Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Laura Tax

Cry Baby

For a few weeks last month, I donned my Special Events hat and headed out into the big, bad working world for a few weeks to help the Toronto Argonauts organization deal with a little show they put on called, The Grey Cup. Luckily, my presence on their staff did not prevent people from showing up and we were able to put on a great show. Success!

 The job they asked me to do was a slightly daunting one as it meant interfacing with and organizing roughly 1000 volunteers per day over 10 long, difficult days. My job, in a nutshell, was telling them what to wear, where to show up and how to act once they were there. One would think that doing this at home with two children uniquely qualifies me for this task but, unlike my offspring, these people had willingly signed up for the job. It would be safe to assume, then, that tasking them to hand out giant foam fingers to eager fans or help direct drunk, giant-sized tourist from Edmonton towards the CN Tower would be not too taxing.

You thought wrong.

What I didn't prepare for was the complaining. The constant, constant, constant, complaining from what I've come to call the "un-silent minority", that small group within the larger, happy majority who, like their silent brethren, had also willingly given their time and efforts to the Grey Cup cause but who had made it their mission to grind me down like a nub with their constant kvetching. The Laura-tax, I believe it is now called.

To be fair, I know that every workplace has them - the people for whom the weather is always too warm or too cold, the boss is a jerk, the food is lousy and … you can see where I'm going with this. No matter how good things get they still only see the bad - and will go to huge lengths to point it out to everyone around them. Lucky for me, I got not only to see them in person every day but I also got to speak with them on the phone. And the phone is this small groups favourite method of communicating their demands - and they will use like a cudgel on a daily basis to let you know how things could be better for them and others. Somedays, it was like the Globe and Mail comments sections come to life.

The first few days, I took it like a champ. I started out strong: I listened to their complaints, took them in and tried to solve their problems on the spot with efficiency techniques I'd learned from years of dealing with screaming toddlers. I ducked and weaved through every problem - or so I thought - but like Rocky in round 6, I started to fade. The jacket you gave me is a size too big, can I get another? I don't like the area I signed up for can I go elsewhere? Do you have a few minutes to hear my improvements for Grey Cups in year's to come? And my favourite, how did you get this job because it seems like anybody could do it. (Yes. Someone did say this to me AND I didn't punch them in the face.) I was against the ropes, people, and I didn't think was I was gonna make it without someone getting a razor blade and cutting the blood out of my eyes so I could see past the punches. (Come on, Rock!!)

Then it came to me: my perfect strategy. And, no, it wasn't alcohol, my usual fallback position in times of trouble. It was very simple but also very effective and with the right guidance (MINE!), you, too, can get yourself to the other side of sanity with a chronic complainer.  Here's how it works:

First, listen to the complainer. Look into their eyes and try not to think about that great episode of Homeland that you watched last night. Then, when they are done with deep sympathy in your voice, say the following: “You know, that sounds terrible. I don’t know how you deal with all of these problems.” The answer will often be "Well..., it’s not that bad!” This approach works because it gives the complainer what he’s really after: Empathy. Not cheering up, not solutions, not egging-on. Just understanding of what is, for him, a difficult situation.

Next - And this is important! - don’t be sarcastic when you say it. Be sincere. You don’t have to agree that these are huge problems. Even if everything the complainer says sounds trivial to you, remember that it feels like a huge problem to him or her wouldn’t go on about it. What seems trivial to one person can be a huge problem for others. So you’re not saying “Yes, I agree that’s a huge problem”. And you’re certainly not saying “Oh, poor poor you” in a sarcastic voice, even though you want to. You really, really want to. You’re just acknowledging the fact that this is a huge problem for that person. Which undeniably it is, right? Right?!!

Finally, after work, find someone that makes you laugh and drink, and drink and drink with them. But not too MUCH! You need to be fresh for the next time. And the next. And the next. And the next.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Life. It's Flashing Before Your Very Eyes

Many years ago, when I was a university-aged student, I attended a show at the behest of a friend. It was at the beginning of my "art as exploration" stage and, like now, I was trying to open myself to the myriad of ways in which art, and artistry, could change people's perception of their world. It should be noted that the artist whose show we attended, Annie Sprinkle, had an eclectic aesthetic: she was a performance artist who used to be a porn star. Sprinkle's goal, we were told in the program we were given before the show, was to "use the vast frontiers of sexuality to explore, share and document my experiences and findings with explicit films, photography, writing and performance." The art world, she went on to tell us, was a refuge, where, surprisingly, she was made to feel quite welcome. "There was much more creative freedom, less censorship, and more legal protection." Who knew, I thought, to myself as I settled to watch the show.

(SPOILER ALERT! From this part forth, those of you who are squeamish or may want to skip forward to the next paragraph. It ain't pretty!)

Halfway through her performance, Miss Sprinkle inserted a speculum and invited the audience members to line up and each individually have a look with the aid of a flashlight. Although, I was enjoying the show, I decided to decline. (I was 19 and from a small town outside of Sudbury, for Christ's sake! Baby steps, right?) This was followed up with a beautiful ‘sacred sex magic, masturbation ritual’ that included, a board in which giant dildos were attached. Miss Sprinkle went on to show us the best ways to... AGH! You get it, right? I was shocked but, by the end of the show, felt that I had experienced something that was shocking, yes, but artfully executed. It also dawned on me that if we had attended this show 25 years previous, we probably would have quickly found ourselves arrested, found guilty of breaking about half-a-dozen obscenity laws and possibly have gone to jail. Success!

As we exited the theatre, I was enervated. I turned to my friend in order to gage how he had enjoyed the show. He was white as a sheet and looked incredibly disturbed. Are you all right, I asked him. He nodded in the affirmative and then told me, with a worried expression spilling over his face, that he was  afraid that one day - when he died - that the image of Annie Sprinkle's cervix was gonna pop in to his brain and that, no matter how hard he tried,  he would not be able to banish the image from his psyche. I assured him that such images did not, as far as I knew, come to us on our death beds. It took myself and several of our other art-loving friends the better part of an evening and several pitchers of cheap beer to get him to switch his thinking otherwise.

But the theory has stayed with me ever since. Is it possible that images that leave us disturbed or confused could pop up randomly to us on our death beds? And, if so, is there some way to counteract it? Was there a way in which we could hedge bets and find a way to seek out good images that might outweigh the bad? And so, this is what I have done. Over the years, I have made a mental list of images that I can conjure up when needed. The hope is that one of these might, when the time comes, help stave off, or at least outweigh, the image of a porn-star-turned-performance artist going down on a board of pleasure implements.  I wanna suggest you do the same because you never know, right?

