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 CollectivelyBeautiful.com, 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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tales of an Urban Newbie: February 14 - 20, 2011

My week started out innocently enough, I was scheduled mostly nights, starting at 5 pm, and since I was expecting a very special foreign visitor I had the weekend off again.  It was my first full week on the phones and I was starting to get the hang of selling the wide variety of products that the call centre took orders for.  We had scripts for all of the products that automatically popped up on our screens, so the way I looked at it was if you could read you could do this job. 

Most of the calls I received were for a bra that women (and sometimes men) would call to order after seeing an infomercial on television hosted by some Australian lady who I know nothing about.  In training we were told that it was our job to make these bra’s out to be the best product on the face of the planet, which made my job extra entertaining when only a couple of weeks in I received a call from a lady who told me that she heard the fabric was designed by NASA.  Although I don’t know if this is true, I didn’t bother correcting her because, after all, the best bra on the planet should be designed by astronauts.

While at work, the evening shifts were mostly laid back.  Calls came in a lot less frequently than they did during the day and the evening staff was mostly young students, making the atmosphere even more casual.  In between calls the agents would work on homework or chat with each other and when people found out how new I was to the city, they all went out of their way to share their own personal “best of Montreal” with me.

In my first week I found out there is a bar that serves candy, aptly called CandyBar, and every drink has a candy at the bottom.  I learned about an all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant where the waiters shave meat right off a hot skewer and onto your plate.  There was a brunch joint close to Old Port with some of the most unique and delicious breakfast delicacies and espresso-based coffee.  And, I couldn’t forget about the always inexpensive, but always delicious, Thai cuisine that could be found at a hip little joint in Chinatown.

Being the foodie that I am, I was more than excited to experience all of these places in due time.  But first, there was work to be done.  It was also my first week writing for CollectivelyBeautiful.com and I’d chosen some really interesting, but rather challenging, articles to tackle in my first two weeks.

While most of the articles I’d chosen involved research or drawing from personal experiences, there was one that I thought could potentially be difficult for me, especially on a moral level:  I was going to be interviewing a friend of mine about her divorce.  I believe there comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she questions their own capacity to write about people whom they care about.

I consider myself lucky enough to have those people care equally for me, and embrace the opportunity to help me with my career, so when I asked Michelle for an interview she was more than pleased to shed some light on the topic.  And as it turned out, the interview helped her develop her own thoughts and further understand her experience, so in the end we really both benefited from the interview.

That Wednesday I was going to make another attempt at seeing some live music, this time for the Wild Nothing featuring Abe Vigoda at La Salla Rosa.  My roommate and I arrived in good time, not only catching the main features, but also the local band that opened the evening, though I couldn’t decide if I liked them or not.  My opinion wavered so much that I was changing my opinion as frequently as between verses and the chorus of individual songs.  In retrospect, if my perspective was faltering that much, they probably weren’t that good.

Abe Vigoda, on the other hand, took me by total surprised and seriously rocked the house.  These LA rockers had a ton of stage presence and energy and got even a hipster crowd moving (which is a feat, for anyone who’s familiar with the indie music scene which is full of shoe-gazers with their hands in their pockets).  After a full set with a nice mix of old and new songs, they welcomed the headliners, the Wild Nothing, to the stage for a great display of musical prowess and stamina.  They played all of my personal favourites, and even included some new material.  Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to shake the crowd from their corpse-like hipster state, even though it should have.  I know I got a little glisten on. 

We ended the night with some delicious Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, and though my appetite was satisfied, my mind and heart weren’t, suffering from the anticipation of having mere hours to wait before my reunion with whom I like to call my “foreign acquisition”, and whom Ms. Charles and I like to call my “non-boyfriend”.  Not because he isn’t, per se, or not because I’m a commitment-phobe, but because I’ve developed an aversion to the term after realizing that most people who call themselves by the title rarely live up to it.  Anyway, he can go by a variety of monikers, including my personal favourite, “The New Jersey Love Machine,” but his proper name is Matt.  He would be arriving first thing Friday morning and would be in Montreal for four days, so to say I was excited was an understatement.

