Friday, February 25, 2005

Why are men so afraid of being beaten by a girl?

I don’t normally go to public swim. It gives me pool rage. It’s like an obstacle course trying to swim around all of those floaters clogging up the "fast" lane.

It’s probably a good thing I don’t own a car.

Against my better judgement, I took the plunge and went for a swim at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre this morning. Nothing could have prepared me for the testosterone-fuelled pissing match it turned out to be.

As I was doing laps around the thrashers and the floaters, a group of seven guys strode confidently across the deck wearing nothing but Speedos. Sort of like Reservoir Dogs, but without clothes.

My lane emptied out faster than a greased seal on a waterslide. As they were loudly gathering in the water, I asked if they’d mind if I joined their workout.

I must have been the first girl who asked if she could swim with them because they suddenly grew quiet and circled like sharks. They fired questions at me, asking what pace I could hold on 100 free.

I wasn’t about to give into their lame attempts at intimidation so I lied and made up an impossibly fast time.

"Yeah," one of the guys shrugged. "That’s about what we do on an easy set. You’re welcome to swim with us. But we’re probably a lot faster than you so maybe you should swim near the back."

My blood pressure skyrocketed. If there was one thing that would motivate me to swim faster, that was it.

"WE’LL SEE ABOUT THAT, SUCKERS!" was what I thinking.

What I actually said -- in a demure and modest voice for added effect -- was, "Oh, I’m sure you’re right. I’ll just hang on the back and try my best to keep up."

Nothing infuriates me more than guys who don’t want to admit that a woman could be faster, better or stronger than them. Nothing amuses me more, either.

The ringleader announced the workout – 10 times 200-metre freestyle, on three-minute intervals. And with that, we were off -- on a pace so fast you’d think we were swimming in the Olympic finals.

I started at the back of the pack, and then dropped a couple of guys after the first few sets. They claimed they were stiff from a really hard workout yesterday. Typical guys. They had to come up with something to explain why I was faster than they were. And they had to tell me their excuse, just so I knew that any other day, they’d be faster than me.

About halfway into the workout, I wanted to stop. These guys were pushing the pace really hard and I was struggling to keep up. At the end of each set, they’d ask how I was doing and I’d say, "Great!" when what I really wanted to do was scream, "YOU FUCKERS ARE KILLING ME!"

But there was no way I was going to stop. My pride wouldn’t let me. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing how much pain I was in. It took everything I had to keep going. They made a point of watching my time on the clock and telling me I was getting slower.

I gritted my teeth and hung on. After it was over, I thanked them for the workout between gasps for air. They told me I was welcome to join them any time. Despite their machismo, they were actually pretty nice.

And since I’m generally pretty nice too, I decided to rebuild their fragile male egos by being as generous as Santa on Christmas Day.

"Holy, crap. That was a hard workout. You guys are fast."

On that note, I'm off to get groceries and rent some movies. I can't imagine doing anything more strenuous than lying on the couch tonight. Plus, I've got to get up early for my trip to Seattle tomorrow. Yay! Road trip!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Misadventures in Dating

About a year ago, my friend Amy fired off a mass email to everyone she knew asking us about the worst dates we’d ever had.

I sheepishly wrote back that I didn't have anything juicy to confess. It’s hard to have bad date stories when you hardly ever date. Besides, I’ve never had a truly bad date -- the worst were mostly just boring and tedious.

But hundreds of other women told Amy stories so funny, so awful and so outlandish that she wrote a book about it.

I had a chance to catch up with her this week when she flew into Vancouver on a whirlwind publicity tour. Ironically, Amy and I once dated the same guy. Not at the same time, of course. That would be pornography, not literature.

So here’s one dating story that didn’t make it into the book:

Amy and I worked in New Brunswick together in the 1990s at the country’s most incestuous newsroom. I worked in the Saint John bureau. Amy worked in the Moncton bureau along with one of the most eligible bachelors in the province.

They dated for several months until she was transferred to Fredericton. A few weeks after they broke up, I started dating him. It sounds bad, I know, but we were all in our early 20s and there weren’t many young, single guys to go around.

