Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pesky Photos

This past Valentine's Day I finally finished our Wedding Album.

This sounds impressive. In reality it was just a matter of choosing some photos, stopping by the local photo shop and ordering some prints.

It really should not have taken as long as it did. However, you may recall I had a severe, almost allergic, reaction to my wedding photos which lasted over a year.

Our anniversary re-do shoot went a long way towards curing the reaction. However, the wedding isn't going away and it was time to deal with the photographic evidence. It wasn't exactly what I wanted and I still have some regrets about the way the day went, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, right? Weddings are what they are and those who choose to have one will always have stories. This next statement may upset a few of my readers, but I am sceptical of people claiming to love every moment of their wedding. I think it is more a case of rose-tinted hindsight in an effort to not seem ungrateful or whatever. But that's just my view through my puce-tinged hindsight. (I kid, I kid.)

About a week before the Day of Hearts, I pulled down the box of wedding proofs and started flipping through the hundreds of photos.

To my surprise, it wasn't a painful experience at all. In fact, I managed to find quite a few that I actually really liked and could stand looking at for more than a few seconds.

But this post isn't about the miraculous-changing-wedding-photos. It's about time and perspective and mental clarity. I think. We'll see where this goes. (Just in case it goes a little off course, I'm scattering some not-too-shabby wedding photos to keep you interested/distracted.)

A few weeks ago I stated that my life was fantastic. Fabulous, even. I probably scared a few people off with such a gloating statement. I wasn't gloating, I was reaffirming. Sometimes I have to remind myself of just how great life can be. It is so easy to get stuck under the little things. I get very stuck.

That's not to say that we haven't worked for this life we are enjoying. Yes there is privilege in that we were born in the 'developed world' and we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to endure higher education. That isn't unique, really. I am not unaware of our privilege, but I do tire of constantly feeling and being apologetic for my situation in an effort to not seem shallow or unaware of the state of the world.

I'm over it. I do my part for the planet and the human race where and when I can, but I am over feeling apologetic for the life and lifestyle I enjoy.

However, it is still a bit of a yoke around my neck.

I am spoiled with a romantic backstory and sometimes I get stuck in thinking that it affords me continued cinematic experiences. I have a tendency to wait until the perfect moment arrives to act. I waste a lot of time waiting for the planets to align and a booming voice from the sky or more likely a peppy voice from an impossibly cute, yet hilarious, anthropomorphic woodland creature to tell me, "This, This is it. This is the perfect moment."

Too dramatic?

I have used up my quota of cinematic, storybook moments. This past year was a lot of realising that those cinematic moments are directed. They are not spontaneous. Even our romantic backstory was directed, in some form, by my best friend. Fate, serendipity, chance, what have you, played a minor role, but Magen, a fair bit of alcohol and a lot of paperwork did the heavy lifting.

I have come to the conclusion that it is time to get back to work. I needed a break. My head and body were done. I needed to re-boot. A few things were lost in the re-boot and a few discovered.

Mainly, I discovered the experience of achieving Doctor-hood completely cured me of career ambitions. In some ways it seems a waste. In others, it was a means to an end.

In the course of my studies, I created the opportunity to run away to the circus, climb a web, stand on the back of running horse and, my most desperate childhood desire, ride an elephant as a showgirl under the stars of a big top. My husband had the opportunity to step into the cage and take a gorgeous tiger through its paces. A dream he didn't even know he had until that moment.

These experiences were not a waste. And as unbelievable and effortless as they seemed at the time, they required an incredible amount of work and direction to achieve.

So I am ready to get back to work.

But I have to be honest with myself.

I don't really know how to work anymore, in the conventional sense. I have been a student for so long, I don't really know how to take charge of my own work. I don't know how to direct my energy in a productive manner. I don't know how to stay on task without looming deadlines and snarky comments from advisors. I don't know how to get out of bed at the same time every day, get dressed and get to work.

I don't even know how to look for work. The last time I looked for work outside of academia it was with paper resume and cover letters sent through the mail and follow-up calls. Now it is online sites and forms, recruiters, form rejection emails (or no emails at all) and a lot of acronyms.

Admittedly, the last time I looked for work I lived in Cleveland, OH and Lexington, KY and not one of the biggest cities in the world....

Where am I going with this? How does it all link back to those pesky little wedding photos?

I don't know.

Perspective? Maybe.

Giving yourself a break? No, that can't be it.

