Minty Fresh

So I had my “date” with Simon. You will notice I’m still calling it a “date” because I’m still not sure what it was. I arrived at his place and immediately stopped being nervous. We sat and finished a bottle of wine together and talked for a long time. I felt pretty comfortable talking with him, although at first this was just due to the fact that I didn’t have to do much talking. Simon likes to talk about Simon. Simon does not like to ask you questions about yourself. I can understand how that might happen on a first date because maybe he was nervous and that’s just how he handles it. I’ve definitely done that before. I have a coworker that knows my entire life story because on my second day at the company, we ended up in a car together for five hours and I was worried we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. So I was trying not to be quick to judge him as a narcissistic asshole, but after over an hour of The Simon Show, I was getting annoyed and started glancing at the clock and planning my excuses to go home. Maybe he noticed because then the conversation became a little more two-sided and a lot more pleasant and eventually we ended up cuddled up together. Really sweet.

He was all heart-on-sleeve and said a few things that really surprised me to hear so soon after meeting someone. He said, “I’ll be making lots of goat cheese salads for dinner now since it’s the only thing I know I can cook for you that’s gluten free” (mild surprise) and “Ibis, you are funny and kind and smart and usually I find conversations with girls really one dimensional but I really enjoy talking with you and I really like you” (complete shock). I wonder if this is a culture thing. People keep telling me that northern Europeans communicate more directly but I hadn’t really experienced it until now. I was flabbergasted. Yes, enough to actually warrant using the word flabbergasted. Before this, my experience has been that just admitting to someone you’ve started dating that you actually like them is a small milestone. And it can take a few dates for that to come up. But it just rolled right off his tongue like it was no big deal. I wasn’t sure how to respond but I said thank you and that I was really glad he thought so because I liked him too.

So we kept talking. And kissing. And talking, then kissing and then it was getting quite late. I kept saying I should go home soon, but we just kept talking and kissing and eventually he was like, why don’t you just spend the night here. Actually as I type that out I realize I should stop being confused about what it was. BOOTY CALL. Obviously. But then why the hours of talking? Why the wine? Why the Spanish ham cut up on a little plate? Why the string of compliments and promise of goat cheese salads for dinner? Was that all just an elaborate ruse to get me into bed? That doesn’t seem to align with the whole directness thing. Never mind, I’m still confused. I should have just gone home but the way he asked me was so sweet, I got sucked in. He said it had been so long since he’d spooned with someone that he really wished I would stay. I melted. So I borrowed his toothbrush, we went to bed and then stayed up for several more hours talking and not having sex. He seemed to be thinking along those lines, but I had misgivings. So I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea to have sex so quickly after meeting each other and he said, ok no problem and that of course he didn’t want me to be uncomfortable. We eventually fell asleep sometime after 6am and I woke up and finally went home around 11am.

And I haven’t heard from him since.

Well, I’m exaggerating a little. He sent me a funny video he had told me about, he messaged me briefly a few days later but quickly went offline, I invited him to meet me out at a party on Thursday night and by the time he replied to me to decline, several hours later, I was already on my way home. But now this weekend has come and gone, and no contact. No mention of a second “date.” No invitation to join him at a random party. Not a peep. Where is the line between jumping to conclusions and clinging to false hope? If you ask me, it was sometime Saturday morning. Because if he liked me so much, why wouldn’t he have tried to see me again this weekend?

So at what point between Spanish ham and Saturday morning did he change his mind about making me a goat cheese salad sometime? An obvious theory is: he wanted a quick lay, I did not provide one, he’d rather find someone more accommodating.

I have friends who often sleep with a guy on a first date. They are confident ladies, very comfortable with their sexuality and when they want to sleep with someone, they just do it. I am also a confident lady. I don’t believe there is a set of rules for when you should sleep with someone and I definitely don’t believe that sleeping with someone on a first date or having a one-night stand is slutty, shameful behaviour. Girl, you get yours! As long as it’s safe and consensual, of course. However, as I wrote in my last post, I don’t usually jump right into sexual relations. I’m going to skip the self-analysis about why this might be. Instead I hope that if I re-hash the reasons I didn’t give it up with Simon, I will be able to give up caring about why I’m not hearing from him.

First of all, he’s way too close to my social circle in this town. So far the vast majority of appointments on my social calendar have been with the mutual friends that introduced me to him. If I slept with him and it didn’t go anywhere, I would hate running into him all the time when I’m trying to hang out with these friends. This is a stupid reason because I will still hate running into him now, but at least I won’t have to worry if he’s picturing me naked on these occasions. Ha. Another reason: this is a very small town comprised largely of students and it’s more like a game of Two Degrees of Separation than Six. People talk. Even if I don’t believe in slut-shaming, you can bet your ass someone else does. I have mixed feelings about whether it’s ok to factor this into the decision to sleep with someone on a first date or not.  I think there’s a fine line to walk between living according to everyone else’s expectations and being mindful of your reputation. But truthfully, this one wasn’t really that important either. The main reason is that I wasn’t into it. A little part of me acknowledged how long it’s been since I hooked up with someone and urged me to go for it just to break the dry spell. But the momentum that takes you from kissing and touching to getting turned on and wanting your clothes off, his clothes off, his hands, your hands, your mouth, his mouth, oh my god oh my god… It just never got going.

