FRANCE

We got back from France on June 17.  We was myself, my eight year old son and my three year old daughter.  Dad stayed home to tend to the economic fires.  My sister and her family live in Perth, Australia so I thought it would be a great idea to meet them in Marseille, France where her husband’s family resides.  And it was great.  Great for culture, history, family and the stunning beauty of France.  And it was also hard spending three straight weeks with your kids, everyday, every hour, every minute, every second.  I woke up on day 16 to the delightful laughter and screaming of children beckoning me to feed them, feed them, feed them and to find the IPad and Princess Elsa and were we eating chocolate croissants because they love chocolate croissants.  This was into minute two of day sixteen and I lost my mind.  Somewhere in Canada my husband was sleeping deeply, spreading his carefree body across my side of the bed and drinking in the solitude through every pore of his body.  I was burning brioche in the oven and embellishing my exhausted rage with the reckless use of “Fuck.”  My sister, her husband, my nephew and my kids made a hasty retreat to the other room while I embraced the madness of burnt breakfast and unmade coffee.  It was an epic parent fail.

Let’s step back in time.  I am a lover of the unknown.  I have wholeheartedly jumped into adventures to Guatemala, Ecuador, Egypt, Belize and Mexico with nary a concern for research about political unrest, tourist kidnappings or terrorist threats.  I like to arrive wide eyed and blundering so as to catch the locals with their worried stares or offer up predatory hopes to the the knic knack vendors and con men.   After I returned from Guatemala during a university led trip (this was shortly after the end of the civil war but guerrilla groups were still kidnapping tourists), I finally phoned up my parents to tell them where I had been.  It was an afterthought because I was independent and I had paid for the trip myself.   That Christmas, my father, a man not prone to much emotional sharing, gave me a book titled, “World’s  Most Dangerous Places” with Guatemala lovingly earmarked.

Several years have passed since I’ve been on a trip that has surprised my senses or tested my character.   I’ve managed to keep our family away from resorts or Disney cruises but Hawaii or California hardly test one’s mettle.  Don’t get me wrong, a resort would be really relaxing but once you’ve crossed the line into watered down cocktails and Kid’s Club babysitting you’ve entered into easy and easy is scary.  Easy is processed food dinners with high carbohydrate and sugar content, credit cards and binge watching on Netflix.  Easy doesn’t feed the soul,  it builds debt that will eventually need to be repaid.  It doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to suffer through life – I’ve avoided crack and prostitution and still feel surprisingly whole.   I’m just saying France with two children in tow was hard and hard is good.   I found a well of patience hidden in my depths especially after the 9th hour on the plane when my three year old still hadn’t slept and was careening off into irrational fits of squawking and contortions of unrest in her seat.  She fell asleep on landing.

The two best surprises from our trip to France:  my daughter stopping to gaze intently at the same Picasso painting that had captured my attention.  Unlike most of the Picasso artwork at the exhibition which was layered with curvatures and obliques of color, this large painting was centered on a person of singular blue.  It was striking and surreal and shockingly beautiful.  The second best surprise was my eight year old son, sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, striking up a lengthy conversation with two young bearded men from Oman.  I nodded to the men so they knew I was his mother but gave my son space to engage freely with his row companions.  He showed them how to play the onboard video games and they answered his polite questions about their country and themselves.  After landing back in Canada, my son told me they were geologists on their way to the AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) conference in Calgary.   He had told them I was a geologist and I had traveled to Egypt for work and spoke a little Arabic.  The eight year old boy who arrived back in Canada was not the same boy who left for France.  In fact, none of us were.

 

Everyone is an Entrepreneur

I’ve been unemployed 6 1/2 months now.  I am a petroleum geologist in Calgary, Alberta.  Just about the worst place in the world to be any kind of geologist.  Brent pricing is hovering above $45  but damn, that makes 90% of oil pools in Alberta uneconomic to drill or produce right now.  Which means, me and most of my friends get to keep wearing jeans every day and figure out how to cheaply replace our broken appliances.

Unemployment has interesting stages of evolution, much like grief:

  1. Denial and Isolation:  Shit I Can’t Believe I just Got Laid Off.
  2. Anger:  Those Fuckers.
  3. Bargaining:  If Only I Had Never Worn Those Mustard Yellow Pants To Work.
  4. Depression:  I Suck.  No One Will Ever Hire Me Again.
  5. Acceptance: Well, It Happens.  Time to Focus On My Job Search.

Everyone hits acceptance at different times but there is a #6 & #7 for the unemployed.

6. Networking:  Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me, Notice Me

This essentially becomes a mind numbing task after the 78th coffee date.  How many times can you possibly explain why you were laid off versus the bitch giving the boss blow jobs?  Except you don’t say that because then you come off as being bitter.  Instead, you are super duper happy with all this extra time off to worry about broken appliances and to refocus on your strengths like binge watching The Walking Dead.  And it starts feeling slutty always maneuvering to get the other person to buy you a coffee.  You even try to scam a lunch now and then by pausing awkwardly when the waitress asks if you both want one bill or two.

7. Everyone is an Entrepreneur:  There Are No Jobs In My Profession.  Oh Shit.

This is the what we like to call the climax.  The protagonist has exhausted all options and in a fit of drunken hope, decides that all those heart to hearts with her pals means she has an unfulfilled calling as a life coach!   She abandons her soul crushing career as a corporate engineer and starts life anew with a new website, a full calendar of speaking engagements and a self stylized BRAND that incorporates her love of mauve, hot yoga, and an organic pomegranate cream that she uses religiously.

