Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Guelph

Country Wedding

Brianne and John got married, and I am very glad I was there.

One of the best things about university (acquiring long term employment not included) is meeting people you would not have otherwise known. Such was the case with my friend Brianne, who lived with me two years in Artz Haus and two years in a townhouse on campus. Hailing from a small, farming town, with brown wavy hair and a not-tall stature, Brianne has a completely un-ironic affection for fairies, country music and ‘Moulin Rouge’.

For an example of how our two personalities at times oddly overlap, we both know the lyrics to the weepy 1980’s ballad ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, but while Brianne learned them from her parents’ record collection, I know the song from ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’.

With her pearls and occasionally-shocked expressions at the crap that came out of our mouths, Brianne quickly became the Charlotte York of our rag tag group. (An analogy which became obvious after she admitted to almost walking out of her first episode of ‘Sex and the City’ after a particularly dirty comment by Samantha, but not being able to as the character of Charlotte did it on the show before she could.) Of course, eventually we (re: I) got her hooked on the series, but the corrupting of Brianne is not my subject today.

In fact, quite the reverse: out of all of us, she always stayed true to who she was and what she believed. But I never once felt that she judged me or made assumptions based on our differences. We could talk about anything and everything for hours. And when I was going through my Bad Break-up, it was Brianne who let me pull my mattress into her room so I wouldn’t have to spend one particularly dark night alone.

It was about that same time that Brianne met John. Very occasionally, we tried to stay in shape, which led a few of us to university pool one evening. Brianne can’t swim, so she sort of fluttered on a floaty board while I kept her company. She had gone to a play that afternoon and forgot she was wearing make-up. Her mascara was now running down her cheeks, but we didn’t tell her, as it was the Guelph swimming pool at nine at night and who cares? Well, Brianne ended up caring, after a cute boy swam up to her and they talked for a bit. Later, when she saw her reflection in the women’s locker room, she apparently cried, “Why didn’t anybody tell me I look like Corpse Bride!”

Turns out John, also sweet and from a small town, didn’t care very much. He swiftly made his way into our group and into Brianne’s heart. Five years later, they got married.

A group of us from Artz Haus drove the three hours from Toronto for the wedding, stopping at a chip wagon and listening to CDs from the early 00’s to get us in the nostalgic mood. The ceremony took place at John’s aunt’s farm and we were kindly offered the ‘Hunter’s Cabin’ to stay in (a title particularly funny, given that we had two vegetarians among us).

When we arrived at the farm, it was clear that this was going to be a Country Wedding. And by that I don’t just mean the abundant presence of John Deere tractors, or the random sheepdog running around. By ‘Country Wedding’ I’m referring to the casual, not-terribly-organized manner in which the event played out. Who needs an over-reacting, stressed-out wedding planner anyway?

John’s warm and welcoming aunt took us to the cabin. The girls were invited to ride a John Deere ‘Gator’ while the boys walked. (Considering the girls were also told to use the inside facilities while the boys got to use the porta potty, I noted that gender differences played a larger role than they would, say, in Toronto’s Annex.) As we dropped off our stuff, John’s aunt explained what the word ‘rustic’ meant:

“Now, it’s unfinished, but there’s bunk beds in the back enough for all of you. But don’t sleep on the top bunks, because they’re plywood. The windows open, but only some of them have screens, so watch out for bugs. If you get hot, you can turn on the AC, but you probably don’t want to leave it on all night, as the cord gets very hot. You should probably keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burst into flames. The outhouse is just outside, but send one of the men in first, as we keep trying to get rid of that wasp’s nest, but you never know. I hope you’re all comfortable…”

Joking aside, it was exactly the space we needed and we were so grateful to be staying on the property.

The ceremony was held down a little path from the house by a babbling brook, under some tall tress which provided a cathedral-like canopy. A gorgeous dragonfly landed on a leaf right beside me. Indeed, for the anxious, bug spray had been left on a chair as you made your way to the site.

