Did I ever tell you guys about my awful university drama instructor who called me a “natural dissident” during a yelling match we had? I did, just in a different context. He was batshit crazy…
Anyway, on top of having authority issues, I can be forgetful about certain things. Maybe it’s my authority issues taking over my brain or something, but I have an overdue fee at the university library here for $2 that I haven’t paid in almost three years. And I work on campus.
So I got a parking ticket.
“SUNUVAB!” I shouted, when I got it. (Pronounce the ‘B’ at the end as ‘bee.’ Okay, cool.)
That was back in April.
Yes, yes, I put off paying it. Because I was annoyed. I was irritated that I got it. I was being stubborn.
But I swear that I meant to pay it eventually. I really did.
Today I got this in the mail:
“NOTICE OF CONVICTION”?!
Could they word that a little more strongly? I mean, come on!
So I opened the letter and wanted to cry because I love words and I take them seriously and I don’t like being told I’m being convicted because not only is that a very strong word, but also, I HAVE AUTHORITY ISSUES and NO ONE’S GONNA CONVICT ME.
So I went from, “SUNUVAB” to something more along the lines of, “Fucksakegottabefuckingkiddingmeconvictionfuck” and I logged onto the online fine payment website.
$20 additional fine for taking too long to pay.
$9 service fee for paying online. (But we all know if I had to actually get to the registry, it’d be another year until I paid, and it said my license was revoked until I paid…)
As I’m sure you all know by now, I’m not one for traditions. I don’t have anything against tradition specifically, I just don’t happen to participate in many.
So when I got invited to an American Thanksgiving during my first year in Glasgow, I was both intimidated and excited.
We did a potluck style feast, and since there were some other veggies/veg-curious people coming, I made a vegan haggis (yes, it exists, and yes, it’s really delish when well seasoned!) with roasted veggies. I packed a couple bottles of wine in my purse, which clinked and clanked during my taxi ride (pure class), and off I went.
I have to say, American Thanksgiving was probably one of the funnest nights I had in Glasgow. There were like, 15-20 of us gathered in one flat, all hanging out in the kitchen, laughing, drinking wine, and telling stories. There was a bit of a fiasco when the oven broke down at my friends’ flat, but the neighbour across the hall was kind enough to lend us theirs. We all sat down around a massive table (or tables, pushed together) like a family, even though some of us had just met and had an amazing meal, and afterward, we were all back in the kitchen, chatting while we teamed up on dish duty and clean up.
When I think of American-ness, that Thanksgiving night is one of the first things I think of. That was the night I learned that Americans really are serious about their traditions, in a good way. I felt lucky to be welcomed into such a wonderful celebration with friends.
I’m not very good at “settling in.” I don’t know if it’s the whole Beat Generation, On The Road part of my personality, or the result of my “I’m a 20-something and I haven’t got it figured out” -ness or what, but I have a tendency to sort of “perch” in places and not really make them my own. Like, it fascinates me that hotels have closets and dressers, because why would you move stuff out of your suitcase?
Even at my current job, where I have been working for almost seven months now, you would barely know which desk is mine. It took me months to put a picture of my dogs on my bulletin board. I still haven’t put a single thing into any of my desk drawers. Hell, I don’t even use the pen holder that was left behind for me.
And my name is on the door.
When I moved to Glasgow – beyond my obvious inability to “move in” to a place – I did so knowing it would be temporary. I knew going in that I’d be living in Scotland for two years, max. I definitely hoped to stay longer, but I didn’t count on it working out that way.
So I never really moved in.
Okay, I definitely put my clothes into my wardrobe, but I guess what I mean to say is that while I knew that my flat was “mine,” I never really felt like it was mine. I spent every day feeling a bit like I was in someone else’s home and I shouldn’t disturb anything too much. I wouldn’t even hang pictures on my walls.
So imagine my horror when I destroyed the bathtub.
Fine, I put it that way for dramatic effect. But here’s what happened: I’m typically a very tidy hair dyer. I’ve been dying my own hair since my teens. For those of you keeping track, that gives me over a decade of experience. I know what I’m doing; I don’t make a mess.
Not until I’m dying my hair in an immaculate, newly renovated bathroom in a flat that I’m renting that I feel no ownership over, that is.
