Black is the New Clear

Clear, please.

There is a short pause and then a disarmingly frank admission.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what that means.

I’m in an aisle seat at the back of the plane and the flight attendant is, perforce, standing well within the comfortable limits of my personal space.

She has just asked how I want my tea; I have answered without looking up. Now I tilt my head sideways and up so I can see her face, all without touching the stranger in the middle seat. It’s a bit awkward but I do my best. Sometimes conversation demands eye contact.

When I explain that ‘clear’ tea is tea without creamer or sugar, she happily corrects me, Oh, you mean ‘black.’
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Filed under Relationships & behaviour

Devoutly To be Wish’d

All that information is on the website.

Ouch. It’s not the words, it’s the tone. Biting. Impatient. Annoyed.

I’m guessing this is not the time to mention that the requested information—an email address—was not, in fact, on the parent website from which I got the name of this association.

I’m gathering email addresses so my publisher’s publicist can send out notices about my book to those who might want to buy it. Finding a national motherlode of association listings, I doggedly follow the links through to provincial listings of local and regional associations, only to find that many provide phone, fax, and snail-mail contact information, but no email address. Odd.

Down the rabbit hole I go, only to find that there is no email address shown on many of the home sites either. I check every page, tab, and category I can think of, but no joy. Rather than slog through all 47 listings for nothing, it seems better to just pick up the phone. And so I follow business hours across the time zones from Newfoundland & Labrador to Vancouver Island, gathering email addresses—and reactions—as I go.    Continue reading


Filed under Relationships & behaviour

Snip Snip

This one will never come to anything.

Snip snip. A long, skinny twig growing sideways off a major branch is gone. The professional gardener is explaining as he goes—a favour to me, since I mentioned an interest in becoming a better pruner.

This one is crossed.

Snip snip. This time, his clippers move too quickly for me to see the habit of growth to which he’s objecting—to see the branches that were crossing over each other. Nor do I quite get how he has chosen one branch over the other.

And this one is growing inward.

Snip snip. I squint at the tree sideways. Now I’m confused. Wasn’t there also something about not leaving holes? If all the branches growing inward are removed, won’t that leave holes everywhere?   Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

Instructor, Instructee

He asked the same question six times.

I was indignant.

Yes, and you answered six times.

He was amused.

Decades ago, as a novice university instructor, I shared an office with a fellow who should not have been so encumbered. It was hardly a reciprocal deal. My office mate was an accomplished, confident instructor who had seen a good deal of the world. A Turk, he had studied in the USA, professored (professed?) in New Zealand, and managed marketing for the biggest glass factory in Turkey. By contrast, his office mate was a recent graduate without much work experience of any sort, struggling with all elements of the job: to keep ahead of the students, to set fair and meaningful exams, to mark assignments, and to handle the inevitable student whinging.    Continue reading


Filed under Management & work, New perspectives

Coming to Terms

Do you think I look like a hooker?

Wearing knee-high boots, a super short skirt, and a tight, low-cut top, the teenager on the verge of leaving the house for an evening with friends was, of course, deliberately provoking her mother, looking for a reaction to react against. A veteran of the home front, however, her mother missed not a beat as she glanced up from her book and replied calmly before returning to her reading.

No, dear, you look lovely. Just don’t stand around on any street corners.

It’s been 20 years since this cross-generational exchange, but some things never change. As a general rule, teenagers dress more revealingly, more provocatively, than older women. Even than women just slightly older.

Why? There are likely many reasons, but I suspect one is the novelty of being able to display their newly sexually mature bodies in a sexually attractive way.    Continue reading


Filed under Politics & policy, Relationships & behaviour

6 Times More Confused!

I stop briefly in the grocery store aisle. We’re out of paper towels and I’m looking to buy. What could be simpler?  I have, after all, reached an accommodation with paper towels.

The youthful foolishness that saw me experimenting with cheap paper towels is long done: now I pay for quality, reasonably. The mid-life restlessness that saw me sampling all the name brands is also gone: now I buy one brand, faithfully. Even the more-recent indecisiveness that saw me alternating between full-size and half-size towels has passed: now I buy the half-size ones, exclusively.

My reasonable, faithful, and exclusive paper-towel-buying rut is also comfortable, effective, and efficient. Like any good habit, it keeps me doing the little things that need doing, while saving me from the tedium of thinking about them. Think flossing, taking calcium supplements, making the bed.    Continue reading


Filed under Business, New perspectives

How Long Has it Been?

Isabel: University of Ottawa

I glance at the apparently personalized subject line on the email from my professional networking site and frown. What’s this about the U of O? Hovering my mouse over said inbox entry, I glance at the viewing pane to the right.

Jobs you may be interested in

I note the ending preposition and the ambiguous ‘may’—are they suggesting a possibility or graciously offering me permission?—and wonder why they don’t just say, Jobs that might interest you. But these stylistic nits quickly fade from mind as my eye wanders down the list of said jobs.    Continue reading


Filed under Business, New perspectives

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

A final zodiac ride back to the ship from the last excursion ashore: happenstance boat-mates exchange meaningful glances. A last nightly briefing from the cruise director at the pre-dinner get-together: small groups of friends make a point of sitting together and raise their glasses in bittersweet toasts. A last shipboard dinner: new acquaintances who might yet become friends linger over coffee, just a little unwilling to let go. One last zodiac ride, one more bus ride: standers-in-line at the airport gate, jostled together without respect to connections established, smile without speaking.

And so we reach the start of the end. The group that came together nine days ago for a tour of the Galapagos gradually disperses. Some stay in the islands for a few days of scuba diving. Some peel off in Quito’s international airport, headed for Lima, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu. We’re in the largest group, headed back into Quito for one night before launching for home.    Continue reading


Filed under Aging & death

White Socks & The First Thing

White socks are the first thing I see. OK, maybe not the first thing.

After an extended desert sojourn, I am visiting a place where water falls from the sky. So much water, so consistently, that I struggle to maintain my daily step count, my latest exercise fixation. On a break in the murk, I decide to settle for brisk but sunny conditions for my walk. And so it is that I find myself standing at the bottom of a 481-step wooden staircase, looking out on a Vancouver beach at low tide.

White socks are the first thing I see. OK, maybe not the first thing.

It has taken me a while to get to this point, which was not my destination. Yearning for a walk along the ocean, I find my remembery of the route to Spanish Banks Beach to be vague, not to say wrong. And so, lured by a sign for Pacific Spirit Regional Park, I park my car on the side of the road. Nor am I the only luree. Although the day is brisk, there are many cars parked here. Small groups of young people head down the trail to the beach, invisible through the dense undergrowth.

At the trailhead sign that announces the beach name—Wreck Beach—I pause uncertainly. Isn’t that the nude beach?    Continue reading


Filed under Relationships & behaviour

Doors of Few Words

Shopping for hiking gear at a large huntin’ and fishin’ supply store, I am interrupted, appropriately enough, by nature’s call.  Tracking the wily restrooms through the tangled undergrowth, I come upon doors labelled Bucks and Does.  But the doors also carry the more-or-less standard male/female pictograms and the English words: Men and Women.

Irritated, I stop to glare at this mish-mash.  How redundant.  How inelegant.  Does no one know when enough is enough, any more?    Continue reading


Filed under Language & Communication