Friday, January 27, 2006

Rules to live by ... or not

I’ve been rummaging around in my sub-conscious quite a bit lately (yes, there’s a bigger story here, but not one I’m prepared to share with you right now), and am somewhat amazed at the things I’ve run across in the crowded, dusty attic of my mind. I’ve recently unearthed – underneath the patch of vinyl wallpaper I “accidentally” melted with a heat lamp, and behind a particulary painful memory of a junior high piano recital (brrrr!) – some of the fundamental “rules" I learned (maybe too well, sometimes!) when I was a rugrat.

I don’t necessarily endorse these rules – in fact, some of them I’ve found to be positively destructive in my own life (for instance, I was 20 years old before I tried Kraft Dinner, and I am, apparently, a wanna-be perfectionist). Others, however, I think are pretty useful guidance for this weird and wonderful thing we call life.

So, both good and bad, fundamental and trivial, I present you with the first installment of The Rules I Live By … whether I want to or not:

1. Work first. Play later.
2. Take care of others before you take care of yourself.
3. The only person you need to measure up to is yourself – so always do your best.
4. You don’t have to be like everybody else.
5. Always keep the house tidy and the cookie jar full. You never know when someone will drop by.
6. Make the most of your natural gifts and talents – whatever they may be.
7. A woman should always have money of her own (i.e. money nobody else can touch).
8. You are stronger, more logical, and more practical than most of the men in your life, so you need to make allowances for them.
9. Homemade macaroni and cheese is better and cheaper than Kraft Dinner.
10. Going outside without underwear on is NOT ACCEPTABLE – especially when you are wearing a skirt.
11. Play by the rules. And if you don't, at least don't lie when you get caught. It only makes things worse. Much worse.
12. There are few things in life that cannot be made better by a nice hot cup of tea, a hug and some freshly baked scones.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I want vs. I should

After a couple of weeks of relative traquility, my workload is starting to creep up again. It's still nothing compared to the expectations and deadlines of my old job, but I'm still finding myself a bit squeezed for time these days. (Of course, it doesn't help that I'm not exactly the quickest person -- in any sense of the word -- on the face of the planet.)

So, here's the problem. I have had a blast roaming around the blogosphere these past few weeks, and, to be honest, I DON'T WANT TO STOP. There are far to many of you interesting souls out there, and I look forward to dropping in on your thoughts and lives (and occasionally launching a volley of long-winded wit & wisdom on some unsuspecting victim) each day.

But reality -- and my boss -- are tapping on my shoulder and pointing to the (metaphorical & literal) piles of paper on my desk. Something's gotta give here, and, as far as I can see, there are three options:

1. I restrict my blogging time to the lunch-hour and the odd tea-and-cookies break (boring, but practical);

2. I quit my job so I can take up a new career as a freelance blogosphere explorer (intriguing, but I've become rather attached to strange and wonderful things like food, a roof over my head and a bank account);


3. You all become MUCH more boring so I'm not faced with this dilemma in the first place.

Given the relative unlikelihood of Options 2 & 3 coming about, it looks like I won't have time to keep up with everyone all the time. So, here's a few questions for all you more experienced bloggers out there:

- How much time do you typically spend blogging each day? Do you restrict yourself?

- What are your strategies for navigating the blogosphere? First, for keeping track of your favorites and, second, for finding "new and exciting" blogs?

and, finally,

- What is the etiquette around adding a comment to an older posting on someone's blog? Is there any point in commenting on something that has been superceded by a newer entry? How far back can you go? Can you "interrupt" a current comment stream (is that the same thing as a meme? What is a meme exactly, anyway?) with a comment about an older post if you introduce it as such?

Thanks for sharing your wisdom with this blogging newbie.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Shh! Don't tell any anyone ...

So,Snooze tagged me to list three things about myself that no one knows.

I had to think about it for a while since, frankly, I lead a pretty boring life and I don't have many -- ok, ANY -- secrets that make interesting reading. I mean, would anyone care that I still own -- and regularly wear -- a pair of shoes I bought in high school (Mary Janes with a 3-inch heel)? Nope, didn't think so.

