a beginning, a middle and an end.

25 Nov

i have been putting off this post for weeks.

instead, i’ve been rightly filling my time chasing the mouse-maybe-rat (thanks for nothing, 120 year old house), consuming oaked white wines and nourishing my deeply committed relationship with cheese.

and while i’d like to think of myself as almost a seasoned professional in my procrastination abilities, the time has come to face the inevitable. to walk the metaphorical plank, so to speak, to put my head on the guillotine whilst violently screaming: “vive la france!”

no? too far? anyway, point is – i need to wrap this shit up. and well, kittens, it’s been a real ride, hasn’t it?

like most things i do, you may recall that i was wildly unprepared to write this blog linked to my rando move to india.  in the beginning, i knew that i didn’t want to write about, like, all the creepy-ass goats i was seeing on the street and so on, highlighting 24/7 how completely different life was in calcutta. i mean – it’s a scooch implied that life is different in india – it’s f*&king india.

so i quickly realized that the best way to your wonderfully weird little hearts was by telling you some of my best secrets, trash talking the laundry list of jerks i’ve known in my 28 years and enlightening you on exactly how two bone fide crazy newlyweds make it through their first year of marriage -while 12,952 km apart.

and so it was: one long, swear-word encrusted (bedazzled, really) teenage telephone conversation – that sometimes referred to india.

but by the middle of it all, finally finding my voice simply wasn’t enough – it had turned out that randomly moving to india wasn’t so easy afterall. work became difficult, the thrill of living in the country of dust-turned-mud-turned-dust-again and spice had quickly worn off. basically, it blew. hardcore.

and frankly it was you, kind readers, who came to the rescue in so many ways. your mostly-insane comments, your revelations of devotion to this humble teenaged telephone conversation of a blog, your personal messages and – in some cases – your packages filled with booty (pirate, not ass – here and here too!) helped me get over my self-imposed exile.

(and let’s be honest here, the americans filled in the rest of the blanks with their exceptional taste in imported wine, unwavering devotion to western tv shows and propensity for hosting mexcian-themed murder mysteries. ole indeed, bitches.)

then just as quickly as i began this craziness, got over the fact that india - yes, all 1.2 billion of it - was a jerk, things were over. because for the many oh-so-complicated reasons, i left my work early for the homeland where the nachos are free range and the sewers are closed.

but doing as i have done leaves you different. even now – and probs for a while to come -  i am struggling to figure out what it all meant. working to convince myself that it’s ok to let this experience change me – even if it’s maybe not for the best.

this has been our journey together. and this is where it ends – for now.

listen, you don’t realize it, but you owe me. i’ve rarely preached to you about crap like “politics” and the “economic crisis” etc and so on. i’ve kept it to the interesting stuff  – like how i ditched my now husband while dressed like a pirate-hooker . the truly important discussions, ya know?

so now, you must listen to me as i take my moment to preach atop the metaphorical soapbox.

whoever, wherever and whatever you are - i am telling you that we are all able to do almost anything we want in this life. the path that is defined for us - whatever that path looks like in your world – isn’t always the way we have to play it.

it’s totes ok to take b.f.r’s (big f&*king risks) because not only do they give you mad street cred (“well when i was living in calcutta…” = kind of bad ass) but they are often the ones that are the most worthwhile. remember i told you once that nothing worth fighting for is ever easy? well it’s true.

i leave you with this: sometimes when it’s a bajillion degrees celcius during a 2 hour black out and you’ve just frantically stepped in a sewer that reaches your almost-knee-cap, whilst skinning your arm trying to protect your face from the garbage which you will surely fall into because of the whole leg-in-sewer thang, you enjoy a good old fashioned motivational quote.

this is the one that i repeated to myself that night, covered in shit, while being laughed at by probably 50 + indians:  “at any given moment you have the power to say ‘this is not how the story is going to end’.” and that’s a fact.

fact.

thank you, everyone. for everything.

xo al

the trouble with al.

9 Nov

the last few weeks in india were some of the best, as it often goes when one chapter of your life comes to a quick and dirty close. the americans said: “al,  you are going out with a bang!”

so, there was copious amounts of shopping, chilled chardy (champers, pinot and sauv blanc oh my!), high heeled shoes at inappropriate times, tacky 90′s tv, un-inhibited dancing in public places, street food and other such poor life choices that may or may not have involved flavoured vodka. and tequilla. and whiskey.

whiskey? sweet baby jesus. well, there you have it folks….bang.

and the funny thing about all of this coming-to-a-close stuff, is that when things have finally closed, you remember these ‘bang up’ times and not the times you were walking around with shit on your foot from stepping in a sewer during a black out.

fact.

so, as much as i didn’t think it would happen, i am sitting here today watching the last few leaves fall from the trees outside, and wishing i could get a nice moist hug from calcutta’s unreasonably hot-air climate.

you know, the climate that i bitched about for 7 months. yep, that one.

nostalgia aside, india feels like a dream now that i’m back to everything oh-so-familiar. and besides trying to figure out how to process my experiences for a canadian context, i can’t help but continually think “heyyyyyyyy, so what’s next?”

and really, i  have no f*&king idea. which is not a great thing, let’s be real with each other here.

(no idea, that is, unless we’re talking short term. because i can pretty much guarantee you of a few things i will be enjoying later…things which i figure that after several months together you can probs fill in the ‘ol blanks about.)

the way forward.

anyway,  i do know, that nothing seems quite as valuable or interesting as what i was doing just last week. and i do know that, even though i’m craving unadulterated normalcy, this thing inside that always pushes me to chase-the-crazy, won’t let normal define my choices for too long. which is really annoying.

and you see…this is the trouble with being me, al.

the big return.

