Category Archives: Life

Happy Friday! We’re All Going to Die One Day!

Alone in the kitchen this morning, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I raised both arms way, way up over my head in a luxurious stretch, and severely pulled a muscle in my upper back.

There is a lot going on in this opening paragraph, truly, so let me break it down for you. The first thing you might have noticed, should you know me in real life, would be the presence of a kettle. Surely, Elizabeth, you are a coffee drinker, are you not? And yes, I am. Or rather I used to be. Coffee, sadly, no longer agrees with me in the mornings, and so I have taken to brewing tea as my wake-up beverage of choice. And it’s fine, really. Although as I have said to my husband many times, “Tea is lovely, but it is not coffee.” Which is, I believe, a fair assumption. But, a hot beverage is one of the nicest things about waking up early – whether it’s for work or school or just life – and so tea it must be for me.

I can drink coffee, mind you. Just not first thing in the morning with nothing else in my stomach and not all the time and definitely not too much in one go. It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that getting older blows, yadda yadda yadda.

You might also be interested in the kitchen stretching portion of this opening sentence, but as one gets older (as one does, should one be mortal) one ought to take the opportunity to stretch whenever one can. And by one I mean me. Stretch like nobody is watching is a good motto to live by. Again, for me. I have a comfortable bed, a ridiculously-priced pillow (good for the neck and shoulder support or so I was told) and yet I wake up daily with stiffness and aches and pains. Often the root cause is one 65-lb husky who likes to lie at the end of our bed and rest her chin on my leg/hip all night long. She is a very good dog and her proximity and warm furry body are just delightful. For the first ten to fifteen minutes. If the entirety of the dog is about 65 pounds, the head of this same dog seems to be about 50% of that entirety. Dead-weight husky head clocking in at around 30 lbs, easy. I might be exaggerating. But even if she isn’t snuggled up to me all night, there are still those same – or sometimes different!? – pains each and every morning. So yes, stretching is essential and I try to do it whenever and wherever I can. Again, what a drag it is getting old.

But! The absolute horror story of stretching is that after a certain age you must, must, MUST pay close attention while you’re doing it. Failure to do so can result in severe muscle cramping and straining (like I experienced this morning) sharp pains in muscles that linger all day long (also like I experienced this morning) and death (you know, probably.)

It’s completely unfair that doing something to RELIEVE THE PAIN THAT AGEING CAUSES YOU can also cause pain – worse pain, actually – unless you apply the kind of laser focus on each tiny section of your body that is typically reserved for surgeons and air traffic controllers.

And so, to recap, I am too old to drink a damn morning coffee and too old to stretch on a whim, and the best part? Is that it only gets worse!

I don’t usually get too bothered about ageing, it’s mostly fine. There are even some perks, honestly (the virtual invisibility of the 50-something woman in society can be quite freeing) but there are days when everything seems to conspire against my body and it’s frustrating. And on those days I get a glimpse into my future and my fleeting mortality which, let’s be honest, no one really wants.

So now I sit with an increasingly stiff and sore back and I am AFRAID TO STRETCH IT OUT because that doesn’t always work out for me! And so instead I sit (and stand sometimes too because too much sitting is bad!) in the discomfort that represents the downward spiral of my ever-ageing body while I ponder what might be next on the growing list of age-related ailments and stare into the void.

Fuck it. I’m going to get a coffee.

 

 

 

Windsors, Schmindsors

I started watching The Crown last night. Yes, I am a habitually late adopter of basically everything, but what finally prompted me was the trailer for the 3rd season. I’d heard that Gillian Anderson would be taking the role of Margaret Thatcher and that kind of sealed the deal, but also the trailer for season three is excellent. It helps, of course, that this upcoming season – which begins as the country prepares for the Silver Jubilee – occurs in my lifetime, with events that I remember. And I toyed with the idea of just watching the third season on its own, (It’s history after all, and fairly easy to fill in the blanks) but decided to go for it and try to get the first two under my belt before embarking on the third. So I did, and after watching the first two episodes last night I have some thoughts:

  • John Lithgow makes a very good shrewd and curmudgeonly Winston Churchill.
  • Queen Mary is a literal boss, and I love that Eileen Atkins has already played Queen Mary at least once before as well as Eleanor of Aquitaine, so she truly knows how to get her royal matriarch on.
  • I am SO glad they portray Philip as the dick he is right from the get-go. The only unfortunate thing is that this entire series is based on real life because if it was fiction, you know he would get his comeuppance, but alas, he never does. And now he’s like, what, 95? Annoying.
  • They sure do like to shoot things, those mid-century royals. Ducks, pheasants, whatever. Just shoot ’em all, all the time. “Want to go shooting? Of course you do, you’re part of this family now, we shoot things.”
  • The monarchy is a helluva drug, you guys.

