Tag Archives: conversation

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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.


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There is such a thing as a free lunch

freeI’m afraid I’ve been remiss but please don’t mistake this for an apology. It’s more of an explanation really. The thing is I started this blog for a couple of reasons. The first was to help people better understand the benefits of living life as a shallow person. I hope I have done that by sharing with you some of the stories of my life. The second was to provide those of you inclined to follow in my steps with some tricks and tips for doing so. And this is where I think I may have stumbled just a bit. Because I haven’t really focused on the “how to’s” which isn’t all that surprising since I have never been one to tell people what to do. Except of course the kids. But that’s to be expected. So, I was quite pleased the other day when I came upon a situation that reminded me what this blog was all about and how I might have gotten slightly off the path I was trying to beat. It was, as they say in my world, a teachable moment.

It all started with a coffee meeting set up to discuss some really important work stuff. A little before we were to meet, my wonderful colleague (yes, she reads the blog) let me know that if she arrived before I did she would pick up my drink for me. My immediate reaction was “how lovely of her” followed closely by “so what would it hurt if I’m a couple of minutes late?”. And sure enough, when I arrived I found both her and my drink waiting patiently for me. It was at that moment I realized there really is such a thing as a free lunch, or at the very least, a coffee and that perhaps this particular skill of mine was something to be shared with others. Because, as you can see, it’s about the timing. Late enough to ensure she would get there before me but not so late to cause her to become irritated. Or let my drink get tepid. But while the timing is critical, what is even more important in a situation such as this, is to shed any shred of guilt you might feel about pulling this off. Which, goes without saying, is not all that difficult for a truly shallow person.

Let’s look at another example. You’ve just finished a delish repast with a friend you haven’t seen for perhaps forty years or so. You’ve exchanged the requisite numbers of stories about kids, travel and first husbands when it occurs to you that a moment even more uncomfortable than the conversation you have just experienced is still to come. Let’s face it. You know the server will place the cheque strategically at equi distance between you and your lunch partner so here’s what you need to do. Hesitate for just a moment. If you have to, save that last forkful of desert for this very purpose and when your new found friend reaches to pick up the cheque, resist any urge you may have to suggest a different solution to this problem. No matter what that little voice inside your head tells you just say “how nice”, and “thank you”. To assuage any twinges of guilt you may have at this juncture, think of it this way. Either she has enjoyed your company so much that she’s happy to pay or she has way more money than you do. One way or the other it’s a win-win and you just got a free lunch. Remember, timing and guilt.

Of course it won’t always go this way. There are those who prefer a more collaborative arrangement, a “round robin” of sorts where they get this one and you get the next. Go ahead and make that deal. But may I respectfully suggest that before your next date you take another boo at “Forgetting…it’s an art”. I’m guessing that little refresher will come in handy right about now.

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