I guess it can be about the reality of great moments.

They aren't stage managed, are they? My two greatest moments in life were very quiet and unexpected. Neither occurred on my wedding day (not to worry, one is the moment I knew Pete was for me) and in fact I didn't realise they were great moments until after the fact. And while the moments themselves were not planned there was a lot of planning that went into getting me to that place and time.

The wedding photos remind me that great life moments cannot be stage managed. However, that doesn't mean we stop planning and working. It is the work and planning that bring about the opportunity for great happiness and emotion.

The mundane stuff that happens in-between those moments can be pretty great too.

wedding photos by Genevieve Nisly

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

5K to Couch

I got very 'self-help' about my resolutions and goals this year.

I made a vision board and hung it in my kitchen/office.

But I'm not great at follow-through or being inspired so mostly I just appreciate the look of the thing and continue making that third cup of coffee or breaking off that fourth piece of chocolate.

Take last week for instance.

Friday was a perfect running day. No rain or wind, medium temperature, nothing on the agenda but some cocktails with the girls in the evening.

I knew it was a perfect running day. I had been telling myself all week that I would go for a run on Friday. Then Friday morning came, I slept in. And when I finally got around to the point in my morning where I should have gone for a run. I had a mild, very mild, panic attack and gave in to the lure of the couch duvet and my boxset of Fraggle Rock.

For the next few hours I berated myself about not going out for that run. I convinced myself I had a sore throat and my knee hurt*. I did have a sore throat but it was just dry and my knee had been sore for weeks but it doesn't hurt when I run. I knew I would feel better once I got back.

But I stayed on the couch.

I reminded myself of the weekend before when I was inexplicably mad at the world and a half hour on the treadmill with the Beastie Boys blaring in my ear made everything better.

But I stayed on the couch.

I would like to tell you this story has a happy ending. It doesn't. I never went for the run. Even after a week of despairing about my loss of fitness and the return of cellulite and pounchy knees, I didn't go for the run.

So I didn't go for the run. So what? I hear you say. You go the next day. A battle lost is not the war.

But I don't.

I have these internal battles every day about almost every task I set myself. This is why depression is exhausting.

Of course I have my days where I do get through the list of tasks and it isn't a struggle. I do go for the run and sit down and write and take care of those phone calls and do the dishes and laundry, etc.

Those days are not consecutive and are still behind the 'other' days in the overall tally. Only slightly behind. This is progress. This is what I have to focus on, the progress.

I don't think I am relapsing. I am cutting myself some slack due to the soul-sucking-ness that is the London winter. I think I am out of the worst of it. I have been for awhile. But it's not gone. It may never be completely gone. Days like Friday remind me all to clearly that it can be a slippery slope.

Just like my physical fitness, my mental fitness is something that requires work everyday. Mindful work.

You can't expect to stay fit when you stop running and start eating bigger portions and dessert every night. You can't expect to keep the dark at bay if you don't keep the light burning.

It's the stoking of the fire I find so difficult. I can get excited about a task or a goal. What I find difficult is the extended excitement, attention and effort necessary to maintain or even reach goals.

I'm not telling you this in search of advice. I have my list of strategies and exercises which help me through the hardest bits. I know I have a history of accomplishing tasks that seem monumental, but this doesn't mean much to me when I'm at my darkest.

So when it gets too much, when the littlest goals seem to require effort I just don't care to do, I have to find something I can care to do. Usually it's something simple. Putting on some music and treating myself to a magazine and a hot chocolate in a new location in the house. This little effort doesn't seem like a chore. In fact, it feels like a cheeky reward. But the important part is that it is breaking a pattern, even slightly, and that helps.

Friday, I didn't go for the run. I did, however, eventually get in the shower and even sat down and did some writing. When I headed out to meet the girls, I was feeling better.

Was it the inspiration board? Maybe.

Whatever it was, I count it a success. I didn't go for the run, but I did win a battle with the bigger beast. That is worth adding to the 'productive days' column on the tally board.

*I did head out for a run on Sunday.  Good time, good distance, bad knee.  I hobbled for the next two days.  I guess it wasn't as BS an excuse as I thought.  

Friday, 17 February 2012

On to the show...

I woke this morning with the memory of trudging through high, heavy snow clutching my stick blender to my chest like a bouquet.

A few days ago I was sure piles of crumbly white cheese were waiting for me in the kitchen.

The title of housewife has now attached itself to my unconscious identity.