And so I found myself at the Greyhound station at 8 am sharp (I hate lateness), only to find out that his bus was held up at the border with two “illegals” on board.  So I trudged to Second Cup for a coffee and to check out some local newspapers for things to do for the next few days.  When he finally arrived, we were both hungry and sleep-deprived, but relieved of our anticipation.

In the next three days our time was fully occupied with museum visits, restaurant trials, and more attempts at seeing live music.  Friday night we went to two separate venues for two separate bands and were brutally reject by both of them, sent back into the cold to suffer through blowing snow and icy conditions (I’m not being dramatic here – this is actually what happened!).  Due to the infamy of Schwartz’s Hebrew Deli, we decided to go, but this was my third visit in 2 weeks, and I was starting to tire of the routine.

We made our way around by Metro all weekend, checked out all of the restaurants I had in mind, including Le Milsa on Crescent where I had the most delicious, hot, fresh and, most importantly, unlimited quantity of spiced rotisserie meats.  Ten different varieties of meat were all served alongside a live show of what I presume was a Brazilian man who was wearing nothing but a fedora, pants and a vest, and a woman dressed very caribana, both shaking what their mama’s gave them to some really loud Brazilian music.  Nil Bleu, an Ethiopian restaurant on St. Denis was also a treat, with their sleek, hip interior including a glossy white mini grand piano; though their serving size and selection for their variety plates were slightly less appealing than the other Ethiopian places we had visited in Toronto, New York City, and Montclair, New Jersey.  And for brunch, we made sure to check out the Griffintown Cafe, which had the most delicious Americano I have ever tasted, and a unique, fresh, flavour-orgy inducing menu (I recommend the French toast, but also laid eyes on the most breathtaking eggs Benedict, possibly in all of human history).

During the day on Saturday we went to the Musee de Beaux Arts and marvelled especially at their contemporary exhibit on their lowest level – it was quite the treat for the eyes.  That night we made it to Il Motore for Akron/Family and New Jersey natives, Delicate Steve.  To say I was pleased with the instrumental openers who hailed from the dirty Jers’ was an understatement – they were phenomenal, but Akron/Family, who we had been listening to frequently in preparation for the show, decided to pull an interesting stunt that left me far from amused. 

Their spectacle included 15-20 minute long songs that didn’t resemble anything from their album, and included what I interpreted as desperate attempts to be unique, which included inaudible moanings into the microphone, which was being fully deep-throated by the lead singer, along with mutterings and gibberish that made me question whether I was at a live music venue or a Holy Rollers Convention.  Now, I’m all for a good stage show – but when Matt had seen them only the week before, they were nothing like this, which lead me to believe that they were probably hung-over and/or tired and/or too lazy and ungrateful for our attendance to play a full live set.  So, after waiting 15 minutes for the current song to end, we decided to leave.

We definitely made the most of our time together, even though we got lost a couple of times (on my account, as usual) and didn’t get to do everything or eat at every restaurant that we’d planned.  But, that just leaves more reason for him to come back for another visit soon.  He left Monday that on the midnight bus back to Newark, and so I returned to routine as well, taking calls for bras, writing, and experiencing more of this wonderful city.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This is why I'm vegan. Now stop harassing me about my protein intake.

So, it was suggested to me that I should write a blog about why I became vegan.  I've found that since becoming vegan, I've been explaining myself - a lot.  Either defending my protein intake, excusing myself from eating certain things, ensuring that I'm being "healthy", defending my choice, and just about every other wild and crazy debate and discussion you can think of.

Here's how it went:

Firstly, I "became" vegan unintentionally.  After a visit from Matt over two months ago where I had eaten entirely too much meat and dairy (on his last night in Montreal we ate for two hours at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant that served 12 varieties of rotisserie meats), I decided to do a cleanse.  I'd be vegan for a month to detox my system, give it a well-needed rest, and reduce the bloating I was having from all the dairy and salty foods I'd been eating.

My first week of being vegan was a little challenging, but bringing food to work with me helped and I started researching and trying new recipes instead of just eating salad and quinoa.  What I started realizing was that I actually enjoyed the hunt - I liked looking for new recipes, making alterations based on my taste and trying new things.  I really liked cooking - a lot.

