Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “humor”

Words Matter: The Importance of Choosing One’s Words Carefully

This week, I was asked by a friend if I could come up with a cartoon that she could use in a presentation that she would be delivering at an international conference on communication later this month. She wanted a humorous illustration that would help make the point that the words we use matter in ensuring that our ideas are understood as we intended. By contrast, when we choose the wrong words, misunderstanding can often occur, sometimes with comic effect.

This cartoon was drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen on glossy (finger paint) paper, which I then scanned and colorized in Photoshop. It shows a Catholic school student having to explain her unfortunate choice of words in class to the priest.

This cartoon was drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen on glossy (finger paint) paper, which was then scanned and colorized in Photoshop. It shows a Catholic school student having to explain her unfortunate choice of words in class to the priest.

Swimming: A Yearning for the Life Aquatic

Summer, 2012

I’m out for another evening work-out on another sweltering summer night in the city. I have never seen Ottawa looking so dry. Alarmingly so. We have not had rain for more than a month, and the straw-colored grass is just thirsting for water. During the day, it looks as if we live in a giant wheat field like the one depicted by the 20th century American realist painter, Andrew Wyeth, in his tableau, Christina’s World. An odd  juxtaposition of happy sunbathers can be seen along the canal near the Corktown footbridge soaking in the intense sunshine seemingly either blissfully unaware or undisturbed by the desperate, drought-like conditions surrounding them. As night falls, our sun-scorched earth becomes a version of Van Gogh‘s ominous Wheatfield with Crows, where pedaling along the parched Arboretum‘s lonely bike path expectedly triggers the doleful a-hink-a-honk chorus from the hundreds of resident, apathetic Canada geese, floating disinterestedly on the warm lagoon waters.  A small, skittish cohort suddenly breaks away in V formation, having decided to seek skyward sanctuary; their remaining feathery flâneurs left bobbing over the small series of waves generated from the wake…

Another day, another night of heat. The wind has changed, and so the smell of smoke from a brush fire in the city’s west end now permeates the warm, humid air, causing me to defer my run until tomorrow morning in favor of a swim indoors. I’ve just started working out at the university pool since my community pool is closed for the summer for much-needed renovations to its dilapidated roof and ventilation system.

The Quest to Conquer the Fear

The university pool is a hard-core, 50 m competition pool filled with water tending on the cold side, conducive for supporting top performances by its varsity swimmers; my unassuming community pool, by comparison, is only 25 m in length with a balmy ambient water temperature perfect for more casual or leisure-inclined swimmers. I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of kicking around on a flutterboard in this big pool, imagining all those aspiring Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin swimmers lapping me several times over…

I am still learning to swim properly. It’s not so much the physical aspects of swimming that elude or intimidate me, but the considerable psychological baggage I carry for deep water that I can’t seem to unpack. It’s been more than a year that I’ve been incorporating pool work-outs into my athletic routine, but I am growing impatient with the plateau I seemed to have hit in my swimming progress.

My interpretation of the famous Edvard Munsch painting, The Scream.

I took some adult lessons last winter, which began with promise, but then I seemed to lose momentum. I struggled fruitlessly trying to master the art of treading water without exhausting myself from the effort. I’ve tried both the ‘bicycle’ and ‘egg beater’ techniques, but my legs and arms invariably tire after moving about at Mach 8 or like the powered-up propellers of Porter‘s Bombardier Q-400 turboprops. I cannot seem to get myself to slow down in the belief that I will float. By contrast, the rest of my less fit classmates easily mastered this essential water safety skill. I was discouraged, but soldiered on, albeit dispiritedly as I watched my peers transform into confident, competent swimmers, effortlessly completing 25 m up and 25 m back. I would achieve no such breakthrough.

During the in-between time of my lessons, I mostly stick to my security blanket routine of non-stop laps up and down the 25-m section of shallow water at the university pool supported, of course, by my large, trusty red flutter board. Because I kick away vigorously and continuously for almost an hour, the effort usually provides a decent cardio (and muscular endurance) work-out and most importantly, a much-needed cross-training break from the unforgiving, repeated pounding my lower limbs have sustained from all the years of exclusive running.

Physically, I do not look like someone who cannot swim. In fact, I probably look like someone who swims well — possibly at a Master’s level. With my focused, hour-long flutterboard sessions, I would often be queried by curious swimmers in the adjacent lanes about what I was training for; I did not fit their image of a non-swimmer and so they were always more than a little surprised to learn that no, actually I was still learning how to swim.

What is it about Deep Water?

I don’t eschew the deep end of the pool entirely. In fact, I often enjoy doing laps on my flutterboard there especially to avoid the usually crowded lanes of the shallow end or getting hit in the head by a wayward ball from the rambunctious pick-up water basketball games among the 20-somethings that go on concurrently in the adjacent leisure lane. When I’m relaxed in the deep end, I imagine myself being supported on top of a giant bowl of Jell-O or a very big waterbed; I can easily sense the difference in buoyancy between the shallow and deep end. When I’m not relaxed, work-outs can become suffused with anxiety, where I experience a hyperawareness of the depth beneath me and a consequent need to remain within relatively easy reach of the pool’s side wall; I still persist with my work-out, but I am relieved when it is over and I can exit the deep end.

In spite of this long-standing fear of deep water and the challenge this presents to learning to swim, I have perhaps surprisingly always derived a great deal of artistic, spiritual, and intellectual inspiration from being near water — especially oceans and lakes. I think it is this desire to one day be able to safely canoe, row, or kayak solo in open water that most fuels my desire to learn to swim.

If I think back to my youth, there was a time when I delighted in going to my community pool for public swims to cool off during the hot summer months with my friends and sisters. Like most kids, I took swimming lessons, even excelling in my early series of Red Cross classes; however, I had not yet reached the level at which classes would be conducted exclusively in the deep end.

One day, during one of those care-free summer afternoons of my youth spent at the local pool, I remember wanting to try jumping into the deep water in such a way as to minimize splash. I was not a slim kid and so my jumps into the pool tended to be more on the ungraceful, cannonball side. I was also becoming increasingly aware of my slightly excess corpulence as a girl on the verge of puberty coupled with a generally increased self-awareness of physical appearance.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome of my attempt at a rip entry jump. I jumped in straight, entering the water feet first with pointed toes like an arrowhead. However, I must have let myself descend too far since I began to panic. Fortunately, survival instinct kicked in as I was able to claw my way back up to the surface without drawing attention to myself. Hovering over the side of the pool, alternatingly gasping for air and clearing my throat of the water I had inhaled, I remember physically trembling as I thought about how differently this experiment could’ve turned out. Sadly, I don’t recall ever returning to the pool after that incident.

A Cautious Reacquaintance with Water

Fast forward many years later to the summer of 2011 when I decided to finally go back for another go at learning to swim with confidence and proficiency — and to tread water, all because of being sidelined last summer by a running-related injury and a determination to preserve my hard-earned cardiorespiratory fitness.

