Category: Opinion/Rant/Thoughts

Ushering in a Season of Personal Austerity

September has always been a time of reflection for me. It is my new year. It is my birth month. It is the time to add a blanket on the bed after a summer of sweaty nights. It is the month of reacquaintance with favorite handknit sweaters, even if only in the evenings as the sun sets earlier and earlier. It is the start of a new school year, a new semester (and while I am no longer a student in a formal capacity, but with 10 years of post-secondary behind me, let’s just say I’ve had a LOT of back-to-school Septembers). I still have a ritual of going to the drugstore right around Labour Day to buy myself some new pens (Sharpie fine point pens are my fave) and the September issues of Vogue and InStyle. Because fall fashion is visual comfort food for me. Rich colours. Wool coats. Knee-high boots. Cozy sweaters.

Last September was a time of almost overwhelming optimism. I’d just come back from my first Burning Man, which left me not only with a renewed sense of hope for humanity, but also an amazing group of mostly new friends that I now consider to be among my closest. I’d spent the summer accumulating a variety of new experiences. Expanding my boundaries (while learning that some borders were just as rigid as I’d always thought). Letting go of notions that no longer served me.

This September has blown in on a different wind though. The end of August brought a visit from some familiar but unwelcome dark storms, and it’s really only been in the past week or so that my disposition has returned to its more usual blue-skied self. And instead of a renewed desire to explore, to experience, to float on the whims of the universe*, I feel a need to contract, to tighten, to slow down, to nourish, to turn inwards.

It feels like a spell of personal austerity is in order. A time to repay the self, if you will. In several senses.

1. Financial austerity: I recently cancelled a planned trip to Cuba as I need to finish paying off the excesses of summer (hello Visa balance? You are about to be history.) Time to start actually saving for things before I buy them. Like I used to. I know, crazy concept.

2. Dietary austerity – long afternoons of cocktails and bacon-laden burgers,  late-night snacks of, well, more bacon, plus much birthday cake** have left me dreading putting on my jeans in the morning. My favorite pair still fits. But barely. And right out of the dryer? It’s a struggle. Involving some strange yoga. I refuse to buy another pair in a larger size (see point 1 – I’d rather spend my money diversifying my wardrobe rather than replacing it). It’s less about vanity and more about just wanting to (literally) feel comfortable in the clothes that I already own.  I owe my body a break from the too-regular indulgences of late. And I owe it a bit more exercise. I’m never going to be one of those gym-every-day, super fitness-y people (props to those people though… I respect the dedication), but a bit more cycling, more swimming, and more yoga are definitely in order. And less bacon. But not NO bacon. Come on now.

3. Temporal austerity – Firstly, I need to start getting more sleep. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but ya. Sleep. Good. I have two jobs. I have a lot of interests. I need time for creative endeavours. I am blessed with a (seemingly ever-growing) number of amazing friends who I do like to spend face-to-face time with, because text messages aren’t enough.  I’m still trying to figure out how best to balance all of the various ways I could choose to spend the hours of each of my days. Sometimes it feels like a big game of Tetris… 8 hour sleep block… 3 hour friend hang-out block… 1 hour cooking block… 2 hour knitting/TV block… I need more lazy blocks. This whole weekend was pretty much one of those. And lo’ and behold, I woke up EARLY on Monday. Well-rested.  And had a productive day. FANCY THAT!

4. Mental austerity – I have a whole stack of books, some half-read, some not yet started, that I intend to get to. Like soon. Mostly non-fiction books about topics that I care about and would like to delve into in a deeper way. Education, sociology (I’m particularly interested in motivation and choice), pedagogy, sexuality… so many fascinating ideas to meld with my own opinions and notions about how the world works,  how brains work, and how I work. (And really, finding out how *I* work has really been the most fascinating part of the last few years.) So it’s time to focus on some of these intellectual pursuits. And maybe even take some time to write about them.

Yes, I realize that points 3) and 4) are going to be in conflict. I never said this was going to be easy. It is necessary though.

