Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

The Great Re-Set: Part 2 – A brand new job in a brand new city…

Moving to Ottawa wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me. It was definitely no Montreal (downtown Ottawa practically becomes a ghost town after 5:00 pm) and as for being a national capital, it felt more like a small town masquerading as a big city. But my initial reasons for moving to Ottawa were more strategic than the job for which I was recruited: I was conveniently located between Montreal and Toronto, where friends and family resided and where some of the most innovative medical/health research in Canada takes place…

I was also on a high from having just returned from one of the best trips I’d ever done to this point: a weeklong visit with my little sister who was living in Calgary at the time. It was my first visit to Calgary, and we ended up doing this fabulous road trip through Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. I was just in awe of the Rockie Mountains, glaciers, pristine emerald lakes, and lush forests. This was the type of scenery of my imagination — what I had always idealized as distinctly Canadian. On a par with the Canadian Shield. Both landscapes immortalized by members of the Group of Seven.

[Photo taken near Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, October 2008.]

Speaking of the Group of Seven, if you’re a fan — particularly of Tom Thomson — you must see the Canadian film, West Wind – The Vision of Tom Thomson. I saw it a couple of weeks ago and loved it. I found it particularly (and unexpectedly) moving seeing and hearing about Thomson’s singular focus, his passion — his creative calling or vocation — to paint (in this case, nature in all its colorful, seasonal splendor in Algonquin Park). There are even some previously unseen paintings on display. Lots of great commentary by various curators and experts in art history, too. (I first fell in love with the Group of Seven at the 2003 exhibit held at the National Gallery of Canada. After that, I just couldn’t understand why my grade 12 art teacher always used to diss these guys’ works… What resonates as great art can be so subjective, I guess.) Another more contemporary Canadian landscape artist, whose works could be thought of as a modern take on the Group of Seven style (as seen through stained glass), is Tim Packer (a former cop turned full-time artist, which is a pretty cool and interesting career change). I tried to pick up a small, limited edition framed giclée print downtown last month, but I missed out 😦  — I’m sure because of a story that ran in the Ottawa Citizen promoting an upcoming exhibition of his work.

Getting back to my move to Ottawa…

I had to initially live in a downtown hotel for about a month and a half, which sounds posh, but it wasn’t really. (It wasn’t that kind of hotel.) It may be hard to believe, but hotel living can actually get pretty frustrating and tiresome after a while. It’s not really your home; you’re just squatting there temporarily. Finding an apartment in Ottawa was tough, though, especially in late fall. The housing/rental market was and continues to be very tight, and I refuse to live in a condo box. I need my space and connection with the outdoors — just not in suburbia. Eventually, I found a first-floor flat in a triplex in a vibrant, eclectic, urban neighborhood close to the canal and to the downtown. I moved in to my new digs on a snowy day in December, which would herald the start of the coldest winter I can ever remember experiencing — and I generally like winter with all its snow and cold (just not regular temps of -30 C!?)… I had seriously thought I’d been dropped off in Nunavut, not Ottawa. Ottawa is apparently one of the world’s coldest national capitals. I suspect that infamous distinction could be changing, however, with the milder winters of late along with the sizzling summers we regularly get. Ottawa is definitely a city of extremes, including of extreme athletes…

[Picture of typical architectural style of many triplexes in my neighborhood with wild, often overgrown gardens, Summer 2009]

So my new job… Let’s just say it was an adjustment, having never worked in government and not being a willing conformist by nature. I also had to learn Bureaucratese, a language with which I was previously unfamiliar. (Check out this playful video for a sample of the third most common language spoken in Ottawa: http://www.youtube.com/embed/OtLL7pLM-yE) I wouldn’t say I’m fluent or a regular speaker of the lingo now, but I have developed conversational proficiency (out of need).

The work I do is far from a perfect fit, but I wouldn’t have necessarily known that going in. I’ve learned that, like my entrepreneurial dad, I don’t like to be told what to do and how to do it. Nor do I like a lot of rules or meetings for rules’ or meetings’ sake. Or hierarchy. I was also somewhat surprised to find out that I don’t love technical writing or sifting through ginormous amounts of data either… And, I’ve discovered, I actually prefer not to multi-task, at least on things that require a lot of thinking; it just takes too long to refocus when you’re constantly interrupted and having to shift gears…

So, I guess as much as I enjoyed working in a hospital emergency department in a previous job a few months before, I probably wouldn’t have made the best ER doc, had I pursued a career in Medicine. I don’t have high idea productivity (I have quality but not quantity) and I like to stay focused on the task at hand (where the ER can be Grand Central Station) — unless it’s mindless stuff and then I can develop situational ADHD. I can’t picture things in 3-D very well (definitely a problem for performing invasive procedures), and my biggest shortcoming, arguably making someone like me incompatible with ER medicine, aside from my strong aversion to the smell of vomit — I am the most unmechanical person you’ll ever meet. IKEA furniture assembly — except for maybe the most uncomplicated of tables — all but stymie me. I’ve screwed up the simple installation of a Brita filter on my kitchen tap. I’ve even destroyed some sections of wall trying to hang up framed pictures without first trying to locate the stud (that’s of the non-human variety). A couple of days ago, my toilet stopped working. I thought, ‘oh maybe I can just find a good Youtube video to guide me on how to fix it’, but me playing plumber would be akin to an SNL Bad Idea Jeans commercial!? (Fortunately, good sense prevailed and I called an expert instead.)

