The Breakup

This comes up often in my writing, my conversations and life in general.

How much social media do we really need? Some say none, like Cal Newport. His TedX talk on deleting social media was nothing short of life-changing for me, and I’ve watched it at least four times.

Last year I wrote about nixing the ol’ smartphone. This year, I’m edging ever closer.

But why? Why in a time of infinite connections and communication possibilities would anyone ever want to behave as such a misanthropic neo-Luddite?

Well, I am that neo-Luddite, and I’ll tell you.

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I found this through a quick Google search and the absence of a comma in this sentence is absolutely killing me.

 

Because it’s taking away from everything else, and someone is getting rich off my addled, distracted brain. Some things that I’ve read in the past year? Social media can make you sad. Anxious. It can permanently rewire your brain to be more distracted all the time, making it harder to focus. It’s meant to make you addicted, like a rat pushing a button for another pellet. But you don’t even get a snack with Twitter.

I can’t focus, and the Zuckerbergs of the world are billionaires, and one is the direct result of the other.

My inability to read books was bugging me. After a successful year in 2015 with the 50 Book Pledge, the number of books each year has been backsliding again. This year, in August, I’ve read something like eight. Meanwhile, having imposed a recent book-buying ban while I spend the next decade as a broke-ass psychology student, I found that I have 87 unread or unfinished books in the house that I’ve spent real cash money on in the last couple years.

A couple of months ago, when I knew I’d be leaving media for good, I started to pull away from social media. Weirdly, Instagram was the first to go (after Snapchat, because I’m 33 years old and making short videos of what I’m doing right this second doesn’t appeal to most of my peers anyway). Instagram is just nice photos though, right?

Wrong. It was making me selfie-obsessed. I’m already a vain person. I don’t need to be more concerned with how I look. There was also the other account – the one that’s just a scrapbook of cat photos. Even still, it was just endless scrolling and exploring other people’s lives instead of making more of my own. I deleted the app from my phone without much stress, and the accounts have been disabled. I’ll delete them fully, I’m sure, once I can confirm that I can download the years’ worth of photos. And I still take photos of my cat. Now I just spam my friends directly, and they don’t seem to mind.

Twitter was already off the phone. Journalism was already in my rear-view mirror and since I wasn’t in the field much, why did I need to engage with every Tom, Dickhead and Harry? Seriously. Twitter is still a toilet full of trolls and I’ve never really been interested. Since it was already off the phone, it wasn’t much more of a problem to fully delete it last week.

Oh, cleansing internet fires.

As of today, I have three days left in the newsroom. By Sunday, it will be over. I’m not looking to delete the last several years of my life, but the feeling persists: If I am to truly succeed in my program, I must take back my focus. My mind, and my attention, are my own. We must be careful not to let corporations suck up the precious, limited moments of our lives with the promise of shiny baubles glazed with FOMO and a need for relevancy.

As Dylan Moran once sagely said, “I’m alive now. How much more up-to-date can I be?”

Today was the day. The behemoth. The dragon that started it all.

Facebook.

As an old millennial, who remembers velour tracksuits and girls who took digital cameras to parties (to what? I don’t know. Document sweaty, glazed, eyebrow-less faces? I will never understand what you’re trying to capture, Courtney), I’ve had Facebook since just after university. I was an adult when I got it, albeit still a childish, dumb one.

What’s on it? Some contacts of people I travelled with a decade ago.Work stuff for the job I’m about to leave. An awful lot of pictures of other people’s cats. I disabled all the news stuff about six months after the 2016 election. I like to keep informed but I just cannot bear to give an utter shit about what great-aunt Vera thinks about the news, because it’s probably racist and short-sighted.

Everyone I still talk to can find another way to contact me. But there’s still a little bit of me that has had this account since 2007, and feels like she’s dumping someone who only ever wanted to be nice to her.

But it’s been dragging on for way too long, and he’s so boring and repetitive and WHAT IF HE ASKS ME TO MARRY HIM AND THEN I’LL HAVE TO SAY NO.

Nope. It’s time to cut that cord.

So I went in and downloaded the few photos I ever uploaded, and left the rest of the content to go to dust.

When the .zip file was neatly packaged onto my laptop, I went back.

