If I must choose, I choose OIL

Zsolt said to me the other day, I’m haven’t checked your blog in a while – which made me go, eep… I haven’t written in a while. The last post wasn’t exactly uplifting, so what I am going to write here is a very brief summary of things. Stories may come from these, but at the moment they are all just things.

September is the month of scans. As the chemo continues every three weeks, it is now time to see if it is actually working. Fingers crossed. After a summer of blissful ignorance, it will soon be back into the consultation to receive results. Oh do I hate these moments.

The Ottawa International Writers Festival is kicking back up. This is great news because of the great conversations that take place. This year I’m hoping to catch Margaret Atwoood on The Tempest, Madeline Thein and other panel members on The Ever Present Past, and perhaps I’ll go to Charlotte Gray’s The Promise of Canada. And of course, I’ll be bringing along my microphone to see what others think of the show. These event fit somewhat well around my chemo schedule – those Atwood and Thein are only shortly after treatment, and I’m quietly slightly a bit worried that I’ll have to skip them.

OH I started an art class. We have a choice in the class: paint with acrylics or paint with oils. There is no switching mid-course. My brother and I visited the art store together, and noticed that oil paint is WAY more expensive than acrylic paint. Therefore, at the class I decided to paint with acrylics. UNTIL I went down into the gallery at the school. All my favourite pieces were painted in Oil. AND I have always wanted to paint with oils. The medium intimidates the HECK out of me, for some reason. But you know what? It’s time to stop being afraid of failure. And it’s time to see past the price difference and decide what will bring joy. My gut says oil.

By the by, our art teacher is charming. However, she has this need for things to be captured properly proportion-wise.  In terms of details, I am not meticulous. Details are so boring. If I draw a terrible milk jug, it is highly like that I don’t care two bits about that milk jug and would rather focus on the tea cup. Like writing, when drawing, I edit out all the boring bits and prefer to just focus on my focus. It’s the portraits of Manet that struck me long ago with this approach – focus on the focus, and give little detail elsewhere. Art school rebel = ME! Let’s see how that turns out, eh? (Though I do agree that contrast and tone are essential)

One more thing about that. The class is in the middle of the day, middle of the week and it’s all younger women. What the what? Seriously, I anticipated being the youngest in the room. Rather, I’m one of the oldest. This makes me feel wise with my years.

Um.

Work – I am working part-time. YES. It is going very well. And speaking of work – disability. What the heck is it? How does it work? Am I eligible? My oncologist wrote me a letter explaining to Service Canada why I am not able to work full time anymore, and how I will likely never be able to do so again. It was one GRIM letter. No sugar coating the impact of stage four cancer in that letter. I should never have read it, but he did the right thing in writing so openly about everything. But seriously, I never, ever, ever should have read it.

Heck yes, I’m using oil paints. Life is to be lived.

Books! Well, apart from the Amnesty International Book Club (facebook link!) which sparks some pretty fascinating conversations, I am just about to finish All the Light We Cannot See, which I picked up upon recommendation from a friend. It is fantastic. Gripping, beautiful, immersive, and so excellent story telling. It takes you through some hard things, but keeps you flying as you pass. This novel is worth reading. Go to your bookstores or libraries, read, savor . . .

And speaking of books to read, my friend Don Kerr who I met through facingcancer.ca, is in the process of kickstarting his account what it’s like to support someone diagnosed with cancer. About five years ago, his wife Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer. Don began to blog at facing cancer about his feelings, and how he found his way in supporting his wife. He is open and honest – and maybe, probably, other care-sharers/givers would benefit from such a book. Or for those trying to understand their partners as they support them, to read someone’s perspective.

Here is the link. Visit and consider buying a copy to support Don’s great initiative.

And seriously that is all. Life is thankfully busy at the moment, and alternates between good days and harder days. I do not feel like being specific, because I am so tired at the moment, and therefore, this blog post is done.

Like a pancake.

Hmm, I miss eating pancakes.

🙂

The ‘Me’ in the Mirror

Over the past six months, or so, with the treatments, my weight has dropped considerably. The first chemo had its impact with occasional bouts of nausea. The second chemo has not caused any nausea, but I’m still losing weight. Probably so far, I’ve lost about 18 pounds. I’m the lightest I’ve ever been; so light, I will float away any moment and dissipate in the breeze. Gone.

