Sunday, June 23, 2013

You can have your butterflies. I have fireflies.

A little tale: I remember going to a family friend's cabin when I was around three years old. It was the first time I'd ever seen fireflies. I called them lightning bugs. I remember watching them blinking on and off, filled with a strange and simple kind of excitement and awe.

Twenty years passed.

I didn't see another lightning bug again until I went to Bonnaroo in 2010. The same feeling came back to me as if I was still a little girl, watching from inside the cabin.

Now, almost every night when I walk through my neighborhood, I see lightning bugs. I still feel the magic I did when I was three, now that I'm almost 27 (one more week!).

It's strange how such a simple thing can bring one immediately back to "the now."

I am so grateful for my life. I'm not religious, but I'm convinced that I'm blessed.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why we got married, but y'all didn't get invited

I've sat in a spot like the one I'm sitting in now, trying to write this blog post, for quite a while (like, off and on for the past four months exactly). I couldn't decide where to start, but then, while I was walking home yesterday, it came to me (shout out to Bob Babinski who always encouraged walks, noting that walking provides the perfect breeding ground for good ideas).

So, here it goes.

Like most couples, we had been planning on getting married for a little over a year. So, why didn't we send out invites? Well, ours was not your typical engagement (much like the rest of our story).

It all goes back to when we first began getting to know one another. We were both thrilled and relieved to find out that neither of us wanted to get married (ever - not just to the other person). Matt's mother couldn't believe it - nor did she want to. Most parents dream of the perfect day their first-born son will eventually have with his bride walking down the aisle - and Matt's mom was no different - but with me in the picture, none of that would be realized. Matt and I, on the other hand, could not have been more elated.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2011.

We'd been dating long distance for about a year and a half. Like any couple, we went through our share of struggles and difficulties, mostly due to us being apart more than we were together, but every time we talked and every time we were together, we knew the distance was worth it.

I tried, but had exhausted all possible routes for getting my U.S. permanent residence through my family. I even looked into getting a temporary work visa, hoping for anything that would allow us to be together without having to get married, but I kept coming up dry.

Finally, a couple of days after the New Year, a few days before I was set to go back to Montreal, we had "the talk."

Don't think that this is where the story gets to romancin', because it's not.

We spoke almost vaguely to one another, trying to get to the point without actually saying any of the "panic words" (married, engaged, etc.).

I recall the end of our conversation specifically:

"I don't want to be long distance for the rest of my life."
"Well, I'm willing to do whatever it takes for us to be together."
"So... Are we fuckin' doing this?"
"Yep. We're doing this."

(Sorry for the profanity - you can take the girl out of Nova Scotia, but you can't take the Nova Scotia out of the girl.)

Although we were both relieved that we were willing to make a such major sacrifice so that we could be together, the next year couldn't have been much more stressful.

My grandmother passed away, I was diagnosed with PCOS, a crazy bitter girl attempted to sabotage our relationship (we showed her!), I was finishing an 11-month intensive graduate program, Matt had started at a new university, I went away to Trois-Rivieres for five weeks for French immersion school then started a job at the Montreal Gazette (read: no vacation days), and Matt accepted a new a full-time job while he continued to study full-time. And to add insult to injury, we were going through the FiancĂ©e Visa application process with U.S. Customs and Immigration, which - as anyone who has gone through it will tell you - is one of the most stressful, emotional and expensive experiences a couple can endure. Talk about putting our love to the test.

During the 12 months between when we decided to "submit our paperwork" (that's what we called it while we got comfortable with the "M"-word) and when I finally got the stamp of approval from the U.S. Embassy in Montreal, Quebec, we had submitted stacks of paperwork with evidence of our relationship, criminal records, financial records, medical records, and photos; I'd received the flu shot, MMR shot, Td shot and had been tested for TB; and we wrote multiple checks (or "cheques" in "Canadian") for processing fees of all kinds. We traveled across the border countless times, and spoke often about how great life would be once we didn't need to show a passport to see one another. But neither of us wanted to tell anyone about our decision, in case for some freak reason our application got denied. It was almost as if we didn't want to jinx it.

In November 2012, we decided the stress of waiting to be together was too much, and after Matt's mom offered for me to stay in their family home for an indefinite period of time, I crossed the border alone for one of the last times.

I had to travel back to Montreal one more time for my immigration interview, which was scheduled for January 24, 2013. That's when shit got real. Matt half-joked that we should get married on Valentine's day (he's such a cheeseball), but we just wanted to have a Town Hall wedding, and Town Hall only did marriages on Wednesdays (Valentine's Day was on a Thursday).

