Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Feeling "Lucky"

There's one phrase I hear occasionally that really gets my back up.  I heard it again recently when I had coffee with a friend; we were talking about travel and my year off, and at some point she blurted out that phrase.

"You're so lucky you can afford to travel."

Grrrr.  I wanted to yell and scream and tear my hair out, but I managed to restrain myself and keep the discussion civilized.

Why does this bother me so much?  Because it's not bloody luck, mate, I worked hard for this.  It's not like somebody handed me a big pot of money one day and said, "Here, have fun".

Every dollar I'm spending this year is one I earned, and DIDN'T spend on something else.  I'm not financing this year on credit cards or lines of credit; I hate debt and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I couldn't pay off my credit cards in full every month. 

Okay, I'm lucky that my boss agreed to give me the time off -- but you know what?  I was prepared to quit if I had to, so one way or another I'd still be doing this.  And yes, I had a good income when I was working so it was easier for me to save up a bundle now than it would have been, say, 10 years ago when I was making $40,000 a year.

But it isn't LUCK that I have a good income; it wasn't LUCK that got me the good education, that gave me the choice to take up the career I did.  It wasn't LUCK that got me the job I had.  It wasn't LUCK that I did well at my various jobs over the years, climbed the ladder and was well remunerated as a result.  I worked bloody hard all along the way, let me tell you.

And you know what?  It's not about what money you make, necessarily. I wouldn't have needed to make the six-figure salary I was making to save up for a year off, but it would either have taken me longer, or I'd have had to live more modestly to save up the same amount of money.  I travelled a lot when I made $100K a year, when I made $50K and when I made $30K.  Hell, I travelled a lot when I was a poor starving backpacker making less than $10 an hour in London, England, one of the more expensive places on the planet.  My lifestyle has changed with my income over the years, but I've always lived below my means so that I had money to travel when I wanted.

This key -- which seems so obvious to me, and yet seems to escape so many people -- is simple:  live on less than you make. However much you make, do this and you'll have extra money left to travel (or do whatever your own personal version of nirvana is).  [Case in point:  my youngest sister who (at a guess, although I don't actually know) makes about half of what I was making last year, probably has more money in the bank than anyone else I know, including all those other people with six-figure salaries.]

I'd love to write a personal finance book (since there seem to be so many people out there clueless about money), but I'm not sure I need to say more than a couple of sentences: 

1.  Whatever you make, spend less; AND
2.  Put some money aside for later.  (Including when you're old.)

This will mean making choices -- you can choose any standard of living you like, as long as you can afford it.  If you want to live the high life, do it -- if you can pay the bills, every time -- but recognize that you're making a choice  Every dollar you put into one indulgence is one dollar less you can use towards something else.  (So yes, I get to travel a lot, but the tradeoff is that I don't have some things a lot of other people take for granted.)

And it means being able to tell the difference between wants and needs, and recognizing the choices that you're making.  You need to eat, you need a roof over your head, and you need to get from Point A to Point B, but there are a thousand different ways of providing these things.  For me, it means I cook at home more than I eat out, I walk or take transit instead of owning a car, and I rent a one-bedroom apartment instead of having a huge mortgage.  [Oh, which brings me to another pet peeve:  contrary to popular belief, renting isn't "throwing your money down the drain" and you aren't necessarily going to be worse off financially if you never buy real estate.  You just have to be prudent about making other investments.]

Those some choices don't work for everyone, but most of us do have more choice about these things than we realize.  A 3,000-square-foot house is rarely a "need" (I grew up in a family of 5 in a 1000-square-foot bungalow, and we were just fine); own one if you like (if you can afford it), but recognize that you're making the choice to put your money there instead of towards other things.  And if you live in Toronto, you're probably able to do without a car, if you choose to do so.  You don't NEED designer wardrobes, brand-new furniture, or the most expensive cable package around, if you want to put aside money for other things instead.

I realize there are people who will struggle to make ends meet, no matter how prudent their choices; if you`re making minimum wage as a single parent, I`m sure it`s bloody difficult to survive in Toronto and have any money left over.  But I`m not talking about those people; I`m talking about the other well-educated, middle-class, professional people like me.  It's people like THAT who have told me how "lucky" I am.

In some respects I am lucky.  I am lucky to be healthy, to have the brains to have gotten that good education in the first place, to have supportive family and friends, to live in a country where I have the freedom to make the choices I have.

But having some cash to travel?  Don't ever tell me I'm lucky to have that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

So I Might Have to Move Now ...