If I’d gone for it anyways, it would have been toothbrush sex. First I brush the fronts of my teeth, left to centre, right to centre. Then the backs, bottom row, left to right, top row, right to left. Tops of teeth, top of tongue, spit, rinse, spit, floss.

So I guess in conclusion, even though I borrowed his toothbrush that night, I’m glad we didn’t brush our teeth. Now here’s hoping I will put it to bed.

Good night!

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So I just spent the last hour doing something I haven’t done in months. I just tried on every single piece of clothing I own trying to decide what to wear on a “date” tonight. I say “date” because it’s been so long since I’ve been on an actual date, I’m not even sure what qualifies as a date anymore. In this specific instance, tonight’s plans might be either date, hang out or booty call. Actually date is probably the least likely of those three options. Nonetheless I’m nervous like hell. This post is complete rambling and I just paused mid-sentence there to go and change my outfit one more time. My solution for calming my nerves has been a glass of port and listening to the Lumineers. And can I just say, IT’S NOT WORKING! I don’t have a good reason for being nervous though. I’m not sure what I want from this guy anyways. I just met him on the weekend through some mutual friends that have been telling me for weeks that they want me to meet their friend because they think we’d hit it off. He’s cute, he’s fun. Not a lot of info to go on. We all had some drinks together, ended up going out and then there was a little DFMO (dance floor make out). Haven’t done that since I was…22? What’s that song by the Lumineers? Classy girls don’t kiss in bars like this? Exactly. Although actually I find that song horribly sexist. Anyways, I titled this post ‘dislikes’ because I was thinking about how much I dislike first dates. Isn’t that tragic? First dates are supposed to be fun right? But they just torture me. In the first place, not knowing whether they’ll even ask you to hang out. Then trying to figure out if it’s a date or something else. Then trying to decide what to wear. Like I couldn’t even decide which socks to put on. No really. SOCKS. Then when you meet up there is the awkward small talk. Which I am so bad at. Instead of port I should be power hydrating because otherwise my throat goes dry and I trip all over my words. But then I’m getting up every ten minutes to pee and that’s almost more awkward. It only becomes worth all the agony if they conversation spins out into something awesome where you find you have so much in common and a million things to talk about and he’s funny and interesting and he asks all the right questions and understands your jokes and his smile is devastating (I already know he’s got that last one covered). But if it doesn’t spin out that way, then it could go a few other ways. Forced conversation and fake smiles until a polite amount of time has passed and you can make your excuses to leave. Or, since we’re having wine at his place, I could find out that he was just intending a booty call. If he makes a move like that, then I have to make a quick decision to go for the random hook up or not. I’m not really a random hook up person though. I have tried. Told myself that’s what my twenties were for. But it’s just not me. So if that’s where this evening goes then I will probably make my excuses and disappear or attempt to go back to small talk. Which never works. And then he will either be put off entirely or even more intrigued because now I’m hard-to-get. I am intriguing for so many more reasons than that though, so when someone is interested primarily for that reason alone, I’m like, “yawn, no thanks.” I need to leave in like, 2 minutes. I wish this was a climbing date. I’m awesome when I climb. Because it already makes me feel strong and confident so I’m like, gimme that first date and watch what I do with it! And I wouldn’t agonize about what to wear on a climbing date because guess what, I look awesome in leggings and my favourite ripped-up POS t-shirt. Ok in my last 30 seconds of writing time here…my other big dislike about first dates is the inevitable question: what are your hobbies? I don’t just dislike that question, I HATE that question. My hobbies are not x, y, z sports that are socially acceptable answers. My hobbies are writing an anonymous blog with my best friend, singing all the time, talking too fast, oversharing, reading, reading, reading anything and everything, getting overly emotional about So You Think You Can Dance, thrifting, only cooking from recipes, writing terrible poetry and climbing. The only one of those that doesn’t sound super awkward to share on a first date is climbing. And we’ve already talked about that.

Shit, now I’m late. Wish me luck.