#7 looks great on the movie screen but in the real world it means everyone changes their current career status to CEO of their newly incorporated business on LinkedIn.  And then  they go network some more with their newly conceptualized BRAND and wait and wait and wait for something great to happen.  I’m always shocked to discover how much thought went into BRANDing themselves and how poorly conceived their business models are.  No one seemingly wants to actually make anything.  They want to be facilitators, motivators and other ‘ors’ that essentially make them overpaid middlemen.  I wish them luck.

I’m looking for a job as a geologist.  I’m good at it, I love it and the world needs oil.  This means I have to stay calm and wait.  And maybe work at Safeway as a clerk to make money until the oil prices turn around.  But I have no delusions about where my worth lies.  I find oil and I make money for shareholders.  I find oil that keeps us awash in plastics and fuels the machines.  I find the oil that provides government revenue  for schools and hospitals.  The world keeps turning and I will keep turning with it.

 

Forget Mensa

Did you ever meet someone who was book smart but didn’t have a lick of common sense sandwiched between their ears?  Yep.  I have too.  Book smart is great for esoteric study of nematodes, particle physics, and dead languages but I would hazard a guess that those same people would perish on a concrete meridian on a Las Vegas roadway not by foolishly choosing to stop their car to investigate a)a worm, b)an anomalous 2-way gate opening to another universe or c) some eye catching graffiti but because they failed to learn to never mix up exotic orders of hard liquor shots.  Stick with your fave or else you will black out, trip on the meridian while crossing the street and die choking on your own vomit.

Common sense is really useful.  It keeps you from doing stupid stuff.  And if you choose to do stupid stuff anyway, common sense at least offers you an indemnity against naivete; better off to start the night with a condom in your pocket than to blame your parents or Mr. Premature Ejaculator for your unplanned pregnancy.   It is also a great aid for smelling bullshit.  You mean, if I buy thousands of dollars of all these products for sample inventory so I can sell the same products to all my family and friends for a 2% commission, I may actually break even in two years?  Wow, sign me up!!!!!

I think it’s great Mensa wants to sort out the chaff from the wheat.  You can join other high IQ people and feel really great about how smart you are.   I’ve never taken their admission test but I imagine meetings where instead of names, everyone has their IQ written on a sticky tag on their sweaters.  Everyone wears sweaters because who goes to a Mensa meeting wearing a T-shirt?  Unless the T-shirt says something incredibly witty and then the sweater people are left secretly cursing themselves for the banality of their attire.  I suspect there could a deep chasm within the organization along the divides of the sweater people versus the T-shirt people.  Maybe the conversations are not intellectually stimulating  at all but instead filled with vitriol for the opposing fashion camp.   Maybe their exam should have had a multiple choice question that required the options a)cotton b)cotton-blend c)nylon d)wool e)polyester.  That would have cleared up the admissions process real fast.

I don’t think of myself as particularly smart but I think I’ve made a few critical observations the last few years that more accurately reflect on intelligence.  First, ask yourself, are you or anyone else you know dishwasher retarded?  Dishwasher retarded is sadly, a common problem.  Maybe you have had family or friends visiting and someone gamely offers to load the dishwasher.  Sure, what could go wrong?  Except it does.  The person is dishwasher retarded.  Everything is thrown in half haphazardly, omitting the organization required to fit more than four plates and a couple of bowls.  You wait for them to leave the kitchen so you can reorganize all the cups and serving dishes to be able to load 30 more dishes.  Who the hell puts glassware on the bottom rack?  Dishwasher retards, that’s who.

Do you live with anyone?  Do you hate replacing the toilet roll every day because they are too lazy to do it?  Have you paid thousands of dollars in legal fees to divorce or evict someone that couldn’t be bothered to reload the toilet paper?  I’m going to tell you something that will blow your mind: not all toilet paper is the same.  In fact, the toilet paper companies like ripping you off and ruining your marriage.  Never buy 1-ply.  People who grew up in 1-ply homes are the same people who wrap half the roll around their hand just to wipe pee.  1-ply guarantees urine or fecal wetness will soak through to your hand.  3-ply is the opposite problem.  You raise a generation of spoiled brats who become accustomed  to having their asses wiped with goose down.  It’s over the top and usually expensive when 2-ply works fine.  You can buy the Cadillac but the Ford Focus will still get you there.  But the world of 2-ply is a deceiving place.  A 12 pack of one brand is NOT the 12 pack of another brand.  Disregarding the width of a roll, because they even cut those corners, it all comes down to number of sheets.  I spend the most time in the toilet paper and paper towel isle.  I do rough mental math on number of rolls multiplied by number of sheets to give me the approximate sheets in the whole package.  I figure out the cost per unit.  Every grocery store will give you a cost per lb, cost per kg, cost per unit of almost everything in the entire store EXCEPT the paper isle.  You are on your own.  This is where you separate the chaff from the wheat.  Do the math: you will discover that sometimes buying 4 packages of  six rolls of the premium brand is cheaper than the bulk 24 package of generic.  Added plus:  the rolls of 2-ply with the most number of sheets are also the mostly densely packed meaning that roll of toilet paper has a fighting chance of lasting 3-5 days in a household of 4 people.  Insane right?  You save money and you save your sanity.