During the next 4 weeks my energy levels increased, I lost a couple of pounds (probably mostly in water weight), I stopped craving salt like I used to, I felt happier, was sleeping better, and felt like I was getting into a natural rhythm.  The only thing that became difficult was continually defending my decision, but usually when people found out I was only doing it for a month, they relaxed and stopped bothering me.

On my 28 day mark, I was to arrive in New Jersey for a visit with Matt and the end of my vegan cleanse (since all we do is eat new food while we're together).  For the next five days I gorged on waffles with whipped cream, pulled pork taco sliders, ice cream, and just about anything else I could get my little Canadian hands on.  And in return I had severe stomach pains every day and nightmares every night.  I felt lethargic, had no motivation to go to the gym or work out, and was sleeping 9+ hours a night.

It became clear to me exactly what was going on.  My body was happy with the way it was under my new vegan regimen, and was rejecting the old chemical-, hormone-, preservative-filled foods I was pumping into it again.

When I got back to Montreal I started reading Alicia Silverstone's book The Kind Diet.  This book touches upon a wide variety of reasons for becoming vegan, and just one of these reasons is the inhumane treatment of animals in industrial food production facilities.  I say this because for the vast majority of non-vegans that I've crossed since making my choice, most of them raise their eyebrows and make some snide remark about me wanting the save the cute little cows or chickens or whatever.  While I disagree with the way animals are treated in mass production, unethical facilities, I've gotta admit that my reasons for deciding to stay vegan were a lot more selfish than that.

In Alicia's book, she touches on the way animals are slaughtered and how it actually effects the meat itself - this is what got me.  When an animal is in a slaughterhouse, it's aware of what's going on around it, and when it's time to go under the knife, the animal knows it's about to die.  All animals possess a fight-or-flight impulse that will help any creature to survive a threatening situation.  When an animal goes to slaughter, it's fight-or-flight impulses and stress hormones kick in, causing the chemicals adrenaline and cortisol to spike in production.  

Now, in humans, adrenaline is produced naturally, which can give us a rush and make us feel good, or in too-high doses it can cause aggression and anger (this is the "fight" part of the fight-or-flight impulse).  Cortisol is naturally produced by humans, too; when we get stressed out, our cortisol levels increase and this has been linked to weight gain and a variety of other stress-related ailments (this biological reaction dates back to the caveman days when "stress" meant "food shortage" so our bodies released cortisol to store fat for famine, even though this is no longer the case).  So, consider this:  animal secretes adrenaline and cortisol moments before being slaughtered, therefore, those chemicals are released into the blood, which pumps through the muscles, which then get packaged and sent to grocery stores and bought by people who cook it up and eat it, so those chemicals get passed into us!  If these chemicals are already proven to negatively affect us when we produce them ourselves, then what do you think is going to happen when we consume more when we eat foods that are laden with it?  Cortisol and adrenaline overload = angry, fat people!  That's not good for anyone!

And not only that, but because the FDA doesn't enforce slaughterhouse rules as tightly as they should, we have cases of food contamination.  Do you want to know why that happens?  You probably don't, because it's going to ruin eating meat for most of you, but I'm going to tell you anyway.  When they string up an animal for slaughter, slaughterers go at it with knives, usually while it's alive, slashing away all willy nilly!  In the process, sometimes internal organs are pierced, like colons, which are full of shit - literally.  What does this mean?  Escherichia coli, or E. coli, which is responsible for 20-30 deaths, countless food recalls and over 70,000 illnesses every year.  Fluids from the liver, pancreas and gallbladder can all make their way into our meats, too, filling us with all kinds of nasty toxins.  Milk isn't safe either.  Cows are often over-milked, causing inflammation and infection in their teats, which translates into puss in your milk, cheese, butter and yogurt.  YUMMY!

To top it all off, these poor animals are fed nutrient deficient food and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, which all (you guessed it!) gets passed onto us in their meat.  And we wonder why we're living in an increasingly aggressive, anti-biotic resistant, messed up, cancer-ridden world.