6 Nov

well, it’s been a while. (or is it “awhile”? who knows.)

the first thing i want to tell you is that i have kicked jet lag’s ass. no seriously, i have taken jet lag out into the metaphorical back alley, roughed it up a bit, and left it there to be found by some sassy tv cop who will surely spend days pondering over what exactly happened to poor old jet lag.

no joke.

so yes, i am in fact home. i travelled 30 hours through 3 airports to come back to beautiful fall weather, clean streets and this:

top hats and everything!

well, this is what greeted me at the airport as i walked through those big scary doors to yet another new beginning. while there wasn’t much twirling on my part (30 hours on a plane will apparently curb that desire), i was highly entertained.

top hats indeed. indeed.

and as i drove back to the humble little abode to tear open my large suitcase of indian goodies (who needs clothes anyway, sarees and scarves it is!) i was greeted by yet another ah-mazing occurrence:

a big warm welcome from the fav family

the fav family, of course, welcoming me home in their own special way. these lovelies don’t mess around - they wrapped the entire humble abode in a friendly yellow ribbon. it was almost as good as the canoodle i got from the baby who calls me auntie al – but more on that later.

and so, i must stop here for now – although there are many things left to say, kind readers. just know that i have safely returned and i have already enjoyed a few lovely oaked bottles of chilled chardy in celebration. naturally.

some art.

27 Oct

well, the stupid camera that i was so excited about and on which i took all the awesome pictures from bihar totes decided it was just too good for india: that little f*&ker up and died on me.

(and noooooo, i did not drop it down the toilet like the ‘great blackberry incident’.)

the stupid battery just won’t charge – it’s criminal! ugh! so i’ve been left sans pictures for my last month here, which is really quite unfortunate if you think about it.

and the worst part is, because i literally have nothing left to say to you for the next few days other than “i’m so f&*king excited” and “hey bitches, did you hear i am going home? i’m so f&*king excited!” and “#$DF43#$%2r1JSF21LK!!!!!!!!”, i was going to depict  my journey through photography!

however, since my camera has failed, i have had to get a little creative. (where a door is shut - art is born. and a window is opened. or something.)

today i will represent my excitement through the gloriousness of microsoft-paint-on-canvas. capturing the rich detail and life-like-ness of my emotion. it’s moving. it’s prolific. it’s art!

enjoy al’s excitement from afar:

looking casual, enjoying the flora and fauna

now, please enjoy al’s excitement up close:

my face. fact.

see ya in a week, kittens!

the crazy dance.

18 Oct

a strange kind of thing hit me today as i was sipping too-sweet tea (india – god) from a too-small cup (double god) and listening to my tunage. as i often do to drown out the 40 bajillion decibels of bengali yelling that surround me each day. (as a further digression, how this country is not filled with deaf people, is literally beyond me.)

there is this line in a city and color song that goes: “i’ve seen a palace in london, i’ve seen a castle in wales - but i’d rather wake up beside you – and breathe that old familiar smell.”

it made me realize that, for probably the first time in my entire ridiculous life, i want complete and utter normalcy.

i know exactly what you’re going to say: “al, listen, you’ve been gone for a while and we all know you’re going kind of crazy. you’re totes homesick, so stop being so drama. lord.”

you’re perhaps right. and yet – while i am admittedly eager to get home for a number of reasons – i’m not sure you can sum up how i’m feeling to just missing the familiar.

i think i’m just really tired of being a complete wack-a-doo.

specifically, i’m tired of running around making exciting, exuberating, extreme choices that cause ripples – then big-ass waves – through my personal and professional life.

and this goes beyond the insane india factor, trust me. this is about the last 5 years chasing a  career path that, while super exotic, is consistently challenging from every possible angle. relentless, actually.  (blah blah blah – i know not the first person ever to feel this way, but hey, it’s about me al, remember?)

so yah, i can honestly say that for the first time in my entire life of always wanting things to be radically  non-standardized -  all i want right now is  unadulterated, inexplicable dullness.

frankly,  it’s making me kind of vomit in my mouth to admit all of this,  but what’s the point in holding back from you now? we’ve come so far together, kind readers.

within 2 weeks i’m going to be prancing around my kitchen at 11 am in a mink hat screaming at the top of my lungs to marvin gaye, drinking champagne (chardy after 12, where do you think i was raised – a barn?) while the diabolical dog perform his newest – and perhaps most highly anticipated – tap dance routine.

yup, normal.

eyes on the prize

you’d better bring a poster.

14 Oct

well, i will be back in just a few short weeks. yup, you can still giggle with excitement over this – i am, bitches.

it’s an exciting time! the babies who call me auntie al, plates upon plates of nachos, crisp fall weather, good wine, the diabolical tap-dancing dog and my car named veronica all await me. anxiously.

i’ve been trying to envision what it will be like to walk back onto canadian soil after almost 7 months living in this insane country of dust and spice, but i really can’t figure it out.

i play different scenarios in my head. i put varying forms of theme music to said scenarios -  as i do for all the important moments in my life, let’s be honest here. (often ending up on ac/dc’s ‘thunderstruck’ – obviously) but this is tough nut to crack – i can’t figure out what it’s going to be like.

brenna said something to me a few days ago that go me thinking. she said that  i would probably be feeling slightly nostalgic about india in the coming weeks. i kind of scoffed at this at first, but then the more i thought about it realized that my darling brenna was right.

i was riding in an auto the other night and i caught myself feeling sad that i would no longer have to risk my life to get from point a to point b. and then i started thinking about the heat, and how, while it sort of tries to suffocate you every time you step outside, it feels kinda like a big hug from mother earth.

yah, i know, it’s totally f*&ked up.

but i guess this is the way it works. while we have something, we aren’t fully satisfied with it. and when it’s gone, we realize that maybe it wasn’t so bad.

or maybe it was really that bad, but it was still mostly worth it. yes…that sounds better.

so i have no idea what it’s going to feel like to be back in canada.  but i do have a sense of what it’s going to be like to say goodbye to india. probably 37% sad and 63% happy. i feel like that’s a fair assessment given that i spent half of my time here being angry at 1 billion people. so it goes.

actually lovelies, i lied – i do know one thing about my return to canada. when i get to the airport and see you all standing there (because you will be, right?) you’d better be holding glitter-encrusted posters and putting forth your best twirling efforts.

all together now: “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”

yahoo bitches!

t is for thanks. and turkey.

