Some books I read this year

I worked remotely this year. It’s interesting. The flexible schedule and workspace is great, but the lack of interaction with your co-workers leaves you questioning yourself and your sanity.

Communication has to be very proactive – you can’t wait for someone to check if you’re having trouble or need something to do, you have to go ask for it. I think this skill is some kind of dark art, and I haven’t gotten it yet.

Most of my non-fiction reading was about “soft skills”. The little things that ease friction between humans and help us enjoy each other more. I always feel that I’m deficient in those skills, so I look for books that might have answers. These are books that had answers – maybe not complete answers, but they brought me a little closer to being human.

Negotiating the Non-Negotiable, Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro gets world leaders and diplomats into a room together and makes them play games about peacemaking. You’d think those people would already be good at negotiating as it’s the centre of their jobs, but he still catches them off guard fairly often. He helped peace talks in Ireland and Bosnia in the 90’s, among other things.

His idea is that intractable disagreements come up when people’s identity feels attacked. Swallowing your pride, shaking hands and signing an agreement may be the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t the only master that humans answer to. If you read my previous posts, you’ll see one about identity that I did as an exercise after reading this book.

If you have to give up part of your identity to make peace, you may decide that peace isn’t worth it. By extension, if you can figure out how you’re threatening someone’s values with your seemingly reasonable proposition, you can better understand why they won’t accept it, and maybe find a compromise.

Works Well With Others, Ross McCammon

Ross McCammon is a senior editor at Esquire magazine. His job, aside from editing, is to schmooze and make the right moves in high-stakes social situations.

This book is about all the ways he’s failed to do that in the last ten years. It starts out as practical advice for when you’ve gotten a job you’re not qualified for and have to fit in with people who seem very, very cool, when you are very, very uncool.

Have you ever felt crippled by self-consciousness when deciding what to order during a business lunch? You shouldn’t, because the lunch is for focussing on the person that you’re with. But here’s some guidelines for getting past the mechanical aspects of picking your food, talking to the waiter and reaching for the bill as smoothly as possible so that you can pay attention to what matters. Also, what should you say when you interview Rihanna? Also a good question. In this case, asking about the house she grew up in as a child got her talking.

The advice gets less practical and more funny as the book goes on. I loved the part where Ross talks about a bench in Central Park where he used to hide after turning in an assignment. He had a thought in the back of his mind, “They can’t fire me for it if they can’t find me.”

After ten years, he doesn’t need the bench as much, but still goes back sometimes to remember what it was like.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer reminds me of the reason I haven’t written as much this year. Art only works when you’re being really, really honest. As soon as you try to hide yourself, creativity dries up.

Amanda stands on a box wearing a baroque wedding gown and holds a flower out to passersby, and only moves if someone puts money in her hat. It’s the most vulnerable thing she can do – stand in public and beg, with her whole being, “please notice me”.

Rocketships.ca is my email address and goes on every resume I send out. I don’t know how many employers get around to reading my blog. It’s gotten me a couple of interviews, but how many have I scared off? I want to write the really raw, horrifyingly funny stuff, but not end up unemployed because of it. But I know if this blog is ever going to be anything but a minor hobby that a few friends read, I’m going to have to go deep like Amanda does.

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman

My mom read this book when I was a small kid and has been telling me to check it out ever since. I finally felt the need for it after tearfully explaining to my therapist that I couldn’t figure out how to tell my partner how much I loved him, or get him to believe me when I tried. It’s a book that found me when I was ready to listen.

My love language is Quality Time. The others are Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. I have a feeling that the guy is right, and if you can figure out what your partner’s language is, you’ll have a better time.

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business, Paul Downs

Paul Downs makes custom, specialized conference tables in Pennsylvania. Most of his customers find him on Google, and everything they sell is produced in a huge warehouse by a dozen or so woodworkers.

They do beautiful work and fully occupy their market niche. There’s plenty of demand for what they make – so why do they lose money? In 2011, Downs kept a month by month account of what happened.

He fixed their sales process so they’d stop leaking customers. He demoted a shop foreman who had served, resentfully, for over 20 years, and promoted a less experienced guy who wanted the job and cared enough to do it well. He went to the Middle East to look for customers, but found that there were plenty of customers right at home – after he caught and fixed a Google adwords bug that was putting his ads in front of the wrong eyeballs. At the end of the year, he finished with just enough cash to stay in business – he didn’t get to collect a salary, he only paid himself back for loans he’d put into the business.

It’s a story that will put you off the idea of starting your own business, for sure, unless you happen to have the kind of mind that hears about these problems and thinks, “oh, that sounds fun!” I took lots of notes.

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There aren’t any tow trucks in Port Renfrew

We came upon a motorcycle accident on the way out to Port Renfrew today. I was leading a group of five motorcycles, and ahead of us was a different group of three – two big Harleys and a BMW Dakar. Ahead of them there were a few cars, going slower than motorcycles like to go, so we were all bunched up. Two of the cars split off at China Beach and the third one saw that he was holding us up, so politely pulled over to let us pass.

The group ahead of us took off and were out of sight in moments. In my group, we had a couple bikes riding two-up, one inexperienced rider going slow, and another who rolled her new bike out of the dealership yesterday. So I didn’t feel any need to keep up with them. My group continued at our relaxed pace until we found the BMW on the side of the road and two riders standing near it looking shell-shocked. The second rider’s bike was nowhere in sight.

I pulled my group over at the next open spot and ran back to see what was up. A Harley rider had target-fixated in the middle of a curve and gone right off the road. Not just in the ditch, but 15 feet up the gravel embankment on the other side of the ditch. By the time I got there on foot a camper had pulled over and given him a chair and some water. He had a cut on his face, a deep gouge on his right arm, and a horrible purple scrape bruise on his leg, but he was able to stand and walk at least.

I’ve seen plenty of people having bad days, but this was the first time I’ve been first on the scene, or close to it. Normally there’s already ambulances present or on the way, but this happened between Jordan River and Port Renfrew. There is no cell service and no human habitation of any kind for 20km in either direction. Everyone was just standing around, wondering what to do.

I checked the rider for broken bones and serious bleeding, then recruited a couple of my friends to help move the Harley back down into the road. I checked my odometer so I could report the location – there were no landmarks of any kind. Then we continued our weekend jaunt to Tomi’s Cafe and got on with lunch. In PR, I was worried, so I asked at the cafe if there was a tow service I could call and send back. There’s no such thing in Port Renfrew. So I had my friend call the RCMP in Sooke and tell them what happened and where, and ask them to make sure the guys were safe.

The whole time I was thinking about what I could have done. One of the stopped camper vans had a big first aid kit in it. I could have asked if any of them had actual training to go with the kit, and if not, administered first aid myself (I do have training). I could have asked my friends to go ahead without me and stayed with the injured rider and his friend and helped them flag down a truck. I could have gotten the BMW’s name and phone number, at least, so I could get in touch with him and ask if they made it out okay, or pass it along to the police.

None of these things are my responsibility, exactly, but it’s what I would want someone to do if I was in that situation. If I was the injured rider, I would be too shocky to do anything useful for the rest of the day. If I was the friend, I’d be standing there thinking “I can’t handle this. I need an adult.” Which is pretty much what the guy was doing. He was a new rider out on his first big ride ever, with his two friends who were supposed to be more experienced than him. But one of them just ate it, and the other one was far ahead before he noticed his crew was gone, and took a long time to come back.