And the Zuck Dragon asked, “Delete Profile Permanently?”

And I replied, “YES.”

This all happened 15 minutes ago. My time is my own again – to blog, to get a PhD, to read 87 books, to keep listening to my Revolver record ad nauseum.

I feel like the most significant relationship of my twenties is once and for all over.

And I can’t even post a status update about it.

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Physics Homework and the First Year

I’m sitting next to an unopened physics book and already too amped up on coffee. (I’ve tried to quit coffee, but I just came back from Cuba and every time I do, I stuff my suitcase with as much Cuban coffee as possible because it’s the nectar of the gods, and then I fly high for a few months.)

Let me just say that I’ve never done physics in my life.

I have a lofty goal. That goal is to write the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). It’s one of the hardest tests (like, probably outside secret military special ops fitness tests or whatever.)

Okay back the fuck up.

A year ago I woke up on a Monday morning in March, much like this one, but colder, which was fine by me because my body was in the throes of  raging fever from drinking too much at a Sunday family dinner the night before. Too much wine, a pint of cider at the pub because “Let’s just stay out for one more, the moon is full and it’s beautiful outside.” (I have no idea why going into a dark pub is a way to celebrate a cold, clear moonlit night.) I had a pint, but my husband had already had enough to drink. I think he had a water.

The world was roaring at me on Monday morning. I dragged myself to work, feeling like I had crawled out of the gutter.

To say I was miserable would be an understatement, but also kind of an overstatement. I had (and still have) a great husband and stable home life. I had full time job with health benefits, and a small amount of community respect that I had earned throughout my short career.

On the other hand, the job had topped out in terms of creativity, growth and pay. I would go to work and come home and drink wine – lots of wine – at least three nights a week to block out the fact that life wasn’t all the fun and adventure I had hoped it would be. We weren’t planning on having kids, so what the hell do you do to fill the long hours of adulthood? We weren’t rich, and didn’t get a lot of vacation time, so big travel plans were out.

I’d wake up at four a.m. with the fear of death pushing down on me in the dark. Precious days slipping away in a fog of predictable work and shitty box wine and late night panic attacks.

Even days when I didn’t drink, I’d feel empty, like all the good stuff was over. I hurt, more than I let on to anyone, including myself.

That morning was not the worst hangover I’ve ever had. It lasted for two days, in a lethargic, achy kind of way, but I didn’t throw up or fight with my husband or say anything stupid (that I remember). It was just the tipping point, sitting at my desk, remembering the full moon I had so badly wanted to lie down and stare at, and dream like I used to do when I was younger, of huge and infinite ideas. Instead of staring at the bottom of a glass, telling the same story again. And again.

I said to my husband, “I’m doing a dry month.”

Halfway through that month I was overcome with a joyful feeling, waking up in a state of pure bliss. It’s what alcoholics call the Pink Cloud, and it’s dangerous because you feel so overjoyed and everything seems so easy, it can lead you back to drinking.

It did not lead me back to drinking. It made me think, “is this what life feels like now? Holy crap, this is so good.”

Unfortunately, it only lasts a couple of weeks to a month, but it was enough to reshape the direction of my life. I said to my husband, “I’m going to keep going for a few more weeks or months.”

I kept going. Every party, every wedding, every celebration. St. Patrick’s Day. Sunday dinners. Birthday parties. My own birthday party. I sometimes had a drink, but rarely finished it. Being glassy-eyed and sweaty didn’t agree with me anymore. I didn’t want to get dragged back down. And my tastes had changed. I started to prefer sweet mocktails instead of bitter and sour whisky and wine.

I started to notice how much I had been revolving social events around alcohol.

“Come over for a glass of champagne to celebrate!”

“Oh that’s so sad. Do you want to come over for a glass of wine and talk about it?”

“This is super boring. Let’s grab a drink instead.”

I had been watching the wine bottle to see how much was left, instead of fully listening, fully being present IN MY OWN LIFE.

Sober, I was having people over for tea. Going to movies. Going to my friends’ board game cafe and truly enjoying myself. (I used to hate board games. They require too much focus when you’re trying to drink).

