sonos politics

It’s amazing how even with the free-flowing booze, lax dress code and an overabundance of MacBooks, an advertising agency can start to feel like The Office when those little niggly papercut annoyances build up day after day.

When my agency moved into a big, bright, fancy designer office, someone thought it was a great idea to install Sonos speakers in each “zone”, with a master playlist for each and modifiable by all.

Honestly. Sometimes I would rather deathly silence than this tyranny.

“They” somehow failed to realise that having your ears assaulted by Meghan Trainor, gangster rap or the fucking Ghostbusters theme song when you’re trying to pick through the finer details of a chart buried in a 100-page consumer report deck is… grating. To say the least.

The irony of this highly democratic system though is that although we all have access to the system, once someone has a playlist going, we’re not allowed to change it! Because how annoying would it be to put on a playlist only to have it gleefully deleted by someone and replaced by music that you find offensive? (Let’s just say I’ve had this happen to me, and I’m still undecided on whether to forgive that person.)

There’s a set of unspoken rules that appear to govern the Sonos system:

/ Do not change the music in any other zone than yours (this is punishable by yelling and ridicule).
/ Only change the music once a considerable amount of time has passed on the current playlist, i.e. minimum 30 minutes.
/ Changing the volume is allowed, though sometimes it can become a bit of a game of cat and mouse.
/ Putting on headphones to drown out the unbearable noise is permissible, but doing so in an exaggerated, exasperated way that reveals your annoyance is ill-advised.

Sonos politics! It’s a thing.

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how to be nice to a runner

If you feel like spreading some cheer and goodwill this holiday season, here’s an easy one – be nice to a runner.

Look. Running in the winter fucking sucks. It would be amazing if the people we passed on the street didn’t make it worse.

Whenever I’m running past people on the sidewalk, I can always tell if they’re fellow runners, or if they’ve never set running shoe to pavement in their lives. Luckily, I’m easy to trick. Here’s how:

1. If you see or hear one coming, get out of the way. Easy! Right? But – just for clarity’s sake – let me expand. If you are walking arm-in-arm with someone and taking up the sidewalk, move over (i.e. don’t force me to go into traffic to avoid you). If you are walking in a group of four and taking up the whole sidewalk, be the one to move out of the way, falling behind your group for two seconds (i.e. don’t make me come to a full stop while someone finally, grudgingly breaks the chain and makes me squeeze past them). If you are by yourself, and in the middle of the sidewalk, move to the right or left! I’m not picky. If your bike is blocking the whole sidewalk, move it. See? It is simple. It always amazes me how often people seem to forget to do this.

2. If you’re a smoker, that’s cool, but can you resist blowing out right as I run past you please. It’s fine – I was a smoker slash runner for years. I promise I am not judging you. But I also know it’s not absolutely crucial for you to exhale right as I run past – and certainly not right in my direction. If it’s unavoidable and you must blow out smoke – just turn your head to a different side than where I am passing you. Again. Simple!!!

3. If you’re driving up to a zebra crossing and you see a runner coming, for fuck’s sake, stop. This one is a huge problem in Amsterdam/Holland in general (not just for runners), but for some reason even in Vancouver I experienced a strange reluctance on behalf of drivers to stop for runners – even more so than pedestrians. I don’t really get it. For the record, we don’t like stopping abruptly while a car whizzes past us. I’ve injured myself this way more than once.

4. Bonus: If you see us in distress, offer help. Ok this one requires interaction. But it’s also important. Sometimes, especially in the winter, runners slip, fall, get splashed by icy water, nearly get hit by cars, etc. If you see that you can help… don’t just walk by.

See how easy it is to be a better pedestrian? Happy holidays everybody ;-)

P.S. I intend to uncouple this blog from my Facebook page after this post. If you want to continue reading it, either remember the URL or press the “follow” button (should be somewhere on this page). Thanks!

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I used to be, like many of us, in a virtual community which was the closest approximation I’ve ever known of what a functional social circle is actually supposed to look like.

When it was at the height of its activity (say… 2006?) we would have posts every few days titled, Am I being irrational? Someone would post about a situation that was bothering them, usually to do with a significant other or a friendship triangle of some sort, and the rest of us would chime in with yes/no, advice, and our own questions of a similar nature.

I wish often that I could go back to that near-anonymity of that format. Writing out something that is so sensational to you in a scan-friendly format to a bunch of strangers who have never met you or the other people in question is an exercise in processing as well as in writing, and the knowledge that people are going to be relatively kind but nonetheless brutally honest is sobering. Often I would start to write, realize the answer was yes, and close the window.