Here are a few examples:

  • The sparkle in my son's eye when he's telling me a funny story
  • Sunset at my cottage
  • My father's handwriting
  • Seeing my friend, Dave Brown, try to water ski off the dock from a standing position and too much lead rope. 
  • A raspberry
  • My first bike
  • A clean kitchen floor
  • My husband rocking my kids to sleep
  • Seeing the Rockies from an airplane
  • The look my sister gets on her face when she's exasperated
  • Water moving swiftly over a rock
  • Poppies in bloom

Time to start your own......

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, Mofo.

cat with dead mice by pyl213
cat with dead mice, a photo by pyl213 on Flickr.
Oh! Good Morning, Cat.

Sheesh! I didn't see you there, five inches from my face. Nice to see you.

And what's this you're trying to place on my bed where my husband has only just left his peaceful slumber? A dead mouse? Lovely. And thank you for removing the head for me. I always find that to be such a nuisance to do on my own. Maybe I'll save it for later.

Oh! And please do not take my screams of terror as a sign that I'm not grateful! Maybe I've seen The Godfather one too many times but I am pleased that you thought to bring me something as interesting and useful as a dead mouse. Really! I know you enjoy eating them and leaving them all over our property for my bare feet and lawn mower to enjoy so I should be grateful. Plus, it's food, right? And a present, correct? I love both of those. Plus, I give you store-food, water, and affection, and this your way of returning the favour.

So, thanks.

Oh! Hello, again, cat. What is it that you find so interesting with our bathroom sink? How endearing it is to be heading towards this area with the hope of washing the sleep out of my eyes only to find you staring into the drain as if it contained the answers to the mysteries of the universe. You are a thoughtful one. To avoid disrupting your peaceful meditations, I will wash my face in kitchen sink instead. Carry on!

Oh, Hello again, Cat-Who-Lives-In-My-House-And-May-Soon-Sleep-With-the-Fishes! What is this crazy thing you are doing with your water bowl? Slapping, slapping, slapping the water and spreading it all over the floor for every- and anyone who passes by? There is no sea creature in that shallow bowl, you silly beast! No animal, vegetable or mineral in there that will clog your throat passage and keep you from swallowing yet another mouse's innards. Drink it up, you scamp! Oh, and don't you worry a moment about these cashmere socks! They will shrink in no time from the water you left everywhere.

And why are you scratching near this bowl where we keep your store-bought grub? Are you trying to bury it beneath the linoleum? There is no need! It will be here like it is every day. Same place. Same time. Remember yesterday? And the 1200 days before that? Not gonna change, Mofo. Not gonna change.

What is this? Why are lying peacefully in my lap sharing your warmth with me as I try to avoid watching a cooking competition show? Again. Is it that you see that I was contemplating your death after you spilled my wine onto the carpet? No, you purr in response. It's because I love you and I want give you my thanks in the only way I know how.

Sigh. All, right, God dammit! I give.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Trend Spotting. You're Welcome.

Of late, I have noticed a trend among menfolk in the western world. I have spotted it in city centres on a Friday night, on my Sunday morning hikes, in the line up at Canadian Tire and atop tractors in the corn fields near my house (Just so you know, the trend-spotting that I do for you never, ever stops. I am constantly on the look out for what's hot, what's not, what's up, what's down. It is an obligation that is a blessing for you and an exhausting curse for me. Just wanted you to know)
This trend knows no age barrier or demographic limitations. It is favoured by the tall and the short, the wealthy and the less financially favoured. The only common denominator to these diverse if misguided folk is that they are all, to one, "barber-challenged". I am speaking – through clenched teeth and tearful eyes – of the comb-forward.
For those you unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a comb-forward is when a man, self-conscious of his balding pate, combs the hair on the back of his head up, forward and over his flesh-flashing dome in the mistaken belief onlookers will say, "Wow, look how thick and lustrous that man's hair is! " as opposed to: "Oh look – that man has a comb-forward. Jesus H. Christ." Donald Trump is the best known and most extreme example of phenomenon and his technique - which could be a comb-over or a candy floss machine that emits hair instead of delicious hair-like candy strands -  has taken on near skyscraper proportions. In fact, according to architectural insiders, it was the inspiration for Ai Weiwei's Bird's Nest.

Gentlemen, I'm calling time on these ridiculous attempts to disguise disappearing hairlines and encroaching scalp. I am going to go out on a limb and say the following: balding does not make a man look bad. Attempts to cover up balding, however, do. In fact, I would say that they are insulting to the average person's intelligence. Do you think the world is fooled by your masterful hair disguise? Any woman worth her salt would rather spend sexy times with a man who knows he doesn't have a lot of hair than one who foolishly believes that she doesn't notice that his own hair is wrapped around his head like a turban. 

Let me be even more plain: I would rather be squired around town by Ed Harris look-alike than the Donald any day of the week.
So chaps, consider this page a cease and desist order, that you cease fretting about this whole balding thing – and you may as well, it does come to many of you in the end – and that you desist trying to disguise it. And yes, this is legally binding.
Thank you for letting me get this off of my chest. And t-shirt-wearers-who-also-wear-scraves? Consider yourselves on notice!  

Monday, September 3, 2012

True New Year

September is almost here and it’s transition time again. The leaves are changing, the kids are headed back to school and Matthew Perry is making yet another weak attempt to return to primetime (When will he learn?).  In our home, we refer to September as "True New Year". There is a sense of excitement that a new school year brings, when we shift from the schedule devil we know, to the devil we don’t know. In many ways, adapting to September's new schedule is like a signing up for your first step aerobics class (Remember when?) -- first week, just get your kids to school on time, figure out how to get them picked up. Step back and forth. Second week, dance starts. Back and forth and grapevine. Third week, back to school nights and jiu-jitsu stars starts. Back and forth and grapevine and add the arms. Fourth week, swimming begins. All that and step up and down. Fifth week, guitar begins, whatever board meeting you're supposed to go to once a month is scheduled, projects are starting to come due, and kids have the audacity to make inquiries about Halloween costumes. Back and forth and grapevine and add the arms and step up and step down and TWIRL. 

Straight on til December.

