Return to tango

After a long absence, I am finally making my return to tango on January 18 (yay!). As we haven't danced since last April, my partner and I have decided to repeat Beginner II.

I was tempted to go back to Beginner I, but the holiday potluck at AYM changed my mind.

I had just shuffled into the yoga studio with my socks on, balancing a box of clementines on my arm, when I heard Allison call out, "Adriana can tango!"

Before I could worry about the veracity of that statement, I found myself divested of my oranges and gathered in the arms of a pleasant looking man I had never seen before. With a reminder to not "look at your feet," I spent the next 20 minutes rediscovering my not-so-deeply buried tango skills.

To my quiet amazement, my feet knew the way. I was dancing with an experienced tanguero who indicated our next movements with Morse-like precision on my back. I knew exactly what he wanted me to do and my feet followed with no prompting from my brain.

It was exhilarating - my breath bubbling in my chest with happiness. I cannot wait to return to my lessons.


Christmas 2009

I just popped out for a liter of milk. My neighbourhood, as expected, is as quiet as the tomb this morning.

Mile-Enders are good sleepers. On days when there is every good reason to stay in bed, you can rest assured that Mile-Enders will be doing so. The only other soul I crossed on my way to the gas station was an older man, sporting a clean white Santa Claus beard, a Montreal zip-up windbreaker and a blue bag full of cans and bottles. He nodded hello. I nodded back.

As I waited in line to pay for my milk, I realised that for the first time in many years, I had a nice Christmas.

As many of you know, I'm a part-time Grinch. The fact that I'm expressing this sentiment is quite extraordinary, but nonetheless true. There was no yelling, no guilt-making, no eye-rolling.

Our family gathering was peaceful and pleasant. I snuggled on the couch with my niece. My nephew taught me how not to suck at Need for Speed Nitro. I spent time with friends - even made gifts with Sandy (stay tuned for photos). Holiday cards were written with much care and love. Gifts were particularly well-chosen. Even the food tasted better.

But for once, I'm not questioning it or wondering why - I'm just enjoying it. I wish you all the same.


Olive ascolane

Every Christmas and Easter, my mother makes olive ascolane. It's labour-intensive to make, but this regional appetizer is one of the most delicious things you could imagine.

Picture it: three kinds of meat are delicately sauteed and then shaped into balls, which are then wrapped round with the flesh of a pitted green olive.

The ball is then breaded and deep-fried. [drool] The key is to eat them hot. In the past, my brother and I used to stand on either side of my mother as she did the deep frying, ready to pluck the olives from the strainer as soon as humanly possible.

Trust me, having burnt fingers was nothing compared to the sensation of juicy olive and meat melting in your mouth.

As a mostly-vegetarian since 2007, I have become immune to my mother's many meaty treats, but there is something irresistible about these morsels. So every Christmas and every Easter, I shove my meaty objections to the back of my mind and indulge in a few olive ascolane.

If only they weren't so delicious.... Did I mention that they're deep fried?



The nice thing about going through a major life transition is that it provokes you to do a massive clean-up in all aspects of your life.

Wallets get re-organized.
Email boxes get streamlined.
Underwear gets triaged and replaced.
Kitchen cupboards get emptied and repapered.

Much has been done so far in the great sweep of winter 2009. I even got new pajamas. But the most entertaining part of this process (other than the retail therapy) has been finding unsent letters. Two so far in the last week.

The one I found in my email account was written at the end of a relationship, and it described my non-negotiables for future boyfriends. The tone was firm, but a little sad too.

The second, found in my draft blog posts, is a long tirade written after another man told me that men find me intimidating because I'm smart. It's fairly accurate to say I was angry in that one. *ahem*

I won't divulge the contents of these unsent letters, after all they were written for cathartic purposes. They were never written to be read. I only scanned them myself. It seemed almost too personal. Like I was reading the private words of another woman.

Nonetheless, I didn't delete them. There's no chance that I'll ever publish them, but I figure they'll be good reminders if ever I need them.

So do you have unsent letters? Why are you holding on to them? What are they an important reminder of?


I feel guilty. Can I bake you something?

In the past, whenever I lost it with a project manager (or two, or three... ahem), I would generally apologize the next day by making them the most delicious lemon loaf ever. Not only was it an effective way of saying sorry, but it also made them less reactive during my next (inevitable) temper tantrum over preposition use.

It's a damn fine loaf!

Since I only have three days remaining at 90 Degres, the guilt over leaving my darlings is heavy. I'm going to miss them very much. To show my love and appreciation, I baked them vegan gingerbread cookies (in the pic) and toasted coconut shortbreads.

I think they were well received.


So I quit my job today, Part deux

An obvious topic of discussion this week has been why I quit my job, some of the factors that led to the decision, etc. But the most remarkable thing to note is that - without exception - the reaction to my news was, "Congratulations!"

Every single time.

Friends, family, colleagues, yoga buddies and other teachers have all been unanimous in their excitement and support. At first, I worried that it was forced enthusiasm - that they were acting happy to keep me from freaking out.

But no, it's all real -- and it confirms my belief that this is the right move for me right now. So thanks buddies!


So I quit my job today

My friend Dina summed it up best, "A wise woman knows when to pick up her pencil and go".

Today, I officially handed in notice at 90 Degrees and negotiated my last day of work - Friday, December 18. Although I'm going to miss my coworkers, it was obvious to all that I was no longer engaged with my work.

The only thing I'm worried about is... who's going to water the plants?

What's next:
  • Writing.
  • More yoga teaching. A return to tango.
  • Returning bravely to the freelance world.
Wish me luck!


Sharing some fun stuff

Sorry for the long silences recently - I've been very engaged in reorganizing my entire life lately. Have emptied the closets of doubts, triaged the obstacles and dusted off the self-confidence. But more on that later.

In the meanwhile, here's a little roundup of fun blogs, photographers and Twitter peeps that I've recently enjoyed.

