Nope. I still don’t have any answers. And I still don’t feel like a grown up. Maybe slightly closer, but I still don’t even want to have to take care of a houseplant.
SIDENOTE: Somehow I manage to keep my dogs alive and happy. I don’t know how that works. Life Math is weird.
…Maybe I’m just not a green thumb.
My BFF Jo texted me yesterday and said, “It’s your last day as a 26 year old.”
At first I kind of panicked. Holy shitballs. 26. It’s over. I feel like it just started. I know it sounds like a super cliche, but in some ways, it really was like the blink of an eye.
I started this blog a year ago as a challenge to myself as a writer. Early in 2012, I kind of lost faith in myself. I hit a major rough patch and thought wow, maybe I’m actually a terrible writer. Maybe I have no idea what I’m doing. Maybe I don’t want to ever write again. Of course, I eventually came around and realized that writing is the thing I love the most. And in the same vein, I knew that if I wanted to be a writer, I’d have to write.
But I was kind of scared.
So I promised myself I would write something every day.
I wasn’t really expecting that forcing myself to write a blog post every day – a story that somehow led to me learning a life lesson, no matter how small – would help me be happy. I saw it as much more of an exercise than anything else. And an opportunity to maybe be funny. But I have to say, writing this blog has given me a completely different outlook on my entire life. It’s helped me understand how my past has made me who I am. It’s helped me work through a lot of difficult times and put a positive spin on things I would have never otherwise laughed at. It’s helped me approach life in a much more open, accepting way.
Like, happen to me, life: I’m ready to learn from you.
That was a disaster. Oh well, next time will be better!
I can’t believe that just happened. I am mortified. Also, that was hilarious. I can’t wait to tell people.
I did it! Someone pat me on the fucking back!
I hate everything right now. Surely someone will understand.
I am hurting. I need to know it’s going to be okay.
This is weird. Does everyone feel this way?
Did that just happen? SRSLY?!
At the same time, I had come to a bit of a crossroads with myself. I had hit a self-love low. I was feeling depressed, defeated, discouraged, you name it. I decided enough was enough: it was time to make the active decision to be happy.
I also discovered that Jayne Mansfield had stretchmarks. And my world was turned upside down. In a good way.
To quote myself (is that totally pretentious? I’m trying to recap, shut up.):
“Jayne Mansfield, the American actress, singer, Playboy playmate, and all around drop-dead gorgeous bombshell, was flawed in a way that has been the root of much of my self-consciousness for all of my teenage and adult life.”
So…all of that got me here.
SIDENOTE: It’s really hard writing the last post of a 365-day blog.
It’s going to be difficult to let this blog go. I know I’m going to wake up tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and my first thought is going to be, “What can I write about today?” or, “Oh shit! I still have to blog today!”
But I’m looking forward to channelling my creative energy into a number of other projects that I’ve already either started or am about to. So I guess what I’m saying is I’m not going anywhere. Maybe there will be another blog. Maybe not. But I promise there will be something.
I was trying to think of a fun way to commemorate the end of this blog.
Here’s what I came up with.
Jayne Mansfield had stretchmarks.
And so do I.
P.S. It’s hilariously ironic that in the majority of the pin-up photos I took, my stretchmarks aren’t that visible. Because they’re everywhere.
But I guess there’s a life lesson in that, isn’t there?
I’m probably the only one who really notices them.
P.P.S. Things I meant to write but forgot: Happy Birthday to me! Also, here’s to 27! I’m crazy excited for it!
And hey, since I’ve already shown you how great I looked with hair extensions as an eyebrowless wonder, here’s a photo of me in the midst of the MONSTER RASH attack. This was after I managed to get my eyes open, because they were swollen shut.
Top 5 Accomplishments
I didn’t screw up everything, though. I’ve done some stuff. Yeah. I do things! I TCB every once in a while!
You know the one. Where you can write down anything you want because it’s anonymous and only the teacher is gonna see it?
I have no memory whatsoever of my question, if I even asked one. I’m more the type to sit back and hope that someone else will ask the question I’m too chicken shit to ask in situations like that. Although now that I think about it, I don’t remember any of the questions, except for one.
