take me down to the peleton city

So begins one of my favorite tweets about the disastrous (for Peloton) commercial from Xmas 2019:

It’s that commercial people reference when I admit that I got a Peloton for the holiday. Of course, my husband did not buy it for me. Rather, I convinced him that we needed not only to spend the cash on the bike, but also to subsequently create space for it in our small Brooklyn apartment:

Still, I feel like unjustifiably self-indulgent for just having this thing. Part of that is that the bike is the only luxury product I’ve ever bought. My clothes are bought on sale. We drive a Honda Civic. I fly coach and use miles like they’re the new green stamps. I meal plan so we don’t have to spend money on takeout or waste food. Even my road bike is a Craiglist purchase. The Peleton bike is an insanely expensive toy when juxtaposed with our generally non-luxury lifestyle. It’s also a lot of money that isn’t going to better works: money that I am not donating to charities or even saving for my own retirement. It’s money I could have donated to actually help people.

This is, of course, part of my own hangup over making a good salary when millions of Americans do not. Paul reminded me that I earned the money for this bike. I don’t disagree, but I also feel it’s unfair that I was able to earn this money when thousands of people work just as hard as I do, at equally challenging jobs, and do not receive the same compensation. If I am fortunate enough to be making money that I do not need to survive as part of my job at a media agency, should I not be contributing more of that money to help people and sharing my good fortune with the world?

Despite this line of thought, my altruism was short lived. I realized that I loved the bike as soon as I got it. The instructors are cheerful and encouraging. My favorite is the woman who is now a professional cyclist because she was told her thighs were too thick for ballet or modeling, who talks about her professional cycling career, emphasizes results over body size, and shares enough of my GenXer taste in music to make all my workouts joyful. Even with other instructors though, the workouts are always a dance party on a bike, because I can preview the playlists to make sure I will have fun. Some people may be riding the Power Zone Endurance Rides; I am riding the “90s Pop Ride”. When “I Love Rock And Roll” played in the last few minutes of today’s 80’s ride, I breathlessly tried to yell along while pushing up a hill at a high cadence, watching my heart rate spike up to 92% of max, joyful to be pushing myself up that freaking hill.

Remodeled office, with bike that BARELY fits with the Murphy bed down.

There’s also a gaming element to the Peloton software that isn’t unlike the SoulCycle model in the leaderboard competitive model. I generally ride in the top 40% of riders; the top 30% of women my age. I am also constantly trying to beat my own PRs, to output more energy than I did the time before. The rides also have suggested resistance and cadence added in the on-demand versions, so I can clock whether I’m where I need to be for metrics. The whole thing appeals to the data nerd part of me and the competitive instincts in me. It’s hard to resist that design.

Finally, I just like biking. Biking is what I apparently built my body for as a teenager, and now that’s just literally how I roll. I am a better athlete on a bike than I am without wheels: as a runner, I run very slowly, as a cyclist, I’m actually average. It’s joyful, to me, to feel my body, the body I have always been told isn’t fit, isn’t capable, roll up an imaginary hill faster than I did the day before. My body is fit and is perfectly capable of cranking out these rides, and I love being able doing so without leaving the house or worrying about being late to a spin studio. I still feel somewhat guilty for even having this bike, but for the joy it brings me, it’s worth every penny I paid for it.

2019: the year of course correcting

The last few years have been a time for me to reconsider some of the myths and false truths about myself, a time to look at some of the narratives I’ve either been told, or have told myself, or both.  It’s been a time for me to consider whether or not I actually am the person I told myself I was, and what my actual priorities should be. In some of these cases, this has led to me reclaiming parts of myself that I let go along the way.  In others, it’s led to me challenging statements that I heard in childhood, and realizing the resulting narratives I created were false all along. It’s been an uncomfortable process in many ways, but one I’m grateful I had the catharsis to begin.

