Yesterday, after 12 weeks of being on strike, I went back to work. Actually, I went in on Sunday for half a day. HR had called on Saturday informing me that I was going to act as the head of my department until the new guy comes towards the end of November, and that I was invited to attend a managers/supervisors meeting on Sunday that gave direction on what the priorities are and how to prepare for opening to the public.

The meeting was professionally conducted, but the tone with which management spoke was subdued, quiet, even contrite, if I may say so. A few people returning to work presented themselves neutrally or with some excitement to get back to work, but most others wore grim, black expressions on their faces, smouldering silently. The room was thick with tension and distrust.

I suppose this state of things is only natural given how long the strike went on for and all the negative effects that came out from that. There is a lot of healing needed for employer-employee relations, and even among union members. Last Friday, when I learned that my union ratified the 2nd deal, I burst into tears, feeling absolutely conflicted about going back to work and letting the full impact of feeling helpless hit me in a way that I had managed to avoid the past three months.

Here are some things I learned while being on a lengthy strike:

  • it is undignifying NOT to be able to work. After two weeks into it, my sense of worth and purpose became threatened in a way I had not expected. While I like my job a lot, I thought I had a pretty good handle on not letting my life revolve around my work. But the strike revealed to me that a good part of myself needs to be productive and to know that I am contributing to society in some way.
  • people are incredibly generous and resilient in a time of trial. The members of my union showed me this by the way we shared resources, encouraged each other on the picket line, and participated in creative, community-building activities while on strike duty. I got to know a lot of my co-workers more personally while we picketed together. I felt very blessed by their openness to me to being known.
  • I have options with what to do with my life. Prior to the strike, I had gotten into a comfortable (and in hindsight, unfulfilling) rut in the routine of my life. There have been some things I have been wanting to pursue (like go back to school) but have not had the courage to make the necessary and radical changes in my life to really pursue them.
  • I can handle the stress and discomfort of living on very limited financial means. I’m not saying that I enjoy going into debt or anything sadistic like that, but I did learn to live on very little and came to appreciate the generosity of my family and close friends. God provided the necessities, just at the right time. But having said all that, I really hate being in debt. I still can’t believe that I’ve lost a quarter of my wages this year.
  • I am still marketable.
  • I can still give, even if I have very little.
  • How to increase and decrease in knitting.
  • That many of my co-workers love to play Scrabble and play it very well.

Okay, that’s all for now. I could go on.

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I detest fruit flies. They multiply so quickly and easily that they feel like a plague invading my living space.

Since Saturday, I have been intensely focussed on getting rid of them from my apartment. Found the source yesterday in an unlikely place: in a basket of dry goods. Someone accidentally dropped a couple of blueberries there … they oozed through the weave of the basket, creating a hidden breeding ground. Yuck.

I had some people over for breakfast on Saturday–blueberries were served. I suspect that some baby or toddler might have randomly made the drop.

Last night, I amazingly noticed a dried dark spot on the serving table resulting from the ooze. I say amazingly, because the spot looks like a knot in the wood. I picked up the basket and noticed another more gummy spot of the same purple-blue colour … this was where the eggs were being laid. Double yuck. I salvaged the basket by running hot water through the affected areas to melt the sugary goop away.

Then I set out a couple traps … one with balsamic vinegar and the other with red wine. The fruit flies loved the wine. I called Dot to see how she was dealing with her fruit fly problem. She uses banana peel, and her landlord upstairs uses rum.

My mom swears by Heinz vinegar. She tried using President’s Choice vinegar as a cheaper alternative, but it is apparently not the same.

My traps caught a couple more tonight (a recently finished bottle of red wine with a smidge of liquid at the bottom works well), and I am only too aware of at least one remaining somewhere in my apartment. I am paranoid that the flies have found another breeding ground unbeknownst to me. I really hope that’s not the case though.

Ooohh, I feel so grossed out.

Gosh, where do I begin? Without making this post a gripe-fest?

Okay, let’s be descriptive for starters: I have been on strike for over seven weeks–one month and 22 days to be exact. Every week, I put in a minimum of 20 hours of picketing to qualify for a maximum of $250 of strike pay. What I do on the picket line depends on the picketing site. At the downtown branch, I try to walk for two-thirds of my shift, and spend the rest sitting down. While I walk, I usually take the opportunity catching up with or getting to know co-workers. When I sit, I either join in on a conversation, read, or knit. Sometimes, I will sign up for sitting at the registration or public information table to inform the public about what our issues are and what the media is not reporting.

Typically, a picketing shift is four hours. We are allowed to do two shifts (i.e. eight hours) a day. I prefer not to picket outdoors for an entire day, so I either will picket only for half a day or put in hours at strike HQ to help with administrative duties. Picketing is exhausting. Being exposed to the sun and wind saps more energy than one might think. My approach to filling my hours is to pace myself because I can’t afford to get sick or injured.

Essentials for a picketing shift: small backpack, water, sunscreen, walking shoes, windbreaker, something warm to wear, lip protection, portable time-passer (book, yarn/needles), snacks, sunglasses, cap, positive spirit (though that’s not always possible to procure). I can’t seem to get the hang of how much water to drink. Am often dehydrated.

I live extremely close to a branch (a minute’s walk), and fortunately for me, union members decided to establish a picketing site there a few weeks ago. So I’ve been picketing there as well. There isn’t much space to walk because branch is part of a mall and we are careful not to obstruct entrances to other businesses. I’ve been doing 20-40% of my hours there. Typically, I will read, knit, converse, or play Scrabble there. Occasionally, I will solicit signatures for a petition addressed to the City to end the civic strike by bargaining in good faith (which the City has NOT been doing).

