Monday, 12 November 2018

Me vs The Piano Recital

I used to play piano, and my mother and I never agreed on how my end-of-the-year recital went. 
Here is that story.

I was young, ten maybe? I can't remember...time is hard. I do know that at some point in my early life, I took one single year of piano lessons. No more, no less. To be fair, my sister managed exactly one single lesson, before throwing the mother of all fits and getting out of my parent's "you must commit to a year of whatever activity you chose to do" rule, so I get some moral high ground for making it as long as I did. She did something similar for skating lessons, again skirting the rule that I was consistently held to.  My little sister could basically get away with murder. #oldersiblingproblems

But I digress.

Like most kids who have never played the piano a day in their lives, I began with the musical equivalent of a See Jane Run book, playing hits like Twinkle Twinkle and Row Row Row the Boat. Classics. I wasn't even bad at it,  which I believe was at least in part due to my freakishly long fingers, which give me just over an octave span. My grandmother was elated that I'd taken up piano, as she was a very accomplished pianist, and my mother had evidently failed by not taking up that mantle. Maybe I would be a prodigy.

Unfortunately for all involved, prodigies usually need some music reading skills and basic coordination, which was never something I was at all well equipped to deal with. I could, however, memorize things very well for short durations of time (a skill which would come in very handy in university testing scenarios). This meant that once I had painstakingly written out all the notes on the page and practiced ad nauseum so my left and right hands could function independently of each other, I could play it pretty well.

This ability gave my teacher the completely misguided impression that I was good at playing piano. I was not. I was good at memorizing a song for a period of time. He, however, failed to pick up on this and subsequently increased the difficulty level of my music selections rapidly. I went from learning to play basic scales, to playing Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid, and Everything I Do by Bryan Adams for the final recital. 

And I could play them. In very specific, low stress circumstances. A piano recital is not low stress. It is the antithesis of that. 

My mother's recollection of the recital was that I went on stage and did a surprisingly good job of playing what would be considered difficult pieces of music for a beginner. I contend that she was wearing rose coloured glasses: parent edition. She does admit that at one point in the mermaid piece, I got stuck in something of a loop, and may have played the chorus a couple of times before finding my way to the finish line. But she claims that at no time did it sound like a gathering of elephants simultaneously dying from a respiratory infection. 

I disagree.

My recollection of events is a bit darker, and the glasses less rosy. I clearly remember starting off well, and being like "yeah, this might be ok", at which point in my hubris, the wheels fell right the hell off.  The mermaid piece was, to be fair, recognizable, and I do remember something about a loop. I think I panicked and just replayed the only part I remembered over and over again until I felt that the piece had gone on long enough to resemble something close to the actual song in length, if not in actual musicality. Final chord, end. 
If only I could have just read the music, I could have saved it, but I couldn't, so I had only my terror-stricken memory of what it should sound like to rely on. 
It's possible I just screamed LOOK AT THIS STUFF, ISN'T IT NEAT at the top of my lungs  a couple of times and then tried to melt into the floor. It's all a bit fuzzy. 

But then came Bryan Fucking Adams. I hate him. 

Everything was fine, until it wasn't. Where is Greensleeves when you need it!!??? I don't really remember much about what, specifically, went wrong, just that it all went catastrophically wrong very quickly. This was a complicated piece of music I should never have tried to play under pressure, and I have no idea what kind of stroke my teacher had that caused him to make this critical error in judgement. 

All I remember is banging on the piano hoping to find at least a couple of notes in common with the actual sheet music. I had no idea where I was, I didn't flip a single page of music, and if the song was recognizable for what it was, I would be shocked. I just. hit. keys. 
For, like, three whole minutes. 
After that I pretty much just ran from the stage and burst into tears. I never went back. 

Everything I Do, I Do It For You was a terrible song, created by a terrible man, for a terrible movie, about some guy who (probably) did terrible stuff with a bow and arrow. To this day I can't listen to this song without flashbacks to the recital. 

But now I'm a rational adult, who is very bored during recovery from surgery, and I've had an out of tune piano gathering dust in my basement for two years for literally no reason, as no one in our family plays piano. I've decided to try again. 

And so in honour of this newfound motivation to not suck at something, my  husband bought me a piano book. It's basically perfect.  It insults your general lack of musical skill while trying to teach you how to be less awful at it. It even comes with drink recipes for when you're absolutely ready to rage quit and watch the world burn!

