I’m writing this because yesterday I visited my brother’s gym. He is a personal trainer along with also being a Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncturist here in Ottawa. Very kindly, he will be helping me train. We need to build my body back up. We need to get the muscle regenerating (or whatever the word is). We need to fix the woman who looks like she’s missing 20 pounds.

It was weird looking in the mirror of that gym yesterday. All around me were people training themselves. They were sweating and pounding the bags – they had strong arms and strong strikes. They didn’t seem to worry about shattering a bone when hitting something. I’m scared to even lift a grocery bag, for fear of crushing a vertebrae. And in the mirror I watched myself amongst them, so noticeably different.

Beauty – is it in the eye of the beholder? Even more so, is health in the eye of the beholder? Does it count that I feel well for someone in my situation? Is this frail projection reflecting back at me a reality that my sensibilities won’t accept?

I’m at battle with the me in the mirror, because I’m a bit afraid she’s the me who is dying very slowly.

I guess that is really the truth of it. It scares me a little, you know? To wither away, it’s not cool. So I need to remember: the me in the mirror is doing her best. She is at the gym despite feeling totally awkward about it. She is eating the meat and fat, despite having no real desire for either. And she is trying her best. There is a ‘me’ in there who is healthy, beautiful, and striving to survive.

I just need to remember this. And keep trying. One pound at a time and one treatment at a time, I want to get my body back.

My First 11 Jobs

Last night I was cruising around on Twitter and came across the hashtag #myfirstsevenjobs. It was really interesting to see how people’s careers progressed (or not) over each job transition.

tramway

Working the Tramway with Amy

Anyhoo, I thought it might be fun to consider in my depth than a tweet my first MANY jobs. Seven won’t cut it for me, and I’m in the mood to paint a path from beginning to present day me.

1. BABY SITTER

Since it seems more a right-of-passage than job, I’m not sure whether to count this. But babysitting IS work – particularly when you are babysitting three brothers who love to get into fights, go on the roof, and do the opposite of what their parents put down as rules … not to forget force you to play non-stop driveway hockey. Ah, but I enjoyed it. Five bucks an hour back then, and I felt I was asking too much.

I’ve actually known people who have paid the bills with babysitting. Man that is smart. I’d never considered it back when Z and I were flat broke.

2. SUBWAY SANDWICH ARTIST

Ah, my first ‘real job’ on the books with tax deductions.  I walked into the restaurant and answered this question correctly: The lunch rush just finished. The tables are messy, the tomatoes need to be cut and a customer just walked in the door. What do you do first?

Serve the customer? Then fix the floor? Then cut tomatoes? CORRECT!

I got the job. It paid for my week-long grad trip to Mexico. A summer well spent during a time when I really was in a bubble about the value of a buck.

2. OLD NAVY

Never-ending-folding-opportunity!! I walked into a group interview for this simply because some friends of mine and I were wandering around the mall and there was a sign. I was wearing this ridiculous pink tank top and my hair was sloppily piled on top off my head in a bun. Apparently this made me hip enough to land the job. They played non-stop 80s pop music and the floor was concrete … i.e., it was literally painful to work there.

4. CONCESSION STAND

Truly my worst job. In writing this, I realize I am lucky this was the worst job I ever worked. Really it was just gross – limp lettuce, drug deals in the walk-in-freezer, concession stand food, and a bunch of flirting-with-each-other fifteen year old kids working their first jobs. Did one season to save money and then ditched it.

5. TRAMWAY

Oh man, the job wasn’t great but the summer was AMAZING. Since I was a kid I had wanted to work a summer in Jasper National Park. So during my first summer of university, I got myself a job at the Jasper Tramway working in their retail shop on top of the mountain. We’d do 12 hour shifts, but we ALSO all lived together in a big house, and rode bikes up mountains, and ate ice cream in the park and went dancing all night long. It was incredible. Everyone should work a shitty job in a beautiful national park at least once.

6. BOOK SELLER AT CHAPTERS

I have very mixed feelings about this time in my life, but my most vivid memories from then do come from this store. Here I met a boyfriend, and also my best friend Catherine – she worked in the kids department and it took about 6 months before we ever really spoke to one another, because we were shy. Twelve odd years later and she’s still a rock in my life. This job also helped pay for the back and forth trips to Hungary during my time courting Zsolt.