Because besides being transition season, September is also cheque-writing season. Cheques for swimming lessons, cheques for guitar lessons, cheques for agendas, cheques for Pizza Day, Sub Day, AK47 Day, dance lessons, protection from the Mob. It never ends. Plus, guess who drives them? Every September, I schedule the inevitable existential breakdown I have each year in which I question whether my university education prepared me for my job as a full-time chauffeur. Answer: not so much.

This year, though, rather than deal with it by swigging wine after hours and bitching to people who do the same, I intend on taking a page from financial guru Suze Orman: I will  show the kids how to write the cheques themselves. Nice, huh? You want the money, you write out the cheque. This will be a great way to help them to understand how much cash we spend on their extra-curriculars and it will give my hand a rest, as well as the portion of my conscience that tells me that it is important that kids figure out how much the "extras" really cost. Harsh , maybe, but a good way to help them understand that my cheque book has its limits.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Get Down Off the Letdown

Post-Olympic Letdown by jjdorsey57
Post-Olympic Letdown, a photo by jjdorsey57 on Flickr.
It was a rite of passage for my sister and I growing up in Northern Ontario to make a pilgrimage each summer to the Canadian National Exhibition. The CNE was held a special place in our hearts because it meant we got to go to the big city (translate: my Nana's ground floor apartment in a high-rise in Scarborough), see people we never saw in our small town (translate: grubby ner-do-well carnies who could build and operate complicated attractions whilst smoking AND asking if "I WANTED TO GO FASTER?") and watch my sister projectile vomit onto a metal ramp of The Enterprise after eating too many Tiny Tom donuts. Priceless.

As we slipped into our teenage years, the Ex's allure gave way to another attraction: the Ontario Place Forum, an amphitheater which lay just across the lakeshore. Throughout the summer, this venue would play host to scores of bands, from the most obscure rock outfit to the most popular jazz ensemble. It was six dollars admission to get in and, at night, the park came alive with teens lining up to hear their favorite rock and roll, disco, new wave, or hip hop music. By now, my parents had split up and my sister and I were spending our summers in the city and we would take the streetcar down from my mother's downtown apartment and catch any number of bands: Kool and the Gang one night, Al Green another, Triumph (Why not!), Parachute Club,Wynton Marsalis. The musical genre was irrelevant. We couldn’t wait for nightfall.

I hadn’t thought of the amphitheatre in a long time, until a few nights ago when I was stretched out on the sofa watching the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. I had appreciated the opening ceremonies and the challenges faced by the host country of presenting such a complex and rich history to a world audience: the opening pastoral scene with a little Shakespeare thrown in, which transformed quickly into the industrial revolution, a parade of the proletariat. I even kinda enjoyed the uncomfortable and overly long celebration of the National Health Service, with some sort of morphine induced Mary Poppins versus Voldemort montage. All interesting.

But this closing stuff was a different business all together.

I guess having dispensed with the entirety of British history in 30 minutes, the only other direction to take the closing was a celebration of pop music from the last thirty years. Really? There was no other way to go then reuniting the Spice Girls and slap them atop some taxis? Okay. And then I realized where I had seen it all before … at the Ontario Place Forum! Except this thing came with bubbly dancers performing overly choreographed moves, singing the same songs I had sung in my youth. All I needed was a glow necklace, a giant pretzel, and a Slurpee to complete the memory. I still enjoyed the evening. I sang along with songs. It was just like being back at the EX and amphitheatre all those years ago. Only they were theme park for kids. London is one of the cultural hubs of Western Civilization. Or was. And so I slapped on my Whatever goggles and went along for the ride.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fear and Parenting at the Movies

In the small town where I grew up, there was no movie theatre. The closest was a 45 minute drive away in Sudbury and screened films weeks after they'd opened in larger cities, months after they were released in the US. I remember my parents driving in to see the film, MASH. An hour before they were expected home, our babysitter received a phone call asking if she could stay another four hours. The reason: my father had laughed over most of the jokes in the 7 o'clock show. They were staying for the second screening so my mother could hear the ones she'd missed. Aside from too much laughing or terrible winter weather -which was frequent - there were very few things that would keep you from going into Sudbury to see a movie, if that's what you wanted to do. But one thing was certain: if slag was being poured on the way there, the movie was cancelled.

For those of you who didn't have the pleasure of growing up in a town whose fortunes were based on the rise and fall on the price of nickel, the pouring of slag was a hot, bright reminder of our town’s fortune. Ore was scraped from the earth in the mines a few miles below us, fed through screens and crushers until it is the size of a marble and then ground to powder to which water was added to make slurry. Nickel and copper were separated and the waste - or slag - was taken away in special slag pot cars on the railroad and taken about 3 miles to be dumped as waste. This operation took place about every 2 to 3 hours, 24 hours a day using 10 car trains requiring two electric locomotives and poured off of the side of a hill right beside the highway. If it was night and your car was driving by it on the way to a movie you didn't make that damn movie. It was hot, molten slag dropping off a hill, for the love of God! What can beat that? I remember praying to God on the way to my first screening of Star Wars to please, please, please not drop the slag as I didn't want to miss the greatest movie of all times. He took pity on  me and I got to see Luke Skywalker get his hand chopped off by his father. Good times.