The other thing that struck me as I was watching is that although this royal family and royal extended-family has always been complex with its lineages as well as with its marriages that make the most sense politically and economically, is that even with all that background, all that history of ruling, it is still just an arbitrary group of people who hold enormous wealth and (now dwindling, it should be said) power, and it irks me beyond belief.

And by arbitrary, I mean of course hundreds and hundreds of years of being descended (sometimes but not always!) from the original arbitrarily designated person or people. Obviously I am reducing nearly 1500 years of history here, but if you do look into it, there’s a lot of “guy shows up and claims the throne and no one argues” or “guy shows up and claims the throne and there IS argument and possibly war, too” but I stand by my initial statement. Who were these people? Why them and not someone else?

I mean, I don’t often quote Monty Python, but when I do, it’s typically these lines from Monty Python and The Holy Grail:

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony…You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

Indeed.

When I was just out of university I got a job at a museum downtown and was what was known as a historical interpreter. It was a pretty great job, one that actually kind of related to my degree, I’ll have you know, members of my extended family!  Historical interpreters would take groups and individuals on tours of the house, imparting knowledge of the family who’d lived there, making note for visitors of various important parts of the house itself, the furnishings, what rooms were used for, what else was going on in Hamilton at the time, etc. I worked mostly during the holidays, and the house was very popular with school groups and organizations who loved to see it done up for Christmas. A giant decorated tree, the dining room table set for a big dinner, garlands and wreaths, that sort of thing.

Most of the time we had groups scheduled in advance and we would listen for the doorbell from the staff room/kitchen at the back of the house. There were usually three of us working at a time and when we heard the bell we would hurry to the front door and greet our visitors. It should be noted that women interpreters were in costume (uniform) dressed as upstairs maids, and any men on staff wore attire suitable for the male equivalent to that (I hesitate to say butlers, because I’m not sure that’s quite right, but something like that, anyway) so there was almost always an “Oooohhhhh!” from people at the door who were likely expecting normal-looking people, not these weird transplants from the Edwardian era. We were also meant to remain in character as best as we could throughout the tour and interaction with visitors, and that part could be a lot of fun. I was very good at deadpanning “I’ve always been here” whenever people asked how long I had worked there which mostly made them laugh but every so often a less humorous group would be unsettled by my joke. Occupational hazard. Everyone’s a critic.

When there were no groups scheduled we sometimes did a bit of research in the back, reading up on what was going on in Hamilton during the era we were to represent, thinking of other issues and events that we could potentially highlight during our tours so they didn’t get stale. The house was officially open all week and on weekends, and we didn’t get an awful lot of action during the week with people just dropping by, but it did happen.

One afternoon it was my turn to get the door when the doorbell rang and I smoothed down my apron and made sure my little bonnet was on straight and I opened the door. I was about to launch into my scripted greeting when a woman pushed past me into the hallway, dragging a large stroller with her. She wore a fur coat of indeterminate age and animal and there were large round circles of red blush on her cheeks. Her eyes were wild. She was taller than me and I would have put her at the time in her late 30s early 40s, and as she looked around the hallway for a place to park her stroller, I noted that it was filled with stuffed animals and one smallish baby doll.

I had already decided not to ask her to pay the entrance fee, but it turned out not to be an issue, because she began by introducing herself as the rightful heir to the house and she spoke in a sort of English accent that would, more often than not, slip during our time together, and she also told me that she was expecting to move back in any time now. I asked her if she would like to take a look around and she agreed after I assured her the stroller and baby would be safe in the hallway.

We headed upstairs and she regaled me with tales of her connections not only to the family who had lived in this house in particular but also to the royal family in England and possibly some others.

I tried to do a little bit of my official tour guide banter, but she was more interested in checking out the furnishings, ensuring they were suitable to her tastes and telling me more about her royal lineage, her claim to the throne and more. I was 23 years old and had a pretty good idea that I was dealing with someone not entirely based in reality, and felt it was better to just listen.