The most difficult parts of this process have been when I’ve challenged an assumption about myself, and taken a series of actions accordingly, only to find out what I believed about myself was actually the truth the whole time.  This has been most evident in the case of my career. I challenged the assumption that I was a career driven person back in early 2017, when my career started floundering and going off course as I was assigned to role after role that was just not a fit for me or my skillset.  I questioned whether or not the mis-matches mattered, because the disconnect resulted in a lot of free time for me. I was, after all, working from home, on clients where I wasn’t the right fit and wasn’t actually needed.  This lack of work engagement gave me more time to do things like cook dinners for my men, or start entirely new Scout groups in Brooklyn.  It was a shift in work/life balance that I would have thought I would actually welcome, until it made me miserable.

As that balance continued to shift in 2018, and I grew more miserable with my job,  I questioned whether I even wanted a high pressure career. After all, I thought, maybe I only believed I was a career person because I had always believed it was the option with the most security for my adult life as an independent, single woman.  Throughout my teens and twenties, I assumed I would not be capable of attracting a partner who could be relied on to support me financially, making a career a necessity. Therefore, was I career driven because I always thought I would be, or was I career driven because that’s actually who I am? 

In a turn that will be surprising to absolutely no one, it’s the latter.  I am career driven because I like being challenged. I am career driven because I need a place to put all my energy.  I need that kind of week in, week out, year after year, life-long challenge. There are days when I question whether I am in the right career, but there is no question that I need a career.  

So when my career started foundering, and I no longer had a direction to go in, it wasn’t an assumed identity that was hard-hit, it was actually part of my real personality that was suddenly aimless and drifting.  And while I have thrived for years on a sense of being useful and necessary on any given team, realizing my sheer uselessness on client after client made me feel like a failure.  My challenges in 2017 and 2018 weren’t about doing positive, valuable work, but were instead about proving any value for my paycheck, in a context where that was almost impossible.  If I was less career driven, perhaps I would have been able to ignore those negatives and focus on the positive of my changing work/life balance. Instead, I became despondent and hopeless until finally, I realized I had to change jobs.

Now, a year later, I am back on a productive career track, an asset to the agency I work for, a valued part of the client-facing team.  I am back on the life-long quest for more knowledge, more expertise, to be better at what I do.  There will always be days when I question whether this is the right path for me, but sometimes, just being on a path is more than enough.  And so, the assumption I challenged, and regained, is that I like to work, and I love that my work takes the form of a career in which I can continue to grow and evolve.  

And so, when I look back at 2019, the theme that stands out the most is that I proved, to myself, that I am a career person.  I am ambitious, although, as I said once, I am more ambitious for knowledge than power. Power is nice in that it represents security, as does money, but what I really want is learning, and given that my brain felt somewhat stretched out for most of 2019, I am getting plenty to learn.  I took on this new job and met its challenges. I adapted to a new role, and in some ways, adapted the role to me and my skills.  I leveraged all my expertise in new situations and was successful in many cases as a result.  I can be proud of myself for not only the work I do, but also the context of the self-discovery that came with it.

staycation, all i ever wanted

This weekend, I found myself with an unexpected block of time on my hands. OMD closed on Friday for the day, giving me a four day weekend. Originally, I had planned to go to a BTC3 camp in Virginia, as a trainer, to assist there as needed. (“BTC3” aka “Brownsea Training Camp v3.0” is the B-PSA weekend experiential training for leaders). However, with 12 trainers and only 7 attendees, I wasn’t actually needed at the camp. Still, I wasn’t particularly needed at home, either: both Ben and Paul have gone to Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit Paul’s family. Without work, without my men, without even my friends (who all left town this weekend), I was suddenly left with four days of unscheduled time.

Fortunately, I have never had a problem filling time. I always have a zillion things I would like to be doing at any given moments, but due to the limitations of time and energy, I find all those things difficult to actually get to in the course of a day. So I promptly filled up the weekend with a whole list of things I wanted to do, and then got to about half of them, which is par for the course.

I started my weekend, however, in Pennsylvania, visiting my friends the Northeast Commissioners for B-PSA. Basically, it was Scout nerding out for sixteen hours. As the NYC Commissioner, I oversee the biggest concentration of Scouts in the Northeast, and working through how NYC as a District works and integrates the Northeast as a region has required some discussion. Also we all love talking about just general Scout stuff, like hikes, songs, skits, get togethers…and that’s just for the adult Scouts. Talking about shared visions for our particular organization is also one of my favorite things ever, and I loved being able to visit my fellow Commissioners and talk through all the things we want to do.