I finished applying the dark brown dye to my hair and turned to leave the bathroom. That’s when I noticed that I had somehow completely defied the laws of physics and gotten a splash – not a drop, but a whole splash – of hair dye on the wood panel on the outside of my bathtub.
“Bleach!” was the first thought in my mind. But I was too late. The damage (see: huge stain) was done. Soaked in. Permanent.
I panicked while I waited for my dye to do its thing. I panicked while I rinsed and conditioned. I panicked while I rinsed again. I tried to tell myself I was overreacting until I poked my head into the bathroom again and saw the beautiful cream tile, the beautiful cream sink and toilet, sparkling new. And the beautiful cream bathtub…with a massive stain on the outside of it.
I’m pretty sure I cried then.
Suddenly, I remembered seeing paint cans somewhere in my flat. Where were they? I scoured under the kitchen sink to no avail, then realized that they had to be in my front closet.
I could make this dirty mistake disappear. No one would ever know. I wouldn’t lose any of my damage deposit! Win-win.
About two hours and three coats of paint later, I had solved my problem. I vowed to never let such a stupid mistake happen again. After all, this wasn’t “my” flat.
SPOILER ALERT: Oh, it happened again. And again. And again.
By some bizarre curse of nature and gravity (I just had a flashback to a couple of months ago at work when I asked one of my scientist coworkers a question and he exclaimed, “You don’t understand gravity!”), I managed to stain and re-stain the outside of my bathtub at least four more times. I wish I could explain it, but I can’t. I have no idea how it kept happening even though I was so damn careful.
Maybe it was the universe’s way of forcing me to accept some level of home ownership, even though I was just renting. Regardless, I had to repaint that fucking bathtub four or five more times, which meant 12-15 coats of paint. I’m not proud of it, but I did what I had to do.
Lesson learned: Always have an extra can of paint.
(Also, maybe seek some therapy for the whole “I can’t make myself at home here” thing. Because it’s weird, right?*)
*I feel like my mom’s gonna read that and go, “No, it’s not weird – I do the exact same thing!” like it’s not weird just because she does it too, when really that just means it’s weird and I got it from her, like my severe anxiety and my need to be early to everything. Hi, Mom.
The other night, I came upon an episode of Vikings on TV. It’s a show I’m totally interested in watching, but haven’t gotten a chance to properly start yet. I got kind of sucked into it (so now I’ve seen an episode out of order – heaven forbid!*), mostly because of the blood and gore…and the very attractive (albeit hidden under a lot of dirt and blood) men.
Before long, I found myself thinking about Beowulf.
You may not guess this about me, but I’m a bit of a Beowulf nerd. How did I get this way?
Let me tell you. (This is how blogging works, right?)
In the second year of my undergrad degree, I decided to sign up for an Old English Literature course. Honestly, I didn’t know much about what I was signing up for, aside from the following:
(A) I am a language lover, and I wanted to know more about Old English and just how different it is from what we speak now, and
(B) It sounded like an epic – and potentially soul-crushingly difficult – adventure.
SPOILER ALERT: My soul is fine. And happy! And it sort of understands some Old English!
The course was a full-year, the first half being primarily devoted to learning the language, and the second half to actually starting to read text in Old English (we always had translations as well, of course – I’d have been pretty lost otherwise). The text we were focusing on was Beowulf, though we read a lot of other poetry and another full-length saga as well.
Old English was one of the most challenging courses I took during my English degree, but it was also one of my favourites. Yes, I loved the stories we were reading, but also, I loved our professor.
Professor Fox (yes, that is his real name, and yes, as a matter of fact, he is a fox, but shut up, that’s not what I’m here to talk about) was – is – the biggest Old English nerd I’ve ever met in my life. On the first day, he looked like a five year old in a candy store while he explained to us that we were about to have the best year ever learning about Beowulf.
“It’s great! It’s amazing! It’s EPIC! There’s blood and guts and MONSTERS! MONSTERS, you guys!”**
I was sold.
It was soon apparent that the twinkle in Professor Fox’s eyes on the first day of the course was no act. Every single class, he was just as excited about Old English as the day we started. And every single class, there was at least one point in the lecture where he would stop and – with an ear-to-ear grin on his face – say something along the lines of, “Seriously, guys! How COOL is that?!” or, “How NEAT! Right?!”
