May 2, 2013
In March 2010 my husband I moved to England. We had visited a few times and marveled at the history, the cobblestone streets, the cozy country pubs, the rolling hills, the cheap cheese, and the lack of vegetables.
One sunny day while walking hand-in-hand through the countryside I just said it: “We should move here.” The husband nodded, and then I nodded.
And so, like a snowball that starts rolling down a hill, and quickly turns into an avalanche… our plans progressed. I applied to graduate schools, the husband asked for a transfer with work. We looked into Visas and then found out my husband’s Swiss passport was all we needed. We quit our jobs, gave away our furniture, sold our car, bought one-way plane tickets, and prepared to move 7577 kilometers (4700 miles) to the other side of the world.
One afternoon the husband and I were discussing our future plans excitedly, and then he said, “And if we don’t like it, we can just move back.” I hadn’t even considered the fact that I might not like it. He went on, “You just say the word, and we’ll move back. And if I want to move back, I’ll tell you.” I remember nodding my head, but I didn’t mean it.
I remember the morning of the flight. We had stayed over at my sister’s house the night before. I was making a last ditch attempt to stuff all of our remaining possessions into four jam-packed suitcases and get them zipped up.
A little voice piped up: “Why do you have to go? I looked over at my niece. She was four, but she was smart, so she had figured out what was going on. I had given her a globe and showed her where she lived and where we were moving… the other side of the water. I felt the tears coming and I hugged her, because I didn’t have a good answer.
We didn’t have to go. We could just let the plane leave without us, unpack our suitcases, ask for our jobs back, rent an apartment, buy another car, and swing by the Salvation Army to see if our TV had been sold.
But we went. We drove to the airport, we said teary good-byes, we checked-in, we went through security, we boarded the plane, we watched a few movies, and nine and a half hours later we arrived at London Heathrow. We walked up to border control, the husband flashed his Swiss passport, and we were waved through.
We had moved to England.
After the initial excitement had faded, we realized that moving our lives to England was not so easy. We found it hard to make friends. I found it hard to find employment. We found it hard to be away from our friends and family, and miss out on important life events. I found it hard to be alone, so often.
In that first year I wanted to just say the “word”, to my husband almost every day. I wanted to tell him that I was done with trying to make friends, done with trying to find a job, done with trying to figure out how England works, and trying to make it work.
One evening the husband and I were flipping channels and came across Into the Wild. I was familiar with the movie (as my heartthrob Eddie Vedder was responsible for the amazing soundtrack), but I had put off watching it as I knew I would have an emotional response. But instead of changing the channel, we watched.
Into the Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who gave away his life possessions and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wild. In the movie, he hikes though the wilderness, crosses a small stream, and then sets up camp in an abandoned bus. Initially, he loves the isolation and the nature around him. A few months later, life becomes more challenging for McCandless. He seeks to return home, but finds that the small stream he crossed months earlier is now too wide and too deep to cross, and that he is unable to go back.
I realized that Into the Wild was a metaphor for my life. In March 2010, I had crossed what I thought was a small stream, looking to fulfill ambitions in my life and to have an adventure. And just a few months later I found the stream (the Atlantic Ocean, in my case) to be insurmountable.
It was a tough first few months, but eventually I stopped thinking about just saying the “word”, and I actually started to enjoy the adventure. We settled in, we made friends, the husband got a promotion, I completed my Masters degree, and we spent many weeks and weekends traveling around Europe.
Nearly three years later (33 months, 143 weeks, 1004 days, 24106 hours), the husband was offered a job in California. It wasn’t home, but it was close enough. So I quit my job, we gave away our furniture, bought one-way plane tickets, said good-bye to our friends, and prepared to move 8750 kilometers (5400 miles) back to the other side of the world… for another adventure.
The stream seems much smaller now.
April 17, 2013
I remember wandering through Hyde Park one sunny, spring afternoon. I had just moved to the big, scary city of London, and I was feeling a little overwhelmed with life. I was contemplating either a) drinking myself into a mild stupor, or b) diving fully-clothed into the Serpentine, when I saw him: a handsome, young man of about 20. He wore a black t-shirt and faded blue jeans. His hair was messy (on purpose) and he held a placard in his hands. It said: Free Hugs.
