Saturday, August 11, 2018

Self Care

When medical schools interview prospective students, the question "How do you deal with stress?", or some variant, inevitably comes up.  Having been an interviewer on a few occasions, I know that every interviewee with at least basic interviewing skills will come up with some combination of the following:

Exercise
Rest
Adequate breaks
Healthy eating
Meditation
Yoga
Time with friends and family
Etc.

When I said those things in my medical school interviews, just like everyone else, I was very earnest.  I legitimately thought I would find the time and energy for all of them in my medical training.

(Insert sound of my laughter here.)

Medical training was the hardest and most life-altering thing I have ever done.  Not so much the first two years - those were almost entirely classroom based, and I had long ago mastered the art of sitting in lectures and writing exams - but definitely everything that came after.  The moment I set foot on a ward for the first time, I transformed into a human-shaped bundle of stress and anxiety, constantly terrified that I was going to be responsible for letting someone die.  And unlike with many of my classmates, that feeling didn't go away for a very long time.

My strategy for dealing with this terror was to pretty much never stop working.  I would come in earlier than everyone else, work through lunch, and stay late.  I convinced myself that double, triple, quadruple checking everything would make me perfect and prevent me from ever making a mistake.  (Spoiler alert:  It doesn't.)  Any time I thought about putting in less than 100% of my maximum effort at work, I would remind myself of what was at stake:  People will die if you screw up.

Not surprisingly, my perpetual state of panic and overwork wasn't very conducive to taking care of myself.  I essentially stopped exercising on day one of my clinical rotations.  I gave up cooking for myself and ordered food so often that the receptionists at the delivery services recognized my voice.  And I started spending all the money I wanted, whenever I wanted, because "I deserved it". 

Yoga?  Did my stomach doing nervous back flips count?
Healthy eating?  If I bought my Coke and Nacho Cheese Doritos from the vending machine on the Cardiology ward, did that make them healthy?

I don't know how long I would have continued being so completely and utterly negligent of myself had it not been for a few key events.  The first was a crisis at work, which woke me up to the fact that I might not ever graduate and earn a doctor's salary.  (Spoiler alert:  I did!  And I paid off my student loans yesterday!!!)  Suddenly it no longer felt okay to spend more money than I was earning, so I discovered the great Mr. Money Mustache, started a budget, and got my financial life back in order.  The second was some upheaval at work, during which I reached out to some of the other attendings, and which ultimately led to me being connected to a wonderful performance coach.  While I have only seen him twice, I credit him with enabling me to let go of my self-destructive perfectionism and to forgive myself for being human.

The third thing wasn't a specific event, but rather years of working with people with lifestyle-related illnesses.  I spend a lot of my time at work counseling people about the negative effects of poor diet and lack of exercise, as well as treating them when their bodies break down after years of misuse.  Somewhere around the thousandth time that I said "Pop is basically poison", the message started to sink into my brain.  I'm not immune to the things that affect my patients.  I also need to care for myself.

So slowly (sometimes oh so painfully slowly) I have started to change the bad habits that I learned in medical school.  I've almost completely abandoned sugar-sweetened beverages.  I've started mostly eating brown rice* and brown pasta.  I cook a lot of my meals from scratch, and I try to pack them full of veggies and other healthy things.  I'm even exercising again and (amazingly) kind of enjoying it.

And so many other things, like getting enough sleep and meditating and taking enough vacations and quitting Twitter.  All of the things that I said I would do in my medical school interview 13 years ago, I am finally getting around to.  And it feels really, really good.

*This is huge for me, because I love white rice with a fiery passion and can happily eat two large bowls of it, smothered in butter and salt, in one sitting.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Learning About Love from Mary Oliver

For almost all of my dating life, I have struggled to make failing relationships work.  The queer community in my city is small, so I've tried to convince myself over and over that I can make do with someone who is too loud/too messy/not interesting enough in order to have a partner.  The worst of this was with my second-last ex, whose many good features made me want to overlook the bad, resulting in four years of settling for not quite enough.

Towards the end of that relationship, I started seeking solace in literature.  I would Google phrases like "poems about hating your girlfriend" and "poems to help me stay in a relationship when I'm unhappy" and then spend hours scrolling through the results.  Somewhere in the midst of this, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese", which in my opinion is one of the best things ever written. 

The whole poem is fabulous, but what stood out for me was the line "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."  The line stuck with me for days, forcing me to realize that the soft animal of my body did not love my partner, no matter how hard I tried to will it to.  I'm sure I would have broken up with my ex eventually even without it, but that single line was the thing that finally allowed me to walk away.

As I get back into dating after the end of my long relationship, I carry these words with me.  They remind me that love isn't something that can be forced or willed.  I can't change myself to be loved by someone else, nor can I ignore parts of another person in order to love them.  The soft animal of my body is a highly discerning tyrant, and she is in charge. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

She Will Be Okay

The first four weeks of my most recent relationship passed in a strange and magical sort of delirium.  Perhaps I have always felt this way at the beginning of a relationship and had simply forgotten, but it seemed more intense and all-consuming than any relationship I'd ever been in.  When we weren't together, we texted constantly, and when not texting, I still thought about her all the time.  It was utterly distracting in the most wonderful of ways.

And then, something shifted.

I can't pinpoint the moment or the reason, but suddenly my interest waned.  I waited longer to respond to texts, and I wanted to see her less often.  It became easier to say goodnight at the end of a date.  Without any real warning, I was done.

So Saturday evening, I broke up with her.

It was a horribly difficult thing for me to do, because I hate hurting people.  In the past, I have stayed in relationships way too long (weeks to months to years too long) out of a desire to not hurt the other person.  While we had only been together seven weeks, we had made plans months into the future, and I felt like an ass for being the one to say that those things weren't going to happen.

I spent most of Saturday agonizing over breaking up with her, even though I had no real doubt that it was the right thing to do.  I contemplated waiting, "giving it a bit more time", because I was dreading the moment of the breakup.  I texted all my close friends, trying their patience with hours of rapid cycling between "I'm going to break up with her tonight" and "I'm going to wait a little longer".  I was unbearable.

And then I saw a Facebook post from an ex of mine from years ago.  She had fallen apart when I broke up with her, crying and sending me angry texts for weeks.  The Facebook post was a picture of her, 20 weeks pregnant, with her wife.  It is completely cliché to say this, but the only way to describe her expression is "glowing".

And then it was easy.  Because while breakups are messy and hurtful and absolutely zero fun, people do survive them.  And hopefully there are better things waiting for all of us on the other side.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rich People Can Be Sad

When I opened Facebook last Friday morning, the status of one of my friends read "Don't turn on CNN".

In the comment below, it said "Dear God, not Anthony Bourdain."