And he was right! Old English is super interesting stuff! Beowulf is an amazing story – one that can be read and re-read and interpreted on so many levels. Its language is like Shakespeare in the sense that one word can change everything depending on the reader and how they see it. And don’t even get me started on Old English poetry! There are feminist poems from like, the 9th century, guys. Seriously, how cool is that? It’s cool!
Sometimes – a lot of the time – Professor Fox would run out of time at the end of his lectures. When this happened, he would glance at the clock and literally start panicking. He’d start pacing the room going, “Oh no! Oh no! Five more minutes and I have so much cool stuff to tell you guys! What do I do? What do I do?!”
Also, on Halloween, he came to class dressed as a hobbit/viking sort of thing. And he taught the entire hour dressed like that.
I learned so much from my Old English class, but the thing I learned above all else is this: passion is contagious. When you love what you do so much that you are genuinely excited to do it, it not only shows, it spreads. You intrigue, excite, and inspire.
I think we should all strive to to do that in life, no matter what our field of work is.
Now, go read Beowulf. Don’t watch the movies – they’re terrible. The Seamus Heaney translation, while a bit wacky (he’s Irish, what do you expect?), is super accessible and fun.
*Inside joke with myself – I am so totally unconcerned with “spoilers,” I can’t even tell you.
**I paraphrased that, and in doing so, I think I toned down the excitement a bit, but you get the point.
So, I’m noting the date, because 2013 is the year I definitely got my reading groove back.
Yeah, it probably should have never been lost, because I’m a writer, and writers read, but let me tell you something: doing seven years of university degrees in English and writing can take a lot out of a person.
I’ve been obsessed with books since I was born. Yesterday I even told you about the private library I ran as a preschool-aged kid. When I was in kindergarten, I got to write, illustrate, and bind my own book at school. That was when I decided it was going to be my job to write books. (I didn’t consider how to pay the bills – I was five. My mom bought me toys and juice boxes. Life was good.)
One of my first jobs was working at a bookstore, and if it weren’t for all of the customers, it would have been my dream job, because I just liked being around the books. When I quit, I distinctly remember chatting with one of my co-workers and saying, “Yeah, I’m not gonna miss the people, but the books.” (Loner? I don’t know what you’re talking about…)
SIDENOTE: One day, I will own a used bookstore like Bernard Black and not actually sell anything because I don’t want anyone to actually be in my bookstore.
In university, I used to spend my free time at the library, not in one of the common quiet areas, but literally sat on the floor between shelves of books, just hanging out. I loved being surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of books. I also loved the looks on people’s faces when they came upon me, totally silent, in the middle of a huge library.
That’s true. And also, if it was on a syllabus, I did read it.
So, the average English class had me reading approximately 6-10 novels, plus other short readings and theoretical essays, etc. The 400-level English courses had me reading approximately 10-20 novels (20 was for the crazy professors, but it happened, oh, it happened), plus the other stuff.
Let’s just say 10 novels per class, just for fun. (“Fun.”)
And 10 novels multiplied by approximately 18-20 English classes in my undergrad degree is 180-200. 180-200 books read in a five-year time period.
Okay, I just need a minute, because I’ve never actually done that math before.
Then there was my second degree, which was even more intense than I could have expected, and which left me on the floor of my flat, having in-depth conversations with my ceiling about all of the Derrida I was reading. Basically, it fried my brain.
(I still love you, Derrida, but what were you on about?!)
After that, I needed a break. Because like I said, I was broken. My brain was on overload. I was tired of reading.
That’s not to say I didn’t read anything between 2011 and now. But I did notice a distinct lack of focus on my part. It was as though I was physically unable to read a page and retain it for more than 30 seconds. For a while, I freaked out about it and worried that I was literally broken for the rest of my life.
Also, I made the mistake of reading 50 Shades of Grey so that I could properly make fun of it. So that probably definitely did some damage.
When 2013 hit, I set myself the small – but important – goal of reading at least one book a month. I’m happy to say that I have almost surpassed my goal of 12 books in a year in not even six months.