At the end of our tour, she thanked me and I asked her to sign our guestbook which she did in a flourish, taking up three full lines:

Mary Elizabeth Anne Rose III (Royal)

She collected her stroller and bumped it down the front stairs and I went back to the kitchen to my colleagues.

I think about her every so often, usually in conversations with friends about odd or interesting situations we’ve found ourselves in with various jobs, but I thought about her a lot last night after watching The Crown when that whole “one random person eons ago started something and look where we are now” concept kind of struck me.

In this case, the woman who visited that day back in 1990 was likely extremely far removed from the family who lived in the house where I worked, and even further removed from royalty of any sort, but, much like those ancient “kings” who showed up from Denmark or wherever and claimed the throne, because someone sent them, who is to say who gets to be what they get to be? There are probably people who show up to royalty-type things all the time claiming some kind of connection – modern-day Anastasia Romanovs if you will – and security gets called to oust them and their claims, yadda yadda. But all I’m saying is that a few hundred years ago, this kind of stunting could have totally worked, and probably did work, too.

People are born into the situations they are and it’s honestly just sheer luck of the draw whether you’re born a Windsor or a Hamiltonian playing dress up in a historical house giving tours to people at Christmas.

And, if you work backwards from the Windsors and you go back far enough into the past it all gets pretty muddied, anyway. In another reality or another time, it just might have been my visitor shooting all those ducks or marrying that dick Philip.

I’m grateful she was spared that last part, at least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are the People in YOUR Neighbourhood?

A couple of days ago, a woman I know only because we follow each other on Instagram, had a baby. This is her second – she now has two boys which of course I think is great because I also have two boys – and I also remember when she had her first son, almost three years ago now. Time flies! She and baby boy seem to be doing well, and he is the loveliest, chubbiest little fellow. My heart is so happy for her and her sweet family.

Early yesterday morning, another woman I know posted a photo of herself heading into the hospital to have her second baby. This woman I actually know IRL; her grandmother and her great-aunt were good friends of my parents back in the day, and so we’ve chatted and interacted over the years, and now she and her family live across the street from me. Small world! And, not only that but when I was around 14 years old, I attended a baby shower when she was born. Which is…weird, yeah? I held her when she was a few months old and now she is a grown woman with a successful business and a family of her own.

Which, ok duh, yes, that is indeed how time and life work, but there is a very visceral part of me that kneejerkingly wants to react with “Oh my god, I’m so old!” But there is another part of me that says “Oh wow, this is keeping me so young.”

And then I started thinking about community and about belonging.

When John and Charles and I moved to this house in the fall of 1999, we were, clearly, a young family, just starting our lives together. Charles was not even two, Max, not yet even conceived. We had hoped to add another baby to our lives and when Max arrived in July 2000, our family was complete and we began to fully settle into our home and neighbourhood. Eventually, the boys went to school, we met neighbours who became friends and we met neighbours who we knew only to say hello to. There were neighbours who moved in and stayed for a time then left, and neighbours who were there before we got here and are still here.

And as we’ve aged and our children have grown up in this neighbourhood, a funny thing happened. It seems as though, now, we are the old people. I know, right? But, at 52 (me) and 53 (John), and having lived in the same house for nearly 20 years, it’s honestly true. And I kind of love it.

I love sharing in a community of people who are at different stages of life; like the older couple behind us who were here the day we moved in, and are still living in that same house behind us. Like the family two doors down who moved in back in February and just had a baby (hooray neighbourhood babies!)  I love that nearly 19 years ago we were the ones introducing a new baby to the neighbourhood and now, going forward, we get to be the ones to do the welcoming, to introduce ourselves to the families with the tiny new additions. To look out for them and their kids, like our neighbours did and continue to do for us and our kids.

And that is our community, our physical community. And I love it. But what about the other community, the online community, the one created through follows, and the friends I’ve met through social media? Where does that fit? Does it fit? My argument is that it does. Of course, it does.

And yes, some would insist that these people, these online people cannot actually be my friends since I don’t actually know them, and to those people, I say, whatevs and also shhhhh, let people enjoy things. Because it’s 2019.