“What does having an orgasm feel like?”
My teacher, Ms. Olesen, read it aloud, and then thought about it a moment, her glance moving up toward the ceiling.
“Well,” she began, “having an orgasm feels like…well, imagine a giant piece of your favourite chocolate cake…”
(Mmmm, chocolate cake.)
“Having an orgasm is a lot like eating a piece of delicious chocolate cake.”
It was difficult to tell where Ms. Olesen was going with this.
“It feels really good, and it’s like – mmm – like the feeling of the yummy-ness of eating chocolate cake, because it tastes so good it almost feels good…”
She started to writhe a little, trying to communicate something that seemed really confusing and borderline scary.
(Mmmm, chocolate cake.)
“And it’s sort of like an all-over feeling of…deliciousness.”
The class stared blankly. You could practically hear the blinking. There were a few hushed giggles somewhere in the back corner of the classroom.
“Just imagine really enjoying something you really like to eat. Having an orgasm feels a lot like that.”
The lesson I learned back then: Why even bother having sex when you could just eat cake?
Cake, people. CAKE.
The lesson I learned at 26, looking back at that moment: I could NEVER teach Sex Ed. Teachers who do deserve mad respect.
Remember how my BFF Mags and I went to Sweden while we were in a post-master’s-thesis haze? And we had all sorts of bizarre conversations that made no sense whatsoever? And then we got totally lost in a folk park?
That amazing folk park is called Skansen. It’s in Stockholm, and it’s HUGE.
Sure, sure, we couldn’t read the map and got lost and thought we would never leave. That definitely happened. But by far, my favourite thing that happened was when we started to see signs that read, “Swedish Animals.”
“Oh cool,” I said to Margaret, “I wonder what kinds of animals they have!”
Margaret scanned the map. “It doesn’t say anything specifically. I’m so intrigued!”
We started to follow the signs, dreaming about the cool Scandinavian animals we were about to see for the first – and maybe only – time in our lives. Would the Swedish have their own special breed of cow, like the Scottish Highland Cow?* What kinds of crazy species live up north that we have never heard about in the USA and Canada?
Our anticipation built.
(The park was really big, so we had to walk a lot, so we had lots of time to get super excited and anxious about these cool animals.)
Our anticipation built some more.
Then we turned the corner to the first animal enclosure in Skansen and saw…
Margaret and I exchanged a look, and then started laughing maniacally. I’m certain that everyone walking by thought we were on mushrooms.
(Maybe we were.)**
Then we walked a little further and saw…
Also on the list:
But I guess we can’t really hold it against Skansen. The signs were telling the truth.
That’s when I learned that yeah, wherever animals – like people – are born, that’s the kind of animal they are.
I’m gonna go cuddle my Canadian dogs now.
*A.K.A. THE CUTEST EVER.
***Funny story about the pigs. Margaret reached down to pet that very pig and when she did, all hell broke loose. The pig behind it jumped onto our friend the pig and started humping her/him ferociously.
Since bike lanes are a big point of discussion in my hometown right now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about a place that does not hem and haw about their bike lanes. I’d like to tell you about a place where bike lanes are no joke: Sweden.
Okay, so as you know, my BFF Mags and I were a little brain fried while we were in Sweden (from writing theses, not from doing acid, though it was probably hard to tell the difference). And I have to say, the fact that we managed to not die from being hit by a cyclist is a miracle.
The first time it happened went something like this…
SCENE: ANDREA and MAGS on the streets of Gothenburg.
ANDREA and MAGS are consulting their Lonely Planet guide on a sidewalk in Gothenburg. The sun is shining. The grass is green. All is quiet and peaceful (and clean, because Sweden is immaculately and wonderfully clean).
ANDREA: Okay, so do we keep walking this way?
MAGS: Yeah…it looks like up this way, and then the street’s gonna sort of curve around…
A strange sound, somewhat like a small airplane, starts to approach. ANDREA and MAGS both look up at one another, puzzled.
MAGS: What is that?
ANDREA: Yeah, I hear that too. I don’t know.
A VOICE IN THE BACKGROUND NEITHER GIRL IS PAYING ATTENTION TO: Hey! Hey! Hey!