I got a cat, and named her after a country singer. (I, too, am named after a country singer, and I too, have some grey in my hair and am highly food-motivated, and we are a perfect match for each other.) My husband, the cat and I started to stay in and watch movies, and I would drink ginger ale and marvel at how my husband could drink two apple ciders and then pronounce himself satisfied.

I started to read everything I could about addiction. I read six or seven memoirs. I read a book about women and alcohol. I read articles and blog posts and then all the affiliated links to similar stuff.

I learned that alcoholism among women is skyrocketing, that we are being marketed to aggressively like never before, and that mothers trying to balance being a perfect employee and perfect mother are, in fact, in a perfect storm for developing a drinking problem.

I learned that you don’t have to call yourself an alcoholic, or be one, in order to have an unhealthy relationship with booze.

I learned that addiction is probably half genetics (like alcoholic grandparents, as I had) and half environment (like living in a drinking culture, as I do).

I started smoking weed, got really depressed, had a bad asthma attack that put me in the hospital. Stopped smoking weed, asthma cleared up (OBVIOUSLY), and the depression went away.

I learned that my life with intoxicants is half-lived at best.

Then I realized I want to help people. People with addictions or mental health disorders or really anything.

That brings me to now. I had thought, several years ago, that I’d love to be a psychiatrist. But I’m in my thirties and have never done any science courses aside from high school biology. I’m smart, but I figured there was a cap on how much I could accomplish.

But is there?

Is there a cap on how much you or I can accomplish? Or do we need to just try one more time? I’ve always given up pretty easily, but maybe too fast for my own good.

I started thinking about how much I would love to go to medical school. Barring that, how much I would love to study psychology.

And that’s why I’m taking both routes. Studying for the MCAT so I can apply to med school, and also looking into psychology courses at the local university. I want to do both but since I can’t, I may as well dip my toe into the water and see what suits me best.

I moved down to part time work at my job, after my husband and I reviewed our household budget. He’s covering my ass so I can pursue this dream, and I will be forever grateful.

Life isn’t meant to be half-lived. I’d rather be sober, laughing hysterically at every little thing, with fudge brownies as my biggest vice, enjoying long bike rides, trips to the gym, great sober sex (remember when you were a teenager and everything was new and wild and amazing? It’s like that again for me), and spending my disposable income on fancy skin care products and good food.

(Oh yeah, I’ve lost booze bloat, my skin looks like that of a Disney princess.)

I am so grateful for this year and this life.  It’s not perfect, or course. I miss out on a lot of late nights with friends now, those four a.m. talks when you feel like you have fully bonded with your friends, and the shared vulnerability that comes with being drunk.

But I also (thankfully) miss out on fights I used to start with my husband while I was drunk, things I used to scream late at night that would be greeted by a quiet and cold silence in the morning. I miss out on taking things the wrong way and feeling resentful. Of waking up in the morning with a gasp and immediately trying to piece back together what had happened. Of having a great night but not really remembering it. I miss out on spending scads of money on alcohol.

Oh. Freaking. Well.

According to my sobriety app, which puts me at one, year today, I’ve saved at least two thousand dollars. So I guess we could – and did – take that vacation after all.

Some people miss spending time with me drunk (I’m very funny and ‘on’ when drinking, although I think I’m hysterical when sober). My best friends also understand that I need this. I hope they understand that I’m still spontaneous, but in better ways, and I’d really like to take a road trip or go zip-lining really soon.

I hope I do well on this test. If I don’t, I’ll try again. Or I’ll try something else. Because I have so much time to fill with my best efforts. I hope I live for decades more, that I remember this moment, this year, and that I keep pushing for that sparkling life I always imagined when I was young.

Because we only get one.

You Are Fire and No One in This World Can Put You Out

Around the time I started this blog, I wrote a piece about being sexually assaulted.

I thought I’d dealt with it. I didn’t go outside after dark for a week. I remember the panic of a walk at dusk to get myself back on the horse, so to speak. Just a quick walk around the block. I was on my phone the whole time with my boyfriend (now husband).

It was a dark period. As some people, including my mother, reminded me, it could have been worse. It’s not the best advice in the world. Obviously I knew then it could have been worse. That was the fucking problem. I swallowed panic when I went outside because what if this time I’m not so “lucky?”