At least for the beginning of the ceremony, brides have it easier. They get to compose themselves at some undisclosed location, while the groom stands on display at the front, mingling with the guests and looking nervous. The only evidence of Brianne I had really seen so far was the ‘Moulin Rouge’ quote in the program: “The greatest thing is just to love, and to be loved in return.”

We had seen and greeted John, but we didn’t see the bride until the violinist began Pachelbel’s Canon. Maybe I didn’t fully believe it was happening until I spotted her with her top-hatted father in an achingly romantic gown. Suddenly it hit me; my friend was getting married. As she walked down the ‘aisle’ and was about to look in our direction, I heard a loud thap-thap-thap beside me. Looking down, I saw a giant black beetle-type insect had landed on my shoulder. Calmly and quietly, I swatted it away, but when I looked back up, Brianne had passed us.

When the minister permitted the couple to kiss. It came earlier than she expected, Brianne told me later, and, as not a tall person, she grasped John’s arms, went up on her toes and planted a big one on his lips. There was awkward silence until I shrieked “Woooooo!” like a studio audience member, and everybody laughed and cheered. I’m so proud of her for just going for it. Perhaps some Samantha did rub off after all.

The reception was held in the ‘barn’, which was very new and large and felt more like a wooden airplane hangar. The Guelph people had a prominent spot near the head table, with our named place settings attached to small rocks. A rumour spread that Brianne had personally matched each name to a stone. (I guess this is why brides are so busy.) Before dinner was served, dehydrated and on my second glass of white wine, I wandered up to the head table:

“Brianne. Brianne! Why did you pick this rock for me?”

Without missing a beat she answered, “Because it’s craggy and kind of antique-looking.”

“Oh. Okay. I’m keeping it.”

Sometimes country folk say completely unprompted country things that sound made up.

“Pretty good party, eh?” a man said to me out of nowhere.

“Yes, it is.”

“Not like those fancy, city weddings!”

“No,” I laughed. “Definitely not.”

After dinner, she danced with her father to a country song which had the chorus ‘I Held Her First’ before joining John in a waltz to ‘Come What May’ from ‘Moulin Rouge’. That’s when many of us started crying, although I first teared up when John said in his speech that, having known Brianne for five, he couldn’t wait to know her for ten, fifty and one hundred years.

During her speech, Brianne gave me a shout-out, thanking me for taking her swimming. She said my surprised expression was priceless.

And I tried to catch the bouquet with all the ladies. Gender differences be damned! It sailed through my hands, I actually felt the petals before a girl behind me with blue hair caught it. Turns out, I wasn’t the only subversive friend present. They made the blue-haired girl dance with the guy who caught the bride’s garter, so it was probably for the best.

I kept feeling like I wanted a moment alone with the bride, as impossible as I knew that was. The feeling was given special urgency because the couple are leaving for Alberta soon, perhaps never to return. But I didn’t even know what I wanted to say. Thank you for always being an amazing friend? Congratulations on finding love in this rough, relationship status ‘It’s complicated’ world? Maybe I just wanted a moment with her to get a breath, take it all in and acknowledge how much everything’s changed since we shared a wall at Guelph.

Brianne kept her energy up and danced in the barn until one in the morning. I tried to keep up, and at some point lost my shoes. Her parents danced together, especially when the DJ played a Beatles’ song.

TV shows and movies about weddings often focus on how they divide (family versus family, inter-bridesmaid rivalries) but the truth about weddings is that they bring us together. Even if only for one night, older relatives from the country, attention-grabbing toddlers running around screaming, parents, siblings and queer and non-queer university friends combine to form an ad hoc group to support the couple in the next phase of their life together. And the glue that holds this diverse band together is their love for the bride and groom.

There was a moment near the end of the night when there were four couples slow-dancing and I stood off by myself. There wasn’t even an unoccupied bridesmaid to dance with (although I wouldn’t want to lead her on and break her heart). In truth, I felt a little sad. Here were two people promising each other to love one another for a hundred years, ‘come what may’, and I hadn’t been on a second date for longer than I care to admit. But it’s okay. I thought of Carrie Bradshaw dancing by herself at a ‘gay prom’ (a humorously reversed situation than I was in). Besides dirty words, ‘Sex and the City’ taught me that it’s okay to dance by yourself if you know who you are and what you’re waiting for.