In the winter months, however, someone in town came up with the brilliant idea of circumnavigating the mesmerizing allure of slag: they would screen movies in the high school gym. And so popcorn was popped and sold for a quarter, mats were spread over the gymnasium floor for the younger kids to sit on (and the older kids to lay down and make out on) and instead of being pushed out into the yard and told Not-to-come-back-inside-until-I-call-you-...I-mean-it!, an entire afternoon was spent watching films. Genius! And let me be clear: these were not first-run films. The afternoon always started out with at least an hour's worth of cartoons, and not the kind that kids watch today where lessons can be gleaned from a talking aardvark. These were the violent kind where overly dressed-up members of the animal kingdom chased each other off of cliffs with farming implements, their souls drifting dreamily out of heir bodies and into the ether only to return in the next cartoon, newly formed and oblivious. The cartoons were followed by a double feature whose only criteria seemed to be that it contain Judy Garland or Ma and Pa Kettle. I saw more grand-scale MGM musicals on that gym floor than it seems humanly possible and though we grumbled and wished for a Clint Eastwood revenge film, you could have heard a pin drop during most of those movies.
I shared this story with my 12 year old son on the way to screen the newest installment in the Batman franchise after he asked me what "summer" movies we went to see as kids. We didn't categorize films by season back then, I explained. Movies were what you watched when they showed up and you could get in to to see them, provided the slag didn't get in the way. Did you have to worry about being shot at the screening, he asked? His question took my breath away. 
The world my son he is growing up in is not very different than mine on the surface. Like me, he lives in a small-town, surrounded by family and friends and people who love and care for him. But in many ways it is very different from mine because unlike my childhood, his is influenced by the 24-hour news cycle. Despite my best wishes, it creeps into his wet-wear and makes him believe that going to the movies means not just seeing bad guys with hand guns in the screen but imagining them sitting in the seat beside him. I pride myself on not being a fear-based parent. I let my kids walk and drive their bikes to school and go to the store unsupervised.  I don't always trust the world around them but I know that giving in to that fear has a price, and the price, I think, is greater than any of us should be willing to pay. Fear robs us of the profound joy of living in the moment with our children, of experiencing, with guidance and nurturing, the vicissitudes of life that are found in the most ordinary of days and so I thought long and hard before I answered him on the way to that movie.
No, I told him. And I don't worry about it and neither should you. Okay? He nodded and we kept on driving. 
Fear is the only thing I know of that has the power to turn good parents away from the careful, reflective human beings they once were. It has the power to twist their thinking and undermine their behavior and, I believe, it is as fatal to the simple joys in life as it is detrimental to our children’s greater good. As overwhelming as it sometimes is, though,  I have chosen to let go of it. I poured  mine on a slag heap somewhere far, far way and instead of stopping by the side of the road and watching it smolder, I chose instead to move down the road go see a Batman movie with my son in a dark theatre where I didn't know a soul and instead chose to believe that, like me, people want the best for the world. Even at the movies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dockside Reading

I know it's been two weeks since school let out but it has taken me that long to get my "you-know-what" together. Sigh. I have no excuse, really. Isn't "The heat makes me sluggish" the middle-age equivalent to "The dog ate my homework?" Anyway, I have very few plans this summer beyond gorging on summer fruit and reading on the dock. Melding the two is the only thing I plan to do with enthusiasm.

To that end, I have already read two exceptional books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - which was delightful and reminded me of the excellent novel The Prestige - and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn There's not a lot I can tell you about Gone Girl without ruining its dark surprises, but I can tell you that it's an ingenious and viperish thriller — and that no matter how smart or blase you think you are when it comes to reading thrillers, it's going to bite you. The novel concerns a missing wife named Amy and a husband named Nick who's either (best-case scenario) a big, fat phony or (worst) a full-on psychopath. I don't read a ton of thrillers but this book had me hooked from the first page. I read the entire thing on a rain soaked Tuesday and am the better for it, I tell you!

Told from alternating points of view, we get to know Amy, via chatty journals she kept before her disappearance. She narrates the arc of her relationship with Nick, which begins with lovestruck flirting in Manhattan and a giddy marriage in Brooklyn. It's when Nick gets downsized from his job as a magazine writer and insists they move to his hometown of St. Louis that things reaaally get interesting.
That said, the chapters of the novel that involve Nick, mostly unfold like a television procedural from the police investigation which unfold shortly after he rushes home one day looking for Amy and instead finds her blood on the floor, to the ultimate media frenzy that sweeps us up in its wake. What I loved was how Flynn doesn't paint Nick as the most sympathetic narrator: he lies, he whines and he ends up revealing himself as somewhat of an ass as he story unfolds. How refreshing! But what saves him are his moments of honesty. He does incredibly stupid stuff, given the circumstances and has - in his own words - a face you want to punch. It's the second half of the book, though, that is the real stunner. Just about halfway, Flynn pulls the rug out from under you and does it in such a way that you cannot believe that you've been reading the same book!

I really am going to shut up now before I spoil what is, seriously, the best book of the summer.

Better than this Fifty Shades of Grey which I tried to read - I really did! - but made me want to quit the earth about halfway through. I have decided that there is a reason that I am immune to this book and that's because I have engaged with a better, more entertaining version of it called Mad Men. Because isn't Christian Grey really just Don Draper in disguise? 

Don Draper by Christina Saint MarcheReplace the chain-smoking, bourbon-drinking and workaholic tendencies with helicopters, chilled white wine and effed-up e-mails and Tada! you've got Fifty shades of Grey. It's hard to engage with a handsome embodiment of the American Dream in book form when you can look at Don in re-reuns every Sunday night on AMC, non? Double crap! This is not a book for me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

To the Lighthouse

My dad was everything a girl could ever hope for: tall, dark, handsome and crazy about my sister and I. And he possessed a winning attribute on his dad scorecard: he mostly left us to our own devices which is pretty much what every kid wants, regardless of age. He was also well-read, a terrific golfer, said "musn't" instead of "must not", wore Clark desert boots regardless of the season and was, much to my surprise, a pretty good dancer. Never arrive early to a party or yawn audibly, he told us by way of advice. Never date a man you find boring or who can't make you laugh. Sandles are for beach-wear only.... and even then. Not bad for a guy didn't even start his parenting until well into his forties.

Though my sister and I have tried not to idolize him, it has proven very difficult. A task made more so by the fact that he left us so young, while we were in our twenties and still figuring out who we wanted to be. It's only now that I realize that my model for who to be was living in my house all along, sending me off to school each morning and handing me off my allowance on weekends. I wish everyone could be so lucky.

After my father left us, I found myself trolling the obituaries each morning before I started my day and discovered that I took great solace in reading about the lives of others. There is nothing more fortifying than basking in a life well lived. This spring, I read the obit of a gentleman in Nanaimo named Mike Matthews who seemed cut from the same cloth as my father. A "gentle man" who was also a gentleman, he died after a "brief confrontation" with cancer. It was clear from the beautiful tribute that was written about him that Mike left this life far before anyone would have wanted him to but who, nonetheless, lived and laughed a full life that inspired those who had the privilege of being around him. I loved the obit so much that I cut it out and pinned it to my wall in front of my computer and reached for it frequently throughout the season. I felt connected to this guy for some odd reason and when I was feeling low, it made me happy to know that someone like him had been around to make an impact on those around him.

I told his family as much in the Father's Day card that I sent them last Friday. Though, I may not have ever met Mike, I told them, his obit had made me happy every time I read it. As happy as I know he made them. I wanted them to know that on Father's Day. There are people like my dad and like Mike Matthew who are like lighthouses, big, stand-alone structures who spend all of their life shining their light and illuminating everything around them for miles. I feel happy to have stood in their glow, brief though it may have been.


