Sunday, 15 March 2015

What You Can Tell about a Person by How They Shovel their Staircase

Yes, it's March, but that doesn't mean winter is over. Oh, wait, you actually thought that those couple of days when the temperature sheepishly rose above zero that spring was here? Oops.

I'll admit, it's been a tough one. I don't actually remember a colder more snowier winter. We didn't even get a January thaw this year. How many mornings did we awake to scenes like this?



How many times did this machine operation rattle our cups and mirrors and brains?


How many times were we nearly extinguished by one of these?



With so many snowfalls this year, I began to notice certain trends, namely things you can tell about a person based on how they shovel their stairs:

The Boot Technique:


This method is done by kicking the snow from left to right using one's boot. It is quick, easy and effective. Those employing this technique tend to be scattered, lazy, busy or all of the above. They are often pressed for time (read: running late) and do not consider shovelling a valid investment. They do, however, recognize the importance of basic mobility and have done the bare minimum to avoid being forsaken by the postal worker and to safely (more or less) climb up and down the stairs. Personality type tends to be eccentric, anxious and spontaneous. These people make good, loyal friends, but if you want to see them, make sure you write yourself into their calendars as they tend to be absent-minded.

Next we have the Broom Technique:


This technique is typically endorsed by those 75 years of age and older. First they shovel, then they spend the better part of an hour going over the stairs with a solid straw broom, carefully making sure that each flake has been individually dealt with. Such people are meticulous, bored and hopelessly perfectionists. You can be sure that the inside of their homes are spotless and filled with doilies and crocheted Kleenex boxes. Such people are stable friends but only so long as you can adhere to their anal requirements.

The Walking Technique.


Almost 100% of those who adhere to this technique are male. They tend to be under 20, sloppy and self-centred. Eating habits are poor and hygiene is questionable. They are lazy, tired and often oblivious to their surroundings. They procrastinate terribly and forget do most what they say they will. They make terrible employees and as friends they are good to smoke up with, but that's about it. Conversation tends to be dull and monotone.

The Abstinence Technique


These people tend to be rich and a little scattered. They had the brains to take off to some warm place for a few weeks, but they neglected to hire anyone to shovel on their behalf, which is a welcomed sight to petty thieves looking for an easy laptop or rich-people snacks.

And finally, the Standard Shovel Technique


Adherents to this technique are the pillars of our economy. These people get shit done. They shovel the stairs on the way to work in the morning. Then again when they get back. And they don't give it a second thought. They grab the shovel. They do it. They put the shovel back. Then they go on to accomplish dozens of other household chores that most of the above groups procrastinate or avoid or pay someone else to do. They are well-rounded individuals with a reasonable balance of empathy and pragmatism. These make solid friends, as long as they are not watching their favourite TV program when you need them.

And there, in a nutshell, are some of the most commonly seen shovelling techniques and their corresponding personality types. One of the above staircases is my own. To which category, dear readers, do you think your author subscribes?

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Thing about Insomnia

When insomnia was just a thing that other people experienced, I thought it was cool. All that extra time! And the wee hours were mystical. This is when spirits came out to play. Fairies and ghosts and howling wolves. Yellow-eyed owls. Tiny creatures stirring. I wished to be part of this magic.

Mystical Night, Michael Z Tyree

And then insomnia happened to me.

To be honest, I've never been a great sleeper. I mean, the first few months of my life I was a colicky baby. And I've never slept soundly or for any extended length of time. I was never the sleep-til-noon teenager and I've never been able to sleep in moving vehicles, in strange places or in the presence of other people. But insomnia was never part of my repertoire until recently. And never has it been so severe as the last month.

The catalyst of these bouts vary. Anxiety sometimes. Other times it is during a phase when I'm more creative than usual. Sometimes it seems to come out nowhere. But insomnia isn't what I expected.

The first couple of nights are alright. I read or write or listen to music. But as the sleepless nights accumulate, my brain becomes less and able to function. By the fourth night, my brain power is seriously waning. I lie staring at the ceiling, sighing and looking at the clock obsessively. Nausea sets in. During the day my appetite is compromised and my thinking is muddled and slow. Last week I took the metro south, all the way downtown, when I was supposed to go north. After a week my body feels cold and weak and numb. My heart races with dull panic. The lack of REM causes strange things to happen. In the dark silence of night, colours and shapes invade my vision, creating a psychedelic show that lasts for hours. I am a passive observer, in awe of the randomness of my own fucked-up neurons.