I’ll leave you with one last item.   This is for all the bakers out there: fucking whipping cream.  I’ve tried to avoid the f__ word in this blog but it is time to break it out.  Everyone who is ever cracked open a cook book knows that measurements for cream come in 1/2 cup, 1 cup or 2 cups.  The last few years we’ve seen companies maintain their competitive pricing by secretly downsizing the container and offering less product.  1 Litre has become 975 or 950 mL and so forth so that the decrease is imperceptible.  Except cream.  Cream is one of those essential cooking items used in precise measurements and it has always been sold in cartons of 250, 500 and 1000 mL.  Until now.  Recently, I bought a carton of 473mL of whipping cream.  Who sells whipping cream in non-divisible amounts?  It’s like selling pants with one leg at 32″ and the other leg at 34″.  It makes no sense.  Even if you’re one of those squint yer eye and guesstimate kind of cooks, 27 mL is a serious shortfall for recipes that desire the depth and creaminess of well, cream.  My solution:  buy more than you need and put whip cream on your coffee.  F__ em’.  Get fat and die of heart disease.  They just lost 10 years of cream purchases from me.  Or go vegan and stop using cream altogether but that seems like unnecessary suffering to me.  Either way, revenge is its own kind of brilliance.

 

 

 

My Daughter Burps Like a Truck Driver

My daughter burps like a truck driver. She somehow lets out low, prolonged belches like it’s nobody’s business.  She probably learned it from her big brother but even he can’t burp like she can.  She is almost three.  She stands on her tippy toes and tries to spin like a ballerina.  She wears taffeta and adores rhinestones.  She can also fart like an old man on a warm bench in July.  She will suddenly fart, say “fart” and then chuckle like a self satisfied old man on a warm…… never mind, you get the picture.

I suppose admonishment is what is called for in these situations but secretly, I’m impressed.  Her older brother is definitely impressed.  Yeah, we insist she says, “Excuse me.”  But, she also knows that every time she either farts or burps, our eyes will open wide and then a smile will follow and then a suppressed smile will follow after that.  She’s got the world by the balls and she knows it.

Kids are good fun.  If only we remember to laugh before we scold.   I doubt my daughter will take her burping or farting beyond her middle school years.  If she does, I may be risking the chance at future grandchildren or she marries a truck driver.  I just hopes she never stops laughing.  Even at her own jokes.

Her eight year old brother has an equally impressive talent that would offend good company.  Here is his effeminate characterization of a fashionista:

“Oh. My. God.  Look at my nails.  They are sooooo glamorous.”  Hand postured outwards, head tilted sideways, a dramatic roll of the eyes.

“Oh my goodness.  Look at what I’m wearing. I’m sooooo perfect.”  Swagger, provocative sideways shoulder glance.  Flittering eyelids. Big flashy smile.

The flashy smile gets me every time.  Only because eight year old boys are a toothy mixture of large adult teeth and awkward gaps where the adult teeth have yet to come in.

I lamely tried to copy my son’s antics one day when I was attempting to regale my friends with humorous stories about my children.   Either my son is not as funny as I think he is or I’m not funny telling people how funny my son is because they gave those painful polite chuckles when your story has fallen flat but they are trying to humor you.

We have a family joke that we’ve been riffing on for  a couple of years now.   It starts off by someone directing serious attention at another person.

“Son, I have something very serious to tell you.”  This is followed by son’s eyes getting wide and concerned looking.

Big sigh. “Okay, this is really hard to tell you.” Another big sigh. “I’m not sure if I should.”   Kid’s eyes are starting to look scared now.

“What I’m about to say may shock you.”  Look down.  Pause.  Kid has stopped breathing.

Look up with a slight twinkle in the eye. “I LOVE YOU.” Big grin.  Kids exhales a huge sigh of relief and then gives you a crazy smile.

We randomly initiate these exchanges whenever the mood hits us, trying to fool the person so they don’t catch on the I Love You bit is coming.  My son loves it and likes to parlay off of me and his father.  His little sister caught on to the concept this year except she can’t keep a straight face yet.  She does a lot of sighing while she’s trying to suppress a huge grin.  When we’ve all forgotten to play the I LOVE YOU game for awhile, it’s really fun to remember to trick someone you love.

I realize this type of humor has a shelf life along with flaxen haired dolls and G rated movies.  But, right now, it is pretty awesome.  Take that Jon Stewart and Amy Schumer.

 

What a Silverback Gorilla Taught Me About Diplomacy

I live in Calgary, Alberta.  We have an excellent zoo in our city and I have held an annual membership for eight straight years.  Let me deal with the zoo detractors now:  yes, keeping an animal in a cage is not cool, even if it is for educational purposes but let’s face it, city folk are desensitized to cramped habitat.  Our day is broken up into compartmentalized spaces:  our homes, our work, box stores, grocery stores and the gym.  When a walk in the forest or jungle isn’t an option, the next best thing is distraction. When I take my family to the zoo, we derive entertainment from watching the animals and the animals derive entertainment from watching us.  People watching is an actual thing; sit on a bench in a mall or attend a Comic-Con convention.  You get the picture.

Needless to say, we have gone to the zoo A LOT.  My eight year old son would rather not go to the zoo now but he loves his little sister and she loves the zoo.  She is two years old and the last time we went, we rode the carousel which has lovely ornate animals carved out of wood.  On her first ride (because, believe me, there were several) she started pointing and naming off all the animals: giraffe, tiger, penguin, lion, gorilla, seal, lizard, horse, hippopotamus (yes, all 5 syllables). Wow.  I actually took it for granted she was learning anything. Though, I doubt she’s concerned about habitat loss or species endangerment.  For myself, especially on quiet days when the zookeepers are starved for human interaction, I have been able to acquire juicy tidbits of zoo gossip. For example, the female hippopotamus is a bitch.  There is only one breeding pair and she is on husband #2.  She was originally paired with a fairly elderly fellow and she gave him a hard time whenever the mood suited her.  Whereas her dark grey body was smooth and folded into healthy rolls of fat, his skin was usually lacerated and puffy with pink contusions caused by her short tempered nips.  Have you ever seen hippopotamus teeth?  Love nips these were not.  He eventually died of old age but his health was made poorer by domestic abuse.   Alas, husband #2 is now showing the same tell tale signs of  abuse.  How quickly the honeymoon phase ends.