Damn.  I started out today in such a good mood.  I had my long-awaited appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon today, found out my wrist has pretty much healed and is okay, just have to do some exercises to strengthen it again and I should be good as new.  So travelling can get underway again!!!  Yahoo!!

I went dancing out of the doctor's office, took myself shopping (bought a cool new, smaller backpack) and then went to see "Score: A Hockey Musical" -- seriously fun and goofy!  You even get to see Theo Fleury dance and sing, what more could you ask?    A good day all around.

Then I came home in the evening, started watching the election coverage ... and my beloved city has elected a complete berk as our next mayor.  Seriously can't stand this man -- he inserts his foot every time he opens his mouth and makes Mel Lastman sound like a diplomat.  Worse (to a government finance person like me), is that, for a guy who claims to be all about better fiscal management at City Hall, his financial plan is a joke -- i.e. he doesn't have one, just some vague promises to "find efficiencies" to the tune of a couple of billion dollars.  Yeah, thanks -- I lived through that with the Tories in the provincial government, it didn't work then (it just became a percentage reduction to every ministry's budget, because they didn't actually know how to save the money -- so hey, make the civil servants figure it out instead of making any actual decisions!) and it won't work now.  Unless you have actual, concrete IDEAS of how to save that $2 billion, don't pretend to have a plan.

I love that people in Toronto actually got passionate about his election -- municipal politics doesn't usually inspire the kind of fervour that this one saw.  The discussion flying around Twitter and Facebook tonight has been fascinating!

Saddening, though, in a couple of cases, as latent homophobia came out  ... one FB friend of a friend said he didn't vote for George (an openly gay man with a husband and child) because he was concerned about his "family values" -- oh, dear God, how I hate that phrase!!  It's almost always used to justify discrimination or bigotry, I find; this case was no different as he went on to say:  "The 'straight' premier was already trying to teach sex ed to eight year olds, so what's the gay mayor going to do? If he feels it's ok to parade around in the street naked in the name of 'civil rights', I don't want to vote for him."

I had to quote that verbatim just to see if I could believe someone actually wrote that in a public forum.  I'm still having trouble.  How things got from a debate about municipal politics to an attack on the "gay lifestyle" (another phrase I hate, like it's a choice you can make or un-make as the fashion changes), I'm not quite sure.  Sexual orientation as a screening tool for who you vote for?  Seriously?

*Sigh*  I might have to move until Rob gets booted out of office.  Any non-Torontonians looking for a roommate?  Reasonably well domesticated by now, I swear, so I wouldn't be all that difficult to live with.  (Shelley ... no comments, please!)

Anyway ... back to the good news.  I can travel again!  Now I just have to figure out when and how.  I have a brand-new smaller backpack, lots of ideas, and (hopefully) more time off than originally planned -- but as I don't know that for sure yet, I'm swithering about what to do.  If I knew FOR SURE I'd have January to March off, I'd go to India then and probably Ireland/Scotland before Christmas.  But if I have to go back to work in January, well, I probably want to squeeze in my India visit now, or I'm never going to get there.

Okay, note to self ... call boss and harass him tomorrow.  I'll keep you posted on what develops!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tomorrow, tomorrow ...

I have a doctor's appointment finally!  I have been waiting nearly two months for this -- first it was waiting to see my own doctor, then waiting for the x-ray results, then waiting for an appointment with the specialist ... which is finally tomorrow!!  Yahoo!!

If I'm a little excited about this, perhaps you understand why.  I'm supposed to be spending this year off travelling wherever strikes my fancy, and instead I've been stuck in Toronto for two months longer than planned.  Not that it's been all bad -- I get to hang out with some cool people here and I had fun playing tourist in my own city for a while -- but, really, I'd rather be back on the road.  I just haven't had enough time between the various stages of waiting to make going anywhere feel worthwhile.

No idea what the orthopaedic specialist will tell me tomorrow.  Wrist still hurts if I bend it the wrong way, put any pressure on it, or use it to scrub or write or, well, pretty much anything else, actually ... so I'm guessing it's not entirely healed.  But whether that's going to mean a cast, or just more of what I've been doing (keeping it wrapped up in a brace), I do not know.

Nor do I know if I'm going to have to go back again.  If I do, with luck it'll be either very soon after or a couple of months down the road ... long enough to travel somewhere in the second case, although not quite around the world.   I'm going somewhere, at any rate, even if I only have a week or two before having to go back again -- Ontario road trip, maybe.  I could even check out bus transportation here and see how it compares with Argentina (I have a feeling it won't measure up to Southern standards).