Also, the anti-establishmentarian in me loathes the incestuousness of the industry and government.  These industries pay government parties and officials millions of dollars every year to promote legislation that will keep them on top, and they spend even more promoting their "staples" as absolutely necessary to human survival.  Let's get one thing straight:  until refrigerators were invented, meat, dairy, eggs and  cheese were rarely eaten at every meal.  It's was impossible.  They couldn't be stored for long periods of time like they are now.  Yet, somehow, people still survived.  How could this be?!  Well, I know it's hard to believe, since the dairy, egg and meat industries have brainwashed us into believing that their foods are the only complete forms of proteins, calcium and other nutrients available, but you can get all of those things from other sources - and they're even better sources than meats, eggs, and dairy!

Our bodies use a huge amount of energy to digest these nutrient-deficient, hormone-filled, antibiotic-laden foods.  So, a plant-based diet - one that includes other sources of protein, like beans, lentils, dark greens, and sea vegetables if you're so inclined - is going to provide you with all the vitamins, nutrients, and amino acids (these make up proteins) that you'll need to life a healthy life.  And you'll likely find that you're naturally staying away from preserved foods, which are often extremely high in sodium, and junk foods that have dairy products in them and are often high in fat and refined sugars.  Just what the doctor ordered!  

Whodathunkit?!  A natural diet makes us feel most human - not so shocking when you really think about it.  And vegan diets have been proven to reverse a plethora of medical conditions - even cancer!

Now, I'm not writing this to tell people to become vegan or vegetarian, though it would be nice if a few did.  I'm writing this because most people just don't know about this stuff - I know I didn't!  But in order to make a change in your life, you need to find a reason that will work for you.  If that's thinking about the cute furry animals and not wanting to be responsible for hurting them anymore--cool.  If it's the reasons I listed above--cool.  If it's jut wanting to make a healthy change for yourself and the environment (don't get me started on the waste that's produced and the water that's used for raising livestock!)--COOL!  Whatever your reason is, you've gotta believe in it.

If you still want more information, hit up the interweb.  There's so much information online.  Go to www.sprword.com for some mad chill documentaries on food production and other cool stuff.  Read Alicia's book The Kind Diet, or find another book that you are more drawn to.  And even if you don't go vegan, at least educate yourself and stop making yourself look like an ignorant asshole when you talk to me about how "unhealthy" I am for being vegan.  What's in your food that makes it healthier than mine? Don't know?  Then go find out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tales of an Urban Newbie: February 7 - 14, 2011

After a full week of apartment sabotage, job interviews, and getting lost multiple times, I’m surprised I had any energy left in me to make it another week (okay, I’m a little melodramatic).  Somehow, I made it through, and secured three jobs in the process. 

I began my first week in training for a position as a call centre agent.  I greedily accepted this position with the intention of quitting after my training week so that I could move onto a more respectable position as an HR interviewer for a background checking company.  After spending a week in training, making a few friends, and realizing that the job wasn’t as evil as I’d anticipated, my opinion started to sway. 

During the week I got closer with my training group, met some of the other call centre agents and staff members, and tried to catch my next concert, the Weakerthans that Thursday at Le Cabaret du Mile End.  My roommate, her sister and I left for the Cabaret at around 6:30 pm – which should have been plenty of time, even considering that we were going for smoked meat at the world famous Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen and I had to meet up with Ms. Charles to sign our contract for CollectivelyBeautiful

But when we were outside the Laurier Metro station after filling our bellies and signing the contract we were asked by a kind, young stranger if we knew where the Brasserie Artisanale Dieu Du Ciel was.  I could hardly pronounce it, let alone locate it on a map.  After collaboratively inspecting the giant city map outside the Metro we realized we were going in the same direction, so we all decided to walk together. 

When we got to the Brasserie, our new friend invited us in to have a beer.  In the spirit of making new friends, we thought “what the hell, why not?” and decided to join him and his friend (for anonymity’s sake, I’ll call them Shawn and Rick.  Rick had recently moved to Montreal, and Shawn was planning to once he found work, so we all bonded through our common lack of friends in the area.  After about 45 minutes, we decided to head to the concert and bid our new friends farewell.

