Friday, April 2, 2010

Anatomy of a hug

My friend Alexandra told me that it takes seventeen seconds for a hug to release endorphins. Did you know that!? I have known Alex since I was about 10 and I know how smart she is, so I am inclined to believe this, even though I don't know that I can honestly say that a 17-second hug feels the same as running 5k.

Still, I keep telling people this when they proffer a hug, and then make them count to 17, while we laugh about it, feeling a bit self-conscious about holding on for what seems like forever, waiting to feel the endorphins. (Um, I don't know if I really know what that feels like. What am I missing?)

The last person that I told was my sister's friend Mark. He's very wry, and after we let go, we joked that after 17 seconds, it gets a bit wierd. (It really does.)

Because at 23 seconds, someone starts to have expectations, and this is where it really starts to go awry.

At 30 seconds, one of us is going to require a commitment.

At 38 seconds, though, someone undoubtedly pulls away, and then there's betrayal.

And at 40 seconds, you know someone's going to get hurt.

Since I don't really know what the endorphin rush feels like, I might just hang on for the full 40. (I know what that feels like, and at least I'll have something to talk about at my next therapy session.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Water under the bridge...

Since I seem to have created a theme this week of “doing things” including things that need doing (my to-do list), and things that I’m glad I did (my ta-da! list), I thought that I should also consider the things that have made me scratch my head.

I don’t generally have regrets. Not big ones anyway (cue Edith Piaf), though I admit that from time to time I wonder if it’s such a good idea to buy as many tights as I do, hoarde as much cashmere yarn or eat chocolate for breakfast. (er, I don't do that. And if I do, it's dark chocolate, which is good for you, right?)

But honestly, for anything that I’ve thought in hindsight was sort of a bad idea, I can think of a dozen things that have come of it that I never would have learned or experienced otherwise and for that I’m grateful.

There are, however, a few doozies about which I can only say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…”

And here are some of them:

1. The asymmetrical hair cut, ca 1984. I don’t believe that I have any photos of this disaster. (And for that reason alone, I believe in guardian angels.)
2. Layers. Too many of them, which is probably not as many as most people have ever had, but were too many for me. Ca. 1986, 1988, 1999-2000. I don’t have any photos of the first two, as they lasted only for about 24 hours before I cut all of my hair off to get rid of them. I believe that I may have a photo of the third ‘do because I got my hair cut on New Year’s Eve (!), which is proof that I have been abducted by aliens because it leads me to number three
3. Getting my hair cut in a strange city from a hairdresser that I didn’t know. On New Year’s Eve. (Wha-? See? I must have been abducted by aliens.)
4. Dropping OAC algebra. I’m not sure that I would use it all that often, but I still wish I’d kept it.
5. Highlights. March 1999. They were “blonde”, if you had to describe them, which I wish you wouldn’t - I’m trying to forget. The girl who rinsed my hair out actually said “Maybe they’ll look better when your hair’s dry…” They didn’t.
6. Buying a white bathing suit.
7. Not testing said white bathing suit in sunlight.
8. Not practicing the piano as as kid. I really can’t play. I think I’ll add “learn to play piano” to my To-Do list.

I think that part of the secret of happiness is being able to look back with satisfaction – or at least with appreciation of the experiences you've had. And I know that I have learned from all of these things. Some lessons though, it seems, take longer to learn.

To quote my dad, “It’s aaaallll water under the bridge. Of course, some water moves faster than other water…”

Though I've learned that NO water moves fast enough to grow hair. And ALL water is bad for a white bathing suit.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh yeah? What’d you ever do?

Picking up on a comment in response to my last post about crossing things off the to-do list (mine, usually written out on index cards), I thought that it was a great idea from my friend Roy to make a list of things that I've done.

So I created a “Done That” list. And I did do all of these things. I even have the t-shirt for some of them.

Since I’m not Mighty Girl, (Again, this is envy. Not jealousy. They're different. I swear.) I’ve never seen them written down in one place, so here they are, just in case I need reminding.

I have:
1. Sewn my own clothes.
2. Gone scuba diving.
3. Trekked in the Himalayas
4. Camped in the Amazon rainforest.
5. Run a 10K.
6. Stayed up all night to see the sunrise on a beach.
7. Installed a toilet. (Yes. I did.)
8. Seen a bear in the wild. Several, actually. Up close.
9. Seen a moose in the wild. Up close.
10. Sat in the cockpit of a plane landing in New York City.
11. Made strawberry jam.
12. Met Mother Theresa.
13. Learned a third language. (Enough to sound like a five-year old, anyway.)
14. Lived in a developing country.
15. Grown vegetables.
16. Been called for jury duty. (Twice.)
17. Met the Pope.
18. Jumped in a lake in Ontario in November. When it was snowing.
19. Ate grasshoppers. (Okay, I ate one.) Ate one grasshopper. It was fried. And crunchy.

What did you do?

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Can't trust that day..."