I have engaged with people online who I have not met, who I might never meet, but my heart has broken for them when they tell me/their followers that their mother is terminally ill, or that their child is being bullied. I have celebrated the births of their children and mourned the loss of their parents, their beloved pets. I have reached out to these people sometimes on their timeline or feed, but more often in a private message (should they welcome private messages) because I wanted to offer condolences or congratulations or support not in a performative way, but in a heartfelt way. This isn’t to say that all posts on timelines and feeds are performative, but much like a handwritten thank you or sympathy card from days of old, a direct message seems more personal, more thoughtful. We see a lot of “thoughts and prayers” in the media, from politicians and celebrities and regular people and the entire meaning of that phrase has been lost in the noise of the online world. Many people lament the loss of human interaction in favour of this online world, but I am not one of those people. I think if you are deliberate in your intentions and your wishes for your online friends truly come from a place of caring, a Twitter dm can be as effective and welcomed as a letter.

When Max was in hospital last fall, people I had never met, people who follow me on Instagram or Twitter for my dog or my wine and library-related antics (which are truly legendary it must be said) reached out to tell me how much my updates meant to them, how hard they were pulling for Max and for us, and how much they wished they could help. Many of these messages began, “You don’t know me, but I follow you and I want you to know I am thinking of you and your family…” and others read “Thank you for sharing and for being so open…” and honestly, some of these messages moved me as much or more than ones from close family members. Some had had similar experiences and offered an ear if I had questions. Others just wanted to send a virtual hug and a kind word. And it was lovely and it was overwhelming.

“People are too nice!” I would say, almost daily, to my husband, usually through my hiccuping tears in the midst of an ugly crying session. The thought of (virtual) strangers taking the time to send their support, their prayers, and good vibes was astounding to me. And at the same time not astounding to me, because it’s the sort of thing I do too.

It makes me so happy to be the old person in the neighbourhood now, the one that has been here “forever” as my kids would say, and I’m just as happy to be the old person on your Instagram feed encouraging you and supporting you and feeling for you too. I want to read about your struggles with getting your toddler to eat or getting your dad to go to the doctor about that mole on his leg. I can even offer advice if you want it (I would never give unsolicited advice of course) too! Please do keep in mind that my parenting skills were honed in the early to mid-2000s and any advice I have to offer is likely highly out of date, but it’s yours if you want it. And it will come with a warm internet hug and a LOT of encouragement that you are already doing amazing. Just keep going.

And, as I said way up there at the beginning of this post, being involved in this kind of community keeps me young. Not in a “How do you do, fellow kids?” kind of way, but, much like living in a neighbourhood with families and seniors and more, having a varied internet community allows me to witness life unfolding in so many different ways, and at so many different points in time, and that can only be a good thing. It is such a privilege to be able to share in the experiences and milestones of my social media friends and their families. At times it’s heartbreaking and at other times it’s glorious and wonderful. You know, just like life.

Community is community is community. And I know the internet can be a dark, dark pit of despair, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet. There’s so much more I want to be a part of. And I like all of you too much, too.

I Survived Barton Street Too: For 52 Years and Counting

I should be working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project because I am a few hundred words behind, but after reading an Opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator earlier today, I was inspired to blog instead. Well, inspired might not be the correct word. I was seized with a blinding hot rage is more along the lines of what I felt, honestly. And oh boy, where to begin.

In this piece, the author decides to walk the entire length of Barton Street in the northern end of Hamilton. Barton runs from Stoney Creek in the east end of the city, to Locke St. in the central part. Why? Well because he is a transplanted Torontonian, don’t you know? (sorry Toronto, but most of these dudes are) and it seems he wanted to get to know his new city – his “adopted hometown” and its “most maligned thoroughfare.” Ok, sure. I guess?

It’s a pretty big task, honestly. It’s a long street. And when he said that he survived, I thought maybe he meant because it’s a really long walk and wow, maybe that’s a little much for him? Haha, no, of course, I didn’t think that. I knew exactly what he meant.

Throughout his walk and the article, he manages to hit nearly every stereotype in the book and then some. From the bars that would have been “heaving with steelworkers in the ’60s” to the closure of the Prince Edward Tavern being “One fewer place to drown your sorrows on cheap pints – or advance alcoholism, depending on your perspective.” I guess because hipster bars only have expensive pints and contribute to zero alcoholism? Help me out here, bud.