When I think I'm too tired for another sleepless night, another sleepless night happens. And then another. Lately, just the sight of beds makes me anxious. The wee-hour sleepless sessions create such frustration and despair that I work myself into an agitated ball of messy self-pity. This can't go on, I think. And then it does.

At around five, sleep tends to move in like a wall. Then not sleeping is impossible, despite noise or light. And when the alarm goes off, a different form of torture: trying to wake up.

Glass Animals front man, Dave Bayley, claims to owe his career to insomnia. The claymation world depicted in his music video Pools from the album Zaba is strikingly familiar--the psychedelic imagery, movement and colour. I know this world; it is strangely comforting.



In a Guardian article called The Upside to Insomnia, Bayley says "When my insomnia started I got anxious, checking the clock every 15 minutes. Eventually you stop caring. Now if I can't sleep I get this peaceful excitement. I know I have time to try something out and have some fun."

I'm obviously still a rookie insomniac, still wrought with frustration and lacking the necessary sensibility to just accept it all. With time, I'll learn to relax, to embrace the extra hours and the magic of the night that is currently eclipsed by anxiety and physical discomfort. If I surrender to it, maybe I can gain access to this "peaceful excitement" and channel it into something beautiful. In the meantime, Zaba is one hell of an album. And where did that florescence green cat come from?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Christmas Miracle



It was Christmas. The first Christmas we would spend with my mom’s new boyfriend. My brother and sister and I knew a few things about him. He was nice, we were told. Very nice. He could make a convincing loon call and he enjoyed many of the same things our mother did: kayaking, travelling, hiking. Even so, we were wary. Protective. We wanted the best for our mother, and we would be not easily be convinced of any suitor. No matter how “nice.”
When we arrived for dinner on Christmas Eve, the first thing that struck me about my mom’s new boyfriend was how Santa-like he was. He had the white beard, the round belly, the rosy cheeks and his laughter burst from his cherry lips with ho-ho gusto.
He laughed frequently throughout the meal, mostly at his own jokes. Jokes delivered with an edge of desperation, a man eager to appeal to the offspring of the woman he fancied. Jokes so corny, however, they made my stomach churn.
“Just the guys are getting high tonight?” he said. We looked at him, puzzled.
“Tryptophan,” he said, pointing to the turkey. “You girls don’t know what you’re missing.”
My sister, mom and I, all vegetarians, looked at one another before resuming our cashew loaf.
Later during the meal, when I tried to get past him at the table and said, "Excuse me," he responded with, "Squeeze you? I hardly even know you!"
And when we were cleaning up after dinner: “We’ll save these leftovers for Ron.”
“Ron?” one of us inevitably asked.
“Later on!”
When drying the dishes he allowed some flatulence to escape and exclaimed: “Stepped on a frog!”
He was trying hard to make us laugh, but his jokes bewildered us. It’s not that we didn’t have a sense of humour. We simply subscribed to our own specific brand, one our family had crafted over years of living together. Ours was dry and ironic, did not necessarily require laughter. Jokes, for us, didn’t have a punch line. They were woven into the conversation and built upon.
We weren’t opposed to fart jokes either because that very night my brother opened a beer and let one rip at the same time. “Huh," he said, shrugging. "Faulty bottle cap.”

My mom’s boyfriend’s jokes weren’t as subtle as ours, and we weren’t a laugh-out-loud kind of family. We were a low snickering kind of bunch, and our lack of enthusiasm was making him nervous which resulted in a crescendo of louder, even sillier jokes.
The next morning, Christmas morning, before anyone else was awake, my mom’s boyfriend got up early, put coffee on and started making waffles. Among his efforts to win us over, this was a far more effective method. There was a bowl of cut up fruit on the table and a vat of maple syrup. Every few minutes he’d deposit more freshly ironed waffles in the centre of the table. The ambiance was more relaxed than the night before, the conversation smoother, less strained.
“Watch the waffles,” my mom’s new boyfriend said to my mother. “I’ll be back.”
For reasons unknown, my sister had left the baby monitor on in the downstairs bathroom. The speaker happened to be placed right beside the breakfast table and turned up full blast. Through the speakers we heard the bathroom door close followed by a detailed full spectrum bowel movement.
“Poo!” said my two-year-old niece, clapping her hands. “Poo!”
Now we were laughing. Really laughing. Now that was funny.

