Tuesday, November 21, 2017

When Things Are Just Hard

My ex-girlfriend came over this evening to drop off a suitcase she had borrowed* and to pick up some things she had left behind.  It was emotional and awful, even though two and a half months have already passed.  I wanted to say or do something that would make it better, but there isn't anything to say or do.  This is just hard.

Like many things in life are hard.  Sometimes there is no fixing separation and loneliness and illness and death.  And all you can do is give someone the biggest hug possible and cry.

*Brilliantly, she forgot the suitcase.

Monday, November 20, 2017

How I Feed Myself

I am obsessed with food.  I watch Top Chef religiously; I spend way too much money in restaurants; and when I am unhappy, a surefire way to make me happy again is to feed me good food.  That being said, I hate the fact that I have to feed myself regularly.  I'd far rather eat five really amazing meals per week than have to deal with the tedium of three meals a day, seven days a week.

Tonight, I was driving home late from a long Monday in my inner city clinic, when I realized that I was far too hungry (HAANGRY) to finish making the beef and barley soup I'd started yesterday.  There were a few things in my freezer, but I was not feeling virtuous enough to eat lentil soup or bean-packed chili.  I wanted something tasty.  My initial impulse was to go to McDonald's, but I haven't been back since my nieces informed me that there were 17 ingredients in their fries.  (I was under no illusion that McDonald's food was healthy, but I though that at least their fries were potatoes fried in oil and salted.  Nope.  I was 17 kinds of wrong on that one.)

So I decided to stop at the store.  And what I was really craving was pizza.  I could've just picked up a frozen pizza, but I've mostly been cooking at home lately, and as a result most processed food tastes like cardboard to me.  So I picked up some pita bread for crusts, along with pizza sauce, cheese, canned mushrooms, and pepperoni.  And 1 hour and 15 minutes after I pulled into the parking lot, I pulled six of these out of my oven:

(Only five are shown, because one was in my stomach by the time the photo was taken.)  Once again, the light is terrible (no natural light after 5:30!), but the pizza is super yummy.  Look closer...

Mmmm.  Given that I have five leftover pizzas to freeze, this works out to about 12 minutes per meal for shopping and cooking time.  And that's probably a bit of an overestimate for how long it took, as I spent the last 15 minutes or so sitting on the couch eating my pizza while the remaining pizzas baked.

So this is how I feed myself:  batch cooking.  I am absolutely not going to come home every night and cook for myself, but I am happy to cook big batches of food and freeze leftovers.  Whenever I hear someone say that they don't like leftovers (like my mother), I look at them like they've just grown a second head, because leftovers are my entire cooking strategy.  All hail leftovers!

(Yes, I recognize that pizza is not the healthiest dinner.  When I eat the leftovers, I'll probably invest a bit of extra time into making a salad or some veggies to make it healthier, which will likely stretch the pizzas even farther, as a whole pizza is a lot of food on its own.  With a big serving of veggies, I can probably get ten meals out of the rest of the pizza.  Also, I generally eat pretty healthy food, so I figure that on a day when I am tired and grouchy and just want to eat a quarter pounder washed down with liquid sugar, a homemade pizza is probably acceptable.)

What is your cooking strategy?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Looking Ahead to Buy Nothing Day

Since I was in university over 20 years ago, I have been an enthusiastic participant in Buy Nothing Day.  Founded in Vancouver in 1992, Buy Nothing Day is a day on which people are encouraged to literally buy nothing as a way of reflecting on the negative aspects of our consumer society.  Not coincidentally, in the United States it is held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when many people are rushing out to the stores (and sometimes killing each other) to get a start on their Christmas/Hanukkah shopping.

I love Buy Nothing Day because I think it is all too easy to get caught up in the message that holidays are about things.  Giving the best gifts, serving the fanciest foods, and having the most festively decorated home.  And while none of those things are inherently bad (especially not the fancy food), every one of them requires an investment of time and energy and comes at the expense of other activities.  If you're out pepper spraying someone to get a deal on video games, then you aren't at home playing video games with your family.

For me, Buy Nothing Day is another reminder to be mindful.  To think about what is important to me in life and especially during the holidays, rather than just taking directions from advertisements and the dominant culture.  Over the years, I've decided to reduce my gift giving, because I don't want more things in my apartment, and because I prefer time with my family to time in the mall.  I was reminded of how ridiculous gift giving can be last weekend when I decluttered a huge portion of my apartment, as many of the things I got rid of were things that had been gifted to me.  Huge expenditures of time and money had gone into things that I ended up leaving in my apartment lobby for other people to take.

I'm really excited this year to have a full 9 days off over the holidays, which hasn't happened since my last year of medical school in 2009.  I could use some of my abundant time off to do more Christmas decorating and shop for Christmas gifts...but there is zero of me that wants to do that.  I want to hang out with my nieces and have games days with friends and eat appetizers with my Mom.  To me, these are the things that make a holiday.  Not anything that I can buy on Buy Nothing Day.

(Edited to add:  Ten days!  I actually have 10 days!  I didn't realize that the Monday (January 1) was a holiday too.  WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOO!!!!!)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

For the Love of Libraries

As a kid, there was no library in my neighbourhood.  Instead, a "Bookmobile" would be set up once a week in the parking lot of our local shopping mall, giving us access to a rotating assortment of books from the public library.  I made my parents take me there pretty much every week, and I can remember running up the metal stairs into the trailer, eager to see what new books awaited me.  (I was not an even remotely athletic child, so only the most exciting of things would get me to move quickly.)  I would return from those visits with a grocery bag overflowing with books and immediately park myself down on the couch to start reading.  I loved it.

My love of libraries and reading lasted until medical school, when it became my job to read and learn.  I replaced my piles of library books with Netter's Anatomy and Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, and I almost completely stopped reading for pleasure.  Where I used to easily read a book every week, after the start of medical school, I was reduced to one book on Christmas vacation and one on summer.

As a result, I also stopped going to the library.  I could no longer be guaranteed to finish a book within the three-week lending period, and I certainly couldn't be guaranteed to remember to return a book, so there was no longer a place for the library in my life.  Instead, I would periodically go to my favourite local bookstore and wander its shelves, dreaming of having time to read all of the books.  When I found something that really appealed to me, I would buy it and save it for a rare stretch of holidays.

It wasn't until I finished my licensing exam three years ago that I once again had time to read on a regular basis.  But by then, I had gotten so out of the habit of going to the library that it didn't even occur to me to go back.  I just kept buying books.  Until M started making fun of this increasingly expensive habit.

"Why don't you just go to the library?"

I blinked in confusion.  What was a library again?  And what purpose did it serve in my life, now that I was earning an income and could afford to to buy my own books?

I was initially resistant to the idea.  I wanted to own books!  And I didn't want to be limited by the small selection of our one-room local library.  Nor did I fancy having to pay overdue fines when I inevitably forgot to return the books.

I would like to say that I was a mature adult and didn't stubbornly refuse to listen to M.  But.  It took discovering Mr. Money Mustache* and wanting to live within my means to get me to go back to the library.  And, just like when I was a kid in a frigid trailer trying to grasp books through my thick wool mittens, I fell in love with it.

Of course, there is the fact that books at the library are free.  This is awesome.  I have now read 26 library books in 2017 (yay completing my Goodreads challenge!), which has saved me over $500.  Based on the 4% safe withdrawal rule, that's $12,500 less that I need to save for retirement by using the library.  But it's so much more!

I can take out books I might never read:  When I used to buy books, I would be careful to only buy something I was pretty certain I would read to the end.  I'd look up reviews, I'd ask friends, and I'd stand in the bookstore reading the first chapter to make sure it was something I liked.  Picking a book was a process!  And it limited the books I would read to books that I had some reason to think I would like (e.g. a book by a favourite author).  But with library books?  If a book looks remotely interesting to me, I will take it out.  When I see an interesting book suggestion on Twitter or Facebook or someone's blog, I add it to my "To-Read" list (now at over 200 books).  It has greatly expanded what I am reading, and my reading life is richer for it.