And I had evidence right in front of me that love really exists.

That night at the cabin, our formal clothes soaked in sweat, we brushed our teeth on the front porch and I accidentally spit on the picnic table down below.

“It’s fine; it’ll look like bird poo in the morning.”

The next day, all of the Guelph people reassembled in the barn, tired and hung-over, for a breakfast feast of left overs and waffles. Looking totally refreshed and rested, John and Brianne joined our table and we momentarily acted like we were back at Creelman, the cafeteria we went to practically every day. But then everyone had to leave and no one wanted to say goodbye.

Realizing I hadn’t said anything to Brianne’s parents yet, I sought out her Mom.

“Oh, Max!” she said, giving me a hug. “You look so different without long hair!” (I had long hair in third year. Yeah, I don’t know either. ) “Thank you so much for coming all this way! It means a lot to Brianne.” She said it as though Toronto was countries away.

“It’s not that far,” I replied.

My friends were trying to leave, but I wanted to make it clear to her how glad I was to be Brianne’s friend. “Thank you… for having such a wonderful daughter!” I called out.

Then we went to the car, for a quiet, contemplative drive back to the city and regular life.

Congratulations, John and Brianne. I am very happy for you and proud to know you both.

Make sure Alberta is ready for my visit.

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Other People: Tommy Mosher

Tommy Mosher is a writer, poet, singing, song-writer, long distance runner, occasional white-rapper, tree-planter and graduate of the University of Guelph, from which his diploma just arrived in the mail. He apparently quotes Hemingway now. As you read this, he is planting saplings in Northern Alberta. He is also my little brother and is missed. 

MM: What book should everybody read?

TM: Something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Perhaps Love in the Time of Cholera. It’s the bee’s knees.

MM: How is writing a song different than writing a poem or short story?

TM: It’s not all that different. Songs come about in different ways. Sometimes I have a guitar riff first, sometimes I have some words and go from there. A poem has to sound interesting or compelling with only the sound of language, whereas a song integrates music. But writing them can be a very similar process. I tend to go simple when writing songs, though. I don’t like to over-write them. And when I am writing poetry I usually don’t know that I am doing it. I just jot down random lines or phrases and pull shit together.

MM: For those of us who would never go because they fear dirt, describe tree planting.

TM: You shouldn’t go planting if you fear dirt. List of things you shouldn’t fear if you are to go planting: rain and cold, wet feet, isolation, damage to hands, bugs, bears, the ongoing rambling of your own mind. Treeplanting is a really hard job. It breaks you down and only gets better once you toughen up and become more comfortable with the extreme nature of it. If you survive the initial shock of it, the body pain and the rugged lifestyle, it pays off. You meet great people and make some decent money. I’m enjoying it this summer because it removes you from the real world.

MM: What’s your next step after this summer?

TM: I want to travel a bit. Not sure where. I might look into teaching english oversea. I might do nothing.

MM: What are your top five all-time favourite quotes from movies or TV?

TM: That’s a frustrating question. I often communicate entirely through quoting various things. Here is a list of movies/shows I never grow tired of quoting: Seinfeld, The Office, Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, Jack Black in High Fidelity, Dave Chappelle doing Samuel L. Jackson, anything from Lost, a whole lot of swirling song lyrics.

Fuck it, here are a couple more off the top of my head:
“I walked out the door, there’s no memory left here.” Jim Carey from Eternal Sunshine…
“You realize, of course, that we could never be friends…” Billy Crystal from When Harry Met Sally
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places…” Hemingway

This is a hard game.

MM: What country would you like to visit and why?

TM: The ongoing search for beauty can take me anywhere. I don’t care. I would just appreciate traveling and being in new places.