I can still remember that first Friday evening last summer when I tentatively slipped into the shallow end of my community pool. Why is it that pools are always so uninvitingly cold upon initial immersion? I recall the two young, teen-age (or so I thought) lifeguards confidently sitting sentry on their chairs, and how they would generously dispense stroke improvement tips to the eager, mostly novice or average-ability swimmers in the pool, a motley assortment of parents with their young children or toddlers, a few teenagers, some senior citizens, and me. Flutterboard-shod, I stayed close to the wall that night, but did venture partway into the deep end under the watchful eye of the lifeguard. My ankle, wrapped securely in Kinesio tape, was a curious enough accessory to behold as to prompt an inquiry from one of the lifeguards. We engaged in a chat about possible differential diagnoses for my injury, along with my long hiatus from the pool, my fear of the deep end, etc. I remember how reassured I felt when the lifeguards asserted that I would have nothing to fear under their watch. One of them also encouraged me to don a pair of goggles whenever I came to the pool for a swim. He explained that I might feel less anxious about the water if I could open my eyes and see where I was actually going. He was right.

The Comfort and Characters of the Fishbowl

After a few more drop-in visits to this modest community pool, a certain comfort with the staff, the facilities, and the other swimmers began to develop. I decided to commit to this pool and took out a 3-month membership. For the rest of that summer, my non-running fitness routine would consist of daily cycling and visits to the pool 3-4 times per week or more; my ankle tolerated this regimen well. In the process, I had become something of a regular at the pool, recognizing, and often chatting with, other regulars. This pool felt comfortable; it felt like my pool. I renewed my membership and my routine continued through the fall, winter, and spring, replacing the cycling with some cross-country skiing in the winter.

My imagination being what it is, it was inevitable that I would start to create visual stories or character sketches in my head about some of the other swimmers at the pool. This mental storyboard game I would play also proved to be an effective distraction strategy, increasing my comfort in the water by turning my thoughts away from the water, itself.

Cast of Characters

Inspector Clouseau was a year-round mustachioed (not just for Movember) swimmer, whom I could always count on to release a torrent of water over the lane buoys that separated us as he thrashed his way past me down the Fast lane. He was constantly working on his arms, wearing a flotation device between his legs so he wouldn’t have to kick.

Gargle-Mel was a member of the senior water-walkers crowd, who bore an uncanny resemblance to an old boss of mine. I always knew when he was in the water before actually seeing him because of the distinctive gargling sounds he would make underwater, which I would hear from a lane away as he trotted up and down the deep end with his flotation belt cinched to his waist.

A couple of times, I crossed paths with scowl-faced Maxine, who reminded me of her grumpy elderly doppelganger of greeting card fame. Maxine would often swim next to me in the leisure lane, and would lambaste me for any amount of splash I might inadvertently kick up from my powerful lower limb outboard motor.

The Indomitable Frogman was a weekend fixture in the pool. He always distinguished himself by his alarmingly nude color swim trunks and, despite his advanced age and glacial breast stroke pace, was either completely oblivious or didn’t give a whit about the traffic jams he would routinely trigger behind and beside him as a queue of swimmers (including me & my flutter board) successively manoeuvred (or leap-frogged) their way past him…

Wednesday evening swims were among the busiest sessions at my community pool, where accomplished, fit swimmers could often be seen chasing or racing each other in the Fast and Very Fast lanes. Wearing goggles was a must because of all the splashing, thrashing, and churning of water. On some nights, the water could become so rough that I had the impression of swimming in the open water free-for-all of a triathlon.

Among the talented Wednesday night swimmers were a couple, The Great White Shark Lady and her husband/partner, Scuba Steve. I was forever baffled as to why the Shark Lady would always opt to swim in the Medium lane when she so clearly belonged in the Fast lane. When she entered the pool’s waters, she would inevitably swim circles (figuratively-speaking) around everyone else in the Medium lane seemingly without breaking a sweat or exceeding her resting respiratory rate. Scuba Steve, on the other hand, was a regular in the Very Fast lane with the other hard-core swimmers, including some strong women. I felt like I was at Marineland watching a frisky dolphin as I admired Scuba Steve’s powerful flip-turns off the wall underwater as he progressed through his series of successive 25-m laps. I would always marvel at how he never misjudged his distance from the wall.

There were other interesting characters, as well, such as Waltzing Matilda who, like so many of the older adults in the pool without a swimmer physique per se, nonetheless seemed to just dance on water with her effortless, graceful interpretation of the breast stroke. She would almost certainly never break a sweat, looking more like a proper lady at a Victorian ball waltzing up and down the pool in her imaginary floor-length frock. 

One of the more fascinating characters to observe was The Amazing Flying Lake Trout. If I were going to cross paths with him, it would almost assuredly be during one of those busy Wednesday night sessions. His appearances were almost theatrical, with his grand entrance parading not one, not two, but three full-length towels, which he always carefully draped in parallel (like Patrick Bergin‘s character would’ve done in Sleeping with the Enemy) over the observation deck. Next, instead of beginning his lane swim in the shallow end as was customary at our pool, he would walk over to the deep end, greet the lifeguard on duty, and then unceremoniously launch himself from the deck like a WWE wrestler atop the ropes in the ring executing his finishing move — in this case, a sort of bouncy butterfly stroke into the Medium or Fast lane. The tidal wave generated from his entry and subsequent pounding, single fin-like kick of his feet had the effect of clearing the lane in which he was swimming, as the other swimmers quickly strategically switched lanes or waited for the tsunami to pass before continuing their work-out. The energy that the Flying Lake Trout would’ve expended with his inefficient stroke must have been considerable, which made it all the more remarkable how he was able to swim a series of brisk 25-m laps before taking a break.

Sauna-Addiction-Lady, by contrast, was not a swimmer that I could tell, but she would always come to the pool on Saturday afternoons with her swimming family. While her husband and children frolicked in the pool, she would disappear into the wooden, poolside sauna shack, spending an inordinate amount of time luxuriating inside. One weekend afternoon, she emerged so completely red-faced and dehydrated that I thought she was going to faint. A couple of ladies were concerned enough to offer her water, despite her protestations and assurances that she was fine. Personally, I do not understand the allure of the sauna and the desire to make oneself dripping hot, but then I also do not understand Bikram yoga or people who choose to take their vacations in tropical areas. I chock it up to being a Nordic girl, but maybe I am part amphibian…

And then there was Mr. Even-Though-I’m-Old-Enough-To-Be-Your-Father-I-Can-Still-Rock-A-Speedo…  Why is it that men of a certain age — those nearing or at retirement age, who still hit the health club — seek to attract the attention of women at least 25 years their junior? What’s wrong with pursuing more age-appropriate women? Having had enough unwanted, poolside encounters with said men, I’m seriously starting to wonder a) how old I actually look and b) what kind of unintended signals I may be giving off. One such awkward encounter occurred last spring with an older man, whom I initially thought was just engaging in friendly, professional chit chat about our common industry. So when I agreed to go for coffee one afternoon, I did so on the assumption that it would be for professional networking. The thought that he might have been interested in me never crossed my mind as he was clearly old enough to be my father. However, when I began the conversation with an animated analysis of where I thought the industry was headed, Mr. Speedo’s true intentions were suddenly and awkwardly revealed when he interrupted my diatribe, lamenting how we always seemed to talk about work… [For the record, just in case there was any uncertainty on the subject, Speedos should be outlawed for all but competitive male divers, such as Alexandre Despatie.]

What It Will Take for this Aspiring Fish to Earn her Fins

To finally become a swimmer, I am going to need to find the right instructor and the right pool. Someone patient and creative, and perhaps with a gift for psychology. In particular, someone who knows how to teach and work with adults, which is not the same as teaching and working with kids. Kids are fearless and mostly uncomplicated, more apt to bounce back from setbacks.

