I’m perfectly calm dude

Today is my birthday.

According to http://www.thisdayinmusic.com the #1 song on my day of birth was “I wanna know what love is” by Foreigner.

Classic.

This year the theme for the day is “no muss, no fuss.” For the last four years I’ve partaken in some pretty wild festivities, so I’m a little relieved that this year’s agenda is defined by two words:

Low key.

Tomorrow M and I are heading up to the cabin for a couple of days – we’ll run, read, rest and relax. (Probably catch some Superbowl action too.)

Two years ago, to celebrate the fact that I’d spent a quarter of a century alive and kicking on this big old ball of green and blue, M and I hosted a James Bond dress-up soirée. We instructed our guests to come costumed as their favourite bond villain, bond girl, or well, you know, bond bond, and then proceeded to get smashed on martinis (shaken, etc., etc.,) play poker and black-jack, and engage is some high-profile, high-hilarity espionage.

I think I ate more olives that night then I could have if I lived an entire year on the island of Crete. (And believe you me, that place is chock-a-block FULL of olives. I spend the majority of my time there marveling at how anyone could ever fathom picking them all – much to M’s equal parts amusement and chagrin.)

What was so great about the evening was how everyone really went whole hog when it came to their preparations for the night. We had many Bonds, a couple of Qs and one Rosa Klebb who completely stole the show.

I dressed as Vesper Lynd, while M decided on Gobinda, the evil henchman from Octopussy. (FULL DISCLOSURE: M is half-Indian so don’t start getting any crazy ideas here).

He looked so fabulous it was unreal. Plus he carried around a set of dice and kept pretending to crush them in his death grip – bloody hilarious and seriously flash. For more info please see:

The party took place just as I was beginning to buckle down and write my graduate thesis, and I told myself that after the night’s shenanigans were through, I wasn’t going to have any fun until after I rocked out on my defence, and finished my master’s.

It was a tremendous “last big bash” – a good lead in to three months of thirteen hour days in self-imposed isolation, spent hunched at my computer, writing about immigration policy and refugee integration schemes.

I’m happy to say that I was successful in both of the before mentioned endeavours, although in hindsight I am pretty sure that those months of suffering would have passed in a much less painful manner had I actually engaged in some light-hearted social fare every now and then.

But alas, as they say, live and learn.

Birthdays are a great opportunity to sit and (subjectively) contemplate where you are in life, where you’ve come from, and where you would like to go.

This week I’ve reflected quite a bit along these lines – trying to figure out the things I am happy with, the things I still have to work on, and the things I have overcome in the past year.

People keep asking me if I am alright, or if something is wrong, particularly when I tell them that this year I’m not interested in doing anything big for my birthday.

While I may not be contemplating my life in this exact spot (I wish!), I am contemplating nevertheless.

I’m guessing that this muted (and therefore I’m apt to guess out of character) demeanour of mine  has led many to believe that I’m either down in the dumps (I get this quite a bit when I’m not my normally boisterous, extroverted self), or sweating over the fact somehow, despite my best efforts, I have managed to age yet another year.

This is not the case.

In fact, I’m having a hard time convincing people that I am downright a-okay. I’m just meditating on the past, and mulling over my future.

Which, at least to me, is a positive endeavor.

One thing I am working on is giving myself credit for the things that, well, deserve credit.

Seriously, it’s a chronic behavioural problem of mine. I am almost pathologically incapable of giving myself a pat on the back.

And although this problem used to be much worse than it currently is, the fact of the matter remains: I have tremendous difficulty truly taking pride in my triumphs, for fear that in doing so, I will come off as a big-headed, conceited jerk.

I’ve learned that the easier way to to combat this fright (and avoid that outcome) is to to ignore my successes, and instead immediately soldier on to my next goal, or activity, without so much as a second glance back.

I’ve been wondering about this quite a bit, and asking myself why I, like so many young people I know, are quick to downplay their accomplishments, almost to the point of parody?

Why do we squirm at the idea of complimenting ourselves, or accepting recognition from others?

Growing up I had a very real, very tangible belief that if I ever dwelled on that which I did well, people would right me off as self-righteous and self-involved. Being labelled “stuck-up” was second only to “slut” when it came to my biggest fears in terms of my (real or perceived) social identity (that second moniker is fodder for another topic, on another day.)

So I never took the time to congratulate myself, or accept the compliments of others (and if I did, it was always handled with a heavy dose of self-deprecation, or an attempt downplay what it was I had achieved), and I pushed to take on more activities, which in turn saw me place endless pressure on myself to excel– only to once again, ignore my successes.

