Trip to the Mailbox

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After leaving our apartment on Oak Street at 8:00 a.m. and now,¬† ten minutes before noon, when I am sitting in cafe crowded with bikes and laptops in the West End, after driving from Vancouver across the Canadian-United States border to our rented mailbox in Blaine to collect a check from a writing client in Boulder, while my husband is in his office on Slack with teams in Delhi and San Francisco, I am both craving Indian for lunch following a recent conversation with our building’s property manager, a woman from Afghanistan, in which she asked my Mexican-native/Canadian citizen husband for help in finding a flight to Delhi where her nephew from Turkey will visit the Brazilian Embassy to apply for a tourist visa to travel to Brazil, and thinking about the political correctness of a feature on “tribal tourism” in this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald I found minutes ago stacked near the cafe counter by people, like me, waiting for their names to be called and their espressos to be pulled.

I have been awake for less than six hours and my mind has landed on four continents, my husband’s car searched, my photo ID compared to my present face. I am now next to a woman who speaks English to me and in French on her iphone.¬†I am part of the wave of shoppers lining up Saturday mornings at border crossings, gig workers in Dallas accounting for Hindi holidays and travelers who take terrible coffee over good WiFi any day.

It’s no longer good enough to have a valid passport from at least two countries. You need Nexus. You need to know the conversion rate. You need TSA pre-clearance. You need a bank account with U.S. dollars. Three mailing addresses are not excessive. Next Saturday, let’s cross the border, but be back in time for dinner with Monica and Steph.

I live in an amazing time when travel, around the block or across the globe, inspires, educates and humbles. On the wall behind my home desk, I have pinned a world map, letting me look at Mozambique while Gmail loads. The red lines create countries, the blue lines show rivers, the black text gives names, and it looks easy to push Africa between North and South America and then flip Australia under India.

It’s also easy to become geographically disoriented by picking up your mail. I am not confident in my ability to handle and appreciate, on a daily basis, bucket-list itineraries and globe-trotting conversations and ambiguous social norms without becoming lost, confused about when I am a citizen and when I am a permanent resident and when I am a visitor and when I am home. That I am not confident in, but I am certain that my IDs are ready and visible at the right moment.

 

Hazy Shade of Summer

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Wind is spreading smoke from B.C’s interior across Vancouver, filling the bowl of Burrard Inlet with a reminder of the record-breaking wildfires and evacuations. It has been like this since Tuesday, five days now, and is predicted to stay like this for another week, until the wind patterns change.

It is still hot like summer, it is still light like summer, but different. You can look directly at the sun without squinting, smoke in the sky turning the sun bronze. People are wearing shorts and jackets, and both a scoop of ice cream and a bowl of soup make sense. Today a cashier described the city as claustrophobic.

On the ground, closer to home, Joseph nurses an injured knee. We miss Luddo. Tomorrow is Pride. We are out of bananas.

It’s technically summer, just a shade too dark.

Living with Skunks and Raccoons

In Vancouver, we live with skunks and raccoons.

That’s according to a brochure I picked up at the Firehall Library, explaining how those creatures and humans can survive, and thrive, together in Canada’s most livable and most expensive city.

Like any modern city, Vancouver is home to urban critters ‚Äď squirrels, pigeons, crows, rats, mice – but here, despite how the city strings new glass buildings around Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains, a wire ring on the pinky toe of Canada‚Äôs left foot, the wildnerness surprises with its resilience.

Skunks and raccoons crawl outside Vancouver General Hospital, crows bark at shoppers on Robson, a young black bear crosses Renfrew and East Hastings at dawn, a coyote drags a dog underneath bushes surrounding a Shaughnessy mansion, a sea lion pulls an 8-year-old girl from the Steveston docks, and killer whales feed in False Creek as a stand-up paddle boarder floats in warrior pose.

Instructions for living with skunks and raccoons contribute to our assumption, just as the earthquake-proof developments and concrete seawalls with partitioned bike lanes and Sunday farmers markets, that we Vancouverites are comfortably and safely co-existing with the natural Vancouver. A few tweaks to our routines here and there, everything outside our door is under our control.