There’s more, there is oh so much more, and I encourage you to read it. It is, as I’ve said, an opinion piece, but some opinions ought to be kept to oneself.

He does seem to like the gentrification of a couple of areas on Barton because of course, he does. But I don’t know how anyone can walk that street and not notice the lovely churches at Barton and Sherman. St. Ann’s and St. Stanislaus have a proud history of serving the residents of that area. Or Woodlands Park. Or the Polish and Portuguese bakeries, the small grocery stores, the bustling hardware store and the stores selling bonboniere and other gifts. There is community there and there always has been, but it’s much, much easier to write about how downtrodden the street is, how it’s drug dealers and no sidewalk buzz. Was it a weekday when you undertook your epic walk? People work during the day. During the week. Consider that perhaps before making sweeping pronouncements about how the place requires serious saving.

You might already know or have guessed that I grew up on Barton Street, well just off it on Oak Avenue. So by disclosing that it would be easy for you or anyone to dismiss my thoughts as just anger at someone sullying my memory of the street, but the truth is I would defend anyone’s street in anyone’s city from people who arrive, agenda firmly in place, form an opinion, and leave. Whether it’s another street in Hamilton or Windsor, Calgary, Halifax, or Toronto – ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, honestly. And no, I don’t want to talk about how great Barton Street was when I was growing up, that is so not the point. And I also don’t want to try and convince this writer to come back later in the spring or summer when the street is livelier! And prettier! And please come back and like usssssss!

Barton Street is not without its problems, of course. There are no streets in any city anywhere that are without problems, and walking the length of a street you’ve never been on before in a city you barely know and congratulating yourself for living to see another day doesn’t make you a hero. It just shows what a privileged asshole you are.

 

Here I Go Again…

Some of you might know that back in November I signed up for and participated in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo.) You might also know that I was VERY DILIGENT about writing my 1667 words – or more! – each day from November 1st to 15th, and at the end of the day on November 15th I had written 25,468 words on a project (I was and still am hesitant to call it a novel, so it continues to be known as a project) and was feeling quite smug about my process and my success thus far. And you also may know that on November 16th, my son had a spontaneous brain hemorrhage, and no writing was done from that point on.

Now that Max is practically 100% better after a few months of recovery, I started thinking about that project again. In fact, he and I had been talking about my writing recently and he brought up  the NaNoWriMo project like this:

Max: Hey, speaking of your writing, what about that thing you were doing where you were trying to get to 50,000 words or whatever?

Me: Yeah, I did that for a couple of weeks in November, but stopped.

Him: Oh, that’s too bad.

Me: Yeah.

Him: Wait. November? Ooooooh. Shit. Sorry.

It was kind of a funny conversation, honestly, and if he hadn’t almost DIED it would be truly hilarious. But things are good now, so I decided it was time for me to get back at it and so I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for the month of April.

LOOK HOW CASUAL I AM ABOUT WRITING THOUSANDS OF WORDS EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH.

Honestly, though, it will be great, and it will be just what I need to kickstart my project and see it through to (sort of) completion. I’m excited, and while I haven’t even looked at this draft since November 15th, I have missed my characters, and I have been wondering how they are and what they are doing, so it is clearly the right time to find out.

If you’re camping and novel writing in April, please let me know! I am very good at sending along encouraging words, cheering you on, and virtual s’mores. We got this, pals.

Emily Starr 4ever

I am rereading Emily of New Moon because of Russian Doll.

If you’ve watched or are watching Russian Doll on Netflix you will probably understand the reference. If you’re not, well first off you SHOULD because it’s amazing, and next off, well… I don’t want to spoil it at all in case you watch it (which you should) but the main character makes reference to the book a few times over the course of the first season. And while Nadia, the main character,  is not the most optimal person to aspire to be, as soon as she mentioned Emily of New Moon, I definitely wanted to be her friend. (Ok fine, I loved her and all her flaws anyway, but the Emily reference put it way over the edge.)

There have been so many instances in pop culture, movies, TV where characters claim to love or hate books and those choices have resonated with me but this is the first time I’ve felt it viscerally. For real.