I walked up to him, unashamedly, with my arms wide open. He smiled as he turned toward me, and then we embraced, for like five seconds. We released. I thanked him. Then I backed away awkwardly. Then I went home to my life, and my husband.
I have to say, hugging a stranger is a bit weird. Of all the strangers to hug, I think he was a pretty good one, but it was still a bit weird.
At the time, that hug felt like it might save me from a) a long, slow death from liver failure, or b) Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba that lives in lakes. Looking back, that hug feels like I put my arms around a complete stranger and then pressed my body against his. I didn’t press hard (I promise), but it was still pretty intimate.
A hug is a form of non-verbal communication, usually indicating affection, familiarity, or love. A hug can be a great thing, if it is requested or sought, and agreed to by both parties. Sometimes a hug is unwanted, ill timed, and embarrassing for everyone involved.
My favourite kind of hug is the Over-under, where one arm is over, and one arm is under the other individual’s corresponding arms. Some people consider this the ‘traditional’ hug for hellos and goodbyes with people you like. If either individual is holding roast beef in a fanny pack, or waist pouch, this hug is referred to as, The Roast Beef Sandwich. Fact: Women are more comfortable with this hug variety.
Another favorite hug of mine is the Side Hug (a.k.a. The Uncle Bill), where two people get close, then turn sideways so the hips touch, with no frontal contact. One arm is put around the other, while the other arm hangs loose at your side.
My least favorite kind of hug is the Pat. There are two varieties of the Pat: the Lady Pat and the Man Pat. The Lady Pat is where two ladies get close enough to put their arms around each other, but rather than embrace, they pat the other’s back as though they were choking on a peanut. The Lady Pat is far worse if one lady embraces while the other lady pats. Fact: Women who pat are insincere and condescending. The Man Pat starts off as an Over-under, until the men realize that their bodies are too close together, so they slap each other on the back to prove they are not gay.
The Bear Hug is any embrace that is too long and too tight, where you feel as though you are trapped by an 850-pound carnivorous mammal (like a brown bear).
The Crusher is like the bear hug, but it feels as though you are trapped by a 1700-pound carnivorous mammal (like a Grizzly bear).
I’ve compiled a short (but necessary) list of hug tips, which I hope you will find helpful as you navigate the world of non-verbal communication.
1. It is good to carry a big baby, a small dog, a bag of groceries, or a basket of laundry to avoid a full frontal hug. You may still get a side hug, but your dignity will remain intact.
2. If you would like to hug someone, and then you realize that you are of drastically different heights, you can either go up on your tippy-toes (if you are the short one), or squat (if you are the tall one). Fact: the hug will still be super awkward.
3. If you plan on hugging someone, remember that they are not a piece of exercise equipment. Do not lift them up, even a little bit, and even if you are certain you can.
4. Hugs should last no longer than two seconds*.
* unless, the hugee is: dying, a baby, needing the Heimlich maneuver, or it is an airport farewell situation.
Even though the hug is more hygienic than a handshake (where germs are transferred through skin contact with door handles, handrails, telephones, toilet seats, and genitals), and transfer few (if any) germs (unless you are unclothed), sometimes a wave does the job just fine.
April 12, 2013
I looked up to my sister until about the age of 13, when I began to look down on her (because I was 5’8” and she was only 5’6”). I also looked up to my sister in terms of being awesome. She had big hair, she had a boyfriend with an earring in his ear, and she had disposable income (from selling shoes two times a week).
I wanted to be just like her, but the cards were stacked against me. I had small, short hair. I didn’t have a boyfriend (earring or no earring), and had no income whatsoever because Canada frowns on child labor. Also, my mom picked out all of my clothes out for me, and she was partial to the Sears catalogue. Needless to say, I was a bit of a loser.
