for-the-time-being Donald Sterling has had a rough week, given the recorded comments that were leaked to the public exposing him as someone who is happy to let black people make millions of dollars for him, but doesn’t want to have to hang out in the same gigantic arena as them. Again, it took one comment to get him banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million dollars, and Rob Ford gets to hurl equally despicable comments at people he actually works with and then claim the drugs and/or booze made him do it. Lame. And so very gross.

He’s in rehab, we think. So that’s great. His addiction will be addressed and his health can enjoy a renaissance, or straight up birth depending on whether or not he’s ever been truly well. But the reality is that the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is not a misogynistic, racist homophobe because of his substance abuse issues. He’s a misogynistic, racist homophobe and, also, he has substance abuse issues. They are not mutually dependent traits. Attempting to cure ignorance with sobriety would be like trying to fix a leaky tire with an ice cube.

Having said that, I do join the rest of the country in wishing for Rob Ford a serious and successful road to recovery as he confronts his demons and takes this very first step in the right direction. He does not deserve to be mayor, but he does deserve to be healthy.

For its part, however, Toronto just deserves better.

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On motherhood… or not.

For a long time, I wanted to name my child Reid. It’s a family name and I thought it would be the height of meaningful and cool. I was pretty sure I would be a kick-ass mom with a kid who would, no doubt, kill it on a regular basis. This idea was the result of years spent drafting a future by pulling images from the swarm of media, social norms and role models that surround all of us all the time. That’s how we evolve and become who we are: we look around, latch onto things that appeal to us, and project them to the world like Pinterest come to life. So, given that scenes of motherhood infiltrate virtually every aspect of our lives – most of them selectively positive – it makes sense that so many of us want to be moms when we grow up: or, grow up thinking we want to be moms.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to realize that I might not have kids. What’s even more surprising is that I might actually be OK with that. It didn’t happen overnight. In hindsight, I can see how I made a string of decisions along the way that landed me in a place where having a baby would be really difficult and completely life changing. Obviously, this is the case for many women who still decide to have kids but, for me, it started to feel like just one more thing to check off the Mature Adult To-Do List. Eventually, I had to admit to myself that maybe I didn’t truly want to have kids after-all and, while this epiphany certainly gave me a sense of freedom I hadn’t realized I was missing, it also carried with it a fair bit of anxiety and sadness. It was as if I had to mourn the future I always thought I was building before I could move on and get excited about the one that was actually unfolding all around me.

Throughout the entire process, I naturally sought the advice and consult of my girlfriends – my sisters – many of whom are fabulous mothers themselves to some of the world’s most beautiful children. Dozens of emotional conversations and cups of tea and dog walks and bottles of wine and bags of Doritos later, one thing is very clear to me: the images we have to work with as we muddle through our so-called child bearing years could use a serious upgrade.

For example, good and happy moms are somehow still the norm. Even though we know, logically, that being a mother is sometimes beyond crappy, it’s rare that we actually see it. When I threw a tantrum in Zellers, my mother picked me up by the shirt collar and practically ran me out of the store in a fireman’s carry, partly to teach me a lesson about throwing tantrums and partly to avoid spilling the beans about raising a spoiled brat, in spite of her very best efforts. The ugly, exhausted, frustrated and self-doubting side of motherhood is a scenario that exists primarily off-camera and behind closed doors. When it is exposed, it’s followed by a quick succession of excuses, none of which tend to include the simple explanation that being a mom can just be kind of shitty. I think we need to be more honest about that.

On the other hand, there is a serious lack of positive models when it comes to women who don’t have kids. Growing up, I knew a few women who weren’t moms and I also knew exactly why not. Every story was tragic. So-and-so never married. So-and-so had to have a hysterectomy. So-and-so is a lesbian and it’s 1986. So-and-so is the CEO of a big company and, therefore, must like money and success more than children or, probably, puppies and rainbows and smiling. It was as if you needed a doctor’s note, sob story or feminist cause to get out of having kids. Fast-forward to 2013 and it’s tough to visualize a future that isn’t bleak because I struggle to find an example or a role model I actually relate to and might hope to emulate. I like children. My baby-making equipment seems to work just fine. I’m not particularly career-driven. I’m in a long-term relationship with a healthy man who could conceivably (pardon the pun) father a child. I feel like an unintentional pioneer of modern, childless womanhood along with everyone else who won’t have kids for no good reason. The best we can do, it seems, is fumble along and hope we don’t end up old and lonely, living in a farmhouse full of cats and regret.