Dear God, indeed.  I am not usually one to get upset about the death of a celebrity, as I'm practical and recognize that there are vastly more important things to worry about right now, but I fucking loved Anthony Bourdain.  He was sexy and unapologetic and smart and absolutely obsessed with food.  He was the stereotypical entitled white male, and I should have hated him based on my usual patterns, but I didn't.  Because although he was rich and had every door in the world open to him, he was also kind.  He treated the guests on his show, and the food they served him, with respect.  It's possible that he was a total jerk in real life, but his public persona was good.

He also responded to me on Twitter.

I recently called him out for his lack of female representation on The Layover, and he responded with a "Yep".  It was the absolute minimum he could have done to acknowledge me, but I was still gleeful about receiving a response from The.  Anthony.  Bourdain.

And now he's gone.

Within minutes of the news that he had killed himself, people were starting to speculate about the whys of it.  And of course, there were people who said things like "What did he have to be depressed about?  He had so much money."

Which....seriously?

Don't get me wrong.  We all know that there are some very good things about money, starting from its ability to provide us with necessities (food, clothing, shelter) and extending to its ability to fly us to France for fancy pastries.  Water is also wet.  But while some amount of money is necessary for happiness, no amount of it is enough to buy happiness.

It doesn't fix loneliness.
Or broken brain chemistry.
Or a traumatic past.

It doesn't create love.
Or community.
Or a life purpose.

I have had no money and I have had lots of money in my life, and while I definitely prefer the latter, I also know that money doesn't protect me from being sad.

And we need to stop thinking that it does.

Because even rich people like Anthony Bourdain deserve to be cared for when they're depressed.  They deserve forgiveness and understanding for not being able to stay in this often hostile world.

I forgive and understand you Tony.  And I will miss the heck out of you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What It's Like to be Queer

Pride Week is coming up in my city, and as an early event, last week my medical school hosted a group of transgender individuals talking about their experiences and answering questions.  Although it was a Friday afternoon and I was tired from being on call, I made an effort to attend, partly because I was interested in the session, and partly because as a queer person I feel a sense of responsibility to show up to all LGBTQ* events.  The session was hosted in the same room as my first-year medical school class, and as I pulled open the familiar door, I felt something completely unexpected.

Fear.

Now, before I continue, I want to give some back story.  I came out as a lesbian when I was 16, and as bisexual less than a year later, so I have been out to the people closest to me for decades.  I brought my same-sex partner to a work dinner over four years ago, and I have been answering people's awkward questions about swingers resorts and polyamory at work ever since.  But when I was in medical school, having just returned to my home city after seven years away, none of my classmates knew.  Because I was still dating men at the time, everyone operated on the assumption that I was straight, and I did nothing to challenge them.

So my first thought, walking into my old classroom, was a reflexive "I hope no one sees me here and figures out that I'm queer."  Which...hello.  A little late now.  I work at a small university, and pretty much everyone who knows me also knows that I'm queer.

But there it was, nonetheless.  An almost instinctive desire to hide.  To pretend to be just like everyone else.

And it came up again last night.  The new girl and I went to a theatre show together, which was hosted by the company with which I volunteer, and my first thought was that I needed to hide the relationship from my fellow volunteers.

My fellow volunteers in a left-wing theatre company.  

There aren't a lot of spaces in this world that are more queer-positive than a theatre show, and yet that automatic response was still there.  Even though I live in a country where same-sex marriage has been legal for 13 years and where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects LGBTQ* individuals, I still feel anxious about being out everywhere I go.

If my patient finds out that I'm queer, will they want a different doctor?
If my doctor finds out that I'm queer, will she want a different patient?
Can I hold my partner's hand in this alleyway at night?  In the elevator of my apartment building?  In the grocery store?

I am so lucky and grateful to live in a time and place where my rights as a queer woman are protected.

And yet.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Anticipatory Grief

Years ago, a friend of mine who was eight months pregnant commented that she hadn't set up her nursery yet, as she knew that it would upset her if she were so unlucky as to have a late complication and lose her baby.  Another friend, who was already a mother, gave her a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day:

"If you lose your baby, you're going to be devastated whether you've set up the nursery or not.  All that you're accomplishing by trying to protect yourself from grief is preventing yourself from feeling joy right now."

I have been thinking about this a lot over the past ten days.  Ten days ago I met "the new girl", and in addition to blogging about her here, I've also been tweeting about her incessantly.  About how much we have in common.  About how easy it is to talk to her.  About how I kind of wanted to marry her after she told me that she has a plan to retire at 55.

I recognize that this is ridiculous.  We have known each other for only 10 days, and while there are many things that work, 10 days is way too soon to be making any sort of decisions about anything.  It is not impossible to think that we could end up in a wonderful forty-year-long relationship, but we could also be sick of each other by the end of the month.  We just don't know.

And honestly, I'm scared.  I'm scared that I am going to fuck something up, or she is going to fuck something up, or that things are just not going to align in the right way, and this lovely feeling I'm feeling is going to end.  So part of me thinks that I should stop tweeting and daydreaming and feeling all of the happy feels.

But then I remember the advice.  And I just go with it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dating

Hey wow...yes...I have a blog.

It turns out that when you take three weeks off of work, no matter how good a job you do of getting caught up before you leave, there will be a shit tonne* of work waiting for you on your return.  And if you're sick for three weeks before you leave and therefore don't get done everything you want?

You're doomed.

It has taken me a solid three weeks of hard work to get almost fully caught up, and I am now on call for two weeks, so I am falling further behind every day.  So there (obviously) hasn't been a lot of blogging happening.

But there has been some dating.  (Also a reason for the not blogging.)

Dating is one of my least favourite activities in the world.  I have a few hangups about my appearance (thanks bad genetics and critical mother!), so putting photos out there for people to judge me by is not fun.  (I'm sure I'm the only person who feels this way.)  I also really don't like to meet new people.  I do like when new people become old friends, but I do not like the anxiety of meeting someone new or the tedium of making small talk with someone I don't like.

So yeah.  Introverts.  Don't like dating.  Who knew?

But then I met someone.  Maybe not SOMEONE, someone.  But someone interesting.  Someone whom I have actually been seeing around my city for years, because my city is small and we both love the theatre.  Someone who likes 90% of the same things as me.  Someone whom I have now spent over 8 hours with and had virtually no moments of awkward silence with. 

Someone.

And it has been pretty wonderful, in a lot of ways.  Except for my anxious brain.  My anxious brain does not like to just relax and let things happen.  It wants answers to everything.  Now. 

Are we compatible enough?  Will my mother like her**?  Will I break her heart?  Will she break mine?  Will I stay with her too long and regret time lost, like I always do? 

