Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Have I at any point given the impression that this is easy?

It’s not.

It’s really, really not.

To sum it up for you in un-poetic, un-minced words: I’m homeless, semi-broke and unemployed. And while that’s tough for anyone to swallow (and I’m sure rather unattractive-sounding to you, loyal reader), it’s even tougher to wrap your head around when it’s something that you chose. Especially when you’re coming from a more-successful –than-average background. “Overwhelming” is not really an apt description of the level of uncertainty I’m living with right now.

So why would anyone choose this - especially someone who “had it made”? Some may even think I owe it to society to be out there working if I’m so able-bodied and –minded, rather than collecting EI. Besides – who chooses to be overwhelmed by uncertainty?

Despite said uncertainty (about everything from where I’m going to be living in 6 weeks to how I’m going to make my mortgage payment this week to what kind of backpack to buy for my trip), this is the first time in my adult life that I know in my gut where I am right now is where I’m supposed to be.

The first time?

Yeah, the first time. At the age of 39 (and a half, as of the 23rd of June). Hey – some people never get that feeling in their gut – or at least never heed it. I’m tryin’, here...

The career treadmill I was on, that so many are on, doesn’t allow time and space for reflection or self-assessment. I knew if I didn’t step off when I did it would suddenly be October again and then 2011 and then my 20th anniversary at work and then my 50th birthday, and, and, and. It was terrifying. Yes, more terrifying then what I’m doing now.

So I stopped.

I still wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks, but it’s such a better quality of panic than before.

No amount of money or success was worth sacrificing the path of discovery to what makes me happy. That’s why I haven’t pursued any of the career leads that have come my way in recent weeks. One assumes that because my experience is in fashion and PR, that this is what I want to continue to do. It’s not. If I did, I would have never left my cushy job in the first place. (Lest I sound an ingrate, a heartfelt thank you to all. Why would you have assumed any differently?)

I am using this time and this wild ride through the jungles of What the Hell am I Doing to find what it is that makes me happy, so that I can get back to work and resume repaying my debt to society. Happily.

As my friend R told me, “Cara, it’s not supposed to be easy.”

The way I figure it, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be brave. And if it weren’t brave, then a lot more people would be doing it.

Brave = scary. And this is flat-out scary. But it's the right thing. It is. It is. It is.

“Sorrow happens, hardship happens, the hell with it, who never knew the price of happiness, will not be happy.”


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What I'm Doing With My Summer Vacation.


I received an email from my friend “S” the other day that caught me by surprise. In it, she expressed that she wished she had the guts to do what I’m doing, yet that she also couldn’t imagine “sitting around home alone all day with nothing to do.” Hooyah! It suddenly occurred to me that if she thinks that this is what I’ve been up to (or more accurately, not up to), others more than likely think the same. Not that I care what anyone thinks, (ok maybe a little sometimes), but this is my space, so why not take a moment to set the record straight?

So for today, no pontificating and no sweeping insights. It’s meat and potatoes time. Here’s what I’ve been up to since I fired myself 50 days ago.

The day after the firing, I went to work construction. “D” is renovating his cottage north of Ottawa and graciously offered me the opportunity to jump in and make myself useful. He even got me a tool belt and work gloves so I’d kind of look the part.

I escaped into the birdsong-laden woods near a quiet lake, picked up a shovel and learned to make cement. I nailed and drilled things. I hit things with a sledgehammer. I moved heavy piles of stuff from one place to another. I burned refuse - including the incessant mind chatter that normally dogs me – in a massive bonfire. I whistled. I got dirty, scraped, sweaty and bruised. (Then I bought steel-toed boots at Wal-Mart. Better late than never.)

There is nothing like manual labour to tax the body, clear the mind and free the spirit. When I went to bed each night, every part of my physical being was exhausted. I was using my body in the way it was designed to be used. More, after years spent sitting at an office desk spinning my wheels wondering what the point of it all was, to engage myself in something that quickly produced tangible and measurable results was supremely gratifying. It was a glorious experience which I repeated often over the next several weeks. It was my yoga.

When I wasn’t building a cottage, I was back in Montreal organizing the next phase of my life. I reinforced my network of contacts and let everyone know my current whereabouts. I filed for Employment Insurance. (I now receive a grand total of $750 every two weeks. This covers my monthly mortgage payment and nothing else. More on this in another entry.) I put my house up for sale. (It sold in two weeks. I’ve no idea where I’ll be living come August 1. But that takes care of those mortgage payments, now, doesn’t it....) I’ve been giving things away (see previous entry) and selling things. I’ve started developing ideas for my own copy writing business. I get up at 5:30 am and return emails. I go to networking meetings. I meet people. I go to job interviews, even though I have no intention of taking a full-time job at this point. I blog. I have two agendas; one online version and one hard copy. (Admission: I do miss having a Blackberry. It truly kept me organized and in touch. If anyone out there is feeling particularly charitable....)

This is not a vacation, nor was it ever intended to be. I quite honestly am busier now than when I was working.

When one frees one’s mind of oppression it’s amazing how much space and energy becomes available for innovation and creativity. And it’s true what they say: necessity is the motherhood of invention. I have to rely on my street smarts now. Survival instincts.

And lo and behold, a realization: this is actually how we’ve been hardwired to operate since the dawn of time. We just forget, as our minds become numbed by the micro management of the minutiae of our daily lives over months, years and decades.

Ok so there was a little pontificating and a sweeping insight or two. I can’t help it.

Did I mention I’m taking a trip around the world?