One Monday morning, after my sister left for school I went down to her room. Her closet was jam-packed with awesome duds, like: Club Monaco sweatshirts in two colors (gray and red), several pairs of acid-wash button-fly jeans, an over-sized Benetton sweater, et al. I decided to “borrow” (without asking) her gray Club Monaco sweatshirt.
I walked to school with the kind of confidence that only comes from not wearing clothing from the Sears catalogue. As I walked into homeroom my friends all turned to look. A few people complemented me on my new sweatshirt. The ones that didn’t: obviously, jealous!
When the bell rang I raced home. I needed to get the sweatshirt back in my sister’s closet by 4pm, before she returned home from school. I felt just like Cinderella with the clock nearing midnight, except Cinderella was a magical princess… and I was an awkward, chubby teenager with an overbite.
As I approached our house I looked at my watch: 3:55pm. I quickened my pace, and started peeling off the sweatshirt as I raced to the front door. As I took out my key to unlock the front door, the door swung open.
There, standing with her arms folded across her chest, was my big sis. Apparently, she had a spare last period and came home early. I hadn’t accounted for that. She snatched the sweatshirt out of my hands and told me I was “dead” (just a metaphor).
After school the next day my sister tossed a Home Hardware bag on the counter and said, “That should keep you out”. She then retreated to her basement hideaway, looking very smug.
I opened the bag and examined the contents: a Master Lock Tulip Knob Style Keyed Entry Door Lock. She wasn’t fooling around!
The lock came in a two-sided plastic shell. I lifted the plastic lip on one side and it popped open. Inside was the sturdy lock, and two keys. I looked left, and then right, then quickly took a key off the ring and pushed the plastic shell back together. Good as new.
That evening I watched as my Dad installed the new lock on my sister’s door and handed her the single key. She waved it in front of my face and said something like, “No more borrowing my clothes whenever you want!” I nodded solemnly, as I traced the outline of the key in my pants pocket.
In the following weeks and months, when my sister left for school or work, I would quietly un-lock her door and help myself to whatever I fancied, carefully noting the item’s exact location, and my sister’s school and work schedules.
My sister maintained a false sense of security with the lock on her door, and my popularity increased by at least 32%. Win-win.
April 3, 2013
This week much of the world celebrated April Fools’ Day on April 1. In France, they attach a paper fish to their victim’s back and shout, “April fish!” In Scotland, they send fake messages requesting help. In Denmark, they tell jokes.
In North America, April Fools’ Day usually consists of pranks, or practical jokes. Because after all, a prank is light-hearted fun for all… unless something goes horribly wrong.
My friend Kyla had come to visit me for a few days and was packing up her suitcase to go home. She was lamenting how time flies (and how!) and that soon it would be April (the very next day), and then May, and then June and then she’d be another year older.
Something caught my interest: April. It dawned on me that the very next day was April 1st, also known as April Fools’ Day in some parts of the world (not India!).
Kyla finished folding her jeans and t-shirts, brushed her teeth and then said she was going to turn in early. Her bus left at 8am and she didn’t want to be late.
My friend Jason was going to take her to the station the next morning to catch her bus home. Kyla asked me to write down Jason’s phone number and leave it on the counter, so she could call him in the morning to make sure he was up and at it.
It was at that moment, I thought of the ultimate prank*.
I said good-night and headed to my room. Within a few minutes I heard snoring coming from the living room. I wondered if Kyla was playing an early prank on me, so I went to see if she was really sleeping. It appeared that she was really sleeping, so I set right to work, preparing for the ultimate prank*.
In those days… the days before http://www.whitepages.com, there was something called a “phone book”, which listed people’s names and phone numbers, and was arranged in alphabetical order by last name. It was printed on something called “paper”, which is a thin material used for writing or printing on.
I opened the “phone book” and scanned the pages, looking for the first name Jason. I wasn’t looking for my friend Jason’s number, I was looking for a random “Jason”. I quickly found a “Jason” (the 24th most popular name for boys), wrote down the corresponding phone number and left it on the counter for Kyla.