MM: What are your fondest memories of Guelph? What will you not miss?

TM: My years in Guelph have contributed greatly to who I am. I will miss many of the friends I made. I expect I won’t see them as often now. I will miss The Cone Shoppe and The Speed River. I won’t list the things that I will not miss. What is the point in that? I know what they are.

MM: Describe a recent great vintage purchase.

TM: Bright red wool jacket. Looks like a Santa coat. Shrunk it in the laundry and now it is too small.

MM: For those of us who get out of breath climbing stairs, describe long distance running.

TM: I always have trouble describing distance running to non-runners. It’s really not just an activity or a sport, but more of a lifestyle. It consumes you and demands a lot from you. You have to pour yourself into it in order to compete at a high level. It’s about pain tolerance and endurance. Discipline.

Hardcore training is a love/hate relationship, but to be a good runner you have to love it more than you hate it. You have to have a fire for it. It’s a great feeling, being able to go for a long run, pushing your body to its limits and then just lay down in the grass and feel your muscles gasping for air. Running is my favourite sport because it is just the human body pounding away. The original competition of humanity: who can get from here to there faster?

MM: What’s your current favourite album slash emerging band?

TM: I don’t have any emerging bands to list since I haven’t had an ear to the pavement for a while. But I will say that not nearly enough people listen to John Frusciante. He is amazing. A couple other quick names to check out would be James Vincent McMorrow, A.A. Bondy, and Possessed by Paul James.

Ode to Artz Haüs

The Gang outside Artz Haus

  

When we pulled up outside Artz Haüs at the University of Guelph that sunny, late summer day, a girl in a blue peacock costume greeted us. The Orientation Volunteers (OVs), all matching in blue t-shirts, were singing songs and screaming chants in-between lugging the boxes of the shy newcomers up flights of stairs. I had worn a crisp white shirt that day, a safe and uncontroversial choice which was a metaphor for this new era in my life: pristine and fresh and blank. That day, I didn’t know if going away for university, which I had been dreaming of since grade nine, would be a halcyon Golden Age or disappoint my high expectations.  

Artz Haüs (so named in the 1990’s because, according to one OV, “German was considered cool…?”) was in Maids Hall, a small three-story residence which had at one point housed domestics. For how important Artz Haüs would eventually become, I ironically ended up there because of a fluke: my first choice on my application had been to be in a history ‘cluster’. But because almost no boys applied for the residence vaguely dedicated to artsy students, they had placed me in at second choice. Thank God they did. As a result, I didn’t make any history friends until fourth year, but I lived with people I hope to know forever.  

I had been bullied a bit in high school, but was mostly just ignored. Artz Haüs proved to be different the minute I arrived.  

“You’re Maximilian?!” the OVs excitedly asked. “We’ve been waiting for Maximilian!”  

“…What?”  

I soon learned that all of our names were written on construction paper toads and water lilies tapped to our doors, and the OVs couldn’t believe that someone actually had my name. I was famous already.  

Another piece of fortuitous luck was that my roommate, Tristan, never showed up. Throughout the dizzying O-Week I half-expected to come back to my room (which was on the first floor, with an ivy-framed window looking out on the lawn and the slope towards the campus’s main walkway; one of the most beautiful residence rooms ever, my Dad claimed) and find a stranger with suitcases, angry at me for taking the right side bed. Then we heard that Tristan wasn’t coming, and my new friends and I sighed with relief: our late night conversations on my bed, snugly sleep-overs and occasional ‘capers’ (good natured pranks) would continue.  

A few of us went to a sex talk at the Wellness Centre at the end of O-Week and, on viewing a diagram of the diverse types of butt-plugs which was passed around, most of which had names which described their shapes (‘Arrow head’, ‘Pearl Necklace’), giggled uncontrollably when one was inexplicitly named ‘Tristan’.  

“So that’s why he never showed up!”  