Born in Aklavik June,1937, Mike Matthews died on February 25th, 2012 in Nanaimo, B.C. after a brief confrontation with cancer. His wife, daughter and beloved dog were at his side.

Mike was a vibrant and witty man, a larger-than-life presence, treasured by his friends and family for his irreverent exuberance. Growing up in Vancouver, he went to Magee High School, which he described as a peak period in his life. He celebrated his lengthy undergraduate career at UBC, where he hung out at the Players Club and the Ubyssey. In Montreal, he worked at the McGill Library, attended graduate studies at Sir George Williams University, and played baseball with the York Street Tigers where his nom-de-baseball was Magic Mitt. Back on the West Coast, he began his thirty-three year career teaching English at Malaspina College, now Vancouver Island University, and busied himself with theatrical activities, running (7 marathons), and writing book reviews and articles about food, wine.

Mike dearly loved his family, especially for his granddaughter Charlotte and his talented dog Victor. He took pleasure in chatting to checkout clerks, bank tellers, shopkeepers, colleagues, passengers on the Protection Island Ferry, and whomever else would respond to his skill-testing questions, word games, rants and puns, encounters which he believed brightened people's lives. The natural world delighted him, and he was a constant champion of the Protection Island Community Garden. He loved the music of Handel, Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, and all the Protection Island musicians. An enthusiastic cook, his specialties were plantain frittatas and Saskatoon berry pies. He was keen on crossword puzzles, and his extensive collection of pens and reading glasses was renowned.

He detested cruelty to animals, orange safety vests, sentimentality, bragging, car alarms, plastic water bottles, and the use of the word "multiple" rather than "many", or any long word when a shorter one would do. 

Mike is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Alison (Alex Taylor), granddaughter Charlotte, brother Dick (Diane), in-laws Rod Dobell (Marnie), Ken Dobell (Pam), eleven beloved nieces and nephews, and sixteen great-nieces and great-nephews.

Those who share his passionate love of animals may wish to make a donation in his name to the SPCA. In recognition of his love of teaching, donations may be made to the Vancouver Island University Mike Matthews Scholarship Fund. In appreciation of the wonderful care he received in his last few weeks, donations could be made to the Palliative Care Unit at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Embrace the Boredom

Summer is coming soon. I can feel it in the softening of the air but I can see it, too, in the state of my kid's backpacks -filthy!- and in their homework agendas, the binder plastic ripped and frayed at the edges. An old remembered glee rises up in me because I know what lays ahead. Open windows. Fresh stone fruit. Day trips to the beach. Boredom. Especially the boredom.

Summer is the season that was the making of me as a human being because it was when I was bored for the longest period of time. Boredom breeds downtime and downtime is when we most become ourselves: looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, taking bike rides to nowhere, sitting in the backyard staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky. I believe that you can't become who you want to be - writer, actor, neuroscientist - without plenty of nothing to do. Boredom is nothing more than the quiet moving of the wheels inside your head. In my world, this is the sound of progress.

Apparently, in the last twenty years or so, Canadian kids have lost about four hours of unstructured play time per week. Recesses are getting shorter so that kids can get home faster for structured after-school activities or jobs. How did this happen?

Adults did it.

There is a culture of adult mistrust that suggests that a bored child who is not attending science-enrichment programs or cooking classes is out boosting cars or knocking off liquor stores. This is utter nonsense. I'm not saying these classes aren't for the good. I'm simply suggesting that if kids aren't left alone every once in a while, when are they ever gonna contemplate whether Wolverine could kick Green Lantern's ass? And then draw a cartoon of that exact thing. In the sand, with a stick.

That type of summer doesn't have to be gone for good. I've got two kids: one spends a good portion of her early summer at summer camp in Algonquin park, her days filled with new activities and almost constant social interaction. She loves it and I wouldn't change that for her because it's where she lives. But, she has a brother who thinks that scenario is like being stuck in the seventh ring of Hell. He spends his summer days sleeping in, playing with his Lego and swimming in the lake. He lives for the summer because that's when he lolly-gags, as my father once called it, busy exploring the inside of his own head. It's a wonderful place to be.

This year when you're rooting through the backpacks on the last day of school and chucking out the snacks left to mold in baggies at bottom's end, can I make a suggestion? Take a respite from the clock and throw out the schedule, too. Drop the organized day for a week or two. Embrace the boredom. Get outside and don't come inside again unless it rains or I call you, my mother would yell at me every day of my childhood summer. I intend for this sentence define my kids' fate this summer. Their characters depend on it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One for the Aged

My mother-in-law shared an interesting story with me once about aging that I never forgot. She was playing Scrabble with her sister one warm summer afternoon when she noticed a shadow appear on the board below. The shadow menaced her from the corner of her eye for much of the game until the final move when she stretched out her arm to slide her the piece on the board and realized, to her horror, that the shadow that was casting an ominous half-moon on the table below was not a shadow at all but the skin underneath her arm that had begun to sag and swing beneath her every time she moved it. So self-concious was she afterwards that, for the rest of the day, she kept her arms by her sides where she could keep a close eye on them and secretly wondered why - WHY! - nobody had bothered to point it out to her that they had gone "lunch lady" on her. We both laughed like hyena's when she told it. She, because it is genuinely a funny/horrible observation, and me, because, well, I was clueless. That was never gonna happen to me, right? Ah, youth.

I was reminded of this anecdote several times over the past few months as I have begun to experience the tell-tale signs of physical aging. (Insert eye-roll here.) I always aspired to be that person who grows old gracefully, who can see the arc of their life as a slowly winding river and not a head-first dive into Niagara Falls, but I am finding the process it to be both insult and assault. And my kvetching has been unending: Why can't I stay up long enough to watch Mad Men, dammit?! Was running always this hard?! My back hurts. My feet ache. How can I be drunk? I've only had one glass! It all came to a head after consulting with a beauty expert about why my once flawless skin was not bouncing back from this incredibly harsh winter weather. She haughtily informed me that, One needs to double the moisturizing at your age, dear. And, by the way, do you want to take a look at our new anti-aging line? Rather than waiting for the playful wink that surely accompanies such statements (which I'm sure would have come back as quickly as the elasticity in my skin), I chose instead to confer with a more reliable expert: my husband. Does my skin feel like sandpaper to you, I asked him, desperation on the edge of my voice? He thrust his arm at me by way of an answer. You should feel mine, he said. Go ahead, feel it. And so I did. Soft and smooth as a newborn's behind. What are you talking about? I screeched. It feels like silk! But it's thinner, he replied as he shook his head slowly back and forth with disappointment. Sooo much thinner.

