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.

Soup, soup, tasty soup

Well, boys and girls, it’s back to the sick bay for me.

If only I had a real-life Dr. Crusher.

She, in her fierce blue-black onesy, and camp-fire toned hair would not only cure me, but also immunize me from any other cough-flu-colds I may pick up in the future. (Somewhere around the rings of Saturn no doubt.)

Plus, on top of it all, Wil Wheaton was pretty darn cute as her son.

I like to refer to it as the Death Star's hipster little brother.

Side note about Mr. Wheaton: In one of our more, well, nerdy moves, in 2007 M and I went down to Seattle for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony, as M’s favourite author is Gene Wolfe who was being honoured that year. Gene Roddenbury was also being celebrated and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who was the man introducing him until I turned to the woman sitting next to me and stage whispered, “HOLY FRICK – IS THIS WESLEY CRUSHER?”

Little did I know that he’s now some prolific blogger and hugely popular figure in the nerdverse and highly celebrated as such. Seriously, the women seemed very off put that I was at an event at the Sci-Fi Hall of Fame and didn’t know this.

I actually got a photo with him after the celebration that ran on Startrek.com for an entire week.

Ah well, live and learn.

Last night on my way home from work my entire body seemed to go into shut-down mode. A thick fog swept its way over my brain, throughout my sinuses and down into my lungs.

My bones felt as they had been soaked in rubbing alcohol.

It was all I could do to pick up the necessary ingredients for a much needed cure-all: Jaime Oliver’s Mint Pea Soup.

I take all my cues from my little sister who is a rock star professional chef. No joke.

De-lish.

What I love so much about his recipes is just how easy they are – you make them once and it’s easy-peasy (pun intended) to memorize the ingredients and instructions – it takes absolutely no effort to put them together.

Mr. M likes to get involved.

Plus they taste so darn lovely.

The finished product.

I got home, unloaded my bags and turned on my favourite CBC radio program As it Happens.

Now, hands down, if I could have any job in the world, I’m pretty sure hosting this show would be it.

They interview the craziest, most irreverent, brilliant, interesting, heartbreaking individuals, and cover stories that can be described in pretty much the exact same way.

Last night they interviewed a city councillor from Louisiana that is working on banning pyjama pants from public places (having already passed a bylaw prohibiting the wearing of baggy pants.)

They also interviewed Michael Semple, a former EU envoy to Afghanistan, on negotiations with the Taliban, and read a story about how sheep shearers in New Zealand are trying to get their sport into the Olympics (albeit just for demonstration.)

To say that the show is scintillating and thought-provoking would be simplistic in the extreme.

It is, the best.

I think one of the biggest reasons behind why I enjoy it so much is the brilliant way in which it is structured: mixing in the odd with the important, the beautiful with the bad.

There is a very fine, very important balance to the program. No one emotion, and or sentiment is ever allowed to hold a monopoly over the stories they cover.

For one and a half hours, you get the happy, and you get the sad.

Because isn’t this how life itself, actually unfolds? From my experience, nothing is ever just good, and nothing is ever simply bad.

That’s why As it Happens is such a refreshing look at world events compared the overwhelmingly negative  emphasis that I find so pervasive in traditional news outlets. Turn on any news site – whether radio, television or online, and I promise you the focus will be on what bad thing happened, in what bad town, orchestrated by which bad individuals.

No wonder so many people chose to remain uniformed – the constant onslaught of depressing stories is enough make even the strongest individual weary of established (read: static) journalistic practices.

We already know bad things can happen. Need we be reminded every single day of this fact? I don’t even have the energy to get into how this is probably the number one reason why so many dangerous and harmful isms are so readily and easily reinforced and socially institutionalized.

There is a reason why brainwashing has remained en vogue for so long. It works.

I suppose this is also another reason why I really love CBC radio programming as a whole – the overwhelming diversity it brings to the table. And yes, I am fully aware of how nerdy this makes me (yo – Wheaton, are you hearing this? I’m encroaching on your crown so you better watch yourself!) but I really don’t care. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family that always had it on in the background, but the more I listen, the more I learn, and the more I am inspired.

Don't have CBC in your life? That, my friends, can change! Or, you know, an over-sized cat mug with pea soup also helps.

There is so much good work being done in the world, it’s just such a shame that so little of it remains unreported, and unnoticed.

But then, even just typing those words, immediately they rang false – because if these wonderful works actually went unnoticed, I have a hard time believing the world would even be running at the (somewhat limited) capacity that it is.

They may not be celebrated, but they are definitely making the world a better place.

And that makes me feel better, on the whole.

And I hope that, perhaps, just being aware of this will, like a real-life Ms. Crusher, make me just that little bit healthier.

 

Maybe she’s born with it

So I went to Joe Fresh yesterday to see if they had any quality, affordable sweaters that would help protect me from the freezing rain and harsh winds that are currently ravaging our fair city, and well, me.

These two weather-based phenomena have been the chief culprits behind the transformation of what is normally a rather rainy, temperate rainforest into an unforgiving, frozen wasteland.

I mean, we’re not exactly talking L.A. in T2 here (not by any stretch of the imagination), but seriously dudes, it’s cold.