In the meantime, until my community pool reopens, I will keep exposing myself to deep water at the university pool while dodging stray basketballs. It may also be time to leverage that analytical brain of mine and check out a couple of well-reviewed books on swimming (Conquer Your Fear of  Water by Melon Dash and Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton).

Savoring a wee bit o’ Guinness at work…

I’ve always identified with Irish culture for some reason. I’m not sure why. Like many Canadians, I can reach back into my genealogy and extract an Irish root or two, but the reality is my Dutch and British lineage remain closer to the surface.

I think it’s the Irish traditional music that most stirs me. I’m not one to be coaxed onto the dance floor easily, but when I hear the sound of Irish music playing — usually in a pub — my otherwise rhythmically disinclined body is compelled to move with the beat. Like a self-possessed metronome, my foot cannot resist the siren call to keep time with the music.

My first exposure to Irish culture was during my university days as a very green undergrad student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known for both its talented pool of local musicians and density of bars and pubs packed into a relatively tight downtown core, an evening out at a Halifax pub (or pubs) was (and still is) THE thing to do starting on a Thursday night and continuing on into the weekend. While pubs and bars have come and gone over the years, some venerable ones remain like the Lower Deck on the Halifax waterfront — a must-do experience for the first-time Halifax visitor.

Despite my affinity for Irish culture, I  have yet to actually set foot on the Emerald Isle. The closest I’ve come was this past spring when I had an opportunity to go to Dublin with my sister, who had to be in Ireland for some international business meetings. Were the airlines tickets more affordable in the context of a week-long stay, I would’ve taken advantage of this chance to visit Europe for the first time. Alas, it was not to be. My sister did go, however, and did enjoy her brief, first-time trip to Europe. Unfortunately, she is not so identified with Irish culture as me and also has little interest in photography, so the images I have of Ireland remain those that I have collected and stored away in my imagination over the years through books, movies (e.g., Leap Year and a very handsome-scruffy Matthew Goode), photos, and magazines.

One of my friends at work, who married an ex-pat Irishman (whom, I imagine has a lovely accent), recently returned home from a five-week family trip in Ireland. I can’t wait to catch up with her, and hear how her trip was, what adventures she had, and if she ran into any Gerard Butler look-alikes (yes, I know he is actually Scottish, but he did play an Irishman quite convincingly in P.S. I Love You, a movie whose only redeeming quality was the presence of Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or Allan Hawco à la Love & Savagery (very charming Irish-Canadian film collab).

In any event, I was on the phone when my friend popped by my cube to deliver some Irish bounty — a dark chocolate bar. I was intrigued: a real Irish chocolate bar! I don’t think of Ireland when I think of European chocolate. And Guinness?.. I do recall having once come across a recipe for a chocolate layer cake, in which Guinness was specified as an ingredient… Normally, I hate beer, but maybe all it needs is a little chocolate…

My morning half-pint

Since I had made it to mid-morning without a single chocolate pick-me-up after the requisite dose at breakfast (selected from my always well-stocked dark chocolate stash— and no, we’re not talking Cocoa Puffs or Nutella, or any of that other fake stuff masquerading as chocolate), I carefully unwrapped the bar. Within seconds, my cube started to smell like D’Arcy McGee’s or The Old Triangle! That’s all I needed: my manager thinking I had gone all James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway with my tortured technical writing assignments. Just how much Guinness was in this bar, I wondered — after quickly devouring two squares…

For a moment, I was transported back in time to that enchanting, rainy, cold, fall afternoon along Wellington Street in Ottawa when the remnants of Hurricane Juan were kicking up a blustery storm of wet, fall leaves. We were soaked, my tall, dark, handsome, eloquent Irishman and me, after an afternoon spent playing tourist at the Parliament buildings, Supreme Court, and Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. We had decided to head over to D’Arcy McGee’s to warm up. It was the first time I tasted Guinness. Michael had insisted I take a sip from his pint. Not wanting to disappoint, I raised the glass to my lips and took the most skeptical of micro-sized sips. I remember how it tasted as burnt as it looked. Michael just laughed and said it was an acquired taste. I told him I’d stick to my hot chocolate and warm, chocolate lava cake…

Hmmm… No amounts listed on the ingredient list. I decided to err on the side of caution and not imbibe — I mean, eat — anymore and risk having HR refer me to the Employee Assistance Program for a drinking problem. I put the bar to one side of my desk with a single piece of paper over it like an alcoholic trying to conceal his liquor in paper bag, hoping the scent of Guinness would be somehow magically stifled. It wasn’t.

I was sure my cubemates in the adjacent cube would soon catch a whiff of that unmistakable scent and get up to check who had brought in liquor to work. I should say, that if I actually worked in a non-geeky job, I would be the very last person people would consider as the bootlegger or closet-alcoholic. However, my job being the inherently geeky job it is, geekiness is all relative; the only uncertainty is just where along the geekiness spectrum I fall. I finally hit upon a decidedly non-creative plan, but a plan, nonetheless. I would stuff my bar into my filing cabinet where I also stored my purse and coat. Problem solved — I would keep the thing sealed and out of sight for the rest of the day.

Because of a series of protracted, severe thunderstorms that hit the city in the waning hours of the afternoon, I decided to wait out the inclement weather since I was without coat or umbrella (not that that would’ve been too wise to use in a thunderstorm), had come by bike, and also had to peddle through a densely treed park on my way home. Two hours later, I finally decide to take my chances and venture home as hunger has now trumped fear. I reach for my stored backpack and purse and note the pub-like ambience that hits me again as I open the cupboard to my locker — henceforth, pub door. I hastily stuff the chocolate booze bar into my purse and quickly and steathily make my way out of the office, grateful that only the last diehards of the geek squad remain…

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door. 

Sláinte!

‘Bad Idea Jeans’ commercial or just another night out running…

RULE # 1: DO NOT EAT A BIG MEAL BEFORE RUNNING… OR SWIMMING… OR CYCLING… OR JUST ABOUT ANY SPORT.

You know the quote. It goes something like this: “the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein. So, why do I still insist on ‘breaking’ the cardinal rule of running and loading up with a lavish meal before heading out the door?! It’s the same drill every time. I get home from work. I’m famished. I head to the fridge and nosh down on some dark chocolate-covered almonds, grab a peanut butter sandwich, maybe a slice of cheese and a glass of milk, then out I go, thinking I’m going to Usain Bolt myself down the canal path. Yeah, all that acutely consumed protein and fat is definitely the rocket fuel of world record setters. (Not!). If my gi tract could talk, I’m sure it would be cursing me for my repeatedly ill-timed and ill-composed food. Especially after only allowing my stomach a half-hour to digest it all. And yet, I repeat this pre-run nutritional pattern over and over again, thinking I’ll be fine this time… Insanity!

RULE # 2: DRESS ON THE COOL SIDE FOR YOUR RUN. (DON’T WORRY: YOU WILL WARM UP.)