I spent a lot of time during my childhood and youth in the Barton branch of the Hamilton Public Library. I absolutely loved it there. My mum took my brother and me pretty regularly and then of course when I was old enough to go by myself, I went every opportunity I could, starting when I was around 8 years old or so because it was 1975 and obviously if you could walk, you could get yourself to wherever you needed to be, without parental supervision. (One day I will write a post about taking my younger brother and some of the other neighbourhood urchins to see the movie The Hindenburg because that was totally age-appropriate.) But back to the library. I would sometimes go with friends, but I mostly went on my own and I would stay as long as I possibly could.

In typical 1970s childhood fashion, I was required to be home when the streetlights came on. Once after browsing in the children’s section, I had signed out a few books and then another one – a teen book, in the teen section, scandalous! – caught my eye so I started reading it and before I knew it it was dark, the streetlights had been on for a while and I had to bike home alone, completely freaked out. 42 years later and I still remember that the book that had me captivated/terrified was Are You in the House Alone? and I was convinced that the killer was after me as I biked as fast as I could along Barton Street to home. Honestly, every book for young adults in the 1970s was either terrifying or about sex. Which to be fair was also terrifying at the time.

But I didn’t find Emily at the branch, I found her at the main library downtown. If you know Hamilton you know that the Central Library is a massively modern (well modern in 1980) structure with a lot of glass and concrete. It’s a fantastic building and I love it so much. But, if you are of a certain age, you will also know that the earlier Central branch was at Main St. and MacNab St. (it’s now a courthouse) beside what used to be the Canadian Football Hall of Fame – and that is where I found Emily.

On a rainy early summer evening, possibly the same summer as the Are You in the House Alone? experience, I went downtown with some older kids from our street. We had taken the bus downtown specifically to go to this library, I remember that because I guess we were that cool. And I also remember wondering if kids were even allowed in this formidable place. I was definitely nervous; the building was big and dark and very, very different from the bright, windowed, one level branch library I loved so dearly. But walking in was a revelation. It was much brighter than I had expected, the facade had always seemed gloomy – masterful but gloomy all the same. The main floor was massive – the building itself is quite large, although when I pass it, as I do daily now, on my way home from work, it seems a little less gigantic than it did when I was 11. The floors were cool marble, and there were two wide marble staircases that dazzled. And there was, in fact, a children’s area. The paperback racks spun quietly and as I browsed, a thick book caught my eye. I recognized the author, but the cover seemed more modern than something written by L.M. Montgomery should have been which didn’t make a lot of sense but then it was the 70s amirite? So I found a place to sit while my friends wandered around and I started reading and it was SAD, friends. Like really sad. Before we even left the library to head home I was completely hooked and immediately transported to Emily’s lonely world, so I signed it out. Nervously because I wasn’t sure my library card would even work at this big, impressive library. But it did, and I took Emily home.

This cover! I mean, how could I have left it there?

I loved her right from the start. I loved her relationship with her father and her relationship with nature. I loved the fact that she composed descriptions and elaborate events in her head – most of which involved her dying pitifully and tragically and everyone in her life being super sorry that they were mean to her now that she’s dead, which is a thing that I also did when I was 12 (it is probably a thing  a lot of 12-year old highly dramatic kids do to be fair) and then when she had some actual paper she wrote these scenarios down (which is also a thing I did.) I especially loved the letters she wrote to her dead father which act as a kind of diary for her, and in which she pours out her heart dramatically about her experiences living at New Moon with her aunts and cousin. Emily is so fucking emo, you guys, it’s amazing.

In Russian Doll, Nadia searches for her own copy of Emily of New Moon for reasons (again, which I won’t spoil) and when a friend tells her did you know it’s the same author as Anne of Green Gables, Nadia says, “Everyone loves Anne but I like Emily. She’s dark.” And Emily is dark – so dark – and a little bit extra. She has a sort of intuition, a second sight kind of thing that includes visits from The Flash (not that one) and a kind of spooky understanding of people, which is and has always been my total jam. And Emily feels things deeply – so very deeply – but she can also make adults a little afraid of her, and who doesn’t want that power as an overly dramatic preteen? In short, Emily was and continues to be everything to me.

So I’m glad Russian Doll reminded me how much I loved the Emily books, and how much I love them still. I’m not sure I’ll go on to reread the others in the Emily series, but New Moon will always be a favourite and it, like the library where I found Emily and the night I found Emily, will always be a treasured memory. It was more than 40 years ago but sometimes it feels like it was just last summer. I have a lot of amazing childhood memories and I will always be so grateful that so many of them revolve around books and libraries.

