Sunday, May 31, 2009

Subterranean Vacation Sick Blues

I've been home for a week now and haven't felt much like writing. No, scratch that, I've had the urge to write but my thoughts have been jumbled and jetlagged and startlingly un-cohesive. I thought I was having an early mid-life crisis, but my friend Shona correctly diagnosed that I've basically got the post-vacation blues. You know, that soul-sucking ennui that happens after you come home from a really great trip and discover that absolutely nothing of interest has happened while you were away. The sameness of everything hits you like a ton of bricks and you think the only thing you have to look forward to in life is the next time you can get back to Europe.

(Of course, everything about this version of the blues is entirely exaggerated and somewhat unfounded -- I've noted before that my vita is awfully, awfully dolce.)

I've basically been dealing with the whole thing by eating. I never thought I was an emotional eater but it would appear that I am. The appetite I've had this past week has been ridiculous. Granted, I am coming off a week of holiday eating, in Germany no less, and it's hard to go from having 24/7 access to delicious coffee and cake, wine and beer, sausage and zanderfilet, to a more regular diet. You get used to starting your day with a crusty roll spread so thick with sweet butter it might as well be cheese, accompanied by a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg with a rich, orangey-yellow yolk, and then a container of the most deliciously creamy yoghurt, drizzled with honey or apricot jam. And then stopping for a perfect cup of coffee an hour later (God Bless Tchibo!) and a piece of cake. Followed by a full lunch (perhaps a personal-sized terrine of thick potato soup. sharp with lovage and bits of garlicky sausage) a couple of hours after that, complete with delicious cold beer. And more coffee and cake around 4pm. And then, later, a snack of open faced sandwiches, or a yummy currywurst (grilled sausage, lavishly draped in sweet ketchup with lashings of curry powder over top -- try it before you disdain it) and more cold beer. Undsoweiter, undsoweiter.

So I guess it's no big surprise that all I thought about this week was food. Food and art*, but mainly food. And no matter what I ate, I was never satisfied because whatever I cooked or bought to eat wasn't the right thing. Like my brain was too jumbled to correctly identify the dish that would make me happy and so decided to find it through trial and error. Of course, it might just be that the dish that would make me happy either doesn't exist or only exists back in Berlin, and the only result of all this trial and error will be me rapidly regaining all that weight I worked so hard to take off between January and May.

Therefore, the week of wallowing is over. Time to rejoin real life and get over it. Tomorrow, I'll go back to my usual routine of circuit training 3 times a week, eating small balanced meals 5-6 times a day, getting RID of all this avoirdupois I've been lugging around since university. Saturday, I'll go back to the print studio and get back into the swing of things there. And in a couple of weeks, my night course in the Department of English and Cultural Studies will start and I'll get to see if I can still write an academic paper or not. The summer is full of promise and the blues will surely pass soon.


*And most of the thoughts about art have been about how much I don't like Joseph Beuys. But that's a whole other rant.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm Throwing a Pity Party, Please Come!

“Wow! You must have been a mistake.” (Charming!)

“Really? Because I know everyone in that family and I’ve never heard of you.” (Delightful)

“I think your grandma is here to pick you up.” (On behalf of my mother, Thank-You)

These are some of the most memorable phrases from my childhood and youth. I am the youngest child in my family. I have sisters who are identical twins, a brother and another sister. They are 17, 14, and 11 years older than me respectively. My mother was just shy of 41 when I was born. Plus I grew up here in Melonville and well, I call my hometown Melonville because it’s citizens do things like ask a little girl if she was a mistake. Losers.

(Indulge me here for a moment. Never, never ever ask a child if they were a mistake, smirk at a pregnant woman and ask if the child was a mistake, or refer to your own perhaps unexpected pregnancy as a mistake. It is the single most insulting thing to say to or about another human being. )

I am also the youngest of all my cousins by approximately the same margin.

I came into my family after the death of my grandparents. My parents and aunts and uncles who spent so much time together when they were all young parents began to see less of each other. The time of the big family picnics had passed.
There is in fact a whole history shared by the rest of my family that does not include me.

When I was still in elementary school, my parents had a son and daughter-in-law. By the time I started middle school I was an Aunt and the child of grandparents. My siblings were no longer my big brother and sisters they were some else’s spouse. They were parents. There were newlyweds and new babies and I was neither.

