Getting started

Don't expect words of wisdom or earth shattering revelations, just my thoughts and observations about living in Ottawa, being a public servant and trying to live life every day to its fullest

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Clear vision

I got laser eye surgery. It is incredible. As a total chicken, I was very nervous but it was actually painless. I had some discomfort for a few days, it felt like dirt in my eyes, but my eyes are fantastic now. I have better than 20/20 vision and my eyes are still "recovering". There are moments late at night when my brain tells me I should take our my contact lenses; if I can see and I am not wearing glasses, I must be wearing lenses. 22+ years of not being able to see is a hard habit to break.

Clear vision is incredible. I am so excited about the snowboarding season, swimming, scuba diving, camping, biking, canoeing and all the other great things I love to do outside without having to worry about losing a contact lens. I can't wait to fall asleep in a tent and being able to see the stars out of the vestibule or sitting on a chair lift watching people below not worrying about getting grit in my eyes. I love watching the snow flakes outside my window and the leaves on ground as I hike the green-belt.

But clear vision is also a metaphor for my life right now. On the day of the surgery I met with a wise woman who asked me what I wanted to see with my new vision. And I know that she wasn't talking about the physical world around me that I can see whenever I want without searching for my glasses, she was talking about me. What do I want to see and what will I focus on? Good questions.

So what am I focusing on? It might sound conceited and selfish, but I am focusing on me. I am taking this opportunity to figure out who I am and what I want to do. I am using my clear vision to try and paint a picture of who I believe I am. Recent experiences have led to others shaping this picture for me, and I started to believe who they thought I was - but I am not that person and I am using my clear vision to remind myself that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rebuilding after a storm?

Earlier this week I watched and waited as Sandy took her tool on much of the East. Canada was lucky - New York City and parts of the US coast not so much. As I watched the Twitter feeds, surfed the breaking news and hoped the radio would bring me the latest I was reminded of storm watching when I was a kid.

In Hong Kong, we were frequently hit by typhoons (the Pacific equivalent of a hurricane). Granted, ours never took on the size or power of Sandy, Irene or Rita - but there were still devastating and would cause total shut-downs the most vibrant city in the world. Landslides, beach roads washed away, boats sunk, small children washed out to sea; the power of nature would slowly be revealed, first through massive waves and wind and then by the stillness as you enter the eye of the storm. There is something incredible about sitting in the eye - venturing outside as the world quiets, destruction around you but a stillness as everyone, including the storm, holds their breath. As a small child I was terrified and in awe of these massive storms that would sweep over the tiny little colony.

In Hong Kong in the 80's and 90's there was no internet, there was no way of capturing real-time updates across the city. There was radio. A typhoon was the one time we had the radio on all day, listening to the warning signals, the landslide warnings, the opening of emergency shelters and the exact location of the storm. My family would track it on a laminated map my parents had made, comparing it to the last typhoon and wondering if we would take a direct hit. And then after the hit, we would listen as the world woke up to deal with rebuilding or salvaging. We would drive to the marina and count how many boats had sunk, we would drive past hills that had slipped away or beach roads covered in sand. Despite the wonders of human ingenuity and engineering, nature usually won a few solid points.

When I think about storms these days, I think about the storm metaphors we use. I do think storms are an incredible metaphor for life - these are reminders that we need to be ready, we need to be resilient and that we will be hit, occasionally directly. Storms are an opportunity to rebuild and re-evaluate and I feel that I am in the eye of one right now. I am slowing down, I am looking around me and I am trying to make some life decisions that have been precipitated  because of storm-like turmoil. I know things will be messy on the other side as well, but that the opportunity to create something new and better is only possible after a massive storm because we are often given a clean slate. These are hard times, but can be rewarding - reminding you what is important and that we are lucky, so very lucky to come out of the eye.

