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 woo sweaters, reading, writing, drinking tea, talking to my cat, going to bed at a reasonable hour, waking up refreshed.

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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.