There’s also a negative connotation that permeates the language we use when talking about our reproductive future, or lack thereof. It’s a yes or no question: to have kids or not to have them. This kills me because I hate the idea of closing doors and missing out on something, especially when practically everyone I know is doing it. (See: FOMO). But, really, shouldn’t it be the other way around? It seems as though motherhood is the general expectation, an assumption almost, as opposed to something women choose to do if they happen to be particularly inclined and talented in the domestic and maternal realm. I think that’s weird. I think if many women actually thought as long and hard about having kids as I have been thinking about not having them, we would have fewer mothers. And I think that’s fine, quite honestly. Women who aren’t in a position to start a family or just aren’t that into it shouldn’t feel any more pressure to become a mother than I feel to become a long-haul truck driver or a vegan. Imagine the liberation in such positivity! We think we’ve come so far as a gender, and we obviously have in many respects, but the shackles of our sex still remain to some degree. Until we come to widely and truly consider motherhood as one of a variety of equally valued options, the pressure to have children and the semantics of choosing not to have children will continue to cast a negative shadow on lives being lived in otherwise wonderful ways. I would love to see us foster a society in which women identified not with the things they are biologically predisposed to do, necessarily, but with the things they do, period.

So, while it’s possible I may never experience the apparent bliss of motherhood, I highly doubt I will ever own a single cat, let alone an entire farmhouse full of them. Regardless of whether or not I might someday be a kick-ass mom to a kid named Reid, the reality is that I am a kick-ass woman right now, today, with as much to contribute and experience in this lifetime as every mother and long-haul truck driver and vegan who came before me.

 

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On community.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

Rehtaeh Parson’s death is so incredibly tragic and, yet, not at all surprising or uncommon. How is that even possible? How is this not the first time we’ve had a young person raped, photographed, vilified and ultimately bullied to death? How am I supposed to believe her death will be the last of its sad kind? I wish I could.

Instead, I’ll tell you what I do believe.

I believe we have replaced traditional communities with abstract networks of people we may or may not ever even meet face-to-face. Imagine if you drew a line down the centre of a piece of paper and on one side listed all the groups you belong to in real life. These would be things you had to register or sign up for: Teams, clubs, unions, volunteer organizations. Then, on the other side, imagine you listed all the networks you are part of in cyberspace: Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs. For the real kicker, imagine you spent a week tallying the amount of time you spent interacting with actual humans vs. the amount of time you spent communicating with cyber folks. If you did that and Column A came out on top, I would have to assume you were either my 92 year-old grandmother or a strangely literate baby.

I believe many neighbourhoods today are nothing more than streets lined with houses, as opposed to mutually guarded safe havens where parents and families look out for one another. How many of your neighbours do you know by name? When I was kid, I knew who lived in every house on my street and if I saw them at the grocery store or in the park it would have been unthinkable not to stop and say hello, because I knew them. We were neighbours. Today, I don’t know anyone else who lives on my street, although there is an elderly woman who walks into town every single day and she seems cool. I thought once about asking her name, but then kind of chickened out because it felt too personal, almost creepy. There’s something wrong with that.

I believe that, because we have so few real life networks, many of us have lost our sense of belonging and, therefore, our sense of responsibility. If I see something online that I don’t like – a comment or a photo or a post – I have the option of ignoring it because I am one of a bajillion members and it’s easy to either remind myself, conveniently, that I don’t even actually know these people, or convince myself that the things I witness on the internet somehow aren’t technically real. If I get really riled up I can leave the group or delete my account or cancel my membership. That’s not how it works when you belong to a team or organization that incorporates eye contact and body language and speaking out loud in real time. I imagine that, back in The Day, you couldn’t get away with being a jackass for long before someone would call you out on it and make a plea for retribution. Today, I think we treat our real life communities like our online communities a lot of the time. When we catch wind of something that doesn’t sit quite well with us we often turn a blind eye and assume there’s someone closer to the situation than we are and that they will deal with it as they see fit, thereby giving ourselves permission not to get involved. Maybe if we felt like our communities and neighbourhoods and schools were something we actually belonged to, we would feel a greater sense of responsibility to make them really great.