MAGS: That’s weird…
ANDREA: I know, it’s like –
A VOICE IN THE VERY NEAR BACKGROUND: HEY! HEY! HEY!
Just then, the WHOOSHING sound – combined with the yelling – are so near that ANDREA and MAGS jump back, startled. A GUY ON A BIKE zips by so quickly that his speed creates enough wind to blow the girls’ hair off to one side.
THE VOICE FROM THE VERY NEAR BACKGROUND THAT HAS NOW BEEN DETERMINED TO BE A GUY ON A BIKE: Ansdfksfewufwh! Dwnewifnkm!
(Swedish for either some swears or some sort of explanation/apology.)
ANDREA and MAGS stare at one another, in shock.
ANDREA: Holy shit.
ANDREA: Did you see how fast that guy was biking?
MAGS: We could have been killed! (She looks down) That’s a bike lane!
ANDREA: Oh geez!
MAGS: Holy shit.
Over the course of our trip to Sweden, the following would take place at least 10-15 more times:
SCENE: A street, anywhere in Sweden.
PERSON ON BIKE: Hey! Hey! Hey!
ANDREA: Margaret! You’re in the bike lane!
MAGS: HOLY SHIT AHHH!
It was like we were magnetically attracted to the bike lane. Honestly.
A lot of guide books and websites told me that I shouldn’t expect any warmth or super friendliness in Sweden, because they have a different culture and are not typically “warm.” I found that to be total bullshit. I encountered nothing but warm and friendly Swedes. I love the Swedish!
The one thing I did learn that no guide books mentioned is that you should never mess with Swedish bike lanes.
P.S. I want to extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone who reads this blog, whether you’re a subscriber and you read every single day, or you’ve just stumbled upon an entry here and there. In less than five months, I’ve surpassed an astonishing (to me) 10,000 views! And I’m not even halfway to 365 days! Please keep reading (I’ll keep trying to be interesting and/or funny enough to read) and please spread the word! xx
My BFF Margaret and I were enjoying a brain-fried-blurry post-master’s thesis trip to Gothenburg and Stockholm. Our hostel room in Gothenburg – which was lovely – had no windows, so when we turned out the lights to go to bed, it was PITCH BLACK.
On one particular night, we turned out the lights and then I remembered that I had forgotten to take out my contacts. No problem, I thought to myself, I am a pro at taking out my contacts without a mirror. I clicked on my cell phone for a biteen on light, grabbed my case, and took care of business.
The next morning, I discovered that it wasn’t taking out my contacts without a mirror that was the challenge: it was getting them into the contact case in the dark that was the challenge. And I had failed. Miserably. One of my contacts was stuck to the outer side of the case, completely dried up and ruined.
I had to spend the remainder of our trip wearing glasses, which yes, was doable, but was also very annoying in the bright sunshine.
I was in Vancouver for my brother’s wedding. I had just gone out with my sister-in-law for her bachelorette party. We had snacks and wine, and it was a great time, but being that it was also the same day I had flown into the city, I was pretty tired, so I cut out a bit early to get some sleep at the hotel. I went to bed around midnight, ready to sleep the night away.
At about 1:15am, I was awoken by a brutal noise. The fire alarms in the entire high-rise hotel were going off. Shit, was this for real? Do we bother evacuating? I consulted my mom and as we started to hear a lot of movement in the hallways, we decided yes, we had better get out of the building. I ran to my suitcase quickly to grab what I needed, and discovered that my “I think I’m forgetting something” feeling when I was packing was spot-on: I had not packed the following:
There was no time for me to put on my contacts, and it was late July, so how cold could it be? I grabbed my phone to be safe and we took the stairs into the back alley, where I froze my blind ass off for at least 30-45 minutes.
These are just two of many, many times I’ve “learned” to always pack a back-up. I say “learned,” because it’s clearly not sticking.
P.S. Other things I’ve forgotten to pack include pyjamas (which I am notorious for forgetting), deodorant, and the one trip where I decided one pair of shoes was enough, and the one pair of shoes I brought had heels. SMRT. And you?