I don't have to finish a book I don't like:  This ties into the previous point, but when I spent $20+ on a book, I felt obligated to finish it, even if I hated it.  This has sometimes led to me wasting time on a book that I didn't enjoy or, worse, not reading at all because I didn't want to move on to another book until I finished the one I hated.  Not with library books.  Hate a book?  Return the bloody thing and move on.

I can get books from any library in my city:  Until M introduced me to it, I had no idea that there was this thing called inter-library loans that would let me order books from any library using my computer.  It's like magic.  See a book recommendation, order it online, pick it up on my way home from work within a few days.  It is amazing, and it is actually easier than going to the bookstore to buy a book.

The library reminds me to return books:  Email reminders of when books are due!  This is awesome.  I still end up paying fines sometimes, because I am lazy, but I pay far fewer fines because of this.  Plus, I can renew books online, which often lets me avoid the fines altogether.

Libraries are part of my community:  I recently read Jane Jacob's book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (from the library, bien sûr), in which she looks at all of the important elements of a vibrant city.  She talks about all of the little daily interactions that contribute to a sense of community - chatting with the local butcher, giving a spare key to a trusted neighbour - and since reading it, I have been thinking a lot more about what makes my community.  And, it turns out that the librarians are now part of my community.  The three regular librarians recognize me, and we will often spend a few minutes chatting about books or about the librarian's cool necklace made from locally salvaged wood.  It's a small thing, but it makes me feel a little more connected to the place I've lived for the past seven years.

So, after this love letter to my favourite place in the city, it is time to read my library book.

Are you a library user?  Why or why not?

*I learned today that Americans spell it "mustache" and Brits (and Canadians) spell it "moustache".  Who knew?  I love language!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Resisting the Introvert's Tendency to Nest

Despite the winter solstice being over a month away, it is already cold and dark here.  Which means that when I'm not at work, I'm happiest when I'm on my couch with a blanket and a good library book.  (Currently reading Shrill by Lindy West on the advice of...someone?  Twitter?  A blog?  I really like it!)  As an introvert, I can go for very long periods of time with minimal human interaction and actually feel okay about it.  Until I emerge from the dark, eyes blinking in the bright sun, and realize that I haven't maintained any important relationships, of course.

I was reminded of the need to nurture relationships this week when I encountered someone who was in hospital and was very much alone.  It's bad enough for someone to be in hospital, where the beds are hard, the food is cold and bland, and there is absolutely zero privacy.  But to do it completely alone?  I never want to be in that position.  And even if I am lucky enough to avoid being in hospital, I want to always know that there are people in my life that I can turn to when I need them.

So, immediately after the interaction, I pulled out my phone and started texting.  "Friend, want to go for brunch this weekend?"  "Friends-who-are-family, let's spend a day together at Christmas and binge watch movies in our pjs!"  "Mom, want to come put up the light that I unearthed during my massive purge last weekend?"

(The last one may have been more practical than relationship-building.  But that's why we have moms, right?  Ideally, at least.)

It's good to be reminded that I need other people.  Even when I'd rather be at home in my sweatpants.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I Really Have To Do This Every Day?

There's nothing like writing a blog post every single day to make you realize how routine and uninteresting your life can be.  Today was a typical Thursday:  go to work, get lots of paperwork done (I have no clinics on Thursdays), go to my French class, come home.  I have to give a presentation tomorrow at 7 oh-my-God-it's-too-bloody-early in the morning, so I also had to spend part of my evening running through the presentation.  Always fun.

The act of daily blogging is reminding me of how little extra mental energy I have in my life.  I am not overly short on time, as I tend to leave the hospital at a reasonable time most days, but my job exhausts me mentally.  After a full day of high-stakes decisions and endlessly talking to people, my highly sensitive, introverted self is worn out.  Going to a French lesson and practicing a presentation and writing a blog post is about as much as I can handle in an evening, and I haven't done any of those things particularly well today.

I have huge respect for the people* who come home from a long day of work and then have to care for children.  I am honestly really glad that I've never felt a strong desire to have kids, because I think I would lose my mind if I had to come home to whining and disobeying and all of the many secretions that children produce.  (One of my friends with kids described her house this week as a "tsunami of diarrhea".  Shudder.)

And...that's it for me.  Daily blogging is helping me to generate lots of ideas for blog posts, but it isn't leaving me with enough drive to write a long one, so some of those will have to wait for once this month is over and I have more time for things to incubate.  For now, this will have to do.

*Not to be too sexist, but I will say especially the women.  Because in most households, those are the ones who bear the brunt of everything family/household.  For those rare men who are doing their 50% or more, well done.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Weight of Work

I am caring for a lot of very sick people right now, which isn't typical.  Most of my patients have chronic, slowly progressive illnesses, so a lot of the work that I do is just checking in on generally healthy people to make sure that everything is okay.  Lately though, things haven't been okay.  I have patients going for major procedures, patients in hospital, and patients approaching the end of life.

I know that this isn't about me.  The people most affected by this are of course the patients themselves and the people who love them.  And yet, this is hard for me too.  It is hard to be witness to suffering, particularly when there is nothing in my medical bag of tricks that I can use to change the outcome.  I can of course offer comfort and support and symptom control, but dammit, sometimes I just want to fix it.  I want life to not be the way it is, with illness and death and all of the other bad things.

So tonight I'm lying low.  I've passed on trivia night, and I'm sitting in my sweatpants with a steaming bowl of spaghetti bolognase and a cuddly cat.  And I'm grieving all of the things I cannot change.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Best Salad

I love good food.  (Not a shock to anyone.)  Thankfully, I also like to cook good food, and over my many years of adulthood, I've accumulated a few really good recipes.  Some of them are for fancy things that come out only for holidays, like the perfect creme brûlée, and others are for everyday things, like ridiculously easy pulled pork.  But I love them all in their own ways.

In case there are other people out there who also like to cook really tasty things, I'm going to share some of my favourite recipes on the blog.  It's kind of like public service.  You're welcome.  The first of these, because it is what I made for supper tonight, is a really tasty salad.

When M and I were first dating, she invited me for dinner, and she made a veritable feast of lasagna, French bread, and this salad.  While I was really impressed by the fact that she had made bread from scratch (something that would later drive me nuts when it happened in our kitchen), my favourite part of the meal was definitely the salad.  That night, I raved over how tasty the homemade dressing was with the salty cheese and nuts and dried fruit.

She promptly waited two years before she make it again.

After she finally made the salad for me a second time, I declared it the official salad of our household.  "What do you want for dinner, Solitary?" would inevitably be answered with "Saaaaaalaaaaad".  I was addicted.

When we separated for the first time last summer, I am not certain whether I was more sad about the end of the relationship or the loss of the salad recipe.  As soon as we reconciled, I made her bring back the recipe book, and I copied the recipe into my computer.  So now I can always have the salad.

(I feel like I have perhaps built the salad up to be more than it actually is.  Do not expect miracles.  But it is a very good salad.)

The recipe for this salad comes from the Simply in Season cookbook, which is published by the Mennonite Central Committee and which focuses on using local, seasonal ingredients.  While I don't agree with MCC's policy of preventing us gays from working or volunteering for them, I do love their salad.

Solitary's Favourite Salad:

Mix together the following:
  • 1/3 cup oil (I use canola oil, but you can use any neutral oil.  I think.)
  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (Start with 1/2 a tbsp and increase to taste.)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
I tend to squeeze all the juice from a lemon, measure it (last time was about 3 tbsp), and then add proportional amounts of the other ingredients to make a big batch of dressing.  I've never had it go bad on me.

Once you have the dressing, use your imagination to make your favourite salad combination.  You will need the following components, but the exact combination is up to you:
  • Some sort of green (lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, etc.)
  • Some sort of soft and salty cheese (feta, goat, blue, etc.)
  • Some sort of fruit, sliced into bite-sized pieces (apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, etc.)
  • Some sort of dried fruit (cherries, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, etc.)
  • Some sort of nut, preferably toasted (pecans, cashews, almonds, pine nuts, etc.)
Toss the greens with the dressing, and then put the other ingredients on top.  Tah-dah!