That faith in living in wild Vancouver, an expectation reinforced by the brochure‚Äôs suggestions “to make co-existing possible” between “wildlife families” and human dwellers, such as covering window wells with metal mesh (skunks are “absolutely awful climbers”) and securing garbage in sealed containers, is cracked by doubts, regular and as real as the rain, about co-existing with Vancouver’s biggest beast of all, housing affordability.

While we have printed instructions about co-existing with wildlife, our adaptation to Vancouver’s housing ecosystem is not orderly nor explicit nor controllable.

Based on the narrative presently happening in the media and inside City Hall and at brunches on Main Street and in Facebook comments, many Vancouver residents have a tenuous hold on both current and future homes. Greedy landlords and limited housing options stymie the efforts of above-average-income-earners who in other markets are welcomed with open arms.

This year alone, there have been debates, discussions, rumors and policies pertaining to Chinatown developments, Cambie’s affordable housing corridor, the DES SOR (Downtown East Side Single Occupancy Room) hotels, University of British Columbia students owning multi-million-dollar estates in Point Grey, taxes on empty mansions.

We remain here, as anecdotes and data and our guts remind us, because many of us minimally satisfy our housing needs by adapting our housing standards to whatever is affordable in Vancouver, with the pay-off being residing in a beautiful and convenient and cosmopolitan city. We adjust both up and down; we stretch our limits as Vancouver housing stretches what is acceptable.

We give up a child’s bedroom for a view of mountains. We are one of several roommates in an apartment built for one. A drive-through area gets a marketable acronym. Someday we’ll have a yard because we can swim at Kits Beach today. Our moral gag reflex fails as we sign a $800K mortgage for a 900-square foot, two-bedroom basement suite.

We are aware, but not ready to accept, that we live here unnaturally, that our most personal plans and expectations, despite our income and health and status, are not guaranteed to root in the most livable city.

In turn, we replace our worries about housing, and the meanings associated with a roof and an extra bedroom and equity, with relief that we can enjoy Vancouver’s famed quality of life, finding some small plug to stop the anxiety. Very few people seem safe in their homes, but many can enjoy blueberry coulis hummus under the setting sun at English Bay.

It’s wild out here.

As skunks and raccoons search for cover in Vancouver, we too seek a cozy place to nest in the world’s most livable city. I think the critters have a better chance of sticking around.

April Stories

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 Inside cover of The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

In April, I read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life alongside a collection of essays by Joan Didion. Most days, I woke up with a writer shivering inside a flimsy cabin on Haro Strait and went to bed beside a writer waiting with suspicious Haight-Ashbury hippies.

I finished The Writing Life last week, pushing the¬†book into the library receptacle as if sliding a friend’s hand-written journal under her door, and I hope to never finish the Didion book.

I read them at the moment when my husband lost his job (one of 130 employees laid off and sent home) and lost his dog (a fifteen-year-old English Cocker Spaniel who never recovered from surgery). I read them for the sixth month of rain in Vancouver, putting dents into my training plans and anti-depression armor. I also read them as I start writing projects with new goals, topics and formats.

It’s an intense time with loud exhales and quiet lunches, so Dillard and Didion are ideal companions. Reading them promises a moment in the shadows of wise and precise observers. They go slowly, appreciating the meaning or detail that amount to a day. Their words never speed into a reckless sentence, never cut off other ideas or turn without a signal. There are no hashtags. I don’t scroll.

Their printed words pull and follow each other in an orderly way, simultaneously paving and driving a road through the massive pile-ups of a typical day. Their licenses are faded, leathery from decades of work; ¬†I am the only person to care if my learner’s permit blows away. ¬†I sit in the backseat, studying their beautifully constructed sentences and paragraphs, trying to keep up with their tempos and themes, looking out to see mailboxes at the edge of gravel driveways, dogwood branches stretched over dark ditches, and two boys who stop running as we drive by before accelerating¬†onto the freeway.

Yes, we tell stories in order to live. We also read in order to live.