I try to never make assumptions when I’m travelling to new places. I like to do a lot of research so that I know what I’m getting into, but I don’t want to colour my experience by thinking I know what a place will be like.
But sometimes you just do and you get it wrong.
After I finished my master’s degree in Glasgow, I took advantage of my proximity to, well, to a lot of places, and I did as much travelling as I could afford. My BFF Mags, her boyfriend Tim and I went to Paris together, and then we split up and did some travel on our own before meeting up again in Lisbon, where I spent a good chunk of time with family.
When we split up, I went to Amsterdam and Geneva by myself.
Geneva, as I’m sure you know, is the home of the United Nations:
From what I read, a lot of people speak English in Geneva.
At least I think I read that. But maybe I just assumed.
Because from my experience, almost no one speaks English in Geneva.
I was basically lost from the time my plane landed. Having done enough solo travel, I found my way to the bus that supposedly went into town, but with absolutely no knowledge of the city or its layout, I had no idea when to get off the bus.
I tried to ask the bus driver. He just shook his head at me and pointed for me to sit down again.
Here’s the thing: I’m Canadian. I have a pretty extensive French vocabulary just from living in Canada ad absorbing words here and there, but I only took French in school until halfway through grade four when I switched schools, because my new school didn’t offer a second language at the time. I speak Portuguese and Spanish, and a little bit of Italian, so I understand a lot of French, but I can’t speakmuch back. And unfortunately, I definitely don’t know how to form questions in French. I know “ou est” means “where is” and that’s about that.
So I sat on the bus and wondered what the heck I was gonna do.
After a long, long time, I started to wonder if somehow we had driven all the way through Geneva and I was going to relive my wonderful (see: frustrating as hell) bus misadventure in Glasgow. So I panicked and I got off the bus.
Another assumption I made about Geneva is that because it’s in Switzerland, which is insanely expensive, it would be beautiful and impeccable and clean like Sweden, which is also insanely expensive.
Don’t get me wrong, Geneva has a lot of gorgeous areas within the city, like this one:
But it’s also an old European city, so it has a lot of areas that have that old, gritty European feel. Which I totally dig, but when I’m lost and worried, old and gritty also makes me nervous.
My nerves were calmed by the fact that Geneva’s crime rate is like, 0%. (No, really.)
I wandered around, looking for someone to ask for directions. No one I encountered spoke even a word of English, and my poor French was getting me nowhere.
(In all fairness, if someone said, “Ou est….this!” and pointed to a random address on a piece of paper, I would feel inclined to ignore them, too. I probably wouldn’t, but I’d want to.)
Finally, I met a lady who said “non” to English, but in French asked me if I spoke any other languages. “Italiano?” She asked, perhaps seeing something in my features that looked Mediterranean.
“YES!” I shouted back in English. (Oops.)
On that trip, I got more assistance in Italian and Portuguese (thank goodness for Brazilians, who seem to be all over the world!) than I did in English or French.
Did you know that Sweden is expensive? Like, insanely expensive?
SIDENOTE: It’s not as expensive as Switzerland, which made Sweden seem like a financial fucking walk in the park, but it’s expensive.*
Anyway, Sweden. One of my favourite places in the world. I wish I could go back there like, yesterday. But yes, expensive. So when my BFF Mags and I started planning our post-thesis trip to Sweden, we panicked a bit. Oh shit. Every B&B and guesthouse we looked at seemed unaffordable.
(They seemed that way because they were, just to be clear.)
“We’ll definitely need to stay at hostels.” Margaret said as-a-matter-of-factly. And she was right.
It took us a long time to find hostels that were affordable and acceptable. And by acceptable, here’s what I mean: in our searches, we discovered that the Swedes (in fact, most Scandinavians) are very comfortable with nudity.** So “sports style” showers and communal bathrooms are the norm. So that’s like, a wall of shower heads, with maybe some curtains in between them. Maybe. We saw some photos of these “sports style” showers. They did not look promising.
Throughout our time in Scotland and Europe, Margaret and I jokingly referred to ourselves as the “uptight (North) Americans.” We got stressed, for example, when it took a month to open a bank account instead of the 15-20 minutes we were used to at home. We were also not totally down with showering in front of other people. Or each other.