So, here's what I came up with. (Don't laugh ... well, ok, you can laugh, but don't let me hear you ...)

1. If I'm all alone for a day, my favourite thing to do is break open a giant bag of Cheezies and read trashy romance novels - the more formulaic the better. I particularly like ones with cowboys in them -- maybe it's the horses, I don't know. I know this doesn't sound like a real secret, but I'm still trying to shake off the lit-snob veneer I picked up as an English major in university. BTW, I loathe Earnest Hemmingway and think critical theory is a crock.

2. I slept with two stuffed animals every night until I moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband) at age 22. Teddy is a rather smooshed-looking racoon, and Edward the II is a polar bear named after my invisible friend who lived in the chimney when I was little. I still have my stuffed animals, but I'm not sure where the real imaginary Edward is these days. We've lost touch.

3. I had my first real hangover just over two months ago (I'm 37). It's not that I don't drink, I just never drank enough to get hung over before then. The occassion, for those of you who haven't passed out from laughing so hard, was a girls-only weekend with two old friends from grad school. I did not throw up, but I played piano (badly) and sang (worse) for several hours and ended up lying on the floor completely unable to lift my head or speak in coherent sentences. The following day I had a nasty headache, felt like I was chewing wool every time I opened my mouth, and still had trouble lifting my head. Interesting experience, but I don't know if I'll bother repeating it. Then again, we had so much fun, my friends and I are planning to make our weekend away an annual event!

In turn, I will tag Susan as Herself and Sister StaceyPatrick, since they're the only two people I'm sure will read this!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Cranky Day

Some days, don't you really wish you could just say "Screw it - I'm outa here!"

The weird thing is that it hasn't really been a bad day, just lots of little frustrations. Today, people are ignoring my e-mails, and are not calling back. I have rewritten the same blasted presentation six times at last count and it's still not done. I am waiting to receive the final slide from someone else, which will undoubtedly NOT be what's required, and I will end up scrambling to redo it -- despite the fact I know virtually nothing about the subject.

I haven't had lunch yet, and I will spend most of the afternoon in a pointless staff meeting, where I will feel obliged to be polite and upbeat and attentive -- rather than run screaming like a banshee from the building, which is what I will really feel like doing.

Today I feel stupid and incompetent and generally pissed off. So, I'm declaring it officially Cranky Day.

And in honour of Cranky Day, I now ask you to raise your hand to your heart and recite with me this stirring anthem:


Today I will not live up to my potential.
Today I will not relate well to my peer group.
Today I wll not contribute in class.
I will not volunteer one thing.

Today I will not strive to do better.
Today I will not achieve or adjust or grow enriched or get involved.
I will not put up my hand even if the teacher is wrong and I can prove it.

Today I might eat the eraser off my pencil.
I'll look at clouds.
I'll be late.
I don't think I'll wash.

I need a rest.

(from Hey World, Here I Am by Jean Little)


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A few thoughts about pain

I have a migraine. It showed up yesterday morning and - unless my new meds work better than the old ones - will stick around for about another two days. That's 42 more hours, or 2,520 minutes, or 151,200 seconds ... approximately ... until I once again rejoin the human race.

Because the thing about pain is that it defines you for as long as it's around.

I am currently possessed by a malign spirit, manufactured by my own traitorous body, and it owns me just as long as it chooses to stay. Everything in my world now plays a distant, poor second to that spot in my skull: the one just behind my left eye, a little way up and toward the left temple. It is mesmerizing, this spot in my brain -- it is fascinating and terrible. It is the world. It is me. For now.

I have been reading a book of essays called Eccentric Islands by Bill Holm . In it he says we can be "islanded" by pain. He suggests pain can encircle us, isolate us, strip our other identities from us while it is here - when we hurt, really hurt, we are no longer mothers or sons or teachers or friends or anythings ... except pain.

Gotta say - it's a good metaphor. A VERY good metaphor.

Just wish I didn't know that for sure.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Found time

This morning, it took me two hours to make what is normally a half-hour commute in to work. Ottawa is having a "light snowfall"(according to the weather report), which translates into driving snow, roads coated in greasy slush, and general automotive chaos.

Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy driving in weather like this. After all, everyone's stuck in the same mess, almost no one is making it anywhere on time, and there's nothing you can do to escape it ... so you might as well take it easy, let the traffic crawl, crank up the tunes, and relax.

I consider it "found time" -- one of those occasions when something happens (or, more often, doesn't happen) providing an unexpected moment of ... well ... freedom. Opportunity. Chance. You name it.

For me, there's a certain "Snow Day" quality about found time, even when it's spent sitting in stop-and-go traffic. For those few minutes or hours I have been given an exciting and unexpected gift: my time suddenly belongs to me. Not to the deadlines, or the errands, or the infinite number of "oughta-dos." After all, I'm sitting in a car, in a traffic jam, in a snowstorm. After a couple of quick calls on the cellphone to let people know I'll be late, there's not much else I can do except sit, look out the window, press the accelerator or brake (very gently) now and again, and let my mind wander.

I don't have much time these days to daydream -- or rather, I don't allow myself much time to daydream anymore. There's always something else to do or think about or solve or fret over. But, as I grow older, I'm missing that piece of myself more and more; and I know it's time for me to learn how to play again, how not to worry, how to dream and drift like the child I used to be.

A couple of hours in a traffic jam isn't much, but at least it's a start. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What part of "Just stay home" don't you understand?

It seems like every other person in my office is sick, just recovering from being sick, or just about to get sick. (No, I'm feeling fine, thanks very much for asking.)

Now ... I know by writing this down I am courting the wrath of the sneeze gods, so to appease any supernatural, illness-oriented being out there, I humbly send out this offering:

8 cups chicken broth
1 ½ bulbs (not cloves) of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp white vinegar
chopped hard-boiled egg (optional)

- Bring chicken broth to a boil.
- Add chopped garlic and simmer for 1 hour.
- Add vinegar and simmer 5 min.
- Place a little chopped hard-boiled egg in the bottom of a bowl and ladle soup over top.

(Recipe from a cookbook by Lucy Waverman.)

May you sniffle in peace ... far, far away from the office!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sometimes I am possessed by the Marx Brothers

Now, I don't want to sound paranoid, but does anyone else out there ever get the feeling they're possessed? Every couple of weeks, I SWEAR I am channelling the Marx Brothers - all of them! [If you don't know who the Marx Brothers are, take my advice and rent, buy or steal A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races or Duck Soup. This has been a public service announcement. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blather.]

Take today, for example. I was heading out to a meeting downtown. Boots, coat and gloves go on smoothly and I picked up my purse and briefcase (one of those soft ones with a shoulder strap). So far so good. As I'm heading to the elevator, I stumble - on perfectly flat industrial carpet! - and my purse and briefcase fly off my shoulder. No biggie, these things happen, right?

So, I pick up my purse first and sling it over my shoulder, then bend down to pick up my briefcase. Bang - my purse is on the floor again. So I pick it up again, and this time wedge it behind my arm as I once again move in on the case. I manage to pick it up, but somehow my arm gets tangled in the strap and I end up dropping it again. Followed a moment later by - you guessed it - the purse.

Since by this time I've clued in that Groucho, Chico and Harpo have dropped by - again! - I now approach my accessories cautiously. First the purse - easy does it, with a firm grip on the straps at all times. Then the briefcase - this time, I decide to hold it by its handles ... less scope for mischief that way ... and creep slowly and carefully to the elevator.

While waiting for the elevator to arrive, I put down the briefcase so I can get my keys out of my purse. The purse zipper sticks, naturally, so I have to wrestle it open, and then dig around in the several dimensions accessable through this particular bag (and you thought the Tardis was impressive!) in order to find my car keys. Of course, they've become tangled in the spiral notebook that I aways keep handy and must be coaxed free through a combination of swearing, pleading and judicious violence.