  • Curious about the evolution of yoga? Go visit Roseanne on It's all yoga, baby. Not only does she write thoughtful commentary on how yoga is being interpreted today, but she also has links to the hottest yoga bloggers on the Web today.
  • For those of you exploring your role as a yoga teacher, you may also want to pay Brooks Hall a visit.
  • Waxing & waning is written by a young woman in Toronto. She doesn't publish very often - but when she does, it's usually heart-wrenching poetry that strikes chords in me every time.
  • If you read French, check out Nicolas Ritoux's blog. He's currently travelling across Asia and publishes plenty o' photos.
Speaking of photos
And inevitably, we come to Twitter:
And one last thing...
  • If you like listening to stories, subscribe to the This American Life podcast. Every week, host Ira Glass brings a series of stories told be real people revolving around the same theme. Last week they had this excellent segment on supernatural experiences with birds. Entertaining stuff.
That is all for now!


Social thuggery

The LA Times recently published a compelling piece of commentary by Amy Alkon. In it, she writes that screaming children, loud cell phone talkers, and other disruptive people are committing acts of "social thuggery" that "steal our attention" and "wear away at our patience".

Alkon does make some very good points and she exaggerates a few, but the 236 comments that follow the article fall on both sides of the argument.

It just got me thinking about an incident on the metro last week.

I was riding home on the orange line - running a mild fever and burrowing my head into my elbow to lessen the pounding in my temples. A young couple parked their monster-sized stroller right behind me. I wouldn't have noticed but their young son started screaming as soon as the train rolled forward.

Piercing, high-pitched screams that had me on the verge of tears -- and with eight stops to go.

It quickly became obvious to me that the child only screamed while the train was moving. The father's reaction? Negotiating with the two-year old. Other passengers on the train started to get twitchy.

Finally, the mother, who was sitting in a single seat nearby, stood up and brought her son a bottle of milk. There was a tangible release of tension in the car.

What if we occasionally stopped to observe the situation and assess the needs of someone other than our self? The father was embarrassed and wanted his son to stop screaming. He didn't really understand why the child was screaming. The boy's mother, however, was far more attuned to her son's discomfort and the discomfort of those around them.

Same thing with loud cell-phone talkers. Have you ever noticed that most of their conversations begin with, "Nothing much, just waiting in line for coffee." They're on the phone because they're bored and they don't really understand how disruptive their meandering one-sided conversation is disturbing the peace of others.

Observe. Assess. Act accordingly.



I love my mother a lot

I really do. I look like her side of the family. I inherited many of her traits. No one loves me more. She's always the first one to offer help - no matter how large the task.

Even if she throws out the occasional brilliant comment like - "Is it that you don't want a boyfriend?" or "Wouldn't it be great if you moved back home?" - she's still my mommy.

Yesterday night we were on the phone.

Ma: I was speaking to your Aunt Franca (in the photo) last Sunday . She was asking about you.

Me: That's nice. What did you say?

Ma: That you were busy at work, as usual. That's it!

That's when it hit me. My mother knows very little about my life. She knows the general outlines, but things that are important to me aren't important to her.

For my mother, highlights are health, employment, real estate, marital status, having children.

If I was to sum up my life, there would be a lot more to say:
  • I write stuff. I make up stories in my head and I write them down and they're good.
  • I really love teaching yoga and it's becoming an important part of my life.
  • I have vast community of friends, fellow artists and colleagues who support, inspire and love me every day.
  • I'm a good copywriter but am excited about transitioning into online community management.
  • I love movies and music and dance - especially ballet, tango and contemporary.
  • If I could do stuff over and pick a new career, I would be a dancer and dance for Hofesh Schecter.
  • Nothing makes me heart beat faster than a smart boy with a nice pair of glasses.
  • I'm becoming a fabbo vegetarian cook.
All of these small things make my life an endless source of wonder, but they only have minimal register with my mother. We are two creatures born in different times, with different experiences, but I still wish there was a way I could communicate even some of this to her in language she could understand.


What does community look like?

I was catching up on a week's worth of blog reading this morning when I read a recent post by the extraordinary Roseanne (whom I’ve never even met in RL, even though she lives just a few blocks from me and we seem to be living parallel lives) over at It's all yoga, baby. In this post, she makes a visual representation of her community - that is, who she knows and how she knows them.

Wild at the thought of possibly making venn diagrams, I dropped everything to draw my own community.


I started out by defining the main areas of activity in my life where I met/meet people. Plotting out the different communities was fun - but not as fun as drawing arrows between communities to indicate multiple links. I have one writing buddy - Alexis - who was originally a school buddy, who is now also a work buddy and a neighbourhood buddy. And she's starting tango soon. And she's done yoga in the past.

Most of the arrows point back towards the Mile-End/Plateau because that's where most of the people I know live/work, so there's more traffic in that corner, but understandably so. In fact, now that I think about it, there are probably a few more arrows that could have pointed towards the Mile-End/Plateau segment.

Two things to note:
1) My family doesn't link up to any other sphere in my life other than geographical location.
2) I have a whole segment of friends that I met through social media (excluding blogs) - like Patra or Jay. Although these people have since joined other segments of my life (Patra also now belongs to "Writing Buddies" too), the point of origin is the Internet.

Having completed this diagram, I feel more confident that I must be doing okay in the running-my-life department. I have a variety of segments and vectors, indicating many friends who share the same values and interests that I do. My life looks very busy and full when seen in 2D - a nice counterweight to my usual, "What, me? I don't do anything - I'm boring!"

If you don't see where you fit in this diagram, let me know so I can revise it. I want to keep this on my fridge so that if I'm having a pity party one day, I can look at it and put things back in perspective.

So get to it! What does your community look like?


Things the cool aunt says

In the car with the Niecelet and Neph last week.

Niecelet: Adri, what song is this? I like it.

Me: It's Misstress Barbara.

Neph: Who?

Me: Misstress Barbara, my kittens, is a popular DJ. But not only just any DJ. You see, most DJs are men, so it's pretty extraordinary that she's one of the few women to have made a mark as a DJ.

Also she's from the homeland, kiddies. She's *real* Italian. You have two reasons to like Mistress Barbara.

[silence from the back seat]

Me: She gets to travel all over the world making music. Cool, huh?

Neph: I like the song too.


Things you miss when you work 9 to 5

Now that I’m on my three-day schedule, I’m amazed at all the new discoveries I make every Monday and Friday. Here’s a list of stuff from today:
  • The play of late morning light in my kitchen or early afternoon light in the bedroom.
  • Watching kindergarten children have a leaf fight outside a local school, their educators showing them how to gather and throw the piles.
  • Reading a good novel on the terrasse of Olimpico, the sun warm on my face and coffee-flavoured froth warming my lips.
  • Discovering that the corner café I thought was permanently closed is actually open on weekdays.
  • Seeing what my mailman looks like.