But the mind has a way of coping, much of the time, and you start to count yourself if not lucky, then at least not terribly unlucky. I finished school, put it behind me (as much as I could), but I still cross the street if a man is walking too close behind me for my liking. I’m less of a risk taker now. I once would have gone for walks at one in the morning to settle an insomniac brain. Get the heat off my skin and go for a roll in the midnight fog, as it were.

You wouldn’t catch me doing that today. I’ll just lie still in bed and sweat myself back to sleep, and I’d tell my younger sister to do the same, if she asked. Or get up, double check the locks and read a book.

So my life has changed, but that’s what happens as we get older. If we’re lucky, it’s just common sense and not trauma. Keep the windows locked and don’t take candy from strangers. Life evens out.

Except. except.  Last year I Googled an old news story from where I used to live. There was a man who had been breaking into women’s houses and watching them sleep. They had caught him, and I wanted to know who it was. He’d terrorized the city. The court could only put him away on break and entry charges for a few years. Something about not being able to convict on a lot of the stuff. Some of the things they found in his possession were disturbing. Like the videotapes of women through their windows at night. Undressing. Waxing. Masturbating. He was keeping the intimacies of someone else’s life for his own pleasure.

And then I see his face. And I swear my heart skips a beat. Sure, it was dark and years ago and he had had his hood up. It’s just a hunch, but it’s something in the jaw that’s making my body react viscerally.

He moved to my city. The bastard got out of jail and moved to my city and the police are warning women that he is likely to reoffend in a violet manner. And there’s nothing they can do.

At this point it doesn’t matter if he’s the man who assaulted me or not. Because thinking about him brings up all kinds of dark and hideous thoughts and memories, and he’s still a fucking monster either way.

***

I read the news for a living, on the radio. Today I had to read a story about what the people in his building think of him living there. The women are petrified. The men. Are. Fine. The men don’t care and the men think you should let the poor sonofabitch live his life.

And, the men natter on, if we were women we wouldn’t be afraid either.

***

Last weekend, I traded assault stories with a friend over coffee. I told her that if a man doesn’t know what it’s like to feel hunted, then he doesn’t get it. No one can. Men who are empathetic, or who have been preyed upon, they get it. But not those wild ignoramuses, full of bravado, once again telling me that my experiences are nothing more than feminine histrionics.

Fuck those men.

As soon as I hit the clip I turn off my mic and I weep quietly, alone in my tiny, dark booth.

***

I know a lot of women who have been stalked, beaten or assaulted.

***

Today there was a story about a serial rapist who will get out in three years. He will be deported and then heaven help the women of his native Algeria. The fifteen-year-old girl he raped at five in the morning, while she was walking home from her shift at Tim Hortons, is twenty now.

She tried to kill herself twice.

He was not convicted for the rapes of other women, sex workers.

***

I need something to hold onto. A lifeline. There is a storm surge and I am drowning in my own rage. On the internet, another story of child brides in India. Didn’t I read this five years ago?

Finally, I send a note to a friend. She is a brilliant woman, a great thinker and one of the funniest goddamn people I know. She’s a truth-teller.

I tell her I’m drowning and she throws out me a life preserver. I’m sitting in the tub, sweating out the day’s crimes when I open it. She’s raising two young children and took some time getting back to me, but what she’s sent was worth the wait.

Okay, I finally have a moment to sit. First: breathe. In and out, focus on how it feels in your body. If it needs to come out as a scream, let it. You can be part of the screaming chorus of women the world over. If it needs to come out as a sob, that’s okay. We have a chorus for that too.

The world is shit. It’s absolute fucking bullshit to be in this world as a woman. I despair every day that I have brought a little girl into this world when, statistically speaking, she will at some point be brutalized in some way by a man. It keeps me awake at night, honest to god. And I look at my boy, knowing it’s my responsibility to raise a man who would never dream of doing such a thing. We are carrying an awful lot and it’s so fucking much. It’s so fucking heavy.

It is okay to put it down if you need to.

You cannot erase the fear and anger. And you shouldn’t. But it is okay to do whatever you need to do to set it down sometimes. Stretch your shoulders. Steady yourself for another day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Lean on other people and know that you are never, never alone. It is the worst sorority to be in, the women who have been touched by violence. But we are all here with you.