So I wish I had taken responsibility for the situation and seen it through to the conclusion. Of course that would have derailed my plans for the day, but come on. It’s just a Sunday ride. I guess what stopped me was the feeling that everyone else was older than me, more experienced, and knew what to do better than I did. But based on what I could see, that was not true. Everyone else was looking for someone to take charge as well. I could have done it, but I ran away instead.

The guy was not dying or anything, but the worst case scenario I can think of is that he ended up riding his dented motorcycle, shocky and bleeding, back to Sooke (50km of twisty roads) before getting proper care. I would never want to do that. I would never want any of my friends to do that either.

It made me wonder, what is the procedure for dealing with an emergency out there? My friends and I, and hundreds of other motorcyclists, whip out to Port Renfrew every chance we get, enjoying the windy roads, the glimpses of ocean, and the total absence of speed traps. My group doesn’t have any hooligans, but accidents aren’t that rare.

There is no cell phone service. There is no data connection. There are no police in Port Renfrew or Jordan River – the nearest RCMP outpost is Sooke, and it’s probably staffed by like two constables. There’s no tow service in PR or JR, as I was appalled to learn. And there’s not really any “adults” to call – no one today had any more of a clue what to do than I did.

Luckily, there is one thing you can count on, on a sunny August weekend – tons and tons of traffic. And almost everyone is prepared to help, with Canadian enthusiasm, as long as you give them clear instructions and only ask them to do things that they can do. I’d like to have a plan in place in case something like this ever happens again. I’m unlikely to start carrying a first aid kit or satellite phone, so my plan relies on helpful strangers.

First, check for injuries and make sure no one is bleeding to death. Flag down one of the millions of RVs that drive through every weekend if one hasn’t stopped already. Tap them for blankets, lawn chairs, and water. Move any injured people off the road, sit them down, give them water and blankets, and have someone keep an eye on them watching for shock. Move all vehicles off the road as well. Ask the involved parties whether they want to try flagging down a ride to the next town or send someone else there to phone for help. If they’re incoherent, make a decision for them. Don’t be in a hurry to run off or send anyone else running off for help, because frequently help arrives on it’s own. But if not, send someone to the next town and phone Totem Towing or ambulance/police for help, depending how bad it is. Wait until everyone is on their way home. Get names and phone numbers sooner and not later, so you can check up on them. Give yours as well. And from the very outset, understand that your leisurely Sunday ride is cancelled, and that God has provided you with a Learning Opportunity instead. Be grateful for it.

I hope writing this out helps me get it right (to my own standards) next time, though, of course, next time is likely to be a completely different emergency and need a totally different response. So it goes.

On the way home to Victoria, we stopped to stretch our legs in Jordan River and a constable pulled up. He asked us if we were the ones who called in the accident. He had looked for the downed rider at the spot and along the road but hadn’t seen him or his friends. Neither had we, so I guess they all made it back to safety somehow.

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The Spanish Exam

Already today I’ve dropped my bike twice and ridden out of the mountains in a tropical rainstorm. A bird has hit my shoulder at highway speed. Because of the rain earlier, I am wearing a heavy leather jacket. But it’s 28 degrees and sunny now, and I just realized that the cute Jinotegan boy who rode on the pillion two days ago, broke the sunglasses that were in my jacket pocket.

And at the Uno gas station in Tipitapa, my motorcycle won’t start.

I push it into a parking space at the front of the little shop. A flock of teenage boys has appeared from nowhere, and they hover around poking my carburetor and ordering me to try starting it again so they can see how it doesn’t work.

I wave them away and pull out the toolkit that the German gave me before I left his motorcycle rental agency. Damn, if this isn’t the most useless toolkit I’ve ever had. There are no tire irons, only one crescent wrench, no Allen keys at all, and relevant to the current situation – a Phillips head screwdriver that is too short and stubby to reach the carburetor drain screw.

Masaya, later that day.
Masaya, later that day.

It’s time to put my two weeks of Spanish experience to the test. To the crowd of teenage boys, I announce, “La moto es romper.” (The motorbike is broken.) They stare blankly, a common expression amongst teenage boys.

“Yo necessito un mecanico. Donde es un mechanico proximo?” (I need a mechanic. Where is the nearest mechanic?) Their eyes glazed, several of them wander off. Typical. Show a teenage boy someone having a problem, he’s all up in your business getting in the way. Ask him to be useful, he’s gone like the wind.

I bought some sunglasses from a 12 year old kid. His much older competitor, with another board covered in glasses, approaches, outraged that I bought from the kid instead of him. “Fuck off,” I say, smiling politely.

Eventually a man appears. He says, probably, “Sigues!” (follow) and makes c’mere gestures at me. He is a skinny fellow with a wide smile, wearing dark jeans and a crisp white t-shirt. I can’t tell how old he is, but he looks better than the time wasting teenagers. Perhaps one of them summoned him while I wasn’t looking.

Honda 250 Tornado

 

“Sabes tu un mecanico?” (Do you know a mechanic?) I ask. He says something, I have no idea what. Speaking Spanish is one thing, understanding what they tell you is a whole other deal. He begins to walk off, still making follow-me gestures. I sigh, and push the bike off its kickstand. He takes my helmet, and we set out through the muddy unpaved lanes, him pushing his bicycle, me pushing my much larger Honda Tornado 250, with steam rising off the shoulders of my heavy black jacket.

Sweat beads on my upper lip, drains down my chest and across my belly. The crappy sunglasses aren’t helping at all. Small children are running beside me in the lane, laughing and throwing rocks at each other. I put my head down and continue pushing. After enough twists and turns that I shall never be able to find my own way back to the gas station, we arrive at a family home with a high iron gate. The man pushes it open and bows me inside.

I’m in a dirt courtyard. There is a huge, ancient GMC dump truck parked near the back. There is a corrugated iron shed with chickens sitting in its shade. There are two very young girls chasing a ball around. They pause to stare at me, then go back to shouting at each other. There is blessed shade at this house, banana trees blocking out the vicious sun and keeping the muddy earth damp and pleasant.

The man who brought me, I have decided, is the mechanic’s apprentice. He has brought the mechanic out of the house. A fat man looking like Super Mario in a wifebeater.

“Que?” (What?) he asks me, probably. I demonstrate how the bike will start, but as soon as I open the throttle, it dies. I do this twice for his benefit.

“Es fango en la carburador, ” (There is  mud in the carburetor) I announce. “Es agua en el tanque. La gasolina es, es…” (There is water in the tank.) I’ve run out of words. “Es mal.” (The gas is bad.)

After a couple of repetitions they seem to understand this. The mechanic grunts and points at his inspection area, a concrete pad with a corrugated steel roof, and I obligingly push the bike up onto the block. He makes me take my luggage off, then I step back.

The apprentice brings a chair for me to sit on, and I sit biting my nails in the shade while the mechanic, his apprentice, and the mechanic’s teenage son buzz around my broken machine.

