About Kate Barker

I'm a freelance magazine writer, editor and journalism instructor who is going back to school at the age of 45.

Centennial Baby Blues

Our anointed queen

Our anointed queen

I am not a patriot. I have never bought a plastic made-in-China Canadian flag, tee-shirt or any other red and white trappings on July 1. As a gay Torontonian, Pride takes precedence for my family on that particular long weekend. There are Canada Day/Pride hybrid paraphernalia for the festively conflicted, but I am not one of them and have never indulged in a rainbow maple leaf temporary tattoo. While I do appreciate my extreme good fortune in being born Canadian, and applaud the courage of my parents who, separately, and both impossibly young, left all they knew in England to make a new life, I had nothing to do with it. My parents met, married, and procreated here. Luck made me Canadian. I didn’t earn it. It was thrust upon me in what was, ironically, the most patriotic of years.

I was born in 1967—aka The Summer or Love—two weeks before the country’s much ballyhooed centennial. Amid all the hoopla that included nickels emblazoned with bunnies, a confederation train, and a brand new font—The Jacques Cartier typeface—there was even a push for fornication in the name of the nation. I cannot claim the title of The Centennial Baby—that honour is bestowed upon Pamela Anderson—yes, that Pamela Anderson—who entered this earth on July 1, 1967 at 4:08 a.m. in Ladysmith, B.C. I am, however, numbered among the lesser Centennial Babies, some 370,894 of us, including Pamela, our anointed queen, who, according to Stats Can, collectively squalled into existence as our respective parents’ personal centennial projects. It was not a popular contest, apparently. There were 16,816 more live births in 1966.

While I have seen enough of human frailty in the form of early cancers and chronic pain to greatly appreciate the fact that I am still on the right side of the turf and in sort-of-okay shape, I can also tell you this—no one enjoys turning 50, not even Pamela Anderson. So, amid all the colonial claptrap celebrating 150 years of nationhood as defined by a dead white Scottish dude, I have a request. Can the Federal Government remember the now saggy pool of surviving Centennial Babies and cut us all a cheque? It doesn’t have to be a big cheque, but please do make it symbolic. How about $670, because, and I think we can all agree on this, $67 is just a little too cheap. The $670 would be fair recompense for the inability of any of us to avoid our 50th birthdays. For those of us who want to try to forget, it will also be more than enough to keep ourselves and those closest to us sufficiently lubricated or numbed in our drug of choice to deaden the cloying effects of all that orgiastic flag waving. One last request, and I think I speak for the remaining 370,893 of us who are still alive when I say this—please do go ahead and cut a special cheque of $6,700 for Pamela Anderson.

An American obscenity

This feels like the dawn of a brutal new world when I thought we were on the cusp of full equality at last. Instead of a strong, smart, compassionate woman at the helm, America has elected a sociopath. The American response to the worst refugee crisis since World War Two is defined by hatred. The spectacle is eerily and historically familiar—a charismatic celebrity on stage, reducing all complexity and nuance to over-simplified sound bites. Rabid nativism and misogyny dominates intellectualism and basic human decency. The ones to pay will be all of the Others—the scapegoats, the targets of this monstrous dumbing down of all things to one, terrible reality—American democracy now trembles on a knife edge.

Funding the lucky few

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.58.24 AMI’m lucky. That’s all. I was lucky in December when some faculty members at the History Department at York met to decide which SSHRC proposals they would ship down the line, to the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Someone liked mine. Maybe two someones. I thank them, whoever they are. Then I got lucky again, when even more anonymous someones from different York faculties found my proposal worthy. What constitutes worthiness, in this case, is more luck, plus a dash of sex appeal. My proposal isn’t safe sexy. It’s more American Horror Story sexy. I study a virus that wiped out between 50 to 100 million people, most of them, over the course of about four months. You would have to be in a coma or studying for comps not to notice the appalling viruses that have been all over the news for the past year or so. I also benefit from a great news hook – the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic is coming up. That’s it. That’s why my proposal was sent on to Ottawa, while the majority of those of my equally hard-working and talented fellow grad students in the department of History at York, were not. And now, my odds of securing a SSHRC are about 50/50. So, not great. And, if I get lucky again in the spring, and do secure a SSHRC, I will have reached the pinnacle of what most full-time grad students can ever hope for: $20,000 a year for three years. This is how much we value scholarship in Canada.