This created an incredibly negative feed-back loop, defined by stress, insecurity, fear, and pressure. That my mental and physical health deteriorated because of this problem is an understatement – this warped, chronic need to over-achieve (but never acknowledge it) took over my life, manifesting itself in eating disorders, compulsive exercising, and long stretches of insomnia.

While I would like to say that I am completely over this affliction, I would be lying if I did. I can say however, that the  place I am today, is almost completely unrecognizable from where I was ten years ago.

I am no longer sick, I am much less stressed out, and I am always working on putting less pressure on myself.

I am still committing myself to numerous engagements, because they make me happy, while at the same time trying to make sure that I can self-validate through this process.

I am learning how to say “good job”, and “thank-you” (with no self-deprecating follow-up).

So while this year, I may not be throwing a grand bash to celebrate my birth, rest assured that I am celebrating.

Early birthday card, delicious birthday cookie.

I’m just doing it a little quieter, that’s all.

And that is definitely a-okay.

She works hard for the money

On days like today, when the weather gods and goddesses are smiling down on the fair (or otherwise) inhabitants of Southwest BC, there is a tree visible from my office window.

Standing alone, its branches spindly and ramrod, reaching for the heavens, it glows golden, as though kissed by a rogue ray of sunshine – it has been set aflame.

Glow little tree, glow with all your might!

It’s a spectacular sight to behold, and one I so often miss on days dominated by cloud cover and rain.

In an attempt to jazz up my work days, I have been making an attempt to incorporate more pretty things (most of which are predominately dresses) into my weekly wardrobe.

Another factor playing into this decision was my (still current) self-imposed restriction on purchasing new goods – this ban has been making it harder and harder to recycle my most tried and true outfits. For real, there is a limited number of times I can wear my pink cable-knit sweater before my skin will end up permanently dyed rose, and my skin tattooed with that unmistakable braid pattern.

Eep.

Plus, I have a pretty solid collection of frocks that don’t see much action outside of weddings and fancy events, which unfortunately can be few and far between in the winter months. Just seeing them in my closet makes my heart skip a beat – I’m not one to purchase things willy-nilly. If I buy it, it means that I like it. 

I like it a lot. 

A closet dominated by “work” clothes. Don’t worry, I’m a champ with the iron.

I am also not ashamed to admit that during the long stretches of time where I don’t have a chance to wear these beautiful outfits, sometimes it can be pretty fun to play dress up or have an impromptu fashion show, trying out different shoe-dress combinations – whether I’m on my own, or I’ve gotten M to act as my audience or critic.

(Mostly audience, sometimes critic.)

Yet, to be honest, getting into this new work-fashion grove was a little harder than I thought.

I was really nervous to even try it out.

Why, exactly was this, might you ask? I asked myself the same question.

It has been pretty darn interesting to sift through the many reasons that I found this decision to be much more of a challenge than I’d originally imagined it to be, particularly when it came down its execution.

It was not just a simple change of clothing to me.

I should stress that it wasn’t the opinion of colleagues or random passersbys that played into this aversion (in fact, I receive wonderful, reassuring, reactions, not to mention blush-inducing compliments every time I have donned a new outfit) – at the root of it, it was me.

Mostly I was afraid of looking like I had mistakenly showed up to a corporate workplace, instead of my intended destination (high tea with the Queen of England – aka Helen Mirren) after having taken that wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Or you know – that I was ten years old.

But mostly, and here I am a bit ashamed to even type out the words, I think I was afraid that the more feminine I dressed, the less likely I would be taken seriously – at the different lunches I go to, presentations I give, meetings I attend, interviews I conduct.

I am much younger than many of my colleagues, and I find that I often make myself hyper aware of this fact.

I put myself on edge, feeling as though I have to prove that, despite my age, I am a bloody rock-star at my job.

As such, if I dress too “womanly,” (combined with my obvious youth) I might command less respect, whereas when I dress “manly”, I have already knocked down one barrier (whether it be real or not – at least in my current position.)

Now, I understand that in reality, in my current situation, this hypothesis is most likely total crap. Assigning a gender to my clothing choices, and then evaluating my job performance (or at least how others may perceive, and therefore assess my performance) is pretty ridiculous.

However on a macro level (and micro for many, many others), both age and sex are two huge factors that negatively impact an individual’s professional success.

(I am also aware that the age factor is also a problem as you reach the other end of the scale.)