The next morning, I wandered into the living room to find Kyla looking very confused. I laughed, slapped my knee, and then pointed to the little box on the calendar for April 1st.
Kyla shook her head as she recounted the events of that morning:
Kyla had called the number and asked for Jason. A woman answered, and asked who was calling. Kyla said, “Kyla”. The woman told Kyla it was very early to be calling (7am). The woman then asked how Kyla knew Jason. Kyla said that Jason was a friend of Kim’s. The woman then asked why Kyla was calling. Kyla said that Jason was supposed to give her a ride to the bus station. The woman then called Jason and handed him the phone. Jason got on the phone. Kyla asked Jason whether he was still able to give her a ride to the bus station. Jason said, “Who is this?” Kyla said, “Kyla.” Jason said he didn’t know anyone by the name of Kyla. Kyla reminded him that she was a friend of Kim’s, and that she had a bus to catch. The woman then began to yell at Jason and then the phone went dead.
I thought a prank was light-hearted fun for all, but it’s not so fun for the victim (as the victims often feel “victimized”).
It was probably not so fun for Jason, as he fielded questions from his wife or girlfriend (or, mother) as to why a girl named Kyla was expecting a ride to the bus station, and who “Kim” was. He would try to tell his wife or girlfriend (or, mother) that he didn’t know anyone named Kyla or Kim, but they wouldn’t believe him… because they called and asked for “Jason”.
So, this week when much of the world celebrated April Fools’ on April 1st with what they perceived to be harmless pranks, or practical jokes, I sat home, alone, somber… remembering and regretting my “prank”.
* What I perceived to be “the ultimate prank”.
March 25, 2013
There was one movie that really defined 11-year-old me: Home Alone, the story of an 8-year-old mistakenly left home, alone. I watched Home Alone repeatedly, even when it wasn’t Christmas and both of my parents were at home.
I could relate to Kevin McAllister. He was misunderstood, underestimated, and left home alone on a regular basis (see Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Home Alone 3, and Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House).
I felt Kevin’s pain, because my mom worked part-time at Sears so I was home, alone… every afternoon from 3:00pm until 5:30pm, when she returned from work.
My older sister was in high school and wasn’t home (alone or not) very often. When she was home she was in her room, listening to heavy metal music with the curtains drawn. The incense was always burning.
As an 11-year-old precocious, yet lovable child, I wanted to hang out with my older sister, but she wouldn’t have it. Yes, I felt rejected and hurt, and those feelings of rejection and pain may have led me to behave in ways that some people may consider “naughty”. I wanted her attention: positive or negative.
One Spring day she had her bestie over. They were down in her room, listening to heavy metal music with the curtains drawn. I went downstairs because I wanted to know what they were doing, and if I could hang out with them.
I knocked lightly twice. Michelle told me to “go away”. I knocked again, louder this time, to let her know I was serious. She told me to “get lost”. I knocked a third time, with some force.
The door opened, and my dear sister let loose with a verbal tirade that would have made a sailor blush, and included one four-letter word. She then gave me a little shove backward and slammed the door shut in my face.
For 15 years, my mother and father (AKA, “mom” and “dad”) were under the impression that my sister was “the good one”. I was blamed, framed, and accused on a regular basis. Yes, sometimes the information was accurate, but more often that not, it was a BOLD FACE lie.
My sister was their first-born, the cute one, the “good one”.
So… when she slammed the door in my face that afternoon, I smiled.
Why, you ask?
Because there was something she didn’t count on. Like Kevin McAllister, I possessed a piece of newfangled electronic equipment that was able to record such tirades onto a cassette tape.
As I pressed the stop button, I felt vindicated. I had proof of my older, wiser, cuter sister’s imperfection that would surely show my parents who was really “the good one”.
I ran outside to her window. I rewound the tape and knocked on the pane. Annoyed, she drew the curtains back. I held up my cassette recorder. Looking perplexed, she opened the window a crack.
I pressed play. I felt like Kevin McAllister playing back the clip of Angels with Dirty Souls when the pizza boy delivers the pizza, and the Humphrey Bogart character tells him to “Leave it at the doorstep and get the hell out of here!” I held the power (I was drunk with power).