Whereas I was never going to be comfortable with my sexuality at high school (or, I should say, my high school was never going to be comfortable with it), at Guelph it was like the world changed overnight. This was the Will and Grace/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy era and everyone seemed to think it was cool to know a gay guy. Sans roommate, my room, which eventually acquired a sofa, became the unofficial first floor lounge, and my identity splattered everywhere. Pages cut from Vogue, retro album covers and a shirtless poster of Justin Timberlake graced the walls and I weighted down the bookshelf with crap (so much so that it fell on my head; in hindsight, I should’ve sued).  

Being truly comfortable with my friends and my environment for the first time (as well as able to change outfits as often as I felt like), Max the Clotheshorse was born. I would return from pilgrimages to Value Village with heavy bags of tweed jackets, boy scout shirts and obscure Tee’s, having become, at least in my mind, an experimental and witty fashion-plate, a gay boy Carrie Bradshaw.  

I kept my door always open and my motley crew of friends (not dissimilar to the eccentric and eclectic Muppet gang) got in the habit of dropping by just to hang out all afternoon or evening. Our conversations on my bed were so involved that some nights I had to change into pyjamas, turn off the lights and crawl under the sheets in order to kick people out. We talked for hours and hours, about things serious and frivolous, inventing much-referenced inside jokes as we went. We were so green, what did we have so much to talk about? I wish I had kept notes.  

It was not a perfect year. Inevitably with fifty people living in close quarters, there was drama and some fights and events which seemed like the most important thing ever at the time, but in hindsight you wonder why you were upset at all. I remember being really sad sometimes, probably dwelling on not having a boyfriend (big surprise), but now I consider it the best year of my life. The Max you all know, either through friendship or just reading this blog, took shape in that little house at Guelph. Without it, I don’t know who I’d be.  

The spring when we moved out was very emotional. Although I was coming back for a second year at Artz Haüs, and planned to stay in touch with all my friends, we knew it would never be the same. But endings often help you see something clearly for the first time: it was only as we packed up our stuff in the mockingly cheerful sunshine, took down our posters, signed yearbooks and pretended to study for exams, that a lot of us recognized what a truly great year it had been. 

Although I’ve had many adventures in the years since, they some how feel a bit less real than the events of that formative time. Perhaps that’s just what our mind does with memory… 

We all love bashing social networking, but facebook at least makes it easier to keep in touch with people you used to see every day but now live provinces, sometimes countries,  away from. But emails are devilishly easy to ignore, and I’m scared to death of growing farther and farther apart from friends who shaped an amazing year and made me who I am.  

All things must end, but can (facebook) friends last forever?    

The Art History club. We ate dinners before class together, often Chinese food, which we, inspired by Team Girl Squad, called “MSG!”
Probably on a “Pit run” (there was always licking going on)
Me dressing like our Program Facilator Mark, Mark dressing like Me, feat. Tommy Mosher in background
Room 110 was the shit

 

Amanda and I
Dressed up as the Transgendered Queen of Hearts for an Alice in Wonderland themed formal, with Lauren and Jen

 

The Gang

 

Roomies

More than the ‘freshmen fifteen’, snogging in the library and the rumpled walk of shame after a night of debauchery, the undergraduate experience is defined by roommates. For the majority of students, living away from home for the first time overlaps with sharing close quarters with a random person, and can lead to the most remarkable, experimental living conditions. Suddenly, you realize that your roommate has never vacuumed ever in his entire life: not only does he not do it, he never even thinks of it. You wonder if he believes that machine with the long hose in the common room is some sort of abandoned conceptual art piece. At the same time, he quietly fumes at you for always having your friends in the room, sitting on your bed, loudly discussing the plot intricacies of whatever high school TV soap is currently in favour, while he tries to finish his paper on Voltaire which should have been handed in last week.