Besides, I didn’t actually know Amy -- we were working in different cities -- so it wasn’t like I was stealing her man or stabbing her in the back. Of course, our coworkers twisted the truth to make it sound like I was some kind of home wrecker. Damned journalists.

A few months later, still dating Amy’s ex-boyfriend, I was transferred to the tiny Fredericton office. I was terrified of working in such close quarters with Amy. I was worried she’d hate me and be mean to me.

Quite the opposite. We got along fabulously and ended up becoming friends. I’ve long since broken up with the guy. I haven’t talked to him in years, but I still keep in touch with Amy.

She even set me up on a blind date with a good friend of hers who moved to Vancouver. It didn’t really go anywhere. He was way too into hockey and beer. But it wasn’t a bad date. See? My life is way too boring to end up as a chapter in her book.

Anyway, I’ve put Amy Cameron’s book on my reading list. I expect it will reinforce my belief that it’s better to be alone than on a bad date.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Introducing my so-bad-it's-good comic strip

Due to popular demand, I have posted one of my comic strips. This one was actually published. Sort of. It ran in the English Bay Swim Club's newsletter, which has a readership of about 20 people. Mostly my friends.

Anyway, the swim club hasn't put out a newsletter in about two years due to general apathy, so I have been toiling in even greater obscurity since then.

I've been trying to convince the communications director at work to run my comic strip in the office newsletter. I even brought in my portfolio. He laughed at me. And then laughed at my artistic ability, which peaked in Grade 5. I guess that means no.

I also used to write articles for the swim team newsletter, until the editor got tired of me handing in 2,000-word articles that had nothing to do with swimming.

This comic strip ran with a story I wrote about Provincials, which you can read here (the comic strip will make sense after you've read the story).

Saturday, February 19, 2005

My least favourite word

The good news: The 21st century’s three most annoying words -- phat, shizzle and booyah -- have retired to a dusty corner of the museum of modern slang.

The bad news: They have been replaced by an even more irritating word -- snap!

Made popular by its meaningless versatility, the ubiquitous "snap" can be used in any context.

As in: "Snap, guy! You got punked."

It also serves as a handy expression to exclaim anger or happiness.

As in: "Snap! I forgot to record the O.C. last night."

Or: "Snap! I won the lottery."

For reasons I don’t really understand, hearing "snap" in this context provokes a strong visceral reaction. As if an earwig had crawled into my ear while I was sleeping only to wake me up with a hysterical beating of its wings against my eardrum, causing me to bolt out of bed screaming "Get it out! Get it out!"

Don’t get me wrong. I like the malleable nature of the English language. New words can be fun – like bootylicious.

But they can also be snappingly obnoxious.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

No more NHL? Wicked!

Judging by the torrent of media coverage devoted to the cancellation of the NHL season, you’d think we were a nation of hockey lovers or something.

I’m not one of them. I care about the cancellation of the NHL season about as much as I’d care if handball or race-walking were dropped from the Olympics.

I can’t think of anything more boring than watching hockey. Well, maybe watching Coronation Street. Or watching city council debate a by-law on residential fence height requirements. That would be pretty boring.

Speaking of boring, Don Cherry was on the National last night complaining that he hasn’t received a paycheque in months. Yes! Another reason to celebrate the death of professional hockey. Don Cherry is out of a job.

Non-newsy newsflash: No one cares about a bunch of greedy millionaires arguing with even greedier billionaires.

Long live Movie Night in Canada!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

George Stroumboulopoulos: Canadian sex symbol

Two vitally important scraps of information:

1. George Stroumboulopoulos is single and has two cats.
2. The Kyoto Protocol comes into effect tomorrow.

What do these two things have to do with each other? Well, David Suzuki will be on Strombo’s show tonight to talk about Kyoto. And maybe talk about me, and about how George is single, and how I’m single, and how we both love cats and Adidas sneakers, and stuff?

I told David about my not-so-secret crush on Strombo.

“But I thought you liked Simon Whitfield?” he asked.

“No, no. He’s engaged,” I told him. “George is so smart and cute. He’s 32, he has two cats and he’s single. So can you say hi to him for me tonight?”