You know you live in the Plateau when...

...you can't go out of the house without running into someone you know.

Back when I lived in NDG/Montreal West, I could run out to the pharmacy wearing dirty sweatpants and my hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. The chances of running into someone I knew were slim - and there certainly weren't any attractive/available men wandering the Cote-St-Luc Shopping Centre.

I could have worn a potato sack. No one would have noticed.

Right now I need a few things from PA, but I'm too lazy to get properly dressed, etc.

Maybe if I put on a little blush?


Everything that went right

We all have our "bad" days. Days when you can't seem to get anything right, when everyone is apparently out to get you. But however bad your day may be, the blanket statement "I had a really bad day" is never truly accurate.

Truth be told - in the 10,000 tiny events that happen every day, not every single one of them were "bad". Chances are, the majority of those events were probably positive or neutral.

So to temper this tendency to say, "What an awful day!", I decided to make a photographic record of things that went right during a 24-hour period.

Kusmi has opened a tea shop on St-Denis. I bought some delicious Prince Vladimir tea.

I repotted a plant that was slowly being eroded by nutrient-poor earth. Now she's standing tall and green. Doesn't she look happy?

I ate some really delicious Lindt chocolate.

One of our project managers came back from vacation with nice new glasses. Perks up the office, you know?

That's just some of the stuff that put a smile on my face lately. An accumulation of good things - no matter how small they may seem - definitely amounts to a positive day, no?


Kung fu and Pauline Kael

Here's a confession that will baffle you.

I like fight movies, but kung fu, not gun fu and not that Steven Seagal stuff either. Chow Yun Fat is alright and all, but I much prefer the likes of Tony Jaa in Ong Bak, Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx, or Jet Li in Fist of Legend.

Yes, the tea-drinking, non-meat eating yogini loves da kung fu. In fact, you should have seen my face when I saw the trailer for Ninja Assassin. Ex-cite-ment! I even giggled when I read the rating: Strong, bloody, stylized violence.

It just is, okay?

In my defense, I offer my love of the the human body and its many beautiful lines as an excuse. Many discount fight movies as gratuitous violence, but the choreography and physical feats often woven into the tales can take on the beauty of dance. Also, most of them feature far more developed scripts than current Hollywood blockbusters.

I like the dance of limbs - and not so much the bloody noses and broken bones. Does that make sense?

I was thinking about fight movies when I came across this interesting National Post piece about Pauline Kael, "the most passionate, stimulating and argument-starting critic in the history of film".

The one line that really stuck with me is something Kael said to a friend near the end of her life, "When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture."

Do kung fu movies fall into the category of "trash culture"?

The thing is, I don't really care.

Watching kung fu movies makes me happy. They stimulate my senses and raise my heart rate. Kung fu movies are like a massage of the senses. I walk away from them feeling all adrenaline-y and I don't mind saying so, especially because Kael also said, "Trash has given us an appetite for art".

Watching kung fu movies feeds into my love of going to the movies, as does watching other (less-violent) favourites. They do not prevent me from enjoying more artistic films.

Doesn't an interest in culture mean taking in lower forms, as well as higher forms? And do kung fu movies necessarily have to be considered as trash?

Psst! Ninja Assassin is released on November 25. Who wants to go with me?


Wednesday wisdom

Sometimes you can make yourself feel better by thinking of all the people that have it worse off than you.

"oh, at least my situation is not as bad as So-And-So"

This is a terrible way to think because in doing so, you implicitly desire that suffering will continue to exist. If it doesn't, then what crutch will you use to make yourself feel better?

The same is also true when you complain that everyone is happier than you are. Once again, you are implicitly desiring that others be less happy so that your meager happiness doesn't look quite so... meager.

It is not healthy to lift you spirits by stepping on the shoulders of others. If you wish to be truly happy, you must thoroughly accept and understand that you are not any better - or any worse off - than anyone else.

I've spent a lifetime comparing myself to others and it has only made me miserable. It's time to stop. Anyone else willing to take on the challenge with me?


Space to write

I've spent the last two weeks preparing a short story for the CBC Literary Awards.

I started with an initial character and began building slowly, collecting the ideas as they came in during long walks, good meals or extended backbends. Moments in which I felt "stuck", I turned to The Space Captain, a fellow writer who asked the right questions and offered valuable input.

I sent off my submission on Friday and although there's no way of knowing how it'll perform during the judging, I did learn some valuable lessons worth sharing.
  • Talking things out. Writers tend to be a superstitious lot. Sometimes we don't want to talk about what we're working on because we're (a) worried about scaring off inspiration, (b) already worrying about being judged, or (c) paranoid about ideas being stolen. But as the Space Captain pointed out, you don't write for the ego - that's what therapy is for. You write for art's sake, so give yourself the tools to make the best possible art. Not sure why you're stuck? Can't make a storyline work? Ask another writer - someone whose work and opinion you respect.
  • Checking in. Be open to having the writer friend call in to check on you every now and again. Some writers hate the pressure of being asked how the writing is progressing, but once again, writing is not about the ego. It's hard work and diligence and discipline. Having a fellow writer call and ask how things are is no different than having an office colleague check on the progress of a project you're both working on, i.e. just part of the process.
  • Accepting criticism. And sometimes we don't like having our writing judged either (see comment about ego above). Writing is a process. Almost no one can write a publication-worthy story on the first draft and if you don't have a subjective pair of eyes look over - and comment - your text, it never will be publication-worthy.
  • Creating space. Thanks to my commitment to the writing, my new work schedule and the yoga practice, I finally feel as if I have space enough for writing. I can't remember what busy and distracting thoughts were filling up so much of my time previously, but I have finally made enough space in my head to accommodate the writing process. I'm going to have to work hard to keep it open, but without that ego-free space, I wouldn't have been able to finish that story on time.
I know some writer friends might be reading this. Any thoughts you'd like to share about your process?


My family thinks I'm a spaz

Why do I always end up looking like a spaz in front of my family?

