Thursday, July 31, 2008

Little bird

This morning I saw a little bird standing beside a gigantic crusty bread roll on Yonge Street.

He looked too confused to eat. He seemed overwhelmed with possibility.

It doesn't take Stephen Hawking to figure out that we're all little birds when it comes to one thing or other.

Even the biggest job can be broken down into bite-size pieces.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ms Understanding

I read somewhere -- probably on a fridge magnet, source of all enlightenment -- "If you don't like someone, even the way they hold their fork can infuriate you. But if you like them, they can overturn a bowl of soup on your lap and all is forgiven."

One of our clients is going through some tough times.

Along with some pretty aggressive - maybe even unobtainable - goals, they've had some senior people leave or be summarily dismissed, and a virtual revolving door of staff turnover recently.

Like most corporate cultures, they haven't been that good at mitigating fear among the troops.

Silence isn't always golden when people are fearful in the face of change. They all have mortgages, children, spouses, aging parents and all the usual stressors we all face...and now they're worried about jobs, too.

The mood of the place has gone from a positive "we're all in this together" to "who can I blame for this?"

As their agency of record, we're on the firing line for some of the "who can I blame for this?"

I'll be honest, we're not always right. Not by a long shot.

But we're always trying to be. What I mean by that is that every single person who works on their particular piece of business is trying to do the right thing. We don't like to fail. Who does? We're all doing the best job we can within our own particular set of limitations.

But there's an overwhelming feeling of being scrutinized at the moment.

Every decision is questioned. Every estimate is gone over in meticulous and excruciating detail. Every piece of creative is done and re-done.

The claustrophobia of being continually judged is wearing on me. You can't possibly do a good job when you know that all eyes are on you waiting for you to fail.

See where I'm going with this? I get it because I've done it. I've been the one sitting in the judging chair with the accusatory finger wag at the ready. Now I'm being subjected to it. And boy does it feel crappy.

What a great, though difficult, life lesson to learn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How sick is sick?

Okay, I'll admit it. I have an exaggerated sense of responsibility.

It's pretty inconceivable that I wouldn't deliver on a project or meet a deadline. So I get a little chuffed when others don't do the same. Coming to work sick actually soothes my inner martyr.

So I know that I'm judgemental when it comes to other people's sick days. Especially -- and this is where judgement raises her head again -- when it comes to boys taking sick days off.

I could have both legs amputated below the knee, a little touch of the Ebola and the beginnings of stigmata, and still roll into the kitchen to rustle of a passable Bolognese sauce.

Not so for the majority of guys who work in my department.

Now we're not talking Ultimate Fighting Hero type of guys...we're talking about Art Director guys. Guys who spend their days making things pretty. Guys who read Applied Arts. Guys who love all things Helvetica. Guys who well up when they see a picture of a sad looking kitten in a box.

These guys -- see above -- are also prone to drama worthy of a spot on 42nd Street when the smallest amount of ill health creeps into their daily existence.

Nasal drip becomes typhus. A dry cough requires an iron lung. A flu virus requires a doctor's note and a week off work.

Gloria Steinem said, "If men got their period, it would be a national holiday."

Anyway, there's a national holiday in our department today. Wave your sanitizer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Well read

I just finished Pico Iyer's, The Open Road. Over the past 40 years, fate and circumstance have given him unprecedented access to the 14th Dalai Lama.

What makes this book particularly interesting is that, while Iyer clearly respects the Dalai Lama, he didn't set out to write a love-in. He's a critical thinker by nature, and an anthropologist at heart. He's also a big league brainiac who possesses the skill of writing clearly and simply about some pretty esoteric topics for Buddhist and non-Buddhist audiences alike.

Toward the end of the book, I was struck by this simple story that he told about one of his meetings with the Dalai Lama.

When the two were finished meeting, they got up to leave the room.

As they were about to exit, the Dalai Lama noticed a light burning in a lamp opposite the door. While Iyer held the door open, the Dalai Lama re-crossed the room to switch it off.