All this tangential prose to make the point, rather emphatically: don’t count on me to be able to figure out how to do a bronchoscope insertion without severing vocal chords or anything else that gets in the way… But, could I ever give a master class on parallel-parking! 🙂 (Stall-parking? Maybe not. I know, I don’t get it either…)

[Picture of Bank Street Bridge – familiar landmark to the running community of Ottawa, Summer 2009]

Aside from the work in Ottawa not panning out as I had hoped (despite some internal lateral movement – can you say, bureaucratese-speak?), I’m persisting with it for now while I figure out my next move. (I know, slippery slope to a relapse of inertia. Duly noted.) On the personal side — and to compensate for the professional side — I did hook up with an amazing, hard-core, mixed running group. The people were wonderful, and it was such a nice change to run in the company of fast, fun, fit athletes and to enjoy some variation in my work-outs. I would run with the group twice a week and by myself two more times during the week, including running the equivalent of a half-marathon (~ 21-k) every Sunday. OK, admittedly, running a half-marathon distance every weekend was an insane ritual on my part, and I would eventually pay for that excessive mileage (without benefit of cross-training) that I’d been stubbornly logging for 5 years. It certainly was not a part of the group’s approach to training and the coach had actually repeatedly warned me that I needed to periodize my training or risk an injury sidelining me. (He was right, of course.)

In the meantime, working as a square policy peg in a round hole + intensive training (running) was my initial dance rhythm in this new city of Ottawa back in 2008-2009, but this relative comfort and routine would soon be upended again by a life event so profound as to make me question or re-evaluate almost every aspect of my life. The construct of existentialism, and my own life’s purpose. I would never again view life the same way after this event…

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More cartoons from the artistic time capsule…

Here are a few more oldie but goodie health-related cartoons from the artistic vault… (I was doing everything from sketch to colorization at this point since I had learned how to do some basic stuff in PhotoShop and Illustrator.)

The 2004 cartoon below tries to illustrate the frustrations from a patient’s perspective of getting to a clinic appointment in a big city. Often, the buses are packed with people, and if the weather’s bad, these buses can be late arriving and be even more crowded than normal. Sometimes, they don’t even show up at all. Not a pleasant experience when someone is elderly or unwell, trying to get in to see their doctor or health professional…

These next two cartoons (from 2006) showcase my attempts at creating some birthday cards that our clinical team could potentially give out to patients in our clinic. I think I only ended up using the one of the artist at her easel (kind of a self-portrait, I’m told) once to wish a friend Happy Birthday, however… The other ‘group’ illustration (immediately below) was meant to be a ‘from all of us’ type of birthday card with the whole clinical team represented — and some patients mixed in — wishing one a Happy Birthday… This ended up on the cutting room floor, too. (I had lots of ideas back in those days for patient education tools and other fun things to give out, but understandably not all ideas fly, especially when there are significant dollars or time involved. Oh well, it was still fun pursuing these different ideas.)

This last cartoon (from 2002) was inspired by a clinical trial in diabetes in which I was a study coordinator. During the trial, patients had to get periodic ECGs done to monitor their heart health and screen for any rhythm disturbances. I can remember having to stick electrodes (which were really sticky!) on some pretty hairy, obese men. Sometimes, the electrodes just wouldn’t stick at all, though, so I was faced with having to shave some of their precious chest hair off. I felt so bad having to do this. (I don’t think they minded, however.) I was also a newbie coordinator, so I wasn’t exactly practised in the fine art of esthetics & barbering…

Opening up an artistic time capsule…

Last night, I was putting the final touches on an educational presentation I had to give today on the topic of diabetes and heart disease, and I stumbled upon an old memory stick. I thought, brilliant, I’ll just use this to save and transport my work. So, I open it up to see what was on it, and presto, all these old files from the early 2000s appear with some artwork and educational stuff I had done 10 years ago!? What a blast from the past! Amazing how you can instantly be transported back in time by an image… All of a sudden, I was magically whisked back to those heady days of my first clinical-research-education job in a vibrant city with really great friends. For a moment, I felt so young and idealistic again!.. 🙂 (I’d still consider myself an idealist today – albeit with a bit more street smarts and skepticism. As for young, well, I guess I’d still be considered relatively young, except that I’ve always felt like an old soul, even 10 years ago… But I digress…)

Anyway, here is a sample of some illustrations I had drawn back then with my favourite drawing implement – the black Sharpie marker. Since I didn’t know how to use PhotoShop or Illustrator at the time, I just did the sketches and an artist from a really cool, local graphics art firm did the colorizing. The images were used to support the narrative in a couple of diabetes education booklets that I had collaborated on back in 2002 with an endocrinologist that we ended up publishing (in very limited release). This was definitely one of the most fun art projects I ever did, which I totally would’ve done for free. I remember actually feeling guilty getting paid for work that didn’t feel like work… Ahhh, if only all jobs could feel like that… 😉

Dating Don’ts: Professing one’s love via mail-order brownies

I am terrible at dating. Seriously.

Let me be perfectly honest: I am not the most prolific dater, but the dates I have been on have been mostly disastrous and/or really awkward. Especially the on-line meet-ups and blind-date fix-ups. For whatever reason, they never seem to work out for me.

One of my more memorable, one-hit-wonder dating episodes included being fixed up by a well-meaning friend with her ex-boyfriend (I know, that should’ve been an automatic red flag – let’s call it mistake # 1), who was not fluent in English and who was a lab scientist.