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life Edit.


Just part of the mountain of clothing I'm getting rid of. Most of it is going to the Centre des Femmes for their Professional Clothing Kiosk. There, disadvantaged women can outfit themselves for job interviews.

I don't need any of this stuff. And someone else does.

I encourage you all to do the same.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You Have to Want to Need it.


Grand Prix weekend in Montreal: The unofficial launch of summer, and my favourite weekend of the year here. I’ve been working a little PR gig for a restaurant/night club this week and have found it to be a fascinating human study. My presence in Montreal’s infamous restaurants and night clubs is not newsworthy; but it’s interesting how one’s perspective changes (on anything, really), when one observes through a different lens. Lens one: I was working, so remained on the fringe of the festivities for the most part (save a fairly serious breakaway last night that suddenly had me hip-hopping in the VIP lounge with Nick Cannon and his crew...What can I can take the girl out of PR...). This (mostly) non-participatory stance afforded me a wonderful perch from which to observe. Lens two: I have no income and have been spending the last 39 days deconstructing my notions of what money is, what it means, what it does and what it doesn’t do. More on this later.

So there I was and there they were. North American and European glitterati pulling up to the valet parking in their hi-gloss Ferraris and Maseratis, sashaying to the front of the line in their designer wear; on the guest list, no waiting. The best tables, the best service, the best-looking women. I am curious about them and would like to follow a group of them around for a week and see what their everyday lives are like. I mean this in a very non-stalking way, of course.

“Bottle service” is de rigueur in Montreal’s hot spots. On the menu at this particular club is a 6-litre bottle of vodka, with a price tag of $2,000. I noted at least a dozen of them scattered on tables throughout the restaurant at any given time. When the server portages one of these frosted-glass monstrosities through the throngs of partiers to its destination, she (they are all 8-foot-tall, impossibly gorgeous, 20-year-old she’s) sticks a sparkler in the top of the bottle to draw attention (to it and to herself, I imagine).

For $2k, I’d personally expect at least two sparklers.

What does it mean to be able to spend $2,000 on a bottle of vodka? What does money represent? (Don’t get bored here. Ask yourself anew. Put a new lens on it and really ask. It only hurts a little, I promise). What does it afford us? What does it take away from us? I would love to sweep you all off your feet and further secure your loyal readership with some fantastically articulate insights I’ve gained on my journey thus far. They’re coming, but I’m not ready to share them just yet.

What I can tell you is this: between what we want and what we need there exists a huge chasm, as old as commerce itself. The chasm houses a turbulent, rushing river where many of us live out our daily lives; caught in the currents and whirlpools that spin us ‘round, dizzy us and confuse our minds about the difference between want and need. We all know that nobody needs a $2,000 jug of spirits. But I am in the the enviable position of having to apply this same evaluation to every single thing in my life now – things that many of us take for granted on any given day, to varying extremes. And it is refreshing, and eye-opening, and frustrating, and humbling, and inspiring. It makes me giddy to discover how little one truly needs.

I am not bitter. I am not holier-than-thou. There is no soap box here. I am not railing against the haves because I’ve joined the ranks of the have-nots. (And let’s do a quick reality check here. A have-not is the family in Bangladesh who now has to exist on one bowl of rice a day instead of two, due to the worldwide rice crisis. A have-not is the woman still searching for her child in a pile of rubble in China. A have-not is any of the 8,000 Canadians who filed for bankruptcy in the month of April.) I am thankfully not any of these.

I chose this. And I feel that I have more now than perhaps ever before in my life. And when I am done editing, everything that I have will be everything that I need.

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything. Chuck Palahniuk

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

In the off chance there’s a soul or two out there who might be wondering what I’ve been doing with myself since that fateful day....

I have no income, so I’m not shopping, going out for breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, buying lattes at Second Cup, getting pedicures, or doing any of the other things that typically made up the everyday and kept the money flowing out of MFL (My Former Life). I’m also not clock-watching from 9 am to 5 pm (or more recently, 8 am to 8 pm), Monday to Friday, living for my weekends. What I AM doing is something that I’ve desperately wanted and needed to do for years: taking time to stop and think.

It’s all such a romantic notion, pushing the envelope of life; throwing all caution to the wind, going for broke, chasing one’s dreams. You could spend a lifetime reading greeting cards and wall plaques about it. There’s a tiny swelling in our hearts whenever we read Helen Keller’s famous quote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”...a flash of poignancy dashes through our subconscious as we momentarily imagine that this is us. That’s me! My life is a daring adventure! It isn’t nothing! We all want to conduct ourselves in accordance with the insight that life is short. This ain’t no dress rehearsal. We only go around once. Etc Etc Etc. But in the harsh reality of day, for many people the truth is this: We only cheer it on as long as it doesn’t in any way threaten our own safe, insulated, predictable, somewhat financially stable lives. I should know: I lived that way for more years than I am comfortable admitting.

And the truth is, it’s not so romantic. I just went to visit my chequing account on line and it has a balance of $13.90. I’m sure Thelma and Louise drove off that cliff so that at least in part they would not have to go home to bank balances of $13.90. I went to Canadian Tire and made the cashier put my transaction on hold while I ran across the parking lot to fish $7.75 in Canadian Tire money out of my car glove box. There is not a smidge of romance in this.

Yet, dire financial situation aside, I can say this: I am acutely, uncannily, unprecedentedly, incredibly aware of every single moment, action and thought, every minute of every day.
And that, my friend, is living.

I think these difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes around worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. — Isak Dinesen