Tag Archives: conversation

Misery Loves Miserable Company – Or Does It?

This might not be a shallow blog. I’ll let you decide. 

Those of you who have stuck with me over the many, many years of this blog will know that I don’t indulge in what has become a yearly tradition of making promises that are, unfortunately, most often destined to be broken. Even so, I have always resolved to be as honest as possible (although it’s not always possible) with my readers so here’s something you might not have imagined about me. Hard as it might be to believe, I wasn’t always at the top of my alma mater class which, I confess, is putting it mildly. It’s not that I didn’t like university. It’s just that I liked other things better. Like sleeping. Or spending ridiculous amounts of time in the cafeteria drinking coffee. Both of which may have been the result of having an extra draft or two (afterall, they were only two bits) the night before. Admittedly, things picked up in my later years, but those first year courses. Well let’s just say I’m a little short on the details. Except for one. 

If I had to guess, and the odds are not that great given I’m about 48 more years down this road of mine, I would say that the reason I found myself sitting in a lecture theatre surrounded by 400 budding psychologists was that it was the only available course that fit my schedule, meaning I didn’t have to be “up and at ‘em” before noon. Also I had heard the professor had a wicked, dry sense of humour and a guy who thinks brain stuff is funny can’t be all bad. Beyond that, I must refrain from making any judgements about the course because I can’t honestly say I remember much. Not much, but I do remember one thing which has stuck with me through the years. What our professor explained to us, and what I remember like it was just yesterday, was that while it is common knowledge that “misery loves company” what we might be surprised to find out is that misery actually loves miserable company. At the time it was quite a revelation. One which I have come to think about more than I perhaps would like over the past few months.

Let me backtrack just a tad. If you’ve been reading lately, (and granted I haven’t been writing much lately) you’ll know that 2019 has not been a stellar year for me and my family. There was the passing of my Mother in August, the Cat in September and my Aunt in October. And just when we thought we were out of the woods, because we all know that good/bad things happen in threes, we discovered, much to our chagrin, they actually don’t. Nope. Without getting into too much detail, that husband of mine decided to bring a little more excitement into our lives, and suffice to say, I spent much of the first week in December travelling to and fro from my home to the hospital. While things are now looking up I learned almost as much from this experience as I did from that old prof of mine. About people. And their miseries.

So we’re sitting in the rather sterile basement of the “other” hospital in this little city of ours, waiting for what I think is the third CT scan of the week. Knowing how these things can go I’m ready for a longish wait, having plugged a couple of extra hours into the meter and packed my Mother’s very well stocked Kobo which, I might add, I have made quite a dent in over the past few months. I’m pretty much minding my own business when in walks another couple who, I surmise, are there for the very same reason we are. Now I’m not really one to make idle conversation with complete strangers, especially in a rather uninviting environment, but I’m not so callous as to ignore their presence altogether. With that in mind I raise my eyes from my book (which btw, I’m quite enjoying) long enough to flash a welcoming smile and toss out a polite hello. One hour later I have been apprised of not only her husband’s current unfortunate health situation, but also of her own, those of her daughter, her grandson, her son-in-law and I’m pretty sure the neighbour who lived beside her before the neighbour who lives beside her now. 

But here’s the thing. Call me shallow but the truth of the matter is I really don’t want to hear about other people’s problems simply because I have some of my own. Honestly, I would rather talk about something wonderful going on in your life. A lovely trip you have taken. Perhaps a good meal you shared with someone you love. I’ll even listen to stories about your grand kids and their rather dubious accomplishments. I promise when things get back to normal in my life I will be glad to talk about your mother-in-law’s persistent bladder infection or your sister’s upcoming knee operation. You can tell me all about the adverse reaction you had to some plant-based supplement you decided to take on the recommendation of your herbalist. I’ll be happy to listen to any and all of the problems you have. Just not right now. Because now is not a good time for that.

Later in her life my Mother who I know loved me very much, would say this, in the nicest way, whenever I called to complain to her about an ache in my shoulder or a pain in my back. She’d say: “I have enough of my own aches and pains, I don’t really need to hear about yours”.  I didn’t always get it then but I get it now. She was right. Misery actually doesn’t love miserable company. And if you ask me, that professor of mine could have learned quite a lot from my Mom.