I am clearly not a food blogger.  But that ugly photo shows the really tasty salad that I made for supper tonight, which contained kale, blue cheese, blueberries, and pine nuts*.  (I forgot the dried fruit.  Am now sad.  But it was still tasty.)  The dressing is a permanent fixture in my fridge, so it took about five minutes to make.  I have a very large head of kale, so this will be part of my supper every night this week.  And because of the many possible combinations, it will be a different salad every night.

Make this salad**.  Mmmmmm.

*For the record, I am not a ridiculous spendthrift who just tosses expensive pine nuts into all of my recipes.  These are very reasonably priced Costco pine nuts, which I keep in my freezer so that they will last forever.  And I was using up some extras that I had toasted when I made pesto in the summer.  I'm preventing food waste by eating leftovers!

**Bonus points to anyone who makes this salad and posts a picture on Twitter/their blog.  Especially if their photo is better than mine.  (Almost guaranteed.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Weekend Progress

Remember how my living room looked on Friday?

This is how it looks at the end of the weekend:

The after photo doesn't quite do it justice, as everything that is currently on the table is waiting for someone to pick it up and take it away.  There will be a lot of empty space once it's finally done.  Including space for games nights!

A few more before and afters:

The desk:

The bookshelf:

The light in the photos is terrible, but you get the idea.  I have gotten rid of a lot of clutter.  So far I think I've done a reasonable job of not getting rid of important things, with two notable exceptions.  First, I gave away some chargers that I thought were old and not in use anymore, but which turned out to be for my bike lights.  So I'll need to get a new charger before bike season next year*.  And second, I gave away a tea set to one of my friends, and a few hours later, she texted me to say "You didn't look in the teapot before you gave it to me, did you?"

Turns out I had stashed $130 in cash in it at some point in the past.  (Years and years ago, perhaps?)  I'm really glad I gave that one to a friend instead of putting it in the lobby of my building.

Anyone else decluttering right now?  How is it going?

*Also a new bike, as I had previously been using the ex-girlfriend's bike.  Sigh.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dialing It In

It is late at night and I've just returned from drinking two glasses of wine at a friend's house.  I had many ideas for a post earlier tonight, but none of them can be written in under 15 minutes with the amount of mental capacity I have remaining.

It was a good day.  I slept in a bit; did important life maintenance tasks like dishes and laundry; purged a few cupboards in the kitchen; went to dinner and a play with my nieces; and then ended my day with friends.  I totally did not follow through on my plan to finish minimalizing the kitchen, but sometimes when a friend texts you with a photo of the bottle she is about to open, the right thing to do is leave the overflowing cupboard of Tupperware for tomorrow.

It is not always a linear process, but I feel as if I'm starting to settle into the next phase of my life.  Freed from the need to accommodate someone else, I am figuring out what I most want to do, and I am doing it.  And it feels right.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Why Are You Getting Rid of Your Christmas Tree?

A few nights ago, I called my Mom up to ask her if she wanted any of the Christmas decorations that I was getting rid of, and she asked me what I was going to use to decorate my tree this year.

"Oh, I'm getting rid of my tree," I responded.

Long pause.  Followed by my Mom going through all five Kubler Ross stages of grief while she adjusted to this news.

"Noooooo.....you're not actually getting rid of your tree.  Your Christmas tree?  You're getting rid of your Christmas tree?

"I didn't raise you to not have a Christmas tree!  No daughter of mine is allowed to not have a Christmas tree!"

"What if I come over and put up the tree?  I can bring egg nog!  You have to put up a tree."

"Well...I guess Christmas is ruined again this year.  I'm just going to lie on the floor feeling sad about how treeless your Christmas is."

"Unnnnngggghhhhh.....fine.....maybe this isn't the biggest crisis to ever hit mankind.  I suppose someday I can forgive you for getting rid of your tree.  Maybe."

(I exaggerate only in the slightest.)

I should have expected this kind of reaction, but despite knowing my Mom for over four decades, she still has the capacity to surprise me.  And I was surprised by the intensity of her reaction to me getting rid of my tree.  Because I wasn't trying to ruin the holiday or make some sort of anti-Christmas statement.  I actually really like Christmas!  I just don't want to put up a tree anymore.

My dislike of Christmas trees (or, more accurately, of my former Christmas tree) stems in part from living in a not very big one-bedroom apartment.  As you can see from yesterday's picture, my living room doesn't really have space to put up a tree, so it was always crammed into a corner where I could barely see it.  And when it wasn't up, it was in my storage space (or in its box in the living room), blocking my access to my non-perishable food supply.

More than that, I hated taking the time to set up a tree at Christmas.  I am usually on call for at least part of the holiday*, leaving me constantly short on time, and I started to resent spending any of that time putting up and taking down a tree.  It stopped being an activity that "sparked joy" and started being yet another thing on a too-long to-do list.

So I got rid of my tree.  I moved it from my living room floor to the free giveaway area in my lobby, and it has now been adopted by my building caretaker**.  With the tree and the Rubbermaid containers and the really crappy chair that didn't work gone, I feel like I can breathe in this room again.  And when the holiday comes, I can spend time with the people I love, instead of decorating a tree that I had come to hate.

*But not this year!!!!!

**He is going to put it up in the lobby, meaning that I will be able to enjoy my tree without storing or decorating it.  I feel like I won.

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Exciting Friday Evening

Although I have enjoyed the resultant comments and conversations, I have had enough writing about controversial things for one week.  It is the beginning of the long weekend, and I am going to stop thinking and writing about "big things" for a while.

So that I can move on to this:

This is my living room.  At some point in the not too distant past, it was reasonably well organized and uncluttered.  And then.


Stuff happened.  Christmas* and the Women's March and music festivals and camping and all kinds of other things that we never quite cleaned up from.  Where once we used to eat meals and entertain, now I just store things.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the things I want to do in my post-breakup life, and one of the things that kept coming up was games night.  I don't love games quite as much as Creampuff and Katr, but I do love games for their combination of competition and buffer against awkward social interactions.  Playing a game is a great thing for an introvert such as myself who sometimes gets overwhelmed by the need to maintain a conversation the whole time someone is in my home. 

The only problem is, there is no game playing happening in the living room shown above.  People and games just don't fit into it.  The initial solution I had to this problem was to buy a house, which in retrospect is a slightly extreme solution to the "my living room is a pigsty" dilemma.  Thankfully, the second solution I came up with was to actually organize my living room.

Which I have been doing for the past few weeks.  Before tonight, I had:

1)  Organized my memory box, two boxes of children's toys, and one box of Christmas ornaments;
2)  Gotten rid of three bags of books, one of my two Cabbage Patch Kids, and multiple bags of Christmas things;
3)  Recycled the Women's March posters; and 
4)  Decided to get rid of the desk.

And then tonight, because I am one of the cool kids who spends my Friday nights going minimalist, I:

1)  Organized another box of Christmas ornaments;
2)  Went through every single item on the tall bookshelf;
3)  Put all my (now organized) boxes away in the storage space;
4)  Started a pile of things to sell or give to the thrift store; and
5)  Got rid of the proofs for my med school grad photos, every single note I took during residency, my ridiculously uncomfortable chair that has never quite worked, printable labels that I bought for medical school applications (in 2005!), and my Christmas tree.

There is space!  Everything to the left of and behind the table is now put away, gotten rid of, or on its way to being gotten rid of.  And the rest of it will be tackled this weekend.  I am ready to use my space again.

*Yes, I am blaming a holiday that happened almost a year ago for the state of my living room, because until earlier this evening the tree was still on the living room floor.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why Don't Men Read Blogs By Women?

It has been an interesting day on Twitter.  I have been at home working on a presentation that I am giving next week, and so I've been regularly checking in and causing trouble.  I may have gotten really angry at a blogger for disregarding privilege.  I regret nothing.

One of the things that came up on Twitter was female bloggers and the recognition that they do (or do not) receive in the financial blogging world.  I've never written or tweeted about this before, but I have definitely noticed that there are far fewer comments from men on women's blogs than there are on men's blogs.  Sometimes this makes sense:   In a world where women are predominantly responsible for the domestic side of life, I get why there aren't a lot of men reading bloggers who write about frugal cooking and parenting*.