"It's a small thing," the Dalai Lama said. "But every time I leave a room, I try to switch off the light. It makes a difference. Small things add up to big changes over time."

This really resonated with me.

How often do I focus on the big problem and think that I couldn't possibly do anything to affect positive change? What a terrific reminder that little changes can mean a lot when they're added to other little changes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Strategic vacation planning

One of the side benefits of ridiculous deadlines, unrealistic client demands and pressure cooker 14 hour days, is getting an extra day off during summer long weekends.

Where the statutory holiday is on the Monday, this means we get the previous Friday off as well.

Thanks to some strategic vacation planning, I'm tacked four days of annual leave on to August 4th's civic holiday. The result is that I'm getting ready for 10 consecutive days off.

Here's the scary part.

I have nothing planned for these days, except for some vague notion that I'll do "house stuff".

It's not like me not to plan -- especially for something as serious as vacation time -- so I'm starting to get a little nervous about it.

I always go somewhere.

Even though I'm heading to Ottawa at the end of the month and have a much bigger trip to Thailand and Cambodia planned for the fall, it seems almost wasteful not to go anywhere.

But part of me feels a real need to refuel.

I think it would be good to stop and stare for awhile. To explore my own city. Read more books. Reorganize my closet. Sleep late and hang out in cafes.

Then there are the practical tasks -- changing my kitchen counters, looking for a new sofa, ordering new blinds.

I'll see where I net out. The siren song of is louder than all practicality.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The enlightenment of Bonnie Raitt

"I can't make you love me if you don't."

There, that'll save me a couple of years of therapy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brain Smudge

In an attempt to rid myself of all things Ciccone, I was listening to John Kabbat-Zinn's Wherever you go, there you are audiobook on the way to work this morning.

He has a lovely, soothing and mellifluous voice. In the midst of being lulled into submission he said something that really caught my attention: "Wherever you go, you take your mind with you."

Whoa. For some reason, that really struck a chord with me this morning. Maybe it's because I spent two sleepless hours going over yesterday's copy decks and today's To Do list in my head last night. I've got some fresh evidence to leverage when it comes to knowing what my mind can get up to when left unattended.

I'm someone who really needs to work on being in the moment. Full consciousness doesn't come easily, or without a fight most of the time. And by consciousness, I don't mean judgement -- of myself, the situation, or others. But here's the thing -- full consciousness comes not when I exercise control...but when I give it up. When I let go of the outcome.

Peace to you this fine Hump Day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Okay, I admit it. I feel dirty.

I finished the Christopher Ciccone book last night. It was like watching back-to-back episodes of Intervention, only the addict was holding the camera while reading a treatise on co-dependence.

Toward the end of Life with My Sister Madonna, Christopher Ciccone talks about how Madonna repeatedly begged him to go into rehab for his excessive partying -- even offering to pay for it, his therapy, ANYTHING -- while he assures the reader that he always has his cocaine use completely under control.

And by "in control" he means being virtually unemployed for years at a time, while hanging out and doing coke with Donatella Versace, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

Ciccone eventually goes to a treatment centre where he claims they do blood tests and assure him, based on the results, that's he's NEITHER an alcoholic or drug addict. HAS ANYONE EVER HEARD OF ANYTHING THIS RIDICULOUS BEFORE?

This book is a cry for help and now I feel bad for having participated in it.

Here's the thing. If the people in your life are repeatedly telling you they think you have a problem with some substance or other -- a fact which you repeatedly deny -- save yourself a lot of grief and take their word for it.

No matter how controlling you think they are -- or even how controlling they actually are -- they really have your best interests at heart. No one likes to sit around and watch someone they love destroy themselves.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy Birthday to my BFF

My BFF turns 43 today. We met the summer he turned 16.

For a long time, you couldn't know one of us without knowing the other. We've lived together in 6 cities, in four countries, and visited innumerable other locations together.

We've had some incredible, side-splittingly happy times together, while at other times our divide has seemed almost irreparable. I'd say we're probably at the healthiest place we've been in a long time.