They seem to be doing what I would do, given tools and space, so I don’t interrupt. The carburetor is drained, then the bottom of the gas tank. “Filthy!” exclaims the mechanic. I peek at the milk jug full of pink liquid. The separation of water and gas is easy to see – there are at least 2 cups of water and not a lot of gas in there. He laughs. I also laugh. “Si, yo veo.” (Yes, I see.)

The fuel filter comes off. The mechanic shakes it vigorously and holds it up to the light. “Filthy!” and presents it for inspection. Sure enough, the fluid in there is the colour of Christmas gravy and totally opaque.

Fuel filter
This pic was taken before he shook all the dirt loose.

“Filthy” is the only English he knows, I believe. I guess it’s enough. To the apprentice I say “La Puma gasolina, y la Uno gasolina…” (The gas at the Puma station, and the Uno station…)

“Si?”

“La Uno es muy bueno?” (The Uno is good?)

“Si.”

“Y, la Puma es no bueno?” (And the Puma is no good?)

“Si!” he nods.

I filled it last at the Puma in Matagalpa. It isn’t the first time I’ve had to push my bike to a mechanic this week.

The filter is flushed with fresh gas and reinstalled. The tank is drained a bit more. There’s some fussing and fidgeting, while his daughters invent a game that involves chasing one another around my chair. The mechanic’s wife comes out and yells at him briefly. He grunts back. A gentle breeze brings the smell of eucalyptus and cooking fire, and the apprentice, now and then, glances at me with a blinding white grin.

I am presented with the bike for inspection. With great care not to upend it in the mud (nearly failed), I ride over some impossibly bright red flower petals scattered in the ruts, to the end of the lane, turn left, pass through a herd of cows, and turn back before I can get too lost.

A Nicaraguan traffic jam
A Nicaraguan traffic jam

“Es bien”, I say, upon returning. Or possibly “Es bueno.” (It’s good.) The mechanic laughs some more and says something in Spanish, points at the carb, then the filter, then twists the throttle, then shrugs expansively. Ok, now for the fun part.

“Gracias por trabajes en Domingo.” I say. (Thank you for working on Sunday).

“Que?”

“Ah! Por blllbbt en Domingo!” The apprentice translates, I guess. They laugh some more.
Ok.

“Cuanto cuesta?” (How much?) Hmmm, deep frowns. Oh come on man, I’m just trying to give you some money. He pokes the side panel, blips the throttle, stares into the sky for a few moments.

“Donde eres tu?” (Where are you from?)

“Yo rento la moto en Leon” I say haltingly. “Y, yo soy Canadiense.” (I rented the bike in Leon, and I’m Canadian.)

“Hmph.” I know being Canadian is better than being American in this country, but god knows if he believes me. I bet all the damn Yankees claim to be Canadian when they’re travelling.

“C..cuanto cuesta?” I ask again, a bit hesitantly now.

He adopts an aggressive stance and sets his chin firmly. “Ciente.” “Ciente cordoba?” “Si, ciente.”

So, 100 cordobas.

I breathe the eucalyptus trees, listen to his daughters playing, see his trim, perfectly manicured son and apprentice, his own healthy paunch and relaxed self assurance in his own domain. I know I’m supposed to barter. They charge me quadruple, because I’m white, female, and don’t speak the language. I know they’ll respect me more if I talk them down.

The man has repaired my motorcycle and is charging me $4 USD.
I pay him.

I wonder if asking for a nacatamale would be pushing my luck. I can see them in the kitchen. Better get out of here though.

To the apprentice, I ask, “Yo voy a Masaya, cual camino?” (I’m going to Masaya, which road?). “Mumble mumble something whatever,” he burbles enthusiastically in reply. I understand him perfectly – “I’ll show you.” He sets out on his bicycle. I wave to the fat mechanic and his family, and follow slowly on the Tornado. Children again run around my wheels, in a contest to see who can come the closest to getting run over. Chickens saunter arrogantly in front of me. The ground is almost completely dry now, and the cilantro scent of Sunday nacatamales is filling the lanes.

The apprentice stops at the edge of the Pan-American highway and says “Masaya?”

“Si.”

“Masaya!” He points grandly to the south.

“Gracias, senor!”

On the road again.
On the road again.

 

My route that day:

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Burnout?

“I Went Full Nomad and it Almost Broke Me”

I clicked this article cause I relate to the title – I took a remote job and left my home country. Though I wasn’t travelling while I worked, the experience was similar.

This guy asks “So why did going nomad lead to a magnitude 8 burnout?” I was hoping to find out what a “magnitude 8” burnout actually looks like, but I didn’t get it from the article.

I’d just finished a business meeting with a person I consider a role model. After taking a long pause to examine me he simply asked “but seriously, are you ok?”

What made his mentor ask if he was okay? What does low energy mean for this guy? What came between the realization and the recovery?

For me it was burying myself in social media, reading books, and binging pirated TV shows. I had a pattern of beating myself up for not going out and making friends, taking on or finishing projects, or even doing basic tasks like laundry and cooking. When the voice of self-abuse started – usually the moment after my partner left the room, and sometimes even before that – I’d whip out my phone to quieten it. Many days I’d sit at the kitchen table for five or six hours, scrolling feeds and watching shows, waiting for my partner to come home and give me enough motivation to pretend to be human for a while.

I kept thinking, how can I be stressed? All I’m doing is sitting in the kitchen. There’s no stress here. I’m succeeding in my goals, I’m where I want to be.

But I was living in someone else’s house in a country where I had few friends and didn’t speak the language. I had just started a new, remote job which was mentally demanding, and had no one, not even co-workers, to talk to about it.  The man I moved in with was a brand new relationship as well, and we didn’t have time to build a strong foundation before we started piling stuff on top of it. These are like the 5 most stressful things you can do in life, only topped by “death of a parent” or “death of a spouse”.

There was actually one bit in the article that had substance:

The term ‘burn out’ is dangerously misleading. It suggests visible fire and smoke. In reality the Big Bang when you realise the situation you’re in comes much too late. Burning out is like being the proverbial lobster in hot water. As the temperature rises your self-awareness and ability to save yourself erodes.

I stopped stopped doing my two healthiest activities – writing and cycling – except on rare occasions.

I left the relationship, which was healthy, and with an incredibly high-quality human, and went home, though I didn’t want to. Because I couldn’t recognize myself anymore and didn’t know how to get back to myself except by returning to the last place where I felt like a human.

That’s what it looked like for me. It took me way too long to recognize it, and by then it was too late.

“I wasn’t making friends.”

This wasn’t true, I made friends every time I went out, just about. However, I wasn’t very good friends with myself. It sucks to hang out with someone who tells you that you’re awful all the time, and I was hanging out with myself all day. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that?

“I wasn’t taking on or finishing projects.”

My partner and I opened a business together, and it was successful. Even if it hadn’t been successful, it would have been a bloody brilliant try. I made the website and worked on social media. I supported my partner in his heroic efforts. But besides that, I had one very important project – working on learning Danish. That one would take years to finish, but at the beginning I had no business taking on anything else. Couldn’t I forgive myself for that as well?

“I had no one to talk to about it.”

I had one person there who very much wanted to talk to me about it, my partner. I was so afraid of showing him the ugly side of me, but the more I tried to hide it, the more surface area there was to show.

My healthy perspective evaporated in a cloud of self-abuse.