Women Writers Make Less

Women writers in Canada make 55 cents to every dollar that male writers earn. That is the buried lead in the  latest survey figures from the Writers’ Union of Canada. And no one is talking about it

We are talking about the troubling figures that don’t really surprise any of us who have been scrabbling to pay bills  as writers over the past 15 years: Canadian writers earn 27 per cent less today than they did in 1998, and must work almost twice as hard to get it. The average writer’s income is $12,789 – or, $36,000 below the national average. In 1998, I was in my second and final year of journalism school. For most of my career since, I have hustled as a freelance writer and editor. I’ve done well, by industry standards. I even have several National Magazine Awards to my name. I had long-form feature articles (remember them?) published in many Canadian consumer magazines. And yet my 15-plus year career has been on a steady downward economic trajectory. If I were to publish a book tomorrow, for my trouble, I would make 55% less than a man doing the same damned thing.

This statistic, and evidently, the fact that there is a difference at all between what men and women make as writers, surprised Kate Taylor. In Friday’s Globe and Mail she said: “The Canadian survey also revealed a surprising gender gap: For every dollar reported by male authors, female authors were only reporting 55 cents. It’s a shocking difference in a field in which women are as prominent as men, in a country with a literary tradition in which the first names that spring to mind are female, including those of Margaret Laurence and Marian Engel, the pair who founded TWUC.”

Fifty-five percent. Is this 1955? Am I the only one who is enraged by this? Why are women writers so undervalued, and why is everyone so surprised that we are? In this post Ghomeshi Canada, are people really shocked that hipster dudes can also be misogynists? If these statistics are right, then our industry is far more sexist than others. The latest statistics for the gender wage gap in Ontario is 74 cents to the male dollar.The United States even looks like a feminist haven, comparatively. There, on average, women make 77 cents to the male dollar. In 1987, the year that pay equity legislation was passed, the gender wage gap in Ontario was 36%, meaning that women earned 64 cents to the male dollar. And that’s still nine cents more than the gender wage gap that exists today in Canadian writing.

So perhaps it is not surprising that I was never able to make a living solely on writing and editing. I didn’t realize my gender made it more than doubly difficult to do so. I have always been honest with my students. “If your freelance,” I tell them, “make sure you also get some corporate writing work.” (Also a difficult task, but that’s the subject of another blog). Now I will also say this. “If you are a writer and you are a woman, and you publish a book, you will make 55% less than your male counterparts in this country.”

I remember the advice of a dear friend,  a man who taught me more about great journalism than anyone else I know. Years ago, he also told me that writers don’t ask for more money and they should. I took his advice. I always brought up money and was never shy to ask for more. I often didn’t get it, but at least, I thought, I put it out there. I’m a good writer, and an experienced one. I naively believed in the old adage “you get what you pay for.” A few years ago, an editor contacted me. I did not pitch the story, keep in mind—she reached out to me. This editor had read a piece I had done for another magazine and wanted me to do something similar. Great, I said. And then I asked about money. The amount was so low, so insulting, I actually laughed. She had approached me, I pointed out. She wanted me based on my writing, but also based on my expertise in a particular area. If anything, I would expect a little more than my usual rate. There was a brief silence. A curt goodbye. I never heard from her or her publication again. I now wonder if my name had been Ken and not Kate, would she have hung up quite so quickly?

And why, I also wonder, after reading the smattering of coverage in various news outlets that picked up on this appalling story about the sad state of Canadian writing, was the gender wage gap the last point anyone made?

Not that it surprises me.