I believe that we give greater importance to individual comfort than to the well being of a group or society, maybe because we don’t feel responsible or a sense of ownership within our neighbourhoods and communities. Last winter, I helped my mom with a bottle drive that had been organized by her choir. I drove her around the neighbourhood – our neighbourhood – early in the evening to collect the goods folks had presumably set aside for the well-publicized event. Each time my mother got out of the car to ring a doorbell, I was mortified. It seemed so intrusive to me that she would walk right up to their front door and ring the bell, and at supper time! What if they didn’t want to be interrupted? What if they had just sat down to eat? What if they were in a rush and didn’t have time for this? Looking back on it now, I’m still mortified, but this time by my own reaction. Why didn’t it occur to me that the potential of disrupting a meal for, at most, 3 minutes, was far outweighed by the good we were doing in raising money for a worthy cause in our community? I realize, too, that I’ve been applying this same lopsided hesitation to simple things like calling a friend without scheduling a phone date in advance, or knocking on someone’s door if I happen to be in the neighbourhood with time for a cup of tea. Shouldn’t the possibility that I might catch them at a bad time be dwarfed by the friendly gesture of reaching out to connect with the people in my inner circle? Somehow, ironically, we’ve become so concerned with respecting people’s privacy and personal space that we’ve isolated ourselves from each other and allowed our communities to disintegrate to the point where kids are so disconnected from their neighbours and classmates that they will rape, vilify and bully each other to death.

We’ve come a long way, alright. Maybe it’s time to turn around and head back home.

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#WeGoSolo

To The Naysayers, Finger Waggers and Tsk-Tskers of the world;

Stop telling us what we can and cannot do. Seriously. Please, stop. It’s an old, tired routine and you look ridiculous.

When a woman travels on her own, she gets it. She understands the dangers associated with wandering the world without chaperone or bodyguard and makes a conscious, informed decision to accept the challenge. There is no need to play Dire Prediction Maker or Captain I Told You So. It’s not as if she woke up one day, packed her pink suitcase with a bunch of scarves and strappy sandals, and set off to see the sights with nothing more than a passport and her faith in humanity.

This is not the profile of a solo female traveller.

The solo female traveller is on it. She keeps her money in three different places, assuming at least one of them will be found in a mugging or robbery. She dresses conservatively to avoid drawing unwanted attention to herself, which sucks because it’s usually uncomfortable and stinking hot. She studies the map and makes a point of knowing where she is at all times. She shells out for a cab after dark and frequently opts for the guided or organized tour because, even though they can be awkward and stuffy, there’s safety in numbers. She chooses her accommodation based on location more so than price. She calls home and checks in frequently so people won’t worry, knowing they will anyway. She asks questions: Lots of questions.

So when a woman gets robbed, kidnapped, raped or murdered while travelling solo, please understand that it’s not because she was dabbling in something beyond her scope of intelligence or capability. It’s not her fault. There is a difference between asking for it and deciding that the freedom to travel at will and explore the world is worth the potential price of admission.

We get it. It’s a dangerous world full of creepy, evil assholes. We still want to go.

~ Women

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Everything I need to know I learned from my surfboard.

I spent the better part of October and November bobbing around on a big piece of fiberglass in the Pacific Ocean contemplating life and, every so often, catching a couple waves. Lots of times this sitting and surfing happened against a backdrop of cotton-candy skies to close out what had almost always been a pretty stellar day of keeping it extremely real in places like Puerto Escondido (Mexico), San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua) and Santa Teresa (Costa Rica). It’s the sort of scene that inspires gratitude and reflection so here, in this very blog, I have a few things to share about what I learned whilst absolutely nailing a 2 month surf vacay. (Disclaimer: I’m not even going to try to reign in the metaphors here. If you weren’t feeling my post about trees, I doubt you’ll get through the next 400+ words.)