It's Monday.  Like most people, I don't love Monday.  I don't dislike it per se.  Monday's not that bad.  I think that poor Monday is maligned because the only thing associated with it is the start of the work week and crash diets.

So, to give Monday a makeover, I'm going to create a mission statement for my week and post it on Monday.

Just three little words to guide my week. 

So, what does this week bring?

Well, I know that I have a bunch of things to do at work and at home that aren't priorities, so I haven't been able to get them done. But these things are really starting to bother me: filing, mending... That kind of stuff.

What's worse is that they just keep getting transferred from one to-do list to the next.  So much so that I now take them for granted. 

So other possibilities would be:
-Get it done.
-Cross it off.

But there are other things that are ongoing and they won't get "done" or "crossed" off, but I'd like to pay attention to them nonetheless-like knitting, pottery, friends, cooking...  

Yes.  Seeing my friends is on my to-do list, as are my hobbies.   Otherwise, my week fills up with work and errands and before I know it, I'm crashing in bed, lamenting the fact that I didn't have any time for recreation, relaxation, creativity or friends.  I fret that I didn't practice guitar, knit even a single row, or throw any pots.  

So, maybe....
Make progress daily.
Add some fun.
Relax. There's time.

I am now agonizing over this week's mission statement, when I should be sleeping, rather than just adopting one and improving on it as I go.

So, for this week, I'm simply choosing:

Don't overthink it.

Oh, and:   Get some sleep. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others...

As a Canadian living in the US, my friends often underscore parts of my "Canadian-ness" that I take for granted. And being friends, they do so in endearing ways that make me consider these things from a new perspective.

One of these things is my bilingualism. It's often the first thing that people ask me when they find out that I'm Canadian. "Do you speak French?"

So I was tickled when a friend recently gave me two handmade badges that she said reminded her of me. These little badges were sweet but in fact, they weren't things that I would have necessarily coveted, and they weren't particularly "me" in their colour or style. Rather, they reminded her of me because they had French words on them: "oui" and "non".

I liked that.

I pinned them to my tote bag and they made me smile every time I looked at them.

They made me smile because the French reminded me of my Canadian roots but they were also a symbol of the new life that I've made in Chicago. It's a life filled with friends, with art and with love and laughter and I have appreciated every minute.

How I came to live in Chicago is an interesting story. Sort of. (I don't want to build it up too much or anything...)

I had visited Chicago twice. Maybe three times. (Hint: if you can't remember, it was unmemorable.) And that was more than ten years ago. And while I guess I enjoyed it at the time, I never really gave the city a second thought. (Oooh, the irony!)

New York? San Francisco? Those were American cities where I wanted to live. Chicago? Yeah, I've been there.

But one morning in April 2008, I woke up from a vivid dream in which I lived in Chicago. I couldn't shake it! The whole day, I was distracted by this feeling, to the point where I was forming a plan to call contacts to ask them if they knew of any jobs there for me.

At around 3:00, I received a corporate communications message via e-mail. Normally, these contained information about things that I didn't really need to know (server upgrades, construction in our building and the like) or, because of my role in. strategy, contained substantive information about which I was already aware.

(I didn't usually open them.)

But that afternoon, I felt unusually compelled to open the message.

I couldn't believe it. The first link was a job posting for a newly-created position in Chicago. I just about fell off of my chair! A job in Chicago! (I don't think I even knew that we had an office there!)

I submitted my c.v. and the rest, as they say, is history.

Moving to Chicago has meant that I've made sacrifices, both personally and professionally. Looking back, though, I know that I made the right choice in taking the path that was laying itself before me.

I don't really tell people this story very often, because it makes me sound flaky, which I suppose I am, in some ways, though in an endearing way? I hope? Please say "yes." (One professor wrote as much on my first midterm in his class: "you always struck me as a blithe spirit-so carefree, but in a likeable way..." Translation: He thought I was a flake!)

When I did tell someone this story after living here for several months, she said simply, "well, you just have to trust the Universe."

Huh. I guess I hadn't thought of it in these terms. For the first time, I realized what that expression meant. She was right. You do have to trust the Universe.

Which brings me back to my little badges. Oui and Non. Someone asked me about them yesterday. He pointed to my bag and said, "is that French for 'no'?"

I told him that it was. I then noted that it was a gift from a new-but-dear friend, and how disappointed I was, when - after only owning them for a few days - I lost the "oui" button from the set, but that "non" has hung on. I wryly commented that I could not be a yes-girl, anymore.


That was when it dawned on me. That's the Universe talking to me again! It is reminding me that I can say "no", that I don't have to agree and that I don't need to give to everyone who asks for my time and energy. One thing that I really admire about my friends here is their ability to say (and to accept) no for an answer.

And for that, dear Chicago, I thank you.

To the person who found my 'oui' button: I hope you enjoy it and I hope that you use it well. This is its story. The Universe sent it to you so you would be open to new experiences, new friendships, new opportunities and challenges. Maybe you'll learn a new language. Don't forget to say no sometimes, too, though. It gives you more energy to say "yes".