Whatever it is, it'll be good ... I'm even starting to bore myself just hanging around the city (and I have a pretty high tolerance for myself), and even though my sister is one of the most tolerant and easygoing people I know (Shelley, not Julie -- not that you would really wonder if you know them both) she's probably tired of having an extra person around the apartment.  I love my place, but it really isn't big enough for two.

(Then again ... I did let her stay here for a year or so when she first came back from Australia/NZ, so perhaps I shouldn't feel too sorry for her.  Hee hee ... karmic payback, or something.)

Hoping, too, that my boss agrees to 3 extra months off, so I can make up for some of the time I've been grounded in Toronto.  But no news on that either yet -- I'll keep ya posted.

Wish me luck!  I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

p.s.  This is why I like blogging ... I get to ramble on about any random thing that strikes my fancy, even after people have gotten tired of hearing me talk about it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wealthy, Whiny and White

You might’ve read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Or seen the movie starring Julia Roberts.  Both are called Eat, Pray, Love, but I read an article recently (have a read here) that suggested it could better be titled ... you guessed it.

Wealthy, whiny and white.

I’ll preface this by saying I haven’t read the book, so I may have come away from it with a different impression than I got from the movie.  But I was thinking about this idea after I saw the movie recently, and I think there’s some truth to it.  I wanted to like the movie, I really did -- and in some ways, I enjoyed it.  The idea of it resonated with me – while I’m not being subsidized by a publishing house to take my year off (more’s the pity), i can relate to the idea that your life (whatever it is) isn’t working for you as it is, and that stepping out of it altogether can sometimes help you get clarity on what it is you really need to feel whole. 

But not everyone has that luxury.  Most of the women in most of the countries of the world couldn’t even begin to conceive of spending a year gallivanting around the world; they’d be too busy just trying to put food in the mouths of themselves, or their children.  It’s the wealthy (whiny, often white) folks in countries like the U.S. or Canada that can afford to drop a bundle in their quest for self-fulfillment, whether it be round-the-world travel, membership at an expensive yoga studio, or weekly visits to the spa.    Wealthy, whiny and white.

That doesn’t mean that those things can’t help.  Travel does, for me, which is one of the reasons I love it; I like the person I am when I’m travelling better than I like the person I am at work.  That Carol is a lot more adventurous, more enthusiastic and passionate about things, and more engaged with the world around her.  Stepping out of the rut of my regular life seems to free up some parts of me that I too often repress.

And it reminds me, too, that I’m very privileged to live where and as I do.  If you ever doubt that we have it pretty good in Canada, go visit a small town in, say, Peru to see how different life can be.  It also reminds me that some things about the way we live here are harmful, to ourselves and to the planet, and that there are other ways of living.

But the real challenge, I think, is being able to find meaning and purpose in everyday life, and to live as your “best self” all the time, not just in exotic locales.  For me, for example, the ultimate answer isn’t “travel more”, but rather find a way to bring that attitude and awareness back to my life here.  That’s infinitely harder to do – it’s easy enough to distract myself in a foreign place and be curious, outgoing, passionate and alive; once i’m back home again, however, I’m still me, and I can fall right back into the old rut.  (For the heroine of Eat, Pray, Love, it’s one thing to allow herself to really eat and enjoy food while in Tuscany, but keeping the same healthy attitude when she’s back in the States-- with its obsession with thinness and rigid standards of beauty -- may be much, much more difficult.)

The way I think about my year off has changed.  The way I think about travel has changed.  I probably started off closer to the heroine of Eat, Pray, Love – salvation and self-actualization through travel to gorgeous exotic locales.  The year was going to be all about travel, and somewhere along the way I’d figure out what exactly it is I want to do to “fix” my life.

It isn’t quite that, any more.  I still want to travel more, and I’m hoping to get a few more months off so I can still get to some of the places I want to see, despite being grounded for the last couple of months while I take care of my broken wrist.  But I’ve become more aware the reasons that I and other people travel, and more critical of some of those reasons – whether it’s to rack up more places on your “Where I’ve Been” list, have the best "How I spent my summer" story for the next dinner party, win the “who’s a more authentic traveller” contest in the hostel, or save your whiny, wealthy, white soul by getting spiritual in India or Bali.   And I’m having trouble reconciling extensive travel with a desire to live an environmentally-conscious life (plane travel being decidedly UN-friendly to the environment).