“If we stay at a place with sports showers, we have to take turns,” Margaret told me, “I don’t think I’m ready to go to that level with you.”
“If we stay at a place with sports showers,” I responded, “I am not showering. Just FYI.”
And I meant it. I meant it so hard.
We found two decent looking hostels, one in each of the cities we were staying in – Gothenburg and Stockholm. Everything was going to be okay.
And when we got to Gothenburg, everything was just fine. Our hostel was perfect. It was immaculately clean (like the rest of Sweden, which made my germaphobic, OCD heart so happy), we had a room with a bunkbed just for the two of us, and the bathrooms were perfect: a wall of communal sinks with mirrors, and then a number of private washrooms, each of which contained a toilet, another sink, and a shower.
(Also, I hate to fuel stereotypes, but it looked like IKEA. And I’m pretty sure most of the furniture was from IKEA. I loved it.)
Then we went to Stockholm. Perhaps we should have taken our eight-hour bus ride, which was less than smooth, as an omen. We got stuck on a sold-out trip behind who I think is the SMELLIEST girl in Sweden, maybe the world. I’m not going to go into detail. Let me just say that any time we went around a bend in the road, a smell so offensive it made me want to retch would waft toward us. For eight hours, folks. EIGHT HOURS.
SIDENOTE: We ended up sitting behind this girl after Margaret suggested we switch seats. Not that I’m holding it against her, but still.***
ALSO: This girl was listening to a discman. In 2010. I can’t get behind that.
When we arrived in Stockholm, we were tired and ready to find our hostel, which proved easier said than done. I think we ended up taking a very expensive taxi because we were so eager to rest.
The check-in process was a bit rocky. The woman at the front desk wanted us to schedule our use of the blow dryer. She was very confused when Margaret asked if she could just keep it for the night and then return it in the morning. I think it was eventually agreed that Margaret would have to go pick it up in the morning in order to use it. But there might not be anyone at the desk until 10am. Or something. They also insisted that we take off our shoes before even entering the hallway, which would have been fine, but the floors in the front entrance were kind of dirty.
Then we had to go find our room. It wasn’t far – just slightly down the narrow hallway – but we didn’t get a very warm welcome. We were already feeling pretty uncomfortable about the whole situation, so when we opened the door and found some random dude lying on a bed fiddling around on his laptop, we kind of froze in our tracks. He put a great deal of effort into looking over his shoulder at us with great disdain. I don’t even think he said hello. He just looked, then went back to his laptop. I remember feeling very scandalized over the fact that his shirt had ridden really far up and I could see a great portion of his lower back, the top of his boxers and jeans, etc.
Mags and I exchanged a look.
It said something like, “Yeah, he’s weird. Let’s not panic yet.”
We locked our bags in the “locker” provided (which was basically a cupboard with a tiny latch on it for a lock – very easy to just yank open and break), and decided to assess the premises.
First we found the kitchen. It was filthy. And it smelled – no, it STANK – of fish. Now, I get that I’m a vegan, so I’m more sensitive to meat smells, but even Margaret was like, “MAYBE LET’S SEE THE REST OF THE PLACE” as soon as we set foot in that kitchen. When we got back into the main hallway, we let out a mutual breath. Ugh.
Then we found the bathrooms. Well, sort of. There were two closets at the end of the hallway with toilets in them. Margaret really had to pee, so she went in to use one. As soon as she did, some guy staying at the hostel decided to also try to use the bathroom, but instead of twisting the doorknob once and realizing someone was in there, he yanked and fiddled with it for a good 30 seconds.
“Uh, there’s someone in there.” I muttered, trying to lessen Mags’ inevitable panic.
He ignored me, jiggled the doorknob again, then walked away, frustrated.
I decided to check out the showers.
Guys, I get that I can be a prude about certain things, but the shower situation really did it for me. The showers were literally in a closet. There was nowhere to really hang your towel without getting it soaked, never mind room to change into dry clothes.
As I was inspecting the showers – and debating how long I could comfortably go without taking one – our lovely roommate came down the hall wearing nothing but a towel and went into the closet next to me. I think this happened right as Margaret exited the toilet closet.