I like to think that I'm a capable person with resources enough to resolve most situations and smarts enough to call for help when I need it. I rarely lose things or have a *really* messy house. I'm good with navigation, a trustworthy person to loan stuff too, and fairly punctual.

I do okay, you know?

But every time the Palancas gather, I end up feeling like the village idiot. I'm late, I forget stuff... and end up giving my parents and brother more fodder for teasing me.

On Saturday, I was late to the big family dinner. When I slipped behind the wheel, I was "delighted" to discover that my car wasn't starting. I called my brother and he picked me up on the way to the resto.

After dinner, we all went back to my house. My father and brother wanted to see if they could boost the car. That's when the laughter began:
  • In my haste, I had left the car keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked. Who cares if no one could make off with it, "Adria! Did you leave the keys in here to save time?"
  • My mother, while in my house, noticed that my fridge was empty-ish. Who cares if Sunday is grocery day, "Adria! Why don't you have food? You ate enough at dinner - is that supposed to last you all week?
And on, and on, and on... BLURGH! How do they do that??


What you already know

Yogis at Ashtanga Yoga Montreal know that class with Allison always begins with a short talk explaining a yogic concept. She often uses real-life examples to illustrate what she means and likes to ask us questions to encourage our participation.

This Saturday, she asked, "Why do we chant?"

So I cast my mind back over the numerous readings we did during teacher training, and skimmed memories of past lectures in search of an answer. Nothing rose to the surface. In the meanwhile, another student responded with a personal experience.

Although I didn't quite understand the context of the story being told, Allison nodded her head, "Yes, what you are saying is, we chant to quiet the discursive mind."

The thing is, I knew that... I was just looking in the wrong place. I learned Ashtanga's opening chant while trying to mend a broken heart. One line every day - or every two days - depending on how hard the pronunciation.

Whenever I started to think about the man in question and obsessively go over all the ways in which he had betrayed me, I would sing the increasingly familiar syllables of the chant (in my head) until my mind became less fevered. No matter how many times my monkey brain wanted to enumerate all his sins, I would gently steer it away with vande gurunam.

Our experiences are an important part of our knowledge. We sometimes wish to clear our memories of bad experiences and past upsets, but they are valuable moments in time that can be added to our future wisdom. I have a tendency to rely on my intellectual side to provide answers to difficult questions, but sometimes (as I was reminded yesterday) my heart is equally capable of answering.


Wordpress templates - Help!

So I'm finally migrating to Wordpress. I've started browsing blog templates and I'm a little stuck.

My criteria:
  • Minimalist, preferably with a white background to draw out the colours of any fotos
  • Widget-friendly
  • Room for growth
So far the frontrunner is Wu-Wei, although I keep getting drawn back to Apricot. Feedback? Suggestions? Recommendations?

Ready, set, go!


The writing life

As you may have previously read in this space, I am now working a three-day week. Today was my first full day at home -- and besides taking snaps of the last roses of the season -- it has been a very productive day.

I did the laundry while moving sentences around in my head.
I wrote the middle of the short story long-hand.
I walked downtown while organizing the verbal movements of hands in a broom closet.
I took a lunch-time yoga class.
I wrote the end of the short story long-hand.
I napped.
And now I'm blogging.

The short story is no where near being finished. It's a skeleton to which I must add -- over the next few days -- muscle, tendon, and skin. And yet I couldn't be more satisfied with my day because I was fully immersed in the writing life.

The writing life is about time. So much needs to happen in your head before you put the words down. A writer needs time to let the ideas sit, evolve and change. Adjectives must be weighed. Scenarios played out to every possible denouement. Then when you're ready, you need the time to find the words that most accurately describe your vision.

Good, satisfying work, that's what I did today.


When your clients don't respect you

What to do? What to do?

Lately, I've heard from several friends who are freelancers and who are dealing with clients who consistently show no respect for the expertise and talents of the person they hired.

It's a situation I know all too well from my freelance days.

In almost every case, the client is demanding changes that do not jive with the original briefing, the overall purpose of the page, and/or the existing content.

It's like wanting to add the large image of a purple poodle to a Web page that addresses how to plant bulbs for spring. It may complement the overall look of the page, but it dilutes the quality content, it detracts from the user experience and it could ultimately deter the site user from returning.

In situations such as these, you follow the usual protocols:
  • Reviewing documentation to make sure you didn't miss anything about purple poodles
  • Offering alternative suggestions that bridge the gap between their demands and your professional prerogative
  • Sending all recommendations by email, so that there's proof of your efforts
Sometimes, because of your due diligence, the client will become more open to discussion. But some clients consistently demand that you execute their orders, no arguments, thank you.

Clients are not obliged to take every piece of advice that you give them of course, but if you're starting to feel like a monkey rather than a valued collaborator, what do you do?

Jeffrey Tang
suggests asking the following question: If all my clients were like this, could I still run a successful business?” If the answer is no, it may be time to cut that client loose – even if it hurts to do so. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

For a freelancer, cutting the client loose is an especially scary step because of how precarious the freelance life can oftentimes be. But if your professional pride is suffering as a result of this client relationship - if how you view yourself is changing because of this situation - then a hard decision needs to be made.

Bref: Getting new clients is all about selling yourself and your abilities. Consequently, clients that cut down your confidence may in fact be preventing you from gaining new clients.

So when do you draw the line?


Letter to my teenage self

I warn you now - this week is all about the memes :)

Today's meme comes from Bram @ Connect to the Sky, who got the idea from Perez Hilton. The idea is not only to reflect on how the intervening years have shaped who you are, but also to see if any of the advice you offer your teenage self could be relevant to you right now.

Dear Adriana, age 16,

It's probably making you a little nervous to be reading this, but don't worry, I won't reveal any of the events that filled the 20-year gap between us. That would defeat the purpose of experiencing it all firsthand, no?

Rest assured that many things have happened. Some wonderful. Some terrible. But all important. All yours. You may be tempted to want to erase things from your mind, to pretend they never happened, but just let them be. They have no real power over you.

First of all, you have turned into an extraordinary woman. Don't lift your eyebrows at me, missy, I wouldn't lie to you about these things. You may not feel extraordinary right now, but be patient, you'll find your way, I promise. Just remember these words when the going gets tough.