I’ve learned some things this year, but it’s probably as much to do my enforced extended stay in Toronto as it is to travel.  When I work for a living, I am far too prone to spending most of my waking hours at work – at least I have been for the last few years – and I’ve realized that I do so because it’s been easier than facing up to the fact that I didn’t have much of a life outside of the office.  I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing a job well and using my abilities to do work I find meaningful, which is good; where it tips over into dysfunction is my tendency to stifle everything else in the name of work.  Easier to spend 18 hours a day at the office, than to have too much free time in which to face the fact that I wasn’t happy, and actually begin to do something about it. 

Whoever it was that said “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates?) was on to something.  I have lots of time now, without any exotic foreign destinations currently distracting me, to examine my own.  I have realized that, yes, I do enjoy having a challenging professional job, and that`s okay.  I realize that, whatever that job is, it has to feel meaningful and make a contribution to a better world, in however small a way.  I realize that I am happier when i am more social than I thought I was naturally inclined to be, and that I need to feel more connected to other people than I did before this year.  I realize that I need to feel more connected to my community and (clich├ęd as it may sound) “make the world a better place”, so I’m looking into volunteer work.  I realize that I need to consciously devote time and energy to my passions – writing, of course, but other things as well.  I realize it`s experiences, not things, that bring greater joy, and that a simpler life is often better.

But I didn’t have to travel to figure these things out.  That`s the wealthy, whiny, white pretension that I was falling victim to as well – the idea that you can fix your spiritual malaise if you just visit the right place, do the right kind of mediation, practise the right kind of yoga, or whatever it may be.  The reality is that it`s the ongoing, everyday process of self-examination that is valuable; there is no magic bullet that solves everything.  For one thing, who you are and what you need is continually in flux, and the point is the search for (not the finding of) answers.

That search – and any answers that arrive along the way – is probably different for all of us.  What is the right life for me isn’t going to be the right life for you, and that’s perfectly fine, as long as we both accept that we’re allowed to live differently.   And as long as we’re both aware of what it is we’re choosing and why, and not just repeating old patterns or living out someone else’s script for our lives.

For me, that “right life” may not involve getting married, which disturbs some people immensely; I do agree that it’s important to find connections with other people, but those connections can take a variety of forms.  The ending of Eat, Pray, Love bothered me for this reason – the woman who proclaimed at some point in the movie that she’d hardly been single a day since she was 16 finally finds true happiness in the arms of yet another man?  Please.  That’s just perpetuating the Cinderella approach to happiness – find your Prince Charming and you’ll never be unhappy again.  Why can’t it be good enough to finally be happy in yourself, and happy to have people in your life who are important for all sorts of reasons but aren’t, necessarily, your “one true love”?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against capital "R" Relationships.  If you're in one and you're happy, more power to you.  I just think it's too simplistic to think that true fulfillment can be found by defining your life around another person.  Way too much pressure on that other person, for one thing, if you hand over all responsibility for your current and future happines to them.

Besides, given the choice ... I’d have taken the cute Aussie beach bum over the older Brazilian man any day.  (Seriously, what was she thinking?)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Place Everyone Loves to Hate

I`m going to say something very shocking, and deeply unfashionable.  People around the country, and beyond, will be shaking their heads in bewilderment.  “Did she really say that?” they’ll ask.  “That can’t be right.”  You might question my sanity, depending on where you yourself live.

Here it is:  I love Toronto.  

 I don’t want to live anywhere else:  not Vancouver, not New York, not London, not Montreal.  Right here.

There.  I’ve said it. 

Some people won’t admit to this, but there are others out there like me.    We aren’t usually vocal enough about how we feel; sometimes it’s easier to keep quiet in the face of the sneering we get from the rest of the world.   (The Toronto Star did go on record, though:  check it out here  One of the few people who will also admit that he loves the place is a transplanted Londoner I met recently; he moved here about 10 years ago and has no intention of ever leaving. 

The rest of the country hates us (never mind that many of them have never been here), with the possible exception of Vancouverites, who claim to just pity us.  Tell someone in Vancouver that you’re from Toronto, and they’ll say cheerfully, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll like it much better here.”  Tell someone from the East Coast that you actually LIKE living in Toronto, and they’ll stare at you blankly and ask, very seriously, “Why?” Montrealers would just look down their noses at you, thinking that being French and stylish means they automatically win.  (They don`t.)

Even some Torontonians bash the city.  They’ll bitch endlessly about the TTC, or the smog, or the traffic, or the cost of housing, or how much property tax they paid last year.    They complain that Toronto isn`t like New York, or London, or that it`s too busy and crowded and dangerous compared with the `burbs, or small towns.

Here’s what they forget:  this city rocks. 