“Is he a friend of yours?” asked David.

“No. I’ve never met him,” I said.

“Okay. I’ll tell him Sarah sends her deepest affections.”

Awesome! I’ve got David Suzuki pimping me to George Stroumboulopoulos. Although I suspect he’s just humouring me, I’ll be watching the show closely, just in case.

Strombo's biggest fans: Sarah, Jane, Hilary and Claire Marchildon (absent from photograph is Anne Marchildon, who does not own a TV and subsequently is not a Strombo fan).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The 50-metre jungle

My unexceptional competitive swimming career spans 18 years -- starting as an enthusiastic six-year-old and ending as a rebellious 16-year-old, who was kicked off the team for spending more time partying than practicing.

I didn’t swim for seven years after that. When I finally returned to the pool, it was as a mature 23-year-old who actually listened to the coaches instead of fighting them.

In all those turbulent years, I have never raced at a swim meet filled with so much pain as I did today. It was a suffer-fest from beginning to end.

I can’t describe it what it feels like to go all out using every muscle in your body, but Don Schollander (four gold medals in the 1964 Olympics) nails it:

As you approach the limit of your endurance it begins, coming on gradually, hitting your stomach first. Then your arms grow heavy and your legs tighten -- thighs first, then knees. You sink lower in the water because you can’t hold yourself up. The sounds of the pool blend together and become a crashing roar in your ears. The water takes on a pinkish tinge. Your stomach feels as though it’s going to fall out -- every kick hurts like hell -- and then suddenly you hear a shrill, internal scream. At the threshold of pain, you have a choice. You can back off -- or you can force yourself to drive to the finish, knowing that this pain will become agony. It is right there, at the pain barrier, that the great competitors separate from the rest. Most swimmers back away from the pain; a champion pushes himself on into agony.

I have never been able to break through the pain barrier. I am allergic to extreme pain. At the meet at UBC today, it felt like I was trapped on the wrong side of the pain barrier. Despite the maximum effort, my times were way slower than what they were two months ago. I haven't been this out of shape since I had mono.

So why do I do it? It’s amazing how good you feel after you’ve put yourself through hell. Is that masochistic? Absolutely!

My results from today's meet (rankings in the female 30-34 age group):
- 400 metre freestyle: 5:34.41, 1st place
- 200 metre freestyle: 2:35.95, 1st place
- 100 metre freestyle: 1:09.85, 1st place
- 50 metre freestyle: 31.81, 1st place

Friday, February 11, 2005

Wanted: A cool job that doesn't require actual ability

If you could have any job you wanted, regardless of money, skill or talent, what would it be?

My ‘dream job’ fantasy goes something like this: After a short career as a professional athlete winning double Olympic gold medals in triathlon and the 100 metre freestyle, I’d become a back-up dancer for Justin Timberlake.

After a few years on tour, I’d try my hand as a columnist with the New York Times writing about whatever I felt like writing about.

I’d follow that up with a stint as a professional chocolate taster in Belgium, while drawing a wildly popular comic strip on the side.

Sadly, my string of dream jobs in no way reflects any actual abilities I possess. I lack the discipline, youth and raw talent to become a world-class athlete. I don’t have the rhythm, coordination and motivation needed to be a professional dancer. A column in the New York Times? Pure whimsy. I’d be lucky to get a column in the Master’s Swimming newsletter.

When I was a kid, I always had an answer to the ubiquitous question "What do you want to do when you grow up?" Mostly I just wanted to be able to stay up late, eat junk food and watch TV.

But I also wanted to write mystery novels, be a Solid Gold dancer, have my own radio show, or be a girl detective like my hero Nancy Drew.

At some point, we all grow up and make the best of whatever skills and talents we have (or don’t have). Some of us feel an added pressure to make a positive contribution to society or help others. So we end up happily (or unhappily) living a life a lot different than the one we dreamed for ourselves.

In a way, my real life is like a funhouse mirror reflection of my dream life. It’s a bit twisted and distorted, but the general image is the same. I’m not an Olympic gold medallist but that doesn’t stop me from competing in swim meets, triathlons and other races. I’m not a professional dancer but I pretend I am when I shake my ass around the living room.

