status update: Bogotá day one

Update on day one of this adventure: I arrived in Bogotá last night after about a seven hour journey which was one of my more challenging ones, but nothing unmanageable.

I had read about the requirement to show proof of onward travel plans, but in the midst of preparing for the trip I lost track. When I arrived to check in at Copa Airlines, I found out it was not a mere suggestion. They let me through security but would not let me board the plane unless I could show that I have plans to leave Colombia. A quick forum search from the boarding area yielded the perfect solution: I bought a ticket on aircanada.com from Bogotá to Toronto. Air Canada has a 24 hour cancellation policy whereby you get a full refund, you must book from their website. I took my open laptop to the desk and showed the agent my ticket confirmation and was cleared to go. As soon as I landed and connected to wifi, I simply cancelled the ticket. It turns out, waiting until the last minute was the best option because anything bought more than 24 hours ahead would have been difficult to cancel. Note: always read the fine print! I found a $350 refundable ticket on Expedia.ca, but they would have withheld a $200 administrative fee for cancelling it. This wasn’t obvious anywhere in the purchasing process, I had to read the T&C and even then it was confusing wording.

My flight from Toronto to Panama City was excruciating. I was seated next to a very large man who took up about 1/3 of my seat. I felt for him, and didn’t want to make him feel worse than he obviously did. I didn’t want to make a big deal about moving but wish I would have asked the flight attendant for a new seat at the beginning. Instead, I was squeezed against the window for five hours. But I started my book, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and watched the movie Dear Eleanor which I would give a 7/10 (minus three for Jessica Alba’s terrible acting).

My bag was the very last one off the plane and I had doubts it would arrive, but I was surprisingly calm about this. I had all of my essentials with me and would make do until it arrived. I think I squealed when it came out. I found a cash machine and took out enough to cover the taxi and the hostel, figuring I would find a better rate away from the airport. The man in charge of the taxi line quoted me COP 58,000 to get to my destination. I said in very broken Spanish, “No, I will pay COP 25,000.” My hostel had emailed me when I booked the reservation and said not to pay more than 30,000. He sent me to a different line where I got a cab who said he would take me for COP 28,000. I said no again, and he settled for 25,000. The difference of 3,000 is only C $1.35 but that wasn’t the point. I felt extremely proud of myself, and ended up tipping him 5,000.

I dropped my things at the hostel and wandered out for dinner. I’m staying in a busy neighbourhood but was feeling disoriented, it was dark and I didn’t want to pull out my map and look confused. I have a horrible sense of direction so I just counted intersections and only turned right. I sat down at the first quiet place, Estrella Polar, a Russian restaurant. The restaurant was empty so I was skeptical of the food, but it was early and I was tired. It turned out great, I had a vegetable crepe and a couple of local beers and collected my thoughts. I made my way back to the hostel and posted a blog entry, then tried to sneak quietly into bed.

So far today, I have been reflecting and writing. Here is where things stand: I am cold, I am old, I am vulnerable, and I am not sure what to do with myself right now.

I am cold

Bogotá is 16*C and rainy today — my favourite weather! It feels a little colder than 16*C would feel in London or Toronto, the elevation is over 8600 feet which is the highest I’ve ever been. So far, no altitude sickness but I’m taking it easy on the beers and drinking extra water. I could have done a better job of preparing, I mostly packed for hot weather. I have 3 long sleeved shirts and a pair of pants though, plus a light rain jacket and a thin scarf. I did look this up, but I was researching from Toronto where it was over 30*C and felt disgusting. I was so excited to not be sweating that I didn’t think about the fact that I might be shivering. I’m going to venture out this afternoon and enjoy the crisp weather.

I am old

I’m not actually old. I’m only 32. But my body is much older than it was ten years ago when I backpacked in Europe. I am staying at Hostal Sue Candelaria which is about COP36,000 (C$16.20) per night, on the top bunk of a 4 bed dorm. I woke up this morning snap-crackle-popping and having to stifle a groan as I climbed down the ladder.

Over the last several years my travel standards have changed a lot – it has been years since I climbed into a hostel bed. I almost always stay at nice hotels or AirBnB. But that is not the experience I am looking for here, and I could not afford more than a month on that budget. I think I will adjust soon, I need to get stronger and walking and carrying my pack will help.

