Lift

Last year when I lost my job*, I decided to make some changes in my life. One of which was to get into better health. For the past several years, my weight has increased while my  energy and focus has decreased. I simply chalked up the latter two things to middle age and a general dissatisfaction with office life.

But it seemed clear that I could do with a change and, with my days suddenly free, I went back to my gym. My usual gym routine had been cardio-based but cardio isn’t really the best thing for burning fat. You need to lift weights for that.

I initially started some strength training programs based on some forums I found on the internet. The problem was a lot of it was unfocused, contradictory, and full of broscience and bizarre misogyny (“If you insist on using [weight-lifting gloves], make sure they match your purse.”). So I signed up with a personal trainer for weekly lifting sessions to get the basics right and start racking up big numbers. She co-runs a small gym in my neighbourhood and almost played in the CWHL so I figure she knows what she’s doing. And she’s been fantastic.

Since then, I’ve made some huge strides in my strength and I’m now switching from weekly to monthly sessions with her while going to the gym on my own for regular sessions.  It’s made a difference. I do feel better and my shape is certainly changed, even if my weight hasn’t. I’ve since learned through my doctor that I’m a bit anemic as well as having low testosterone. That can be a vicious circle: belly fat can reduce your testosterone and having low testosterone can reduce your ability to lose belly fat.

But I’ve been at it a year now and it’s become My Thing. Normally, this stuff fizzles out on after a few months but it looks like I have a physical activity I don’t hate at last.

In the meantime, I’ve been following a few new fitness writers who, I think, offer good advice and get away from, let’s say, a lot of the aggressive posturing you see on a lot of weight-lifting blogs.

Stephanie Lee at Lifehacker. She travels the world and contributes to their health and fitness blog.

Ask a Swole Woman. The Hairpin’s fitness advice column. It’s aimed at women but I find a lot of it helpful.

Greatist.com. A new (to me) fitness blog that, again, offers fairly sensible advice if you can get past the pop up ads for luxury snack goods.

Triforce Montreal. My trainer’s gym.

*Still not working but I had a really good interview a week ago so …fingers crossed?

 

The New Not Normal

 

I’m spending this month in a series of group counselling sessions for management people past forty who are “in career transition,” as the euphemism goes. In general, it’s been pretty helpful. I’m terrible at networking and cold calling so it’s helping me with that. They say 80% of jobs out there are not advertised so networking is how you get them.

But an interesting thing happened yesterday. We’re in the suburbs of Montreal and as a group, I’d say about 30% of us are immigrants. If I was in the city’s core, I imagine that percentage would be higher.

One participant made a comment, beginning with “When I came to this country…” and when he finished the moderator said (I’m paraphrasing because it was in French, mostly):

“OK, here’s a thing. On Friday, in the United States, they are going to inaugurate an IDIOT. Because of this, on both sides of the border, and I’ve lived in Boston and Montreal, there are bigots who think it’s now ok to discriminate against immigrants. You may want to focus on your experience and education and not your background. When you’re talking about your background to an employer, just say I have a PhD. Or, I worked for Coca-Cola. You don’t have to say my PhD is from Spain or I worked for Coke in Colombia. That can come later when they find out how really great you are.”

Now, this moderator was an older guy so maybe he was erring on the side of abundant caution but it surprised me that he suggested that. Last year, Canada welcomed 25,000 refugees and only the most conservative of our politicians suggest heavy restrictions on immigration. But perhaps he has good reasons for suggesting it. Canada is not immune to this kind of dog-whistle, anti-immigration rhetoric and some of our own politicians are taking a page out of Trump’s book.

It’s a frightening and sad thing to imagine something as banal as employment counselling can be poisoned by this new political atmosphere.

On the Language of Business

As a Quebec anglophone, I am what is known as bilingual*. I can read, write (with assistance), and understand what is being said in person or on TV or radio.

The * comes in when it comes to speaking. I am incredibly shy about speaking in French knowing that the French in my head sounds a lot better than what comes out of my mouth. So, afraid that I’ll make mistakes, I speak quickly and nervously and because I speak quickly and nervously, I make mistakes. If I slow down and think about what I need to say, I do better.