And as soon as they're untangled - yup - I dropped 'em. So, there I am standing by the elevator doors in full winter kit, with an open purse dangling off my arm, a slightly mangled spiral notebook in one hand, a set of keys resting on one foot and a soft brown leather briefcase squatting moodily next to the other. Oh, yeah, and a meeting downtown in less than 15 minutes.

So, I did what I usually do in situations like these (sadly, this is not a unique experience for me). I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and banged my head against a wall. Sometimes I find it helps to shake things up a bit inside.

And the meeting ... it was cancelled.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Any questions or comments?

Some of you may have noticed that I'm a bit new to the blogosphere. So there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way. Thanks to Sister Staceypatrick, you should now be able to comment until your heart's content ... or at least until the boss walks by.

Very sorry for any inconvenience ... Please come again ... I'll bake cookies ... really!


Maybe I just need more popcorn . . .

Life isn't like the movies, so they say (frequently followed by slight shrug and a quick change of topic). Well, I've made a decision: I'm not having it anymore. Life is just going to have to shape up and start behaving itself. And I'm not putting up with one of those gritty "slice of life" dramas either. No way! I want my life to be like a 1930s comedy, one starring, say, Katherine Hepburn.

You see, ever since I was a child, I have wanted to be Katherine Hepburn ... or Audrey Hepburn ... a Hepburn of some kind anyhow. My mum was an old movie buff, and I spent a fair chunk of my childhood watching the movie marathons on PBS (back-to-back movies all weekend – yum!) and the weekly double-feature on Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO (Ontario's public broadcasting service). And most of them, at least in my memory, were black-and-white features from the 1930s and 40s, with the occasional 1950s musical thrown in for good measure.

So, growing up in the 70s & 80s, I was more familiar with Cary Grant and Fred Astaire than Al Pacino and Paul Newman, and felt more at home with Judy Garland and Shirley Temple than Jodi Foster or Jane Fonda. But, in my child’s mind, Katherine Hepburn stood above them all – followed closely by the lovely Audrey.

Katherine was tall, elegant, intelligent, charismatic, and witty beyond belief. Audrey was tiny, but equally elegant and utterly captivating with her boundless enthusiasm, million-watt smile, and those enormous, luminous eyes. As you may – or may not – know, Hepburns always ... well, almost always ... dressed beautifully and had adventures with fascinating men in exotic locals such as Paris, Rome, and upstate New York. And, because they were clever and charming and determined, they always figured out what to do to make things work out right by the time the credits rolled.

In many ways, these two women, and the roles they played, formed my beliefs about what MY life could – and should – be. In the films of 30s and 40s, heroines were generally powerful and smart, enthusiastic, charming, well-dressed and witty. They were the equal of any man – and more than a match for most – and they did what needed to be done. More often than not, they got what they wanted: usually (but not always!) the man and the occasional puppy . . . or tiger.

Bluntly, I LOVED these movies – still do.

As a kid, I was very tall, a bit overweight, and ferociously intellectual (in the sense of using book-smarts as a defensive weapon). What’s more, I had no athletic ability and precious few social skills – particularly during those oh-so-memorable teen years. I rarely had any clue what to do to make anything “work out right” ... and I was certainly not beautiful, witty, charming or well-dressed! (You can imagine the desert that was my social life - except for the oasis provided by my best – well, only – friend, Sister Staceypatrick.) So, the Hepburns – and their silver-screen kin – gave me something to aspire to and the hope that there was a world in which the smart girls were also beautiful, glamorous and charming, and led wonderful lives. Sitting in my living-room with yet another bag of potato chips, I figured if I could just become more like them, my life would automatically turn out like the ones I saw flickering across the t.v. It was a nice, simple equation.

Of course, it hasn’t quite worked out that way (although I can’t really complain). In my quest for a life ‘just like the movies’ I forgot to factor in one essential thing – a really good scriptwriter. I’m all ready to roll of course, but life, I’m sad to say, is just mucking about in its trailer and refusing to learn its lines.

So, if anyone out there knows of a top-quality wordsmith specialising in comic banter, zany adventures and – above all else – happy endings, please let me know. I’ve got all the source material right here.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll try banging on the trailer door again. Sigh!