Some words of comfort from me to you:
  • You're swimming against the current. You're making decisions that are unpopular with your parents and friends. You will continue to do this for many years to come, so don't turn back - just become a better swimmer.
  • That feeling you have of always being a late bloomer, of always being behind? You're a slow burning flame, baby. Don't rush what can't be rushed and just savour the journey.
  • There will be plenty of boys, stop worrying.
  • Stop the comparisons. No one has it better than you, or worse. We're all in this beautiful mess together.
  • Let yourself be surprised. I know it's not a strength of yours, but it's a lovely experience that you don't want to miss out on.
  • One day, you will love your body. It won't be perfect, but you're going to love it nonetheless.
  • Your mother isn't going to change. Love her anyway.
  • And lastly, words words words words words.
Some of this stuff is hard, I know, and most of it doesn't even make sense right now. I'm still battling with some of it. Important thing to remember is, you're here so make the best of it.

Or should I say, we're here, let's make the best of it...

Love, Adriana, age 36

Foto from flickr.com/photos/postcardsfromhome


When not to do yoga

During yoga teacher training, we were given a detailled list of when not to practice yoga:

* if injured
* if menstruating (opt for a gentle restorative practice instead)
* if you have a head cold
* if suffering from disabilities, severe, acute or chronic medical conditions (unless your doc says okay)

But I would also add:

*when your body and mind do not want it

Let me explain.

Yes, it's true that left to its own devices, your body will always opt for another hour in bed or one more episode of Twin Peaks on DVD.

And yes, yoga (as does most exercise) will give you a lift to get past your anger, stress, etc.

But if you have a fairly disciplined practice already, you probably also have a very intuitive understanding of your body and its cues. And there are moments, when the messages coming from your body are asking you to not practice yoga.

Maybe you're sleep deprived.
Maybe a cold or migraine is coming on.
Maybe you feel mentally tired from all the demands put on you recently.

In such cases, I'm all for taking a day off. Sleep. Or meditate instead to quiet your mind. Spend a quiet afternoon on the couch with a good book. Have a good, healthy meal.

Although it does not happen often, I have moments like that. Had one this past Saturday. In the past, on such days, I dragged myself to yoga, only to muscle my way through the practice and end up feeling even more disconnected from my body.

I find, however, on those days when I make the conscious decision to feed some other need, I return to the practice with a little more joy and a little more focus because the foundation of my practice - my body - is more stable.

Lack of sleep and poor nutrition is just as disabling as an injury. Despite its many lauded benefits, yoga is not the cure to all maladies - it is merely one tool towards greater well-being.

Throwing yourself into the practice when you are not physically open to it could even lead to injury. So if your body and mind are saying "not today", maybe you should give it some attention before slipping on those yoga pants.

Photo by Jacques.


Girl geek? Or Web weary?

Some days I think I'm fed up with the Web and I just want to cuddle with an old-school notebook and pencil.

And other days, I'm downloading new desktop tools, grovelling for a GoogleWave invite and troubleshooting basic html.

As much as I love negotiating language and playing with words all day, I'm exhausted by the constant stream of activity and information. Between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the other social media I come across at work, I feel as if I never have a moment to myself. Someone is always talking and like the compulsive communicator that I am, I am always answering.

This is a hard feeling to deal with because the Web has allowed me to connect with people and communities. I have found (and been found) by yogis, tangueras, bloggers, artists and writers of all varieties. For this, I am truly grateful. But I'm still ambivalent about some aspects.

What I love about Facebook: the dialogues launched by great status lines, birthday reminders, photo albums

I've been limiting my Facebook time over the last two weeks because the "What type of monkey/era/sandwich/cartoon shoe are you?" quizzes are driving me crazy. I don't take quizzes anymore, I don't add applications, I don't join causes, and I don't want any puppy plants on my page. It's not because I'm a mean-spirited person. I just don't like clutter and excessive busyness.

Also, I don't need to know everything about my friends all the time. I like to leave some fodder for discussion when I actually see you. Crazy, I know!

What I love about blogging: It allows me to be a writer of creative non-fiction

Stretching that part of my brain helps me be a better copywriter and a better fiction writer. However, in order to be a successful blogger, you must have a niche or an angle that sets you apart from the rest.

The only thing that's special about my blog is my worldview. I don't want to be a famous yogi or a famous tango dancer or even a top book critic. I just want to have experiences and write about them. This, understandably, is a hard thing to sell.

What I *like* about Twitter: sharing articles and links of interest, letting my friends help me make discoveries, none of the upkeep of Facebook

Why I haven't progressed to "love" with Twitter: I haven't entirely figured out how it can be of use to me. Of course the big irony is, I'll probably be posting this link on Twitter/Facebook to incite you all to read and comment on this post. Does this make me a hypcrite? Or a masochist?

Mostly, it makes me curious and determined. The Web is an undeniable part of our present - and our future. And as I truly am a compulsive communicator, I will continue to experiment/play with these platforms until I find a happy medium between my needs and how they can benefit those needs.


Marie-Pierre Arthur

Okay, okay, I know a large-ish part of my music collection consists of 'women with little voices'. Emiliana Torrini. Lykke Li. Camera Obscura. Ariana Moffatt. Basia Bulat. The Be Good Tanyas. Etc.

But 'women with little voices' often provide a very nice background noise for writing.

Thanks to my good buddy Porkchop (not his real name), I recently discovered Marie-Pierre Arthur, an emerging Quebecois songstress who just released her first (self-titled) album.

The folk-inspired songs are thoughtfully written, earnestly played and easy on the ears. A lovely addition to my collection of talented ladies.


On the reading pile

I'm actually reading three books at the same time. I don't do this very often, but the three selections are so varied, it feels alright.

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Written while I was still happily gestating in my mother's belly, this classical philosophical text remains relevant despite the 30+ intervening years. It's been an enjoyable read for two reasons: (1) it hearkens back to my university days when philosophy became a sudden new passion, and (2) I feel particularly smart when I understand some complex idea.

Favourite quotes so far:
Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I admit it - at one point, I was India-ed-out. I had just read a series of novels set in India, and I couldn't do it anymore. Poverty, unrelenting suffering, violence. I picked up this novel on the very strong recommendation of my friend Bram, and I am quite taken with it. Shantaram offers an alternate view of India - from the eyes of a white man living in the slums. The suffering is still there, but it's underpinned with such a broad stroke of hope and survival, that I feel as if I'm finally understanding more about life in India.