1. Balance is everything: Too far to one side and you’re going to look like an idiot in front of everyone else who’s figured this thing out already.

2. Look to where you want to go: When you’re sitting at the crest about to drop in, look down the line to where you want to end up. If you stare into the well of the wave and focus on your fear of getting tossed and swallowed, ouch. That’s gonna suck.

3. Take turns: You can’t catch every wave, every time. Not only is it physically impossible, it’s not OK. Play fair. Be nice.

4. Celebrate the process: Remember how you never used to be able to walk or talk or control your own bladder, but then you learned how and now it’s all super easy, except when you’re drunk? Learning new things takes time and not everybody moves at the same pace, in the same way. Sometimes you just need to spend hours getting thrashed and humiliated in order to progress.

5. Pick your waves: Know what you can handle and what you can’t and be OK with that.

6. Go with the flow: You can’t control the size of the surf or the crowds at the beach or the fact that you broke your leash yesterday and the shop is closed on Sundays until noon. Is it really so terrible to have to spend a day eating fish tacos and drinking cold beer from the comfort of your hammock?

7. Actions speak louder than words, and are way less annoying: If you’re a good surfer, everyone will see you out there and remember you later. I promise. No need to tell me about it in line at the bar or while you’re ringing in my grocery order. If you’re doing something because you really want to, honestly, then just do it. If you’re doing it because you want to brag and make yourself feel bigger, better, faster, stronger, that’s why God invented Facebook.

8. We are tiny: The same waves I surfed in Mexico and Central America are still breaking, apparently, despite the fact that I’ve been gone for two months already. They were there long before I arrived and will continue to rock and roll long after I’ve left, whether or not I’m there to surf them and regardless of who else shows up. They’re not a corporation whose success or failure is dependant upon public opinion or the economy: They’re a natural phenomenon that I can’t even wrap my head around and their existence actually has almost nothing at all to do with me. I’m simply fortunate to have played in the waves for a little while.

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The simple bare necessities.

When one has the luxury to keep it simple, to strip life down to its skivvies, there can be no doubt that some needs and tendencies are amplified, while others are exposed for the frivolities and unnecessary tag-alongs they truly are.

I’ve been in Mexico for a couple of weeks and, although I’m far from roughing it by real-world standards, I’m operating on a relatively modest budget and my possessions are limited to whatever I can comfortably carry on my back for three months. What never ceases to amaze me in these sorts of situations is the tiny collection of stuff I actually use and, even more surprising, the massive amount of stuff I don’t even miss. I could have left most of the clothes I’ve brought at home, and that’s AFTER I laid out what I initially wanted to pack and then divided it in half. I’m actually thinking of mailing some useless weight back to Canada in an effort to stop pissing myself off every time I pack and unpack my bag over the course of this trip. (I brought a toque. And mittens. TO MEXICO.)

Of the things I don’t miss, despite almost packing them half a dozen times, there were definitely a few bullets dodged. A coffee press, for example. I literally stood in MEC for 25 minutes trying to decide how best to equip myself for regular coffee consumption in Central America and, in the end, decided that I would be something of a poster child for free-spirits the world over and just go with the flow. (So bold! So brave!) As it is, however surprisingly, I’ve had coffee maybe 4 times since arriving in Mexico and don’t even miss it one little bit. In fact, I have yet to do a crossword puzzle or eat a bowl of cereal or listen to CBC or do any of the things I normally consider essential to a well-lived and successful holiday morning in Canada. I’m virtually unrecognizable down here, even to myself, until about 3pm when I’m sitting somewhere idyllic with cold beer in hand. (Coffee is one thing, beer quite another, and I’ll thank you not to judge me right here on my own blog.)

It’s a simple illustration, yet again, of the difference between a need and a want.