My sister’s eyes widened as she listened to the incriminating evidence. I saw her, and her bestie run toward the door. They were in hot pursuit. I knew she would destroy the tape (which also contained several Roxette songs, including “It Must Have Been Love”).
I slipped inside the back door and locked it behind me. I heard my sister call my name… from outside the house! I went to the front door, pushed it closed, and locked it.
She pounded on the front door, while her bestie stood in awe of my cunning.
I went over to our home stereo system and popped the cassette tape in. I pushed a speaker over to the open window and pressed play. The volume was at 11.
It was at that exact moment my mom drove into the driveway. I thought, her time had come, at last.
My sister ran over to my mom’s car and went in for a hug. My mom, surprised by her first-born daughter’s sudden spurt of parental love, embraced my sister.
I rewound the tape and played it again, for God, and the world to hear.
But, my mom was still hugging my sister. She even put her purse down, so she could hug her better, with both arms.
I knew then… I would always be the second-born, the not-so-cute one, never to be… “the good one”.
March 21, 2013
So, I’m possibly Jewish. And I’m super excited about possibly being a Jew. I have always felt Jewish, so I wasn’t at all surprised when I found out that I was possibly Jewish.
It was May 2, 2009. The whole family had gathered in Chilliwack, British Columbia for my uncle Carl’s funeral. Uncle Carl was my grandmother’s brother, and mother’s uncle. He was tall and thin, with white hair and a black pencil-thin moustache that made him look like an old Zorro. Uncle Carl was 90 when he died of natural causes. He went to sleep and never woke up. I think that’s the way to do it, if you’re going to do it.
There are a few things I remember about the funeral service and post-service tea: the little finger sandwiches (tuna, chicken salad, ham), the gherkins (so crunchy), the music (Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1), and the revelation that I am possibly Jewish.
The funeral itself was fairly standard: Amazing Grace. A short sermon. A few words from a few people. Another song. Standing. Sitting. Praying. We all filed outside as the last song played.
We made our way to the church hall next door for the tea. The room was quiet. There were several long tables, covered with pink craft paper and white paper doilies. I took a few sandwich triangles, a few gerkins, and a Styrofoam cup of tea back to my seat. My mom, dad, sister and Grandpa came and sat by me. We ate our finger sandwiches in silence. My mom was the first to speak: “So we might be Jewish.”
I took a sip of my weak tea. “Sorry, what?”
“We might be Jewish.” She bit into her gherkin. She said it like it was no big deal, like the first 29 years of my life weren’t one big lie, and like I wasn’t possibly one of God’s “chosen people”.
“What? How?” I prompted her to explain, because you can’t just say something of that magnitude without saying a little bit more about it.
“I was just outside talking to cousin Bev and she said we might be Jewish.”
“I knew I might be Jewish!” I said, because I love lighting candles, I love horseradish, I love challah bread, I love the star of David, and I’m also big fan of the eight days of presents thing. Also: I hate shellfish.
Apparently Uncle Carl, as the oldest child, was the only one who knew about his mother’s lineage, and he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Uncle Carl casually mentioned it to his wife Fern before passing, and aunt Fern casually mentioned it to my aunt Marion, who casually mentioned it to her daughter Bev, who casually mentioned it to my mom, who casually mentioned it to me before biting into her crunchy gherkin.
Turns out, my mother’s mother’s mother was possibly Jewish. According to matrilineal tradition, people born of a Jewish mother are themselves Jewish. So, my mother’s mother and my mother are possibly Jewish, and therefore I am possibly Jewish.
I pressed my mother for details but she had nothing. She suggested I talk to cousin Bev.
I found cousin Bev standing by the punch bowl. I asked her for the low-down on our lineage. She kept using words like “possibly” to describe our ethnicity. She said that we’ll never really know for sure, because uncle Carl was the only one who had the deets.
I went home from that funeral feeling like King Rehoboam of Judah: defeated, and depressed.