There's no question: aging thins our skin, both literally and figuratively. But what I've found is that once you can get past the crepey neck and plantar fasciitis, mostly people find themselves admitting that they are remarkably happier now than they were when they were younger. Apparently, a Gallup poll of 340, 000 people showed unequivocally that we grow more contented age, that we become more comfortable in our skin regardless of its thin or sandpapery state and even report a marked decline in stress, anger and sadness.

Bring. It. ON.

In her remarkable new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, writer Anna Quindlen makes the perfect case for her body having broken down and I'm gonna use it as my mantra. She, in her infinite wisdom, has decided to recognize her body for what is: a personality delivery system, "designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in years to come. It's like a car, and while I like a red convertible, even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and an engine." You can be sure that my personality delivery system will be easily recognizable. It will be the one dripping in moisturizer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Downward Dog

French Bulldog in Yoga pose by jackpotfbd
French Bulldog in Yoga pose, a photo by jackpotfbd on Flickr.
Friend: Would you like to attend a Bikram yoga class with me this week?
Me: Remind me what Bikram yoga is again?
Friend: It's 90 minute yoga class performed in an overheated room.
My brain: “Uhhhhhhhh. I pass out pretty easily in the heat and doesn’t being in a carpeted room that hot breed, like, a billion kinds of bacteria that will kill you if you breathe it in plus I have tight hip joints this week so it sometimes hurts to stand too long in certain positions and what if I don’t know the hot yoga etiquette and I smack someone while I'm executing a difficult pose and a yoga practitioner from the wrong side of the mat defends me and I’m accidentally the catalyst for bloodshed?
My mouth: “Sure.”
My brain: Why can't I quit you?

And that's the story of how I ended up in my first hot yoga class.

For those of you unfamiliar with Birkram Yoga and its practices, let me give you a quick tutorial of what it is because it really is NOT just yoga (Trust me, I've done yoga. This is not that.): Bikram yoga is 90 minutes of the same 26 postures in every class across the world. It's roughly 110 Degrees in a carpeted room with about 60 nearly naked sweaty souls crammed in looking at their own eyes in the mirror. You listen actively the entire class to verbal instructions only. No demonstration. No music. You do the same postures in the same order whether you're in NYC, Portland or India. Sweat will pour off your body like you are in a shower, your mat and towels will be soaked and the room will stink.

Where can I sign up, you must be asking yourself? To which I would answer, Try Hell because I'm certain Satan himself came up with this particular branch of yoga.

Friend: Bikram is like a cross between running a marathon and great sex.
Me: I've run a marathon, remember? I broke my foot at the 21 mile mark.
Friend: Oh. (pause) But the sex metaphor has got your interest piqued, right?
Me: I get the comparison. Am I gonna hurt afterwards?
Friend: I don't think so. It sorta feels like being hit by a semi-truck, followed by a great spa massage.
Me: Well, why didn't you say so? Let's get in there!

Do you remember that seen in the third Mad Max film when Mel Gibson stepped into the Thunderdome and was greeted by mutants with metal masks fused to their craniums and chainsaws as limb replacements? Well, picture that but, in this environment, everyone is under 30, wearing next to no clothing and their bodies are beyond flawless. Meanwhile, the outfit you thought was cute going in will feel like the equivalent of a Hefty bag and your limbs will feel like they are filled jelly donuts. It is the kind of place where nothing else matters but living through the next 90 minutes so you could get the hell out. Like San Quentin but 110 degrees. And filled with models.

The class starts out simply enough. The poses are killer but I'm living through them. We hold the poses for waaaaay longer than we should but I can live with it. Mind over matter, right? Wrong! Ten minutes in and I'm sucking wind and soaked like someone has thrown my fully-clothed ass into a swimming pool. But I'm supposed to be focusing on "nothing", or so our fearless, boyshorts-clad instructor keeps telling us. A clean mind. Blank. Have you ever tried to have a blank mind for 2 seconds, let alone 60? The instructor suggests we pick a spot on the ceiling to focus on and think only of that spot. I pick a bolt in the ceiling beam. These are my thoughts in no particular order...

Bolt. Bolt. Bolt.
I want to bolt.
I wonder if I bolted now if it would distract anyone, probably not they are all deep in "blank mind."
OK then, screw.
Screw. Screw. Screw.

Hmmmm....screw.... it's been a minute since...
Focus! Focus!
The screw is holding the beam that is holding this building, I am the screw. I'm strong. I'm holding the building.
God, can't I just bolt!?

How can I even begin to describe how wrong this Bikram stuff was for me? There were 75 people in a room that should hold 40. It was the second class in a row of 2 so the room was extra hot. My skin literally burned. The nail polish of the woman on the mat next to me melted. Melted!! I was in HELL. No amount of self-motivating mantra's could help me. The instructor reminded us at least 20 times that Bikram himself (of course, he's a tiny, silly man!) refers to this yoga as a "torture chamber" and it was nothing shy of that. I sat out a good 1/4 of the postures and contemplated rolling up my now-drenched mat and peace-outing. But if there's one thing you NEVER do in this yoga, it's leave the room. The second thing you NEVER do is make a sound, apparently, so my sweaty ass was staying put and  finishing what I'd started. Even if it was a big bowl of wrong.

Friend: So what did you think?
Me: I think that your yoga is a bit of a dick.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dance Bench

.. by jpnuwat
.., a photo by jpnuwat on Flickr.
We buy their first ballet shoes and the dozens thereafter. We buy their leotards, their tutus, their warm-up’s, their bags and their gear. We take them to classes. Some of us lots and lots of classes. We do their hair. We volunteer at their performances, doing makeup, folding programs, ushering patrons, sewing costumes. We are the drivers, the cheerleaders, the shoulder to cry on. We get nervous before performances and auditions. We’re there for the triumphs, the heartbreaks and the drama.

And then the music starts and we start to ask questions. Where is my place now? Is it waiting in the wings? Watching from the audience? At home clearing away the dishes from dinner? Sitting at Tim Horton’s until the class is over? Sometimes we get it right . Sometimes, we miss the mark completely because, like most things in childrearing, there are no operating instructions. We are, once again, clueless.