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This morning I woke up and checked facebook and saw that a friend had posted a link to a Ted talk about depression. So I watched it, succumbed to tears, and now I’m thinking about my own experience with depression. Depression, well actually, bipolar disorder, runs in my family. And along with all my allergies and asthma and poor eyesight, I apparently also inherited the bipolar gene. In case you’re not familiar with bipolarism, what it means is that you experience radical mood swings. You can go from manic highs to the most depressed lows. I grew up with two family members who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and since none of us really understood the disorder, it led to a lot of bad blood and emotional scars. I think the manic episodes can actually break down a family faster than the depression does. Family functions could go haywire at the drop of a hat and when you’re an 11 year old kid, you don’t understand why suddenly people are stomping out of the house and slamming doors and your cousin is crying and your parents are swearing “They’re never speaking to that woman again.” It was confusing and scary and as a child I turned to my parents for the right thing to do. My father is a wonderful man whom I love and respect, but in hindsight I can see he didn’t necessarily provide the best example. His own family history taught him to react with emotional lockdown, and anger. Ok I guess anger is an emotion, but I think you get the picture. So I learned to blame and shame my relatives for their behaviour without thinking twice about what they were experiencing.

So you can imagine how terrifying it was for me when I began recognizing the signs of bipolarism in myself at the age of 22. I would be unstoppable and cocky and careless of the consequences of my actions, and offend and hurt a lot of people in the process. And then I would fall all the way down the rabbit hole and I couldn’t get out of bed. I would lie there and make deals with myself to get myself to go to school. “You can drive today instead of taking the bus.” “You don’t have to make lunch or eat breakfast, you can buy something instead.” “You don’t have to get dressed up.” “You can take your time and get really dressed up.” “You don’t have to sit with anybody in class.” On and on and it would take me hours to finally get to campus. I missed a lot of classes. Shockingly this didn’t affect my grades. When I finally started seeing a therapist this surprised her too. I told her that school had always been easy for me, it was relationships with other people that were hard.

Bipolarism might be an even more cruel disorder than depression. On the one hand you have manic episodes where you become a self-centered psychopath and alienate all your friends. On the other you become small and apathetic and you desperately need a friend. In February 2009, I eventually worked up the courage to tell one of my ex-boyfriends what I was going through. I think I chose him to talk to because at the time I didn’t really believe that any of my friends would care about me enough to listen, but I had never questioned how he felt about me during our relationship. He was in an airport, I think on his way to a vacation with friends. And even though we had already been broken up for about a year, he thankfully he took the time to talk to me and make me feel less alone for just that phone call. And then he did the best thing he could have done and he emailed my mother. The next time I spoke to her she told me she was booking a flight to come stay with me for awhile. Between her support and my new roommate’s, who also struggled with depression, they convinced me to start seeing  a therapist.

When I first started seeing the therapist I only ever used the word depression. I didn’t want to talk about bipolarism because I didn’t want to be like my relatives. Depression seemed like something I could be pitied for and bipolarism felt like something I could be hated for. I didn’t really click with that therapist and when she finally used the word bipolar in one of our sessions I stopped seeing her. I eventually went back to therapy, and saw a different person. I felt a lot more comfortable with her but when I graduated, I also stopped seeing her.

I don’t experience episodes of mania or depression on a regular basis now. I’m pretty sensitive to where I’m at mentally and emotionally every day and I try to take good care of myself. The most important thing I learned along the way was to be kind to myself. First I had to accept that I was bipolar. That taught me a lot about empathy because I finally had to acknowledge that my family was wrong to shame my relatives for their disorder. And I had to acknowledge that my father was wrong, and trust that he was still going to love me even if I was bipolar too.

It’s been a long time since I felt like I was truly suffering from bipolar disorder. I sometimes wonder now, did that all even happen? Was I just being dramatic? Am I so self-obsessed that I made the whole thing up for attention? This line of thought scares me a little. Like, what kind of person fakes a serious mental disorder? This is why I’m so glad that I’ve always kept a journal. It’s good for me to remember what I felt like during that time. It reminds me to renew my empathy for other people. And it reminds me to keep taking good care of myself. I would really like to share a few entries from those years.

May 20/09 – It’s taken me a few days to get here. To be able to write about it. I knew, months ago, that I needed a new journal. A fresh start. And it sat by my bed, waiting for me to figure out what I needed it for. There are a lot of things I could write about. But I can sum it up with this: I don’t really know myself anymore. I’m not sure of my goals, values, opinions, strengths, weaknesses, character traits. Am I shy? Sometimes. Am I outgoing? Sometimes. Am I confident, cocky? Sometimes. Am I unsure? Sometimes. Am I scared? Most of the time. This is what I need to figure out. Writing things down empties my head. It lets me sleep better. So this is what I know about myself tonight. I like to write. I like to sing. And I like movies and TV shows that can make me cry. And I want to recapture the feeling I had in the Fall semester of 2007. I was so happy then that I would laugh and smile the whole way home.