After that incident, I stopped rating his jokes and started noticing more attributes, better ones. Like Santa, he was perpetually jolly. He was generous and ate cookies and milk at random times during the day. His light blue eyes held a perpetual twinkle. And by the end of the visit, I concluded that there was really nothing not to like about this guy. His jokes still made my eyes roll, but you can’t blame a man for trying to make people laugh. And nice, in the true sense of the word, is a rare and noble quality.  
Now, many years later we’ve gotten used to his humour. Actually we've learned to appreciate it, even participate in it on occasion. He’s no longer our mom’s new boyfriend. He’s our step-dad. And opa to my sister’s kids. 
Just last week at a friend’s house, I found myself saying, “Hey, we could save the rest of this salad for Ron.”
“Ron?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said in spite of myself. “Later on.”
I was the only one who laughed. 


Thursday, 4 December 2014

This One's Political



On October 22, 2014, a man with mental illness shot and killed a Canadian soldier at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. This attack set in motion a variety of serious discussions. "Terrorism" was number one on the Conservative's table of discourse. How convenient that they were on that very day about to release a bill that would expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. And this was amidst the ongoing controversy over the activities of the CSEC, Canada's national spy agency. Not to mention Canada's imminent descent into the Middle East to fight against ISIS. The timing could not have been better. You can find Harper's response to the shooting online, but my friend Parker summarizes it pretty well:


This was "terrorism" and not the actions of an insane individual who identifies with radical ideologies and has a verified history of drug use and domestic criminal activity. Please don't ask me for any more social spending because I don't believe in evidenced-based research or prevention and support systems for people with problems. Everything we do is right, and this is not an attack on the government or the military, but on "Canadian values" (incidentally, MY exact value system). For now, please prepare yourselves for a new round of draconian security and privacy laws, and we'll get back on track with bombing the ever loving fuck out of people half the world away who are probably just as scared of what this will mean as the rest of us here are. We're going to "get them", and that gives me the biggest right wing boner right now. Also, democracy, freedom, and my Christian God.

An article that caught my attention at the time was Marc-André Cyr's Le Terrorisme Utile in which he draws parallels to the massacre at L'École Polytechnique as well as the shooting at the Parti Québecois victory celebration. Cyr demonstrates how such acts of violence, which we often struggle to understand, are intentionally framed to serve political agendas. His article is poignant, well written, and its translation appears at the end of this post.
With the 25th anniversary of the Montreal massacre upon us, our government continues to display ignorance and dismissal. 
Justice Minister Peter MacKay yesterday in the House of Commons:  

"This week, we remember the horrific events that took place in Montreal at École 
Polytechnique 25 years ago, and while we may never understand what occurred — why this happened, why these women were singled out for this horrific act of violence, we have to stand together."

To which opposition leader Thomas Mulcair responded:

"We know why these women were singled out. It's because they were women. That's what Marc Lepine wrote in a manifesto."

The ensuing social media storm in response to Mackay's comments makes me hopeful. It suggests that people are paying attention. That they aren't as quick to dismiss the deeper issues at hand. Just as the attack in Ottawa back in October begs us to look at the treatment of mental illness in this country, the Montreal massacre continues to remind us that misogyny is real and ongoing and must be dealt with, no matter how inconvenient.

Marc-André Cyr's article maintains relevance as we approach the 25th anniversary of the tragic shootings at L'École Polytechnique.


