Posts By Judy Reid

Thank You Emily


Emily collage smaller

Emily, Emily, Emily, Dave Matthews and Emily (1993), Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, the Gazette and Emily (1993).

When I first started showing up at the Improv Embassy last February, hanging out in the back row and hoping to God I wouldn’t be called up on stage, I had a hard time answering the question “What made you decide to try improv?”

It was a good question, especially when I panicked or blustered or just stood there on stage without a clue of what to say next (which, by the way, still happens).

But I do know the answer, and have for a while – it’s because of Emily MacNaughton.

Emily and I met at the Dalhousie Gazette, beginning of the 1992 school year. Me, from the small town of Labrador City and she, from the bustling metropolis of Kitchener-Waterloo. Her first article was a review of Cameron Crowe’s movie Singles which included her take on Generation X and the ‘Year of Grunge’. I was amazed at her confidence in expressing her opinion so publicly and a little intimidated by her philosophical tone and big words. I still have the clipping saved in my mom’s basement.

Emily loved to dance.

She brought me to my first show at the Double Deuce, back when Halifax was becoming the next Seattle. I think Sloan was playing. My friends from the Gazette would know. Maybe even my roommates.

While she was at Dal, Em and I attended every single Canadian University Press (CUP) conference we could get to – especially the Atlantic Region (ARCUP) ones which always included a rowdy kitchen party.

Emily was a board member of Campus Plus, CUP’s national advertising company. My memory is so shagged up I don’t remember if that’s while she was in Halifax or Toronto. I do know that even after she left Dal and Halifax, she was still involved with CUP and co-chaired a CUP national conference.

Emily was funny, smart, goofy, artistic, articulate and edgy.

She moved to Paris for a few months. I don’t remember when. Between 2000 and 2004 I visited her a few times in Toronto. I think it was during my breaks from Bosnia, and when Mom and Dad moved from Labrador to Toronto so Dad could get a lung transplant.

We lost touch sometime during my four years working at Kandahar Air Field. I lost touch with a few friends back then. Emily was no longer on Facebook, I lost all my emails when shut down and I couldn’t find her on Google. Also, unbeknownst to me, some version of PTSD was screwing with my brain and any friendships I maintained after Afghanistan were all due to my friends’ efforts.

Emily was a really good friend.

Emily tracked me down almost five years ago when she found a blog post I wrote about Remembrance Day. I was so happy when she contacted me. Emails flew. She was still in Toronto, looking for work and living in a nice place called Eden House with nine other crazy people (“I’m the tenth,” she wrote). She volunteered as a sound operator with the Bloor West Players, finished training as a volunteer Expressive Arts Therapist for Hospice Toronto, was participating in a poetry group run by Workman Arts for people with mental illness, and at that very moment was at her dad’s and stepmom’s place learning about golf as they watched the Masters Tournament.

Emily had a great memory. Out of the blue she’d say something like “Your mom is a Taurus, right?” –  20 years after I mentioned my mom’s birthday. She was also an astrology nut. When I introduced her to my roomies, family or friends, within the first two minutes she’d ask “When’s your Birthday?” or “What’s your sign?” Unless I had mentioned their birthday in some previous conversation long forgotten by me, in which case she’d lead with “You’re a Leo, right?”

Emily liked to share.  After discovering a great program she emailed me the link for the Wellness Recovery Action Plan in Ottawa. “I was wondering if your mom might like it.” Emily knew about Mom’s history with bi-polar, but I wonder if perhaps she also sensed my own mental health issues – before I even dared to voice them to myself. She could be very perceptive.

Once we reconnected Emily was really good at keeping touch. She mailed me Christmas cards, emailed me e-cards from the Art Gallery of Ontario and when she went to New York with her mom, she mailed me a postcard. For one birthday, she emailed “Remember how great you are and enjoy being 42.  It’s not so bad, eh?”

In one early email, she wrote that she recently talked to Dave Matthews, a friend from our CUP days and now an Anglican priest in London, UK with whom she had also been out-of-touch for a long time. She described him as “very much the same fast-talking, charismatic, witty man,” who had tickets to see Barbara Streisand and Black Sabbath. “So, same Dave, a little older like the rest of us.”

In another email, she said she and her dad saw Zack Taylor on TVO’s The Agenda, talking about conservatism in Ontario. “He looks exactly the same!” she wrote, and told her dad she “once worked as a co-chair for the CUP conference with our star!”

Emily could also annoy the hell out of me, as only a good friend could. “Have you been writing?”, she’d ask. “Why don’t you write?”, and “That would be a great story to write.” And “Would you please read my poetry and let me know what you think?”. Well, at least she wasn’t asking me about writing.

Emily would read her poetry out loud. In public. In front of strangers! And she got her poetry published. She tried to encourage me to write again but most of the time I just changed the topic.