La Maison Rose

la maison roseWhen I was about three or four years old, I told my parents I didn’t live with them. I lived in The Pink House. At first, they chalked it up to a childish fantasy — an imaginary friend sort of problem they quietly hoped would go away before they might have to go public with it. I imagine my mother distracting me in her sing-song English accent. “Katy, do come and read this book with me.” My father would have tried an ice cream. But I was adamant. “I don’t live here. I live in The Pink House.” In fact, at the time, we lived in a large white stuccoed house in Oshawa on busy Simcoe Street North. The first week my parents moved in, my father built a tall fence because I developed the disconcerting tendency to dash out towards traffic. meanddadAlso, I could climb. Here we are in front of the fence, around the time of my pink house obsession. It made no sense. My parents wracked their brains trying to figure out the source of my odd fixation. There were no pink houses in Oshawa in 1970-71, as far as they knew. I wasn’t surrounded by hyper-gendered toys. Sure, I had the ubiquitous Barbies, but I never played with them, unless cutting off their hair and hiding them in the back of a closet counts as “playing.” Mostly, I liked toy cars, Lego and a cool six-shooter cap-gun my father acquired in Calgary when you could still buy kids war toys with a clear conscience. But there was one doll, just one — a beloved companion I dragged around by its hair and named Pink Baby.

Fourth birthday party. I'm the one in drag.

Fourth birthday party. I’m the one in drag.

The Pink House, my reasonable parents surmised, was the combination of a type A personality, a favourite toy, and, what my mother called a “vivid imagination.” It wouldn’t last. They were wrong. It got so bad that my parents decided to let me leave and “go home.” On the big day, I talked incessantly about finally going to The Pink House. But I couldn’t play with the bath toys. They belonged to the little girl who lived with them, not to the girl from the Pink House. My mother thought that would work. But I was undeterred. They let me go so far as to put on my coat and shoes, and start walking up the driveway to The Pink House. At this point, the way my mother tells the story, worry had my father skirting the edge of a total nervous collapse. I suspect it was my mother in that state. Regardless, they let me leave and held their collective breath. I walked down the driveway, looked one way, then the other,  and paused —what seemed a very long time. Then I turned back and came home. I never mentioned the Pink House, my real house, again.

It’s in Montmartre. Tour guides will tell you anything to keep you interested and won’t necessarily let the truth get in the way of a good story. With that caveat in mind, this is what we were told and what I want to believe about The Pink House in Montmartre. Towards the top of the wending Rue de l’Abreuvoir it sits, where it sat in 1916 for Maurice Utrillo’s famous lithograph, and where it sat in 1886-1888 when Van Gogh lived in the neighbourhood. According to the tour guide, it was a brothel in Van Gogh’s time, and he was a frequent customer. Perhaps this is where he took some of the little pleasure he ever experienced in his tortured life. Certainly he would have passed by it often. Today it is a restaurant and where Kim and I chose to spend our last evening together in Paris. It has taken me almost 48 years to get to Paris. Of all the places in that city I have read about maison rose nightand imagined in literature and history, Montmartre is at the beating heart of it for me — the one that artists called home. We saved the best for last. After walking through Montmartre, we spent a few hours at a little table th-2on the cobbled street outside La Maison Rose. We stayed until the sun went down. I know that Cafe Terrace at Night was set in Arles. But when the lamps came on, just for a minute, I imagined that the first piece of art I ever knew — the print that hung in my parents’ living room for 20 years  — could have been born here. We walked the route Van Gogh would have traced back home, perhaps after a prostitute he loved kicked him out for another paying customer. It was a short downhill trek, to the big blue door of number 54 Rue Lepic, made gloomy in the night. I curled my hand briefly around the spiralled brass handle and squeezed, as he would have done. Perhaps he would have leaned his weight against the heavy door to get in. Alone.

Kim and I walked on, our fingers laced together.lamplight

 

 

 

Morning shift,ChimneyStack picket Cupe 3903, March 20

5:37 a.m.
The alarm will go off in 4 minutes but I’ve been awake for a while. Get up, feed cats, make coffee – do all the usual morning things. But this morning is not usual. Nothing about being on strike is usual. And last night, York senate voted to resume all classes Monday. That means more trouble for us on the lines. But I’m trying not to dwell on that. I haven’t even had a coffee yet.

