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.
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.
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.
It’s inspiring to watch someone realize a dream, more so when that person is your friend.
So I was excited to see Onelight‘s gig in Gastown on Saturday night, since the vocalist and keyboardist is Amy, a fellow mom I used to huddle beside while waiting to pick our children up from Kindergarten.
Back then, four years ago, when we chatted about how little we had accomplished while the kids were at school, my list went something like “I did laundry but didn’t get around to folding it”; and hers went, “I wrote music.”
I was amazed and humbled at the dichotomy between our answers. From then on, I invented more imaginative chores and threw in some volunteer work, but Amy’s answer remained steadfast. Making music was her dream.
Watching her up on stage, singing and playing keyboard and clearly in her element, was incredible. It was inspiration and hope and perseverance and courage all rolled into one moment. Aside from being a fantastic listening experience, it made me wonder what else I could accomplish during the day. It was a nudge towards grabbing life, like Amy has, and getting what you want from it.
The music of Onelight, is far more layered and richer than I thought possible from the duo of Amy and her music partner, Hamish. It had a mystical quality to it, a cadence of thoughtfulness, and an unmistakeable originality. Two talented musicians intent on making their distinctive imprint on music for our listening pleasure.
As they embark on a tour of India, and Amy sails off into the wide world of music and the many opportunities her talents will bring, I will listen to her lyrical, lovely voice, fold my laundry, and then get on with pursuing my dreams.
When BC Premier Christy Clark invited mom bloggers to a round table discussion about how to make things better for BC families, there was one resounding answer: create affordable and accessible daycare.
As you know, my days of daycare are long since over, thank whatever God you will. Because it was a nightmare, and one I’m not keen to revisit, even in my memories. But for those of you foreign to the issue, here’s a recap.
The statistics were not in my favour; for all of the children in need of daycare in our province, there is space for about 20%. I knew this, going into my first pregnancy. But I was stupidly optimistic. Other people had trouble finding daycare, but surely my little cherubs could scale waiting lists just like they would one day scale mountains on their way to conquering the world. Somehow, I would find an in, and my career would continue to flourish as fast as my body shrunk back to its former size.
Reality, however, proved drastically different than the world I inhabited in my head.
As my maternity leave came to an end, no daycare spots magically appeared, just like the baby weight did not fall from my hips. I remember strapping on my Baby Bjorn and knocking on the door of every licensed daycare in our community, in a futile attempt to make headway. Surely, they couldn’t turn us away in person?
Surely and easily, they did. I looked at licensed at-home daycares, and finally found one I thought would work. My daughter, predictably, screamed like a tyrant everyday I left her before fighting the morning commute. I thought it would abate after a week, but it never did. “You’ll know in your gut,” everyone told me, “if it’s a good situation or not.” Everyday, I felt sick when I said goodbye to her. If I listened to my gut, I would have to quit my job, since there were no other childcare options. (My husband and I were not comfortable with leaving our baby with a nanny, which was the solution for most of our friends.)
Everyday was a struggle. Everyday I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Everyday I evaluated the importance of my career over my daughter’s well-being.
A couple of daycares and a year later, I was ready to go on maternity with my second child. If you think it’s hard finding daycare for one child, it’s almost impossible to find places for two. And at double the cost, economically, it makes less sense. I threw in the towel, gave up my job, and have been out of the work force ever since.
Of course, I’m one of millions of women who have done the same thing, there is nothing special about my situation. However it left an indelible mark where my career once lived. A path unexplored. A giant piece of me taken away, not to mention a livelihood. How many other women feel the same way? Likely, millions.
Christy Clark was brutally honest, if nothing else, about the situation. For starters, BC can’t afford a system of daycare similar to the costly Quebec model, she told us. Quebec has higher provincial taxes and receives transfer payments, which help fund their program. And secondly, it’s hard to convince voters to care about childcare, since it affects people for a small window of time (roughly five years, from birth until age five).
My children are now in school, but this doesn’t mean I am short sighted about the need for a better childcare system in our province. It no longer affects me directly, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want things to improve for other families, and especially other women. Our society and province would only stand to benefit from a strong childcare system that enables women to continue on their career paths.
I may not benefit from a better provincial childcare system in BC, but I have three daughters that are intent on conquering the world, and they just might.
A coalition of child care advocates, who are much smarter than me, have put together a compelling and comprehensive plan for a better childcare system in BC. For details, check out their website at http://www.ecebc.ca.
It is beautifully and perfectly ironic that there is nothing real about The Real Housewives of Vancouver. From the prominent tips of their fake breasts down to their carefully shellacked toes, these girls elicit as much reality as a happily married Kim Kardashian.
And all this before they have opened their mouths. As soon as they do, I’m wishing their lip enhancements could inhibit their speech. Every non-thought they utter collectively shrinks progress made by women globally. Just when feminists had propelled us forward, the Real Housewives of Vancouver use their fuzzy Prada slippers and stilettos to step back into a time and place where boyfriends need to be found to provide them with expensive presents, and new horses to ride, so to speak.
Yet, we are watching, but not to be inspired or lifted. Rather we are watching for the same reason we crane our necks to get a glimpse of a car accident on the highway as we pass safely by and privately think, better them than me! We are watching for the same reason we watch any reality television, to see people make fools of themselves. (And possibly to see if any of their faces will move in this episode – so far, they haven’t.)
If nothing else, it is fascinating to watch five women who spend entire days on their appearance. Who knew you could look so terrible after all of that time and expense? So perhaps there is another reason we are watching: to revel in our normality, and decidedly low-maintenance approaches. For me, another housewife of Vancouver, it’s a big day is when I floss my teeth and manage to take my multi-vitamin; two little gestures that are all about me. Facials of whale sperm are far from my reality, which is fine in practice, but clearly not when it comes to entertaining television.
Even the most gullible among us realize the Real Housewives of Vancouver are as far from a real housewife of Vancouver as you can get. We should launch a counterattack, a backlash series, entitled creatively The REAL Real Housewives of Vancouver. The first episode could be called “Multi-tasking,” and the opening scene would feature a rather harried woman slapping peanut butter on a slice of bread with one hand, while arranging a playdate on her Blackberry with her other hand, and helping her daughter with her homework with her – shoot, I’m out of hands – spare toe. An amalgamation of Edward Scissorhands and motherhood. Truer to life than The Real Housewives of Vancouver.
Boring, say the executives in Hollywood, who really are masterminds, to be fair. Much better to throw five
strangers housewives together on a deserted island in Vancouver and watch them try to survive. Reality television is nothing if not original.
To find out the antithesis of what a real housewife of Vancouver thinks about, looks like and acts like, be sure to tune in to The Real Housewives of Vancouver, tonight, on Slice. Did someone say pizza party?
(Still, it is shocking they have no shortage of incendiary characters to choose from in our fair city, women who must have willingly walked around with ‘kick me’ on their backs as kids, or yesterday. I know, I get it, my life is boring, who would want to watch a real housewife of Vancouver floss her teeth whilst shuttling her kids to soccer? But seriously, what price for fame, girlfriend, what price for fame?)