It is, frankly, ridiculous.  I haven't known her long enough to be wondering any of these things.  All of these questions, and the many others that distract me constantly, can be answered with time.  There is no rush.

I can just date.

So I am trying to go against my nature and do just that.  Trying to slow down and let things unfold how they will. 

We shall see.

*The metric equivalent of a shit ton.

**Probably not.  But that's just my mother.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Blink and It's Over

When anticipating a vacation, I am always completely delusional about what it will be like.  I imagine myself with no time constraints, able to endlessly blog and sleep and explore, without ever having to choose between different activities.  The reality, of course, is not that.  There is always more to do than there is time, and vacations eventually end, thus tonight is my last night in Paris and I haven't blogged in two weeks.  I assure anyone who hasn't been following me on Twitter that yes, I have been having a fabulous time, and yes, I have been eating ridiculous numbers of pastries.

This has been a really, really good trip.  There have been moments when I have felt lonely, and more than once I have seriously considered going to a cat cafe for some feline attention, but overall it has been good to travel alone.  The introvert in me had been craving silence, long stretches of time without having to answer to anyone, and the past three weeks have been exactly that.  My mind has been able to wander wherever it wants, and I have had time to think and think and think about all the big questions in my life.  It has been good.

And of course, I have seen things!  So, so many things.  On my last day in Caen, I took a tour of the Canadian D-Day beaches, and then I went to Dijon, where I slept a lot and drank wine on the couch and did a bit of wandering through the historic city.  In Paris I have been all over the place:  the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co, the Musée d'Orsay, the Natural History Museum, Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre, the Curie Museum, and the Army Museum.  It has been delightfully nerdy, in both a scientific and a historical way, which suits me perfectly.

I haven't done as well with my French as I had hopped.  I struggle a lot with verbal comprehension, and the accents are different from the ones that I am used to, so I have said "Désolé, je ne comprends pas" and "Pouvez-vous repétér ça, s'il vous plaît?" more times than I can count.  (Actually, I have mostly just contorted my face painfully and made awkward sounds, which is the introvert's way of saying "I don't understand".)  But I have learned new words, thanks to reading every street sign and countless museum displays, and my ability to understand written French is getting better quickly.


(Yesterday's word of the day was "ruche", as in hive, which I learned from this beehive at the Natural History Museum.  Yup...I am a nerd.*)

There have been moments on the trip when I have considered giving up on learning French, as it is frustrating to see how far I still have to go before I will be functionally fluent.  But then, I wander into a bookstore and walk out with The Handmaid's Tail in French (La servante écarlate), and I think that the learning will continue.  I dream of living in Europe for at least a year in retirement, and if I continue to plug at it for the next 7+ years, I can hopefully be functional by then.

(Also, there is a cute lesbian in my conversational French group.  Not that that's a reason to learn a language...)

So...that is my trip in a very small nutshell.  I will try to post some more pictures, although I dread the volume of work that awaits my return to work, so I make no promises.  There is part of me that is resentful of the fact that I need to go back to work, but mostly right now I am incredibly grateful to have been able to do this.  I know how fortunate I am that this is my life.

*When I was a kid, my Dad used to play a silly game in which he would ask what letter a word started with, and when I would reply "B" he would scream "A bee!  Bzzzzzzzzz!" and pretend that his hand was a buzzing bee.  Since studying French, whenever I try to remember the word for bee, I will scream "Une abeille!  Bzzzzzzzzzz!".  Thankfully I have learned to scream this in my head when I am in public.

Friday, April 6, 2018

And Then I Went to Caen

This trip continues to whirl by.  As mentioned in my previous post, I had terrible internet access in Caen, so I basically gave up on posting to my blog or even Facebook for the entire time I was there (I did manage to post a few photos of the tasty food to Twitter).  I am now in Dijon, and I have internet access again, so I will make more of an effort to post.  But there is so much to do, it's hard to tear myself away from the doing!

Caen was not an intentional destination for me.  While searching through places to visit in France, I fell in love with the tiny seaside town of Honfleur, and decided to use Caen as a home base for visiting Honfleur, which is accessible only by a very long bus ride*.  When I arrived in Caen, I actually wondered if there would be enough for me to do there.  And yes, there was more than enough.  I needn't have worried.

Caen's main draw is as a site for World War II history.  Almost 80% of the city was destroyed by Allied bombings around the time of D-Day, so it contains a lot of buildings that were rebuilt after the war, as well as many that still show major signs of damage.


(A photo of the church down the street from my apartment (Église Saint-Jean) following the bombing.)


(Although most of the church has been rebuilt, this tower still shows evidence of the damage.)


(Another church in Caen that was so badly damaged that they didn't even try to rebuild it.)

It was surreal to see partial remains of churches and to walk through the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey), which is the burial site of William the Conquerer ("Guillaume le Conquérant") and also a place where the citizens of Caen took refuge during weeks of bombings.



For me, the best but also most difficult part of the visit was going to the Memorial de Caen, which is an amazing WWII museum.  It covers the history of Europe post-WWI, the rise of fascism**, the German military campaigns, the concentration camps, and the eventual liberation of Europe starting with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.  It was amongst the best museums I've ever visited.




Reading about the concentration camps, seeing the photos and records of what people did to other people, breaks me a bit every time.



But when I see what physicians did?  That's when I ugly cry in the corner.


*In the end, I didn't even go to Honfleur, as I decided that I didn't want to spend 5 hours on a bus when I could instead use the time to see more of Caen.  Je ne regrette rien.

**The parallels between the rise of fascism and what's happening in the US right now are terrifying.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lyon to Caen - Jet Lag Ends Eventually, Right?

I thought that the jet lag was bad for the first two days, but really it wasn't.  I had lots of adrenaline and a desire to see everything in Lyon, which kept me excited in spite of the overwhelming urge to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon.

My jet lag really kicked in during my five-hour train ride from Lyon to Caen today.  Oh my goodness, it felt like I was post-overnight call for the first time in five years.  No amount of reading or internetting or listening to good music could keep me from dozing off and leaning precariously into the middle aisle of the train.  (Over and over.  I think my neck is going to be sore from snapping backwards every time I dozed off.)

I almost didn't make it to Caen.  I left myself lots of time to get to my first train*, but I hadn't realized that the receipt I had printed out was not an actual ticket, so at the last minute I was scrambling to download an e-ticket on my phone.  And then I had an hour to switch trains in Paris, which would have been fine except that I had to take the metro between stations, which got me to the second station less than 30 minutes before my train.  And then I couldn't download my next e-ticket.  So I stood in a very long ticket line, watching the time until my train departed disappear and panicking, until I got so nervous that I asked the person in front of me if I could cut ahead**.  Unfortunately, seemingly everyone was trying to get on the same train, so no, I couldn't cut ahead of anyone. Thankfully, about 5 minutes before the train, my phone suddenly cooperated, and I was able to access my ticket.  If it hadn't, I might still be in Paris trying to get a later train out.