Mistake # 2 was carrying on a prolonged e-courtship before even meeting in-person. This is how you get into trouble creating expectations or an idealized version of this person based on all your hopes and dreams for your Mr./Ms. Right, which are probably innumerated on that list (either written or in your head) that you deny you have about all the attributes your perfect partner must possess or radiate… (I think, more than anything, I was hesitant about going on a date with this guy and e-mail was a stalling tactic and not part of some larger stated strategy of honing my French writing skills and perhaps impressing this guy in the process.) Eventually, I bit the bullet and we ended up going out on a date to a great little neighborhood seafood bistro (my recommendation) in a hip, very French part of town. I had been to this place a few times before and knew the service was impeccable, the ambience charming, and the owner-chef sympathique. The place was packed that night and had a great vibe. The food, as usual, was fantastic. Ahhh, but the chemistry between my date and me was anything but sizzling. (I remember feeling so uncomfortable by the permanent blush on his face as he attempted to speak to me in broken English.) I had bought a new outfit for the occasion – a turquoise INC sweater with matching floral appliqué, skinny, dark boot cut jeans and high-heeled black ankle boots; by comparison, he had worn something perfectly suited to a casting call for the Big Bang Theory. When the meal ended and the bill arrived, the waiter placed it at my date’s side of the table. My date looked over at me and innocently observed how interesting it was that the waiter would be so quick to assume that the man would be paying the bill. (Mistake # 3 – going out with someone with poor social graces and possibly a cheap streak.) I was not impressed, as he had been the one who had asked me out. (Ergo, he should pay, non?) Rather than get into a heated debate about gender roles and expectations, however, I exercised diplomacy (an unfortunately infrequent inclination on my part) and suggested we split the bill. We did, and then we made our way out to our respective vehicles. The whole time I was praying he wouldn’t try to kiss me, and turned up my reserve a few notches as a means of discouraging any such potential encounter. (I also had extra height in my favour, as I was already taller than him, and with the help of the heels, rather out of easy reach.) After lingering for a few awkward moments, we… shook hands (I know, brutal – mea culpa, it was a very Temperance Bones move on my part, but it served the purpose) and then (mercifully) departed without any verbal (or written ;-)) commitment to see each other again. I was relieved… A few days later, I was picking up my mail and noticed a tattered Laura Secord box inside my mailbox. Curious, since I am a hard-core chocolate addict (though admittedly more than a bit on the gourmet side – ok, “chocolate snob” – so Laura wouldn’t have exactly cut it for me), I took the box upstairs and opened it. It contained a half-dozen homemade chocolate brownies!? And, it was from the scientist! I was horrified.

[Above: This is a Sharpie marker cartoon sketch I did and then colorized in Photoshop.]

How did he get my address?? (And, more importantly, what might he have put in those brownies?? Safe to assume not money like we used to get inside the cake at kids’ birthday parties back in the 80s.) I didn’t know what to do with this unusual gift, so I took it into work and showed it to a couple of my good girlfriends. I didn’t tell them what was in it, but as soon as they opened the box and saw the brownies, all three of us suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter. (Of course, the boss walked in on us and once he heard the story, began defending the guy’s brownie outreach as unique and endearing!? Perhaps my boss, too, had engaged in some mail-order pastry hijinks back in the day?..) I know, it’s terrible to make fun of this innocent gesture (assuming the brownies were not in fact laced with chemicals — we never did sample them), especially since I have made my own fair share of faux pas (but those are other stories for subsequent posts…). Likely, this guy was well-intentioned, but there was something so comical about receiving homemade brownies in a beat-up, recycled box of chocolates, instead of actually receiving the original chocolates (in a nice box). It was like saying, these chocolates are too good to give away, so I’m just going to scarf them down myself (or perhaps apportion them for other potential, more promising dates) and save the box, whip up a batch of Duncan Hines brownies and impress the pants off this girl with my baking skills, creativity (and fiscal responsibility)… As my wiser-than-her-years little sis had pointed out at the time, however, I likely would’ve cut this guy some slack had we connected at all on our date. It’s true. If you think about follow-ups after dates, if you’re really interested, it’s not so much what they do to follow up but that they follow up — and promptly. As an example of my own potential ‘mail-order brownie mishap’, I can remember impulsively picking up a questionable gift for a guy I was crazy about that probably would’ve freaked a lot of other guys out or left them a little bewildered. It was a kids’ book and though this guy had a couple of young kids from a previous marriage, I had primarily intended it for him to lift his spirits (he had been having a bad week) and give him a good laugh. The book? Walter the Farting Dog. Not exactly sexy or high-brow literature for this erudite guy. Oh well, thank goodness, the object of my affection thought it was hilarious and really appreciated my gesture of caring. (Or, he did a very convincing acting job.) I was lucky, but I also knew my ‘target audience’ better, too… [As a postcript, I’m happy to report that I heard that — despite this inauspicious date with me — Mr. Scientist did go on to meet a lovely girl and have a family.]