Some day I'll write our story -- part A Home at the End of the World, part Will & Grace -- but I'll only do it when I can give it the perspective, respect and love it deserves. No Christopher Ciccone for me.

Happy Birthday, Boo. Many happy returns.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boot Camp, Part II

Wow. If I'd known you were all such passionate debaters, I would have given you something easier to talk transubstantiation.

I clearly hit a nerve with my Boot Camp posting of a few days ago. You just never know what's going to resonate with the masses and inspire such spirited debate.

I think all that Navy Seal training has some of you a little hyped up. Might I suggest a cold compress and an afternoon in an air-conditioned theatre watching musicals. You'll probably live longer.

To the others who, like me, still recoil from being on the receiving end of errant dodge balls -- I'll meet you round the back of the school for a book exchange.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I have a confession to make

ME: Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

PRIEST: How long since your last confession?

ME: About three months. Since I finished Losing It, by Valerie Bertinelli.

PRIEST: That was a dark and sordid time, my child. What brings you before me again?

ME: Oh Father. I am so ashamed. I'm so weak. I picked up Life with my sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone. And I can't put it down!

PRIEST: But you know if you keep reading it, you'll go blind.

ME: I know, Father. But it's so good.

PRIEST: Sinning always is, my child. Can you stop now, before it goes too far.

ME: I don't think so, Father. I believe the Devil has taken hold of me.

PRIEST: I understand. They showed us Truth or Dare in the Seminary. For your penance, I need you to say 5 Hail Mary's, listen to Like a Prayer 10 times, and spend the rest of the day speaking in a fake English accent.

ME: Is there anything else, Father?

PRIEST: Yes. Because of the severity of your sin, I'm advising you to go home and watch Swept Away.

ME: That's just cruel, Father.

PRIEST: Why do you think I went into this line of work?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Boot Camp

I know at least a dozen people who have signed up for Boot Camp this summer. Doesn't that go against why we live in this peace loving nation to begin avoid conscription?

I just don't get the whole G.I. Jane thing. Perhaps it's just my past life as a tree sloth talking.

I know I'll never voluntarily sign up for anything that involves paying to exercise until you throw up. It's like the Spinning phenomenon of a couple of years ago. You pay to participate in a class where you sit and spin on a bicycle that's bolted to the floor while a chiseled and hard-bodied sociopath shouts abuse at you.

If it was up to me, I'd yell right back. Something like: "Ya, well, I've read more books than you!" That'd be mature.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lunch of the Day

In any place I've ever worked, I've instituted an unofficial daily contest called "Lunch of the Day". It's not unlike "Employee of the Month" without the wooden plaque and the badly lit photography.

In my experience, people -- okay, me -- really look forward to it. It inspires a little healthy competition among the armchair gourmands of the group.

Yesterday I won "Lunch of the Day" hands down. I even wrote about it in my Gratitude List.

Yesterday's lunch consisted of 2 slices of deliciously dense pumpernickel bread, upon which I layered thinly sliced vegetarian pate, half a perfectly creamy ripe avocado, and tons of fresh field greens. Served it up with plump and juicy Ontario cherries and a fine tub of prune Activia yoghurt.

I could barely concentrate on the lunch table conversation. It was that good.

The memory of that hard-working little avocado, holding that delicious sandwich together, carried me through the afternoon. Happiness consists of these little moments strung together.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Goofus Maximus

I offer this up as a lighthearted cautionary tale to anyone who has ever given a presentation.

I'll set the stage. The meeting was happening in the big agency boardroom. There were six or seven clients in the room, a couple of account people, a couple of VPs, and the big VP creative director.

Those of us who were presenting were on a four hour call -- we could be beckoned at any time.

My call came just before lunch.

I was invited into the room to do my dog and pony show as the lunch trolleys sat outside the boardroom. You have to be pretty gosh darned entertaining to compete with the lunch trolley during an all day meeting, let me tell you.

So, in I come. In one hand I have the presentation boards, my note book, my notes for the presentation, and a pen. In the other hand I have -- wait for it -- A GLASS OF WATER.