No, it isn`t New York, or London.  It doesn`t need to be, and I don’t want it to be; I like it for what it is.  There’s a reason this place is one of the few cities where the downtown population is actually increasing, instead of everyone fleeing to the suburbs; people want to live here.  It`s big enough that you can be anonymous when you want, but with neighbourhoods where you can actually get to know the folks next door.

Within walking distance from my front door, I can find restaurants serving the cuisine of just about any country in the world.   (Including our own:  there’s an entire restaurant devoted to poutine, and another one where you’re encouraged to bring your own marijuana.)   I can wander neighbourhoods where I won’t hear a word of English, and where I definitely won’t blend into the crowd.  Something like 180 different nationalities call this city home, and somehow we all manage to co-exist peacefully; it`s the most multi-cultural place on earth, more so than London or New York or anywhere else you`d care to name.  There`s a Little Italy, and a Little India, and a Little Portugal, and too many Chinatowns to count; there`s even a Little Malta (with the largest Maltese community outside, well, Malta).

I can walk almost anywhere I want to go.  If I don`t feel like walking, I can hop on the TTC; unlike some Toronto people I know, I actually like it.  It isn`t perfect, by any means, but it`s pretty good, compared to the public transit in some other cities I`ve visited!   I can actually manage to get off at the stop I want even in rush hour; for that alone it beats London.  And it`s safe; it was a treat coming back from South America and realizing I didn`t have to worry about my bag getting slashed or my pockets picked.  Most of all, I won’t ever have to own a car as long as I have a Metropass.  If I really want to, I can even take my Christmas tree home on the subway.

I can find green spaces to get lost in, wilderness trails in a huge urban park from which I can’t even hear the distant hum of city traffic.  I can take a 10-minute ferry ride to cottage country, if I really want to get away from it all, and hang out on the Toronto Islands for a day (if I`m feeling very daring, I can bare it all at Hanlan`s Point).  I can run or bike or roller-blade for kilometre after kilometre, along the shores of one of the largest lakes in the world.  And, nowadays, it’s even safe to swim in it again.

I can see Broadway shows, BEFORE they make it to Broadway, and opera that is the equal of any production in the world.  I can cheer on poets good and bad at underground poetry slams on Queen Street West.  I can play spot-the-celebrity at a huge international film festival (I saw George Clooney once, but haven`t yet managed Johnny Depp).  I can go watch Canada’s favourite game played by the boys in blue, a team so steeped in history and with such passionate fans that every single game sells out; it doesn’t even matter that they haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967.  And if I don`t feel like hockey, there`s basketball, and soccer, and lacrosse, and baseball; occasionally there`s even cricket.

In the summer, I can choose from at least half a dozen festivals most weekends.  I can go hear the best jazz musicians in the world in not one, but two jazz festivals.  I can hear free opera and classical music and indie rock and pop in outdoor concerts around the city.  (Country music’s a bit harder to find, but as I don’t like it much anyway, I don’t really mind that.)   I can take in fringe theatre at venues around the city, or catch a performance of the Bard in a magical outdoor space in High Park.    I can eat deep-fried butter or other artery-clogging delights at the venerable Canadian National Exhibition (“the Ex”, as we call it).  Millions of people can crowd the streets at one of these events, and nobody even gets mugged.  The entire population of the city takes to patios in May, and stays there till at least September.

It isn`t always summer, of course.  But it’s a proper summer when it arrives – hazy, humid and scorchingly hot, with tropical thunderstorms to keep things interesting.  Forget the mild spring-ish temperatures and occasional drizzle that passes for summer in Vancouver.  Seasons are emphatic, to say the least, and I like that:  I like having them clearly defined and changing with the time of year (I`d get bored with 365 days of sunshine and mild temperatures).  Give me snow in January and 45 degrees Celsius in July any day; it sometimes changes abruptly from one to the other with barely a pause for spring. 

And the sun doesn`t disappear for months on end in winter – it might get cold, and sometimes even snows (occasionally giving the rest of the country more cause to poke fun at us, when we call in the army to dig us out), but it`s often brilliantly sunny and crisp.  So take that, London or Vancouver, you can keep your dreary gray non-seasons.  If you get too cold here, you can just go underground:  if you lived and worked in the right places, you could spend the entire winter in the PATH without ever having to brave the outdoors.

To know the city, and to truly appreciate it, you have to get to know its neighbourhoods.  There’s my own ‘hood in “Boystown” or the gay-bourhood where the world’s largest Pride festival runs rampant in late June.  Further afield, I can wander streets wildly different from my own, less than half an hour’s walk from home:

* To the south, there’s Regent’s Park, a less-than-perfect 1960’s experiment in social housing that’s long been one of the poorest parts of the city and as close as Toronto gets to a “slum”, but for all that it’s still not so bad.  Down by the lake, there`s the Distillery District, with my favourite coffee shop in the city, or St. Lawrence Market, where I can eat my way around the world without even leaving the building. 