Convenient Terrorism
By Marc-André Cyr

When an enraged gunman killed 14 women, now 25 years ago, many so called thinkers tried to convince us that it was not an “antifeminist” attack. Despite that the killer had written a letter stating he wanted to “kill the feminists who have always ruined my life,” a letter that was censured by security forces. Worse still: the day after this tragic event, many journalists put the blame on feminism itself. 
As early as the next day, on talk shows men claimed to “understand” the killer, though they condemned his actions. Jean-Claude Leclerc from Le Devoir purported that the changes brought about by the feminist movement “has created male victims” (Le Devoir, December 11, 1989); F. M. Christensen denounced the alleged tendency of “extremist” feminism to hate men (Globe and Mail, May 19, 1990); and Marcel Adam added that “experts have noted that in recent years, feminism has led to many acts of violence against women, especially in the States. How could it be otherwise?” (La Press, December 9, 1989).  
Morbid, but true. A man kills 14 women in name of hatred and it’s those who defend women who are put in the prisoners’ dock. In terms of victim-persecutor reversal, it doesn’t get much worse. Even today, at every commemoration of the event, journalists in Quebec are quick to remind us that it was an “isolated incident”, “non-political” and carried out by a “crazed gunman”, etc. Obviously, statesmen could not find material to exploit this tragedy for their own purposes.
A few years later, when Richard Henri Bain tried to take the life of the former Quebec premier Pauline Marois and killed stage technician Denis Blanchette, we were told about an act of a “lover of Canada with a troubled soul” and an “admirer of Céline Dion” (La Press, September 5, 2012) and the Coalition Avenir Quebec, like many media outlets, claimed it was a “deplorable incident” (Radio Canada, September 5, 2012). Several days later, the CJAD station in Montreal gave airtime to the “primary suspect” when they presented his “vision for Montreal” (La press, September 5, 2012). The Conservative Party of Quebec would even so far as to suggest that “Marois should take the blame for this incident” (La Press, September 5, 2012). 
Hardly anyone—with the exception of the sharp and sagacious Claude Poirier—spoke of “terrorism” and even less of “federalist” terrorism or “Canadian”.
This is obviously not the “analysis” that is oozing from our screens and staining our fingers concerning the attacks in Saint-Jean sur Richelieu and the parliament. The acts had barely taken place when conservative ministers started talking about an “Islamic” attack. What is troubling is that the RCMP appears to have confirmed this “fact” to the conservative party before confirming it to the public. And don’t forget our honourable premier Couillard, who was already talking about an attack instigated by the group “Islamic State” only a few hours after the event (JdeM, October 21, 2014).
Talk, even from journalists, is about “objectives”, of an “Islamic attack” and “terrorism”. The charismatic Gilles Duceppe even wanted to “bring to justice anyone who supports the Islamic State” (JdeM, October 21, 2014). The charming Denise Bombardier affirms that “Yesterday, Saint-Jean-sur-Richlieu became the vestibule of Quebecois caliphate” (JdeM, October 21, 2014). And the ever popular Daniel Girard argues that the “terrorist is close to home” (JdeM, October 20, 2014).
Lépine’s murders were beyond redemption. The one committed by Bain was disturbing for the Canadian Confederation and had to be subdued. Meanwhile, the attacks committed two days ago are different, convenient in fact.
Like Pavlov’s dogs responding to the bells of propaganda, journalists and belligerent politicians mark the four corners of the public arena by pissing the usual drool of security over our sheer inability to grasp this level of extreme violence. They take advantage of death and of the fear of death to advance their security, military and colonial agendas. Incapable of considering that this violence represents an asymmetric response to their arrogance, to their self-seeking politics and imperialism, they are constantly setting the stage for its renewal. 
Bellicose politicians want war, they want terrorism. These attacks, even when committed by home-grown citizens, allow them to bomb a country situated thousands of kilometres away.
War begets terrorism begets…war. We must resist the cries of resentment and fear that will only lead us to perpetuate a never-ending loop. This is our only hope to finally live in peace. 

(Translated by Nisha Coleman)
 

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Unfortunate Incident with the Hash Cupcake

To be fair, I knew there was hash in the cupcake. But I was just so hungry. And also curious.


Let's back up a little. I was 17 and living in rural Muskoka, Ontario. My boyfriend at the time lived 15 km away in a house all by himself (his older siblings had moved out and his mother had taken his younger sister to live in the States). As you might imagine, a 17-year-old with a three bedroom house to himself can lead to a variety of interesting scenarios. It was basically like youth drop-in centre but with no rules and no adult supervision. You never knew what you'd find.