Favourite quote so far:
Lovers find their way by such insights and confidences: they're the stars we use to navigate the ocean of desire. And the brightest of those stars are the heartbreaks and sorrows. The most precious gift you can bring to your lover is suffering. So I took each sadness she confessed to me, and pinned it to the sky.

Á ciel ouvert by Nelly Arcan

This book has been laying around my house for quite some time. When the news of Nelly Arcan's death broke, I decided that it was time to read the writings of this much-lauded Quebecois writer. I am only two chapters in, but I have found reason to continue reading. The subject is compelling and the writing style is very rich and textured, with many well-worded philosophical abstractions. As French is my third language, the reading process is sometimes sludgy (where's my dictionary?), but I'm going to stick it out.

Favourite quote so far:
Les seins se remarquaient davantage parce que c'était une partie de Rose qui n'avait pas été effacée, qui avait au contraire été emplie, sans démesure, d'une rondeur ferme, haut accrochée et qui donnait l'impression que ses seins étaient un sexe bandé.


Tips for increasing creativity

As the transition at work has just begun, I'm still in the office on Mondays and Fridays but I'm technically working on my own projects.

It's nice for the rest of the team because if they need something quickly, I'm here. So far, I've been busy in the mornings with mandates for our clients, but I spend a few hours every afternoon on creative brainstorming.

I thought the situation might be too forced for productivity - that ideas wouldn't come. But they did. What helped?

Doodling. Reading. Listening to music. Doing puzzles. Chatting.

It may sound like glorified "goofing off", but when you goof off with mindfulness, it's an entirely different state of mind that prevails. Let me explain.

Instead of doing a word association game or stream of consciousness exercise, I merely took half an hour to just absorb the perceptions flowing in. I drew in the words and images with my eyes. I let the music pour into my ears. I felt the cool plastic of the pen pressing into my fingers.

The non-attachment to getting results. The release of control. The blissful surrender.

My senses were wide, wide open. Shortly after, the ideas began flooding in.


What does it mean to play?

While reading a pranayama book by Richard Rosen, I found this most interesting passage:

...to be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as if nothing of consequence will happen.

On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility.

To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.

To keep it short and sweet, What role does play have in your life? What's your favourite way to play?

And if you don't have an answer to these questions, think about it. It's important.


Changes, changes, changes...

The waters, I am glad to report, are starting to clear.

After a heartfelt conversation with my boss and a mini-brainstorm with our production director, it has been decided that I will soon begin working a 3-day week at the agency.

The arrangement that we're testing will force my project managers to do a little more advance planning, but it's flexible enough to keep projects on schedule. The bonus is that I have the structure of office work, all the while having the freedom to work on the projects nearest and dearest to my heart.

It will also ensure that I earn a fixed amount of $$$ each week. (A girl's still gotta eat, apparently.)

So what will I do with all this valuable time I've been gifted with?
  • Finish revising the novel and start shopping it around.
  • Get working on a few short story ideas I have banging about.
  • Refine my yoga practice.
  • Teach yoga.
How else will my life be changing?
  • Expenses must be cut! cut! cut!
  • This means less eating out in restos. The silver lining? More entertaining at home. I've already had two luscious group of ladies come over for eats this weekend and it was dreamy. Can't wait to see your face at the door sometime soon :)
Oh, and if you see this man on the street, please let him know that he is a wonderful boss indeed. Goodness knows, I can't thank him enough.

*Pic of Valencia, Spain borrowed from http://snipurl.com/pic-dkbooks


Palanca's mock shepherd's pie

In trying to find a suitable substitute for meat-based shepherd's pie, I found a few recipes for a lentil-based version.

I played around with some of the flavours and came up with the following. Let me know if it works out for you - or if you have any further suggestions for making it even better.

PREP TIME: Little more than an hour.

1) In a medium-sized pot, pour two cups of green lentils into four cups of water. Add a veggie bouillon cube. Let the lentils boil for approx. 40 minutes, or until they get soft. You will probably have to add more water.

You might want to start preparing the potatoes right now as well. See #4.

2) In a frying pan: one medium-sized onion (diced) and two cloves garlic (crushed). You can even toss in a few sliced mushrooms for added flavour. Saute the onion and garlic with fresh thyme, as well as cumin and coriander. When the onions are soft, add the lentils. Mix the lentils and onion mixture with salsa or tinned tomatoes.

3) Lay the lentils on the bottom of a casserole dish. Open one can of corn and toss the kernels on top.

4) Peel and cube one large sweet potato and four medium-sized potatoes (yellow is best). Boil the cubes for approx. 30 minutes. Mash up the taters with butter and brown sugar. Layer the potatoes on top of the corn and lentils.

5) Place casserole dish in preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Then broil for 5-7 minutes for extra crunchiness on top. Like a nice brown crust? Add some curls of butter before the broil.

Serve hot, hot, hot!

*Snap borrowed from Made-in-China.com.


My favourite writings

In 2002, I was given a photocopied page from Irish Times Magazine with the following article. It left me breathless - and jealous. I tried to find an electronic copy, but alas, I had to type it out instead. Enjoy.

Carefully Chosen Words by Molly McCloskey
The Irish Times Magazine, June 15, 2002

Picture this. We’re standing in a word shop, somewhere outside the city. It’s a Sunday, most likely, a day for such indulgences. We’re picking up words and putting them down again, feeling the weight of them, the heft, whispering them to one another. Sometimes we raise our eyebrows, tilt our heads to one side, admiringly. For these are words we don’t use lightly, or on any old occasion. Words like incantata, oblique, billow, woe, susurration, svelte, mote, mink, ilk. Geography, topography, taxonomy. Antediluvian. Prelapsarian. Halcyon. Some people in here are really buying, others only murmuring.

On our way home, we pull outside a convenience store, one of those orange plastic jobs attached to a petrol station. On the outside of the shop, the sign says: Words are cheap! And here, they are. I wait in the car while you go in — and come out with a short list, just a few staples to get us through our respective weeks: greetings, white lies, a bit of phone manner.

As we turn onto Baggot Street, you say unhappily: “Tomorrow, I must go to the retract shop and return those words.” You had a row with your mother the other day and there are things you wish you hadn’t said. (I think you should bring the words to slaughter instead, take them to where they’ll carve them into syllables and letters, mince them to mere dots and strokes. The motto hanging over the door: Better Dead than Said.)