The Great Re-Set: Part 1: Losing my job and sense of self – Beginning the journey of self-rediscovery

Have you ever been rocked by a life event or series of life events so profound that the lens through which you viewed yourself and your life path as you knew it was permanently altered? I experienced the first of two such events about 5 years ago when I lost my job. It happened by e-mail —a perfunctory, unceremonious message stating that my contract would not be renewed. Adding insult to injury, the e-mail was written by an individual whom I had, in those comparatively young, impressionable, early professional years, viewed as a friend and in some cases as a nurturing maternal figure. I was completely unprepared for this dramatic turn of events, and remember sitting at my desk, staring at my computer in a state of complete shock. My mind vacillated between thoughts of how this could possibly befall me of all people (a misplaced pride), and what ever was I going to do next? In those years of working at this job, I had settled into a certain rhythm or routine, and as a result never seriously contemplated life after this job and without these co-workers (several of whom were close, personal friends), even though I knew that the day would eventually come — of course, on my own timetable — when I would feel it was time to move on…

There were signs, of course – there always are. Some subtle and not so subtle – that all was not well in my organization, including an escalating interpersonal conflict, but I had been at this job – a clinical role – for almost 10 years (initially as a student completing a Master’s thesis), and I had assumed (wrongly) that my performance record was of such a calibre as to render me untouchable. What hubris! I don’t know how this perception of invincibility took root as I am inherently somewhat on the anxious side with perfectionistic tendencies, driven to improve and never satisfied with just meeting a benchmark or expectations. And yet, over time, gradually and almost imperceptibly, I would acknowledge in retrospect, that a certain boredom or complacency had set in, and I had found myself feeling less excited and stimulated by my work and by some of the people I worked with.

[This is a photo I took last summer at one my favourite beaches – Lawrencetown Beach in Nova Scotia – known for its rocks, ruggedness, crashing ocean waves, and powerful riptides. It’s a great place to walk, think, and listen, and marvel at the surfers braving the cold waves of the Atlantic and the incredible, raw power of Nature.]

Instead of making plans to move on, however, as one should when one’s clearly maxed out one’s role or job, I had somehow (incredibly) convinced myself that I was comfortable and satisfied (!?) with the status quo, rationalizing that it was ok to settle and ignore feelings of restlessness, because people settled all the time and were happy — or so I thought… Besides, I further reasoned, there was no mechanism for advancement in my line of work anyway, so there was ostensibly no place for me to go, no higher echelon to climb. I therefore had to settle at some point, right? Adding further complication, and perhaps my own single biggest mistake, was the many close, familial-like attachments I had formed at this organization. As someone living away from most of my family and being more on the introverted side (but not purely so), I’ve always found it tough putting myself out there and meeting new people – be it in a professional or personal context. (I would be the last one to work the room at a cocktail party!) I had met many wonderful, like-minded, educated people at this academic place, some of whom were students and others, clinicians. I had really felt at “home”; these were truly my peeps… All this to say — which might be a controversial notion for some — is that I think it can be risky to cultivate such close personal relationships with people at work; and in my particular case, essentially blurring the lines (on occasion) between work life and personal life. Don’t get me wrong, some of my happiest memories were made with people I had met through work. But, it was a mistake for me to use these relationships as a justification to overlook the growing disquiet I was feeling with my job. I am certain that it was because of the fear I had of losing these valued friendships coupled with a belief that I would never find a better job if I left, that I got myself stuck in an unhealthy state of inertia for far too long.

Looking back, I am convinced I should’ve moved on from that organization two years after completing my MSc, and not seven — when the first signs of restlessness appeared on my internal radar. Although it still wouldn’t have been easy emotionally to have exited so early, I would’ve most assuredly left on a high note and probably retained a couple of key professional contacts to support future academic or professional pursuits…  Though it does not change things, I often wonder how different my professional – and perhaps even, personal – life might have turned out had I left sooner rather than later… (Fortunately, time really does heal wounds, and I can honestly say that I have reconciled with all but one of these previously strained professional relationships.)

Losing a job is an incredibly humbling experience. Sadly, it is an all-too-common occurrence and one that many of us will experience either personally or through family or friends over the course of our professional lives. In my case, I lost not only my job, but more importantly, my sense of self or the identity I had assumed while I was a part of that organization… I didn’t know who I was professionally anymore, and sought the advice of a career coach to help me figure out who I was, what my natural talents were, and what kind of work I might love doing. (This was only somewhat helpful, as the cost of longer-term, in-depth coaching was prohibitive for me.) After several, unsuccessful months trying to find new employment and keep myself afloat financially, I finally realized I would have no choice but to move back (temporarily) to my hometown (in another province) and in with my parents in order to recalibrate emotionally and re-establish myself financially. Inevitably, I did lose touch with some friends, and saw other friendships change in the case of those with whom I stayed in touch. It was not an easy time… I was also carrying a lot of anger and resentment about the way in which I was let go. Moving back to my hometown, however, was probably the wisest decision I made. I had the unwavering support of family, and eventually, I met some great new friends, whom I am still in touch with. I also had a fantastic experience working at a local hospital and as a teaching assistant at a university – both of which challenged me in new and exciting ways, especially in becoming more flexible, adaptable, and self-aware. I read Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which resonated deeply with me. (The movie? Not so much.) In addition to validating the emotions I experienced related to the loss of the job, I also learned to accept a certain ambiguity in life, and that the belief I held that I exerted some kind of master control over most aspects of my life was pure fallacy and fiction. In short, I spent a lot of time reflecting, and in the process, learned a great deal about myself and what makes me tick. (The process continues to this day.)… Eventually, my confidence began to return and perhaps as a litmus test of how my thinking had evolved in this period of reacquainting myself with myself, I took a leap, applied to a specialized doctorate program. I got in, but then pulled the plug at the last minute, because this time, I chose not to ignore the increasingly nagging feelings I was having after my acceptance: just because I had been on a certain professional path since I was 18 didn’t mean I had to stay on it (despite the encouragement and what I perceived to be the expectations of others), especially if I didn’t love this path – or even really like it. The cost of such an ill-advised investment would’ve been incalculable…