6:20 a.m.
Caffeinated and dressed. This is my ninth day – for many, it is their 14th. I missed the first bitterly cold week on the line because I was away. Although it’s warmer, it’s far from balmy. We come home with wind burned faces. I wear the uniform – long underwear, jeans, long sleeved shirt and a black hoodie because it’s the only hoodie I have and usually, it’s pulled up over my head. Sometimes I wear a hat under it. Today a whiff of barrel fire wafts up as I put it on. Barrel fire is a distinct aroma – related to camp fire, but not quite. There is a more chemical scent to it. No one enjoys stinking of barrel fire.

6:35 a.m.
Sheila texts that she’s here. We carpool to york this morning with her dog Gade.

7:05
Pit stop at Tim Hortons to use the bathroom and grab coffee.

7:40
Nathan on gate duty makes impromptu drums out of an empty barrel. He’s quite good.

7:25
Sign in and say hi to fellow picketers. There are a dozen of us so far.

7:30
All Set up, barricades in place, safety vests on. We start picketing.

7:52
First timbit

7:55
Gate keeper calls out “fall back.”We wonder how different departments will respond to the senate vote yesterday. The mood is subdued. Grim. Not even Barry is waving his rainbow canadian flag with much enthusiasm. “Resume.” We are back to walking a circle.

8:13
Barrel fire raging courtesy of a journal article used as kindling. I won’t say which article.

8:26
Barry got some tunes going on the speaker. Hopefully the mood will lift. Cars backed up on keele but no major incidents yet.

8:30
A gaggle of students disgorged from a bus stream past on the sidewalk. Some take information flyers offered by a picketer. Some pretend not to see or hear her. Yesterday, a student skateboarded right through our line. Classy.

8:51
Gus from Guy’s Snack Service arrives. Best part of every shift. Wonder what today’s soup is?

9:03
Garden vegetable. Also, Mary beat Barry to 10,000 steps this morning. Apparently it’s a daily competition. Usually Barry wins. Just noticed a familiar vehicle drive quickly through. Pretty sure it was the woman who called us terrorists yesterday. Or was that the day before? They blend.

9:11
A few of us take a brief snack break around a barrel of firewood – makes a convenient table. Best hot chocolate ever – thanks Gus. I think his secret is cream. Erin read out a supportive letter from Carolyn. Apparently our department is meeting at Ryerson today. Feeling the support of our students and profs makes a huge difference. Thanks Carolyn. Gus backs away to more cheers to feed another line.

9:42
Spent too much time trying to figure out how to drop pics into this. Will fix typos and update with pics later today.

10:00
Checked in with a few working the gates. They report the usual regular finger flippers but most drivers today are civil. Just watched Sheila’s dog Gade find scent we hid in my bag and on Barry’s car. That was fun.

10:25
About an hour to go and strike brain has set in. I just grunted at someone who asked me something. Feet are starting to hurt now – also my old hip stress fracture twinges. Oh well. Walk on.

11:07
Sheila and Gade entertain us to with Gade’s super dog routine. Our numbers have swelled steadily. There are about 55 of us now.

11:19
Almost ready to hand over to the afternoon shift. The sun is out and it feels a little warmer.

11:21
Blondie. Good song. New sign. “Hey york. We don’t bite. Come meet with us.”

11:25
Shift change. Later.

Walking the line

    I didn’t think I’d be writing about this. I didn’t know what would rekindle a return to this blog. Finishing my course work last March didn’t do it. Ploughing through 240 books on my comps list over nine months didn’t do it. Writing  my comps exams in November and passing the oral didn’t do it. This did it. These faces. This was taken late last week on the chimneystack picket line. This is Chelsea and Erica. Before last week I would have called them my fellow PhD students in history. Today I call them my fellow Unit 1 members of Cupe 3903. They have been marching the picket line from the start, two weeks ago tomorrow. I’ve only been at it since last Tuesday, when I got back to the country from a six day visit with my parents. Bad timing on my part. This morning we walked the line together again, from 7:30 until 11:30. Most drivers are peaceful, wait for the maximum 2 minutes it takes for us to let them through our picket. Some honk in support. Some wave. Some simply sit quietly with their own thoughts. A few are impatient. Irritated. Some engage with those on car duty – express their frustration. Those on car duty listen and explain and ask for their patience – are infinitely patient themselves. I haven’t volunteered for this job yet. I’m not sure I could do it – especially not after what happened on our line today.