The retract shop is called Give Me Your Word. (Word shop proprietors, like the owners of hair salons, are prone to terrible punning.) A subliminal shame, an apathetic discretion hangs over the place, as in an early house or a porn shop, anything that caters to the more reluctant needs. You’ll join then Said in Anger queue, rather than the Said While Drunk, Dead Wrong, or That of Which You are Simply Ashamed. (They don’t handle words uttered out of excessive or injudicious affection. “They’re like coppers,” they say. “People seem to want to hoard them.”)

You won’t get a refund on your words: it doesn’t work that way. They’re donated, in a sense. Someone else will use them. And so it goes. But they’ll give you a docket entitling you to a discount at the House of Meaning. They’re good like that, those in the reparations business, the way they’ve streamlined operations.

At the House of Meaning, you will head for the Classics Section, searching for words age-old and tested by time, to mend the breach. The staff there drift about like angels and are as wise. You’ll tell them you need something clear and true and good to say, and they will help you to find it.

But the HOM is like no other place in the city. Sometimes there’s practically nothing for sale, and the otherworldly employees just smile enigmatically when we ask. It’s the nearest thing we’ve got to a Zen master, and it’s difficult to know some days whether we’re leaving enlightened or bewildered.

People wonder how the HOM doesn’t go bankrupt. Some say it has and is now a front for something else entirely. Black market word processors, perhaps. But we still shop there, you and I, despite its arbitrary hours – 2 to 4 a.m., sometimes – and the way we never come out with what we went in for. Its reticence strikes us as an invitation to the long haul.

The following weekend, we’re messing in the aisles of Wordplay, the joke shop. This one specializes in malapropisms, which you love. And there are piles of curios: acronyms, homonyms, palindromes, things onomatopoeic. (“Ricochet!” you say, delighted. “Ooze…”) We could spend out lives here – victims of a Saturday, waylaid by agreeable distractions – and never get a thing said.

But it’s time to expand our vocabulary. We need to do some shopping, though we aren’t sure where. We just know we feel limited by the words at our disposal. (Storage space is not an issue here; this is purely a matter of time.)

You say, “Remember that little place we went one Sunday? Incantata? Susurration?”

“What about Truth?” I say.

You shake your head, thinking. “I don’t know where you can get Truth now. Even the shop way out in Swords has closed.”

You’re right, of course. Used to be loads of places that sold Truth but, one by one, they’ve been shutting up shop, and everyone is secretly relieved. You can still find it, but you have to know where to look, and it’s never in the places you’d think.

There is a shop actually called Truth, for instance, but it’s staffed entirely by aspiring MTV presenters and all they sell is irony. What Truth outlets have survived have retreated from their original mission and reinvented themselves. The Word has re-opened as In Other Words, and its proprietor looks perpetually undermined. He sells knick-knacks now, cold comfort and fool’s gold and backhanded compliments.

“No,” I say. “Forget the Truth.”

Instead, we go to the flea market. Much of what we find there is damaged, threadbare, easily overlooked and underestimated. (I plunge my hand into a tub of spare parts: loose Scrabble letters.) But this is where it all began for us, in a benign disorder we didn’t know the value of.

Long before the days of mass production and choosing from a catalogue at Argot. We came here years ago and used these words. We still can.


To OM or not to OM?

I begin teaching at the NDG YMCA on Sunday. What is my number one concern?

Whether to OM at the beginning and end of the class.

Students can have fairly strong reactions to the OM. Many people "feel like an idiot" when they OM. Others feel as if chanting is too trendy or "granola". Or that if they OM, I'll be brainwashing them next.

Since I'll be dealing with a drop-in, multi-level class, I want to make sure that I respect their (varying, unknowable) attitudes as much as I can.

Needless to say, launching into the ol' vande gurunam is probably not a good idea.

Having gotten some good advice from MBD, I've decided to keep it simple:
  • Three nice deeps OMs at the beginning and end. Shantis might be asking too much, but a namaste is almost expected.
  • Welcome students to join me or sit quietly if they wish.
  • No chanting to bring them out of savasana - yet.
In a few weeks, if I wish to incorporate the chanting during savasana, MDB suggests letting them know beforehand so that they don't mistake it for a cue to start moving around.

Does anyone have any other stories or suggestions they'd like to throw into the mix? I'd love to hear about your experiences.


Facebook status lines for your ex

If my Google Analytics are correct, many of my fellow Web-denizens are looking for snappy Facebook status lines that they can throw in an ex's avatar face.

Although I like Lily Allen's breakup style, I will try to keep this clean. Mostly.

So here are some for the ladies:
  • Lily says, "Next, suivant!..."
  • Lily is amazed! This one runs on batteries but it does the job better! Twice even!
  • Lily would miss you, but I have to wash my hair tonight.
  • Lily: Man washed out my hair? Check! New lingerie for new boyfriend? CHECK!
  • Lily: "Hey [name], now that we've broken up, do you want your balls back?"
And some for the gents:
  • Allen says: "Hey [name], your fat butt makes your butt look big!"
  • Allen looks forward to filling the hole you left in my heart with beer, rock'n'roll and sexy girls.
  • Allen used to love [name] like crazy - until I discovered she was crazy.
  • Allen knows two ways to heal a broken heart: Beer and girls.
  • Allen would just like [name] to know that he was lying. About everything. Yes, everry-thing.
Any other suggestions?


What I miss about tango

Good news - my tango adventures begin anew on October 21! Until then, I have some new music to keep me happy.

What I miss about tango: The way some partners will sway you from side to side when the music starts. Almost as if they were weighing your contents to better understand how to move you on the floor.

If you missed my previous adventures, get a taste here, here and here.


Is Google getting snarky with me?

As I am often looking for the English equivalent of a French term, I will conduct searches on both the English and French Googles to cast the widest possible net.

This morning, I noticed that the "helpful" message on the English results page differs from the message on the French page.

You've all seen this:

But have you seen this?

Did you mean? vs. Try this spelling:

Is it just me or does the English version sound a little snarky? Not that it matters to me really - since I love having my spelling corrected - but how did that lacuna happen, d'ya think?