About a year and a half after my move back home with my parents, I was recruited to work in Ottawa. Although I was feeling, looking, and doing better than I had in a long while, living back in my hometown, I was quite sensitized to the fact I had overstayed my last job and did not want to make the same mistake again of falling into that dangerous comfort zone of status quo coasting that can be the slippery slope to inertia. So, I took another more calculated risk, and relocated to Ottawa to try my hand at government work — a completely new sector for me — and embark on a novel adventure in a brand new city…

Umbrellas: the ne plus ultra fashion accessory for those April showers…

I love umbrellas. Big umbrellas, small umbrellas, monochromatic umbrellas, patterned umbrellas. Even the ubiquitous, comparatively conservative black umbrella, which can be so chic when paired with a sophisticated trench coat and some nice Wellies (don’t get me started on how much I love these boots – and splashing in puddles with them! :-))… I especially love plaid umbrellas, though, with the traditional wooden stem and crook handle. (Must be my British heritage speaking.) I can remember how particularly excited I was to buy this beautiful, bright red and blue plaid Esprit umbrella (with Esprit engraved into the wooden stem, but no crook handle, sadly) from a tiny little boutique in a small university town back in the early 90s. What a find! A patterned umbrella was so fashion-forward back then, and I used to delight in rainy days as an opportunity to proudly showcase my coquette parapluie as I strolled the sidewalks (or more aptly, “catwalks”) across campus to class… Now, I own a decidedly more mature, brown, red, beige, and and black plaid umbrella complete with the requisite wooden stem and crook handle. Definitely looks Burberry or London Fog-inspired (see fun watercolor crayon sketch below left).

I think my love of umbrellas can be traced back to Mary Poppins – that classic (1964) Disney movie-musical starring Julie Andrews as a no-nonsense, but caring, magical nanny, who accumulated Air Miles points via domestic umbrella flights over the rooftops of London. (Mary’s umbrella also featured a rather opinionated parrot crook…)

So, it’s still unseasonably warm in Ottawa, and maybe it’s the unease I have about this premature, protracted heat wave that has me thinking (perhaps wishfully) about rain and cooler spring days – and umbrellas. I know, I’m sure there are many of you, who are thinking, ‘Is she crazy? This weather is fantastic!’ No, I’m clearly just a Nordic girl, who does better in cooler climes, and who admittedly would’ve revelled in another couple of weeks of snow, enjoying some thrilling spring xc-skiing (i.e., crust-cruising) on the hills and trails of Gatineau Park. Oh well, as much as I miss the snow – it is also wonderful to run on hard-packed snow in the woods or along the canal – Ottawa is truly beautiful in the springtime with the bursting of new leaves from buds in the trees, the thousands of colorful tulips that blossom along the canal and in several major parks in the city, and the return of all the songbirds (but not those pesky, aggressive red-winged blackbirds, who’ve dive-bombed me several times along the canal! Ouch!). There is also nothing like running in the woods after a fresh spring rain, which always leaves the air so fragrant and the vegetation looking all the more lush and green. One of my all-time favourite running routes, especially on grey-green spring days, was/is up to the summit of Mount Royal Park (a park landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, who famously designed New York City’s beloved Central Park) , then down the meandering, sloping road of Mount Royal Cemetary, and finally through the eclectic, vibrant, tree-lined burrough of Outremont in Montreal.  If you’re a runner and you’ve never run this route, you must the next time you’re in Montreal. It is almost a religious, Zen-like experience running the steady ascending serpentine trail to the peak of Mount Royal Park. (And what a sense of accomplishment and euphoria when you reach the top! :-)) It is an oasis of greenery and a temporary respite from the constant hum of the city that never sleeps. The views are absolutely spectacular, too. I used to live in that glorious city, and when I knew I’d be bidding farewell to my home of nearly 10 years, I made a point to spend some time just photographing and contemplating the Park and its many lovely vistas. It was my personal Elysium, enjoyed year-round, whatever the weather…

In keeping with the theme of rain and umbrellas, I decided to attempt another Crayola sketch from my much-loved, Style Book. This drawing is an interpretation of another vintage black and white photo shot in 1958 (location unspecified) of a woman modeling an oversized umbrella with matching cloche hat against a plain black shift – apparently a new trend for women’s accessories for the racetrack at that time. I should say that the original black & white photo features a check pattern to the umbrella and cloche hat, but because of my partiality for plaid, I thought I’d exercise artistic license and sketch a plaid pattern instead. Truthfully, I think I could’ve gone with less detail in the umbrella. Originally, I thought I’d just sketch in a bunch of rough, bare bones, curved black lines. I liked the effect, but was seduced by the idea of plaid and so pursued it. I also think I should’ve left the background grey rather than colorizing it in a greyish-purple. I still like the image, but I think it would’ve been stronger had I quit while I was ahead. Instead, I think I’ve created an edgy Disney movie poster of the wicked queen from Snow White taking Manhattan!? Oh well, as one of my handsome, free-spirited running friends once said, “Many artistic endeavors often end dramatically”. How true…

When it’s too hot for pants… how about a vintage swimsuit?