Tagged , , , ,

The Cat’s Not Dead, Yet

To work or not to work. It may not be “the” question but it is a question nonetheless. And it’s one I’ve been pondering for some time now. As many of you know, I retired (apparently fake news) going on two and a half years ago. It’s true. I got the gifts and the accolades from my colleagues, which included a very public declaration of my aversion to hugging. Timely I’d say on that particularly day. I even gave a “poem speech” as I am apt to do on these type of occasions. So you would think I would have packed my bags, bid a fond adieu and rode off into the sunset. You would think. But, again as many of you know, I took a day off (actually two) and headed back to my desk, albeit in a rather distant location,where I have remained ever since. Because apparently it’s what I love to do. Work. But “the time has come to talk of other things, like shoes and ships and sealing wax” (Thanks LC). Well maybe not that. Ok, shoes. But at the very least one must talk about what to do when stepping away from the almost too familiar daily grind.

As I am wont to do at these times of indecision, I called a good ol’ friend and headed to my neighborhood watering hole (ok, you know where I went) to shoot the breeze and have someone else figure this out for me. It’s the least they can do, don’t you think? I mean I’ve pretty much worked out my life for myself to this point. I think it’s about time that someone else stepped up to the plate and took a swing at the bat. Why let fate take its course when you can plant the blame firmly on someone else? Sure. It might cost you a cuppa coffee or two but if that’s what it takes to absolve yourself of all future responsibility for the decisions you make, it’s money well spent in my book. Just think of it as an investment in your future. And so, there we sat under the blazing sun in the eternally blue skies of Alberta, talking about all things retirement.

The thing I love about retired people is how they manage to put a positive spin on just about anything. Talk to them about money. Let’s face it. More than likely, when you retire you will be living on a few less shekels than what you’ve become accustomed. I know. There are the pensions the government gives out in order to leave enough cat food on the shelves for the cats. And then there’s the dollars you have been saving for nigh on 40 years that you can now start to pry out of that wallet of yours. Nonetheless, you are still likely to come up a little bit short. But ask a retired person about living on less and, dimes to dollars, they’re going to tell you that they don’t even notice the difference. First they’ll rattle on about all of the seniors discounts that are now at your disposal. So what if you can only go to the grocery store on the first Tuesday of every month and the lines will literally be out the door? You’re retired! What else did you have to do? Then there’s those early bird specials at the local diner which are perfect, now that you will want to be home for the 6:00 news anyway. Of course clothes are no longer an issue since you can pretty much wear the same jeans and T for most everything. Afterall, who’s looking at you? And if you decide you need a new frock, just head down to the nearest Bay store, on a Tuesday of course.. At the end of this diatribe you’re absolutely convinced that, not only will you be able to avail yourself of all of the necessities of life, but should Bill Gates come knocking at your door you’ll welcome him with open arms and let him know you’ve managed to reserve a suite for he and his family at the Four Season’s. Gratis.

As important as money might be however, that’s not what you’re really worried about. You really want to know more about what’s going to get you out of bed each day. How are you going to pass all of that time now that you don’t have a whack of emails to go through, people to see, places to go. And here again they’ll pontificate on the wonder that is retirement. Somehow, and apparently this happens each and every day, you get up in the morning and before you know it, the day is done. They`re not even sure where the time goes but somehow between reading the morning paper and watching Peter Mansbridge  end the day with the nightly news (it`s a Canadian thing), time just flies by. Asking for more specifics reaps some rather vague chatter about taking walks, meeting friends for coffee, getting through the stack of books that’s managed to accumulate over dozens of years, the gratifying feeling that one gets from volunteering once a week and that continuing education photography course they should have, would have taken years ago if only they had found the time. This will all end with the now very much overused and perhaps even, somewhat trite “I don’t know how I ever had time to work” followed by what can only be described as a long sigh of gratitude that those days of tedium are over and done with.