What happened to you was violence. It was assault. There is no statute of limitations on when you are and are not allowed to let that affect you. It’s part of the tapestry of your life that was put there by someone else and you had no control over it. I hate, with a blistering and fiery rage, that that happened to you. I am sorry that it did. You are allowed to be angry and scared and depressed about it. You are allowed to talk about it. I am here. There is professional support available if you need that.

It is okay to need whatever you need. Take up kickboxing and kick the shit out of the world. Hide in front of Netflix and watch Molly Ringwald movies. Just be numb for a bit.

I will tell you the same thing I tell my daughter. I cannot promise that I can keep you safe in this world. But I can promise you that you are loved, and there is a safety in that.

You are fire and no one in this world can put you out.

 

 

Camp Mount Pooprock

Here is a list of things I used to really like:

Partying and staying out all night.

Chocolate.

Fetishizing television shows that take place in Big Cities.

Box wine.

Here’s a list of things I like now:

Expanding my collection of comfortable knitwear.

Having one-sided conversations with my cat over a cup of tea.

Fetishizing tv shows that take place in the middle of goddamn nowhere (aka Shetland.)

Still chocolate.

I’ve written before about taking a break from drinking. It’s been six months and I’ve had maybe four drinks in all that time. For one thing, I’ve lost a taste for most alcohol. It often tastes too strong or sour to me. I can smell it on my husband’s skin hours after he has one beer.

I do like the occasional whisky or Old Fashioned, but one is plenty. After spending the last six months sober (except for those four cocktails, because lemme tell ya, one drink will hit you when your tolerance drops to nil), I’ve learned a few things about myself.

1. I don’t like being drunk. Even getting a little bit buzzed means a loss of control and I can’t drive. I live in a place without reliable public transport. Being sober means cranking up my Google Play tunes and driving alongside ragged cliffs and roaring seas. Being impaired means I have to stay in a sweaty throng of drunk people and wait for a ride or a cab, listening to someone tell me for the third time about that thing that happened this week that I didn’t care about THE FIRST TIME YOU TOLD ME, GARY.

2. I don’t like being hungover. I mean I never did like being hungover, but when the hangover went from violent vomiting in my twenties to mild headaches in my thirties, at least they were like, a sexy badge of honour, amirite?

Except they’re not. I have groceries to buy and writing to do and books to read and oceans within me to explore. Being hungover dims that sparkle. It means I can’t do anything except hang out at brunch having hair of the dog and starting the whole cycle again.

Which brings me to now. As the girl who once shut down the bars at seven a.m. in a big, loud city, it’s weird to be enjoying my quiet hometown for what it is. Honestly, it basically looks like Shetland anyway, so I don’t have to fly to Scotland. Just drive down to the beach and the cliffs.

Cities seem just too loud right now. And the convenience and cheapness of being able to get dumplings at four a.m. doesn’t match the solace of my own clear mind in the quiet fog at seven a.m. on a Saturday.

And maybe tea has replaced wine, and isn’t an activity unto itself, but it’s cold and damp here and it helps me think (kind of like talking to my cat).

It’s been a tough summer. I got really sick and my asthma went up to eleven, and I lay on my couch puffing on inhalers and worried I’d have to give up my cat. I couldn’t go to the gym. I could barely walk without getting out of breath. I got depressed and didn’t leave the house except to go to work and once to the emergency room for a nebulizer.

I got so depressed and didn’t go to parties and stayed in my own head. It was torture.

It went away, eventually. I got better, got out of the house, hit the gym. I think perhaps drinking would have made it worse, because you can ferment your chemical imbalances all you want, but it doesn’t fix the problem. If it had gone on for another week I would have gone to a counsellor, but it healed itself in time, for now. I do think not quaffing a depressant helped my brain find its balance sooner rather than later.

Saturday night some friends came over and we played a video game where you have to come up with funny jokes (the phrase Camp Mount Pooprock holds a bizarre and special place in my heart now). I hadn’t laughed so hard in months.

At some point throughout the evening, each person mentioned how laughing so hard felt cleansing.

That’s kinda how I feel now. Cleansed. Balanced. Whole. I feel fully present in my own life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell my cat she’s perfect and beautiful. #weirdo

So that’s where I am right now. Buying wool sweaters, reading, writing, drinking tea, talking to my cat, going to bed at a reasonable hour, waking up refreshed.