Friday, March 5, 2010

That's it?

I am sensible. Practical. Pragmatic, even. Sometimes too much for my own good.

The other night, my sister-in-law showed me the bikini that she'd just bought for her trip south. I caught a glimpse of the price tag, and I said, "Ummm, I hope you got more than this. Where's the rest of it?" But then, I don't have the sort of lifestyle -or body- in which a bathing suit can pass as "an outfit" whereas she does. Lucky duck. (I'm not
jealous. This is "envy", okay? They're different.)

The next day, I was shopping and I tried on an adorable tank top. Black silk-cotton, so it had a nice muted sheen, but it also had a good body. It was a bit décontracté, with ragged silk organza trim and a slightly messy looking rosette with beading. It had 1920s-styling. It was completely impractical for my work-work-sleep-work-work-sleep existence. But it begged me to own it.

I loved it, and I could picture how stylish it would look with jeans and some black stilettoes. I might actually attain the ever-elusive "hot" in this outfit! If I ever went out, that is.

Oh! Waaaait a minute: owning this top would be a *reason* to go out. Good point, little tank top! You're coming home with me. Sold.

So when the clerk rang up my purchase, my bill was twice what I expected. (Note to self: Do not let the clerk choose articles for you, while you are in your skivvies in the changeroom, for she brings you clothes that you would never try otherwise, but which fit perfectly. And are not on sale.)


I said, "Hmmm. That's a lot more than I wanted to spend..." and, ever-practical, I assessed the other items: a suit with two (!) styles of skirt (the one I wouldn't have tried were it not for the very effective clerk) and a darling spring dresscoat with 1950s styling that I Had. To. Have.
Work clothes. Not play clothes. (See above, regarding my work-life balance. Basically, I wear suits. And pyjamas.)

So I picked up "my" tank top and said, "Could you please take this off the bill? I don't really need it."

She wailed "Noooooo! You don't want it!? But this dress looks so good on you! Did you see it in the grey? It looks so good on brunettes..."

Her wail was evidently some kind of emergency siren, because the other clerk came running.

"That's not a dress," I said.

They both protested, "Oh, yes! And it looks so good on you." In unison.

I'm not that old. (Okay, I am.) But I'm not a prude. (Um, okay. I am.) But this wisp of silk was definitely Not. A. Dress. Not a dress. Not at all. It didn't even approximate a dress. When it grew up, it *might* be a dress, but only with some serious growth hormones.

"This is not a dress," I said. "Where's the rest of it? I was planning to wear it with jeans."

They both laughed. "No! You wear it with tights...". In unison, again. Do they practice this?

"It's a dress?" Incredulous.


Well, $148 is a lot for a tank top that I would never wear. But this was a dress. It's a whole outfit!

"I'll take it."

(Like I said, I'm practical.)

p.s. If you see me wearing it, can you tell me I look hot? Thanks.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Obsessive Consumption

A few years back, long before No Logo, before the Battle in Seattle, before American Apparel's proud declaration of "Made in L.A." rallied hipsters everywhere...before anyone by the ILO and Ms magazine paid any attention to labour rights, I watched an episode of Dateline which traced a pair of $20 pants from the discount store where they were sold to the country where they were made.

They went to the factory and spoke to one of the garment workers.

She liked her job. She felt lucky, when in reality, her life was pretty tough, her salary was paltry and the deductions seemed unjust.

They brought her to the States, to the store where her pants were sold. When they found them, they showed her the price.

In a horrible display of schadenfreude, the host told her what the exchange rate was, and I remember the look on her face as she did the calculations.

Anyway, this isn't supposed to get all preachy. I know enough economics to know that there are a lot of factors at play in these issues. I'm just telling you this because she thought that we were greedy for wanting to buy the pants that she'd made for such little money that she wasn't being paid a living wage.

That's all.

Which brings me to this: does anyone order anything from "SkyMall"?

The SkyRest travel "pillow"? This is an inflatable wedge the size of a banker's box which you place on your lap so you can lean into the seat in front of you and sleep. Sort of a "drape and drool". So, not only are you creating discomfort for the person in front of you and maybe claustrophobia for the poor soul trapped in the window seat beside you, you're also gulping down all the oxygen on the plane to inflate the monstrosity! Whither courtesy?

A 2250 cd storage rack. Honey, if you have that many cds, your name is probably Rick Rubin and odds are that you're not buying your storage through SkyMall, though I would note that it does come in a surprising array of colours. Who knows. Maybe you are. (Sorry, Mr. Rubin.)

The Roll-up Electric Piano. What is the practical application of this? "Jeez, I'd love to play that tune for you, bu there's no piano here..." "That's okay! I've got one here in my bag!"

Who buys this stuff?


That garment worker thought that we were greedy. Maybe so.

But the people in the factories who make this stuff must think that we're crazy. And they're probably right.