Will there be a cost to these austerity measures? Sure. I’ll miss out on events that I’m sure I’d really enjoy because I’m staying home to read. I’ll put myself to bed early, even if it means that Breaking Bad will have to wait. To my friends who will surely order a bacon cheeseburger in my presence, only to have me steal a bite before returning to whatever I ordered, I apologize in advance. (Although I already just help myself to everybody’s food. I’ll just have less decadent things to offer in return LOL.)

But when I emerge from my season of parsimony, I’m sure I’ll be renewed, nourished, energized, and ready to explore and expand again…

* I don’t mean universe as a euphemism for anything spiritual. I mean the set of experiences that go on around me through no agency of my own.

** NOT a complaint. I will never complain about birthday cake. Especially the amazingly decadent chocolate creation that my friends bought me. But there’s a reason cake is a sometimes food.

I love you.

I’ve decided not to go on my usual anti-Valentine’s Day rant this year. It’s so easy to be a hater, so I’m going to put that aside, pour myself a nice glass of scotch and just say: I love you.

To everybody who’s made me laugh in the last year, I love you.

To all my dance friends who have taken me for a spin around the floor, I love you.

To the friends who have let me cry on their shoulders and sat with me in my moments of darkness, I love you.

To all my companions on my many and various crazy adventures in the last year, I love you.

To everyone who has listened when I asked for help, or given me a hug, or just a empathetic ear, I love you.

To those who have held a little piece of my heart if even for a short while, I love you.

To those who have seen me in my moments of craziness, and stuck by me, I love you.

To N, for continued friendship and grace in the heartache of transition, I love you.

To my mother, for embarking on new adventures of your own, I love you.

And most of all, to my inspiring, brilliant, empathetic, curious, vulnerable, funny, beautiful, brave sistertwin, I love you more than anyone can understand. I still remember the moment when I realized that even if you died, I wouldn’t have to miss you all that much because you are so much a part of me. That said, don’t go anywhere just yet. We have a whole world to take over.

And, because everything is better with music, here’s my current musical crush The Civil Wars doing a cover of one of my favorite love songs.

2011. Hot damn.

For me, this has been the kind of year that knocks something loose in your soul, that rearranges the furniture in your heart, and after which you will never see the world the same way again.

Explanation of blog name change to follow eventually. Suffice it to say (for now), the original premise has expired.

The Coles Notes version of the plot of 2011 is as follows:

– Quit my PhD.
– Husband and I separated after 9 months of marriage. (We are still friends, love each other and remain each other’s greatest supporters. No really. Airing of dirty laundry not forthcoming.)
– Went on a slew of crazy (for me) adventures this summer. Relationship adventures. Friendship adventures. Thought adventures. Camping adventures.
– Burning Man. ‘Nuf said.
– Met some AMAZING people. Reconnected in a whole new way with other friends I’ve known for a while. Renewed and deepened my wonderful relationship with my sister.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few big BIG lessons:

1. When people do things that are hurtful or (self) destructive, it serves them in some way. They get something positive out of it. We can’t begin to fix the problem (in ourselves or others) until we recognize this. I’ve had to apply this both to my own behaviour, and to that of others around me. (Thanks Aram for naming this. It’s resonated so profoundly for me.)

2. I am weird. I LIKE my weirdness. I only want to spend time with people who also like my weirdness. Thankfully, these people exist.

3. I don’t need to change my introvert HSP self to fit into the world. I can, however, change my corner of the world to fit me one little bit at a time.

4. Depression is real. It is so easy to fall into a pit of darkness from which there seems to be no escape.

5. Love comes in more forms than I had ever imagined.

6. To truly enjoy life, you need to let go of expectations. Especially the ones you have of yourself.

7. It is incredibly humbling and liberating to realize that you can blow up your world and there are people who will help you remove the shrapnel from your soul and hold your hand while you start healing.

8. My sister is the most special companion a girl could ever ask for. In some ways we are polar opposites. In some ways we are thought twins. Don’t ask me how that works. Spend some time with us and you’ll understand. Or be totally weirded out.