It is no surprise the best zoo gossip can be found with the gorilla troop.  Their social dynamics are most akin to ours being that both our genera started up the same family ladder.   They wrestle, tease one another, attempt displays of bravado or intimidation, nit pic each other – literally, because grooming is an important habit and generally look occupied with mutual observation and boredom.  Which is the same look I have when I’m sitting at the mall waiting for my daughter to finish up with the play area.  These play areas are usually a boxed in assortment of car and animal moulds finished with spray paint and a flexible veneer so the kids can slide easily on and off.  The walls are padded and have the occasional placement of puzzle boards with things that swish, grumble and clack when moved.  All the parents are usually numb with a mixture of boredom and fatigue and their faces are aglow with smartphone reverie.  At least the bench seats against the interior enclosure are padded.  And you have to take off your shoes so you get to sit there in socked feet.  In retrospect, I’ve experienced the anthropomorphized version of a gorilla enclosure.  The gorillas have moulded trees and rocks , ample straw to lay about and enrichment activities all the while barefoot and shrouded in the glow of smartphone camera flashes.

The Calgary zoo gorilla troop is special because of one member in particular: Kakinga.  He is the silverback gorilla or the leader of the troop.  He is paternal, calm and good natured.  He rarely if ever displays outward signs of aggression and steps in during family disputes only after holding back and observing, allowing the fractious members time to sort it out themselves.  15 years ago, a female gorilla, Zuri was brought to Calgary after a failed attempt to integrate her into the troop at the Toronto zoo.  The problem was Zuri acted too human.  She had been bottle fed and handled by the zookeepers at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs and had inadvertently picked up some of their habits and behavior.  The Calgary troop and Kakinga were her best chance at integration and seven years after her introduction, she successfully birthed a baby girl, Yewande.  What was the more significant aspect of this story was Zuri didn’t know how to be a gorilla mom after her experiences with humans.  The Calgary zookeepers taught Yewande to feed on a bottle offered through the cage mesh to avoid handling her and  Kakinga took over the majority of the parenting. I observed first hand Zuri wandering away from Yewande, leaving her young daughter in potentially hazardous situations and Kakinga quickly sauntering over to his daughter to gently nudge her to safer play and feeding areas.  He has allowed her and her playmates easy access to his private space, demonstrating exceptional patience and gentleness for a silverback.  Kakinga’s demeanor is so gentle, there was an attempt to introduce two juvenile males to the troop.  Kakinga, it turns out, is no dummy.  The males were not allowed to join the troop, securing Kakinga’s dominance and eliminating any possibility of future squabbles.

There are long panes of windows that cover roughly a third of the enclosure’s perimeter.  The female gorillas sometimes prop their feet up against the window, rest lazily on the straw while chewing their cud and take the occasional interested glance at the children smooshing their faces against the glass.  There is one gorilla that likes to randomly thump the glass to watch visitors’ startled reactions.  I’ve never seen Kakinga do this.  He displays proper gorilla etiquette, keeping his wide, muscled back to us and maintaining the aloofness as befits a noble leader.  Actually, this isn’t entirely true.  Many years ago, before kids, my husband and I went to the zoo.  It was one of those dead winter days, half an hour after the gates had closed for the day and so quiet the zookeeper told us not to rush as he did his final checks through the ape and monkey building.  We moved up to the glass and because there was no one to judge us, we squatted down and half turned our backs to the troop, casting our gaze down to show our submissiveness (yes, I watched “Gorillas in the Mist” with Sigourney Weaver).  Kakinga moved toward the glass and rested his back on the window.  He was inches away from us; he occasionally glanced over his shoulder at us and we kept our gaze down and snuck the occasional look towards him.  The other troop members made half attempts to peer at us but otherwise left Kakinga to inspect us.  We sat there huddled like that for half an hour, impressed by the strength and presence of his mass and honored that he wanted to be close to us.  We had to leave when the zookeeper came for the final sweep but I could have stayed there for hours just for the remarkable feeling of humbleness that had overwhelmed me.

Given the question of what  I admire in a person, I would have to reference my knowledge of Kakinga: patience, compassion, intelligence and an innate goodness.   As a result, his troop is happy, rambunctious and relaxed.  I like to think I’ve taken a few pages from his playbook and given my own family that same sense of safety and caring.  More importantly, I’ve learned to step back and observe and wait.  We don’t do it enough, I think:  the idea of relinquishing control to give others the opportunity to make mistakes and solve their own problems.   There is always someone out there willing to solve your problems.  They seem to live in a special land called infomercial or in the self-help section at Chapters.  Maybe we need to trust ourselves more and listen to our instincts.   While we’re busying ourselves trying to save the animals, we should pause to learn how they can save us.

 

The Universe Is Telling Me Something

My family does not belong to a church, cult or club.  We are not atheists and we are not nihilists.  We may be agnostic but we’re not willing to commit to the definition.  We definitely believe in fate and we believe in the Universe.   If coincidence coincides with either of the former two, then we believe in coincidence.  Oh yeah, were animists too.