10 Oct

thanksgiving is a special time – good food, copious amounts of chilled chardy and entertaining family drama.  but sookie sookie, i have another, more secret, reason for loving thanksgiving.

before we get to that though, you may recall that i have told you the story of the first time husband and i met (a ball + vodka + a disappearing act). what i neglected to mention in that little tale is that in between the first meeting and our official coupledom, there was about seven months. (when i said i ran away – i wasn’t kidding…)

well it was seven months of being just friends – seven months of learning about each other and of building to that moment. you know, the moment when you realize that hey – i’d like him to be my more-than-a-friend.

and well for us that moment came on a thanksgiving weekend. we had been talking a lot, and one night – in typical ‘him’ fashion - he randomly invited me to travel five hours to come and spend the holiday with him and his friends.

now, i’m a logical human girl, so i knew this was kind of odd. i knew that most people would probably have said he should be wooing me in more obvious ways, like say, with a giant panda bear and maybe a string quartet and champers on a picnic blanket.

so after making mental lists, pivot tables and several venn diagrams on my options -  i swiftly got on a bus and made my way into the vast unknown.

and yup, since we hadn’t really spent much time together since the epic first meeting, it was a little awkward at the beginning. i mean, what did i know about this guy other than the fact that he dances well when drunk and likes pizza kind of a lot?

but then something funny happened.

i was standing in his parents’ kitchen, freezing my tush off and looking out on the deck at him with his big group of friends. they were all talking and laughing and telling stories from 10 + years ago.

i just stood there thinking: “wow, this guy loves his friends. and they love him. and i love that. oh f*&k…”

and i feel like, honestly, that was the moment - simple as it was. i knew that in that instant i would probably never be a so-called logical human girl around him again.  if he wanted me to take a bus to the moon i totes would: c’est l’amour.

so thanksgiving is a wonderful time for all of the normal reasons – but it will always be just a little bit more perfectly perfect for me and him. i will simply never forget that feeling of standing in a freezing cold kitchen being insanely and irrationally thankful that he asked me to come visit.

happy turkey day, kind readers. (and happy non-wedding anniversary, kind husband.)

t is for thanks

what a magical time.

4 Oct

durga puja: it’s basically the bengali version of christmas.

everyone buys everyone else presents, you get new fancy-schmancy outfits and you race around under twinkly lights eating a butt-load of food for five glorious days. wait…this is how everyone’s christmas is – right? right?

so i still haven’t figured out all the religious ins and outs of this holiday – 50% because i’m not sure i really care and 50% because i’m still fact finding by way of the americans. (they’re good for so many things.)

but here’s what i’ve gathered: they make large ‘pandals’ (read: highly elaborate temporary giant fort-thingys constructed out of bamboo, glitter and fabric)  to house the ‘idols’ – one or several of which are maa durga and her children running away from a lion and potentially an elephant. the devil is mixed in somewhere there too in the form of a man wearing a mustache. naturally.

anyhoo, each pandal has a theme as does each idol-scene.

one of the pandals i visited today was themed with the works of a famous indian artist, another was themed to look like an old castle. all jokes aside, these things are mindblowingly artistic. everything for puja is made without any modern technology – unless you call mud and sticks modern, bitches.

although the idols literally scare the bejesus out of me – they’re an honor to see up close.

here’s a few pics from today’s festivities:

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sigh, there’s so much more to tell but i’m getting up at 7 am to go ‘pandal hopping’ with the americans so i’d better get some sleep. yup, what a magical time.

a happy post.

1 Oct

i have always been one for feedback, because i think it helps us all become better versions of ourselves. versions 2.0, if you will.

so if you told me that my mink hat, half lit cigar and glass of chilled chardonnay made me look like a very fancy, yet clearly washed up, 1920s hooker, i would take your criticism and work incredibly hard to make improvements. (you know, by removing the hat and cigar, at least.)

and if you implied – ever so carefully of course – that my posts had perhaps become a pinch morose over the last little while – i would also accept this and type vigorously to incorporate your thoughts.

yup, i really am this obliging. it’s fun – right?  jazz hands everybody!

so, in the spirit of being happy, i should tell you that i have a big announcement.

but before i proceed, no, i am not with child. and nope, i have most definitely not found a real-life job yet, and no, for godsakes, i am not leaving the husband for a love affair with my awesome new camera, the tv or a bottle of wine…while those are all highly tempting items.

but i am coming home in december – for good. (um, at this point you are encouraged to jump around at your leisure while chanting: “al, al, al!“)

this decision was signed, sealed and delivered a few weeks ago and it’s just killed me not to reveal it until now.

frankly, my mum-ness on the issue has occurred because i’ve been trying to figure out how exactly to explain my reasons for leaving a few months early – without looking like i quit or gave up. although i am many strange and wonderful things, i do not throw my hands up and walk away when things get shitt-ay.

but after eating several packets of india’s fantastic version of the oreo (l’oreo, if you’d prefer to be fancy), consuming many pitchers of sangria and singing along to marvin gaye like a ferrel cat – i simply can’t figure out how to explain my reasons.

i guess they’re just too complicated for this ‘ol teenaged telephone convo of a blog.  and you know what – hey – that’s life.

bah, anyway, what’s truly important here is that i am coming and staying home in just 2 short months. home, where things are sometimes challenging, but where i can find the babies who call me auntie al, the good vino, the diabolical tap-dancing dog, my apartment pants and a good percentage of of you, kind readers. of course.

so you see – this really is a happy post. now come on everyone, let’s go twirl around our bedrooms with our arms open really wide screaming: “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

the happiest looking picture for a happy post

you’re beautiful.

