Most of my friends complain about having to take the bus. My fiancé doesn’t understand why I would choose to take it, given the choice. But there’s something about riding the bus that you can’t get from anywhere else. On the bus, I can turn off my brain, turn on my iPod, and watch the world go by through the dirty windows. There are people I notice only because I am on a bus. I can take time to look them over and study them, before they get off at their stop. I can listen to conversations of 13-year-old girls, allowing me to stay in the loop on what’s new in that realm of life. (That’s MySpace, spandex pants and the OC, by the way). There are some recurring bus characters that reinvent the way I understand people.
There is the guy who has a bouquet of flowers. He sits quietly and usually with an expressionless face. If the flowers weren’t in the picture, he would seem plain, and I wouldn’t wonder much about where he was going. But when I see the guy with the paper-wrapped bouquet, I wonder who he loves, how far he must go, what kind of flowers they are. Are they for a sick relative at the hospital? Did he make a big mistake he needs to make up to his girlfriend? Is he finally going to confess his feelings for a girl he knows? I love seeing the guy with flowers on the bus, it reminds me that beneath our plain bus faces, we’re all feeling things on a less detectable but equally moving level.
There is the crazy who sits near the front. Most people awkwardly try to avoid their gaze, fearing that they may inadvertently activate the crazy person’s desire to spout obscenities or loud conversation. The crazy person has nobody sitting around them, and looks people in the eye. I like it when the crazy person comes on the bus because it can be as entertaining as reality TV on my way home from work.
There is the stroller mom. She struggles to get the giant stroller on the bus and takes up the whole front section. She usually wears makeup and grocery shopping clothes, and sans stroller, would pass for someone you line up behind at the drug store. But with the stroller, it makes me think about how when you have a baby, you don’t get free time. If you want to go pick up a computer part, the baby comes. You have an appointment? The baby goes with you. And when you don’t have a car, you gotta lug that baby around with you on and off the bus. But the stroller moms smile back at their babies, and readjust their smothering snowsuits to make sure their baby is warm and safe.
There is the spread out guy. He sees that people are lining up, squished together in the bus aisles, but he doesn’t take his bag off the seat beside him or his newspaper out of the other one. He has just spread himself out in a little bus seat comfort station, with total disregard for the people breathing over him who don’t have seats. I like watching whether people clear their throats at him, sigh heavily, roll their eyes at him, actually say something, or “accidentally” bump him with their own huge bags they’d love to put down themselves. If you watch this scene play out on the bus, it’s almost impossible not to become emotionally invested in the outcome. It’s a little exercise in patience versus affirmation, I like to think.
Yeah, the bus smells, and if I drop my cookie I can never pick it up. Sometimes it’s hard to see out when all the people fog up the windows. But when I let it, the bus is full of little drama s and comedies to keep me entertained and give me a little insight into people who aren’t me. And we all need to know more people that aren’t us.
First thing this morning, I drew a bath, toasted my toaster strudel, decorated it with icing, and sank into warm water, as pastry crumbs fell under my chin and floated away. I was reveling in the after effects of the best birthday I’ve ever had. The warm water (which hadn’t run out in my triplex because it was only 10 a.m.!) gave off steam and spread around the bath beads I got from former roommate C. The Crabtree lavender candle burned and I read my Cosmo. Mmmm…it was too easy to let my face smile, even though I was all alone.
I had eaten dinner with my mum the night before, showered with gifts, and fed my favourites- Chinese food and tiramisu. I woke up on my birthday morning, Saturday, beside fiancé, who gave me a kiss and turned over to continue dreaming. I pulled on my housecoat and tip-toed to the living room to wake up former roommate and constant friend C. We’d had a total girl sleepover the night before, painting our nails, watching romantic comedies and eating too much greasy food. We ate our cereal and berries while watching Saturday morning TV. I gotta say, “That’s so Raven” is a perfect Saturday morning show. We amassed current roommate A., and met up with athletic friend S. at a downtown yoga studio, my favourite, for a 10:45 hot room yoga class. (Bikram) It was difficult and sweaty and there were times when I was thinking up excuses I could use to stop doing it. But after the hard poses were done and the relaxation ones began, I felt so cleansed. I thought to myself, as I meditated and brought my breathing back to normal, that relaxation was an amazing birthday present.