Okay, I think you know where this is going.

My depth perception is pretty bad. In fact, if we ever find ourselves on a plane where the pilot has been poisoned and they're looking for someone to land'd be better off with that child in row 12.

So, in I come and run into the wall with the presentation boards while my glass does a slow motion water spill on to the...floor, thank goodness.

By way of recovery, I looked at the clients (who, by now, were thinking that this could be a whole lot better than lunch) and said, "Yup. Went into advertising because I'm such a lousy waitress."

All okay in the end. I think they may have liked me more because of my humanity.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Putting the dead in deadlines

I have a crazy amount of work to accomplish today.

To make matters worse, I'm wearing ill-fitting undergarments while scheduled to present to WonderBra! I hope they don't do a strap test.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bloated: The Price of Gas

The fact that I own a 2001 Suzuki Swift with barely 27,000 kms on it will attest to the fact that I'm not a big driver.

So you can imagine my surprise when I filled up this morning and gas was at 134.9! It cost me nearly $32 to fill up. This might not sound like a lot to you -- especially if you drive a sports ute -- but this is a good $10 more than I've ever paid to fill Lady Bug from empty.

While I live and work downtown and can walk or take public transit almost anywhere, I can only imagine what impact the high cost of gas is having on families who need their vehicles for dropping off and picking up kids, or for sales people who spend their days on the road.

Next car -- if there is a next car -- will have to be a hybrid, or one of those darling little Smart Cars. At least with the latter, it runs on the smell of a gas rag and you can park it in your pocket.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Playing Doctor

This will be short, since I'm heading directly to a family doctor's appointment this morning.

With the state of health care in Ontario, and the inability for most people to even find a family doctor, I'm incredibly fortunate to be under the care of some of the brightest physicians imaginable at Mount Sinai.

How bright?

Well, when I started with the Family Medicine Centre I had what had been a recurring skin condition for me. It was painful. Unsightly. Uncomfortable. It kind of looked like excema but didn't respond to any of the usual treatments.

It tended to flare up at inopportune times. I thought it might have been exacerbated by stress. The funny thing was that my Mom periodically suffered from the same thing, often during the hot summer months. She remembered her Dad being the same.

The rock stars down at Mount Sinai put me through a battery of tests before they discovered what it was.

Turns out I have a non contageous, genetic disease. The frequency in the population is one in a million. (See, I really am one in a million!) Because of frequency of presentation, doctors will rarely recognize it.

Discovering it was my doctor's best day ever on the job. With my permission, he trooped through every doctor in the department to take a gander at me when the tests came back from the lab.

While it's incurable, there are ways to control it if you catch it early enough. Interestingly, I haven't had a flare up since I was diagnosed several years ago.

So, if you're a member of my extended family and any of this sounds familiar to you, shoot me an email. I can help make your doctor's best day ever, too!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lattes and Three-Headed Dogs from Hell

One of the baristas in the Bermuda Triangle of Starbucks in my central downtown location is a retired high school Classics teacher. He's also functionally insane.

He does the morning shift -- between about 6:30 and 10:30 a.m. -- and is famous for heaping abuse on customers, pontificating about some item or other that he's read in the news that day, or debating the relative merits of Spartan vs. Athenian culture.

If you should happen to be carrying a little extra poundage and request, for example, an extra shot of caramel in your macchiato, he'll loudly proclaim it for all to hear. "Make that caramel overflowing," he'll yell. "Let it positively drip down the side of the cup! Leave out the coffee if you have to."

This dude is probably singlehandedly responsible for the incredible number of Boot Camps springing up across the city these days.

He's our very own soup Nazi.

Yesterday he had a sign on his cash register: I am Cerberus.

Cerberus, you'll remember, is the three-headed hound that guards the gates of hell. He's tastefully attired with a snake for a head and snakes down his back. Nice image for a Tuesday morning.

It reminds me of that great scene from Ghostbusters, where Rick Moranis peaks into the dark bedroom during a party and says, "Hey, who brought the dog?" before he himself becomes a hell hound.