Alas, Rule # 1 was not the only running rule I broke tonight. Because of being chilled by the ‘arctic cold’ air-conditioning blowing at me all day long at my workplace, I made a rookie error in judgment (oh the shame!) and overdressed for my run. Being overheated on a run due to excessive clothing is the worst. It’s no fun being cold either, but being hot on a warm, muggy night is just so unpleasant. (Especially when you add in the black flies that collide with your face, arms, legs and become fixed in place by your sweat.) Admittedly, tonight’s weather was a bit of a crapshoot for planning. When I biked home from work, the northeastern part of the city was filled with foreboding, dark, storm clouds with light winds out of the SSW while the south end was overcast, but bright and non-threatening. I originally was going to head out in shorts, a t-shirt, and (somewhat reluctantly) a ballcap, but then the heavens opened up and there was a torrential downpour starting just as I was about to go out the door. So, the last-minute plan B decision was to don a light jacket — my shelter against the elements. (Like a cat, I hate getting wet on a run unless it’s super-hot and humid and then the rain is soooo refreshing.) Bad idea. I have yet to find a running jacket for rainy runs that actually keeps me dry AND breathes. (Same conundrum with bicycle helmets.) So, I headed out, my black Nike cap’s long rim shielding my face from the rain, but the jacket acting like the predictable sauna I knew it would be, compelling me to unzip it most of the way and roll up the sleeves to my elbows to try and dissipate the extra heat. (I shudder to think how I must’ve looked like an older version of my 1985 tomboy self or an old school hip-hop dancer.) Of course, by now, I’m also having to contend with increasing indigestion… (So much for a fast time tonight.)

RULE #3: AVOID RUNNING DURING THUNDERSTORMS

OK, normally this is a rule I follow to the letter. (Like a Golden Retriever, I hate thunderstorms and would probably dive under my bed to hide when they rolled in, if I could actually fit under there.) I know what the stats say about it being highly improbable being struck by lightning, but why do we seem to hear more and more reports of this happening to people? Plus, Ottawa’s summer thunderstorm season seems to be getting a lot more violent over the past few years. (Hello, Bluesfest stage collapse last summer?) Anyway, this rule was broken tonight as my path was illuminated by a sudden, familiar flash of light and the distant rumbling of thunder. I contemplated turning around, but I was already more than 1/3 into my distance, and I wasn’t willing to scrub this run since my schedule was not free tomorrow night. I comforted myself with the fact that there were still a number of people out walking, running, and biking. So, it can’t be that perilous, right?.. I was running among trees however. What was that they say about thunderstorms? Seek low-lying areas? Stay away from trees?.. (Probably diving into the canal wouldn’t be a wise choice either — possibility of electrocution, picking up a skin infection from the pollution…) I began to take mental notes of where I could seek shelter quickly if the storm intensified. Being a regular runner for the past 7-8 years does confer a certain empirically-acquired expertise in weather-watching (translation: being a runner turns you into an amateur climatology geek), however, so I hypothesized from the drop in temperature, the appearance of the sky and the relatively wide intervals between the lightning flashes and responsory thunderclaps that this was a series of mild, fast-moving storm cells. In short, I wasn’t overly worried about funnel clouds and tornadoes. So, I continued on. Stomach still queasy, but on the mend.

During the last 1/3 of my run, it really started to pour. I’m sure I could’ve been mistaken for someone in a wetsuit by this point; my soaking clothes were just plastered to me. My stomach felt better though, so I was heartened. I was pretty much the only (crazy) one left on the canal path at this point, but had to dodge a new hazard: speeding cars sending tidal waves of water onto the path. Forget the running jacket — I now needed hip waders and a sou’wester!?..

When I finally sloshed my way up the walk to my house, I felt vindicated. I had done it. I had not quit. I had won the battle. It wasn’t the fastest run for me, but it was the second wettest. One of those ‘character-building’ runs. (The wettest run I ever had was in Montreal running a 21-k training run through Mount Royal Park and Outremont on an oppressively hot, humid summer day. When the rain finally came, it was a total monsoon — but a refreshing one! I remember wringing water out of my clothes like a sponge when I got home. It was reminiscent of that old Sprite commercial Zulu song, ‘Rain, rain, rain, rain… Beautiful rain…’)

Stoked and totally soaked from my run, I decided to head to the pool for an hour-long work-out. I had done the hard part — completed the run — so the pool work-out was gravy. Happily, the pool ended up being a great work-out and I felt so relaxed and energized afterward… 🙂

High Fidelity: A Musical Time-Traveling Tale of Two Relationships

If we are lucky, we eventually meet and fall in love with someone who becomes our partner for life. Our better half. Our moitié douce. Along the road to meeting ‘our person’, however, we may date many people, some of whom we may remember better than others…

What’s fascinating to me is the role that the music du jour seems to play both in triggering our recollection of events and in modifying our emotional response to these events. I’m not sure if this is a peculiarity for the musically-inclined or a general phenomenon. (I need to inform myself better about the science behind music and the mind starting with reading the works of Daniel Levitin and Oliver Sacks.) In any case, I often find when I hear a particular song begin to play, I can become instantly transported back to a specific time, place, person, or emotional state.

How about you?

Do you remember the song that was playing the first time you & your now-partner were out at a bar dancing or cozied up at the corner table of the pub getting to know each other?.. How about when that retro radio station starts playing an 80s power ballad? Feel like you’re back at the junior high school dance all sweaty palms and giant teased hair? Or, what about that song that seemed to play everywhere you went, all summer-long, which, when heard now, instantly transports you back to those hot, lazy days spent at the cottage, beach, or just hanging out with friends?.. For those of us who are athletically-inclined, ever notice when you’re out running or working out at the gym with your i-pod on, the sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through your body the moment your favourite song starts playing, magically energizing you to run faster or push harder even when you thought you were exhausted? And finally, ask any couple about to get married about meaningful musical moments and chances are good they will readily cite several songs between them that they associate with a particular milestone or event in their relationship. (BTW, check out ‘The Wedding Singer’, if you’ve never seen it; it’s hilarious!)

To me, music can also serve as the chronological scaffolding against which a relationship narrative unfolds. Films make great use of music in this capacity all the time in order to more powerfully tell their story. (One great example being ‘Love Actually’.) I guess it’s of no surprise then, that I often feel like I am an actress in my own series of real-time music videos…

In the case of dating with its attendant highs and lows, the quotidian and the extraordinary, some of the music we are exposed to over the course of a given relationship can often evolve into an unofficial playlist or soundtrack for that relationship, creating a sort of musical memoir or timeline, whereupon hearing the first few notes of a particular song from that soundtrack, we may find ourselves inexplicably remembering some arcane aspect of that relationship.

With these ideas and observations in mind, and with inspiration from David Levithan’s (of ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ fame) poetic, pithy book ‘The Lover’s Dictionary‘ and the must-see, classic, comedic film, ‘High Fidelity‘, starring John Cusack and Jack Black, the following is a two-part narrative or double-sided vinyl 33 RPM record. A snapshot of two very different relationships. One long and the other, short. One ambiguous, the other not. One of two highly similar personalities and the other of two seemingly disparate personalities. Both of which, set to music. Each with their own prevailing emotional tone. And like the complexity of great music, not so easily deconstructed…

Side 1: The Long Relationship

♥ God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies (feat Sarah McLachlan)

You were new to the office. I’d  already given out Christmas cards to everyone else. Although I hardly knew you, I suspected you were someone I would want to get to know. Since I was shy, I surreptitiously left a card for you in your mail slot — a sort of ‘welcome to the team’.