Surprising no one more than myself, I am not even completely terrible (which you should in no way interpret to mean I am any good, I'm just less bad than I'd assumed I'd be after 25+ years). I can play a scale like a boss, I can still memorize a page of music in a surprisingly short period of time, and I know what a time signature is, which helps a lot. 

Unfortunately, my overall music reading skills have not improved despite years of disuse, and I am painfully slow at working through a piece. My hands can't multitask, and I still have to write out most notes so I can play something besides a halting death march. 

The book accurately describes me a mentally underachieving pianist, and I haven't even reached the chapter on accidentals yet. I'm convinced that musicians who use them are complete sadists. Reading music is hard enough as it is without having to mentally transpose every G into a G# for an entire piece (...and that is not a hashtag, you insufferable teenagers).  

Overall, this should be an interesting experiment in teaching an old dog new tricks, but this time I'm skipping the damn recital!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Me vs A Recovery-Based Existential Crisis

Being stuck at home following surgery has led to a routine I've termed Netflix and Nap: a deeply depressing combination of sleeping through the first half of the day followed by drowning my boredom in mediocre television until I am required to put on pants to go into the world to pick kids up after school.

This *sounds* nice in theory. And for about 4-5 days it is. For the remainder of the time, it's tedious. It is also necessary given the severity of my surgery (see here if you want to know more), so I am doing my best to deal with it.

Having a pretty limited range of activities means that you have a considerable amount of down time to accomplish basically nothing, which can be excruciatingly dull. Once you've cycled through the immediately interesting movies and tv shows, read as much of that long forgotten book as you can stomach, and napped a lot, the boredom sets in. Like I said, about 5 days.

This monotony leads to apathy, which leads to the discovery of a few key things:
  •   You discover you have a surprising amount of guilt at not being able to contribute to normal life 
  •   You have a lot of time to watch the first episodes of a number of tv shows that should never have been produced, and that you would otherwise never have bothered with
  •   You develop a couch based, movie-producer-level of judgement about how movies are framed, edited, and scripted, and you frequently find yourself yelling at the tv when continuity between shots is bad
  •   A very cutting lack of purpose emerges, which is super depressing if you think about it too much, which you do
  •   Too much down time leads to fantasizing about being a superhero and/or movie star
  •   Weight gain due to excessive snacking while binge watching tv sneaks up on you
  •   Attempting to count showering as your daily exercise is an imperfect solution to the aforementioned weight gain
Most of these are tolerable new afflictions, however the lack of purpose has hit me pretty hard. When all you have is time to contemplate, you tend to over-contemplate quite a lot. In my case, this has led to a directionlessness I'm finding a bit concerning. If I'm honest with myself, my list of goals is pathetically short, and I don't really have a solid set of hobbies to fall back on.


I feel a bit like I'm having an existential crisis that I need to resolve. I need to find something just for me that resonates with who I was and who I want to be. Whatever the hell that is (I'm fully open to suggestions....I'm worse at this than you can imagine).  I should be jumping into action, goal setting, breaking down barriers, and fearlessly pursuing my dreams. But first I need to move the cats, and frankly they're really comfy and would rather I didn't get up.

Maybe tomorrow?

Friday, 26 October 2018

Me vs A Vagina Monologue

Hello and welcome to my Vagina Monologue. 

I've had problems with my reproductive organs for a long time. They did successfully produced two kids (however did a rather poor job of delivering them), so they've done some good work, but for the past few years, they've been a bit of a nightmare.

Now you may ask why I've decided to talk about my bits in detail. It's an odd topic, and yes, people will likely get a more intimate view of my world than they had anticipated, but that's life. I really believe that we don't talk enough about our vaginas et al. Since I began having issues about 5 years ago, I've bluntly spoken about the topic to a number of women, and what I found was that I was by no means the only one having problems, I was just the only one loud enough to bring it up in an otherwise normal conversation. This should surprise no one.

If you were having sinus problems, you'd go see a doctor, tell them in detail what was going on, and then they'd have a peek up your nose and let you know what was going on. Why should vaginal problems be any more difficult to address?  Why should I feel nervous talking to my doctor about vag pain or misbehaving periods? It's a doctor...they've probably seen a few vaginas in their time!

But I do feel uncomfortable. Or more accurately, I did.  The last time I went to see him I jokingly said that one day I'd go to him about a non-vag related issue and it would blow his mind. He laughed. Awkwardly.