Just before 8 this morning, the man in this car threatend to kill one of our members. A woman. With a gun. We were told he was arrested. Doubtless not for long. Who knows if he was charged. But I suppose that is something. This afternoon, York senate decided that some classes will resume tomorrow – on St. Patrick’s Day.  I fear green beer-fuelled violence and I can’t be the only one. No matter what the issues are, on which side of the argument you stand, no one can want more of what happened on my line today. Apparently, York Univeristy Senate doesn’t feel the same way. Tomorrow morning, we will be back walking the Chimneystack picket line. #cupe3903 #shameonshoukri

chatting with Adobe

In the middle of my last push to  finish my PhD coursework, this charming inanity today from the fine people at Adobe. The chat speaks for itself – published here in its entirety:

 

info: One moment please while we route your chat to a representative.

info: Thank you for contacting Adobe Sales. My name is Sandra. How may I help you today?

Sandra: Hi, may I have your first name please?

you: Hi. I’m a graduate student and I want to buy adobe acrobat for students so I can highlight and mark up pdfs

Sandra: let me help you with the information.

Sandra: let me help you with the information.

Sandra: I will be happy to help you the right option that’s going to suits your need best.

Sandra: We do have several options for you.

Sandra: Let me ask you a few questions first to make sure we get you the best value for your purchase.

Sandra: Could you please tell me how you want to use the software on your project?

you: I’d like to be able to highlight text so I can refer to it quickly – I download a lot of pdf files. Also, I want to be able to search a pdf by word or phrase

Sandra: Alright, along with that do you also want to edit images, create graphics, print designs?

you: I don’t need any graphics applications

Sandra: That’s okay.

Sandra: Let me explain your option.

you: It would be good if I could easily convert a word file with comments into a pdf format too

Sandra: I do have an amazing option for you.

Sandra: We have Creative Cloud that includes Acrobat XI Pro by which you can create pdf, convert pdf to excel, combine pdf, edit pdf, comment into pdf.

Sandra: Creative Cloud is the most complete creative environment ever.

you: Is there something simpler and cheaper?

Sandra: This is cost efficient only.

you: There isn’t anything cheaper? I don’t need graphics, as I said. I really just want to be able to highlight a pdf and search it – those are the most important functions I want

Sandra: That’s okay.

you: I don’t know what you are suggesting other than the cloud option – is there nothing else?

Sandra: The  apps don’t run from the cloud–they’re downloaded and installed on your computer just like always.

you: Like I said – looking for a cheaper option. Are you saying that creative cloud student and teacher is the only one, or is it the only one you can tell me about?

Sandra: You can also get Acrobat XI Pro  education version.

Sandra: It will cost you $119

you: That sounds great. Because 240 US a year is pretty steep – I saw an adobe product through the australian site that was $89 and wondered if that might work for me? If not, then the $119 version sounds like a plan

Sandra: Well You can  get Creative Cloud at just $199

Sandra: It will not cost you $240

you: I’m going by what I see on the site now – it looks like that $119 is per month? That’s not an option then. And it says creative cloud is 19.99 US a month – so that’s how I got $240. No?

Sandra: $119 is a one time purchase.

you: oh good – there’s a typo on the website

Sandra: You can pay upfront  Creative Cloud for 12 month and it will cost you $199

Sandra: If you purchase the software you need to pay for the upgrade every time when the new version is released.

you: I’ll go with acrobat pro for 119 – thanks for your help.

Sandra: The amazing feature of Creative Cloud is you need not pay for any future upgrade since the latest version will be automatically updated

you: so it’s a one time purchase too?

Sandra: If you purchase Acrobat you need to pay for the upgrade every time when the new version is released.

Sandra: The amazing feature of Creative Cloud is you need not pay for any future upgrade since the latest version will be automatically updated

Sandra: Creative Cloud will cost you $199/annual.

you: And the other one would be 119 a year?