Then we see the bench. This place is as good as any, we think to ourselves, and so we sit down and watch. And watch. And wait. Soon, we are joined by others. Some bring books. Some bring conversation. Everyone, though, brings a child and, before we know it, a community is formed. A community of watchers.

And watch we do! We marvel at what their bodies can achieve and secretly wonder where they go when the music transports them to another place. We watch as they grasp at opportunities to learn. About setting and achieving goals. Missing out on the audition. Or, not getting a mark or a role or an outcome they had hoped for. For some watchers, these last few lessons are the hardest ones and they find themselves fighting some difficult urges. They worry over every disappointment while they are watching on the other side of the glass. They wish for magical cloaks that might protect their precious charges from heartbreak. They want to slip off the bench and fix their problems. These are the moments of pure opportunities for them. And for us.

But if you sit on the bench long enough, a revelation will occur. The bench will reveal itself. But here’s the catch: you have to be prepared to stay seated, to quiet your mind and let those who are being watched truly be watched. Only then can you know the secret. And it’s this: This is the place where you end and your child begins. You made those wings their flying with. Let them soar.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Awkwardness 101

Once, while staying for an extended period on the 20th floor of a high-rise building, I rode the elevator with a middle-aged man who seemed to be particularly intimidated by my presence. As I stepped in to the enclosed space, he smiled nervously and then, for the entire length of our ride, spoke non-stop. He shared his entire medical history, complete with symptoms, diagnoses and treatments, all before we reached the ground floor. Now, I doubt very highly that this dude expected to receive medical advice from me. I wasn't wearing a white coat and stethescope, was I? But I understood his impulse of going off at the mouth like a house on fire: he was nervous. Had he not stepped off the elevator and run away like a little girl being chased by the Big Bad Wolf I would have yelled out, I know why you're doing this, bro, but fear me not! I, too, am a member of the verbal diarrhea-when--nervous set! But I didn't get the chance because I was too busy trying to figure out whether the gout he'd been diagnosed with was contagious. (FYI. Contagious. Nope. Painful and gross? Definitely.)

For the most part, being socially awkward is a stigma. The media stereotype depicts it as someone who lacks self-confidence, reads a lot of manga, lives in a basement and takes yearly trips to Comic Con. But is being awkward necessarily a bad thing? According to today's media, I would say absolutely not. In fact, awkward comedies are this past decade's fundamental source of humor. Think of the title characters in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin", "Zoolander"... basically any character on The Office.

While we've all found ourselves in horrifying social situations in which something occurs unexpectedly, I have always personally felt the feelings that result from not being able to recover from the awkwardness that ensues can have their benefits. Lucky for you, I have spent a good portion of my life staring moments like those square in the eye, and know that, in my soul of souls, this is what makes me who I am and - Goddammit!- I'm good with it.

Here are a few choice examples of awkward moments that I played out personally. Some effed me up for days afterwards. Several have made me want to quit the earth immediately afterwards experiencing them. And, sadly, a few may be familiar to you. If so? Welcome to the tribe!
  • My daughter corrected me recently whilst helping with her math homework. She is in the 3rd grade.
  • After a hearing a great track in a film we were watching, I spontaneously predicted that the song was "gonna be huge". My husband turned to me and revealed that the song I was hearing was Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp.
  • I fell up the stairs at Massey Hall after a concert. I had drunk water all night.
  • I laughed at a joke about oral sex while watching a film with my 65 year old mother.
  • I realized too late that I had been imitating the accent of an English friend. Poorly. Yes, she was in the room with me at the time.
  • I frequently have to hold up the index and thumb of both of my hands in order to determine right and left.
  • I had a conversation with a woman at a barbeque who was breastfeeding her 6 year old.
  • I sat on a friends leather couch during a heat wave and then had to explain that I wasn't farting every time I moved.
  • I referred to a woman who I have worked out with for going on 4 years now, "Erin" when her name was actually "Emily. 
  • I referred to a hockey player as an "Arse Wipe" to someone who was wearing his signed jersey.
  • In order to get out of sidewalk conversation with someone I didn't want to talk to in the first damned place, I concocted a story about meeting a friend. I ran into them 5 minutes later in the butcher shop.
  • The hygienist asked me a question while I her hand was in my mouth. I drooled on it by way of reply.
  • My daughter asked me once why I always whispered for people to "Slow the puck down!" while we were driving. I told her it was playoff season and I was thinking about hockey.
  • I checked myself out in the window of a parked car only to realize that there was someone inside.
I could go on for days here. I'm gonna stop now.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sleep Damn You. Sleep!

Fox Searchlight

Three weeks ago, my husband and I watched a creepy little psychological thriller entitled, Martha Marcy May Marlene. Or is it Mary Martha Macy Marlene? Did I make the Macy part up?All I know is that there was one girl, four names and me left without sleep. For a three weeks. To the director of this opus, I have this to say: thanks for parking the horrible idea of having me, or someone I love, getting sucked into a murdering back-to-nature sex cult into my brainstem and not letting go. Oh, and also: go jump off a bridge. So, now, despite the fact that the film was excellent and very well-acted, I can't sleep and no amount of wine-drinking or watching Tootsie on a continuous loop 'til the sun comes up seems to be solving the problem.

While waking up 11 times per night for three straight weeks may not sound ideal, I have used the time wisely. I have discovered that when I’m under stress of any kind, my body prefers to be conscious so that it can fret, fret, and fret some more. Good to know, right? So to counter that, I've done my level best to come up with some strategies to get my brain to turn off with the hope that normal sleeping habits will return in enough time for me become the normal, endearing and self-deprecating chica that my family has come to know and love and not the twitchy, "spazing out" Martha-Marcy-Mary-Marlene wanna-be with which she's been replaced.

 These are the top ten tricks that have worked for me so far:

1. Stop watching movies that scare the living poop out of you. Fairly self-explanatory. This leaves out early Darren Aronofsky films, anything by Michael Hanaeke or David Fincher, anything with the word "silent" or "dare" in the title and Jennifer Aniston vehicles of any kind. My eyes are drooping just thinking about it. I better write this down. Speaking of which…

2. Keep a pen by the bed. There will always be something you forget to write down. Something so pressing that it jolts you from sleep at 3 a.m. Don’t regain consciousness while you worry about remembering the important thing. Write it down and roll over.

3. Get off the couch. Exercise, mofo!. Harder than you usually do if you’re athletic. One of the less-touted benefits of strenuous exercise is that it exhausts you. Perfect.