Call this stress, burnout, depression, whatever it is, it’s real, it’s heavy, and it doesn’t go away if you just grit your cheeks, squeeze your ass cheeks together, and wish for it.

I think the guy in the article is trying to sell a book or something, but I don’t think it’s for me. Instead, I’ve found help from counsellors, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, and a few books that are less scammy than that one. For me this has gone way beyond “yeah, I feel kinda stressed sometimes” and into “I’ve fucked up my life repeatedly and will continue fucking it up until I get industrial strength help.”

But I’m getting there. If this is what burnout looks like for you too, there is a way a out.

Even though these last couple months have been just about the most painful of my life, I’m getting something out of it. The job, the man, the foreign country, and the new language did not make me depressed. They were pressure on a problem I have, but that problem was in me the whole time, bubbling up at different times in my life, for a month or six here and there.

I’ve left jobs, been fired, ended friendships, and moved house because of it. My emotions get out of control and I make an impulsive choice to damage a relationship. Instead of taking time to calm down and communicate, I panic, thrash, push until minor damage becomes permanent (or at least permanent in my eyes). I’ve done it at least six times that I can think of, but this most recent one was by far the worst.

I swear I am not going to repeat this pattern. I’m getting help. I’m doing the exercises. I’m unfucking myself. I can see it working, and I’m going to succeed. The motivation to not hurt people I love anymore is very, very strong. I’m going to count myself among the people I love as well.

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How long does it take to fill up a shipping container?

Here's a thing you can do.

Danish Modern Design is a style of furnishing and interior design that became a part of pop culture in the 60's. I mostly know it from Mad Men and the waiting rooms of high-end chiropractors. It's popular right now in Victoria and has been for about seven years. It's likewise popular in Denmark, the source.

Danes are bonkers about weird-shaped lamps, stuff made of teak, and interesting chairs. They create them and sell them to each other, then will them to their children, who resell them to other Danes. It's a whole world of fascination that I failed to notice in my life before 2017, because I was living in shared houses with degenerates who couldn't be relied on to keep plastic plates and cups in good condition, let alone fine furnishings (I admit, I was as degenerate as the rest of them). I cultivated non-interest to avoid wanting things I couldn't have.

Teak with the original upholstery

However, in the past year I helped open a Danish vintage and retro furniture store, in Denmark no less. I learned how to identify a Bumling lamp and a Bretoia chair, and god help me, started to appreciate them. When I returned home from Denmark, my first acts were to gift my father a Louis Poulsen lamp that I brought home in my carry-on luggage, and refinish my parents' teak dining room table.

Next I started thinking about a business plan that my partner in Denmark suggested to me. You could fill up a container with stuff for relatively cheap in Denmark, ship it here, ideally have every item sold before it came off the boat, and make a little money and a lot of entertainment. 

This idea gave me a fantastic excuse to go to each store in Victoria that buys and sells Danish modern furnishings, or anything remotely similar. I made friends with the owners, showed them a photo album, and tried to gauge whether they could be customers or not. Here's the catalog I showed them.

Easy Livin' is on Mason Street in an old brick warehouse. The owners are a couple who refinish stuff at home in their basement. Their style is middle-high end and they can sell small dressers, dining room tables in the winter, and some ceiling light fixtures. Cheryl didn't think she could use most of what I showed her, as it's too literally Danish, like traditional farmhouse type stuff, as opposed to Danish modern. Good tips, and she recommended me several other places in Victoria as well as Vancouver.

A teak vanity with mirror, one of the items Cheryl liked.

Trig Vintage is also owned by a retired couple who run the place more as a hobby than as a moneymaker. They have more inventory space than some of the other places I looked at, and a big showroom on Fisgard Street. Their style is lower end and more eclectic than Easy Livin', and more closely matches the style in my photo album. I didn't get to talk to the owners themselves, but their employee Roshan was enthusiastic about my plan. He thought I'd be more successful in Vancouver though. 

The Fabulous Find, further down Fisgard Street, is the most high-end of the lot – the owner, Trena, is younger and almost exclusively interested in brand-name designers and expensive pieces. She had a blue table painted with an extraordinary design that I'd call "unique", except that the shop in Denmark has one just like it in red. Nothing in my catalog got her attention, but she wrote me a list of designers she's interested in and told me to send her any other pictures of stuff I come across, and she'd be happy to give me prices.

Charmaine's, on Fort Street, had the most inventory, most variety, and also the most customers of any of the shops I checked. Unfortunately, the owner was busy the day I went there, and I got two jobs and started working more than full time before I had a chance to talk to her.

Arne Jacobsen "Ant" chairs

I also had a long conversation with the owners of The Old Attic in Saanich. Although most of their stuff is on consignment, not really Danish at all, and they don't buy much stock, they had plenty to share. The owner there gave me a long list of stuff she could move easily, a list that included "decanters", "copper lamps", "weird brass stuff", "records, as many as you can give us", and "mailboxes".

On January 3rd I have an appointment in Vancouver, so I'll probably stay for a couple of days and give the shops there the same treatment. Then the question is – how much is this all going to cost, how much money can I hope to make, and do they balance each other out? It's a simple math problem, but there are a lot of variables.

The Arne Jacobsen "Aegte" chir

For instance, what's the tariff? Here's the schedule of customs tariffs, which is rather detailed. Chairs, for example, are taxed at 9.5%. Lamps and lighting fittings are taxed at 7.5%. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a category for just "used furniture"? But it seems more intricate than that. 

What does a shipping container cost? We priced one at $15,000, shipped, back in March, but I've written to some other companies for quotes. You can apparently buy your own and reuse it if you do this a lot. When you're done, I suppose you could live in it, furniture and all…

And how do you get your stock? If my partner in Denmark is still on board, I can get help with that. He gets his stuff from people who bring it to his premises and sell it to him, from estate sales, and from containerpladsen auctions. Containerpladsen is the dump, in Danish. It's more than just garbage – it's next-level recycling as well. Plastic, metal, compost and paper are separated out. As well, anything that's still useful, like books, bikes, clothing and household items are saved and sold through a little shop located in the center of the dump. Anything valuable is put up for auction on the dump-run website. I love containerpladsen so much I could write a book about them, and maybe I will. But the point is, my Danish guy has got a good eye for craftsmanship and excellent negotiating skills, as well as a 700 sq. meter warehouse for inventory. So it could work.

My dad's Louis Poulsen lamp

I'm not too worried about sharing this killer business idea with you all, because a) ideas are worthless until you put in the work and b) lots of other people are doing this already, which shows that a market does exist. So if you want to try stealing it out from under me, here's the website of the containerplads auction, which is brilliant, and deserves another book: http://www.genbrugsauktion.dk. 

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We Made a Boat

Last night we built a boat. It's a viking burial-at-sea boat, and we're going to use it in the funeral for 2017 on New Year's Eve.

This is a tradition now. It's traditional because I said so, and my friends agreed, and that's how a tradition starts. I think my peers, friends, and people of my generation, with our divorced parents, stepkids, tenuous living conditions and unstable employment, are longing for some traditions.

A job change, housing change or relationship change, though it may be welcome, wanted and long hoped for, can be a huge disruption to your life. It can shatter routines and leave you spinning in circles with no idea what to do next. I and almost all my close friends have gone through one or more of these big changes this year – and last year – and the year before that as well. We just do it, and get on with life as if it was no big deal, but we're all still working through the fallout of things that happened years ago.