Sandra: $119 is a one time purchase.

you: So the upgrades are cheaper that than the full original purchase price? One more question – I assume I can use it on my iMac as well as an iPad without paying twice?

Sandra: Upgrades cost $199

Sandra: ‘There is no education price on upgrade so it cost more.

Sandra: With Creative Cloud the requirement of upgrading every year to the next version is not needed, every time there is an upgrade or an update for our software it will be instantly available for you to install it free of charge.

you: Now I’m confused – so I buy pro for 119 dollars for a year, then an upgrade comes out next year, and I pay another 199 to renew, then keep paying 199 everytime there’s an upgrade?

Sandra: That’s right.

Sandra: However with Creative Cloud upgrades and update will be free.

you: That’s crazy. And really confusing. So basically, the cheapest option is cloud for 199 a year

Sandra: That’s exactly right.

you: Okay. So, if I get acrobat pro – will it continue to work if I don’t opt for an upgrade?

Sandra: Well, it will not.

you: I have a friend who has pro version 10 from about 2 years ago – it was a one time purchase and she paid a few hundred dollars for it and still gets patches for updates and she doesn’t pay for those

you: I’m not clear on your last answer – it will work? Or it won’t work well?

Sandra: Well, the trend is changed and  Going forward customers using Adobe products have to upgrade every year, this will soon become mandatory. This runs up to the same price as to the Cloud membership. Its the smartest decision to invest in Creative Cloud in the longer run.

you: But will pro continue to work if I buy it today and try to use it on April 14 of next year – or will it not let me access it anymore

Sandra: In that case  it will work until the next  version comes out.

you: And,if I buy cloud, am I locked in at 199 for upgrades a year or can adobe increase the charge for updates?

Sandra: The pricing will definitely not change for the current subscribed year. Looking at the market strategies there might be a change in price later though. We don’t have that information at the moment.

Sandra: Are we connected?

Sandra: I’m sorry, we have not heard from you. We’re happy to help. However, if you do not respond soon, this chat session gets terminated automatically.

you: Thanks – never mind

FN 999

My Uncle Jim loved cars. In this snap, taken not long before he died in 1979, he poses in the crown jewel of his collection – the Cord. On the back of this picture he wrote “the three thoroughbreds. sp sp?” My mother was an English teacher from England, which doubtless gave him grammatical pause. My cousin Peter is behind the wheel of the convertible, and while no one is in the Benz, and you can’t tell it from this pic, I can assure you that the license plate reads “FN 999.”

As in “fucking near 1000.” I’m certain that Jim did not run that one by my mother at the time. FN 999 entered the family lexicon of questionable acronyms, meaning anything overly expensive that any reasonable person would be a fool to buy. As in: “How much did that cost you?” — “FN 999.” You get the idea. So, it is with some pride and great fondness for my supportive family, the ghost of Uncle Jim included, that I announce the completion of stage one of my journey through gradual school. I have dubbed my Major Research Project FN 29,999. As in fucking near 30,000. Words, that is. I’d actually put a higher financial price tag on this sucker in terms of the blood, stress and tears it caused. The actual working title, as much as I’d love to just call it FN 29,999, is Breaking the News by Following the Rules. You’ll have to click on the PDF to read the sub-head to know what it’s all about. I don’t expect anyone to actually read the whole damned thing, my English teacher mother from England included. But if you do, I hope at least that you won’t be bored. Many thanks to my advisor, Prof. Michiel Horn, and Prof. Marlene Shore, the only two people who were forced to read it to the bitter 98-page end. At least, I’m pretty sure they did.

In the two weeks since completing the first thing I ever wrote to include a table of contents, Kim graciously gave me the best vacation I could have asked for. We spent one fabulous week at a rented cottage where the wildlife was fantastic. We have Mel to thank for the various sightings, because she made us get out of the canoe on a few adventures.  I discovered, for example,  that bears do, in fact, shit in the woods. After the cottage interlude, we nipped up to St. Catharines to visit my Aunt Rene (Jim’s widow) and take in the sights at Niagara on the Lake. I even got a visit in with my sister and nieces at Canada’s Wonderland. And on Saturday, we topped it all off with The Master Bash when we brought together a few new friends from gradual school with other friends, and celebrated our collective accomplishment. Here’s Graeme and his girlfriend Kate, basking in the glow of his Masters in History, after a long, arduous 11-month slog. Good on you Graeme! It was a great party. And yes, there were sparklers. Even better, there were burning school-house fireworks, another Kim brainstorm. In fact, it’s all thanks to Kim. So thanks love — I couldn’t have done it without you. Now, on to round two.