And damn, it feels good.
I finally remember what it’s like to just sit back and enjoy, to read things that are genuinely interesting to me, and not just things I’m being told to read. (That’s not to say I didn’t read some incredible books in university, but I read a lot of books I hated, and also, I have authority issues, so sometimes I hated the books on principle.) I’ve rediscovered the beauty of curling up on my couch and disappearing into a beautiful story, or getting under the blankets in bed and staying up late because I’m totally enveloped and have to get to the end of a chapter. (Thanks, Kobo and attachable reading light!)
I’ve rediscovered what it feels like to relax. And it feels really, really good.
Guys, reading for fun is THE BEST. I’m so glad to be back.
It was the spring after…my second year of university? It may have been my first year. It makes me feel old that I don’t remember. But it’s not that important.
It was spring session, and I was trying to get as many credits out of the way as possible. See, I worked somewhere between almost full-time and more than full-time hours during my BA, so I took spring and summer classes every year so that I could take fewer than five courses a semester during the regular academic year.
I was taking Drama 149. It was intro to acting or something. That wasn’t the official class name, but it was the first drama course I was allowed to take that was on-your-feet drama, not theatre history or studying play texts.
It was also a class that satisfied the required fine arts credits of like, every degree ever. So in terms of participants, it was a mixed bag.
I forget everyone’s names except the guy who was my partner for our final scene assignment. His name is Mike. The only other people you really need to know about are Jason, who is about to become “That Guy” in this story, and Aaron, who became “That Guy” in our class, because he’s blind.
Aaron was a normal dude in a drama class who didn’t really want to be in a drama class. He was a totally shy nerd, but he was a nice enough guy. To be entirely honest, I think that our instructor – who, by the way, was batshit insane – drew way too much attention to the fact that Aaron was blind. Like, yeah, cool that he still wanted to try a drama class, but also, he had to for his degree. There was one day where we each took turns trying to navigate the room with our eyes closed. That was interesting. After that, it was like, “Okay, we get it – Aaron’s blind. He’s over it. So are we.”
But I digress.
Jason took an immediate liking to Aaron. Jason was a weird dude. He was also a shy nerd, but his quietness, rather than being peaceful like Aaron’s, was creepy. The two of them seemed to become friends. They would arrive to class together, and would often work together on exercises and assignments.
Great. Whatever. I worked with Mike a lot. Because (A) he was one of the only “normal” (see: not hating on the class, but not way too into it) people in the class, and (B) he was hot.
And so the drama class happened.
It was, unfortunately, the most stereotypically awful drama class ever.
We sat back to back and hummed to feel each other’s vibrations. We lay on the floor flat on our backs and “meditated” until we cried from thinking about horrible life experiences, and when our final scenes came along, our instructor systematically took every comedic scene and turned it into a rape scene. I’m being entirely serious. I think something was very wrong with our instructor.
But I digress again.
Before our final scene assignments, something more traumatizing than our instructor would happen to our class.
It started out like a normal day. We were all sitting on the floor in a circle, taking turns telling the class how we were feeling that day, and what we had for breakfast. (OH MY GOD THE CLICHES ARE MAKING MY BRAIN HURT.) I’m 100% certain I made something up. Because it’s nobody’s business what I had for breakfast. Or how I’m feeling.
When it got to Jason, something wasn’t right. He looked pallid. His eyes were dark. He looked kind of like a heroin addict, with sunken-in cheeks and a weird sheen of cold sweat on his face. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he went off on a tangent that started with him saying something about having sex for breakfast and went on for like, seven minutes too long.
It was totally fucked up, and our weirdo instructor ate it up.
“Fantastic.” He said, clasping his hands together and holding them under his chin like his world had just been shaken. And then, like nothing weird had happened, we moved on to the next person in the circle.
Cue my eye roll.
And then another one.
We split off into our pairs to work on our scenes. Mike and I were mid-conversation when we heard somebody screaming. I turned to see what was going on and froze: Jason was attacking Aaron. Just absolutely pummeling him. Aaron – who had obviously not seen the attack coming – was knocked to the ground yelling, “NO! NO! STOP! PLEASE STOP!” while Jason screamed, punching him over and over again.
