It’s fitting that my essay appears in the back of the Globe and Mail, on the same day that Stephanie Nolen’s byline is on the front page. Back in King’s J-school, she would submit her flawless article at the same time I was in the back of the class asking when it was due.
A step ahead, that girl. Stephanie’s success was as predestined as Justin Bieber’s fall.
Another chasm of note: her article is about the suspicious death of a prosecutor in Argentina, mine is about the experience of being bitch-slapped, in a manner, during facials.
Look. It’s not high-minded stuff, but before you discard me as intellectual wasteland, relatability, in this day and age, is worthy of broadsheet space, too. Profound insights and waterfall music are not mutually exclusive.
A creative writing course? Parisian croissants sound less flaky.
The Writer’s Studio is a one year continuing education course at SFU. It costs real money – a trip to Hawaii kind of money – and the bulk of time is spent with a small group of students, workshopping material.
Seemed like I was signing up to pay a lot of dough to hang with strangers that potentially knew less about writing than me – difficult, but not impossible. Yet the glossy marketing brochure showed smiling groups of academic people sitting around a boardroom table, and the course reviews, by all accounts, were excellent. Especially on the back of that brochure – positively glowing, life changing remarks.
Like comments on book jackets, the course reviews provide the ending punctuation, should you be intrigued by the title. I held my breath and dove into Saturday lectures and Thursday workshops, the lull and promise of narrative and words more seductive than the sugarcane fields and hibiscus of Maui.
Rarely do words in glossy text live up to their promises, but these ones did.
The first day of class I was nervous. Of course, I learned later, everyone was, filled with similar apprehensions and doubts, but hoping for the best. And by best, I mean visions of Hemingway and the Lost Generation mingling in French cafes, together at last with like-minded creatives. Substitute East Van for the Left Bank.
Nine people comprised our fiction cohort, all from various backgrounds, different sizes and shapes and professions. It took one short session, however, to realize despite these differences, our shared passion for stories, dedication to telling them, and unwavering devotion for literature, would bind us like Crazy Glue.
For our first short story submission, my fellow students set their narratives in India, Singapore, Scotland, Turkey. My story took place in Whole Foods. I panicked, emailed our instructor, fearing I was a fish out of water. This salmon was fledgling on sandy shores instead of the ocean’s depth.
Diplomatically, she assured me we all had our own voices, mine was just more local. Soldier on, she advised.
I did, and I’m grateful. For in my group, I met my tribe.
By critiquing their work each week, I not only watched them become better at their craft, but my own writing improved. In their hands, my stories came to life, my characters became three dimensional. My protagonist rose from the page and I could see her, smell her, understand her better.
Writing is hard, lonely work. Some days, my computer screen may as well be made of mud; murky, brown, senseless. Astonishingly, my group reads my submission, and find the sparkle, however buried, that I was aiming for. Their comments and insights help me to remove the debris and sediment that stand between the story and its heart.
There are words. And then there are the right words.
Besides personal growth, it’s been more inspiring and emotional watching my group evolve. Within a year their prose became more colourful, their stories riskier, characters more vulnerable. Witnessing these tranformations was worth the price of admission.
A short, parallel story.
As a little girl, I dreamed of running a marathon. I ran and ran, won a few ribbons, acquired a few injuries. Every time I increased my mileage, muscles tore, stress fractures occurred, my spirit broke. Man. I wanted to run a marathon, but my body didn’t seem equipped. Finally I joined a running group, and four months later I ran the Vancouver Marathon. In fact, I ran the entire race with a woman who had never ran a step before our first group run.
Well, until mile 20, when she left me, the veteran runner, in her dust.
When a common goal is shared, collectively, we are better. Together, the bar is raised. Winnie the Pooh says it’s so much better with two. With nine, even more so.
Our course is finished, we had our official ceremony this week. (Notably, the keynote speaker was a TWS graduate, Arleen Pare, 2014 winner of the Governor General’s award for poetry, who started writing at age 50.) Our group continues to meet every other Thursday. We’ve traded fluorescent lighting for soft living room lamps, swapped lattes for wine, but kept our format the same.
The three hours we spend discussing story are among my favorite of any week. We are many things, readers and writers first, unlikely friends last.
Hello 2015, I can’t wait to eat you up. Let the wild rumpus start, like Max says.