So it’s interesting to note, that while I am not in a position myself to be harmed by these attitudes, I have already internalized them, rendering an outsider’s imposition of them onto me a moot action.

In one word this is completely crazy.

One of the dresses I was originally too afraid to wear to work.

I’ve worked with enough people to understand that confidence in your abilities, coupled with a stellar work-ethic and solid output outweighs whatever outfit you may or may not be wearing on any given day – particularly if you present yourself as a professional, put-together individual.

And yet I stress over whether or not a beautiful, semi-formal dress, coupled with a cardigan/suit jacket and flats would somehow strip me of my professional legitimacy.

Thinking about this has really tripped me up, and opened up many other questions.

For instance:

When I wear a suit to work (specifically if I wear it with a tie, as I often do) and I doing so because I like the aesthetic of the outfit, or am I subconsciously trying to fit a preferred mould (aka presenting myself as a “male” somehow legitimizes my position?)

Or, am I able to just write it off to nothing more than the fact that I have always been attracted to men’s clothing, and because I am tall and lanky, this style of wardrobe works particularly well with by body type?

Or, at an even simpler level, am I just nervous of overdressing at work? As much as people may dislike the chronically underdressed, those who show up daily, ready for a black-tie formal, rarely escape criticism either.

At the root of it, I know this:

I first and foremost pride myself on presenting myself as a professional.

I just need to remember that first and foremost I am a professional.

Ready to run

Today after work I went to the gym and ran sprints until I was about one stride away from ralphing all over the treadmill (and maybe the poor soul to my left.) Luckily, I was able to overcome the seemingly inevitable need to upchuck and continued on with my strictly planned (and even more strictly enforced) exercise in masochism, pun intended.

Tonight, I was in it to win it (or you know, lose control over my most simple bodily functions.)

The Canadian women warming up.

Full disclosure: THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.

So anyways, after running, I went and threw myself into the toughest elements of strength training I could think of (and therefore purposely avoid during my regular nights at the gym.)

These are the parts of the routine I dread with the fiercest fires of Hades  – the ones I never feel like doing because they are the worst things invented in the history of invented things: lunges, squats, burpees, push-ups, pull-ups and the piece de resistance, the hardest possible ab workout I could muster without giving myself a hernia (I’m looking at you plank, you evil, torturous pose.)

So why dear readers, did I do this?

Two words: CONCACAF Soccer.

Seriously.

On Sunday night Mister M and I went to the finals of the Women’s Olympic Qualifying Soccer Tournament down at BC Place. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric  – over twenty-five thousand jazzed-up Canucks (and a very healthy American contingent) dressed in their best red and white (or blue as may be for the Yanks). Everyone showed up ready to watch an hour of awesome sportsmanship and athleticism.

Ready to get my cheer on!

It was a bit of a throw-back to the Olympics really. A nice reminder of how much support there is for our athletes when we have the chance to take part in their achievements and actually watch them compete.

Do you hear this Mr. The Honourable Bal Gosal? TAKE NOTE!

It was a great night, filled with drama, suspense, and remarkable athletic feats – everything a sporting event should be.

Unfortunately, our ladies ended up losing 4-0. The gameplay was heavily dominated by the American squad, notwithstanding two brilliant efforts by the Canadians, that on any other day most likely would have been goals.

But alas, such is the way the cookie crumbles.

I really however must give credit where credit is due: what else is there to say about an American team that were truly breath-taking to behold.  There was no question at all as to why the team is ranked number one in the world.

To put it simply – the ladies are hands down fricken amazing.

Now, I am in no way knocking our Canadian squad, in so far as they played a solid game, however in the end they just we no match for a team that could out-run, out-manoeuvre, and out-skill them.

As a giant aside however, I must give a healthy shout out to our Ace in the Hole, Ms. Christine Sinclair – seriously, she is a force to be reckoned with, and an all around world-class athlete.

In short, she is a complete BOSS.

So it was watching this incredible display of talent, skill, endurance, and passion that really pumped me the heck up to go out tonight and push myself to my physical limits.

Because when you boil it down to its most basic properties, I truly love sport.

I love what sport does for not only others, but what it does for me.

And going to the gym day after day in the winter, after the sun has set (at 4:30 in the afternoon), makes this a little hard to remember.

But it’s true: playing, watching, talking about, arguing over, crying after (or during),  running so hard until you feel as though your lungs have caught fire and the only way to put them out is to throw the up – jumping up and down, pulling out my hair, sweating, grunting, exhilarating, liberating, stupefying, beautiful –

Sport.