These days if I want to ask that question, I am left to rely mostly on myself.

And I am pretty damn biased.

But it’s not pure selfishness. I am simply scared – mostly of letting myself be treated unfairly like I spent all of my high school years doing.

I feel that I would rather be unreasonable than be lied to.
I would rather be unreasonable than unprepared.
I would rather be unreasonable than hurt.

Basically, I am on the defensive. Every second of every day.

And in the end this boils down to, I would rather be alone and miserable because at least I know what awaits me in those waters.

And that’s when I need to bend the ear of a perfect stranger. Isn’t it strange that with the internet being exponentially larger every second of every day, this is becoming an almost impossible thing to find?

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me vs uncluttering

Keepsakes are passé.

These days it’s all about minimizing, down-sizing, learning how to live with one skirt and three tops, crisply curated libraries – and nearly every home-organization article will tell you, cheerfully and patronizingly: “we know, it’s nice to hang on to old love letters and your summer-fling guitar strings, but let’s face it – there’s no room for that crap in an organized home. Let it go.”

I’m packing up my room again this week, getting ready to take myself, my cat, and my life to a yet-unknown new home, crunched for time and with no plans in sight as per usual.

Every time I move, I downsize. I hate moving – who doesn’t? But I have to do it, on average, every four months – so I try to make it easier every time by chucking out as much stuff as I can handle.

This time I’ve been ruthless. I’ve allocated one box to books and papers, and one small suitcase to “bathroom stuff and keepsakes” – and whatever doesn’t fit, goes.

Usually, I throw away clothes, but I seem to have run out of clothes to throw away. Which is too bad. Clothes are easy. I usually buy ‘em super cheap, so there’s no pain involved in chucking old jackets, shoes, and jeans.

But keepsakes are tough.

There’s something unsettling about purposefully throwing away something that is meaningful. It’s almost destabilizing, as if I’m picking away at the foundation of the life I’ve built up thus far in the course of my existence. 

It’s dealing with the horror of choices. How on earth am I supposed to decide if a neck pillow in the shape of a dog that used to be my mom’s is more or less meaningful than a marathon “medal”? Is a beautiful photo of a long-lost friend I may never see again more significant than a birthday card signed by all of my coworkers just a few weeks ago? 

The answer is that they’re all meaningful. These things all prove to me that I’ve been loved, I’ve been thought about, I’ve felt close to people and I’ve felt proud of myself. I suppose I shouldn’t need reminders of these things, but I do. Having them in my life is the (admittedly shaky) foundation that keeps me going when I’m depressed and hopeless. As individual pieces they may sometimes be practically insignificant, but chipping away at them affects the whole picture and I start to become disoriented.

And yet I feel guilty when I think about my parents who, after having built a life with two children in a remote Russian city, packed up everything that would fit in less than a month, and gave away or threw away the rest. Then moved to a different continent – forever. 

I don’t have that kind of steely resistance. I hope that it comes with finding someone who becomes your home, your turtle shell – so that as long as they are with you, you can let go of everything and still be on solid footing. Or perhaps it was more like escaping a house fire – you could either go down with all your memories or move on, choose life, choose to have a future.

Anyway, I’m not in the position to wax poetic about my parents’ immigration process when all I’m doing is packing up a few square meters of crap into some boxes. I’m just saying maybe there’s some merit to keeping the love letters and guitar strings if they’re keeping you sane and not harming anybody. Yes/No? Who’s with me in the non-minimalist camp?

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I’ve been a quiet fan of the app Buddhify for years. Although I’ve dabbled once or twice in the rest of their myriad meditations, the one I use almost every time I open the app is a walking meditation called ‘Connected’. It consists of saying in your head to everyone you see as you walk down the street, “Have a wonderful day. I hope you are happy.”

It’s so simple, but it has an almost immediate and very powerful soothing effect on my soul.

I struggle a lot with a desperate, aching loneliness. It’s something that I’ve fought tooth and nail against, and still seem to deal with at the end of every day, in every silent moment, at every turn. It’s something that I long thought I could, or should be able to, change. But I have realized that my options for responding to it are a) hate myself for being an extremely boring person incapable of making friends, or b) accept the fact that some people are just constantly alone. 

My father, for example, doesn’t have a Sex and the City-like gaggle of friends – in fact, outside of my mother and her friends, I’m not sure he ever spends time with anyone else. My mother and sister on the other hand are both extremely likeable people that seem to very easily get close to others, should they choose to do so. We all have different strengths in life – and I think this is one such widely varying characteristic. 