But sometimes the blogs written by women are just damn good blogs for anyone, regardless of gender or gender role.  And yet, men still don't read them.  To make sure this wasn't just something I was imagining, after the Twitter conversation today, I reviewed the comments from two really good financial blogs that everyone should be reading:  Physician on FIRE and Bitches Get Riches.  Of the last 20 comments for which I could identify the commenter's gender, Physician on FIRE had received a somewhat even split of 8 comments from women and 12 from men.

Bitches Get Riches?  18 women and 2 men.

Which means that men are missing some of the funniest and most thought-provoking posts in the financial blogosphere right now.  And why?  Because a person's genitalia somehow makes them more or less capable of writing about money?

Sadly, I think this is all part of our legacy of presenting the white male viewpoint as the primary viewpoint.  Now, please don't misinterpret this as me saying that I dislike white men or I don't think we should read things by white men.  There are many white men who I think are lovely and valuable members of our society**.  But I think it's unfortunate that in the vast majority of books, tv shows, movies, plays, etc. that we are exposed to, the protagonist is a white male.  It not only limits the ideas that we're exposed to, but it also conditions us to see the white man as the default.  Anything else is "diversity".

As a queer woman, my own identity compels me to search out things that are created by and represent people more like me, so I naturally go beyond the white/straight/cis-gender male story.  But if I were a white man?  What motivation would I have to look beyond the abundance of stories that speak directly to me?  And how would I ever learn to appreciate that the world can be a very different place for people who aren't exactly like me?

I know that this is a broad generalization and that there are men who are enlightened and who read blogs and other things that are written by women.  But we need more of them.

*This is its own blog post.

**Apparently not this one.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NaBloPoMo Will Not Defeat Me (The 30 Minutes or Less Post)

For the past few years, Wednesday nights have been trivia nights.  My (now ex-) girlfriend and I would meet at a pub with whomever we could drag out (friends, parents, co-workers, friends of friends) for terrible but cheap chicken wings and PubStumpers trivia.  We were never any good, but it appealed to my competitive side and to my I-love-deep-fried-animal-fat-drenched-in-sauce side, so I made it a priority to go almost every week. 

The last time I went was the night before the breakup.  My ex was the one who had gotten us involved with trivia, so until now I've kind of stepped aside and let her continue to go without me being there.  But now that two months have passed, it feels like time to go back.  (Also, she is out of town for the long weekend.  But it's also time.)  So I've gathered four friends, a table is reserved, and to trivia we go.

No matter how shitty the breakup, life does eventually continue.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How To Not Let Twitter Take Over Your Life

This is going to be a short post, because I stayed late to finish all of my work tasks from the day, and all I want at this moment is to eat a bowl of peanut butter chocolate ice cream and read "Health at Every Size".

(Ironic combination?  Maybe, maybe not.)

I joined Twitter less than a month ago, and at the time I was completely oblivious to its addictive potential.  I assumed it was going to be roughly equivalent to Facebook in terms of being a time sink, but hahahahahahaha.

(That is the sound of the laughter of any regular Twitter user.)

Twitter is literally an infinite time sink.  Unlike with Facebook, where you're somewhat limited by your number of friends and how often they post, there is no end to the rabbit hole of Twitter.  Finished reading all of the tweets from the people you follow?  Click on their lists of followers and find more people to follow!  And then their lists!  And their lists!  I actually forgot to go to work on Monday because I was so caught up in reading just one more thing...

I.  Forgot.  To.  Go.  To.  Work.

(Thankfully I came out of my haze only about 15 minutes after I was supposed to have left, but OMG.)

As I am typing this, I can see a (1) displayed next to the word Twitter on my Firefox tab, and my hands are itching with the desire (neeeeed) to see who has tweeted.

(Didn't resist.  It was Canadian musician Veda Hille posting a picture of a dinner party.  Sure am glad I didn't miss that.)

So, want to know how I don't let Twitter take over my life?

I have no idea.


Monday, November 6, 2017

How to Get an Introvert to Dance

Dancing and I have never been friends.  In junior high, the smell of teenage boys who hadn't yet discovered deodorant scared me away from the too-tightly-packed gymnasium, so I avoided dancing and its associated social awkwardness altogether by hanging out at the student council canteen.  (I was treasurer.)  By high school, almost everyone had become too cool to go to the school dance, so I would just hang out with my fellow student council members and band geeks (I was both) in the nearly empty gym, awkwardly gyrating without any worry that my lack of dance skills was going to make me less popular than I already was.

It wasn't until I entered university and lived with a roommate who wanted to go out dancing all the time that I started dancing in public.  My city's few queer bars were much more welcoming and pleasant than the straight bars, so despite the fact that I was out to only a select few people at the time, I spent many Saturday nights of undergraduate dancing amongst my kind with my roommate*.

It never really went well.  I was not born with an inner rhythm, and my social anxiety prevented me from ever really relaxing, no matter how many horrible $1 shooters I downed.  While I tried earnestly to not look horribly uncool on the dance floor, it was beyond my reach.  And the worst part?  People told me that I didn't look cool.  My roommate, my friends, friends of my roommate.  It was as if people were trying to do a public service by drawing attention to just how inept I was at dancing.

So I stopped.  Until this past weekend, I hadn't set foot in a queer bar in 17 years.  But one of my good friends has been badgering me for 4 years to go to the bar with her, and for some reason I decided that last weekend was the weekend to do it.  There were conditions, of course.  Under no circumstances could she make fun of me or my dancing.  I was allowed to spend as much time on my phone as I wanted/needed to without being criticized for not being fun.  And she had to periodically come over and talk to me at the table.

I had anticipated sitting at the table babysitting the jackets all night, but the group I was with kept encouraging me to come out and give dancing a try.  Not in a critical or demanding way, but in a "We love you no matter how bad you look on the dance floor" kind of way.  And at one point, a friend came and sat next to me and said "Come out and just stand next to me.  You don't even need to dance."

And she was so supportive, that I did.  And I even moved my arms and legs a bit in a way that kind of approximated dancing.  And it wasn't horrible, and I didn't die.

So that is how you get an introvert to dance.

I may do it again in another decade or so.

*As I was typing this, I started thinking about my high school math teacher, whom everyone had suspected of being gay.  I ran into her at the lesbian bar one night and afterwards proceeded to tell everyone I knew about it.  I initially chuckled at the memory, until I realized OMG I OUTED MY TEACHER.  I feel retroactively terrible, 20 years later.

Don't ever out someone.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Should We Call Out Other Bloggers?

Many months ago, a personal finance blogger wrote a post that included a caricature of a woman that I found to be sexist, racist, classist, and ableist*.  Being a good Canadian, I usually have nothing but sweet and polite things to say on people's blogs; however, I was so offended by the post that I couldn't not say something about it.  So as politely and constructively as possible, I expressed my thoughts on the post.

It didn't go well.  I got the distinct impression that the blogger took zero time to reflect on what I said before attacking me and calling me a racist, because I had assumed the racial background of the person based on the caricature.  This was followed immediately by many other people commenting on how I was too "politically correct" and should just "shut my pie hole".  It was actually a really upsetting experience for me, because I really like when people like me, and I hadn't intended my comment to be an attack.  And it also seemed to have accomplished nothing.

And yet, I would do it again.  Because I think we as bloggers have a responsibility to not post sexist/racist/classist/ableist/misogynistic/xenophobic/homophobic/transphobic shit on our blogs.  This particular blogger has a big audience and therefore the ability to influence the thoughts and beliefs of a lot of people, and I think that influence shouldn't be used to reinforce outdated and damaging stereotypes.

I was reminded of this event today, when I came across a statement that I found offensive while reading an otherwise really good blog post.  The post was talking about someone who was saving money by getting her boyfriend to do repairs around the house, and the writer stated:  "I’m guessing she is paying for it in some way..."

Maybe I'm overreacting?  But I kind of hate the implication that a woman trades her sexuality for home repairs.

