Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

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

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