May 22/09 – Everything still hurts. Sometimes it feels better but it’s like this thin veneer of goodness around all this nothingness. A candy coating around a black hole. I feel like I’m waiting. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Waiting to figure it out. Find out who I am again. I just don’t know how to do that. And my temper is out of control lately. I’ve been snapping at Mum all week even though she leaves on Sunday for good. I have to smarten up. I want her to know how thankful I am that she came and how much I love her. I only have two days to do that now.

Jun 1/09 – I don’t know how much more I can take. I don’t know what I want. What to work for. Why won’t it stop hurting all the time? Why am I not ok yet? I thought about it again. It scares me so much every time. Sometimes I wish it would just happen in my sleep.

Jun 14/09 – The nurse on the phone asked me if I thought about it. Yes, I do. She asked me if I thought about how I would do it. Yes, I do. She asked me how. I told her. I felt like she was mocking me. What a terrible person. I haven’t dialled any of the numbers she gave me. I stopped taking the pills. I wonder if I don’t want to get better. I think I just want it to end. I lay on my bed today and imagined my roommate finding me there, dead. As if she hasn’t been through enough. I wonder who, besides my family, would be sad. I don’t want anybody to be sad. I just don’t want to feel so hollow anymore.

Jun 28/09 – I’ve wanted to write but I’ve been too scared to open this book because of what I wrote last time. But tonight I wanted to write that I miss my mum.

Jul 20/09 – I have noted this in my previous journal and I’m sure it will come up again and again. I love my friends. I love them more than I have ever thought possible.

Aug 2/09 – She is so hurtful. I wish she could be more than she is. I wish my heart could be big enough to take everything she dishes out and still have room to love her. And I wish someone would save me. I can only do so much. Maybe that makes me weak. Maybe a stronger person could endure without feeling any pain or loneliness. I can’t. Without a friend, without someone to love, I feel so lost. I miss my dad. I’m worried that he worries too much about me.  I wish I lived close to my parents. I wish I knew what made me so unloveable.

May 14/10 – I would like to call someone. And ask them to please come over. And hold me. So I can feel like I’m not slipping away.

May 14/10 – The very worst part of sinking to the depths of depression is knowing you’re trapped down there all alone. You cannot share the overwhelming despair with anyone. Either they will think you dramatic. Or think they know how it feels, comparing it to one afternoon they felt blue. Or it will scare them away. Or it will burden them unnecessarily. Or worst of all, they will try to help and you will only push them further away.

I know this isn’t what you want to hear.

And I wish I had better news for you. I wish I could tell you to call your best friend, your lover, your new acquaintance, your family.

I wish I could tell you that it’s ok to tell them how you feel. What it’s like inside your head. But it’s not.

Ok fine, don’t believe me.

Call your friends! Call long distance! Rack up quite a phone bill!

Tell them how apathetic you feel. Tell them how you have things to do and places to be and goals to accomplish. Tell them you even made a list! Tell them you can’t do any of it because it all makes you so mad. Each task awaiting your attention fills you with rage.

So instead you do nothing. And you are filled with self-loathing. Look at you! You’re pathetic! Incompetent! Useless! What are you contributing to society? Nothing.

You’re worthless.

Tell them all how painful it is to feel that you could change your ways in a heartbeat if only you felt loved again.

But you’re unloveable.

How could anybody carve out room in their heart and hold you there when you don’t even occupy a space in your own?

Tell them.

It won’t change how you feel. They won’t be able to make it all better.

How disappointing to know that after all this time, you’re back here again.

Just let your loneliness cover you like a blanket. Let your self-loathing cradle you. Let the fear rock you back and forth. Wait until sleep takes you. And dream of never waking up again.

May 14/10 – The thing about dying is you can never regret it. Other people can miss you but you will never feel anything, good or bad again. So the only reason to stay alive is for the people you love.

Sep 26/10 – A letter never sent: In the time between mania and depression, I mean on the way down, I find myself. My center. Where my mind is my own. Where I’m not trapped in my head. I find truth. I know myself. This is the girl you once loved. She still belongs to you. That is not to say I am not my own person. I know my own mind these days better than ever before. Rather, you still have her heart. You held me in a perfect moment. Somewhere between being naive and jaded. Between the chapters of my downfall. You held me and let me cry.

Dec 12/10 – A poem:
I flee from those who would seek to possess me.
I want no other love until I have my own.
I’m not yet the person I want to be,
so you can’t possibly love me forever.

Yet I stay awhile and linger;
what will the story called ‘You and Me’ teach me?
I don’t want to miss the experience or
what I will learn from loving you.

It’s not fair.
I knew already
that I would hurt you.
And you had no idea.

I’m so sorry.

I may end up all by myself;
I suppose it wouldn’t be undeserved.
But I no longer fear such a life.
I want only to know myself.

And so you should go.
You deserve so much more.
How can I offer you anything when
I feel that I have nothing to give.