Traditions have rules and procedures. The rules and procedures can change, grow, or shrink as needed, but the point is that everyone should know what's expected of them and have a clear path to follow. They bring us together as a community, strengthen and heal us together. And they don't have to be based on holidays that Hallmark invented in the fifties. All that's required is at least one person to keep the ball rolling each year, and a couple others to agree to come push.

The Viking Boat tradition goes like this. Somewhere in the dead week between Christmas and New Year's, we get a pile of cardboard. We meet at someone's house. We make a little boat out of papier-mache. On New Year's Eve, we take it down to the water, put it out to sea, and set it on fire. 

This year the cardboard was bike boxes from North Park. The location was my parent's house. The people there were two old friends, three new friends, my parents, one friend of their's who was there for unrelated reasons, and me. I made each person draw me a picture of what they thought a boat looks like. That way even if the boat doesn't come out quite the way anyone expected, we still get to see their vision. The pictures get burned in the boat as well. 

We painted it with dollar-store acrylic paint and tacked it together with finishing nails my dad found in the garage. It's honestly kinda front-heavy and might not float super good, so we're probably going to build it a little raft.

The Vikings used to burn warriors with all their weapons and wealth around them to go into the next world. I think we're going to burn 2017 with all the things we're ready to let go of. I've got to find something that represents self-pity, excuses and fear. That or a picture of an Oompa Loompa. Anyway, happy new year. Hope it was a good one. 

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The Order Form Controversy

I was impressed with my coworker the other day.

At Japan Camera, we sell cameras once in a while, but more often we print out pictures of kids with Santa, family snapshots, calendars and festive mugs. Ben, the boss, shows up for a few hours a day, and Sue is my main coworker.

Sue has red hair, the nervous energy of a hamster, and a long DSLR camera that she uses to take amazing pictures of waterfalls and mountains on the weekend.

She and I get along well, I think. I like her. But one thing I’ve noticed is she doesn’t listen to me that much. She tends to cut me off in midsentence. On Mondays it doesn’t bother me, on Thursdays it irritates me a little. On Friday, we had a small disagreement.

I took a photo of a young Brazilian guy who has been on the road for a while. By the smell, I’d say at least 2 months but not more than 6. He needed a photo for his Canadian visa, but had 10 more countries on his itinerary, so he asked for a digital copy. I took down his info order form. “You don’t need to do that,” Sue called from the backroom. “Do what?” I asked. I’m pretty sure I need to write down his email, she must be talking about something else.

“Just write on a scrap of paper, you don’t need a full order form,” she said.

“Ok, but I already did… ” I said.

Another young guy came in, Chinese and needing a Canadian residency card. He wanted the digital copy as well. I took a scrap out of recycling and asked him to write his email down. He said, “Are you sure you’re going to send me that?”

I gave him a pained smile and said, “Yep, I’ll just put it down on an order form so we don’t forget.” I grabbed one.

“Don’t do that!” Sue called again. I ignored her and finished what I was doing.

After the guy left, I asked, “Could you tell me why it’s so important to use a scrap of random paper instead of an order form?”

“You can just tape it to the monitor and do it right away. If you make an order it’ll just get lost.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. I don’t lose orders.

“Look, I’ll show you how we do digital prints… ” She called up the picture of the Brazilian guy and started entering the Chinese one’s email address.

“If only we had some way of keeping all the information about an order in one place,” I said. “Like, some sort of form, for example.” She ignored me. “Something slightly more professional than scraps of recycling, ” I continued.

“You know, you’re told to do something in a certain way – ” She bit off her words and kept working.

I pointed to the Brazilian’s picture. “This guy. This email address.”

We didn’t talk much for the rest of the day. However, on Saturday morning, Sue flagged me down right away. “Come here,” she said, still ringing up a customer. “Just a second… okay, look at this.”

She showed me how you can write a memo next to a line item in the cash register. “Put the email address here. Just get them to write it on a scrap of paper so it’s right, then put it on the receipt. Then they see that we have it, and you can go to the back and email it right away.”

I nodded slowly. That was a good alternative to a full order form, I thought – faster as well.

“Passport photos are done right away, so you drop whatever else you’re doing and finish the whole thing. Same for the digital copies, because people go straight home to work on their forms. If you put it on that stack,” she indicated a pile of 20 or more waiting orders, “It might get done tonight or tomorrow, and that’s too long. That’s why we don’t write up an order.”

I was amazed. Not only that her reasons made sense, but also that she restrained herself from blowing up at me yesterday, even when I saw steam coming out of her ears. She went home, thought about it, came up with the words, and explained it to me calmly. Myself, I was passive aggressive and argumentative. I like to think that self-awareness means that I’m making progress.

But anyway, that’s why I was impressed with Sue last week.

(Name used with permission)

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Danish Residency Visas

When I started investigating how to move to Denmark, I gave myself a deadline of 6 months to my date of departure. That’s not because I needed 6 months to get ready, but because that’s how long I thought it would take me to fill out the visa form.

Reading government documents is hard. I can read a novel for hours, but I’ll spend 2 minutes reading the first page of a form over and over again, without comprehension, before I give up out of exhaustion.

I’m writing this out because getting all this information was a huge struggle for me, and I hope someone else can benefit from it.

Working Holiday

I succeeded in applying for the simplest Danish visa you can get. That’s the working holiday. You can have that one if you’re under 35 and can prove you have at least $3500 in your bank account to support yourself during your first months in Denmark. You have to present yourself in person at the Danish/Norwegian embassy in Vancouver and pay around $700 in fees.

The visa application isn’t a simple PDF form. It’s an “internet portal” with a series of webforms that you have to fill out and can save for later, although the saving function is dodgy. You need to have scans of your documents, such as passport, travel insurance, and bank statements, to submit to the form.

With that visa, you can work for 6 months, study for 6 months, and stay for a year total. You can take Danish lessons for free, and they give you a social security number and health insurance card when you arrive. In your first week, you are supposed to report to the commune, basically city hall, and that’s when they sign you up for Danish lessons and the health card.

The health insurance card has the address and telephone number of your personal doctor written on it, and you can make an appointment to see them using their website. You don’t have to pay anything. You do have to have travel health insurance from your own country, though, to meet the visa requirements.

This is the visa that’s simple enough for teenage stoners who want to be baristas in Christiania and get high for a year. If you want to stay longer than that, you need an AR-1 or an FA-1.

AR-1

This is a residency permit you can get if you have a job. It’s good for one year and you can reapply. All you need to apply for it is a signed contract with your employer, stating the details of your employment, including date of hire, length of contract (or whether it’s a permanent job), any other benefits they offer like maternity leave, holiday, company car, etc.

Danish employers don’t need to pay a fee to import you or anything, and there is a JobCenter in each municipality where there are people who are supposed to help you get hired. They’re not much smarter than job center employees anywhere else, but they can help you write a resume, point you to some job boards and sometimes they have hiring fairs.

I applied to ten or twenty jobs and wasn’t hired, so my information is not necessarily the best in this area. But the key things I learned are that 1) if it’s a low skill or “easy” job, generally a Dane will be hired for it because Danes are kind of racist and they all have nephews who need jobs. This is the same everywhere on earth, of course.

