DïstressI’m typing this with one cat draped over my shoulder, kneading my back and shoulderblade. (The other one hopped into the open fridge earlier and started to chow down on the butter dish. So I yelled at her and now she’s in hiding.) Misadventures like that last aside, it is remarkable how much they’ve changed from the skittery little scaredy-kitties I acquired four and a half years ago. Those terribly nervous nellies who spent the entire day hiding under the bed in the guest room, afraid to be in the same room as me even; forget anyone else. And then later would come out but only cower at the edge of the room and bolt at the slightest movement. Was it a year before they allowed me even to get close to them? Maybe a year and a half before I could so much as touch Espresso (the bolder of the two)?
Now they sleep on me when I’m sleeping, crawl over me when I’m working, climb up on me when I'm cooking, and generally beg me incessantly for pettings, scritchings and other attention. They're very endearing pests and I love ’em for it.
Some things just take time.
But I’m avoiding the topic at hand.
I, too, am crawling out of my long winter and have been on a major upswing over the last couple of weeks. I’m now so far removed from my lows of late January / early February. At that time I wrote no fewer than five resignation letters from AWA. Five because the first four were too angry to possibly let see the light of day. Angry because I was: angry and resentful and frustrated and sleep-deprived and burnt out and... we’ll just stop there.
I still have the fifth letter, but I don’t think I’ll be doing anything with it. I’m good until next January, I think. (Winters are always the hardest time.) And then I’ll only have a year and change to go until I leave for Russia, and I think I can deal with that.
My annual update on Russia is due soon, maybe in the next week or two. However one of the dangers of last month was that I now have enough money saved up that I can easily live off of it for over a year at this point. That fact made the prospect of leaving AWA in anger a much easier one to contemplate as it would have been unaccompanied by the fear of, “Oh god, what do I do for rent in another month or two?” I’m glad I didn’t go there, though, because I would have ended up regretting it at this point in time, ending up without a job but with instead a big dent in the Russia fund, thereby throwing those plans into total disarray. (Also, while I continue to have no regrets about leaving school 4 years ago, to do that then this would begin to look suspiciously like a pattern.)
The improvement can be traced to a couple of things. Perhaps (he says, innocently ).
The days are longer. I’ve been a lot more active. I’ve been deliberately running more; taking longer routes from A to B than I need to, to help get extra exercise in. I’m not back on the bike yet — my winter bike is still in Kelowna and I have yet to get a replacement for Reasons. (Although Reasons have now passed, so that will likely change soon.)
(So yeah: I haven’t been back on a bike since The Accident in England — coming up on 5 months ago now. It’s been a long time and it’s frustrating me. Normally when I get stressed, a method of therapy is to hop on the bike and zip around until I’m worn out. But without that outlet, things have been building up more than they would otherwise.)
A couple weeks back, after a particularly long and stressful (but admittedly productive) multi-day stint at work, when there was a bit of a Chinook and it was hovering around the zero mark even in the middle of the night, I just went, “fuck it” and instead of going straight home took a long, long 50km walk around half the city. Left the office a little after midnight and stumbled home at nearly 10 AM. Spent the time thinking, pondering, evaluating, deciding what I wanted and just generally clearing my head.
While it may not have been what any doctor specifically ordered, it did the figurative trick. Since that Saturday morning two weeks ago, it’s been cool. For pretty much the first two-week period since October I don’t think there has been a single time that even a tiny part of me wished I’d died on that stupid hill. (Not to be, uh, too melodramatic about things, but that’s where things have occasionally been.)
But I’m still avoiding the topic at hand.
Meals in the Key of “L”So last weekend we went to Fernie. In the fifth annual instalment of our annual “Let’s (take a) stab (at) the mountains!” tradition, my group of friends from university took a retreat to a mountain lodge to ski, hike, play board games and just generally chill. We normally go to Banff in early January but this year the calendar decided to crap all over tradition, thus we ended up going to Fernie in late February instead.
My own favourite way of treating myself on the Stabbing weekends is to go all out and make an extravagant meal for everyone (as I mentioned to E once, I’m really at my happiest when I’m running, biking or cooking). (And for a followup on that last comment, a major shout-out to auradania, who remarked once at a pot-luck wayyyy back in early 2000, that I am a really “happy cook.” An unexpected revelation at the time, it’s an observation that has stuck with me down through the decades, helped direct my life, and only become truer over the years.)
Without the pressure valve of regular Tuesday Tea, and with no-one at home to cook for beyond a couple of cats who remain resolutely Unimpressed with my more elaborate efforts, the extravagance level has grown in the last year or three: 2012 was the “barbequeue a whole pig” year and last year the 12-course Ukrainian Christmas “Свята Вечеря” (in honour of my Ukrainian grandmother, who as anticipated at the time, did not make it through the year; these things happen, she had a very long and very good run). But after that particular extravagance I promised to tone it down a bit for 2014, and so I did. Well. All things are of course relative.
Inspired, obLiqueLy, by the canonicaL post-scriptum to Sesame Street episodes and a certain Letter of the aLphabet, I chose to chaLLenge myseLf with a semi-arbitrary constraint:
This Meal Brought To You By The Letter “L”:
- Leek and potato soup starts with L
- Lamb and lobster tails with a legume purée starts with L
- Laotian lemongrass rice pilaf starts with L
- Lentil and quinoa salad starts with L
- Lemon-blueberry crumble starts with L
- LFNG Laughing Stock “Blind Trust” wine starts with L
And! And and and and and! This year, Erika was there!!
And that is to say that, yes, we finally get to the topic at hand.