Of course, the conversation can’t come to an end without some talk about travel. It seems to me that for most, this is really what retirement is all about. Once you’ve wrapped up the daily 9 – 5 you are apparently now free to travel the world. There are places to go, people to see.  And so it was that I sat and listened to my friend wax eloquently about the exotic destinations he’s visited, the wonderful food and wine he consumed, and the beaches he has relaxed on, with nothing better to do than sip Margaritas and watch the evening sun slip through the sky. Who could ask for anything more? So I was not surprised that when he stopped to take a well deserved breath, he noticed the look of dismay on my face. The conversation that followed went something like this:

My Friend: “What?” he said. “Have I not convinced you that this will be the best time of your life?”
Me: “Don’t get me wrong. This all sounds great.
My Friend: “What is it then? What’s the problem?”
Me: As enticing as the walking and the discounts, the coffee and Peter might be, I’m really most interested in the travelling. But, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do that.”
My Friend: Why not? You’re still young! You have the time, the money and the energy. What’s going to stop you now?”
Me. “Well, it’s none of those things. It’s just that the cat’s not dead yet.”

I don’t know. Maybe I better just keep working.

Tagged , , , , ,

Never Hug a Stranger

no hugsSo I’m watching a special on Mary Tyler Moore while writing this latest blog post (it’s my kind of multitasking). Before I know it, what should come on but the most famous scene of all time, the group hug that takes place as Mary and her station mates close the door at WJM TV for the very last time. Go figure!. That’s exactly what I was writing about. No, not Mary Tyler Moore. I mean, I could write about her but I’d need more time to think about it.  What I happened to be writing about at that very same moment, and this seems to be beyond coincidence to me, is hugging. You see, I’m not exactly sure why, but there’s been quite a lot of hugging going on these days. Maybe it has something to do with this move of mine. Apparently convention dictates that when someone says goodbye they need to do so within inches of someone else’s body. Then again, it could have something to do with that 100th birthday I just attended in my old hometown, as saying hello seems to have the same effect on people as saying goodbye. They need to do it at very close quarters. And that’s something I just don’t understand. Mostly, and you can ask just about anyone who knows me, because I don’t like to hug. Not one little bit.

For some time now I have wondered why I have such an aversion to hugging. Sure. I’m shallow. But isn’t that all the more reason for me to go through the motions of what for most people, seems to have become an obligatory gesture regardless of the occasion? Because let’s face it. People hug other people whether they’re happy or sad, coming or going, winners or losers, meeting old friends or new acquaintances, really just about for any reason these days. There are even those who want to give away hugs for free. It’s become quite ubiquitous and, if I might be so bold to suggest, at least in some cases, a little hollow. So you would think I could get on board with that. But I can’t.

As long as I can remember (and that’s quite a long time on some days) there’s been a social norm around personal space. When we talk to people we like to have a foot or two between us, perhaps more depending on circumstances. We need that little piece of airspace to feel comfortable. So why is it that, all of a sudden, it’s ok to cross that imaginary line at the drop of a hat? Many times, for what seems to me to be some rather spurious reasons. Where a quick shake of the hand used to suffice now, before we know it, we find ourselves locked in an embrace with someone whose name has just alluded us. And it’s awkward. Because there’s always that “to hug or not to hug” moment when you’re not sure what’s going to happen next. Like when you’ve just spent five or so minutes in conversation with someone you know, I might add not all that well, and  you foolishly mention your impending move. Just as you are ready to wrap things up, turn and go on your merry way, you notice your compatriot taking a slight step forward, arms starting to raise from their side. You  think you know what’s going to happen next but how can you be sure? I don’t know about you but for me the upshot of this rather confusing moment is a somewhat inelegant dance in which I do my best to sidestep the inevitable. If I’m lucky, I’ll manage to escape with something that resembles a rather klutzy pat on the back, excusing myself with a smile and an apologetic “I don’t hug”, in the nicest way that I can.  If I’m not, well I’ll end up locked in the arms of someone I hardly know or worse yet, who I haven’t seen for a long time not entirely without reason, wondering how a couple of seconds can possibly go by as slowly as these.