9. When you truly, fully, completely surrender to the universe the most amazing and wonderful things happen that you could never have planned or foreseen.

To everyone who has brought some light and laughter to my year, whether it was a funny Facebook post, a hug, or a roadtrip, a million thanks. It’s been the worst of times and the best of times. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Tuesday Tuneage – Toyz Noize by Pogo

I have the biggest heart on for Pogo. Pogo being a 22-year old remix master living in Perth, Australia. He takes classic movies (from Up to Gone with the Wind), and puts together mixes consisting almost (>95%) entirely of sound bites from the movie. And they are MAGIC. Upular was my favorite until last week when my sister showed me Toyz Noize, which is a Toy Story mash.

POGO does some amazing stuff besides remixing soundtracks of course, my personal favorite is Splurgensh**ter; the video makes me smile every time. Darth Vader will never be the same. (Just watch it.. bonus points if you can identify the source of the “I want to move to the beat” clip.)

Obviously, being a remix artist, Pogo has come up against the various laws surrounding copyright, which he discusses a bit on his blog. He has had to go to battle against Disney for remixes of some of their classic movies including Alice in Wonderland.  Some  of his work (including a remix of Hook) is not legally available in online format, you have to go to his shows to see him mix live. Just need to get him to Vancouver.

Pogo’s work clearly embodies sampling as a loving reinterpretation of the original source material, and it is obviously done with a lot of respect for the original movies. And has rekindled many listeners’ love affairs with some of their childhood favorites. Not all movie production companies think so and still insist that this is money-grubbing copyright infringement.

Here are Pogo’s own words: “My work serves as free viral marketing to the organisations that own the films I sample from. It’s high time the music industry pulls its head out of its ass, and realises that today’s remix culture is an asset, not a liability. To shoot down the potential here would be utterly illogical.”

I’m going to go find a Darth Vader helmet and go dance in my backyard now…

Why I dislike Halloween.

I’m going away this weekend with my husband. We’re housesitting on the Sunshine Coast. There will horses. And a hot tub. “But”, you say, “you’re going to miss HalloWEEEEEEN!”. To which I say good riddance. I gotta say, not my favorite holiday.

I’m a very sensitive person. In fact, I fall in the spectrum of Highly Sensitive People or HSPs. (Maybe you believe in classifying people, maybe you don’t, but when I read the description of the characteristics of HSPs, I so clearly recognized myself, and gained a framework for understanding how I fit in the world). Anyways, here, “sensitive” means having a more reactive nervous system than the majority of folks. I’m more sensitive to sound, smell, light, temperature, and texture than most people around me.

I’m also extremely sensitive to imagery, especially of the violent or gory variety. I am the only person I know of who walked out of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because I couldn’t handle the rape scene. My dear husband tried to coax me back by telling me that the victim gets her revenge on the perpetrator, but to me, graphic is still graphic and I don’t want to see it, even if “evil” is getting what’s coming to it. I know, I know, everybody loves the movie, and I was really enjoying the storyline, the characters, and the Swedish scenery, but I was just DONE after that scene. One day I might rewatch the whole thing (with my finger on the fast-forward button of course), but ya. Scarred.

Which is why I don’t really like the whole gore aspect of Halloween. Putting little kids in cute costumes? Great! Carving pumpkins? Fun! (I think the R2D2 pumpkin below is freakin’ sweet). Dressing up? (Great if I’m in the mood, but I generally hate that too because I feel pressure to come up with something awesome). Anyways, all the storefronts in my ‘hood with the blood and guts and meat hooks stuck into fake mangled torsos? I CAN’T LOOK AT THAT STUFF. It upsets me. Real people get murdered. Their brains spill out of their skulls, and their blood gets spattered on the floor (this is exactly what goes through my head when I see these things). I seem to lack the filter that most people have that tells their brains that the fake gore is fake. It bothers me to the core.