But anyway....after a lot of head bobbing and drooling on my fleece, I arrived in Caen, where pretty much everything is closed for Easter Monday.  I really didn't want to eat more cheese and bread for supper***, so I was quite happy to discover an open Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from my B and B.  Not what I was expecting to have for supper on my third day in France, but it was surprisingly tasty.

So that was my day....I didn't blog about yesterday, as I got home from supper very late, but here are some photos to hopefully make up for it.

The meeting place for my morning walking tour (walking tour #2 and pain au chocolat #2):


One of the two open-air markets we saw on the tour:


A view of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, as well as part of the city: 

 
The Hotel de Ville (City Hall) on the walking tour, complete with participants in the race that was run roughly along the route of our walking tour.


After the walking tour, I visited some Roman ruins.  But no photos of them for you, as my B and B has no internet (how is this a thing?), and my phone internet can only handle uploading so many photos.

After the ruins, I took a long walk up the hill to the Basilica.  A view from the outside:


(The views from the inside are also being held captive on my computer.)

I ended my day at the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation.  A photo of WWII refugees from Paris, who had been relocated to Lyon:


Hmmm....maybe I'm actually tired because I'm trying to do so much every day?  I'm sure I'll do better tomorrow.  During my one day in Caen.  Cause there isn't much to do here...

*I also had lots of time to eat anglais abricots, a pastry that I might like better than pain au chocolat...I'll let you know after a few more comparisons.

 **This is unusual for me, as I don't generally like talking to strangers, and I find it extra hard to do in French.

***Yes, I have already reached the point of my trip at which I'm whining about having to eat the same thing two meals in a row.  I blame the jet lag.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Lyon - Overcoming Jet Lag

Although I did a tremendous amount of thinking about my trip before leaving Canada, I had made almost no firm commitments* prior to the trip.  I know myself, and I know that my energy level and interests vary widely from day to day, so I tend to build a lot of flexibility into my travel schedule whenever possible.  Yesterday, however, I realized that I was going to need something to motivate me to get my jet lagged ass out of bed this morning, so I wisely booked myself for a 10 am walking tour.

After forcing my sleepy body to stay awake until 10:30 last night, I was wide awake at 3 am this morning.  It took me almost 2 hours of thinking about Twitter, blog posts, my travel plans, and all the ills in the world before I finally fell back asleep, but by the time my alarm went off at 7:45 am, I had reentered a sleep so deep that I felt ill on waking. If I hadn't booked the tour and made plans for breakfast, I don't know when I would've dragged myself out of bed.

But drag myself out I did, and I was early enough for my tour to be able to start my day with the best pain au chocolat I've ever eaten**.  Followed by an awesome café (French for coffee...not the whole café).  And then at 10 am, I went on a tour of Le Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) with a group of about 20 other people.  


We saw the cathedral, les traboules (pass-throughs), lots of old buildings, and one of the rivers.  (Either le Rhône or le Saône.  I am incapable of reading maps.  But it was a really pretty river.) 



I learned that Marie Antoinette actually said "Let them eat brioche" (or more accurately, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche") and not "Let them eat cake".  I also learned that many of the Catholic monuments of Lyon were damaged by Protestants after the Reformation, like this random statue in one of the streets.


And I learned that the word fascism comes from the word fascio, meaning a bundle of rods.  Fascio were originally a symbol of the strength that comes from unity, as a single rod is easily broken, while a bundle of rods is not.  Sadly, this beautiful imagery was co-opted by Mussolini, and now depictions of fascio are frowned on.  Bloody fascists ruin everything.


After the really good walking tour ended, I went to a bouchon that was recommended by the tour guide, where I ate the best piece of lamb I have ever eaten.  Followed by a pretty amazing dessert.  It was so much food that I literally didn't feel the slightest bit hungry for another six and a half hours.  I had planned to have a nice dinner out, including 2 Euro crèpes from a nearby crèpe stand, but I barely managed to eat a bit of cheese and bread.  I probably would have skipped dinner entirely if I hadn't been afraid of waking up ravenous at 3 am.

In the afternoon, I continued to nerd by going to the city's historical museum.  It was interesting to see the local perspective on major events from France's history, but I timed my visit very poorly.  I spent hours photographing the remains of old churches and scales from the city's history as a trading post, such that by the time I hit the really interesting World War I and II sections, all I wanted to do was lie down.  But with a few long sits in the museum's chairs (and possibly an upright nap), I made it to the end.



I even had enough energy for a quick visit to the adjacent puppet (marionette) museum, which is included in the ticket price.


The original Mr. Rogers.


By the end of the second museum, I was done for the day.  Thanks to the city's efficient Metro system, I was back in my apartment by 7 PM, where I have been internetting and rubbing my feet ever since.

It was a really, really lovely day.

And tomorrow, there is more!  I am going on another walking tour, because I enjoyed today's so much.  I'm not entirely sure what I am going to do after...I want to visit the cathedral again, as well as go to the Basilica de Notre Dame, the prison museum, the science museum, and the resistance museum.  And I can't.  But I leave Lyon on Monday, so I will have to make choices.

Come back tomorrow night (maybe) to see what I pick!

*This is perhaps a stretch.  I booked all my Airbnbs and train tickets in advance.  But the only actual activity I had booked was a tour of the Canadian D-day beaches, because they are extremely hard to find.

**Most of my food photos are being taken on my iPhone and tweeted in real time, so if you want to see pictures of food (yes, you do), follow me on Twitter (Frugalish Physician@FrugalishMD).  I'm not being a savvy blogger in forcing you to look at Twitter for food photos; I actually have no idea how to transfer photos from my iPhone to my computer.  Yeah.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Bienvenue à France

Oh look...I've had another gap in my blogging for the past month.  I blame a lot of busyness from getting work tied up enough to go on vacation, a little bit of end of winter blahs, and way too much Twitter.  Thanks to those of you who have commented that you missed my blogging!  It's always good to know that I am appreciated, and I will try to do better.

Tonight may not be the night to do much better, unfortunately.  I have been awake and traveling for the better part of 30 hours, and I keep dozing off in bed.  The only reasons I'm making time for this now is that 1) I'm hoping to blog more about my trip, and I feel a need for a post that will transition me into blogging about travel, and 2) 9 PM seems a little too early to go to sleep.  So I will attempt a post.