Mike – who was also the only other guy in the class – took off toward them to break up the fight.
After what was probably five seconds but felt like five minutes, Mike managed to peel them apart, but instead of chilling the fuck out, Jason left Aaron and – face red with rage, still growling like a crazy animal – started stomping toward me. I panicked and turned toward the wall, trying to think of ways I could defend myself. Luckily I didn’t have to, because Mike managed to wrestle Jason to the ground and, with the help of our instructor, carry him out of the room.
The guys were gone for quite a while. A number of people attended to Aaron to make sure he was okay (he was, thank goodness). I cried, but nobody cared. I’m not holding it against them. I was just scared; I hadn’t actually been hurt. When Mike and our instructor eventually returned, class was cancelled for the rest of the day.
Jason was expelled from the university. He issued a letter of apology. We were all too freaked out to care. We heard rumours that his wife had just gone through a miscarriage, and that may have been what set him off. It didn’t make anything okay.
SIDENOTE: Neither did the tacky “cleansing” ceremony our instructor made us perform before we reentered the classroom after the incident. It involved haiku. (Holy shit, it involved the haiku.) And was directly proceeded by him turning all of our funny scenes into CRY-CRY-SOB-SOB rape and pillage disasters.
About a month ago, I wrote about Scott, the fourth grade desk flipper. This is sort of like version 2.0 of that: you never know what the last straw is going to be. It’s also kind of amazing to think about how much trust we have to have in absolute strangers every single day. We go to school with them, drive next to them, run errands beside them, let them serve us food, or operate on our bodies, pretty much always trusting that we’re safe. And luckily, 98% of the time, we are. Because luckily, 98% of people are genuinely good. *
Whoa. Deep, right?
I’m trying to end this blog post in a way that doesn’t make me roll my eyes at myself. I’m struggling. So give me a break, okay? I’m not trying to blow your mind or anything, but it is true.
*I totally made up that number, but you get my point.
After I moved into my nice flat, I developed a bit of a weekend routine. Every weekend, I tried to give myself at least a few hours of “Me Time.”
SIDENOTE: I hate the phrase, “Me Time.” It makes me picture a stereotypical sorority blonde eating bon-bons and getting a pedicure or something. And she would totally be the dick talking way too loud on her mobile while getting the pedicure, too. You know she would.
Then again, my “Me Time” was kind of stereotypical.
I would walk the half-block to one of many shops by my flat, where I would buy the following:
A Fry’s Chocolate Cream bar:
(Vegan, oddly enough.)
And the latest issue of HEAT Magazine:
And then I would go home, sit, and work my way through both, savouring every moment.
Usually, it was raining. Sometimes I’d sit right by an open window so that I could hear and smell the rain while I flipped through page after page of horrible celebrity gossip, most of which was about celebrities I had never heard of. (Though I got way too familiar with Jordan/Katie Price in my 18 months in Glasgow, so if you have any questions about her, I’m your Canadian Katie Price ambassador.)
In addition to the rainy day, while I was running errands, I actually discovered a store that sells Fry’s Chocolate Cream bars here in town. Where Canada is lacking, though, is in the shitty magazine department. No one’s got anything on HEAT.
Those quiet moments I had in Glasgow are something I remember frequently. Thinking about that “Me Time” today made me smile and filled my heart with warm gooey nostalgia. So I guess today I learned (see: re-learned) that it really is the little things – the small moments – that stick with you and make a place the place it is to you. The place no one else can have.
On occasion, I’ll put up with crowds, like when my mom and I spent New Year’s Eve in Brussels and we stood, packed like sardines, watching the fireworks super close up, or when I did a 5K walk for breast cancer research with thousands of other people. But for the most part, I do what I can to avoid crowds. If I have to go to a mall (ugh!), I’ll go when I know it’s going to be quiet. If I go to a concert, I’d prefer to sit (I had my fill of mosh pits as a teen). And so on. Crowds make me feel claustrophobic and angry; I either start to hate everyone around me, or I start to panic. Or both.
But on November 5, 2009, I experienced a crowd like no other.
It was Guy Fawkes Day and I was in Glasgow. A few of my classmates and I met up and made the trek down to Glasgow Green for the fireworks and festivities.