4. Stop the nightly grind. Not coffee or tea (that's No. 7) I'm talking teeth. The last one isn't an issue for everyone of course, but I grind my teeth in my sleep. I did it before MMMM and I didn’t realize how much it was waking me until I was fit for a mouth guard, and so I mention it here. Consider it, my stress-ball friend.

5. Clear out electronics. They say you need to remove even the tiniest lights if you don’t want to mess with your circadian rhythms, and maybe that’s true. Illuminated clocks are so accusatory they might as well have an exclamation point after the time. But the little charging lights on my computer, phone, iPad, camera? Those are more of a problem if I’m already awake in the dark. Each one is a tiny siren song, coaxing me to conquer another Scrabble opponent. Not to mention how often my phone wakes me with a late-night text or call from one of the many inconsiderate louts who I have come to love. So when I’m having trouble sleeping, all the gadgets go in the living room.

6. Don’t play dead. When I’m up, I just get up. I won’t stay in bed awake for more than fifteen minutes because I don’t want my bed to become a place where I worry about not sleeping. I’ll take a bath or go read on the couch, any activity I can do supine. And if you fall asleep in the bathtub? Success.

7. Stop taking uppers. No more caffeine. If I can’t sleep, I stop ingesting stimulants because they are chemically designed to keep me awake. (I’m wacky that way.) I’ll take a two-day withdrawl headache over a month-long stint as a zombie.

8. Shower before bed. The warmth is supposed to sleepify you, and maybe it does, but I find it relaxing just to climb into bed clean. Sleeping with freshly shaved legs is also a nice bonus.

9. Get stuck. I get acupuncture once a month, and I almost never have trouble sleeping on days when I have a session. The effect is similar to a good massage.

10. Powder your nose. When you finally do get to sleep, the last thing you want is to be woken by your bladder. Use the bathroom right before bed, and limit liquid intake an hour or so before you (hope to) go to sleep.

Also, think twice before you watch a film that explores the mental and emotional anguish that befalls any person who gets sucked into a cult. Cult films? Fine. Films about cults? Only if you're looking not to sleep for a few weeks. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Water Torture. Bring It!

Most of us are drawn towards things that give us a lift. For some it's electronics, others recreational pharmaceuticals. For me, it used to be a cup of tea. [Full disclosure: I drink two cups per day out of both desire and need but, mostly, because it does my body good. Tea addiction is generally classed as one of the least bothersome addictions because not having a cup is often accompanied by some less than attractive side effects: headaches, slightly discoloured teeth and dressing like your grandparents. Before that tea, briefly, it was cigarettes but a well placed advert of a set of teeth exposed to mouth cancer got me wondering: “What the hell?” Enter tea.] As I've progressed with age, however, I have come to the sad realization that what used to classify as "uplifting" usually doesn't meet the daily requirement. And while a cup of tea is still lovely, it simply doesn't cut it now that I'm over forty. What I need these days to rock my world is a paradigm shift.

For those unfamiliar, a paradigm shift is a change from one way of thinking to another. It's a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis that, rather than just happen, is driven by agents of change. Creationist thinking to the theory of evolution, for instance. Geocentrism to Heliocentrism, in astronomy. Old Coke to New Coke. And back to Classic Coke. Searching these out can be next to impossible so when a paradigm shift falls into your lap, you need to seize the opportunity and not turn away.

Mine occurred few weeks ago while bathing suit shopping with my sister.

Stay with me.

For those of you who haven't read a Cathy comic strip and are unfamiliar with the humiliation and torture associated with the purchase of a bathing costume, I will say this: there is no better way to come face to face with what you want out of life than slipping into an over-lighted, under-heated room and seeing how you look in a piece of stretch fabric designed for a pre-pubescent girl with a figure chipped from marble. Good times, right? I used to despise this ritual as well until I found myself in a shopping mall in Gatineau desperate to find a flattering swimsuit in the an oasis of tastelessness. Proof once again, by the way, that you cannot choose where you have your epiphany. I was railing against the universe about how terrible this task was when it occurred to me that the whole exercise was horrendous because I had made the decision to make it so. It was a choice I'd made. Couldn't I decide not to hate it, I thought, to myself? Couldn't I find a way to make it better?

And that's when I decided to share my swimsuit-shopping wisdom to you all and, therefore, uplift us all. Noble, huh? So here's what I learned:

1. Stay away from the department store. The service sucks. The lighting is bad. The music is worse. Badness everywhere. Move on.

2. Stay away from any store with a salesperson who is under 50. The Youngs have no interest in how your butt looks. The Middle-Aged are in still in retail, resentful about it and will take their anger out on the looks they give your thighs. The Older set? They've seen it all. Your thighs are the least of their worries. Go with this group. They will not disappoint.

3. Two words: Lingerie store. Ignore the giant pile of 3 for $25 unders. Move towards the giant sling-shot bras. At the back. Further.Yes! Now turn right. See that little rack hidden by a giant display of lacy housecoats? Behind that rack is what you're looking for: Bathing suit Valhalla.

4. Why are there only 8 or 9 suits here, you will ask yourself? This isn't much choice, you will say, but you will be wrong. What lay before you are the only 8 or 9 bathing suits you will need. Boned, trussed and reinforced, these are the suits that have been sewn - nay, engineered!! - to hold back Nature's cruel joke (yes, this is what I call aging.). These few will uplift mind, body and spirit. And whatever saggy bits make you want to take to the freezer section of the nearest grocer and eat ice cream in your car with a set of car keys. And no, I haven't done this more than once. Pick three and get ye to a fitting room.

5. Be bold. Do not contemplate heading to the maternity department and trying on a floral skirt. And yes, heading away from the department store was a good idea. They may have more suits there but trying to make a sensible choice from what amounts to fluoro rubber bands is no choice at all.

6. Take off your clothes. Put on the costume and do not look at your reflection in the mirror until you've told yourself this: the world will still turn if I don't look good in this. Then look. If you have to go into the bargaining phase in order to contemplate the purchase ("Suck my stomach in for 5 hours won't be so bad, right?) it is not the right suit for you. Do this until your will has been broken down and you go with the one thing that is BF (Bulge Friendly).

7. Finally, when you get home, don't read the label that says 'Material may become
transparent in water". Instead, put your feet up, pour yourself some wine and reassure yourself that learning how to breatstroke in the sand will be nothing compared to what you just went through.