Movies, books and TV shows about college life always touch on the summer-winter conflicts of mismatched roomies. On Undeclared, Judd Apatow’s short-lived series which was a training ground for his crew of lovable slackers, Jay Baruchel was sexiled from his room in the middle of the night by his hot roommate. He meets an entire colony of pyjama-clad sexiles camped out in the lounge who play team-building exercises and create their own subculture. Tom Wolfe in I am Charlotte Simmons describes the exact same experience. In Felicity, the over-ernest heroine had a gothy roommate who dumped her stuff in the middle of the night, and wasn’t seen again until, in a painfully awkward scene, she walks in on Felicity discussing how weird she is to her friends. Mismatched roommates remain a source of inspiration for characters long-out of university: Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau in The Odd Couple, Chandler and Joey on Friends, even Ernie and Bert. (Who are just roommates, guys! Although I’m still unclear on whether they are supposed to be kids, like Big Bird and Grover, or Muppet humanoid adults. Thoughts?)

But odd couple roomies may go the way of pagers and land-lines thanks to a new social-networking app called Roommate Finder. As described by Zosia Bielski in The Globe and Mail, UofT’s housing website now allows students to create profiles (complete with cute personalized avatars), list their likes and dislikes, and cross-reference them to find a suitable match. After only a month, UofT’s Roommate Finder has six hundred users, and York, Mount Royal and University of Calgary have all adopted the similar program StarRez.

“It’s like a dating service,” a housing rep at Calgary said. “It’ll tell you that this person is 90 per cent compatible with you and then you can look at their profile.”

But on the downside, it’s like a dating service. As anyone who has every plentyoffish-ed knows, how a date comes across online can contrast starkly with the real person sitting across from you. And in this case, rather than simply suffer through an awkward coffee date, you’re looking at nine months of listening to their keyboard clacking.

But there’s a more central problem with Roommate Finder: sometimes you might not know what you want. Part of the incredible adventure of university life is being thrown together with people from different backgrounds and interests than your own. It can turn out terribly, but it can also fundamentally change who you are. Bielski acknowledges this in brackets: “And who knows, random, seemingly impossible matches by administrators might just yield students a friend for life.”

The girl profiled in Bielski’s piece had two major requirements, that she was okay with her being loud and that she also liked Glee. Now I’m all for bonding over late night DVD watching, but having a TV show in common does not mean your personalities will compliment. If I sought roomies based on two of my favourite shows I can envision finding people very different from myself: The West Wing might snare me a dweeby policy-wonk, while Sex and the City might attract an orange-tanned, peroxide blonde with a status purse swinging from her arm. (I realize while I type this that, if I followed my initial argument, I may very well end up being the best of friends with the dweeb or Elle Woods, because you never know with people, but the fact remains that a mutual TV show does not a friendship make.)

Speaking of Sex and the City, we had a roommate pair at Guelph who illustrates my point nicely. One was a tall, classic-rock loving artist from Toronto, the other a petite English student from a small town. The former decorated her walls with Rollingstone covers, the later with holographic illustrations of fairies. When she joined her roommate and I watching Sex and the City, she had never seen it before, but knew instinctively she was a Charlotte (the traditional one). In the scene in which Samantha (the non-traditional one) claims that she’s dating a guy “with the funkiest-tasting spunk in the world”, she was so shocked, she considered getting up and leaving the room. But when the character Charlotte responded on the show by getting up and leaving the restaurant, she was too embarrassed to do the same thing, so she stayed. She ended up loving the show, had a good relationship with her roommate, and she and I, the farm-girl and the queer atheist, are still friends.

There was a similar situation with a young woman who came out as lesbian shortly after moving in, and her roommate from Virginia. The girl from Virginia showed up in a pick-up truck and to pass the time on move-in day actually whittled. The lesbian told me later that she was thinking ‘Oh good God…!’ But they also turned out to have a good relationship. I’ll remember them for their refrain for dealing with issues directly before they became passive-aggressive nightmares. They would say something like, “Dear Roomie, I love you a lot, you are an amazing person and I cherish you in my life, but if you leave your clothes on the floor (or whatever) one more time I’m going to SCREAM.” As far as I know, it worked.