Emily and I would catch up whenever I was in Toronto for work or whenever she was in Ottawa for a job interview. She was very keen on getting a job where she would need to speak French. For a while she worked with Kids Help Phone and then with Public Works, while taking courses through Bloor Street United Church in preparation for the ministry.

We talked about depression and PTSD. We talked about recovery, roommates, boys we dated and books we read. I think we talked about going skating on the canal the next time she visited.

Emily died a year ago yesterday. She was in her pajamas, in bed with a book nearby. During one of our dinners she had mentioned a heart condition, but no one had expected this, especially her family who were waiting for her at their pre-Christmas dinner the next day. Emily was 45 years old.

I was out of town when it happened and found her Christmas card waiting for me when I returned. I sent her a Merry Christmas text and wasn’t worried when she didn’t respond.  Maybe she and her mom went on a trip. I think she had mentioned they might go to Paris. I left her a voicemail around New Year’s.

I found out about Emily when I was taking a quick peek at Facebook during work on a Thursday afternoon. Dave Matthews found out about it from Emily’s dad, and the news was handed down a short chain of CUP presidents, from Dave to Alayne Armstrong, to Joanna Shepherd Zuk, and then to me. Which I then shared with our Gazette and Dalhousie friends.

Emily’s memorial service took place on January 19th at the Van Duzer Art Studio in Toronto. I booked my hotel for the wrong week, took the wrong bus twice to get to the service and showed up too late to hear Dave’s message read out. Friends and colleagues and family took turns getting up to speak and share stories about Emily. One friend read some of her poetry. One counselor shared that Emily would also ask her to read her poems and provide feedback. It seemed most of the people there knew Emily from her more recent Toronto days. I wanted to say something about how I first met Emily almost 25 years ago. But I couldn’t speak. I physically couldn’t do it. As each person finished talking I tried to will myself to speak up, but words wouldn’t come out, no room for my voice to squeeze past my heart-blocked throat.

Eventually the minister stood up, made a last call for comments, and then started  wrapping things up –  when I found myself standing up.

I think I said my name and that I first met Emily at the Dalhousie Gazette. I talked about her review of Singles and how she loved to dance and that she was energetic and…. whatever that word is for someone who speaks well. I had forgotten the word “articulate”. I said we lost touch when I was in Afghanistan and when we reconnected she was living in a nice house with nine other crazy people. I think some of them were there – and they laughed. And I said she was brave. So very brave and she inspired me. I cried pretty much the whole time and someone insisted I keep their pack of Kleenex.

I met Emily’s mom, dad and step-mom for the first time after the service. They said some very nice things to me and I hope I said some nice things back. I said I would email them photos of Emily. I don’t remember if I did. I spoke with some of Em’s recovery friends and there was an instant bond, because we all belonged to different chapters of the same club.

I then spent my time in Toronto asking myself “What would Emily do?” and did it. Instead of staying in bed listening to murder mystery novels on Audible, I went to the Women’s March. Instead of going to see a fluffy superhero movie I went to see a film I figured Emily would prefer – something real, edgy and possibly uncomfortable: Twentieth Century Women – it was pretty good. And then I went to Sneaky Dee’s on College and Bathurst… and got drunk. Not something Emily would have done now, but something we both did in our twenties, so screw it.

This piece of writing here, about Emily, I started on the train in January, to and from her memorial service. The first writing I’d done in more than a year. The next month as I sat staring at my computer after work I googled “comedy class Ottawa” and found something called Improv Embassy on Rideau St. And they had something called an open jam that evening for $5 – so I stopped in. I took my first class in March. I took two more classes in May, one of them a sketch writing class. Somewhere in between there I tried stand-up at the Embassy. In September I took another improv class and joined the sketch troop the Shit Hot Shit Show, in October I took a photography class with the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa and in November I was able to memorize my lines for three and a half Shit Hot Shit Show sketches. This month I finished my photography course and submitted my final assignment of six photos, which were, I explained to my instructor and classmates, inspired by my friend Emily – who found me when I was lost.

Judy Emily Still Life

My still-life composition for my photography class assignment: Me and Emily at the Grawood Lounge, Dalhousie University (circa 1993, photo by Mike Graham), Emily’s Christmas card to me (2016), and my medals from Bosnia (2000-2003). My writing about Remembrance Day, Bosnia and Afghanistan is how she found me in 2014.

I wish I could tell Emily how much improv has helped me. How that flood of fear and panic I feel on stage helps me calm down during the rest of my waking life. That I started writing again, although I’m still a terrible procrastinator. That Mom and Kelley came to see me in some sketches last month and laughed their asses off. Seriously, I could hear Mom laughing all the way from the back row. That I’m applying to the Ottawa Fringe Festival next month and if I can find a venue I might actually be doing a one-person show in June called How to Get Over a Guy in 723 Days…. and Other Useful Things I Learned from PTSD.  That I started dating again, and maybe she could rate my Plenty of Fish ‘matches’ based on their astrological signs.