One Saturday I biked over there, and as I walked through the front door, I noticed two unusual situations. One was that the house was filled, floor to ceiling, with high-grade marijuana. Now, I'm no connoisseur. I didn't even smoke pot, but something about the sharpness of the odour and the tight, dark buds indicated that this was good shit. The other thing I couldn't help but notice was that the kitchen had been transformed into a chemistry lab. Funnels, boiling liquids, strainers and tubes. On the counter, in amongst the science equipment, was a bag of flour, eggs, milk and cocoa powder.

My boyfriend and his best friend (let's call him Luke) peered at me through their safety goggles. "Hey!" they grinned. "Check it out! We're making hash cupcakes."

Of course I wondered where the mother load of pot had come from, how they knew how to make hash (pre-Google!) and where they had scored the science equipment, but I knew better than to ask. They were resourceful dudes. So I went outside with the cat and read my novel for English class.

The following Monday, at lunch hour, there was a small crowd in the parking lot outside of our high school. At the centre were the new science/culinary stars displaying their wares.

"Here," Luke put a huge chocolate cupcake in my hand.

Let me say here that I had been in a habit of going to bed terribly late. I slept in my clothes so that I could rise at the last second and walk out the door to catch the bus. This was no city bus. This was a big yellow school bus that came past our house only once, so if you weren't on it, you didn't go to school. This technique did not allow time to eat breakfast or prepare a lunch, so by the time noon rolled around, I was starving. This is the main reason I could not resist the giant chocolate cupcake placed in my hand. The other reason is one that often gets me into trouble: curiosity. I ate the cupcake while Luke watched with a look of glee and pride, and as I took the last few bites, concern.

"There was a lot of hash in there," he said when I had finished. Then the bell rang. 

My first class was Shakespeare. For the first 20 minutes or so, things were normal. We were studying Richard III and as we often did in class, students were chosen to read the parts aloud. Luckily I was not selected and could simply follow along. This started out fine, but the longer it went on, the more ridiculous the text became. The whole play was suddenly a comedy, each line more hilarious than the next. I put my head down on the desk and began to laugh silently into my sleeve.

Then one of the students read, "Mine eyes!" and my laugher roared forth uncontrollably.

"Nisha!"

The teacher was shocked. I was the quiet, studious one. I'd never caused any problems before. Ever. She stared at me with a blend of horror and confusion, as if she'd just witnessed a bunny feeding on a bloody carcass. This kind of stuff just wasn't supposed to happen.

I put my head down on the desk and tried to control myself. My brain ached from the effort and things were starting to get weird. My body hummed and I felt increasingly detached from the classroom, from the school even, as if I was slowly floating away. But the punch lines kept coming:

Alack, my lord!

O excellent device! make a sop of him!

Toucht you the bastardy of Edward's children?

Suddenly I was aware that I had been laughing wildly and that the class was silent anew and the teacher's eyes once again focused in my direction.

"If you can't stop, Nisha, you'll have to leave."

The look on her face was more wistful than angry, as if mourning her once tame and serious student.

"I'm sorry!" I half laughed half yelled. I put my head back down on my desk and concentrated on breathing until the bell rang. Then I got the hell out of there.

How I remembered the combination of my locker or knew where my next class was, I'm not sure. I was flying, too high to even know that I was high. I jostled through the hall amongst the hundreds of other teenagers. Like a leaf dropped into rapids, I was at the mercy of the flow and movement of my surroundings. I could focus on nothing. It was a chaotic mess of bodies and smells and sound. I do not know how I made it to my next class.

Luckily for me, it was drama with an exceptionally lenient teacher. The class that day was devoted to presentations, so all I had to do was try to stay quiet. That I was supine in the centre of the classroom did not seem to alarm anybody.

I wasn't laughing anymore, though. Things had gotten a lot more serious. The guy presenting, who in everyday life was a normal, nice looking boy, now looked like this:


I covered my eyes and hoped it would go away, but when I looked back, he remained unchanged. Other classmates started to transform into robots. Worse than their hard emotionless shells was the fact that they were controlled by a central force, a highly intelligent but entirely indifferent force. It controlled everything from what people said to the simple scratching of an itch.

Then my hearing got ultra sensitive, so much so that I could hear the beating of each classmate's heart. The pounding got louder and louder, the offbeat thuds assaulting my ear drums. I could hear everything: swallowing, shifting, scratching. And none of these movements carried out by freewill. Every minute gesture was controlled by the force. Life, I now knew, was meaningless.