And while there weren’t any swell sweater deals to be found, I did however make a different discovery.

Ch-ch-ch-check out that styling. Are you seeing this Vogue?

It’s seems as though Mr. Fresh (and his affiliates) are not just purveyors of clothing for budget-minded people –they also sell cosmetics, (rather decent ones at that) and as such, I was able to pick up three nail polishes (for 10 dollars!) and a new red lipstick (for six).

This made me very happy.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I am a lipstick kind of gal.

I don’t wear eye shadows or liners, bronzer, or lip gloss.

Sure, I wear mascara, and I love blush, and I’ll pull out the concealer when I have bags the size of China, or a zit that is threatening to take over the world – but lipstick?

Well, lipstick, and lipstick only – that’s my bag baby.

For the past two years I had it down to a pretty solid science: I owned three different colours, from three different brands, and depending on my mood, I would chose from one of the following:

–       A fierce, fluorescent pink, by Rimmel London

New year, new red.

–       A sensuous, lavender-pink, by MAC

–       A dark, wine stain-red, by Revlon

And then of course, sometime in the last month I up and lost my red, and I was devastated, and because I am currently living at 123 Frugal House, Frugal Lane, Frugal, BC, Canada, I refused to bone up the clams (yes I realized that is a horrible mixed money metaphor) to replace it.

For me, there is just something so effortlessly awesome about red lipstick. It immediately puts me in a good mood, and makes whatever I may be wearing seem one hundred times more glamorous.

It’s like playing dress up without having to find a cape and flying goggles.

I also tend to get a lot of really awesome feedback whenever I wear it, which is lovely, but hands down the most common reaction I get, again and again, is an admission from the complimenter.

I cannot even being to count the number of times someone has told me that they don’t believe they could ever wear it (red lipstick) themselves.

They’ll always be all: “But you can pull off that kind of stuff! But there is no way I could never do it myself!”

Um…what?

Who told you this? And whatever reason did you have to believe them?

Right here and now I would like to end this pervasive, persistent and completely untrue assumption that the majority of women (or men) cannot pull off this particular piece of macquillage.

Anyone who wants to wear this can, and do so swimmingly, as long as they have one thing:

LIPS.

Got lips? Perfect – we’re good to go.

Nymeria just doesn't understand. She says go for it! Or you know, I'm exhausted and feed me.

Now, for the sake of covering all my bases, let it be known that I understand the difference between not being interested in wearing a product and believing that you are somehow physically incapable of either 1.) wearing said product because 2.) wearing said product while somehow trigger hordes of petrified individuals running away in the opposite direction should they have the misfortune of setting eyes on you, again, wearing said product.

(I promise I will never say wearing said product ever again.)

(Or at least in this post.)

Did any of that make any sense?

The nub and gist of what I am trying to communicate here, is that it makes my heart really heavy when I encounter so many beautiful, brilliant women, of all ages, who live their lives (fashion, or otherwise)  according to some kind of code that dictates what they are, and are not, capable of.

When I go shopping with friends I often find myself persuading them to try on things I believe would look marvellous on them, especially if they are particularly reticent (ie. they write off) an entire style of clothing.

I of course am not immune to this way of thinking either. Surprisingly enough, the majority of times I have found myself really moving outside of my comfort zone (we are talking like, to the Russian Taiga here) have been with M.

(The man every so often has some powerful fashion aces up his sleeve.)

Mr. M aka fashion plate extraordinaire. Are you seeing this Vogue?

But I do truly believe in taking risks.

Even if it – the risk (be it a dress, a lipstick, a relationship, a road less taken, etc.) ends up not working exactly the way you imagined, isn’t it always better to have tried?

Isn’t this how we learn, and become stronger, and ultimately, become braver? Which in turn, allows for greater and more rewarding risk-taking and self-fulfilment?

Isn’t this some awesome feedback loop we should focus on, not move away from?

Is this not how we should truly be getting to know ourselves?

My experience (as limited as it has been) has shown me that at the root of it all, this is how we truly find out what works, for us and what doesn’t.

Not from some silly code.

Fear of being judged, or looking silly may dictate the parameters of what we think is best for us at the beginning (of our relationships with certain looks, people, ideas, etc.) – but they don’t need to control them forever.

We just need to remember that variety is both an entertainment magazine, but more importantly, the spice of life.

One last note on my recent makeup purchases.

M says that this photo reminds him on a serial killer. We have been watching a lot of Dexter lately.

Does this colour of nail polish make me look like I’ve set up shop in the morgue, as you know, a resident?

Because as much as I really love this shade of blue, I’m kind of sold on the fact that it makes me look like a very dead (albeit very stylish) corpse.

And yet, just having written out these words, I sit here thinking whether or not my assessment of whether or not  this nail polish is working or not is viable, or skewed – are my preconceived notions of what looks good next to my (rather translucent skin) wrecking havoc with my assessment of the situation?

Heck, if I want to wear blue nail polish, I’ll find a way to make it work.

Yet between my red lips, white skin, and blue fingernails, I don’t know if I’m a fashion statement, or a political symbol.

Liberte, egalite, and Mme. Estee?