After that entry, I started writing mostly about what was happening with me and Hunter, which makes me realize now that maybe that’s why he was/is so difficult to get over. Our relationship happened at a time when I was finally starting to find myself again. Anyways, that became a really really long post! But thank you for reading, and for remembering with me. I hope it reminds you to be kind to yourself today and every day.

Love, Ibis

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A Love Letter to Climbing

I don’t think it’s come up before in any posts but Spoonbill and I both like to climb. That’s a gross understatement.  We love it. We love it like we love banana bread. Actually if we had to choose between banana bread and climbing for the rest of our lives, we would easily choose climbing. And that’s not because GF bread is gross. GF banana bread is actually unfathomably deliciously. So you know my love for climbing must run deep.

Spoonbill has been climbing on the regular for a few years longer than me and so her strength and technique is many times greater than my own, but I think I have her beat in number of intro courses taken. Just so we’re clear, this isn’t actually something to be proud of. Basically it took three intro to climbing courses, spread out over five years, before I finally started climbing on a regular basis. A lot of that had to do with not having another beginner to go climbing with, being too shy to go alone and too intimidated to go with someone more experienced. When I finally got hooked for real, I was only bouldering. I was never totally sure that I was properly tying the figure 8 knot and I felt shy about admitting it. And I didn’t feel like I had found the rhythm of belaying so the idea of being responsible for another person’s safety on the wall was more than my shaky confidence could support. But it was ok because bouldering was more than enough for me anyways. Once I found a regular climbing buddy (ahem, David), I got totally obsessed. I started going a couple times a week and this became a very regular part of my routine for a few months before leaving Edmonton. I read online that Wageningen had a climbing wall on campus and I took it for granted that if I brought my climbing shoes with me, I could continue my bouldering habit. And I thought, fantastic! Bouldering will be my springboard to meeting people and making friends in my new home. Easy peasy japanesey!

My bubble really burst when I got to Wageningen and realized their bouldering wall is a sad little sliver of wall and the main focus is on top-roping. In fact I think the bouldering wall only exists in the first place as a training exercise for top-ropers. The nearest legit bouldering walls are in the neighbouring towns, and word on the street is that the focus is still on top-roping. Since getting here, climbing has fallen off the list of priorities in favour of things like: open a Dutch bank account, convince my lazy Canadian bank to send money to the Dutch bank account, find a place to live, be a student again, try to stay awake through four-hour long lectures, figure out how to bike everywhere, figure out which supermarket in town carries coconuts, and so on. And it just didn’t feel like there was room for climbing in this confusing stage of getting settled. And yet, my climbing shoes called to me. All my hard-earned callouses had healed. And for several weeks I had been able to fully flex my hand backwards without experiencing any searing pain in my forearm. A sad state of affairs. What’s a bouldering addict to do?

To fit in with the climbing scene here, I resolved to get over my top-roping insecurities and once again CLIMB ALL THE THINGS. Turns out I had another intro to climbing course in my future after all. Recap, that makes a total of four intro courses. A new record! Today I attended session one of four in this Intro to Toproping course. Here’s the good news. It took me a few tries to get started on the figure 8 knot again but then I was like, oh snap I know how to do this! And after a quick belaying demo I was like, oh snap the sequel! I know how to do this too!  Here’s the bad news. This was not real climbing. This was listen to people talk, practice tying knots and then do a short little climb so your partner can practice belaying. A necessary step in getting over my top-roping insecurities, but it just barely starting to scratch my climbing itch. So before leaving I accosted another class participant that looked like he had climbed before (read: he and I were the only ones that brought our own shoes) and asked him if he wanted to navigate to one of the nearby towns with gyms and boulder this week, even if the bouldering wall was sad and pathetic. Numbers were exchanged. Climbing is back on the priority list. Le bang le bang.

I started writing this post with the idea of a love letter to climbing. Because after even the briefest of reunions with the climbing wall, I’m full of all the feelings and I think climbing deserves to know how I really feel about her. Without further ado.

Dear Climbing,

I think it’s rare to find a sport that really understands you in life. I have always shied away from anything that involves hitting a sphere with another object. There were always so many rules, things had to move so quickly, and someone was always keeping score. I thought sports would never be for me and so I resigned myself to a lonely life of reading books and writing blog posts. And then you came into my life.

I don’t remember ever feeling awkward with you, Climbing. Even when I first met you. Recently my cousin told me that I have natural technique and it meant a lot to me. Spoonbill is quick to remind me that all this means is that I’m light and I have spindly arms, so I naturally rely on my legs instead of trying to muscle my way up the wall. But I really think it’s more than that. I’m not being arrogant, dear Climbing. You could have easily looked me over, like so many sports before you. But when I approached you with my shy hands and my spindly arms, you waited patiently for me to get to know you. You didn’t come flying at my face and you never tested me with any rapid back and forth exchanges. You waited, solid and reliable, while I tried out a few holds and shifted my weight from my hands to feet, and from my right foot to my left foot. And then you supported me while I explored and figured it out. I found my balance right away with you. And it felt right in a way that other sports never did before. My personality, as well as my spindly physique, make me feel like I was born to love you, Climbing. I like to think that this is what my cousin meant by natural technique. And I appreciate that even after all the time we’ve spent together you’re still patient with me while I figure out the new challenges you put before me.