I have been looking forward to my trip to France for months.  I started taking French lessons in preparation about 7 months ago, and in my typical fashion I have been scouring travel guides and Trip Advisor and Atlas Obscura for ideas for about as long.  I have been ready to go for weeks.

When I looked ahead to the trip, for some strange reason I anticipated that I would feel very comfortable here.  I imagined myself effortlessly reading all the signs and directions, and I could picture myself casually striking up conversations with store owners ("Pouvez-vous me recommander un très bon fromage?").  I don't know why I envisioned things this way, because I am anxious and socially awkward in my own city where I speak the language fluently, but the fantasy of language and cultural competence was strong with me.

What has happened so far has been much more in line with the person I tend to be.  While I have been navigating signage and ticket kiosks quite well, I have been pretty avoidant of actual interactions with real human beings.  I have said awkward "Bonjours!" and "Saluts!" to store owners, but I have otherwise mostly kept my head down and tried not to engage.  As much as I want to be practicing my French and taking advantage of this opportunity, my social anxiety is rearing its ugly head and keeping me quiet.

But...it's only day one.  And I am horribly exhausted and jet lagged.  I will not likely reach a point of comfort with talking to people in French before the end of this trip, but hopefully a day or two of adjustment will make me more willing to talk.  Because with a glass of good French wine, I am actually half decent with my French.

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If you're on Twitter, please follow my adventures in France at Frugalish Physician@FrugalishMD.  (Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed out that I had originally entered a totally incorrect half email/half Twitter name here.  Jet lag!  Yay.)  I will be posting photos and random musings and other things there.  But I will also do my best to post some substantial posts (complete with photos) here!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Solitary Diner is Famous!

I'm featured in a guest post today at Chief Mom Officer.  Head over and take a look!

And if you've found my site through CMO, welcome.  Leave me a comment so I know who you are.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Trading Money for Happiness

Like any good HSP, I don't like to be too busy.  Long to-do lists and piles of unfinished work make me anxious.  Extended periods on call break me a little mentally.  I'm not entirely sure how I survived residency, in retrospect.

As an attending, my happiness is affected a lot by the call schedule.  When the 2018 call schedule came out last year, I was initially ecstatic:  no less than a month between blocks of call*, all of my requested days off, and Christmas off for the second year in a row.  I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that I was working a lot of the long weekends, but that was a small sacrifice for what was otherwise pretty much the best call schedule I could ask for.

And then a revision came out.  And suddenly I was doing two extra weeks of call, with only a two-week break before I had to do my next stretch of call.  And the second stretch of call was immediately before my trip to France, meaning that I would be going into vacation tired and inevitably behind at work.

I was not happy.  I angrily** emailed the person in charge of making the call schedule to try to get it changed, but she had clearly had enough of dealing with demanding physicians, and she told me that I would have to find someone to switch with myself.  She was done.

So I studied the call schedule, looking for someone with whom I could switch one of my dreaded call periods.  There were a few options that would make things better, but all of them had at least one drawback:  during my beloved theatre festival, right before a major presentation, too close to another call period.  No matter how I switched them, the two extra weeks were going to make some stretch of my year miserable.

And then it occurred to me that I could just get rid of them.  Call is as lucrative as it is unpleasant, and there are other physicians who value money more than I do.  A few quick emails, and two weeks of call were gone.

The moment I got the email confirming that someone else was taking my call, I felt light.  I hadn't even realized how stressed I was feeling about my schedule until suddenly it was reasonable again.  I felt the tiniest bit of regret about the money I would lose out on, because I still have a line of credit to pay off and retirement savings to build, but it was tiny.  So tiny.

Having just come off a two-week stretch of call, I am currently even happier than I was initially about my decision to give up the extra weeks.  Even though I like the inpatient work that I do, I have spent the past two weeks counting down the days (and sometimes hours) until I would be able to turn off my pager.  I have hated the constant anxiety that comes from not knowing when I would get paged or what new challenge I would have to deal with next.  I need my downtime to be happy and healthy, and two weeks with none of it is hard.

This is what financial freedom means to me.  The ability to say "This is not worth the money" and walk away from something that makes me miserable.  Two weeks with no call is sweeter than any big house or fancy car will ever be.

*We do 1-2 weeks of call at a time for a total of about 10 weeks per year.

**Not really.  I am not an angry person.  At worst I am slightly passive-aggressive, and even then I'm mostly passive.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

When Money Meets Dating

When my ex and I broke up, I gave myself a six-month hiatus from dating.  I wanted to relearn how to be happy as a single person before I started dating again, in the hope that I wouldn't make bad relationship decisions to avoid being alone.

It ended up being easier than I had expected.  I had been unhappy in my old relationship for a long time, so the absence of the relationship's negativity in itself felt like happiness.  And there are big positives to being alone.  I like planning trips to France without considering what someone else wants to do, and I like always getting to pick the movie. 

Then my ex started dating again, and I got jealous.  I was doing so well with being single that I decided I didn't need to wait a full six months, so I signed up for an online dating site about a week ago.  It has been about as much fun as I expected it to be, with my previously healthy self esteem now as volatile as the stock market.  I check my profile more frequently than Twitter, and I devote way too much of my precious mental energy to the eternal question of "Why didn't she respond to my message?"

A friend of mine who is in a happily committed relationship keeps telling me that I should enjoy the process, which makes me kind of hate her.  Meeting new people is anathema to an introvert, and it is only made worse by the inherent vulnerability of trying to find someone who will like you enough to want to share your bacteria.  The best I can do so far is view this as a means to an end, and if I survive the process without hating it*, I will consider myself to have handled it well.

When I first subjected myself to this hell five years ago, I didn't really think about money.  I was a solid five figures in debt, so I didn't worry that someone was going to pursue me for my wealth.  But now, things are...different.  I'm on pretty solid financial ground for a forty-year-old, and assuming the stock market stops imploding, my finances are going to keep getting better very quickly.  My financial situation removes a lot of ordinary worries from my life, and it also lets me do a lot of things that most people can't.

One of the first things I've noticed with online dating is how different my travel history is from most people's.  "Where have you traveled?" is a common conversation starter online, and I feel uncomfortable listing off all the places I've been lucky enough to visit.  I abhor bragging, and it feels like that's what I'm doing when I say "Oh, I've traveled to all the places you have, but also 20 other places, because I am a rich doctor."  (I'm not actually that awkward online.  Hopefully.)  I know that this is a really nice problem to have, and this is not a complaint but rather a reflection, but it is still weird to me.

The bigger issue that arises with online dating is financial compatibility.  My city has a pretty shallow lesbian dating pool, so picking a partner isn't like customizing a sandwich at Subway.  What if I find someone who is cute and funny and nerdy but is terrible with money?  Or who wants to stay at home and play with the cats while I pay all the bills?  (Note to the internet:  If you are a queer woman who would like to pay all the bills while I stay home and play with the cats, my email address is on the sidebar.)