Also, we got to go to Longwood Gardens, which is seriously like an American Versailles, except it doesn’t have a chateau. But it does have both formal water gardens as well as meadows and treehouses. It reminded me of Versailles because it had both sides of the planned garden experience: the formal gardens, and the composed countryside, almost like Marie Antoinette’s hamlet

After walking the gardens though, it was time to say goodbye. My fellow Commissioners were packing up their Pathfinder and Timberwolf and heading to BTC3; I was heading home to NYC. Of course, despite the day off, I was still on a schedule: I had had to cancel my Thursday lunchtime session with my anxiety therapist due to a client call no one else had the knowledge base or authority to cover. I had rescheduled to Friday at 4:15 and, assuming that I might not have time to go to Brooklyn and park the car, I chose to pre-book parking as close as possible, near my office in Lower Manhattan. And the timing actually worked out perfectly: despite a slowdown in the Holland Tunnel that appeared during my half-hour snack-and-pee-break in New Jersey, I made it to my appointment at exactly 4:18pm.

After I finished at 5pm though, that was when my free time really started. I had the car parked until 10pm, was already wearing my workout clothes, and had taken advantage of a ClassPass “two weeks free” offer. It was time to go do some sort of trendy workout where I would be the oldest and heaviest person in the room! Enter FitHouse!

The studio is set up with Insta in mind, but the workouts are still real.

I then decided to get a CitiBike, which I almost never use because I prefer my own bike. CitiBikes are heavy, and it is almost impossible to feel like myself when riding one. I’m used to flying down a street, leaning over my handlebars, my center of gravity ready to swerve between cars, my hands and elbows loose to absorb shocks when I hit NYC potholes. CitiBikes force me to sit up straight in a way that makes it impossible to merge with the bike like it’s an extension of myself, like how I feel on my bike, plus I have to have my arms out with my elbows almost locked, which is much more jarring. However, needs must when in the city, and I just wanted to get from Tribeca to Bryant Park with a stop at Trader Joe’s for a picnic.

Why Bryant Park, you may ask? Bryant Park was where I was going to see the “picnic performance” of Othello, a Shakespeare play I had not seen before, but one where I was very curious to see. Why did Shakespeare choose to tell the story of a black man? How did this reflect the emerging globalization of the times? What cliches about racism remain consistent to this day about black men? Put into the modern American context, Othello raises a lot of questions – which may be why the play directors chose modern America military dress for the men, with white outfits of varying modesty for the women.

There is also something surreal about seeing plays with a city of glass in the background

After Othello, I was out of time on my parking, and so, I headed home: across the Brooklyn bridge, back to Prospect Heights. One thing I had not considered, however, was the impact of the West Indies Celebration on my neighborhood at the beginning of the weekend. I had expected more people coming in towards the end of the weekend, especially on Sunday night when the celebrations run all night long, and on Monday when the parade goes down Eastern Parkway two blocks away. I had not, however, considered that all my neighbors would have friends and family visiting, and my street would be so short on parking that cars would be double parked, possibly waiting hours for spots. I know in theory that two million people show up each year to celebrate West Indies culture, but I had neglected to consider that many of them would be arriving via car for the weekend. Cue twenty minutes of desperate circling, before eventually catching a car leaving a spot a quarter mile away.

And then, that was it: the end of Friday, of Day One. I always miss my men when I’m away from them, but it was so nice to be spending the day knowing that just because I was on my own, did not mean I was taking time away from Paul and Ben to do so. I see so little of my men on a day to day basis – between work and school, we’re almost like roommates during the week (and I have a whole comedic monologue about what a terrible roommate Ben is). I’m therefore reluctant to spend time on my own, away from them, when they’re available for me to spend time with. This weekend, however, there was no option for me to be with my family. There was only my time, and how I would spend it. And with Friday over, I was very content with the choices I had made for that time.

the non-milestone birthday, continued

I generally try to keep my birthdays somewhat low key these days. While they used to be long-weekend all-singing-and-dancing productions, these days, they are more like me trying to hide from what I think is unmerited attention

After all, shouldn’t my mother be getting the credit for my birthday? I mean, it’s HER birthday tomorrow, and she likes to say I was her early birthday present, but honestly, she did the work to build me and should therefore get the celebration. (Ditto my son. Why am I not the one being celebrated every June?)