So I called the blogger out on it.  The blogger accepted my comment, but hasn't responded, so I'm interested to see how this plays out.  Hopefully the blogger will know that my comment was only meant to provoke some self reflection, not to diminish or attack what was otherwise a really good post.

How about you?  How do you respond when you read something you find offensive on a blog?

*I'm not going to link to any particular bloggers in this post, because this isn't about publicly criticizing/shaming any particular person, but rather reflecting on what our role is as readers and bloggers.  Also, I don't need any pissed off bloggers labeling me a "Nasty woman" and trolling my blog.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

I Just Need to Write Something, Right?

You know when you have an entire day to do something, like write a blog post, so you dither around doing other stuff, like checking Twitter every 7 minutes to see if someone has posted a cute animal/baby photo?  And then suddenly it's 6 PM and you need to cook something, because the broccoli you bought last week really should have been used yesterday, and it has to be quick, because you need to be at your friend's house by 8?

Yup...That's my current state of inspiration.

As for why I need to be at my friend's house by 8...apparently I agreed to go dancing tonight.  Which is so completely unlike me that I must be mistaken.  I know that I am an awkward dancer and that I hate crowds and that my kittens expect me to spend Saturday nights with them on the couch, so it must not actually have been me who agreed to this.

Apparently when you're single and you have already dated all four women from the online dating site, you are willing to do things waaay outside your comfort zone.  Like dancing.  And talking to strangers.

Wish me luck.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Living Inside My Student Loan

My student loan payment and my rent payment are automatically withdrawn from my bank account exactly one day apart:  loan on the last day of the month, rent on the first.  I was just looking at the two charges, one on top of the other in my bank statement, and I noticed that with the recent increase in the prime rate, my loan payment is now only $8.61 less than my rent.

For my loan payment and the cost of two Starbucks grande frappucinos (java chip, please), I could pay my rent every month.  For ten bloody years.

If I could go back to pre-medical school me, the one who was about to abandon her natural frugality and embark on an eight-year-long spending spree, I would tell myself to smarten up.  You aren't a doctor yet.  Loans are hard to pay back.  Pack a lunch.

I feel the urge to say the same things every time I overhear medical students talking about buying a new car or going on an expensive vacation or paying for two first-class seats on a plane to bring home the wedding dress they bought in another city*.   

Smarten up.  Loans are hard to pay back.

*True story.  One seat for the bride, the other for the dress.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NaBloPoMo Minus One?

I realized that it was NaBloPoMo* yesterday when I saw a post from Creampuff Revolution (yay!).  And then I forgot about it until today when I saw another post from OMDG.  And I thought "I should do that!"

Except I had missed a day.

And I hadn't planned anything for the month.

But why not?  (Aside from reasons listed above.)  I'm going to give this a try, starting today given that I lack the ability to go back in time and post yesterday.  No promises that I will come up with anything particularly insightful, but at the very least there will be something.  Daily.  Cause that's how this works.

(I clearly need to go to bed.  See you all tomorrow!)

*I hate this name. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Feeding my Wanderlust

A few months ago, I was faced with the decision between going to a scientific conference in Boston this Fall or one in Paris in the Spring.  I have been to Boston before, and I didn't really love it, so I was slightly underwhelmed by the thought of going back.  And then there's the fact that the US is currently being led by a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, fascist twat, which really makes me want to avoid the country altogether. 

Mais Paris?  Les boulangeries et les cafés et les beaux musées?  Bien sur!

So I booked three weeks off in the Spring, bought myself a travel guide to France, and committed myself to becoming fluent-ish in French before I go.  That's why I am here in Quebec City, speaking French poorly and savouring every last minute before le taxi whisks me away to the airport and back to my real life.

Going home feels really hard.  This morning I wandered along la rue Cartier, which is only minutes from my Airbnb, and I saw so many places I had wanted to visit but couldn't because of lack of time.  So many pain au chocolats that I didn't get to eat.  As I sat in a café drinking the best coffee I've ever had in my life, I wanted desperately to be able to stay.

As much as I love my home city and all of the people there, I am realizing that I really want to live elsewhere.  Not only for a week, but for long enough to really know a place.  To try every restaurant and wander every street and speak the language so much that I start to think in it.  I want to immerse myself in newness and difference long enough for it to become familiar.

Unfortunately, I haven't exactly chosen a career that makes this possible.  I am very subspecialized, making my job market very small.  There is no mid-sized town in France that is looking for one of me, and even Paris would be a hard place to find a job.  Not to mention the fact that communication is a rather essential part of being a physician, and I know almost no medical terms in French.  And I can't understand 90% of what people say to me in French.


More than that is the fact that I am not a brave person.  While some people have the personality that allows them to quit their job and move to a different country with only a backpack of stuff, I am not one of those people.  I crave savings and an emergency fund* and insurance of every kind**.  As much as I long for difference, I am also most comfortable with the familiar.  The reality for me is that I will likely keep working at the same job until I have enough money saved up to retire early, because I can't imagine leaving the security and the great pay any earlier.

So I guess I have to go home.  But I am going to remember this trip and how being surrounded by the sound of people speaking another language feeds some part of my soul that is hungry.  I'm going to keep taking French lessons, and I'm going to read every single page of my travel guide as I plan my next adventure.  And I'm going to dream of the day when I reach my FIRE number and can choose to never return from my vacation.

*I don't actually have an emergency fund, but I do have money set aside for a down payment on a home that I may never buy.  This could be its own post.

**Sort of.  I would never insure an electronic gadget or a trip, because I hate throwing money away.  This could also be its own post.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Je Marche Seule

Of all of the unhelpful things I've believed in my life, the most unhelpful is probably the belief that a relationship is what makes a person happy.  I'm not sure when I acquired this belief, but I know it was there by the time I was 12 years old and starting junior high.  That was the age at which I decided that I would be willing to have sex with a guy if he would be willing to be my boyfriend.  Fortunately I was nerdy and unpopular, so I never in a position to make that exchange, but at 12 years old I was willing.

The belief followed me through many lonely adolescent years and into my twenties, when I finally started dating.  My first boyfriend was someone who could best be described as a Darth Vader boyfriend, but I was so caught up in the idea that he would make me happy that I couldn't acknowledge that he didn't.  It took me four years to get out of that toxic relationship, and 13 years later I still wake up in a panic from nightmares that I have gone back to him.  As I was purging my memory box last week, I came across a photo of him, and I felt physically ill looking at it.  I decided to leave it in the box as a reminder that some things are worse than being single.

As the years went on, I found myself feeling not quite happy in a series of not quite right relationships.  After each one ended, I dutifully returned to online dating, hoping that the next one would fit just a little bit better.  But at some point in time, I heard or read somewhere (or perhaps many somewheres) that the best way to find a relationship is to make yourself happy without one.  And so I did that.  I started investing in friendships and cultivating my own interests and even occasionally hopping on a plane and travelling all on my own.

And at some point, it actually worked.  I found myself single and, although still looking, no longer feeling a sense of desperation to get into another relationship.  Any relationship.  I found myself feeling happy as I starfished across my double bed and wandered alone through museums and used Saran Wrap without being accused of destroying the whole planet.  It took me over 30 years, but by simply testing the theory that relationship = happiness, I was able to prove it false.

Empiricism for the win.

Towards the end of my most recent relationship, when it was becoming clear that we had entered the final disaster spiral from which nothing good ever escapes, my partner told me that she didn't think I would be happy without her.  She acknowledged that I was unhappy with her, because it was impossible not to, but she also told me that she thought I was just an inherently unhappy person and that my unhappiness had nothing to do with the relationship.  And for a moment I almost believed her.  But then I would find myself daydreaming of being alone, and in these daydreams I could imagine myself being happy again.

So I left.

And now here I am, in a new city in which it never stops raining and the sidewalks are buried under soggy yellow maple leaves.  I spend my mornings trying to pry French words out of my very English brain and my afternoons wandering the dripping streets alone, and it feels like magic.

There is no one here with me, but in this moment I have everything I could possibly want.

Monday, October 23, 2017

C'est très difficile

Sometimes I am an asshole.