As we were walking over, it was busy, yes, but not overwhelmingly so. There were small groups of friends ahead of us and behind us. Nothing crazy.
The same goes for when the fireworks were actually happening. The Green was crowded, but there were lots of pockets of open space. My friends and I watched the fireworks, played with the sparklers we had brought along, and took lots of photos without anyone being in our way. It was a lot of fun to be a part of such a large celebration.
Then it ended and we had to walk back. That was when it got overwhelming.
Honestly, it felt like every person in Glasgow was walking along with us. We were squished between people, basically being herded along by the momentum. All of the streets were so full of people that you couldn’t see the asphalt, and there were cars stopped everywhere, encircled by the crowds. They honked, to no avail, of course. Every once in a while, you would hear or see a firecracker go off, or a couple people would run by, pushing through the hordes. There was yelling, singing, drunken arguing, and the occasional scream.
And there I was, caught in the middle, wondering how long it would be until I had some breathing room. Feeling like I was stuck in some sort of apocalyptic disaster. Worrying about pickpockets. And fire crackers. And getting run over by an angry, stuck vehicle with a driver who could, at any moment, decide enough is enough.
At that point, I learned something about myself.
Something very, very important.
If zombies ever happen, I would be more comfortable in a 28 Days Later situation:
than in a World War Z type situation:
(Filmed in Glasgow, BTW.)
I’m a loner. I’ll wander by myself until I find a small, hopefully sane, group of people to restart the world with. Better than getting trampled by crazy panicking people.
Unless the whole zombie apocalypse thing happens like Shaun of the Dead. Then I’ll take that.
P.S. A zombie apocalypse would also be one of only a few reasons I could see myself choosing to spend a significant amount of time in a mall. Hmm.
(I wish! It would kill me with cuteness! Little fuzzy chubby look at those feet I CAN’T EVEN.)
Looks delicious, right?
I’m not like, obsessed with kiwis or anything. They’re a fruit I would eat occasionally in the past. I think they’re tasty. When I moved to Glasgow, one of the things I realized is that a lot of our (that is, North America’s) “exotic” fruits are a lot cheaper over there. I assume this is because, although imported, the produce is imported from places that are much closer. (Like, getting fruit from Europe or Mexico to Canada is a big journey, whereas getting fruit from say, Spain to Scotland is not as big a deal.) But that’s just a guess. I’ve never looked into it.
Anyway, I was very excited to see things like mangoes and kiwis available for cheap. So I took advantage of it and I bought lots of amazing produce, including a 4-pack of kiwis from Tesco, which I happily brought home just a few days after moving into my new flat.
I was home from classes late one afternoon and enjoying some British gameshows on TV and I decided to have a snack. I cut up a couple kiwis and brought them to the couch with me. I ate approximately half a kiwi. Then I started to feel weird.
The feeling was similar to what happens when I eat too much (“too much” being key, because a small amount has no effect on me) sesame: my mouth started to itch and swell. Only instead of reaching a happy swelling point and just being annoying for a few minutes, it felt like it was continuing to swell.
I called my mom.
“Mom, I ate a kiwi and I feel like my throat is closing up.”
“Okay, stay calm.”
“I know, I know, but my mouth is all weird and it’s getting hard to swallow. What do I do?”
“Just breathe. Give yourself a minute. If it gets worse, you need to call 911.”
“Okay, whatever. Just give yourself some time.”
“Are you okay?”
“It’s been like, 30 seconds. I feel exactly the same. I should go. This is scary.”
“Okay, text me if something happens. STAY CALM.”
(My mom likes to tell me to stay calm because I’m prone to worrying and anxiety. I get these two traits from her.)
I put the bowl of kiwi down on the side table and sat cross-legged on my couch, staring at the TV but not seeing any of it, focusing on breathing.
I stayed that way for 45 minutes or so.
Eventually the feeling started to fade.
I decided I could be normal again.
I started by getting rid of the kiwis, and I haven’t eaten one since.
So that was the day I learned that I have apparently developed an allergy to kiwis. Or maybe whatever specific chemicals were used on the skins of that 4-pack? Or maybe it was just a coincidence?
Okay, so I learned nothing certain, but I got scared into never eating kiwis again.