OK, it’s March 20th. The first day of SPRING, not summer. You’d never know it though by the record-breaking temperature (25 C), hot sunshine, and all the bikers, walkers, runners, in-line skaters, and sunbathers clad in their Lululemon tank tops and shorts (the girls, at least) along the canal. I half expect to hear the Pavlovian carillon of a Dickie Dee ice cream pushcart coming around the corner like the Pied Piper, with rapacious children and their parents streaming into the streets to purchase one of his/her frozen delectables.  And yet, look out at the water – or ice – and you can still see a thin but determined glacial layer clinging across most of the canal, stubbornly refusing to recede and concede that spring (or maybe summer) really has sprung… I don’t know what’s going on with our climate these days, but I’m starting to wonder if some Big Bang like atmospheric physicist decided to play a little premature April Fool’s Day joke on us by simulating what life would be like living next to the equator instead of north of the 49th parallel…

Speaking of summer, sunshine, heat, and brightness, I decided to dig out my Crayola markers and contemplate a summer-inspired drawing. I’ve always loved working with Crayolas – especially on glossy paper. The markers are easy to manipulate and they just glide so effortlessly across the page. And, the effect of blending colors is almost like what you would get with water-based paint, except with more control (and what girl doesn’t want more control?? ;-)) since this is a pen not a brush…

When I was an undergrad living in residence on campus, I remember taping up poster-sized sheets of no-longer-needed, glossy advertisements on my limited wall space (i.e., my makeshift canvas) that I would recycle from my dad’s retail business. The white, unused reverse side of the poster paper was perfect for doing marker-based artwork. One of my favourite, most ambitious glossy paper-Crayola art projects back in the day was re-creating the Disney movie poster for Beauty & the Beast. (I even made it a “mixed-media” project by tossing all kinds of gold glitter – using glue, which amped up the mess factor exponentially.) I would happily get lost for hours at a time working on this tableau. Sadly, I gave this “masterpiece” away to a friend – ok, a very hot guy, who also happened to like my art and whom I had a huge crush on. (Hmmm, I’m seeing a pattern in my life here…) We would play one-on-one basketball – shirts and skins. I know, gratuitous. But, he had a great upper body. Wow, does that sound sexist to say! Anyway, I would usually win our games. :-)) Who knows whether he still has this unique piece of knock-off Disney art or whether he threw it out long ago… In any event, I haven’t done much sketching with Crayolas since my undergrad days for some unknown reason (maybe I thought I had to graduate to more serious Manga markers or something), so I’d forgotten how much fun — and how messy drawing/coloring with Crayolas can be! (Which is probably exactly why little kids love these markers so much!..)

Anyway, I thought it’d be cool to temporarily abandon my India ink (sigh), and try and create a vintage travel poster using Crayolas and one of the many great fashion photos from Style Book. I settled on a picture shot in 1961, poolside in Athens, Greece of a young woman in a white boned bathing suit (you know, the kind you used to see old ladies wear far less elegantly à la cover of the Northern Pikes’ album, Snow in June). Of course, I was also drawn to the over-the-top flower-power bathing cap! Is that not totally awesome or what?? Not that I’d personally have the guts to wear that kind of headpiece to my decidedly serious (and fairly competitive) community pool. No, these days it’s nothing but the standard-issue latex Speedo bathing caps (although the bright yellow ones are nice), which hardly fit my head (yes, I am one of these people with an oversized, but non-hydrocephalic, noggin – thanks, Dad and the rest of your side of the family!?) That said, I do recall proudly sporting a white, textured vinyl bathing cap with a trademark pink rose corsage-like appliqué on the side. This was the 80s. I wasn’t exactly the coolest kid in the pool either, or the best swimmer, but hell, I was determined to make a fashion statement from my drugstore-bought little piece of prêt-à-porter cruise wear!..

Polka dots and flowers – it must be spring…

I recently picked up this great hard-cover fashion retrospective book (Style Book by Elizabeth Walker) that showcases all these fantastic vintage photos. (The Sartorialist is another great blog for admiring street fashion – modern and vintage.) I kept noticing it in Chapters every time I would visit – which is often – and couldn’t help but pick it up each time I was in and leaf through its pages to admire my favourite photos. I finally decided to purchase it when I realized how much fun it would be to interpret some of these photos through any combination of ink, conté, charcoal, watercolor crayons, acrylic paints, or colored markers. Since I am a big fan of fashion of the 20s and 30s, it is of no surprise to me that I gravitated to all the black and white photos of that era first. I also love polka dots, especially white ones set against a navy blue background. I can remember a favourite white polka-dot and stretchy navy blue sleeveless dress that I bought back in the mid nineties from Club Monaco while I was an undergrad in Halifax. It was my ‘femme fatale’, confidence-booster dress – I can remember how it totally turned the heads of these guys I used to play basketball with when I wore it out one night… Despite the film being barely out of the 80s – my least favourite fashion period – I still love the polka-dot outfit Julia Roberts wore to the polo match in Pretty Woman. In fact, I should confess that I actually bought a similarly awesome, 3/4 length, A-line, sleeveless white polka-dot on brown background Ralph Lauren dress last spring, which I wore with a pair of strappy brown platform sandals to a meet-and-greet event; just need the white gloves and a cool hat (like the ones you find at Ogilvy’s in downtown Montreal – which I always used to try on whenever I was out shopping along St. Catherine Street) or fascinator, and I’d totally rock my inner Pretty Woman at a polo match or derby! 😉

So, the sketch below is an (India) ink drawing with a bit of white conté for the polka dots and highlights. The “Paris 1934” text is done in watercolor crayons. I also used a brush and water to add some shading. Can I just say how much I LOVE working with India ink and especially painting with it? It’s wonderful for creating texture. Anyway, the photo for this drawing was shot in 1934 and features a model wearing a polka-dot evening gown by the French designer, Jeanne Lanvin. The fluted or ruffled white collar accessory seems to pay homage to that famous of French mimes, Pierrot, and adds a nice touch of whimsy to this otherwise formal pose. Is it me, or does it almost seem like there should be a chatte noire added to the scene below, à la famous Théophile Steinlen painting (La Tournée du Chat Noir avec Rudolphe Salis)?.. Maybe not. Would probably be distracting. (I’m more of a dog-person anyway, of the non-purse variety though.)