Went home and took off my soaking wet sweaty yoga clothes (I was sweating from my knee caps: It really was hot room yoga), and showered off. Then, fiancé and I were off with athletic friend S. to meet my BFF for high tea. I had vanilla chai with milk and sugar, along with my two-tiered sandwich display. As sophisto as high tea may sound, do note that our table laughed, made fart jokes and generally disobeyed most etiquette rules that could be done away with. (There are some I’ll never break- like raising a pinkie with tea). I got an amazing, touching letter from BFF that reminded me, and moved me to the core, how lucky I am to have such amazing people like her in my life!
Later was dinner with my Dad and grandfather: wonderful wine, fine dining, and a new pair of Puma Satori Alto boots-yay! Then it was back to my place as my guests arrived. We drank champagne and wine, I wore a tiara, and we all amassed for a drinking game in the living room. We all cabbed to my new favourite bar- Foundations- where we danced and drank the night away. It was all very fabulous, very fun, and very memorable.
There are so many more details I left out of this post that made this the best birthday ever, but I really must get back to work! But I left my bath this morning, ever grateful and appreciative of the wonderful people I have in my life and the things they are willing to do to show me how special I am to them in return.
Eleventh and twelfth grade teachers must be plagued by frustrated students asking, “When am I ever going to use this?” The antsy teens just want to be done with it, no more teachers, no more books. As an almost degree graduate, I can affirm that indeed, I have never used quadratic equations nor litmus tests in real life. I certainly use my grammar rules (I before E except after C), but it is also my profession. Many political science students use spell check, and that’s good enough. I didn’t discover the joy of athletic accomplishment until this past spring when I started running on my own. And shop class? I have a man for that, come on!
But there is one class I took for one semester that has given me direction, focus and joie de vivre. I know fill my days with discovering more about it, new and old. I exercise my eye for detail and appreciate of layout. My eleventh grade art history course changed me. I learned chronologically how popular art developed, why people bought it, why it decorates famous buildings, what it means. I was given a skill far more important than the ability to analyze Death of a Salesman. By semeter’s end, I found myself able to enjoy visual art. I learned to find beauty in aesthetically abhorrent artworks. I found my favourties, and I return to them almost daily to remind myself of beauty beyond cubicle walls.
Our teacher had traveled the world: a different country each summer for her thirty-plus years of teaching. Many of the slides she showed us were her own photographs of the Venus de Milo, the Sistine Chapel, the Gehry building. She brought the two-dimensional images to life, colouring our imaginations with art. She showed us how a canvas with two stripes can do something, mean something real.
In art history, I was connected to all our human ancestors. I saw beauty through the eyes of ancient beholders. I fell in love with the classicism of Greek sculpture, and wept (don’t tell anyone) quietly when I saw my favourite pieces in Athens. I was moved by Picasso’s “Guernica”, and am equally excited to visit it at the Met in New York this December. I have learned and loved what it is to paint the contents of imagination and secret thoughts.
From art history class onward, I have learned that beyond necessity, functionality and reality, there is a world that I don’t have to leave behind with my childhood: Imagination. I appreciate the rose windows of the churches in my city, and I take the time to offer up my praise to the art gods of the past. Thank you cards are more meaningful now that I recognize the beauty in the Monet print on the front.
Not everyone’s experience with grade 11 art history will be the same, and if I’ve learned anything, I know that that’s wonderful. Some should hate what they see! But passion for beauty, that is something I’m glad I have to take with me.
In celebration of the gorgeous autumn day in my neighbourhood yesterday, I decided to take my book and tea craving outdoors. I counted out some change from my money plate (where pockets get emptied) and walked down to my new favourite thinking ground, the Wild Oat organic café. Alas, other yuppies shared my idea and each sitting spot was full. So, I walked down to Timothy’s Coffee, but was told by the counter attendant that the “tea machine was broken.” I tried to figure out how the store’s capacity to boil water could be broken, as its requisite ingredients are heat source, a container and water. Alas, I walked further down the street to Starbucks.