I thought I was getting away with a quiet birthday this year, with the celebration focus on my mother. On Saturday we all celebrated Mom’s birthday at the Oak Bay Marina restaurant, aka The Place We Have Gone On Fancy Occasions Since 1982. The big difference now, however, is that the kids meals are composed plates representing miniature versions of the adult meals, and not the dry hamburger I was so excited to get as a kid.

Ben and my niece Tate with their “kids” meals. I did check to be sure that was a kid sized fish and chips Ben is stabbing.

At the end of this delightful meal, we sang happy birthday to Mom, with only my son and nieces chiming in “AND YOU”, meaning me, at the end of each line. The focus remained on my mother and her milestone birthday!

I was also very quiet in my birthday party this year: I invited less than ten friends to just come get a drink at Bearded Lady around the corner. We had a really lovely time too: the conversation flowed well and the cocktails were exceptionally well crafted to match. But in my haste to get out of the office in time for said happy hour, I mentioned to my two group directors (with whom I form a triumvirate) that I was leaving early for my birthday. They asked why I didn’t say anything, and I grinned, and just explained that every year on a new job, I always manage to fly under the radar for my birthday. It was on Monday, but I thought I was safe!

Then today, I was dragged into what I thought was a Client Innovation Day planning meeting, only to be joyfully surprised by MY ENTIRE TEAM singing Happy Birthday…complete with Melissa’s Gluten Free Cupcakes and a birthday card and drawing:

I am sorry to say I was so surprised that I did tell the guys they were the worst for tattling on me, but I said it smiling. I really need to be more gracious when people throw me a surprise party. I did let them know I was teasing and then sent a separate thank you email telling them how grateful I was not only for today, but for every day. I do actually really love this team a lot – it’s a HUGE operation with no end of craziness but it’s really become a work family over the last few months.

So while I am no longer throwing crazy house parties, or taking a whole crew of people to Bats Day, I am still #blessed enough to have people who want to celebrate me even as I try to hide.

EDIT: I would have had this up half an hour ago, but I got distracted looking for Bats Day photos and ended up organizing Google photos instead for ten minutes, and then I clicked over to Facebook and ended up reading THAT aimlessly for twenty minutes. ALL THESE SITES ARE BAD NEWS.

the non-milestone birthday

So last year I had a milestone birthday. It was therefore somewhat anticlimactic to have a non-milestone birthday on Monday, that I celebrated with zero fanfare or expectations. (Also, we were fantastically jetlagged on Monday, so there was minimal celebration other than ordering Bareburger for pickup and passing out)

It is usually at my birthday that I take stock of my life and where I am in it, and I think this photo sums it all up:

THIS GUY SERIOUSLY

This is me with my goofball son, in BC last weekend. I am tired but joyful because I am with my baby – and my family. I don’t look pulled together , and I don’t particularly care. I do not need to look pulled together, I just need to be pulled together enough to engage with the people I love.

nostalgia fever

I recently read Ling Ma’s Severance, an apocalypse story in which there are parallels between survival and haunting, between being a drone and being a zombie, and between nostalgia and death.  Towards the end of the book, there are multiple scenarios when a weakness for nostalgia results in an individual contracting Shen Fever, the fictional ailment that causes individuals to repeat a motion or a routine, over and over, until their bodies actually disintegrate.  Ma draws a parallel between nostalgia and repetitive motion, between the false comfort of repetitive thought and the disease of action loops.  It is not entirely different from how I think of nostalgia myself, as a trap, as something to be caught in.