I love the people I meet when I’m with you, Climbing. It seems that all the people that love you are just as patient and supportive as you. Perfect strangers will shout encouragement to me when I’m with you, Climbing. And when I fall, they never judge. They are more likely to remind me that I was really close to success, that I achieved something great even by moving one hold further, or they will just smile in understanding because they have fallen too.

I love the language we use to communicate, Climbing. I love that it is built on mutual trust. When I say I’m climbing, I will always wait until you’re ready for me, and you say “climb on.” When I say I need a take, I know you will assure me that you’ve got me before I let go. When something seems out of reach, you’re going to express your empathy and tell me “it’s a big move.” And when something seems impossible, we can always project it. My cousin has even told me that she thinks you have changed the way she communicates with her husband. I always think of that because it reinforces for me that climbing means trust. Trust in your partner and trust in yourself.

Climbing, what I think I love most about you is the way you make me feel about myself. After I have been with you, I feel strong. I feel outgoing and I feel confidant. I feel excited to see you again. And I feel proud of what I accomplished with you. That changes my outlook on everything else in life too. You make me want to work harder, eat healthier and be kinder to other people.

I know that what we have is a forever kind of love, Climbing. I am utterly devoted to you.

Love, Ibis.

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Keuken Spatel

There’s nothing like jet lag to find yourself googling “where to buy keuken spatel in Wageningen” at 4am in a foreign country.

So I have successfully arrived in Wageningen and had a “productive” couple of first days in my new home. By “productive” I mean that the stuff I have managed to accomplish in the last 48 hours would have taken me 4 hours tops to cross off a to-do list in Edmonton, but progress is progress man. Let’s recap.

The Journey – I had a lovely farewell dinner on Friday night with my chère maman, cher papa, soeur and frère-in-law at Canteen on 124th Street. If you have not been, go there. And then ORDER THE BACON WRAPPED DATES. You’re welcome. On Saturday morning the journey officially began. Part one being comprised of the three hour drive to Calgary (I know, I know – stop the Calgary habit and all, but my new status as unemployed student can’t say no to $1000 in savings. Literally one thousand dollars). Since I arrived three hours early for my flight as per Air Transat’s directions, I’m going to call the three hour wait at the airport part two of my journey. I know this is standard for an international flight but my emotions were all over the map and these were some of the longest hours of my life. Part three was, of course, the nine hour flight to Amsterdam. It was an uneventful flight, although I was underwhelmed by Air Transat’s customer service. But again, for $1000 cheaper than any other commercial airline, what the hell do I care? They failed to serve me a gluten-free meal, although with all the chaos leading up to my departure I really can’t remember if I booked one in advance or not. Still, their solution was to offer me an apple. Well isn’t that just going the extra mile? A whole apple! Actually what I really could have used was a giant bar of chocolate. See: emotional turmoil above.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, I took an hour train ride to Ede. This is where I met the first of two Dutch angels of mercy. My luggage consisted of a large wheeled suitcase, my hosteling backpack, and my small carry-on backpack. My travel game plan was to wear the hosteling backpack on my back, the small backpack on my front, and drag the wheeled suitcase behind me. I even put all this on at home and strutted around my apartment announcing loudly to my parents, “Haha piece of cake! I can go anywhere with this!” Oh Ibis, so stupid. See, I had envisioned that the floor of the train would be level with the platform and I would easily just roll my suitcase onto the train and take my seat. False. First you must lift your heavy-as suitcase up a couple steps, and then the options are to go further up several steps to the upper level, go down 3 steps to the lower level, or stand awkwardly by the door for an hour with your luggage, like a chump. Mama Ibis didn’t raise no chump, so I chose to drag my suitcase down the 3 steps. An hour later when we were nearing the Ede platform, a Dutch lady sitting next to me asked if I was going to be able to get my suitcase back up the stairs and off the train. I said yes but to be honest I was getting a little antsy about managing before the train left the platform again. My fears were probably unfounded but Dutch Angel of Mercy #1 took pity on me and took the whole suitcase off the train for me while I sheepishly followed behind with my double backpacks.

