Tag Archives: life

optimizing my brain

It has become fashionable, the past few years, to attempt to “hack” one’s brain.  This is an attempt to get one’s brain to run better, faster, smarter.  It is also a great way to sell something called “nootropics“, a futuristic, Orphan Black-esque term for a new wave of vitamins (mostly amino acids and vitamin B derivatives) that are supposed to aid with such “hacking”.

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This is your brain…ON THE FUTURE

I believe, to an extent, that there is some brain “hacking” that can be done, although I do not love the term.  To me, it smacks of Silicon Valley bro-ness, the kind of toxic masculinity that has made the tech industry deeply awful for women.  I prefer to think of it as brain optimization, rather than hacking, as optimizing my brain is really about understanding the 2+ pounds of electricity and protein that lives inside my skull, that contains everything I am.  If I can better understand the mechanisms that govern the electrical impulses that make up my thoughts, then can I get a better grip on the efficiency of those thoughts?

I recently read Stealing Fire, a book on the use of substances or other methods of altering one’s brain for extraordinary results.  While it does focus extensively on the use of mind-altering drugs, it counts everyday substances in that category, everything from coffee to prescription medications. We may not all be using ketamine for out of body experiences, but most of us are using some form of chemical to alter our brains.  It was an interesting perspective, much more on the metaphysical plane, putting the quest for brain control and mind altering more into the realm of philosophy (“I think, therefore I am” sort of meta-ness), telling a universal human story rather than limiting the results to th emore prosaic productivity boost that “brain hacking” promises.  “Stealing Fire” was a more grandiose picture of mankind’s ongoing quest to lift up our mental and spiritual energy through physical substance (see also: Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas), and it contextualized the “brain hacking” trend as really just being a small corner of that quest.

My own quest falls somewhere in between the metaphysical and the mundane, as it’s directly related to the mental and spiritual effects of having a chronic depressive condition.  For the decade plus that I took Wellbutrin, from 2005 until, well, six weeks ago, I grappled with its effects on my actual being.  Was being on this substance altering who I was, in any way?  My ultimate answer to that question was that not only did that particular non-SSRI antidepressant not change who I was, it actually allowed me to be the person I was meant to be.  It was a substance that unlocked my brain.  The Wellbutrin reduced the paralyzing depression that had previously impacted my ability to live my life on a consistent basis.   Problem solved, I thought, at the time, as I went on to build my life, meeting my husband, building my career, moving to Brooklyn, building the Scout organization, building my friend circle – my life is extensive, expansive, and has few limits on how much I can do in it.

Reducing the impact of the biological condition of depression actually brought forth who I am as a person, allowing me to explore my own mental and spiritual state without the intervening detriment of poor mental health.

The problem is that the substance I relied on to make me, well, me, wasn’t consistent.  My depression flare-ups became longer and increased in frequency over time.  When I changed my body’s response to food by switching to a Paleo food lifestyle in 2013 , the condition improved again.  And over time, rather than change my dosage, I began to try to identify more and more ways that weren’t the Wellbutrin that would net similar results to the antidepressant: cardio or HIIT exercise, being in sunlight, not drinking, avoiding grains and dairy, avoiding sugar, getting a good night’s sleep, meditation, journaling, etc.  Some of the tools made more difference than others, but overall, I began to understand what had an impact on my brain, and began to understand the links between the mental, the physical, and the spiritual.

All these physical, mental and spiritual factors are interconnected, and we cannot separate them if we wish to be whole and happy.

And then I finally faced reality.  The antidepressants I had been taking weren’t working.  They likely hadn’t worked for some time.  In fact, in November, my brain wouldn’t recognize the anti-depressants or the caffeine I added to them each day,   I thought I had Lyme disease, I was so exhausted, until I finally cut back on caffeine, added some nootropics, and felt better for a while.  I made it through the winter, and then as soon as we hit the March equinox, I went off the substance I had been using for thirteen years to alter my brain chemistry.