7 Emotions for the 10k Sun Run

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2017 Sun Run results

I joined 41,923 fellow participants in the 33rd annual Vancouver Sun Run this past weekend.
Since running the Sun Run five (or six, maybe seven) years ago, I had forgotten how the event can generate almost as many emotions as the number of kilometers clicked through the city:
Happiness:  I loved seeing people of all ages and fitness having fun plus the dad hauling ass with the baby jogger. I hope the kid was strapped in.
Sympathy: The race can be a heart breaker. A friend who had been carefully training through a year of physical injuries was walking to the start line when the pain suddenly flared up. The friend turned back to go home for ice and Tylenol.
Admiration: The Sun Run welcomes a large number of people with incredible stories related to their running lives. I spoke with a middle-aged woman who is motivated to eat healthier and lose weight since she started running last year. She was stoked after shaving five minutes off her 1:00+ time from the 2016 Sun Run. I also was impressed by my husband completing the race four minutes faster than me even with a bum knee.
Disappointment: I missed my goal time by two minutes.
Satisfaction:¬†I enjoyed a solid three miles of “perfect” pacing and HR.
Frustration: In open water swims, even though I am a confident swimmer, I hang to the back or side of the mass start and advance along the fringes, giving up a¬†direct route to circumvent the chaos. ¬†Something similar happens for running races; I register for the time category one level slower than my goal time. So, instead of running with folks closer to my actual speed and maintaining momentum, I expend energy and lose time by dodging people. I also get angry at the slower runners, then I get angry at myself for thinking like a jerk, and then I get angry for not putting myself in a more appropriate group and then…
Calmness: Running is worth the hurting muscles and doubting thoughts at the moment your breath, arms, legs, and mind click into one organism moving forward. There were two times Sunday Рalong Beach Avenue and Sixth Avenue Рwhen I dipped into that zone, and I floated above my legs and the crowd and Vancouver.
Next up is the BMO half marathon followed by IRONMAN 70.3 Victoria four weeks later.

This Week‚Äôs Triathlon Good Things

 

Three things from the week making me a better triathlete:

1)¬†Wednesday Night’s Disappointing Swim

This¬†is the time of year to establish a baseline for swimming, and at Wednesday night’s session, Pacific Spirit Triathlon Club swim coach Liz gave us 5 x 200’s to determine an average for future pacing. She instructed us to push ourselves to a sustainable, hard pace, but I didn’t. I was too conservative. I hung back. I wimped out. My average does not reflect what I can do. I was frustrated with my performance, but in the past two days, that frustration has turned to determination¬†in pushing myself to my true limit in the future.

2) Sleeping Late

Instead of leaving my bed at the typical 5:00 a.m., I stayed under the covers for an extra hour several mornings this week to accommodate a tired body and mind on the fritz. I blame increased training, a lingering cold, and the rain.  With recent articles describing the physical and mental benefits of adequate shut-eye, I enjoyed the 60 minutes of sleep without guilt.

3) Vancouver Running Festival

This fall’s inaugural Vancouver Running Festival¬†sounds fun. The event,¬†more than a simple replacement of the canceled Rock-n-Roll Vancouver races, will feature several running races through the city, an expo, and perhaps more important, an organized effort to promote Vancouver as a thriving running town. From October 20th to 22nd, the full spectrum of local running – clubs, teams, pros, amateurs, events, services, vendors, histories – will be on display. If the multi-day format inspires a similar triathlon or multisport festival, that’d be cool too.

8:08 a.m.

 

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8:08 a.m.

That’s when the sun rose this morning over Vancouver.

Eight hours and nineteen minutes later at 4:28 p.m., the sun will set for the third time in 2017, starting an evening that will last fifteen hours and forty minutes.

I learn this from an app on my smartphone. It lets me click through a calendar to find out when the sun will outlast the moon; minute by minute, I tap out a year growing lighter, promising daily good things, like golden dawns and outdoor pools, to stretch those sunny days.

That is not a prediction, but a certainty. Earth will keep its promise of light following dark following light.

The gift of one new bright moment out of 1,440 minutes in a day has never felt so promising.