Or, I'm inordinately fond of my stick blender and crumbly cheese.

Both these statements are true.

If you recall, in my Christmas recap I mentioned I received a lot of domestic gadgets. I have finally used them all and am here to tell the tale of one in particular.

Like any housewife worth her salt*, I lust after a Kitchen Aide standing mixer and its rainbow of attachments. Also like many housewives, I do not have the counterspace for such a gadget. This Christmas, I got the next best thing. A stick blender with numerous attachments. Thus far I have only used it to blend my soups. But it is a treat. (It is no secret that Pete is also excited about this particular gadget. It came with a large whisk attachment which means I now have no excuses to not try and produce a Pavlova for an upcoming birthday.)

Before the sleek little thing that is the stick blender entered our lives, I was constantly pulling down my blender from its perch high on the bookshelf/pantry and risking an avalanche of glassware every time. (I also was enduring random displays of sparks and flying vegetables.) Now I have my zippy stick blender. Name to be determined.

We are now fast friends, however the initial stages of our relationship were rocky. We found each other through the medium of Pete. I admit I was a bit apprehensive about the stick blender the first evening. And like dogs it sensed fear and proceeded to spray the kitchen backsplash with puree carrots and butter bean. Pete took over and muscled the blender and soup into submission. The next time, the damn blender suctioned itself to the bottom of the pot despite my careful and measured angle of usage. Again, a backsplash of pureed vegetables, this time potato and leek. Again, Pete took over.

The third time was charmed. We were familiar with each other. We calmly discussed our issues. The lentils and pepper swirled themselves into a beautiful harvest orange.

Of course the reality of the situation was more about me being in a hurry and a bit miffed about dinner and not having enough free mind space to be concerned about the damn stick blender and just shoving it in the pot and getting the damn soup on the table.

Let's stick to the charmed version of events, shall we?

So now we are fast friends and working together like an athletic team with potential but we all know will choke when it comes to the Big Show--The Pav

*This saying, or at least its meaning, apparently dates way back to when salt was worth more than gold, according to our Moroccan tour guide. He was asleep and/or possibly hung over for the majority of our trip so this could be cmplete BS.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

You wanna be starting something...

I skipped Mission: Declutter this weekend. We were busy being sociable and responsible. We barely got in a few dedicated hours of couch time, let alone make time for clearing out another cubby hole of stuff.

However, the mission recommenced on Wednesday. The temperature reached pre-spring levels and the few rays of sunshine inspired me to open all the windows in the house and get down to a little cleaning and de-cluttering.

I skipped the bedroom. I know it is up next, but I just can't bear the thought of going through all those clothes again. Plus my allergies are acting up and the dust in there is reaching dangerous levels. Best to leave it for another day. (I can just hear my mom flipping through the family dictionary in search of the P-R-O-C-R-A-S section.)

I did, however, dig out the vacuum cleaner and and attack the floors of the flat. This required first dealing with the huge, overflowing IKEA bag living on top of the vacuum. This bag is the result of the last closet clear-out. To make a long, tedious story short, the big bag is now divided into four smaller bags, each labelled with its destination and currently living in the front hall so they can't be ignored for more than a few days.

I must admit I have ulterior motives for the clear-out. Yes, it is needed and yes, it goes a bit of the way toward dealing with my desire for complete overhaul every few years, but I was also hoping I would unearth some inspiration.

I have long believed that objects can tell stories and that some objects are better receptacles of memory than any scrapbook or shoebox or text or even brain cells. We make a point of filling our little home with things from our travels and adventures with the hope of someday having the opportunity to tell the stories of each little item.

Fast-forward, present day. We have loads of items we cannot part with because they have a memory. They have a story. A lot of these items are pieces of clothing. They remind us (me)of a past identity or experience. I have a particular halter-top I have not worn since 2005 but cannot give away because I was wearing it when I met Pete. I have a pair of cargo-pants I never wear but cannot give away because I bought them when I was with the circus. I have a corduroy skirt I haven't worn in years I cannot give away because someone told me I looked professor-chic once.

What do I do with these items? Suck it up and send them on their way? Write their stories here and hope they maintain? No. So much of their power is in the tactile.

I have decided I will re-purpose these items. I will make quilts and pillows and whatever else. Maybe I will get really ambitious and reupholster something. I will hold the story of each piece in my mind as I give it a new life and a new purpose in my life.