I had to get out of there. I think I just got up and left, walking swiftly to avoid contact with the robots. I left the school and walked into town. All the cars that passed by were also controlled by the force. Everyone I saw on the street were robots, mere empty shells going through motions as if asleep. I took refuge in the Huntsville Public Library. Feeling a bit more secure now that I was surrounded by books, I went to one of the couches at the back and promptly passed out.

Since then, I've noticed similar concepts portrayed in popular culture. The zombies on Dawn of the Dead. The borgs on Star Trek. Shopping centres, especially around Christmas time will illicit the same sense of horror for me. What is it exactly? This sinking feeling that it's all for nothing. That we're all running around in useless circles with no true, meaningful purpose. It's no coincidence that the human psyche is so stuck on zombies and robots. Maybe our ultimate fear is not that we succumb to some dark force, but that there is no light or dark. It's all just grey, indifferent matter. The fear of nothing.

A few nights after the cupcake incident, back at my boyfriend's place, I sat on his bed and told him all about the robots and the central intelligence force and how it had seemed like were all just mindless beings, unconsciously going through life with no deeper purpose. He listened patiently, his smile, as it often was, a sort of empathetic smirk.

When I had finished he put his hand on my knee. "Welcome to the dark side," he said. 



Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Confessions of a Lazy Vegan

When I have to describe myself, lazy is not an adjective that typically comes to the top of my list. Unless, of course, we're talking about cooking. In the kitchen, I am a hopeless case. I eat combinations I am embarrassed to describe, let alone serve to others.

Alone, a perfectly acceptable dinner might be a bowl of cereal, a flabby carrot, a handful of olives and an apple. Not exactly something you would serve at a dinner party.

It isn't that I can't cook. I just can't muster the energy to cook if it's just for me. If invited to a potluck or cooking for somone I care about, I'll pour over recipes, make a purposeful grocery run and happily spend hours preparing. Without this incentive, however, I'll wait 'til I'm hungry enough to eat whatever random morsels remain in the fridge and cupboards, and when those dwindle, I'll reluctantly head out to a grocery store where I circle about aimlessly, uninspired and anxious at the overwhelming choice and my stark ambivalence. If those fortified bowls of mush featured on The Matrix were available, I'd be an avid consumer.

Many people take pictures of their meals and post them proudly on Facebook and other social media sites. I once tweeted a picture of my meal because it was striking in its sheer pathetic-ness.


Yes, that is a plain bowl of lettuce.

It's not that I don't hold nutrition highly. It's just that my laziness trumps everything else. I don't eat processed food or--heaven forbid--fast food. The things I eat are technically "healthy." They are just poorly arranged, with little to no thought. I justify my shoddy habits by the fact that the soy milk is fortified, that all the toast I eat is from whole, organic bread, and a bowl of lettuce might be pathetic, but no one could argue that it was harmful. Once in a while I'll make some big thing, then eat it for every meal, like the time I had steamed cauliflower and baked beans for a week (please, for the love of the sweet baby jesus, never do this!).

Recently, my laziness reached a new low. I was subsisting on coffee and fruit and seriously considering mono-fruitarianism. Then my friend Jessie gave me a new cast iron pan, which inspired me to curb my poor eating habits. At least a little bit. I decided to try an exercise: plan, shop for and prepare a meal. A real meal. Just for me. The idea made me very uncomfortable, which seemed like even more of a reason to go through with it.

I decided on dal and coconut rice. I made a list of ingredients, but as soon as I entered the grocery store, a familiar feeling overtook me. Annoyance, ambivalence, fatigue. Why cook when I could just have a Clif bar, a pile of spinach and an apple? It would save so much time! It would be so much easier!

Fighting the urge to bail, I quickly sought out lentils, rice, coconut, onions and ginger and got out of there. Upon returning home, before I even realized what I was doing, I had texted a friend to come over for dinner, nearly sabotaging my plan. As it turned out he was busy, so I made my way, albeit reluctantly, to the kitchen.

Why is it so hard to cook for myself? Why am I such a lazy vegan? I don't know, but the effort required was epic. The cutting of the onions arduous. The mincing of the garlic and ginger enraging. The constant stirring exhausting.