I decided to do a bit more research (Wikipedia) on being a Jew. A person is a Jew by birth, or through a formal religious conversion. Conversion requires the convert to find a rabbi, adopt the beliefs and practices of Judaism, immerse themselves in a ritual bath called a Mikveh, be familiar with the Talmud and Jewish law, make a sacrifice to the Temple, choose a new name, and in some cases, be circumcised. I wanted to partake in Judaism and its traditions (especially Hanukkah), but I wanted it to be really easy.
So, for now… I’m possibly Jewish.
March 12, 2013
We bought a Toyota Prius last week. We just moved to Los Angeles, and we needed a means of transportation to get us from point A to point B. I wanted to buy a bicycle built for two, but the husband said “no”. You know how people say you can never forget how to ride a bike? He did.
When the saleswoman was outlining the many features of the Toyota Prius I was half-listening. If I couldn’t get my bicycle built for two, I didn’t really care what we got.
“And it comes with Sirius Satellite Radio.” She said, super casually. So casually, in fact, that it hardly registered.
We wrote the lady a check and took the keys for our new car. As I drove home, the husband fiddled with the audio system. “And it comes with Sirius Satellite Radio,” the husband said.
“Uh, I know. I was listening. I pay attention to things like that.” I said, but he and I both knew it wasn’t true.
He continued to fiddle. Then, suddenly, something wonderful happened. A Pearl Jam song came on the radio. I don’t even remember what song it was, but it struck both a metaphorical and literal chord with me.
“Pearl Jam has their own Sirius Satellite radio station.” He said, super casually. So casually, in fact, that it hardly registered.
But then it did, and I braked hard (which you are not supposed to do for the first 800 miles with a Prius).
Some people know that I am a bit of a Pearl Jam fan. My sister introduced me to the band in 1991, shortly after “Ten” was released. I have all of their albums, I have seen them in concert a dozen or so times, and I have followed the trajectory of their 23-year career with great interest. The group members: Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron, and Eddie Vedder are brilliant musicians with a talent for making music that inspires and delights.
There was one member in particular that stood out to a young Kimberly Manky (me). His name was, and is, Eddie Vedder. He sang with such unbridled enthusiasm, and he was, and is, easy on the eyes. He was my inamorato, my heartthrob, my fake boyfriend: my Rushmore.
When I was a teenager I had several large posters of Eddie Vedder tacked up on my wall. Before bed I would kiss each Eddie Vedder face goodnight. Sometimes, with tongue.
It was just a harmless little crush. It didn’t mean anything, and it most certainly did not affect my subsequent relationships in any way, shape or form.
I mean yes, before we got married I had my husband sign an agreement saying that if Eddie Vedder ever propositioned me, I had permission “to make out with him a little and do other stuff, within reason”. My husband was, and is, totally okay with it: he trusts me.
And sure, when Pearl Jam played in Vancouver on September 2, 2009 I had my husband watch for security while I stalked the halls of Eddie’s hotel and looked through a bag of garbage that I thought might be his. It wasn’t, and isn’t weird, because my sister was right there with me, and her husband was also watching for security.
And okay, I got a tattoo of Eddie Vedder’s face on my chest, which my husband does find a little awkward, but only when I undress.
It’s not like I still have a crush on Eddie Vedder. It’s not like I think about him, or dream about him, or drive by his house when I’m in Seattle.
Crushes are just crushes. You outgrow them, you learn from them, you move on.
“Honey.” The light was green. “You can go.” I put my foot on the gas, and the car accelerated, slowly, because it’s a Prius.
I knew it would be the last time I would drive the Prius.
I knew it was safer to ride solo on a bicycle built for two, than drive a car that has Sirius Satellite, because I would only ever listen to Pearl Jam radio. And there was a definite risk of getting swept away with Eddie Vedder’s unbridled enthusiasm… and having a daydream where Eddie Vedder is driving in the car next to me, and I purposefully swerve into his car so we can exchange phone numbers and insurance information.
Point A and point B aren’t too far apart. It’s better/safer for everyone if I just walk.