30 Sep

yup, it is no secret that this place often pisses me off. there are days when i want to burn the entire country to the ground whilst laughing diabolically, tipping my top hat and smoking a cigar. fact.

but then there are really good days too – and i’ve had a few of them lately.

thanks to my new awesome stolen camera (sorry, husband!) i have been able to capture a few of these moments in a way i feel does them a scooch of justice.

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a little sideways glance, the casual way a woman folds her hands, a look of unadulterated suspicion -  i find something beautiful about these moments.

this place has taught me that people are people are people no matter where you go – we are all the same in so many ways.

the women here are still pretty vain – even if they do live in a house with a thatched roof. the kids just want to play and act silly, even though they may have worked 10 hours that day helping at the family business. and the men – sure, they’re brutes sometimes – but they really just want to improve their lot in life through hard work and some luck.

i see the beauty here – and it goes so much farther than just the typical touristy crap that everyone loves (brightly colored statues, majestic temples and the bustling colors of the streets, oh my.) for me it’s those really pure moments that make us all the same.

so yeah, it’s been a good week.

the things we think are normal.

26 Sep

so, i am not sure i completely think that the concept of normal actually exists.

i mean, i know for a fact my ability to watch the first 2 seconds of any friends episode and then tell you what season it is from along with the general synopsis of the entire episode – including the quippiest of quotes – is not normal. actually, it’s a little messed up, let’s be real here.

and even the people who we yearn to be like, because they are so incredibly normal, are probably not even anywhere near the embodiment of this phenomenon.

so when everyone had told me that bihar, a state in northern india, is “not normal” – i was keffuffled. what exactly is normal, especially in the context of this country of dust slash mud and spice?

last week i headed to bihar via train to visit our regional operations. when i got to patna (the capital city) i looked around, saw the typical delights of rickshaw drivers, hustling autos, mud, a bajillion people and honking vehicles and thought “what’s the big deal, yo?”

even arriving to my hotel, i kept thinking that this was nowhere as ghetto-fab as everyone (including my american industry colleague who called bihar “gangster” – no joke) made it out to be.

but by day 2, something funny happened.

the more i actually looked around, experienced the people, met with our clients in their homes, enjoyed the regional office and moved from place to place i realized that yup, holy f&$kballs, this place is pretty freeking gangster. indeed.

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the streets were actually infinitely dirtier than those in calcutta - meaning there were piles of garbage on the “sidewalks” and gutters that didn’t get removed at the end of each day. it was a veritable archeological dig of 5 years of trash. moreover, the garbage dumps – which  can sometimes be found on the side of the road here – were literally everywhere in patna.  a true feast for the senses!

a good portion of the buildings were dilapidated, or barely hanging on. there were very few new buildings, and a myriad of shacks and thatched-roof edifices that frankly, i’m surprised survived any kind of rumble from the recent earthquake.

and speaking of rumbles, bihar’s famous ‘7 km long bridge’ (maybe you’ve heard of it? no?) over the ganges river actually shook violently as we waited in traffic about ½ way across. maybe it was the deteriorated cement, maybe it was the insane amount of vehicles – who knows.

as i told the perpetually-paranoid miss jp yesterday, i was 96% convinced that i was going to die on that bridge. she said: “well i didn’t want to say anything, but we aren’t even allowed to travel by train. i’m just glad that they didn’t blow up your train tracks.”

(um, so i still have no idea who “they” are, but i nodded my head enthusiastically in agreement, nonetheless.)

so as if the garbage and infrastructure wasn’t enough – many of the people were really vulgar. the status of women is not great in bihar as it stands, and because it’s generally not recommended for tourists, they don’t see many white women. to say i was obsessively open-mouth gawked at would be an understatement.

i actually stopped traffic, bitches!

the scratching, snorting, spitting, peeing, farting and general disgusting bodily functions made me feel physically nauseous – and i like to think i am able to handle a lot of crudity. (cruditay? cruite? sounds like a delicious french hors d’oeuvre.)

and of course, what goes hand-in-hand with this is the general lack of cleanliness and sanitary living conditions in bihar. almost everyone i met was wearing dirty clothes and many of them were living uncomfortably close to cow shit.

yup, i guess this is poverty.

but what gets me, is that our clients in calcutta, who are generally pretty poor themselves, have higher standards of ‘normal’ for cleanliness/manners/infrastructure etc than the ones in bihar. so that makes me wonder what exactly is normal?

our ceo said to me today as we were gabbing about these differences: “it’s about what people are used to.”

and that’s just it: what’s normal for me, isn’t normal for you because we have different life experiences and expectations.

and even if the biharis knew that they could improve their situation, maybe buying solar lights to deal with the rampant power cuts for example, well would they? my guess is no, because power cuts are just normal and dealing with them is just…well…normal. their lives have adjusted to everything that the place they call home as to offer – good and bad.

to wrap this up, i have been implored to tell you that on this trip i got fairly fantastically shit on by a cow.

the cow was stationed only about 3 feet behind me, so perhaps i should have seen it coming. i was simply trying not to look like the holier-than-thou white girl too good to sit on the ground.

and when the cow shit on me, after laughing awkwardly loud, i thought: “well f*&k it, i guess that right now this is my normal.”

end scene.

should disaster strike.