♥ Wherever You Will Go – The Calling

I didn’t know it at the time, but you were trying to get my attention. In the morning, before the sessions started, and after careful consultation with a close colleague, you had dashed out to the local bakery and bought me a large cylindrical tin of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. Since I know of no better way to start the morning off than with a hefty dose of chocolate, I wasted no time locating a large soup spoon and pried the lid off.  (I hope I paused long enough to thank you.) You just stood there, watching me, completely amused by my child-like (or Cookie Monster-like) unabashed eagerness to break into that tightly-sealed tin. This was the first time you would learn of my chocolate addiction, which you would go on to indulge for several years.

♥ 03′ Bonnie & Clyde – Jay Z & Beyoncé

I remember the first time you asked me out to lunch. You called me under the guise of comparing notes on a business issue. Instead of resolving the relatively straightforward matter by phone, you instead asked me if I ‘ate lunch’. Recognizing the subtext, I excitedly began to do a little happy dance on the other end of the phone; it was if you had (finally) just asked me to marry you. (I hope I didn’t sound too emphatic or breathless in my ‘yes’ response.) This was your initially, cautious way of getting to know me better — an apparent working lunch. Except the ‘work’ part lasted only minutes; you were much more interested in cracking my hard, outer shell… We would continue our weekly or bi-weekly ‘clandestine’ lunches for two years, often only mildly concerned of the time… Our favourite spot was the atrium or eating al fresco on the adjacent terrasse overlooking the park below. What I remember most about that first summer of our series of lunch dates was how every day felt warm & sunny even if it was pouring outside; I was so happy being in your company.

♥ Clocks – Coldplay

It was a summer of seemingly endless sunshine. You were glued to the Tour de France — you were always a huge fan of Lance Armstrong. Like the familiar piano riff refrain or a cyclist in the Pyrénées barreling down the steep descent, there was no turning back. I knew I was falling for you. Little did I know I had actually boarded an unpredictable rollercoaster ride. 

♥ Fallen – Sarah McLachlan

Undeterred by the remnants of Hurricane Juan swirling eddies of brightly colored leaves and horizontal rain in our path, we soggily make our way to the Hill, our shared inverted umbrella having surrendered to the gale. I keep stopping to take photos while you instinctively reach for my bag and take the umbrella, my devoted ad hoc photographer’s assistant. We seek shelter inside the great halls of Parliament, then climb to the top of the Peace Tower to take in the panoramic views of Ottawa and Gatineau, then amble like Jack & Jill down the rolling grounds to the Supreme Court, before retracing our steps down the street to check out a black & white urban photo exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. Finally, we make our way over to D’Arcy McGee’s to warm up in a cozy corner of the pub with a pint of Guinness (you) and some food. Forget Paris or Rome — during that rain-soaked afternoon, Ottawa was the most romantic city in the world.

♥ Turn Me On – Norah Jones

I twisted your arm to skip the business function you had to come with me to see The Group of Seven exhibit over at the art gallery. You knew nothing about art, which surprised me; you were so intelligent, so well-read. I was studying a painting when you leaned over and whispered into my ear about how phallic you thought Lawren Harris’ ‘Old Stump, Lake Superior’ painting was.

♥ White Flag – Dido

“I can’t bear you being angry with me” you said… “I would ask you out in a heartbeat”… “I like you much more than you realize”… I recall your pleading, emotional words uttered only weeks before as I now walk hurriedly down the hill in the pouring rain, tears streaming down my face. I can hardly see. I have to catch my train home.  You had just revealed you were involved with another woman. 

♥ Take on Me – Aha

You reflexively cranked the volume on your car stereo. A wide grin spreading across your face as you grooved to the beat. I cringed like a teenager embarrassed by an uncool act committed by a parent. You were trapped in a musical time warp, happy to remain firmly ensconced in the 80s of your youth. These were your comfort, care-free years, it would seem. I wonder, were you truly happy then?

♥ I’ll Be – Edwin McCain

I had just taken you out for a birthday lunch at a Szechuan restaurant downtown that we both loved. Afterward, you had to go back to the office and I had to catch a train. We lingered on the busy street corner against the blowing snow. As I began to secure the hood of my wool coat over my head, you leaned in to kiss me. You brushed my mouth. You had never kissed me before. I wasn’t sure if you had meant to kiss my cheek and simply missed. Two-cheek kissing was just a cultural norm in this city, a social greeting akin to a handshake.

♥ Du Plaisir – Don Juan soundtrack (Félix Gray)

You asked me to go to the premiere of this French musical pop opera with you. You had been given two tickets by a business associate. I thought, how romantic this was going to be: it was almost Valentine’s Day. You suggested we meet at the theater. I suggested we walk down together. At intermission, you quietly asked me for change to pay for your drink. Your colleagues were amused; they asked how long we’d been married. You became very uncomfortable.

♥ Come Away with Me – Norah Jones

You must have snuck into my office early that morning. The package was large, heavy, carefully wrapped with an envelope appended. I was not expecting anything from you, but I still held out hope. You had given me the most beautiful card along with the coveted David Silcox hardcover coffee table book on ‘The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson’. You couldn’t have given me a more perfect gift.

♥ Two Socks – The Wolf Theme – John Barry (Dances with Wolves soundtrack)

You pull me in, you push me away. You pull me in, you push me away. I don’t want to play your game anymore.

♥ Mr. Brightside – The Killers

Perhaps it was in the spirit of solidifying our new friendship. You suggested we go biking sometime. Come again? We never exercised together previously, and even though I recall you saying that you used to cycle competitively when you were younger, you did not strike me as the athletic type. A fast half-marathoner myself, I was fit, but I knew biking was a completely different work-out from running. (I knew my competitive nature would also not deal well with being left in your dust.) You were handy, and offered to come by my apartment to tune up my aging bike. I straddled the crossbar to steady the bike as you examined the front wheel. We never did end up going biking.

♥ One – U2

Except for the music, we sit in a comfortable silence as you drive the familiar, winding route to my apartment. This is your favourite band. I am lost in my thoughts and the melody. You break my reverie abruptly like a non-sequitur, talking about the insectarium you keep with her. You happily proclaim how you & she are the ‘geek couple’. I feel a momentary pang even though I know we are just friends.

♥ Timeless – Kate Havnevik

 I know the minute I cross that airport security threshold, things will never be the same. I am about to leave you, this city, my friends. It takes all my will to maintain my composure in the exchange of hugs and emotional good-byes… Alone,  I dissolve into involuntary tears as the bewildered, uncomfortable security personnel awkwardly expedite my processing through the checkpoint.

♥ Nowhere Warm – Kate Havnevik

Late fall. The commute home is long, mostly rural. It is a route I am well familiar with, traveling the 400-km round trip two to three times per week to try my hand at academic teaching. Thankfully, the surroundings are scenic — a tapestry of colors. I am driving alone, far from you, but you are nonetheless never far from my thoughts.

♥ If You Want Me – Glen Hansard & Maketa Irglova

Heavily bundled against the icy chill, I am running alone around the frozen lake. It is the middle of a long, bleak winter and the snow is blowing, an almost daily occurrence. The path is deserted and largely inaccesible by snowdrifts. All is quiet. A post-apocalyptic scene. It’s been 8 months since we parted ways. Do you think of me still?