We exchanged another look.
This one was speechless.
I let Margaret take a look at the showers. As we walked back down the hallway, she said, “You know…”
“What?” I replied anxiously.
“Andrea, just so you know…I wouldn’t be totally horrified if…like, I wouldn’t be horrified if you didn’t want to stay here tonight.”
“OH THANK FUCKING GOD.”
“Oh THANK GOD.”
There was a communal computer on a desk randomly planted in the middle of the hallway. We lept toward it and hit up Expedia. Suddenly, we felt we had to be as stealthy about this as secret agents. We were, after all, searching for hotels from the hostel we were supposed to be staying at.
“Is this insane?” We asked one another.
Our roommate came back down the hall in his dripping wet towel and went into our room. He was definitely being naked in there, however briefly.
No words were necessary. We turned back to the computer. We booked a hotel. It was “cheap” (see: Swedish cheap) and it wasn’t even a hotel – it was a suite. We had a kitchen, a living room, a spacious bathroom, and a bedroom.
That was the day I confirmed that hostels aren’t my thing.
P.S. I could tell you about the adventure it was to find our new hotel and then to actually get into our new hotel, but that’s a whole other story.
P.P.S. I still think back and wonder what our hostel roommate must have thought that day. We checked in, showed up, then disappeared. Maybe he thinks that we got drunk and kidnapped and murdered.
P.P.P.S. The image of his bare lower back still haunts me to this day.
*Also, I loved Sweden and my experience in Switzerland was less than awesome, so I still bitch about how expensive it was. I’m fully aware I should give it another chance. But Geneva just didn’t rock my socks like I wanted it to. (I can’t believe I just said, “rock my socks.” I’m sorry.)
**If I looked like Alexander Skarsgård – heck, if I looked like most of the insanely beautiful people I saw and/or met in Sweden – I would also be very comfortable with nudity. I mean, come on.
At some point in the midst of my serious talk with Mr. Jones in the third grade (about how I was acting out, how he thought I needed to ditch my friend Sara and start being true to myself, etc., etc.) he stopped, looked at me very seriously, and said, “Are you Norwegian?”
This is the story of my life.
On my first day in Edinburgh, I was eating breakfast at my B&B and an older couple at the next table struck up a conversation with me. This was pretty common, since I was travelling on my own and I was only 19. Everyone felt like I needed company, which was really sweet (most of the time). They asked me where I was from, where I was headed – all of the usual small talk questions you ask someone you’re meeting who is also travelling in a foreign country. Then they said, “You’re Black Irish, right?” Apparently, it was my very fair skin – but dark eyes and hair – that gave me away.
When I got to Ireland, I got asked if I was Scottish. No, let me rephrase that: people assumed I was Scottish.
(When I was living in Scotland, people knew, before I even spoke, that I was not Scottish…)
A great percentage of the people who see my last name – Beça – written down on paper immediately look up at me and say, “I thought you looked French!”*
Wait a second…
Throughout my life, I have been told I look like and/or asked if I am:
And others I know I am forgetting…
(Big breath out…)
Ironically, the people who thought I was English were the Portuguese. I would walk into a store or restaurant and I would see the employees prepare to deal with a tourist. They would look at me expectantly, waiting for either very slow English or broken, butchered Portuguese, and when I would speak to them in their own language, they often took a moment to get over their shock. One woman actually froze in her tracks and stared at me for a good 30 seconds, like she was so surprised I spoke the language that she needed a minute to process what was actually happening. Her response came in confused, stuttered Portuguese. Then she asked me what part of Great Britain I was from.
“I’m Canadian-Portuguese,” I told her (in Portuguese, obviously).
She just stared again, then got me the food I ordered.
In 26 years, no one – and I really mean no one – has ever asked me if I’m Portuguese.
So apparently, I have a very international face, which I’ll take as a huge compliment.
*So far, I’ve discovered that the cedilla is used in French, Portuguese, and Turkish, and that it does the same thing – makes the ‘c’ sound like an ‘s’ – in each of those languages. Know of any others? Let me know – I’m genuinely curious!