I was involved in my brother and sisters wedding festivities and baby celebrations by default. I was their sister, I might have been a kid, but they had to have me at these things. My cousins were a different story they were free to pull the “adults only” line and leave me off the guest list.

My nieces and nephews range in age from 28 to 16. When the now 16 year old was a baby, I was a university student. That Christmas the 10 grandchildren where grouped together for a portrait. It hangs in my parent’s front hall and is still referred to as “the Christmas picture of all the kids”. When I requested that we have a new one taken that included my 4 children, I was told that “the older ones” would never go for it. Thanks for the effort guys.

My children have never been treated badly by their aunts and uncles and cousins. They love my little ones and my kids are crazy about their crazy relatives. They love a family party when they get to hang out with the “big kids”.

Sadly what they will never have with their cousins is true friendships. When the other grandchildren were small, everyone attended events like birthdays or Baptisms. My children have 18 cousins (including my husband’s side of the family) all in the age range mentioned above and when my son made his First Communion a few weeks ago 2 of his cousins came.

There is no blame to be laid here. It is just bad timing in a way, but still it saddens me. I wish my siblings could see things from this side. My children range in age from 9 years old to 18 months old. My parents are 80 and 81. My father has had 4 hip replacement surgeries, and a quintuple by-pass. He had a heart attack 6 weeks before my wedding. My last Christmas at home, he was in hospital in the ICU.

It is not likely my parents will see my children graduate from high school or university. They will not be there when they are married. I worry that they may be gone before my youngest has a chance to form any real memories of them.

There is a wedding this fall. My nephew is getting married, and the old pattern starts anew as his youngest cousins are left off the guest list. No children at the wedding. I suspect everyone will go. This is a big deal; the first of the grandchildren to marry. Part of me understands, weddings are expensive and 4 extra meals at $100 a pop is nothing to sneeze at, but on the other hand, I have slipped through the cracks again, and my children will be the only cousins not included.
Last fall my 3 sisters and my mom went to Key West together, in part to celebrate her 80th birthday. As they told me many times they didn’t ask me to go because they knew I couldn’t go. They were right. I couldn’t have gone. But it would have been nice to be asked. It would have been nice to be one of the girls.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just when I thought I'd cornered the market on home-made-porn-found-during-renovations stories...

Kate shared the tale of the tins of naughty snaps found in my basement ceiling during renovations with some friends last week. "I can top that," says one of the women, "We found naked pictures when we cleaned out my grandfather's house. Only they were of my grandma."

Oh. My. No.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Warning! Kara has left the building.

10:09 AM. I imagine that Kara is well on her way to the airport and flying machine that will whisk her away to Berlin for the next couple of weeks.

So this is it, Katie on her own. This could be interesting. I rely pretty heavily on Kara to keep me sane, and to keep me from saying or doing things that might damage my relationship with friends or family well beyond the point of repair.

But she is gone, so with no Kara contact in about 72 hours I could reach situation critical. I might start sounding off on everything from modern birthing practices to how I can't watch Paul Gross movies because he scares the pants off me.

Consider yourself warned. I will try and be on my best behaviour, but I have a lot going on during her absence, and sometimes a girl just needs to vent.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Getting Away With Nothing (Or, Kara Goes All Dr. Phil On Your Ass On A Saturday Night)

One of my huband's nieces has just finished the final exams of her freshman year at university. Last week she facebooked (that is an acceptable verb now, isn't it?) that she'd just survived her first all-nighter. I was completely nonplussed at this little update. How on earth had she made it through the entire school year without pulling an all-nighter? I couldn't help but comment on her status, expressing disbelief that she'd gone so long without one and crowing about how I was the queen of the all-nighter when I was her age.

Ahhh, the all-nighter. The spiritual home of the procrastinator. And I am the veritable Queen of the Procrastinators.

I'm doing it right now, as a matter of fact. I should be writing about the fine art of hamburger making. I should have been writing about the fine art of hamburger making all week. The deadline for the piece on the fine art of hamburger making is Monday. And yet, what I'm writing about is how I'm not writing about the fine art of hamburger making. Oh, and watching the NBA playoffs (oh LeBron, how I adore thee). And doing laundry. And checking my twitter page. And arranging for a haircut before we leave for Germany. And checking my e-mail. And wondering how Kate survived the first communion party for her son. Undsoweiter, undsoweiter.