And another thing. When it comes to idiocy, home ownership, and life, I’m the bomb. Click here to read all about it, courtesy of today’s Globe and Mail. The Facts and Arguments page isn’t the only one worth reading, but it’s frequently my favorite.
Note I’m not a redhead, but the repose I can get behind.
Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year. There’s a mountain out there for you to climb, should you choose to.
This is not a foodie blog, because I’m not a foodie, which is not to say I don’t like food.
I like it alright.
My taste buds simply haven’t evolved much since my university days, when my roommates mocked me for my iceberg lettuce salads, which consisted of one part lettuce, and three parts Kraft Creamy Dill Cucumber Dressing.
Flash forward a few years, let’s leave it at nine, teenage daughters notwithstanding, and I’m frequently disappointed in restaurant meals, often prepared like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or else a fish in Mardi Gras beads. Salmon in a cajun spice, for instance. I could be eating halibut, sole or marshmallows, it’s hard to tell with the cajun spice hollering at me.
What’s the point?
So when Chef Ned Bell sent our dinner club an array of appetizers at Yew, which consisted of food that tastes like it looks like it should, except better, I felt I was home at last. But in a nicer, newer, home, with sous chefs and parades of cute waiters, who presented our courses with a flourish.
The meal started with a lobster and smoked sable fish salad, suspiciously void of greens and large on orange and avocado. Salad greens are more more trouble than they’re worth, so I was pleasantly surprised – salads, you’ll recall, not being my thing.
Then came albacore tuna with ginger and apple. I’m pretty sure it was albacore – Jana was in the midst of discussing invariable moments of nudity that occur at her parties, the first of which I’m attending this Saturday night, so I was understandably distracted. Sorry, Ned.
Mussels, in the most delicate, lemon-infused broth imaginable, and baskets of salty french fries. These weren’t just any mussels. The secret to happiness itself was embodied in those little white bowls.
Oh. My. Waistband.
When we collectively declared that we couldn’t possibly eat another morsel, plates of stollen arrived, with a sidekick of rice ice cream (If I have that wrong, it’s the Chardonnay talking), drizzled with caramel sauce. It’s amazing how, given a ten minute interval, my stomach can reinvent itself as hungry.
All this to say, there’s talk of our dinner club becoming the Yew Club. We’re ready to commit.
(Did you like my surreptitious mention of dinner club? It involves women of tremendous athletic achievement and brains, and me.)
It was a dark and stormy Monday morning, and I was not at all inclined to get out of bed.
But I knew what was waiting for me at Ride78 was far more inspiring than my soft pillow. Harder than rolling over to my other side. More interesting than my recurring dreams of James Franco. Well, more productive.
Christine Fletcher knows how to inspire a spin class, and can transport the most dedicated armchair athletes into Ironmen. So I made my way to La Bicicletta, her new home for sweating out toxins, and breathing in life.
I’m not going to lie: you’re not listening to the most dedicated spinner. I won’t be the last girl who fakes it when I’m told to add a few gears (hint: you can touch the lever but not move it, so to speak). But Chrissy’s calm demeanour packs just the right amount of Kool-Aid for me to pedal harder.
She eases into warm up and I’m convinced momentarily that hey, I’m in pretty good shape. I got this. Then the sweat that initially dotted the floor under my bike like a light drizzle turns into a dangerous and slippery river, and I’m not so sure anymore. At this point Chrissy notes most people are still in bed, which fills me with such smug self-righteousness that when she next tells me to add three gears, I actually do.
Spin class is a lot like life, easy to begin with, but then you’re pedalling for your life and crying for a merciful fifteen second rest. And in those fifteen seconds, there is an appreciation for the work. It’s a continual ebb and flow, where desire and dedication reap rewards. In the end, the ultimate achievement is in the doing.
Yeah, I did that. Probably before your alarm went off.
The hills were high, the flats were fast, and as for the time, it flew.
The cozy cocoon-like bed and waterfall music are almost enough to lull me into believing this facial will be different.
Maybe my skin care regiment is finally working. While not onerous, it still costs me money I would prefer to spend on things I care about, like chocolate sea salt gelato, and the ten minutes I spend cleansing, toning and exfoliating cuts into time that could be better spent with Orange is the New Black. Surely, these sacrifices are producing glowing results.
You can convince yourself of anything in that dark room of serenity.
The esthetician bounces in, looking like she went to cosmetology school fresh out of kindergarten. My hopes sag like the skin around my eyes, because the only thing that’s worse than getting lectured about your skin is getting lectured by someone half your age.