I must admit, there have been times in my life when I have looked at people who speak English as an additional language and thought that I would do better if I were in their shoes.  I've imagined myself living in another country and easily learning the language by immersing myself fully in it - talking to other people, reading newspapers, watching television, listening to music.  And most importantly, completely avoiding any sort of communication in English.

Sometimes I am an asshole.

I've been in Quebec City for three days now, and for the first time I am beginning to really appreciate how difficult it is to learn another language.  Sure, I've traveled outside of Canada before, and I've amused myself by learning to say "hello" and "goodbye" and "I would like a reservation for two people" in other languages, but this is the first time I've ever tried to become fluent in another language.  And despite having a reasonable baseline knowledge of French, I am finding it a huge struggle.  I hate that it takes me five times as long to read a sign in French than in English, and that even then I am only able to get the gist of what it says.  I feel horrified every time I ask a question in my well-rehearsed but halting French and then cannot understand the response.

My French classes are fully immersive, meaning that we can get in trouble for speaking in English anywhere on campus, and suddenly I feel cut off from the world.  During conversational practice today, I had no idea what my classmate was saying, and I felt panicked at being unable to understand her or to make myself understood.  The environment is very supportive, and my teacher did his best to not make me feel like an idiot, but it still feels terribly uncomfortable.

When I returned from my five hours of class at the end of the day, all I wanted was to speak and read in English.  I opened my computer and was immediately relieved by how easy it was to read blogs and Facebook in my own language.  The comfort of familiarity!

So yes.  Sometimes I am an asshole.  And I apologize to any non-native English speaker whom I have ever passed judgement on.

You are amazing.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Packing my Minimalist Suitcase

My ex-partner was the antithesis of a minimalist.  Any time I would clear out a space, it would almost instantaneously be filled with something of hers.  Living with her was like the principle of nature abhors a vacuum manifested hoarder-style.

Since she moved out, I have been slowly returning to my preferred state of being a semi-minimalist.  I've taken four large bags of books to my Little Free Library; I've thrown out the three-year-old bottles of condiments that we never used; and I've even gone through my memory box and gotten rid of the awards and report cards that dated back to elementary school.  In this new stage of life, I am focusing on being lighter.

In the spirit of minimalism, when I started packing for my current trip, I decided to limit myself to one carry on bag and one camera bag (which has some extra space for books/a jacket/a water bottle).  I didn't need to do this, as I could have easily brought one of my larger suitcases, but I wanted to see whether I could fit my life into a small space for a week.

It was a lot easier than I thought.  My suitcase easily held two pairs of jeans, a warm sweater, two pairs of pajamas, and more than enough socks, underwear, and t-shirts.  There was room for five books, my french workbooks*, and a notebook.  My computer, my cell phone, and my camera with an extra lens.  Everything I will need.

But the constraints of space did force me to leave a few things behind, like my ex's long-sleeved t-shirt.  The cozy one that I bought her while at a conference in Boston, which was always a favourite of mine, and which she returned to me after the breakup.  The one I've been putting on every evening when I arrive home from work.  The most tangible reminder I have of what we were, and what was lost.  I am not usually one to assign emotions to physical things, but somehow lately it has felt as if all of my grief is contained within this piece of cotton.

So I left it at home. 

*I'm going to Quebec to practice my French for a week!  Je pense que ce sera plus dur que je pensais.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Apparently I Twitter Now

Penny from She Picks Up Pennies kindly shared my recent post about privilege on Twitter.  Which led her to ask me for my Twitter name (handle?), to which I replied "Um...is that like the Facebook?".

I am clearly old.

But now I'm on Twitter!  So if you want to witness me demonstrate my complete ineptness at new technology, please follow me!  I'm Frugalish Physician @FrugalishMD.

I promise I will display less ineptitude than the POTUS.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My Problem with the Success Narrative

The FIRE community is filled with personal stories that follow a "success narrative".  Although each one is unique, they all follow a similar pattern:

1)  I started off with no money.
2)  As a result of my own hard work/sacrifice/discipline, I have amassed great wealth and achieved financial success.
3)  Because I was able to do this, anybody can also do it.

I completely understand the appeal and value of this narrative.  For someone who has been financially successful, it's really nice to feel proud of your accomplishments and like you fully deserve all of the success you've enjoyed.  For someone who is still on the path to financial success, these stories can be inspiring, helping you overcome the self doubt and frustration that can be barriers to achieving your goals.  

So why do I take issue with these stories?

Because they almost universally ignore the role of privilege.  Very few people who share their stories acknowledge that they have had advantages in life that have helped them be successful.  While the specific privileges vary from person to person, they may include being male, being white, being heterosexual, being cis-gender, being a fluent English speaker, being free of mental/physical disability, growing up in a stable home free of any form of abuse, living in a safe community, having access to a quality education, etc.  There are many possible privileges, all of which contribute to the likelihood that someone will be successful in his or her life.

As you're reading this, you may be thinking about the story of someone who overcame a lack of privilege to be successful, and of course there are these stories.  Human beings are strong and resilient, and some of us are able to overcome tremendous odds to achieve great things.  But these are only individual stories, which ignore the fact that the greater the odds are against a person, the less likely they are to succeed.  A white, able-bodied, cis-gender, healthy male is going to have an easier time in life, on average, than a black transgender woman or a white man with serious mental health issues living in the inner city.

So why do I think this is important?

First, because although the success narrative can be very empowering to people who are successful, it can also be very mentally damaging to people who face barriers to success.  Imagine you were a single mother of four kids living in a bad school district and working two minimum wage jobs to support your family, and the message that you heard was that your lack of financial success was because you "aren't trying hard enough" or you "just need to be more disciplined".  Being told that you're a personal failure isn't helpful when what you're really dealing with is a lack of social support, a dysfunctional educational system, and inadequate wages.

Second, because the success narrative lets people of privilege (such as myself) off the hook.  If success is only the result of personal attributes, then we don't have to care about (or do anything about) racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, income inequality, or any of the other systematic processes that serve to keep people of privilege in power and keep other people oppressed.  We can sit with our wealth, believing that we're fully entitled to it, and not care at all about the people who are suffering within our very unequal system.

We need to do better.  While it's great to celebrate individual successes and be proud of our own accomplishments, we need to also acknowledge the things that have helped us to get to where we are.  And thankfully, there are some bloggers who are doing this.  Please read the Frugalwoods and She Picks up Pennies and Our Next Life and Cait Flanders for some really good explorations of privilege.  And when you're writing your own success narrative, which I look forward to reading, please recognize the role that privilege played in it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Growing my Community

As a typical introvert, I have always had a fairly small group of friends.  I hate small talk and big gatherings and casual relationships, so I've always prioritized close relationships with a few people over superficial ones with many.  And for the most part, this has always worked for me.  I still have a friend whom I met in kindergarten* and another whom I met in grade five, and I am closer with them than I am with any of my biological family.

When M and I started dating, I was shocked to see how large her friendship group was.  She is as extroverted as I am introverted, and so she has accumulated an enormous collection of friends and acquaintances over the years.  People from church, people from university, people from her childhood camp, people from work.  We rarely went out in public without running into at least one person whom she would consider a friend.

I have never wanted my friendship circle to be as broad as hers (I don't think I could even remember the names of all the people she knows), but I was always envious of how easy it was for her to find someone to spend time with when she wanted to.  Many of my friends are physicians or new moms, so getting together usually involves weeks to months of planning.  There aren't a lot of people in my life whom I can call up at the last minute when I'm feeling bored or am in need of a sympathetic ear.

This wasn't a huge problem when M and I were dating, as I could always call on her, but I became aware of it again when we separated.  The weekend after the breakup, almost every person in my life was busy.  It was almost comedic to see how many people were unavailable that weekend - my mom was visiting her family halfway across the country, my aforementioned long-term friends were both away, my brother was on call, two of my friends had brand new babies, and another good friend had quarantined herself in her house with her three plaque-ridden children.  Thankfully a close friend whom I had met through online dating** years ago was free, although I suspect she could have done without being my primary emotional support at the beginning of my breakup.