18 Sep

well don’t panic, but we had an earthquake here in ye old eastern india tonight. strangely enough, it seems to have originated just north of darjeeling where the husband and i were sojourning not 5 days ago.

walking through the tea gardens in darjeeling

speaking of the lovely man who is no longer in india, i was skyping with him when i felt the whole apartment shake-shake-shake it’s booty in a serious way.  now, sometimes when big trucks drive by to drop bricks off to the construction site outside, the apartment shakes. (real comforting, i know.)

but this particular shaking went on for a little too long to be truck-related. i was suspicious.

i thought: “is this a for-real earthquake? no! wait…is it? bah - impossible.” and then kept talking to the husband about the diabolical dog and his tap-dancing ways. as you do when disaster is imminent.

it wasn’t until i got a text from miss jp – the ringleader of the americans and slightly disaster paranoid charmer - saying: “earthquake in calcutta?”, my tiny little lid flipped ever so slightly.

what would i actually do if there was a real true-life emergency?

step 1: cry.

step 2: call the americans.

step 3: resume crying and get a drink. (preferably something grape flavored, but who’s making demands really?)

step 4: run away.

i mean, sorry mom and dad, but this is about as far as my disaster planning goes. i literally know nothing about actual disaster preparation and management – and my guess is that it’s probably time to learn a little something.

if i’m being honest, i’m kicking myself right now for being a wee bit of a see-you-next-tuesday: i have entertained many a bengali colleague with the level 45 american paranoia about disasters.

basically, all of the americans keep bags filled with emergency-related items like…rolled up wads of US dollars, snow gear lest they be evacuated somewhere chilly, extra undies, pagers, boxes of kraft dinner, fur hats and so on. you know, the essentials in case of disaster.

alright, i’m lying about the kd thing (although that would totes be in my evac bag bitches!) but the snow gear and wads of US cash points are true. they’re thinkers.

ugh, and while i have mocked them in good-humor for this ridiculousness, tonight’s events have made me think that my propensity for poor in-case-of-emergency planning should be reviewed.  how dull.

so…um…do you guys have any good ideas in this regard? cause after quietly, yet intently, staring at the blank computer screen followed by adjusting my mosquito net and sashaying to the washroom, i can confidently say that i’m fresh out.

the reasons we wake up.

16 Sep

i have been keeping a secret from you, oh loyal band of merry followers. well, many secrets actually, but now is not the time for all - just for one. a very special one, nonetheless. one that you can be a part of if you really wanted to.

my dirty secret is that i have lost a little of my gumption, my purpose, my what-for, if you will. yup, it’s the truth – this place has literally beat the shira out of me and i have started to wonder “why the f*&k am i here again?”

anyway, these days, in addition to going on a bear-hunt to rediscover my internal kick-ass-tastic warrior, i am working hard to find my inspiration in places other than my work. and one of these places is my sweet caroline.

now normally i try to avoid real-life names on this ‘ol teenage telephone conversation of a blog, um mostly because i like making up fake names and all, but this one is real. her name is caroline, and she is in fact very very sweet.

if you’ve been around for a while then you have heard me talk of the fav family - and sweet caroline would be one of them. they are well-known around these parts for many things: they brought the baby who calls me auntie al into the world, they got married in the most wonderful of ways and they sent an infamous box of love to india.

and well, they also got diagnosed with cancer.

sure, they didn’t collectively get the big ‘c’, but upon finding out that the fav daughter – aka caroline - was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer earlier this year at just 23, they may as well have all been diagnosed. that’s just the way they roll, and i love them for it.

a few weeks ago when i was thinking about my stories, you know, the ones that keep me up at night writing posts in my head -miss caroline came to mind. simply put: her story, and her, have helped inspire me to keep on keeping on despite feeling like i’ve lost my reasons for being.

when i asked her if she’d be interested in making an appearance on the blog, the much obliging caroline enthusiastically agreed to let me share her tale. and oh lordy, i had all these super grand plans to mould her story into a work of literary genius, using techniques like pathetic fallacy and foreshadowing. pulitzer quality stuff you guys, freeking pulitzer.

but in the end after a few tears and some failed attempts, i realized that caroline’s own words moved me more than anything i could ever write. so, here she is:

it all started in late october or early november 2010 when i found a lump in my left breast. i instantly panicked and asked my mom to check it out – she said that while it’s common for young girls to have cystic breasts, i should still get it looked at. so i went off to the doctor that evening.

my doctor assured me that since the lump was ‘shallow’ (i.e. close to the skin), was painful (breast cancer is most often not painful) and that it was close to the centre of my breast (breast cancer is usually under the armpit and deep to the ribcage), that it was not cancer.

regardless, he did a needle biopsy right then and there. he sent the sample away for testing and a week later it came back as a fibroadenoma - which is just like a cyst but fluid filled. to try and reduce the swelling – which was causing all the pain – he put me on a water pill and off i went. 

well, a few months later nothing had changed. i was not sleeping and could no longer wear a bra with underwire because the cyst was still so painful. so i went back to my doctor and begged, yes begged, him to remove the cyst. he was really reluctant because of the scarring potential, but on march 23rd of this year i finally had it removed.