I began having problems with my lady bits, just after my youngest stopped breastfeeding. Symptoms ranged from never ending periods, monthly yeast infections that would make bread jealous, and pain. After seeing my regular doctor, and then a few specialists, I was told it was not cancer. At the time, I hadn't been aware that was even something I needed to be worrying about, but now of course, I was exclusively worrying about that.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosis, a degenerative condition that makes vaginas unhappy. Because I'm me, I renamed my condition Werewolf Vagina, as it accurately described the situation.  Lichen made me think of Lycan, which is a Greek derivative for werewolf, so the whole thing practically wrote itself. Also, shitty things are much more fun when they have a cool name. It didn't help that the symptoms were surprisingly cyclical, so full moon jokes just made sense.

Despite treatment, nothing really changed, so I was off to another set of specialists. After more tests, some truly horrific biopsies, and keeping a va-journal of symptoms, the new gynecologist told me that I didn't have a vaginal werewolf after all (good news!). She felt that I was, perhaps, just imagining the pain was there, when really it wasn't (stupid news!). 

The conversation following that brilliant revelation went somewhat like this...

Me:     So, um, is the word you're dancing around "psychosomatic"? You think that these symptoms      are all in my head?

Doc:    No. Well, yes.  It's like when someone loses an arm, but they forget it's gone and still feel it from time to time. You had pain, but now you don't, but you think you do.

Me:    So, you're saying I have a phantom vagina. Perfect. And while we're on the subject of my imagined vaginal concerns, this doesn't explain why I have a period all the time. Pain aside, I don't feel like that is something I can conceptualize in or out of existence.

Doc:    Well, you're getting older. When women get old their cycles can become erratic. Bye now.

Me    *Table flip*

Fast forward a few years.

The pain had settled itself down to a tolerable roar for reasons I can't possibly begin to guess at (mental fortitude?), but I had now taken to calling my period Shark Week, although I feel like I could have more accurately referred to it as Shark Fortnight, as it was never less than 2 weeks. It felt like I was basically bleeding constantly without the sweet release of death. It made no sense. No doctor could figure out why, and most eventually shrugged like this was a situation I would just have to learn to tolerate.

At a loss, I began carefully googling possible reasons for this insane situation.... but I am not supposed to do this. Ever. (see here for further explanation as to why)
This was, unsurprisingly, a mistake, as I now obviously had uterine cancer.

Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

Back to the doctor. Because at this point, why not. Let's make it weird for him. 

Me:    So, shark week is ridiculous and goes on for weeks at a time. This doesn't seem normal. It also sounds like one of the main symptoms of uterine cancer.

Doc:    That's unlikely.

Me:    Yes, I realize that. But you've given me no other explanation for why this is happening, nor any way to fix it. Can we maybe just, I don't know, check?

Doc:    You're too young for that type of cancer.

Me:    *eye twitch* So I'm old enough for shark week to be erratic, but not old enough for it to be due to cancer. Ok. So are there any other symptoms I should be watching out for in the future just to calm my overactive imagination? You know, just in case cancer doesn't take my age into account???

Doc:    No. Erratic bleeding is basically the main symptom.

Me:    Ok, so just to summarize, I have the one symptom indicating uterine cancer, but it's not cancer because cancer is a bit of an ageist?  Can we maybe talk about a hysterectomy? I'm basically done with this whole thing, and whatever the cause, this is not a great day to day situation.

Doc:    *laughs*  (<--- You know, because this is a reasonable doctor response, and my endless bleeding and desire to have that come to an end is some funny ass shit!)

Me:    I want another doctor.

After another few months of waiting, I saw another gynecologist. But unlike all the others, this guy didn't laugh at me. He took my concerns seriously, and agreed that just living with this wasn't a reasonable solution.  When I cautiously approached the possibility of hysterectomy, he agreed that given the situation, and the limited options available (of which I'd tried most), this was a reasonable option. In 5 years, this was the first doctor that didn't make me feel like I was just complaining a lot.

I signed the paperwork that day.

I'm now 5 weeks post-op, and it's amazing. I haven't gone this long without a shark week in almost 5 years. The journey has been a long one, and it's been amazing how many women I've talked to who have had similar experiences. I realize that the nuclear option I opted for isn't for everyone, but I also feel that in some cases, it is absolutely the right choice, and no woman should be laughed at for asking about it.