Hope your day isn't too hellish.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


If you're looking for a relaxing soundtrack for your day, might I recommend Three Rivers Hare Krishna.

It's just one of the offerings from Buddhist Chant Master Krishna Das' album titled: Live on Earth (For a Limited Time Only).

A few years ago I spent a weekend with Krishna Das and another incredible Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, at a place called the Garrison Institute. It's located a beautiful hour long train ride along the Hudson from New York City.

Krishna Das - whose real name is Jeffrey Kagel -- was born a Jew. The conversion phenomenon is so prevalent in North American Buddhism that they've actually coined a term for it: Jew-Bu.

Anyway, he and Sharon studied in India together, though their root gurus are different.

She went on to open the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, has published some beautifully accessible books, and is a lifelong practitioner of metta (lovingkindness) meditation. (Check out A Heart as Wide as the World, available in book form as well as spoken word.)

Krishna Das' practice is entirely in his music. He's one of the more famous kirtan singers around. He has a beautifully hypnotic and resonant voice. Whether you believe or not, there's something about the repetition and reassuring drum beat that helps elevate your soul.

When I find sitting silently for meditation to be a challenge, I'll sometimes put in some Krishna Das. It helps regulate my breathing and focus my thoughts.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Welcome to Date Week

It's Date Week, chez Franny Glass.

As timing would have it, this is the week when I'm scheduled to meet three of the four contenders with whom I've been keeping up a regular correspondence.

As fate would have it, three of the four of them have names beginning with "J".

This could be troublesome.

We recently hired an art director named Natasha and an intern named Nicole. I call each of them by the other's name with startling regularity. I'm afraid I'm going to do the same with my little online friends.

Met one of the "J"s for a nice long walk yesterday. Points for being a nurse with a dog named Doogie Bowser. And points for suggesting a walk in the first place. But no real connection. Doogie was pretty hot, however.

While our online relationship had been punctuated by J's trip to Vancouver for a conference, and some talk of a previous trip to Ghana, I mistakenly took this for a love of travel and adventurous personality. Not so, I discovered, a few minutes into my walk. Turns out J doesn't travel too much, doesn't really enjoy it, and hardly ate anything while in Ghana. Deal breaker.

Meeting another "J" tomorrow.

And then an "E" on Wednesday.

I'm holding out a lot of hope for "E"...if only because it doesn't start with J, and it's the first letter in "excellent".

Friday, July 4, 2008

Top Gun

I don't usually remember my dreams, but I thought you'd enjoy this one.

I was a student at fighter pilot school. One of my classmates was Katherine Heigl (from Grey's Anatomy).

In my dream I disliked both height and speed.

Just before our first test flight, Katherine confided to me that I could overcome my fears. She told me to smoke some weed to get over the inevitable motion sickness of flying the fighter jets.

When I was about to light up, my clock went off.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Putting the Ho in Hospitality

I had a lot of time over this past week to gratefully experience other people's hospitality.

I'm not just talking ordinary hospitality -- the "here's a fresh towel, now try not to get in the way" kind of hospitality. I'm talking the "our house really is your house, so let's see what else we can do for you" kind of hospitality.

It was pretty amazing.

Barb ignored her clients for a week, while we joyfully cavorted around Maui and Oahu. She drove everywhere, made incredible meals, and even baked bread!

Tony booked a day off work to take us to the beach, patiently barbecued anything that didn't move, and set up the coffee pot and our cups every morning before he left for work. That list bit alone would have made him a candidate for canonization, in my books.

Even 9 year-old Tori uncomplainingly gave up her room and her bathroom for the duration of my visit.

While I like to think that this is the kind of warm welcome I extend to my visitors, I'm afraid I've never quite lived up to the unconditional welcome that I was given in Hawaii. Truth is, I'm not that unselfish.

But gratitude is a powerful motivator. Maybe because of the kindness I was shown, I'll be more likely to extend it in the future.

Maybe those nutty Kielburger kids are right, after all. Think we. Pass it on.