I’m reminded of a time when, a couple of winters ago, we were having friends over for dinner and I went to Ikea to buy 4 new bowls in which to serve whatever it was we were making. When I got home, my boyfriend was surprised (not in a good way) that I had gone out to a megastore to get 4 shitty white bowls that were likely made in a place that’s really bad for the universe when we already had 4 perfectly good bowls sitting in the cupboard, ready for action. I had, afterall, rented a furnished apartment so I wouldn’t have to buy new things like dishes and cutlery. My response was, unfortunately, the following: “Yeah, but those bowls have pictures of ducks on them and I think they were sold as part of a promotion at gas stations in, like, 1988.” My boyfriend was silent, the way teachers and Claire Huxtable can be silent, and I knew there was no point in trying to defend my lame purchase. We ate out of the damn things for two more years and, while I did always enjoy meals much more in the Ikea bowls than the stupid ugly duckling ones, I was secretly kind of glad to move out of that apartment and leave the reminder of my need vs. want blunder sitting on that kitchen shelf.

It’s a similar scene down here as I glare at the excessive contents of my luggage, strewn around my room. I need a bathing suit (I brought 4). I need a sleeping bag (not, as it turns out, a sleeping bag AND a silk liner). I need a few shirts, maybe one light sweater and a couple of things that will cover my legs to varying degrees (I won’t even elaborate on the threads in my backpack). Throw in the obvious money, passport, toiletries, etc. and I could probably have travelled with a 40 L daypack as opposed to my 80 L backpack plus carry-on. Would there have been times when I’d wish for a change of shorts or a dry sarong to use when my only makeshift towel was still wet from the morning’s dip? Sure. Is it nice to have enough clean underwear that I only have to do laundry every other week? Kind of, yeah. Do I need to have a pair of brown sandals AND a pair of black sandals so I can match them with different outfits? Hell, no! In fact, it’s not even cool to match down here. You look like a silly tourist that spent too long packing and brought too much stuff…

Of course, the real cliffhanger in this story comes in trying to guess for how long the recurring lesson will stick this time around, especially once I return home in a few months. It’s doubtful I’ll let the weekend Globe and Mail sit unread or turn down a fresh cup of coffee before noon, but I might be less inspired (read: panicked) when we’re out of coffee cream to run to the nearest convenience store or, better yet, Tim Horton’s in the pouring rain wearing only my rubber boots and pyjamas. I will, no doubt, take a cold, hard look at the piles of clothes I’ve stashed in various closets and dressers across the country in an attempt to determine which items I do actually, technically need and which ones I truly only wear because they’re there or have acquired some sort of weird sentimental value (I’m looking at you, ugly team jersey from 2004). And I promise, I solemnly swear, not to buy another cardigan sweater until every last one I currently own has been carried off by moths, Roch Carrier style.

Same goes for bowls.

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Quería una cerveza, por favor, y dónde está el baño?

Sometimes, in order to move forward, you need to take a step back.

I’m about to board a flight to Mexico City where I will, with any luck, connect with my father for a few days and then embark on a months-long journey across Central America, mostly all by myself. In many ways, I expect to be going back in time. Not telephone-booth-time-machine style, although that would be A-MAZING, but in terms of tracing a gnarly little section of my roots and family history in Mexico and, I suppose, even Spain. Right now, I’m sitting in a waiting room full of mostly Mexicans and, more than anything, I wish I looked like them or sounded like them, even just a little. My hope is that a few months in latin America will help me feel like I fit into that culture, my culture, in some sort of authentic and deserving way.

If I can do it while surfing, doing yoga on the beach and taking siestas in a hammock, even better. (If I can do all of those things without bragging or being totally smug upon my return to Canada, check my pulse and give me a medal.)

Of course, my Mexican heritage is only half the story. I am born and raised a Maritimer, and pleased as punch about it. But the East Coast has been like an only child in terms of its freehold on my cultural identity and I feel like it’s probably a good thing that we all broaden our horizons a little bit and make room for a new addition. I never have to convince anyone I’m from New Brunswick – my potty mouth and pirate accent give me away without fail. But I have a much tougher time selling my Mexican lineage. The first proof I fail to provide is an ability to speak the language. I can ask for beer and go to the bathroom, which is a handy combination, but not enough to build a case for my being 50% Mexican. So, priority uno (uno = not even Spanish) is to get me some speaking skills. I’m enrolled in a language school for a week of intensive Spanish training, which sounds way more hardcore than I imagine it will actually be, and am staying with cousins who, I hope, will have some magical ability to impart 35 years worth of culture and family history in 14 days. Stay tuned.