Why does this matter?  Because, life is hard.  We have to make choices and sometimes the choices paralyze us with their infinite amount of outcomes.  Your belief system  gives you the zeros and ones for your decision making circuitry.  Which brings me to Mr. Bean.   Mr. Bean, the character conceived and played by British actor Rowan Atkinson is contemporary Charlie Chaplin, his foibles acted out in pantomime.  Recently, Mr. Bean helped tip the balance in a decision I needed to make.

Here’s the backstory:  I was laid off in November.  My husband is at a start up oil & gas company and is working for free until they get financing.  There is no guarantee they will get financing.  We are living off my severance.   For a smart, sensible person, spending money on fancy trips, new cars or new clothes would seem a foolhardy scheme.  My husband and I are very sensible people and I am the spendthrift in our family.  BUT, my sister and her husband and son are going to France in June.  They live in Perth, Australia and my sister is finishing her articles in 6 weeks.  My brother-in-law is a native of Marseille and he will be visiting his family and taking his son, the history buff, to various WWII historical sites.  He used to be a tour guide; he loves organizing and touring around and he and his Marseille family would be very excited for us to visit.  I made a trip when I was 19 and my then future brother-in-law and his family were amazing hosts.  I have also not seen my sister or my nephew for more than two years.  I would be using our savings to go to France with my 8 year old and 3 year old (she turns 3 in May).  Going to France is insane right?  Except, the Universe started whispering in my ear.

It started with a documentary about the Barkley Marathon.  It is considered one of the world’s most difficult marathons and is based in Wartburg,Tennessee.  Only 16 people have finished since its inception in 1986.  The year of filming, 3 people finished.  What was particularly astonishing was the final finisher, Jared Campbell, stumbled to the finish with only 18 minutes to spare before the qualifying 60 hours ended.  It was a mind boggling  accomplishment for a him, revealing in interview clips he had embarked on a dramatic life change several years ago brought about by the simultaneous death of his father and a ten year relationship.  He had been raised to make safe choices and wait until after the house, career and kids before taking those long planned for adventures. But, the premature death of his own father one year before retirement crystallized his understanding of the folly of waiting.  Life isn’t just too short, it’s not guaranteed.

The following day, I was chatting with the Moms in front of the school. Spring break was starting in a couple of days and we were all sharing our plans.  Everyone has been affected in some way by the recession.  We all agreed we were staying home for the break but also considering if we should plan any trips for the year or if the expenditure was a bad idea.  One mother piped up, ” You can’t wait on these things.  I just had a friend die of brain cancer.  She was my age with children.  I have another friend with brain cancer.   She might not live another year.”  Damn.   The Universe was starting to talk louder now.

I was starting to look for flights at this point and my husband caught on with my sudden desire to brush up on French vocabulary. “J’aime le vin et fromage.”  Thank you Translator App.  My sensible husband was annoyed and slightly hostile to the idea but we’ve been together  12 years now so he also knew by the look in my eyes that it was probably going to happen. This is how it works:  I let him try to talk me out of something, essentially using him to help me make decisions while considering all the cons and eliminating emotional bias.  We go through this for several days and if I waffle or give in, then I wasn’t really that set on the idea or I realize it was a bad idea after all.  If I dig in my heels, then my husband knows it is important and and we proceed at that point.  It helps I’m pragmatic and frugal and rarely make frivolous decisions.  I did buy an antique armoire once on impulse that took up a third of the bedroom floor space and wasn’t deep enough to hold any hangers rendering it essentially useless.  I eventually sold it at a loss of $400.  It terms of life time fails, that armoire still ranks #1.

Eventually, the Universe brought in Mr. Bean.  The last night of school is family movie night.  Picking a PG movie that the kids and adults will both like is a feat in of itself.  I hate Disney (actually, I don’t hate Disney, I just can’t handle the emotionally draining moments of death – someone always dies) and I can tolerate Pixar but really, the kids wind up watching a lot of documentaries.  My son has knowledge of extremely esoteric subject matter.  Last night, only 2 minutes into our search on Netflix, there was an Aha! and Mr. Bean’s Holiday was chosen.  I had never watched it before, didn’t even bother reading the premise but I knew Mr. Bean wouldn’t swear or shoot anyone.   And guess what?  Mr. Bean wins a holiday….to the south of France.  There is landscape porn throughout the whole movie and two times my toddler yelled out, “I want to go there!”  Okay, Universe.  I get it.

So, the travel agent is starting to look for flights.  My husband said it was okay (but he will have to work -and live like a bachelor for three weeks).  If all goes well, we leave May 28th.  And if coincidence has anything to do with it, I’ll see Rowan Atkinson running by in a Marseille marathon, right where he should be.

 

I Wish Bill Murray Was My Dad

The best dream I ever had was about five years ago.  I walked into a delicatessen with linoleum squares of white and green and a few round tables with a scattering of black chairs.  Sitting at one of the tables was my dad, Bill Murray.  He greeted me with a warm hug and we sat down and had a great chat over a great cup of coffee.  Soon, my other dad, William Shatner arrived, kissed Bill on the cheek and sat down beside him.  The dream was short but the feeling of warmth and goodwill lingered after I woke up.   I don’t have a secret desire for two gay dads but the dream resolved a mutual admiration for both actors.  I have read enough magazine articles about both men to guess that Bill is a no nonsense kind of dad, affectionate but not indulgent and Will is charming in a self-aggrandizing kind of way- the parent that would likely get the eye rolls from the kids.   I imagine they would be a dynamic power couple, both charismatic and rambunctious; dinner guests would be left roiling on the carpeted floor as the two men fed each other lines, their cheeks rosy with wine and good humor.