In the winter of 2017/18, I was working as a contractor on a client where I wandered like a ghost in the halls of the corporate headquarters, unacknowledged and unaccounted for.  I watched as events unfolded around me, unable to communicate or connect to impact the changes that took place in my work.  I would then indulge in nostalgia for the hour long ride back to Manhattan from the HQ in New Jersey, listening to Matt Good Band, pretending the lights of New Jersey were those of North Van, dreaming of a parallel reality in which NYC would become YVR.  There is a connection between a sense of disconnection and an addition to nostalgia, a need to ground oneself in not just comfort, but a place one knows by heart.  Perhaps that is why I do not feel a need for nostagia as much now as I did last year, when I was less .

And yet.  I am heading home to British Columbia in a few days, which I have not returned to in four years.  I have never left British Columbia for this long. However, with my mother and sister now in Toronto, going home to BC is not my priority, and while I will always see Victoria, randomly, in my thoughts and in my dreams, I do not need to visit it in reality. There is tremendous comfort in visiting a place I know by heart but the reality is, I know it by heart, I carry it with me. Indulging in nostalgia, to me, is a trap.

I still updated my Off the Island playlist this week to better chronicle my memories of who I was when I dreamed of leaving, and who I was when I left. Last Parade, from the “Vancouver” album, is my longterm Vancouver look back song, as, like most Matt Good Band songs, it strikes me as if it should be the soundtrack to a Douglas Coupland novel, and it has the one line, “black out, wake up foreign, wander home”. That is how I feel, still, some days: like I have woken up foreign in America, like I will, eventually, wander home through YVR.

The rest of the songs are the ones I identified with the most from about 1994 on, the mix of sorrow and hope and fear and love of the years after high school, from the Pacific Northwest dream of the Posies’ “?Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?” through the heartbreak of “Little Earthquakes”, all the way through the calm of “Halcyon & On & On”. My flip sides of the top Canadian music in 1997, the social optimism of “Clumsy” and the loneliness of “The Sound Of”. The sheer despair and hopelessness of “Strange Days”, which I wept to, living in Texas, far from home. My eventual return to UBC to finish my degree in “Nightswimming”, which I remember from the night REM played T-Bird Stadium, sitting on the stadium roof singing along with a half-dozen friends. My second attempt at taking on America in Los Angeles, the egotism of “Muzzle” and the quiet optimism of BT’s “Great Escape”. My goodbye to Victoria in “Goodbye”, the song I listened to the most the year my father died, and finally, the end of my journey Off The Island, and the start of my love story with my husband in SVIIB’s “Ablaze” (you told me all you saw was diamonds/you told me that ’till I believed).

I do not listen to these songs very often because I am afraid that the only verb appropriate for nostalgia is “to wallow in”. There must be a more dignified way to experience nostalgia, as something one daintily dips into, something one takes in as a controlled substance, not as an unpredictable, current-laden substance that knocks one off one’s feet and leaves one prone to ill events. I am, however, unable to think of that, and so, even my nostalgia playlists tell a story in which I exit that state and move on, in which I end the journey through my own memories and come out into the present, clear eyed and awake. The narrative leading into the now is my defense against the unpredictability of nostalgia, an inoculation against the fever.

I go home in two days and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it, or that I will ever be ready for it, as if I am a boat to be swamped, as if I can be overcome. The challenge will be to keep going without wallowing, as easy as wallowing may be. I’m not sure I will ever be ready for it, but Westjet’s check in notice reminds me, I am out of time to prepare. I have woken up foreign and will wander home, but at the end of it, I will pick myself up and remember: my real life is in Brooklyn, and that is where it will be good to be back home.

look alive out there

Tonight, I went to a BAM “Eat, Drink and be Literary” event to see author Sloane Crosley speak on humor and insight in her writing.  Sometimes, I just want to hear another slightly sarcastic forty year old white woman speak to experiences I can sort of relate to. Crosley is of the school of humor where she ties personal anecdotes and observations back to universal conditions, a synecdoche that I feel is representative of Generation Xennial.  We tend to speak in metaphors, in pop culture references and personal essays, in stories that represent the feelings we cannot allow ourselves to be insecure enough to voice.  We are the last generation before social media, the last to have come of age in a time before oversharing was common, and our personal essays therefore depend on circumstance as metaphor for emotion.