At the Ede train/bus station, I spent some time trying to figure out how the hell to buy my bus fare. The machines for the transit cards didn’t take my Visa and I could only find a slot for coins, not bills. Having no coins, I asked a women and her daughter at the machine next to me if they knew whether the bus driver would give me change for my 20 euros. They confessed to not knowing, because of course they just use their transit cards. And then the women revealed herself to be Dutch Angel of Mercy #2, and explained that since she was headed back to Wageningen, she would be happy to drop me at my new place. Just like that. I can’t tell you how often during my undergrad I stood at a cold, miserable bus stop in Edmonton in mid-February and watched all the cars drive by in the direction of campus, wishing one of them would just stop all of a sudden and say, “Hey we’re probably both on our way to class, can I give you a lift?” But alas, it never happened. And now, not even 24 hours after arriving in the Netherlands, this dream was finally coming true. And then not only did she drive me to my new house, she gave me a quick impromptu driving-tour of campus and the town. First impression of the Dutch: kindest people in the world.

I arrived at my new place at 2pm Dutch-time. Aka 6am Edmonton-time. Total journey time = 19 hours. Not bad.

What I have accomplished since arriving: buying groceries, unpacking, getting a Dutch SIM card for my phone, getting a bike, getting a bike lock, registering with the municipality.

My sleeping schedule: go to bed at 10pm, wake up at 2am, fall back asleep around 6am, wake up again at noon. I hate jet-lag. But at least I’m getting a solid 10 hours every day. Ha!

Things I meant to pack but forgot in Edmonton: my red travel spork that toured Europe with me two years ago, my blue polka dot shower cap. Is it crazy if I ask my mother to mail these to me? I already know the answer to this…

Things I want to buy ASAP: a new pillow (my head has been spoiled by a luxurious $100 pillow from Sleep Country for the past two years…there is no going back to the $5 special after that – unemployed student or no), a lemon squeezer (or citroenpers in Dutch. My morning ritual is half a lemon squeezed in water before breakfast), and finally a kitchen spatula (or keuken spatel in Dutch. I don’t understand how anyone can possibly prefer their eggs to be anything but over-easy). Hence my googling “where to buy a keuken spatel in Wageningen” in the middle of the night. I figure if I’m going to be jet-lagged, I might as well make the best of it.

It’s now 8am. Two hours past my go-back-to-sleep time. The responsible side of me says, “Get up and seize the day!” But another, much louder, side of me says, “Classes don’t start til Sept 2. At this point you’re not even an unemployed student, Ibis. You’re just unemployed.”

Nighty night!

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All Out

Last summer I bought bulk size bottles of shampoo and conditioner. During that same summer, I decided it was time to start researching grad schools. I remember skyping with Spoonbill and telling her, “I want to move to Europe for grad school one year from now. The timing is good because by then I will have probably used up these huge bottles of shampoo and conditioner I just bought.”

Spoonbill replied, “That’s as good a reason as any to do a Masters degree.”

And here we are, one year later. My flight is booked, my bags are packed, my apartment is empty and I’ll be moving in with two complete strangers on Sunday. And I’m all out of shampoo and conditioner.

I’m going to Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Aptly named, it is located in the town of Wageningen, about 1.5 hrs southeast of Amsterdam by train/bus. I say train/bus because there is no train station in this town. I read somewhere that there is a joke about Wageningen in which they were offered either a train station or a university, and they chose the university. I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be a punchline to this joke but I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.

My emotions are all over the map now. This is exactly what I wanted and planned for, but I’m devastated to leave Edmonton. I’ve moved around a lot, but this city feels like my home. Not simply by virtue of having lived here the longest (4 + 2 + 6 + 1 = 13 years spread out over 26, aka half of my life). I didn’t really start to love Edmonton until I moved downtown, got involved with a fantastic volunteer group, started working for a small consultancy company that really supports their people, and met some people who have completely changed my life for the better. It’s been a big year. A great year.

I had a dream last night that a boy and I were walking down my street, completely surrounded by pink bubbles. And I was just really happy. The boy in the dream is David. Spoonbill introduced us back in November and we became friends. It took me a little while to realize and admit that I really liked him, and then we finally, finally kissed a few weeks ago, after months of non-dates that were the best and funnest dates I’ve ever been on. I haven’t blogged about him before because it does not feel right to publish anything about this guy without his knowledge. Even if it is anonymously with aliases. He’s just really wonderful. That’s all I’m going to say about David. Except that I’m going to miss him.

But the dream really symbolized what this last year has felt like. There’s been ups and downs like there always are in life, but at the end of the day it has felt exactly like I was walking through a city filled with pink bubbles, surrounded by loving friends. And even while I was floating through the bubbles, I was making a plan to leave it all behind. It’s hard not to feel like a fool for willfully giving up the best time of your life. Like getting a divorce when everything in your marriage is wonderful.