New Romance

What’s the first thing you romanticized? The smell of the ocean? A pine-clad hill? Curly red hair. The Yorkshire Dales. Lamplight. Used bookstores and third cups of tea. Your uncle’s record collection.

A longing for a time and place that can’t be yours.

I work so hard to tell stories because outside of them, only the tiniest fraction of the universe is available. It’s depressing if you think too long about it. I try not to.

I spent most of my childhood fantasizing about being somewhere else. My home is a place that could, on one hand, be described as an ethereal, magical place. A place hidden in fog and time, where stories are born and shaped.

On the other hand, it could be described as a crappy, cold place where it’s hard to find a job and the local pastime is drinking or snowmobiling. Sometimes both, much to the chagrin of the local police force.

The first thing I romanticized, growing up here, was anywhere else. Especially the big cities. New York. Paris. God, Paris. London.

I have only spent a few days in each of those. As I get older, I find them too smoggy, polluted, and full of strangers.

It’s because of Seoul. It was my home for two years. I was twenty-one the first time I went. It was my lost weekend, my first time away from home, living away from my parents. I was an adult and yet at my most naive. I was surrounded by people and felt alone in the middle of it all. When it was over, I was done. You walk away from a period in your life like that and you know you won’t go back to it.

That city swallowed me whole and when it spat me back out, I was not the same. Not worldly, like I thought I was. Not at all. But it gave me a foundation- something to build my life on. A hope that I could go anywhere and tell stories.

They’ve been fermenting for more than ten years and I’m ready to tell the Seoul stories now. But I don’t romanticize big cities anymore. I prefer Amiens to Paris and Dublin to London. Much of the time I’d rather be in the woods. But for stories, and for a young woman from a tiny corner of the world, it was a hell of a crash course.

And it lived up to the romance. Some of the time. But I’ll get to that.

Self Care

I have strep throat.

My new best friend is a ten-day course of amoxicillin, and we’re bonding over a few days off work. I’m not in a serious amount of pain, but I think the antibiotics are dehydrating me. I have this constant feeling of wanting to blow my nose but nothing comes out.

Coincidentally, I stumbled upon an article this morning about the health benefits of drinking up to three litres of water a day. Why yes, I do want fewer headaches and to look ten years younger! Sign me up!

So now I’m slowly working my way through a jug of water, hoping it will make me at least feel a little better while I sit quarantined in my house, rather bored.

I should explain. In my line of work, you can’t walk into the building with strep throat. Too much shared equipment and people who count on their voices. So even though I may not be contagious after twenty-four hours of antibiotics, my doctor has advised I stay off until at least tomorrow, if not Monday.

Christ on a cracker, I’m so bored.

You’d think a few days off would be a welcome reprieve to read and to write and enjoy the spring. Well, we had exactly one spring day yesterday, when I wasn’t feeling well enough to do more then walk a few paces onto my balcony, glare at the sun, and walk back inside. And today it’s cloudy and cold. Again.

And I can’t focus on any book longer than a minute. Maybe a horror novel isn’t the best choice for sitting alone in your house all day.

So that leaves my other favourite pastime, which is taking a lot of bubble baths and listening to podcasts.

For anyone keeping track (me), I stopped drinking one month and six days ago. It started as just a way to dry out and reap a few health benefits, maybe save a few bucks and drop a few pounds. Turns out I don’t like drinking nearly as much as I thought I did.

When I was seventeen, I took a lot of baths and most of my books were at least a little waterlogged. I got out of that habit in my twenties – living without a bathtub for a year in a foreign country might have had something to do with it. Plus, wine worked just fine for relaxing.

But now that I’m not drinking (and home, bored, popping antibiotics like candy), there’s a lot more time in the day, especially for things like self care, which is something I’ve always been fond of.

I’m turning to old self care techniques, and finding new ones. And don’t let people tell you that self care means a day at a fancy spa you can’t afford. Self care is cooking a healthful meal that doesn’t break the bank. It’s getting enough sleep, working out, finding time for hobbies you love.