Goal #2 is to get a tan. It will make me look more Mexican, I think. And then, for maintenance purposes, I’ll just have to either move to a place where it’s always sunny or invest in a tour bus with a tanning bed inside, like Britney Spears. (In case you’re not sure, here are a few things you can judge me for, based on the previous sentence: my alleged pro-tanning bed stance, the fact that I know how to spell Britney’s name and that she has a tanning bed in her tour bus, my initial instinct to write ‘tourbus’ as all one word and the fact that I’m anal enough to re-read and edit a blog post 3 times before publishing.)

Third on the agenda is to learn to surf. Well, learn to surf better. Like, so I don’t have to use a board made of packing foam that’s twice as big a a limosine. I know, technically, this won’t make me more Mexican, but it will make me cooler, probably, and that’s close enough.

If I add more items to my Cultural Integration Plan (CIP) I will be sure to keep you all posted. In the meantime, hasta la vista, baby! (Translation: The only Spanish I speak, I learned from an Austrian bodybuilder/American politician, or: This learning curve had better be steep.)

Categories: rants/raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Q&A

News that I’m leaving has spread slowly across my concentric social circles for the past few months to the point where I am now surprised to find someone who hasn’t heard. Not that my plans are of massive consequence or importance to the world at large – it just feels like old news. Having said that, I still really enjoy the variety of reactions to my imminent departure and have begun to track them along the spectrum that is my social network of nearest and dearest, kindred spirits, buddies and pals, nice enough and my students. It looks kind of like this:

Figure A.1

The common thread running between each of the above responses is that they all stem from my reply when asked the following question(s): Where are you going and what are you going to do? It’s certainly innocent enough and comes from a place of genuine care and curiosity. People are sweet and just want to be supportive, but it’s a question loaded with assumptions and preconceived notions that, in my case, make it tough to answer with any sort of clarity or satisfaction. Almost invariably, I respond with something about wanting to create some space in my life to pursue a passion of mine, which is writing. I usually give a short-list of possibilities in terms of where I might spend the next year or so, geographically speaking, and disclose a bit about my anxiety surrounding the financial ramifications of such a maneuver. But that’s really about as far as I can go without starting to just make stuff up because, truthfully, I don’t know.

It would obviously be exciting to be able to share that I have a would-be novel idea up my sleeve and ready to go. I’d feel like way less of a flake if I could just tell people that I was enrolled in an actual creative writing program somewhere or had landed an internship at Really Successful Writers Who Have Their Shit Together, Inc. But I have none of those things. In fact, simply stating that I am leaving teaching to become a writer feels way too narrowed-down and presumptuous because the notion is so far-fetched and undefined at this point that I feel like I’m lying or playing make-believe to even say it out loud. And so my answers continue to be vague and anti-climatic, which is awkward and, frankly, a bit embarrassing.

But I get it. I understand. We live in a time and a place where plans and benchmarks and end results are highly valued. We don’t like to make a move unless we know where we want to end up and how to get there in the most efficient, ethical and economical way. And that’s to be commended and admired in many respects because, indeed, we didn’t become a world-leading, highly developed society by accident or mistake. Yet, sometimes I think it’s important to throw caution to the wind and see what can happen when logic and foresight take a backseat to flow and serendipity. I believe that it really is OK not to know how events will unfold or what the future might look like, no matter who you are or what you think you’ve set out to do. In fact, I would suggest that those who operate under the assumption that they can viably predict their own future simply by following a plan of their own invention actually take a much bigger gamble than those who are able to feel and respond to the ebb and flow of their life’s natural path. But now I can feel myself being pulled into another topic, on flow and going with it, which I think I’ll save for another day.

In the meantime, I’ll endeavour to embrace the spirit in which everyone’s perspectives have been offered and look forward to getting more of the same questions, to which I’ll continue to give more of the same answers… or lack thereof.

Categories: rants/raves | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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