Despite this, I try to look at the bright side of this, um, adventure. Without it, I wouldn't have come up with such an amazing vernacular for periods and all things vagina related.  I also feel like I now have a few less organs that can get cancer, so that's nice. But I think my favourite part of this experience is the deep irony of the hysterectomy itself. Since both my kids were born via c-section, the only thing I've actually given birth to via the natural pathway is my uterus!





Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Me vs An Expanded Discourse on Working With People

Some time ago I posted about the joys of working with people, however I left out one particular adventure (nightmare), as it was just a bit too difficult to share at the time. But here we are. Maybe it's cathartic to write it down. Maybe enough time has passed that I feel like I finally can.

I should post a bit of a disclaimer before I start. I have worked with many good people (and still do), in good offices, and these stories make up only a small, albeit memorable, portion of my career. None of the people involved are people I still have contact with, and any names and places have been changed to protect the idiots. They don't deserve it, but there you are: guilt-free schadenfreude for all.

I share these experiences mainly because we all have them. We've all worked in a soul-sucking office, staring out the window and fantasizing about developing Carrie-like super powers. We've all had a red stapler that we've prized more than we should because of what it quietly represented to us alone. We've all imagined a catastrophic power outage or water main breaking, closing the building for the day just so we didn't have to go in. We've all worked with that one person who took a special joy in making the hours you spent with them as interminably miserable as possible, just because they could. And we've all wondered how realistic selling everything and living in a van would be. (pro tip: it's not realistic)

I mean, we all have...right?

It's happened to all (or at least most) of us, and we have had to put on our grownup pants and deal with it. However these experiences do make you appreciate the good places, and so I guess the shit jobs perversely serve a purpose as a reminder that we have to rise above and deal with it sometimes. It's not a nice purpose, but it's a purpose none-the-less. 

Now, travel back with me to a time when I was young and idealistic, and thought that my university degree meant something besides unending debt. I'd graduated 6 months prior, and had only the faintest glow of my education-based entitlement left, as it had taken me what felt like an eternity to find a job in the crumbling economy of the mid-to-late 2000's (...the bank holding my loan also felt like this was an eternity). I certainly wasn't enough of a special snowflake to expect to land a 6 figure salary right out of the box, but I had done my time in the soul crushing customer service industry, and I was going to move up in the world, so help me God.

By some miracle, or at least I thought so at the time, I landed with a group of lawyers as an administrative assistant,  which translated roughly to "office slave". That said, the phone almost never rang, and we didn't interact much with the general public, so primarily I sat at my desk and tried to look busy.  This is harder than you'd think.

The two legal assistants, or as I prefer "desk harpies", took an instant dislike to me. They were the keepers of my job, and derived great joy in handing me only the smallest scraps of work. I choose to believe that they didn't like me because I represented a threat to them, but it could also have been that I didn't like reality tv as much as they did. I guess we'll never know.

I spent an inordinate amount of time photocopying, and they always made sure to put a sticky note on the piles reminding me to remove the staples before copying.  Because without that note I most certainly would have shoved 30 sheets of stapled material through the photocopier at once. Thank the Lord they reminded me! At one point, I was actually made to unstaple 200 document packages because I had not stapled them horizontally along the top of the page, but instead diagonally across the top corner like a normal fucking person. She smiled as she ripped the pages apart, yelling at me for my terrible stapling oversight (which to this point had NOT been an issue).  From that point on I referred to her in my mind only as Staples.

The other assistant, however, was more of a mine field. She got irrationally angry about bizarre things, like how the delivery guy wore shorts in the winter (weird, but not generally seen as a character flaw...), or like how I had to walk by her desk to get to the printer. At one point she told me that I could only go to the copier 4 times a day to pick up documents because it was bothering her, so I had better make my trips count. And she was constantly taking to Staples about being single. Let's all take a moment to be surprised by that revelation. Her name became Tantrum. A good, strong, super villain name. 

It was during this time that I developed a close relationship with the movie Office Space, and convinced the desk harpies that I needed a new stapler for the droves of documents I now stapled ONLY horizontally across the top. Specifically, I needed a red Swingline stapler, and to my surprise they actually included one for me in the quarterly stationary order.  I don't think they ever figured out why it brought me so much joy. But it really, really did. 