Too much hype around self care is wrapped up in fancy gym clothes and expensive mani pedi packages. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these things – I love a good manicure. But you don’t have to spend money to take decent care of yourself.

So today, bored out of my mind, my plan is to drink a shit-ton of water and take a bubble bath, and try to eat something other than Jello and Fudgesicles.

Tea Drinker

I’ve always been a drinker. Since I turned 19, I’ve loved wine with dinner, cocktail parties, happy hour, St. Patrick’s Day (which I jokingly refer to as the High Holiday because of my distant Irish heritage), birthday bashes, boozy mimosa-fuelled Sunday brunches, and lazy Christmas Days with a whisky.

I come from a place of drinkers. It’s not abnormal. This is how we all live.

Because I used to get pretty violent hangovers in college, my current moderation usually limits it to a little headache now and again, or a bit of brain fog. No big deal, or so I thought.

Three weeks ago I was sitting at my desk, slugging back a large coffee and trying to focus. My heart was pounding.

Several years ago I told my doctor my heart was racing and I thought it was skipping beats. I envisioned heart monitors and stress tests and having to keep a diary of my activity. He told me to cut down on the coffee. So I did, for a while. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it still didn’t feel right.

And here I was again, years later, same problem. But I knew caffeine could only be a small part of the problem on this day. It was a Monday, and the day before we had gone for brunch at the pub, watched some soccer, had a few pints. Visited my family, had a few glasses of wine. Stopped at another pub on the way home because the night was beautiful and a nightcap seemed fitting.

I was hungover as shit. Not violently ill. Just every other symptom. Crabby, irritable, headache…and those heart palpitations. No more. I decided then and there, sitting at my desk, to stop drinking for a month.

On Tuesday I was still hungover.

By Wednesday, I was feeling better. And more than the physical effects, I felt pretty pleased at the decision. Friends were supportive. Encouraging, even. I drank Perrier at parties and my husband didn’t have to think about a cab home, because I was driving.

Three weeks in, and here’s a short list of what’s happened:

  1. My skin is gorgeous. I mean, after years of the hell that is teenage/early twenties acne, it’s had a nice even tone for the last few years. But in the last three weeks little traces of redness are gone and there’s a nice glow happening.
  2. The anxiety. I used to lie awake in bed at night, panicking about death. It felt like a small, existential panic attack three times a week or so. Now I don’t have it. My brain might land on a scary thought, but it just sweeps it away. Which also relates to…
  3. The sleep. Sweet mother of god. I used to get envious of my husband’s ability to just slip into unconsciousness. Now I curl up with a book at night and eventually just turn off the lamp and fall into slumber. And I don’t wake up in the middle of the night, or sleep lightly. It’s a very sound snooze.
  4. My pants are loose. I know, I know, weight loss is everywhere and it’s too much. But I’ve just had some old clothes I’ve missed wearing, and I may not have to get rid of them now. There are no wine calories and nothing telling me to eat poutine at two o’clock in the morning. Poutine is also not cheap at the place around the corner. It adds up.
  5. Speaking of which, money on alcohol really adds up. I’m saving a pile of cash.
  6. Productivity. I’m up reasonably early in the mornings, because I sleep so well. I work a night shift, but I can still wake up at 7:30 or 8 and get hours of writing/errands/cooking out of the way before work. Or lie on the couch and not feel bad about it. There’s just a lot more time in the day for stuff.
  7.  General joyfulness. I’m happy. Really happy. Spring is helping, for sure. But it’s not just that, because I was happy yesterday and we had a windchill of minus 27. And I couldn’t stop smiling on the way to work.
  8. Caffeine is a pleasant afterthought. I have a coffee very occasionally. Usually I can’t finish it. Mostly, I’m back to my favourite childhood beverage: Tea. There are a lot of blends that have been sitting in my cupboard for a while, and I’m starting to make a dent in the supply. Heart palpitations have stopped, and my persistent daily headaches are gone.

 

Alcoholism is pervasive in my family tree. Do I think I am one? No. Did I drink too much? Most definitely. As for drinking again…I don’t know. This has been a more successful experiment than I ever could have imagined. I could see a celebratory glass of champagne at some point, or a nice cocktail at a restaurant. I still have some nice whiskies at my house I might want to taste again – but in extreme moderation. The box of wine is gone off the kitchen counter. Mocktails have replaced cocktails, and there’s just not that much I miss. Now I just want to sit up and look at the stars, with a cup of tea,  instead of sipping a glass of wine. And I’m finding my life is richer for it.