on april 4th i was at sickkids hospital doing my work placement with the brain tumor research lab when i got a call from my mom saying i needed to get in touch with the doctor’s office right away. the office receptionist told me that i should come home immediately as the doctor wanted to check my incision. i found this weird because he had already checked it since the surgery – so naturally i ran to catch the next train home…stopping only to grab a mcflurry!

on the way to the doctor’s office my mom and i stayed calm, not speaking about what we thought the real reason for the visit might be. i cant quite remember what happened from the moment we got into the doctor’s office, only that i recall him saying: “well, it’s worse than we thought,” and “a very rare form of breast cancer”.

i cried very hard for what felt like an hour but was only really a few minutes. my mom hugged me and tried to stay calm, i really don’t remember much else about that appointment except for him telling me that i had a bone scan, mammogram, and ultrasound all booked within 2 days and that i should inform my university that i wouldn’t finish the semester.

honestly, the very first thing i thought after receiving the news was if my pregnant sister, who was 8 months along at this point, would be ok when she found out. i was so scared for her and the baby.

after finding out the news, we immediately called the whole family together and told them. everyone cried, asked questions and googled (obviously!) the disease and treatment processes.  from this point on, the whirlwind truly began. 

within a week i had MRIs, 9 biopsies, meetings with one of the most world famous breast cancer oncologists (due to the rarity of my case and my age), meetings with my new surgeon, and multiple family doctor visits to make sure mentally and emotionally stable.

originally it was thought that the doctors could just go in and do another lumpectomy to get the rest of the cancer – end scene! but as it often goes with cancer, nothing is ever quite as it seems. they decided to do a full mastectomy when the tests showed that the cancer, all 9 cm of it, was multi-focal (i.e many lumps all over the breast).

the big surgery was quickly set for april 27th. a week before the mastectomy my friends threw me an amazing “bye bye boobie party” and i made a mold of my breast with my sister and best friend. 

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the surgery went well, all things considered, and my whole family was at my side until i came home from the hospital on the afternoon of the 28th. i had home-care nurses for about 5 days to monitor healing, change dressings, and eventually take out the drains that were needed to get rid of all the fluid.

luckily my body healed ahead of schedule and i was up and moving just a few days later. i did many puzzles, took a whole lotta drugs and watched quite a few movies. i finally got a tv in my room because of this, hello bonus!

during the mastectomy they took out a number of lymph nodes from under my arm to test to see if the cancer was spreading through my body. we all waited anxiously for the results, which would help to decide next steps with the treatment. 

when the results came back clear a few days later, my mom, sister and i cried our eyes out and danced around to “sweet caroline” in the kitchen. ah-mazing!

so with this important information, i had appointments with my radiation oncologist and my regular oncologist to decide whether or not further treatment was necessary. it was determined that i would need preventative treatment, so nearing the end of the summer had a 28 day cycle (6 weeks) of daily radiation.

my mom drove me each and everyday to the hospital where i had my radiation treatment. to my surprise, the treatment didn’t hurt at all or anything. however, after heading home i was usually exhausted, so i would often sleep for the rest of the morning into early afternoon. when my treatment was over, my parents took me on a celebratory trip to the bahamas – a much-needed vacation!

and that brings us to today – cancer free.

while this whole thing has been difficult and painful, it has also been an empowering adventure. yes, i have been sad, but i did my best to not feel sorry for myself as it would not have accomplished anything. i didn’t cry very often and i didn’t whine very often – i just tried to get up every morning and smile and know that i’m going to be okay and that something good has to come from this.

my new saying is “ikigai” – it means “the reason you wake up in the morning”.  i just have to believe after all of this that my reason is to make a difference. i don’t know how, or when, or why right now - but one day i will know and i will take action.

although a life-event of this magnitude can often change people for the better, i can confidently tell you that caroline has just simply always been this pure of heart. and while i have long sat in admiration of her, sweet caroline’s story has reminded me that i must rise each day – the frustrations of kolkata or not - with a bone fide sense of purpose.

i am grateful to her for being so bad-ass and showing me the importance of being positive and proud – despite whatever real or metaphorical pile of shit you have stepped in that day.

so, with her story and general awesomeness in mind, those around caroline have rallied together to express their gratitude and support in the form of the ‘care bears’ - a brilliantly named team participating in the october 2 canadian breast cancer foundation ‘run for the cure’.

well, you may or may not have noticed, but i live in india. thus, i am not able to truly join in with the ‘care bears’.

instead, i am asking you, wonderful followers, to help turn my dirty-little-secret around by supporting one of caroline’s siblings – the fav family – in their fundraising pursuits as the ‘care bears’.  if not because you were moved by caroline’s story, but because you have a similar tale of strength you wish to celebrate. and celebrate it, you must.

donate now to a member of the fav family running on caroline’s ‘care bears’ team and support breast cancer research. to donate, choose a campaign page: fav brother, fav sister-in-law, fav sister or fav brother-in-law.

(huge high fives and thanks to those who can offer their support!)

well, i will soon start back at work after 2 weeks off. i can guarantee you that – while i may still be searching for my broader purpose - i will be applying “ikigai” in honor of caroline to rediscover my reasons for living here each day.

hey it’s me, husband: i came, i saw, i was sweaty.