That I say weird stuff out loud. In public. In front of strangers!

That I miss her. Very much.

Thank you Emily. I so wish you were here.

Assignment collage minus 1

The rest of my SPAO photography assignment inspired by Emily. Architecture: Laura Secord looking over flags at half-mast on December 6th; Portrait: My very expressive friend Behi; Landscape: Frozen leaves in my backyard; Documentary: Two performers at the Improv Embassy; Architecture 2: Not the usual view of the National War Memorial.

Vote and Hope

Your choice.

It would have been 23 years ago around this time of year that I wrote my very first article for my university newspaper, the Dalhousie Gazette. Actually, it wasn’t so much an article as 300 words that our editor desperately needed to fill a hole in our op/ed section. And fill it I did, describing the poorly attended student rally to protest yet another round of tuition hikes. If I recall correctly I believe I began my eloquent editorial with “Dear students of Dalhousie – GO FUCK YOURSELF.”

Oh dear God.

I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise that in the four years that followed I became a better writer. Not a great writer, but definitely better. And in the twenty-plus years that followed that I sure as shit hope I learned to become a better (and less obnoxious) human being.

Today is Election Day in Canada (AND game 3 for the Blue Jays in the American League Championship series – GO JAYS GO!). I confess I didn’t vote in the last couple of elections (boo–hiss). I was in Afghanistan for both of them but that’s no excuse; even in Kandahar Airfield, Canadians were free to vote. I don’t recall why I didn’t vote, but I suspect I got busy and just didn’t get around to it. Or I didn’t want to lose my place in the Tim Hortons line.

This year however I am voting. Which of course means – like a newly reformed ex-smoker – I must now harass my friends about their filthy non-voting habits.

Except I won’t, because I sympathize. Too busy, not enough information, too much information, working too late, long lines and an 8:00 pm EDT start time (GO JAYS GO!) – there are lots of reasons why people won’t vote.

BUT there is one group of non-voters I’d like to spend a little time with: the people who are fed-up with politicians.

You know who I’m talking about. I mean those folks who swear that ALL politicians are <INSERT *TERM OF ENDEARMENT* HERE>.

(endearment = idiots, liars, thieves, bullies, hypocrites, worthless, assholes, etc.)

I get it. If I believed everything I saw on TV or the internet I’d believe Justin Trudeau is a light-weight because he has nice hair, Stephen Harper is evil because he has cement hair and Tom Mulcair is a giant cuddly teddy bear. Or a big mean old nasty bear. I forget which.

With all the scandals (crack-smoking mayor, senators’ spending spree, #peegate) it’s easy to call politicians names. The hard thing to do is ignore the headlines and talking heads and the non-stop noise to ask a few questions, dig deeper, and find some good. Something that worked. Someone who helped. Some surprising collaboration. Someone who made a difference.

You’re probably not going to find it on the news, and your friends probably won’t be sharing it on Facebook or twitter, but these moments happen and these moments matter.

Besides, calling people names just isn’t nice.

When you start calling people names, you are on the road to contempt. Ordinary people are capable of doing terrible things when they feel contempt for a person, when they stop feeling empathy and start thinking of someone as less than human.

Also when you start disparaging an entire group, you diffuse personal responsibility. ALL politicians are not crooks. SOME of them are and should be accountable. PEOPLE are not evil or lazy. SOME people do very bad things and SOME people do nothing about it. Sometimes a LOT of people doing nothing about it. But not ALL people.

I guess what I’m saying is that words have power, and the feelings behind those words are highly contagious. A self-righteous rant might help you blow off steam, but it’s not effective in bridging a difference of opinion.

Also, if you want people to consider your point of view, it may be best if you don’t tell them to go fuck themselves.

Luckily, my friends who are fed up with politicians lean more towards cynicism than contempt. And everyone knows that cynics are just idealists who got their feelings hurt, so maybe all they need are a few good hugs. I hear Tom Mulcair gives awesome hugs. Or will rip you limb from limb if poked. I forget which.

Vote or don’t vote. Choose or don’t choose. Like my feelings about God (and the Blue Jays), when it comes to politics I’m an optimistic agnostic. I might be short on faith and have no shortage of doubts, but I do have hope.

This evening I choose. I vote. And I hope.


Not a Secret Anymore (starts with a “Z”)

I have a confession to make. Only a handful of my friends and family know what I’ve been up to – and it ain’t pretty.

I’ve been getting ready to teach Zumba.

Helmet and flack vest not mandatory in my class.

Helmet and flack vest not mandatory in my class.

If you don’t know Zumba, it’s a fusion of dance and aerobics to Latin and international music. One of Zumba’s taglines is “Ditch the workout, join the party!”. If you had seen me Monday night after teaching my very first class, you would have assumed I had been chased several miles by said party and then called for an ambulance.