Of course this means they will continue to hang around the house and I will add to our already superfluous collection of blankets and pillows. I do love a good duvet and pillow. (Seriously, Pete has a series of photos of me curled under the duvet.)

But the story is no good without an audience to share in its telling. Who's with me? I have a vision of sitting around with good friends and good wine and scraps of clothes, telling stories, creating stories. Swearing up a storm and ripping seams.

Of course this isn't likely to happen in real life, but it could happen virtually. So I ask again, who's with me? Can we create a virtual sewing circle? A stitch 'n' bitch? Heavy on the bitching, light on the stitching until we get a bit better. Can we reclaim a bit of the power and joy of the domestic? (she cries, brandishing the cooking shears in one hand, because they are the best scissors in the house and a pair of ratty jeans in the other, in a kind of domestic, barbaric yawp)


Well, I will be here. Attempting straight seams and cursing my high school guidance counsellor.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Space Matters

A big part of the Mission: Declutter is about making room for Pete.  This is a bit ridiculous of a statement as we moved in here together and everything we own outside of our clothes are joint purchases, but my items seem to be taking over the house.  As an only child (and a woman with a penchant for bags and shoes) I have a tendency to take over any space I inhabit.  The worst cases currently are the coat rack and the closet. 
I have at least four coats for each season.  I think Pete has four coats in total. 
I have over half the closet filled with clothes I never get to wear.  You would think I was the one going off to work every day by the look of that mess.  It’s so full Pete keeps his work shirts hanging down in the shower so they don’t crease.  He has four suits, a hanger of ties and two ‘dress’ shirts in the wardrobe.  Most of which he wears completely over the course of a week. 
Now the ‘evil’ part of me would say with the clothes in such frequent use it’s better that they remain out of the wardrobe and in easy reach.  But I only just thought of that at this moment as I write and it is quite wicked, really (relatively).  The reality is my unworn collection is squeezing him out.  Another opportunity for a metaphor, there.  My wishful thinking smothering reality.  (I really have been in academia too long when I can’t just get on with things without creating a ‘meaningful’ narrative to accompanying the most mundane of activities.  I mean for f**k’s sake, I’m just cleaning the house in preparation for the perpetually-on-its-way-but-never-really-arrives Spring.) 
It isn’t fair to Pete.  I mean he gets up (to an incredibly loud and head-splitting alarm) and goes out to work every weekday morning while I stay in bed for another few minutes and then leisurely start my day.  (Totally off topic, but it appears those extra few minutes everyday have an effect on our bed slats and no matter how you flip the mattress there is a definite depression on my side of the bed.  Hmmm.)
I am working to rectify this situation (the crowded wardrobe and the depressed mattress).  Every few months I weed out enough clothes (or find new places to store them) to allow Pete’s shirts back in the wardrobe without a lot of shoving and relatively crease-free. 
And then I find a dress or skirt or whatever I can’t be without.  
It’s an endless cycle. 
It has to be stopped. 
I mean, he’s not asking for much, is he?  Just the ability to put his clothes away. 
What kind of wife would I be if I deny him this luxury?

Of course, if I do suddenly have to start dressing for work, then all bets are off and we will again tussle for wardrobe space. 

But until that time, I will endeavour to make space for Pete in the wardrobe (and the rest of the house) because, as we geographers like to say, 'Space Matters.'   

Thursday, 9 February 2012

It Continues

You thought I forgot. 
You thought Mission: Declutter went the way of so many proclaimed projects.
Well, I hate to disappoint, but it is going along at pace.  This past four-day weekend (no, it wasn’t a holiday, I just took four days) I finished up the living room and even tackled the front hallway. 
I slowly reclaimed the living room.  Three small boxes of charity bound items are at their designated charities and we have four quality items to sell. 
We also finally freed up some floor space by dismantling the ‘4D’ puzzle of London we have been working at for a month. 

One of the items sent away to the charity shop was my bookbag from University.  I graduated over ten years ago but I still have this bag.  I only went back to it once.  I went back to it during my first round of graduate school.  I was having a bit of a rough time in the program and I thought the bag had a bit of magic.  The years I used it during undergrad were so great I thought I might reclaim a bit of that magic if I reclaimed the bag. 
It didn’t really work. 
But, I kept it around.  I still believed it had a bit of magic.  Or maybe I was just a bit nostalgic for a time when I was a bit more confident and ignorant of the world.  It was a good time.  The good times didn’t translate to the new use.
However, the bag and its related magic have gone a bit dusty and musty.  But I still couldn’t part with it.  This weekend, I decided it was time to let it go.  As I have said so frequently, time is moving along and I am changed by it and it is time to embrace those changes. 