...and I were never really contemporaries in the department. She started the same year I left, and if we met at all during that time (conceivably not; we were in different buildings) it made no impression on me. At any rate I have no recollection of such a meeting. I’ve only come to know her through the many mutual friends (both at The Stabbing and not) who almost all are still at the U.
Indeed I’ve only actually “met” her a handful of times (astonishingly enough, at least to me): a bit of board gaming, a movie, an afternoon at the bar (during Ramadhan at that, so I didn’t even have anything to eat or drink), Fernie. She threw a big 1920s “Mobsters and Flappers” themed party on New Years Eve and I invested a ridiculous amount of time, money and energy into the creation of the character of “Fat Josey”, in whose guise I attended. I, uh, may have even learned how to dance the Charleston just for the occasion.
That would be it.
But we’ve also been carrying on this somewhat “odd” (And I don’t at all mean “odd” — or maybe I don’t know what I mean by “odd” — but I don’t know what else to call it. I certainly don’t mean “odd” with any negative connotations, it’s very enjoyable! But “odd” in the sense of “outside my usual experience.”) elongated email conversation. Well, a couple of conversations in parallel, at times. But languorously sending these really long emails back and forth, for months. It started back in the early reaches of November, and there’s been somewhere in the neighbourhood of a week’s delay, on the mean, between missives as we consider and then (at least in my case) very carefully and deliberately reply with another novella.
PigeonsAnd and and so here’s the thing I noticed somewhere around the middle of December something a little Odd there’s that word again that everyone has good days and bad days well of course everyone does and I always have but I noticed I noticed somewhere in December a very clear emerging pattern. Because the good days: where I was full of general euphoria and later — dare I say? — bliss. And the bad days: where I was emo and mopey and later — see above — angry and resentful and depressed. There was a damned clear correlation between those days, and whether or not I had received an email from Erika that day.
And other things too. Like the way I’ll be totally fine and collected and thinking of not much in particular at all, until someone casually mentions her in conversation, and it’s like they’ve just raced — flapping an umbrella around — through the pigeons in my brain: flap flap flap! Pigeons flying everywhere!
Wait. Where were we again? And how did ten minutes just disappear?
Uh-oh. I’ve certainly been around the block enough times to know what this is all about. For a while I tried to shut it down, squeeze it out the back door of my brain. Make it sit in the corner and just think about what it had done wrong. Needless to say (otherwise we wouldn’t be here now) it was a wholly ineffective exercise and likely contributed in no small part to my malaise of late January. (And self-perpetuating, at least in the sense that: because I was trying to repress this in its entirety, I explicitly didn’t want to bring it up with anyone here who knows Erika. Which is to say: almost all of my better friends. So all I could do was mumble something to the effect of being fine and pile on the self-pitying sentiment of having no-one to talk to. Sigh.)
Whence the 50km walk earlier this month, and the considered decision that if I was going to do this then dammit I should do it, and that really: no. I should do it.
So Fernie. (There was one earlier small side adventure where I played hooky from work to go to a Tuesday Tea and make Belgian Waffles for everyone with — shall we say — slightly ulterior motives. But there was a last-minute Development, and the week I was to go got changed and she wasn’t able to make it on the week I did go, blah blah blah but at least everyone got Belgian Waffles out of the deal so all’s well that ends well on that score.)
So Fernie. And a themed meal that was definitely architected with her in mind. And as it transpired many many hours of conversation, bringing that slower-paced email thread into the glory of the realtime. I think it may have been a little obvious. Leanne certainly noticed: commenting with a smirk that I was being rather distracted: “...and I can’t possibly imagine why!”
Well... yeah. Because dammit I really do like Erika. Indeed I confess I’m (more than) a little bit head over heels. And I’ve had a few crushes over the last number of years, but nothing, nothing like this. She is smart and interesting and accomplished and talented and intimidating (!) and bikes and cooks and travels and has insightful things to say and good advice to give and has cats (even if she may not be quite the crazy cat lady that I am) and makes me want to retake up things like cross-country skiing that I haven’t done in 20 years and forgot that I really really liked and she’s a total math nerd (heart heart) so totally gets the reference when I say that my normal approach is useless here and Leanne’s insistence that she’s a “sensible” girl notwithstanding, has the same streak of “let’s do shit on a whim” that I do, giving her the best of all possible worlds wrapped up into one amazing and yes I’m putting her on a pedestal but that’s fine because what the fuck. else. are pedestals. FOR??
And then we’re driving back from Fernie, the two of us. And I manage to spend three and a half hours telling her about every single thing that’s wrong with me.
ImprovementShe does that.
She will bring stuff out of me that I was never planning to mention or bring up and the next thing I know my ego’s just standing there nonplussed and going: “Yo, id. What the hell?”
Which is to say, she’s done it before, too. Sunday wasn’t the first time. But that’s alright. That just means that those are things to work on. Sunday was (over) four days ago, and I have done little over those last four days beside replaying that 3½ hour conversation, examining myself, my beliefs, my character traits, and really thinking about ways that I’m unhappy about what I told her of myself and why. About ways that I can try to improve some of those things that are wrong with me. About how I come up short sometimes, but there are ways that y’know, I could be a better and improved person. And I can start on those ways today. It’s been a long time since someone’s really made me feel this way: it feels good. And sure it’s a total cliché, but sometimes there is truth in clichés.
Because, finally, that’s the thing: At the end of the day, I can’t help but be completely and unflinchingly honest with Erika. She never hesitates — not for a second — to call me on it when I’m full of crap.
And that may be the thing about her that I like most of all.