November 16, 2017

Brains, Bowels and Babies

I’ve been having a hard time at work. Holding the rail on the bus, weighing celery at the grocery store, and walking home I catch myself muttering:

“But we had agreed…”

“The problem with…”


To discover the audience for this monologue extends outside my head is like sitting in a library and hearing coffee move through your bowels. Everyone looks alarmed while managing not to look directly at you.

So I’ve been trying to compartmentalize. Put things from last hour into a box and shelve it until it has to be revisited. It’s surprisingly difficult. It’s not so much about shutting down that area of my brain as it is about drowning it out. They say the best way to reduce pain from a cut is to pinch yourself somewhere else. I’ve found the best way to override stress is divert my energy to something creative, like making holiday cards, hemming pants and icing cookies.

My neighbour had a baby. I saw her bump a month ago and since I’ve heard some screaming in the hallway…from the baby, of course. So I wandered over to the department store and bought something unisex, cotton, organic and for a three-month-old,  just in case I got the timing wrong. I wrapped the yellow onesie, placed it in a bag with homemade cookies and waited until late afternoon (I assume this is when babies are awake?) to ring her doorbell. What could go wrong?

“What if she’s vegan?” says my husband.

She opened the door. Her lips were chapped, her hair frizzy and she was standing in bare feet, alone. She took the bag, thanked me, and then promptly closed the door.

It appears I’m not the only one having a hard time at work.

August 3, 2017

Land of the Midnight Sun

Picture of lone girl walking into the ocean with mountains in the background

And just yesterday I was wearing cashmere. Back from Tromso, Norway, our return to Switzerland marks an unusual shift in temperature that is something to fear (as a Canadian, talking about the weather is my nature). It’s hotter than Beirut. Central Europe was not designed for these temperatures. Stone houses can resist the heat for only so many days before they become kilns, cooking us like a pepperoni pizza.

map of Norway on a beer glass. There's a red dot to indicate the town Tromso.

For our 12th anniversary my husband and I went north of the Arctic Circle where it’s 150C/60F on average. Tromso, population 84,000, is a gorgeous place to visit if you have good weather. Otherwise prepare to shop or read a book. The place could use a historical museum.

Tromso’s two main attractions are the Aurora Borealis (winter) and the Midnight Sun (summer), which for us meant a sunset at 11:30 post meridiem (p.m.) and rise at 2:30 ante meridiem (a.m.)­­–dusky but never dark. For me the shift in daylight created an increase in nocturnal energy, it was harder to wind down, and an odd sense of safety with no thought of biking alone in the woods at midnight, a good setting for a thriller.

“It’s been a long day,” apologized the hotel receptionist. How do you know?

people on a cliff overlooking city of Tromso during sunset

There are a few interesting things to note about Norway:
  1. Cash is almost never used. With the exception of bus tickets, which are bought off  a phone app, credit cards are everywhere­–even for a stick of gum. This is fine for residents, who don’t pay service charges, and bad for everyone else. It also means there’s a record of how you spend your money: someone knows how often you cut your hair.
  2. Norwegians are kind. Seriously.
  3. Everyone speaks English.
  4. A traditional afternoon snack is a waffle dabbed with jam or sprinkled with sugar. This is a definite culture export.
  5. Alcohol is expensive. One beer = $10.
  6. They invented the cheese slicer.
The oddest thing I saw, in Tromso, were taxis the size of buses happily picking up and transporting just one person. Space is everywhere. I was also amused by the underground roundabout, arteries carved out as caves inside the mountain, that connects the airport to downtown through a simple hole exiting the first floor of someone's apartment building. Crafty!

July 18, 2017

Companies that (fill in the verb) Women

Nothing says mystery shopper like the man next to me, seemingly pondering over the same selection of feminine hygiene products that I am. Do you want pearls? Do you want wings? Are you feeling fresh and free or sully and shackled?

Today, I want enough money left over to buy a coffee. Unfortunately my dexterous iPhone  isn’t enough to navigate the complex pricing system set up by companies that are    (fill in the verb)    women. I need a mathematical genius, but she’s not around. 

Always, for example, is a brand that's been on shelves since this ‘gift’ appeared in my life 34 years ago. They sell panty liners (for light bleeding) called Dailies, and pads (for moderate-heavy bleeding) called: Ultra, Ultra Night, Ultra Secure Night, Maxi and Sensitive. Not only is the level of protection offered by these products more complicated than my health insurance so is the price per unit.

For 2.20 I can buy:          15 normal Ultra pads or
                                             14 normal Ultra pads with wings 

For 2.60  I can buy:        12 long Sensitive pads that are soft or
                                             16 normal Sensitive pads that are soft 

For 3.10 I can buy:          12 long Ultra pads

For 3.50 I can buy:          42 large Dailies liners with extra protection or
                                             38 long plus Dailies liners with extra protection or
                                             50 normal Dailies liners that are Fresh and Protect or
                                             52 normal Dailies liners that Fresh and Protect with a fresh scent or
                                             74 normal Dailies liners slim multiform with fresh scent 

For 4.75 I can buy:          44 normal Ultra pads or
                                             26 normal Ultra pads with wings or
                                             32 long Ultra pads with wings or
                                             22 long Ultra pads with wings (yes, same as above)

For 5.30 I can buy:         28 night Ultra pads with wings 

For 5.60 I can buy:         54 normal Dailies liners soft like cotton 

For 7.50 I can buy:          18 secure night Ultra pads with wings 

So the question is: what's the most economical purchase? No size comes in the same volume and no volume comes at the same price. Large, long, secure, extra, ultra and normal are making me confused, frustrated, angry, disjointed and litigious. 

How about you, sir? Have you figured what products could save me money? I bet you have. 

July 7, 2017

A Real Runner Never Wears Cotton

Good Luck!

Three medals hang off a six-foot wooden giraffe standing in my hallway. I got the medals from running and it makes me a little sad to see them with no purpose. I'd wear them, daily, if it weren’t for all the envy–the reason people point, stare, and whisper, “Oh my God, look!”

Despite having read only one book on running, the medals make me feel like an expert. I can’t help but scrutinize anything running in my vicinity: over dressed, clutching Gatorade, gasping for breath and sporting cotton. A true runner never wears cotton. But I still get days, especially at the end of training, where I need moral support. I need to talk out the doubts that creep in while training six days a week.

 “You should meet my friend Aleisha,” said my friend Mattie. “She runs every day. She’s a real runner.”

Real?  Oh.

The word real comes up a lot in my life (Where are you really from?) and the adjective is a sticky point for wannabe artists: musicians, painters, and authors. For unpublished writers real is being published. For published writers, real means a book. Real is an award, a best-seller list, a sale of 50,000 copies. But real is also ambiguous: it depends on who is saying it.

For me running is not easy but satisfying, like solving a problem. I do it alone and with no formal coaching,  so I accepted Mattie's suggestion that I was still inadequate and made arrangements to meet Aleisha, excited about advice and inspiration–on the quest to be real.

“Oh, I don’t have a sports watch,” she says as I hold up my Garmin. Then she tells me she's never monitored her speed, tracked her distance or even gotten a blister. “I ran a half marathon once," she concludes, “but I’m not doing that again.” 

Obviously, she wasn’t what I expected, and I was back wondering what it meant to be a real runner and how to get there. Some people have tied the word to a natural inclination­–how young you are when you start–or by longevity, meaning how often you do it. But I've also noticed excellence is not always achieved with passion and putting in the hours does not guarantee talent. Society still might not see you as real, even if you identify yourself that way.

So it was by chance, on a run, that the definition of real came to me. Wet, cold, hobbling and tired, I started asking myself why I was doing this. I didn't have an answer. Real seems to be any activity I’ll continue doing when the enthusiasm has fizzled out. Hey world, I'm a runner. Because I have to do it, even when I don't. 

May 25, 2017

It's Cringy

Go out there and be vulnerable! Lose everything and reap the benefits of working like you have nothing. Failure. It’s this decade’s anecdote to success and in ten years they’ll find out it causes cancer. 

To be fair, I see how a failure can teach an important lesson about effort, especially in this age of entitlement. I just don’t think I need these moments in my life. I’m the exception. I understand hard work (I’m currently missing a toenail, for instance), but Fate’s not so sure.
“Have you worked for it?”
“I have.”
“Do you think you’re ready?”
“I do.”
“Have you thought about how much you really want this?”
“Think again.”
Last Friday I took a French exam that, after one hour, made me want to crawl under the desk and into my skin. My vocabulary became primal, my handwriting illegible and the only thing that could have topped it was a poorly muffled fart.
“Maybe it wasn’t that bad.”
I confused the word poupee with the word poubelle. Playing with garbage is what I said. It was cringy. It still is.
And in spite of that, I’m not dissuaded from trying again. I just don’t know how to get better. I used apps, text books, courses and tutoring. I guess I just didn’t devote enough time. But according to one of the moderators I have plenty of that.
“That’s a very mature answer,” she said encouragingly.
Aging. If I’m destined to fail than thank goodness I’ve been at least luckless at that.