 

In Praise of the Desk Lunch

When I worked in a small library where I was the only staff person, I often lamented my sad desk lunches. With the exception of the patients that would use the library, I spent my days alone, and so often my lunchtime was also spent alone. I did have colleagues from another (attached) hospital library and we would occasionally go out for lunch, but my midday meal was largely eaten in solitary.

I ate – for the most part – where I worked although I would usually stow the keyboard somewhere away from potential crumbs, and I would minimize any work-related browser tabs or documents I had open. A true vacation from work, right?

And it wasn’t as if I didn’t have options. There was a staff lounge and an outdoor patio area with picnic tables, as well as any number of benches on the hospital grounds I could have escaped to, but I rarely did. The lounge was a bit of a cesspool of negativity, and I really didn’t want that in my life. When I would occasionally use one of the communal microwaves there, I tried very hard not to get involved with conversations complaining about management, other staff, etc. I had worked for a lot of years in a workplace with that kind of lunchroom and so when I encountered that I would quickly retreat to my desk, grateful that I no longer had to endure that.

The outdoor options? Well as promising as they were, if you know me at all you’ll know I really don’t like being outside. Especially when the weather is very warm and especially at the noon hour when the sun is strongest. If I couldn’t guarantee a spot in the shade, I wasn’t interested. So back to my desk I would go.

And yet, I complained. Friends would post photos of work lunches, potlucks, camaraderie over the noon hour and I would be envious. I would scowl at my boring sandwich and veggie sticks like it was their fault they weren’t a four-course Italian meal lovingly prepared by work friends and brought in for all to share, or a glass of red wine at a colleague’s birthday lunch at a downtown bistro.

It was a lonely existence.

When I started my new job (it’s been two and a half years, but it’s still my new job) I noticed that hardly anyone ate lunch at their desk. There is a staff lounge here with all the things you need to eat a proper lunch, including a real kitchen table and chairs. People bring their lunches from home or they buy them from the cafeteria, and many of us eat together. It feels like a real and welcoming community, and it’s so, so great.

So each day I grab my lunch bag and head to the staff lunch room and chat with whoever happens to be in there at the time, or not. There’s no pressure to participate in conversations, there’s also not any exclusion from conversations, you can join in or not, you can just do what you want. So refreshing, and such a step up from my sad desk lunches of yore.

Last week we were informed that the lunchroom will be getting a real overhaul. New or newly-covered furniture, a new fridge (honestly!) and a few other razzle-dazzle kinds of changes will be happening, which is amazing, but it means that the room will be out of commission for most of the week while these things happen. We were told to plan our lunches accordingly since we would be without access to things like a fridge, the microwave, etc. So making my lunch this morning I built myself a sandwich and added a few other things to the bag, and then at 1pm, after my desk shift, I stowed my keyboard and closed my work-related browser tabs and docs, and proceeded to eat my lunch. And I found that I kind of missed it. After all those years of moaning about being alone and having a solitary lunch day after day, I was actually kind of excited to sit and eat without any other distractions.

I found I slowed my pace because I really had nothing else to do. I could have read my book, but I was almost halfway through my sandwich before I even thought about it. I scrolled through my phone a bit but even stopped that after a few minutes. I really just ate. And I realized it had been a very long time since I had just eaten without doing anything else.

There’s a lot to be said for eating and only eating, and there has been a lot written on the subject of mindful eating, of eating without distraction. Mindless eating is – or can be – eating on the go, eating while doing a bunch of other things simultaneously when you’re not even thinking about the food you are ingesting. Mindful eating encourages us to focus on the act of eating – without doing anything else – and this is kind of a lost art when there is a lot of pressure on us to always be doing something.

Meditation apps include courses and sessions on eating mindfully and a quick Google search turns up dozens of sites all about why and how to practice mindful eating. (I know this because I did a search after I ate my lunch.) And while it would be amazing to spend a full hour in contemplation of our food, even just a few minutes of only eating can have a positive impact on slowing down our day.

Once the lunchroom renovation is complete, no doubt I will return to the lunchtime social time, but I think every so often I’m going to make an effort to slow it down and find a quiet place to be alone with my lunch. Today was a good reminder that a desk lunch doesn’t have to be a sad lunch after all.