I just have a bit of a pinch with it, however. When I finally left for good, after three years of working there and showing up keen for each shift, the management were a bunch of assholes minus one fellow. Not a card wishing me luck (I was moving to England to be with Zsolt), barely a thanks, and the head manager (who so clearly hated his job) didn’t even want to let me use my discount one last time on buying books. I know that sounds petty, but in retail that’s like saying ‘go frack yourself’.

However, it did connect me to good people, and was a place about which I cared.

7. PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPER INTERNAL DEBT COLLECTOR

How the HECK I ended up doing this, I don’t know. In England you go to a job agency, and they place you in a position. Somehow I ended up here and accepted it because, you know, money. It was my first financial office experience. It was my last financial office experience. I worked about 9 months here, observed the bitterness of both management and long-term employees, saved cash for my MA in Creative Writing, and then took off on a trip to Iceland, never to return there again. I also met some great people, all recent university grads like myself.

8. ASSISTANCE SERVICES UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON

This was a FUN job. I got to go to other students’ lectures and take notes for them. Sometimes I’d go hang out with them on job placements. Other times I would just take them around campus so they were familiar with the space. It was all about helping these young people feel capable in their studies.

10. LIBRARY ASSISTANT & DIGITIZATION

Again with the University, but at a tiny library in the Humanities campus that looked out onto a courtyard. *happy sigh*

If we had stayed in England, I most certainly would have remained here for ages. Not only was it a lovely place in general, but the people – oh my goodness, such good people. This was the first job where I really felt valued as an employee, and in turn it made me value the job so much more. I wasn’t some expendable part-time employee . . . I mattered to them. It’s also where I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my manager truly helped me navigate that nightmare.

10 – ish. MORE LIBRARY

I truly love libraries, and this was no exception, but WOW… working for the city is a ridiculous jungle of protocol, ridged rules, and hierarchy. However, I did work at a very special branch in our city.

11. FREELANCE WRITER & SOCIAL MEDIA’ER’

Ohhh yeah. I don’t know how this happened, except that I had a MA in creative writing, moved back to Canada, did some blogging for local sites, and then one day went to a networking meeting where I randomly told people I was a writer. From here Camille Boivin came into my life. She hired me as a blogger, and it was a great relationship. I had two main clients in my work, and they helped Zsolt and I float along just enough to get out of my parent’s house and into the apartment in Vanier. It was lean times, but times where I was really building what I wanted to do with myself.

12. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

A series of fortunate events, and projects, and job board emails, led me here. I am happy and grateful. So grateful. My project for the organization is the book club. It basically wraps much of what I have loved into a big ball, and then lets me play with it. I am inspired daily by the people with whom I work and am in awe they have welcomed me into their circle.

AND THAT IS IT.

?: What were your first seven, or eleven jobs? Share in the comments or write your own post and link back here🙂

My takeaways from all this:

1) You gotta carve your own path, and it probably won’t be a straight or expected one. If it were not for my taking on independent projects like blogging for Apartment 613, writing my novel, or creating Write Along Radio with my co-host, or randomly telling strangers I’m a writer, I would never have had the better doors opening for me. Also, I did an MA in creative writing . . . which people may tell you leads nowhere – except for me, it lead everywhere I pushed it to go.

2) Being valued is important. Once I stopped accepting shitty management, or devaluation on my services, or being treated as expendable, I found positions where my work was honoured. I want to work with people who care, and so that is where I end up. Put it out there and, if you can, don’t accept less.

3) A monkey wrench does not need to stop you. During all these years I felt, at different times, totally aimless in life, totally broke and worried about payments (plotting out our groceries dollar by dollar then feeling sick when we went over our small budget), totally sick with chemo, and totally worried about dying any second. But I’m still doing what I love to do, because I am far more than my fears AND (point 2) work with incredible people who help me keep going.

Okay, I can’t believe I have written so much in this post. Blame it on the lack of children in my life. If I had had a kid, then I would just bore THEM with all this recollection and take-away insight . . . heck, if I had had a dog I’d aim it their way too. But it’s just me and you, honey, blogging around together.

And so I will now stop writing.

The end.