It was one hell of a workout – for me anyway. I forgot that as a participant following along I could take it easy and bring it down a whole lotta notches whenever I wanted. As an instructor – not so much. I told my class that it was perfectly normal for me to turn eight shades of red, have trouble speaking and steam up the gym with approximately one party-sized-keg of my sweat.

Yep. It definitely wasn’t pretty. Which is why I can’t believe I’m asking – would you like to register for my Zumba class?

You see, we only had five people registered for the class and we need at least ten or the class will be cancelled.

Another confession: I was really leaning towards “This must be a sign I’m not meant to teach Zumba…. HOORAY!!!” – which I understand might not inspire confidence.

In fact you may be wondering why I would bother putting myself through that again. The first is because the class asked me to (granted, that was BEFORE the workout/party). And the second is: This. Is. Good. For. Me.

REALLY good.

I can stay stuck in my head for endless hours… which is not a good place to be if dealing with depression or PTSD or whatever it is that happens to you after spending four years in Afghanistan and returning home to find yourself crying when you hear sirens or the roar of airplanes or Carly Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”. Learning the choreography and teaching my body to move the way it’s supposed to takes an amazing amount of cognitive work AND of course makes me stronger physically. Plus, dancing makes me happy – especially the line dance for Danza Kuduro which I learned when I took my very first Zumba class at Kandahar Airfield.

Last confession: I’m not yet a “GOOD” Zumba instructor – I sometimes get the moves mixed up and may have to rework my lineup, but I’ll get there and am willing to share in the fun along the way.

My Zumba class is from 7-8 pm on Mondays at the West Carlton Secondary School on 3088 Dunrobin, which according to Wikipedia is in the “rural west end of Ottawa”. For reference that’s about 20 km from the Canadian Tire Centre (GO SENS GO!), 40 km from Parliament Hill (GO HARPER GO! Just kidding.) and 30 km from Mom’s place (THANKS FOR THE CAR MOM!). For my American friends that’s 2694 miles from Vancouver.

So if you’re handy to Dunrobin, like to boogie and have always wanted to witness a human-humidifier push her way through salsa, meringue, hip-hop and Newfie jigs then you have until NOON, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2015 to register.

The course number is 78848 and you can register online here or by calling 613-239-2751. The cost is $76 plus tax for ten weeks, but if you’re starting a week late maybe it’s even less.

By the way, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board offers a TON of classes throughout the Ottawa area from arts and crafts to small engine repair to (of course) Zumba. To discover all they offer this fall and winter check out their Learning for Life magazine.

And if you can’t sign up my Zumba class don’t worry about it. It’ll just give me more time to get ready for next term’s class which starts February 1, 2016. Stay tuned!

Farewell Nina the Ninja

Nina: the Ninja, the Leg, the LEGEND

Exactly one week ago today, on Friday, 1 April 2015, we had a Shoe-Selfie incident at work. It occurred in our lunchroom shortly after my colleague Nina saw the Shoe-Selfie segment on CTV’s The Social.

Unfortunately I missed the incident as I was on a conference call, but luckily our former colleague Scott pieced together the pieces of the puzzle and shared this dramatic depiction:

“Upon viewing the newly minted shoe product, which claimed to be able to take selfies from one’s foot, Nina attempted to demonstrate with stunning accuracy the ludicrousness of the product’s approach. Thus, with great care she rose from her seated position and, ensuring that there was no one in proximity, proceeded to rapidly elevate her leg to a photo-taking position, whereupon her remaining leg twisted, bent and finally buckled, sending her with alarming velocity to the floor. Bodily fluids were expunged and paramedics summoned to the scene. When they recovered from their fit of mirth, she was transported by stretcher through the halls, down the elevator, across the lobby and into a waiting ambulance. Please see for full details…”

Sorry, there is no YouTube video of the incident. Maybe it is best that we leave this one to our imaginations… although I sure wish there was someone recording the moments when the paramedics, ER nurse and her doctor laughed their asses off as Nina recounted her tale. AND when Nina eventually discovered that the Shoe-Selfie was The Social’s April Fool’s gift to us.

Most of all, I’m sorry that today is Nina’s last day at work with us (completely unrelated to the Shoe-Selfie incident). Sure she’ll be missed for the fantastic work she did and her wicked ninja moves, but most of all I’m going to miss her laughter which would burst forth at least once a day and ring through our quiet, mostly-solemn office. Her laugh reminded us there was fun and joy and silliness to be found every day, even at work.

We’ll miss you Nina (you crazy ninja).

Thanks & Giving


I don’t know if I’m ready to write yet.

Last year’s Thanksgiving was really special. Dave and I hosted both our families for dinner in our tiny basement apartment. Mom, Kelley and the boys were there, along with their dad, and all three of Dave’s grown kids plus a girlfriend. A dozen of us in that tiny apartment with fantastic food followed by a game of catch in the street with a football. It was perfect.

Dave and I broke up two months ago.