15 Sep

well, it seems like just a moment ago that i was getting off a plane, tired, but very happy to see my lovely wife. now two weeks have flown by and it’s almost time to get back on that plane. sad.

i will miss some things about kolkata - and i wont miss others. let’s start with the former and end on a good note with the latter.

i won’t miss the sounds of kolkata - honking horns, mid 90′s ringtones, wild packs of dogs yelping and barking. i won’t miss the less desirable sights, such as children begging at every street corner, public urination, piles of garbage and dead animals. i won’t miss the smells, like human pee, and i won’t miss the heat. (if you’re one of those “i love the heat” people understand this heat is unbearable. especially for a big man. enough said.)

if you’re thinking that’s a lot of negatives…well you’d be right. this place is challenging, but that’s because life is always happening around you - the good, bad and ugly. and in a way i can see the beauty in that.

frankly – and perhaps obviously – the thing i’ll miss most about kolkata is my lovely wife. in the past 5 months she has impressively adapted to this crazy city: yelling at cabbies who try to rip us off, dealing with the crowds and counter attacking the indian staring habit with great determination. just by living here, she is making me so proud.

i can be anywhere,  including this crazy place, as long as it’s with her. when we’re together i just know that everything will be alright. she’s my p.i.c – partner in crime.

so that’s it from me in india…now back to your regularly scheduled al.

us

when skies are grey.

11 Sep

it’s 1 am and i am getting up in a few hours to leave for darjeeling (tea, mount everest, not kolkata) but had to tell you something i learned tonight about the husband.

we have this slideshow our wedding photographer put together of all the “best shots” from our tiny (well, miniature really) wedding in december. it’s a magical slideshow set to the beatles ‘here comes the sun’ and it makes me smile each time i watch it.

sometimes i watch it at work. sometimes i watch it while drinking chilled chardy and shedding an oh-so-tiny tear. sometimes i watch it with other people.

i thought that i was probably alone in this quiet little ritual. i mean, we’ve been married a while now, i figured the sheen of the day had somewhat worn off – especially for the husband.

but tonight, as i showed the slideshow to miss jp (aka the ringleader of the americans) the husband said: “i love this slideshow. i  love it. sometimes i watch it at work when i really miss you.”

my heart skipped about 34095 beats.

apparently the big man watches our little wedding slideshow at work when he misses me the mostest. in doing so he reflects on our special day, which in turn brings him just a little closer to me on the days when skies are grey.

what a revelation – i thought i was the only one sneaking a peek at this slideshow 7, 8 and 9 months out!

even though these drab and dreary days aren’t here right now, i just had to tell you that his tiny admission made me smile. and, if you haven’t already seen them, it made me want to share these very special wedding moments with you all.

if you are so inclined, you may view our small wedding slideshow here. (pictures courtesy of the brilliant andria lo of orange photography)

while we are off to darjeeling tomorrow to make new memories, i’ve realized that the moments of love and commitment from our wedding day will help carry us through trying times - no matter how many years pass. and this makes me think we did it right.

hey it’s me, husband: the market.

8 Sep

having the need to leave the apartment - as you often have to for food and water – i have quickly realized the reasons why kolkata is sometimes described as “simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate…a daily festival of human existence…all played out before your very eyes on teeming streets where not an inch of space is wasted.”

i found this wonderful uplifting quote in a travel book a few days ago - and my experiences over the last few days got me thinking about it. (it seems the authors have been here before…)

our adventures began yesterday morning heading to the mall to eat and run a few errands.  arriving at the mall you walk thought a metal detector that might be working but all in all i’m not really sure.  the mall is comparable to the eaton center in t-dot: very large, fairly expensive stores. you know.

after a quick tour, some groceries and lunch it was off to the market.

now this was unlike anything i’ve seen before.  you hear of the street markets and the millions of people, but until you’ve been in the middle of one, words can’t describe the insanity that takes place.

frankly, the mass amount of people really stressed me out – not to mention the the beggars, the street kids, the market vendors  all competing for our attention. also, i don’t think it helped that i’m a foot taller than everyone else – and we were the only white people there.  everyone was staring.

i guess after the initial shock, it was alright. we bargained for everything, fought though crowds, and avoided the odd car that drives down what seems to be a glorified walkway. we ended up coming away with some nice items.

it was crazy and it almost pushed me too far – i lasted about 30 minutes before we had to leave. regardless, i’m glad it was something i got to experience here in kolkata!

insanity

glad i am tall so i can take these shots

and as always great to see the marketing boys hard at work!

bud!

hey it’s me, husband: the first days.

5 Sep

a note from al: well ya’ll, the husband finally arrived on saturday safe and sound and tired. so i gave him a glass of chilled chardy, told him to buck up, and now he’s ready to make the first of a few guest appearances on this crazy teenaged telephone convo of a blog. so, enjoy india through his eyes – just for a scooch.

it's the husband - blogging!

the first thing i noticed at the airport – besides my beautiful wife – was the insane amount of people. from walking out and seeing the thousands of people lining the gate, it was overwhelming and gave me more of an understanding of what india is: the land of a billion people.

after jumping in miss jp’s big green car (her driver was nice enough to take my wife to pick me up!) – the long drive to al’s palatial pad meant me staring out the window at the massive amount of people on the streets. i thought it was funny that the cars were bumper to bumper and the cows roamed freely on the medians of the highway.

i was overwhelmed with everything around me, at that point al informed me that i was going to be writing some guest posts and to start thinking about things to write…..so in true sports fan fashion i’m going to do a “top 5″ (actually, it’s a top 4) of my first two days in india.

1)  maxiums and grantus, be happy your daughter is safe and very brave, you’d be proud of her and seeing this place make me so proud of everything she is doing, words cannot describe how crazy this place is!

2) horns the f*%king horns, the drivers honk  all the time. maybe because a two lane road is being used as a four lane or that people on bikes like driving on the wrong side, either way they honk all day and night.

3) getting around you have a couple of options: car dodging aka walking is a dangerous way to get around. cabs are scary but fast, autos -  imagine a motorcycle with a little back to it and seating for 6 – are fast cheap and effective. my favourite are the rickshaws – not made for big men though.

all of these ways are very terrifying ways to travel.

with so many methods of transportation on the very busy roads you’d think there would be lots of accidents, but no - everyone here pays attention when they are driving. no cell phones no texting no tim hortons, just focusing on driving and not killing me. what a novel concept.