Needless to say, it was unpleasant.  The first few weeks, I could only stay awake until 2pm.  Twenty-five years of caffeine reliance plus thirteen years of using a stimulant as a basic part of my brain chemistry did not allow me to remain at one 8oz cup of coffee per day.  Instead, I felt like a puppet whose strings had been cut, drooping and looking for the system that had pulled me through my life.  I started eating for energy, as working from home gives me endless access to snacks, many of them of the higher carbohydrate variety from Ben’s snack assortment.  I could barely drag myself to the gym or through workouts, I was so tired, yet I couldn’t sleep at night. It was a textbook withdrawal.

Two weeks of this and I was almost in tears at the lack of productivity and the lost time.  A month in, and I sprained my ankle and had to weigh in at the doctor on my visit and realize, it wasn’t just that I’d lost time, I’d gained almost ten pounds of weight that would have to come back off if I was to fit in my client visit suit or my tick-proof camp pants ever again.  This isn’t just about vanity or societal pressure, but about not having to replace my utilitarian clothing in a larger size.

So now I have to not only hack my brain to run without antidepressants, but also have to “hack” my own EXTREMELY STUBBORN biology to lose the weight.  Which is a whole other entry as well.

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Yep, this about sums it up.  Thanks @lacomtessejamie

And I have to recognize that despite all this “hacking” or “optimization”, or whatever I wish to call it, there are going to be days when I just…can’t.  Last night, I had a rough day “at” work, in that I made a major misunderstanding on one of my new accounts in how I interpreted an agenda topic as related to the client’s business.  I also failed to move outside the house, choosing instead to rest my ankle.  I was also tired by 4pm as a result, and I just felt hopeless.  How am I supposed to live my life, I thought, if I can’t stay awake until 4pm even with a good night’s sleep, if I have an ankle that will seemingly NEVER HEAL, if I can’t even understand the job I am supposed to be good at

There are always going to be days in which I feel like I can’t.  And it’s going to be hard to change that and say, I can, without having a stimulant to get me all hyped up and enthusiastic.

So now, what I have to work on, is getting up every day and saying, “I can,” and pushing myself through the work that will optimize my brain to replace the load of stimulants that I cranked through it since I was a twentysomething junior digital media buyer living in Venice Beach.  I am a different person now: I acquired several additional layers of person along the way, including a husband and son.  I built a life in which many people rely on me: my friends, my colleagues, my community.  I built that life using a brain I used a commercial antidepressant to optimize.  Now I have to achieve the same results without that medication.

Most of the time, I feel like this is a story where the moral is that the Wellbutrin didn’t actually work, and therefore was really only a “magic rock” kind of thing: I did this all by myself and the antidepressant was believing in myself all along!  And then I’m tired at 4pm or can’t sleep CLOWN’LL EAT ME and think, why did I give up the stimulants that gave me the energy to push through this, even if they weren’t actually fixing the problem I took them to fix?

The answer is, because those antidepressants, while they worked great to correct my perception of my condition, weren’t fixing the actual problem that causes my depression.  I have a genetic biological condition that alters my brain chemistry enough to impact my mental state.  The NRI was just pushing me through that condition by effectively overriding it.  The most recent research on depression suggests it is more akin to a flare up of a biological condition than just a matter of “being sad”.  Taking a stimulant every single day may have forced my brain to remain in an upbeat state by altering my brain chemistry and increasing the amount of norepinephrine floating around in it, but it doesn’t fix the underlying physical flare-up that caused that mental state to occur in the first place.

And that physical aspect of the condition – that I can optimize.  For that, I can take physical, real-space actions to reduce the impact on my mental health.  That’s where all this brain “hacking”, optimization, whatever one wants to call it – that’s where it comes in.  It’s a quest for the “true self” on a higher level, but on a day to day basis, it’s “what actions can I take to keep my brain in a healthy state where it will crank out client presentations and not sink into a state of despair?