When I left for my motorcycle-road-trip-adventure to Newfoundland in July I hoped it would be enough to distract me from how bad things were between us. It really was a wonderful trip, but the truth is I also struggled with feeling lonely, hurt and frustrated. At times it was so overwhelming I wondered if I’d ever stop crying.

Two weeks ago I returned to Ottawa and cleared out of our apartment. Most women don’t wait until they’re 42 before moving in with a boyfriend for the first time. I wish it had turned out differently. I wish we could have fixed it.

I wish I didn’t feel so much.

At times I’ve been tempted to numb the pain, but for better or worse, my emotions are so close to the surface I don’t think it’s even possible to stop feeling them. I read somewhere it takes at least three months to get over the initial grief of a breakup. I’m not there yet, but I think I’ve got it together enough to appreciate the good times that Dave and I had.

I know I have so much to be thankful for; amazing friends and supportive family that I simply can’t thank enough. This Thanksgiving has been hard as my mind keeps returning to how things were just a year ago and to help with that I thought I’d try working out my gratitude muscle and give thanks to one person in particular:

  • Thank you for helping to decorate that smoke shack in Barge Landing the night before we left Fort Mac for good. We painted the shack pale yellow and then mounted a dozen plaques on the outside with pictures of the official flowers of each of the provinces and territories… all because I wanted to “make something pretty” before we left northern Alberta.
  • Thank you for finding our cute basement apartment while I was away at work. I know you thought it was too small, and it was a definite step down from your house in Bath, but I thought it was perfectly cozy.
  • Oh right: Thank you for giving up your house in Bath and moving into our tiny apartment.
  • Thank you for all the delicious meals you made, especially the dinners after work. It always amazed me that even after working all day you would still take the time to cook for us, usually while I was plunked in front of the computer or TV. Even better was working late and coming home to you at the stove, putting the finishing touches on whatever smelled so good from more than a block away. I couldn’t believe I was that lucky.
  • Thank you for introducing me to your kids and making me feel like I was a part of your family. I’m still embarrassed about our last camping trip and my big freakout-panic-meltdown, but I appreciate how cool they were about it.
  • Thank you for the times you were able to hold me and tell me it’ll be ok. I know I didn’t make it easy. I know I got upset about ridiculous things at times, and I know the intensity of my emotions could be overwhelming. I also know it did eventually get to be too much – but I am grateful for all the times you were there for me until you weren’t able to do it anymore.
  • Thank you for inviting Mom over for breakfast every Saturday morning. That was awesome. She still thinks you’re awesome.
  • Thank you for coming back to Ottawa to see me before I left for Newfoundland. I really didn’t know if you would, and it meant a lot to me that you did.
  • Thank you for designing and building Mom’s deck.
  • Thank you for designing the memory chest we made for Mom and teaching me how to build it along the way.
  • Thank you for climbing on the back of my motorcycle and trusting me enough to drive you around town and on the highway. It gave me a lot more self-confidence about being able to do the trip to Newfoundland by myself.
  • Thank you for the patio furniture you left for Mom and the table saw and sander you left for me.
  • And finally, thank you for being honest about your feelings and telling me it wasn’t working for you anymore. I didn’t want to hear it, but I know I needed to.

There’s much more I’m thankful for, but I just can’t list them all. The good memories still have the power to hurt, and that’s not how I want to feel about the time we had together.

During our first Valentine’s Day as a couple, driving through the snow storm in Fort Mac, we kept saying how lucky we were that we ran into each other again after Afghanistan, how we found each other in Alberta.

After all that’s happened since then, that’s the feeling I want to hang on to.

How lucky I was to have found you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Hitting the Road with PTSD – No Uniform Required

It was exactly a year ago, Canada Day 2013, that I first said out loud “I think I might have PTSD.”

I was watching the Canada Day parade in Bath, Ontario, just outside of Kingston with my boyfriend Dave and my Mom.

It might have been a mini-cannon in a little bathtub on wheels, and even though I knew it was about to fire, every “BOOM!” made me wince and soon I was in tears. I was wearing sunglasses so I don’t know if Dave or Mom noticed I was crying when I made the PTSD comment.

In a few minutes I’m about to hit the road on my quilt-on-wheels motorcycle (aka Cupcake) to spend the rest of the summer in Newfoundland and to celebrate Canada Day I’ve decided to wear my Kandahar Ball Busters jersey. The Ball Busters were the only women’s ball hockey team in Kandahar Airfield during the four years I worked there. We had so much fun playing. Didn’t win a single game against the guys, but we always had the biggest audience turnouts especially when we played the NHL alumni in the spring of 2011.

You could tell we were having fun from all the photos taken of us.

Kandahar Ball Busters

Since then, I know more than a few of us have had a hard time after returning to Canada.

This morning on Live 88.5 I heard the announcement, “For all those who have fallen, thank you for Canada Day.”