Arriving at the Cabaret was like déjà vu.  I could hear the music, I sprinted up the stairs, but when I got to the top no one asked me to pay admission and the people in the crowd gave us really strange looks.  About thirty seconds later the band announced that it would be their last song of the night.  (If you’re counting, the current score for concert attendance is Montreal - 2, Allie - zero.)  So, I figured at least at this rate the next concert I’d go to that I would see three songs, minimum.  You have to celebrate the small victories.

Now, by the end of the week there were a few things about the call centre that slowly won me over.  One of my biggest complaints about my last job in government was that it was really difficult to make friends there who had similar interests as me, since the vast majority of my co-workers were married with children.  So the fact that the call centre is made up of a predominantly young staff was really appealing to me.  I was already making friends in a new city in my first week – more than I’d made in Edmonton in two and a half years. 

Also, probably for the same reason that it was easy to make friends, it was a really laid back environment – I could wear leggings and a hoodie to work, which I can’t say the same for any of my jobs since I stopped babysitting.  My co-workers all shared a similar cynical sarcasm for life in general and I felt like I fit in almost immediately.

Finally, my schedule at the call centre had the ability to be extremely flexible.  The company used an online scheduling system that lets employees check their schedule, drop shifts, pick up shifts or trade shifts, request time off, and check when other employees are working.  Being an internet junkie and techo-geek, the idea of having my schedule at my fingertips really revved my engine.  Another small win-over was the potential for commission – it wouldn’t be much, but probably enough to make a small dent in the month bills.

My final decision was made when I called the other job to find out if I could get time off before I started – I needed the following Friday and Monday off: that was it.  When the woman called me back, she left a message saying that if I couldn’t make training they would have to offer the job to someone else.  Now, it wasn’t necessarily what she said, but how she said it that I was offended by.  Her tone came across “holier than thou,” like my very survival was in her hands alone, and the attitude turned me off more than the fact that they wouldn’t give me the time off.  My roommate’s twin sister was in town that week and I ended up forgetting to call the other job I’d been offered until Sunday.  When I called I mentioned not only would I be declining the position due to my scheduling conflict, but also that I’d been offered another position. 

This seemingly harmless voicemail would eventually give me the age-old “foot in mouth” syndrome, but I’ll save those details for week six.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Promise...

Althought at the moment I currently am writing about many past-tense issues and events, mostly to do with my own life, that, of course, is not my ultimate goal.  As many of you may or may not know, I'm attending graduate school in June of this year to pursue a professional career in Journalism.  I've been doing my best to remain up-to-speed with national and international events, but an open letter posted almost a year ago by the Canadian Association of Journalists only recently caught my attention, and it stirred something deep inside of me - giving me chills again and again.

Let me begin by defining my goals as a journalist:

I want to be honest and transparent, even if that means not getting the most razzle-dazzle story out there.
I want to be dedicated and passionate, and I want those qualities to be reflected in my work.
I want to be a representative and spokesperson for Canadians and citizens of the world, alike - finding out the answers to the questions that many will never be given the opportunity to ask.
I want to have the opportunity to cover meaningful and powerful stories that will hopefully rejuvenate and revolutionize our nation.
I believe this is my duty as a person, a journalist, and a Canadian.

That being said, I think that it's imperative that every Canadian reads this open letter authored by many journalists in Canada who also share these values.  Each of us needs to forget the glitzy, hot-topic, cultivated news that we have become so accustomed to.  This is not real news.  The real news is what we're not seeing.  The acts that are staged by our government are just that - an act.  The real news is that we're not getting all the answers, all of the facts, or even all of the footage, from our government.  

So please, read this letter and support your local and national journalists in their battle against our nations political representatives for truth, transparency, and respect - not only for journalists as professionals, but for each of us as proud citizens of this great nation and the world.