Dating is so frustratingly difficult. 

*I was going to make a joke about being murdered, but have you heard about the horrible murders in Toronto's LGBTQ* community

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Grief is Not Linear

When I was in my third year of medical school, my Dad asked me to feel a lump in his armpit.  Seven months later, he died of the melanoma that had metastasized from a tiny mole on his arm.

Surviving my Dad's death was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I wrote about it here once, in the part of the blog that was lost in the great purge, and I described it as being like walking around without skin.  Everything hurt.  I made it through my last two years of medical school only thanks to some very supportive friends and terror at the thought of not matching to a residency program.

And then my Dad was gone and medical school was over, and I thought that I had left grief behind.  I didn't think of him often; I could talk to patients about death without crying; and I started to feel happy again.  (Or, as happy as a neurotic first-year Internal Medicine resident is capable of feeling.)  I was moving on, and grief wasn't coming with me.

Until it did.  When I matched to fellowship, I grieved the fact that my father would never know what specialty I had gone into.  When I started dating my first girlfriend, I grieved the fact that he would never see me dating a woman, even though he'd reached a tenuous peace with me being bisexual.  And then again, in the middle of my last and longest relationship, I grieved that my girlfriend would never get to see firsthand how much I am a clone of my father.

I have been surprised over the past eight years to realize that grief never goes away.  It lies dormant for a while, sometimes long enough that I can forget it was ever there, but it inevitably returns, each time just as painful as when it was fresh.  Every time it comes back feels like a surprise hit to the chest, knocking the breath from my body.

The same thing is happening right now with the semi-recent end of my relationship.  A few weeks ago, I found myself humming happily at work, and I distinctly remember thinking about how nice it was to be so happy.  I was even going to write a smug blog post about how good life was and how bloody happy I was, but I was enjoying my happiness too much to bother.

And then my ex-girlfriend started dating again.

And posted pictures of her new girlfriend on Facebook.

And now I feel like I'm 14 instead of 40, because I am hurting over my ex-girlfriend's social media activities.  I am supposed to be over her, and yet I find myself barely able to drag myself through the day.  I cry on my drive into work, because I have to pass the coffee shop where we waited while we got winter tires, followed by the restaurant to which we took her friends from Egypt to try schnitzel.  Grief redux.

And it is completely irrational, because there is no part of me that wants to go back to the relationship.  It's not even that I want her to not date, because I do want her to date and to be happy.  I'm not a horrible person wishing misery on her just so that I won't be miserable.  And yet, I am sad.  Horribly, inexplicably, unexpectedly sad.

And I can't even drink, because I'm still on call for eight more days.

Friday, February 2, 2018

How Do We Talk About Money When We're Rich?

I've noticed something interesting about language in the personal finance community.  A lot of the bloggers who have been financially successful have gotten there as a result of being some degree of frugal (from Frugalwoods extreme to Physician on Fire more relative frugality), and as result, even when people have a lot of money, they don't necessarily think of themselves as being rich.  Instead, the term "financially independent" is often used to describe net worths that many people would consider enough to make someone "rich".

Does it matter?  Is there any difference between describing yourself as financially independent versus rich?

From a totally self-absorbed perspective, I think it does.  Even though I am way far away from the net worth of Physician on Fire, I have recently started thinking of myself as rich.  I am earning six times the median household income for my city, I'm increasing my net worth at a delightfully high rate, and I can afford to buy pretty much anything that I could possibly want.  I am very financially lucky, and I will hopefully continue to be this lucky until I retire at some to-be-determined date in the future.  This, to a person who spent all of her life until recently at the lower end of the middle class, is rich. 

And for me, there's value in calling myself rich.  It helps me control my financial anxiety by reminding myself that I am actually doing really well, even though the part of me that craves security always wants my net worth to be higher.  It reminds me to be grateful for what I have, because this level of earning and financial security is not ordinary.  It also makes me mindful to not be a jerk to my friends who are not as financially well off, and to invite them over for dinner instead of out to eat at an expensive restaurant.

Personally, I also believe that being rich carries with it some obligations to society.  People who are rich have a disproportionate amount of power in society, and I believe we are morally obligated to use some of that power to help shift society towards greater equity.  That might mean voting for progressive tax laws that favour lower income earners, even if it costs you directly (i.e. doing the exact opposite of what the POS Republican tax bill just did).  Maybe it's advocating for a $15 minimum wage so that people who work full-time can at least come close to supporting themselves and their families with a single job.  Maybe it's giving some of your wealth to charities that help marginalized people and strengthen the communities they live in.

When we don't call ourselves rich, it's easy to ignore these obligations.  It's easy for someone with a $2 million net worth to say "I'm just an ordinary guy trying to live frugally" while leaving a shitty tip for his underpaid server.  But if we acknowledge our own wealth, it at least gets us closer to recognizing that the server needs (and deserves) that money a lot more than we do.  And maybe acknowledging our own abundance makes us a little bit more likely to share it with others.

Thoughts?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Making Weekends Work Better

When M and I were together, I didn't have a lot of control over my weekends.  She loves weekends with a passion even greater than my love of all things nerdy, and she would wake up by 7 am on Saturday ready to go.  I refused to get up any earlier than 9 or 10 am, depending on how exhausted I was from the week, but as soon as I was out of bed, I was at her mercy.  Weekends would be a flurry of constant socializing/eating out/entertainment, and by the end of each one, I would be as tired as I was at the beginning.

The first few weekends after our breakup were pure bliss.  I slept in as late as I wanted, lounged in front of my computer for hours, and relaxed in a way that I hadn't for years.  Not only was I unwinding from the stress of a relationship in its death throws, but I was also recovering from years of being busier than I would choose to be.  I loved it.

But...after a few weeks...I got bored.  I got used to being well-rested, and I no longer needed to spend 12 hours in a day binge watching Stranger Things while eating food from Skip the Dishes.  I found myself actually longing to spend time with other people and to do some of the activities that had previously left me feeling overwhelmed.  So in the past few months, I've been experimenting with my weekends to figure out what works best for me.  In honour of this being the beginning of the weekend, I give you some of my thoughts on how I currently plan a good weekend.

Planning social events in advance:  None of my friends are flexible.  Most of them are physicians or work similarly demanding jobs, and many of them have children, so making plans with them requires effort and time.  Where I used to always have my girlfriend to spend time with, in the past few months I've had to get used to depending on others for human interaction, which requires booking things days to weeks ahead.