* To the north, I’d reach first Yorkville, former hippie enclave that’s now awash in trendy restaurants and designer shops for the beautiful people, and then Rosedale, where the smell of old money lingers in the air. 

* To the west, there’s the ivy-clad walls of U of T (so much more beautiful than my own alma mater of Waterloo, within its 1960’s neo-Soviet architecture), and Kensington Market further on, where current-day hippies rejoice in vintage clothing stores and vegan-friendly markets. 

* To the east, there’s Cabbagetown, probably my favourite neighbourhood of all, named for the cabbages that the original Irish inhabitants used to grow in their front yards when they first arrived here after fleeing the famine back home; the Victorian homes are mostly gorgeously restored and I love to spend a sunny afternoon wandering its streets.  Further out, there’s Riverdale, where I used to live; born as a lawless enter-at-own-risk slum east of the Don, these days it`s a pretty civilized and friendly neighbourhood, with an eclectic choice of restaurants on the Greektown stretch of the Danforth.

I like it all.   

Besides, this city is the only place I`ve ever been that understands shoes are important enough to have a whole museum dedicated to them;  how can I not love it?

If I Was At Work Today ...

I was actually sitting down to write another post, but as I watched all the be-suited people going by outside, it occurred to me how I`d be spending my day if I didn`t have time off work.  Instead of lounging in a coffee shop for the afternoon as the rain pelts down outside, writing my little heart out, if I were at work today ....

... I'd be back in the throes of the RBP.  The last fall I spent WITHOUT having to work on this was in 2001.  Before I joined the government, that is.

If you're not a government finance geek, you will have no idea what this means, but trust me, it's a good thing not to be there, in a deficit year just before a provincial election.  It's the Ontario government`s annual planning process, ultimately leading to the Budget (yes, it is always capitalized) in the end of March.  I`d be going crazy with spreadsheets or meetings with politicans by now, probably, as we all tried to figure out how to do 17 million new things whilst saving, oh, a billion dollars or so, give or take a few zeroes.

It can be kind of fun, at least for someone who is as obsessive-compulsive about finance as I am (ask my sister about the amount of time I spend on my own personal budget, and then imagine how much more OCD I become when I`m getting paid to do budget things at work).   I like getting to see government decision-making from the inside, although if I told you some of the things that I`ve heard discussed, I`d have to kill you.  And if you knew how it all actually worked ... well, let`s just say you can be happier reading the Budget papers not knowing.

Okay, I`m going back to my original post now.  Stay tuned ... I think you`ll like it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Is ANYTHING actually going to work out for me?

I am so (*%&#%(*& angry I could spit.  I am supposed to be off travellling and having a fabulous time in some exotic part of the world, and instead I'm hanging around, unemployed and bored and broke, with nothing to do, waiting for various medical people to get their acts together.

You'll have read that I broke my wrist (probably in Peru in June, although I don't know for sure).  I had an X-ray about 3 weeks ago to confirm this.  Since then I've been waiting to hear when my appointment with the orthopaedic specialist would be.

I called my doctor's office to follow up about 10 days after the X-ray and they hadn't heard back from the specialist's office, but promised to find out.  Spoke to them again about a week later:  the specialist's office had called them to tell them I hadn't shown up for my appointment the previous day.  An appointment I wasn't aware that I had, that is.

So the doc's office promised to follow up again and get back to me the same day.  No word back so I left a message after hours requesting a call back again.  In the meantime, I'd decided to give up on waiting around and go off gallivanting around Ireland/Scotland and starting looking into flights.  If it was really going to take weeks to get an appointment, I thought, I could go and spend the rest of October and November there and come back in time for the follow-up.

Heard from them again yesterday, to tell me I had an appointment for October 25th.  This didn't work out well with the above-mentioned travel plans so I asked about getting a later appointment.  Got the phone number of the specialist's office so I could talk to them directly.  (This was yesterday.)

Spent all morning phoning the specialist's office every five minutes from about 9:30 on, as no one was answering and they don't have voicemail, just a perky message that "We have stepped away from the desk for a moment so please try again in five minutes.  Good-bye."  Click.  Nothing helpful about please-leave-a-message-after-the-beep:  I had to keep calling them, I couldn't leave a message and ask them to call me.