I know Canadians support all the veterans who have come home from Afghanistan, but I don’t know if everyone is aware that many of us who lived and worked over there were not in uniform; at least not a uniform that is recognized by the public.

This Canada Day, and the days that follow – please remember you can thank the fallen now by helping those who may be stumbling and in need of support today. No uniform required.

Happy Canada Day.


Today I’m driving my bike to Amesbury, MA to visit a dear friend. On July 2nd I hope to be in Saint John, NB, July 3rd – 4th in Halifax, NS then onto to Cape Breton on the 5th and take the ferry to Port Aux Basques on the 6th. If all goes well I’ll be seeing my Dad’s family by the 7th and will have the summer to catch up with my Mom’s family and my friends.

I’m so fortunate to be able to take this trip and look forward to my odd job adventures. Thank you to my friends, my family and for these fine folks for making this possible:

Shaun from HardKnockChops

Jon from CycleMaster

And a special thank you to Louise Ibeault whom I had the pleasure of meeting through the New Edinburgh Community Alliance. Louise is a wonderful and warm photographer and was so encouraging at a time when I really needed it. Thank you for making Cupcake and me look so good. 🙂

Cupcake & Judy 1

Cupcake & Judy 2

Why I Vote for Dilshan


My friend Dilshan Hetti-Hewage has an opportunity to win a $25,000 scholarship with Lethbridge College in their Extreme Career Makeover contest.

Let’s take a small break here and vote.

Done. I just voted for Dilshan. How about you?

Truth is, it is damn hard to pick just one person to win. It’s even hard to pick four, which is how many of the ten contestants you can vote for every single hour until 11:59 on Sunday, March 30th. In fact, when I emailed Jen and Dilshan to let them know I was all geared up to help out any way I could and suggested doing a blog, this is what Dilshan emailed back:

“Jen and I will talk about this as an option. There is a part of me that thinks a few of those folks deserve it/need it more than we do. Let us think on it a minute to see how aggressively we want to pursue this.”

See? Even Dilshan was torn about promoting himself. Who’s to say that Dilshan deserves this scholarship more than any of the other contestants? I can’t say that, because after reading everyone’s stories I want them all to win. I probably want Dilshan to win just a little bit more because I know him and Jen.

Jen and I both worked for ATCO in Kandahar Airfield (KAF), Afghanistan, while Dilshan was working for Ecolog. Sometimes I would run into the two of them after work, during meals or on the Boardwalk. I’m not the most observant person in the world so Jen and Dil were probably dating for ages before I thought to myself “Hmmmm…. those two sure hang out a lot together. I wonder.

(To learn about how Tim Hortons brought these two lovebirds together read here.)

I worked in KAF for four years, but it was only when I started a new job as a Security Officer during my last two months that I got to know Dil in a professional capacity. I worked at an Entry Control Point (ECP) where Afghan employees and contractors entered and exited the camp. I used to see Dilshan almost every day when he was escorting local employees or dropping off paperwork at the ECP. It was always a pleasure to see Dilhan’s smiling face. When you’re surrounded by blast walls and your job is occasionally interrupted by rocket attacks or lockdowns because an explosive was found in a contractor’s truck, you remember the smiles.

I was thrilled when I found out Jen and Dilshan were getting married. I’m a sap at heart and was so happy to see a KAF romance workout.

I left Afghanistan before Jen and Dil and had been working in northern Alberta for a year when they moved to Calgary. We kept in touch and I was honoured to be invited to their Canadian wedding (on the anniversary of their Sri Lankan wedding!) but it never worked out with my rotation. In the meantime Dil kept me posted on his job search and I forwarded his resume to people I knew in the oil field camps and in Calgary.

I remember noticing Dilhan’s LinkedIn address at the bottom of his every email and wishing I was as on the ball as he was about networking. I also recognized the quote he included in his signature block from when I used to brief new ATCO employees in Bosnia:

“Excellence – going far beyond the call of duty. Doing more than others expect. This is what excellence is about. It comes from striving, maintaining the highest standards, looking after the smallest detail and going the extra mile. Excellence means caring. It means making a special effort to do more.” ~R.D. Southern, Founder, ATCO Group

Dilshan never worked for ATCO. You could say he was just clever to include a quote from a very well-known Albertan businessman, but the thing is if you knew Dil, you’d know that he means it. He aims for excellence. He goes beyond the call of duty and makes that special effort to do more.

And even though winning this scholarship could be a real game-changer for him, Dilshan’s first response to me was that other contestants might need or deserve it more.

That’s why I’m voting for Dilshan Hetti-Hewage.

How about you?



Despite support from around the world, Dilshan didn’t win the contest.

I do agree with Dil that most of those votes from 80 different countries likely came from Team Dilshan. Check out Dil’s latest blog post here for the low-down and the thank-yous. Truly a class act.

“A winner is a loser who never gives up…so I know I won in so many ways.”