4) finally the food oh the food, so the first day i had very traditional meals of subway and dominos pizza, a nice way to ease into the diet here. yesterday got right at it with bengali food at an indian/chinese restaurant - i don’t know what it was called just that is was very good.

today was al’s cook turned up and he out did the restaurant somehow. he only used veggies but the end result a great meal. it made me think why don’t we have more flavour in our dishes in canada? everything here, expect the pizza and subway, comes packed with these wonderful spices.

well that’s it for now – its only been a few days and i’ve already seen a lot. more to come…

reunited.

3 Sep

and it feels so good.

he's in india. finally.

the thing about india.

1 Sep

so the funny thing about being thrust into this whole india situation is that i’ve come into contact with events almost everyday that have made me question life, my existence and the choices i’ve made.

frankly, it gets to be a bit exhausting.

but i think that, in addition to a deep appreciation for the more hilarious events in my life, what i’ve derived from all this is a true sense of”make it count“. (thank you jack dawson)

i’ve seen so much crazy stuff - kids getting hit by cars, animals taking their last breath, men having the shit kicked out of them and so on – that you know – i figure that if today is it, i want to go out feeling like i did it the right way.

so i’ve started saying what i want to say to those who need to hear it.

for me this has meant a simple “i love you” or “i am grateful for you” - to more complicated admissions like “i’m sorry i was a total see-you-next-tuesday”.

i think the latter is the more interesting of circumstances because it means having the guts to put yourself in a situation where you are likely to be told off. it hasn’t happened yet, but as i hit send last night on one of these “i’m sorry” notes to someone from a long time ago, i realized that i was opening myself up to a possible shit-storm of insults. so it goes i guess…maybe i’ll just avoid my inbox for a while.

(or only read emails whilst drinking chilled chardy. yes, this seems like the more reasonable option.)

the point is, that because of india i feel i truly understand how f*&king short life is. i think i get it now -and not just as a saying on a t-shirt or some shitty motivational cat poster - like i really get how fleeting our existences are. because i’ve seen it go down.

i kind of want to punch this cat in the face.

so i am trying to live my moments by being as honest as i can be. i want to know that when my time comes i can be confident that i left nothing unsaid that needed to be said, and nothing undone that should have been done.

so this is the thing about india: this insane - totally insane - country is teaching me to be humble and kind to those who have touched my life in a way i never imagined.

and i think that’s probably important.

i’m so happy for you.

29 Aug

so the last week or so has seen me taking a break from india.  not an official break mind you, although i’ve been close a few times.  this small moment away is really for your sake because you’re about to get a shit-storm of indian updates when the husband gets here in just five days. five days bitches!

for now, we move on to other things.

i grew up – let’s be honest here – in a bit of a showy suburban community. and because i’m a product of my environment, i am always  keen to learn tidbits of gossip about the individuals who speckled my youth.

i recently heard, by somewhat shady means, that this uppity chick i grew up with got engaged. so, as you do,  i laughed to myself and thought “wow, wonder what her fo’ shiz tacky 2 bajillion dollar engagement ring looks like.  what is she, a kardashian? pfffft.”

my awesome insult aside,  i quickly forgot about her and moved on to more important things. things like chardonnay.

but a few days later the i noticed that she popped back into my head – despite me screaming “get out, out, out” in lady macbeth styles.  clearly, the fact that she – of all people – had found someone to actually marry her was causing subconscious distress.

setting the scene for a scooch, this girl was the holier-than-thou kind: she was loaded, pretty and smart. if she’d been a genuinely nice person, accepting her winning-the-lottery-of-life wouldn’t have been so bad. but she wasn’t – she was a total bitch.

yet, everyone, including me, still held her up as their own personal benchmark of coolness. as it often goes with the ones we love to hate.

i knew her for almost 15 years. so this got me thinking, could she really have changed so much that i actually believed that she could be humble and selfless enough to be someone’s wife?

now that was a thinker.

so last night as i listened to a little marvin gaye and got to pondering this whole idea of character changes – one of my exes popped into my mind.

this guy was quite possibly the living, breathing anti-christ. a liar and a cheater in the most flamboyantly creative of ways, i am convinced he is probably the worst person i have ever met to date.

but dudes, about six months ago, someone actually married this guy!

i mean, we were together a while, so i saw first hand what a terrible human being he was. (and yes, i realize this opens up a series of questions about me, but not now - jeez!)  how much could the anti-christ ex really have changed in the five or six years since we split up that he went from being a potential maniac to someone’s life partner?

come on now.

i frequently and  fully own the fact that i’ve been a real cough, see-you-next-tuesday, cough to certain individuals. these select people, when they learned that i got married through the suburban network of secrets and lies, probably wondered “who the hell would marry her? no seriously, who?”

and the truth is, i can’t blame them.

the moment i met the husband something clicked: i just wanted to be more than i was. i saw how good he was to his friends to his family to everyone he ever met and i knew i needed to unlock that part of my heart that was better – more than it was bitchy.

and thus began my real self. the real improved one, anyway.

so as much as i’d like to accept that the pretentious super skank and the psycho ex are still the same awful people they used to be, i have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

maybe now they’re tricked out versions of their former selves, more empathetic, grounded and sane, because of the love of a good man or woman. maybe because of this, they will make wonderful spouses.

and if that is so, then i am really-and-truly happy for them. well…89.54% happy, 10.46% insult-hurling.

so here’s to love. all consuming, life-changing, personality changing love. i hope these jokers have found it.

 

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