Finally got a live human being after several hours of calling , and she told me that, as it would be my second missed appointment, I'd have to "go through the process" from the beginning and she couldn't arrange another appointment for me until my case was reviewed by the doctor in question.  The two missed appointments?  Oh, the one I hadn't been told about at all on Monday, and the one on October 25th that I hadn't yet agreed to at all.  

Because of those, she adamantly refused to book me another later appointment, despite my best and most persuasive arguments.  She had a "process" and she was damn well going to follow it.  I'd have to go back to the bottom of the list, she said, and I'd be told -- eventually -- when my appointment would be rescheduled for.  (I added the "eventually" -- she didn't say it, but that was the definite tone.)

So I'd be back to square one, basically.  I'd be waiting around indefinitely to find out when the bloody appointment would be at all, and then tt could end up being in a few weeks, or a month, or two months, or ... God only knows.  So my travel planning would continue to be difficult, and if (God forbid) I have to have anything complicated done with my wrist when I DO eventually see the doctor, it could potentially screw up the rest of my time off.

I finally gave up in frustration and said, fine, I'd take the appointment on the 25th.   Then I ranted and roared to myself as I stomped around my apartment in fury.  (My neighbours, if they're home, probably think I'm nuts.)

That probably means I DON'T go to Ireland and Scotland now, as spending the six weeks or so I'd thought about would mean I couldn't leave until the end of the month and would bring me well into December (and cold, grey, rainy winter) before I was done.  I could leave tomorrow, I suppose, but I'd still only get a couple of weeks before I had to turn around and come home -- I could do that in vacation time from work, so doesn't seem worth the expense of it now.

But I don't know what the hell to do instead.  Had I known back at the beginning of September my appointment would wind up being the end of October, I'd have gone off happily travelling and had plenty of time to wander around the UK.

I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that I get 3 additional months off, so I can actually get some of the places I want to go, but I don't know yet whether the powers that be will agree or not.  If I get the extra time, that takes some of the pressure off.

If I don't ... well, I don't want to waste the 3 months I have left, and I definitely don't want to spend it all sitting around Toronto.  I don't even want to spend the next two weeks -- while waiting for this bloody appointment -- sitting around Toronto, but neither do I want to spend tons of money on a short trip somewhere.

Ideas?  What would you do if you were me?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Best-Laid Plans ...

... "gang aft awry", I believe that ends.  I can even kind of do the Scottish accent when I say it.

However you pronounce it, my plans seem to be going awry more often than not lately.  I had decided upon an alternative plan while I waited for my appointment with the orthopaedic specialist about my broken wrist:  instead of traipsing off to India immediately, I decided I'd take a few weeks and head off to roam around Scotland and Ireland, ancestral homes on both paternal and maternal sides of my family.  Seemed like a reasonable idea -- I'd still get to travel somewhere I really wanted to go (I haven't been to either since 1997, and hardly at all to Northern Ireland), and the going wouldn't be too difficult so even with one hand mostly out of commission I could manage.  And I'd be close enough to home to get back in time for my follow-up appointment, whenever it finally materialized.

So great, I thought, I'll find a cheap flight and take off next Monday or thereabouts -- little planning required beyond throwing some rain gear in a backpack and buying a plane ticket, so easy to get organized quickly.  And, even if now's not the perfect time of year to go, weather-wise ... still, it's the time I have, it's better than going in January, and, well, you're never guaranteed sun in either place so July wouldn't necessarily have been any better.  Oh, and there'd be a lot fewer tourists around so I wouldn't be overrun by Americans.

Well, now I'm second-guessing that plan again.  I got a call from my doctor's office today, to tell me that they'd gotten a call from the ortho's office to say I'd been a no-show for my appointment YESTERDAY.  Since it's a little hard to show up for an appointment that they'd never bothered to tell me (or my doctor's office) about, I didn't feel bad about it.  The secretary promised to harass them today to get me another appointment and to let me know by the end of the day.

The day's now ended, and I don't know anything more.  So now I'm wondering what the best plan is -- do I stick around till I have a date for the appointment, since it seems it may be much earlier than I'd been warned?  Do I jet off to the UK anyway, and take my chances that timing is going to work out?

I'm tired of sitting around in Toronto.  I've been entertaining myself for the last few days by running around playing tourist in my own city (stay tuned for the Toronto photo album), but even though I love the city, it wouldn't be my first choice of places to see right now.  I don't know yet if I will get the OK on another three months off, so I don't know if I'm going to have any more time after December.  If I don't ... well, I'd like to be making much better use of the time I have, instead of sitting around in limbo.