At breakfast, I listened to the other guests chattering and realized that most of them are in their early twenties, traveling on gap years. I said hello to the guy in my dorm, after a bit of small talk he confided he hasn’t travelled much and then spent about ten minutes asking me for advice on things like SIM cards and public transportation. It gave me quite a confidence boost, realizing I am actually an experienced traveler. I don’t know about SIM cards or public transportation here, by the way, but he was impressed anyway.

I am vulnerable

Many people ask me how I travel alone without getting scared, and I tell them it is easy: it is just like going about your day in another place, people are generally kind and willing to help, and the worst case scenario is rarely all that bad. Last night, I was uneasy, and I wished I was traveling with someone else.

I speak almost no Spanish, just basic words and sentences structure that I learned in high school. I have been practising with the Duolingo App and trying to listen to background conversations I would normally tune out (e.g. safety announcements, radio/tv, other people). I have Google Translate downloaded for offline use, and I have a pocket Spanish dictionary. I want to learn, and plan to find a lesson while I’m here.

In Bogotá (so far), many people speak a little bit of English, but many do not. So far I have gotten by with a lot of repeated words, hand gestures, and carrying a little notebook to write things down. The people are incredibly patient and even if they do speak English, they are happy to help me struggle through Spanish so I can learn. This is all well and good when dealing with hostel staff and restaurants, but it simply won’t do if I find myself in a difficult situation.

I have been getting my bearings and have not been very outgoing so far, but I am going to try to join a tour later so I can make some friends.

I am not sure what to do with myself right now

I woke up this morning around 8am, had a quick shower, and came out for some free breakfast in the common area. Others started to wake up around 9am and I listened to them make plans for the day. Two Kiwi girls decided to get their noses pierced, an English guy signed up for the graffiti tour, and an American hurried his friend to get dressed so they could get out and walk around.

I started to feel rushed, like I needed to get out and about to see the city. I am used to spending 2-3 days in a place, so I feel guilty for wasting a morning. This morning I realized I have no timetable! I can stay here in Bogotá for as long as I wish. I have three nights in this hostel but can easily extend it or move…I could stay here for three months if I want to! I will see the city in my own time and at my own pace, and when I get tired of it I will move on!

It is now after noon and I have not left the common area. But I am going to go out and walk around, I am hungry and eager to see the city in the daylight. Plus, I have to get away from the two American boys helping each other design their Tinder profiles. It has been amusing but I just can’t.

How about this selfie? Do you think my hair looks better than the other one? Dude, when we go out today I want to borrow your sunglasses and have you take it so I don’t just have selfies. You can tell I used a selfie stick in this one, I’m going to try to crop it. Dude, use a filter so you look more tan, you look pale. Should I use an elephant one? It’s a great photo but I think some girls might not like it. I can add the koala one too so it looks like I’m friends with animals, but I also don’t want to look like a douche.

I am cold, I am old, I am vulnerable, and I am not sure what to do with myself right now. I can’t think of anything better, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how I feel right now.

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putting the “pack” in backpacking

I have spent the last two to three weeks packing, unpacking, and packing again; taking out a stack of things and putting a few back in; shopping a bit, returning some things, buying some more. I have borrowed a few items and donated many. I think I am as ready as I can be. I have to be, I am about an hour from Bogota where I will land and spend a few days at a hostel before deciding where to go next. I bought a one way ticket (more on that later), put my things in storage, arranged dog care for Dougie, and wrapped things up at work. I’m not even sure how long this trip will be – I’m thinking about three months but I find myself talking about “if” I come back, not “when”. I will come back, when it’s time.

For the next three-ish months I will live out of a pack that I have to not only zip closed, but also be able to carry. I successfully condensed my life into a 40L pack (carry-on size) which just barely closes if I squeeze everything and wear my bulkiest items. It wasn’t easy. I kept asking myself: what if I need something and I don’t have it? The answer is: buy it, or go without – neither is a big deal. At all.

I researched packing lists online and put one together for myself (female-specific packing lists were most helpful, because duh; and I also found one for three months in South America by a woman). I followed these lists pretty closely, packing a little bit less because I plan to purchase things as I need them. I started packing while in London, and figured I would save a great deal of money by buying things in South America.