I miss a good typhoon. I am sure that this is a terrible thing to say as Sandy is still too fresh and there is so much work to be done to rebuild, but it is also a humbling reminder of our place on this planet and how nature can't be controlled. And a kick-in-the-ass reminder to stop taking things for granted and start rebuilding.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Networks and friends

The best thing that has come from 6-plus years with the Federal Public Service has been the people. They are smart and dedicated and really want to change things. They have great ideas and energy, and they understand why I am where I am. They are my rock, my guides, they are my reality check and possibly co-conspirators. Dreaming up ideas is only useful if there are people who are going to support you, dare you, or point out why, perhaps, it is actually not a good idea!

No secret - I want to leave. I will leave. I have made up my mind and there is probably very little that will change this in the long-term. The short-term and medium-term are different stories. So what happens in the short-term or the medium-term? I continue to take the space and time for me to figure things out. The process of self-discovery has been hard, it has also been eye-opening. It requires a level of honestly with myself that I am still hesitant to commit to, it requires me to open up and explores my hopes, dreams and failings.

The most important part of this journey so far has been the people. The incredible individuals who have stepped up and provided insight into who they think I am, what I can do and where I can go. They force me see myself as someone other than who I thought I was, and I have been shown the incredible opportunities that are in front of me.

I have mentors out there who have shown me what it means to be a visionary, a leader, and to take an interest and make it into an opportunity. These are people from whom I can learn; people who have experiences from which I can gain, people who have energy and excitement for something be it their day-job, their hobbies, their families, the future, or life itself. These are people in the cubicle next to me, half the world away in a corner office, or riding a bike down a trail somewhere.

I am lucky enough now to have a small support group, a kind of public-servant anonymous; helping each other figure out what to do next. This doesn't necessarily mean leaving for all of us, but we are creating a space where we can each be honest with ourselves and challenge each other with assumptions that we have held about where we can go and the reality of each of our individual situations. 

I have an inspiring woman guiding my journey, pointing out when I try and deceive myself with vague notions of who I am. Questioning what I have identified as my personal values; not because they are wrong - but because they are not actually my values. She has helped me see why I react the way I do, what motivates me and who I really am. Did I know these things? Possibly? Was I willing to admit them to myself? No! Would I have shared these things with others? Never.

This network of incredible people can only take me so far. These friends who have stepped up and are willing to be part of this journey cannot carry me, they can challenge me and push my boundaries, but at the end of the day, I am responsible.

Here is the crux - I am afraid of failure. Part of the problem is I have actually never defined what success is and so instead I have tried to live up to others' perceptions of success, which may be appropriate for them but is most definitely not appropriate for me. This incredible group of people around me, my network and my friends are showing me that I need to figure out what being successful means to me and that if I believe in myself, I can probably do anything.

What if I fail? Maybe it doesn't matter - as long as I tired.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pulling it together

This post has taken over three months to write. I am posting it tonight because sometimes you just need someone to hang with and watch bad TV ... Mao was that someone.

I was trying to get my life together post-fire which was surprisingly hard. And then the cat died. This post is about Mao - the best buddy I could ask for, who was there for me through thick and thin. One of my very first posts was about how great he was - and he was.

The fire was hard on us. He was home when the fire started and was found hiding in a side room, eyes large and scared of the noises, the people and the smells. We were displaced for three weeks and lived in separate places. And when we finally came back the house smelled funny and stuff was all over the place. Instead of windows I had plywood boards, there was still broken glass in the hardwood floors and across my garage, I was missing furniture, my deck was covered over with tarp to protect the electric room underneath and there was absolutely no food in my house - it all had to be thrown out. Neither of us were comfortable in this space which seemed like our old home, but wasn't. Mao and I tried to maintain our routines, he would still run to meet me when I got back from work, rolling over to have his belly scratched; we would spend our evenings on my upper deck; he would beg for treats in the morning and sleep on the sofa during the day.

When things were bad, when I didn't think my house would ever be re-finished, when my neighbours hated me, Mao was there. He never left me and I think he knew I would be OK, that I would figure this out. On those days when I didn't want to get out of bed, he would snuggle a little more, lick my hand and be a calming presence. When things were going well, he was the affectionate, loving cat he always was - purring, playing, eating, begging and sleeping. But then he started eating less and sleeping more, I too started eating less and sleeping more - we were stressed. Living in a shell of a house slowly took its toll.