Actually that’s another great analogy to make about my feelings for Edmonton. Shortly after moving back here last summer, I broke up with a guy that just wasn’t right for me. I also haven’t blogged about him before because there was nothing to say except Good Riddance. A few months ago I was skyping with Spoonbill and I speculated that perhaps I developed such strong feelings for Edmonton because I was on the rebound and instead of falling for another guy, I fell for a city. Spoonbill shares the same love and passion for this city as me, so she was able to wisely advise me that Edmonton is no rebound relationship. She told me, “Edmonton is your marriage. The Netherlands will just be a fling.”

So goodbye for now Edmonton. I promise to come back. I know you’ll forgive me for stepping out on you for awhile because you’ve already accepted me once, despite all my flaws. And I think what we have now is real, unconditional love.

And I promise to recycle the shampoo bottles before I go.

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White People and Jesus

The title of this post suggests that I’m about to go off on a racist or religious rant. Spoiler alert: I’m not.

In this instance, “White People and Jesus” actually refers to a strange yet compelling dream I had a few days ago. In the dream, my big sister and I were lesbians. No, not together. That would suggest way more subconscious trauma than I would ever unpack on the internet. Think Tegan and Sara: sisters, lesbians, Canadians. Got it?

Ok so my sister and I were artists and we had this great big work studio where we built mixed media sculptures and installations. In the dream I was working on three pieces. The first was a piece of wood about the size of a door, and I painted it with black matte paint using a small rollerbrush. Then I hammered in short nails all around the edge of the door and made patterns across the door by tying neon coloured string to the nails.

The second piece was a trench coat that I was painting black using the same small rollerbrush that I used for the door. I was running out of paint at this point and I remember feeling stressed about what else I could put on the jacket to make it cool. As I was painting it, a guy wearing a long black coat (think Neo from The Matrix, but scrawnier with bad skin and long hair) came by and told me, “That’s a sexy jacket.” In the dream I wanted to kiss him.

The third piece was also constructed out of a door. This one was covered in a heavy canvas. Across the door I hung bunting made from small square glass panels and square neon green flags. I arranged the bunting in two triangular shapes – each pointing towards the centre of the door. I remember it being really difficult to hang the lower triangle. And I remember naming the piece, “White People and Jesus.”

What does that mean? I have no idea. Feel free to brainstorm at your leisure.

What happened next was a lady walked into the studio and started exclaiming over the pieces I was working on. She wanted to be my agent and set up a show for me. Then she suddenly asked, “Wait! Are you the same girl who writes as Ibis in the blog Ibis and Spoonbill?” I told her I was and she began gushing, “You are an incredible writer! I love everything you write!” In the dream, I was excited and indescribably happy. But also anxious because I didn’t know how to tell this lady that she couldn’t be my agent because I was going back to school in a few weeks and I wouldn’t have time to be an artist or a writer anymore. And it made me sad and second-guess my decision to become a student again.

And then I woke up.

(Brief aside, I got my Mo on and applied to grad schools and that’s actually happening now! But that deserves a whole post of it’s own. Stay tuned.)

If you’re the kind of person who ascribes meaning to dreams, it’s not too hard to figure out what this dream would be telling me. It’s telling me: “Ibis, you are a bubble head! You don’t want to get your Masters in City Planning or any other graduate studies! You want to create! You want to write! Turn back! Turn back!”

If my subconscious was a real person, I like to imagine her as a concerned best friend. She knows me better than anyone, she shares my tendency to overanalyze all the things all the time, and she is worried about me. She loves me and wants me to be happy. I would take my subconscious out for a nice glass of wine and I would tell her not to worry about me. I am a complex individual with more than one passion in life. I would ask her to trust me to make the right decisions for my life. And as the night went on and we got closer to the bottom of the wine bottle, I would confess my fears. Maybe grad school is a mistake! Maybe  what I should really do with the money I’ve aggressively saved for the past year to support myself through graduate studies is find a cabin in the woods, hide out for a year (a la Bon Iver) and dedicate myself to writing. Bad poetry might become beautiful free verse. Rambling blog posts might become sophisticated prose. Half-formed ideas might become a draft of a novel. But then, spilling wine all over the table as I pour the last of the bottle into our glasses, I would remind my subconscious of one of our favourite quotes from our undergrad. While filling out course evaluation forms at the end of a semester, someone sitting in front of us said, “I hate this question – I increased my knowledge of the subject matter during this course. Like, no. Strongly disagree! I got dumber!” And no one else overheard him but we busted a gut laughing. After all, sometimes nothing is funnier than the truth. No education is ever wasted. My decision to apply to grad schools was well-informed and driven by another one of my passions in life. I would say to my subconscious, I appreciate your concern because I know it comes from a good place, but please be excited for me. Your doubts and fears are really dragging me down.

And finally, as I tip the last mouthful of cab sauv into my mouth, I would tell my subconscious: if all else fails, living overseas for a couple of years should give me plenty of new writing material!


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