… And this new zen-like attitude is a nice way to transition into my next point. As I was discussing aging and growing up with one of my birthday-partners this week, we decided that perhaps “becoming a grown up” involves being able to have the realization that no matter what you are going through, it could always be worse. A small but significant slide away from the teenage-like belief that whatever happens to one is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, ever. It’s not exactly acceptance, but it’s something like acquiescence. 

And my actual point is that it was my birthday this week and I felt the need to make a rather odd and rambling birthday post. I guess I should make my usual achievements round-up.

While I was 24, I:

/ Graduated
/ Got the job that I wanted
/ Progressed enough at my job to have something resembling the beginning of a career
/ Finally learned to dance salsa
( +bonus / Quitting smoking feels a little bit more real this time around?)

Here’s to being over the hill.


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So I impulse-purchased a tattoo appointment today, which I didn’t even know was a thing. So that’s kind of exciting news.

There’s a wonderful quote by Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird, which goes:

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

It’s a statement that I now know almost by heart, that I find myself coming back to time and time again, almost unable to believe that a paragraph can capture the truth about my entire life so elegantly and simply.

And yet I found in my own time of particular need – two weeks ago, when everything seemed to crash all at once – that not books, but poetry was the thing that soothed me most. On one awful Wednesday morning I made a conscious choice to not look at any screens until I did something entirely distracting. So I got out of bed, made a cup of coffee, and headed out onto the balcony with my cigarettes and my long-suffering, well-loved copies of The Collected Works of both T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. And I opened the well-creased pages of the former to The Waste Land.

As I read, I felt that I was not so much reading the poem as traversing it, like I was exploring a childhood home or some other place from a distant past – something so familiar yet still so full of surprises. If I zeroed in on some particular detail that I had never noticed before, the whole piece took on a different meaning. I climbed the walls of the poem, turned random corners, peered through railings. I enjoyed its mere existence as well as its profound beauty.

Then I read Preludes, and here every word, every beat, every syllable was so utterly familiar that it was like wrapping myself in a favorite blanket. Comforting. Warm. Soothing.

I switched to Stevens and read first Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz and then a few random pieces I hadn’t looked at before. I read them out loud. I got lost in their rhythm.

There’s something about poetry that makes it irresistible to me. The compact confines of the form both necessitate very precise wording and tight turns of phrase, and yet allow the freedom to be so wonderfully playful with sounds and meanings and metaphors. And the magnitude of potential ideas and images hidden within those particularly-placed words makes it the perfect distraction.

All that to say I’ll probably be getting a line from a poem tattooed on me soon. Yay! Don’t tell my mother.

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a rock

You will feel pain. Gut-wrenching, machete-to-the-stomach pain, and it won’t go away with cigarettes and peanuts with m&ms and bottles of wine. You are going to have moments, days, weeks, when it seems as though every possible piece of your life has fallen exactly into the wrong position and is perfectly at odds with everything else. And when you’re sitting there feeling really miserable, utterly sorry for yourself, guess what? Something else horrible will happen. It’s going to get worse. And it’s going to fucking hurt.
You will want to scream, to curse anything you could possibly blame for the existence of existence, you will cry and you will wallow, you will sleep for days and have horrible sleepless nights full of waking nightmares.

But you know something?
You will get through it.
And you’ll come out stronger the other side.
Bad things will not stop happening to you. Ever. Because life doesn’t get easier. You just get stronger.

That’s what I had wanted to read when I sat down to drown my sorrows in books this afternoon. But despite a lot of beautiful, inspirational things, I didn’t find this. So I wrote it to myself. It’s mostly about a boy and a cancelled vacation and a few bouts of ill health.

Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m trapped in the mind of a teenager. That all my pain, fear, agonies, and joys are the results of such trivial trifles that if anyone ever actually realized what the inside of my head looks like I would be fired and then laughed out of existence entirely. Boys. Crushes. Hating my body. Wanting approval from my boss.

It sounds grade-school. And it’s embarrassing. But then sometimes I think that maybe the big unspoken secret of adult life is that our problems never really change, never really become more interesting or more existential – we just start to give them different names: love, loss, pride, acceptance, belonging. They’re all base instincts in the end. And I would like to think that I’m not the only one who has these problems rattling around my brain most of the time.

I may be a terrible psychologist because I find it so damn hard to understand what people are thinking. But I think – think –that even the most illustrious and/or irreverent minds I have around me still struggle with these same concerns.

Perhaps they’ve all just gotten stronger?

Or maybe I’m just an infantile prat, in which case, please don’t show this to my boss. Thanks.


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