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Animals are dicks

So guys, looks like I’m on a stealing-blog-inspiration BINGE right now. I’ve milked The New York Times dry, so it’s time to move on up to more prestigious material. This inspiration steal comes from the ever witty, critically acclaimed, guaranteed to make you snicker just loudly enough in your cubicle to be embarrassing, Another Damn Life by Lyn.

In her latest post, Lyn recounts a recent camping adventure. Since John and I happened to go camping last weekend, I really felt I could relate to many of her experiences of the slightly oversold joys of camping, especially this little nugget of wisdom:

Animals are dicks.

Yes, animals ARE dicks. And on our camping trip one of them was IN OUR TENT.

Ok, so we invited her in and she happens to live with us, but details, details!

Full disclosure: While these are pictures of us camping, they are not from the camping trip in question. We failed to take any pictures worth sharing. 

It was Cassie’s first camping trip and she did not quite grasp the concept of the tent. Not that I blame her – it IS weird considering we have the option of an actual roof over our heads. We thought she might enjoy getting in touch with her ancestral roots in the great outdoors but turns out she really prefers a queen sized bed with a memory foam topper. She made this painfully clear when, immediately after we zipped up the tent, she jammed herself at the exit so violently that she tore a hole through the mesh big enough for her to fit through.

Did I mention we had just spent nearly six hours driving to our destination? And that upon arrival we had realized we left behind our patented Camping Box of Essentials and that only the presence of our more prepared friends prevented this from being a complete disaster? And that as a result, a certain female member of the household was already none too pleased with a certain male member of the household, and now also wanted to kill the K9 member of the household?

Oh yes, camping… so relaxing. And so few people to hear you kill violently hug your nearest and dearest.

And thus this happy family settled in for a night of barely contained evil looks marital bliss, complete with a leash tied to John’s wrist to keep our spooked-out dog from running outside through the hole in the tent.

Why was she spooked you ask? Well, back to the original premise: ANIMALS ARE DICKS.

The campsite we were at was infested with marmots. In case you’re not familiar, marmots are basically fat squirrels that live in the ground. We learned that they squeak. Especially at night. At high enough frequencies to really freak out a dog.

None of us really slept much that night. We tossed and turned, grabbed at Cassie when she tried to escape the tent, and looked at each other in fearful confusion when the chorus of marmots outside reached an alarming decibel at about 3 am. (It may have been a sacrifice of some kind, it’s better we don’t know the details.) I believe it was about 4:30 am when the marmot squeaks were finally overtaken by the birds on a mad, ultraviolet cocaine binge.

When I crawled out of the already-too-hot tent the next morning at 7 am, having slept approximately 45 minutes, and walked to the outdoor tap to splash cold water on my hideously puffed-up face, I looked over at the lake next to us bathed in beautiful morning light and thought, fuck I love camping.

 

Epilogue

Cassie got the hang of camping the next night and slept peacefully. We patched the hole in the tent entry with duct tape. The marmots continued to be fat.

The Busy Trap

I am so excited about this article I just read at the New York Times because it captures so beautifully what I was trying to write a while back about busyness. Feeling a bit of déjà vu right about now? Maybe instead of going through all the effort of writing a blog I should just wait for someone at the NYT to write out my thoughts better than I ever could and then report them to you in easily digestible quote format? Hmm, worth considering.

I am honestly tempted just to quote the whole damn thing, but since you’re probably really busy, I’ll just skip right to the points that make me want to hug the author and take him out for a leisurely drink.

It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint…. Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

I understand this need to feel busy, to stay occupied and be ‘productive’. At the end of each day, I find myself mentally taking account to make sure I can log at least a few things into the ‘being productive’ column, whether or not those things truly needed me that day. In our culture, especially in North America, the concept that hard work is the path to a rewarding life underlies so much of what we do and teach that it’s no wonder so many of us feel this pressure. Meanwhile, relatively little emphasis is placed on the value of simply revelling in the pleasures of life.

Since completing school and settling into my job, I have struggled at times with my new found non-busyness. I know that sounds ridiculous, and that’s because it is slightly ridiculous. I have a full life and yet there it is – this quiet, nagging worry about wasting my precious time, about falling behind.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

I am learning to give simple pleasures a higher value in my mental ledger where before they didn’t even get recorded. Not (just) because I’m looking for excuses to enjoy my idleness, but because they add value to my life. In the last couple of years I have had some of the best vacations of my life. It started with our honeymoon in Hawaii two years ago where, after the exhaustion of the wedding, I allowed myself the luxury of doing whatever the hell I wanted, whenever the hell I wanted, and discovered how amazing it is to sip wine in the middle of the day and then have a nap. I credited the bliss of that trip to the unique life situation, but then two more trips followed with more of the same. At 28, I finally learned to vacation.

I am slowly learning to bring that joy of idleness to my everyday life and quiet the nagging voice in my head that keeps saying only countable things count.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

My unexpected love affair

I had a love affair last week. It was sudden, unexpected, and completely unlike me. It briefly turned me into the kind of person I wish I could be on a daily basis.

I had myself a love affair with Barcelona.

Usually whenever I arrive in a new city, I am initially overwhelmed by everything – the language, navigating around, finding food – everything feels so difficult when I’m already beaten down by travel. I usually check into hotels with tears clouding my eyes. This pattern is so predictable that I braced myself for it to hit… but then it just never did. I would like to say this is because I’ve gotten better at travel – and I will say that, because I probably have – but I think the reality is that Barcelona is simply easy. It is easy to get around, it is easy to find good food, and it is easy to find beautiful things to see.

That first ‘morning’ (I hadn’t actually seen a bed since Vancouver so I use that term loosely), after dropping off my luggage at the front-counter of the hotel, I took the metro to Guell Park. It is, in a word, mesmerizing. I love mosaics, and once upon a time used to make them, and this was a magical, Dr. Seuss-like park made of them.  I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

I continued on, following whatever whims struck me, and soon found myself on a hilltop patio overlooking the entirety of Barcelona, drinking a glass of white wine and savouring a huge plate of olives and hummus. It was glorious; I was fully smitten and I had only been in the city for 5 hours.

My days of sightseeing in Barcelona turned into some of the best days of the summer. No, of the year.

I was a different version of myself, a more relaxed one. I followed my gut rather than my head. I let myself get lost among the narrow streets. I didn’t set foot in one museum or gallery – places I rarely enjoy but force myself to go to because I feel like I’m supposed to. I skipped entirely over buying useless gifts for other people that would just end up in a donation pile eventually, and instead splurged on a couple of nice things for John and myself.* I ate when I was hungry and whatever I was hungry for – be it ice cream or a giant chocolate croissant. One day my lunch was just a big glass of sangria on the beach, because it seemed like exactly the right thing at the time. And it was.

Every night of the week, I ate a long, wine-filled meal at some restaurant I stumbled onto. Though I was alone, I was never once tempted to take out a book or a phone like I normally would; I just enjoyed my food and my surroundings. I ordered without much concern over the prices or even the ingredients; most times I would sit up at the bar of tapas and just point to things that looked good. Often they were not at all what I expected – they were better. Like the “potato” that turned out to be goat cheese. Amazing goat cheese. Sent from heaven. I would say that everything I put into my mouth in Barcelona is in the top 20% of things I’ve eaten in my life (granted I’m from Finland, so I got a slow start in the culinary department).

I want to credit my entire sublime experience to the loveliness of the city, but as I sat there savouring a glass of cava on my last night, it dawned on me that it wasn’t just Barcelona I enjoyed – it was Barcelona by myself. It has been an intense summer and I don’t think I quite realized how badly I needed time to myself until I had it. No one to please, no one to make conversation with, no one to compromise with. Not even John.

And to top it off, I actually started to feel a bit like the 30 year old (minus 6 weeks) that I supposedly am.

* Including a leather purse and this skirt from Desigual (a clothing line from Barcelona).