So...this post sounds a bit whiny, which is really not my intention.  This post isn't so much about gaining sympathy (or worse, pity) as it is about being self-aware.  While my introverted tendency is to be insular and not deal with the stress of meeting new people, my newly single self is craving more connections and a larger community.  Which means taking risks and living with some of the initial discomfort that comes from dealing with strangers.

So far, my focus has been mostly on strengthening my existing relationships, which I unfortunately neglected a bit while I was deeply ensconced in my relationship with M.  But the next step is to broaden my circle.  I have recently joined a French conversation group, as I am trying to become fluent(ish) in French, and it's an opportunity to meet some like-minded people.  I'm also applying to be on the Board of Directors for a small local theatre company, which would combine meeting new people with my slightly obsessive love of theatre.  And I'm trying to reconnect with some of my cousins, with whom I've lost touch since my Dad died eight years ago.

All of this feels a little (a lot?) stressful to me, as I am very comfortable in my own comfort zone.  But even introverts need friends, so I'm going to use the opportunity of my newly single life to bring more people into it.  Fear and discomfort be damned.

Any other ideas for growing my community?  How do you meet new people as an adult?

*35 years ago.  How insane is that?

**One of the advantages of same-sex relationships.  If there's no romantic chemistry, sometimes you can be friends!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Things that are Hard After a Breakup

Being one person in a bed meant for two*.
Discovering she took the popcorn after you plug in the popcorn maker.
Paying fees to change the plane tickets for a trip you were planning together.
Losing custody of your Wednesday night trivia team.
Running into her friends and not knowing whether they know.
Running into her friends and knowing that they know.
Leaving the carrots out of your soup because she took the peeler.
Becoming solely responsible for the emotional needs of your cats.
Changing the beneficiary on your investments.
To your mother.

*Also awesome.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Post Mortem

I keep opening this post, typing a few sentences, deleting them, and closing the post again without publishing anything.  I alternate between wanting to write a few lines to get it over with and wanting to pour everything in my heart out, consequences be damned.  I suspect in the end I'll do something in between, although it's hard to know, because whereas I usually have some idea of what a post will look like before I write it, this time I'm improvising.

I've heard it said that life keeps giving you the same lesson, over and over again, until you learn it.  For me, the lesson that I seem to be unable to learn is to let a relationship go the first time it ends.  In every long-term relationship I've ever been in, after the relationship has fallen apart, I've always gone back to see if the pieces could be reassembled.  Instead of just dealing with the loss and moving on from it, I've let myself be stuck in the process of the relationship ending, asking over and over again, "Can I make this work?"

The answer, of course, is no.  With rare exception, a relationship that has truly ended - in a furniture-moved-out, shared-possessions-divided-up kind of way - can't be made to work.  And that is the long and the short of what happened with M and I.  Our relationship ended over a year ago when I called it quits, but thanks to optimism and poor judgement and the ability of good memories to block out the bad ones, I invested a whole other year into making absolutely certain that it was over.

It hasn't all been bad.  In the past year, we've eaten chicken wings at trivia night and picked strawberries at the U-pick and camped under multiple starry skies.  We traveled to Europe in the Spring, eating currywurst in Berlin and waffles in Brussels.  There has been a lot of struggle and a lot of unhappiness, but there has also been life, in all of its beautiful imperfection.  And while I wish we hadn't been so unhappy, I don't wish away our last year together.

ZebraNRP at Mothers in Medicine wrote a beautiful post recently about the end of her marriage, and I have gone back to it multiple times over the past few months, while I've been witnessing the last days of my own relationship.  I love her idea that something isn't a failure just because it ends.  I also love the poem that someone included in one of the comments, and it seems like a fitting way to end this post.

          Failing and Flying
          Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012

          Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
          It’s the same when love comes to an end,
          or the marriage fails and people say
          they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
          said it would never work. That she was
          old enough to know better. But anything
          worth doing is worth doing badly.
          Like being there by that summer ocean
          on the other side of the island while
          love was fading out of her, the stars
          burning so extravagantly those nights that
          anyone could tell you they would never last.
          Every morning she was asleep in my bed
          like a visitation, the gentleness in her
          like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
          Each afternoon I watched her coming back
          through the hot stony field after swimming,
          the sea light behind her and the huge sky
          on the other side of that. Listened to her
          while we ate lunch. How can they say
          the marriage failed? Like the people who
          came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
          and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
          I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
          but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Radio Silence

After a brief period of activity, I've been quiet here for the past few weeks.  It isn't because I've had nothing to write about.  I've actually had too much to write about, but I simply couldn't, and so I've been silent.

M and I have separated.


I will likely write more about this in the future, as I enjoy oversharing personal information on the internet, but that's all I'm going to write for now.

Enjoy some David Gray!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Financial Personalities

I am very lucky to have a few super long-term friends, the longest-term of whom is my friend L.  L and I met in kindergarten, and we have lived fairly parallel lives ever since (same elementary/junior high/high school, same university, same medical school, same residency site, and now working at the same hospital).  Although our lives have been pretty similar, we are nonetheless very different people.  Where L is outgoing, I'm a classic introvert.  Where I am uptight and neurotic, she is laid-back and has a laissez-faire attitude.  She chose to be an Emergency physician because she loves the fast pace and variety, while I chose to be an Internal Medicine sub-specialist so that I could spend lots of time thinking and pouring over medical minutiae.  We're closer-than-sister friends, but very different in many respects.

As an introvert, I cling tightly to established relationships, so I make it a priority to maintain my friendship with L.  Because we're both busy people, the easiest way for us to do this is to get together for dinner, which we try to do once a month.  (This is one of the reasons my eating out budget is ridiculously high.)  Earlier this week, we met at a local restaurant for cocktails, charcuterie, and a chance to catch up on everything that's happening in our lives.  And one of the subjects that came up was money.

Having known her for 35 years, L is one of the few people with whom I can honestly talk about money.  So I talked frankly about how I'm horribly a little bit obsessive about saving money, about how closely I monitor my net worth, and about how much I would love to have enough to retire right now, even though I probably wouldn't.  As I talked, I could see a bemused little smile form on her face.

"Oh my god, Solitary!  You're a physician.  Stop worrying about money so much!  You have enough money.  Just spend it!"

She then proceeded to tell me about her financial strategy, which is basically to meet with her financial advisor once a year to review her debt repayment strategy and investment strategy, after which she spends whatever money is left over.  She doesn't really know her net worth, and she certainly doesn't know her daily net worth like I do.  But with how little attention she pays to her money, she is vastly less stressed about finances than I am.

Now...I have no idea whether her financial strategy is a good one or not.  She might be saving only a small percentage of her earnings, thus ensuring that she will need to work til 65 or beyond, in which case her approach isn't great.  But she spends pretty reasonably for a high income earner, and she does recognize the importance of saving, so I suspect she's doing okay.  And as I just said, she is vastly less stressed about finances than I am.

Which makes me wonder:  Is a person's stress level about money inherent and inflexible, or can it be changed?  If I start paying less attention to my finances, could they be less of a source of anxiety for me, or is this just part of my innately anxious personality?  I had thought that building up a solid net worth would get rid of my financial worries altogether, but it has really only lessened them slightly.  I'm now convinced that achieving Financial Independence is the key, but I'm not certain that even that will be enough.  Maybe I'm just hard-wired to worry?

Are you anxious (reasonably or unreasonably so) about your finances?  If so, how do you deal with it?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why Are You Thinking About Retiring So Early?

As I was reviewing the consult service list with my resident earlier this week, I started to feel strangely unwell.  Cold, clammy, nauseated, and dizzy to the point of almost passing out*.  The feeling passed quickly, so I did what any "good" physician would do and soldiered on through my day.  Unfortunately, the feeling came back twice while I was talking to a patient and his family, and I felt so sick that I thought I might black out in the middle of the hospital, so I finally conceded that I couldn't stay at work any longer.  Thankfully the service was slow, and I was otherwise just catching up on paperwork, so it was possible for me to make a quick exit and drive my sick self home.