Bill Murray has received an iconic status of late.   I have seen stenciled silhouettes of his face on T-shirts and on vehicle decals.  He has become cool for a hipster race of Gen Y’s and Millennials that watched Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Saturday Night Live before his sublime casting in Lost in Translation.  His morbid detachment – the stone face is his coup de grace in high brow and low brow theatrics -is the zeitgeist of an overstimulated populous with an unrelenting social media feed of Donald Trump, Middle Eastern terror groups, and YouTube stars.  He is the de facto guy everyone wants to hang out with while we wait out the maelstrom.

William Shatner looks like my Mom.  He really, really looks like my maternal side of the family.  The bulbous nose framed by padded red cheeks and wide, large eyes is a hallmark of my mother’s family.  He was also born in Canada and is an alumnus of my alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.  That’s pretty much where the similarities end but it really helps to have a few similarities when you idolize someone.  Why would anyone idolize William Shatner, you say?  Well, he has a lot of spunk; he’s still working at 84 years.  He has a sassy kind of appeal – he told his loyal Star Trek fans to get a life (let’s be honest they needed to hear it) but he also humbled down by 2011 to address an audience at McGill University and told them: “Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid of making an ass of yourself. I do it all the time, and look what I got.”  And let’s be honest, any person who has the cajones to release multiple spoken word albums that are actually good, has my respect.

On introspection,  why does a 37 year old woman look up to older men for life guidance?  What happened to my own parents?  What happened to Gloria Steinem for feminist idealism or Kristy Wiig for witty realism (or  is it raunchy realism?)?  Let’s face it, we rarely fantasize about being our parents.  We spend half our lives trying to make improvements on their model with later epiphany we are maddeningly similar.  As women we are attuned to the flaws of other women.  That is why we get dressed up for a night out with the gals but don’t even bother to shave when it’s date night with our husbands.  We are always trying to impress other women hence the new skirt and freshly cut hair.  Women are women’s biggest critics.  Men are happy we’re warm and smell like soap.  If you happen to have shaved, they interpret it as open for business.   Some social anthropologist will say something to the effect this is an attempt to place us higher in the social pecking order as to appear more attractive to a potential mate.  I think women are just plain jerks.  Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of really great friends that are supportive and kind.  But, we are all competing all of the time.   We offer up ourselves as exemplars of wifery, motherhood and professional elitism when our girlfriends suffer self-doubt.   This is where the foundations are laid as future mother-in-laws.  We all know the universality of mother-in-laws. They take your 20’s self delusions of grandeur and knock them down a peg or two.  If you are awesome friends with your mother-in-law you need to entertain the possibility she a)is an alien b)is a man disguised as a woman or c)does not have a competitive bone in her body and can be classified as a subspecies of jellyfish.

So yeah, I think it would be awesome if Bill Murray and William Shatner were my dads. Perhaps their example of self-effacing humor and light banter would make me a better person.  I might be less inclined to judge other people’s follies and laugh more at my own.  And, for my future daughter-in-law and son-in-law, I send you a  wish:  that visits from your future mother-in-law are whimsical and fun; that my padded cheeks are rosy and filled to the brim with good humor and kindness. And if you have delusions of grandeur, I promise to bring you back to earth.

 

Cruel Shoes

I have a two year old daughter.  She will be three in three months and what I find remarkable is how enamored she is with beautiful things.  This is not a girl thing per se as I have distinct memories of my son adorning himself with gaudy faux diamond bracelets and Mardi Gras beads until the little girls in his daycare harassed him about wearing jewellery.  They clearly thought bling was exclusive fashion for females but I was okay with it because I had seen rappers get away with giant festoons of gold around their necks.  It was also a great way to get rid of all the tacky jewellery I had been given.  Your mother-in-law can’t begrudge an uber cute three year old boy tromping around the house wearing the bear claw necklace she gave you.

I was a little girl once and there are pictures of me in dresses but I also remember my older sister begging me to wear them.  She was six years older and nothing pleased her more than tying my hair up in little ponytails or braids and dressing me up in scarves, dresses and bows.  The rest of the time I was happy to roam in jeans and shirts and to this day, people are surprised when I show up to Christmas parties with makeup on.   Which is why I’m so intrigued by my daughter.  She  insists dresses are de rigueur daily wear.  She is an unabashed mugger with sunglasses on and can’t fathom why her black velvet slippers aren’t practical for a blizzard.

Steve Martin came up with a great skit back in the 70’s to lampoon women’s painful obsession with fashion.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Carlo disappeared into the back room for a moment, and then reappeared carrying an ordinary shoe box. He took off the lid and removed a hideous pair of black and white pumps. But this was not an ordinary pair of black and white pumps; both were left feet, one had a right angle turn with separate compartments that pointed the toes in impossible directions. The other shoe was six inches long and was curved inward like a rocking chair with a vise and razor blades to hold the foot in place.

Carlo spoke hesitantly, ‘Now you see…they’re not fit for humans.’

‘Put them on me.’

‘But…’

‘Put them on me!’

Carlo knew all arguments were useless. He knelt down before her and forced the feet into the shoes.

The screams were incredible.

Anna crawled over to the mirror and held her bloody feet up where she could see.

‘I like them.'”