Making a schedule:  If left to my own devices, I will waste time for hours (hello Twitter) before emerging from my internet fog to discover that I've accomplished nothing.  Which is not a good thing, because weekends are my time for all of the shopping/cleaning/laundry/cooking that keep me going through the week.  I feel kind of pathetic every time I do it, but for weeks now, I have been writing a schedule for my weekend, and it really helps.

I tend to write two schedules:  one of the things that I must do (social events, essential life maintenance) and one of the things that I could do if feel motivated.  This way I can adjust my activities to my energy level and to what I feel like doing at any given time.  While still making sure that I have clean underwear for Monday.

Flexible events:  As an introvert, I have a very fine line between "Wow, I'm having so much fun at this social activity" and "Dear God, please don't make me ever have to interact with another human being ever again".  Unfortunately, I can't always predict where that line will be, so some weekends three social events will be the perfect number, whereas other weekends I will be hiding under the table by halfway through the second.  Enter the flexible social events.  Things that I can do if I'm feeling bored/lonely, but that I can also back out of if I want to.

Tonight, for example, there is a movie night at the school where I take my French lessons.  It's in my calendar, and it's something I'd like to do, but it's also something I can back out of with no warning if an evening on the couch with my cats is more to my liking.  On Sundays, I also have a conversational French group, which again, I can choose not to go to if I'm suddenly feeling too socially awkward to try to conjugate verbs dans le conditionnel with people I barely know.

Meetup.com has really been great for this, as there are all kinds of events going on in my city, and most of them can be planned and/or cancelled last minute.  I've mostly just done French activities so far, but there are also knitting groups and book clubs that I'm thinking of joining.

(Is there an aware for being the most cat ladyish of all the middle-aged cat ladies?  Because I JUST WON IT.)

Exercise:  The bane of my existence, but also something that is necessary and that makes me feel better.  I have done this for a grand total of one week, but I am trying to do something physical every Saturday and Sunday.  There is a gym two floors down from my apartment, and I live on a running/walking path, so I have absolutely no excuse not to.

So that's how I'm currently doing weekends.  This weekend I'm about to head out to my French movie; tomorrow I have a very informal brunch with friends and dinner/movie with other friends; and Sunday I'm meeting my conversational group.  For "must do" things, I am getting my passport application sent in, making granola, cleaning, and doing laundry.  And for potential fun things/could do things, there's a new episode of Top Chef online, I have a pile of stuff to take to the thrift store, and there are always books.  Glorious, glorious books.

I should probably also call my mother.

I realize as I write this that I am immensely lucky to have such a flexible weekend.  I'm sure there are some working parents out there who would be happy if their weekend includes peeing in private once and getting most of their children to wear pants most of the time, and for them my weekend might seem ridiculously leisurely.  But this is entirely by design!  I spent years of my life living in survival mode as a medical student and resident who never had enough time.  Now that I have some extra hours to spare, it's time to enjoy it.

What do you have planned for the weekend?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Life as a Highly Sensitive Physician - Part One

A little over a year ago, I stumbled across an article about highly sensitive people.  I had never heard the term before, but as I read the article, it resonated very strongly.

Feel more deeply?
Emotionally reactive?
Take longer to make decisions?
Detail oriented?
Cry more easily?

That's me!  After reading the article, I went on to do a self quiz, and the answer that came back was basically "You fit this profile so perfectly, why did you even need to take the quiz?"

So yeah.  I'm a highly sensitive person.  Meaning that I tend to respond very emotionally to things, that I am very sensitive to criticism, and that I can get overwhelmed easily.  These were all things that I knew before reading the article (and the subsequent articles/blogs/books on the subject that I have read), but the concept of a highly sensitive person was helpful to me for the way that it presented my individual traits as something bigger, some complete personality type that described me shockingly well.

It also helped me by explaining why some aspects of work were much harder for me than for other people.  All through medical training (and into my first years of practice), I would look at the high achievers around me and wonder how it was that they were able to accomplish so much more than I did.  How could they work a long day and then come home and raise a family and do research projects?  And without hating their lives? 

Identifying myself as an HSP has helped me to realize that things exhaust me more than they do other people.  I engage deeply with everything I do, and so I use up a lot of energy doing my work.  One challenging conversation can deplete a lot of my emotional reserves, so when I have a day with multiple tough patients, it isn't surprising that I have no energy for anything else in the evening.  I'm simply done.

This happened to me last week, when I had to tell a long-term patient that he was dying.  That interaction was difficult enough, but then it was followed by a number of really tough disclosures about personal trauma from other patients.  I did everything I could to be present for my patients and to help them get the resources they needed, but by the end of the day I had nothing left.  I spent my evening on my couch binge-watching Top Chef and eating leftovers from the fridge, physically and mentally unable to do anything else.

When I tell stories like this to some of my colleagues, they look at me like I'm crazy.  It's not that they're not empathetic or that they don't care about their patients*, it's just that they don't personalize things in the way that I do.  They can detach from their patients and move on quickly, whereas I struggle to not be too deeply affected by my patients' stories.

But it's something I'm working on.  I have zero desire to burn out early, so I'm constantly looking for ways to do my work well without giving so much of myself.

Which will be a subject for a future post, because for the moment it's time to read a book and recharge for work tomorrow.

*Well....for some of them it is.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Do I Need to Make Resolutions?

Since the end of 2017, I've been thinking a lot about writing a resolutions post.  I've been reading everyone else's posts, in which they talk about their goals of saving X dollars or losing Y pounds, and I've been thinking I should do that too.  But as I read these posts and think about writing my own, I find myself paralyzed by the fact that I have no idea what to resolve.

My challenge with resolutions is twofold.  First, I am not a person to make a resolution for the sake of doing so.  If I commit to doing something, it has to be because I believe that doing so is going to make me happier or is somehow going to make me a better person/make the world a better place.  Second, I am really, really bad at keeping resolutions.  Like my recurrent resolution to exercise.  A look at my last post about exercise shows that it starts with a paragraph bemoaning my failures:

"Oh exercise, how I struggle with you.  With just a quick look through the blog, it's easy to find multiple posts in which I'm either committing to exercising more or lamenting the fact that I've failed at exercising more (see here, here, here, here, and here for just a few examples).  It's not a habit that comes easily to me."

I worry that committing to anything, especially exercise, will inevitably lead to me writing a follow up post in a month or two talking about how miserably I've failed at my commitment.  Which makes me ask the question, why do I feel like I need to write a resolution post?

While part of this feeling is just the feeling that I should be doing what everyone else is doing, I think another part of it is a desire to create some sort of...shape in my life.  I feel like I'm in a phase in life in which I go to work, pay off debt, save for retirement, learn a few more words of French, and keep repeating ad nauseam.  I'm 7-10 years away from hitting FIRE, and I will likely keep working even when I reach FIRE, so this is not going to be a short phase.  There is an incredible monotony to this stage, and I wonder if I could somehow break up the monotony with a resolution.  2018 will be the year that I become a true minimalist/ban all shopping/run a marathon...something other than just the year in which I keep going to work every day and slowly trudge forward with life.