♥ U Want Me 2 – Sarah McLachlan

I’ve had time to heal, to move on, to forget you. It is a warm, mid-autumn evening. We reunite as friends after more than a year apart over an intimate supper in a leafy neighborhood bistro. We catch up, falling into easy conversation as if no amount of time has passed. The food is wonderful and the wine we picked up, the perfect accompaniment. The comfortable, safe rhythm of the evening is suddenly shattered by the bomb you drop in telling me you’ve split with her… For a moment, I no longer discern your voice or the ambient noise around us. Did I just hear you speak the words I thought I would never hear? And if yes, what does this mean? If anything. My mind starts racing. Since when do fantasies become a reality? There is still residual heartache, anger, unresolved feelings from a protracted, unrequited love. The old familiar chemistry rouses itself regardless, like resuscitated embers in a long burning, slowly dying fire. Are these feelings real or are they simply the last vestiges of nostalgia or a yearning for the happier, uncomplicated days of the past? You invite me back to your place.

♥ Winter Song [Album version] – Sara Bareilles

You meet me at the train station that morning. Your tall, lanky figure striding elegantly across the platform to greet me. My original flight home for Christmas had been cancelled. I have a 4-hour lay-over before my new flight leaves. We decide to go see ‘Valkyrie’ downtown. You apologize for your compulsive, running, whispered commentary about the history behind the plot. I don’t mind.

♥ Hot N Cold – Katy Perry

I am back in town on business. It is a cold, late January day. We are just friends. You offered to put me up for the night at your place. You join me and a mutual friend for supper. I notice you’d become quite close with her since I’d left. I hate that it bothers me. You hardly look at me the whole time we are at the restaurant. By contrast, the two of you seem wrapped up in your own private conversation, only peripherally aware of my existence. Une complicité notable. I know my friend would never pursue you, but would you dare pursue her?.. The meal ends, and you begin to make entreaties to her to join us at your place. She knows better. She says she has plans, a date. This piques your interest. You spend a few minutes asking her about this date. You and I finally head back to your place. I am still feeling confused by what I observed… You leave me in your cold living room for what seems like hours as you decide the moment we enter your house that you have to shovel snow off your walkway (and perhaps that of all your neighbours’). There is no food in your fridge. The bathroom is not cleaned. Why am I here?

♥ Mad – Ne-Yo

The night is fading fast. I have just returned from a low-key supper out with friends. It’s my birthday and still I have not heard from you. We had not spoken in weeks after that last phone call. I had done my best to push you away once and for all, more for my benefit than yours. It was for the best, I thought. Even so, I never expected you to comply. A loneliness envelops as I decide to call it a night. Then the phone rings. It’s you… Three hours later, I sleepily, but contentedly (if not a bit guiltily) shuffle off to bed.

♥ Young Forever (feat. Mr. Hudson) – Jay-Z

You would’ve preferred the Alphaville version. I hate that you chose to leave. Your children are beautiful; I can see you in your oldest. I hope they will be ok without you.

♥ Quelqu’un M’a Dit – Carla Bruni

The same trees stream past my window. Same sign posts. Same traffic snarls. Nothing is overtly changed even though everything has. I am driving home in a cab from the airport after a surreal weekend of attending your memorial service and then flying out across the ocean to give a presentation. Life goes on even when one is extinguished.

♥ Le compteur – Karkwa

It felt strangely like a homecoming of sorts. Meeting up with old friends and colleagues again. I was dreading seeing everyone, sharing stories, reliving the trauma… Staring out the window of the decelerating train, the city and its familiar skycrapers come into view against the dull, still-grieving, grey sky. How changed the city seems without you in it. 

Side 2: The Short Relationship

♥ Miss Independent – Ne-Yo

It wasn’t meant to be a competition, just a group training run. I found you intriguing, but probably way too cool for me — if you even were available (unlikely). We chatted during the warm-up and then you took off with the rest of the speedster guys. I tried to catch up to you, but you were too fast. I contented myself with admiring you from afar. You were very tall and more solidly built than most of the guys. You also cut a powerful stride.

Whatcha Say – Jason Derulo

I was new in town and wanted to take some cross-country skiing lessons across the river. I had been given a recommendation for an instructor, a guy I didn’t know. For reassurance, I polled several acquaintances, including you, to see if anyone knew this guy and what he was like. You knew him personally, corroborated his skiing competence, and confirmed he was, in fact, not a stalker.

♥ When Your Mind’s Made Up – Glen Hansard & Maketa Irglova

I was so pleased you came to my house party after training. You brought beer. I’m glad you stayed as late as you did. Did you know I had always had a crush on you? I think it was the vaguely British accent I thought I detected, which I found out later you didn’t have.

♥ Use Somebody- Kings of Leon

You were moving into new digs — an upgrade — and were looking to offload some junk. I was interested in the old easel  you had spoken of since I had planned to take a painting class in the fall. (I admit I was surprised to learn you were artistic.) I had to keep bugging you for it for what seemed like weeks. Finally, one afternoon after work, I got home and noticed a sturdy wooden easel propped up against my window on the veranda. Santa had finally come.

♥ The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

We hadn’t seen each other in two years. We were supposed to meet up for drinks at the neighborhood bar. I arrived first; you were late. I thought you might be. (I know I shouldn’t criticize — even if it’s just in my head — since I am not the most punctual person, myself.) You looked amazing, though, more handsome than I remembered. I still couldn’t believe you had asked me out. We ended up having to leave — there were no tables left. I was slightly annoyed by your poor planning. We drove to a hip, new wine bar uptown instead. I drove us since you walked. (I think I impressed you with my perfect parallel-park — on the first attempt)… With no reservation, we had to perch ourselves at the bar, side by side. You angled yourself to face me while I somewhat nervously sat facing the bar. I stole sideways glances to study your face and your lovely shaggy hair, as you knowledgeably selected a tasting plate of charcuterie and wine. You were so talkative, congenial, tangential, interesting. Vastly different from anyone else I’d been out with… What began as an imperfect evening turned out perfect.

♥ Sous le ciel de Paris – Juliette Gréco

You introduced me to your favourite brasserie. You were like Norm from the Cheers sitcom; the waitresses all knew you. I immediately liked its old French ambience of exposed wood beams and brick walls juxtaposed against the unexpected old-school jukebox and paper Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling in the anteroom. We grabbed a quick supper — you didn’t need the menu — and then we headed off to the movie. It was a weird, tense, moody, highly metaphorical, hauntingly atmospheric arthouse film. My overanalytical mind was hyperstimulated. When the film ended, however, it was you who offered the most astute, detailed review and analysis of the film. I was astounded by the extent of analysis and cinematic critical appraisal you offered, along with the endless array of obscure symbols and metaphors you not only identified but deftly interpreted. I felt like an uninitiated first-year film student listening in awe to her eminent cinematography professor.

♥ I am the Photographer – Memphis

You insisted on cooking me supper that Sunday night. I needed space and time to think, slow things down, get caught up on sleep. I went to a Baroque strings concert by myself that afternoon with your encouragement. You weren’t much of a classical music fan, yourself. When I showed up at your place later, you had things well underway in the kitchen, even offering me a plate of hors d’oeuvres and wine to savour as you put the finishing touches on dinner. Afterward, you were keen to introduce me to your dual passions of music and videography. I was equally enthralled by your evocative, exotic travel films set to moody, atmospheric music as I was by your rollicking extreme sports adventure films set to classic guitar rock. You were an artist, a story-teller with a singular focus of communicating your narrative through your audiovisual artistry. I remarked how you really should think about entering your work into a film festival.