She places a cloth over my eyes that does nothing to block the blinding glare of the spotlight she switches on to study her canvas. She audibly gasps, sucking in her breath like she has just revealed a lizard on her table instead of a human.
Have you ever heard of sunscreen, she asks. I try not to grit my teeth because the microscope picks up on those things, and answer that yes, I use SPF 50 every day. Yes, I reapply, and yes, I use it in the winter and in thunderstorms.
She continues to batter me with the onslaught of questions that every esthetician uses, like a script, to get to the bottom of how my skin can be so dry, dull and dehydrated. I answer dutifully, hoping that maybe this time, together, we will determine the magical solution to my flakey woes.
She asks about the products I use (professional, hawked on me by my last esthetician), whether I exfoliate (three times a week, naturally), if I use hydration masks (honey, I could write the book), whether I drink coffee (is nothing sacred?), how much water I drink (buckets, on account of my coffee habit), if my diet is healthy (Gwyneth has nothing on me), how often I get facials (I enjoy this inquisition so much I should come weekly instead of once a decade), and whether I exercise (I’m known to do the odd marathon or triathlon).
She was stymied – and in fact, getting a little panicky – until she hit on the exercise thing, saying all of that salt is very drying, and perhaps I should think twice about that, or else carry a toner with me to spritz on my face mid-run. When I went to pay my bill, there it was, the toner she recommended I carry in my running belt, alongside my bear spray and water bottle. I demurred, and in that moment learned the concept of being comfortable in your own skin, parched though it may be.
Cosmetology schools should offer courses in diplomacy. Jesus, some people have dry skin, it’s not a crime against humanity.
I run because it’s who I am; I do triathlons to find out who else I can be. In the course of six hours you have time to figure these things out.
You also, I learned, have time for some very random thoughts. Here is a sampling of things that went through my mind during the Oliver Half Ironman on the weekend. (Note: the more I suffer, the more I curse, profanity has a magical band-aid effect. Ella, that means stop reading here.)
- It’s a nice day for a little swim, a bike ride, and a run. What the hell was I thinking?
- I should have tried on this wetsuit before today, not breathing could be a liability.
- Hopefully these swimmers are sighting because I can’t see a thing.
- Pool swimming prepares you for triathlon like knitting prepares you for the WWF.
- First, you swim on top of me, and then you kick me in the face? Karma says there’s a flat tire in your future.
- Mother of God, where is that beach?
- Why is everyone in such a hurry in transition? People aren’t very chatty. I thought we’d bond after swimming through a dishwasher together.
- Drafting is illegal – of course I won’t draft. One thing about me is I follow rules to the letter. I don’t jaywalk, nor spit into the wind.
- Drink. Eat. Drink. Eat. Someone once told me you can’t over-fuel. Hopefully not the same person who suggested I do this race, because they are clearly trying to kill me.
- Where is everybody? I desperately need to draft.
- If I rode off this cliff, would I die or just be maimed for life? And if maimed, how long would I lay there before anyone came looking? I wouldn’t be one of those people who cuts off their arm and crawls to safety; I’d just cry.
- Wait, wait, wait. I’m totally going to ride your ass as long as I can.
- Speaking of ass, if mine didn’t feel like I was sitting on an inverted kitchen faucet, I wouldn’t mind biking.
- I should have biked 93 kilometers before today. Fuck, it’s far.
- Still, childbirth is harder. All that pain without an inch of forward movement.
- Was I supposed to practice transitions? Because I didn’t get the memo. And again, I don’t see why we can’t share a few words about that heinous bike ride we just endured.
- To the 24 year-old girl who passed me on the run: why aren’t you hungover in bed right now? Surely there are better ways to spend your youth.
- Is motherfucker redundant?
- Jesus Christ, who am I Princess and the Pea – how is it possible that I felt that pebble through my insulated runner? And that one? Ow. Ow. Ow.
- A six mile run would be sufficient given the circumstances. Whoever came up with thirteen is a sadist, and I hope they spend an eternity in hell running over hot coals, like we are doing today.
- What’s that stomach, you’re cramping? I can’t hear you, and by the way my legs are the boss of you.
- Never. Give. Up.
- I think I just found my inner ninja.
So, a lot of negative thoughts, subsequently erased by going the distance. That, for me, is the beauty of triathlon, and the reason I’ll be stupid enough to do more in the future.