Hmmm.  This post is turning out much darker than I had expected.  Maybe because I'm alone on a Friday night and it's -26C outside and I drank a glass of Malbec before I started writing?  Maybe because I got word that a longtime patient of mine died yesterday, and I can't quite believe that he's gone, so the sadness that I haven't yet allowed myself to feel is coming out in other ways?

There is part of me that is longing desperately for a solution to this.  To be able to say that I am going to do X in 2018 and everything is going to be perfect.  But maybe life doesn't work that way.  Maybe it's harder than we all like to pretend it is, and we can't solve everything with a resolutions post.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

How I Like to Travel

The first time I ever traveled overseas, I was 22 years old, and I had just graduated from university.  Using my parents' travel miles, I flew to Europe with my good friend N, whom I'd known since I was five.  We had six weeks, ridiculously heavy backpacks, Eurail passes, and very little money.  It was going to be amazing.

Except, it kind of wasn't.  I mean...there were moments that were amazing.  Like the first day in London, when I walked around the city with my mouth hanging open saying things like "OMG...Alfred Russel Wallace lived here*.  OMG...MAHATMA GANDHI LIVED HERE!!!"  Or the beautiful day we spent on a boat on Loch Ness, before I discovered how badly I had burned my legs because I had decided to "let them tan".   But there was also a lot of hard stuff.


The biggest problem was that N and I wanted to have completely different trips.  I had planned for the trip obsessively, reading Let's Go Europe from cover to cover and marking things as "Must-See" or "Would-Like-To-See-If-We-Have-Time".  I had practiced saying Hello/Goodbye/Please/Thank You/I desperately need a bathroom now in the languages of every country we would visit.  And I had dreamed of all the nerdy historical places we would visit:  Westminster Abbey, Edinburgh Castle, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Roman Forum. 


N had packed her party clothes.  Unbeknownst to me, this trip for her represented an opportunity to escape from her somewhat overprotective parents and just have fun.  She had almost no desire to buy the discount passes that let you see all the historical sites in a city, but every desire to meet people at hostels and go dancing.  So for six weeks, we cramped each other's style, arguing constantly about whether to spend our time in a museum or a bar.  By the time we flew home, we were barely talking to each other.

I realized on that trip that I have some pretty specific desires when I travel, and they aren't necessarily the desires of others.  Which is completely okay.  I in no way judge the crazy people who want to be social and spend times in crowded spaces.  I simply don't want to travel with them.

Over the years, I have been very fortunate to have lots of opportunities to travel.  And with each trip, I've gotten even better at knowing what I will or will not enjoy.  Which is particularly relevant to me right now, as I just bought tickets for a conference and vacation in France this Spring.  FRANCE!  If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I have been posting there frequently about my excitement about learning to speak French and planning my trip.  And to build on that excitement, I've decided to post about some of the things that make a great trip for me.

Really Nerdy Activities:
I love nerdy things, and the more I embrace this fact, the happier I become.  When traveling, I have no interest at all in the popular shopping district, but I absolutely do want to see the collection of 18th century dioramas/the site where a famous scientist was born/Galileo's middle finger.


When traveling, I seek out the oddities.  I look on Atlas Obscura to find places to visit (Oradour-Sur-Glane is high on my list for France).  I allocate entire days to medical and natural history museums.  And I love every minute of it.




Traveling Alone:
Shockingly there are few people in this world who want to spend hours with me in a natural history museum photographing a dodo bird (A DODO BIRD!) from every angle.  When I travel with another person, it is inevitable that at some point the other person will become impatient and/or I will feel rushed.  Which is quite easily overcome by me simply traveling alone.

While traveling with someone else isn't entirely negative (eating in restaurants tends to be better with another person), I do tend to prefer traveling on my own.  I like having complete control over where I go and what I see.  I like being able to commit a day of travel and four hours on a bus to visiting the seaside town from which the French explorers departed for Canada.  And I like never being dragged out in the evening to socialize with people I don't know.

Flexible Schedule:
Whenever I travel, I tend to alternate between days of "OMG I'm so excitied!  I'm going to see three museums and take a walking tour and take hundreds of photos!" and days of "Cobblestone hurts my feet and I don't like the food here and I want to stay in bed and Internet".  This pattern repeats itself on every trip I go on, and if I ignore my need for downtime and try to push on with the sightseeing, I will inevitably become miserable.  I've learned to build flexibility and extra time into my schedule so that, when needed, I can spend a day on the couch with a block of cheese and a good book and recharge my traveling energy.

Small Cities and Towns:
When N and I went to Europe, we gave ourselves four full days in Rome, recognizing that there was a lot to see.  And for four days we rode on the crowded subways and got catcalled by Roman men and saw site after site of broken columns.  For me, I was overwhelmed by the number of people and by the sense that no matter how much we rushed, we would never see everything.  I learned from my visit to Rome that I prefer the small places to the big.  Small places may not have as many things to see, but I enjoy the sense of being able to see everything, even when I go at a leisurely pace.  And I love the oddities that turn up in small places, which would never attract tourists in a big city, like the preserved two-headed pig in the farming town where my grandparents lived.

Packing Light:
On my first trip, I bought the biggest backpack I could find, and I filled it with everything that would fit in it.  And then I packed a second smaller backpack as a day pack.  Even though I was only 22 years old, I felt like an old woman thanks to the constant back and shoulder pain from carrying my things around.  When I watched the movie Wild, I couldn't stop laughing in recognition at Cheryl Strayed's pack (although, for the record, I did not pack 12 condoms for my trip to Europe).


Every time I travel, my suitcase gets lighter.  I simply don't need much stuff, and I hate hauling a heavy bag into airport bathrooms and onto trains.  On my most recent trip, which was to Quebec City, I took only my camera bag and a carry-on suitcase, and it was still more stuff than I needed.  I will probably need to take a larger bag to France, as I need to bring work-appropriate clothes with me, but you can bet that it will be packed as lightly as possible.  (Leaving room to bring home wine.)

So this is how I travel.  A solitary introvert with a tiny bag and a big camera, visiting the nerdiest places I can find.  My idea of a fun vacation would probably be a nightmare to a more outgoing person, but it works perfectly for me.  Which I think is a good guiding principle for life:  do what works perfectly for you.

*You know you're a nerd when you not only know who Alfred Russel Wallace was but also still feel angry that he didn't get the recognition he deserved for the theory of evolution.