This makes job hunting in Montreal a bit of a challenge. Montreal has plenty of companies that operate officially in English. I worked 19 years for a company that did its business in English. But others are French only or bilingual. And that’s natural. This is, after all, Quebec. You know you can do the job you’re applying for but if you can’t communicate through the selection process, and knowing you’re up against people who speak four or five languages effortlessly, you’re going to be a disadvantage in a major way.

I have a phone interview in French on Wednesday. I can do things to prepare, like write down some anticipated responses in French (phone interviews are great that way – they’re like an open book test) but my spoken French really needs to improve. There are things I can do to help with that: MeetUp groups that specialize in French conversation, etc. But until I get it up to a better standard, I’m always going to find myself at a disadvantage.

It’s the reality of employment. You always need to upgrade your skills and learn new ones if you want to stay relevant.

Clearly, I have some room for improvement.

But at least I’m not Wayne Gretzky.

Can Blogging Come Back?

The title does not, by any means, suggest everyone stopped blogging suddenly but on a personal level, and for many bloggers I used to follow, the habit started dying off about five years ago, perhaps longer.

Social media had a lot to do with it. Facebook allowed you to sit in a space with most of your friends, family, and co-workers and share things that you might have shared on a blog but were really too short to elaborate on. Twitter allowed you to share quick thoughts or links to things you thought were important or just amusing without having to write an entire blog post about it.

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But for me, I think it was when Google shut down their Reader, one of their best products. Opening up Reader first thing in the morning was a great way to get my fix of writing, find a conversation to be part of, and find content for my own blog, all in one place. When it died, part of my own blogging habit died with it. I tried the alternatives like feedly but it just isn’t the same. WordPress has its own Reader which is great for, well, WordPress blogs but, again, does not offer the same experience. Around that time there were other platforms like feedburner in addition to an explosion of blogging. When you have that kind of combination, it inspires your own writing.

Perhaps a lot of people also stopped blogging so much for the same reasons I did: life changes. You get married, you have kids, you buy a house, you’re focused on your job (or getting one, in my case) and the priority to write about that thing that interests you gets reduced.

But with Twitter having turned into a Cuisinart blender of Pepe frogs, angry eggs, and proud Neo-Nazis chasing away everyone who dares to suggest we act decently toward each other, and Facebook that place where I behave myself like my mother is watching (because she is), surely there is room for thoughtful, engaging writing on the web. The forums are still there, free for anyone to use. Maybe more of us will use them and we can have a slightly better internet.

By Christmas?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. When I was downsized in March, I got a number of phone calls from recruiters fairly quickly and I assumed I’d be working again by summer. Then I thought, when that didn’t happen, I’d be working by fall. Then everyone assured me I’d be working by Christmas.

But right now, I can’t give it away. I’m still living off a severance package and all is well in that department but eventually, I’m going to need something. I got an email from a company specializing in debt restructuring asking if I was interested in a position with them. Calling people to arrange debt repayments sounds positively depressing but, well, I’m going to have to do something, aren’t I?

I’m reminded of the song by Payola$, “Christmas is Coming” written during an economic depression in the early 80s and it even mentions going on Unemployment Insurance, as it was known back then.

Been down to the UI
and nothing but queues
Been down on my welfare
with holes in my shoes
the kitchen’s still leaking
with floods on the floor
the landlord will fix it
he only wants more
Christmas is coming it’s been a long year

I suppose as the new fiscal year begins, companies may have more positions available.

On the other hand, there is a child-man in the White House with his finger on the button and we’re all going to die so it won’t matter! Wheeee! I’m trying not to be fatalistic. I really am.

Anyway, we’re spending tomorrow night in Ottawa to visit some friends and family and see the lights on Parliament Hill. Our invitation to visit Justin and Sophie at Harrington Lake must have been lost in the mail so we’ll be at a Travelodge. And we’re eating at a Chinese restaurant. Because somehow, every holiday season, Chinese food is consumed somewhere along the line.

I hope you and your loved ones have a nice Christmas, Hanukkah, or just a relaxing holiday break.

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Excerpt

An excerpt from a novel I’ve been writing that I need to finish. This particular passage is set during prohibition in a fictional New Brunswick town called Ducks Harbour:

Roderick Soloman sat in the saloon across from Captain Lillington. The Newfoundland born captain of the Nellie J. Banks took a swig from his bottle of Moosehead Pale Ale and, lowering it, he took a hard look at Soloman while the fingers of his free hand drummed the table. Soloman kept both hands on his own bottle, his fingernails surreptitiously scratching the label. His wife would not approve of this meeting, nor its location, he thought. Saloons were no place for moral men. Given the way he saw the others in the room drinking whisky like it was water, knowing they would soon be swaying home up the street to the row houses where they lived, he was inclined to agree. But as he was the son of Joshua Soloman and the current president and owner of Soloman Wineries, he was in no place to pass judgement on those who took to the drink.