♥ Change the Sheets – Kathleen Edwards

I keep refreshing my e-mail every few minutes, waiting for you to confirm our plans for tonight. It’s mid-afternoon, and I am growing increasingly annoyed by your delayed RSVP. I am tempted to tell you I have plans, to punish you. Yet, I want to see you. Do you assume I will always be available when you want me to be? Why do you always live so impetuously? What’s wrong with planning ahead sometimes?

♥ Le pyromane – Karkwa

You persuaded me to go to that sketchy nightclub — which was my original, uninformed, uncharacteristically impulsive idea — with you and hear ‘my’ band play. We strategized about how to get tickets: I would be downtown the next day, so I would try and pick up a pair.  I biked over to the club in a downpour after work, but the club was closed. I made a second attempt later that night after my art class finished. Again, the club was closed. By this time, I was having second thoughts about this idea because of how seedy the neighborhood was. You called me when got my e-mail update. Instead of allowing me to back out, however, you reassured me it would be fine, that we really should go, and that you would attempt to find tickets at a local record store tomorrow. When you came up empty, as well, we just decided to take our chances and show up (which is so unlike me). We got in. The place was just packed, especially with French students and young 20-somethings; we were probably among the oldest people there, but we didn’t care. The vibe was great and so was the music. I remember how close you stood behind me, as if to protect me as I — then, we — swayed to the rhythm of the mesmerizing, atmospheric melodies. It was an amazing night. I felt so free and secure.

♥ Sweet Dominique- Adam Cohen

I love your car. Remember the time we nearly started rolling down a hill after we accidentally released the parking brake? I was so embarrassed. You thought it was awesome and said you felt like a teenager again.

Comme une rosée de larmes – Ludovic Bource [The Artist soundtrack]

The theater was packed, and so we had to sit away from our usual section, and find seats in the balcony. You had your customary large bag of popcorn and I decided to try a lemon-ginger tea (which I ended up partially spilling on myself shortly after we took our seats). It was our first night out — the first time we’d seen each other in three weeks. Before your trip, going to see a film was becoming a regular activity for us, but the routine felt different this time. Our chemistry felt different. There was an uncomfortable awkwardness, like you might expect among acquaintances or strangers, as if we had lost the familiarity we had built before you went away. When you reached for my hand, your touch felt polite or dutiful, not spontaneous, romantic or desirous, like it had on previous occasions. I knew I shouldn’t have — risk of self-fulfilling prophecy and all — but I began contemplating the possibility that this would be our last time together at this cozy little repertoire theater that you had introduced me to and I had grown to love. (It was my usual way of preparing myself for potential disappointment instead of remaining neutral or optimistic.)

♥ Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine

It is a bone-chilling winter night as I trudge my way through the snow to your place for supper. A relatively short distance, I use the walk to clear my head, lighten my mood, gather my courage. I am scared. I cannot shake the sense of change in you since you returned from your trip. Are you still interested in me? Is there someone else? Truth be told, I never expected us to last beyond one or two dates. But we did. And now, I never expected to have the chance to feel this way again. Now I am afraid of what I have to lose…

♥ Don’t Go to Klaksvik- Leif Vollebekk

The next morning, you were determined to free my car from the patch of ice on which it had become immobilized. I had called CAA the previous afternoon, but they said they couldn’t access my vehicle because of the long, narrow driveway. Armed with a box of roadside tools, a metal shovel, and a huge bag of salt, you freed my car in no time. I was grateful , relieved, and felt overwhelmingly protected by you. You, however, were visibly bothered and confused by the fact that I hadn’t called you for help in the first place. I had lied and said it was because I was just being stubborn, wanting to solve the problem on my own. The real reason was because I didn’t want to start thinking I could rely on you for these kinds of things when I wasn’t sure if you were someone who was going to stick around…

♥ Teen Angst – Louise Burns

Luddite. That’s what I felt like sometimes compared with you. You were the minimalist, clean-design-aesthete, with your McLuhan-like i-phone-4 appendage. By contrast, I was the ‘maximist’ (as in maximal clutter in minimal space), eclectic (or non-committal) aesthete, with ‘vintage’ Motorola Razr fliphone sans keyboard. It took me forever to text you back since neither brevity nor typing are among my virtues. I think you thought I was seeing someone else… You actually said I made you feel lazy with my jam-packed schedule of daily exercise and leisure activities on top of my busy work schedule. I replied that maybe you just work smarter…

♥ Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye (feat Kimbra)

At my suggestion, we had made plans to meet up at your place after I went for one of my regular swims at the local pool that night. The wind was howling furiously through the trees while the freezing rain added exclamation by violently pelting your living room windows.  You had just revealed, rather reluctantly, that you had recently started seeing someone else. Someone you had innocently and unexpectedly met through an introduction by friends while away on a trip. I was initially stunned and speechless, completely unprepared for this revelation. You also said you weren’t so sure I was fully healed from a previous relationship. (I thought that was just a red herring.)… In my mind, there was no way for us to continue seeing each other, as much as I tried to reconcile your need to also see others before you settled into another serious, committed relationship. The fact was, we were at an impasse… Although I was the one who officially ended things, you did not protest; I knew you had reached the same conclusion. You wanted to be free while I wanted to be attached.

Dating Don’ts: Applying the ‘Scientific Method’ to Dating

Let’s get one thing straight: what happens in the lab should stay in the lab, right? Easy for you to say if you’re not a researcher or science writer, whose brain functions in analytic mode 24-7…

When I go on a first date with someone, my prospective mate could be forgiven for thinking he had walked into a courtroom for a surprise cross-examination or high-pressure job interview instead of a casual date.

I’m not the greatest at small talk, but I can do it… when I have to. My preference, however is to just get to the point relatively quickly — particularly on blind dates or on-line meet-ups — to determine whether there actually is a connection and therefore a point to the date. Which makes the meandering way in which a date can unfold problematic for people like me. I’m going to chalk my little personality quirk for efficiency up to a combination of my INTJ (“scientist”) Myers-Briggs personality type and Keirsey Rational temperament. I’m all about uncovering the truth and have this compulsion to plan or strategize.

Dating is not data though. It’s about people: you and your date (assuming you are not on a double date, or have asked two or more people out on this given date — which you haven’t, ’cause you’re too decent for that). In real-time. No control groups or experimental mice, rat, or ferret models; ditto for Petri dishes, study patients, or scientific papers for a systematic review & meta-analysis. No slightly geeky but witty crack team of CSI-like researchers to back you up either.

It’s you and you alone. Well, you and your date. The point being you are “on”, so any natural tendency to defer to the flagellated bacterium under your high-powered electron microscope (as the case may be) or equally captivating big, extroverted personality in the room is no longer an option (unless of course, you’ve brought your i-pad with you and you decide to skype your chatty, vivacious BFF in, which could backfire on you, because your date might actually end up liking her instead of you — assuming you decide you are attracted to this guy).