There was a point in time that I was convinced that my aversion to hugging could be attributed to my somewhat less than average stature. You see when people like me hug, or are hugged by people like many of you, our face often ends up somewhere other than where we would like it to be. This is particularly true if there is a discrepancy of a foot or more between us. Just let me say that it can become a little uncomfortable. And while this was a plausible enough explanation for my hugging disdain, it didn’t really seem to fill the bill in all cases because while many people are, not everyone is taller than me. For the most part, I remained stumped as to why I disliked hugging so much. That is until I met up with an old cousin of mine who I hadn’t seen for many, many, years.

Remember that 100 year birthday I’ve been talking so much about? Well it turned out to be quite the family get together. As is oft to happen at these things, one has the chance to renew acquaintances with people they haven’t seen for a very long time. I get talking with this cousin of mine and we start to reminisce about our Fathers. Now let me  say that my Father was one of the wisest men I have ever known. So my cuz and I are sharing stories, remembering all the good times, working out the family history, mostly wondering why we don’t do this more often, when he turns to me and says “your Father always told me that our family makes great strangers”.  And that’s when it hit me. That’s when it all started to make sense.  In that one simple statement I found my answer to the question I have been asking myself for so long. Of course I hate hugging.  And honestly, no one should ever try to hug a stranger.  


Looking for the update? You’ll find it here.

Tagged , , , ,

What I Want to Say

canada usI’ve been busy. Perhaps not in the conventional sense, or busy like many of you have been. But those walks on the beach each day take quite a long time, and then there’s coffee. Coffee is an event in and of itself. I mean who wants to hurry up and finish when there’s sun, surf and a nonfat, no foam latte all wrapped up in one? So that’s where I’ve been but, as you can plainly see, I’m here now and I have something I want to say.

I like Americans. Well probably not all Americans. I suppose if I had to pick one off hand who I particularly don’t like it would have to be, hands down, the Idaho State Trooper who saw fit to cite me for going a little faster than I should have been just moments before I would have been back in my own country and out of his hair. But then who likes all of anything really? Even in a box of chocolates there’s sure to be a dud. Besides, I spend a fair bit of time in the U S of A and overall, most of the people I meet are really lovely so I don’t have any complaints. Well maybe just one. It seems, and I say this with some trepidation as it’s based on a rather small sample, but nonetheless, it does seem that people here don’t know very much about Canada. Which is a little odd since we are, quite literally, attached at the hip.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that Americans don’t know anything about my home and native land. As a matter of fact it seems to me that they are pretty good at identifying us, or at least those of us who quite unknowingly, and perhaps unwittingly, end at least one of our sentences within an entire conversation with “eh”. Who knew I did that, eh? But I must because, as soon as it happened my American friend popped the “so where are you from in Canada” question. Unfortunately, beyond that things get a little iffy. Especially when it comes to geography. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that most people here are geographically challenged when it comes to the large landmass to their north. Which surprises me a bit because here’s the thing. I’ll be the first to admit that I am no geography genius but ask me where, let’s say, Arkansas is and I can give you a pretty reasonable answer. More south than north. More east than west. And I’ve never even been there. So at the risk of tooting my own horn I’m going to go right out on that proverbial limb and say that I can pretty much do the same for any of the remaining 49.

Which is why I was surprised, and perhaps a little dismayed, to discover that the same can not be said for my southern compatriots who, having asked me where I am from are, more often than not, stumped when I reply, “Edmonton, Alberta”. In an attempt to assuage the inevitable blank stare, I further clarify my answer with “Canada”. To which the most frequent response is “Oh, it’s cold there, isn’t it?” Because that seems to be the constant, the one thing they are sure to know about Canada. Now even as a shallow person I know this is neither the time or place for sarcasm. I simply know that I shouldn’t say what I want to say. At least not then. Not while I am the sole representative of my entire country. But here. Well this is my blog and I can say what I want to. So let me tell you how some of these conversations go and how they could/should have.

American #1: So where are you from?
Me: Canada. And in an effort to be more specific, “Alberta”.
American: Oh, is that like another country?
What I said: Alberta? Oh no, it’s a Province in Canada. A province is similar to your state.
What I wanted to say: Yes. We call it Oil Country. At least we did. And I’m sure we will again one day.