We put our planning on a bit of a hold when I left for Montreal, but then, finally, at around 11:00 a.m. on January 24 I heard seven of the most glorious words: "Welcome to the United States of America."

When I got back to New Jersey, Matt's parents demanded that we make some plans. His mom said we needed to have a dinner at the very least, to celebrate with his family. In our usual fashion, we didn't want anything to do with it, but when his dad started getting invested in the planning (he doesn't usually involve himself in anything like this), I caved and Matt followed suit.

So knowing we wanted to get married on Valentine's Day, Matt's dad - a life-long Livingston town employee - pulled some strings and within a few days we went from having a Town Hall wedding on some random Wednesday to being married by the Mayor of Livingston at the Art Council of Livingston Art Gallery in town center on Valentine's Day. Whodathunkit?

So, if you feel offended, shafted or put-off because you weren't invited to our wedding, don't. We didn't want to get married to begin with anyway (even though now we're a blissfully, disgustingly happy married couple who can't imagine being anything less).

And if ya don't know, now ya know...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grief Masqueraded

Grief is something that is sacred, spiritual and specific to each individual.  To overcome grief, some people turn to family, some to drugs or alcohol.  Some people keep busy, while others do nothing at all.  Some people need to cry, others need to laugh.

Grief is one of those emotions that drives people to the depths of their emotional capacity and most of us simply don't know how to deal with it.

That being said, it can be difficult for one to relate to how another person chooses to grieve.  While we might expect someone to react in a certain way, that may not be how that individual needs to cope with an emotion as complex as grief.

Sometimes when one grieves their usual strength and tenacity takes a back burner.  Someone who is emotional may shut down completely, seeming almost unscathed by news that should make them saddened or distraught.  Someone who is stoic may break down, falling into depression.  Someone who relies on others may end up becoming a pillar of strength for those they previously depended upon.  Someone who is happy may become angry or violent.

Our role in situations where people are grieving is to recognize and respect that each of us will deal with grief in a different way.  We shouldn't judge others for how they choose to grieve because we interpret their choice as callous, insensitive, inappropriate, weird, maddening, immature, or whatever; a judgement call of that magnitude is outside of our realm of understanding.

Be caring and considerate of people who are grieving.  You simply can't understand how someone else experiences and deals with grief.  Judging someone for how they grieve is, in effect, invalidating their grief.

No one wants to have their emotions invalidated, especially with one as deeply personal as grief.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some Thoughts On Loneliness

I get by on my own pretty well, I think.  I don't often find my mind plagued with morose thoughts.  I enjoy my solitude.  I have some pretty great friends here in Montreal, and I'm making more.  I'm independent and career-driven.  I can't say I really have much time for thoughts of loneliness.

But there's something about knowing how good it is, and how much better it could be, that gets me to thinking.

I don't struggle with this often, maybe just a for a moment or two - maximum a day or two - once every month or two.  For those couple of moments, or couple of days, I just can't help but think of all the great things I could be doing as part of a two.

Tonight I was biking home from my friends band practice.  As I cruised down the bike path on Maisonneuve I looked up and saw the moon.  It was huge and beaming down at me.  Something about the moon always gets me emotional.  Maybe because there's something in me that knows I'm not the only one looking up in longing.  I think the moon has felt more love, more broken hearts, more desire, more yearning, more sadness, and more wonder than any other celestial body.

It's like I was looking toward the moon for powers of teleportation.  Just to bike around the city in the warm summer air.  Just to stare at the moon.

There is truth and depth to the phrase, "sharing your life with someone."  It's what we want from a partner, from a relationship.  Someone with whom we can have a shared experience.  Someone we can show around, follow around, and show off.

For me, the quality of the time together and apart is so good that it makes the long stretches of solitude worth it - even when I get lonely.  But sometimes, I just want to go down the street and get Southern cookin' with someone.  Or go for a walk or a bike ride with someone.  Or see a show or listen to music or cook or bake with someone.  Or snuggle into my favourite spot on the couch and fall asleep with someone.

But "someone" won't do.  It's got to be someone in particular - that one person.  But it can't be.  So instead, I think about all of the things we can do together, whenever we get to be geographically together again.  Or I think about everything we've done already, when we were geographically together before.

It gets me by, but sometimes my imagination just doesn't cut it.  I want the real deal.  For longer than a few days, or a few weeks.

These spurts of undeniable loneliness make me impatient, sometimes irrational and insecure.  But for now, I have no other choice than to tolerate them.  I just have to wait.  And see.  And stare at the moon.  And wonder.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Because a BA just ain't enough anymore...

So I'm back to the precarious life of a student.  This time, at the graduate level.

Three years ago, I thought I might be done for good, but after two and a half years in the public sector, six months of travelling, and four months working at a call centre (and thankfully, working at Collectively Beautiful, which legitimately kept me sane), I'm back in the groove.

The familiar territory of student loans, academic registration, first-day jitters, and class attendance came back to me like riding a bike... just not that time in Florida when a palmetto bug landed on me and I wiped out.  I'm definitely riding this bike a lot better than that.

The anticipation for the first day of the Graduate Diploma Program in Journalism at Concordia was excruciating.  I think I messaged my friend and Dip. '09 Alum, Amanda, roughly 18 bazillion times to ask her everything I could think of from how I should dress to what I should expect for workload.  (Thanks again for all your advice, missy!)

In reality, as usual, the first day wasn't so bad.  Actually, the first few days weren't so bad at all.  We had orientation, got to know some of our professors, got lectured on scholarships, bursaries, health services, journalism societies, and the overall expectations for the program.  We found out about internship opportunities, including a summer internship at a local weekly and a fall/winter internship at the CBC.  And for those of us lucky enough to have some money in tha bank, there's even a four to six week internship available at the CBC office in London, England - that is, if you've got the $1,500 for a flight and $1,500+ CAN for a loft in the city for a month, plus money for food and entertainment.  (If you haven't gathered yet, I definitely do not fall into this category.)

So, anyway.  We all got our student IDs, security passes for the Journalism building, and received an extremely thorough orientation to the school, the faculty and the program itself.  From the beginning we'd be warned about the intensity of the program and the level of commitment that was required.  The workload would be extremely heavy and it was suggested that if any of us had jobs that involved having to be at work during specific hours we should probably quit.

We began regular classes on June 9 and got our first three assignments in the next two days.  Within another two days we had two more assignments.  And just as we passed in a few of those we were assigned two more, and then another.  They weren't kidding.

Between interviews (we've each done a minimum of nine so far), classes, writing assignments, researching, writing for Collectively Beautiful and going to bootcamp, I didn't have much time for anything else.  But, when you love what you do, you don't mind committing all of your spare time to those causes.

Thanks to the beautiful summer weather, I've been walking to school almost everyday and my classmates and I have stuck around campus for the most part at lunches, giving us all ample time to socialize and blow off steam in between classes.  A few of us even spared some time outside of class to partake in a little undergraduate style alcohol consumption, which resulted in us receiving a threat from neighbours about the noise level and thus vacating to a nearby park where we proceeded to drink on a gazebo.  Nothing says "bonding" like a little drunken debauchery.

Back to the classes, though.  This semester we're taking Intro to Broadcasting with Bob Babinsky, Intro to Print with Wayne Larsen, and Computer Assisted Reporting with Leo Gervais (no relation to Ricky).  I haven't decided which class is my favourite yet, but I have a feeling it's going to be a tug of war between Wayne's and Bob's.  Computer Assisted Reporting is pretty dry so far (sorry Leo).  On the other hand, Leo does referee in the CFL, has some pretty awesome stories, and makes some pretty hilarious comments about shut-ins named Gladys Poutine who live in Verdun.  (Edit: Leo is also my official prof. homeboy... pound it!)

Needless to say, the faculty this semester are both engaging and entertaining, each having their own individual flare, sense humour, and teaching style.  And to be fair, my classmates, the "Dips" as they're referred to, are of the same variety of high-caliber individuals as well.

The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds - the youngest being those who just completed from their undergraduate degree to the oldest who I believe is 37 and a recent immigrant from Egypt.  Within that range you'll find people of all ages and all histories: world travellers, volunteers, scientists, artists, anthropologists (holla!), writers, jokesters, bloggers, poets and actors.  We have sports, culture, music, and film junkies, advocates, political fanatics, technology freaks and military news hounds.

If you couldn't tell, I think my Dips are the tits.

Although this year is already proving to be a challenge academically, with its extremely steep learning curve, I've got a pretty good lead (HA! Get it?) that we're all going to get through it together.  Whether we're venting to each other at lunch, helping one another out at the lab, or blowing off steam off-campus, I know we've got a solid group that has a real desire to help one another, rather than elbow each other on the way to the top.

Do I think the class will be competition-free?  Of course not.  But it's already proving that it'll be a helluva lot of fun and a lot of laughs.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Gypsy Re-emerges

After having been in Montreal for 8 weeks, I’d decided my inner-gypsy needed to re-emerge so I decided to take off to New Jersey and New York for a reprieve from my very un-gypsy lifestyle.  I got off work that night at 10:00 pm and the bus departed at 11:45 pm, giving me just enough time to boogie on up and stand in line – and what a line it was, no less than 75 people long, plus their accompanists.  I was kind of worried I might not actually get on the bus since seats aren’t reserved and it’s first-come, first-serve.

I managed to make it into a seat and settled in for what is quite possibly the worst commute on the face of the planet.  There’s only one thing worse than a ride on the Greyhound for eight and a half hours, and that’s a ride on the Greyhound for eight and a half hours, where you need to get out of the bus twice, in the dead of winter, before you actually arrive in your destination.  You were probably envisioning a nice, peaceful ride through the Adirondacks, my pleasant slumber accompanied by dreams of New York City food establishments and of course of my international love interest, but you couldn’t be more wrong. 

Not only do you have to get off the bus to go through Customs at 12:30 am where you wait, always anxiously, in line while people ahead and behind you are questioned, have their retina’s scanned, and are sometimes pulled aside for additional questioning; but you also have to get out in what I will endearingly refer to as the “butthole of America,” Albany, New York.  We arrived there around 3:30 am.  It was about 15 degrees below zero.  I was not a happy gypsy.  We sat in the station while they serviced the bus for another half hour, and then reloaded and as I approached my seat I came to realize that someone sniped it!  I thought everyone knew the rules of travel, when you sit somewhere, that’s where you stay – especially on lengthy trips.  I was delegated to the back of the bus, right next to the bathroom and some dude who snored loudly for the remainder of the trip.

The only saving grace of the whole drive happened when we arrived just outside New York City.  There was a cold, misty fog hanging above the skyscrapers, causing them to disappear into it, as if they could go on forever.  The sun began rising just as we approached the city and the vibrant yellows and reds behind the beautiful New York City skyline blew me away.  I was then grateful for being ousted from my seat, and for being kept awake by my snoring seatmate, because otherwise I wouldn’t have caught the magnificent view.

I’ve briefly referred to the five days I spent in New Jersey/New York City in my blog post on becoming vegan.  My trip took place just after I finished my four-week vegan cleanse and I was rewarding myself for my dedication by allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, after all, I was on vacation.  My body had other plans for letting me know what was going to go down (specifically down my oesophagus).  Throughout the week I had a heaping pile of waffles with whipped cream and fruit, pork, chicken and beef taco sliders, burritos, Peruvian food, coconut cake, eggplant parmesan (it’s not a visit to Jersey without it), and chicken fajitas, not to mention snacks and other treats along the way. My body reacted by developing a chronic stomach ache and blessing me with nightmares every single night.  It was then I decided I was going to be permanently vegan.

Surprisingly, it was the last day and my travel back to Montreal that left even more of an impact.  Coincidentally, my best friends’ parents were in New York City for a conference, so before catching my midnight bus back to Montreal, Matt and I met up with them for a 20 minute, super fast, catch-up cram session and I was on my way, fearing that I was going to miss my bus.

During the drive to the US, I kept to myself with my headphones on, but on the way back I happened to sit next to a fellow, or rather he sat next to me.  He immediately offered me a piece of chocolate and so the conversation began.  He just got back from travelling for six months in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and Florida.  He told me about how he began as a deck hand for a rich Floridian man who was sailing down the coast to Costa Rica, but after a few days at sea he realized their personalities clashed too much to salvage even a working relationship, so when they docked in Costa Rica he decided to stay there.

He took 48 hour long bus rides, hitchhiked, taxied and walked throughout all of the countries he visited, and all just at his own whim.  The travel wasn’t planned, it wasn’t sought out, it just happened.  He took the circumstances he had and made the best of them.  He received his certification as a scuba diver and was only coming back to Montreal now for a brief hiatus from the seas before he was heading West to Vancouver to meet up with a documentary film maker who was going to be at sea for three to six weeks filming whale migrations.