Grrrrrrr.  I hate waiting.  Hoping that someone can give me an appointment date finally tomorrow (I'll be on the phone all day trying), and make my planning easy.  Otherwise I'll be having trouble deciding what the hell to do.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Of Bards and Bari-hunks

Sorry about that cranky blog post the other day.  (Well, not that sorry, maybe, because if I can’t rant in my very own blog, where the hell can I rant?)

I’ve decided that I have to keep writing, despite how awkward it is.  Maybe I`ll get used to the inelegant manner in which I have to type with this brace on my wrist, maybe I won`t;  all I know is, I am much happier at the end of a day in which I`ve managed to write something.  So I`ve gotta keep doing it ... and here I am again.

And I think I have an alternative plan for the rest of my time off – I’ll keep you posted once I’ve worked out the details.  I’m getting tired of sleeping on the couch in Toronto, and I really need to hit the road again.  The broken-wrist thing isn’t going to be fixed any time soon (I called my doctor’s office again, and it could be weeks or months before I get an appointment with the orthopaedic specialist), so I`ve pretty much decided I have to just plunge on anyway and work around it, or I’m going to expire of boredom some time soon.

Oh, it hasn`t been all bad.   This year off isn’t just about travel – it’s also about having time and space to find myself (er, again, as I think that was also my reason for decamping to Europe after university – but I think I lost myself somewhere over the last few years), and about experiencing more of life than just work.  It’s also about seeing more of friends, about writing in all shapes and forms, about enjoying art and literature and music and theatre and poetry, and all of those other things that I’d let fall by the wayside in my 18 hours a day in the office.

The first couple of weeks back at home were pretty cool, actually; it was heavenly to stay in one place and not have to pack up everything I own every few days.  And walking around outside with just a wallet (no passport or other assorted valuables strapped to my body) feels like decadence, especially when I don’t have to worry about my bag getting slashed or a knife held to my throat on a busy city street.  (The latter thing didn’t happen to me – but it did to a friend of mine, who’s still in South America despite that!  Think he’s moved on to Colombia now.)

And I decided to stay around for a few weeks quite deliberately, so that I could take in some incredible theatre that I didn’t want to miss.  Top of the list was Christopher Plummer in Stratford’s production of The Tempest – the divine Mr. Plummer is well worth sticking around for!  He can still deliver the Bard’s lines like no one else, in that magnificent voice that has not appreciably diminished with age.   

Bea and Marjory, two delightful octogenarians who had seats near me for the performance, told me they’d been to Stratford since the festival started to see everything Christopher Plummer had ever been in there – starting with his Hamlet in 1957.  (Bea, in fact, has been to Stratford every year since 1953, back in the days when the Festival was still held in a tent.)  They also told me, with unrestrained glee in their voices, that they planned to go to Foster’s Inn for dinner after the show, since they’d heard Mr. Plummer would be going there – as Bea told me, “They don’t think you’re a stalker if you’re 85, they just think you’re kind of cute.”

I hope they found him.  Every actor should have such charming groupies.   Particularly the elegant Mr. Plummer, who is still quite a dish at the age of 81.

I also went to check out a couple of musicals – Evita and Kiss Me, Kate – and more of the Bard in A Winter’s Tale and As You Like It.  The last two starred my own Stratford crush Ben Carlson, but as I hadn’t obtained any insider gossip on where he might go for dinner, I didn’t manage to actually meet the man.  Next time I’ll have to hang out by the stage door, I guess.  (Er, Ben, if you’re reading this, I swear I’m not a crazy stalker chick, I just think you’re a very fine actor.  Really.)

So that’s the Bard.  The bari-hunk was on stage in Toronto, in a brilliant production of South Pacific – Jason Howard, a Welsh-born baritone now based in Toronto, gave a bravura performance as Emile de Becque.  As defined by, a bari-hunk is “A handsome or pretty baritone. Especially, but not exclusively, one who removes his shirt for the sake of opera”.  Jason’s shirt stayed firmly in place, but I think he met the other requirements.

The Toronto Star likened his voice to “aural equivalent of a finely polished piece of mahogany”, and, purple prose or not, they weren’t off the mark.  One heck of an enchanted evening, indeed ... if you haven’t already guessed, I have a weakness for musicals (the cheesier the better), and when they’re also got something important to say (as South Pacific comments on racism and the tragedy of war), it’s a bonus. 

(I’m still singing the songs.  I might have to go see Rock of Ages next, just to install a new soundtrack in my head!)

But it’s about time I got the heck outta town again.  Probably won’t be backpacking around India with a broken wrist, but there are plenty of places in the world I’d love to see that are a little easier to get around.  Stay tuned!