"June 2010
A few weeks ago, many journalists nodded knowingly at this Tweet by Canadian Press reporter Jennifer Ditchburn.
“My Friday giggle… a spokesperson who emails me “on background” and then says: I can’t answer your question.”
It’s a bit of gallows humour about a problem that began as a minor annoyance for reporters working on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and has grown into a genuine and widespread threat to the public’s right to know.
Most Canadians are aware of the blacked-out Afghan detainee documents and the furor over MPs’ secret expenses. 
But the problem runs much deeper.
Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the flow of information out of Ottawa has slowed to a trickle. Cabinet ministers and civil servants are muzzled. Access to Information requests are stalled and stymied by political interference. Genuine transparency is replaced by slick propaganda and spin designed to manipulate public opinion.
The result is a citizenry with limited insight into the workings of their government and a diminished ability to hold it accountable. As journalists, we fear this will mean more government waste, more misuse of taxpayer dollars, more scandals Canadians won’t know about until it’s too late.
It’s been four years since Harper muzzled his cabinet ministers and forced reporters to put their names on a list during rare press conferences in hopes of being selected to ask the prime minster a question. It’s not uncommon for reporters to be blackballed, barred from posing questions on behalf of Canadians.
More recently, information control has reached new heights. Access to public events is now restricted. Photographers and videographers have been replaced by hand-out photos and footage shot by the prime minister’s press office and blitzed out to newsrooms across Canada. It’s getting tougher to find an independent eye recording history, a witness seeing things how they really happened — not how politicians wish they’d happened. Did cabinet ministers grimace while they tasted seal meat in the Arctic last summer? Canadians will never know. Photographers were barred from the fake photo-op.
Those hand-out shots are, unfortunately, widely used by media outlets, often without the caveat that they are not real journalism.
In the end, that means Canadian only get a sanitized and staged version of history — not the real history.
Meanwhile, the quality of factual information provided to the public has declined steadily. Civil servants – scientists, doctors, regulators, auditors and policy experts, those who draft public policy and can explain it best to the population — cannot speak to the media. Instead, reporters have to deal with an armada of press officers who know very little or nothing at all about a reporter’s topic and who answer tough questions with vague talking points vetted by layers of political staff and delivered by email only.
In addition, the Access to Information system has been “totally obliterated” by delays and denials, according to a scathing report by the country’s information commissioner. Requests are met with months-long delays, needless censoring and petty political interference — the most cringe-worthy recent example involves a bureaucrat forced to make a mad dash to the mailroom to rescue a report on Canada’s real estate holdings after a senior political aide ordered the report “unreleased.”
Politicians should not get to decide what information is released. This information belongs to Canadians, the taxpayers who paid for its production. Its release should be based on public interest, not political expediency.
This breeds contempt and suspicion of government. How can people know the maternal-health initiative has been well thought out or that the monitoring of aboriginal bands has been done properly if all Canadians hear is: “Trust us”?
Reporters have been loath to complain about this problem. But this needs to change. This is not about deteriorating working conditions for journalists. It’s about the deterioration of democracy itself.
Last month, reporters gathered in Montreal at the Canadian Association of Journalists’ conference to discuss these issues. On behalf of our members, we are calling on journalists to stand together and push back by refusing to accept vague email responses to substantive questions that require an interview with a cabinet minister or a senior civil servant. We are also asking journalists to stop running hand-out photos and video clips.
We are also calling on journalists to explain better to readers and viewers just how little information Ottawa has provided for a story. Every time a minister refuses to comment, a critical piece of information is withheld or an access request is delayed, Canadians deserve to know.
Finally, we are asking editors to devote the time and money it takes to dig beyond the stage-managed press conferences to get to the real story.
This is not about ideology or partisanship on the part of journalists. Journalists aren’t looking to judge the policies of the Conservative government. Rather, we want to ensure the public has enough information to judge for themselves.
Journalists are your proxies. At our best, we ask the questions you might ask if you had a few minutes with your prime minister or with Environment Canada’s top climatologist. When we can’t get basic information, we can’t hold your government to account on your behalf. In order to have a genuine debate about matters of national interest, people need information. In order for citizens to be involved and engaged and make smart choices at voting time, they need information. It’s time we got some.
Hélène Buzzetti
President, Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery
Mary Agnes Welch
President, Canadian Association of Journalists
Brian Myles
President, Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec
Kim Trynacity
President, Alberta Legislature Press Gallery
Christine Morris
President, New Brunswick Press Gallery
David Cochrane
President, Newfoundland Press Gallery
Réal Séguin
President, Quebec Press Gallery
Wayne Thibodeau
President, Press Gallery of the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly
Karen Briere
President, Saskatchewan Legislature Press Gallery Association"

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tales of an Urban Newbie: The Trials and Tribulations of Acclimating to a New City

(This series of articles about my getting to know Montreal is also featured on the website www.CollectivelyBeautiful.com, along with many other useful, interesting, and thought-provoking pieces - take a look!)