However, if you are an engineer, they want you. Electrical, chemical engineers, manufacturing, mechanical, and software engineers are so hot that they’re the subjects of national advertising campaigns. This is true everywhere on earth as well.

If you can’t manage to be an engineer, try being a programmer. Stick to C#, C++, C, and Assembly, and you might get somewhere. Tradesmen are mostly not wanted, but medical techs are.

There are huge employers like Maersk, Danfoss and Lego, and they do hire a lot of people. But if send your application to one of these no one will ever see it. Try finding a company making weird little microcontrollers tucked away in an office park somewhere. You might have better luck there.

In my case, I’m a programmer but I can’t seem to convince employers that I can learn C# on the job. I had a remote job with an American company, and I wasn’t sure whether the immigration people would buy that. However, if you read page 16 of the AR-1 form, you’ll see this section: “16.C Information about the applicant’s salary when seconded to Denmark by a foreign-based company “. 

It seems to imply that your company is requiring you to live in Denmark, which is not the case for remote work. But nothing specific in that section rules out remote work.

It took me many months to gain this information, because I read the forms several times without actually taking the information in. I’m not sure what went wrong with my brain, but I’m back in Canada kicking myself for it.

FA-1

If you can’t get hired but you have a lover that you don’t want to leave, you can use the FA-1 form, which is for Family Reunification. Here are the requirements for that: https://www.nyidanmark.dk/en-GB/You-want-to-apply/Family/Family-reunification/Spouse-or-cohabiting-partner

When you drill down into that list, you’ll find that the requirements are quite lax. For example, you have to have a stronger attachment to Denmark than any other country. This means that you cannot have spent more than 6 months in a country besides Denmark in the past year. So if you spent a year on a working holiday visa, you meet that requirement. If you lived with your partner for that year, you could, for example, take an education for 6 months until you’ve cohabited for 18 months, and you’ll meet the cohabitation requirement. Protip – if your Danish lover asks you to marry him, don’t stall him with bullshit about how “marriage is a social construct” while you try to squint through a crystal ball into the future. Just say yes.

You also have to pass a Danish language test. It’s the A1 test, which is the easiest level they have. Relevant to me personally, “If you are blind, deaf or have some other form of disability that prevents you from taking the exam, you might not need to take the exam.” I’m deaf, and being deaf sure does make it difficult to pass an oral language exam.

The toughest part of this visa is that your Danish partner needs to put up 50,000kr in escrow with the municipality, in case you need social services while you’re there. You can have the money back eventually.

If you can pull it off, I think this is a great way to go. Danes are always travelling the world since they take 6 weeks of vacation every year, and they always spend it outside of Denmark because every other place on earth is cheaper. So you tend to run into them on beaches, hiking trails and in tourist bars, and they’re very easy to fall in love with. Just follow one home.

Good luck – Denmark is a strange place, but it will capture your heart.

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Identity

In a conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that identity is fluid and constantly in motion. Some parts may be fixed, but others are negotiable. However, when your identity is threatened, you hunker down in self-defence and think of it as a single, immutable whole. You demand that the other party agree to your perspectives, your sense of right and wrong, your values. But if the other side holds the same egoistic assumption, you get stuck in an ever-escalating impasse, until your conflict feels intractable.

This description comes from “Negotiating the Non-Negotiable”, by Dan Shapiro. His examples of feeling “stuck” when your identity is attacked strongly remind me of the “stuck” feeling that plagued me during my time in Denmark – and at lots of other times in my life. Based on the idea that maybe I felt that my identity was under attack, I’m going to go through Shapiro’s Five Pillars of Identity and figure out who I am. Bearing in mind that identity is fluid and none of the things I write down here need to be absolute immutable truth.

  1. Beliefs: convictions, principles, morals.
  2. Rituals: meaningful customs and ceremonial acts, whether holidays, rites of passage, regular prayer, evening dinner with family.
  3. Allegiances: deep loyalties you feel toward a family member, friend, authority figure, nation, tribe, ancestor, any other person place or thing.
  4. Values: ideals, which can be explicit or embodied in a memorable narrative.
  5. Emotionally meaningful experiences: intense events, positive or negative, that define part of your identity.

Not sure what the difference is between beliefs and values, but otherwise I’ll give this a bash.

What do I believe in?
Taking personal responsibility for my success and wellbeing. To me that means educating myself and making sure I can make a good living, not wasting time or money but using it wisely and conservatively.

Keeping my word once I’ve given it (even if it’s only implied). Being a reliable person that others can count on.

Telling the truth. Using the guidelines “is it true, is it kind, is it necessary” – I don’t need to say everything that is true, but I do need to only say things that are true.

Not everyone is as capable of being as self-reliant as I am, and I don’t require it. Therefore I’m happy to pay taxes or donate to charity to help others who aren’t doing as well. However I believe in taking care of myself first, so as not to put other people in the position of having to cover for me.

I am capable of learning all the skills I need to be healthy and successful. “I can’t” isn’t a valid excuse. I can do things.

I have enough self-discipline to accomplish whatever I set out to do.

Rituals

  • Christmas and Thanksgiving with family, New Year’s Eve with friends whenever possible. (strengthens my network and community ties)
  • Morning coffee and breakfast. Read with breakfast. (start the day off right and get in a healthy mindset)
  • Cooking at home, big, cheap and healthy meals, trying new stuff in the kitchen for entertainment. (self improvement and being healthy)
  • Riding my bike to work. (same as above)
  • Gym twice a week. (same as above)
  • Call my brother a couple times a month, talk to friends a few times a week. (good family relationships)
  • Turn up at friend’s houses to hang out with them. (strengthen community and network)

Allegiances

I’m not sure about this one. I don’t really feel like I’m part of any particular group. Well, my family for sure, but “Graham” isn’t really a strong identity. We all kinda do our own thing.

“Victorian” for sure. It’ll always be part of me, the good and the bad. Mountains, vegans, MEC, the West Coast Trail, beach fires, bitching about the price of rentals and arguing about bike lanes.

“Danish” – well I was only there for a short time, so maybe not as much, but it was long enough to change the way I look at things. So Danish, yeah.

“Campbell River”. I never loved the place, but I sure am proud to tell people I’m from there. Weird.

“Canadian”. The Boy Scouts of the global economy. Yeah, I’ll take it.

“Cyclist”. Is it still a part of your core identity if you haven’t ridden a bike in weeks? Yes, yes it is. Always.

Values
Environmentalism – reducing waste and pollution through my daily habits. Less concerned about one-off events like flying in a plane or having a campfire, more with things I do every day. Ride bikes more, recycle and compost, use less packaging, drive a fuel-efficient used car, buy quality items that won’t end up in the garbage.

Kindness – make people feel good about being around me. Recognize their contributions verbally and publicly. Never make them feel stupid for not knowing as much as I do, instead take the opportunity to teach (if they’re interested).

Meaningful Experiences
That time when I was 10 and the neighbor asked me to water her garden while she was away, and mom did the whole job for me. I think that was the angriest I had ever been at age 10. Left me with a very strong reaction to people trying to do my work for me, implying that I’m not capable of doing it myself. I either react in anger or walk away altogether.