That said, I enjoyed all of Crosley’s books, and while reading them, I saw her as being a voice of my generation, using humor as a lens to examine what it means to live in New York City in the twenty-first century.  Yet I have trouble connecting to Crosley’s essays in the visceral way that I connect to, say, Lindy West.  Crosley’s work, and her voice, somehow comes across as too polished, too East Coast, almost academic.  Her wit is polished and slightly self-deprecating, but not in the passive-aggressive snarky way that I relate to as a Canadian.  Her essays are exceptionally well crafted, and exemplify, to me, what it means to be a New Yorker here and now: a sense of being polished and well spoken, of being quick witted and literary, of the inheritance of the legacy of hundreds of years of writers in this particular city.  I am not, however, polished and well spoken, at least not consistently, so my disconnect is entirely a personal one.

And yet, there was a period at the end where everyone was asking questions, and I did not.  I wanted to ask about how being a woman, and a woman of our age, impacted Crosley in her writing.  I thought about asking, do you feel you approach your work differently than you would have had you been born a few years later?  Were you better able to perfect your craft because you were first published in 2002, not 2012, and personal essays were not yet tarnished by a culture of oversharing?  I wanted to ask, how do you feel your voice is affected by being a woman?  Do you feel you write differently or approach humor differently than your male counterparts?  However, I felt like it would have been putting that author on the spot to ask about the differences in how women experience humor, especially since she has never written about the challenges of being funny as a female.  I felt like she was somehow disconnected from the challenge of being a woman in comedy because of her medium as an essayist, as opposed to being a woman comedian in a performance role.  I feel like we’re just not making progress in allowing women to be funny in America, and yet this was not the funny woman to ask about that particular topic (unlike again, say, Lindy West).

Still, I was riveted by Sloane Crosley, by how quick her wit is in conversation.  I appreciated hearing about the writer’s craft, about the intensity of fiction versus non-fiction, about the way creating a story out of memory impacts the original experience.  It’s so true, how crafting an anecdote impacts our perception of an event, as we select only the details that are most relevant to the concept we’re trying to convey, or that are most interesting to our audience.  The memories I’ve written about over the years are now one-dimensional, almost shellacked and preserved for posterity.  Some may have been lost otherwise, but others have been polished into representative tales.  It was interesting, to hear that perspective from an essayist who has given her own memories to her craft.

I even actually enjoyed the most awkward part of the evening, which was where I sat down at a table of total strangers.  The series format is a buffet dinner, at tables of 8 people, each table stocked with wine, thankfully, to help it along.  I took a seat at a table with two welcoming older people, who kindly told me where the empty seat was and then said the nicest thing possible, which was that they guessed my age at twenty-five.  They were lovely people who lived in Brooklyn Heights, and had been in Brooklyn for decades.

The rest of the table, once they returned from the buffet, also all turned out to all be closer to my parents’ age, retirees with time and means to engage in the arts.  They weren’t all familiar with the author, but they all came to every event in the series, whether or not they had read the books.  I quickly discovered that most of them were also long term residents of Brooklyn, going back to the seventies, a time unimaginable in Brooklyn to those of us who consider a pre-2008 home purchase to make one a pillar of the community.  Fortunately, I am fascinated by anecdotes of Brooklyn and New York City from the 70s, and they seemed interested enough in my anecdotes of being a Canadian.  We all got along just fine, and despite my initial nervousness, I found myself chatting away.  (Did I mention these tables also had wine?)

I found the whole experience immensely worthwhile: a chance to support literature, to support the National Book Foundation, to support BAM – but most of all, it was important to support myself.  I do not write essays, exactly, but I do write thousand word blog entries.  I would like to write those kind of essays, to be able to tell a story that encapsulates so much of the world around me, to be able to use non-fiction as a narrative that still manages to contain metaphor.  That, to me, is a high art.  This was also something I chose as my first “artists date“, part of the Artists Way project I’ve committed to doing this quarter as a way to reconnect with my own writing and creativity.  It was something that inspired me, that challenged me a bit, that gave me some concepts to mentally chew on – an idea right in line with the dinner party.  Maybe I’ll go back in a month for Min Jin Lee.