Full disclosure:  I love, love shoes.  If I had unlimited wealth, I would be that woman with three walk in closets full of shoes.  I am also a size 11 which is a cruel twist in nature’s imperative to have me beautify for a mate.  I am very proud of a pair of gold sneakers with Chinese embroidery on the side.  I wear these to the theater to fit in with the cool artist types.

I suppose it is somewhat hereditary that my daughter loves, loves her little brown cowboy boots.  We were in Nashville last spring and we discovered that not only is this a magnificently cool city with a great vibe and an amazing music scene but it is also a great place to buy three cowboy boots for the price of one.  They need some way of attiring the masses in country uniform and I’m guessing this is the cheapest place on earth to buy leather boots.  That is saying a lot from a gal from Calgary, Alberta – host to the world famous Calgary Stampede and major shopping hub in cowboy country.   We bought one pair for our little girl and two pairs for our son because my son seemed enthralled by the boots and we weren’t sure if our daughter would find them comfortable.  My son settled on a brown pair and red pair (but only after confirming with sales staff that the red pair were boy’s boots – sales staff are not going to crush the enthusiasm of a seven year old boy in a town that thrives on dreams).   It was nearly impossible to take those brown little boots off of her.  I didn’t know a two year old could strut but she sure did.   It was only the Canadian winter that forced those boots off her finally.

We have had an unseasonably warm February this year.  There were more days above + 5C in a month which usually sees temperatures below -5C.  The snow has all melted and the ice rinks are slushy pools.  My daughter came to me a week ago and asked if she could wear her cowboy boots. “They make me feel good,” she said.  Who can argue with that?  We got her boots and she started putting them on.  Except, 9 months had passed and she had grown.  With a squinty look of pain, she forced her left foot into the boot.  I asked,”Are you in pain?” “No.” She let out a gaspy breath as she forced the right foot into the other boot.  I asked, “Are they comfortable?” “Yes.”  She hobbled out the door with a smile on her face.  I knew what this meant. The cowboy boots had become her Cruel Boots.  She wore them for one hour before she discarded them and ran around in socks.  But, it didn’t stop her from putting them on the next day. Or the day after.

In three months it will be her birthday.  I am buying her a new pair of cowboy boots and the Cruel Boots will quietly disappear.  I suspect there will be other cruel shoes and I will continue to nudge my daughter to more humane choices.  That is my job. Everyone has their cruel shoes; those beautiful impractical things that imperil our common sense and make us feel good.  The trick is knowing when to caste them off and run around free.

 

 

How HR Destroyed the World

If you’ve ever held a job in a corporation you will understand color discrimination.  I’m not talking about the racial stereotyping of skin color.  I’m talking about discrimination in the  color wheel spectrum: yellow, red, green, and blue.   Yes, you there, the one who took the Myers-Briggs or The Birkman Method or some other official sounding personality test they sprung on you before they  would agree to hire you or just before they decided on a round of layoffs or the one they proffered before beginning your career transitioning services, parlance for professional grief counseling.

The origin of these tests were based on subjective clinical observation and not based on controlled scientific studies.  The personalities, parsed down to four from 16-32 depending on the origin of the psychological underpinning, assume the administrator of the test has adequately identified the major archetypes in a specific job category.  Which brings us to problem #2:  the idea a person’s personality is static.  Environment provides a contextual backing for one’s perceptions and reactions.  I was a much happier and outgoing ‘blue’ person at my last job than two jobs ago when I was micromanaged by the CEO’s son who had just graduated from university.  They also stuck me in a small office with no windows that was a converted supply room.  At that time I was an introverted ‘green’ person that avoided social situations and felt hostile towards authority.

The ubiquity of personality tests and the people who have taken them is evident in people’s introductions:  “I am a predominately blue person with yellow tendencies but in reality I’m actually an introvert masking as an extrovert.”  Uh?  The last test I took started with: “You are a complex and unique individual….”  but the results were computer generated so I suspect the algorithm thinks all humans are complex and unique.  In the end I was unable to decipher the major differences in character traits of the different color codes.  There were a whole lot of adjectives that seemed as easily applicable to a puppy or a carrot.  Easily approachable, check.  Easily consumed, check.

In modern corporate speak, quantifying a person’s value is a good thing.  It takes out bias and it attributes value to departments like I.T. or H.R. that support professionals with working computers and a biweekly payroll deposit.  For big corporations with hundreds or thousands of people, there is almost always a formal procedure for determining bonuses and pay raises.  It is usually a calculation based on performance evaluations from coworkers and/or managers in addition to a corporate target that either augments or negates the individual’s contributions.  But personality tests fall into a dangerous realm not only because the user’s answers are subjective and easily manipulated by mood but because the person holding the results, who often are not trained psychologists but HR personnel with certificates in office administration, apply judgement with impunity.   In a perfect world an industrial psychologist would take the results and use them in conjunction with other reporting methods to determine if there are significant behaviours that could impede performance.  In the same way, under Canadian Alberta employment law a person cannot be dismissed for being an alcoholic, to avoid any chance of litigation, proactive steps would need to be taken to provide counseling or  training to the employee.

Recently, I had coffee with a friend who had survived multiple rounds of layoffs at a struggling oil & gas company.  Shortly before one layoff, after three years in which half the work force had been laid off, personality tests were administered.  As coworkers are apt to do, people had divulged their color coding.  My friend made the observation, anecdotal but nonetheless disturbing, that all the people dismissed  were from the green group.  One should question the necessity of any personality test before layoffs for the reasons mentioned above.   In this scenario, after the fatigue of multiple sorting and ranking of personnel, it would seem HR fell back on plain and simple color discrimination.