And that – that is another entry, for another day.  Probably tomorrow.  Because one of the bright sides to being benched with the ankle this week, is that I have extra commute time to re-invest in writing blog posts – one of the other many things I’ve identified that makes my brain a little happier.  A few days of writing, a return to a solid meditation practice, it’ll all help optimize my brain.

don’t touch it, don’t look at it

I can’t remember which of my childhood stories that’s from, but it’s from something my mother found hilarious enough to quote whenever she was trying to get me to allow her to apply an aloe vera leaf to a scraped appendage.    It’s how I feel now when I massage in the various ointments I’m applying to my foot.  I started applying a CBD oil based pain relief cream as well as an arnica ointment for bruising and swelling three times daily.  It’s getting easier, but I’m still unable to walk more than a few blocks without setting myself back days of recovery:

May 1st, May 2nd, Mayy 7th.  Swelling down overall but still present at ankle.  No amount of hippie remedies will fix that overnight.

This has been insanely frustrating because spring showed up in NYC literally overnight last week…and then jumped straight to summer.  And then bounced back to spring.  It’s pleasant outside, the trees are in that beautiful light green early leaf, and all the blossoms are out everywhere:

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Prospect Avenue between 8th and Prospect Park West, May 7th

I did get out for almost a “normal” Sunday yesterday: Paul and I went to visit a home that had a bathroom reno completed by contractors we are hiring for our own bathroom renovation project.  We re-did the kitchen in 2016, now we’re re-doing the bathroom.  We’re adulting!  However, this required walking an extra half-mile around Windsor Terrace to get to and from the visited home – even with car service, a “suspicious package” related street closure (read: very likely a burrito wrapped in tinfoil) meant walking an extra quarter-mile on either side of the town-home we were visiting.  By the time we got home, my foot was swelling and the pain in my ankle was reaching a very insistent whining pitch, so I went back to sitting on the couch with my foot on a chair, which seems to be a position from which I can still do things while placating my ankle.

I also biked around Prospect Park later in the afternoon, which was glorious: after two weeks of barely being able to walk, it was like being given wings.  I had arranged to spend some time working out the 2018-2019 Brooklyn Scout planning with the Group Scoutmaster from the former 5th Brooklyn group (now known as 5th Prospect Park), while our sons played baseball at their team’s weekly game.  We got a ton of planning done, our kids’ team tied, and now we have a roadmap for our projected five groups and 200+ Scouts in the borough for the fall (This is a whole separate entry, because Scouting never stops when you are district commissioner for NYC).  To get to said “meeting”, however, I had to bike down to the baseball diamonds in the south end of the Park, and then I figured, why not just finish the loop around the Park instead of taking the bike path back up Prospect Park West.  Why not just cap off a productive afternoon by riding four miles?  So I did, and it reminded me I need to start bike training again for the Epic Ride, and also that while my ankle isn’t as strained by cycling, four miles is plenty.

However, all this activity and normalcy did not come without a price: I ended up having to flat-out lie down to reduce the swelling in my foot by the time I got home.  The swelling is the most painful thing aside from the ankle tendon itself, and having my foot swell up after days of less swelling is extremely painful.  So that was it for productivity for the day: I literally put my foot up, with an ice pack, read a true crime book, and went to bed early.  Today, it’s still painful and prone to swelling, so I’m benched again for the day.  There isn’t much else to be done, right now, until I can heal up enough that a day of light activity doesn’t set me back.

I was also worried that all this activity would add up to be worse in the long run for healing, but based on Internet reading (because we all know the Internet is the best for non-professionals to do their own health research) I think it may actually be OK.  I have setbacks in pain and swelling but that also means I’m exercising the ankle as it heals.  I also do the rehab exercises I was assigned in the hospital: drawing the alphabet twice daily with my foot, stretching it back with a towel, and balancing on my bad leg.  It may take longer to heal, but I’m hoping that it will heal with more usability, and, hopefully, without being too prone to future sprains. This may, however, be purely wishful thinking because I don’t want to have to stay inside with my foot up through a beautiful May weekend.  I could stay home, but then I’d really be missing out on life in general  – and I love my life so much and have so much going on in it that psychologically, that’s not helpful.

Thankfully, I can work from home, so now it’s 9am on Monday and I’m in my “office”, without having to walk the half mile to the subway.  This is one of the things I have gratitude for, every day: that I have a job flexible enough that I can stay home and work.  I can spend a Sunday in “normal” activity and then, since that was too much, take Monday to recover from it.  I’m thankful to have the privilege of being a knowledge worker who isn’t tied to a physical location right now.  That’s been a huge help in healing.  It may make me miserable to be inside all the time during all this spring weather, but at least I’m inside and healing, which is a privilege in itself. Just a few more days, and hopefully, my ankle and foot will be back to normal.

 

 

an attitude of gratitude

I have so much to be grateful for today, not least of which are these guys:

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I’m actually in Toronto right now so I have a lot to be grateful for.  My family are here.  My sister has made a beautiful home away from home for us, literally considering my family’s comfort and wellbeing in building her own family’s house.  We’re grateful to be made to feel so at loved & at home here every time we visit.

I’m also here to visit and cheer up my mother, who has been trapped inside with hew own injury, a broken lower leg, since February.  I’m grateful to have my mother still with us, and grateful to have a strong bond with her.  My sister and I are both close with our mom, another relationship we’re lucky to have.

I’m also grateful for the family I have here to visit: my sister and I have a good relationship as adults, and I adore her daughters, my nieces, who are like little sisters to Ben (grateful for that, too).  They’re beautiful, brilliant, strong, free creatures, each of whom displays emotions and intelligence in equally high amounts.  My brother-in-law is a wonderful guy who is just fun to hang out with, as well as a great husband and father.  My sister has a beautiful family, inside and out, and I’m so grateful to be only two hours away.

I’m listing out all this gratitude right now because it’s just hard to feel grateful for all these blessings when my foot looks like it lost a bar fight to someone a lot meaner:

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From last night: my foot looks like a bloated drunk who got severely beaten up

I’m really trying for gratitude here, in the form of, “I’m grateful I’ve never had an injury worse than this”, but it hurts today after all the activity and exertion yesterday and I can’t go down stairs properly and anything that isn’t being trapped in bed with my foot up causes the fluids to rush back in a very painful way.

Still, the practice of gratitude does make me feel slightly better.  Over the past year, I started using the Best SELF Journal: a daily entry in which I start and finish my day by listing 3 things I’m grateful for.  Sounds like something out of an archived Well and Good article (“The Buzzy Reason These wellness Gurus Start Their Day with Gratitude – And How You Can Too”).  It is, however, a legitimately proven tactic to improve mental wellbeing, so I have added it to my mental toolkit to deal with my depression.

Gratitude may not make up for missing out on physical activity, which is on the list of the Big Things That REALLY Help With Depression.  Walking or running outside are big needle movers for mental wellbeing.  It’s therefore extremely tempting not to be grateful for anything when I’m on Day 5 of hobbling about and don’t know how long this is going to take because I can run again without fear of messing my foot back up.  The challenge is pushing past that self-pity and finding ways to be grateful that are not depending on my physical status.

 

hey, look, a domain!

Instead of the made up word “sekhmetrix”, I have moved to an actual domain of jilliantate.blog.  I created “sekhmetrix” years ago, as a modernized extension of Sekhmet, the Egyptian deity with the body of a woman and the head of a lion. I identified with this particular entity because I’m a Leo, which is a lion symbol, and also because I liked the idea of a goddess who just went around kicking ass.

Sekhmet’s name comes from the Ancient Egyptian word “sekhem” which means “power or might”. Sekhmet’s name suits her function and means “the (one who is) powerful”. She also was given titles such as the “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”. (source: wikipedia)

However, it’s also an outdated moniker.  I’m a big believer in brand building, and my real name is just fine for that purpose.  It’s reasonably unique, and I’m fond of it: I think my mother did a fine job picking out my name.  I am Jillian-with-a-J.  It’s sometimes hard to spell and I get a lot of interesting variations but I like the aesthetics just fine.  I also like my surname of Tate, which I kept after marriage because, to me, my last name has always been part of my identity and I was happy to be able to keep it.

So now I own this domain!  I upgraded my WordPress to get rid of the ads too.  (YOU’RE WELCOME).  I suppose now that I’m updating here regularly I should clean it up a bit.

 

cave day!

I first found out about Cave Day through Daybreaker.  It seems incongruous, a morning rave and a day of focus.  Still, I can see the overlap. There are bound to be people in those early morning sober rave dancers who have their own projects to focus on.  The idea of taking an entire day for mandated focus would therefore have a lot of appeal to anyone trying to translate a vision or an ambition into reality, and I’m pretty sure that anyone committed enough to get up at 6am for a sober rave is committed to some sort of hustle

Cave Day is literally just a day of being in a metaphorical cave.  That “cave” is a state of focus on a work flow.  Whatever one is working on, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you’re in a cave and isolated from the outside stimulus that may distract and derail.  Cave Day is eight hours of work sprinting, of trying to stay “in the flow” of whatever project it is one wants to get done.  I checked out a review online, and it seemed to work: the combination of mantras, focus exercises and peer pressure definitely induced work.  Oh, and despite their email address of bats (at) caveday.org, they are not related whatsoever to Bats Day.

I signed up for this as part of the 2018 work I’m doing, where I’m trying to focus more, period – and especially on my own arts and projects.  I’ve been kicking around an idea for a non-fiction book tied into my Political Science minor in Comparative Federalism, an exposition on my theory of why Canada got Justin Trudeau and his “sunny ways”, and America got Trump and his safe space for white supremacy.  Therefore, I wanted space to work on that book idea, and figure out if it was a viable idea I could roll out into a book proposal – and ultimately, justification to take a sabbatical to write.  However, as great an idea as I thought this was, I was never finding time to write in my daily life, no matter how many times I blocked it off in my day planner.

Therefore, Cave Day not only guaranteed that I would spend at least half a day writing, but it also gave me a deadline to finish some preliminary research and exploration to ensure that was what I wanted to spend the time on.  It isn’t as if I have any shortage of writing projects to work on: I also took a novel writing class last year in the hopes of getting my own tribute to the steampunk genre out of my brain and onto paper, for my own entertainment.  If my non-fiction project wasn’t viable, maybe I’d just get re-started on my fiction project.  Or I could just crank out a month’s worth of blog entries.  Whatever.  Cave Day was going to make sure I wrote.

(I should add, one of my goals this quarter was to submit a blog piece to my employer’s Official Company Blog as part of Building my Personal Brand as a Senior Account Director and Media SME.  I could have sat down and banged out 5 blog entries, a mix of personal and professional and it would have still been a satisfying day)

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Cave Day, to be honest.  I assumed everyone there would be much younger than me, the sort of people who have “side hustles”.  I was partially correct on that: the founders and organizers, Jake and Molly, were definitely squarely in the millenial generation, as were many of the attendees.  There were a few people in my Xennial category though, including the guys at my table.  It was also a slightly male skewed event, with an estimated 65/35 male to female split, as if men feel a pressure to do more.  The 25 of us in the room were, however, diverse enough that I didn’t feel out of place.

In fact, I actually made new  friends.  After an hour sprint of researching  why Canadians have such a vested interest in the common good, I looked up to see a group of grad students writing on a whiteboard headed “Why Are Canadians So Happy?”  It was, for a moment, disorienting, like my imagination come to life.  I bounced into the room, in true Canadian Tigger-like fashion, and discovered it was a marketing project, developing a new campaign.  I cheerfully then volunteered my opinions on Canadian culture:

  • Bears in swimming pools are a thing in heat waves. So are cougars in suburbs, the predator, not the human female.
  • Don’t mention gangs, too soon after the last spate of violence in Vancouver and Toronto
  • Yes, Tim Hortons is HUGE in the East, but in the West, we’re all Starbucks
  • Nanaimo Bars are the only real Canadian food I can think of
  • We are very proud of our diversity and tolerance and of being SLIGHTLY LESS RACIST than America
  • Yes, we all agree, Justin Trudeau IS good looking.
  • We all secretly love the Queen.
  • The North is special to us.  We are, after all the True North, strong & free
  • We don’t vacation IN Canada.  We go to the USA
  • These views are limited to English Canada.  Don’t ask me about French Canada.  Pretty sure they HATE the Queen
  • Margaret Atwood is ALL OVER TV right now and we suspect Netflix’s $500M investment is just going to all be adaptations of her work

After expounding on the culture of my homeland though, I did actually get right back to work.  The day was structured in work sprints, 50 to 60 minutes apiece, three in the morning and four in the afternoon. In the morning, we also started with a one-line intro and commitment to our projects, which we re-emphasized at the end of the day by stating how much we felt we’d accomplished on that project.  We wrote down our plans for our day and each sprint in advance so we would have a clear end goal in sight.  And after each sprint, we stopped, stretched, took a five minute break, and re-set ourselves to work again.

Overall, I liked Caveday.  I loved the space in the Breather offices in midtown. I appreciated the little bit of drama when we entered and were able to symbolically burn whatever it was was wanted to leave outside the cave by imagining it implanted in a ittle piece of flash paper that was burned on arrival.  I appreciated having my phone taken away from me.  Even the scents of the candles (citrus) and the sound piped in (water) were selected to improve focus and flow.  I wrote over two thousand words, completed a much procrastinated review for a direct report, cleared out a bunch of Scout email and caught up on some of my belated Todoist items.  It was a well spent nine hours, in which I accomplished much more than I would have on my own.

Despite liking Caveday, I don’t know if I would go again.  Nine hours is a lot to commit – I sensed I was the only parent in the room.  It’s also time spent traveling into Manhattan, for a 10.5hr day on a Sunday.  That is  huge bite out of my time.  If I can replicate that kind of focus closer to home, then I’d rather stay in Brooklyn – even if it’s just doing work sprints at the library or a coffee shop, somewhere outside the home where I can’t be disturbed but also where I don’t have to go far from home or take an inflexible amount of time out of my day.   Caveday is a great value though: $50 to sit down and accomplish something priceless, with lunch, snacks and coffee thrown in.  If it was in Brooklyn, or if it was more flexible, I’d do it monthly.

So that was my experience in the Cave.  One last thing I did take away was a custom coaster, printed on one side with “I am IN the Cave” for when I’m in a state of focus/flow, and “I am OUT of the Cave” for when I’m not.  It reminded me of my Camp Nerd Fitness wristband, where the red side represented a desire not to socialize, and to be left in an introverted state.  Together, my CNF bracelet and my Cave Day coaster side make an impenetrable wall for focus and concentration and staying in my own brain for a bit.  Totally leveraging both the next time I need the mental space.

 

 

 

and us remains impossible

One of my favourite hobbies is Moping About Vancouver.  This is partially an Early Twenties Nostalgia thing, because who doesn’t look back on their early twenties and see it in candy coloured light and want to soundtrack it and idealize it and frame that time up in Lucite as The Best Time Ever?  (High school, for the record, is somehow always the worst, even for people who didn’t seem to hate it at the time).

My moping over Vancouver is not entirely nostalgia though.  Vancouver really is a fairy tale city.  It’s unbelievably beautiful, set in a break in the mountains on the edge of the ocean.  I mean, look at the photos on the tourism website! It’s a city of glass that looks like a science fiction city on the edge of the natural world.  Yet it still has miles and miles of old neighbourhoods with only Craftsman houses to be seen.  The sky is laced with fir trees in winter and cherry blossoms in spring, so many of the latter that the blossoms pile up in drifts in the gutters in March.  I don’t know how so many movies have managed to disguise the city (hint: USAToday boxes).  And in the time I lived in southwest British Columbia, Vancouver still had the counterculture allure of the West Coast cities, all of the hippie culture my mother’s generation brought with them – now a parody of itself from Lululemon on down, but still very much in earnest in 2003.

Now, I’m realizing, Vancouver was a fairy tale city.  Article after article shows up in my feed about how people my age are leaving the city.  And over and over I hear the same line: that people are breaking up with Vancouver.  That they’re leaving it the same way they would a lover.  That it’s the end of a relationship.   I hear this as a Matt Good track off, well, “Vancouver”.  I know you, so you know me…but us remains impossible.