But before I sent the bag out to serve someone else, I removed the butterfly patch.  They could have the bag but the patch would stay with me. 
Suddenly, it was a different bag.  I had no attachment to it.  The magic had left the bag.  I’m sure there is some beautiful statement I could make about the fleeting magic related to the fleeting presence of a butterfly, but I’ll spare you the nausea. 

Next up is the bedroom.  This will take quite awhile.  The wardrobe alone will probably take at least three weekends.  Then there is the dresser, the built-in shelves, night stands, under the bed…For such a simple room we have a lot stashed there. 

I clean as I go which mostly means dusting.  Dust has become the bane of my life and damp dust sucks my will to live. 
We have a lot of damp dust. 

Friday, 3 February 2012

Mish Mash...

…I was taking a bath when Pete popped his head around the door to check on me. 
I wasn’t having a mini-breakdown, I wasn’t ill, I wasn’t upset (all suitable reasons for having a bath).
He was checking that I hadn’t fainted and slipped below the water. 
His concern was well-founded.  I wasn’t drinking but I have low blood pressure and a love of hot baths. 
The two don’t always mix.
I have a history of fainting in the bath.  Or at least when I go to get out of the bath.  On more than one occasion Pete has found me draped over the side of an empty tub passed out. 

This is the reason to get married isn’t it, really?  To have someone find you when you end up sprawled out on the floor.  Either from sickness or a too-hot bath.  Someone to call the ambulance or, at the very least, get you up off the floor in the toilet and into bed.  Someone to ensure you don’t choke on your own vomit after a night of heavy drinking. 

Never mind all that lovey dovey stuff.  Getting married means someone will find the body. 

Another perk of marriage, I find, is having someone to watch your luggage in the airport so you can run to the toilet without having to drag it all with you so as not to sound the ‘left luggage’ alarm. 
This is not a modern aspect of marriage.  I was privy to a preview of the National Maritime Museum’s new Caird library/archive.  One of the items I was privileged to handle was a journal by one Alfred Withers documenting his ‘honeymoon’ journey from Liverpool to Melbourne in 1854. 

The journal was finished in 1857 complete with beautiful hand-drawings.  The journal begins with a description of the ‘immense quantity of luggage, pyramids of boxes, cases and baskets.’

It seems Alfred and his wife Maggie missed the first boarding of the ship and had to wait four hours in the rain for the next boarding.  He includes a sketch of his wife sitting, covered in blankets, with the luggage.  While he ran about trying to figure out what the hell was taking so long, I presume.

On the flip side, the archives also pulled out an item illustrating a potential downside of marriage.  Going under together.  Not just finding the body, but ensuring you don’t go into that dark night alone.
You may have heard of the Costa Concordia and it’s capsizing.  This particular archive item told the story of the 1782 loss of the Royal George in harbour.  The boat was in port receiving repairs and family members of the crew were on board visiting when the ship suddenly capsized and sank.  900 souls were lost, 360 of which were wives and children. 

It is a bit heartless of me to call it a downside, isn’t it.  I’m not making light of the lives lost in the Concordia incident.  Pete and I were discussing the Concordia and its initial evacuation procedure of ‘women and children first’ and the passengers refusal to part ways with family members.  We whole-heartedly agreed.  Of course, we were discussing this while walking to a movie and not on the deck of a sinking cruise ship, but I think the outcome would be the same. 
I do hope we never have to make such a decision outside of the hypothetical.

All joking aside, knowing Pete is looking out for me, in the bath, airport or sinking vessel, is one of the perks of being married.  The fact that Pete repeatedly finds me in ridiculous situations in the bath just makes it all the more fun for him. 

With that, I will wish you a glorious weekend.  This weekend our little corner of London officially becomes a Royal Borough.  The bunting is hung, the street signs replaced and firework displays are scheduled for the next three nights.  A very disciplined and dignified time will be had by all. 

*The images presented here were taken with permission by the National Maritime Museum.  Please do not copy, ‘pin,’ or reproduce.  The Caird Library is the largest Maritime collection in the world and open to the public with a membership.  Anyone can join, just visit the Library website and follow directions to create an aeon account.