Next time I am trapped in a networking event and I am asked which color I belong to, I will plant my feet squarely, look him or her in the eye and say “I’m a goddamn rainbow.”  Refuse to be boxed into a category.  Be as complex and unique as you need to be because if we don’t insist on our individuality, we become manufactured personas.  I think humanity deserves better if not only for the simple enjoyment of better coffee companions.

The Liars’ Club

When I was three or four years old, roughly the time I realized adults couldn’t see out of the back of their heads or read my mind, I took a brief foray into lying.  I say brief because kids have a horrible poker face and my Mom, after deducing that my new lucky rabbit’s foot (not so lucky it turned out) was pinched from a neighbour, sat me down and with a particular look of concern told me that if I started lying I’d stop being able to tell the difference between truth and lies.  The deep furrow in her forehead told me this was a serious matter.  My Mom was a fairly laid back parent and she only interceded if it merited strong parental guidance.   The only other significant memory I have under the age of five was when she suggested smiling might be a good idea – apparently I was a serial scowler until the age of three.  It unnerved adults when I would give them a squinty eyed stare of death after they felt the liberty to tousle my hair.  Both times I heeded her advice and my family grew up with a fairly amiable and honest kid.

Childhood is great because most things are laid out in black and white.  Bad: stealing, punching, lying, cheating, picking your nose and eating the booger.  Good: smiling, sharing, taking turns, putting on clean underwear.  It hits a snag somewhere in your teenage years when your girlfriend shows up with the high and mighty front bang held a foot above her hairline by a full can of aerosol hairspray.  When she asks you if you like it you say Yes.  When she asks if you want help styling your hair the same way you say Yes.  And Yes, you stop being able to discern if you truly like it or you’re living a lie. Welcome to social pressure.

Marriage becomes the new frontline.  The black and white is now entirely grey.  Should I tell him I ate a free promotional piece of pizza on the way home while he was preparing dinner?  I did.  Don’t.  Should I tell him his black fedora looks super dorky?  I didn’t.  Thank God, because he wore it for five more years.   I had to school my husband on the good ‘white’ lies in our first year of cohabitation.   One day, he walked in just as I had finished dressing myself in a blouse in which I felt fairly confident I looked good.  My new husband informed me that I could do better and I should probably change before we headed out for the evening.  In his pragmatic man head he was doing me a favour.  In my head I was about to do him a favour.  I proceeded to explain that our marriage would survive much better odds if he incorporated the infrequent, but awfully useful, white lie in situations where I was happy and content in my self-delusion.  He balked at any kind of lying in a marriage, believing it would set a bad precedent.  Then, I pointed out how ugly his shirt was.  He was an easy convert.

The funny thing about getting older as your parents sidle into retirement is Mom and Dad turn up to old age with selective memory loss.  The lovely folks that told you to be yourself, never steal and never lie suddenly draw forth memories that don’t look familiar.  Don’t mistake this with dementia, the memories are intact, they are just more titillating.  Minor characters are introduced born several years after the event occurred and when time travel is not used as a plot device, they rely on an illegitimate child raised by a distant relative.  Sometimes, when I’ve had a few beers, I can listen and fuss not that reality has been abandoned for the sake of a good story.  On other days I can’t resolve the contradiction of the parents from my childhood from the shysters sleeping in my guest bed.

I recently read that every time a memory is recalled it is altered, albeit in a small way.  Over time, memories that are recalled frequently are the most indistinguishable from the original.  The person doing the recollecting is unaware they are forever altering the past.  It seems it is human to err and we are all doomed to join the Liars’ Club.  It gives one pause when remembering your Mom’s furrowed brow when she was setting you straight at four years old.  Or was it a twinkle in her eye?

I descend from a tall family tree of gifted storytellers.  I can remember my Grandfather making his coffee pals chuckle over some saucy story or guffawing at the outlandishness of his own tales.  My Mom has a story of me just hours old being encased within the hospital plastic bassinet by tensor bandages because I had nearly escaped.  I’m not sure how a swaddled baby is able to climb out of a bassinet but then again, my memory from hour 3:16:05 is a bit sketchy.  In any case, my entrance into the world seemed a bit more interesting than the average baby.

A few months ago,  after having a sit down with our son about lying, using the same delivery my Mom gave me years ago, my son asked if I had ever lied.  I lied and told him no.  As he walked away with his chirpy confidence in all that is good in the world, including his Mom, I paused to think about Santa Claus.  This is a humdinger of a lie perpetuated by parents the world over.  As I see it, the old geezer is setting us all up for a major fall from grace.   A quintessential moment in childhood is when you realize your parents are fallible and may have questionable moral character.  You know the cardboard box of kittens left by the side of the road?  Yep, that was my Mom.  Remember when the peanut butter and jam packets were easily accessible by the straws and napkins?  My Dad is the reason they are now behind the counter.   My day of reckoning is coming.  Even if my son forgives the fallacy of St. Nick, his world will come crashing down with the truth about the Tooth Fairy, the Leprechaun, the Easter Bunny, the Candy Fairy (she visits the night of Halloween to take some of the candy loot in return for cash), trolls, fairies, gnomes and the time I told him girls don’t fart thereby resting blame on his father for the next five years of methane outbursts. I guess if I’m in the thick of it, I might as well take a tip from the older set and develop a few indispensable plot devices.  I’m sure I have an identical twin somewhere…..