Going to pot

20130619-111237.jpg I confess to posting that opening pic just for the cheap laugh. I’m exceedingly good at cheap laughs. The subject of this post, is, however, a little more serious. It seems that in the 10 months since I began gradual school, my body has decided to join Clemmy, figuratively at least. Ten months and 15 pounds heavier. It’s almost an accomplishment. I wonder if professional eaters can boast that kind of caloric gain. I mean really. It’s quite something.

Here’s a shot of me at my recent skinniest.

20130619-111757.jpg It was taken in the summer of 2010, at my first swim race after Alcatraz. I’d dropped about 50 pounds since that incredible feat from the year before, and was fully obsessed with swimming and running. Here’s another shot from the same summer, taken by Mel on one of our runs at Albion Hills.

20130619-111948.jpg I’m pretending to be Wonder Woman. Compared to today, I was. The thing is, I always need something to obsess about. For a while, it was physical. This last picture of me recovering from some ridiculous feat with Lou of Sacred Memory says it all. I’m exhausted.

20130619-112508.jpg

Then I broke my hip. That was a week before xmas 2010. Here I am hobbling around in the days after my lesser trochanter gave out on a run. Yes, I literally ran until my leg broke. Plans for training for an ultra with Mel were on hold indefinitely.

20130619-113940.jpg I spent that winter pretty depressed, I’ll admit. I wasn’t teaching at Ryerson that term and didn’t do a whole lot of anything while my leg slowly, slowly healed – after it took forever to get an accurate diagnosis from smug health professionals. (No one thought an overweight woman in her 40s could possibly have a real sports injury, let alone be an athlete). I finally got a diagnosis when a lovely woman took a nuclear scan of my leg. (Also, she was hot). The hottie technician let me see the pulsating white spot on the screen. Any idiot could see it was a break. The gormless sports doc confirmed what hottie already knew and what I had always known since I limped home from that fateful pre-christmas run. I had a stress fracture. Anyway, we got through all of that, and I slowly started to get back on track until the pinnacle of my late-life jockiness last summer when I ran (shuffled) to the end of a 25 km trail race with a cold, and then, in August, swam a 10 km race. Then I put away my running shoes, goggles, and all things to do with my physical obsession and switched gears. I became obsessed with school. I went from 100 to zero in a second flat. I’m almost proud of that. Who had time for the treadmill? I had 500 pages to get through in less than a day. Who had time for laundry? I had to write a paper about duelling. (Seriously, it was about duelling). Poor Kim. Anyway, 10 months ticked by and with it, a handful of half-hearted attempts to beat back the bulge with exercise and the usual bullshit. (Write down your calories, stay within a certain range, don’t drink booze, blah blah blah blah. Blah.) My heart wasn’t in it. I had no heart. I was all brain. It’s a miracle Kim didn’t trade me in for a better model. I was a royal pain in the ass. And that ass kept growing.

Until, here we are. Ten months later, 15 pounds heavier, and a form from my doctor to check my sugars and triglycerides because I’m not a 25-year-old who can subsist on Doritos and beer like the other gradual students I know. (Okay, I wasn’t actually eating Doritos but there was some beer). I recall the words of wisdom from a colleague at Ryerson, who also went back to school in her 40s to get her Masters. “The first thing to go,” she warned, “is exercise.” For me, it has to come back, or my PhD could literally do me in. So, as of today I have chalked up three open water swims and some time on my treadmill. I’ll venture outside to do a trail run soon – when I fit back into my running shorts. Until then, as I huff and puff in my sports bra and underwear, it may not be pretty, but at least it’s a start – if not an obsession. Yet.