This next sketch is also done in India ink 🙂 along with some watercolor crayons, colored conte, and a wash. It’s an interpretation of a really cool 60s photo taken in London of a model wearing what looks like an equestrian or London bobby-inspired hat in shape, whose wattage is amped up by an oversized flower power appliqué in very cool polka-dot motif. (Was this the birth of the modern-day fascinator craze?) The model looks like she could be playing a spy in an Austin Powers movie, perhaps crashing the annual garden party at Buckingham palace… Anyway, I thought the hat was really cool – I’m a total hat person and I love flowers (as long as someone else with a green thumb tends them) – and it reminded me of some of the bright flower motif stuff I would wear in high school. I was always into patterns and bright colors, but prefered to experiment more on paper (hello, Fashion Plates anyone? – best toy ever!.. OK, I think I need to go call my mom now and have her ship my old Fashion Plates set up to me…) than in the halls of high school or university classes, though I was known to pair bright pink tights with a red mini-skirt or loud flower-print skirt on occasion. I won’t get into the litany of bad fashion trends I attempted in the 80s – that will just trigger my PTSD… (Hammer pants, star earrings, neon, and Madonna – ’nuff said!..)

Message on a napkin

This was the message on the napkin that I found appended to my car windshield when I returned from a glorious afternoon of cross-country skiing (‘classic’ style, not ‘skate’ – for the record) in Gatineau Park. I hadn’t noticed it until I was just about to drive off, and when I did, I scowled thinking it was some sort of parking ticket. I opened it and began reading…

Hi, this is an odd note, but I noticed you were skate skiing alone. If you ever would like someone to join you please call me and maybe we could chat first or have a coffee. If this seems too strange or you are uncomfortable no problem – just toss this tissue! Thanks [name & phone number removed]

The first thing I thought after reading the message was, this couldn’t have been intended for me. (Exhibit A – I was skiing classic style that day.) Then, in my characteristic hyperanalytical self, I began deconstructing the message… Was he some creepy guy trying to prey on vulnerable women? (Afterall, he would only have known which vehicle was mine if he had been watching me as I hastily got my gear on in the parking lot before hitting the trails… Maybe he was still around somewhere watching me from a safe distance… No, thankfully, the parking area was largely deserted.) OK, maybe he was just some harmless older guy – a retiree – looking for love anywhere he could find it. (Still kind of creepy.) Or maybe, (glass half-full, for once), just maybe he was this ruggedly handsome, competitive, Eastern European elite skier, who had been down for the Loppet and was captivated by my uncommon beauty (Yeah, that’s totally it!?… More likely he was looking for his Lindsey Vonn!)

In any case, I was hypoglycemic and cold, so got into my car and drove back through the windy roads out of the Park (but not before stopping in at the local dépanneur and boulangerie to refuel with chocolate milk and a chocolate chip cookie, respectively), radio turned to Cross-Country Check-Up (Yes, I am a CBC geek – first step is admitting it). All the while, though, I am engaged in a separate internal debate about the merits and potential risks of contacting this mysterious napkin author. Aside from the potential creepiness of the character behind the missive, the concept was rather original and bold, and certainly a refreshing approach to appeal to the attention of a woman. (Most men these days – or at least most of the ones I have met – leave the ‘pursuing’ to women, sadly. Call me old-fashioned, traditional, an affront to feminism, or whatever, but personally, I prefer to be the pursued, the courted and not the reverse – but, and here’s the catch, only when the guy is someone I’m actually attracted to. Yeah, I know, don’t we all wish it could be that easy!?..)

After a few more hours of my excessively rational inner risk-manager squaring off against my more romantic, adventurous, curious self, I decide to take a calculated risk and send “Napkin Man” (this name makes me think of Jude Law in that scene with Cameron Diaz and his characters’ daughters in The Holiday – a must-see-again-and-again film, if you are a woman. Classic chick-flick! :-)) a text without revealing my name. Still dubious about both his skiing skills (if he was any kind of regular xc-skier, he’d absolutely know the difference between “classic” and “skate” skiing) and whether I was the intended recipient, I decided to quiz him on what I was wearing…

Within minutes, I received a text reply confirming all but the correct color of my ski hat (green vs blue). (OK, now what?..) I then decided to ask him his age – realizing, of course, he could lie. He replied and said he was 49, (ok, probably being truthful) and that he couldn’t tell exactly how much “significantly younger” I was. He further added that he had skied to a look-out point in the Park that I realized was only slightly further than the spot I had used as my turn-around point. (Strange, had we crossed paths somewhere?) When I replied, I indicated that he was a bit older than the age range of men I was hoping to meet. However, I thanked him for noticing me and for reaching out in the bold and creative way in which he did. I also expressed how I wished more men would take a similar risk in attempting to [directly] connect with women [as opposed to wasting a lot of time e-chatting on internet dating sites, or by simply waiting and letting the woman take the lead – which is so frustrating]. I ended my text by wishing him luck and happy skiing. (I flipped my phone closed and sat back, thinking, good for me for taking a risk. See, that wasn’t such a bad experience afterall…) A few minutes later, another text… It was Napkin Man again… (What now?) This next message left me a bit confused. It seemed to suggest that he was just struck by the fact that I was out skiing alone and that he was ONLY looking for a ski partner. (OK, I guess that’s possible. Or, maybe he was trying to get me to reconsider meeting up with him by appearing non-threatening… But, if skiing with a buddy was the sole intent, why go to all this trouble to find one? The region is full of athletes and sports clubs with no shortage of opportunities to find a work-out partner through more conventional channels…) For some reason, Napkin Man also felt the need to include a mention of the fact he drove a (luxury) vehicle. [I can’t say I’ve ever been one to be wooed by guys bragging about their fancy cars – even though I do appreciate a nice vehicle – so this was not helping his cause and was confusing the tenuous ‘just want to ski with you’ proposal even more.]  I contemplated sending another message, but my risk manager self overrode me. I figured if this guy was a bit of a creep or stalker, the last thing I should be doing was to continue engaging him. I closed the phone and hoped he’d get the message. (He did.)