To quote my sister (who is also an HSP): “I hate that we’re disturbed by the psychopaths who murdered that poor girl on the island, but people will go out this weekend and see Saw IV and be all titillated.”

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

So perhaps now you understand that I’m really quite content to be away relaxing in a hot tub on Halloween instead of stressing over some costume and trying to not be overwhelmed by all the zombies and headless horsemen and psycho killers and fake-blood-soaked “victims” out there. I admire your Halloween enthusiasm, I’m just not really able to share and enjoy it. However, feel free to bring me any leftover candy you might have… 😛

Side note: I’m also a bit of a cynic (“Shocker”, you say). So I really loved the Oatmeal’s comic How Different Age Groups Celebrate Halloween. I laughed out loud. (Especially because I hate raisins.)

Walkman retired!

I just read that Sony has officially retired the Walkman and has ceased their production in Japan. Somehow I was surprised that the trusty cassette player (in all its incarnations) was still being produced at all…

Here‘s one of the many stories that appeared about the announcement.

I never had the sporty yellow Walkman that EVERYBODY ELSE had back in the mid-90s… I couldn’t afford one of my own until halfway through university; I bought a slate grey version with digital FM radio (whoooeee!). I don’t know where all my mix tapes ended up, but I can tell you that I listened to way too much Dave Matthews on that thing (I was 18 and a romantic at heart… now I’m, well, 30 and a tad more cynical).

I then graduated to a Discman (it actually was a Sony). Which I loved because I could burn MP3 CDs and fit like 10 albums on one disc.

A few years later (2004-ish?) I bought myself the biggest brick of an MP3 player that has ever graced this planet: the Creative Zen Xtra. 40GB. Almost the size of my original Walkman. But with my entire music collection on it.  Which was great for a while until I realized I wanted something nice and small that I could take to the gym (back when I regularly WENT to a gym). So I got myself a little Creative Zen Micro. Which I loved until the battery door  fell off. I’m hard on my electronics, what can I say.

Then, two years ago, after a lot of jealous oogling, I finally joined iPod Nation with my purchase of a cute seafoam green 3rd generation Nano, which I still use daily and love. But of course, y’all know how it is with Apple products… you can’t buy just one… so now I have a MacBook… and an iPhone… and I’ll probably soon have an iMac…

That’s 12 years of portable music technology in my life… I wonder how I’ll be getting my daily tune fix in 30 more years? (And if I’ll still have a soft spot for Dave Matthews when I’m in a wistful mood… is it still wistful when you’re 60 or just nostalgic?). Subcutaneous implants that wirelessly sync with your computer and connect to some kind of cordless earbuds? Or still some form of small device with an earphone jack like today?

Word of the moment – Epic

I will firstly admit that I am guilty of overusing this word (usually to describe particularly awesome nights of dancing). But I’m trying to phase it back out of my vocabulary except, when, it is actually appropriate. Which is surprisingly rare. Clearly, I don’t read enough poetry or do enough heroic things.

The word of which I speak is: epic.

No, wait:

Dictionary.com gives the definition as follows:
epic [ep-ik] –adjective Also, ep·i·cal. 

  1. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style: Homer’s Iliad is an epic poem.
  2. resembling or suggesting such poetry: an epic novel on the founding of the country.
  3. heroic; majestic; impressively great: the epic events of the war.
  4. of unusually great size or extent: a crime wave of epic proportions.
In the last while, I’ve heard this word used to describe everything from shoe sales to sandwiches to drunk nights of foolishness to early-season hockey games. Dunno, but if you’re going to really, truly, earnestly call a sandwich “epic”, it better be either the size of my head, or have gold-flecked mayo on it or something. Actually, of all those aforementioned things, the drunken nights of foolishness could probably lay the closest claim to being legitimately epic because some of the stories I’ve heard could almost pass as Homeric. But more Simpson than Illiad, I suppose.
So I will try to reserve this word for truly epic occasions and return to more mundane but appropriate adjectives… (I’m personally pulling for a revival of “rad”. Yes.)