Shane and Dev when I was 18. They invited me over. I was odd as hell and didn’t know how to behave. They accepted me without question and never made me feel weird or out of place.  Reinforced that I want to be a person who is welcoming of new people.

Roger at Radar Hill. Trusted my opinion and judgment basically from day one. Never had the slightest interest in blaming anyone when things went wrong, only focused on solutions. A role model.

On Camino, Jette showed up at the hostel and asked if I wanted to walk with her. That was level of vulnerability that I would never have been capable of before I saw that she could do it.

I think its good to go through this whenever I feel stuck or in conflict, and think about what part of my identity feels under attack. Like when my mom is being overly helpful and solicitous, and it irritates the hell out of me even though she’s just being herself and doing absolutely nothing wrong. I get irritated because I can do everything myself, and I don’t need her help dammit! The “self-sufficient” part of my identity feels attacked.

Going through this list a couple weeks after I first wrote it, it strikes me that the first things I wrote about were being independent and self-sufficient. I probably would have been like that no matter what, but I think those values were reinforced in the years when I was deaf at school and had no friends to talk to or count on.

It’s a lonely way to live. I’m not sure I want to be like that. That attitude hasn’t helped my relationships and it leads to me being really hard on myself sometimes. Luckily this stuff isn’t set in stone, and I don’t have to give up old values to get new ones – I can build on the old stuff.

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Japan Camera, Santa, and Danish modern design

I got a job! I’m working in a print shop. It’s called Japan Camera, and we do sell a few cameras, but it’s mostly about photo prints. I’ve been there for like 4 days now, and it’s legit so much fun.

People come in for passports, I get to take the picture and retouch it. Cool! That makes me a professional photographer, technically! The boss is running the Pics with Santa booth at the mall, which is why I got hired – they needed an extra person in the store while he’s away. I got to help at the Santa booth one day! It was crazy hectic, customers non-stop. I was tracking orders in our book, printing and packaging express prints on the spot, giving people directions to the food court, and making faces at crying toddlers all at the same time.

Most babies and toddlers cry when you hand them over to Santa. The parents are disappointed, but I think those shots are the best. You’ve got perfect focus and framing, bright lighting, and an active, engaged, ALIVE subject. They’re so real. I’m sure everyone wants the perfectly posed shot with two smiling kids sitting quietly, but give me the angry baby trying to escape anytime.

I’ve just spent the last 4 years working in a quiet office where the most excitement we ever got was when Dan brought his dog to work. I love it! I was only there for an hour – maybe it’s less fun if you’re doing it all day, I don’t know. But I’m so glad I get a chance to do it now, just for the next month.

Back in the shop, I do lots of different things – assembling calendars, printing mugs, ringing up orders, all kinds of shop stuff. It’s all simple, yet incredibly challenging when it’s all thrown at you at once. The boss, Ben, says I’m fantastic and that I seem like I know how to do everything already. Feels nice to be appreciated!

I got a car, it’s a 2007 Toyota Matrix with 122k on it – brand new, as far as I’m concerned. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever bought a car that wasn’t a shitbucket. I got it because I knew I would lose my mind since I’m living with my mom and dad in Royal Oak right now, a million miles from town and up in the hills, and I needed to get out of the house – but I wanted  something with good resale value too, just in case I get my head straightened out enough to let me go back to Denmark in like, a month.

So I got a Toyota! And now I’m flat broke and can’t afford to move out of mom and dad’s house even if I knew where I wanted to go. The only place I drive besides work is the gym but I go there three times a week.

That’s because I’m actually working two jobs right now. The print shop is 20 hours a week, and the other one is a secret at the moment unfortunately. It’s not an exciting secret or anything, it’s just a temporary remote job that I can’t talk about. But that means I’m working more than 40 hours a week at two different jobs, my free time has evaporated, and I haven’t seen a paycheck yet.

It’s too bad, because before I started work I was trying to hustle up a business idea – fill up a container with Danish Modern furniture provided by my excellent contact in Denmark, and sell it here in Victoria. I went around to the four shops in Victoria that sell that type of thing (and three other shops that are kinda similar) and made friends with the owners. They’re all interested, but all of them told me they can only take a few items, they don’t have inventory space, their customers are very particular, and Vancouver is a much bigger market. They even gave me lists of places I should specifically go check out.

So I’m keen to go to Vancouver and make some more friends there, but like I said, working full time and then some now. Next time I have time off will be after Christmas.

Hopefully, by the time that happens, my contact in Denmark will have started talking to me again and forgiven me for the gigantic asshole I acted like last time I messaged him. He reads my blog, so who knows, it could happen. And that’s where my life is right now – all over the place and no idea what’s happening next.

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U2, Berlin, 2017

(skip to the part about the concert, if I’m too long winded for your taste)

It was 1:00am when Odin and I finally got to some dinner, samosas in a little Moroccan restaurant next door to our hostel. The conversation was getting silly so I finished with “tak for mad”, intending to get up and go to bed, but I didn’t quite get up.

“You know, all those times you make dinner, I never say tak for mad, do I?” It’s been five months of dinners now, and this is maybe the second time I’ve thought of it. “Do you notice?”

He didn’t answer for long enough to let me know he noticed. “I got used to it.”

Danes always say “Tak for mad” after they eat. It means “thanks for the food”, and everyone old enough to know their own name is expected to say it after every meal. It’s ground into them from a very early age and they never forget and always notice. Except, “But you never say it when I make dinner?”

Odin squinted at me and took another long pause. “Yes, I do. Every single time.”

Crap. So not only have I had lousy manners, I’ve failed to notice his good ones.

The people at the table next to us get up to go, wishing us good night as they leave. They shared their appetizers with us earlier, and the woman has on a U2 concert tshirt. They were at the same show we went to. U2 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, along with the fifth person in the restaurant, a guy falling asleep in his curry behind the other two. The shop normally closed at midnight, and it seems like the owner kept it open tonight just for us.

The concert started, for us, on the 11th, driving down from Denmark in a cheap car we bought the day before because our usual ride, a diesel Hyundai hatchback, developed an expensive brake problem. It’s a Suzuki Liana, well known for being a Reasonably Priced Car.

Once we found the hostel, the next step was to find a parking spot. I’m from Victoria, where parking is mostly never a problem. Usually I travel on foot or by motorbike, and then it’s even less of a problem. The idea of planning a parking spot in Berlin didn’t occur to me. I asked inside the hostel for suggestions, but the manager started with, “Yeah, parking in Berlin. It’s bad. Here, let me show you the map…”

Bo’s good attitude did not crack during the 15 minute walk, carrying duffel bags, back to the hostel. I took his cue and kept smiling.

At the hostel, I found that my planning had let me down a second time. The room I thought I had booked for two people, was actually a single room.

“Yeah, one room, but two people can fit in it, right?”

“It’s a single bed.”

“Yeah, but…”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“But I booked it on the website, I swear I entered ‘2 people’ in the form?”

“It says here that there was only one.”

“Look… can I talk to the manager? I’m sure this isn’t right.”

“He’s in Portugal.”

Odin stepped in. “Let’s go outside for a minute.”

We went outside and sat on a low concrete wall, a few feet away from the manager (you know, the one who’s in Portugal. The one who helped me with the parking. That one.), who’s on his smoke break.