I have never done a long trip like this before, so I will have to report back on how well I did. Until then, a bit about my decision making process:

Favourites

Having moved to a new country three times, I know there are certain things I prefer not to live without and that aren’t available everywhere. I packed two extra tubes of my favourite sunscreen (Lise Watier Sun Smart), which is only available in Canada. I’m especially sensitive to the sun, I wear at least 30 SPF daily in Canada, and I know I’ll need even higher SPF in South America. But it’s my favourite.

I have way more over-the-counter medication than I will need for myself (cold medicine, natural sleep aid, pain relievers, hydrocortisone). I know that, as with my favourite sunscreen, the brands I like in each of those categories are not available everywhere. I think it might be overkill, and it will be the first thing to go if I have to make room.

Extras

It was hard for me not to pack at least two of everything. At home, I buy more toilet paper as soon as I open the back-up pack in the closet, and I don’t think I have ever had less than five unopened toothbrushes in my home at a given time. (I am not a hoarder, I am just a sucker for marketing and I like to stock up when things go on sale. Also, my dental hygienist/Mom still gives me toothbrushes for every special occasion.) Ditching the extras became much easier when I tried to lift my bag after the first round of packing. I was Reese Witherspoon in Wild, only not as cute.

I packed an extra rain poncho and an extra flashlight (I brought a headlamp for myself). I figure that those things are quite small/light and when you need one, you really need one. It is also likely that someone else has forgotten theirs, and it’s nice to be able to help out.

I packed an extra (cheap) pair of glasses. I broke my glasses earlier this year and they were quite expensive to replace – the cost is manageable, but it often requires waiting a few weeks for a new pair and I don’t want to slow down my trip to wait for new glasses.

Extras that did not make the cut included an extra bathing suit (see below re: Unrealistic Ambition) and sunscreen brands I’m not particularly attached to. I struggled finding high SPF sunscreen in India, but have asked around and should be able to find it in South America.

IMG_2384

Better Safe than Sorry

When I travelled in India, I was the only one in my group who didn’t get sick and I credit probiotics and having grown up on a farm. My sister and I played after school in the irrigation ditch that ran through cow pastures. Gross, yes. But I’m not as susceptible to E. Coli (knock on wood…no, seriously…I am not trying to tempt fate here, I’m just saying that what works for me might not work for you). Probiotics were insanely expensive: I spent over CAD$100 on enough for three months, but I consider it an investment. They take up a lot of room, but I’d rather be carrying a full pack than staying in my hostel regretting it. The woman at the health store talked me into buying Activated Charcoal, which helps if you have already caught a bug. The bottle says it also helps with hangovers…either that is a lie, or the world’s best kept secret. Honestly, how have I never heard of this before? I’ll report back.

I bought a Life Straw for purifying water. In India, I took water purification tablets with me and did not use them once. But the straw was cheap, light weight, and takes up very little space. It will come in handy if tap water is the only option.

I never leave home without a large bag of bandaids, moleskin, blister pads, and other foot care. Obviously, avoiding blisters is critical.

Unrealistic Ambition

At one point during my trip to REI, I needed a reality check. I was trying on hiking shoes and the salesman explained the features I would need if I were going to be climbing down a really steep cliff. I nodded along, agreeing those were worth a few extra dollars. And then I thought back to last time I was climbing cliffs…never! As much as I enjoy picturing myself a rugged hiker, I am just not. I want to be, and I might be at the end of this trip, but I need to be realistic. I’m not saying I didn’t buy the hiking shoes, I’m just saying they probably won’t see as much action as they were designed for.

In my mind, three months from now I will be like Katniss: a bad ass, mountain scaling, tanned and toned, cliff diving, body surfing, nature loving goddess. I will go to the beach and braid my hair.

In reality, I am pale A.F. and so sensitive to sun that I can’t go to the beach before 5pm. I’m afraid of the water. In the last decade, I have not taken more than two weeks’ break from my desk job. If I come back from this trip able to walk without limping and without a peeling sunburn, it will be a success. Maybe a little less Katniss, and a little more of a cross between Peggy Olson and Rose from Titanic.

bigpack

Game Changer

Use packing cubes! I picked up a few from Muji because they are cheaper than the Eagle Creek ones. But I already regret it, the zippers are weak, the size of the Muji ones is off for women’s clothing (too big, and things flop around), and I will likely have to replace them soon. I do have one Eagle Creek one, and it is far superior. Whichever ones you get, packing cubes are great when you’re sharing space (such as in a hostel): your stuff isn’t spread all over the place, you can quickly find what you need in the dark, and it is easy to re-pack when it is time to go.