I don’t have a column in the New York Times but I have this blog. I’m something of an expert in the finer points of dark chocolate -- 70 per cent cocoa is best! And I draw a comic strip, which is wildly popular among my family and friends but in a "it’s so bad it’s good" kind of way.

Unfortunately, none of this pays the rent. I have a real job for that. As much as I like my job, I wouldn’t call it a dream job. I’m stuck inside the office most of the time when I’d rather be outside, meeting people, doing new things.

Anyway, back to the original question. If you could have any job you wanted, regardless of money, skill or talent, what would it be?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A scary thought . . .

I don’t know why no one is raising these questions so I guess I will.

If the NDP and Conservatives vote against the Liberal budget on Feb. 23 the government will collapse and an election will be called. This scenario is technically possible but is it remotely realistic?

Look at the history books. Joe Clark’s minority government was brought down in 1979 when the Liberals and the NDP voted against Clark’s budget, forcing an immediate resignation. An election was called and the Liberals won easily.

Could Paul Martin’s minority government collapse in a couple of weeks? And if so, would Stephen Harper have a real shot at winning the election?

I’m no political expert so I don’t know the answers. That’s why I’m asking! But the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if Stephen Harper has been testing the waters with the same-sex marriage issue to see what kind of public support his party has. Could he convince his caucus to vote against the budget to force an election? Would the NDP go along with it?

Or is this completely outside the realm of possibility?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Does this mean I have to start censoring myself?

When I first started up this blog, my friend Dom warned me to be careful what I wrote because it could come back to bite me in the ass. What he didn’t tell me was that it would happen so soon.

Only five months into this blogging thing, my words are already coming back to haunt me. Like when I was on the phone with my dad yesterday:

Dad: "What are you up to this weekend?"

Me: "Oh, not much. I just did four loads of laundry."

Dad: "So you didn’t go out and buy some new underwear instead?"

Me. "What? WHAT?"

Dad: "Well that’s what you wrote in your blog. That sometimes you’ll just go out and buy new underwear instead of doing your laundry."

Me: "You read my blog? But I wrote that a really long time ago."

Dad: "I went through your archives. Now I’m taking valium and anti-depressants to deal with it."

I’ve had a lot of these conversations lately. After my grandfather’s funeral last weekend, my aunt introduced me to a distant relative at the church. We shook hands and the first thing she said was, "I’m so glad I’m not 30 anymore."

I was a little confused, so she explained.

"Well, I read your blog and it just seems so full of angst. It just reminds me why I’m so glad to be in my 40s."

What? WHAT? Since when does having a blog give people permission to use my own words against me? No one warned me about this.

A couple of weeks ago at work, I noticed my lucky Tim Hortons mug was missing. Panicked, I ran around the office looking for it and found Jenny sitting at her desk, calmly sipping coffee out of my mug.

"I read your blog and you said that you like to have a cup of tea at 9:30 every morning so I knew I could get the Tim’s mug before then," she said.

When I first started this blog in October, I didn’t think anyone would really be that interested in what I had to say. I was mostly just looking for a way to pass the time since I was no longer going on seven-hour training rides and three-hour runs on the weekends. A blog seemed like a less taxing hobby than training for an Ironman.

Now I’m not so sure. I love the fact that people read what I write and I still get a little rush of excitement whenever someone posts a comment. But having people use my words against me is a little disconcerting.

I need to twist this to my advantage somehow. Maybe I should write about how I love dark chocolate and Tim Hortons gift certificates. Instead of having my mug disappear off my desk, maybe stacks of dark chocolate and gift certificates will start appearing.

Someone will tell me, "I read on your blog that you love dark chocolate and free money, so here you go."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My mom (also known as "rock star") is in Time Magazine this week

Around this time last year, the Toronto Star ran a 2,300 word article about how the police are changing the way they deal with the mentally ill. Or, to put it more bluntly, how the police are trying not to shoot and kill so many mentally ill people.

The Star quoted my mom throughout the article and slapped a picture of her on the front page. The reporter had spent a few days tagging along with my mom as she went about her job as the head of the mobile crisis-intervention team at St. Michael's Hospital.