Over time, and in an effort to avoid going postal, I learned to manage these people.  I gave up trying to look busy, because in any given day, they would give me at most 2 hours of actual work to keep me occupied. Each nightmarish day would begin with a soft approach to ask them what they needed done today, as God knows I wasn't responsible enough to manage my own work load or have my own list of daily tasks.  By 10 am I would have completed whatever crumb of a task that was given, ask if there was anything else I could do, which there rarely was, and then I would read a book. At my desk. And no one cared in the slightest. Most of them never even realized I was there.

I also made the delightful discovery that Tantrum was only capable of being maliciously angry at one person at a time. This was both useful, and a revealing insight into her overall capacities. In an effort to make sure the target of her rage wasn't me, I would throw someone else under the bus. I'm not proud of this system, but it was the only coping mechanism I had at the time.  As such, the delivery driver took a lot of heat he never knew about, as did the shipping/receiving guy, other law firms, and any number of baristas that were never required to have actual contact with this woman. Their failings were the focus of her wrath, and I told her I would deal with them on her behalf. This was a win win situation for all involved. They were truly the unsung heroes of my time in that office, blithely absorbing Tantrums wrath without even knowing it. 

I mentioned earlier that this was a small law firm, and the lawyers were by no means freed from the shackles of being ass hats to me. They made less than no effort to be kind, or to make my time with them any more tolerable than a root canal.

Every morning when the lawyers walked by my desk, I would say good morning, and every morning they would walk past as though I wasn't even there. No normal human social interactions at all.  So I decided to play. I became obnoxiously cheerful. My standard "good morning" became pointedly enthusiastic and was followed immediately with questions about their weekends that they couldn't pretend not to hear. It visibly irritated them to talk to me, and it brought me great joy. Not red swingline level joy, but still joy.

My favourite of these co-workers was The Law-fish (please note that I use this term ironically, as she was neither my favorite, nor did she consider me anything other than an irritation in her day, let alone a co-anything). This lawyer was about my age, freakishly tall, grumpy AF, and took substantial time out of her day to show me how much better she was than me. I guess this meant at least she talked to me???

She would give me tasks that were impossible to complete, as she would usually leave out a document or two that were critical to the job at hand. The first time I thought it was accidental, but after this happened repeatedly, I overheard her laughing with another lawyer about how she had asked me to do this job and left out one of the files needed to do it. GO TEAM! In light of this I did actually try going to the manager, however was politely told that I was probably reading the situation wrong. In hindsight, I still don't think that I was reading it wrong,  but I digress. In case you were ever wondering, workplace bullying is a very real thing.

The Law-fish's name was derived from her shitty, shitty office. It was by far the worst in the building, and I feel like she knew that. I hope she knew that. It was a tiny cell whose only window was a giant glass opening directly behind my desk, making her office view the back of my head. Basically, she worked in a fishbowl, and I could feel her judgemental gaze drilling into my back every single day.  It was just lovely. 

And then I discovered her achilles heel. 

The Law-fish hated eating. I never saw her put food into her mouth.  She hated people eating around her. And most importantly, she hated when I ate. It didn't matter if I was munching crackers, eating an orange, or having a granola bar, she would get up from her desk and shut her door. Every. Single. Time. (And for all the people who will inevitably ask the question, this is not a statement on my eating habits....she would shut her door regardless of the food type or sound level)  She obviously ate food at some point, but she must have held the opinion that eating should strictly be done in private?

Because she was such a right bitch to me, I decided to subtly use this to my advantage. I would eat a single cracker. She would get up, close the door, go back to work for 15 minutes or so, then get up and open the door again. Then I would eat another cracker.  She could just never reconcile her desire to have the door open (despite the enormous window, she wasn't hiding) and her conflicting want/need to never experience any part of someone else consuming valuable calories.

I could do this all fucking day. And I did. Every day. Every single fucking day for the rest of my time in that nightmarish office.
And it was glorious.

So, to summarize this rather lengthy post about malicious coworkers and toxic work environments: You are not alone. Office bullying is a real thing, with real consequences for those subjected to it. Even though you may feel stuck and helpless to resist, know that there are other offices filled with reasonable human beings, and you don't deserve to be treated like an 18th century servant. 

I've moved on to an office that I enjoy going to, and don't dread having to interact with the people around me because they treat me with kindness and respect. Looking back, those years had me in a bad place, and getting out and moving on has been one of the best decisions I have ever made to improve my mental health.

So, do your level best to get yourself to a healthier place, and if that isn't possible, at least try to find yourself an office spirit-animal to help you get through the hard days, be it a stapler, a "Hang In There" cat poster,  or otherwise.