I stood in line and angled my head forwards as I squinted my eyes to decipher the markings on the menu. I must have looked like I was staring the prices down, hoping they’d reduce, as I subsequently looked down to the change in my hand and counted out what it could purchase from the tea menu. I flicked out the piece of pocket lint that came with a quarter. There were two girls in front of me with the frizzy hair denoting the hormonal changes of a teenage girl. They giggled and asked the barista questions about different drinks, oblivious to the line of eager caffeine-addicted patrons behind them. “Do you guys get a lot of orders for orange mocha frappucinos?” one giggled, referring to the line from Zoolander. I joined in the collective heaving and hawing of the twenty and thirtysomething crowd. It was as if we all leaned on one foot with a hand on the hip in a uniform motion sighing, “Honey, just order your drink with your daddy’s money and move on so that we, who have learned the value of work and have earned the right to flaunt Starbucks sophistication may indulge.” Or so I reflect today. Anyway, the girls got their super-sugared drinks, and sprinkled chocolate shavings on top before going off giggling. I ordered my passion Tazo tea, picked up a free copy of the Times (one of my absolute favourite Sunday indulgences) and set up my reading/sipping station on the outside patio.
I can remember being those girls, on a virgin trip to Starbucks, that far-away land of grey-suited adults awakening their sense of excitement with a hit of caffeine. Back then, I expressed myself via catchy T-Shirt slogans, believed in every reason to damn the man, and didn’t give a thought to how outrageous it was to pay six dollars for a coffee.
Fiancé always says girls are on emotional roller coasters. He says we’re prone to experiencing moments of utter joy and ecstasy only minutes before crashing down into a heap of snotty, heaving cries. I roll my eyes when he says this, or get mad because it comes up subsequent to one of these alleged roller coaster episodes. (No one likes to be called grumpy when they in fact are grumpy)
But this weekend, I can vouch for his assertion and contribute qualitative data to support this thesis for the pool of male knowledge everywhere to borrow from when arguing this same thesis with their sisters/girlfriends/wives/secretaries.
At one point, I believe around dinnertime, I quietly excused myself to the washroom where I cried, uncontrollably. I asked myself why I was doing this, to which my crying self replied, “I (sniff sniff) don’t (sniff) KNOWWWWWWWW,” and proceeded to heave cry some more. I was shaking and breathing erratically and a big mess. You could romanticize it and say this big, bad world was too much for my heart to bear. Or that a sensitive girl like me is just built to spontaneously combust in a mental-patient way every now and again. Fiancé came and rescued me, rubbed my back and told me to “Breathe, babe, tell me what’s wrong.” The poor guy was so confused and looked at me like a little boy looks at a stunned bird that’s flown into a window. “Is it OK, Dad?” “Yes, son, but don’t go near it, you’ll scare it.”
I calmed down and reassured roommate that I’m not headed for a straight jacket anytime soon. An anxiety attack maybe? I took a bath, drank some tea and had my back rubbed as I fell asleep. By bedtime, I was able to half-smile and joke, “Babe, does it bother you that your fiancée is crazy?” “No,” he said. “You keep things interesting.” That brought me right up to the highs of highs, hearing him say that. He took my face and kissed it, rubbed my hair and hugged me.
So maybe girls are emotional roller coasters. My mum says to blame it on hormones. But that has been her answer to things since I was wearing training bras. Maybe we are like this to keep things interesting. The Tabasco sauce to life.
It turns out that the prospect of moving, of packing up my Ottawa life and moving up, up and away, is scarier that I originally thought. As a rule, moving away to support fiancé fulfill his dream is nothing to complain about, and I embrace his future with wide open arms (knowing he’s there to fill the other half of the embrace). We will go to a place far away, together, and we will have a house and we will get our groceries in a new store. This is exciting, like travel, only for longer than a week. I will still have phones and TV and a computer and mail to connect me to my family and friends back home. But they will be back home.
I know that if I was unattached to someone in a way I am to fiancé, I would travel, take internships in far away places, and get out exploring the big wide world on my own, and that is exciting and definitely more scary. I am glad that we will be doing this together. “If you can choose one person to be in a foxhole with, you wanna make sure it’s a good person.” Well, he’ll be my foxhole partner. We’ll buy the things that will decorate our home and meet the people we’ll socialize with on weekends. We’ll pick out new favorite restaurants and new things to spend our money on. We’ll do all those things we put off in our minds until that intangible time when we grow up. Yeah, come next summer, we will grow up.
It must be something in the autumn air, something in the blowing leaves that makes everyone lament the cold and anticipate the future seasons of warmth. With than anticipation comes more thoughts lingering towards what we will all (as near graduates) actually do next summer. We won’t save up for school, we won’t have a four-month break. We have to grow up. And with these types of thoughts dancing around, preoccupying all of our brains, I can’t help but bite my nails a little bit that the inevitable is soon going to be the present. I will grow up and move on.
No one likes leaving the warmth of their blanket in the morning when they are assaulted by the awakening noise of their alarm clock, called to get out and shuffle into the world. But we know we have to. How do people go about making these kinds of calls? How did today’s grownups make their transition from teat-sucker to grownup?
My little sister is nine years younger than I, and that has always been a big gap, until now. I was in my early teens when she was learning to finger paint, and at my high school graduation, all nine years of her, with peanut-butter smelling hair and baby-fat cheeks, gave me a big, squeezing hug around my waist.
Now, when I call home, a voice not so much younger than my own answers the phone. Sometimes I have to pause and decipher whether it is her or my mum. She moved on from her tomboy phase to embrace frilly, decaled mini skirts from Old Navy, even though she swore she’d never want to wear “girl stuff, blech.” She sleeps in much later than I do, even on a Sunday morning when I’m really, really trying. She asks if she can bring a friend along on our outings, which also require scheduling now because she does not just sit at home following my mum around on errands. She updates me on the celebrity gossip I miss out on, and calls me after America’s Next Top Model to discuss how skanky or how stupid one of the girls was.
She is nervous about whether or not she’ll seem dorky or lame in front of her friends and, more importantly, the boys she doesn’t want my brother and I to know about (but she’ll whisper it to me if I’m lucky). In conversation, she says things like, “This might sound stupid, but like…” indicative of that awkward self-esteem that teeters on peer acceptance. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I wondered whether the note I wrote in purple pen in science class to my friend was boring, stupid or somewhat cool.
If I look at my life in phases, she’s quickly catching up. She’s moved through trading cards and cartoon movies with an entertaining and giddy quality. She has had a boyfriend where the extent of the relationship means being allowed to play soccer with him and his friends at recess. She’s now in awkward teen phase, right before presumptuous academic phase in university. See? She’s gaining on me.
I’m excited to have her become closer in age experience. I like reviewing her course outline and telling her which teachers are funny and which are jerks. I like giving her advice that is still era-appropriate and therefore more readily accepted by her in all of her turquoise nail polish glory. I hope that she’ll gain the benefit of my experience (never, ever wear pale yellow flared polyester pants—they are not cool), while still learning her own lessons, dignity and confidence in tact.
She’s going to be one of my bridesmaids next year. Not a junior bridesmaid, but a bridesmaid. And if she keeps on growing up a half an inch each time I see her, there are some last-minute dress alterations in store.
Saturday mornings began different ways as I grew up.
Some would start when I used my soft, kid-skin fists to brush the sleep out of my eyes. Sometimes this would of course involve some more digging: I’d get my finger and my bitten fingernails (a habit I’ve yet to break) to dig that last little bit of sleep out of my eyes. I’d twist my oversized T-shirt nightie back to normal with the front over my round, little-kid belly. I would sit up, and almost immediately, the vertical position would work its gravity and I’d tip-toe run to the bathroom down the hall to pee. Then I’d walk really quiet, like the kid detectives on TV, towards my parents’ bed, and crawl myself in between them. I’d position my face right in front of my Dad’s. My bouncy slitherings into the bed would wake him up, and as he made his first few blinks of the day, he’d see an out-of-focus daughter face with a big, silly grin right in front of him. I’d have to stifle laughter, not wanting to wake him up too uproariously. He’d smile back, once he could focus on my face and we’d both giggle. We’d lie in bed and I’d turn to wake my mum up by brushing my hands over her smooth, soft skin. This is what she’d to do me when I was sick in bed, and it always made me feel better. She’d smile at me with her eyes closed. I could still smell the hand cream she’d rubbed on her manicured hands the night before.
As I grew and slept longer than my parents, Saturday mornings began a different way. Bass would wake me from dream to eyes-closed awareness of my room around me. I’d feel my blanket cocoon, my sticking-out feet and the inevitable wedgie I’d developed from tossing in my sleep. I’d lie awake and pick out what song was playing downstairs from the bass line. I would wrap my fleece housecoat around my almost-pubescent body (read: still skin and bones, tall and awkward) and go downstairs. With each beige-carpeted step, my ears would get more melodic clues as to what the song was. It was most always a Beatles song, but sometimes it would be Santana, black Michael Jackson (is he grey now?) or maybe James Brown.
My Dad would be on the couch, with our cat on his lap. He’d be wearing his Saturday jeans: Holes in the knees, worn-in light blue and with a permanent wallet indentation in his back right pocket. He’d have a pile of papers stapled in the top left corner that he would be reading for work. Or his “list.” His list only came out on weekends. It was his list of things to do around the house, or his list of things to save up and buy. I would love accompanying him and my mom out in our minivan to do the things that would cross items of the list: picking up some bird seed for the feeder, helping my grandfather move something at his house or out to visit with people.
Saturday mornings are my own now, to share with fiancé and we create our own morning rituals.
Whenever routines kick up again after summer’s unofficial end, I find it really easy to get caught up in my schedule. A 7:15 wakeup, followed by 45 minutes of eat and get ready time. Bus to school or work. Eat. Come home around 5:30 on the bus. Make dinner. Do readings/assignment. Sleep. Perhaps pepper up the day with a croissant, a run, or a homemade pedicure. I am excited for Christmas holidays, a faraway calendar date. In the meantime, I transition from fall to winter slowly with wool sweaters, fuzzy socks and more frequent teatimes.
The fall sky being perpetually gray as it prepares its own transition to winter reinforces the weekday 9-5 regimen that flows slow like honey but passes by like a blink. The sky acts as they gray backdrop, misty and foggy, that connects one scheduled item to the next with smooth transition.
As school kicks into high gear, especially unforgiving for fourth and final year students as a last brutal hurrah to strain us to wit’s end, I have many projects on the go. I am accustomed to fewer sleep hours to get it all done, which leaves me in a quiet, dreamy state on most days. If I don’t keep busy enough, my thoughts quickly linger to my bed, my plush bed and how warm it feels when I left it that morning.
That is all to say it has become part and parcel of this twentysomething’s routine, to float through each of the 24 hours, occupied with a schedule, with the necessity to cross things off the list. It has become quite easy to notice that a week, a month, has already gone by. As dreadfully boring as my day may seem, it has become a comfort zone. My default is my flannel pajama pants, my comforter and my book. I am happy and most comfortable with that.
But every once in awhile, the universe decides to offer me a beautifully sunny day. It photoshops the brightness on my scenery up a few levels, and I notice the different coloured leaves, the still green grass, the yellow school busses. A day like yesterday when I smile and dance through my run, wave to every single person I pass, and run further than planned so I can look at the pink sky’s reflection on the still canal a little bit longer. Those days wake me up out of my comfort zone and remind me to seize each day.
It is easy to forego a night with casual friends playing Super Nintendo in lieu of a night in a duvet with my book. But then, I can do that when I’m old, right? I could do my interviews over the phone, sitting at my kitchen table smelling the baking muffins, wearing my slippers. But then I could also go outside in the crisp cool air that turns my cheeks pink, meet the person I am to interview, and look into their eyes to see who they are. It is definitely easier to stay in my comfort zone, and I don’t doubt that I’d be quite happy there. But after a day like yesterday that starts off with a surprise visit from an erratic squirrel on my front step, followed by a beautiful run that evening, I am not ready to concede to my comfort zone.
So to spite the gray sky and the warm bed and the monotony of my schedule that call me to give in to the ease of a comfort zone, I decidedly skip down my cubicle hallways an out into a colourful fall canvas to take imaginary pictures and play.
I arrived on scene damp all over, with particularly wet shoulders and knees. I had inadvertently stepped in a puddle en route, soaking my right foot. While waiting with my brother and dad for nine o’clock to roll around, we huddled under a sparsely-leaved tree (since most trees downtown are on the skinny, foliage-challenged side) as its leaves sporadically gave way to forming puddles, spilling the contents onto our baseball caps. It was so gray outside, it almost felt like 4 a.m., when the sun has just barely begun to illuminate the black sky.
When you have nothing else to do, it’s easy to notice the things that bug you, like rain. But when we amassed with the other spandex-clad runner, I found something else to fixate on while I waited: Everyone in this race had their numbers pinned to their chests and equal-sized signs on their back that read, “I am running for…” The runners, myself included, filled in the empty space below, reminding everyone around them that this wasn’t a fitness event, it was a memorial. “I am running for my Aunt Grace, I am running for my future, I am running for my sister,” some read. We were all there because breast cancer was something that touched our lives and was to be beaten, only with the help of a united front. United is the perfect word to describe the Sunday morning Run for the Cure 5-kilometer race.
My dad, brother and I shuffled ahead after the race began, caught up in the crowds. We agreed to keep a slow pace, so as to avoid chronic disappointment at how out of shape we thought we were as compared to the square-calved, toned runners on either side of us. I found my breathing pattern, my brother’s face reddened a bit, my Dad almost slipped but recovered after almost everyone around him asked to make sure he was OK. (Even though it’s embarrassing when this happens, it’s really so nice that everyone wants to help, right?) I found my rhythm without losing my breath and shifted my gear into enjoyment mode. I breathed in the view as we crossed the river (on a bridge), looking ahead at the 11,000 bobbing heads of other runners.
I was inspired by the sight of so many people, just as I thought I would be, because I love being amassed, as I mentioned, with other people who keep me motivated. By the second or third kilometer, though, I didn’t need to rely on the crowd for motivation.
A white object bounced past my right eye’s peripheral vision, and was drawn to it. It was connected to sunken cheeks, purple-rimmed eyes and a body running a slightly faster pace than I. This lady looked sick, like my grama did in the months before she died. This lady was bald, from chemo, and was running this race with us. I almost lost it, and pointed her out to my brother once she was out of earshot. “Isn’t that so cool? Isn’t that inspiring?” I asked him. I was glad to have a brimmed hat to cover my eyes for a few needed seconds.
I looked ahead to the second bridge we were to cross to return to the other side of the river, past the Parliament buildings and National Art Gallery. As my Dad, brother and I noticed the finish line ahead, I looked at my Dad and ushered in the last movement: the sprint. We ran full speed ahead for the finishing line, and I concentrated on my breathing again. It felt so good, like I couldn’t leap far enough, like if I tried a little harder, I might just take off and be airborne. We crossed the finish line, panting heavily and smiling. As I took off my wet windbreaker to let some of the sweat and steam off of my skin, I took pause in congratulating myself for completing the course.
I was in the middle of giving myself this mental pat on the back when I saw two people cross the finish line holding hands, an older man and a young boy. They high-fived, and made their way past me towards the food and water tent. I kept my eyes fixed on them, because I was impressed by this man’s selflessness of completing a race with a boy. It would have required great patience, as I’m sure he could have achieved a better time had he done it at his own pace. As they moved ahead of me, I read the signs on their backs and let my eyes pour out some quiet tears. The little boy’s sign read, “I am running for my mom.” The man’s: “I am running for my wife.”