I suppose if I even had the hamburger document open and had written anything other than the sad excuse of a working title ("A Beautiful Thing", with apologies to Harvey's), I could claim that I was multi-tasking instead of avoiding doing the actual work. Let us pause for a moment while I do that...Oh, who are we kidding, I'm not multi-tasking, I'm procrastinating. And it's something I've done all my life, possibly my one true skill and biggest failing.

When I was a kid, starting around age 7, I had a paper route of sorts (it was the 70s, when kids were allowed to roam the neighbourhood free and unfettered), delivering flyers every weekend. I hated the job. HATED IT. The flyers were heavy and awkward to hold, the ink rubbed off on me, dogs chased me (it was the 70s, when dogs were allowed to roam the neighbourhood free and unfettered), and there were two homes on the route that housed teasing, mean teenagers. Oh, how I hated every minute of that stupid paper route.

The flyers were delivered on Thursday evening and had to be delivered by Sunday. Logic would dictate that, much like homework, the smart thing to do would have been to deliver the darned things on Friday and free up the rest of the weekend for other, more fun pursuits. But you know that's not what I did. You know what's coming. Yup, almost every weekend, I'd let the flyer bundles fester on the front porch, driving my mother crazy and provoking arguments wherein she told me to just DO IT for God's sake while I sulkily countered with "what difference does it make WHEN I deliver them?"

The die was cast early. I was one of those people who would leave everything to the last minute. This was how I was going to manage my life.

In school, procrastination was a kind of twisted badge of honour. For Grade 13 English Lit. (yes, Virginia, there used to be a Grade 13, t'was a wonderful thing, a kind of finishing year, and it meant that by the time you started university you were likely 19 and thus of legal drinking age), I wrote my major paper, longhand, the night before it was due. And got an A. From the toughest, most discerning English teacher at the school. This trend continued through university, my projects always feverishly completed within hours of the deadline. My undergraduate thesis paper, for goodness sake, possibly the most important document I had to produce in that four year period, was almost entirely written in a marathon 72 hour session right before I had to hand it in. And I got an A. From a notably tough professor.

Which was kind of the problem. I kept getting away with it. I kept getting good marks*, despite the fact that everything was written with an undercurrent of pure white-hot panic. I began to believe that I needed that white-hot panic in order to do my best work, that the only way I could REALLY do anything was under an inordinate amount of pressure. When I graduated, right into the mini-recession of the early 90s, I ended up working for Wal*Mart for two years as the Fabrics & Crafts department manager (Oh, God, I was so very bad at that job, my apologies to all my former employees and customers) and regularly screwed up inventory day for the entire store by leaving the pre-counting tasks to the very last minute, pulling (you guessed it) all-nighters to try and measure 50 million bolts of printed cotton, or count 75 bajillion individual silk flowers. When I eventually got out of retail and into the not-for-profit arts world, I regularly gave myself and my boss hypertension by leaving major grant applications to the last minute, staying at the office all night (trend?) to write my pithy arguments on why various arts councils should give us several thousand, or several hundred thousand, dollars in support.

In short, my bad habits have continued to work for me. But, recently I've realized something that I think I've known for years but conveniently managed to ignore -- that while these last minute efforts did earn me the marks, and have earned the organizations I've worked for the necessary funding, by leaving things to the last minute, I haven't left enough time to do my best work. It might have been good work, good enough to get an A or whatever the goal was, but it wasn't my best work. If I'm being completely honest, for most of my life I haven't been working to full potential (wait...that sounds familiar...must dig up grade school report cards at parent's house) and essentially have been getting away with nothing.

My goal, therefore, having shared this cosmic A Ha! moment with you, is to change my errant ways. My 39th birthday looms large on the horizon and life is too damned short to waste it with half-assed efforts. Meeting deadlines is important, but meeting deadlines with the best possible work is more important and that means Not Leaving Everything To The Last Minute. That means stepping down off the Elite Level Procrastinator podium and handing that crown and sceptre over to someone else (note to husband's niece: Not You) who's content with half-measures.

Thus endeth the lesson for this Saturday night. Time to write about the fine art of hamburger making, BEFORE the very last minute. Truly, a beautiful thing.