Absolutely Dil, absolutely.

Thank you from Dilshan

Crazy, Horny or Feminist – You’re Gonna Love This

Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny FeministWhen I first saw the Facebook page for Jenn Hayward’s one-woman-show Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny Feminist, I thought it would be fun to see. But once I read her blog, I knew it was a show I couldn’t miss – and neither could my family.

Jenn Hayward is a mother of three who at the age of 38 penned and performed her autobiographical play which debuted at the Saskatoon Fringe Festival last August. She’s been performing comedy in Ottawa since 2007 and credits both stand-up and her family for helping her through mental health issues she’s had since she was a child.

Jenn is an astonishingly open and ferociously funny woman who wants to encourage dialogue about women and mental health – and make you laugh your ass off while doing it. Earlier we chatted via email about her show’s titillating title, the importance of setting boundaries, and why she’d pick Wanda Sykes as her understudy.

Why should we come to see Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny Feminist? (playing 2-5 March 2014 in Ottawa) 

Mostly to laugh, then to cry and then to laugh again. Honestly the main reason to come is to be engaged in a dialogue that is long overdue. My story is one that is relatable to many people.  Maybe not ALL of it lol, but some part or another. Also supporting local artistry is always reason enough, but the fact that this show has received great reviews thus far should provide more confidence in your ticket purchase!

What is the toughest part about doing this one woman show? 

To me it’s the producing part. I am thankful to have a publicist [Susan Murphy] who is doing so much legwork; she is amazing! The rest is just time management. When I perform my husband usually is home with the kids but this show has him involved (he is the voice of God) so it’s managing sitters and such. This is NOT a child friendly play. 🙂

What’s the best part about doing the show? 

Doing the show! All of it; the writing was fun, rehearsing with the husband, the reviews and accolades have been nice, but to me the best part is when I have a woman who comes to me after the show and says “I’ve never talked about my mental health, I’ve always been ashamed, thank you.” Every show, EVERY show I have at least one woman approach me. This is the best part of this show, having this important dialogue.

I would imagine some people might consider your show’s title controversial. How did you come up with it and what would you say to people who may pronounce it as a cheap marketing ploy?

The title of the show is very representative of what is in the show. I have had people love it and one of my besties back home hate it, lol. I chose it easily for one reason; it is direct and really gets to the meaning of the show. I talk about God, I talk about sex, I talk about feminism, and I talk about mental health and how all of that connected in my life.

You’ve dealt with mental health issues since you were 11 years old and were 35 when you were diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. What is BPD and what sucks most about having it? 

Oh dear, there is so much. It’s not known as the fun disorder to be honest. I’d say I think this explains it best:

When did you start becoming vocal about your own mental health issues and why?

I used to do jokes about it on stage but it never felt right. Just making fun of being crazy has never been what I’m about. That’s why I wrote this play I guess. It wasn’t until after I wrote it that I really understood myself and my last 20 years the way I do.

A good friend of mine who is in AA talks about being a “grateful alcoholic”.  Is there any part of having BPD that has made you grateful for what you’ve learned, or lead you to positive experiences that outweigh the pain of BPD?

Not really, though I will find the humour in everything, it’s hard to go through it. I am relatively stable now, have an amazing job, friends etc., but I still have those bad thoughts.They will always exist; I’ve just learned better management. 

In one of your blog posts you talk about the intense pain of having a former friend cut ties. What do you do to help yourself get through that kind of pain? 

I’ll let you know when it happens! I have had friends come and go, but in the end I always remember who has stayed, not who has left. This last one was particularly hard, but sometimes space makes life better. BPD people can be prone to drama and sometimes the person triggering the drama needs to be gone. Ultimately the only way to get rid of the pain is to feel it and let it pass.

I always considered myself to be comfortable handling mental health issues because of Mom’s history with bipolar disorder, but I’ve been slow with looking into my own. If I were completely honest I’d have to say I’ve been dealing with some anxious behaviour since returning from Afghanistan, and sometimes wonder if it’s related to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  What advice would you offer advice to people dealing with mental health issues of their own?

My advice is that first you are not alone. So many people suffer, many in silence. The second is to seek information and help.  The third is to then stop reading about it. We can become so obsessed with learning about the disorder that we start to hate ourselves for what it says.  Finally, my advice is to never use mental health issues as an excuse to hurt others. This may in fact happen – I have lashed out with harsh words or neediness while in my pain – but in the end no one deserves to be treated badly, ever. 

One of the hardest things for my sister and me to handle was not taking it personally when Mom wasn’t well. What advice would you give people who care about someone with mental health issues that occasionally lashes out? 

Funny I didn’t read this before the last question!  I would say forgive them, but have STRONG boundaries. We as mental health folks need to learn to manage on our own. My husband doesn’t try to fix me; he just loves me and lets me know where his boundaries are. He will have to put his foot down and trusts our relationship. Be compassionate but also take care of yourself. Accept apologies but don’t allow yourself to be mistreated.  It’s a balance.  