But Mao wasn't stressed, Mao had cancer. He had a massive tumour rapidly filling his belly and by the time we found out - it was too late. I had 48 hours to say my good-byes. To spoil him with bacon and ice-cream, until he wouldn't eat bacon and ice-cream. And then I had to make a choice for him - because I loved him so much I couldn't see him suffer. Mao died in my arms on June 21st, 2012.

He is missed every day.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Learning to quit

For the last eight or so years I have defined myself as a public servant. I always believed that working in the government was what I wanted to do and where I could make a difference. I wanted to fight the good fight, but fight from the inside for change. And to this day I believe in the public service and how government (not Government) works to help Canadians. After almost a decade I still believe that - despite everything I am about to write.

I need to quit. I need to leave. I need to do something else. I can no longer be a public servant. I am no longer a public servant. I can no longer do what I do - and yet I am committed to the project I am working on and know that people I work with believe in what they are doing and how it will make Canada better.

Sometimes the hardest part is admitting you have a problem - and I have a serious problem. I am not happy doing what I do, despite the fact that I know it is a fantastic project. It seems paradoxical, and I am not yet sure why this is the case, but I plan on spending several months figuring it out and asking myself "what next". What do I want to do when I grow up? How do I want to define myself? Why?

And don't think this is some sudden mid-life crisis precipitated by the marriage of my younger sister, or a questioning of my mortality and legacy because my cat died. This is not a desire to give it all up and back-pack around the world because my house caught on fire, nor is a rejection of Ottawa per say. This has been peculating for a while, in fact I first told my boss that "I quit" on Friday April 13th; but then the house caught on fire, the cat died and my sister got married - I had a busy summer and quitting takes a lot of thought.

Here it is - my path to quitting. Will I actually quit? I am not sure. Maybe I will take a year of unpaid leave, maybe I will take an interchange, and maybe I will stay. I have threatened to be out of Ottawa within a year before, I have promised major life changes on this very blog, and yet nothing came to them - but now I have a plan. The first step is to know me; to actually think about who I am, what has shaped this person I call Tabatha, and where I want to go. Does this path differ from the one I am on? I don't know - but until I start asking the hard questions I will never know.

I am learning about me so that I can face the choice I will eventually need to make; to stay or leave (full disclosure - I am pretty sure I am quitting). I want to share this learning, these insights about me and I would encourage you to undertake your own voyage and ask who you are and what you want. Don't take what you have for granted, challenge yourself and learn from the experiences around you - embrace them and let them shape you. And if you need guidance, let me know and I can point you to a very talented lady who is always eager to help.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"You're next!"

Last weekend my little sister got married. It was beautiful despite the rain, she was radiant and so happy. She was married on my parents dock in a rare break in the clouds, and friends and family partied into the night under a tent to the sounds of a live band and the support of an open bar. My sister, mother and father (and yes; her new husband) did a lot of work getting ready for the big day; the tent, the decorations, the bar, the centre pieces and all the flowers, the bouquet, the catering (steak for 110 people plus a whole pig) and a four layered cake. Now we are all experts in what it takes to host not just a great party but a successful wedding - so that "next time" "we know what to do".

There are several assumptions here - that there will be a next-time and that if there were, it will be at their house!

My parents parting words to me after the wedding was that they have had a dress rehearsal and would ready to go next time ... all I need was to find someone to marry, please - soon? All weekend friends and family, people I have never met, and people from whom I would expect better, told me (yes, told me!) "you're next!" Is that a threat? It sure sounded like one. A threat that if I don't get my act together soon, I will continue to be a disappointment to my family and that I will never be really happy. Many commented on my single status, including my 90 year old Grandmother whose only full sentence to me over four days was that it was "such a waste" that I was still single, followed by that tutting sound so significant in Eastern European cultures.

There is a prevailing sentiment that you need to have a significant other to be happy. I am not debating that life is nice (and cheaper) with someone to share it with. There are the constant reminders that everyone else is coupling up, from weddings to notices that friends are buying houses and moving in together; having babies; plotting great get-aways together or just busy on the weekend doing what ever it is couples do (errands is what I have been told).  There are hints that they are happier than I am and that until I find someone (my parents would probably say "anyone), I will never be as successful as they are.

