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Travel: Toujours Tulum

November 12, 2015 1 comment

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I’ll always have Tulum.

It’s the one. You know, when they tell you to envision a happy place. A piece of paradise to be teleported to when your present is chaos. Which happens. To some more than others, granted, but inevitably to all.

I wrote about my yoga retreat to Tulum in the Whistler Pique here. It’s the vacay that keeps on giving, since I return to it in my head over and over.

Sometimes an hour of yoga just won’t cut it.

Why Stopping to Smell the Roses Is Like Pausing to Consider a Facial

February 4, 2015 3 comments

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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.

Nothing Written Nothing Gained

January 30, 2015 5 comments

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.

 

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One For The Globe

January 5, 2015 Leave a comment

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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.

 

 

Out with the Old, In with the Yew

December 17, 2014 2 comments

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.

 

Ned Bell and Ride78's Christine Fletcher

Ned Bell and Ride78’s Christine Fletcher

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.

 

Who takes pictures of their food in restaurants. Me, that’s who.

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.

And then.

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.

 

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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.)

 

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A Facial Shaming

August 15, 2014 1 comment

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.

Categories: Life Tags: , , , , , , ,

You’ve Got to Tri(athlon)

June 3, 2014 4 comments

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistaken Identity

February 24, 2014 6 comments

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I’m at a fundraiser, which is another way of saying I’ve had a glass of wine. I’m not slurring words, but my tongue is loose. You know.

So I come clean. Sometimes, I just cannot get a name right. Even though I have swam in her lane for a year and change beside her twice a week, and people have corrected me seventy times. My brain has decided her name should be Dawn, and not Sean, and there is nothing that can be done to alter its hellbent Dawn course.

Here is a two-paragraph crash course of our shared history:

Deanna, this is Sean. (I hear Dawn, and think, oh, she even looks like a Dawn, she is bright like the sunrise. I love it when this happens. She is so not an Elizabeth.)

Thereafter, I congratulate Dawn (Sean) at the end of each practice. Refer to Dawn (Sean) frequently as my friend. Introduce myself at the said fundraiser to her husband as, Hi, I’m Deanna, I swim with Dawn.

He looks at me oddly, which is not the first time I’ve been looked at oddly on this night.

Your wife? I prompt.

Oh, you mean Sean. I thought I had another wife for a second.

Fed up with my brain, I take my flawed self and my glass of wine and make a beeline for SEAN. Sean Sean Sean Sean. Banning Dawn forever from my memory.

I interrupt her bid on a silent auction item to blurt out I have a confession. I have called you Dawn for a year and a half. For some reason, I can’t get your name right. It’s not that I don’t value you as a person, but rather a lobe of my brain has ADD where your name is concerned.

She looks at me, laughter pushing up the corners of her mouth. I have a confession for you, she says. You mentioned your partner was Kim, so for the past year and a half I thought you were gay.

We both laugh heartily at our Three’s Company moment, and I wonder if she’s as secretly pleased that I likened her to a sunrise, as I am pleased that she mistook me for gay.

Facing Fears

February 3, 2014 5 comments

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I’m sitting in a classroom, trying to slink underneath my desk so that the teacher won’t call on me. I sit amongst my clique, my fiction group. The poets are in the front of the room, young adult genre and non-fiction groups occupy the left side of the room. Three weeks into our year-long course and alliances have formed, we gravitate quickly to our own kind. A familiar feeling from twenty-five years hence. It’s high school all over again.

Actually, it’s the Writer’s Studio at a downtown university, my year to study creative writing. The crucial word here is creative, also known as my personal nemesis. By throwing tuition into this course, I’m banking on acquiring some. Or at least chiseling away cliched layers of assumption and habit to reveal whatever lies at my core. I’m hoping to find a garden planted with seedlings of inspiration, but fear a black hole.

The people that surround me are so brimming with creativity that I’m terrified into submission. A girl, wearing a hand-knitted toque, reads her reaction to a homeless woman she encountered during our break with such emotion in her voice that we fall over her words, and into stunned respect for her gifted prose. Sweet Caroline, I think, don’t make me read my vacant observation next.

We are each handed a blank piece of paper and asked to create a three dimensional sculpture to illustrate our currently writing. My heart sinks because in a pinch, I can pull an unusual adjective out of my pocket, but this requires imagination and craft. I fold and rip my piece of paper so that it opens inwards, like my protagonist, while other students produce works of origami, sculptures of mountains, vessels with twirling rudders attached, and a chess board. With dread and reluctance, I stand to show the room my crude structure.

This course not only inspires me, it terrifies me. And it’s the terror that tells me it’s the right thing.

We Remember

November 11, 2013 1 comment

Powerful. Moving. Emotional. As usual, I required a box of elusive tissues, and sniffed for an hour instead.

It’s not Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, but rather, the annual Remembrance Day assembly at my kids elementary school.

Imagine a world that knows no hunger, my daughter sang.

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Because watching children on bleachers recite In Flanders Fields will never grow old. Seeing veterans sitting tall and stoic in front of the children is remarkable. Listening to children tell stories of heroes in their family is amazing. Poppies made of tissue paper, and pop-art peace doves adorn the gymnasium walls.

Imagine a world where children are free.

The children sit still. Chins rest on hands. They are listening. They are learning about sacrifice, bravery, and loss. Learning things it almost hurts to tell them.

Imagine a world of infinite beauty, given for all to share.

We remember our past, and dream of a future where war is only a memory.

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