With everyone talking Oscars, who would pick to be your understudy for Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny Feminist

This is a great question. I think Wanda Sykes, not for any other reason but that she’s my comedy hero! 🙂

Jenn, Jenn & Wanda

My mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than 25 years ago. Last week I called her at 5:20 am to read aloud one of Jenn’s blog posts likening a messy accident in her Jacuzzi to dealing with the crap life throws at us. Mom laughed her ass off and told me to buy her a ticket to Jenn’s show.

Jesus Loves a Crazy Horny Feminist is playing in Ottawa March 2, 3 and 5 at the Arts Court Theatre on 2 Daley Avenue from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 each and the show is for (mostly) mature audiences only.

Jenn’s Website facebook  Jenn’s Blog

Getting My Ninja On @ LinkedIn

Last month my LinkedIn profile consisted entirely of my name, a title for a job I finished last year, and a grand total of 18 connections.

I hadn’t paid any attention to my account until a colleague handed me a newspaper article on the importance of keeping your profile up to date, posting a profile picture and having 500+ connections – especially if you needed to look for a new job.

I immediately updated my resume, copied most of it over to LinkedIn, uploaded a profile pic, hunted down connections under the People You May Know section, all the while madly scouring the internet for LinkedIn tips that would help me find my next awesome job which would ideally be an apprenticeship position as a computer instructor/ photographer / English teacher / tiny house carpenter/writer/step dancer/clock seller on Etsy. I would totally NAIL that interview.

In all seriousness, I wanted that killer LinkedIn profile because I was afraid I might need it soon. Our company’s government contract is up for rebid and we should know any day now what’s next for us all come April 1st.

The part I had the most trouble with was the summary and my job title. Sure, I am a Contracts Support Coordinator now, but I’m more than that. And two months from now if I don’t have that job, what am I then?

I struggled for at least two weeks trying to write that summary, figuring out how to convince potential employers that having had a dozen jobs in a dozen years is a good thing, that there’s a reason why people hire me to do the odd job here and there with little previous experience, and trust I’ll get ‘er done.

And then it came to me – I could be an Odd Job Ninja.

Call an Odd Job Ninja

Crazy right? I mean – it’s ridiculous. No one would take me seriously. Who calls themselves a ninja, especially on LinkedIn?

Apparently quite a few. Not only is adding “ninja”, “guru” and “rockstar” to your job title an old trend, even the backlash is dated, although there is still fun to be had in mocking people who make up ridiculous job titles.

I didn’t know about this dated ninja trend when I wrote my super-duper summary and changed my job title on LinkedIn. Nor did I know about it when I emailed Andy Foote to thank him for his brilliant article with examples of stunning LinkedIn summaries and for inspiring me to leap into my new career path as an Odd Job Ninja.

Imagine my embarrassment just hours after emailing Andy when I discovered that throwing around “ninja” as a job title was not only unprofessional, it was unoriginal. Bad ninja, bad!

I lived with my embarrassment for a couple of days and then decided what the hell, just have fun with it. Obviously I am not a ninja, a guru nor a rockstar. I’m just someone with an odd collection of job experiences who is trying to make the most of being a generalist rather than a specialist in the job market. Plus I also like the alliteration of odd+job+ninja. It just rolls off the tongue, don’t you think?

Since then I’ve started a dozen Odd Job Ninja projects that should lead to new skills and connections provided I don’t blow anything up or scare people off with my enthusiasm. I will blunder about and most certainly embarrass myself along the way, but I promise to share the gory details here, whether it’s learning to Mod Podge my motorcycle, building a website for expat Labradorians or how to teach Zumba without passing out.

As for LinkedIn, I have made some progress since last month: I’m now at 278 connections, a handful of endorsements and one unsolicited recommendation (thank you Dave Palendat!). If I ever want Blogging and Carpentry to beat out Procurement and Purchasing in the endorsement race then I’ve got some work ahead of me. And that’s ok because with every new thing I learn, I’m also going to have some fun too; it’s just how we ninjas roll.

Endorsed by Santa.

Thank you Susan Murphy for the great course on writing for the web, and especially for helping me make a couple of connections afterwards.  And thank you Mom for showing us it’s never too late to learn and grow and change. We are so proud of you.

The KAF Chronicle (AKA shortest newsletter series EVER)

We only put out two issues of the KAF Chronicle while I was in Kandahar, but I was proud of them nonetheless. I wish it could have been a full-time job– taking photos, talking to people and learning their stories – instead of squeezing it in between work and not enough sleep.

ATCO KAF Chronicle - Issue 01 - 2010 February

ATCO KAF Chronicle – Issue 01 – 2010 February

ATCO KAF Chronicle - Issue 02 - 2010 May-June

ATCO KAF Chronicle – Issue 02 – 2010 May-June