I am not denying that life can be wonderful when shared. I have not gone out of my way to be single and I am not adverse to committing to spend my life with one special person or even to making that commitment in public. For the record, I would very much like to find "the one".

Telling me that until I am with someone, I am can not be happy and will not be considered successful is bad enough, but I do not need people to suggest that "I am next"! It is a reminder that I am not - that I am no where near being next. That nowhere on the horizon is there even the hint of a next.

And for the record, even though my sister's wedding was beautiful and Hollywood-eque, should I find the one, I am strongly advocating for eloping! Until then, I am going to live up being single and make all my married friends (and my married sister) jealous because I can do what I want, when I want.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Friday the 13th: I received a simple e-mail from my neighbour "Your house is on fire". My response by e-mail was "you're shitting me, right?" After a few seconds for the shock to set in, I turned to my friend at the bar and said "My house is on fire! I have to go - NOW".

And so starts one of the most interesting, stressful and illuminating weeks of my life.

The taxi ride home was a blur, I freaked out and then tired to rationalize what happened. No one told me how big (or small) it was, the police called and only confirmed that yes, my house really was on fire. My first priority was Mao. I am sure I made quite the sight, running down my street towards the fire-fighters, in tears screaming "My cat! Have you found my cat?" He was found hiding in a closet.

My house was on fire. There was a small fire that started on the deck and it spread into my house, taking out far less than it could have - but leaving more mess than I ever imagined a small fire could leave behind. And also resulting in no power for my unit or the 13 other units in my suite of townhouses.

Things about fire:
  • No matter how much (or how little) the physical damage is; first seeing the remains of a fire is shocking and numbing. Staring at the mess and trying to figure out what it meant, what I was supposed to feel and knowing how lucky I was, that it could of been so much worse, completely over-whelmed me;
  • It takes a few days for the dust to settle, literally. On Friday everything smelled, and there was a fine coating of soot on everything. On Saturday the walls started to look dirty, as the soot settled. On Monday after the house was closed up for two days, everything was filthy. Nothing could be touched;
  • The soot is toxic and carcinogenic. While my first thought was to grab my tooth brush and moisturizer, these are actually products that have been, even if only for two hours, seeped in carcinogenic gasses. This goes double to all food products in my house, even in my fridge. Everything is being thrown out;
  • There is no point being angry - it was an accident, and there was nothing I could have done to change anything. And yet part of me is very angry;
  • That "rush" bag sent to the dry-cleaners for 48 hour service will never have everything that you will need for the next 2-3 weeks, and it will have some random stuff that you will wonder why you have it;
  • Flowers delivered to your hotel room from family really does make a difference.

I was very lucky - almost everything is salvageable and the clean-up should be done in a few weeks. But more than that, I am very lucky. I have been surrounded by incredible people who have let me stay in their spare room or offered their whole house. Friends have taken me out to do things and keep my occupied so that I don't go crazy in my hotel room, and whom have hugged me when I break down crying or the stupidest reasons.

There are three people who need to be acknowledged:
The friend who was at the bar with me when I found out about the fire came with me, and is also my Mao sitter; so she left the scene early to take the cat to somewhere safe. She also did laundry for me on Friday night so that I had a few pieces of clothing that didn't stink like toxic fire. Her and her husband have taken on Mao and regularly invite me over for meals and cat-visits. Another friend who has had a similar, if not far worse, experience also showed up unexpectedly and was a great help in helping me figure out what I needed to do. He also reminds me to laugh and find the up-side of things, but knows the empty feeling of not really having anywhere to go. And lastly, towards 8:30pm, yet another friend by to check on me, brought me food and drove me to my Mao-sitters place so that I would have somewhere to stay.

The last week has been illuminating, I have learned a lot about me, about insurance and about getting stuff done without freaking out about the things you cannot change. I am sure the following weeks will be less stressful, but that I will continue to learn.

Thank-you to everyone who has sent me kind words, who has been there for me and who continues to show me such compassion.