In the corner, he recognized one of the men: George Hoyt but everyone called him Georgie Boy. He was one of his employees, driving the company truck for deliveries. Barely reaching five feet, he was a jockey before the First World War. He returned different, as men so often did, and never rode a horse again. Soloman wasn’t sure where George got his nickname but understood it had something to do with his post-war stint as a boxer. He didn’t know what a five foot man with no reach and barely any muscle on him would do as a boxer but there were tales of his ferocity in the ring. His crooked nose and cauliflower ears told that story. But that was long ago and today Georgie Boy was a known drunk who still managed to show up to work on time. George lived in one of those row houses and it was on more than one occurrence that he had to be carried from the saloon to his home where his wife sat up waiting for him in the front room, listening to the radio. George’s bar buddies would enter without knocking, deposit their charge on the sofa next to his wife, and say a hearty goodnight. His wife, Debbie, merely grunted an acknowledgement that anyone was even there. She then set to work putting him to bed there on the sofa, annoyed but relieved that he was home in the first place.

Soloman returned his attention to Captain Lillington.

“I’ve got a hold full of demerara rum from Jamaica and beer from Saint John, all heading for Prince Edward Island. And you want me to add your dandelion wine?” The old mariner asked.

“Not just dandelion. Blackberry, strawberry, blueberry. Diversification, it’s called.” Soloman clarified.

“It’s called weak piss is what it’s called. Prohibition may be the law of the land on Prince Edward Island, but the punters over there aren’t going to settle for just anything, not when there’s black rum to make for a fine Saturday night.”

Soloman knew better than to be insulted. He was opening negotiations. When the consumption of alcohol was still prohibited in many parts of the Maritimes, he knew he had to do this dance every once in awhile. The ten years prohibition took hold in New Brunswick were difficult but the winery managed to use its bottling facilities to create a line of soft drinks, the best seller of which was a golden ginger ale. But they never stopped bottling wine as they had permission to export it to foreign markets and, unofficially, it got exported back to its home base.

“Not everybody likes rum and beer,” he countered. “Perhaps the wives of Prince Edward Island would like it to go with their Sunday roasts?”

It was a hard sell, he knew. Islanders were looking for the most efficient way to get drunk. Moonshine was the chief domestic spirit where prohibition was the norm. It made, he was a told, a fine cocktail when mixed with lime cordial. Islanders were not looking for a bottle of something that could be paired with a Sunday pork roast. But he needed to keep his company’s name in the hearts and minds of those jurisdictions when prohibition was inevitably taken off the books. Otherwise, they were liable to forget about whatever it was that the Solomans had on offer in favour of the Oland and the Labatt families.

Lillington scratched his chin and was silent for a moment.

“Right,” he said at last. “Let’s talk price.”

Advice from an Old

immortan

“THE MOTION DIES! IT LIVES AGAIN! IT IS CARRIED!”

As a forty-five year old person, you wouldn’t believe the number of young people who come to me for career and financial advice. Or, as it happens, you may believe that number because that number is zero. But should anyone ask me if they should buy a condo, I will give them this advice:

As option for home buyers, condos have a lot to recommend them: they often cost less than a detached home, there is less maintenance, and they are often located conveniently close to public transport. For someone who doesn’t want or need a lot of space or is on a tight budget, they’re an ideal solution.

But, from my experience, before buying the condo, always ask if the condo administration is currently embroiled is some kind of bizarre, decade long civil war in which both sides are lead by Immortan Joe and there is no sign of Imperator Furiosa to save us. On Wednesday I went to the annual meeting, which some of the administrators said was illegal and against the Quebec Civil Code, but lawyers present said that, in fact, it was legal and there was a lot of yelling and stonewalling and I wish it would end. Stuff is getting done. We have a new roof in our unit but we also have a president who hasn’t really shown up for the job.

I know there’s always politics involved in any community organization like this but knowing this in advance would have made me reconsider my decision to move here.

The neighbours are nice, though.