Okay, better stop for now. I can feel my heart beating faster and my blood pressure starting to rise. When I calm down, I’ll be writing about some things I’ve learned from the past couple months. Isn’t that the point of living through hard times?

… to Facebook at last. For various reasons (which I won’t get into here), I made a point of staying away from it.  But lately, I’m finding that so many of my good friends are using (and therefore, making the effort via) FB to share significant things about their lives (like grads, weddings, travel) that it would be a shame for me to protest the trend on principle, and miss out on what’s going on. And of course, I’m nosy too. I am absolutely fascinated by social networks, by who-knows-who.

So until I figure out what the Facebook medium is best for, I may be a bit spotty on blogging here, else I will be on the computer way more than is healthy for a human being. But I shall return. Nothing beats the sense of being “published” on a blog.

One thing I really like about FB is that it’s waaaaaaay easier to share what I’m reading these days. There is zero coding on FB applications: all you need to do is type in a title or ISBN and the software automatically matches it up to an Amazon record. In WordPress, I need to write HTML in the textbox widgets to insert and link images of book covers. And I have to guesstimate numerical values to make things fit aesthetically, which I don’t really have time for.

Anyways, time to sign off. My eyes are starting to cross.

I’ve been blessed with two incredibly good days.

Yesterday

First of all, it was my day-off. And I was feeling physically well. It was partly spent at Regent College, where Dot and I registered for a writing course to be taught by one of my favourite contemporary writers. Bought my required texts for the course from the very addictive bookstore there and then took the opportunity to check out the newly renovated and expanded library.

Because thefourthpotato happened to lunch at the University Golf Club nearby, we made plans to meet him in the atrium at Regent. He has come all the way from the Land of the Rising Sun to celebrate the J&J wedding this past weekend. Because he’s only staying for two weeks, we’ve been making plans to meet up whenever possible.

We also looked up Joe, who works in the IT department at Regent. He played host to us by treating us all to coffee and tea at The Well, a coffee shop that shares space with the bookstore. As we leisurely sipped our hot beverages, we amused ourselves and each other by talking piffle.

Afterwards Dot, Derek, and I went down to Spanish Banks for a walk. We walked as far as the concession stand, where we picked up some snacks to tide us over to dinner. Then we made our way to the beach, sat on a log to enjoy the view, and talked more nonsense.

Dot and I had an early dinner with Cat and Yvonne at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company. Derek came along for the ride and just watched us eat, as he had separate dinner plans. It was my first time there, and I was impressed. The toppings lean towards the gourmet and the crusts are not greasy at all, being made out of flatbread. Because I can’t stand the feeling of grease on my hands, I generally pooh-pooh eating pizza, unless I absolutely have to out of convenience. So I’m happy to know there are options out there for high maintenance people like me.

After dinner, we went to the end-of-the-season Chor Leoni concert held in the Bard on the Beach Mainstage Tent at Vanier Park. It was two and a half hours of good fun and music that I could relive over and over again. I’ve attended a few of their summer concerts over the years, and I notice that the performances have become more choreographed, cheeky, and playful. A very naughty rendition of the panto, “If I Were Not Upon the Stage,” had everyone in stitches. Some special guest appearances: Judith Forst and Dal Richards.

Spent from laughing so hard, Dot and I grabbed a late night snack at a HK cafe where we did some catching up.

So a very satisfying day it was, filled with good friends, books, and music.

I’ll try to write about today tomorrow.

Yesterday, in between social engagements, I amazingly managed to squeeze in a trip to the Park Theatre to watch Once. I was first alerted to this movie by Nick, who asked me to pick up the soundtrack for him in NYC. A low budget production that won an award at the 2007 Sundance Film Fest, this modern day “musical” (if you had to call it something) stars musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who play a Guy and Girl whose relationship develops in a such way that seamlessly and brilliantly integrates the music with the storyline. Visually, it has a very raw and grass roots feel; parts of the film are shot like a documentary. If you like acoustic guitar music and appreciate the creative, collaborative process of music-making, this film is for you (especially you, coko). The music is achingly poignant and expressive, underscored by the unresolved (oh, did I just give it away?), romantic tension in the relationship between Guy and Girl.

Here’s a live performance by Hansard and Irglova of one of the more popular songs from the soundtrack, “Falling Slowly”:

Some things to be glad about:

  • I’m getting better by leaps and bounds (no wheezing and coughing this morning!).
  • Some good friends, Jo and Jason got married yesterday. At last! If I may say so, they are one of my favourite couples, well-matched in personality and good-looking together. They looked so happy yesterday and really enjoyed themselves. Very happy for them. The best man delivered the best speech I have heard in a loooooong time. To the point, but warm, honest, faintly roasting, and audible. A man of few words, he’s also one of the quietest friends I know, often almost inaudible when conversing or praying. Someone joked that he should carry a mic with him all the time.
  • The wedding was a reunion of sorts, bringing together people from faraway places and people who I don’t regularly see.
  • Although I was feeling pretty anti-social at the banquet (because I was still wheezing and coughing last night), I got to meet a couple of people I’ve been curious to meet for a while because I’ve been following their blogs.
  • Got to try out my new Urban Decay eye palette that Jen brought back for me during a business trip to Florida last week. Although very busy, she kindly made time to go to a Sephora on her lunch break.

Okay, I can recognize goodness without having to feel good. Definitely on the road to recovery.