But a meal was made. And it was alright. Not picture worthy, really, but here it is:


It's a small step on the path of becoming an un-lazy vegan. My next challenge? A tweetable, facebookable, instagramable, pinterestable meal. Nothing too complicated, though. Baby steps. 

Recipes welcome!



Thursday, 7 August 2014

It's Over: Reflections of a Rookie Geriatric Tree Planter

After age 30 or so, most people stop doing things they are bad at. They also tend to stop trying new things for the simple reason that trying something new requires that you pass through a time when you suck, and sucking at something isn't fun.

In May I began a new job as a tree planter. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would suck at first. I knew I wouldn't get rich. But I also knew that I would improve, would make some money, and at the very least, I knew it would be an experience. That, at least, was guaranteed.

Hard. Writing the word is one thing. Living it is something else entirely. At first I couldn't believe that anyone could ask such a thing of their body. It didn't seem right. Something so physical and so unnatural as bending in half, over and over. Throwing the shovel again and again. I kept glancing into the distance, watching my crew members as they performed the motion repeatedly, without pause. Then I'd hear their numbers. 2K. 3K. How did they manage? It didn't seem possible. But it had to be. They were doing it; I had to as well.



And before long, the unthinkable became normal.

I threw the shovel all day, forcing the earth to open its dusty mouth so I could stuff a spruce inside. I ate with the voracity of a teenaged boy. I devoured donuts and wine gums and ice cream and felt my metabolism sear the calories like water on a woodstove. I ate enough sugar to render at least two adults diabetic. I watched my hands become swollen and calloused, sometimes bloody, always filthy. My muscles swelled. I tossed ferociously at night, dreaming of planting the motel room, and woke up repeatedly with aching muscles and joints. I learned to prioritize the morning tasks. Lacing my boots and cleaning the sleep out of my eyes could be done in the truck. As could breakfast and coffee, as my friend and co-worker Mel often demonstrated. Anything to gain a few minutes more of slumber.


Each morning drive, I fought anxiety induced nausea and each evening drive I was overcome with elation.

I hate this! I love this! I hate this! I love this!

We careened sideways through muddy logging roads. We piled onto the quad, holding on with one hand, boots dangling over the side. We planted through pouring rain, lightning, heat waves and snow, urging our bodies to adapt, willing our muscles to comply. We stumbled and fell daily, over logs or sticks or rocks. We urinated wherever, whenever. We got sun-fucked, snow-fucked, hail-fucked and rain-fucked. We tangoed with heat exhaustion and hypothermia. We were massacred by black flies and mosquitoes. Harassed by horseflies and deerflies. We got our eyes poked, smashed our shins with our shovels and drained our bodies of electrolytes.

To avoid unpleasant surprises, I learned to expect all horrors from a new piece of land. When it surpassed my imagination, I cried or sang or both. I swore, threw branches and kicked at rocks and roots. I growled. I begged. I sobbed. And I grew obsessed with trees--first planting them perfectly and then planting them faster. Always faster. And yet I was always the slowest. The rookie. The one who had trees left in her bag at the end of the day. The one with the most improving to do.


All nice land is alike. Each shitty land is shitty in its own way. 

On days off, we gorged on diuretics: coffees, beer, more coffees, more beer. We baked cakes on motel beds. Ate supper sprawled on the floor in front of a Seinfeld episode. We longed for massages but lacked the energy to give them. We passed out before every sunset, stomachs groaning as we slept. 

I learned to skim above my thoughts and emotions as if surfing a wave, observing the stuff underneath the surface but with no direct contact. If I were to allow myself to feel these moments fully, I'd have been pulled under. I'd have drowned. I wouldn't have been able to set my alarm each night. To pull back the covers each morning and do it all again. It would have been too much. Far too much.

The planting season is a bit like being suspended on a slingshot. Time becomes something else, as life is on hold. Months go by. And then, one day, WHAM. The trees are done. It's over. Your foreman gets you a 60 of whisky to pass around and the next morning, the people you shared everything with are gone. You return to the life you had. Sort of. You become the person you were. Sort of.

So, would you go back? Everyone asks the rookie.

And in spite of myself, in spite of it all, I find myself saying yes. I'd go back. Absolutely I would.