I always travel with a journal, but this time I’m carrying two. One for documenting my trip, and a small notebook to scribble notes, recommendations for places to visit, and most importantly: to communicate. My Spanish is minimal, so jotting down the address of my hostel, being able to write out words I’m pronouncing wrong, or draw a map for directions will be helpful. Plus, it will end up full of great memories by the end of the trip.

Clothes

Clothes ended up being the easiest thing to pack and downsize. I already dress comfortably and practically, but usually in cotton. Since cotton doesn’t dry quickly, I had to do some shopping. I invested in a great pair of pants from REI that are designed for hiking/outdoor activities (quick dry material, zipper pockets, stretchy) and I have been wearing them for weeks. They are black so I look a little bit less like a tourist than with the khaki convertible ones. I bought shorts from MEC in a similar fabric, which I left behind this morning after wearing them for about an hour yesterday. I bought them a week ago because I wanted a longer inseam in order to avoid Chub Rub* but hadn’t worn them outside the fitting room. I wish I had, so I could have had time to return them; instead, I sent them to the donation bin. They were poor quality fabric that was scratchy, and the shorts rode up.

* Most women I know are painfully familiar with Chub Rub (a.k.a. thigh chafing). I swear by talc powder – I have tried deodorant and the glide sticks that runners use, but talc not only works but feels good. The thing is, sunscreen cancels out the talc and since I can’t forego the former, the only logical option is longer shorts/skirts/dresses.

I bought 4 pairs of merino wool socks, mostly Smart Wool brand but also some Darn Tough which the salesman recommended. I packed 9 pairs of the underwear I already wear daily (Hanky Panky, the world’s most comfortable thong and it is in quick drying lace). Shoes include hiking boots (just in case I climb a mountain), some Ecco walking sandals that are ugly but comfortable, the world’s most comfortable sandals – Sanuk, made from yoga mats – and some ballet flats. I don’t really need the ballet flats and debated leaving them, but threw them in at the last minute. My Papa and I had an ongoing joke about the number of shoes I travel with and I thought it would have made him smile; I will think of him when I wear them.

Shirts were easy – mostly yoga tops I already owned but a couple of cheap tank tops from H&M. I did bring some cotton shirts anyway – nothing feels better on a sunburn and I have enough that if one doesn’t dry it isn’t a big deal. I had originally included a long tie dye skirt but took it out. It took up too much room and fit into the Unrealistic category. I have owned it for over two years and worn it less than five times. If I want to be a hippie chick I’ll stick to harem pants (see: Chub Rub). I brought one bathing suit, two sports bras and one regular bra. Finally, I brought a 3-in-1 North Face jacket. The outer shell is waterproof, the inner lining is warm, and you can zip them together to make a proper winter coat.

 

on the eve of a big decision

I rushed around the house this morning, packing at the last minute, trying not to forget anything I needed for my trip to Toronto, trying to get to the airport on time, trying to calm down about, well, everything. In my haste, I dropped a stack of papers. They all landed perfectly in order, except one. My photo of me and Don Bowling slid across the floor. I picked it up and paused for a minute to think about Don.don

Eight hours from now I’ll be making a big decision about what’s next in my life. I’m honestly not sure yet what the outcome will be, so you’ll have to wait for the details.

I sat down for a second and thought about what Don, my “adopted grandfather” (his words, my delight) would have told me to do. I remembered his stories, his many different paths, major changes, setbacks and adventures.

I thought he must be somewhere out there, finding a way to encourage me…telling me that I just have to remember to write, and to not let anything get in my way or distract me. I lost track of him over the years – we exchanged letters, Christmas and birthday cards for a couple of years but eventually they stopped. As soon as I got a moment to myself today, I looked him up. I learned that he passed away two months ago. April 11, 2016 was 7 years to the day after I sat with him on the square in Florence discussing life, love, and writing.

After I reluctantly left him in Florence, I bought a journal and started scribbling furiously. I vowed to adjust my attitude, take some action, and change my situation. It wasn’t in as dramatic a fashion I had pictured that day on the train, but I did change my situation. That spark of passion led me to Toronto, where my life did indeed get better.

Today I am back in Toronto, which feels like Home. Getting here was pretty special too.