She goes out on emergency calls with the police whenever they have to deal with mentally ill people (the result of a coroner's inquest after Toronto police shot and killed a guy with schizophrenia who refused to drop a hammer he had raised when confronted by police in 1997). Basically, she’s there to difuse the situtation and avoid a violent confrontation.

It seems to be working. In the 1980s, the Toronto Police shot five to seven people a year. Over the past five years, that number has come down to about 2.8 shootings a year (as reported in the Toronto Star).

Since the Star article appeared, my mom has become something of a spokesperson on the issue. This week, she’s featured in Time Magazine, which did a huge cover story on St. Michael’s Hospital.

For those unfamiliar with St. Michael’s, the magazine describes it as an institution that “has served the gritty east side of Toronto’s downtown core, a place that today deals with some of the country’s richest and poorest residents and a high percentage of its newest immigrants. It is also a major trauma center, handling a catalog of catastrophe, including dozens of gunshot and stabbing victims each year.”

Here’s an excerpt from this week’s Time Magazine featuring my mom:

Nurse Ellen Marchildon and Constable Lisa Belanger gently guide a thirtysomething woman out of a police car and into the emergency room. The woman doesn’t seem to know them today, though normally they are all on a first-name basis. Marchildon and Belanger have helped her before, during earlier dramas when she would insist on being admitted to the hospital. Indeed, says Marchildon, a senior crisis worker on the mobile crisis-intervention team (MCIT), the troubled woman (whose name is withheld to protect her privacy) used to show up at the hospital regularly.

Lately, however, she has been isolating herself in her room at a group home, not showering or taking care of herself. But that doesn’t mean the hospital no longer serves her. When case manager Kam Bardouille from St. Michael’s dropped by and realized she was in bad shape, Bardouille asked the MCIT to take the woman to the hospital. The home’s staff reported she had lain down in the middle of a road. Marchildon decides she is a danger to herself—grounds for Belanger to use powers of arrest if necessary. At the hospital they shepherd her through the chaotic ER and into a quiet room for psychiatric patients, then entrust her to staff. . .

You can read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Marchildon vs. Harper (in the court of public opinion)

Sometimes I wish Canada was a more litigious society, like the United States.

Remember the famous McDonald's case where Stella Liebeck purchased a cup of hot coffee, placed it between her legs, spilled it, scalded herself and was awarded $2.9 million for her troubles?

Yeah, pretty unlikely that would have happened in Canada.

Aside from the fact we’d never buy coffee from McDonald’s in the first place, we’re generally smart enough to open the lid of a steaming hot cup of coffee in a location other than between our knees. And we know a thing or two about “personal responsibility.”

But if we were a more litigious society, I’d be on the phone right now with my lawyer trying to sue Stephen Harper for giving me high blood pressure.

The front page of today’s National Post is once again devoted to the same-sex marriage debate. This time the news is about a new poll, which claims the majority of Canadians want to see the issue decided by a referendum.

No we don’t!!! Just pass the damn bill already. Oops, there goes the blood pressure again. Serenity now!

Here’s the kicker: the poll also asked for views on polygamy, once again reinforcing Stephen Harper’s idiotic hypothesis that somehow polygamy could end up being legalized in the wake of same-sex marriage legislation.

I understand that Stephen Harper is a politician and he’s just doing his job. But linking same-sex marriage and polygamy is intellectually and morally dishonest.

Same-sex marriage and polygamy have nothing to do with each other. Polygamy is illegal, and for good reason. Polygamists have forced teenage girls to drop out of school to become plural wives. Incest is rampant and women are denied basic rights. Polygamous marriages are rarely consensual.

When the federal government issued a call for research into the ramifications of polygamy last month, Stephen Harper used it as evidence that the Liberals would legalize polygamy as well. He conveniently ignored the fact that the government was just trying to figure out what to do with the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C.

Stephen Harper is fighting a losing battle. Twisting the facts and resorting to scare tactics are the actions of a desperate man.

My blood pressure can’t take much more of this. This is the last time I’m going to write about the same-sex marriage debate. Just tell me when it’s over.