*I kept getting good marks on written work, I should clarify, not on other types of work. I started out in a fine arts program, believing that I had some sort of future as a visual artist. I was woefully out of my league in the studio courses from the minute I arrived on campus and lacked the self-confidence to persevere. In the case of my studio courses, waiting 'til the last minute to complete the assignments wasn't procrastination so much as outright defeat. Hence my decision to switch to Art History and English Lit partway through second year.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Adventures in Mechanical Engineering (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Foundation Garment)

Last week, I bought a somewhat slinky dress to wear to an event * and as I struggled to pull on that marvel of mechanical engineering known as A Foundation Garment, I had to stop and laugh about the first time I was introduced to the modern girdle.

It was January 1999 and Kate was getting married the following month. My bridesmaid dress was an empire-waisted, A-line-skirted number and though I was in no way as gigantic as I later became, the frock was close-fitting enough around the middle to warrant some smoothing assistance. So my mother and I made a trip to the local department stores to find something that would hold all my bits in place.

As I was 28 at the time, my knowledge of Ladies Fittings was limited to cheap bras and cotton underpants. So I was shocked to see that the kind of full length, breasts to knees girdling contraptions that you sniggered about when you were a kid leafing through the Consumers Distributing catalogues still existed. And that they all seemed to be this hideously ugly beige colour. My heart sank at the thought of having to wear something so unbearably ugly, but while I was staring into space trying to figure out if I could just suck in my gut for the whole wedding, my mother found some black, heavily lycra-ed, modern versions for me to try on. Blessed be the Nancy Ganz bodyshaper! And off to the fitting room I went with a selection of styles and sizes to try.

The first piece, a body suit that snapped at the crotch, was very nearly the last. I remember stripping down to my underwear (which, in January, means 10 minutes of clothing and boot removal) and staring at this shriveled yet high-tensile black thing on the hanger. How the hell was I supposed to get this on?

I started with the logic that it looked like a bathing suit, so therefore I’d approach it as a bathing suit, and basically attempted to step into it. All was well until about halfway up, when the thing just refused to stretch large enough to accommodate my hips and butt. Sweating profusely, I shrugged it off and began again, this time pulling it over my head. This was much better – not easy, mind you, but still a lot better than the other route. I managed to get the thing on perfectly from the waist up, and then began the task of once again stretching it over my hips and butt so that I could connect the hooks & eyes together at the crotch.

Another ten minutes passed as I tried and failed and tried and failed to snap that thing together. Which, of course, I was doing essentially sight unseen because I wasn’t flexible enough to bend over and keep a glad eye on the proceedings. In yoga terms, I believe they would call the posture I had to adopt The Humiliated Woman – imagine a deep pliĆ©-squat, with one hand stretched around the bum to the nether region, holding the back flap of the recalcitrant garment, while the other hand is also footling around in the ladybits area, holding the front flap of said recalcitrant garment, both hands swiping at each other as they attempt to catch the hooks & eyes together.

Eventually, with much perseverance and perspiration, I got the damn body suit hooked up. Still slightly crouched, I mentally celebrated my victory. It was on! I’d gotten this thing on! I Was Strong! I Was Invincible! I WAS WOMAN-IN-FOUNDATION-GARMENT! I exhaled deeply, turned toward the mirror to assess the suitability of the garment, stood straight and threw my shoulders back.

Which was precisely the moment that the hooks & eyes at the crotch unsnapped and with a force comparable only to a broken cable on the Golden Gate Bridge, my foundation garment flipped, no, unfurled upwards with frighteningly high speed, tearing off one of my beloved silver hoop earrings and sending it flying into the next world, AND nearly taking my eye out.

A year later I took a job with an opera company and so had to dress up all the time. I became a bit of an expert on the foundation garment and owned several of different styles and tensile strengths for all my opera outfits, including a number of bodysuits. But I never found that damn silver hoop earring.


*you know what sucks about being gigantic and going on a strict diet and exercise regime? You lose a significant amount of weight and you want to celebrate with a new dress and you STILL have to shop in the big girl stores. But that’s what you get when your starting weight was in the baby elephant range.

UPDATE: Went to event in slinky new dress this evening. Spanx and strapless bra not option as resulted in unsightly tummy roll so had to bust out the full on breast to knees lycra space-suit (remember the black bustier/capri pants outfit Madonna wore in the dance sequences of her Papa Don't Preach video? Yeah, like that only the fat suit version). Donning said lycra space suit did not result in loss of jewelry or vision, but DID require husband's assistance. And you thought romance was dead.