I was settled into my seat, journal in hand, ready for the seven-hour flight to Toronto. I had a premium seat and the one next to me was empty, always nice. After everyone was settled and the flight attendants were closing bins and checking seatbelts, a little old lady made her way to the seat next to me, clearly flustered.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I’m very upset. They forgot me and I almost missed my flight.” The gate agents were supposed to bring her in a wheelchair but lost track of her because there were about 5 others on the flight. Her hands shook so much she couldn’t zip her purse so I gently took it from her, zipped it and placed it under the seat. I poured her some water and asked if she feels better now that she’s sitting down. She did. I got out a ginger cookie and saw her eyeing it. She asked where I got it, I gave it to her and she inhaled it. She asked if she could keep the other one for later.

She told me about her home renovation, paint colours, floor choices, her daughter that she likes and the daughter that she…well…doesn’t. I dug her headphones out of her purse and untangled them. I read her nine different movie descriptions and helped her choose one about a dress maker, then reset the system each time she accidentally pushed stop instead of the volume. She thinks marriage is overrated, and she loves Italy. I pulled her coat off for her, then put it back on. I helped her open the individually wrapped pieces of our meal, read the customs form to her, and learned about her grandsons who don’t visit and don’t even like surfing.

I had been reviewing my notes for tomorrow, rehearsing what I’m going to say. She said,
“You don’t need notes honey. You don’t need to explain anything. All you need to say is that you’ve decided what you want to do and you’re going to do it.” I laughed because it really is that simple.

She asked me earnestly, “what if they forget me again?” I told her it doesn’t matter because I can drive a wheelchair. I said I wouldn’t leave her until we saw her daughter, and she grabbed my hand and held on.

The gate agent didn’t forget her this time. He kept telling me he’d take her from here – confused as to why I wasn’t leaving. As promised, I stayed with her until we met her daughter to whom she said, “this is my friend Lauren. She stayed with me the whole time.”

Don and Noreen came into my life during times of uncertainty and fear. They gave me a few hours of their time, and some sweet and simple words of advice that left me feeling energised and confident about what to do next.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do next. But it occurs to me that if I can learn to be as open and receptive when I’m feeling strong, as I am when I’m feeling scared, it could be anything.

on making lists

listmaking

I like to write lists.

I like to write lists and then re-write them and then separate them and combine them and put some on sticky notes and others in notebooks. It’s not about remembering what I need to do. When I need to remember something, I write it on my hand.

On sticky notes I write the things that I need to carry with me, thoughts that require focus and energy today, things I want to resolve before the sticky side gets fuzzy. Sometimes I have multiple lists : groceries, to do, work tasks, ideas for gifts, books to read. I stick them all to my smart phone (yes, I know there’s an app for that). When I leave the house I decide which ones stay on my desk and which ones get to go with me: which thoughts I am going carry out into the world with me and which ones I need to leave behind.

I buy most of my books for Kindle, so there’s no need to carry my “books to read” list. But it reminds me I should make some time for myself. I enjoy thinking about what might bring someone a smile, and carrying around a list of upcoming birthdays and celebrations brings me a smile.

I procrastinate by making lists. Instead of just tackling an item on the list I might re-write it in a different order – strategizing about the best way to go about my day rather than just going for it. I can’t stand it when one list is written in two different colours of pen. I can’t stand it when lists are written in pencil. Some people would call this OCD, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is real for some people so we shouldn’t make light of it.

I write lists in bound notebooks when they require longer term attention, some are ongoing and won’t ever reach “completed” status…they’ll just eventually not make it onto the next revision. I can’t bring myself to cross something off that isn’t done, to simply decide it doesn’t get to be on the list anymore. After all, it was there for a reason. Maybe I write another list called “things I might do someday, if I have time.”

My long list of things I must do is tormenting me right now. It has been for the past couple of months as I try to balance my move to London, changes in my role at work, and constant business travel. Right now I’m in Sweden but my head is in London and my heart is split between Toronto and California.

So today I put “write a blog post” on my list. And I’ll get to cross that one thing off and maybe I’ll get some sleep. Maybe I’ll put that list aside and focus on the lists I like to carry around with me.

Books to Read

  • The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • Missoula by Jon Krakauer
  • Fast Girl by Suzy Favor Hamilton
  • Something by Oscar Wilde

Gift Ideas

  • A true story about military history that even my stepfather hasn’t heard of
  • “Welcome to the world” gifts for twins that will make their parents say, “of course that’s from their crazy aunt L”
  • Something my mother doesn’t even know she needs for travelling, but won’t be able to live without
  • Something my sister will love so much that she’ll try to make a DIY version for all of her friends

the girl with the ferret tattoo…a stream of consciousness from Toulouse

Toulouse reminds me of Brussels. It doesn’t feel like the France I know (but I don’t know much about France, really). Sitting by the Garonne as the sun set over the lesser known Pont Neuf, it felt more like Florence, actually.

I literally felt myself slow down today. I’ve been so wired lately, so stressed. My mind is elsewhere, and if I were being honest with myself I’d admit I’d rather be at home in Toronto taking care of the million things I need to do before I move to London.


dougswimmingI miss my dog.

The expense and trouble to take him with me to London are outrageous, but last weekend when he was away at summer camp (the dog-sitter’s cottage, I tell him it’s summer camp so he doesn’t think I’m leaving him behind when I travel) I was reminded that my life is so much better with him in it that it’s worth the trouble.


A man tried to talk to me while I sat on a terrace on the Capitol square, eating Ibérico ham and drinking Rosé. I think he was either offering me a joint or asking for food or both, but I don’t speak French and he wore too much cologne. I said no.

Recently a friend told me I am “stoic” and when I asked her if she meant “cold” she didn’t say no. She said “stoic sounds nicer.” Fair enough. This guy wasn’t someone I’d be the opposite of stoic with, but even if he was I’d probably have reacted the same way.


There’s a girl at the next table with a backpack and a book. She’s probably 24 and she smiles at me when I tell the man to go away. We smile at one another when an American couple gets into a loud argument at a nearby table. Briefly, I consider talking to her. But I don’t know if she speaks English (her book is in French but she seems to understand the conversation going on beside her – the American couple, fighting over something he said yesterday). I feel like she wants to have a conversation.

I don’t talk to her because I don’t have anything to say that will inspire her. I won’t be her Don Bowling. What could I say? Follow my advice and in 6-10 years you’ll have changed completely. You’ll be stoic and cities will start to blend together and you’ll listen to the inner voice telling you that you can wait until next year to have that adventure.

Would my 24 year old self be happy with my almost-31 year old self?

24to31


London is a city of neighbourhoods, like Toronto, like San Francisco. Unlike Amsterdam, Brussels, and Toulouse… they have a centre and build out from it. If my life were a city, it would be a city of neighbourhoods.

I’m moving to London one year to the day after I moved out of the home I owned with Mr. Butterflies and we became officially Separated. He’s taking me to the airport.

I was recently criticized for breaking up wrong. Apparently, it is confusing that we love each other but decided not to be together. This person didn’t think I should expect support in coping with my divorce, if I wasn’t even acting divorced. I don’t care. The compassion we have and continue to show for one another is something I’m proud of.


Who are these women in their high heels and cute dresses? It’s 38*C outside. Why do I feel like the only sweaty tourist sticking to her chair and worrying about whether my t-shirt will show boob sweat?

I tried on some dresses today, but felt out of place. I think my uniform of jeans and a cotton top with comfy shoes will need an upgrade if I’m going to walk on the same sidewalks as Kate Middleton.


saufSauf is not the name of the street I’m on.

This reminds me of the time Mom and I got lost in Brussels because we stayed on Rue street for miles.

How is it possible I have such a poor sense of direction? I wonder if I like wandering around and getting lost because it’s really my only option.


I saw a girl with a ferret tattoo. I think it was a ferret, anyway. I’ve only seen two ferrets, and that’s counting the one on Kindergarten Cop (it’s not a tooo-mah).

I like her maybe-a-ferret tattoo because I’m still thinking about it. It’s intriguing. I like my lace tattoo but it’s not that intriguing.

tyson-dog-tattooWhen I got my tattoo, I felt like so uncool next to the shop full of people who don’t give a fuck what you think about their knuckle tattoos and face tattoos, naked ladies and Koi fish and sugar skulls.My tattoo artist and another artist were chatting over the buzz of the tattoo guns. The other artist said that a guy came in wanting his dog’s face tattooed. She said, “I said okay but I need a photo’ and he said he didn’t have one so I said ‘okay then it will have to be pretty generic for the breed.” And then I asked, “how do you tattoo a dog’s face? Is that even legal?” and I wasn’t trying to be funny and no one laughed. Ooooh, I get it now. So uncool.

it’s what i do

A couple of years ago, I was spending a weekend with my grandparents in a Sacramento suburb. It was a particularly eventful weekend, as a local woman had disappeared from the grocery store parking lot down the street from their retirement village. She had just run out for a few errands then her car was found abandoned and her purse was missing. Her husband of 30+ years was on TV praying for her safe return and explaining there was no way she just took off, she’d never do that, it’s just not in her nature. The community organized search parties, volunteers combed the open fields nearby trying to hold onto hope that she’d be found alive and well. 