 

 

Alison II



 

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

“Mice are shitting in my food.” – Me, last week

 

Alison is sitting on the windowsill, watching the street. It’s on her short list of favourite activities. The repertoire also includes: rubbing her face against corners, jumping expertly into places where food is kept/ places you’re positively sure she cannot reach (and you will always be wrong about that), and murdering things.

We took her bell off last night to let her hunt. I was in bed reading a book when I remembered I had left something downstairs.

I went downstairs, and because I had taken her bell off, I had no idea where she was, but I figured she was still tracking the mouse.

Damn, she’s quick.

I walked into the kitchen. She was just sitting there with a bored look on her face while a small brown mouse tried to move around her. I turned around and went back upstairs.

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I was hoping the mouse’s heart would just stop, but when I went down again twenty minutes later, she was still hunting it (torturing it) under the couch. And again twenty minutes after that.

I figured it would be easiest to let Alison just finish the job I hired her to do instead of interfering. People have had cats around for thousands of years for this exact reason, but I’m sitting here in 2017 feeling bad about it. Probably because of Disney.

She finally got around to it.

Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is that cats aren’t evil. Just chaos machines. Just kidding. There is no moral. Except that it took her ten minutes to track down a mouse that has outsmarted us for two months. God help us if we’re ever stuck in the wild.

Also I composed a song in Alison’s honour, called Tiny Panther, set to the tune of Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. It makes me feel better.

I’m hopeful this serves as a warning to the other mice now, and they just leave.

Alison

I have a loaner cat.

She’s here for a week or so, because I came back from Cuba in Late February to what I can only describe as a shitstorm.

Of literal mouse shit.

After cleaning and scrubbing and still finding mouse droppings from time to time, after the kill traps and the glue traps and the poison…I found more mouse droppings by the onions.

I’m pretty live and let live when it comes to mice passing through. It’s part of living in a house in the world – you’re bound to get a few field mice. But when they hang around and get in my food, and crap all over my stuff, it’s on.

So we hired a professional. Her name is Alison. She’s all black and pretty easy going. Last night was her first night. We played laser pointer, and she demonstrated some pretty great skills. I had high hopes.

I gave her a few of her treats and then put the package on top of the fridge, next to some protein powder that nobody is ever going to eat.

She’s also stealthy. Her owners have a bell on her collar because otherwise you could trip up on her. Last night she dozed at the end of the bed for a while, and when the lights went out, she left. Presumably to start hunting – I hoped.

She popped back in and out of the room a few times, and I realized I was wide awake, attuned to the sound of the bell moving through the house. I closed the bedroom door, and let her prowl through the house. There was a couch piled with blankets for her, or a spare bed. I figured she’d just take her pick.

This morning I woke up, wondering if she’d had any success. I poked my head into the spare room. The bell was jingling up the stairs, behind me. At the end of the bed was the package of treats, with one hole torn in it.

At a rough estimate, I would say she had eaten about two-thirds of the package.

She popped up behind me.

“Honestly,” I said, “I’m just impressed by how similar we are.”

And I scratched her ears and we went downstairs for breakfast.

As I write this, she’s curled up, asleep at the end of the couch. I have to go to work now, so who knows? Maybe she’ll go a-hunting. But I have a hunch she’s just going to get into the pantry instead. That’s what I would do.

Lousy S’March Weather

It’s happening again. Sunday was just glorious. I drove forty minutes out of town to the little coffee shop by the water where the owner makes the best homemade bread this side of the island. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the day was almost what we would call warm. Not most people. Just the people who live here.

But then it was gone.

Yesterday we woke up to the following combination of weather: Snow, Drizzle, Rain, Freezing Rain, Sideways Rain, General Moistness, A Suffusion of Damp, Sadness, Existentialism.

 

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Every year about this time I question not living in the Florida Keys. Or at least, y’know, Scotland, where I’m told the fog is pleasantly less cold.

Anyway, I’ll be here, in my blanket fort, ’til about July.