My sick self was pretty darn sick, so I spent the rest of the day lying on the couch with two cats applied to my abdomen.  After exhausting my blogroll and all of the interesting television that I'm allowed to watch (I mostly watch shows on Netflix with M, who would not tolerate me getting ahead of her), I started reading through some of the old comments on my blog.  One of them in particular, from Zed at Mind the Medic, stuck out:

"I hope you don't mind me asking but why are you thinking about retiring so early?"

I was apparently too lazy to respond to the question at the time, but I feel like it deserves to be revisited, as it's something I think about often.  And the answer is pretty simple:

"Because I'm often happier when I'm not working than when I'm working."

This isn't something that physicians talk about all that often, because our careers are supposed to be our callings.  We're supposed to be happy to make all the sacrifices of time, energy, and stress that we do because they are more than made up for by The Great Privilege of Saving Lives.  And yes.  Some days my job is a great privilege, and some days I even get to save lives.  But a lot of days my job is exhausting and tedious and almost unbearably stressful.  And on those days, I sometimes dream of being retired, even though I'm only 40 and two years into my career.

Over the past 14 months, since I achieved the much coveted net worth of zero, I've managed to save up enough money to live off of for about 3 1/2 years.  At my current rate, I expect that I could retire in as little as seven years, although that would definitely be more a state of Financial Independence than Financial Freedom.  It gives me great comfort and a feeling of security to know that, if I want to or need to, I could walk away from working at that time.

Although, the reality is that I may choose not to walk away.  The more financially secure I become, the more freedom I have to do things that make me happy at work, like take time off.  Financial security also makes me feel much less stressed about work and and how much I'm earning, which in turn makes it easier to like my job.  My dream is to hit the point of being Financially Independent but to enjoy work enough that I have no desire to retire yet.

But if that isn't the case?  Then it will be really nice to have the option of retiring early.

*The eventual diagnosis:  possible early anaphylaxis to a medication that I've been taking for 18 years, complete with really spectacular urticaria.  I may need an Epi pen.

*Edited to add:  Thanks to Physician on Fire for including me in his Sunday Best list. If you've just discovered this blog through PoF, then welcome!  Please leave me a comment to let me know who you are.*

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Given that I took a week of vacation to go to a theatre festival, you won't be surprised to learn that I am a huge fan of theatre.  My love of theatre started at the age of 12, when I played the role of Weasel in "The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf"*, and it has grown over the following 28 years thanks to an impressive local theatre scene.  I have seasons tickets to the main theatre in my city, I can easily be convinced to see pretty much any play, and the annual theatre festival is my own personal Christmas.  Love it!

I also view theatre as something that's pretty important.  As a teenager, it took me a long time to understand and accept the fact that I am bisexual, and theatre made the entire process easier.  The plays that I went to often featured characters who were grappling with their sexuality, and when I watched them, I felt seen.  I may not have been able to tell my parents or even talk to my friends** about what was going on in my life, but I could go to the theatre and see myself reflected in the characters on stage.

Which is why I think it's important for a lot of stories to be told in the theatre, not just those of straight, white, cis-gendered, middle-class, heterosexual people.  But when I go to my theatre festival - my beloved, take-a-week-off, favourite-time-of-the-year theatre festival - those are the stories that are getting told.  And those are the people telling the stories.  Of the 25 plays I've seen to date, with over 50 actors in total, there have been only four non-white actors.  Four!  The population of my city is over 30% non-white, and yet virtually every actor at the festival is white.  And virtually every story is about white people.

I find this really sad, particularly because I view the theatre community as one of the most diverse and accepting groups of people anywhere.  If theatre isn't a space that welcomes and encourages the participation of everyone, then what space is?

*Because everything is available online, I found a video of a school performing "The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf", which brought back so many memories.  So many memories.  So many feels.

**Of course, my friends aren't idiots, and it didn't take too many times of me asking "Hey!  Wanna see this random lesbian play with me?" for them to figure it out.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Happiness on the Path to FIRE

Back in February, I was at one of the lowest points emotionally that I've been at in a long time.  I was burnt out from work, but in a very different way from the burnout I had experienced in residency.  In residency, difficult times were made easier by the knowledge that I was only days to weeks away from a new rotation; as an attending, I could take no such comfort from the knowledge that I would be doing the same work for years to decades.

So I took a vacation.  In late January, M and I decided last minute to book a trip to Cuba, and it was a bit of a lifesaver.  For the first time in months, I had a prolonged break from the incessant stress of work.  I stopped waking in the middle of the night to ruminate about patient care decisions.  I stopped calculating how many more days I would have to work until I would be financially independent.  I started laughing again.  For the ten days that I was away from work, I felt like myself again.

And when I went back, everything felt easier.  Not always easy, and certainly not free from stress, but at the very least far more manageable than it had before the vacation.  The whole experience made it clear to me that, while some physicians can go for years without a vacation, I am not one of those physicians.  To be happy, and to be of much use to my patients, I need to take breaks.

So I've decided to aim for at least one week off every three months.  By three months my neck is starting to stiffen and my sleep is getting more interrupted, and time away from the office feels really, really good.  I could work longer without a vacation, but I don't want to.

As someone who is interested in financial independence/retire early, or FIRE, it's tempting at times to want to reach financial independence as early as possible.  I sometimes think about taking extra call weekends and not taking time off and never eating out again so that I can squirrel away every possible penny for retirement.  But the reality is that I'm at least seven years away from achieving financial independence, and probably ten years away from feeling comfortable enough to retire, which is a long time to be unhappy.  I don't want to white knuckle my way to retirement; I want to be happy in the process.  Heck, I would love it if I were so happy in the process that when I reach the point of being able to retire I won't want to.

So I will take vacations.  And sleep through the night.  And laugh.  And be happy in my pursuit of FIRE.

(At the moment, I'm happily taking a week off of work to participate in our local theatre festival.  And I am loving my life.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It Wasn't About the Fireworks

As I was writing my most recent blog post, I was under no false illusion that my partner and I were in the right to be trespassing on private property.  I didn't even totally disagree with people's comments on the post, even though some of them seemed unnecessarily harsh to this delicate Canadian.  And yet, I was angry.  I was angry when I wrote the blog post, and angry when I reflected back on it.  Almost inexplicably so.

And then it finally occurred to me.  What I was feeling really had nothing to do with the woman who yelled at us.  Sure, it wasn't the nicest or most neighbourly of things for her to do, but she may have had her reasons for doing it.  Maybe her property gets destroyed by drunken yahoos every Canada Day and she's sick and tired of it.  What do I know?  The real reason that I was so upset about the whole incident was that, to me, it was reflective of a much greater greed that seems to be pervasive in our society.

I believe pretty strongly that personal wealth is partly the result of an individual's hard work, but it is also almost always the result of a tremendous amount of privilege.  In my own case, I had to work my ass off for years to become a physician, but I was helped a lot in the process by living in a safe country, by having access to a good public education system, by being born into a stable and supportive family, and by having the physical and intellectual ability to survive medical training*.  In other words, I was lucky.  And I believe that anyone who is as lucky as I have been should do what they can to share some of their good luck with others.

But unfortunately, a lot of wealthy people don't feel that way.  They feel that they're entitled to hoard their wealth, even when they have far more of it than they could use in many lifetimes over.  Republicans think it's okay to cut health care coverage for the poor as long as it lowers their own premiums.  The Walton family sits on many billions of dollars and gives almost nothing away.  And on and on.

It angers and saddens me to no end.  Because this "every man for himself" mentality doesn't make for good community or for a good world.  And it isn't the way that I want things to be.  So sometimes I get frustrated by it all and get mad at people for not wanting me to sit in their field.

(This is not as articulate a post as I would like it to be, but in the interest of getting something out there and getting past this event, I'm going to hit publish.  Please feel free to gently and kindly share your thoughts in the comments.  This is probably an idea that I'll revisit in the future, hopefully in a more completely thought out way.)

*To give but a few examples.  I could add in many more, such as the fact that I grew up middle class, that I'm not a visible minority, that women are more widely accepted in medicine than they were a generation or two ago, etc.  You get the idea.  Privilege