During a commercial break I asked my Grandma and aunt a question I already knew the answer to: “if you guys found my car abandoned in a parking lot and my purse missing, what would you think?” Grandma smiled and said she wouldn’t worry, my aunt said she’d probably wonder where the next postcard was coming from. Papa chimed in, “I’d check to see if you took all your shoes with you. If you were going to leave, I think you’d take your shoes.” 

No one would assume the worst. No one would go on TV and say the circumstances were suspicious. Not because they don’t love me or worry about me – they do – but they know me. I’ve never disappeared without telling anyone but can’t say I haven’t thought about it many, many times. Plus, it just seems like something I would do – if you know me. In the decade after leaving my childhood home I lived in 4 cities in 3 countries – averaging 2 years in each until coming to Toronto where I’ve been for about 5.5 years – my record.

I’ve been called adventurous, unreliable, brave, a flight risk. Some people say they’re jealous that I’ve lived in such great cities, but I’ll never forget the person who told me she felt sorry for me because I don’t have roots. In the past 5 months I’ve come to accept that she was probably right – I don’t really have a home. I have people all over the world whom I love and who love me, countless places I know I could go if I needed a place to go. But I’ve also come to accept that I don’t like staying in one place, I like to keep moving, it’s what I do. I take what is important with me and leave the rest behind. I maintain my friendships and preserve my favourite memories and move on to the next blank slate.

Five months ago I wrote about my most recent struggle with what to do next, and my decision to stay in Toronto: 

“I didn’t know if I should stay or go, I just wanted to be somewhere I could feel whole – somewhere I could silence the nagging feeling that my life is missing something. Sometimes traveling drowns out that feeling, other times it is yoga. Often I escape it when I’m laughing with my best friend, other times when I’m taking a bath and listening to Norah Jones…I’ve decided to stay here in Toronto, and to continue on the healing journey I started almost a decade ago…That nagging feeling is silenced for now, I know what I need to do and where I need to be.”

I think that was a nice thing to write on New Year’s Eve – a night notorious for making resolutions you don’t keep (I’m also still not in shape, nor have I finished my knitting project. And by not finished I mean not started). It was certainly true, at that moment and for some moments after that.

I think you see where I’m going with this…

I’m moving to London, England at the end of the summer. It is something to look forward to and something to feel hopeful about. I know what to expect: I know it will be difficult sometimes and lonely often and that I should make the most of it because someday this time in my life will be over and I’ll miss it. I’ve always loved London. I like the gloomy weather and the city’s energy and that I’ll be traveling around Europe again. It’s an amazing opportunity for my career and for our company’s growth. I’ll be back in Toronto often so I’ll have the best of both worlds.

I’m not overcome with excitement, nor am I nervous. I’m happy to be moving there but more than anything I’m feeling calm. This feels right – I don’t know if it is right but I know it will all work out however it is supposed to, and I’ve come to accept that this is just what I do. 

my gramma

I love books. I love reading and l love talking about books. Someday, I want to write a book. I love gifting books I know my loved ones will love… and then calling said loved ones to talk about said books. I like the stories, but I love the words. I underline my favourite passages and pause and think about why the writer chose those words. My heroes are the men and women who use words to paint pictures that don’t leave you any choice but to feel the way they felt when they wrote them.

I record inspirational passages in the journal Mr. Butterflies gave me for my birthday 5 years ago: gifted specifically to let me know that he knows how much I love words. I wonder if the author wrote the passage first and the story around it, or if the prose just came naturally. Did they edit several times to make it seem more poetic or did the sentences form themselves on the fly?

It happens in real life too. In the middle of conversations, I sometimes tune out for a moment and think about why a person chose the words they did. My first memory of this was with my Gramma. Gramma almost never referred to herself in the first person when she talked to me. I noticed, but I never understood why, until I did.

Come sit over here with Gramma.