And so, under such pressure to perform, I tend to treat dating much like a job interview or athletic competition, where the rules of engagament are well established. So, of course being competitive, I summon my A-game to win — which is a tricky outcome in a dating context, in that what exactly you “win” isn’t always as clear as it is in a job interview or road race…

If only dating could be conducted like a controlled clinical trial designed to answer one fundamental question: ‘Is this a good guy… for me?’… 

Imagine how useful such a controlled experiment (see Figure 1 below) could be on those occasions* when you’re juggling dating more than one person at once — but not on the same date — and need to make careful comparisons between candidates in order to decide which person with whom you are interested in potentially forming a long-term relationship or meaningful chemical reaction. [*NB: not my preferred approach since I hate multi-tasking, notwithstanding the fact this kind of conundrum is also a relatively rare event for me]

Figure 1: One example of a design for a controlled clinical dating experiment

At the risk of totally geekafying this post (if I haven’t already), I sort of had a non-randomized active-controlled, two-arm cross-over trial (as illustrated in the above schematic) going for a brief period last fall that then morphed, or converged, into a prospective (single-arm) observational study (sorry, Mr. Architect guy).

All this to say, my inner scientist truth-seeker ultimately aims to determine the answer to that most fundamental of questions (in case you’ve forgotten: ‘Is this a good guy?’) in the most expedient way possible, and then, if I judge that he is not, my alter-ego economist/strategist then kicks into high gear and seeks to minimize the opportunity time +/- cost trade-off of this unsuccessful date by devising a proper exit strategy that ideally saves face for both of us.

But backing up a step, any scientist (worth his/her salt) or good critical thinker should ask, ‘well what is YOUR definition of a ‘good guy’?.. Good question, since this definition is inherently subjective, and thus will vary depending on who is doing the defining. 🙂

I like to think I will simply recognize him intuitively when I meet said potential Mr. Right, but the truth is I clearly have no clue – or at least I didn’t until recently. (20-20 hindsight + bad timing seem to be my dual nemeses).

Case in point: a few months ago, I did meet a potential Mr. Right, but didn’t recognize it until too late, because of the specious scientific paradigm I had been operating under to that point about the type of personality I believed my Mr. Right should invariably possess in order to be my ideal fit — the yang to my yin, Mr. Darcy to my Elizabeth Bennet, Pierre to my Marie Curie

I’ll never know for sure now, because I wasted a lot of time while Mr. Potential Right and I were dating, harping on the improbability of our association, fit, and long-term compatibility. You see, normally, I attract guys of the somewhat nerdy scientific persuasion (I know, you’re shocked) despite being a reasonably well-rounded person, myself (avid athlete and love of the arts & culture scene). One of these nerdy-science guys whom I had particularly fancied for quite a while was exceptionally brilliant (a descriptor I do not dole out often), articulate, and could write so beautifully (hello, Robert Browning). I also felt like we spoke the same (often flowery, neo-Victorian) language when we first met. In many ways, I was convinced he represented a better version of myself. (Eureka!) I was sure I’d found my Mr. Darcy at last. OK, maybe the Sheldon Cooper to my (much cooler, more socially aware) Amy Farrah Fowler. 😉

Well, sadly, it didn’t work out. Turns out Sheldon and I were a bad fit despite his meeting the lion’s share of my itemized, imaginary Mr. Right wishlist, except for maybe some of the really important stuff (which, of course, I would only learn in hindsight). And this leads me to the eventual realization (and new scientific paradigm) that I came to in missing my recent opportunity with Mr. Potential Right: it would have been a complete disaster for me to be with a guy who shared 95% sequence homology with my personality make-up (i.e., was a close carbon-copy of myself). Imagine the combination of two intense, serious, competitive, hyper-analytical, impatient, demanding, perfectionistic, critical, intellectualizing scientific types — together… as a couple… Wow, what a recipe for fun!? Sounds more like a train wreck waiting to happen. In my state of protracted love-blindedness, however, it sounded more like a match made in ideological heaven to me until my moment of (delayed) enlightenment post Mr. Potential Right’s serendipitous arrival into my life.

So, at the risk of recall bias (i.e.,  reviewing one’s romantic past with strictly rose-colored glasses), I decided to try and reach out to Mr. Potential Right, after recognizing that my obssessive analysis about our ‘differences’ was really just an outward expression of my anxiety or fear about the distinct possibility that we might have actually been very compatible (or complementary) as a couple because of our differences.

Which leads me to my own ill-advised (20-20 hindsight) personal version of the ‘mail-order brownie romantic entreaty fiasco (see post “Dating Don’ts: Professing one’s love via mail-order brownies” dated March 25, 2012): I decided to reach out to Mr. Potential Right one month after we ended things in the spirit of rolling the dice, seizing control of my life, and taking a risk to see if we could give things another shot.

Since, more often than not, I tend to chicken out with the whole raw, uncomfortable feelings stuff (like a true INTJ, sadly…) in favor of retreating to the relative safety of pontification and intellectualization — which has the untoward effect of making me appear deceptively rational, stoic, and completely emotionally unaffected — I decided to try a different approach to show my softer, sensitive side: a grand artistic gesture! 🙂

I came up with the whole concept while out running one night (solitary running can really be a great catalyst for creative thinking/ideas — just maybe not this one): I would do a series of hand-drawn, colorized sketches on progressively smaller (and differently colored) envelopes – think Russian (Matryoshka) nesting dolls complete with brief recipe card-sized notes (serving as narrative or the ‘pitch’, in case the drawings alone came across as hieroglyphs) — that would tell a (hopefully) compelling story about our (all-too-brief) romantic interlude, and whose overall message would be to ‘give us another chance’. Brilliant, right? Maybe for a Nora Ephron or John Hughes rom-com. But in real life? Probably not so much. Anyway, I had fully committed to my artistic vision and hopelessly romantic plan, so there was no turning back. One sunny afternoon, I stealthily slipped the finished chef d’oeuvre into his mailbox and then waited — not in the bushes or anywhere else near his home, just so we’re clear I’m not some crazy stalker — in anticipation of our most certain joyous reunion à la Jane Austen grand dénouement.

After several days then weeks passed, I realized (sadly) that he wasn’t going to go all John Mayer or Adam Cohen and serenade me with his acoustic guitar from the street outside my bedroom window, nor was he going to one-up me with an even grander artistic articulation of his undying affection for me. I just wasn’t going to hear from him, period.

He had more than likely moved on, turned the page on me, and was probably happily dating someone else by now. (Probably someone far easier to be with, too.) I had lost, not in the competition sense of the word (which can easily be misconstrued when it’s me), but I had lost my chance to be with a really secure, interesting, intelligent, funny, outgoing, athletic, artistic, kind, caring, perceptive, sensitive guy, who also happened to be incredibly attractive — all (or at least, in big part) because I thought being so different from each other in temperament was a bad thing when it turns out it is probably exactly what I need in a partner.

And so, I can do nothing but move forward, having learned from this experience, with the hope that I am now better equipped to recognize the next Mr. Potential Right I will meet. (Hopefully, he’s wearing one of those unambiguous signs you see people wearing or holding at the arrivals gate at the airport in order to flag me down!?)

{As a postcript, I have Mr Potential Right to thank for encouraging me to express myself more creatively, and it was this failed Matryoshka mail experiment that was the catalyst for reconnecting with the kind of art I love doing and in launching this blog.}

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.]

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