He didn’t know what he would do after that, but that didn’t matter to him anyway.  What mattered was that he was following his passion, the sea, and his heart.  I find the idea of static living to be so suffocating that a conversation with this late-twenties West Islander invigorating to the point that I couldn’t sleep until roughly 4:00 am.  It’s always so inspiring when I find people who don’t blend in or conform to societies’ rules of what they should do and when.  His life was full of uncertainty, not unlike mine, but also full of pleasure and pure joy, also not unlike mine.

As we parted ways at the Berri-UQAM station in Montreal, I wondered if I should have asked for his contact information, to be kept informed on all of his adventures and travels, but as I slowly descended the escalator I knew our brief encounter was just what I needed to remind me of my own need for adventure, drive for discovery and absolute necessity of listening to my heart.  The moment before a new, exciting chapter in life is what I refer to the “inhale,” and with that in mind I could feel myself breathe in.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tales of an Urban Newbie: Pervert Edition

So, by now you all know I work part-time for, and part- to full-time at a call center in the Old Port of Montreal.  Now, I’m going to devote some time to give you a glimpse into my experiences at my first (and probably/hopefully last) call center job – trust me, it’s not what you’d expect.

Firstly, the call center is mostly inbound call for infomercials.  We accept order calls for everything from health supplements, to exercise equipment, to small household appliances, to hair removal products and even bras.  Yes – you heard that right, bras.  You can only imagine the types of calls I’d hear in the course of a day just purely based on the sheer variety of products people are calling about.  Yet, surprisingly, it’s this last item that gives me the most trauma of all.

The problem with these bras is that the commercials show women traipsing around in pants and bras, all of whom, except one, are young, busty, and beautiful.  The real problem is that it’s not just women are watching these commercials, men are, too.  And only a fraction of them are watching to order bras for their wives, mothers, or daughters.  I’m just going to call it like I see it and say that these men are perverts.  They’re the same perverts who keep lingerie flyers in their bathrooms and who grab women’s butt’s on the subway.  The worst part is, they’re not only watching these commercials in the privacy of their own homes – they’re calling in to hear a woman’s voice.

In my opinion, it’s all fine and good if you’re whacking off to magazines and I know nothing about it, but when you involve me in your activity, it becomes a major problem.  And that’s exactly what happens, sometimes repeatedly by the same person.  Whatever possesses these men to call a bra order line to get their kicks is beyond me – there are 1-900 numbers for that – but to call a bra order line, where you might end up speaking to a girl as young as 16?  That disgusts me.

Think I’m joking?  There’s one pervert who calls more often that the rest – at least every weekend, maybe more. I’ll call him Perv 1.  He really gets off on trying to get you to say the word panties, and I’m guessing he prefers the color black.  Here’s how it goes. 

Me: “Thank you for calling, my name is Allison.  What size bras can I get you today?” 
Perv 1: “Yeah, 34C… I was wondering, do you have the panties?”
Me: “No, sir.  We don’t.  And just letting you know this call is being monitored for quality assurance purposes. So you’re just getting the one set of bras?”
Perv 1: “Oh, you don’t have the panties?  I really wanted the panties? Do they come in black?”
Me:  “No, sir.  We don’t have those.  The bras will come in black, white and beige.  May I have your credit card number now, please?  We accept Visa and MasterCard.”
Perv 1:  “Can’t you give me the panties?”
Me:  “No, sir.  They’re not available.”
Perv:  “Oh, but I really wanted the panties.  Don’t you have black panties?”
Me:  “No, sir – and if you’re not going to give me your credit card number I’m going to have to disconnect the call.”

Around this point is usually when I begin to hear him begin vigorously panting and I disconnect the call.  Now, this particular pervert has enough smarts to block his number from appearing when he calls; other perverts aren’t so clever.  For those who have the stupidity to call in with visible phone numbers and sexually harass women who are just trying to make an honest buck, I have a few select words, and they are: “Sir, I have your telephone number recorded.  What you’re doing constitutes harassment and I’ll be reporting this activity to the police.”

This usually results in them hanging up immediately, yet they’re still stupid enough to call back repeatedly, and often they get patched back through to my line.  After I answer the second or third time they at least have the smarts to hang up before I begin threatening them with criminal action.  At this point, I notify my supervisor and have their phone number blocked from calling our agents.  This makes me feel like some sort of small-scale, feminist superhero.  Protecting the innocent female call center employees, one pervert at a time.

Now, I have two things to say about these situations: 1) I don’t get paid enough for this sh*t, and 2) these are deeply, deeply troubled men who are a product of a deeply, deeply trouble society.  But, that's just my opinion.