(I especially appreciate how nostalgic people are for early aughts Vancouver as a time before the housing crisis got ridiculous.  It was certainly trending towards ridiculous in my West Side world, although I could likely have slipped over the border of Main Street and had a very different experience)

A few weeks ago, I was comparing travel notes with another mom from Ben’s class. I’d taken Ben to Switzerland to visit a friend from Vancouver; she’d taken her family to Vancouver to visit a friend she knew from Brooklyn.  She was raving about the city, how beautiful it was, how great the food was, how much she had enjoyed it, without realizing that I was from British Columbia.  When I mentioned that I had been in Basel for the wedding of a friend from Vancouver, she said, “I didn’t know you were from there!  Why would you ever leave?”

“Well, it’s like New York housing,” I explained.  “Only with about 60% of the wages to pay for it.”  That’s usually the point where people look actually shocked.  And by “people”, I mean “people from New York”, which is about as expensive as you can get in North America.  No one here will blink at paying $1,000 a square foot to buy a chunk of Brooklyn, but only if they make money proportional to it.  The idea of not making that money and still having to pay that rate for housing is terrifying.  I shudder even thinking of it.

I still stalk Vancouver more than I ever have any old relationship.  I read Doug Coupland books  (and, briefly, jPod the TV series) and listen to Matt Good Band albums and mope.  I watched the entire run of Continuum for no reason other than the fact that it was the Vancouver-iest thing on TV, nevermind that it literally made no sense by the third season.  I’ll occasionally even check out the twenty year old tech of the KatKam (“Hello freighters nestled in the bay!”).  I read Ben Good Night Vancouver until he knew it by heart.

And like most relationships, I regret deeply the missed opportunities.  I regret that I didn’t take the time or opportunity to know the city better, that I never lived anywhere in Old Vancouver, on the East Side, that I always stayed in Kitsilano where it was familiar, where it was close to my friends and the university and looked a lot like my actual home of Victoria.  I regret that I didn’t learn Vancouver the way I learned Los Angeles when I moved there, that I didn’t study the city and its development and change, the waves of immigration and extremes of society that built the city on that chunk of flattish land between the Fraser River and the Narrows.  My sister bought me Vancouver Was Awesome for Chrismukkah a couple years ago and I’m fascinated seeing the old city, one so like Victoria, one I only ever saw ghost outlines of under all that futuristic glass.

And yet, I have no intent of going back to make up that time with the city.  I’m not looking at job listings or apartment listings: even in the days after November 9th, 2016, I looked at Toronto, because I only wax nostalgic and I’m actually extremely practical and pragmatic.  Still, going back isn’t out of the question, either: the exchange and the equity in my Brooklyn apartment would allow us to purchase something at 20% down.  If Paul and I both had jobs, we would probably be OK.  Not great, but OK.  Our quality of life wouldn’t be much different – we’d save less for retirement and Ben’s college, we’d pay more into taxes instead.

I still recognize that “if we had jobs” is a big fat IF though.  I left to find a career in the first place, and Paul’s work is specialized enough that it is challenging to find a fit for him in the Tri-State area, much less on the edge of the world in a country he’s not a citizen of.  Nothing’s impossible, I’m told, and yet I feel like for us to have the same sort of ease of life we do in NYC, the same sort of careers, the same sort of income to housing ratio, I have to tell my former city, I’m sorry, but us remains impossible, Vancouver.

I also remind myself when I’m moping that I love living in New York City.  I grew up in BC, but this is my actual ancestral homeland, as proven by the fact that overall pushiness makes me a perfect fit for NYC.  I have a career type job in marketing, in the epicenter for my industry.  I experience and learn so much here every day that I would never have learned in my safe corner of Canada.  Right now, much of that is about how completely fucked up America is, but at least I am learning something and spurred into action by it, which is a lot better than complacency, idleness and stagnation.

I remind myself that I left British Columbia to See the World, which, at the time, consisted of Living in Los Angeles.  Now it consists of Living in New York With The Occasional Trip to Europe.  I look at Manhattan when I come back across the GW Bridge each day, at the towers bathed in golden light, and I think, this is my home now, and I know the two boroughs I spend the most time in as well as I ever knew Vancouver – and I still have barely scratched the surface of New York City and of America and of all the things I can be curious about and learn and experience here.