Part of university is meeting different people, testing yourself and expanding who you thought you were. I worry that, by scoping out six hundred people’s profiles to see who also likes Arcade Fire and The Wire, students will become as fickle with roommates as singles are with dating. It’s funny that social networking which was born of university life (facebook, before your aunt Lorraine joined, was for embarrassing drunken pictures, and it was founded by former college roommates), may deny the next generation of undergrads one of the defining experiences of young adulthood.

Other People: Megan

 

I met Megan  (pictured on left) during fourth year at Guelph. She was my first real history friend. We took American history with this wonderful prof who was a right-wing Republican Santa Claus. After graduation we both bummed around, with me ending up in Dublin and her across the pond in Edinburgh. She was the first person to visit me in Ireland (the photo is from the famous gay bar The George) and, with her friend Mel, the three of us spent the first night at my new apartment cuddled up in my single bed. She is adventurous and smart, and one of the all time best story-tellers I know.

MM: What was it like moving to Scotland?  What happened your first week?

MC: Scotland is great.  Weather-wise it is always some variety of springtime and the people are charming and know what it is like to have a big, imperial neighbour to the south.

I was on an overnight flight, so I arrived bright and early in the morning.  I had not slept and was on a mission.  I ventured into the centre of Edinburgh and acquired a bank account and a national insurance number – vital for job hunting.  To cap my first day in Scotland, which was also my birthday, I had a pub meal.  I think I relaxed a little more on day two, but started applying for jobs and representation by temp agencies and looking for a place to rent.  I bought day passes for the bus and hopped whatever came my way and rode the entire route to acquaint myself with the city.

With plenty of time to traipse, I discovered the flat where we were staying was an easy walk to a field of sheep, the sea, a very cozy seaside pub, a nice river path, swans and Shetland ponies.  I also found that I could walk to Cramond Island when the tide is out.  Sadly, I took “the hero’s route” the first time and travelled over the seabed because I had yet to identify the nice raised causeway to the island.  Clothes were muddied; a lesson was learned.

Once on Cramond I had a great time exploring the World War II gun placements and concrete huts.  Cramond, like all the pretty little islands in the Firth of Forth is grimly fortified because the first mainland bombing of the UK during WWII was an attempt to bomb the nearby the Forth Rail Bridge.  After the war no one had the energy or inclination to de-fortify the islands.  Sixty-five years later, these waters remain free of Nazis.

MM: Was there a day you just wanted to pack it all and go home?

MC: No.  One of the great things about burning all your bridges behind you is that the path forward is clear.

MM: Are you using your history degree for anything?

MC: Negatory.  I can’t even say it’s doing an excellent job filling out a frame, because it’s never made it out of its envelope.  I peeked at it to make sure it was in order, then sealed it up.  My degree isn’t even useful as an ornament.  I’d take it again though, but with a double-major in English.  You can never lose enough sleep to books.

MM: What’s your job like?

MC: Great job, poor pay.  It’s the first office job I’ve had and I really like it.  I have a pretty cheery task, in that I am trying to give away money owed to former and current clients.  But I am shocked at how easy it is to get someone to verify their full name, date of birth and national insurance number over the phone.  especially to someone with a suspicious foreign accent.  If I had a stronger criminal bent I could be making a lot more money.

MM: What would you like to be doing in ten years?

MC: The best way to perform societal experiments is to produce children of my own.  Kids are plenty malleable and dependent upon their mothers for years.  I should be able to cook up plenty of situations for my amusement and edification before my offspring get wise to me.

MM: Describe your bedroom.

MC: I have a large room divided into two zones.  The first is the public zone with a loveseat, coffee table and television.  The second zone features my bed, chair and desk.  I have a double window with a nice ledge where my geraniums and ferns live.  My Texas long-arm cactus (the cactus you see in the Wile E. Coyote versus Roadrunner cartoons) is on duty in the kitchen window to try to inspire my flatmate’s cactus to live.  Turns out Texas long-arms aren’t great cheerleaders.