So, although I’ve visited Montreal several times before, and have visited countless other cities, I’m still incredibly directionally challenged.  And that’s just the icing on the cake.  Add in the fact that I’m most familiar with running on New York time (where just about everything begins at least 45 minutes after it’s supposed to) and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Firstly, I’m not sure if it’s just my apartment, or apartments all over Montreal, but I’m fairly certain that everything in my apartment, from the front door locks to the knobs on the stove, work backward.  I arrived to my apartment after a 20-hour train ride from Nova Scotia, I had 9 pieces of luggage with me, and was stranded in the hallway because I couldn’t unlock my door.  

After 45 minutes of turning one lock, then the other, then turning them back again, I finally managed to make my way inside.  I’m used to locks that unlock when you turn the key counter clockwise, and lock when you turn them clockwise; however, my new door does just the opposite.  I don’t know any other person who has broken a sweat unlocking their front door, but I somehow managed it. 

One can’t live in an apartment without food in it, so I decided it was grocery time.  I headed down the street to the local Metro to pick up the usual basics and everyday items.  What I didn’t realize upon exiting the store was that there are, in fact, two entrances/exits in two different sides of the building.  I, of course, exited out a different door than I had come in, without realizing it, which resulted in me walking four blocks in the wrong direction with five heavy bags of groceries.  When I realized how lost I was, I gave up and called a cab.  I had walked in the precise opposite direction of my apartment.  Five dollars, and less than three blocks, later my less was learned.

Now, I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten since the night before on the train when I had a miniscule egg sandwich with couscous, which was grossly overpriced.  I put a pot of water on the stove and waited for it to boil.  This attempt gave me a whole new appreciation for the saying, “a watched pot never boils.”  I waited, and waited… then waited some more.  Nearly an hour passed and the water was still just barely warmer than room temperature. 

What I didn’t realize, that my front door lock and stove knobs had conspired against me.  For every stovetop appliance that I’ve used in recent memory, you turn the knob counterclockwise, to turn it on, and as you continue to turn, the temperature will get hotter and hotter.  This was not the case in my apartment, but the complete opposite.  And, to make matters work, only half of the burners on the stove are functional.  I’m surprised I didn’t pass out from exhaustion by the time I finally managed to make my meal.  Needless to say, I expected the worst when I went to take a shower later that night.  Thankfully, showers are pretty fool-proof.

That weekend I had planned to see a band called the Radio Dept. that I’ve been waiting to check out for about a year now.  They were playing at a little venue that is inside a bigger venue, on Rue Prince-Arthur.  Tickets were only $15, and even though there was a blizzard outside, my roommate and I decided to brave the weather for some good live music.  We left our apartment at 10:45 pm, expecting the headlining band to go on around 11:30 pm or so. 

My assumption was based on the usual schedules of shows that take place in the greatest metropolis in North American – New York City – and this assumption couldn’t have been farther from actuality.  After trudging though the snow with the wind howling past us, we arrived at the venue.  It was around midnight and as I ran up the stairs the anticipation continued to build, but when I got to the top of the stairs and sprung through the door, the venue was empty, the stage was torn down, and the music was no where to be heard.  I asked the bartender what time the bands usually come on.  She helpfully responded, “Anytime”.  “Yeah, thanks,” I thought, “That was really helpful.”

I sulked my way to the other, larger venue there, since we’d already paid cover.  It wasn’t exactly the live rock I’d expected, but we made the most of it anyway.  After evading a creepy Swedish man who was clearly on mood-enhancing drugs, watching a young guy spontaneously projectile vomit next to us, and dancing and laughing more than I previously considered humanly possible, we headed home. 

It was a successfully unsuccessful first outing in Montreal and a solid way to end my first full week in my new home city.  Though, I was hoping that my skills and timing would get better as time went by.