(Oh, and I also left on a sort of quest to find my True Love, which actually took less than two years of the thirteen since I left.  I assume if I had wanted to go back, I would have taken my husband and retreated by now.)

Over the last few years, my moping has been taking on a different sort of nostalgia than it did when I was a homesick twenty six year old in West L.A.  Now, as I read article after article about people leaving Vancouver, I realize I am moping over a Vancouver that is gone, that in reality, what remains is a city my friends are abandoning for the suburbs, for Vancouver Island, or for Canada’s other cities where they can afford housing for their own growing families.  My family have moved to Toronto; my friends from UBC have scattered across Canada.  Vancouver has become too needy, too high maintenance, too much for any of us.

This isn’t a Vancouver phenomenon, obviously.  It’s the same thing that’s happened here in New York, to TriBeCa, to the East Village, to downtown Brooklyn, to even the north edges of my neighborhood in Prospect Heights.  But even though I live in New York, and have had to watch Brooklyn’s neighborhoods bleed out their neighborhood culture from a thousand luxury condo cuts, I grieve for Vancouver more.  Now it’s changed so much, I suspect I wouldn’t be able to love the city the same way even if I had a magic opportunity to go back with the same sort of quality of life I have here.

There are dozens of posts about the Vancouver housing crisis from people who didn’t leave in 2004.  This is my love letter, my own sadness, my own loss at the city I called home, a slightly idealized, candy coloured look at a place I lived in when I was twenty-six, that I left because I was going to outgrow it, even if I hadn’t already.  The reasons I left will always be good, and the decision to leave when I did will always be the right one (it’s given me a career and a husband and a son and a ridiculous adventure of just being American) but that isn’t going to stop me from moping at an expert level for the version of the city I left in 2004, and over empathizing with every breakup article.  Oh Vancouver, us remains impossible.

 

so this whole “blog” thing…

I used to be very comfortable sharing my story with the world, in a form of a blog.  After all, my life ten years ago was the same story as everyone around me: a constant stream of Age-Appropriate Adventures that made for outstanding blogging material.  I surfed through a couple dozen old entries earlier this week, for very little reason at all, and realized that I had a lot to work with, all of it age-appropriate enough to be almost anonymous.

Then I became a wife, mother, career person.  Now I can add “community leader” to that through my Scout involvement.  And my blog started to wither from neglect.  I have written less in the last two years than I used to in a month.

I realize, re-reading all those entries, that I have let Facebook updates and Twitter quips replace my blog entries.  As a result, I really miss writing about my experience in the world.  I haven’t decided whether I am comfortable sharing everything, but I do miss chronicling it.  Part of the appeal of short form social media is that it is subtle and superficial, but I miss long form writing.  And I miss having pages of memories to read through when I feel like visiting my past.

So maybe there is something here, something I should be bringing back from the past.  There is something about the challenge of describing an experience, of selecting the right words, the right language, that I really liked.  And now I wonder if I let it go because I wasn’t quite sure about what to say or what context to say it in: for some time, I have been uncertain about my identity and about what words to describe myself with.  I think I was unable to properly contextualize experience without understanding the perspective I was writing about it from.

Now, I’m feeling more secure about who I am, and about how everything I’ve experienced and everything I’ve done, all adds up to, well, me.  I am just sometimes very uncertain about describing all those things because I don’t want to show every angle of me to anyone who can access the Interwebs.  It is the threat of saying too much, of saying something wrong, of saying something inappropriate.  The Internet is a different place than it was in 2000 when I started writing consistently on Livejournal, and yet, I have left all those entries up because they are my past.

It is the line in “Losing My Religion”: oh no I said too much, I haven’t said enough.

It is seeing the gap in entries for the past five years, the occasional superficial post, concentrated at a level so generic as to be innocuous, and comparing that against the rich tapestry of memories (some happy, some sad, some joyful, some shameful) that I have for the decade before.

Perhaps this habit of writing and chronicling should come back.  Perhaps I just need more confidence that I will not be judged or consequenced for it.