“I don’t understand it,” I said, loudly enough for him to overhear. “I swear I entered two people on the form. I’m so sorry, I don’t know how I screwed it up.”

“It’s okay,” Odin said. “You have a hotel room for the night. And I have my towel.”

I glanced at him.

“It’s hot. There are parks.”

We burst out laughing, and I said “No, I don’t want to stay here with these obnoxious Germans and without you. I’ll get whatever money I can get back from him, and Visa will give me back the rest.”

We sat in silence for a few more minutes, while I tried to come up with a solution for this hard math problem. Odin went back inside, and talked to the desk guy again.

Eventually he came out and fished his credit card and passport out of his wallet.

“The guy sitting there overheard us, and he told his man Benji to figure something out. Someone else booked a double room, but he’s only one person and he hasn’t checked in yet. So we pay a little more, he gets his money back, everything is fine.”

I laughed some more.

“See what you can get with a little smile?” Odin lectured me. “The guy said, since we weren’t losing our cool or yelling or anything, he wanted to help us. If we got mad, he would have done nothing.”

“Yeah, sure,” I grinned. “Let’s go up.”

A couple raindrops fell that evening as we set out to find the stadium, but I was still uncomfortably warm in my sweater. “Thinking about if I should bring this,” said Bo, indicating an extra hoodie. “I think it’ll be okay,” I said. “I don’t think we’ll need it, these things are always hot, and I wouldn’t want to carry it.”

He left it at the hostel. I had a raincoat too, but I left in the car, 2km away. It really was hot when we got to Berlin.

When we came out at the Olympic stadium though, with about 4000 other people (in that car alone), I started questioning my choice. Everyone else had raincoats on, and many had ponchos as well. A few more raindrops fell.

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As we followed the crowd down a broad footpath lined with sausage stands and beer gardens, the clouds got darker and more rain fell, and I remembered the part where “stadium” means “outdoor venue”. Odin was still looking cheerful though. “Want a drink, before we go in?” I suggested. “Do you have any cash?” “No.” “Alright”, We got beers, and I questioned that choice as well. Lunch was at noon, we never got dinner, it’s 6:30 now and the band won’t even be onstage til 9… should have gotten the sausages. And I think I just spent the last of Bo’s cash.

As we lined up at the gate, a guard pointed at a different impossibly long line stretching across the plaza. “Bag check over there”, he shouted. “Okay,” I shouted back.

Odin scouted the front of the line while I waited. A pedicab pulled up near the line, and a cheerful gentlemen got out with half a bottle of rosé and started taking selfies. When Odin came back, he said, “This is the right line, and they charge 2 euro per bag. What are you going to do?”

I checked my pockets – I had 40 cents.

“Well, I guess I could rob someone… or I could use whatever you have in your hand there.”

“Last one!” he grinned and passed me a euro toonie.

(#)

We fought our way through 70,000 stoked people to our seats in section 34, and I learned, to my deep and profound relief, that we were under cover. The rain wasn’t stopping.

In the row ahead of us, a woman couldn’t contain herself. As Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds chugged resentfully through Wonderwall, she was rocking out. She lost herself to dance. Her whole body had a song in it and that song needed the two seats adacent to her as well. Her boyfriend grooved a little more sedately and protected their beers.

Noel Gallagher's band playing Wonderwall

Noel’s band were huddled under tents, and though they were soggy, they got through Champagne Supernova and Don’t Look Back In Anger, as well as a couple of their new songs, before packing it in. Once they left, crewmembers came out and swept an alarming amount of water off the stage, and seemed to have a disagreement about whether the tents were coming down or not. In the end they came down.

Edge showed his face on the catwalk a couple times, to riotous cheers, but he was just chatting with a security guard. We did a couple rounds of The Wave, and people kept on flooding down the stairs and packing tighter on the floor.

Finally around 9:30, Larry Mullen Jr, the drummer, came down the ramp and started up the drums. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was the opening song, and with the first note the whole stadium came to their feet as one.

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The next couple hours were blurry for me. As the light faded, Bono ordered phones up, and everyone turned on their phone flashes and held them up. The stadium bowl turned into a galaxy. There’s a 40-foot high video screen, but the band weren’t on it for the first 4 songs or so. The people on the floor had the cheapest tickets, but to get a chance to buy those tickets, you have to be a paying member of the fan club for over six months. They take great pains to prevent floor tickets from going to scalpers, and the people who get into the front rows have to line up for hours before the gates even open.

They’re the true believers. U2 played Sunday, New Year’s Day, Bad, and Pride (in the name of love) just for them, on a catwalk extending out onto the floor. There was a Singin’ In The Rain singalong before they returned to the stage.

Next they started into the Joshua Tree, Streets playing while the video screens took us on a high speed trip through the desert. The show was a little light on politics, for a U2 show. The focus was on refugees and human rights, and Bono seemed to understand as few other people do, that railing about a narcissistic orange oompa loompa isn’t a good use of time.

They rolled out a massive flag with Malala Yousafzai’s face. She’s 20 and she won the Nobel Peace prize for her work in advocating for education for women and girls in developing countries. It was her birthday. The flag made a lap around the stadium, passed from hand to hand.

I thought the best song that night was Red Hill Mining town, a version totally reworked from the album version, with a Salvation Army brass band joining in on the video screen.

They took a break after the Joshua Tree, ripping wet clothes off as they left the stage, and came back for a solid 6 more songs encore. A girl came up on stage to dance in Mysterious Ways, standard practice. Bono grabbed the video camera that they keep specially for him, and took selfies with everyone. Whoever thinks that selfies are an annoying new trend started by 14 year olds is straight wrong. Bono has been doing it since film was invented.

A fortuitous sign in the parking lot outside the stadium

During Ultraviolet, they did a cool thing showing a video from the HERstory project, founded by Alice Wroe, whose goal is to tell the stories of women who have made history. Someone is keeping a list of the people who were featured – http://www.u2songs.com/news/the_luminous_icons_of_ultra_violet_leg_two

For an egomaniac, Bono sure didn’t spend a lot of time on the video screen.

My first U2 album was Rattle and Hum when I was 10 or so, and I think I stole my brother’s copy. Next was All That You Can’t Leave Behind, followed by Achtung Baby and every other album after that. I’ve been memorizing lyrics and following their story since then, and it’s been my dream to see U2 in person. It took moving to Europe to finally succeed in getting tickets – they always sell out in seconds when they play Vancouver. Safe to say I was just as stoked as the guy in the seat right next to mine, who looked over his shoulder to flash a huge grin and a thumbs up every time a new song started, and having Odin the Norse god behind me with a solid good attitude made the show the best it could possibly have been. I recommend bringing your own viking if you ever have the chance.

Here’s a decent cam version of the show for anyone who wants to share it, for however long it stays up.

Here’s a (partial, I did my best) list of poems scrolling on the screen before the show started.

Learning to Love America
BY SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM

Preface to Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman

Praise Song for the Day
Elizabeth Alexander

The Powwow at the End of the World
BY SHERMAN ALEXIE

Puerto Rican Obituary
BY PEDRO PIETRI

Carl Sandburg
Prairie

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye

I Hear America Singing
BY WALT WHITMAN

Ghazal for White Hen Pantry
BY JAMILA WOODS

Wingfoot Lake
BY RITA DOVE

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