Is there a point I want to make about this story? Even though Napkin Man didn’t turn out to be this hot, Eastern-European Olympic ski athlete who was totally enamoured by my beauty and skiing prowess (And yes, I could easily see how this could happen!?… ;-)), it made for an interesting end to an otherwise grueling afternoon of a double-bill of running and skiing, and ultimately, was a nice (needed) little boost for my ego. It also felt strangely empowering to have taken a risk and contacted the guy. Sort of like finding out how the story ends to a real, live Missed Connections post – that Sophie Blackall so beautifully and imaginatively illustrates in her popular blog and book – instead of letting it disappear into the ether, a potential missed opportunity for love or romance, or regret for the path not taken…

It is far from elementary, my dear Watson

I had an interesting – both funny and disturbing – what-if discussion with a colleague at work the other day. I was lamenting how so many previously desirable, secure jobs were at risk of being rendered obsolete or nearly so by the rise of increasingly efficient and sophisticated automation. My colleague, who has a deep appreciation for standardization of process, maximizing efficiency and quality control assurance (and the famed “Watson” robot), could nonetheless not help but also feel a bit vulnerable, himself, as a knowledge worker.

We both began musing about what jobs might be left in the future, which would remain viable and not easily susceptible to automation. We could only come up with two: being a musician or being an artist (e.g., visual arts). I’m sure there are many others in the creative arts, but that’s the point. Isn’t it interesting how as kids we were purposefully steered clear of the arts and instead encouraged to follow the tried and true, safe path to what was ostensibly viewed as predictable, stable employment (usually, something in the applied sciences) only to find out years later – largely unforeseen by most – that the technological revolution would totally upend what constitutes secure employment. Imagine telling your kids today to focus on developing their creativity because that’s how they will land interesting, stable employment. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Consider the work of a pharmacist, for example. Traditionally, pharmacy work focused on the provision of a product (i.e., a medication), which usually implied some sort of physical preparation (“compounding”) – think pastry class, but instead of making chocolates, you’re making suppositories, which like chocolate, melt at body temperature, but are not so melt-in-your-mouth delicious… All this to say that pharmacists of yesteryear (perhaps your grandfather or even your father) spent most of their time as pharmaceutical iron chefs toiling away behind the counter in their dispensary kitchens engaging in a sort of small-scale manufacturing prior to dispensing the finished medicinal product to the patient or customer. Nowadays, most medications are mass-produced almost exclusively by large pharmaceutical companies in various formats and volumes, all but obviating the need for the comparatively more expensive, boutique-style “local” production that typified pharmacy practice for a good part of the last century. As the profession slowly evolved from a primary manufacturing role to one in which practising pharmacists would position themselves as the go-to information resource for all things medication-related, the internet age had dawned, arguably signalling the biggest gamechanger for the profession yet. Nowadays, with the ease of access to the internet and sophisticated software support systems, drug information is increasingly being accessed like a commodity at the user’s fingertips without the involvement of the pharmacist. So, just what is the role of the pharmacist today? While we still need pharmacies as a medication distribution channel, how essential are pharmacists anymore? Does it make sense for them to preside over drug distribution when there are now less costly alternatives available, such as regulated pharmacy technicians or ATM-like machines? Are there better ways to leverage or apply pharmacists’ specialized technical skills and knowledge?

What I see happening to the profession of pharmacy is just one example of a steady erosion of formerly stable professions. To me, a sure sign that employees sense trouble within their field is when you start seeing more and more climbing for higher ground – in this case, higher academic ground. More nurses pursuing Master’s to become higher-level Nurse Practitioners with prescribing authority. More pharmacists pursuing hospital residencies or a Doctorate in Pharmacy, with resultant opportunities for more advanced clinical work including collaborative prescribing agreements. In the crowded alphabet soup that typifies primary health care with its MDs, PAs, RNs, NPs, RDs, RPhs, SWs, etc, one can start to see increasing instances of overlapping scopes of practice. The more similar the various professions appear, however, the more suspeptible I think they are to having their unique contribution to patient care questioned. Are they so unique afterall? Is their salary justified by their skills? If everyone can prescribe, should they? Is it safer and more effective to have multiple prescribers or a Watson-like super-computer doing all of the prescribing based on best available evidence? How are a patient’s health outcomes affected by multiple (human) prescribers?..

As someone with a background in the health professions, myself, I look ahead to what the future may hold for me personally as a practising health professional, and feel more than a twinge of anxiety. It is really hard to say for certain how these various helping professions will tranform under the dizzying pace of technological innovation, and as such, how to anticipate change and still remain viable – and most importantly, be passionate about your work. I think my initial childhood whim of running away and becoming an artist (or cartoonist with Disney – ok, maybe change that to Pixar) might not have been so impractical afterall…

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