American #2: When talking about our house in Victoria on Vancouver Island asks “how did you ever find that Island?”
What I said: Oh. Vancouver Island is quite well known in Canada. In fact, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia.
What I wanted to say: Actually, we didn’t. It was founded by Juan de la Bodega y Quadra and George Vancouver in the 18th century. 

American #3: While chit chatting in a line at a very popular amusement park asks “where are you from?”
Me: Canada. Alberta to be specific.
American: Oh, Canada. What language do you speak?
What I said: English. Although French is also an official language.
What I should have said: The same one you and I have been conversing in for the last ten minutes!

American #4: Where are you from?
Me: Canada
American: It’s cold up there isn’t it?
What I said: Yes, yes it is.
What I wanted to say: Yes, yes it is.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Things I don’t need to know (TIDNTK)

stopSo I’m sitting on our fav patio having my usual grande non-fat, no foam latte, (the specifics of which you should know in case you ever want to “treat”) pretty much minding my own business, when the woman sitting at the next table strikes up a conversation. It wasn’t one of those really interesting conversations that people sometimes have over a cuppa. To be honest, I can’t really remember what triggered the chit chat but I’m pretty sure it was along the lines of “Wonderful day! Nice that the weather has finally warmed up. Afterall, it is July.”  a commonly expressed sentiment in my part of the world. Or perhaps she commented on someone walking by dressed, to be polite, unusually, confident that my opinion would mesh with hers. And although our encounter was short it was clear that in some way, if only in her mind, she and I had grown close, by whatever metric one can measure closeness between two, until that moment, strangers.

I know this must be the case because a short while later, and after we had both comfortably returned our attentions back to our regular coffee partners, she got up and walked toward the door of the cafe, stopping just long enough to look me straight in the eye and proclaim, in the most matter of fact way that “coffee goes right through me.”  Just like that. She stopped to tell me she had to go to the bathroom and pretty much what she was going to do there. This person who I had, in the broadest sense of the word “known” for just short of ten minutes, shared with me what I would consider to be one of the most private of bodily functions. Now I know that some people would shrug this sort of thing off with the oft, perhaps even overused saying we have come to know as TMI (too much information) but not I. For me, this open and rather uninhibited disclosure was simply a thing I did not need to know (TIDNTK) at all. Because I don’t. I don’t need to know anything about anyone else’s bodily functions. I mean it’s enough that I have to deal with my own which, if you don’t mind my saying, can be problematic in of themselves.

As I reflected on this encounter I realized that there are other TIDNTK. Like secrets. Now I love a good secret as much as the next person but here’s the problem. As you may recall (and if you don’t, as always you can read about it here) I don’t have the very best memory. So when you tell me a secret one of two things is going to happen. There’s a very distinct possibility that I’m going to forget what you told me which is probably the least of two evils, but nonetheless makes the whole exercise rather pointless. The more problematic outcome is that I’m going to remember what you told me but forget that “don’t tell anyone but…” part of the conversation, rendering the aforementioned “secret” less so. Which is never a good thing.

Finally, and this is by no means a comprehensive list, I never need to know how much you paid for anything. Now this may surprise some of you who know a little bit about my background since, my Mother at the ripe old age of almost 99 (maybe that’s something you didn’t need to know) can, at a moments notice, rhyme off the price she paid for each of the 6 steaks she served for dinner on July 8, 1963. So if I did want to know prices I would have come by it honestly. But the thing is I don’t. You see, if I bought the same item and paid more for it than you did, I’m just going to feel bad. And if you paid more for it than I did, well what good is that going to do you? If we paid the same then I suppose I knew all along what you paid, so what did I gain by your telling me? And then there is always the chance that you tell me how much you paid for something just to let me know that you could. Silly, because that will likely result in my being judgmental and thinking about how stupid you were to pay so much and not wait for whatever it was to go on sale. Because everything always does.  And that’s what I would do if only to avoid the aforementioned “feeling bad” thing. So, as you can see none of this is good, ergo best not to know in the first place.

I’m sure there are many more TIDNTK but they’ll have to wait ‘cause I gotta run. Must have been something I ate.


Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: