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Envy can be a helpful emotion. It can help you uncover things you secretly want that you’ve buried under a pile of self-imposed fears. Its unpleasant poke might be just enough to point you in the direction of your desires.

Of course envy can also be a petty bitch that shows up for absolutely no good reason whatsoever and ruins your ability to wholly enjoy the successes of people around you.

I’ve experienced envy of both kinds and am still learning to tell the difference. So while I’m in this amateur stage of interpreting my own feelings, there is only one truly reliable indicator I have – the lack of envy. In fact, for someone like me – a non-saint-like individual who covets all kinds of things – I believe lack of envy is probably the most telling emotion I have.

Last weekend I had dinner with a group of women I met in grad school. We were celebrating my friend’s new job as an assistant professor. Everyone in my company that evening had doctor in front of their name, worked as a professor or were about to, and did respected research in my field. I alone worked a 9-5 desk job with only a master’s behind my name, something that has nagged at me in the past.

As the main thing we have in common is our work, I knew that’s the direction our conversation would gravitate. Frankly, it was a prime opportunity for that green-eyed monster to pop up on my shoulder and start whispering things in my ear about how I too could be striving for more, reaching for the stars and <insert your favourite cliche about ambition here>.

But the monster never showed up. I found, a little to my surprise, that I could clearly see how academic careers fit these women I admire perfectly while at the same time not fitting me. I could see that while my job was less prestigious, it was also less demanding of my time and my energy, and that that was a compromise I was happy to make. What really set me apart at that table wasn’t the fact that I didn’t have a PhD – it was that I didn’t have the desire to get one.

I know I’m not in my dream job at the moment. I can’t stay still for years and years – I’ll need to face new challenges and carve out new paths. But that lack of envy – that’s something worth noting.


Reluctantly thrilled

So I’ve been home from Finland for a whopping 12 days… aaaand I’m thinking it’s seriously about time I flew across the Atlantic in a tin can again!

I am leaving for Barcelona on Saturday to go to an environmental health conference. Yes, that means I am taking FOUR transatlantic flights and crossing a total of 34 time zones in the span of little over a month. Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of an environmental health researcher spewing enough carbon into the atmosphere to personally increase the temperature of the planet by 0.0003 degrees. No, I didn’t realize when I was booking it that I will be traveling on the 10th anniversary of arguably the worst day in the history of air travel.* And yes, I am truly looking forward to coming home and doing nothing for a month, but no, I am not complaining.

And yes, I do frequently have conversations with rather bitchy and demanding imaginary friends.

Everyone I speak to ranks Barcelona as one of the the “best places they’ve ever been”** and those who haven’t been are dying to go. Until now, I had no idea of the world’s love affair with Barcelona, but since buying my Lonely Planet Barcelona guide I am beginning to see what the fuss is about. With its lovely home on the Mediterranean, unique architecture, and amazing food and wine, it does sound like a gem of a city. Even despite its complete disregard for anything resembling a biologically acceptable sleeping and eating schedule.

One tidbit I learned in my guide is that  restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8:30 or 9 pm. WHAT THE WHAT? Umm… if I had it my way, I would eat dinner at 5pm. Six at the latest. I guess that would be considered lunch over there. And clubs (not that I expect to be attending those) are apparently hopping from 2 am to 6 am. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up till 2 am. That’s when things are supposed to close. When do you people sleep?? At least the time zone change is already the equivalent of throwing my body clock out of a twenty story window and then driving a tank over it, so I imagine screwing up food and sleep schedules further won’t add any noticeable damage.

Speaking of a diet change, I also read that maintaining a vegetarian diet there can be challenging. Even when you request a salad without meat, it may appear with one of their favourite vegetables – pork. I have been eating vegetarian for a number of years now (due to the environmental impacts of meat production – though at least cows don’t take transatlantic flights) and in that time I have learned a few things, chief among them being that the rest of the world is not quite like the hippy-dippy West Coast. Apparently not everyone thinks vegetarianism is a perfectly normal dietary choice and yes, of course we have organic tofu grilled on local micro-greens to give you instead.

I learned this lesson really hard when I went to a conference in Mexico City. It was a bad trip all around, but the crowning glory was having to eat terribly unhealthily the whole time. It made a miserable trip nearly unbearable. Food matters and the lack of decent food can really start to beat you up inside, physically and emotionally.

Since that trip, I vowed that I will never again starve myself for the sake of strict vegetarianism. I don’t crave meat, nor will I specifically seek it out, but avoiding it all together in places where the alternative is highly unpleasant/non-existent is absolutely silly. Since that eye-opening realization I have eaten reindeer in Finland, Guinness beef stew in Ireland, and other meats here and there when it suited me. (Since I do consistently eat animal protein in the form of eggs and milk, meat doesn’t bother my stomach.) I plan to do the same in Barcelona and I’m really looking forward to sampling their apparently delicious food.

I will have two days to explore the city on my own before the conference starts. I am relatively used to traveling on my own, but it’s definitely not my favourite; I feel like I need to experience the sights and the sounds with someone else to make them real. But I am excited – how could I not be? I’m even willing to overlook my curse of doomed conference travel*** and go in hopeful that it will all go smoothly. And hey, if you’ve been there and have ideas for me, I would love to hear them!

All images from Barcelona Turisme.

* My flight departs on September 10th but arrives in Barcelona on the morning of September 11th. Yay.
** This despite the fact that apparently they’ve all also been robbed there – everyone and their dog has told me to be careful of petty theft.
*** There was this trip to Mexico City. Then there was the trip to Ireland where I felt a UTI start right as I arrived at the airport in Vancouver, meaning about 16 hours of sitting on planes with that fun and then half a day searching for a clinic to get my hands on precious, precious antibiotics.

Office evolution

My office situation is a bit strange due to my bizarre work arrangement and I usually avoid interacting with people as much as I can, however, one of the perks I do really enjoy is the yoga classes they offer. A local yoga company in Vancouver got smart and started offering lunch-time yoga classes at office buildings in the city. They are very reasonably priced and you can’t beat the convenience of just going down one floor to fit a weekly hour of yoga into an otherwise drab office existence.

Approximate representation of my office yoga class

I’ve done yoga on and off for several years and am coming out of a rather long ‘off’ stretch. I decided to start again in search of relief for my nearly constant headaches, which most recently I’m blaming on tension in my neck and shoulders.

I’ve had these chronic headaches since I was 10 years old, with a few years break here and there. They vary in intensity from slightly annoying to I-want-to-drill-my-brain-out-and-throw-it-against-a-wall and usually arrive in several week or sometimes several month-long stretches.

For many years I blamed my sinuses but after the evidence was finally collected, it appears they were wrongly accused. Well at least I helped some poor starving pharmaceutical companies sell their sinus medications for a few years. With that suspect eliminated, the best the doctors can tell me is that it’s probably migraines, perhaps being tweaked by my chronically tense shoulders and neck.

The last few months I’ve been getting massage therapy and going to yoga and so far so good; my headaches have been few and far between. I’m very aware that this might be a coincidence and the headaches might come back full force any time – but I’m enjoying the treatment so I’m sticking with it.

Headaches or not, an hour of stretching in the middle of the workday is the most brilliant idea. I try to sit properly – at the beginning of the day I push my shoulders back and align my neck all proper-like with the screen – but it only takes one annoying email or one problematic error in my code to  turn me into a pretzel. I might be hunched over with my leg curled underneath me or my personal favourite, my legs stretched out in front of me as far as they’ll go, taking my whole body with them until I’m practically under my desk entirely.

It’s not pretty.

On Mondays when I go to yoga, I can feel all my muscles waking up and breathing a giant sigh of relief when I stretch them out. I always feel half a foot taller when I walk out and am more motivated and clear-headed for the rest of the day.

I seriously think it needs to be standard practice to build in physical activity into the office environment.

Recently a friend who works in health promotion was telling me how detrimental sitting for long periods is to our health, regardless of how much physical activity we do otherwise. I guess we really are asking a lot of our bodies to adjust to the pace of a sloth within the span of a couple of generations. Apparently in their office they often have ‘walking meetings’: for small groups (say two or three people), you walk as you talk. Makes perfect sense. I think there are many solutions like this in easy reach – if only we could just lift our asses off our comfy chairs long enough to grab them.

Though according to Wikipedia, apparently sloths only need to ‘go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week,’ which I gotta admit sounds kinda convenient. I wish evolution worked faster.

Approximate representation of me at work