I love it. 

After my 2nd half - I ran for Big Sisters and raised $1,020. Seriously one of the best things I've ever done.

And watching those women last night was just the reminder I needed.

Last year I completed two half-marathons.  I ran my first in 1:46 and my second in 1:38.  I will begin training for my first marathon this coming May and I am completely dedicated to running it in 3:30:00.

The objective: to qualify for the Boston marathon and I know that I can do it.

I just need more nights like this to remind me – of the beauty of the game, the run, the goal, the win, the loss, the triumph – of it all.

So I will continue to run, and sweat and strain. I will grow stronger. And I will write of that which inspires.

And I welcome you all to share the things that drive, motivate, invigorate and exhilarate you.

Postcards from St. Petersburg

Spotlight: Russia

I left for St. Petersburg in June 2007, having won a scholarship to attend a two-week long literary conference. 

With my fledgling Russian backed by a 100-level textbook and a second hand travel guide, I landed in city that has the capacity to enrapture you, shock you – change you – if you give it the chance.

Myself and the great Alexandr Sergeyevich Puskin.

This is a snapshot – one day of my travels:

Nevesky Prospekt is the largest street I have ever seen.

Kazan Cathedral, on Nevesky Prospekt.

It is a six lane free for all, with luxury cars, fold-up minivans, off duty cabs, soviet era trolley cars and the odd, slightly-crazed biker all jockeying for position on the road.

The street is flanked by pink and green palaces, whose thinning paint and rust-stained statues compete for your attention with multi-coloured, cavernous cathedrals, renovated, glistening pharmacies (whose windows advertise the sale of anti-cellulite cream) and extravagantly priced furriers that require a password upon entrance.

On the sidewalks sit the legless ex-soldiers, wearing their cigarette stained army uniforms, silently staring at their skateboards and starving dogs.  I like to walk the two blocks to the bookstore on the corner of Gribeodov Canal, just to stare at the Church of Spilled Blood.  It is a kaleidoscope of grotesque baroque and neoclassical absurdity.

One block of Nevesky Prospekt.

As I make my way to the university, I smile at the dedushka who parks himself outside the twenty-four hour “Kafe haus.”  I have never seen someone play a saw with a violin bow before.  His thick glasses reflect the glare of a neon sign blinking “cigarettes!” from across the street.

I think about buying apple blini from the vendor across the road.

Russia makes me both homesick and brave.  The first time I rode the metro, I was by myself.

This was no mean feat.

Over two million people take this form of transit every day.  At some stations, you can’t see where the trains are coming from, because station doors (which control the the train doors) do not open until the cars come to a complete stop, in order to prevent people from killing themselves on the platforms.

Also, because Peter the Great had his city built smack dab in the middle of a soggy bog land, the station is almost one hundred meters below ground, and when I took a photo at the top of the escalator, I couldn’t see the bottom.

The view from the top of the escalator.

In order to purchase my zheton (fare token) I cue up with what approximately two hundred others.  Our bodies are packed together, and I’m not sure what line I’m standing in.  We are a sea cacophony.

I clutch my rubles so tight that I can’t get the smell of the copper coins out of my skin for almost two days.   Voices buzz and squawk out of every possible channel.  It discombobulates.  Overhead speakers crackle, cell phones yammer, children cry, students gossip.

My roommate Laura told me that she is afraid to descend this far underground, for fear of an earthquake.  She doesn’t want to meet any of the 40,000 Swedish POW’s whose bones act as cement for the St. Petersburg metro, its cars and their tracks.

When I finally make it to the front of the line, the woman behind the (what I think has to be) bullet proof glass looks as though she has been living in her cubicle for the past three days.  Boredom is etched in her face: thin lines crisscross the width of her forehead and a sheer glaze coats the contours of her eyeballs.  Stands of hair spill from her sloppy bun, and her blouse is done up Samedi-Dimanche with the top buttons askew.

Her slightly-parted mouth looks to be stuck permanently in mid-yawn.

“Odna zheton,” I tell her, slipping the money through the tray.  She doesn’t even look at me, as she passes me back one tiny metal token.  I immediately slip it into the slot of the turnstile to my right.  Amazingly I am granted the right to pass.

Next time I’m taking this bus. (Straight to outer space of course)

Visions of large, moustachioed men looming out of invisible corners, interrogation chambers and confessions slips slink back into my subconscious.

It is only now that I realize how hard my heart had been beating; with each breath I take, I can feel it punching again and again against the fabric of my t-shirt.