I have a handsome mirror acquired from a secondhand shop and from the same shop a contraption I named “thingy-bobby.”  Thingy-bobby is a green veneered, semi-circular piece of furniture with a flat top and a raised rim that precisely fits my laptop.  And it is on castors, because agile furniture is the best furniture.

I’m proud also of my aluminum desk, which I procured next to a trash bin on my way to work.  I rolled that sucker a city block, through an intersection and into my office.  My workmates just rolled their eyes.  As they noted a year ago, anyone who can bear to speak in a hideous, nasal, Canadian accent has a high threshold for embarrassment.  I’m fairly certain that as I rolled my desk out the door with my jacket and bag on top of it at the end of the day and crossed the street (loudly – I don’t think you’re meant to take a desk for a stroll,) it looked like I had been fired and nicked my desk on the way out.

MM:  Where else have you travelled while over there?

MC: Dublin to see you is as far afield as I’ve managed.  I had a week in Norway booked which I had to forfeit when my contract was unexpectedly renewed.  Heartbreak.  I’ve been trying to see as much of Scotland and England as possible, because I’ll do the serious travelling once my job ends.  I’ve been all over Scotland.  I climbed Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest point) and swum in Loch Lomond (it was refreshing.)  Next up is the 73 mile trek from Fort William to Inverness on foot along the Great Glen Way.

MM:  Would you like to see somewhere else while abroad?

MC: Now that I have been denied Norway I feel I must have it!  I was looking at flights to Oslo earlier today.  I’d like to get the Scandinavian countries as well as Belgium and France (hopefully this coming Remembrance Day) and Greek islands are almost too good for mortals.  While we’re making a list, let’s say Portugal, Morocco and Carthage in Tunisia.

MM:  What book should everyone read?

MC: Between the “where do you see yourself” question and this one you’re stretching my imagination to the limit, buddy.  The Meaning of Everything and Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson put the marvel and magnificence into the existence of the universe and the English language, respectively.  East of Eden by John Steinbeck, though I recommend all Steinbeck.  Born to Run by Chris McDougall is the most tremendous book I’ve read in recent memory and everyone should go get it now.  It has almost changed me into a vegan, barefoot marathon runner and my flatmate into a former-smoker, sandal-clad zealot.  And by “almost,” I mean not at all – but it has planted a seed.

In the interest of disclosure though, (because I feel that people misrepresent themselves in answering questions like the above) I’m revealing that the three books I have most often re-read are The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving.

MM:  Name five things you learned growing up in Guelph, Ontario.

MC: 1)  University campuses are wasted on students and faculty.  I grew up three blocks from the university and in the summer that was our playground.  During the summer the U of G is largely devoid of dangerous adults and motorized vehicles and is paradise for a couple of kids with bikes.  It is city and country and field and woods all together on a manageable scale.  Some of the best memories of my childhood are there.

2)  Cows are really generous (oblivious?)  At any rate, they will live a happy, docile existence with a big hole cut through their hide, clear to one of their stomachs.  And they won’t mind if you want to put on a glove and stick your hand in there and rummage around in their partially digested food.

3)  Just because you figured out how to bike all the way to Eden Mills doesn’t mean you should tell your parents you managed this feat.  Especially when you are 11 years old.

4)  For two consecutive primary school years I was the 13th fastest girl in the county over  distances.  This surprised me and those who knew me.

5)  Students do stupid things and should be treated with contempt.  See:  Soaping the fountain downtown.  Pronouncing street names incorrectly (MacDonell Street is MAC-don-ELL Street.)   Getting hurt booze-bogganing, resulting in the putting up of extensive snow fences.  Committing violent crimes and doing drugs in the Dairy Bush, resulting in the closing of a beloved path, the erecting of a mighty fence and the growth of a whack of sumac.  Turning for-real dive bars into faux-dive expensive hipster bars.  Making Guelph proprietors believe there is any bar in Guelph worthy of a cover charge.  Finally, the time a wasted student fell off a curb in front of my car, causing me to swerve and almost hit the cyclist minding his own business to my left.  I hate students.  And I learned to hate them in Guelph.