Emotional snowballing

Ladies – does this sound familiar?

* A project/situation/person at work is frustrating you.
* It drags on. You begin to doubt your abilities.
* You start eating
a little sugar in the afternoon. Maybe add (more) coffee.
* You live alone so you don’t get a chance to vent in the evenings.
* You’re suffering from
man confusion.
* As you mull over the absurdity of it all, your calorie count gets upped in the evenings too (how many calories in a gin/tonic?).
* You’re so busy going in circles, you
miss a workout or two. Or six.
* You survive weekend. However, frustration/man-fusion resumes on Monday.
* Repeat everything.
* You start feeling fat.
* You start dressing down a little, so you can lie in bed and mull more.
* The girls on So You Think You Can Dance Canada have exquisite thighs. Sigh.
* You start feeling *really* fat.
* Everyone else seems to be dating the nicest, most attentive, most sexually ravenous man ever.
* Your friend gets a promotion. Much rolling in money ensues.
* You start
feeling like an ogre. And a teensy bit of a failure.
* A little more sugar. A little less exercise.
* D-e-s-p-a-i-r

Emotional snowballing has been the downfall of many a fine, strong woman. Over the years – on more than one occasion - I’ve suddenly snapped to attention, dazed to find myself rolled up in a snowball of my own making. The factors, having accumulated so gradually and without pomp, overwhelmed me before I even recognized what was happening.

I also used to think that – at some point in my life – I would achieve such a comfortable state of being – that I would stop getting caught in the emotional snowball.

The emotional snowball happened to the weak, no?


The best thing that yoga has taught me is that the snowballing will probably never stop, so you had better learn how to roll and come out with a flourish.

I’m halfway through an emotional snowball right now, but I’m trying not to let it become too much of a distraction.

The trick is, now I see it coming.

So I’m eating with a little more mindfulness.

I returned to my yoga practice after a too-long hiatus.

I’m taking time for myself when I need it.

I’m thinking more before I speak.

Any other suggestions? What do you do to escape your emotional snowball?

Waupoos Estates Winery, Prince Edward County, Ontario


Enough with the new technology, already!

Sometimes I get so weary of the Web and its never-ending traffic of words and images. There are too many must-see videos to watch. Too many new technologies to learn. Too many passwords to remember. And I'm still not quite convinced that Twitter is useful for me right now.

It was only recently, while reading a blog post about social media, that I finally realised why I get to feeling this way:

You're tired of new technology: Seriously, you just want things to slow down a little and perhaps get really good at using some of the great technologies that are out there before you have to jump on another without even knowing why you're jumping.

Yes! Yes! That's it! Exactly!

I have strong knowledge of social media networks and blogging, as well as a firm grasp of SEO writing and how Google works. But there is still so much that's vague to me.

I understand that in order to build your brand online, you have to participate on many different platforms and be constantly promoting yourself. Thing is - I would rather excel in a few select domains, than have a sketchy-basic knowledge of most technologies and trends.

See, I still believe in having expertise. I don't buy into the actor-celeb-singer-perfumer-designer-write(choke) Paris Hilton model. I don't want to be good at everything. I just want to be really good at my things.

So I'm not going to try and be the big Web expert of everything any longer. I'm just going to focus on those technologies that best bring out my expertise.


Old friends

A major complaint about Facebook is that you're often contacted by old friends/once enemies/exes and other creatures you could quite happily live without.

"We never spoke in high school and she once started a rumor about me having herpes - why is she sending me a friend request?"

And then the Facebook netiquette angst hits. Should you accept just to be polite? If you ignore the request, will she then slag you to other FB friends? Blurgh!

In spring 2008, I received a request from a friend I've known since elementary school. I accepted. She then managed to track down a few other names from St. Ignatius, and we quickly established a small circle of friends.

"So...uh, what have you been doing for the last 24 years?"

This small circle of friends has given me a great amount of pleasure over the last year. We've had some great weekend trips, helped each other through tough times, and shared many a beautiful meal together.

I never would have imagined that one day I would find these friends again. That we would have common interests and experiences, common musical tastes and a common sense of humour.

Recently, we had dinner at the house of M., who still lives around the corner from our old school. After dinner, we strolled over to see how it had changed since it was converted to an adult education centre.

The trees had grown much taller. The concrete was more cracked. The windows were no longer filled with cut-out butterflies and leaves. But the one impression that touched us the most was how small the schoolyard now seemed.

It seemed vast and endless as a child. White lines delineating the territory according to grade. The seemingly long distance to cover while playing British Bulldog. It used to be this huge universe that scared us and thrilled us, and now it could be crossed with just a few long strides.

Past and present compressed in one moment. We pulled our sweaters closed as an icy breeze lifted from the soccer field. Memories of childhood flooded in and quite suddenly, I wished I had a taut red dodgeball.


Horseback riding and birch trees

I went horseback riding today for the first time. My teeth were clenching for days just thinking about it, but once I got on the horse, I relaxed into the moment and gave myself over to the experience.

It was easy to do because Pearl, my horse, was the sweetest, most docile creature ever born.

Seconds after being lifted into the saddle, I found myself being transported quickly to a pile of hay. Pearl ate voraciously while the other horses were being saddled, even using her hind quarters to block any other horses that wanted to share in the yum. Once on the trail, the cream-coloured dame stopped whenever the other horses stopped, picked up the pace when the other horses did, and only strayed off the trail if it was too wet and puddly for her taste.

The only time she went (mildly) rogue is when we stopped in a field of clover and she made a beeline for her favourite sweet patch.

Not that the horse's behaviour in any way reflects the character of her (oft hungry) rider. Ahem.

As we ambled along, I noticed that fallen birch trees were strewn all over the forest floor. As I soon discovered - thanks to my brother's girlfriend - birch trees have a limited growth and life span. Once they've attained the end of their natural life cycle, they simply snap and fall, letting their bark sink back into the ground.

It got me thinking about my slowly clearing waters again.

Not only do we humans have trouble identifying the natural end of a job or a relationship, we have even greater issues with letting go. Fear of the unknown vs. the comfort of routine. But what is there to lose, really? Whatever you shed ultimately feeds new life. Even if you have to face failure, all that effort, all those feelings, go on to fuel something new.

Is there anything in your life right now that you should let go of?