When the train comes I walk into the car and sit down.  As it begins to move, the sensation of the ride feels the same as back home.  Indeed, everyone around me looks the same as back home.  Everybody is minding their own business and pretending that they cannot see the other passengers, just the same as back home.

However, I count the number of stops until I have to get off because unlike back at home, I cannot understand the station announcer.

She speaks too fast.

Why would Regina refer to herself as a ‘fugly slut’?

After suffering through two days spent house-bound, wallowing in my sickness, I made the executive decision on Sunday to get the heck out of dodge (ie. leave the house before I was completely and forever subsumed by my pyjamas and empty mugs of tea.)

Lovely, lovely. I couldn't wait to take a bite of that pain au chocolate.

Even though I wasn’t (and still am not) feeling totally up to snuff, sometimes just a simple change of scenery can really help clear the cobwebs and bring on (if but a fleeting) sense of wholeness and health.

I needed to get out.

Mr. M and I drove to Steveston Village, a quaint and picturesque sea-side community that is a sight to behold in all of its splendour during the warmer months of the year, but pretty darn freezing in the face of a 80km/hour wind storm.

Erm. So maybe cabin fever wasn’t looking so bad the moment I stepped out the car, yet we managed to find a nice place for tasty pastries and over-priced coffees, where we could watch the world pass up by.

I told him how upset I was over the latest facebook meme that’s been making the rounds of late. Four “skinny” celebrities stand at the top of the picture, and four old-school “curvy” starlets pose on the bottom. The clever (take that with a healthy helping of side-eye) caption reads:

When did this (aka skinny) become sexier than that (the ever-malleable) “curvy”?

It’s all I can do not to step back and start yelling, “HEY LADIES! DO YOU NOT SEE ALL THE FISH WE ARE CURRENTLY TRYING TO FRY? I MEAN, THEY ARE SO BIG! WHY ARE YOU FIGHTING THE CAUSE INSTEAD OF SUPPORTING IT?”

Come on.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding that women themselves cannot be misogynists.

We well can. And we are. All the live long day.

I would laugh if it wasn’t such a brutally destructive, highly omnipresent enterprise.

This picture scene is pretty much the embodiment of how all this makes me feel.

I mean, what (might you ask) would the point be in hating on a large, incredibly varied group of individuals, especially if they (along with you) are part of the same (already marginalized) group of people?

It is overwhelming to the point of paralysis (at least for me) to witness how desperate this situation actually is – women hating women is a huge, incredibly pervasive problem.

What is even crazier is how it is carried out with such a blithe, and yet somehow caustic attitude- an ignorance that is equal parts savage as it is glee.

How else could we explain the meme? And its 20,000+ likes?

Why do we float around “eat a sandwich” or ‘lay off the burgers” as if these aren’t even sentences, as if they are addressed to individuals completely stripped of their humanity.

These words, these attitudes are indicative of how we have not only bought into our society’s historically created, and incredibly deep rooted, sex-based hierarchy but are willing participants in its validation and perpetuation every day.

Women body-shame, slut-shame, baby-shame, mother-shame (the list, unfortunately, goes on and on) like it’s a professional sport – as competitors and spectators alike.

As the great Tina Fey says in her seminal work Mean Girls:  “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

Because it gets us nowhere.

This systemic othering is destroying us.

So what do we do?

We stop calling out others to make ourselves feel good. Because our “fat” counterparts (or “thin” foils) are not the enemy here. Because in making them the enemy we are only feeding a machine hell bent on keeping the current (highly negative, violent, and overall destructive) status quo, no questions asked.

Because only if we manage to stop doing this as a collective whole, will we (maybe) be able to step back (as a whole), and then (and perhaps only then) will we be a powerful group, not a fractured, competing entity, fighting over whose discourse (or body shape) is right).

We will actually be able to take on other problems that desperately need to change: deep rooted, highly toxic norms, and the individuals and industries who profit massively off of these norms, and the dissention they are capable of creating and reinforcing among the female populace.

Or else it’s just one serious negative feedback loop.

Please.

So yes. This is what I talked about yesterday.

I'm done with memes unless they revolve around Lenin Cat. For serious.

M listened to me as my cheeks flushed feverish, and my tears ran long, splattering the lenses of my glasses, like the rain on the coffee shop window.

Eventually, our discussion moved to autonomy, and choice, and marketing, and materialism.

And it helped me remember what I so easily forget – that I’m not here raging by myself.

It just would be nice to, every so often, see an internet meme to remind me.