My Gramma had Her Spot on the couch. There were many couches over the years – the most memorable was her teal and purple sectional with a digital print (it was the 90s, obviously) – it had recliners on the ends and a cupboard in the corner piece. My sister and I stored our prized possessions there: a knock-off “Disney” colouring book, car bingo games, a dollar bill we folded and unfolded into origami elephants and swans and flowers, and most importantly, our Pogs and Slammers.

Her Spot was square in front of the TV: arm’s reach from the phone she used to place orders from QVC. She occasionally looked up from her murder mystery to see if we wanted a hot chocolate or some pasta. Our answer depended on how long it was until dinner – we knew we had to save room for Pillsbury biscuits. We giggled hysterically when the tube popped – it scared us every time. If we could convince her to open a second pack we had to promise to eat them all. She knew a top secret recipe that made her biscuits the best in the whole wide world (it was butter).

When I was a teenager, my life was upside-down. Nothing was okay, everything was fucked up and it seemed like no one understood. She’d invite me to lie down on the couch with my head on her lap. We’d watch the shopping channel and she’d comb my hair back from my face. Absentmindedly and rhythmically, her nails softly scratched a trail from the corner of my eye, along my hairline and behind my ear, down to my shoulder. She’d tell me stories about when I was a little girl, when I lived with her while my parents worked. She’d say “this is how Gramma got you to fall asleep when you was a little girl. You was the sweetest little girl…”

Don’t you dare bring that shit into Gramma’s house on Thanksgiving.

When I was 21 I moved to San Francisco. I loved my new life as a ‘career woman’ – thriving in the big city, being all fancy and stuff. I was jet setting and getting pedicures and all sorts of other extravagant things. I left my fucked up life behind for a fresh start and, for a little while, never looked back. Until I looked back. I found myself lonely and lost, and promptly hopped in the car and drove the 7 hours to Gramma’s house. It was Thanksgiving – my compatriots know but for those who don’t: Thanksgiving is the ultimate American holiday. It’s a bigger deal than all the other holidays combined.

It was Thanksgiving and I was a newly minted grown up and so it seemed time to ‘help’ with the preparations. I couldn’t cook (even if I could have, I wouldn’t have wanted to compete with my uncle’s deep fried turkey). I decided that my contribution to Thanksgiving Dinner would be my mom’s signature: “Orange Stuff”.

Orange Stuff is a Ritz Cracker crust with a Cool Whip/Condensed Milk centre and canned mandarin orange slices. I went grocery shopping, prepared the dessert, washed the dishes, and sat down feeling like an adult. An impeccable dinner was served and I looked around, counting my blessings for being part of such an amazing family. It was time for dessert and I was so proud to pull my dessert out of the fridge and serve it to relatives eagerly awaiting Kathy’s Famous Orange Stuff. The family took turns politely complimenting me, I acknowledged their praise and agreed it was pretty good.

Gramma interrupted my moment, shouting across the table, “what is this?” She clarified “this tastes like diet!” and shot an accusatory look my way. I tried to explain but she interjected: “this ain’t Orange Stuff! What’s this fat free shit?” There was no arguing with her, only apologizing…and of course, laughter. I’ve made Mom’s Orange Stuff twice since and I’ll never again dream of using that fat free shit. I never forget the tenderness in her glance, a softness that she didn’t even try to hide as she “scolded” me.

Gramma loves you so much.

A couple of years ago, I introduced my (then) husband to my Gramma. I was equally proud of each of them, and eager for them to meet one another. They were two of the most important people in my life and they both loved each other immediately (I knew they would). While my Grampa and husband sat inside, I stole a moment with Gramma on the porch. She said, “Gramma loves you so much and is so happy you’re happy.”

 

Since I was too little to remember, my Gramma always referred to herself in the third person. This isn’t the first time I’ve pondered, not even the first time I’ve written about it. It’s the first time I’ve shared because there are many people thinking of her right now, and who she was to them.

My Gramma never talked to me as the woman she was – a woman who had overcome so much, a woman who always put others first, a woman who approached every one of life’s ups and downs with grace and strength. As far as we were concerned, she was just my Gramma. Since long before I came along, she lived her life for everyone else. She was someone’s Gramma, someone’s Momma, someone’s wife and someone’s friend. She talked about herself in the third person – she chose those words – because they reflected how she saw herself and how we all saw her.

how I see it from where I sit